There are a number of lessons to be learned from today’s gospel passage (Mt. 16:13-20). And as we reflect on this passage it is helpful to recognize the context in which it occurs. After feeding the multitude and curing many people our Lord finds himself practically alone. The crowd seems to be present when there is healing from illness and when there is food but then the crowd dwindles. In a sense, our Lord, in this passage is left almost defeated. After having so many around, he is now left alone – only with his small group of disciples. Here is an important point to remember – the ways of God are not our ways. God will not force his Kingdom. Christ will usher in the Kingdom of God not through our world’s understanding of power, success and accomplishment but according to God’s terms.
So, after the crowds have dwindled away, our Lord turns to this small and less-than-perfect grouping of disciples and asks, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Then, he looks directly to them and asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Our Lord is seeking to move this small band of followers beyond the limits of the world’s thought (in this case, the awaited messiah as a military leader and conqueror) into the truth of the Kingdom of God. If they are to be his disciples they must begin to grasp the ways and the movements of God’s Kingdom.
Peter, speaking for the community of disciples, responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” There is an important spiritual lesson here – Peter was not perfect when he made this proclamation of truth. In fact, in the very next chapter Peter rebukes our Lord and is himself reprimanded. “Get behind me Satan! You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do!” The lesson is this: in the spiritual life it is more important to cling to Jesus rather than to seek to make ourselves perfect in the hopes of winning his acknowledgement. We forget this all the time. We want to have everything “perfect” – nice and neat – before we invite Jesus in. Jesus does not expect everything to be perfect. He just wants to be invited in! Just let him in and then, by his presence, all will begin to be healed!
When we allow Jesus in. When, in our heart, we are able to proclaim, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”, the gain the true power of the keys of the Kingdom. The power to “loose” and to “bind”. The power to loosen the bonds that hold us tight to our selfishness, our own love of self, our hurts and our grudges. These are the bonds that make us violent and like a slave. When we let Christ in we learn to bind ourselves to that which gives true life – friendship, solidarity, integrity and service. We bind ourselves to the ways of the Kingdom.
In and through Christ, whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
As things get ready to start here at ETSU with the upcoming fall semester I am reminded that many parents are preparing themselves to let a child leave home. I remember that when I was chaplain at Knoxville Catholic High School I would often tell the seniors to be patient with their parents because the time around graduation and whatever comes next is also a time of adjustment for them. Things are different. The child that one has cared for, loved and raised is getting ready to leave home and this calls for a letting go on the part of every parent.
I do believe that Christian marriage and parenting is a holy vocation. Each vocation has its unique encounter with the cross and I think that the letting go that a parent has to go through is such an encounter. But, we believe and hold that through the cross we discover new life.
Letting go in faith can be a sacred moment.
The other night through a PBS special I “discovered” the singer Justin Hines. Obviously he has been around for a while but it was the first time that I heard his music. I find his voice and his songs to be very appealling and good.
His song, “Wish You Well” is, I believe, a wonderful parent’s prayer for a child leaving home. Here are the lyrics:
Darling I can’t take your thirst away but I can show you to the sea
While you’re walking on your path unknown
I said, “Will you think of me?”
Well time will tell and I wish you well
Too many times I’ve seen those ghosts before
I’ve watched them dance around your bed
I would give you all of my sleep filled nights just to see you get some rest
It’s not my place to try to fill that space but I can wish you well
I wish you well
In times like this I tend to ponder of things we’ll miss
We can always reminisce
When you come back from the great beyond with moonlight in your hair
I will meet you where that dark road ends
And it won’t be long until we’re there
Once again we’ll talk about way back when
But until then I wish you well
I wish you well
There are, I believe, some real gems to reflect on in this song. Here are a few that strike me.
Darling I can’t take your thirst away but I can show you to the sea. It is a powerful and beautiful thing when a parent recognizes the desire in the heart of his or her child and then does not try to stand in the way, nor find the answer for the child nor seek to control but rather points out, helps and encourages the child to find his or her own way. I can show you to the sea.
