Sunday, July 6, 2014

Prayer an Oasis (Sunday 14A)

Are you well-rested, well-organized and caught up with your to-do list?

Has the first part of 2014 gone smoothly for you and your family?

Are your health and finances in equally good shape, and is everything great at work?

Is life with your children a constant joy—or life with your parents, for that matter?

If you answered yes to all the questions, you can take the next ten minutes off and check the World Cup standings on your smart phone.

Just don’t get up and go outside for some sunshine. It will probably start to rain, or you’ll trip on the steps—because things never go well all the time.

And my guess is that most of you have answers to those questions that are a lot like mine. A recent survey showed that four out of five Americans see a need for less stress in their lives; I think that would be accurate in Canada, at least in our part of the country.

Father Joseph Krempa, whose homilies are particular favourites of mine, says we live in a world where people are weary in soul: “There is so much stimulation, artificial excitement [and] varying opinions that the mind becomes numb. The processing of so much information can exhaust us.”*

And in today’s paper there is a comic strip about a woman being interviewed for a job as a truck driver.

“You want to drive a truck? Do you realize how tough that job is? On the road before dawn, regardless of the weather. Endless pick-ups and drop-offs. No-one will thank you. You’ll be taken for granted.”

So what makes you think you’re qualified to be a truck driver?”

The woman answers “I drive my four kids to all their sports practices.”

“You start Monday,” the boss replies.

Jesus doesn’t have a solution to all these pressures of life. What he does offer is a remedy for the ills they produce.

The remedy is rest. The Lord knows we have burdens of many kinds, and he tells us today we must carry them with his help. We must be inefficient enough to spend some “down time” with him, and humble enough to count on him.

This lesson against self-reliance and self-importance starts with our first reading, a prophecy that’s fulfilled on Palm Sunday. The Messiah’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem is not in a chariot pulled by a team of horses; he comes to the holy city humble, and riding on a donkey.

In the Gospel, Jesus invites us to follow his example by accepting our burdens without complaint, as he did. Most of us know the prayer “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

But not as many know the next words of the Serenity Prayer: “…living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next.”

We find rest for our souls when we accept things as they are.

Along with his example of acceptance and surrender, Jesus offers us rest in him. “Come to me,” he says, “and I will give you rest.”

We find this rest when we pray. Father Krempa says that prayer is an oasis in the desert of our frantic lives. An oasis is a place where the weary traveler can find refreshment and can stock up on water for the rest of the journey ahead.*

We all need a spiritual oasis. It can be a visit to the church, a weekday Mass, or a time of prayer at home.

It can be a quiet time spent reviewing our day with Lord before bedtime. It can be an evening walk with the Rosary in hand.

Often the prayerful reading or recitation of the psalms leads us to an oasis of green pastures and restful waters.

One of the best sources of a spirituality that can make a difference in our daily lives is Father Jacques Philippe’s book Seeking for and Maintaining Peace. It’s a sure guide through the desert of our busyness to the rest that only God can give.

As Father Krempa says, prayer is not a “one-size fits all” activity. To be a true spiritual oasis—a place where we can draw real strength from Christ—we must find and stick with those prayers and methods that bring our soul peace.

Pope Francis says an interesting thing about overwork and stress in his letter On the Joy of the Gospel. “The problem,” he writes, “is not always an excess of activity but rather activity undertaken badly… without a spirituality which would permeate it and make it pleasurable. As a result, work becomes more tiring than necessary, even leading at times to illness.”

For many of us, things slow down in the summer. It's a good time to grow spiritually before the next wave of activity crashes in on us. We could make it a project to form one new habit of prayer that can help us find the rest our souls—and our bodies—really need.

* S. Joseph Krempa, Captured Fire-Cycle A, p. 99.

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