Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time


September 9, 2012
Isaiah 35:4-7; Psalm 14; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37

          Isaiah describes the eye-popping signs of God’s time of salvation. It is a time when all creation is turned on its head and great rejoicing results in every sphere of life. People will know God vindicates the world when they witness blind eyes opened, deaf ears cleared, lamed legs leaping, and muted tongues singing. The in-breaking of God’s plan promises to be quite a spectacle because the natural world also participates in this redemption. Springs of life bring rejuvenating waters to long-barren lands.

          While Isaiah describes supernatural events, the Psalmist describes salvation in terms of God’s mercy being rooted in human hearts: the oppressed receive justice, captives are freed, the lowly are raised up, strangers are protected, orphans and widows are sustained – all in God’s merciful justice. These also are the visible signs that God’s plan is unfolding in the human community.

          James confronts us with a challenge that asks whether we have incorporated God’s attitudes and values. He suggests that we are not to pay any more attention to the wealthy than to an impoverished person. We are to respect the wealthy person as equally as we do the poor, or vice versa. While it is a nice statement to read, it is difficult to put into practice because those who have money are necessary contributors to the well-being of the poor. It is helpful to cultivate a solid relationship with those who are generous benefactors. To cultivate a relationship with one means we pay less attention to the other. Balancing these relationships is tricky. We need and want both. We also have to respect those who are in between and often get taken for granted. Choices are difficult to make.

          In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus enacts the signs of God’s saving plan. He pulls aside a deaf man with a speech impediment to heal him away from the crowds so the people will not make a commotion about the miracle. Three actions of Jesus struck me. He put his fingers in the man’s ears. It seems a bit invasive and it is indicative that Jesus wants to enter into the weaknesses of our lives. He then spits and touches the man’s tongue (presumably with his own spit.) Again, it seems messy, and we like the sanitized, softer version of healings. I know that I have only experienced healing after a great degree of vulnerability and pain. Then, Jesus groans. He must have acutely felt the man’s pain when he looked up to heaven. He reveals his deepest desire for the man: To be opened. This is the gift of life – to be opened to the invitations of our surrounding world. We have to be ready to embrace the gifts that we are intended to receive, even though we know we must undergo a painful procedure to receive them. Openness to grace allows us to accept life more easily.

          I wonder what the healed deaf mute was able to hear and say as he lived a normal life afterwards. I’m sure he told his story many times, but what was he able to hear? Hearing is the key to openness. It allows us to hold the other as other and not make them into an extension of ourselves.

          This morning I toured the Heritage Center at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in western South Dakota. It houses an extensive collection of Native American art and historical pieces. As I listened to the enthusiastic tour guide, I instinctively felt like I wanted to be a part of their process of making their museum successful. I felt prompting to make recommendations and to indicate how I could help. Then I realized that my instincts were interfering in my hearing of this young woman. I wanted to chime in and she wanted to tell her story. Once I caught myself, I realized I could appreciate the unique way she was living out her dreams and hopes. She did not ask for advice or recommendations; she asked that I listen to her story. I listened and was moved and I felt open to appreciate this woman and the community she represents.

          Listening is a key to being open. I still have to learn to listen more fully so that I can let the other be other. I know it is one of the most valuable relational skills I can develop with God’s help. I realize that if many of us acquired better listening habits, we can find ourselves more open to the richness of others. We can hear better their stories of suffering, we can achieve new levels of reconciliation, and we can see the world be healed through our gentle, silent care for others. Listening allows us to be invited by others to enter into their world – and we walk away like the healed deaf mute who loudly proclaims the glory of God.  

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In First Corinthians, Paul talks about the rumors of grossly immoral actions among the group – a man living with his father’s wife. The people are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh so his spirit may be saved. He tells them that if they are to judge the world, they are to be holy. They have to better learn to adjudicate the matters of this world if they are going to have weightier responsibilities in the future. God has called them out of a wayward life and has justified them in the name of God. Paul tells the people not to worry or change their state of life. What they are to do is to prepare for the way of the Lord – at whatever stage of life. They are to regard this relationship as the most important. Paul addresses the responsibility that comes with knowledge, especially with regard to the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up. The strong have a responsibility to care for the weak so if someone has greater knowledge than another, he or she is to act with love so as not to scandalize the other. Paul wants the people to avoid idolatry. They are not to sacrifice food and meat to idols because they are sacrificing to demons rather than participating in the life of Christ. Each person is to choose which entity they are to place their faith. ~ In the Exaltation of the Cross, Moses instructs the people to raise up a seraph and mount it on a pole so that all who are serpent-bitten and look upon the image will be saved. It is a pre-shadowing of the lifting up of Jesus on the cross.

