Last week while I was on the Mission Trip with our parish youth group, I spent a day moving an elderly lady from her old room to a new one, and much of this was in the kitchen. The only thing that was a little different was that this woman was a hoarder, so it was quite an experience. In any case, cleaning out the pantry can really remind of you of the importance of balance in your kitchen. On the one hand, it’s important to stock up on food to keep a good supply. In the rectory, you never know when you’re going to need something like cornstarch, or canned beets, or bags and bags of pine nuts. But the problem comes when you leave that food in the pantry for too long. Then you find things like we found on the Mission Trip like cans of vegetables from 2002, or frozen treats from 2004. As I said, a lot of balance goes into keeping a good kitchen.
I kind of thought about that experience when I read this week’s Gospel because it’s about balance. Jesus’ apostles had just completed some missionary work. After working with and following Jesus for a while, they were sent to spread his message to other people. And when they had finished their assignments, they returned. They had experienced the power of God working through them, and they had done great things to win people over to Jesus. But then what does Jesus do? Does he give them a big powerful pep talk to get them energized again and send them out even further? No, he invites them to come aside and rest with him, so that they can experience the quiet intimacy of their community and the quiet intimacy of prayer with God. Obviously, what Jesus is trying to teach us her is that active Christian disciples who are out there doing the work of God in the world need to balance their activity with prayer, spending some time of intimacy with the Lord.
This is the balance that we need in our lives as Christians. Without prayer or alone time with God, that well of self-giving will run dry, and we won’t be able to give as we should. It’s the same reason you keep the pantry stocked – so you don’t run out of pine nuts when you need them most! When that prayer isn’t part of the equation, the service turns into selfishness or resentment. We’ve all felt it – “I always have to do this for you! Why don’t you just take care of it yourself?” When we lack prayer in our lives as disciples, we’re not able to give of ourselves freely. However, when we don’t give to others freely what we have already received from God, that faith becomes static and lifeless. Hoarding food in the pantry causes us to lose track of what’s been there longest, and it eventually goes bad. If we live this way, with prayer but no action, our faith becomes all talk. It sounds nice when we talk about it, but it doesn’t have depth.
This past spring, I had an opportunity to spend a week with the Benedictines at Conception Abbey. St. Benedict had a little motto that is perfect for this issue – ora et labora. “Ora” means pray, and “labora” means work. Prayer and work. These are two sides of the same coin in the Christian life. And by golly, these Benedictines were out there living it! One minute they’d be chanting their office in the basilica, and the next they’d be out in their habits and aprons, pulling weeds and pruning plants. They were completely different activities, but you could tell the relationship between the two. The prayer of their lives flowed out to everything they did in their work, and yet at the same time, the prayer was part of their work.
How do we balance the “Ora” and the “Labora” in our lives? It’s true that some Catholics only pray when they come to Mass on Sunday, and the rest of the week they don’t even think about God. It’s also true that other Catholics eat, drink, and breathe their prayers, but when it comes to responsibilities and giving of themselves to others, they’re nowhere to be found. It can be easy for us to compartmentalize these things – our work and prayer – and so we decide to leave the building of the Kingdom of God to the nuns and missionaries.
So what can we do? Any parent recognizes how quickly the day can get busy, and how quickly it becomes something that’s not your own anymore. You wake up, and boom, you have to do things for others. You are constantly at the service of other people. And this can go for most people, not just parents. It’s great to serve and to do things for others, but we need the time to take for rest. One of the ways we can do this has been hardwired into our faith as Catholics in keeping holy the Sabbath day on Sundays. We usually think of this as a Jewish thing from Jesus’ time, but Christians are supposed to obey the Sabbath too! It’s supposed to be a day of rest, a day that’s different from the rest of the craziness of the week. So we go to Mass of course, but then the Church even invites us not to do any unnecessary work. Do you find yourself saving the laundry for Sunday, or mowing the lawn in the Sunday afternoon heat? Really, God is calling us to come away and rest awhile with him. He invites us to make it a day of family and fun, a day of recharging and giving thanks to God for the joy in our lives. That’s why God created DVR’s – so I can relax and watch the Manchester United game that happened while I was offering Mass all morning! Sunday is a day for barbecue, baseball, and family. Now that’s much, much easier said than done, and many times, even the best plans go sour when things come up, but try as much as you can within your power to make Sunday your day to rest. It is a day for prayer, and more than just sitting through Mass. It’s a day of coming away and resting awhile with God.
At the end of Mass, after all this work of kneeling and standing and sitting at Mass we end the liturgy with “Deo gratias!” – “Thanks be to God!” Well really, that’s what our lives should be about too. We take some time away, thanking God for all the hard work I’ve done, and thanking him for the opportunity to do more. As we continue our celebration, let us come away with the Lord and rest awhile, and through his Body and Blood, find the strength that we need to do his work in the world.