“[Jesus] said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’” – Mark 6:31 NAB
In today’s Gospel, Jesus instructs His apostles to take a break from their travels and their mission of preaching repentance and healing of unclean spirits. Two by two, they have been separated and away from Jesus for quite some time. They are tired and dirty. They have healed many but have been rejected by many, also. They’re ready for some downtime and time to re-energize.
As I heard the lector read this verse from the Gospel of Mark this morning at mass, I reflected on my own experience and realized that Jesus, as always, hit the nail on the head. For me, it has always been when I have retreated to a “deserted” place for rest and reflection that I have, afterwards, found myself refreshed and renewed in my faith and closer to Jesus.
My first experience was five years ago when I attended a Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) retreat weekend at our parish church. My decision to go on the retreat was based not on getting closer to Jesus or to increase my faith, for I wasn’t Catholic nor remotely religious, but to hide from the daily struggles of work, and trying, unsuccessfully for the most part, to bring some balance to my life. I also hoped to meet some men and make some new friends. I did meet many men and made many new friends – not just acquaintances but lifelong brothers. And, more importantly, I found God and the love of Christ. My life was transformed and it hasn’t been the same since. I became Catholic one year later.
Following that CRHP experience, I met regularly with some of those new friends on a regular basis in a quiet room at our church or at each other’s homes. They were special times, ones which would have required a natural disaster to keep me away. We talked about how we had seen God working in our lives, and we opened up and shared the difficulties we were trying to overcome. We chose scripture passages to read and discuss. We learned from each other and we encouraged each other and we formed brotherly bonds.
With pressures from work seeming to increase, I wanted more of this type of respite. I began attending Bible studies and other opportunities to learn and deepen my faith, including weekly Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Along with spending time with my wife, these encounters were the things which brought me peace.
In wanting to learn more about my faith, I jumped at the invitation to attend a Cursillo weekend where I could again spend a restful few days in reflection and fellowship with other men. Like CRHP, it was a life changing experience. As a follow-up to Cursillo, monthly Ultreya meetings and weekly discussions of our prayer life, what we are doing to grow our faith, and what we are doing to bring others to Christ, keep me grounded and help direct my attention away from worldly strife.
Through these experiences, I have learned to take advantage of other opportunities for silence, solitude and time for prayer when I am away from my home field and friends. At those times, my “desert” becomes a rolling mountain stream, a peaceful perch overlooking a valley, holding a sleeping grandchild in my arms, or just about any place where I can marvel at His many miracles.
I have probably read that verse from Mark several times but it never hit home until today. Before mass was over I took time to say a prayer of Thanksgiving for giving me the desire to want to find my own isolated “desert”, and to take time for rest and recharging by the best power source there is, Jesus Christ.
Where is your “desert”? Where do you go to find peace and quiet? Do you make the time to go? Do you go there with the intention of spending time with Jesus and letting him recharge you? You should! Go! Look for the opportunities. Attend a retreat such as Christ Renews His Parish or Cursillo. Schedule time to meet with faithful men and women from whom you can grow your faith and who will lift you up with encouragement. If this is new to you, signing up for a Bible study at your church is a good place to start. The important thing is to seek Him. Seek Him in a place that offers a measure of solitude and silence where you can listen to God, perhaps through others, and speak to Him in prayer. You will find Him and you’ll be glad you did.
“O, loving and gracious God, I give You thanks for arranging our first meeting where I learned of and felt Your immense love for me. Thank You for rewarding me with Your peace each and every time I have come back to You. Your love increases my faith, and my faith brings me hope for a life of eternity with You. Amen.”
(Finding Rest in the Desert was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
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