Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday in the 17th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Completing the Life Cycle

Readings: Jeremiah 13:1-11; Deuteronomy 32:18-19, 20, 21; Matthew 13:31-35
Picture: CC

I’m not sure what they’re like now, but when I was in school, our science textbooks included diagrams of the life cycles of various animals. The diagram of a butterfly’s life cycle, for example, would depict an egg, a larva (caterpillar), a pupa (cocoon), and then, finally, a full-grown butterfly. Quite obviously, however, although the diagram was meant to illustrate all the different stages of a butterfly’s growth, it wasn’t quite complete. For one thing, there was usually only one butterfly in the picture. Which presents a problem, since we know that a butterfly can’t quite complete its full life cycle if it remains alone. It takes at least two… That’s common sense. The authors of those science textbooks probably expected that students and teachers would understand this without it being illustrated. But, then again, common sense is not always common. It’s all too easy to forget things that are not explicitly stated.

Don’t we sometimes see a similar forgetfulness in our human life cycle? Isn’t it true that we often equate maturity only with independence and productivity? A child is considered an adult when s/he becomes independent of the parents’ influence, and starts its own working career. A doctor, for example, is considered to have made it, when s/he is finally able to leave the hospital in which s/he worked as an intern, in order to set up a private practice. But are independence and productivity really all that are necessary for a complete life cycle?

So pervasive is this outlook, that we often find it in our approach to the spiritual life as well. This is especially true of those of us who try to take God seriously. As in our secular lives, here too, consciously or not, we often also think only in terms of productivity and of independence. We want to be self-sufficient and to be able to do good works in order to help others. We go on mission trips and give to the poor. We strive to make a difference. We do our best to bear much fruit. But then, as time goes on, we can’t help but feel that something is missing. We may feel disappointed at the slow progress of our projects. We get disillusioned with our coworkers and even with God. We suffer from burnout. Our spiritual life cycle remains incomplete.

Which is why the message in our readings today is so important. In the gospel, we are given striking images of incredible fruitfulness. The tiny mustard seed grows into a tall tree that provides shelter to many birds. Just a small amount of yeast has the power to produce bread to feed many hungry people. But notice that this productivity is located not so much in human effort as in the Kingdom itself. We bear fruit not simply by being busy, but by remaining under the influence of God. Isn’t this the core of the message in the first reading too. What do we learn from the parable of the loincloth if not that we are made to cling closely to God just as a loincloth clings to a man’s waist. We are made not so much for independence as much as for intimacy. And it is only in experiencing this close relationship, first with God, and then with others, that we become truly fruitful and productive.

How are we completing our life cycle today?


  1. How does one have an intimate relationship with God? We can't see or hear him most (if not all) times. Seems like, besides reading the bible, we can communicate with him only and basically through our imagination and some reasoning (or Ignatian discernment).

  2. Our own metamorphosis sometimes escapes us. We change but not necessary for the better. Wealth often spoils us and our hedonistic orientation takes on dimensions under various guises. Prejudices surface, blunted arrogance, and a false sense of power insidiously seeps into our unconscious psyche.
    If this sounds too human, it happens to the best of us. As long as we do our 'bit' for society and try our best to be 'nice', God will understand. It is a comforting thought which we internalize so that it lessens our guilt of omission.
    Well, my recent overnight visit to Malacca with a group of friends reveal some human frailties when we recognize each other for who we truly are. Often we don on the masks of the Japanese Noh performers.
    For me, life is a mystery to be lived, not some problems that we try to fathom at every step. Is God with us as we grapple with the realities of the world? Most definitely yes, otherwise I'm be thoroughly flummoxed.

  3. LOL! I'm flummoxed by the word "flummoxed". Had to check its meaning in a dictionary. :-D

    Yes, I believe God is with us. Every day, I try to attend mass, spend some time in the adoration room and talk to God throughout the day. I could rave about God's words the way Jeremiah say, "When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart..."

    My prayers were answered in various ways, I believe, by God. I've had experiences where after prayer, I could sense a special purity in the air and of something special gradually descending upon me and enveloping me. I've had just one experience where I believe Jesus had spoken to me.

    Still, I've yet to feel that I have an intimate relationship with God. Maybe it's because I've yet to have intimate discussions with Him?


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