Ps 119 1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34
1 Cor 2:6-10
Free will. Choice. Options.
Past. Present. Future.
Decision. Action. Result.
Fear. Love. Consequences.
These are only some of the layers in today's readings. They can be meditated upon to great depth without being exhausted. They can also be the source of much discomfort as we consider what they mean for us. Choice is the great gift of free will. Choice is also the greatest challenge it presents. The ability to make a choice among options, to understand the reasons for that choice, and to intuit how that choice will affect us in the future, sets us apart from all animals. All lower animals function on instinct. They are driven only by a combination of instinct, memory traces of past experience, and immediate need. But, they can never know the long range effect of a choice.
The human brain is many orders of magnitude more powerful than that of any animal. Only humans can combine past memories and knowledge to make decisions in the present, while having some idea of the future consequences of those decisions, which in itself may influence the final choice or decision. Animals do not possess that skill. They never will.
Our choices rarely involve just us. Most of them affect others in ways we can't always know when we make them. Only humans have free will. Only humans are free to make choices. Only humans can take into account, past, present, and future when faced with a choice. The brain function involved when we make a choice, are more complicated than can be fully explained or described.
We heard in the first reading from Sirach, "If you choose you can keep the commandments . . . " That is a strong statement that places a significant burden on us. "IF you choose you can keep the commandments." The logical conclusion from that is, 'if you choose you can violate the commandments.' Free will allows us to choose to sin. It allows us to choose death. It allows us to choose evil. Free will allows us to reject God.
"The eyes of God are on those who fear Him."
Fear of the Lord. Fear of God. The word fear is the problem in the English translation. Fear sets off an automatic train of thought that includes anxiety, terror, panic, punishment, pain and physical sensations, such as rapid heart beat and sweaty palms. But fear has other meanings.
Fear is a critical part of love. Without fear there can be no love. This meaning of fear in the context of love is different. It is a reverential fear. It is a fear that grows out of awe. It is a fear that moves a person to seek and follow God's will. It moves a person to seek God's will not to avoid punishment but because of love for Him. How often has fear of hurting someone we loved kept us from sin? How often have we chosen the good instead of evil because we did not want to disappoint someone who loved us, a parent, a spouse, a valued teacher or mentor, or even the memory of another? How often have we chosen not to sin because we did not want to violate another's trust or because we didn't want to break someone's heart? That is reverential fear of the Lord. It is not fear because of punishment, hellfire, and gnashing of teeth. It is fear of offending the One who loves us.
Today's Gospel continues the Sermon on the Mount. Unlike the comforting images in the beatitudes we hear some hard truths. It is difficult to feel comfortable after hearing this Gospel. The poor, those who mourn, the peacemakers, the meek those who were declared blessed in the beatitudes, are now given instruction in what it means to follow Jesus. Those who were declared blessed are reminded that even if poor or mourning they have responsibilities. Sin is not mitigated by poverty. Sin is not excused because of powerlessness or meekness. Jesus is telling his hearers that there are no actions free of consequences. Nothing is done in a vacuum. Every action has an effect, every action has a reaction. Every time we choose for something we choose against other things. Every time we choose a course of action we close the other options.
In the United States the lawsuit is as much a weapon of mass destruction as any nuclear warhead. The situation has reached a point of absurdity that cannot be easily described. Many lawsuits are settled out of court as Jesus suggests in his discourse. But . . . . many many more are thrown out of court because they have no merit, because they are deemed frivolous, or to put it bluntly, are nothing more than money grabs.
Editorial comments aside, why would calling one’s brother, or anyone else, a fool merit the fires of Gehenna? Why is anger so strongly decried in this Gospel? Because, just as it is easier to settle a case out of court than to go to trial, it is easier to stop anger when it is a thought than it is to interrupt a murderous impulse when one’s hands are around the other’s neck. It is easier for an alcoholic not to drink when he or she does not enter a bar or hold a cold beer on a hot day than it is to spit out the glorious amber liquid so as to remain sober.
Jesus is telling us to be alert to the first signs of temptation if we wish to avoid sin. He is telling us this because there is a point of no return, particularly when we choose evil over good, when we choose death over life, when we choose to follow satan rather than Jesus, the Good King.
The Psalms were written many centuries before Matthew's beatitudes. We just heard a beatitude from Psalm 119:
"Blessed are they who observe the Lord's decrees,
who seek him with all their heart."
We can only pray using words from the same psalm:
"Give me discernment,
that I may observe your law
and keep it with all my heart."
Now that Fr. Damjan is back we are doing one on and one off for celebrating and preaching at Mass. It has been a busy couple of weeks. Some editing. Celebrated one Mass in Slovenian. It goes well. The people here are tolerant and patient, something I appreciate a great deal.
The photos below are of a different type. They are a form of 'light painting.' There are several ways to do it. Some photographers do a long exposure while moving around a laser or other colored light source. I chose a different tack, beginning with a light source and moving the camera.
There is a phone store that seems to sell only plans rather than the phones themselves. It is one the corner of a block of stores and thus has two plate glass windows. The walls are perforated with regularly spaced holes that have a translucent or opaque cover. They are backlit with lights that change color in an irregular pattern.
After the first photo of the store, what I call the canvas, I took a bunch of longer exposures from 0.8 to 3 seconds. During each exposure I moved the camera in as straight a line as possible. I like the effect. It is difficult if not impossible to predict the result. I've done it a few times in other settings. Not all light works as well. When it warms up a bit more will try to do some in other places here at night.
The store itself.
One of the 0.8 second shots. Moved the camera fairly fast. I suspect pedestrians observing the scene were wondering what in the . . .
A longer exposure, probably two seconds.
I like the effect this had with the lucite tables. You have to choose the starting point for the movement before pushing the shutter.
Went from left to right on this one. I think the vertical seem to work better overall, at least in this setting.
Every time I look at this it reminds me of 'ribbon candy' from Seras' candy shop when I was a kid. Stuff was pure sugar, shiny, with stripes more or less indicating the flavor built into it. Biting one piece of that was enough to seal the jaw for hours.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD