Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: Is 66:10-14; Gal 6:14-18; Lk 10:1-12, 17-20

Affectus is a very important word in Cistercian spirituality. In his “Steps of Humility & Pride”, St. Bernard uses it to refer to what affects us. Many things affect us. We cannot will to be affected in one way rather than another. But once we are affected we can freely take a stand with respect to the affection. We can say an inner “yes” or “no” to it. Thus, the gospel of Mark begins with Jesus telling the people, “Repent and let the good news affect you!” Today’s gospel is about how the news should affect us and the ways it might affect others and our relationship to them. 

How should it affect us? It should affect what we desire. Desires are formed by our experiences, i.e., what we attend to. They are formed by our understanding of the experience and of ourselves as the one experiencing it. Desires are further formed by how true our judgments of fact and value are; and they are formed by the goodness we choose in our decisions. Our beliefs about what makes sense, what is true, what has value and what has ultimate value affect us profoundly and makes us one kind of person rather than another. And that development of our humanity is what Jesus is sending the disciples out to promote.

Jesus anticipates resistance to His message. It is not hard to admit that we didn’t notice what others have noticed. It’s a little harder to admit that we haven’t understood what others have understood (to be on the wrong page!). It is still harder, more ego-deflating, to admit that our judgment has been wrong. It goes to the core of who one is, though, to admit we have chosen or embraced what is evil or just plain stupid.

The peaceful person Jesus mentions is the one who can do this; who, when so affected, can admit that she needs to turn aside from her present path. For her, knowing is not an end in itself, but is a means to acting. We want to act intelligently and consistently. To do that, we have to “know the story.”  That is what the disciples are sent to tell.

The story is at the heart of Jesus’ sending of disciples to heal and drive out demons.To this end, Jesus gives them authority over demons (He says, “I have given you power”). This is messianic authority; “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; I have come to set captives free!” (Lk 4:18).  We, too, are given this authority. Our success in exercising this messianic authority depends on our capacity for receiving it. (Incapacity for receiving is the reason why the laborers for the harvest are few.) Nothing can be given unless it is willingly received. That capacity for receiving it is our affectus. It is conditional on our ability to be affected.The first condition for receiving authority is to feel (or be affected by) the urgency of Jesus’ mission.

How do we do that? St. Bernard tells us that to receive the word of God and be changed by it, we must first be affected by ourselves. That means we must first be affected about ourselves through another person. That is why we live in communities.

We cannot hear about large numbers of people losing their lives, or be criticized, or learn that a sister is struggling and then decide to clip our nails. We cannot be unaffected, unmerciful. Then we are not fit for receiving messianic authority.

The imitation of Christ means we are affected as Jesus Christ was affected.To do this we must live interiorly. That is why the second condition for receiving authority is prayer.We love God with our whole mind when we ponder our convictions. That is how we pray always.Such interior living requires silence and solitude.

The authority of Jesus came from what moved Him. These events are described throughout the gospels: “His heart was moved with pity for [the hungry five thousand] because they were like sheep without a shepherd”(Mk 6:34); “Moved with compassion, He said to the leper, I will it; be made clean” (Mk 1:41).

Jesus concludes by saying that it is not our influence or power over others that should give us joy. It is our ability to be affected about ourselves through another person—our ability to be affected as Christ was affected—that should be the cause of our joy. It is then that our names are written in heaven.