By Father Jacob Dankasa
Special to The Texas Catholic
There are times when we become so busy and preoccupied with our work, with serving people or carrying out some function — sometimes even as part of God’s work — that we forget that we also need to have time alone with God to enjoy some intimate moments with him. In Jesus’ life and ministry he has shown us an example of what it means to be busy for God, as well as what it means to also retreat and spend time alone with him.
In the gospel of Mark (6:30-34) the apostles of Jesus gathered around him and reported to him on their work, on what they had done and achieved for the day. But Jesus’ response to them is particularly important: “He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’” On many occasions in the gospels Jesus, either with his disciples or by himself, withdrew to find a quiet place to rest and pray (Mt. 14:13; 14:23; Mk. 1:35; Lk. 5:16). Jesus knew the importance of spending time working for the people, working for God. But he also knew how important it is to take time out to recharge and to “refill the tank” by spending private time with God.
As we busy ourselves with the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, there is also a need for us to take time out to be alone with God, to take time to be still and give him the opportunity to speak to us. Sometimes we work too much, putting too much time into our work and not spending enough time recharging spiritually. We need to take time out to allow some space for the Holy Spirit to come into us and give us more strength, more energy; then we will be better able to do the work we have to do. Making spiritual retreats is one important timeout we need to consider. We can also have simple timeouts by spending some private time of silence in the presence of God. Something that I have found to be very spiritually fulfilling is very simple: I go into the church during the day or on evenings when no one is there, when the lights are dim, to sit quietly in the presence of God, to rest myself in his care. I can sit there without saying anything, just listening to God speak to me in the deepest thoughts of my heart. It reenergizes my spirit, and I come out feeling very ready to keep working. I want to encourage you to try taking such timeouts from the busyness of our world to spend some moments with Jesus so that he can give you the energy you need to move on with your work. At such moments it’s not only the body that rests — your soul and spirit also rest through prayer.
Placing ourselves in the presence of God is a form of prayer that provides us with the strength to work more and to be more compassionate in living out our Christian faith. What fascinates me most about the gospel passage I cited above (Mk 6:30-34) is its demonstration of the compassion of Jesus. He showed us that even though the body desires to rest, our acts of compassion know no rest. Jesus had asked his disciples to come with him to find a quiet place and rest, but the gospel continues, “People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” For the sake of the people Jesus had to give up that desire to rest in order to attend to the needs of people who were desperately in need of a shepherd. (And it was at this same time that he also fed the five thousand.)
Christ shows us how our compassionate spirit should respond to a greater need, even if it means interrupting our desire for rest or pleasure. This can be really challenging. It reminds me of our work as priests. There are times after a busy day that I retire to get some sleep, and in the middle of the night the emergency phone rings and I’m needed to go anoint someone who is dying. Humanly speaking, I may feel weak, tired and sleepy, but I have to abandon that desire for rest and go attend to the sick.
These times are hard. But I have also come to find such moments to be refreshing and fulfilling because they are compassionate moments, those moments when we sacrifice our pleasures and our own needs in order to attend to the needs of others. They are moments of weakness — a clash between the body and the spirit — when you want to give in to your body’s desire to rest, but then there comes a greater call that needs to be attended to, a call from God. And at such moments the Holy Spirit always finds a way of filling in and supplying the source of strength that keeps us going. And from experience I know that when I go to answer or satisfy that call to visit the sick, I feel a renewed energy because I have done something good for God. There are many professions that can relate to such calls to service — the medical profession (doctors, nurses, etc.) and first responders (police, firemen, etc.) among them. And the sacrifice of parents in this light cannot be ignored – dealing lovingly with little ones in the wee hours of the morning can certainly be a challenge! Whether you offer service as a life profession or as a life vocation, there is always a joy that comes with any sacrifice.
Jesus showed us that there are times when we need timeout moments for ourselves, and it’s important to take those moments of rest. But when a need arises for helping to save a life or save a soul or comfort a child, it should be considered a greater good. In such situations we must give up our pleasures or our desire for rest to reach out and do something good for God, and we will be richly blessed for our sacrifices. As Christians, we are called to live a life of prayer, rest and compassion — just like Jesus.
Father Jacob Dankasa is a parochial vicar at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church in McKinney and a regular contributor to The Texas Catholic.