I've just completed a four-day pastoral visit to Holy Cross parish in Grande Cache, Alberta. I visited a family faith formation camp for children of the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation, whose President also gave me a tour of the Nation's offices and introduced me to their remarkable projects to enhance the economy of the region and serve its people. I spent time with inmates at the local Grande Cache Correctional Institution. Members of the parish pastoral council met with me over lunch one day to speak about the joys and challenges of the parish. Thirteen parishioners received the sacrament of Confirmation at the Saturday evening Mass, and the visit concluded with the celebration of Sunday Eucharist. Some obviously very holy parishioners even arranged to take me out for a round of golf!
Remarkably consistent in all of these encounters was the readiness of the people to give a frank assessment of the positive and negative aspects of their situation, as well as the recognition of the call to an ever deeper faith in the love and providence of God. I experienced this most movingly in my visit with the prisoners. I met with about thirty of them, and quite spontaneously they shared with me their own stories of coming to grips with the harm they had done and of their need for the Lord Jesus. They were learning that the more they turned their lives over to him the more they changed for the better.
These experiences provided a very helpful lens through which to read the Scripture readings for Sunday. They speak of Jesus as shepherd who is moved with love and concern for his people. No one is outside of the Lord's concern. No detail of our lives is beneath his vision. To accept Jesus as shepherd is to allow ourselves to be led by him, to open our hearts and our lives in their entirety to his gaze so that we might find direction from his Word. Many times the parishioners spoke of difficulties beyond their capacity even to address, let alone remedy. Yet nothing is beyond the power of the Lord, who has come to shepherd us in love and safety.
This same shepherd, Jesus, invites us in the Gospel to take some time to rest (cf. Mark 6:31). There are many ways to do this, such as taking time for prayer and for relaxation. I suggest we also take a rest from worry. There is perhaps nothing more draining than anxiety, and much of the worry we carry has to do with things beyond our control. In faith, give it to the Lord, hand it over to the Shepherd. Trust in his love, in his care, and in his power to change our lot for the good. As we were told by St. Paul, Jesus is our peace (cf. Ephesians 2:14). Placing our full faith in him and following his lead transforms anxiety to peace. There is no better rest than that.