Sunday, February 1, 2009

Year B 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

My homily this week is the synthesis of number of things I have posted over on Is It Possible?. What prompted this synthesis was a phrase from the second reading, taken from 1 Corinthians 7:35 wherein St. Paul is instructs the Corinthians about the necessity of "adherence to the Lord without distraction".

Readings: Deut. 18:15-20; Ps. 95:1-2.6-7.9; 1 Cor. 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28

In our second reading today, St. Paul gives to the church at Corinth what might seem to us at first glance some very odd advice. Of course, the primitive church lived in the expectation of Christ’s imminent return. It is important to understand this in order for what Paul wrote to make sense to us. This understanding does not mean that what the apostle wrote is rendered meaningless to us who are still awaiting the Lord’s return in glory some 2,000 years later. What we have to attend to in this reading is why, even when understood in context, he wrote this advice, which he gave "not impose restraint" (1 Cor. 7:35). He wrote it in order to communicate the importance of adhering "to the Lord without distraction" (1 Cor 7:35).

To adhere means, literally, to stick to. Stated more clearly, and perhaps a bit more theologically, it means to bind oneself to observance. We, every bit as much as members of the ancient Corinthian community, need to adhere to Christ without distraction. We all know from our personal experience that this is no small task because we live in a world that is full of distractions, or so it seems.

Being a Christian does not allow us to live as if our faith is something added on to life, that extra little something that gives us a sentimental and religious basis for being nice. Rather, to have faith means to recognize our destiny in the person of Jesus Christ, to recognize the very reason that we exist, as well as for whom we exist. If faith is to recognize our destiny in Christ Jesus, then hope is the result of this recognition. Hope is nothing less than certainty about our future, a certainty that arises from our recognition of the Lord’s all-pervasive presence, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the circumstances of life. In other words, faith and hope are experiences before they become theological ideas.

It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to understand that the circumstances of our lives are not distractions. Hence, it is in everyday experience, in all our actions and inter-actions that our adhering to the Lord is made real. This not only includes trials and difficulties, but is really verified through trials, as gold and silver are refined by fire. However, we must remember that life’s trials are means, not an end. If we permit trials to define life, then life becomes just one damn thing after another. Our destiny, the reason we exist, is what defines life. When we lose sight of this fact, the whole of reality becomes distorted.

The Holy Spirit, who is the way that the resurrected Christ remains present to us, is "always present on the path through all our trials" (Is It Possible To Live This Way: An Unusual Approach to Christian Existence, Vol. 2 Hope, pg. 32). It is the Spirit, observed Msgr. Luigi Giussani, who "teaches us the great word on the road of hope: patience"” (ibid). Our word patience comes from the Latin word, patior, meaning "to carry" (ibid). Enduring trials requires patience. Being patient in trial is an indispensable part of what it means to adhere to the Lord. It is certainly what it means to trust him.

Patience, being a natural virtue, is acquired through habit and habit, in turn, requires experience. We have experiences every day, all day long. Patience requires the cultivation of another virtue, courage. Courage is what enables us to reject nothing from our experience, including our failures, defeats, humiliations, and insecurities It is important to note that virtue, even natural virtues, like patience and courage, in addition to our indispensable efforts, are aided by grace. The grace involved here, again, is the theological virtue of hope. Therefore, certainty about the future does not mean the ability to predict, or even to anticipate, what will happen to us next. Rather, it is to have faith in Christ and to face every circumstance confident that he is with us. In this way, circumstances become secondary.

It is important for us to come to the realization that Christian hope, which is certainty about the future, does not permit us to either duck or jump over experience, to evade or avoid trials. After all, we are saved through our humanity and not despite it. The hope, borne from our faith in Christ, enables us to face reality in a new way, as new people, recreated by our rebirth in baptism. Rejecting no aspect of reality is what enables us to verify the presence of Christ in all the circumstances of our lives. Adhering to the Lord means nothing other than to live in the awareness of the fact that he is always present to us in every circumstance, no matter how painful or threatening. Certainly there are times when we have a hard time discerning his presence, but we have to come to know that he is there and that his presence is not dependent on our perception. Otherwise, he becomes a genie, someone we conjure up from our imagination, a fantasy.

Jesus Christ is real. He is the fulfillment of the prophecy given by Moses in our first reading today. He is not merely the one into whose mouth God put his words; he is the very Word of God, the sole Mediator between God and humanity. Jesus is also the “kin” of those who were led out of bondage in Egypt. So, in his humanity, which can neither be divided nor separated from his divinity, the Lord is indisputably Jewish. The realization of and adherence to this fact makes any form of Christian anti-Semitism, of which we have heard far too much this past week, not only incomprehensible, but a denial of the humanity of Jesus Christ, as well as a repudiation of the indispensable role of Israel in God's plan to reconcile to the world to himself.

In order to adhere to the Lord we must believe his promise that he is with us always and not view our lives, the things that happen to us, as distractions. Believing in a promise requires trusting the one who makes it. Trust only comes through the experience of the reliability of another. In today’s Gospel, those who witness the casting out of the unclean spirit ask, "What is this?" only to answer their own question with the words, "A new teaching with authority" (Mark 1:27). It is possible to give all kinds of examples of God's trustworthiness, but in order to really believe his promise, we, too, must experience his goodness, his power, his authority, which are all made manifest through his self-emptying love in and through the ordinary and every day circumstances of our lives, which constitute our unique path to destiny.

2 comments:

  1. a splendid synthesis — quite lucid and eloquently written.

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  2. Thanks, I really mean it and appreciate the encouragemnt. Preaching is something I pour a lot into. I am always grateful, not to mentioned surprised, when it is put together.

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