Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of St. Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church
Two Roads Converge...

Readings: 1 Kings 19:9a, 11-16; Psalms 27:7-8a, 8b-9abc, 13-14; Matthew 5:27-32
Pictures: CC krystal.pritchett

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood… So begins that famous poem by Robert Frost. The image brought to mind is that of a fork in the road, calling for a choice to be made between two onward paths. It’s an image that’s commonly presented especially to those discerning a priestly or religious vocation, not least because the person in the poem professes to have taken the road less traveled. Our readings today might be seen to bring us to a similar fork, but from the opposite direction. Instead of two roads diverging, what we are presented with are two paths that converge. But first let us acknowledge that both readings are far from easy to hear, let alone to put into practice. Both deal with situations of struggle. Both present instructions that sound harsh. Yet, these situations are not static but dynamic. And the impetus for moving on is provided in each case by a question.

In the gospel, the situation is obviously one of temptation and trial. Not only does Jesus warn us about how various parts of the body can be occasions for sin, but he also offers that radically difficult piece of advice: if your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body thrown into hell… Even so, these words need not shock us into paralysis. When we pause to ponder them, we realize that they invite us to consider an important question. For we can tear out parts of ourselves and still survive only to the extent that we know the parts of us that are truly essential. Which necessitates that we first ask ourselves the question: who am I? When constantly tempted by lustful tendencies, for example, in addition to resisting them, we might also bring them to God in prayer. And, in doing this, we may find that beneath the sinful tendencies and behaviors may lie authentic God-given desires that need to be attended to – desires for intimacy and affective connection with another, for example, which can be addressed in appropriate ways that entail no sin.

The situation of struggle in the first reading arises from the persecution and pain encountered by the prophet. I am the only one left and they want to kill me. And, especially given recent events in Myanmar and Sichuan, which of us will find it easy to hear the words, the Lord was not in the wind…the Lord was not in the earthquake? But, as with the gospel, these words are not meant as a stop sign but an invitation to move on. They too raise a question that often comes to those who suffer: where is God? In the midst of not just external chaos but interior turmoil as well, where is God to be found? And it is likely that, at least at the beginning, God may well seem absent from the stormy blast. It may feel as though God has absconded in the wake of the shattering of the earth and the searing heat of difficult emotions. But as we allow ourselves to climb the mountain of our misery, to enter and to remain in the cave of our hearts, as Elijah did, we may yet find an answer to our question. We may yet begin to hear anew the gentle breeze of God’s voice.

And it is also at this point that we find the two roads converging. For in pondering the question who am I, we actually arrive at a location where God is to be found. And by struggling with the question where is God, we are led to a new vision of who we are. Isn’t this what happens to Elijah in the first reading? As he emerges from the cave, he hears God’s voice. And the question that God asks of him – what are you doing here? – leads him to a deeper awareness of who he is and what he is about. I am filled with jealous zeal for the Lord of hosts… And notice what happens next.

In Frost’s poem, each of the two diverging paths leads further into the wood. Similarly, in our readings today, both roads converge and then lead on in a definite, and perhaps rather surprising, direction. ‘Go,’ the Lord said ‘go back by the same way to the wilderness of Damascus…’ Having arrived at a renewed sense of who we are and where God is to be found, we are led back from whence we came. But although the road may be the same, the traveler has changed, transformed by the struggles painfully negotiated both before and at the point of convergence, anointed by God and ready to anoint others, empowered to help them to find God and their deeper selves, to undergo transformation and to transform. Here too is a road less traveled. Here is the path of the Christian vocation.

Today how are we being led to the point of convergence and beyond?

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