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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 22, 2012
Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 25; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

In Mark's Gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry by doing two important tasks: he preaches the Kingdom of God is at hand now and then he calls his first disciples. Jesus first encounters Simon Peter and his brother Andrew actively casting their fishing nets into the sea; together they come upon the Zebedee sons, James and John who were mending their nets. To show the immediacy of the present moment, Jesus asks the men to leave their profession behind to help him proclaim God's good news.

Paul's first letter to the Corinthians reveals the haste of taking care of the present time. Time is of great importance and we are to use our time well, which means that we have to decide our greatest priorities. The first reading from Jonah reminds us that our response to the call of Jesus may be fraught with challenging tasks that we would not choose to do one our own. Jonah is given the thorny work of asking the Ninevites to repent from their sinful ways so God will spare them. To Jonah's surprise, they take his prophetic advice by repenting and turning towards God. Jonah relents too.

A problem that arises with these Gospel call narratives is that we see them as complete divinely predetermined choices by God through Jesus. We see them as a single incident that is once and for all settled. This precludes us from looking at them as a model for the way Christ personally calls us or to see the evolving nature of one's call. Christ is always calling us into deeper relationship. It is never one and done.

A call to discipleship is first a call to be in relationship with Jesus. Just as we grow in our human friendships, our friendship with Jesus progresses. Since each of us is unique, we cannot anticipate the ways it will grow because we bring a particular expression to it. We learn the ways we respond to one another and come to respect each other's boundaries. Jesus invites us successively into a greater commitment to him as we allow him to commit his fidelity to us. We grow together. We have our ups and downs. We learn how to navigate through the language of our relationship.

Many people identify with Peter because he seems so like us. It is because he was fully human. We note the ways he excelled and failed with Jesus. At his first encounter with Jesus, he learned that he was an honorable man with great wisdom. Through his experience of connecting with Jesus, he was able to see the divinity in him because he was a wonder-worker, a scribe with unparalleled authority, and a man whose prayer kept him close to God, whom he called Abba. Knowledge of the identity of Jesus came about through his continued experience of him.

I find it helpful to ask people to consider how their relationship with Christ matured over the years. Just like the early disciples, we hold questions about Jesus that we are reluctant to ask. We withhold information and stories from him that determine our trust levels. We have to ask, "Am I growing in freedom, humility, honesty, and freedom in my life with Christ?" and "Am I becoming a person who holds meaningful information close to my vest or am I a person who is becoming more open to him?"

We always wonder about Christ's will for us. We wonder how we can figure it out so we can be faithful to it. Relax. God's will is always expressed in the "now" and God will act through our own desires. Therefore, our job is to express what we want and need. God who is generous will give us what we want. God will affirm us when we do the good God wants and our conscience will feel pangs when we stray from the path. We fundamentally have to honor and respect our feelings because those are the places where God typically meet us. We have to get out of our heads and down into our hearts because God's heart is beating to communicate with our hearts. The heart is the unmistakable place of encounter. The heart is where the call is experienced.

Pay attention to your feelings this week - even though many of them will conflict and overlap. As you respect what you feel, ask Christ to honor your feelings too. Then let him ask you, "What do you want?" and "What do you need?" When we talk at his foundational level, we feel a tug to be closer to Christ. In other words, he is still calling you - calling you closer to him. His call is personal and ever-present. His call is always about the immediacy of the kingdom of God now in this world.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: David, at age 30, was made King at Hebron. He reigned for 40 years. The Jebusites told David he could not enter Jerusalem, the stronghold of Zion, but he did. It became the City of David. David brought the ark of God to Jerusalem, danced before it, slaughtered an ox, and distributed fine foods for all his people. After a victory, David sat on his balcony and gazed upon the beautiful Bathsheba. He desired her, but she was the wife of Uriah the Hittite. David planned to send Uriah to the front line to be killed so Bathsheba could be his. Nathan, the prophet, told David a story of a rich man and a poor one. After David judged the sin of rich man, Nathan told David, "You are the man." David felt sick for his sin. Nathan told him the Lord would make the son of Bathsheba ill and die. David begged forgiveness and made himself sick with grief asking that the boy would live.

