Our gospel reading is the continuation of last Sunday’s narrative wherein Jesus starts his Sabbath day by preaching in the synagogue and driving out an unclean spirit from an afflicted man. In today’s gospel, Jesus proceeds to the house of Peter where he finds Peter’s mother-in-law sick with fever and heals her. By sundown, the whole town of Capernaum gather at Peter’s door to bring their sick and those possessed by demons. Jesus heals them too. Early the next morning, Jesus goes to a deserted place to pray. After finding him, the disciples tell Jesus that more people are seeking him. He replies by saying that he must go and preach also to the other villages.
In the gospel of Mark, we see this pattern of activities recurring as Jesus does ministry. Today’s gospel gives us a glimpse of a typical day in Jesus’ public life, which is spent in preaching, healing and exorcising. Thus, he fulfills the mission for which he is “sent to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind…” (Lk 4:18)
Jesus applies himself totally to his mission with unrelenting determination and untiring zeal. He later would lament, “I have come to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were already burning.” (Lk 12:49) He carries this unquenchable yearning to the end when from the cross, he cries out, “I thirst.” (Mystics, like Mother Teresa, interpret this as thirst for souls.)
As Jesus was sent by the Father to preach and to heal, we too are sent by Jesus to do the same. Through baptism, we have become his disciples, who do not only follow him but also continue his mission. To be a disciple is to be missionary.
This is the theme of our celebration of 500 Years of Christianity - Missio ad Gentes: Gifted to Give. The gift of faith we have received five centuries ago is not meant only for us, but for us to share to others. “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Mt 10:8)
How we wish we can fulfill our mission with the same intensity, enthusiasm and commitment as Jesus had - bishops and priests in their pastoral ministry and leadership, lay people living as Christian leaven in society, in their family, workplace, institution, government... If we only have the same missionary love and zeal of Jesus, the coming of the kingdom among us would be hastened. The crucial question is how can we acquire such missionary drive?
In a press conference conducted during the visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines, a journalist asked Fr. Federico Lombardi, the papal spokesperson, “Considering the age and physical condition of the Pope, it seems he is unaffected by his heavy and hectic schedule of activities. From where does he get his energy?” Fr. Lombardi replied, “From prayer; he begins his day in prayer,”
We learn from a papal interview conducted by Fr. Spadaro that the Holy Father wakes up at 4 o’clock every morning and starts his day with an hour of personal prayer and the Eucharist before anything else.
In today’s gospel, Jesus gives us the example of communing with God before going out for mission. This is only logical; after all, it is God who sends us on mission. I think it was Fulton Sheen who commented that the first recorded word of Jesus in the gospel is “Come” (Jn 1:39) and his last word is “Go.” (Mt 28:19; Mk 16:15)
God is not only the origin of mission. He is the source of all that we need in our mission – light, strength, courage, zeal, enthusiasm, joy, commitment… In fact, it is actually God who accomplishes our mission. All he asks is that we allow him to work in us and through us. Thus, we need to be in constant and close connection with him.
“The Soul of the Apostolate” is a classic spiritual book written by Dom Chautard, a Cistercian abbot, on interior life. It is a treatise on prayer which he rightly identifies as the soul of every apostolate.
We live in a frenetic and fast-changing time, accustomed to instant gratification and ever anxious for quick results. Hence, we easily succumb to the temptation of cutting corners and taking short-cuts to the detriment of our expected outcomes. This temptation is also present in our mission. Like Jesus, we too can find ourselves overwhelmed by the many demands of the ministry. If we are not careful, we can gradually dispense with prayer by telling ourselves that our work is our prayer. Thus, we easily become victims to empty activism which makes us no different from a social worker or an NGO.
Jesus too was overwhelmed by people thronging to him from every side. Yet he, who is the hypostatic union with God himself, still felt the need to look for a lonely place and quiet time to pray.