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Archbishop Follo: Mission and Compassion

‘With the wish to understand and to experience that prayer is not an escape of the mission, but it is its soul.’

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XVI Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – July 22, 2018
Roman Rite
Jer 23.1-6; Ps 23; Eph 2: 13-18; Mk 6,30-34
Ambrosian Rite
2 Sam 6.12b-22; Ps 132; 1 Cor 1,25-31; Mk 8: 34-38
IX Sunday after Pentecost.
1)  The mission is born from communion and it is reinvigorated in it.
This sixteenth Sunday’s Gospel talks about the disciples of Christ who return from the mission during which they brought the announcement of the good and joyful news: the «Gospel of Joy» (Pope Francis). While last Sunday’s Gospel showed us Jesus sending the twelve apostles, two by two, to the villages of Galilee to announce the coming of the kingdom of God, to heal the sick and to help the weak and the poor, today’s Gospel describes the return of the disciples from their mission. They return happily to Christ. They are happy, but also a little tired, as it happens to every true «missionary» who forgets himself and struggles to bring to the world the Gospel, good and happy news that mercy has taken place among men.
In their apostolic journey, they experienced the power of the Word, but also fatigue and rejection. Today, Jesus invites them to rest in a solitary place and in his company. «Come aside, in a solitary place, and rest a while» (Mk 6:31), because it is in the desert that God speaks to their and to our hearts. There is the moment of the mission and of the commitment and there is the moment of rest. There is the moment of acceptance and there is the moment of solitude. With Christ, the «solitary place» becomes an oasis to stop, savor the joy of communion with Him and quench our thirst for God.
Whether it takes place in distant lands or by the neighbor with whom we live and work, the mission needs not only words and witness, but also prayer and contemplation. It takes the silence of the desert to grasp what is essential; without the words of men, it is easier to listen to the Word of God. It is not a question of speaking or of being silent, of doing or not doing; it is about deciding who to talk to, who to act with. Saint Teresa of Calcutta said to her sisters: «To be able to realize peace we will talk a lot with God and to God, and less with men and to men»
To put into practice this teaching of the Saint «of the poorest of the poor», I think it is useful to underline not only the importance of finding moments of meditation during the day and going to places where we can make a spiritual retreat but the «necessity» to go to church to taste the «rest» that is the Sunday Mass. Perhaps, Sunday Mass is not normally lived as a moment of rest, but by going to church at least on Sunday we welcome Christ’s invitation to «stand aside», that is, in a place different from our ordinary occupations and therefore to be absorbed far from distractions, even those, legitimate, of the holidays. This will make us able to encounter God and to dialogue with him, to listen to a true word about life, to nourish ourselves with a food of communion and a steadfast friendship, and to receive grace capable of holding us.
It is not about escaping from life. The encounter with the Lord on Sunday is like a light that illuminates the time of yesterday to understand it, sanctifies the present putting it in the hands of God, and illuminates the tomorrow to show the path. In this way, we can all be missionaries who walk in the world to look for others, but rest with Christ, comforted by him, to find ourselves.
2) Prayer is not an escape from mission, it is its soul
The People of the time and of today, are undoubtedly the primary object of the mission of the Lord and of the disciples. It is toward them that the compassion of Jesus is directed; for this reason, the Gospel can say: «there was a lot of people coming and going and they did not even have time to eat». However, this does not prevent Christ and his disciples from living moments «on the sidelines», which does not mean an escape from the world and from men. These are moments in which Christ teaches his disciples how to live in communion. «On the sidelines», the disciples listen only to the Lord, make descend into their hearts the words of the Scripture that are like a greater breath in which to rest the heart, lighten the mind, think in the same way their Master thinks, love as He loves and be with him in peace.
If we really want to be missionaries and to do good to humanity, it is very important, I would say indispensable, to take some time to be alone with Christ. In addition to Mass, therefore, let’s find time, every day, to be in silence and in prayer, listening to the Lord.
A very significant example comes from Consecrated Virgins who, with their life focused on prayer, show that the important thing to do, immediately and always, are not the things of the world, but the acceptance of Christ and his Kingdom. The urgency of the «things of God», the search for God, the listening to his Word are the priority conditions to make room for people, without being overwhelmed by the haste of things to do and the anxiety of possession.
It is the charity of Christ, to whom they have given themselves fully and joyfully, that envelops, involves and pushes the consecrated Virgins toward their brothers and sisters in humanity, bringing the happy news that there is a God, whom we can meet and who has put his tent among us.
These women also testify that assiduous prayer does not take them away from the world in which they work every day. Constant prayer keeps them oriented to Christ. In fact, without Him, even with the best intentions and actions done for the purpose of doing good to others, one can lose oneself. One can «empty himself» to the point of no longer verifying the sense and the orientation for which he or she works. If we do not pray «resting with and in Christ», we are like leaves in the whirl of what surrounds us.
Their consecration «forces» the Virgins to give priority to God. He filled them with grace because they stood apart for Him. To them who, silently and discreetly, give Him their time and their life, the Lord dispenses his wealth. For this reason, «we must not measure the time of prayer. The more we lose time in prayer, the more we earn it «(Chiara Lubich, great spiritual teacher and founder of the Focolare Movement)
In the time given generously to Christ, these consecrated women look at Jesus and give us the example of how to look at him and have his gaze, which does not stop at the surface but grasps what is in people’s hearts.
