Sunday, September 25, 2022

Between the Fiddle & the Fire

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
(World Day of Migrants & Refugees)

Readings: Amos 6: 1, 4-7; Psalm 145 (146): 7-10; 1 Timothy 6: 11-16; Luke 16: 19-31

Picture: cc paurian on Flickr

My dear friends, what do you think? Is there anything wrong with playing the violin? Of course not, right? And yet, haven’t we heard the phrase, to fiddle while Rome burns? It means to do something relatively trivial or irresponsible in the midst of a crisis or an emergency. On its own, fiddling is not a sin. But to do it when I should really be helping to put out a raging fire must surely be wrong, if not possibly a sign of insanity.

To fiddle while Rome burns. This is also the sinful tendency highlighted in both the first reading and the gospel. And I have to confess that I say this with a certain tremor in my heart, because I find this tendency in myself as well. The tendency to be so absorbed in seeking, securing and savouring my own comfort, success and enjoyment – including that of my family, my community and country – that I become oblivious to the suffering of many others around me. The readings speak of sprawling on cosy beds, dressing in fine clothes, feasting on sumptuous foods, even inventing musical instruments, without caring about the ruin of Joseph, or the misery of poor Lazarus. Fiddling while Rome burns.

And isn’t it truly sobering to consider how easy it is to fall into this sin today? Continually, we receive news from around the world of people suffering terribly from the effects of climate-change, of economic disparity, of war and conflict. Effects which, I’m told, my own lifestyle somehow contributes to exacerbating, even if only in small ways. Surely, it can’t be right for me to focus only on enjoying my own life, without somehow attending to all this suffering.

What then am I to do? The scriptures offer not so much a prescription of solutions as a process of growth. A process that begins with what the rich man was hoping to do for his brothers, after his death. He wanted to help them repent. To turn their apathy into compassion. Beginning perhaps with a tremor in the heart. So that they might be more receptive to the voice of the Lord, and the cries of those who suffer, including the migrants and refugees we especially remember today. For the Lord protects the stranger… upholds the widow and orphan but thwarts the path of the wicked.

And that’s not all. Beyond repentance and receptivity, there is yet another step in the process. We find it in the second reading, where Paul reminds Timothy of his God-given duty. A duty we all share, by virtue of our baptism. The duty to fight the good fight of faith. To engage in an ongoing struggle, first against my own selfish and narcissistic tendencies, and then to bravely bear witness to the truth in the world, as Jesus did before Pontius Pilate. To share in the Cross of Christ, so as to share in his Resurrection, giving glory and praise to our God… Repentance, receptivity and struggle. This is the pilgrim journey that the scriptures mark out for us.

Sisters and brothers, amid the fires engulfing our world, what must we do to help one another focus less on our fiddles, so as to walk this path together more resolutely today?

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Letting Go

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Readings: Wisdom 9:13-18; Psalm 89 (90): 3-6,12-14,17; Philemon 9-10,12-17; Luke 14:25-33

Picture: Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

My dear friends, do you remember when you first learned how to swim? What did you find most challenging? For me, it’s learning how to float. Using my arms and legs to propel myself through the water is easy enough, because I remain in control. But floating requires letting go, and there's something inside me that resists that. Yet, without knowing how to float, I move through the water only with much tension and anxiety.

I believe this anxiety, this need to be in control, is also what our scriptures help us to ponder today. The first reading talks about how difficult it is for us humans to know the intentions of God…. (For the) reasonings of mortals are unsure and our intentions unstable. Isn’t this instability of intention due, at least in part, to my own anxious need for control? Which affects not just how I relate with God, but also with things and people. At home, at work, and even at play. Whether I realise it or not, when I seek to control everything and everyone in my life–even those I may profess to love very much–I end up treating them like my personal property. As a result, I turn them into obstacles that keep me from drawing close to God.

Isn’t this is why Jesus says that I cannot become his disciple without first hating my father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and even my own life as well? Perhaps what needs to be hated, or set aside, is not the people themselves, but my need to control them, to treat them as mine. For none of us can be a disciple unless we give up all our possessions.

But if it is really so difficult, how does one learn to let go? The readings offer at least three insights. The first is that it’s helpful to have a companion and guide. Which is the role that Paul plays in the second reading. Someone who, whenever I may find myself stuck in my own anxiety, gently nudges me to contemplate a fresh perspective. Reminding me to consider that, in God’s eyes, a thousand years are like yesterday, come and gone, no more than a watch in the night. Inviting me to pray for the grace to know the shortness of my life, that I may gain wisdom of heart.

Also, in addition to companionship and contemplation, a third insight is the usefulness of a crisis, such as the one faced by Philemon in the second reading. He has been separated from his slave, Onesimus. And, like someone teaching another to float in deep water, Paul shrewdly makes use of this crisis to challenge Philemon to let go. To surrender his ownership of Onesimus, and to treat him as a brother-in-the Lord, instead of just another piece of property.

Companionship, contemplation and crisis. Aren’t these insights particularly relevant for us, who live in such anxiety-provoking times? They offer us a path by which we may be set free. The better to reach out and to connect with others, with our world, and with God, in humility, mercy, and love.

Sisters and brothers, even as we may find ourselves immersed in deep and troubled waters, how might we help one another float more freely in God’s tender embrace today?