Sunday, September 8, 2013

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wis 9:13-18b
Ps 90:3-6; 12-17
Lk 14:25-33

A few years ago the scientist Richard Hawking captured headlines when he declared that God is not necessary to create the universe.  No one mentioned the corollary that Richard Hawking is not needed to explain the universe . . . or God.  This tempest in a tea cup recalls an old graffito.

God is dead. 

Nietzsche is dead. 

We are simple humans, fallible and unknowing creatures, who struggle to make sense out of the world. Our questions are basic.  Our answers are always tentative, subject to revision, and oftentimes flat-out wrong.  Freud comes to mind.

The question that began the first reading is the key to understanding the dilemma of being human. “Who can know God’s counsel or who can conceive what the Lord intends?”  That verse should be inscribed over the entrance to every theology school and seminary in the world, to say nothing of universities, high schools, and homes.  Perhaps it would temper some of the theological-scriptural-sociological-psychological arrogance of preachers, theologians, scientists and others.  It might tamp down the smug certainties of fundamentalists and liberals alike.  Who can know God’s counsel or what He intends?   Not us.  Alas, that doesn’t mean humans don’t pretend to know God’s counsel and what the Lord intends.  Much of what we say about God and His will, represents not God’s counsel but projections of our own fears and fantasies, desires and disappointments, wants and needs.  That is, they are concoctions of the human mind meant to soothe it.

“Scarce do we guess the things on earth, and what is within our grasp
we find with difficulty.”  In a word, we simply don’t get it.  Men on the moon . . . But we can’t ease the traffic on 128 and 93.  Heart transplants are routine . . . but the common cold remains a scourge.  Seedless watermelons (wasted research dollars as they lack flavor as well as seeds). . .  but hunger afflicts most of the world.  We really don't get it.  Our only choice is to accept our mortality, our fallibility, our fundamental status as flawed beings, who are loved by God, but whose intent we can never know.  Thus, we can only marvel at the insight of the psalmist, “For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday, . . . or a watch in the night. . .”  We do not know God’s counsel.  We do not know what the Lord intends.  It can never be otherwise.

Jesus’ parable reflects the first reading.  It functions on two levels and illustrates the difficulty of being human, and fallible. Who does construct a tower without calculating the cost?  I assume it is the same people who conceived the Big Dig.  Can't wait to see the real cost of casinos in the Boston area.  Who marches into, or out of, battle without calculating the strength of his troops or without calculating the cost of attack?  Unfortunately we may soon find out.

But Jesus is not simply addressing the need to plan ahead.  He is warning us of the cost of commitment, of the cost of going through with those plans.  What is the cost to someone who chooses to follow Jesus?  What is the cost to someone who chooses the radical yes of religious life and lives that yes with integrity?  The cost is high.  It is high in ways that are unique to each of us, in ways that reflect our individual life stories.  Jesus is telling us to calculate the cost.  He is also telling us that the cost of following Him is going to be high.  It may be higher than we expected. 

Because we cannot know God’s counsel or what He intends, we can say yes based only on the faultiest of human calculations.  We can say yes only on the grounds of faith, a virtue defined in Hebrews as: “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”  Thus we share the prayer of the psalmist as we continue blindly on our way:

“Fill us at daybreak with your kindness.
May the gracious care of the Lord be ours;
Prosper the work of our hands.
Prosper the work of our hands.” 


The pace of life is picking up a little too quickly.  The next two weeks are going to be busy in the extreme but relief is in sight.   I have several trips taking men to physician offices scheduled.  The car has to go in for servicing.  I am moving into the recently vacated room next door.  The move is occurring for two reasons.  The new room has a glassed-in/screened-in porch.  It does not have the western exposure that turns my current room into a sauna when the sun is going down.  Except for the futon with frame and the chair I should be able to move most of the stuff myself.  

Wedding rehearsal Friday in the North End and wedding on Saturday.  And then comes the countdown.  On Saturday 21 September I will leave here for an eight-day retreat in preparation for final vows.  Looking forward to the silence, seclusion, time for prayer and reflection and some opportunities to do some photography.  There are a number of things to get done prior to the retreat, a few things to do on the retreat and then it will be time.

The photos below cover an Eastern Rite celebration here at Campion, Campion itself and Taiwan. 

Bob Taft, SJ was named an archimandrite in the Eastern Rite Church a number of years ago.  He is entitled to wear the mitre of that rite.  A few weeks ago he celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination with an Eastern Rite Thanksgiving Service here.  These are various photos of Bob vested.  This was my first attempt at "event photography."  I was the guy in clerics and stockinged feet prowling the chapel.  Got some very interesting photos from the choir loft.

These are two photos of a small temple in Changhwa, Taiwan (Ignatius' home area) and, in the first of the three, the entrance to an older house.   I yearn to go back there though I want to visit Hong Kong next time as well.

Here is Ignatius descending the steps at Campion.  I had taken him up on the roof shortly after he'd gone running.  

A detail of the carved stonework.  Not many craftsmen left who can do something like this. 

And a different type of dragonfly. 
+ Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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