For Jesus the people he meets are not numbers, they are not even indistinct masses to use. For him, every person is a face and a path to take care of. His seeing can perceive in the situations, not a problem to be solved but a ‘you’, a people made of faces, that suffer, raise a question, live for a waiting, feel the weight of the contradiction of evil but also have a thirst of truth and love.
Jesus’ way of looking is a seeing that pauses and stops, letting be struck by those who are in front of him. If we learn to look as Christ does, what comes from the eyes does not come only to the mind and the heart, but makes one be touched, as the Gospel of today says.
In this Gospel, Saint Mark tells us that Jesus is moved by the people. He allows himself to be hurt. He does not present himself as someone who has something to give. Jesus meets people like a poor and makes room to welcome the suffering, the request for health and life, fear, and, in short, everything that moves in the depths of the human heart, without judging, without excluding, but becoming company. To be moved is a «feminine» verb because in Hebrew it indicates the movement of the maternal womb. With Jesus let us change inside and share his compassion.
Patristic reading
Golden Chain
on Mk  6: 30-34
Gloss.: The Evangelist, after relating the death of John, gives an account of those things which Christ did with His disciples after the death of John, saying, «And the Apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told Him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught.»
Pseudo-Jerome: For they return to the fountain-head whence the streams flow; those who are sent by God, always offer up thanks for those things which they have received.
Theophylact: Let us also learn, when we are sent on any mission, not to go far away, and not to overstep the bounds of the office committed, but to go often to him, who sends us, and report all that we have done and taught; for we must not only teach but act.
Bede: Not only do the Apostles tell the Lord what they themselves had done and taught, but also His own and John’s disciples together tell Him what John had suffered, during the time that they were occupied in teaching, as Matthew relates.
It goes on: «And He said to them, Come ye yourselves apart, &c.»
Augustine, de Con. Evan., 2, 45: This is said to have taken place, after the passion of John, therefore what is first related took place last, for it was by these events that Herod was moved to say, «This is John the Baptist, whom I beheaded.»
Theophylact: Again, He goes into a desert place from His humility. But Christ makes His disciples rest, that men who are set over others may learn, that they who labor in any work or in the word deserve rest, and ought not to labor continually.
Bede: How arose the necessity for giving rest to His disciples, He shews, when He adds, «For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat;» we may then see how great was the happiness of that time, both from the toil of the teachers, and from the diligence of the learners.
It goes on: «And embarking in a ship, they departed into a desert place privately.»
The disciples did not enter into the ship alone, but taking up the Lord with them, they went to a desert place, as Matthew shews. (Mt 14) Here He tries the faith of the multitude, and by seeking a desert place He would see whether they care to follow Him. And they follow Him, and not on horseback, nor in carriages, but laboriously coming on foot, they shew how great is their anxiety for their salvation.
There follows: «And the people saw them departing, and many knew Him, and ran afoot (p. 120) thither out of all cities, and outwent them.»
In saying that they outwent them on foot, it is proved that the disciples with the Lord did not reach the other bank of the sea, or of the Jordan, but they went to the nearest places of the same country, where the people of those parts could come to them on foot.
Theophylact: So do thou not wait for Christ till He Himself call you, but outrun Him, and come before Him.
There follows: «And Jesus when He came out saw many people, and was moved with compassion towards them because they were as sheep having no shepherd.»
The Pharisees being ravening wolves did not feed the sheep, but devoured them; for which reason they gather themselves to Christ, the true Shepherd, who gave them spiritual food, that is, the word of God.
Wherefore it goes on: «And He began to teach them many things.»
For seeing that those who followed Him on account of His miracles were tired from the length of the way, He pitied them and wished to satisfy their wish by teaching them.
Bede, in Marc., 2, 26: Matthew says that He healed their sick, for the real way of pitying the poor is to open to them the way of truth by teaching them and to take away their bodily pains.
Pseudo-Jerome: Mystically, however, the Lord took apart those whom He chose, that though living amongst evil men, they might not apply their minds to evil things, as Lot in Sodom, Job in the land of Uz, and Obadiah in the house of Ahab.
Bede, in Marc., 2, 25: Leaving also Judaea, the holy preachers, in the desert of the Church, overwhelmed by the burden of their tribulations amongst the Jews, obtained rest by the imparting of the grace of faith to the Gentiles.
Pseudo-Jerome: Little indeed is the rest of the saints here on earth, long is their labor, but afterward, they are bidden to rest from their labors. But as in the ark of Noah, the animals that were within were sent forth, and they that were without rushed in, so is it in the Church, Judas went, the thief came to Christ. But as long as men go back from the faith, the Church can have no refuge from grief; for Rachel weeping for her children would not be comforted. Moreover, this world is not the banquet, in which the new wine is drunk when the new song will be sung by men made anew, when this mortal shall have put on immortality.
Bede, in Marc., 2, 26: But when Christ (p. 121) goes to the deserts of the Gentiles, many bands of the faithful leaving the walls of their cities, that is their old manner of living, follow Him.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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