Striving to Rest

breviary

The promise of entering into his rest. (Hebrews 4:11)

St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews offers us the definitive interpretation of Psalm 95. And Psalm 95 must be important, since we priests recite it every day, first thing. It is the daily opening of the Divine Office.

The psalm exhorts us to sing praise to the Creator, to acknowledge His universal sway, and to submit to him like sheep submit to their shepherd. “Today, listen to the Lord!” Soften your hearts. Because the stubborn will not enter into his rest.

Interpreting all this, St. Paul exhorts us: “Let us strive to enter into that rest.”

A paradoxical thing to say, to be sure. Strive! To rest. Since I am a runner, and therefore know that there is nothing more relaxing than running many miles, I can feature this paradox pretty well.

Juniper Serra tombWe all can, I think. Back in the day, before Roe v. Wade, the few weeks before Ash Wednesday had a sleepy, restful feel in the typical American parish, and naps were allowed. But we cannot rest in late January now. We have to go on a pilgrimage and stand up for human rights.

So we strive, in order to enter into rest.

Speaking of striving and entering into his rest: Father Junipero Serra, Apostle of California.

Perhaps you recall that some brother priests and I followed in Father Junipero’s footsteps for a week last winter. The California missions he founded wrap the pilgrim up in prayerful quiet and devotion to God even now, 200 years later. I prayed for all of us at Father Serra’s tomb.

The very-exciting news for us American Catholics: Holy Father will canonize Junipero Serra this fall! When Pope Francis comes to visit the U.S. Really wonderful news.

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Desert Journey

transporter room star trek

Of old, when the Lord liberated His people from slavery in Egypt, He did so in order to lead them to the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey.

Now, how to get the Chosen People to the destination? …Which means of travel? …Can’t use a Boeing 787, because they have all been grounded due to safety concerns…

Now, God, being God, could have constructed a Transporter Room just east of the Red Sea on the Sinai Peninsula, and another one at the foot of Mt. Zion. He could have brought Scotty into the mix and beamed all the Israelites, six at a time, across the hundreds of miles. He could even have included a quick stopover on Mt. Sinai to receive His commandments.

But God, being infinitely wise, did not choose to do this. Rather, He led the Israelites through an enormously difficult desert journey, in which all their endurance, all their patience, all their greatness of spirit, and all their faith would be put to the supreme test.

If all that sounds a little bit like life on earth, well—that’s because it is. God did not unfold the events of the ancient covenant, nor did He write the Holy Scriptures, merely to entertain Himself. No, it all happened for the sake of our illumination, for our edification. He wrote the Bible in order to clarify for us, for you and for me, the (otherwise unknowable) fundamental direction of life, not to mention the (otherwise extremely mysterious) meaning of life.

Herve VillechaizeNow, why would the infinitely loving, unfathomably gentle, and incomparably generous Lord of heaven and earth put His beloved Chosen People to such a preposterously difficult test?

These poor souls wandered and wandered until they had calluses on top of their calluses. They lived through an extended Lent on a bread-and-water fast. Enemies surrounded them, appearing to loom over them, like a legion of Wilt Chamberlains closing in on a band of hobbits led by Hervé Villechaize.

It was rough. God demanded the purest faith from these people.

Like us. Like He demands the purest faith from us.

Why? Well, the short answer, when it comes to any question regarding God’s own motives, is: Because. Why? Because. Why? Because? Why? Because.

For the same reason that mom, having good, grown-up reasons for the rules she lays down, can justly answer her four-year-old in this manner—for the same reason, God may justly answer us in this way.

But He, in fact, has not answered us like this, even though He justly could. No, to the contrary, He clearly says:

Yes, my children, I want you to understand why I train you like a coach would train an aspiring Olympian. I want you to understand why I treat you like Yoda treated Luke. I want you to know why my leadership of my army of faithful souls makes Robert E. Lee leading his shoeless rapscallions into Maryland look like a cake-walk, like a patsy leading cats into a tuna factory… Here’s why; here’s why I am a harder man even than these:

Look at my Son. This Son of mine is the image of you and Me united in perfect love. This is what you are meant for. You can be pure like He is pure. You can be selfless like He is selfless. You can be grand exactly as He is grand.

Just trust Me. Keep walking. The destination you will reach is the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.