August 3, 2008, Year A
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reflection on the Readings
By Dennis Hankins
Theme: Jesus in the Desert
When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a lonely place..."
Jesus comes to this desert place contemplating the death of John the Baptist, his own cousin and forerunner. It is John who said of Jesus, "Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." No doubt Jesus is meditating upon this as he comes to this place of aloneness with the Father.
John himself was a man of the desert place. The people came to the desert place to hear John's words. Jesus often retreated to a place of quiet and seclusion. To such a place the people came so they could be close to Jesus and hear his voice. It is as the disciples said, a lonely place, a place of seclusion and solitude.
Elijah fearing the rampage of Jezebel, sought a place of seclusion. Elijah seeks the comfort and refuge of a cave at the mount of God in Horeb. Here the Lord passes before him in dramatic ways. First there was the strong wind, then an earthquake, and after this a fire. However, the Lord was not in the wind or the earthquake nor the fire. After the fire there was a 'still small voice,' a voice he recognized. This voice 'stilled the winds and the waves.' It is this voice that whispered away the fever of Peter's mother-in-law. The woman taken in adultery heard this voice say, "Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more." And it is this voice that said from the Cross, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."
In pursuing the lover of our souls, it is the distractions and temptations of this world we leave behind. A double minded man is unstable in all of his ways. A divided heart is broken, but not for God. And the lust of the eye feeds the imagination with weird and awkward thoughts betraying the idea we are made in the image of God. Retreating into the prayer closet brings the spiritual life of the Holy Trinity into our hearts, our heads and our homes. Here is the place where we may contemplate what is good and perfect, the very will of God. In this secret place the Lord will clothe us with the beauty of his holiness.
In the desert place Jesus had compassion upon the people and healed their sick. He will have compassion upon us too. As we draw nearer to him, he will heal our sin sick heart. The heart is deceptively wicked; only He who knows what is in the heart of man is able to restore it. Through sacramental confession we meet the Christ who embraces a 'broken and contrite spirit.' Falling into his loving arms, we learn that Jesus is not willing that any should perish.
This story of the multiplication of the loaves is recounted in all four Gospels. Like the miracle of the manna in the desert, here in this deserted place Jesus feeds the multitudes with five loaves and two fish. Jesus desires to feed us too. He feeds us today not with the loaves and fish but with the life of his own body and blood. In Eucharistic actions, Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave the loaves to his disciples and the disciples gave them to the crowds. Each Sunday we are called to separate ourselves from the mundane and unite ourselves with the mystery of the Eucharist. As we partake of the body and blood of Jesus we become a new creation.
Every altar throughout the Church is a microcosm of the desert, the place of seclusion and solitude. In this place we find the sanctuary of his love, the place where he receives his beloved as a bride adorned for her husband. In this place we hear again a loving and familiar voice saying, "Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant."
Let us pray: Dear Jesus, ever call me to yourself. May my soul find refuge in the secret place of the most high. Abiding in the shadow of the Almighty do I find refuge and my soul rests in true solitude; here I embrace you in the sanctuary of your love. Amen.