Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 16, 2012
Isaiah 50:5-9; Psalm 116; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

            The reading from Isaiah is the same one read on Passion Sunday because it focuses on the faithfulness of the suffering servant. The servant does not shun the persecution and humiliations heaped upon him because his greater concern is fidelity to God who has always been his support. The public shame he faces is not toxic shame in God’s eyes. In fact, he has no shame as he stands before God, and his persecutors’ actions are shameful to God. The servant knows his protector is near. The Psalmist repeats this sentiment: God has heard his voice and has freed his soul.

            The Letter from James reveals that actions are much more important than words that can be empty and misleading. Many times a kind person will wish well on a person, which does not address his or her deeper need. Wishing someone peace might make the speaker feel good, but it does not come any closer to bringing the recipient peace. Faith, if it is to be real, must be shown in works. The suffering servant reveals the depths of his faith because he stays the course in his mission.

            Jesus knows his critical hour is coming. He asks his disciples how he is perceived among the people. They answer by identifying him with major biblical figures: John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the major prophets. He sharpens the question more deeply by asking them how they personally perceive him. Peter gives the best answer by calling him “The Christ.” Jesus apparently affirms the answer and then teaches them that this chosen one is to suffer greatly, face rejection from the ones who are supposed to represent God’s interests, and then be killed. After three days he will be raised. Peter, perhaps embarrassed by the type of talk, tells Jesus to refrain from such scandalous teachings. The people want a leader who will bring them to a new realm. Jesus rebukes Peter and continues to teach the virtues of placing others before one’s very self.

            Few people know how to deal with someone who is about to suffer. Who really knows what to say? We want our leaders to talk about political success rather than to say he will lead us into a period of failure. Which elected official would dare utter those words – even though they may be realistic and honest? Adversaries would seize upon President Obama if he said the nation had to endure two more years of economic hardship. We want someone who will lead us to a better place immediately – without any significant obstacles. Few will take the risk of political suicide.

            It makes me think about those times when I do not speak up when I would like. I have moments when I want to present my political viewpoint even if it risks a friend’s perspective on me. Since I represent something larger than myself, that is, the church or the Society of Jesus, it is prudent for me to stay out of the way of someone’s pursuit of salvation. The larger goal is to bring someone to Christ. I may want to call someone on his or her offensive behavior and choose not to do so for the sake of allowing the person to effectively deal with one’s own behavioral issues on his or her own pace and time. I let the other be other. Sometimes it means that I hold back on my words so others may speak because they have long been denied that privilege and honor. I choose to balance when to speak and when to listen – and I realize I learn better by listening.

            Jesus reminds us that suffering is part of the package of discipleship. We do not want our friends to suffer. We dislike our own suffering – even if it is minor pain. It is right to build up our capacity to suffer and one way to do it is to listen to the stories of other peoples’ suffering. It is amazing what I can learn in just one week. It can destabilize my worldview and yet it makes me more sympathetic to the stories of others. At first, Peter was unable to hold the suffering of Jesus. Eventually, he could – and he became to cornerstone of our church. When we hold another’s story in our heart, we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and become Christ’s disciple. We gain the world by doing so.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In First Corinthians, Paul tells the people that he learned of the divisions that exist among them. He knows the some people are treating each other differently among class lines. Some are eating a reserved meal while then inviting the others to the Eucharist. Paul reminds them that table fellowship is a privilege that is served with equality. Everything Paul received was handed down by the Lord. They have an example of giving to others just as magnanimously. He extols the gifts of each person indicating that they have a specific function in the one body of Christ. Levels and varieties of gifts differ, but they are from the Lord for a specific function. He encourages them to look for the spiritual gifts and blessings and to use them well. Each gift contains an essence of love, which animates all other virtues. If a Christian is to be known for anything, it is for the quality of love they give to a brother or sister. Paul then outlines the Gospel to them to show that from the beginning of time, God acted so as to save us. He gave us Christ who died for our sins and was raised on the third day. Paul tells them that Christ appeared to him through remarkable grace. The Resurrection is a difficult reality to believe. It reveals God’s wisdom: the dead are raised incorruptible, glorious, powerful, and into a spiritual body. Just as Adam was the first man from the earth, Christ becomes the new man who represents the heavens.

