A few days ago, I visited a fourth grade religion class to speak to the students about vocations and about being an altar server for the church. I asked the students to write a letter to Jesus about any question they might have on their mind. Then a child asked, “Can I ask someone other than Jesus in heaven?” “Sure,” I replied. I was impressed with what the children had to say with what they wrote in the letters. I think you will be too. Some students asked deep questions: “Pop, do you think it’s better to be in heaven or earth?” and “Jesus, how did you feel when you died?” A few students wanted to see their deceased loved ones again and wrote: “Jesus, tell my grandmother that I love her and I miss her” and “Jesus, can you help Mawmaw down from heaven to see me?” There were some very interesting questions, too. “Maumau, do you see Doky the beagle?” Then lastly, one student wrote to Pingo, a pet who is now in heaven, “Pingo, I am sorry that we let you get in the rat poison. I love you a lot. I am sorry.”
Many of the children were curious about why I became a priest. One child asked me, “Did you hear God speak to you, that He wanted you to become a priest?” To help them understand, I explained to them about my pilgrimage to Medjugorje where Blessed Mother has been appearing and that it was there that I heard God’s call to priesthood. Then a girl asked me, “That’s when Mary spoke to you?” I replied, “I didn’t hear her voice in my ears but within my heart.” Based on previous experience with young children who had encountered heavenly beings, I asked the students if they had ever met or spoken with their Guardian Angel, Blessed Mother, or Jesus? As I had expected, most of the hands in the class went up. One girl said, “When I was five, I was in the car when we were in an accident. I hit my head, and it hurt and I had to wait in the car until the emergency people arrived. Then I saw next to me, a beautiful Lady in bright white and She told me to me not be afraid because everything would be okay.”
As I walked backed to the church, I wondered about what that little girl said about seeing Blessed Mother and hearing her gentle and reassuring voice. The little girl’s pain was not taken away, but her anxiety and fear was removed, as she was reassured of a positive outcome. How true is this of all the challenges we face in our life? Sometimes our fear and anxiety are greater than the actual challenge we face. The fear stops us in our tracks and we sometimes make decisions that we later regret. What do you do when you are enveloped in fear and anxiety? From whom do you seek help and comfort?
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus went to talk to the one person that he often went to see after a busy and overwhelming day. In today’s passage, it all began in the evening, when he should have been retiring to rest and sleep. The multitude came to see him, bringing with them those possessed by demons, those who were ill and sick. He probably only had a few hours of sleep and he could have slept in, but instead, Jesus chose to rise early in the morning to go to a deserted place where he prayed. As I prayed about this passage, I asked the Lord, “Why did you go and pray when you were so tired?”
Jesus went to a deserted place to be with his Father where he could be present to Him and strengthened by Him. He went to the desert to show us that he needed the Father, that Our Lord was completely dependent on his Father. Are we dependent on our Heavenly Father? Do we go to Him like Our Lord when we are anxious, fearful, or weary? Do we realize that we will receive strength of resolve, confidence, and hope when we spend time with the Father? To be with the Father, means that we must withdraw from our busy world. We have to turn off the TV, move away from the computer or get off our phone. Our Lord teaches us that we need to enter into the presence of the Father to be recharged with His energy, so that we can then enter into the presence of our family, friends and co-workers and meet the challenges of the day. Our Lord also teaches us that being with the Father is not always about asking for specific things. Our Lord enjoyed and reveled in his Father’s presence and took delight in all that the Father had given him. Likewise, Our Lord asks all of us to go to the Father, just as he did, just to be quiet, to love the One who created us.
Among the letters I received from the 4th graders, I think this one reflects what Jesus wants us to learn from today’s Gospel passage. The child wrote, “Jesus, can you work your actions through me? I want to be as best as I can be. Jesus you are my role model.” We need that same desire like that little child—the desire to imitate Our Lord. Do we have that desire to imitate Him? Ask for that desire from the Father. That desire will help us to withdraw from the busy world, to spend quiet time with the Father, and to delight in His Presence.