06 February 2015

Jesus 'got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.' Sunday Reflections, 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Apostle St Peter, El Greco, 1610-14
Museo de El Greco, Toledo, Spain [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door.  And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him.  When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. I have always been drawn by this text and similar ones elsewhere in the Gospels. People often ask me how to pray. Last Tuesday Pope Francis spoke about prayer at Mass in Santa Marta. Here is how Vatican Radio's website reports on what he said. I have highlighted parts of the report and added some [comments].

(Vatican Radio) Daily contemplation of the Gospel helps us to have true hope, said Pope Francis Tuesday morning during Mass celebrated in the Casa Santa Marta chapel. In his homily, the Pope again urged people to take 10 minutes out of their day to pick up the Gospel and talk to the Lord, rather than waste it on TV soap operas or listening to other peoples’ gossip.

Focusing on the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews on hope, Pope Francis said that “keeping our gaze fixed on Jesus” is the core of hope.  He stressed that if we do not listen to the Lord, we may be “optimistic or positive” people but without the hope that we learn “from contemplating Christ”.  [Optimism and Christian hope are not the same thing. Some are optimistic by nature, some not. Either may have Christian hope or not. His faith and hope in God, not his sunny and optimistic nature, enabled my close friend and Columban confrere, Fr Rufus Halley, shot dead in Mindanao on 28 August 2001, to live for twenty years in a situation that was always tense and often dangerous. His close friend Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, Archbishop Emeritus of Manila, wrote of himI knew of the intensity with which Father Rufus lived his own Christian faith, how he began each day with an hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, the centrality of the Mass in his life.]

Fr Rufus Halley (1944 - 2001)

This led the Holy Father to speak of "contemplative prayer”.  The Pope said that "it is good to pray the Rosary every day", to talk "with the Lord, when we have a problem, or the Virgin Mary or the Saints ..". But, "contemplative prayer" is important and this can only be done "with the Gospel in hand".

He said: "'How do I contemplate with today’s Gospel? I see that Jesus was in the middle of the people, he was surrounded by a large crowd. Five times this passage uses the word 'crowd'. Did Jesus ever rest? This would lead me to think: 'Always with the crowd ...'. Most of Jesus’ life was on the streets, with the crowd. Did he ever rest? Yes, once, says the Gospel, he was sleeping on the boat but the storm came and the disciples woke him. Jesus was constantly in the midst of the people. And this is how we look at Jesus, contemplate Jesus, imagine Jesus. And so I tell Jesus what comes to my mind to tell him".

Continuing his reflection on today's Gospel, Pope Francis spoke of how Jesus realizes that a sick woman in the crowd touched him. Jesus, the Pope said, "not only understands the crowd, he feels the crowd", "he feels the heartbeat of each of us, everyone. He cares for each and every one of us, always!". [Most of the healing stories in the Gospel are about individuals Jesus met on the way, not persons who had an appointment with him. He saw the individual in the crowd.]

Christ Raises the Daughter of Jairus, Friedrich Overbeck, 1815
Staatliche Museen, Berlin [Web Gallery of Art]

The case of the chief of the synagogue who goes "to speak to him of his daughter who was seriously ill” is similar: [Jesus] leaves everything to takes care of the matter. The Pope went on to depict the scene: Jesus arrives in the home, the women are crying because the little girl is dead, but the Lord tells them to be calm and they scorn him. Here, the Pope said, we see "the patience of Jesus."

And then after the resurrection of the child, instead of saying "Praise be God!", Jesus  tells them: "Please give her something to eat". Pope Francis noted "Jesus always thinks of the little things." [For years 'Please give her something to eat' has been one of my favourite lines in the Gospels since it shows so clearly the thoughtfulness and humanity of Jesus, God and Man. I see him with a smile on his face, with a twinkle in his eye as he looks at the girl, maybe even winking at her.]

The Pope then pointed out "What I have just done with this Gospel is a prayer of contemplation: take up the Gospel, read and imagine the scene, imagine what happens and talk to Jesus, from the heart".

"And with this we allow hope to grow, because we have our gaze fixed, we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We should all carry out this contemplative prayer. 'But I have so much to do!' At home, 15 minutes, pick up the Gospel, a small passage, imagine what happened and talk with Jesus about it. [God invited Father Rufus to spend an hour in adoration each morning. He doesn't invite most Christians to do that. But is there anyone really so busy that they cannot create a 15-minute space with the Lord each day? We can do this even on the bus, on the jeepney, on the commuter-train, on the plane.] So your gaze will be fixed on Jesus and not so much on a TV soap opera, for example. Your ears will be focused on the words of Jesus and not so much on your neighborhood gossip ... ".

"This is how contemplative prayer helps us in hope. Living the substance of the Gospel. Always pray”.

Pope Francis invited people to "pray your prayers, pray the rosary, talk with the Lord, but also carry out this contemplative prayer keeping your gaze fixed on Jesus". Hope comes from this prayer, he said, adding "our Christian life unfolds in that context, between memory and hope":

"Memory of our past journey, memory of so many graces received from the Lord. And hope, looking at the Lord, who is the only one who can give me hope. And in order to gaze at the Lord, to know the Lord, we pick up the Gospel and carry out this contemplative prayer. Today, for example, try for 10 minutes - 15, no more – to read the Gospel, picture it and say something to Jesus. And nothing more. And so your knowledge of Jesus will be bigger and your hope will grow. Do not forget, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. And in order to do this contemplative prayer".

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