These are difficult days. The list of darkness-baring events, people and situations is long. And a lot of people are struggling with despair because of it all:
God is off the scene.
What's the use?
Only bad stuff is on the horizon.
How is this all going to end?
But I believe we have a spiritual antidote at hand which is the prayerful reading and studying of the Gospels. Some Christians have never read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John from cover to cover - let alone study them. They depend on the preacher to do that for them and not a few preachers fail in that regard, talking about everything except Jesus.
Join me in keeping a little flame of hope alive in the darkness today. Read this bit of Saint Mark with me and then the brief thoughts which invite us to ponder and pray.
The apostles rejoined Jesus and reported to him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come with me, by yourselves, to some lonely place where you can rest quietly." (For they had no leisure even to eat, so many were coming and going.) Accordingly, they set off privately by boat for a lonely place. But many saw them leave and recognized them, and came round by land, hurrying from all the towns towards the place, and arrived there first. When he came ashore, he saw a great crowd: and his heart went out to them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he had much to teach them. (Mark 6:30-35)
The word apostle means: one who is sent out. Jesus shares everything and so he has sent the apostles out to call for the people to repent (to turn) and to drive out demons and to cure sick people. Inside the church hymnal it's often stamped, "Do not remove from church". It's a little joke that some Christians think the stamped message is referring to their Christianity - leave it in church. When I was a boy in the late 1950's one priest got up in the pulpit and chided hundreds of worshipers for treating the police so badly who had come to direct the traffic back out onto the main road out of the church parking lot. Apparently some people were cursing the officers for not moving the traffic quickly enough. We're supposed to be the people who are sent out. We might begin with sent out in gratitude and joy!
Then Jesus invites us to rest. Some people get no rest. I remember seeing a documentary about a South American country - an old man who everyday climbed a mountain with his donkey to collect minerals out of the earth that he could sell. He loaded up the donkey with stone and then descended the mountain. Then unloaded the animal and went back up to the mountain top to get more. Some people (and even animals) never get a rest. An awake heart understands that and cares. But even in our first world of convenience and relative ease and privilege, we might be aware of Jesus' call to come and rest with him. Perhaps we are aware of some personal weary place - where Jesus invites us to come away with him if even for some moments. We're foolish to refuse his tender offer.
Notice that the lonely place to which Jesus invites is across the sea. So they get into the little boat to make the crossing. But a lot of people recognize what's going on and so they run around the lake to the other side getting there ahead of him. I love that line. What excitement for Jesus! - to get around the obstacles to be with Jesus. I'm thinking of the Franciscan priest in Brazil who drove his jeep to a remote village on First Communion Day. And as he approached the parish the river was swollen and raging, preventing the priest from reaching the chapel. So the dads made a human chain across the river and passing the children over their heads one by one to the priest on the other side - they finally made their own way to the little makeshift altar (maybe a pile of stones or the hood of the jeep) and joined the priest and children for First Communion Mass. Talk about overcoming the obstacles! Can you feel it!? In not a few first-world places we could do with some of that kind of intensity for Jesus.
And when Jesus arrives on the other side of the lake the great crowd is there. He's not put out. He doesn't get annoyed or irritated (Reverend Father: pay attention!) and he puts his retreat on hold and his heart is opened to them. So much of church life today is about negativity and fighting culture wars. That's not it. God's heart is opened to us in Jesus Christ. If the Church could live like we understand that in our guts - people would come running!