Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. In this time of lockdown and pandemic, life is tough for many. I think we all can identify with the words of Job today who describes life’s struggle as ‘pressed service and hired drudgery’. So too with St Paul in his efforts to preach and serve that he describes as a duty that had been laid upon him. His mission and his life were certainly not easy.
Let’s take a closer look at what Paul has to say in the second reading. There he tells us of what are the two wellsprings of strength he has to meet the challenges he faces. These are the wellsprings that we too can go to when life is hard and when we get weary trying to keep going, day after day.
First, Paul tells us that the real fire in his heart that drove him on was the love of Jesus Christ. Everywhere he went, he could not be silent about the love of God that had touched his own life and that he wanted to share with as many as possible. Here was a man who had a big story to tell. It was the story of his personal relationship with Jesus Christ in the Spirit, a friendship that had changed his life forever. As he strove to serve people, it was never for its own sake but for the sake of the Gospel so that others would come to know Christ too and come to faith in him. So this was the first wellspring of inspiration – his faith in Christ’s love that burned in his heart. For us too, we know the importance of prayer and spiritual renewal as a power to refresh us. Very often a good walk on the beach alone with God or a prayerful hour before Jesus present in the Eucharist can be more refreshing than the holiday we think we need. In our exhaustion, sometimes it is our spirits that need rest the most. Look at Jesus in today’s Gospel – after meeting the crowds he went off to a lonely place and prayed there.
The second wellspring for Paul was his desire to serve others. The whole direction of his life was pointed outwards to people he loved and wanted to help. It is good for us to be reminded of this as well and not allow ourselves to be turned in on ourselves. To write to someone, visit someone, call someone, pray for someone are exercises that keep our focus on service and on the bigger world out there. It also reminds us that we keep going out of love for those to whom God’s love sends us.
I conclude with a few lines from a homily Pope Paul VI gave in Manila in 1970 that captures the spirit of St Paul who overcame the drudgery of his mission inspired by the two wellsprings of his friendship with Christ and his desire to love and serve:
‘Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel! I am sent by Christ himself to do this. I am an apostle, I am a witness. The more distant the goal, the more difficult my mission, the more pressing is the love that urges me to it. I must bear witness to his name: Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God…I could never finish speaking about him: he is the light and the truth; indeed he is the way, the truth and the life. He is the bread and the spring of living water to satisfy our hunger and our thirst. He is our shepherd, our guide, our model, our comfort, our brother’.
'Set us on fire, O God, with the energy of the Holy Spirit, that we may serve the Gospel with every fibre of our being and serve the people you love in your name. Give us that Spirit especially when life is hard and we are tired. Amen.