Last week, the priests of the archdiocese went for their annual clergy retreat, which was from Monday to Friday.
Going for a retreat may sound like a relaxing time and some people may think that the priests do nothing there but eat, sleep and pray.
And if that is really the case, then it sounds rather strange that we are asking you to pray for us priests as we go for the retreat!
But even before going for the retreat, we had to ensure that things are in order in the parish – that bills are paid so that the electricity and water won’t be cut-off, the rubbish is cleared, the stove is switched off, etc.
And then comes the things to pack – toothbrush, toothpaste, shaver, soap, clothes, medicine etc.
So even as we began the retreat on Monday morning, the mind was still whirling and wondering if we had forgotten something or left out something important.
Letting go is certainly easier said than done, because whether priest or lay person, we are still human and we tend to be anxious and worry and fret over so many things.
And so we began the retreat with the phrase that we heard in the gospel, as Jesus says: Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.
The word “rest” could almost inevitably conjure up ideas of lying around or lazing around doing nothing, with no worries, no anxieties, no problems, no pain, no illness.
But is that the kind of rest that Jesus is talking about? Because to fully understand what Jesus meant, we also need to hear the rest of what He said – Shoulder My yoke and learn from Me for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, My yoke is easy and My burden light.
St. Augustine understood what Jesus meant as he wrote in his prayer-reflection: O Lord, our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
So the “rest” that Jesus is talking about is not merely a physical bodily rest as in like some kind of couch potato.
The rest that Jesus is talking about is the stillness of the heart, the stillness that is an experience of peace, and it’s a peace that the world cannot give but only Jesus can.
And that was why the crowds followed Jesus. He gave them an experience of peace when He spoke about the mercy and compassion and forgiveness of God with parables like the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the Good Shepherd, the 11th-hour workers in the vineyard.
Jesus showed the people the heart of God, the heart of love and mercy and compassion.
And He invites us to come and rest in that heart of God. And if our hearts desire for that rest, then He also tells us what our hearts should be like.
Our hearts must be like that of Jesus – gentle and humble – then our hearts will be at rest in the heart of God.
All this sounds well and good, and the people followed Jesus and they believed that He was the Messiah, the Saviour.
They believed until Jesus was arrested, tortured, nailed to the cross and crucified to death.
With that, all is shattered, including that invitation “Come to me …” Because if Jesus who is gentle and humble of heart was killed by evil and wicked men, then the “Come to me” is just a big joke. There is no point in being gentle and humble of heart.
But if Jesus died and nothing more, then there is nothing else to talk about.
But Jesus died and He rose from the dead. And that changed everything and turned everything around. His invitation to “Come to me” are not just human words but they are risen words, words that have power, words from the Risen Jesus who overcame evil, sin and death.
And because of that, the 2nd reading has this to say: Your interests are not in the unspiritual, but in the spiritual, since the Spirit of God has made His home in you. In fact, unless you possessed the Spirit of Christ, you would not belong to Him, and if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then He who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to you.
The priest who conducted the retreat for the priest is Fr. Olivier Morin SJ, a man full of life and peace. He has a prosthetic foot (artificial foot) and it was obvious in the way he walks, and he wears sandals.
To quell our curiosity, he told us that he had an accident and his foot had to be amputated. He recalled that when he was on the operating table and the doctors were trying to save his foot, he was in intense pain, so painful that tears were rolling down from his eyes.
In that intense pain, he suddenly felt a hand holding his hand. He opened his eyes a bit and he could see that it was one of the nurses who reached out to hold his hand to comfort him.
No words were spoken, just a firm grip of the hand but that was enough for him to withstand the pain and brought him comfort and to know that someone cares.
Jesus comes to us through people we know as well as people whom we don’t, to comfort us in our pain and distress. No words may be spoken, but we know it is His healing touch.
May we also be the hands and the heart of Jesus to bring about comfort and healing to others, as well as bring those who labour and are overburdened to Jesus.
May we all find rest in the heart of Jesus, and may we also be gentle and humble of heart. That is the healing and comfort that the world needs from us.