A. A few years ago, in his Easter Vigil homily, Pope Francis invited all of us to return to Galilee – that is to say, to our first encounter with Jesus, to that time when our faith was young, to that place in our life when we were first conscious of our calling to follow Christ in love and to embrace a specific vocation. To use the Pope’s own words, “To go to Galilee means something beautiful; it means re-discovering our baptism as a living fountainhead, drawing new energy from the sources of our Christian faith and our Christian experience.”
B. In the Gospel we meet the newly called apostles in Galilee itself. Here we find Jesus in the process of forming them as disciples. They witness his preaching and miracles; they listen as he instructs them in private; but Jesus also sends them out long before their formation is complete. Yet they go in his name and in his power – and like Jesus – accomplish great things. People have begun to seek them out just as they sought out Jesus. So, they return to Lord, excited, full of enthusiasm, anxious to report to him “all that they had done and taught” . . . and what was Jesus’ response? Jesus did not say to them, please turn in your reflection papers on your pastoral experience by 5:00 p.m. so that we can analyze the quality of your interaction with God’s people. No, he said something very different: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.” It is on this one line in our readings that I would like to dwell for a few minutes.
II. Dangers in the Apostolate
A. And, if I may, I’d like to dwell on this in a somewhat personal way. Like every priest, I’ve often returned to Galilee – to the first moments when I became aware of a vocation to the priesthood, to the first time I baptized a child, the first time I preached, the first time that I offered Holy Mass. These events that took place some forty years ago are etched in my memory as if they happened only yesterday. And despite the ravages of time, it is not hard for me to remember my pitched excitement as, like the apostles, I had my first taste of ministry. For example, I remember preaching my first homily in a little parish in rural Southern Maryland called Holy Face. I worked on it furiously and included in it everything but the kitchen sink. And it did not take long for me to hear the verdict on my first attempt at preaching: I overheard a group of parishioners discussing it. One in particular said, “I don’t know what the young fella was talking about, but good Lord he sure do talk ‘purdy!’” “You could do worse,” the pastor wryly observed.
B. Love of ministry is a good thing. Zeal for mission is good, very good. But like all good things there are hidden dangers and deceptions planted in our hearts by the father of lies. One of these is that, somehow, we are the primary agents of ministry and that God is secondary, because his glory is hidden. And so, from time to time, I have fallen into the trap of what I call “Pelagianism” – a heresy named for the 5th century British theologian, Pelagius. This heresy falsely imagines we can imitate Jesus without the help of God’s grace. It turns out that this heresy is both intellectually and spiritually dangerous. For trying to do God’s work without God’s help turns zeal into pride and pride into discouragement and discouragement into failure.
C. So it is, that I have been blessed with good priest-mentors and spiritual directors who have insisted that every day I return to Galilee, to a deserted place, there to rest with Jesus and in Jesus for a while. Resting in Jesus does not mean falling asleep in chapel (it has happened!) – but rather blocking out, as much as possible, the sound and fury of daily life, so that, like the apostles, I can enjoy the Lord’s friendship, converse with him, tell him how things are going, and, most importantly of all, listen to what he says to me through the Holy Spirit. Quiet time with the Lord doesn’t automatically make the day go better. But with the Lord’s grace, I just might get through a bad day in a good way. It is in God’s grace that I return to Galilee and discover my vocation all over again.
III. Universal Call to Holiness
A. I tell you all this because prayer is a requirement not only for priests but for us all – for each of us has been called to holiness in baptism, and almost all of you have been called to the specific vocation of marriage and family, a vocation that requires of you a mutual love modeled on Christ’s love for his Church. It was Blessed John Henry Newman who said, “God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission” . . . and friends, your mission is no less challenging than mine.
B. For this reason, each of us needs to find some time in our busy day when we lay aside whatever it is that preoccupies us, so that we can come away and rest awhile with the Lord, so that we can tell him what is in our hearts and listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd whose love for us is unimaginably wondrous. In prayer, we can re-discover our specific vocation and mission to love; through prayer, the supreme grace of Christ’s Eucharistic Presence deepens in us, so that we live in the awareness that the Lord is walking with us day by day. Through prayer, each of us can return to Galilee – to those moments when the course of our life and vocation was set, to those moments when the Lord’s heart first spoke to ours.
A. In this Saturday Mass in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we recall two things: first, the utter uniqueness of Mary’s mission as Mother of God and second, her life-long contemplation of the Word of God. As the ancient Christian writers liked to say, Mary conceived the Word of God in her heart before she conceived him in her womb.
B. Now, as our spiritual mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary leads us back to Galilee so that we might encounter her Son all over again so as to be continually surprised by the depth of his love for us and by what he enables us to do in his Name and through his grace.
C. Through Mary’s intercession, may the Lord bless us and keep us always in his love. Vivat Jesus!