Thursday, September 18, 2008


Thursday in the 24th Week of Ordinary Time
Avoiding Abuse


Readings: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Psalm 118:1b-2, 16ab-17, 28; Luke 7:36-50
Picture: CC chefranden

Have you ever had the experience of needing a tool, a screwdriver perhaps, but could not find one? Have you ever been driven to improvise, for example by using a coin or a fingernail instead? Or maybe what was needed was a Philips-head screwdriver and all you had was a flat one. What happened? Sometimes the improvisation works well, but often enough, something goes awry. The fingernail may break. The coin may bend. Or either the screw or the flat-headed screwdriver may get damaged. That, of course, is the result of abuse. Using something for a purpose other than that for which it was made can lead to highly undesired consequences.

The same can be said about people too. Consider some of the ways in which people abuse themselves and others: various addictions (to work and alcohol, to shopping and sex), providing poor and inhumane working conditions, melamine in milk, unwarranted curtailment of religious freedom. Could we not say that these abuses are often rooted in a fundamental lack of awareness of and respect for the proper identity and dignity of the human person? And, as a result, much damage is done, both to individuals and to society as a whole.

In contrast, our Mass readings for today present us with examples of what happens when people come to a profound awareness of who they are in the sight of God. Let us look first at the results. Notice Paul’s description of the fruitfulness of his ministry. He takes pride in his grace-empowered work among the early Christians. We preach and so you believed. Notice also the moving scene provided for us by the woman who, in contrast to the neglectful Pharisee, ministers so tenderly to Jesus. How did both she and Paul come to love and to serve others with such energy and passion?

Paul attributes it to grace, which enables him to fulfill his true destiny as a disciple of Christ: by the grace of God I am what I am. It is by this grace that Paul realizes his own unworthiness: I am… not fit to be called an Apostle… because I persecuted the Church of God… And in this realization, he submits to the grace that empowers him to love and to serve. Something similar happens to the woman in the gospel too. As Jesus tells us: her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love… We come to fulfill our destiny only to the extent that we first realize our identity as sinners who are forgiven and loved. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace…

Isn’t this why Paul tells us that the gospel he preaches is of first importance: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…? For how do we come to realize more deeply our true identity except by encountering the one who died and rose for our sins? It was so for Paul and the unnamed woman. It is so for us as well.

How might the Lord be reminding us of who and what we are today?

2 comments:

  1. Two take home points for me from today's reflections:

    1. sin and sinfulness. I don't know about you, but my sense of sin and being sinful is gradually being eroded by society. I mean, isn't it sinful to grant a housing loan to someone who has no hope of ever paying you back and re-packaging that loan as a debt instrument to be traded like any other stock?

    2. humility and grace. The more we are aware of our propensity to sin, the more humbled we are and the more we see the need to invoke divine grace to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. I pray for that grace often. Grace is the start and end of a virtuous cycle. Many years ago, I was given this stark imagery of divine grace and salvation. Picture in your mind a very young infant just about to learn to crawl. She wants to get up on her two feet but cannot. She flails her arms wildly but still nothing happens. Then an adult comes along, stoops over and picks her up. That's what grace /God does to and for us.

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  2. Grace is trusting that my loving Father will come through for me no matter what other voices say, no matter how long I have to wait and how far I am from the promise.

    Sin is not trusting in that love and so trying to take things into my own hands.

    Just as the infant learning to crawl, we have to see ourselves as NEEDING grace, and praying for the receptivity to say YES when God stoops down to pick us up. This must surely be our Lady's humble yet generous disposition which enabled her to be Jesus's mother.

    This is the paradox of our faith, that God can do far more for us when we finally realise that we can do far less for ourselves. Then grace enters.

    Blessings :)

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