Gospel: Scribes questioned the origins of Jesus' authority. They claimed it must be from Beelzebul; Jesus retorted that a house divided against itself cannot stand. The mother of Jesus and his brothers arrived to take him home because they concluded that he lost his mind while he was preaching. Jesus taught the crowds about the Kingdom of God, likening it to a seed scattered onto the ground. It grows, but its life is a mystery. Paradoxically, a tiny mustard seed becomes a large tree that puts forth large branches. As Jesus embarked onto a boat to cross to the other side of the lake, a violent squall came up. Jesus fell asleep on a cushion. The disciples were frantic and they woke up Jesus who calmed the storm. He demonstrated that he had authority over the natural world.

Saints of the Week

Monday: Marianne Cope (1838-1918), was a German-born woman who settled with her family in New York. She entered the Franciscans and worked in the school systems as a teacher and principal and she helped to establish the first two Catholic hospitals. She went to Honolulu, then Molokai, to aid those with leprosy.

Tuesday: Francis de Sales, bishop and doctor (1567-1622), practiced both civil and canon law before entering religious life. He became bishop of Geneva in 1602 and was prominent in the Catholic Reformation. He reorganized his diocese, set up a seminary, overhauled religious education, and found several schools. With Jane Frances de Chantal, he founded the Order of the Visitation of Mary.

Wednesday: The Conversion of Paul, the Apostle, was a pivotal point in the life of the early church. Scripture contains three accounts of his call and the change of behavior and attitudes that followed. Paul's story is worth knowing as it took him 14 years of prayer and study to find meaning in what happened to him on the road to Damascus.

Thursday: Timothy and Titus, bishops (1st century), were disciples of Paul who later became what we know of as bishops. Timothy watched over the people of Ephesus and Titus looked after Crete. Both men worked with Paul and became a community leader. Timothy was martyred while Titus died of old age.

Friday: Angela Merici (1474-1540), was the founder of the Ursuline nuns. She was raised by relatives when her parents died when she was 10. As an adult, she tended to the needs of the poor and with some friends, she taught young girls at their home. These friends joined an association that later became a religious order. Ursula was the patron of medieval universities.

Saturday: Thomas Aquinas, priest and Doctor (1225-1274), studied in a Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino as a boy. He joined the newly formed Dominicans where he studied in France and Italy. He is a giant scholar. He wrote much on Scripture and theology, including his summation of theology (Summa Theologiae). He wrote several songs for liturgy, such as the Tantum Ergo, Pange Lingua, and Adoro Te Devote.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Jan 22, 1561. Pius IV abrogated the decree of Paul II and kept the life term of Father General.
• Jan 23, 1789. John Carroll gained the deed of land for the site that was to become Georgetown University.
• Jan 24, 1645. Fr. Henry Morse was led as a prisoner from Durham to Newgate, London. On hearing his execution was fixed for February 1, he exclaimed: "Welcome ropes, hurdles, gibbets, knives, butchery of an infamous death! Welcome for the love of Jesus, my Savior."
• Jan 25, 1707. Cardinal Tournon, Apostolic Visitor of the missions in China, forbade the use of the words 'Tien' or 'Xant' for God and ordered the discontinuance by the Christians of the Chinese Rites.
• Jan 26, 1611. The first Jesuit missionaries sailed from Europe for New France (Canada).
• Jan 27, 1870. The Austrian government endeavored to suppress the annual grant of 8,000 florins to the theological faculty of Innsbruck and to drive the Jesuit professors from the university, because of their support of the Papal Syllabus.
• Jan 28, 1853. Fr. General John Roothaan, wishing to resign his office, summoned a General Congregation, but died on May 8, before it assembled.


  1. You have a couple of typos in here, but, but you also have some movement, some liveliness. I notice myself making typographical errors in things I write with low expectation of having them read or appreciated.
    I was in a church the other day where a Jesuit presided and the whole event had the air of a funeral for a stranger. A kind stranger in the back told me the priest's name.
    I am rather a student of Karl Rahner. I am rereading "Foundations" after twenty years, and after reading "Spirit" and "Hearers" in the meantime. The phrase that jumps out at me in opening "Foundations" is "intellectual honesty". He says we are all "rudes" (Latin) who cannot be expected to have a complete rationalization for our faith but yet there is "intellectual honesty".
    It seems Karl's error was in assuming people would hang on to Thomas Aquinas, so that simply "connecting the dots" in Aquinas would unleash the power of Ignatian spirituality coupled to "intellectual honesty". But it seems the opposite has happened: the worst of both worlds, as it seems.
    But we must assume that truth survives and that people discover it again and again.
    Reason is not a parlor trick, certainly not God's parlor trick. To know that one knows something, no matter how insignificant--perhaps it is the recognition of the intelligence evident in a small child's smile at an adult--is the bond of our connaturality with God and in God's ministry. "Bond" is used there in the legal sense: surety.
    Assuming people are stupid seems the great sin of "advanced" peoples.

