Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sunday word, 25 Aug 2013

21st Sunday of the Year C (25 Aug 2013)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
The letters of St. Paul enjoy frequent readings in church. The Letter to the Hebrews does not. That is unfortunate because we share challenges with its first hearers Like us they faced temptations not to live their Christian, prophetic vocation. Their temptations ran from imprisonment, loss of life and property to daily pinpricks; they lured them not to proclaim [God’s] glory among the nations and fulfill Jesus’ desire: Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.1 Today’s selection invites us to face our temptations and adversities. It invites us to see that they educate us and God works in them for us. A story my mentor told me as a young priest helps illustrate that.

My mentor was superb. Denny shared his experiences, and the way he did placed me in them. One story was a lasting education. Education is what scripture meant by discipline.  Its relative, disciple, means a learner. Disciples learned more than facts; they practiced ways to strengthen their characters. The Letter to the Hebrews communicated that with popular athletic imagery: athletes practiced to strengthen their bodies. People responded to that image then and now. But I get ahead of Denny’s story.

Denny helped a couple prepare for marriage. The wedding day arrived. Denny waited as the last guests took their seats. At the appointed time the first bridesmaid did not take her place to begin the procession; no bridesmaid did. Denny waited patiently but not for them. The groom had not arrived! The groomsmen had but not the groom. Several more minutes of waiting: they seemed an eternity to the wedding party and longer to the bride. Denny walked from the altar to the bride’s room. He told her the groom had not arrived; then he asked the bride what to do. She calmly replied they ought to wait for him, so they did.

After several minutes Denny repeated his walk. He asked the bride what she wanted to do. She replied they ought to wait some more. Denny agreed; more waiting. After another interval Denny repeated his walk and his question. The bride paused. Denny asked her if she wanted him to do anything. The bride said they had waited long enough. She asked Denny if he would inform her waiting guests. Denny calmly did.

His experience illustrates two aspects of our Christian, prophetic vocation to which the Letter to the Hebrews witnessed. First, the bride endured her personal cross that day. Talk about feeling abandoned and what comes with it: embarrassment; shame; pain! They tempt us not to proclaim the Good News by our lives. Second, Denny stood with her. He did nothing without her consent and direction: he asked the bride if she wanted him to do anything.

The bride was not totally surprised when her groom failed to appear. Nor was she as angry as she might have been. She was invested in her wedding and her plans for her future. Sadly, it soured in a moment. She didn’t rage and blame him on the spot for ruining her life—her day, yes, but not her life. If she had focused on him she would have numbed her suffering. Her suffering offered her education for her life.

My education in Denny’s story connected me with an ancient Greek, wise saying well-known to early Christians: to learn is to suffer. The ancients intuited it in reverse: suffering is learning; it teaches valuable lessons about life. Not at all masochists, ancient Greeks were realists. They puzzled over suffering in the world and found lessons for endurance. Our saying, “no pain, no gain,” captures their sense. It is less outside us and more from within. Like other interior qualities, it strengthens character. The Letter to the Hebrews’ focused it with athletic imagery: running with endurance with eyes fixed on Jesus.2 Our “no pain, no gain” has roots in athletic imagery, too. The Letter to the Hebrews continues to speak to us.

The bride left alone at the church by her no-show groom probably did not know that pithy phrase, to learn is to suffer. Yet she tasted its truth. I’ve long hoped she profited from it and did not choke on it. The wisdom of the phrase the Letter to the Hebrews applied to Jesus: Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered. Jesus learned from what he endured. His cross was not only his glorious education. Jesus invites us to see in our crosses—even our more tame ones—opportunities to know ourselves better and to feel Jesus accompanying us as he promised.3 God works for us through Jesus by their Holy Spirit.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Desire to feel wrapped ‘round by the love of our triune God.
  • Ask Mary and the saints to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with Jesus: praise him for enduring the cross to be raised in glory as Messiah and Lord. Thank him for sharing your trials.
  • Ask Jesus for the grace to stand against temptations to numb sufferings instead of to learn from them.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ words, lead us not into temptation, on our lips remind us no one is exempt from challenges or suffering. His words also encourage us to allow Jesus to do what we cannot: to gain his victory by imitating his faith. Along the way we can profit from adversity rather than choke on it.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Mark 16.15, Jesus’ farewell to his apostles.
  2. Hebrews 12.1-2.
  3. For where two or three are gathered in  my name, I am there in their midst (Matthew 18.20). I am with you always (Matthew 28.20).

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