The scriptures for the Second Sunday of Lent (March 1st) give us clear examples of being caught in a double-bind. In the Mystery of Christ: Liturgy as Spiritual Experience Thomas Keating describes a double-bind as a situation in which one must choose between two courses of action and both courses are perceived to be the will of God. The choice may be agonizing as it was for Mary, an engaged virgin when she was asked to a mother and not by Joseph. In the first reading for Sunday, (abridged from Genesis 22) Abraham is direct to sacrifice Isaac on a mountain in the land of Moriah. Abraham and Sarah had waited all their lives for Isaac. He was the only promise of old age. Abraham goes forward, somehow trusting. He finds out that he will not have to sacrifice Isaac. The Lord promises;
I will bless you and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants will take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth will find blessing, because you obeyed my command.”
This story has produced endless commentary designed to explain the tension inherent in Abraham’s faith in God in the face of an apparent contradiction.
The double bind faced by the disciples after the transfiguration (Mk 9:2-10) is also dramatic. On the mountain, the disciples see the transfigured Jesus and learn that he is the Messiah, the one for whom Israel has waited. Yet,
As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
The disciples must have felt a strong urge to tell everyone the good news, yet they were urged to keep quiet. Their response?
So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.
The double-bind is not seen as a common spiritual experience - although I suspect that it is. We just don't recognize it because it does not occur in as dramatic a manner. In the most common form it is the challenge of choosing between two good courses of action, each of which seems desirable. Keating gives the example of persons who choose the contemplative life wishing that they were in the active life - or the reverse.
What should we do when in a bind? We can realize that others have gone forward in faith, asking the Lord to work out a solution and trusting that He will.
...redoubled our efforts.” Jim, one of my favorite bosses, used to quote this management proverb. It reminds me of the theme in the scriptures for the 1st Sunday of Lent (Feb 22). The connection is not immediately clear. Let me explain.
In engineering program management, teams are often assigned a problem, develop a solution and spend immense time, energy and money implementing their solution. If the chosen solution does not work right away, the natural tendency is to pour even more time and effort. In a desperate hope that the solution will work the team will tolerate tremendous stress and burnout rather than accept failure and start over.
This is a natural response in the engineering and intelligence analysis world. I’ve seen it happen and done it.
So what is the connection to Sunday’s scriptures? In Gn 9:8-15 we will hear after a flood, Noah and his sons knew that the solution was keeping God’s Covenant. Then in the very short Gospel reading (Mk 1:12-15) we read that
“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the Desert and he remained in the desert for forty days.”
Mark didn’t record it, but in Luke we learn that the Devil proposed solutions to Jesus. These three solutions were 1) gaining power over the world, 2) accepting the pleasure of food and comfort, or 3) gaining possession over the worlds goods. (Our teacher Msgr. Chester Michael called these the “3 P’s”) Jesus rejected all three of them. As in my comparison to engineering programs, they will lead to frustration and failure. Most of us will stick with them for a long time and change direction only after experiencing burnout.
Jesus returned from the desert proclaiming:
“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Trappist monk Fr. Thomas Keating has often written that to repent means to change the direction in which we are looking for happiness.
The Gospel of Mark recounts several instances in which Jesus sought to hide his dealings from public view. On the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Feb 15th) we will first hear the rules specified in Leviticus for one who suffers from Leprosy. Then in the gospel, (Mk 1: 40-45) Jesus heals a man from leprosy; charges him to fulfill the rules from Leviticus; and then charges him:
“See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”
Why the command to “tell no one?” Jesus' action in commanding his followers to silence about his messianic mission is known to biblical commentators as the messianic secret. It is the subject of much speculation.
Without going into the question of Jesus’ motives, we can find that this is a very normal human urge.
The front page of Washington Post for February 10th has John Feinstein’s moving tribute to University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith (1931-301). Feinstein tells of interviewing Smith and asking him about his role in furthering desegregation restaurants in Chapel Hill.
“Dean, you should be proud of doing something like that.”He looked me in the eye and said, “John, you should never be proud of doing the right thing. You should just do the right thing.”
Dean Smith, a practicing Baptist, did not elaborate his motives. However, he shared the instinct for secrecy displayed by Jesus after healing the leper. Both, it seems to me, were afraid that publicity would detract from the work that they were supposed to do.
It is often wise to conceal the good that one does. There are, however, exceptions and times when publicity is desirable.
