Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Wednesday in the 3rd Week of Lent
At the Frontier
Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9; Psalm 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20; Matthew 5:17-19
Dear brothers, don’t you find it striking how closely our readings today mirror the Pope’s address to GC35? On the 21st of February, with words both inspiring and encouraging, the Holy Father affirmed who we are as Jesuits by reminding us of where we are called to be. As his predecessors did before him, he placed us at the crossroads of conflicting ideologies, at the frontiers of faith and reason, of religion and culture, of spirituality and justice. And, quite coincidentally, in today’s first reading, we also find the Israelites at the frontiers of the Promised Land. But, as exciting as it may seem, we dare not forget that the frontier is often a very uncomfortable place to be. It is at once a place of opportunity as well as danger, of promise as well as risk. Like the Israelites, we find ourselves on the threshold of a new destination. Yet, as many of our brothers have experienced first hand, this can also be a place of deep suffering, where we can very easily lose our way.
Faced with this distressing prospect, both the Holy Father and Moses seem to offer similar advice. Both issue a call to fidelity. The Holy Father reminds us to loyally fulfill the fundamental duty of the Church, of fully adhering to the word of God… Similarly, Moses exhorts the Israelites to observe and take care not to forget the decrees and statutes of the Lord. Remembrance and observance: these are to be our safeguards against danger, our rudder and compass in stormy seas.
Even so, don’t our readings also invite us to reflect more deeply upon what this means for us? For what did the scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus’ day do if not carefully remember and observe the law? Didn’t they expend much time and effort in searching the scriptures, and in teaching the law to others? And yet, their actions were found to be contrary to those of Jesus, the one who comes not to abolish but to fulfill the law and the prophets. What does this tell us if not that there is a kind of remembrance and observance of the law, a kind of apparent fidelity to doctrine, that leads to death? Isn’t this the kind that tends to treat the law as a dead letter, the kind that ends up entombing the divine Lawgiver in a distant past? In contrast, Jesus practices and teaches a different kind of remembering.
I think I recently caught a glimpse of what this can look like while anointing a dying man at the Philippine General Hospital. The patient was already comatose when I arrived, and several members of his family were in tears. Feeling rather inadequate, I began tentatively by simply reminding us of our shared belief in the Lord’s presence and in his power to save. Gazing briefly at the faces of those gathered around the patient, I thought I sensed a subtle change in the atmosphere. Some nodded silently to signal their agreement with what I had said. Others closed their eyes in fervent prayer. It was as though the simple act of remembering had led us to recognize the Lord’s presence at this difficult time, when a loved one was struggling to negotiate the crucial frontier between life and death.
Isn’t this the kind of remembering that we need, the kind that helps us to recognize the presence of Christ, the same Christ who died and was raised to life at the crossroads of human and divine existence? And isn’t this precisely the kind of remembering that we are engaged in at this Eucharist as well, the kind that mediates God’s ongoing presence to God’s people, the kind that leads us to exclaim, together with the Israelites of the first reading: what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him.
Brothers, even as we may find ourselves being called to negotiate the frontiers of human existence, how are we also being invited to remember unto recognition today?
Posted by Fr Chris at 3:02 pm