I would give you all of my sleep filled nights just to see you get some rest. A parent, even when letting go, remains a parent. A parent knows that a child will face struggle and even experience pain and hurt in life but just as a parent cannot answer the unique desire in the heart of his or her child; a parent cannot carry the child’s own cross. But a parent always wishes he or she could.
It’s not my place to try to fill that space but I can wish you well. This is an expression of humble and truthful awareness. We can take another to the sea, we can wish we could carry another’s cross but, in truth, we realize that only God and the other can do that. It’s not my place to try to fill that space … but I can wish you well. Faith brings a different dynamic to letting go. In faith, we do not send another off, abandoned and alone, on his or her own. In faith, when we let go, we commend another into God’s care and through this there is a deep awareness and freedom that can be gained. In faith-filled letting go we are reminded very particularly of who we indeed are and also what we can and what we cannot do. We are not God; parents also are limited creatures and fellow pilgrims with their children on the way.
In faith-filled letting go the child will always remain a son or daughter but through the embracing of this particular cross the parent may very well gain, in the due course of time, another pilgrim friend to walk the way of life with.
Check out the video of Wish You Well by Justin Hines by clicking the link below.
Parents, you are in my prayers.
Today the Catholic Church remembers St. Clare. St. Clare was a contemporary and friend of St. Francis. Inspired by his witness Clare also took upon herself a life of poverty, charity and chastity. She founded an order of nuns that continues to witness the love of Christ to our world. She died in 1253.
St. Clare and all the saints remind us that there is a continual need for virtue in our world. The more that I minister in the college setting the more I realize this. We obsess over physical beauty while neglecting the beauty of the soul. Virtue is not content to let the person sell him or herself short and virtue nourishes the soul where so much that our world offers, in the end, just leaves one empty inside.
Below is a letter written by St. Clare to Blessed Agnes of Prague.
Consider the poverty, humility and charity of Christ
Happy the soul to whom it is given to attain this life with Christ, to cleave with all one’s heart to him whose beauty all the heavenly hosts behold forever, whose love inflames our love, the contemplation of whom is our refreshment, whose graciousness is our delight, whose gentleness fills us to overflowing, whose remembrance makes us glow with happiness, whose fragrance revives the dead, the glorious vision of whom will be the happiness of all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. For he is the brightness of eternal glory, the splendour of eternal light, the mirror without spot.
Look into that mirror daily, O queen and spouse of Jesus Christ, and ever study therein your countenance, that within and without you may adorn yourself with all manner of virtues, and clothe yourself with the flowers and garments that become the daughter and chaste spouse of the most high King. In that mirror are reflected poverty, holy humility and ineffable charity, as, with the grace of God, you may perceive.
Gaze first upon the poverty of Jesus, placed in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. What marvellous humility! What astounding poverty! The King of angels, Lord of heaven and earth, is laid in a manger. Consider next the humility, the blessed poverty, the untold labours and burdens which he endured for the redemption of the human race. Then look upon the unutterable charity with which he willed to suffer on the tree of the cross and to die thereon the most shameful kind of death. This mirror, Christ himself, fixed upon the wood of the cross, bade the passers-by consider these things: ‘All you who pass this way look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow.’ With one voice and one mind let us answer him as he cries and laments, saying in his own words: ‘I will be mindful and remember and my soul shall languish within me.’ Thus, O queen of the heavenly King, may you ever burn more ardently with the fire of this love.
Contemplate further the indescribable joys, the wealth and unending honours of the King, and sighing after them with great longing, cry to him: ‘Draw me after you: we shall run to the fragrance of your perfumes, O heavenly bridegroom.’ I will run and faint not until you bring me into the wine cellar, until your left hand be under my head and your right hand happily embrace me and you kiss me with the kiss of your mouth.
