A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Action and reaction

Once again, a reading that is thousands of years old (Isaiah 50:5-9a) and was set long ago to be heard on this day in the multi-year cycle of Lectionary readings, seems to be ripped from today's headlines:

The Lord GOD opens my ear that I may hear;
and I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.

I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
my face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.

The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;

I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

He is near who upholds my right;
if anyone wishes to oppose me,
let us appear together.

Who disputes my right?
Let that man confront me.

See, the Lord GOD is my help;
who will prove me wrong?

And so it is that during the past several days, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has been burned in effigy and threatened with death for a small quote of a Byzantine emperor (which he did not justify) within a long and erudite lecture about faith and reason.

The emperor's opinions and the centuries of struggle from which they arose are matters of history. As he said at today's Angelus, the Holy Father did not intend to offend or disrespect Muslims. He did, however, intend to challenge all of us - Christian, Muslim, secular, or whatever - about faith and reason in the world of today.

Today's Gospel reading (Mark 8:27-35) also seems incredibly apropos: beginning with the great profession of faith by Pope Benedict's predecessor:

Jesus and his disciples set out
for the villages of Caesarea Philippi.

Along the way he asked his disciples,
"Who do people say that I am?"

They said in reply,
"John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others one of the prophets."

And he asked them,
"But who do you say that I am?"

Peter said to him in reply,
"You are the Christ."

The relevance continues, as our Lord forcefully challenges Peter to think anew:

You are thinking not as God does,
but as human beings do.

Truly, much if not all of the current consternation arises because people are stuck in their narrow, earthbound patterns of thought, emotion, action, and reaction.

For many of us, whenever we hear something, our first question is often not "What can I learn from this?" but rather "Is something bad being said about me and mine?" and "Is this going to get in the way of what I want to do and my vision for the future?" (This latter question lay behind Peter's amazingly stupid rebuke of Christ.)

Pope Benedict, speaking from the perspective of faith in Christ, challenges people to think anew, but too many minds - from the angry chanters in dusty streets to the editorial page of a once respected New York newspaper - seem impenetrably closed.

It is from closed minds such as these and from the entrenched interests of people's selfishness that attacks such as those described in today's first reading come.

Yes, they may seize upon one small sentence or one tiny bit of political incorrectness as the excuse for their outrage, but it is often only a smokescreen to their more fundamental refusal to listen with open hearts and minds to the truth being faithfully proclaimed.

Now, we must be careful, lest we too overreact.

There are some among us who loudly and incessantly beat the drums of warning: whipping various headlines into the specter of a full-scale attack on faithful Christians by extremists espousing abortion rights, gay rights, militant Islam, etc.

Like the prophet Isaiah, we need to set our faces like flint, focusing on our task of proclaiming the Gospel and living in accordance with the way of Christ, while not letting our agenda be set by those who oppose us.

We and our mission as Christians will not be well served by paranoia, persecution complexes, naiveté, or pollyannaism.

We must follow Christ: neither fleeing nor attacking nor standing still.

We must follow Christ and at the very end of today's Gospel, he reminds us what that means.

Whoever wishes to come after me
must deny himself,
take up his cross,
and follow me.

For whoever wishes to save his life
will lose it,
but whoever loses his life
for my sake and that of the gospel
will save it.

And so, with today's Psalmist (Psalm 116: 1-6,8-9), we may say

I shall walk before the LORD
in the land of the living.