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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time

June 21, 2009

As the Church returns to the readings of Ordinary Time, we plunge into some of life’s most serious questions, like “Where is God when we suffer?” and “Why does God not relieve our suffering?” Poor Job! In his deepest distress, he gets respectfully angry with God and questions God’s omnipotent power and mercy. To some, God’s answer is not very gracious because God does not show compassion for the suffering Job, but God’s power is revealed in creation, with its awesomeness and beauty, as a primordial generative force. Job’s attention is turned away from his own pain and he is freed from his own fears that hold him back. Only then can his attention turn towards God’s creative power at the center of all things.

Fears are also at the root of today’s Gospel passage. In this present lectionary cycle, we return to Mark’s version of the stilling of the waves whipped up by a violent storm. Mark shows that Jesus is not only powerful in words; he is also powerful in deeds. His words have power over demons, illness, and all powers, including natural and supernatural ones. The disciples wonder about the identity of Jesus prompting them to ask, “Who, then is this whom even the wind and sea obey?”

As we have come to know Jesus through our prayer and liturgical life, we still have our fear and doubts. Suffering of all types continues around us and some wonder if God is all powerful or at the very least concerned with the hardships we face. Regrettably, we have to learn to be like Job who protests to God and seeks for greater understanding. Our suffering leads us to greater insights. We have to wrestle with the questions that Jesus posed to the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Do you not yet have faith?” We have to learn to identify our fears and tell them to Jesus so that his word can have power over that which binds us. We will then be led, like Job and Jesus’ disciples, to cross over from the worries of our life to behold the majestic, creative power of God.

Quote for the Week

Brian McDermott, S.J., Rector of the Jesuit community at Loyola University Baltimore, alters a spiritual maxim in a powerful way in his recording of Now You Know Media Productions of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

The maxim is, “Work as if everything depends upon you and pray as if everything depends upon God.” He supplements the sentence with another: “Pray as if everything depends upon you and work as if everything depends upon God.”

Themes for this Week’s Masses

The Old Testament passages begin the story of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendents. In his advanced age, we see Abram leave his home for a new land, struggle for peace and unity as Lot chooses the plains of Jordan leaving the land of Canaan for himself, become a father to Ishmael through Sarai’s maidservant, Hagar, and become a biological father to Isaac, with whom the covenant will be maintained. Through it all, Abram trusts in God’s providence.

The Gospel concludes the Sermon on the Mount with a collection of sayings of Jesus that direct a person to choose his way over the easier way of others. He then enacts what he preached when he comes down from the mountain and heals a leper and then heals a Centurion’s servant. Jesus demonstrates that he is powerful in both word and in deed.

Saints of the Week

Monday honors two English martyrs who were killed in 1535 for opposing King Henry VIII’s Act of Succession that would have recognized the King’s divorce in opposition to Papal authority. Bishop John Fisher was ordained to the priesthood by special permission because of his brilliance in theological studies. Thomas More, lawyer and member of Parliament portrayed in the film “Man for All Seasons” likewise refused to accept the decree that would have allowed king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and was martyred nine days after his friend, John Fisher. Paulinus of Nola, Italy is also remembered on Monday for his care of pilgrims and the poor of 5th century Italy. Paulinus was a prominent lawyer and public official who used his wealth to care for others; eventually he and his wife adopted a semi-cloistered lifestyle. Saturday celebrates Cyril of Alexandria, bishop, doctor, and presider of the Council of Ephesus, who argued against the Nestorians that since Christ was both fully divine and fully human, Mary was not just the mother of Jesus but also the mother of God.

Set around the solar calendar, the Birth of John the Baptist falls on Wednesday to remind us that the Herald’s birth falls six months before Jesus’ nativity. Just as John must decrease so Christ can increase, the sun begins to set earlier until December 25th (or the solstice) when the sun returns and Christ ushers in the victory of light over darkness. Luke’s Gospel tells the story of Elizabeth’s and Zechariah’s anticipation of the birth of the Baptist. John’s father is struck dumb when he asks an angel for a sign, but his speech is restored when he settles a dispute and utters that the boy’s name is to be John as the angel requires. Notice how a period of silence precedes the coming of the Word of God into the world.

Interesting Reading

On Friday, I read He Leadeth Me by Walter Cisek, S.J., a New York Province Jesuit who was arrested by the Soviet Union army for being a Vatican spy after Russia and Germany invaded Poland to begin World War II. His companion piece, With God in Russia details the accounts of his imprisonment – beginning with his volunteering for the Russian mission as a young Jesuit, to his jail time in Moscow and labor camps in Siberia, to his days of partial freedom in the Soviet Union. While this book depicts the factual accounts of his days and years as a prisoner of the State, He Leadeth Me reveals the strength of his prayer in the face of desolation and adversity. His dependence upon God and his reliance upon key meditations of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola teach how to live each moment in pursuit of God’s will.

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