Jesus' Apostles had completed their first successful missionary endeavor. After being with Him for a long time, under His tutelage and guidance, they had been sent out to be His ambassadors, to announce His message and testify to its truth. Now they returned to report their progress. We know from the other evangelists that this moment of reunion was full of rejoicing and energy - they had experienced the power of God working through them, moving people's hearts through their words and deeds. And how does Christ respond when His missionaries return from their exciting and busy adventure? He takes them aside to rest, to be with Him again in the quiet intimacy of their small community.
The lesson is clear, but so hard to put into practice: active apostles, Christians who are energetically engaged in evangelizing the world around them, need to balance their activity with contemplation, with time spent in personal conversation with the Lord. Sometimes we can wonder why we get so emotionally and spiritually exhausted by the busyness of our lives. It's because we aren't recharging our spiritual batteries. Stress, discouragement, and other crippling emotions can wear us out if we aren't daily reinforcing our faith in Jesus Christ.
Only our friendship with Christ can supply us with the strength and wisdom we need to be truly successful, successful not just in the roles we play, but in who we are beneath those roles. Without prayer, study, and time alone with God, our well will soon run dry - we will have nothing substantial to offer others.
But without action, without giving freely to others what we have freely received from God, our spiritual waters will become stagnant, lifeless - like a lake with no outlet. Contemplation and action, prayer and work - such was Christ's way, so such should be every Christian's way.
Our society tends to stress the importance of action more than prayer, but the two really are meant to go together. In medieval times, before organized police forces and government legal systems, justice and social order were maintained by courageous volunteers known as Christian knights. These were noblemen who dedicated their time, money, and physical strength to defending the defenseless and helping the local lord protect the populace against bandits and barbarians.
The process to become a knight was long and arduous, because the life of a knight was fraught with dangers and difficulties. He was the quintessential man of action. The very last step in attaining knighthood, however, had nothing at all to do with action. Rather, it was a reminder to the knight of the real source of all strength, justice, and hope.
At sundown on the evening before the day of the knight's dubbing ceremony, he would enter his lord's chapel. Then, dressed in his full armor, with his sword strapped on and securely in its scabbard, he would kneel in prayer, in front of the altar, looking up at the crucifix. He would stay there all night long, until sunrise the next morning. If he couldn't make it through this prayer vigil, he couldn't be dubbed a knight, no matter how good he was with a horse and a lance. We are all knights serving our Lord Jesus Christ, and to fulfill our mission we need both action and prayer.
St. Benedict of Nursia, the father of monasticism in the West, used a motto that sums up perfectly this Lesson: Ora et labora. "Ora" is Latin for "pray." And "labora" is Latin for "work." Pray and work: These like the two sides of the coin of our Christian life.
We are called to become close friends of Jesus Christ, each one of us, and we can only do that if we develop our prayer life. But we are also called to be His fellow soldiers, ambassadors and agents of His everlasting Kingdom, and that means we should be putting our talents, time, energy, and creativity into doing things that will make this world a better place, a place more worthy of our King.
We should ask ourselves an important question. Have I found the right balance between "ora" and "labora" in my life? Some Catholics only pray when they come to Mass on Sunday. The rest of the week they barely even think about God. Other Catholics are in the chapel so much that they neglect their other responsibilities. Some Catholics try to leave all the Kingdom-building activity to the nuns and missionaries. They don't stay on the lookout for opportunities to help others discover the one thing worth discovering in this life: friendship and companionship with Jesus Christ. Other Catholics are constantly trying to force-feed everyone they meet with the Gospel, violating common sense and common courtesy.
Each one of us needs to find the balance that goes with our personality and life circumstances. God will help us, but it's up to us to get the ball rolling.