Publicity and honor are sometimes appropriate and may even help in doing one’s work. In his Introduction to the Devout Life (Part Iii, section IV) Francis de Sales writes:
“… good men seeking to grow in grace can take their natural rank and position, so long as they are not engrossed by such things, and do not involve themselves in anxiety, contention, or ill will on their account. I am not speaking here of those whose position is public, or even of certain special private persons whose dignity may be important. In all such cases each man must move in his own sphere, with prudence and discretion, together with charity and courtesy.”
Francis de Sales set forth some good criteria on accepting - or not accepting - pubic honors. It seems to be that Dean Smith set a good example for us.
On the fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Feb 8) we can find a connection between each of the three scripture readings that we will hear at Mass. The first reading from Job speaks of drudgery, suffering and sleeplessness. The Gospel (Mk 1:29-39) is a story of Jesus’ healing many people from various diseases. The second reading (1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23) Paul defends himself against criticism over pay for his teaching. Accused of preaching for pay, he says he is preaching out of gratitude. Christ has rescued Paul and he is now preaching not for payment but in repayment. Job, or any of those who received healing might react in the same way.
As an advocate of workplace spirituality, I suggest that we might extend this attitude to all of our daily work. We can start with the premise that all work (excluding the production of actual vices) is creative and a service to others. it is, in some way, an exercise of our God given talents to serve others either by making products or providing service. Done in gratitude and as repayment, our works somehow, help build the Kingdom. This is an attitude that could reshape our entire economy. When we go to work, we are repaying the Lord for past healing and rescue from difficult and sometimes tragic situations. We are also serving our employer and our customers. For some suggested in Gregory F.A. Pierce’s Spirituality@Work: 10 Ways to Balance Your life on the Job
On the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Feb.1) we come to a gospel passage subject to many interpretations. Some scholars have attempted to explain such passages by finding entirely natural causes, rather than accept them as "literally" true. While I have no wish to get into this debate, it does seem to me that we can draw from our own experience, find similar events and then find explanations that fit our own lives. We are not dismissing the passages as mythical. Instead we are adopting an interpretation that makes sense in our own framework.
That said, the scriptures for next Sunday include this passage from Mk 1:21-28:
"...In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him..."
If we adopt a flexible interpretation of the meaning of "unclean spirit" we can an arrive at an understanding consistent with our own experience and the biblical text. Let us suppose that the man in question had a lifetime controlled by resentment, hatred and anger at what someone had done to him decades earlier. Can we not say that this man has an unclean spirit, one that will destroy him and he cannot release? If your answer is yes, imagine that the man was threatened by Jesus' preaching of love and forgiveness. The man had lived in resentment and anger for most of his life. This was a defense mechanism. Letting go of it would mean going defenseless. the unfamiliar was threatening. When Jesus spoke words of healing, the spirit of resentment within him cried out "go away" almost as if it were someone else. Jesus said, in a way, "Let it go" when the man did, it was almost as if he were convulsed in shock at his new state.
This interpretation may seem a stretch to some. Maybe I am being so flexible that I set aside the miraculous aspect of this man's healing. Yet, I can look around and find many people, political groups, and entire societies consumed by political, religious, and racial hatred and resentment. We need to rebuke such unclean spirits and cry, "quiet, come out of" them.
We will hear the story of Jonah and his preaching in the first reading for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Jan 25th). When he heard the call to preach to Nineveh, he might have responded his own version of Is 6:8:
Jonah did not wish to preach to Nineveh, the capital city of a land of cruel warriors who persecuted Israel. He fled, was in a shipwreck and was rescued by a whale. He preached this message:
“Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed, “
Then the people of Nineveh believed God and repented;
(We can wish that all preachers would be as successful - and brief.)
The gospel (Mk 1:14-20) gives us another example of quick response. As Jesus
passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
Jesus said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.
In the year 2015, we rarely see such conversion and quick response - certainly not of an entire city as with Jonah. Maybe we should listen to Paul in our second reading (1 Cor 7:29-31). The measures Paul advocated seem extreme. Yet we could all use a little urgency. We are offered the gift of life and deepest happiness, yet we tend to delay our response. The people of Nineveh sensed an immediate danger and responded. When we delay it is because we a preoccupied and fail to sense either impending danger or the great gift that is awaiting our response. The scriptures for this Sunday, challenge us to respond. If we don't, we can at least pray to be freed from our preoccupations.
Now that the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany are over, we move to the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Jan 18.) For each Sunday the gospel readings will take us through the public ministry of Jesus. Each gospel reading is preceded by a first reading drawn from the Old Testament and is selected because it matches the gospel reading in some special way.
The theme for this Sunday, writes John Martens in America Magazine, is introductions. This Sunday will hear part of the story of the prophet Samuel, a figure close to Moses in his importance. His mother, Hannah, dedicated Samuel to the Lord by placing him in the care of Eli in the temple as soon as Samuel was weaned.
