After the apostles returned to him after their first missionary journey, we might think that Jesus was happy for their successes and accomplishments. Notice that first line. "The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all that they had done and taught".
Think about it. Even though they were excited to have had the chance to engage in their ministries and apostolic works, the disciples' “missionary work” took place without Jesus.
At that time, they did not fully understand the true nature of Jesus, that He was truly God present with them. They first engaged in their work of ministry without Our Lord accompanying them. They came back to Him, no doubt all excited about what they had achieved. You would expect that Our Lord would have welcomed them back and celebrated their successes with at least a meal, a pat on the back, given them badges or special titles. But no. Instead, of all places, He takes them into the desert, into a wilderness to be alone with Him and Him only.
We have to do the same. Christ wants to take us into a desert to be alone with Him. Just when we want to begin all our ministries and parish events, into the desert we go with Christ the Good Shepherd - into a place of quietness, without noise, distraction, chattering, where there is no signal on your cell phone and all is still.
We are not used to being taken by Christ into a desert, especially when we are eager to get back to things we used to do. But why does He bring us into the desert, after we have been doing so many good things?
Simply, so that we can first build up a close, and personal, face to face relationship with Him, with our Lord, in His Presence, away from the music of the world, away from the noise of the city, away from the pestering demands of daily life.
In short, before we engage in any sort of mission, ministry or apostolic work, Our Lord calls us to retreat - to first enter into His presence only. Without this, we will just be blowing bubbles and the wind will take them in whatever direction it blows.
It is therefore timely that during the week I received a direction from the bishop in the form of a three page letter. In fact every pastor of every parish in San Diego received it. The bishop laments the findings that many Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of Our Lord.
This is seen particularly in how we regard the Blessed Sacrament, when we ignore Our Lord’s Real and True Presence before the tabernacle, within the Mass and especially, that, regretfully, many Catholics approach Holy Communion, without prayerful reflection that they are actually, spiritually and physically entering into Holy Communion with the Body, Blood, the soul and the divinity of Christ Himself - not in any symbolic or figurative way, but an encounter with the Resurrected and Glorified Christ, on earth as He is in Heaven.
The Bishop is asking all the pastors to set the groundwork for a major renewal of our Faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Not only will this involve a better and clearer understanding of Christ’s Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, but it has everything to do with how we approach our surroundings when we enter this space, a place that is made sacred first and foremost by the real presence of Christ who
first waits for us at the doors of the tabernacle,
and after we hear the echo of His words through the Gospel,
He literally draws us into His presence through the His eternal Sacrifice at the Altar
and then invites His chosen ones into Holy Communion with His very self.
To set the groundwork for this renewal of our focus on Christ’s Real Presence, I once again follow the example of Our Lord in the Gospel.
The Good Shepherd takes His disciples away from their present engagements and brings them first, back into His Real Presence in a setting that is conducive to them focusing first all their attention, devotion, and prayer centered on Him - not on each other, not the world outside.
To that end, we are entering into the sacred place of a desert with Christ. That’s why, you will notice a certain and necessary quietness now during the Mass, a different rhythm and pace. This will help us, as the bishop’s letter to the pastors allows us, to look out for any tell-tale signs that we might have lost sight or are easily distracted away from the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, especially here in this place made sacred by Our Lord waiting to engage with you or me.
For that reason I sat down with the senior cantor and we had a very fruitful two hour discussion about how even the selection of hymns and music can help us rediscover and appreciate the gentle and real presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Mass.
During the week, I’ll be meeting with some of the altar servers. We will reflect on how the actions and movements within the very sanctuary itself can also help better communicate the sacred Presence of Christ as He draws us into own prayer to His Heavenly Father through the Mass.
And I’ll be meeting sometime soon with the lectors to offer some practical suggestions as to how to communicate without distraction, and even in the midst of distractions, God’s Word that we must carefully listen to and reflect upon.
I know too that our parish has had an Adoration chapel for a long time. But we all must first learn how to adore the Blessed Sacrament first and foremost here in this place, if Our Lord is to extend His presence out from His sanctuary. There can be no Eucharistic ministry to the sick and homebound without first adoration of the Blessed Sacrament before the Tabernacle itself, where Holy Communion is reserved first and foremost for the sick.
All of this is not on our own terms. Listen to the Gospel again. Christ took His disciples into the desert after all their activity in their various ministries. Do you think they wanted to go into a quiet place, into a wilderness? Probably not.
But Christ did, so that their focus would be, not on their own wants or activities, but on His Real Presence first and foremost. That is where we are now. That is we're going, whether we like it or not. We are going into a retreat formation, where the Good Shepherd will lead us, showing us His presence more intensely, and allowing us to know and love Him more deeply, up close and personal.
“The bread of life is most valued not by the idle, or those who live in crowded cities surrounding themselves with the honors of the world. It is rather most cherished by those who seek Christ in the stillness of the desert.” (Jerome: Homily on the Song of Songs)
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021