Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time


August 26, 2012
Joshua 24:1-2; 15-18; Psalm 34; Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69

          Joshua gathers the twelve tribes of Israel together at Shechem to find out if they will serve God their Lord or the god of the Amorites in whose country they now live. It is quite difficult to get two people to agree on anything and Joshua tries to get consensus from the elders, the leaders and judges, and their officers. He declares that he will serve the Lord who brought them out of Egypt and sustained them through miracles. Recognizing what the Lord has done for them, he cannot turn away, but he gives the tribes a chance to reply in full freedom.

          Paul is calling Christians to be the best person they can be. A shallow reading of this passage turns many people away from Paul as they think he is a misogynist for he starts out "Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord." Today we see it as an unfortunate choice of words that prevent us from noticing the spirit of the texts. However, it reveals the great anger and disparity that exists between the sexes. Paul is really calling us to perfect love that puts the other person before ourselves - just as Christ did for us. As we want and deserve dignity and respect, we are to treat the person we love most with the type of love that honors us. We provide the other with the greatest intimacy we can garner. This is what Paul wants: a warm, respectful love that mirrors God's radical care for us.

          Many turn away from Jesus when they hear his words declaring his real flesh and blood is the food that leads to eternal life. Many of these disciples have seen the incredible works he had done and have listened to inspiring words. In fact, the hungry crowd just ate bread and fish that Jesus miraculously provides. They recognized the miracle, but find his current saying too difficult to accept. They walk away completely from the relationship.

          I am left examining the overwhelming sadness of Jesus. For some, nothing that he says or does will be able to penetrate their self-interested positions. He faces a Herculean task in getting them to believe. Jesus is at a point of his greatest vulnerability to date in his ministerial life. His disciples are fleeing and going to someone else. He fears that even his best friends will desert him and he asks them baldly, "Do you also want to leave?" Peter, knowing their common history, replies, "To whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life."

          Authentic friendships always go through a period of testing. It determines whether the relationship is real and strong, but it is fraught with great risk and vulnerability. A friendship has to posses freedom (as Joshua and Paul point out.) There comes a point in the friendship when a person has to reveal something fundamental about himself or herself that the other person might not like, but is willing to accept. The person, the relationship, stands more important than a subset quality of the person.
         
          I wonder what it is like for those disciples of Jesus who walk away from him. The disciples in John 6 witnessed many special events. How did they feel as they no longer had him in their lives? I wonder if they felt incomplete as they move through the rest of their lives. I can almost feel the sadness of Jesus as he watches them leave. It must hurt him, but he gives them freedom.

          In northeastern U.S. churches, the faithful are moving away from the church in large numbers. They insist they are not taking themselves out of the relationship with Jesus, but they no longer want to listen to harsh judgmental pronouncements from an authority that lacks credibility for their role in sexual abuse of minors. The U.S. nuns reiterate the same sentiment when they say they will stay in conversation, but they cannot abandon their religious charisms or the decrees of Vatican II. They are saying: "We will remain with Jesus because he has the words of everlasting life." It is a critical point because the church mediates the presence of Jesus, but he also tells us the kingdom of God exists wherever two or three are gathered in his name. During these difficult times, it is all the more important to devote time in prayer to deepen the relationship with Jesus.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In Second Thessalonians, Paul praises the people for their adherence to their faith and their loving care for one another. God is at work in his faithful ones who will make themselves worthy of their calling and will bring to fulfillment every good purpose and effort of faith. Paul reassures his people that they are to remain firm in the belief that Jesus is coming at the end times when he will take up his faithful ones to himself. They are to hold fast to traditions they were taught and to refrain from disorderly behaviors. They are to pass on what they have received. The elders have acted as models for the community and others are to imitate them - as they imitate the Lord. ~ In First Corinthians, Paul thanks the community and blesses them because they have been enriched by God in many spiritual gifts. They have been sanctified and will remain holy with the grace of God. Paul tells them that he has been sent to impart the wisdom of God, which in inconsistent with the wisdom of humans. For instance, the folly of the cross reveals God's hidden wisdom. Who is the wise one? The one who proclaims Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Gentiles. Think back on your own calling. Many were not wise by human standards, nor powerful nor of noble birth, but God chose the foolish to shame the wise, and the weak to shame the strong, and the lowly and despised to shame those who have status. No human is to boast before God. Whoever boasts should boast in the Lord.

Gospel:  Jesus lashes out at the scribes and Pharisees as their actions are contrary to their teachings. He catches them in many inconsistencies: improperly swearing oaths, paying tithes on herbs while neglecting matters of judgment, mercy, and fidelity, and cleansing outward appearances while the interior matters are full of plunder and self-indulgence.  Jesus implores his friends to stay awake because we do not know the hour that something will happen unexpectedly. The faithful and prudent servant will have enough resources to live in the ambiguous time of not knowing when his master will return. The prudent servant will be like five of the ten virgins who wait for the bridegroom's return. Those who conserve their lamp oil will be ready to greet him; those who lavishly expend their resources will find themselves bereft. The prudent servant will be like the steward who used his talents well and earned interest on his investment; the foolish person hides away his talent and returns it intact - without having experienced any growth or development.

Saints of the Week

August 27: Monica (332-387) was born a Christian in North Africa and was married to a non-Christian, Patricius, with whom she had three children, the most famous being Augustine. Her husband became a Christian at her urging and she prayed for Augustine's conversion as well from his newly adopted Manichaeism. Monica met Augustine in Milan where he was baptized by Bishop Ambrose. She died on the return trip as her work was complete.

August 28: Augustine, bishop and doctor (354-430),  was the author of his Confessions, his spiritual autobiography, and The City of God, which described the life of faith in relation to the life of the temporal world. Many other writings, sermons, and treatises earned him the title Doctor of the church. In his formative years, he followed Mani, a Persian prophet who tried to explain the problem of evil in the world. His mother’s prayers and Ambrose’s preaching helped him convert to Christianity. Baptized in 387, Monica died a year later. He was ordained and five years later named bishop of Hippo and defended the church against three major heresies: Manichaeism, Donatism, and Pelagianism.

August 29: The Martyrdom of John the Baptist recalls the sad events of John's beheading by Herod the tetrarch when John called him out for his incestuous and adulterous marriage to Herodias, who was his niece and brother's wife. At a birthday party, Herodias' daughter Salome danced well earning the favor of Herod who told her he would give her almost anything she wanted.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Aug. 26, 1562: The return of Fr. Diego Laynez from France to Trent, the Fathers of the Council desiring to hear him speak on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
·         Aug. 27, 1679: The martyrdom at Usk, England, of St. David Lewis, apostle to the poor in his native Wales for three decades before he was caught and hanged.
·         Aug. 28, 1628: The martyrdom in Lancashire, England, of St. Edmund Arrowsmith.
·         Aug. 29, 1541: At Rome the death of Fr. John Codure, a Savoyard, one of the first 10 companions of St. Ignatius.
·         Aug. 30, 1556: On the banks of the St. Lawrence River, Fr. Leonard Garreau, a young missionary, was mortally wounded by the Iroquois.
·         Aug. 31, 1581: In St. John's Chapel within the Tower of London, a religious discussion took place between St. Edmund Campion, suffering from recent torture, and some Protestant ministers.
·         Sep 1, 1907. The Buffalo Mission was dissolved and its members were sent to the New York and Missouri Provinces and the California Mission.