Gospel:  Jesus enters a synagogue on the Sabbath and he knows the scribes and Pharisees are waiting for him to do something so they may bring a charge against him. He calls a man with a withered hand to the front of the assembly and heals him. Jesus chooses to save life rather than to let evil have the upper hand on the Sabbath. He then goes up a mountain to pray. He calls the disciples to himself and chooses twelve. With them, he comes down to a level ground where people are gathered to be healed on their infirmities and to have their demons driven out. Jesus then thanks his Father for giving him such special people. He lays out the Beatitudes for those who accept them and the woes for those who act hypocritically. He provides a blueprint for discipleship in the kingdom of heaven by laying out maxims and principles for life. Included among them are loving one’s neighbor that shows the great extent and veracity of love, refraining from judging, and showing mercy that is undeserved to others. ~ Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Son of Man is to be lifted up just like the seraph Moses raised onto a pole. It reveals God’s tender love for the world. ~ Mary, the mother of Jesus, stood by the cross and wept at the death of her son.

Saints of the Week

September 9: Peter Claver, S.J. (1580-1654) became a Jesuit in 1600 and was sent to the mission in Cartegena, Colombia, a center of slave trade. For forty years, Claver ministered to the newly arrived Africans by giving them food, water, and medical care. Unfortunately, he died ostracized by his Jesuit community because he insisted on continuing the unpopular act of treating the slaves humanely.

September 10: Francis Garate, S.J. (1857-1929) was a Basque who entered the Jesuits and became a doorkeeper at the Univeristy of Deusto in Bilbao. He modeled his ministry after Alphonsus Rodriguez and became known for his innate goodness, humility, and prayerfulness.

September 12: The Name of Mary was given to the child in the octave that follow her birth on September 8th. Mary (Miriam) was a popular name for a girl because it means "beloved."

September 13: John Chrysostom, bishop and doctor (347-407) was a gifted homilist and was called "Golden Mouth" because his words inspired many. He was raised in Antioch and joined a community of austere hermits but the lifestyle damaged his health. He became the archbishop of Constantinople where he introduced many conservative and unpopular reforms. He fled to escape an uprising from the people and on the way to exile he died.

September 14: The Triumph of the Holy Cross remembers the finding of the true cross by the Emperor Constantine's mother, Helen in early 4th century. Two churches were dedicated in the name of the cross on this day in the 4th century. Therefore, the feast was applied to this day. In the 7th century, the feast was renamed, "The Triumph." The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 335 was also dedicated on this day.

September 15: Our Lady of Sorrows was once called the Seven Sorrows of Mary as introduced by the Servite Friars. After suffering during his captivity in France, Pius VII renamed the devotion that encapsulates: Simeon's prophecy, the flight into Egypt, searching for Jesus at age 12 in the Temple, the road to Calvary, the crucifixion, the deposition, and the entombment.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Sep 9, 1773. At Lisbon, Carvalho, acting in the king's name, ordered public prayers for the deliverance of the world from the "pestilence of Jesuitism."
·         Sep 10, 1622. The martyrdom at Nagaski, Japan, of Charles Spinola and his companions.
·         Sep 11, 1681. At Antwerp, the death of Fr. Geoffry Henschen (Henschenius). A man of extraordinary learning, he was Fr. Jan von Bolland's assistant in compiling the Acts of the Saints.
·         Sep 12, 1744. Benedict XIV's second Bull, Omnium Sollicitudinum, forbade the Chinese Rites. Persecution followed in China.
·         Sep 13, 1773. Frederick II of Prussia informed the pope that the Jesuits would not be suppressed in Prussia and invited Jesuits to come.
·         Sep 14, 1596. The death of Cardinal Francis Toledo, the first of the Society to be raised to the purple. He died at age 63, a cardinal for three years.
·         Sep 15, 1927. Thirty-seven Jesuits arrived in Hot Springs, North Carolina, to begin tertianship. The property was given to the Jesuits by the widow of the son of President Andrew Johnson.