Sunday, July 23, 2017

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Ps 86:5-6,9-10,15-16
Romans 8:26-27
Mt 13:24-43

As was the problem last week, the readings and the Gospel contain an overabundance of riches on which to preach or meditate.  This weekend we hear the second of three readings from the long 13th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, a gospel reading that picks up where it left off last week. The overall sense of the today's readings and psalm taken together is: what God has done for us, the last judgment, and the movements of faith.

The first reading is from a section of the Book of Wisdom subtitled: God’s Fidelity to His People in the Exodus.  Over the next three or four weeks the first reading at daily Mass will focus on the story of the Exodus up to and including Moses’ death just before entering the land.   We will hear again of the people’s infidelity to the covenant, an infidelity that was recurrent despite God’s unwavering fidelity. 

The Book of Wisdom was written centuries after the Exodus.  This reading is a reminder of God’s love for us, and his tolerance of our tendency to be unfaithful to our side of the deal.  There is great consolation when we hear: “You judge with clemency and with much lenience you judge us.”  With those words in mind consider the parable of the wheat into which bad seed was sown. 

Scholars suggest that the seed sown with the wheat was difficult to tell from the wheat during the early growth stage.  Any attempt to remove the weeds would be based on judgment and appearance.  The judgment could be wrong.  Wrong judgment would result in loss of good wheat.  Better to give all the plants the benefit of the doubt, better to let them to grow to maturity, before putting the good into the barn and the bad into the flame. 

Just as God never wavered in His commitment to the Israelites in the desert, He does not waver in His commitment to us.  God does not judge or condemn us without allowing multiple chances to reform our lives as individuals and as a people. The final judgment, the final sorting, does not happen on this earth.  It can take place only after death.  And so we can say with the psalmist as often as necessary,

“But you, God of mercy and compassion,
slow to anger, O Lord,
abounding in love and truth,
turn and take pity on me.”

We have daily opportunities to allow for the action of grace in our lives. That action is illustrated in the two short examples of the mustard seed and the yeast.  I’m going to ignore the mustard seed. I’ve been a bread baker for decades.  Having gone through hundreds of pounds of flour the example of the yeast is a resonant one.  Despite having watched many loaves of bread rise I’m never less than amazed by the action of the yeast. 

When a tablespoon of yeast is mixed with three cups of water, one-half teaspoon of sugar (most American bread recipes contain way too much sugar, I only use enough to get the yeast kicking unless making cinnamon-raisin), a tablespoon of salt, and six cups of flour it disappears from view; its effect, however, is astounding.  After mixing, stirring, kneading, and a few hours of rising, what began as a beige, gloppy, sticky mess becomes a smooth dome ready to be transformed by heat into warm, fragrant, and golden loaves of bread.  

As yeast transforms the nature of the ingredients to which it has been added the invisible action of grace transforms us. The result is a whole that is much more than the sum of its parts. The transformation does not occur without work on our part. Yeast cannot exert its transforming effect without some attention.  We must maintain the proper conditions for the yeast to act.  Water that is too hot kills the yeast.  Bread won’t bake in an oven that is too cool.  The dough collapses if the pan is dropped on the way into the oven.  In this last case, however, the dough will rise again if given time and the proper conditions. Baking bread is not foolproof but it is not difficult either.  And so it is for us. Cooperating with grace is not mindless. It does not occur automatically. But it is not impossible either. 

Like baking bread, cooperating with grace requires some effort and attention to detail and conditions.  Grace, like the grains of yeast mixed with other ingredients, is invisible. It may be forgotten in the midst of our daily concerns.  If we do not maintain the conditions needed for the action of grace, we, like improperly handled bread dough, remain beige, gloppy and sticky messes.  If we are careless about our faith, we collapse with the first jarring blow.  We can maintain the conditions necessary for the action of grace only through prayer, regular participation in the sacraments (particularly confession), and meditation on the Word of God.  In that way we make ourselves ready for the final action of the Kingdom of God.

The question is: will we rise to the occasion?

Jet lag is mostly gone.  It took a little longer than usual compared with previous travel to and from Europe.  However, I'd never lived there as long.  Now back into the previous swing of things at the nursing homes.  

Of all the photo opportunities in LJ, and they were almost innumerable, shooting at night was the most revealing.  I have a very fast 50 mm equivalent lens (f 1.4) that opened up the possibilities for shooting at night without a tripod.  LJ supplied much raw material for playing with night shots.  I enjoyed being able to go out after dark with the camera to shoot for an hour or two.  One of the challenges in the summer is how light it stayed.   Dark was well after 9 PM.  Winter was great as the dark descended by 5 PM.  

A below-the-sidewalk bar along the river.  Note the ashtrays.  I think there is proportionately more smoking in Slovenia than the U.S.  Smoking not allowed indoors at restaurants and cafes but it is allowed in the outdoor seating areas, an accommodation that strikes me as eminently sensible.  Forbidding smoking anywhere on the grounds of a hospital or other area strikes me as mostly virtue-signaling.  Funny how a 16 year-old in the U.S. can begin sex-change treatment or get an abortion but not purchase cigarettes.  

Plečnik's Colonnade reflection in the Ljubljanica River.   

The fascination with empty glassware continues.  Note the Snickers Bar wrapper.  I don'tknow if it was part of the drink or a side treat.  

It is a bit odd to see gelato and pastry sold alongside alcohol.  The next three shots are from an outdoor bar/gelato stand on Prešernov Trg across from the Franciscan Church.  It is open seasonally.  It will close around Advent and reopen when it gets warmer, according to Slovenian standards of warm as opposed to U.S. standards, which translates into March rather than mid-June.

May I have some Campari poured over my gelato?

I like this bar still life very much.  Shots such as these make night shooting rewarding and fun. 

The fascination with the interaction of light and glass continues.

Another gelato place, this one indoors.  When walking along the promenade on either side of the river there are multiple options to purchase gelato without going indoors.  

One of the outdoor options.  I bought gelato from this stand twice.  Very good.

Candlelight and glass.  An unbeatable combination. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD


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