  2. Thanks for your comments, especially about the typos. Sometimes I realize when I go back to spell-checker some words get changed when I want something capitalized or modified. I do need to slow down and give it a more thorough read instead of a quick scan.

    Re-reading Rahner is a great endeavor. One can never go wrong with contemplating this theological statements. I appreciate your comments.

  3. I take it you mean "his theological statements".
    My extreme irritation with the churches is that they already know what was his actual main pastoral intention, accounting for all his academic endeavor (his tying Thomistic realism to Ignatian spirituality). It is not that the facticity of facts lets us grasp the facticity of God and thus stumble to some sort of rationalist, modernist debauched faith, but that the facticity of God, obvious to us in every act of knowledge, lets us grasp the facticity of facts, most of which, most of the time, are that we are lying. We do not see the person we're talking to, we do not understand the sentence we just read, we do not want to understand, we are afraid to be honest. Monumental bad faith, crowning itself in the modern plaint, "Oh, if we just knew enough to be sure."
    Perhaps my engagement in the Global War On Terror as a cook in the National Guard in Iraq in 2004 helped me to this understanding. To see the public, my so-called community, actively avoiding knowing what I saw or heard there, while meanwhile joking about how surreal it all, when not actually shunning me with my burning questions. What if Ignatius had gone to the Pope and said, "We have no right to be massacring these Muslims!"? I mean, why didn't he? Because he was so steeped in sin, and digging frantically to get out. "Do you believe this article of faith?" "I believe it to the extent it is true."
    Well. It's nice to know one is on the right track.
    I just read a book everybody must read; everybody, that is, who can stand to talk to me: "Giants in the Earth," by O.E. Rolvaag, from the 1920's.
    In my one-quarter Swedish, father-from-the-Midwest, BA from Carleton (MN) self, I can say, "That's sure some book." I think Karl would have read it and nodded at the author with the look he has on his face on the back cover of "Foundations". No, cancel the nod. He'd look at the author with that look. Not at a camera "hoping against hope" that some reader would catch his glance of sober respect, but at a person who is as open to him as a camera--in some kind of foretaste or glimpse of the beatific feast.
    Is it true that if enough people treat you like you aren't there, you disappear? This follows from the initial fall into sin, whereby the person shuts her eyes and believes that she has made herself invisible.
    Here's an appendix to Rahner: when, in the beatific vision, we see God and still don't comprehend God, we shall be reminded of the zillions of times we looked at people, comprehended them, and pretended we didn't.

  4. Tell me about your basic story? I'll check out that book you mentioned.

  5. I've just scanned your retreat homily about the call of Jesus. The thing you notice when you meet somebody is whether or not this person, to quote the old refrain, "loves people and uses things" or vice versa. You can tell if the other person respects you--whether they see you looking back at them. As a wife of a corporate big-wig said in "People of the Lie" by Scott Peck, people have "hard eyes" sometimes.
    Now this respectfulness (I'll skip the problem of noticing if I'm not respecting the other) depends on the "going rate" of respect--some situations encourage it, and others discourage it. The Global War On Terror, being a scam that has killed now probably millions of people, discourages it.
    If we take the basis rule of spirituality "if you are luke warm I will spew you out of my mouth", then these times of general deceitfulness are good times to pray, whether you consider such desolation, hell, etc., very hot or very cold. It gets your attention.

  6. Right on - about the eyes. We need to make basic judgments of people so we can know how to respond. Thanks for your comments.

