“The apostles rejoined Jesus and told him all they had done and taught…” (Mk 6:30)
Ministry to young people forms part of the identity of the religious order I belong to. Much of our formation as Salesians is carried out by means of hands-on experience. For instance, right from the phase of junior seminary up until the final months before our ordination to priesthood, on Sunday afternoons we would be sent out in groups of two or three to various locations situated around the formation house. We call this ministry, “Sunday Oratories”. The “brothers” would go to the location – which would often be a playground or an open field – blow the whistle, gather the young people of the locality, play and pray with them. Also catechetical or moral instructions would be offered on those occasions. In this great tradition, what is relevant to our reflection today is that after we return from our Sunday Oratories we had to write a report as a group and append it to a file. This would be checked up periodically by one of the formation guides. But report-writing was not always as easy as actually going out and playing with the youth. Often report-writing was delegated to one of the brothers in the group, and he might usually postpone it to another day, sometimes closer to the day of reckoning – when the formation guide would gather the reports! In the gospel reading of today, Jesus offers the apostles the opportunity for making immediate oral reports!
The gospel narration is the continuation of that of last Sunday. So too is our reflection. (In the actual gospel text there is a break: after Jesus sent the apostles out in pairs to preach the gospel, Mark cuts in with the story of the beheading of John the Baptist to show the passage of time. Very typical of him: like he cuts in the story of the healing of Jairus daughter with the story of the woman healed from bleeding) Last Sunday, we heard / read how Jesus “summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs, giving them authority over unclean spirits”, and “to proclaim repentance” (Mk 6: 7, 12). Today, we hear how “the apostles rejoined Jesus and told him all they had done and taught,” and he would take them to “a lonely place where they could be by themselves” (Mk 6:30-32). The section of the gospel offers many practical insights that are relevant to the life and ministry of the church. I would summarize it in one word: “accountability”.
Accountability as debriefing
Jesus sent them out. He delegates his ministry to the apostles. He makes them partners in his redemptive work (the Evangelist John would refer to the public ministry of Jesus, including his miracles, as “works” (Jn 5:20; 7:3; 9:3; 10:25, 32; 14:10-12; 15:240)). And as a good leader he has a moment of debriefing with his delegates after the execution of the task. The moment perhaps has some significance for Jesus: to see how the apostles are growing – are they gaining confidence in continuing his mission? Are they really able to prioritize what is most important? However, the way Mark puts it, I suppose, this moment of debriefing has a greater significance for the apostles, who have just returned from their first attempts at active ministry. It is a moment to celebrate the success stories. They had actually “cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them” (Mk 6:13). This moment of debriefing is also a moment to evaluate; a moment to feel as a community; a moment just to rest with “the boss!”
We are all delegates of Jesus today in the church, sharing in his ministry. For those of us who share in some form of responsibility over others in the church, this simple story in the gospel leaves us with a score of meaningful questions: how far do we appreciate moments of evaluation, accountability or debriefing, that are already in place? Do we see these moments as not only necessary, but helpful, opportunities for forming in ourselves the heart of a true shepherd – the new type of a shepherd that we heard described in the first reading of today: who would ensure that there is “No fear, no terror for the [people] any more; and not one shall be lost” (Jer 23: 4).
In the secular world today, those who are involved in caring ministries are part of a system that has stringent mechanisms of what they call, “supervision”. Counsellors, therapists, chaplains, and even nurses in some countries, are expected to have sessions of supervision after certain hours of work. During these sessions with another experienced person, the practitioner has the opportunity to report, to evaluate, to grow, and to improve their own practice. Looked at similar situations in the church, we might notice that there is much to be desired. Does the God we serve deserve any less? Do the people we care for in the church deserve any less? A simple example would be to ask ourselves: how well-attended are the meetings in church contexts – of apostolic groups, of pastoral councils? How are they programmed – how much time is set apart in these meetings for reflection and animation, rather than merely planning for the next feast? Pastoral supervision is another area that needs much attention even for priests in the Catholic Church! Being more accountable would help us avoid abuse of power, and to uphold the glory of God!
