Jesus today wants to give us a spiritual skill to deal with one of the most frustrating experiences in the world: interruptions. We’ve all got a schedule, things we need to get done and activities we want to do, and then someone calls, someone needs us, or something goes wrong. How many interruptions have you had so far today?
The Gospel today shows Jesus’ reaction to interruptions and how He uses them to bless us. Let me read the passage, and please imagine yourselves in the shoes of the Apostles, who are hungry and need rest, but need to wait. The passage says: “The Apostles returned from their mission. They gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in a boat to a deserted place by themselves.” Rest is exactly what they need, but then comes the interruption. “Many saw them going… and they hurried there on foot… and arrived ahead of them. As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd” (Mk 6:30-34), and the Apostles said, “You’ve got to be kidding me! What do they need now? I haven’t eaten!” Wouldn’t that be our reaction? However, the passage says Jesus “had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things” (Mk 6:34).
Look at Jesus’ reaction! He’s our model. It was His idea for the apostles to rest, and it was interrupted by people with legitimate needs. Yet His compassionate response instructs us that no matter what interrupts us, we must never sin. When traffic is heavy or something goes wrong, never swear, because swearing is a venial sin. When our kids interrupt us, never give in to unjust anger. There’s just anger, that can be aroused when our kids are being rude, or are demanding and acting entitled, expressing just anger should be over the right things, for the right reasons, and in the right way.
When I was in Rome, I’d often meet with my superior, now Cardinal Beniamino Stella: We’d sit in his boardroom and the phone would always ring. When it did, he’d close his eyes, breathe deeply, and then get up and answer the phone. It was actually quite funny to watch his reaction. Yet he never answered the phone rudely, but said that he was with someone. That’s what we should do: “Could we talk another time? I’m really tired,” or, “I need to focus on something.” Be respectful, but honest, and take care of yourselves.
I want to tell you that your life will be a life of interruptions. Christians are concerned about the well-being of others, and people will know they can come to us, so our life as Christians will be one of interruptions. To be a Christian parent, a Christian worker, is a life of interruptions. St. Vincent de Paul told his priests, “If a needy person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind.” We’re just sacrificing one act of love for God for another.
However, there’s an even deeper teaching in the Gospel. Jesus uses interruptions for a greater good. We just heard that He used the interruption as an occasion to feed the people with His teaching and so evangelized them.
Two years ago, during the Year of Mercy, Sr. Ann Shields, a famous author and speaker, told God that, when she flies (which is very often), “If there’s anyone You want me to talk to or minister to on the plane, I’ll do it; I’ll put aside what I normally do—it’s Yours.” Never once that year did someone not ask for her help; they got up, walked over to her and asked, “Can I talk to you?”
There’s a story about St. Faustina: “A poor young man, barefoot and with his clothes in tatters, came to her convent gate… begging for hot food. St. Faustina immediately went to the kitchen… succeeded in finding some soup… into which she crumbled some bread. After the young man ate the soup, He revealed to her that He was the Lord Jesus in disguise!” The Holy Spirit will put us in situations where we can love Jesus in other people—we are sent to do this.
That’s why the great Catholic writer, G.K. Chesterton, wrote: “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.” If someone interrupts us or something goes wrong, we’ve got an adventure, if we understand it properly! I’ve read about some Catholic families that have six children or more, and they describe their family life as chaos, but they describe it joyfully: The kids are always doing something unexpected. I once visited a family with seven kids, and the five-year old went up to his mom and whispered something. And she started laughing. “What did he say?” I asked. She answered, “Earlier today he swallowed a penny, and now he just said, ‘Mom, it came out.’ Father, all I can do is laugh.”
Having said all this, brothers and sisters, we still need to have balance. Obviously, we can’t be interrupted all the time. Even Jesus made time to pray, eat and sleep. We have to be reasonable, avoid damaging our health and primary relationships, and honour more important commitments.
Today, God has offered us a spiritual tool to be “a community desiring to be saints,” “to love like Jesus” when interrupted, and help us realize that interruptions are opportunities to “proclaim Him in every circumstance”—these are three parts of our vision. And we’re going to have to ask Him for help in prayer today, because responding well does not come easily. We need a lot of grace to love when interrupted.
Three quick items: 1) Last week, I invited everyone to consider coming to Mass every weekend here in order to grow as a family and to receive the same spiritual teaching. However, here’s our backup plan when there are interruptions. Sign up for my blog, and get that homily e-mailed to you on Sunday. The website is called: thejustmeasure.ca.
2) Right after the homily today, let’s all take one minute to take the pledge to drive safely. This will not be an inconvenience but an opportunity.
3) Next week, we have Name Tag Sunday. This will be the beginning of the next few months of our parish’s focusing on hospitality. In order to love like Jesus and proclaim Him in every circumstance, we want to make big, concrete strides in this regard. By Christmas, we want to be able, each of us, to invite one person to Mass, and guarantee they will be welcomed like Jesus, so we want to start growing in this virtue. We want to be the most hospitable church in Vancouver!
I would like you to remember the following quick story. I heard about a man in his 30s who had depression. He committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Afterwards, his psychiatrist went to the man’s apartment and found his diary. There was an entry written just a couple of hours before his death which said, “I’m going to walk to the bridge, and if one person smiles at me along the way, I won’t jump.” (Watch at 54:55.) The doctor who recounts this story says, “We don’t know all that we can be to another person.”
Next week will be an adventure, the opportunity to bless someone else by staying around after Mass for 15 minutes and love each other as Jesus. The life we live with Christ will do so much good! By Christmas, we want to have a culture of smiling at each other, a culture of wanting to know each other’s names, a culture of reaching out to people and making sure that everyone experiences the love of Christ.
The greatest gift Jesus gave the people on the day we heard about in the Gospel was not His teaching, but the multiplication of loaves, which is a sign of our greatest treasure, the Eucharist. And we’ll hear about this next week! That reminds us that interruptions should no longer be annoying, because they’re just ways Jesus is blessing us, and allowing us to bless others.