Why We Are Tired
She fell to sleep praying the psalms. She prayed the psalms when she woke in the night. She memorized the psalter, so that she could recite its words through the day, cleaning, gardening, and folding laundry. She was not a nun or hermit. She was an ordinary woman, a mother of eight children. The famous elder, Fr. Roman Braga, often told stories about his mother and her love for the psalms. She exemplified the life God desires, not for the saints, but for us ordinary people.
A crowd followed Christ out to the wilderness.
“A great crowd without anything to eat, [Jesus] called his disciples and said to them, ‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way.’” Christ tested his disciples. He asked them how much food they had — seven loafs. “He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground, and took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute” (Mark 8:1-6).
We know the end of the story. The disciples walked through the crowd, passing out bread. Each time they reached in their basket, there was more bread, so that the whole mass, all 4,000 people, ate and were filled. There was so much bread, in fact, that they had an overabundance.
The first marvel here is how very generous is our Lord Jesus Christ. He gives his bread to all, freely. There is no end to God’s grace and it pours out unsparing to everyone. Why then does life so often feel stale? Why does God feel distant and our hearts dry? God gives his bread to all, but we need to reach out to take it.
The seven loafs are the seven sacraments. St. Bede the Venerable explains: “That the Lord breaks the loaves signifies the making known to us of the seven sacraments.” The miracle on the hill is a foreshadowing of Holy Mass. Christ is on the altar, and his priests distribute His bread. What began that day has never ceased and the Church continues the same work.
Life is so simple. Every part of life, every decision we make, should revolve around one thing: how can I get the sacraments. When you choose your career, it should be based on this: the sacraments. When you plan out your schedule, it should be determined by this: the sacraments.
We usually do this the wrong way. Most of the time, we plan out our life first, and then see if we can fit in Mass and prayer. You will burn out. No one can live that way. We are all busy. If prayer becomes just one more obligation on your endless To-Do-List, it will become tedious. Instead, set aside Sunday and the Feast Days as first. Make God your priority, and everything else will work out. There is an old Russian Proverb: “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.” It is true of our relationship with God. Make religion your priority. You will catch God and He will take care of everything else.
The seven loafs also represent Holy Scripture. 1,500 years ago, someone complained to St. John Chrysostom that they did not have enough time to study the bible. “After all, I am not a monk,” he complained to the bishop. St. John rebuked him, “‘I am not a monk,’ [you say]…your mistake is in believing that the reading of Scriptures concerns only monks. For you it is even more necessary since you are in the midst of the world.” Can you hear the urgency here? Lay people should read the bible even more than monks. Did you hear St. John Chrysostom? A mom, a dad, a businessman, or a college student — for us living in the world, we are the members of the Church most in need of reading the scriptures. St. John urged people to study scriptures around the dinner table, when rising from bed, during family discussions, and whenever possible.
St. Tikhon of Zadonsk taught: “Whenever you read the Gospel, Christ Himself is speaking to you. And while you read, you are praying and talking to Him.”
The Holy Scriptures are crystal clear about the importance of reading the bible.
Joshua urges: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (1:8).
How can you be successful? That is what all the best-sellers ask, right? The truth is plain: study the holy scriptures.
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:7-11).
It is not enough to read a couple verses now and again. The “readings of the day” do not cut it — they were never meant to. According to the saints and fathers of the Church, we should read and breathe Holy Scripture as a way of life.
The seven loafs also represent the Holy Psalter. The Psalms are the bread and water of a Christian’s life. St. Basil the Great attributes power to the psalms.
“No other book so glorifies God as does the Psalter. It profits the soul; it glorifies God together with the angels, and exalts and extols with a powerful voice, and imitates the angels. At times, it flogs the demons and drives them out, and causes them much weeping and injury. It prays to God for kings and princes, and for the whole world. With the Psalter you can pray to God even for yourself, for it is the greatest and most exalted of books. This book called the Psalter is like a great sea: for as the water of the sea is never diminished or exhausted by the outpouring of its rivers and streams, neither does the chanting of the Psalter ever fail. The Psalter has been called bravery and boldness before God for the salvation of the soul…”
Is it ever good to stop praying the Psalter. St. John Chrysostom insists: “It would be better for the sun to fall from its orbit, than to neglect reading the Psalter, for it is of great benefit to study the psalms, and to read the Psalter diligently. For all spiritual books are profitable for us, and grieve the demons, but there is none like the Psalter.”
The crowd was hungry, and Jesus called his disciples: “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way.”
Christ knows we are tired. He looked out at the crowds with compassion. We are strung out and hungry. So Christ offers us his nourishment in the sacraments, the Holy Scriptures, and the Psalms. It is up to us take it.
I was moved when I read about Fr. Roman’s mother. She was poor, a young widow, with eight rambunctious children to raise. With all that, she never stopped praying. She never missed a Holy Day at Church. The sacraments, Scriptures, and Psalms were the heart beat of her life, and filled her home with happiness. We can live the same way. What steps do we need to take to make it happen?
Through her example, and the life of all the saints, may we find inspiration and zeal to pursue the Bread of God.