In such contemplation be mindful of your poor little mother and know that I have inscribed your happy memory indelibly on the tablets of my heart, holding you dearer than all others.
|The Charity of St. Lawrence by Bernardo Strozzi|
A sermon preached by St Augustine on the feast day of St Lawrence
The Roman Church commends this day to us as the blessed Lawrence’s day of triumph, on which he trod down the world as it roared and raged against him; spurned it as it coaxed and wheedled him; and in each case, conquered the devil as he persecuted him. For in that Church, you see, as you have regularly been told, he performed the office of deacon; it was there that he administered the sacred chalice of Christ’s blood; there that he shed his own blood for the name of Christ. The blessed apostle John clearly explained the mystery of the Lord’s supper when he said Just as Christ laid down his life for us, so we too ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. St Lawrence understood this, my brethren, and he did it; and he undoubtedly prepared things similar to what he received at that table. He loved Christ in his life, he imitated him in his death.
And we too, brethren, if we truly love him, let us imitate him. After all, we shall not be able to give a better proof of love than by imitating his example; for Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, so that we might follow in his footsteps. In this sentence the apostle Peter appears to have seen that Christ suffered only for those who follow in his footsteps, and that Christ’s passion profits none but those who follow in his footsteps. The holy martyrs followed him, to the shedding of their blood, to the similarity of their sufferings. The martyrs followed, but they were not the only ones. It is not the case, I mean to say, that after they crossed, the bridge was cut; or that after they had drunk, the fountain dried up.
So let us understand how Christians ought to follow Christ, short of the shedding of blood, short of the danger of suffering death. The Apostle says, speaking of the Lord Christ, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not think it robbery to be equal to God. What incomparable greatness! But he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and being made in the likeness of men, and found in condition as a man. What unequalled humility!
Christ humbled himself: you have something, Christian, to latch on to. Christ became obedient. Why do you behave proudly? After running the course of these humiliations and laying death low, Christ ascended into heaven: let us follow him there. Let us listen to the Apostle telling us, If you have risen with Christ, savour the things that are above us, seated at God’s right hand.
On August 9th the Catholic Church remembers St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Edith Stein was born to a Jewish family in 1891. She studied philosophy and was a student of the renowned professor Edmund Husserl. As she grew older she became more and more non-religious (drifting from her Jewish roots) but she also began to meet Christians whose intellectual and spiritual lives she came to admire. She was searching. In 1921, while visiting some friends, Edith spent a whole night reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. She later recalled, “When I had finished the book I said to myself: This is the truth.”
In 1934 Edith entered a Carmelite convent and she took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She took the name as a symbol of her acceptance of suffering. “I felt,” she wrote, “that those who understood the Cross of Christ should take upon themselves on everybody’s behalf.” In 1942 Teresa along with her sister Rosa (who had also become Catholic) and members of her religious community were arrested by the Nazis. On August 9, 1942 St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross died at the concentration camp in Auschwitz.
In his second volume of Jesus of Nazareth Pope Benedict reflects on the depth of awareness of sin that our Lord had and knew as he was making his journey to the cross. It is common to think that because our Lord was sinless he really did not know the weight of sin but the Holy Father states that the opposite is in fact the case. Because of his sinlessness (unlike us) our Lord truly recognized the real tragedy and sorrow of sin and it was this that he bore to the cross for all of us.
“The drama of the Mount of Olives lies in the fact that Jesus draws man’s natural will away from opposition and back toward synergy, and in so doing he restores man’s true greatness. In Jesus’ natural human will, the sum total of human nature’s resistance to God is, as it were, present within Jesus himself. The obstinacy of us all, the whole of our opposition to God is present, and in his struggle, Jesus elevates our recalcitrant nature to become its real self.”
“If the Letter to the Hebrews treats the entire Passion as a prayer in which Jesus wrestles with God the Father and at the same time with human nature, it also sheds new light on the theological depth of the Mount of Olives prayer. For these cries and pleas are seen as Jesus’ way of exercising his high priesthood. It is through his cries, his tears, and in his prayers that Jesus does what the high priest is meant to do: he holds up to God the anguish of human existence. He brings man before God.”
St. Teresa Benedicta wrote much throughout her life both prior to her conversion and afterwards. Her writings witness to a highly intelligent woman courageous in her search for the truth. She found that truth in the cross. Her final work was a study on St. John of the Cross entitled, “The Science of the Cross.”
