Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings: Job 7:1-4,6-7; I Cor. 9:16-19, 22-23; Mk 1:29-39

An unusual word has gained prominence in our social and political discourse these days: dreamers. Thanks to the controversies over DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals), the “dreamers” have become something of a political football. These are the 800,000+ persons who entered the country as small children and who have been moving through school systems and finding jobs in our society. They benefited from the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act. Hence, the acronym DREAMERS.

We don’t give a whole lot of space to dreamers, those who can spin off imaginary scenarios with no practical relevance to reality. It’s hard to make much sense of our own dreams, creations of unconscious impressions and memories that defy all reason and logic. We readily discount them as illusory, fantasy, and exercises in wishful thinking. Yet dreaming may be a privileged access to looking at the world in a new way, to seeing what we have always seen in altered configurations which unleash new possibilities. While we were much more adept at this when we were children, we may now need to give ourselves permission to dream. “You can get hurt by trying to live out a dream.” It takes someone like Martin Luther King, Jr. to build a way of acting on a dream as in Washington he proclaimed I have a dream. There is something in our collective psyche which keeps producing songs like The Impossible Dream or I Dreamed a Dream. What are our dreams, the visions of a changed and better world? Or have they been deflated by hard experience and have we resigned ourselves to managing what seems to be available? Have we reached settlements with the obligations and drudgery of life which entitle us to settle down?

In today’s gospel, Peter tells Jesus that everyone is looking for you. They have been drawn and attracted by his words and his power to cure. This would be a dream come true. Come back and build on this success, on this ability to cure and to restore and to offer a new management of life’s ills. This raises the question of what Jesus it is that we are looking for. If, indeed, we are still looking. Has the dream in us been sparked or ignited by knowing who Jesus is? Have we settled on a Jesus who fulfills our wishes or on one who inspires our dreams? Perhaps our dreams are too small, too focused on meeting our own needs, too defined by what we have already known. Come back.

Jesus is calling us to an encounter with God in our lives. Dreams can be frightening. You can get hurt. There is a part of us that strongly resists what is simply and fearfully phrased as union with God. Give me drudgery and obligation instead of this unbounded attraction which will inevitably mean that I must change, that I must repent, that I must yield to this same impulse which drove Jesus from village to village and made Paul a slave to all. Obligation and freedom meet in a vocation, in a dream. I cannot do otherwise. This is not a cure, but the healing of that split between who we are and what we do. Pope Francis has articulated several causes of this split which lead to what he calls spiritual acedia. They are: undertaking unrealistic projects and not being satisfied with what we can reasonably do; a lack of patience in allowing processes to mature; wanting everything to fall from heaven; being attached to a few projects or vain dreams of success; losing real contact with people and so depersonalizing their work that they are more concerned with the road map than with the journey itself; an obsession with immediate results; the grey pragmatism of daily life in which all appears to proceed normally, while in reality faith is wearing down and degenerating into small-mindedness (The Joy of the Gospel).

When what we do no longer expresses our self, it changes into an obligation, a product, and the dues we pay for our social role. Our spirit suffocates in counting the hours and expecting its wages and the consequent small-mindedness. It cannot take flesh in the way we live our lives. It cannot find joy in sharing the gospel or in knowing that the gospel is its joy. The vocation we are given in our uniqueness thrives in sharing the dream that God has for our lives and the world. The gospel is God’s dream. The dream is the Kingdom coming into life and realization through our sharing in the very impulse and dream of God. It could change our lives, even though we know we could get hurt.



Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: Is 6:1-2a,3-8; l Cor. 15:1-11; Lk 5:1-11]

There has been a certain refrain in my life that also marks turning points in my experience. “If I had known what was involved in this, I never would have begun it.” Sometimes I plunged ahead. Other times, I decided to stop. It was a question of knowing “when to hold and when to fold.” Is it time to cut my losses? When I started out, it all seemed clear and simple. It was new and hopeful, something I could put myself into. But after a while, obstacles and difficulties started to crop up. It was more difficult than I had first thought. It wasn't even turning out to be what I had envisioned. I wasn't getting any fulfillment or enjoyment from it. Maybe I had to admit I just didn't have the talent or capability to finish what I started. It took five years of practicing for me to realize I didn't have what it takes to be a concert pianist. Arthur Rubenstein and Vladimir Horowitz breathed more easily when they found I wouldn't be any competition for them.

