Feast of St. James the Greater, Apostle
Scripture Readings: 2 Cor. 4:7-15; Mt.20:20-28
We are usually advised not to think too hard about something that is really incomprehensible. The little boy on the seashore trying to fill a small hole with the ocean turned the tables on St. Augustine and told him it was no better for him to try to understand the Trinity. But there are some unthinkable mysteries that just don’t go away. They hang around, like ghosts looking through windows. One that keeps haunting me is the death of small, innocent children, the death of persons who “die too soon.” The unfulfilled and undeveloped lives of children still-born or aborted. The unfulfilled lives of those show struggle simply for survival and who dream, not of going to Harvard or Yale, but of fending off malnutrition.
Our understanding of a meaningful life is one which is developed through choices and living with the consequences of those choices. It is our accomplishments and opportunities that constitute our identity and personality. We build up a sense of importance and significance from what we have made of ourselves. How can those robbed of all choice and opportunity really become persons? They don’t seem to have a “place.” Our place is that importance and significance have earned. We work our way to the front seats, to positions of respect and honor, making our authority felt. When we are struck down, we strike back. When we are afflicted, we afflict in turn. When we are persecuted, we go on the attack. We hold on to our treasure.
But what happens when the “unthinkable mystery” intrudes itself into our lives? When things “haven’t worked out?” When the coherent life we have assembled collapses? When we are told we are being “let go?” When our security is unexpectedly snuffed out? When what we have been working for dissolves before our eyes? When the diagnosis is an inoperable disease? It is all terribly unjust and unfair. What is our place then?
Maybe the spirits and ghosts of those who have been robbed of all the opportunities and choices of life can open our eyes to a hidden and dark dimension of life. All the personality development and accomplishments of life pale before the transformation wrought in yielding to the work of God in the midst of the violence of evil. Those most unjustly victimized by the powers of destruction and death are those most transparent and receptive to the reworking of God’s justice. They are able to consent to the action of God in the midst of the darkness of their lives,. Teilhard de Chardin writes that we must overcome death by finding God in it. Abandonment and surrender to God’s apparent abandonment of us becomes the earthen vessel that contains the surpassing power of God. It is the dying of Jesus that we carry in our bodies. It is a fulfillment that is God’s work and which places us with you in His presence. Then, everything is indeed for you.
You do not know what you are asking. We only know that God is acting, not what he is doing. The unthinkable mystery upends our expectations, but only to ground our desire in unshakable hope. We are offered a share in the chalice from which Christ drinks. It does not offer clarity of vision or security of position. It is a participation in a life and community which far exceeds the controllable and knowable limits of our accomplishments and fulfillments. It is to know and live from the ransom offered through the dying of the Just One at the hands of violent evil. We can be constantly given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our bodies.