Fr. Biju Kannampuzha is the pastor of St. John Vianney Parish in Barrie, Ont.
Many years ago, in Athens, in what is today Greece, the great storyteller Aesop was playing with a group of children. A passerby laughed and jeered at Aesop, asking him why he was wasting his time in such a foolish manner. Aesop picked up a bow, loosened its string and placed it on the ground. Then, Aesop asked the passerby, “Now, answer this riddle, if you can: Tell us what the unstrung bow implies.”
The man studied the bow for a few moments before he concluded that he had no idea what point Aesop was trying to make. Aesop pointed out that, “If you keep a bow always bent, it will eventually break; but if you let it go slack, it will be fitter for use when you want it.” Aesop was teaching about balance.
Organizational psychologist Adam Grant identified the “dominant emotion of 2021” as “languishing” in an article published in The New York Times. He described languishing as a sense of emptiness, despondency, hopelessness. A lack of joy, the dulling of delight and the absence of desire.
Have you experienced languishing as a result of the pandemic? If so, you are not alone. Research has shown that nearly 60 per cent of the population is experiencing some sort of issue that has affected their emotional wellbeing as a result of the pandemic. People are anxious, sleepless, worried and have lost their sense of balance and rhythm.
The COVID-19 pandemic broke the boundaries between home and work, rest and productivity. Some people were forced to transform their homes into makeshift daycares, schools, nursing facilities and professional workspaces – all at once – just to meet the multigenerational demands of life under quarantine. Some others are living 24/7 on Zoom. A number of people lost their job and income, got evicted or watched loved ones die of COVID.
Yes, we’re languishing, because we’re not meant to live this way. We need to honour the rhythms and balances of work and life.
Today’s Gospel features a Jesus who believes in balance in life. He invites his disciples – and us – to: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” He offers us a way out. A way out of our culture’s incessant need for stimulation. We live in a fast-paced world where we are constantly moving from task to task, skipping meals and dodging deadlines. In essence, we are flying through life in a perpetual state of haste in our effort to make it to the end of the week and catch our breath.
Today’s Gospel begins with the Apostles returning from their first mission trip. They are excited and enthusiastic. They are itching to share their thrilling stories of healings and exorcisms with Jesus. They are on a high and ready to take on their next task. In their minds, the crowds are waiting for them, and they are eager to go back and minister to them.
But Jesus disagrees. Where the disciples see energy, Jesus sees overstimulation. Where the disciples see a demanding agenda, Jesus sees a poor sense of balance and rhythm. Jesus sees the need; the need to relax and reflect, to rest and recharge.
As we pray in today’s responsorial Psalm, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leads us to still waters, makes us lie down in green pastures and He wants to restore our soul.
There is story of a man who was visiting the United States many years ago. The man wanted to make a phone call, but when he entered a phone booth, he found it to be different from those of his own country. As it was getting dark, he was unable to find the number in the phone book. He noticed a light in the ceiling but he was unsure how to make it work. Just then, a passerby saw his dilemma and said, “Sir, if you want to turn the light on, you have to shut the door.” To his amazement, when he closed the door, the booth was filled with light.
In a similar way, in order to illuminate our world, enlighten our mind, energize our body, we must block out our busy world and draw aside in a deserted place with Jesus. Allow him revitalize our languished world.
It’s not a coincidence that Jesus invites his disciples to leave the noise and crowds behind. Sometimes, we need deep silence. We need to unplug.
As Jesus invited his disciples to a deserted place, His Eminence, Cardinal Collins, earlier this week, extended an invitation to all the clergy in the Archdiocese of Toronto to come together for a priests retreat in October. Due to the global pandemic, we missed this yearly gathering in 2020. But I look forward to participating in this year’s retreat. It is an opportunity to reflect and pray, to rest and relax, to recharge and rejuvenate.
This homily is based on the readings from the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalms 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34.