|The Slow Germination of the Seeds of Kindness.
The Fifth Friday of Lent.*
Lessons from the feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Wisdom 2: 1, 12-22.
• Psalm 34: 17-21, 23.
• John 7: 1-2, 10, 25-30.
Lessons from the feria, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• III Kings 17: 17-24.
• Psalm 117: 8-9.
• Psalm 102: 10.
• John 11: 1-45.
The Fifth Friday of the Great Fast; and, the Feast of Our Holy Father Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Lessons for the Presanctified,** according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• Genesis 22: 1-18.
• Proverbs 17: 17—18: 5.
9:58 AM 3/11/2016 — I don't know—those of you who are here every day for Holy Mass—how much attention you pay to the flow of the Scripture lessons presented, but if you do you might be a bit confused today; that's because the events we've been reading about this week have been presented to us out of sequence. Today's Gospel lesson opens with our Blessed Lord traveling about Galilee preaching; but, the Feast of Tabernacles is approaching, so the question for our Lord and His disciples becomes whether to go to Jerusalem for the feast or not. The argument is presented that they should not because the authorities in Jerusalem have put a bounty on His head; but, inasmuch as many of His family and friends are going, He ultimately decides to go, but secretly. This is not because He's afraid to die, obviously; it's because He can't rush into His passion too early: the plan that God has mapped out for the salvation of mankind centers around Passover, ordained by God from the beginning of time. So, our Lord purposely needs to be cagey.
Here is where the confusion arises, because the address of our Lord that we've been reading the last two days about salvation and His role in it was delivered by Him in Jerusalem during this visit; so, these events are presented to us by the Roman Missal backwards: today the film is rewound back to the beginning where the question is to go or not to go. He goes, and while there gives the speech that we heard yesterday and the day before. And the result is as anticipated, as today's lesson then fast-forwards again to the reaction to the speech, which is: some of the residents of Jerusalem, aware that there's a bounty on our Lord's head, start to wonder why He's speaking up, and even wondering if the fact that He hasn't been arrested yet might mean that the authorities have changed their minds about Him. Of course, they haven't, but our Lord is very popular and they have to bide their time. All of this, of course, our Lord knows; from this point on He plays them like a violin, fully conscious of the certain journey He is making to Calvary.
There's not a whole lot in this Gospel lesson that hasn't been covered by our Lord Himself in what we read yesterday and the day before;—it's really nothing more than a Cliff Notes summary of the speech—so, what I would like to do is focus a little on our first lesson from the Book of Wisdom, which relates to our Lord's speech about salvation, but also relates in a very personal way to many of us.
It begins with a line that the Roman Missal translates quite well; better, in fact, than any other translation I can find:
Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training (2: 12 RM3).
And if you're any kind of serious Catholic at all—and I presume that those who come here to our Shrine are—then you have to identify with that at some level: you have to have had the experience of dealing with friends or family members or both who have drifted away from their faith, and with the abuse you can sometimes receive when you try to call them back to the faith in which they were raised. As chaplain here, it's a common theme I hear from people all the time who visit with us: “My son (or my daughter) has stopped going to Church” or “they're living with someone outside of marriage” or whatever; and it's heart-breaking. “I didn't raise them that way.”
Now, the first lesson in the Missal skips a number of verses at this point, but the whole passage from Wisdom is really quite insightful. The one being quoted here is the person who is being criticized for leaving the faith; so, the passage is putting us in the shoes of the one who's left the faith, and is now being lectured by someone for doing so; and, the passage goes on with him saying to himself:
He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the Lord. / To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us, / Because his life is not like that of others, and different are his ways. / He judges us debased; he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure. / He calls blest the destiny of the righteous and boasts that God is his Father (v. 13-16 NABRE).
This imaginary speaker who's being quoted is trying to paint a picture of the one calling him back to his faith as someone who is intolerant, self-righteous and rude. I particularly like the way the Roman Missal translates the first verse of today's lesson, when it says, “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us….” And if you have ever been in the position of feeling compelled to say something to someone—a friend, a neighbor, a son or daughter—about how they are living, and had the guilt trip thrown back in your face, and made to feel that you're walking that tight-rope between speaking the truth and the sin of pride, you can almost feel the voice of the one you love in this angry quotation from the Book of Wisdom.
Of course, the official interpretation of this passage is that the one being spoken of so angrily is our Lord, because He did call His people back to a life of righteousness and did boast that God is His Father. But there's no reason why we can't see ourselves in it, too, especially when we find ourselves in that heart-breaking situation when someone we love has succumbed to the temptations of the world and thrown off the faith in which they were raised. And on those occasions when we just couldn't hold back, and risked the sin of pride, and said something because we felt we had a duty to our Lord to do so, and we get that angry response in return, accusing us of being obnoxious, butting in where we're not wanted, sometimes even being pushed out of someone's life entirely: “…merely to see him is a hardship for us,” says this unknown sinner in the Book of Wisdom, “Because his life is not like that of others, and different are his ways” (vs. 14 & 15 NABRE).
