At Sunday Mass: Twenty-third Psalm, everyone’s favorite. The Lord spreads a table for us, giving us repose near restful waters, refreshing our souls. Sounds like just what we want for summertime. A real vacation from all our worries and cares.
In the first reading, the prophet condemns the evil pseudo-shepherds. They had failed to lead the sheep to the peaceful pastures. Instead, the sheep trembled with aimless fear, because no one guided them. They grew exhausted and listless, neither resting nor fully alive. Like workaholics, or people who watch too much tv, or spend too much time playing videogames.
Perhaps we can attest to this: without a divine Shepherd guiding us, we human sheep do not find true rest. We cannot find refreshment. We wind up frazzled and spent, or we slip into self-destructive idleness.
Now, speaking of tired but restless: some of us over-exert ourselves physically. But the physical side is actually the least of our worries. Nervous mental exhaustion poses the greater problem.
We are, after all, primarily spiritual creatures. Intelligence distinguishes us from all the other hairy mammals running around the earth. We have ample minds, hungry for stimulation. But, left to our own devices, we don’t seem to know how to bring these minds of ours in for a truly refreshing rest.
For intelligent, reflective creatures, ‘rest’ fundamentally means: A quiet conscience. A soul prepared to meet the ultimate Judge. When nothing inside me accuses me of evil, then I can find peace and quiet. But if my conscience troubles me, then even two weeks on the white-sand beach of a Corona ad will not really refresh me.
The divine Shepherd leads us to interior repose, by guiding us down the path of harmony with truth. That’s the thing about a human conscience: truth is our only real rest. There’s only so much lying to itself that a conscience can do. No matter how many lies a conscience may tell itself, it always pays itself back–with strange, self-inflicted punishment.
I haven’t put in an honest day’s work for my employer, so my guilt-ridden soul fills itself with anxiety about something else, or gets angry over nothing, or loses its ability to enjoy simple pleasures.
Or: I lied to my spouse about something, so now I can’t concentrate at work, or pay attention to the friend I’m talking to, or the game I’m trying to watch.
As Gertrude puts it in Hamlet, reflecting on her guilt-ridden anxiety, “Each toy seems Prologue to some great amiss. So full of artless jealousy is guilt. It spills itself in fearing to be spilt.”
The Truth, therefore, is our best friend, when it comes to actually getting some rest. And Christ the divine Shepherd leads us to all truth, if only we stay within earshot of Him.
Give God His due. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Repent, and believe. Pray morning, noon, and night.
Simple enough, really—humbly obeying the Son of God. Not easy, to be sure, but not complicated, either—provided that we simply listen and obey. The peace of a tranquil Christian conscience does not require rocket science. It requires something much more rarefied, something much more sublime: Taking a vacation from my own ego, my own pride.
In our pride, we convince ourselves that… It’s all up to me! Or: My sins are so evil God could never forgive them! Or: praying and studying religion don’t matter anywhere near as much as all my other stupendous enterprises!
Do we really want a good, relaxing summer vacation? Then let’s turn humbly to God and take a vacation from our own nonsense
Let’s give the divine Shepherd a chance to lead us to some real rest for our souls. Let’s purify ourselves with a good, thorough summer Confession. Let’s open our ears more to the Shepherd’s soothing voice, by giving more time to prayer. Let’s spend some extra time studying the faith, so that He can nourish us with the food of his truth.
[Now we get into matters of local interest in Rocky Mount/Martinsville] Speaking of vacations, pretty soon you will have a nice, permanent vacation from the tall nerd who has bored you to distraction for these past four years.
Next week I will have a few things to say by way of a goodbye. But let me say now that these past four years have been the happiest of my life. No priest could ever hope for a parish full of people more kind, more generous, more truly faithful. You have been so much kinder to me, and more patient with me, than I have deserved. In your kindness and patience, you have taught me more about the good Lord than I can really fathom.
Thank you very much for being so good to me.