In the cross, St. Teresa realized, Jesus brings us before God.
After weeks of very public political brinkmanship (on all sides) regarding the debt ceiling our country now finds that our credit rating has been downgraded.
I think that we are being told that we need to get our act together as a country.
I saw a news clip today where a psychologist was offering advice on how individuals could avoid depression resulting from this tarnishing our our nation’s “gold standard” in credit rating. Now, I am sure that there are going to be economic ramifications to this slip from AAA to AA+ that will have to be shouldered by all of us (probably more overwhelmingly by the poor) but I must admit that I do not think this slip is going to send me into a depressive tailspin.
Credit rating has its place but when ranked with the founding principles of our nation – life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, freedom, democracy, the dignity of the human person – I do not find it to be the most important element that builds the greatness of our nation.
The truth is we are more than the market and maybe it is time that we start remembering this.
Part of this “remembering”, I believe, is to regain a sense of the common good. A couple of years ago I read an interesting article in America magazine by Darrin W. Snyder Belousek entitled, “How Greenspan Got it Wrong.” (Vol. 200, No. 11, March 30-April 6, 2009) In the article Belousek (a Mennonite philosopher) argues that Greenspan’s philosophy of self-regulation by self-interest (a view held by many) was a strong determining factor in the setup for our country’s economic meltdown in the Great Recession. He goes on to state that we need to regain a sense of the common good and that Catholic social teaching offers a plentiful resource for this regaining.
I was struck by that article and the next semester here at the Center I offered a series entitled, “Discussions on the Common Good” where we read some writings on the concept of the common good and discussed. (I plan to offer the series again this fall semester.) A philosophy professor attended the series and at one point he remarked how philosophical discussion in our society has so overwhelmingly focused on the individual as to obscure any real and substantive notion of a common good. I found his comment to be very revealing of where we find ourselves as a country.
Belousek ended his article with this: “The need now, for both people of faith and all people of good will, is a return to the ethics of virtue and the philosophy of the common good, within which human freedom and individual interest find their ‘due place and proportion.’ The welfare of the nation depends on it.”
Belousek may very well be playing the role of the prophet. We need an understanding of the common good so we can once again start talking to one another and working with one another not because (whether we like it or not) we have to but because it is built within our very makeup.
The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia published by The Liturgical Press has this to say about the common good:
“The concept of the common good is based on the belief that we human beings are naturally members of society. We are not isolated individuals who choose to come together in society only because it is necessary to do so to protect individual rights and freedoms. Rather, individuals find their own meaning and identity and dignity as part of the larger community.
As a social being, every individual has the moral responsibility to work for the good of the community. The individual’s own good is closely related to this common good; it is only when the right conditions of social life are established that individuals and social groups can flourish.
It is not enough to be morally sensitive and principled in one-on-one relationships and in dealings with other individuals. Moral responsibility includes the obligation to work for the social systems and conditions necessary for the human fulfillment of all.
The common good is not a value easily understood in American culture. Because of the strong emphasis on individual rights and freedoms, the good of the community is often thought of as the good of many individuals. ‘The greatest good of the greatest number’ is not, however, the same as the common good. The common good is the social order that makes possible and protects the good of all, the minority as well as the majority.”
Again, “We are not isolated individuals who choose to come together in society only because it is necessary to do so to protect individual rights and freedoms. Rather, individuals find their own meaning and identity and dignity as part of the larger community.”
An understanding of the common good points to a deeper ontological reality: communion and community is part of our very identity and makeup. When we so sharply and starkly divide reality into “us vs. them” or “liberal vs. conservative” or “blue vs. red” we are at some level attempting to split our very nature. This divided approach to existence is destined for frustration and failure.
I agree with Belousek that the welfare of our nation depends on the regaining of an ethics of virtue and a philosophy of the common good. Maybe the slip in our nation’s credit rating will provide the impetus for all of us to reevaluate priorities.
And whether or not the powers-that-be in Washington or on Wall Street catch the hint I know that we (wherever we might find ourselves) can begin crafting human spaces where community is respected and the worth of every individual is acknowledged.