Sunday, September 02, 2012

Sunday word, 02 Sep 2012

22d Sunday of the Year B (02 Sep 2012)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
We resume hearing Mark’s gospel on the 13 Sundays remaining in the liturgical year. Recalling Mark’s purpose can help us hear his gospel better. Mark wrote for people who had already received the secret of God’s kingdom as gift, grace, new life. He wrote for Christians. Mark reminded them of what they received and urged them to appreciate God’s saving work.

What might that mean for us? It means our purpose is not to conquer with words but to convert our hearts. That will prepare others to convert their hearts when they see what our transformed hearts lead us to do. That is in sync with Mark’s purpose. It is the essence of Christianity and of Judaism.

Our heritage from Judaism has long impressed me but never more-so than on Easter Sunday 19 years ago. A Jewish friend came to Mass that morning. Afterward he remarked he recognized much from Jewish worship. He noted how similar the procession with the gospel book, from altar to pulpit, was to the procession of the torah scroll taken from its place in the synagogue and processed to its pulpit. Evan repeated his surprise before we left church for breakfast. I looked him in the face and said, “Evan, we got it all from you!”

Our worship did evolve from Jewish worship; Christians evolved from Jews. Consider some of our other practices: fasting; daily prayers; intercessory prayers; bread & wine. Jesus, the New Passover, didn’t choose bread and wine on a whim. They were used every sabbath as well as Passover. Nor must I forget to mention alms.

On my first visit to my friend’s home, I noticed he had a box on a table into which Evan deposited the change in his pocket: alms for a Jewish charity. He made his compassion action. A little thing, a habit for Evan, was a big thing for me to see. Think of each one of our personal devotions and acts of compassion. We never know how our practice affects others. 

My friend did not notice that I noticed. I never mentioned for some time the effect he had on my heart. His observance of the commandments of the Lord embodied Moses’ words: for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, how close is the Lord, our God.

God’s commandments have people at heart. They help us do God’s justice, think the truth [and] slander no one. That means God is not tucked away for Sunday or for crises or other turning points. Living an uneventful day is a path to God. Many and subtle are the temptations that derail us and suggest we take other paths. 

When I reflect on temptations which derail me I notice they share something: they lack a sense of surprise. They seem they were supposed to be there. They appear as if my life were supposed to take such turns; as if they were supposed to be part of my God-desired self. Yet they are delusions! Chasing our temptations instead of standing against them deludes us. Chasing our compulsions, inadequacies, our fears and self-doubts delude us and constrain us.

God’s commands do not intend to constrain us. Our temptations suggest otherwise, and they often succeed to constrain us. The commands of God seek to liberate us: they help us be doers of the word [of God] and not hearers only. They help shape hearts which are in God’s orbit. When we allow ourselves to be within it; when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to God’s loving, creative presence, we are truly surprised, even set off balance. When we are in God’s orbit the usual surprises us; the humane appeals to us; we vibrate with love. Neither temptations nor merely hearing God’s word do that.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause in the presence of our triune God.
  • Ask St. James to present you to Jesus.
  • Speak with Jesus: praise him for creating you and redeeming you today. As people, actions and blessings surface on your heart and mind, thank Jesus for them and ask yourself, “How did I respond?”
  • Ask Jesus for the grace to act more in sync with him and his good news as you look forward to tomorrow.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. His words lead us are not limited to away from temptation and evil. His words lead us express our conviction that God in Jesus blazes the trail for us to follow.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

Wiki-image from Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum of Jesus and Pharisees is in the public domain. Wiki-image by Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing of illustration for James, Chapters 1-2, used by CC BY-SA 3.0.

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