  7. Yeah, like the Jewish joke on TV says, "Look who I'm talking to." I have a joke about that, based on the Soviet era joke and a book by Evelyn WAugh. The joke is, "We pretended to work and they pretended to pay us." The book, "The Loved One", said, in passing, that Hollywood cocktail parties were attempts to have avoiding conversations. In effect, then, "Somebody pretends to talk while someone else pretends to listen."
    When the issue is whether Jews have the right to eliminate people who trouble their nostalgia craze (someone compared Zionism to an amusement park based on the Nazi Holocaust), and nobody even wants to think about the issue, it distorts the already-present pseudo-conversation into complicity in genocide. What would Ignatius say about discernment in such a situation?
    Rahner's "Foundations" is hard slogging. The nice thing is that he never stopped thinking about the issues of his early, truly foundational work. He's just tightened it up. He doesn't say the same thing fgve times over like he does in the early works. He expects the reader to be listening.
    That's very refreshing in these times.

  8. Let me make the pastoral point there, starting with Rahner. On page 21 of "Foundations" we see, "...mystery in its incomprehensibility is what is self-evident [italicized] in human life." That's a take it or leave it statement. But he draws the wrong conclusion from it. "If transcendence is not something which we practice on the side as a metaphysical luxury of our intellectual existence, but if this transcendence is rather the plainest, most obvious and most necessary condition of possibility for all [italicized] spiritual understanding and comprehension then the holy mystery is the one thing that is self-evident, the one thing that is grounded in itself even from our point of view. For all other understanding, however clear it might appear, is grounded in this transcendence. All clear understanding is grounded n the darkness of God."
    I said above that Rahner's contribution is not that we find in the facticity of fact the evidence of God, but the contrary: we find in, I can call it now, the self-evident mystery of God's presence the facticity of all we know mundanely.
    So that when we see Israel based on genocide and nobody mentioning this most obvious fact (what else does "Jewish state" mean?), we can conclude two things: Israel is based on genocide and nobody is mentioning it. God knows this. It is an actual fact, stamped with God's seal of authenticity. As sure as we're standing here, we know this about Israel.
    That is the pastoral concern.
    Let me put it in high school terms. Feeling self-conscious is Thomistic psychology (the self-presence of being, etc.). Liking it is Ignatian spirituality.
    When you meet someone who is intensely self-conscious and you feel intensely self-conscious, this is a holy friendship. When you feel intensely self-conscious in the presence of people who are cold and aloof to all but, as it appears, their own pipedreams, you are ministering to them in the Catholic tradition. Or not. As you choose. You might ask yourself, "Why would God go to all the trouble of creation, etc., for this squalid little scene?" But you will not be able to say, "This is obviously not God's will for me now."

  9. This is peculiarly a Jesuit problem: deus semper maior (pardon my Latin) is (with the addition of the needless adverb) a direct translation of the Arabic allahu akbar. "God is greater." I can't help but think (as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., would put it as on the highest level of intellectual confidence, though I'm actually not that confident, so why am I stalling and teasing?), Ignatius got this from a Moor in Spain. Yes, in the movie, maybe it's the one he didn't stab because God led his horse the other way. Thank you for your limited encouragement. Seriously. I partly commented here to investigate the church. Dying, but not dead.

  10. We build our tradition upon the shoulders, thoughts, and hearts of others who inspire us. I'm glad you've connected so well with Rahner and that you have a wealth of resources to shape and form you. We all strive to find the truth and it is in the striving that the journey takes place.

  11. And to judge of another's burden-carrying it is necessary to know what the other's whole situation is. Only when we have grasped the situation will the other accept our ministration.
    But equally true is that we pick and choose our tradition--we consent to be "bound" (tradere)--so are responsible to find one that is adequate to our own whole situations, part of which are the others we encounter and indeed celebrate with.

  12. Sorry, "tradere" means "hand over, give up, surrender, betray; to hand down to posterity, esp. to hand down an account of an event; to report, relate, teach; (with reflex.) to commit, surrender, devote oneself." (Cassell's)
    I was right, though, about the voluntariness: one must choose to receive what is handed over. One consents to be bound: I might salvage that much.
    So even the ancient Romans, in devising the concept of tradition, distinguished the thing handed over, in its objectivity (not being an aspect of one's subjectivity), from the free act of receiving it, or indeed that of offering it. Reading Rahner chides my loose language.

  13. Yes, we have to accept what is offered to us. A gift not given or received is not a gift. One has to have freedom to choose.