Accountability as faith-sharing
On another level, in the light of the gospel story of today accountability in church contexts could be seen as an experience of faith-sharing: “The apostles rejoined Jesus and told him all they had done and taught…” (Mk 6:30). Faith-sharing is a practice of speaking in groups about how the Lord works in our lives. It is a way of even talking about our success stories within the framework of faith.
To me, the most powerful example of faith-sharing that could be found in the gospels is the story of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. The two women share with each other how the Lord had worked in their lives in a unique, but similar, ways. In so doing their own faith-experience is deepened. For Elizabeth, it was a moment of exuberant joy, to the extent that her baby jumps for joy. She recognizes how wonderfully God has worked in the life of this young girl, Mary, just like how He worked in her own life. And for Mary, it is the confirmation of the words of the angel to her: “your cousin Elizabeth also, in her old age, has conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God” (Lk 1:36-37). And as a result, she bursts out singing (Lk 1:46-55). Could we say, the returned apostles had similar feelings of exuberance as they heard each other’s stories in the presence of Jesus? For the apostles, their celebrative sharing was followed by silence – a moment to savor the working of God that was achieved even through their own hands.
In our church communities today, we need more moments for faith-sharing. In some parts of the world, there is a revival of Basic (or Small) Christian Communities. I call it, ‘a revival’ because it is one expression of returning to the way early Christians lived their faith (Acts 2:44-47; 4:32-35) – at least in a limited way. In simple terms, BCC is a group of families in a given locality – say 7 to 10 families – who come together for weekly faith-sharing based on a gospel text, often the gospel reading of the Sunday close to the day of the meeting. The location for the meeting could be the homes of the member-families, taking turns to host these meetings. I see the meetings in these communities as providing the opportunity for faith-sharing. I would even dare to suggest that BCC could be a powerful means of New Evangelization even in today situation.
For those parts of the world where these structures already exist, the gospel of today challenges us to give an orientation of faith-sharing to the meetings in BCC: moving away from mere administrative agenda to sharing on the word of God; moving from a homiletic (preaching) approach to the word of God to a personalization of the working of God in our daily lives; moving away from an apologetic (defensive) style of reading the word of God to drawing meaning from it for the events of our daily lives. Simply put, we need occasions to talk about what we have been able to say and do during the week by the grace of God; and to spend silent moments savoring the working of God in our life and work.
A Pause for Renewal
What could be more appealing than the invitation of Jesus in the gospel of this Sunday “to come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while” (Mark 6:31). Everyone in this frantic and complex way of life feels that he or she needs “to get away from it all” on occasion. Here is a saying of Christ that is easy to follow, that is made to order for the lifestyle of this century.
Perhaps. However, there is one danger in the way that we might tend to interpret this passage that could destroy its effectiveness. We might tend to interpret this to mean an escape from reality for a while, a liberation from thoughts about our daily reality.
Such an interpretation is not exactly what Jesus meant. To “come apart by oneself and rest for a while” does not mean escape. Rather it means a time to gently come into the heart of reality. It means that we can stop and ponder our daily living so that we can discover what is really important in it. It means an opportunity to talk quietly and undistractedly with the Divine Being so that our perspectives on life can be put in order. Very simply, it means a time for a prayerful look into the very foundations of our being.
The unfortunate consequence of looking at solitude as a time for escape from reality is that, when the escape is over, we take up exactly where we left off. All of our unpleasant realities are still there, un-confronted and unresolved! We come back to the same frantic rut, perhaps rested but not renewed.
When we come back from a thoughtful time away, we come back more real, more able to see what is important and worthwhile in our daily reality.
“Pause and rest,” Jesus tells us, but don’t escape. One of the great advantages of a meditative “pause that renews” may be the discovery that our daily reality really isn’t anywhere near as bad as we thought.
Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.