Time and satisfaction
Our Lord frequently demonstrated the importance of what we call today “recharging one’s batteries” or “sharpening the saw,” as he would regularly take time to be alone with God in prayer, going off to “deserted places.”
Pope Benedict XVI recently spoke quite explicitly on the value of vacations.
“In the world in which we live, the need to be physically and mentally replenished has become as it were essential, especially to those who dwell in cities where the often frenzied pace of life leaves little room for silence, reflection and relaxing contact with nature.
“Moreover, holidays are days on which we can give even more time to prayer, reading and meditation on the profound meaning of life in the peaceful context of our own family and loved ones.
“The vacation period affords unique opportunities for reflection as we face the stirring views of nature, a marvelous ‘book’ within the reach of everyone, adults or children. In contact with nature, individuals rediscover their proper dimension, they recognize that they are creatures but at the same time unique, ‘capable of God’ since they are inwardly open to the Infinite.
“Driven by the heartfelt need for meaning that urges them onwards, they perceive the mark of goodness and divine Providence in the world that surrounds them and open themselves almost spontaneously to praise and prayer.”
Significantly, the Holy Father said this as part of his weekly leading of the Angelus prayer while he himself was on vacation (July 17, 2005).
Sometimes people see vacations as opportunities for the pursuit of decadent pleasure or for wallowing in inactivity. Such “vacations,” however, are ultimately unsatisfying, recalling the words of today’s first reading (Is. 55:1-3):
Why spend your money for what is not bread;
your wages for what fails to satisfy?
On the contrary, when it comes to that which comes from Christ...
They all ate and were satisfied.
Elsewere (Jn. 4:34), the Lord says,
My food is to do the will of the one who sent me
and to finish his work.
The Holy Father’s words and our Lord’s example remind us that time away is best realized as an opportunity to draw closer to God.
Yet we also see in today’s Gospel (and in the Holy Father’s working “vacation”) that we cannot totally disregard the needs of others while fulfilling our own needs.
The situation in today’s Gospel is striking: our Lord tries to be alone but finds himself faced with a crowd who needs him.
Many of us would be upset at such a disruption of our plans. Christ’s reaction, however, was not frustration or exasperation, but rather pity and compassion.
So he went right to work: curing the sick among them and making sure they had the food they needed.
After that, according to the verses immediately following today’s passage, our Lord sends the disciples and the crowds on their way and then goes up on a mountain to pray by himself. The need for him to minister to others caused a change in schedule, but not a change in the need to be alone with God.
Whether we are at work or on vacation, no matter what we feel our needs may be, our greatest need and our greatest satisfaction is to be found in doing the will of God and taking the time to be alone with him in prayer.