Saturday, July 21, 2018

Seeking the sea of our own tranquility


See if you can finish this sentence for me, “One small step for man…” Right, “one giant leap for mankind.” I have been enjoying the different programs and stories commemorating the 49th anniversary of the moon landing this week, which happened on July 20, 1969. I don’t really have a personal memory of the event, as I was 10 months old at the time, but we’ve all seen that famous footage of Neil Armstrong stepping off the ladder of his lander onto the surface of the moon.

The image of the moon landing is a helpful one as we reflected on our Gospel today. Jesus invited His apostles to “come away…to a deserted place and rest awhile.” Now, you certainly cannot find a more deserted place than the surface of the moon, in a quiet and airless place known as the Sea of Tranquility. And of course, the middle of July is a time of year when many seek out our own “Sea of Tranquility,” our own deserted place where we try to unwind. It’s summertime which means vacation time. Now, for some, vacation isn’t to such a deserted place. Some might go to Disney World, or visit a big city. I returned a few weeks ago from Hampton Beach in New Hampshire. Surely some of you here today are visiting as vacationers coming from places both far or not so far, visiting Cape Cod for your holiday.

Now Cape Cod traffic surely feels very far away from the Sea of Tranquility, but whatever you do this summer, whether vacation or staycation, Jesus invites you to “come away…and rest awhile.” Summertime and vacation time is an important time to renew our bodies, to rest from our work, to engage in different, relaxing pursuits. But, we also need to make the time to renew our souls, renew our spirits, renew our faith. When I am on vacation, my favorite times of day are sunrise and sunset at the beach. There is something so beautiful and spiritual about those moments; something that connects me deeply to God in creation. It renews me and renews my soul.

Thinking of the moon landing, one of the more surprising stories is one that is not so widely known, but it is one that speaks deeply of faith. Neil Armstrong, of course, gets all the focus of the moon landing as the first man to walk on the surface of the moon, and speak his famous first words, but the other astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, also did something that was spectacular, and perhaps even more profound, as a man of faith.

He and Armstrong had only been on the lunar surface for a few minutes when Aldrin made the following public statement to the listening world, “I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.” He then ended radio communication and there, on the silent surface of the moon, 250,000 miles from home prayed. Here are his words, “In the radio blackout, I opened little plastic packages which contained bread and wine. I poured the wine into a chalice my church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture where Jesus says, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever lives in me will bring forth much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.’ Then, I ate the tiny host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the elements of holy communion.”

It is amazing to think that among the first words spoken on the moon were the words of Jesus Christ, who made the Earth and the moon — and Who, in the words of Dante, is Himself the “Love that moves the Sun and other stars.” It was nonetheless a humble and holy act of remembrance. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said. Well, Buzz Aldrin remembered. In the peacefulness of the Sea of Tranquility, he traveled to the moon and remembered The One who made it possible.

How about us? Now, none of us are headed to the moon, but what will we remember in the quiet moments of this summertime? Will we find the quiet spaces in the midst of our busy lives to remember the One who makes it all possible? Let us take our faith with us on every journey we make, whether near or far. Because God is there. Seen or unseen, God is always present. Let us acknowledge that presence, and celebrate it, and allow God’s abiding presence to renew our souls.

Every Mass, every moment of prayer, is a chance to “go away with Jesus and rest awhile.” Let us offer the God who has given us so much – our lives, our livelihoods, our families, our faith – let us offer Him our love, our time, our praise. Let us find the moments to say, quite simply, “Thank you for this.” Nothing offers us more refreshment and renewal than the time we spend with God deeply immersed in prayer.

One of the lessons of today’s Gospel is that after the apostles had done their amazing work – we heard last week about the miracles they performed – they returned to Christ, who reminded them that the job of being a faithful Christian isn’t all work. It’s also rest. It’s also prayer. It’s also renewal and refreshment. It is seeking out a deserted place to find peace we so desperately need in our lives. In the chaos of daily life, each of us needs to return to Christ, and to find a deserted place to rest, a sea of our own tranquility for prayer with our God.

As we recall what transpired on the moon nearly 50 years ago, let us remember that the deepest and most tranquil sea is one we often take for granted. It is God’s love available to us every time we pray. Let us meet God in that tranquil place, one small step at a time.

May the Lord give you peace.

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