I suspect we all hit these points of impasse: whether to continue on or to quit. We prefer to live our life at a “manageable” level. It is especially hard to admit that the “fault doesn't lie in the stars” but in our own lacks, our own incapacity, our own sins. Dante seems to have been recognizing this when he wrote: “In the midst of the road of my life, I awoke in a dark wood where the way was wholly lost.” It is a great temptation to look for the exit sign and make our escape. It will be more comfortable to draw in the fences and set our sights lower. Avoid those dark woods altogether. Live in a tame, civilized, domesticated zone where we don't need to experience the pain and humiliation of facing our limitations, our flaws, our faults. The phrase “cognitive dissonance” has been interpreted in various ways, but there is one that speaks to me. When we recognize a gap between our beliefs and behavior, between our values and our actions, we tend to lower our beliefs and values. Then we don't experience such a difference. Experiencing the difference is painful, it is humiliating. We are not living up to what we believe. It is simpler to lower the beliefs and lessen the pain. Then we are free from admitting that the “dark wood” may be deep parts of our self, parts without clear paths or markers. The projects or work we have undertaken are not allowed to test or draw out our deeper motivations. We discard them if they no longer affirm or flatter our ego.

In his Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis targets this deadening mentality. “The problem is activity undertaken badly, without adequate motivation, without a spirituality which would permeate it and make it pleasurable. As a result, work becomes more tiring than necessary…. This acedia can be caused by a number of things. Some fall into it because they throw themselves into unrealistic projects and are not satisfied simply to do what they reasonably can. Others, because they lack the patience to allow processes to mature; they want everything to fall from heaven. Others, because they are attached to a few projects or vain dreams of success. Others, because they have lost real contact with people and so depersonalize their work that they are more concerned with the roadmap than the journey itself….Today's obsession with immediate results makes it hard for pastoral workers to tolerate anything that smacks of disagreement, possible failure, criticism, the cross.” The result, he says, is “the gray pragmatism of the daily life of the Church, in which all appears to proceed normally, while in reality faith is wearing down and degenerating into small-mindedness. A tomb psychology thus develops and slowly transforms Christians into mummies in a museum.”

Insulated, we become content to sit in our boats in a safe harbor. We have just prayed together: “Keep your family safe, O Lord, with unfailing care, that relying solely on the hope of heavenly grace, they may be defended always by your protection.” We relate to the words “safe”, “care”, “defended” and “protection.” The line about “relying solely on the help of heavenly grace” is just a filler. But if we live our life at real depth, we come to face the reality of needing to pray those words from our hearts.

We can manage having Christ sit in our boats as we stay close to shore. We can even hear better. But suddenly we find he is asking for more: “Put out into the deep waters.” The depths of the sea. The depths of our own lives. His word tells us that there is another level of life within and beyond the world of management and security. The reaction of resistance is quick and firm. We have worked long and hard and got nothing in return. Common sense is enough to know how unreasonable this is. We have the expertise here. We are the fishermen—professionals. To move into the depths is to move out of a familiar, manageable self. “But at your command I will lower the nets.” The word of Jesus was able to call forth a response of trust. “Be it done unto me according to your word.” It is a moving into the unknown which becomes the world of the possible, where we rely solely on the help of heavenly grace. All of the protagonists of our readings today, Isaiah, Paul, and Peter, found themselves utterly exposed before the revelation made before them and in them. “I am a sinner, with unclean lips living among the unclean, the greatest of all sinners.” Our sin has been turning our back on God, living for defense and protection. The disclosure of God means the exposure of the human. Turning our face to God means being known in full truth and knowing ourselves in full truth. It is humiliating. It burns like an ember put to our lips. “I have had it all wrong.” It is the truth of humiliation which becomes transformed into that humility which can proclaim “I am what I am by the grace of God and his grace has not been ineffective.” We are called to leave everything and know the freedom of being new creatures of grace, of God's presence and work in our lives. Our very faults are taken up to become places and occasions of God's mercy and grace. We are met and called by one who has experienced the utter humiliation of being God's son, yet suffering, dying on a cross, and being buried. It is the Humiliated One who encounters us and frees us to pass through humiliation into the humility where all things are possible.