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Reflections on forthcoming Mass readings. Note: More guides are available under “Don’t Miss.”
BY Tom and April Hoopes
Sunday, Sept. 5, is the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Liturgical Year C, Cycle II).
Pope Benedict XVI will fly by helicopter to make his pastoral visit to Carpineto Romano, a hillside city 60 miles southeast of Rome. The town is the “twin,” or sister city, to Wadowice, Poland, where Pope John Paul II was born.
Sept. 8 is the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is a big deal here in Atchison, Kan., because the feast is celebrated in a special way at Benedictine College.
One of the monks who founded the school, Father Henri Lemke, was lost in the wilds of Kansas, desperate for drinking water, when a storm threatened him after nightfall. He was a convert from Lutheranism and didn’t like praying to Mary — but, fearing for his life, he did that night. Soon, he saw a light in the distance. He followed the light and found a cottage. Inside the cottage, he found a little girl and her mother.
The two welcomed him in and told him that the girl had placed a candle in the window in the middle of the night. When her mother reprimanded her, she told her, “A lady in a dream told me to.”
The college was founded in 1858, the year another girl, St. Bernadette, saw the same Lady. On Sept. 8 this year, the school will install two new stones in the grotto at the heart of the college. The new stones are gifts from Bernadette’s original grotto in Lourdes, France.
Wisdom 9:13-18; Psalm 90:3-6, 12-17; Philemon 1:9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33
Today’s Gospel presents a paradox which is spelled out in greater detail in the readings themselves.
In the Gospel, Jesus starts out by saying, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” In other words, only by putting aside your life in this world can you be worthy of Christ’s life, which is in this world and the next.
It’s a radical statement: Disregard your family, and even your own life, and look only at him.
But then Christ talks about the care with which you should live. He suggests you approach your life like a builder who wants to construct a tower or a fighting man who has to prepare for battle. Both have to pay careful attention to what they have and keep on hand what they need. Don’t disregard your life at all, he seems to be saying.
So, which is it? As is often the case, paradoxes are needed to express the reality of who Christ is.
God’s otherworldliness is the lesson of the first reading. “Who can know God’s counsel?” asks the author. “The deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans.” The reading and Psalm drive home the message that we know nothing of God — except what the Holy Spirit lets us know.
Then, as the readings shift into the New Testament, they begin to take up the theme that we must forgo the human attachments to which we are accustomed.
This story of Paul and the slave Onesimus provides the linchpin in the readings today. Paul is a prisoner when he writes to Philemon and releases Onesimus. The reading is filled with a certain understanding of freedom, meaning freedom from attachments in the world.
Paul is a “free prisoner,” unattached and unworried by human relationships. But that doesn’t make him indifferent to either Onesimus or Philemon. It leaves him free to love both in a superior way — because he is not imposing his own egoism and self-seeking on them, but trusting in the Lord. Onesimus, in the same way, becomes a “free slave” who is sent to Philemon.
This is what it looks like to love Christ above all things, and to renounce all for him — and then to deal with the world on that basis.
The readings tell us to stop treating God as a sometimes-helpful boost to our own planning and efforts. Do the opposite. Stop trying to get your will done in heaven — seek to do God’s will on earth. Stop trying to stick to your plans come heaven or high water — be willing to change your plans as soon as you know God’s are different.
And don’t seek to fit your relationship with God into the parameters set by your human relationships — seek to fit your human relationships into the parameters set by God. As St. Paul says, that means looking out for the ones you love, but being willing to trust them to God when necessary.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.