"Thy will be done," in its full extent, must be the guideline for the Christian life. It must regulate the day from morning to evening, the course of the year, and the entire of life. Only then will it be the sole concern of the Christian. All other concerns the Lord takes over. This one alone, however, remains ours as long as we live. And, sooner or later, we begin to realize this. In the childhood of the spiritual life, when we have just begun to allow ourselves to be directed by God, we feel his guiding hand quite firmly and surely. But it doesn’t always stay that way. Whoever belongs to Christ must go the whole way with him. He must mature to adulthood: he must one day or other walk the way of the cross to Gethsemane and Golgotha.
I do not think much of “spiritual” communities. They do not last. People are friends for a while, but it eventually ends. Anything that is going to last must have a much deeper foundation than some kind of spiritual experience. Unless we have community in the body, in things material, we will never have it in spiritual matters. We are not mere spirits. We are human beings of flesh and blood.
NAÏVE: Today’s first reading is the story from Susanna from the Book of Daniel. Susanna is the beautiful wife Joakim, a leading member of the Jewish community in Babylon during the exile. Two older men, judges in the rabbinical courts, falsely accuse Susanna of adultery because she won’t sleep with them. It looks as if Susanna will be condemned to death on the basis of their false testimony when the young Daniel appears, comes up with the idea of interrogating the two men separately, and discovers discrepancies in their stories. Susanna is freed and the two men are put to death.
This story remind me of the story of David and Bethsheba or perhaps even Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. In each story, you have a man or men who have risen to a high position. And yet, they are willing to put everything they have accomplished at risk because sexual desire overwhelms their judgment.
There is certainly much to criticize in the way that previous generations looked at human sexuality, and particularly the ways that women often bore the burden of efforts to restrain the tremendously disruptive power of our sexual energies. As yesterday’s Gospel story of the women caught in adultery suggests, even when prohibitions were in theory applied equally to men and women, women tended to be disproportionately punished. Let us hope that none of us wants to return to those times.
But our own age suffers from its own forms of blindness when it comes to sex. We are, as the spiritual writer Fr. Ron Rolheiser puts it, “naïve” about the power of sexual energy.
I remember a woman I knew many years ago who told me how she had lost her virginity. She had decided at the age of 13 that she no longer wanted to be a virgin. So she went to a party and, without much difficulty, was able to find a young man willing to relieve her of what she perceived to be a burden. She eventually grew into a woman who complimented herself on her willingness to take the sexual initiative, a sign that she had thrown off what she saw to be “bourgeois” social constraints.
I suppose it would be one thing if I could report that she was a happy, well-balanced individual. It was true that she was bright and engaging, with a passion for social justice. But she was also possessed of a terrible unhappiness and a powerful anger that came to the surface quickly. Obviously it’s hard to say whether these problems were the cause or consequence of her past. But as fond as I once was of her, I could not honestly say that I wished that I had had the “courage” to live my life as she had.
When I was younger, I tended to bridle at what I took to be the antiquated teachings of my Church with regard to sex. And I will not deny there are many things there that I continue to struggle with. But given some of the human wreckage that has resulted from our—at times well-intentioned—efforts to rid ourselves of the constraints of the past, I am not unhappy that the Church remains somewhat “behind the times.” Sometimes we need to retrace our steps to get back on the right road and in those cases it is very good indeed to have landmarks that show us from whence we have come.
REST IN PEACE:Bishop Kenneth Untener of Saginaw, Michigan died yesterday from complications associated with leukemia. He had been diagnosed last year. Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
If I get to Heaven – and I don’t say “when” because I prefer to hope rather than presume – I would love to see if there are question boxes located throughout Heaven with a sign on top that reads: “Put in here all those questions you wanted to ask God before you got here.” None of us has to be a clairvoyant to guess that one of the most popular questions to be asked could very well be, “Jesus, what did you write on the ground when the Pharisees presented the adulterous woman to you?” There is much speculation and false presumption concerning that divine scribble.
What sickens me about religious folks – and I get sick about my own bad habits more than of other people – is that we claim to be orderly and prudent, but we can rush to judgment. I have rushed to judgment and made myself look like a complete idiot. I thank God for the times I have been confronted by people because I have rushed to judgment and reacted poorly to a situation. I have taken zeal for the house, so to speak, and turned it into a weapon of mass destruction. I thank God that people have set me straight when I have deserved it. In all honesty, we face moments when we should have great concern and we should be staunch, but we should neither allow zeal to blur our vision of the big picture God wants us to see nor should we accept things at first glance and believe we see the complete picture.
We know that the woman presented before Jesus within the Gospel reading was guilty of something, and Jesus even acknowledges the woman’s guilt, but Jesus did not succumb to the mentality of the self-righteous lynch mob. One big reason for it involves the fact that only the woman was presented to Jesus. Jesus knew that within the twenty-second chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, Scripture stated that “if a man is having sexual intercourse with another man’s wife, both must be put to death”. The Gospel passage shows with clarity that an act of adultery occurred because nobody denied that it happened. But Jesus could have very easily asked the Pharisees why the man was not there to be stoned as well. Jesus could have accused these supposed good Pharisees of conveniently selective enforcement of the law. He would have had a solid case against these Pharisees. Perhaps it is because of this divine response that the Pharisees ceased leading the lynch mob.
Within the Gospel of Luke, Jesus directed his disciples to take the planks out of their own eyes before they reach out to grab the specks in the eyes of other people. I have always loved that imagery because it seems so easy to imagine. Imagine how odd it would look to see a plank in another person’s eye! But those planks in our own eyes can easily be planks of convenience that help us see what we want to see.
God wants us to see things as they are. This gift of sight must include the ugly reality that we limit our ability to see things in a truly accurate manner. We must extend beyond seeing with the mind’s eye; rather, we should see with the eyes of God because those eyes are connected to an infinite mind and an infinitely charitable heart. We must be vigilant in honoring the law of God, but we should not use limited sight for the sake of selective vigilant enforcement of the law. We have been called to help sinners share in the redemption brought forth by Jesus, rather than condemn. We have been called to serve as agents of correction, conversion, and healing rather than agents of condemnation. We serve as model agents when we turn ourselves in first and foremost as violators. The Pharisees had neither the courage nor the humility to do that.
Fr. Shawn O'Neal is the Pastoral Administrator at Saint Joseph's Saint Joseph's Catholic Church in Bryson City, NC and Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Cherokee, NC.