Gospel:  Jesus hears of the illness of a Capernaum’s Centurion’s slave. On his way to heal him, the centurion’s friends come to tell him it was no use for the servant died. Jesus, impressed with the centurion’s faith, heals the servant from afar. As Jesus approaches Nain, the only son of a woman died and was carried to a burial place nearby. Jesus touches him and raises him up from the dead. The people shout and glorify God. Jesus remarks about this generation: they are fickle and ask for conflicting things. They cannot be satisfied. Jesus then attends a dinner at a leading Pharisees’ house. While at table, a sinful woman disrupts the dinner to anoint the feet of Jesus and wipes his feet with the strands of her hair. The Pharisees are scandalized, but Jesus tells them that she has done something remarkable. Their failure to see what she is doing is really the scandalous action. Jesus then begins telling parables about the kingdom of God. He tells the parable of the sower with the seed and then explains the details of it to his disciples in private.

Saints of the Week

September 16: Cornelius, pope and martyr (d. 253) and Cyprian, bishop and martyr (200-258) both suffered in the Decian persecutions. Cornelius was being attacked by Novatian, but since Novatian's teachings were condemned, he received the support of the powerful bishop, Cyprian. Cyprian was a brilliant priest and bishop of Carthage who wrote on the unity of the church, the role of bishops, and the sacraments. Cyprian died under Valerius after supporting his church in exile by letters of encouragement.

September 17: Robert Bellarmine, S.J., bishop and doctor (1542-1621) became a Jesuit professor at the Louvain and then professor of Controversial theology at the Roman College. He wrote "Disputations on the controversies of the Christian faith against the Heretics of this age," which many Protestants appreciated because of its balanced reasoning. He revised the Vulgate bible, wrote catechisms, supervised the Roman College and the Vatican library, and was the pope's theologian.

September 19: Januarius, bishop and martyr (d. 305), was bishop of Benevento during his martyrdom during the Diocletian persecution. He was arrested when he tried to visit imprisoned Christians. Legend tell us that a vial that contains his blood has been kept in the Naples cathedral since the 15th century liquefies three times a year.

September 20: Andrew Kim Taegon, priest, martyr, Paul Hasang, martyr, and companion martyrs (19th century), were Korean martyrs that began to flourish in the early 1800’s. The church leadership was almost entirely lay-run. In 1836, Parisian missionaries secretly entered the country and Christians began to encounter hostility and persecutions. Over 10,000 Christians were killed. Taegon was the first native-born priest while the rest were 101 lay Christians.

September 21: Matthew, evangelist and Apostle (first century), may be two different people, but we have not historical data on either man. Since Matthew relies heavily upon Mark’s Gospel, it is unlikely that the evangelist is one of the Twelve Apostles. The Apostle appears in a list of the Twelve and in Matthew’s Gospel he is called a tax collector. The Evangelist is writing to Jewish-Christians who are urged to embrace their Jewish heritage and to participate in their mission to the Gentiles. To Matthew, Jesus is the fulfillment of the hopes of Jews and the inaugurator of a new way to relate to God.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Sep 16, 1883. The twenty-third General Congregation opened at Rome in the Palazzo Borromeo (Via del Seminario). It elected Fr. Anthony Anderledy Vicar General with the right of succession.
·      Sep 17, 1621. The death of St Robert Bellarmine, bishop and doctor of the Church.
·      Sep 18, 1540. At Rome, Pedro Ribadeneira, aged fourteen, was admitted into the Society by St Ignatius (nine days before official papal confirmation of the Society).
·      Sep 19, 1715. At Quebec, the death of Fr. Louis Andre, who for 45 years labored in the missions of Canada amid incredible hardships, often living on acorns, a kind of moss, and the rind of fruits.
·      Sep 20, 1990. The first-ever Congregation of Provincials met at Loyola, Spain, on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the approval of the Society and 500th anniversary of the birth of St Ignatius.
·      Sep 21, 1557. At Salamanca, Melchior Cano wrote to Charles V's confessor, accusing the Jesuits of being heretics in disguise.
·      Sep 22, 1774. The death of Pope Clement XIV, worn out with suffering and grief because of the suppression of the Society. False stories had been circulated that he was poisoned by the Jesuits.