So often in our lives, we are eager to go into action, roll up our sleeves, and get to work. There much to be done, and I’m the one to do it. But when it doesn’t quite work out, when we feel overwhelmed by a tidal way of too much work, we go to others and plead for help from others. And when they fail to come through, or at least not to our satisfaction, only then we begin praying, “Lord, there is no one here to help me. What am I going to do?”
But the order that Jesus teaches us in today’s gospel is the reverse. In an extended reflection titled “Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry,” theologian Henri Nouwen insightfully finds three movements of the spiritual life that emerge out of today’s gospel, three movements by which we make room for God in our lives.
It begins by spending time with God in solitude. Only then do we move into community with those with whom we are sharing the mission of the Good News of Jesus Christ. And finally, we are prepared to go out together in ministry to heal and proclaim the Good News. Another way of describing these three movements is Communion with God, Community with those in shared mission, and Commission to minister and serve others.
This is the spiritual life that Jesus lived:
Solitude/Communion with God: “Now it happened in those days that Jesus went onto the mountain to pray, and he spent the whole night in prayer to God.”
Fellowship/Community: “When day came, he summoned his disciples…and called them apostles.”
Ministry/Commission: “He then came down with them…There was a large crowd of people…who had come to hear him and be cured of their diseases. Everyone in the crowd was trying to touch him because power came out of him that cured them all.”
Jesus models for us the necessity of time with God. Without solitude it is difficult to live a spiritual life. Solitude centers us in our own hearts. It enables us to be rooted in intimacy with the source of all life – God.
Communion with God creates and builds community. Only when we realize we are created in the image and likeness of God, the Imago Dei, only when we see God’s image in ourselves are we able to see God in the other. Nouwen tells us that solitude always calls us to community because through solitude we recognize that we are not alone, frantically trying to do it all, but part of the human family, called to live, support, and serve in a communal way.
And this community, grounded in the Imago Dei, always leads to ministry. The foundation of our being, who we truly are, always comes before the doing. The outward movement flows from that which is in us. We are called to mission, not so much by what we do, but by who we are – daughters and sons of God, created in God’s image and likeness. How else to understand those final words of today’s gospel: “Everyone in the crowd was trying to touch him because power came out of him that cured them all.” Clearly, power came out of Jesus by virtue of who he was, the Son of God, not so much by what he did.
Nouwen brings Luke’s gospel home to us. He writes:
“Solitude, community, ministry – these disciplines help us live a fruitful life. Remain in Jesus; he remains in you. You will bear many fruits, and you will have great joy, and your joy will be complete.”
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.