Bottom line: This week Jesus invites us to withdraw to a deserted place. You can do this by making a novena of prayer for our young people and resolving to set aside at least twenty minutes each day for prayer. You will open yourself to a power, an immensity: Jesus himself.
You may have heard about the man who went to confession. "Father," he said, "I have a terrible problem with stealing. I work for a construction company and I am always bringing things home."
"That's pretty serious," the priest said, "for a penance I am going to have you make a novena."
"Father, I don't know what a novena is," the man said, "but if you've got the plan, I've got the lumber!"
Well, I do want you to make a novena, not out of wood, but of prayer. A novena is nine days of prayer - like the apostles did during those nine days between the Ascension and Pentecost. I want you to make it for a specific purpose: for our youth. You are aware that young people from our parish and from around the world are going to Madrid for World Youth Day. Around a million young people will join the Holy Father for Mass and for an intense period of catechesis. I want you to pray for those youth and for all our young people. You can take home a beautiful prayer and say it each day for nine days.
In today's Gospel we hear about Jesus withdrawing to a deserted place. At significant moments Jesus went apart for intense prayer. By making a novena - nine days of prayer - you will tap into the great source of power and energy. I know you want the best for your children and grandchildren, that you often worry about them. Join me in making this novena of prayers.
By Jesus' example we see that prayer comes first. Before we act, before we speak, we should pray. A certain pastor asks his parishioners to spend twenty minutes a day in prayer. It may not seem like a lot. I know people - busy people, with children at home, a job, the works - who set aside time for prayer, an hour or more each day. But twenty minutes is a good start for many people today. It's the amount of time needed to say a rosary or to slowly read a passage from the Gospels. You could take the Prayer for Youth and read it slowly. It is packed with significance. A person could easily spend twenty minutes reading it, stopping to reflect on one or other phrase, then think about your own children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, other young people you know. Maybe there is a particular young person who is troubled, seems almost lost. He - or she - needs your prayer.
Prayer opens our lives to a power, an immensity. I would like illustrate this with a comparison:
An old news story tells about four men adrift on the Atlantic Ocean near the equator. They became so thirsty that they tried to squeeze moisture from the pieces of canvas on their small lifeboat. When rescuers finally arrived, the men lay prostrate from dehydration. After gradually reviving them, the rescuers informed the men of an incredible irony: While they were fighting for a few drops of moisture, they had actually been floating on potable water! You see, they were near the Amazon River - a river so huge that it pushes fresh water far out into the ocean. (The Amazon is immense: a greater volume than the next eight rivers combined.) The men could have dipped a bucket off the side of their boat and drawn out drinkable water.
People today resemble the men in that lifeboat - thirsty, but unaware of a readily accessible source of fresh water. Pope Benedict spoke about this at World Youth Day 2008. Addressing a half million young people in Sydney, Australia, he said: "In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair. How many of our contemporaries have built broken and empty cisterns (cf. Jer 2:13) in a desperate search for meaning...?"
Speaking to the young people, Pope Benedict identified the things we are thirsting for: love that endures, opportunity to share gifts, unity based on truth, communion that respects the freedom of the other person. You can sum this up by saying that we long for three things: goodness, beauty and truth. But, said the Holy Father, instead of goodness, beauty and truth what our society offers is choice, novelty and subjective experience.** Those things are not bad in themselves, but to stop there is like squeezing water out of canvas when we are floating on an immensity of drinkable water.
And what is that ocean of living water? The pope answers in a single word: Jesus. Only by Jesus and his Holy Spirit will we find the goodness, beauty and truth we desire. Only he can give love that endures, freedom that respects each person.
Jesus withdrew to a deserted place, but he saw the crowd he had compassion for them. He then does something beautiful. Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to the disciples to distribute. The evangelist notes, "They all ate and were satisfied." Isaiah says, "All you who are thirsty, come to the water!" And in the Psalm you and I spoke these words of gratitude to God: "You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing."
Come to the water. God wants to give a gift that will satisfy us, a gift that will change us. By way of conclusion, I would like to quote Pope Benedict's invitation to young people: "God's love can only unleash its power when he is allowed to change us from within. We have to let it to break through the hard crust of our indifference...our blind conformity to the spirit of this age. Only then can we let it ignite our imagination and shape our deepest desires." Come to Jesus. Come to the water.
So, this week Jesus invites us to withdraw to a deserted place. You can do this by making a novena of prayer for our young people and resolving to set aside at least twenty minutes each day for prayer. You will open yourself to a power, an immensity: Jesus himself. Amen.
From Archives (for Eighteenth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
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Rahm Emanuel Disses Public Schools