“Prayer and work” are the rhythm of the Christian life. Mother Teresa expressed this beautifully on the little “business cards” she would give out: “Prayer is the fruit of silence; faith is the fruit of prayer; love is the fruit of faith; service is the fruit of love.” It’s a kind of chain reaction—silence leads to prayer, which leads to faith, then to love, and finally to serving others. Authentic prayer will inevitably lead to service. A Christian who prays but does not serve is kind of a dud, a “failure to launch.”
In today’s gospel, Jesus is weary of the crowds and just wants to get away by himself. The previous day the “whole town” had been gathered at his door for a free cure, and he must’ve been exhausted. We’ve all had days when everyone needs something from us. So the next day Jesus gets up very early and goes alone to a deserted place to pray. But before long Peter and the others find him and order him back to work: “everyone is looking for you!” Jesus simply says, “let us go…for this purpose I have come.” God came to earth to serve, and during our time on earth we must serve with him. There’s certainly plenty of work to be done.
Only a Shadow
The Catholic Church in San Francisco is but a shadow of what she once was, and I suppose that is true in most of our big cities. I realized this most forcefully last week with the storm of protest against our altar boy policy, but it became much more apparent when I saw Archbishop Cordileone attacked for requiring Catholic school teachers to teach Catholic doctrine. These protests are generated by the secular media, of course, but what surprised me was how quickly and cruelly our own parishioners joined in. For CBS to belittle Catholic belief and practice is understandable; for a Catholic to do so is dysfunctional and disobedient. If Catholics side with the media against their own archbishop, then we must say that the Church in our city has somehow failed. In 1939 France and Germany were still “accommodating” the National Socialists in Germany even as the Reich’s armies overran Poland; our Church has also been complicit to some degree in the rise of the increasingly militant “dictatorship of relativism” in this country.
My People are Dying
“The people are dying for lack of knowledge,” cried out the prophet Hosea (4:6). “They don’t know me, and so they don’t want me” Jesus said to Mother Teresa in 1946. People are dying because they have not found a credible witness to Christ. Last year 38 people jumped to their deaths from the Golden Gate Bridge, down from 46 the previous year. Jesus spent from morning to night healing these people, principally by witnessing to the love God has for them. He commands us to work with him.
“But father, I’ve tried to bring my children back to Mass!” many lament. True enough: it’s downright difficult to serve people who don’t want our services. The 50 Catholic parishes in San Francisco offer hundreds of “services” every Sunday, and most are mostly empty. So let us begin with silence and prayer, as Mother Teresa counsels on her “business card.” His bishop assigned St. John Vianney a dying parish in 1818 with these words: “there is little love of God in that parish.” Fr. Vianney sat in the confessional and no one came. He offered Mass and no one assisted. So he gave himself over to prayer, spending long hours in his silent church. Eventually people started coming, because they knew they needed what he had to offer.
Prayer through Our Lady
As always, we turn to Our Lady. She knew she could not save even one soul, so she gave herself over to prayer. Her prayer was: “Let it be done to me as you say.” We who have faith will avoid the terrible discouragement of seeing our society lose its faith by repeating those words, and turning to Our Lady for consolation and strength.