Even with this, we will hear that Samuel did not recognize the voice the Lord until after he called the third time. Eli made it possible by telling him that it was the Lord who was speaking. Samuel heard only after Eli introduced him to the Lord and advised Samuel to respond when called by answering
Speak, for your servant is listening.
Once that happened we hear this about Samuel:
“ ..the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.” (1 Samuel 3:19 NRSV)
Samuel was extraordinary. The rest of us must acknowledge that the Lord's words pass us by and fall to the ground.
In the gospel reading we will hear:
"John was standing with two of his disciples,
and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God.”
The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Like Samuel, the two disciples were able to respond after they had been introduced.
I remember once offering a piece of unsolicited advice - valuable advice in my not so humble opinion. I could have rolled a pearl across the table and watched it fall on the floor. I will never know if my advice would have worked. In this situation there was no way my advice would have worked. Had some third party preceded the advise with an introduction, it might have taken hold. The pearl might have been picked up as it rolled across the table.
We are not much different from Samuel or those two disciples. the Lord is speaking to us in many ways. We need to pay attention, but cannot until introduced.
We can be thankful for those who have helped us along the path by helping us to recognize the Lord’s voice. We should be attentive and waiting for further introductions.
In Isaiah we hear a promise of a servant in whom the Lord is pleased and who will reach out to the nations, establishing justice, opening the eyes of the blind and bringing prisoners out from confinement. Then in the gospel we see Jesus being baptized by John. When this happens and the Spirit descends, Jesus is made manifest to the people of Israel.
It is, however, in the second reading (Acts 10:34-38) that the radical meaning of Isaiah’s promise is made clear. When we think of “bringing forth justice to the nations,” we think of the nations surrounding Israel coming under the just rule of the Lord’s servant in Jerusalem. As John Martens points out in America Magazine, the task of reaching out was passed to the early church. In Acts we learn that the Peter is reaching out by speaking in the “house of Cornelius” - a commanding officer of the Roman army. He is the representative of an occupying and oppressive power. Many Jews were plotting revolution and revenge against Rome. Peter preached that
“…God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.
You know the word that he sent to the Israelites
as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all, …”
Here we have a hated Roman Army officer opening himself to the gospel. We should learn from Peter and be ready to extend a message of peace even to state and governmental officials who, it seems, we ought to hate and despise.
We will celebrate Epiphany on Sunday, January 4th, two days ahead of the traditional date. The scripture readings make it clear that this is the manifestation of the Lord to all the nations.
In The Mystery of Christ: The Liturgy as Spiritual Experience Thomas Keating writes that Epiphany is the first of Jesus’ three manifestations. Epiphany is a manifestation to the entire world. On January 11th the readings will focus on Jesus’ baptism at the river Jordan. This is a manifestation to the Jews of His time.
On January 17th, 2016 we will hear about the third - the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12) when He is manifested to his disciples. (Since the gospel selections this year are drawn from Mark, the wedding feast will not be featured in 2015.)
These three readings are an integral part of the celebration of Epiphany, the crowning feast of the Christmas- Epiphany Mystery and the full revelation of all that the light of Christmas contains.… The liturgy is primarily a parable of what grace is doing now; it disregards historical considerations and juxtaposes texts in order to bring out the sublime significance of what is being transmitted in an invisible way through the visible signs.
There is wisdom and mystery in the yearly cycle of scripture readings. In order to see this wisdom, we have to pause and “Raise our eyes and look about” by regular and systematic reflection on the scripture as it is presented to us each week.
Posted this in 2010 for the Feast of the Holy Family which occurs this year on December 28. I'm no longer taking Tae Kwon Do, but I still like the post. We are grateful for a visit from our entire family and bless our friends.
My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him; revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten,firmly planted against the debt of your sins —a house raised in justice to you.
A few decades ago I was mildly amused by: "Even if his mind fail be considerate." Now that I'm older I feel differently. My mind and body are still reasonably sound. I'm still able to do Tae Kwon Do - even if I'm occasionally befuddled by the complicated memory sequences devised by Kyosah-nim Rick. there. Even so, I'm comforted by Sirach 3:12-16:
"Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and preserves himself from them. When he prays, he is heard; he stores up riches who reveres his mother. Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children, and, when he prays, is heard. Whoever reveres his father will live a long life; he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother."
Imperfect as my honoring was, we are gladdened by children and our prayers have been heard. The task of honoring our parents is not done, even though they have gone to their rewards. We can continue to honor them by the ways in which we live.