Why is that? Why is it a hardship for the sinner to even be in the presence of the practicing Catholic? When we confront a friend or relative, a son or daughter, a sibling or a cousin or anyone close to us who has left the faith, and he or she gets angry and accuses us of meddling, and doesn't speak to us for weeks or months or years, why is that? Because, in the back of his mind, in the deep recesses of his conscience, the sinner always knows he's a sinner. He can convince himself that his sin is not really a sin, that his way of life is just like everyone else's, because it probably is. And he justifies this rationalization by pointing out what he believes is the hypocrisy of the religious person.
And that's where the lesson as given in the Missal picks up again: “Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him” (v. 17 RM3). And this is where we find ourselves feeling guilty about committing the sin of pride, because we know our sins: we examine our consciences, we go to confession, we know we're far from perfect. We end up questioning our right to even say anything. This is especially true if the soul of the one we're concerned about is our own child, because then we're torn between what we believe is our obligation as a parent, and the reality of our own sins and imperfections. “Should I say something or shouldn't I?” We don't know what to do.
And this is precisely where our Blessed Lord, in another Gospel passage, provides an answer:
So they came to Capharnaum; and there, when they were in the house, he asked them, “What was the dispute you were holding on the way?” They said nothing, for they had been disputing among themselves which should be the greatest of them. Then he sat down, and called the twelve to him, and said, “If anyone has a mind to be the greatest, he must be the last of all, and the servant of all.” And he took a little child, and gave it a place in the midst of them; and he took it in his arms, and said to them: “Whoever welcomes such a child as this in my name, welcomes me…” (Mark 9: 32-36 Knox).***
If we go back to the official interpretation of the Book of Wisdom, in which the imaginary sinner is speaking not about us, but about our Lord, how did our Lord respond to that abuse? He gave up His life on the Cross for that sinner. Not right away, of course. He continued his mission of preaching, of healing the sick, of associating with and giving hope to the outcast, and scandalized the Pharisees for his association with sinners. He didn't shy away from pointing out people's sins; quite the contrary. How many times did He rebuke the Pharisees for their hypocrisy? Did He not chastise the woman at Jacob's well in Samaria for the revolving door into her bedroom? Did He not tell the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more”? Of course He did. Our Lord doesn't tolerate sin, but He does forgive it.
One of the most telling episodes in the life of our Blessed Lord was when he called the Apostle Matthew, a politician who had gotten rich by stealing everyone's tax money. When our Lord met him, He didn't lecture him about what a horrible sinner he was; instead, He invited Himself to dinner, and all the Scribes and Pharisees were terribly upset:
The Pharisees saw this, and asked his disciples, “How comes it that your master eats with publicans and sinners?” Jesus heard it, and said, “It is not those who are in health that have need of the physician, it is those who are sick” (Matt. 9: 11-12 Knox).
When our Lord was passing through the city of Jericho, he saw a man named Zacchaeus sitting in a sycamore tree; he had climbed up there because he was kind of short, and wanted a better view of the parade. And he also was known to be a great public sinner, and when our Lord saw him up there, He didn't say, “Come down out of that tree, Zacchaeus, so I can kick your butt and straighten you out.”
“Zacchaeus,” he said, “make haste and come down; I am to lodge to-day at thy house.” And he came down with all haste, and gladly made him welcome. When they saw it, all took it amiss; “He has gone in to lodge,” they said, “with one who is a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood upright and said to the Lord, “Here and now, Lord, I give half of what I have to the poor; and if I have wronged anyone in any way, I make restitution of it fourfold” (Luke 19: 5-8 Knox).
Why? Why would Zacchaeus do that? All our Lord did for him was have a cup of coffee with him in his house. To us it may not seem like much, but to Zacchaeus it meant everything, and it changed his life.
For those of us who love our Lord there will always be people in our lives who won't measure up. The family that prays together doesn't always stay together, and even children raised in the best of homes can go astray. How we respond to them can either push them farther away or it can draw them back. Maybe not right away … maybe a simple seed of kindness and understanding we plant now won't take root and bare fruit until long after we're dead. There's no rule in life that we're entitled to see the results of the good we do. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't do it.
* The Roman Missals designate this day as "Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent." Cf. the post here for an explanation of how the days of Lent are identified on this site.
** In the Byzantine Tradition—as in most Eastern Christian traditions, both Orthodox and Catholic—the Eucharist is not celebrated on the weekdays of the Great Fast. In some traditions, the faithful are expected to fast from the Blessed Eucharist during this time, abstaining from Holy Communion except on Saturdays and Sundays.
In other traditions, including the Ruthenian recension, Holy Communion may be distributed to the faithful daily provided that the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated. On Wednesday and Friday evenings, the Divine Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts is celebrated, consisting of a form of Solemn Vespers coupled with a Communion Service in which the Eucharist confected on the previous Sunday may be received by the faithful. On the other weekdays, another service—usually the Sixth Hour of the Divine Office or a simpler service called "Typica"—may be celebrated at which Holy Communion may also be offered to the faithful. Notice that the readings for these services do not include a Gospel lesson; a Gospel would only be sung on significant Holy Days or during the Presanctified Liturgies of Holy and Great Week.
*** Consistent with the practice of the time, Msgr. Knox does not provide quotation marks in his translation, setting off direct quotes simply by means of capitalization. When citing his translation, I provide the punctuation for the sake of clarity.