Monday, 23 July 2012

Sabbath Rest

The Apostles return to Jesus after their mission. They report to Him all that has happened during the mission. Undoubtedly they were exhausted. Exhaustion not just from physical exertion, but because their faith had been tested and no doubt increased. They had gone on this mission at the call of Christ and with His authority. They had obeyed Him and had travelled in faith. They had “believed in Him”, and Lo and behold, people had repented, demons were cast out and the sick healed.
And Christ the Pastor, the one, true shepherd of the flock, instructs them to find isolation and silence, and there to rest. At these times more activity is harmful. Harmful because it becomes a distraction from the work of the inner life that is allowing the Holy Spirit to do what needs to be done. Sometimes we need the ministry of the Holy Spirit and we might only allow Him to work if we are quiet and in a state of being rather than doing.

One of the things I think we have somewhat lost sight of in our present age, is the importance of inactivity. We have become an almost hyperactive culture, spurred on by the hasty way in which technology generally urges us. Somehow because we can make things happen through technology straight away, we now believe everything must be done straight away. It seems to be a kind of infection!

Inspiration rarely comes to us when we are frenetic. Dom John Chapman once wrote that “busy-ness is the enemy of prayer”. He was the author of other pieces of sensible advice about prayer, like, “Pray as you can, don't try to pray as you can't...The only way to pray is to pray, and the way to pray well is to pray much.”

Of course when we do sit down for half an hour of quiet time we find that our minds can be so full of thoughts that it seems we might as well have been busy, as still. Henri Nouwen described our minds as being like banana trees full of monkeys! “But when we decide not to run away, and to stay focused, these monkeys may decide to go away through lack of attention, and the soft gentle voice that calls us 'beloved', may gradually make itself heard.”

We are a psychosomatic unity! What I mean is that our soul and body is bound up together. What we do physically effects us spiritually, and vice versa. So if we do not have any time being quiet, then can we be surprised that our minds are similarly frenetic? So building in times of rest and quiet to our daily lives is as important for us as it was for the early disciples. Is that easy? Probably not, but because a thing isn't easy doesn't make it wrong.

The Lord God, our Shepherd, provides a basic provision for us to encourage quiet recollection, and that is the keeping of Sabbath. Unfortunately in many people's minds the keeping of Sabbath has boiled down to just getting to Mass. Now I am not of course opposed to that, but the teaching is so much more than that and of course goes back to Genesis, when the LORD God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. It is of course one of the 10 commandments of Moses, to keep the Sabbath holy. Can we be surprised that the proper Christian keeping of Sunday has been eroded almost entirely by our secularising culture? The rhythm of rest has been replaced by a rhythm of shopping. We now of course have to make a concerted effort to not cooperate in this. Not only is Sunday for going to Mass, but also a resting in the Lord. A time for pondering. Perhaps it is time for us to review our keeping of Sabbath? How much doing is there in the day? How much being?

Of course we must be prudent in these things, and there can be good reason to “do” things on the sabbath: e.g. we must care for dependants, but we also need to see the precious gift of the Sabbath rest and not set it aside carelessly.

Lastly, perhaps in the Year of Faith, which begins in October, we might decide to spend time on Sundays reading the Catechism, or documents of the Second Vatican Council? For as we read in the gospels, when the Apostles had rested they were joined by a large crowd, and then Jesus taught them 'at some length'. We need the teaching too. For when we are recollected and have enjoyed some quiet and rest, we are in the very best states to be taught by the LORD, and then truly allow Him to be the shepherd of our souls.

Sermon preached in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel by Fr Hellyer.

More about the Sabbath rest in the Catechism here onwards

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)