Paul, a friend from Penn State, whom I met within thirty minutes of moving into the dorm and who, with Chris, now deceased, and Al were my closest friends, drove up on Tuesday. We had a great time catching up. On July 4 we drove up to Rockport, MA and wandered the streets filled with shops and views of the water. Afterwards we drove to the Jesuit Retreat House on Eastern Point in Gloucester, MA and thence to Marblehead to see Chris' wife Chris. Later in the evening Chris, Paul and I went down to the harbor and boarded a boat with several of Chris' friends to watch the fireworks. We were fortunate. The storms that began in Lebanon, NH traveled SSE rather than SE. They had quite an impact on the crowd on the Esplanade in Boston but, except for lightening to the south and a few drops of rain, did not effect the North Shore.
Thursday Paul helped me take one of the men to the hospital for elective surgery and then we went into Cambridge and Boston. It was a very good three days.
I meant to take the camera on July 4 but forgot. In the end I was happy to have done so. It is difficult to take photos and be social at the same time. I would have really been annoying on the boat. And, because of the gentle bobbing on the harbor it would have been difficult to get non-blurry images of the fireworks. Perhaps next year from dry land.
I celebrated the 6:30 AM Mass in the community this morning. Last night around 9:30 I decided to finish the homily in the morning. That was when I thought I had the 10 AM Mass. Good thing I checked. It turned into a rather late night as a result. Nap time as soon as I hit post.
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
8 July 2012
2 Cor 12:7-10
What was the thorn in Paul's flesh? What was the nagging irritation that kept him from being too elated? Don't bother with the commentaries. There is no agreement among scholars, from Augustine to the present, on the nature of that thorn.
Was it a physical ailment? Some propose that it was an eye disease. Was it recurrent kidney stones or attacks of biliary colic? Physical explanations are possible but not probable.
Chrysostom wonders whether this thorn was persistent critics and opponents who complicated the struggle to preach the gospel. Paul's acceptance of weaknesses, insults, and persecutions would support such an argument. Other Church Fathers and later commentators suggest temptation. Was it temptation to power? Temptation to pride? Was it lust? Was the thorn all of the above, some of the above or something else?
Perhaps Paul was struggling with the realization that he was a sinner. Perhaps it was the conscious awareness, an awareness from which he couldn't escape, of the human condition, a condition he suffered in the same way we do today. I suspect that Paul was burdened by the awareness of his sinful self, a burden that was increased by guilt when he recalled his complicity in the persecution of Jesus' early followers or the painful memory of his silent assent to Stephen's martyrdom, standing there as the cloaks piled up around his feet.
How often do we cringe at a memory? How often do we wish we could forget how we hurt another? How often do we want to take back words that we said or pain that we caused when we realize that we acted wrongly? How often do we regret our prejudices? That question leads us to the gospel. It is a fascinating gospel because it exposes one of the most satisfying and most self-destructive of all sins: smugness.
Smugness is defined as self-righteous complacency. Smugness would lead most of us to assume that had I been present at this scene I never would have criticized Jesus for being a local kid come back. I would never have felt that Jesus was the boy down the street who is so full of himself. In reality, chances are greater than 50-50 that had any of us been standing with the crowd we would have said and/or felt the same thing they did. We would have joined in the chorus of disapproval. “Who does he think he is?” “Where did he get all of this?” While it doesn’t matter whether or not we nurture fantasies of standing apart from the crowd in this gospel story, complacent self-righteousness, which is not informed by many facts, can devastate our relationships in community, in our work, in family life, and just about everywhere else.
One of the greatest challenges we face is that of honoring the “prophets” in our midst, the prophets in our families, and the prophets about whom we think "I remember him when . . . " We mutter sotto voce “I remember him when he was a novice. Didn't have ANY Greek.” We grumble to ourselves, “Listen to him. He never DID finish that degree."
Smugness is destructive pride. It is prejudicial in the extreme. It causes us to exert premature closure on something we may need to hear. It may cause us to reject the truth out of hand simply because we know the messenger. That was the sin of Jesus’ critics. They knew everything about him—or so they thought.
In his commentary on this passage, Jesuit Father Dan Harrington describes the crowd’s attitude as the “prejudice of familiarity.” It is a particular risk for those of us living in religious community because we know each other so well. At times it is true that familiarity breeds contempt.
“Where did he get all of this?”
“Who does he think he is?"
These are not reactions peculiar to the villagers of 1st century Palestine. To paraphrase the most famous of all of Walt Kelly's Pogo cartoons: We have met the people in their synagogue and they are us.
Two photos from Campion Center and three from Australia
It is nice to have a telephoto lens when photographing bees. They aren't necessarily cooperative with the project. Best to have room to run.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD