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28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Pilgrimage of Germination
A man approached Jesus, in Mark’s Gospel for the 28th Sunday (10:17-30), showing a sense of urgency. He had his question ready: "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus’ succinct answer: “You know the Commandments” might indicate that that the man had previously heard Jesus speak but now was pressing for a personalized response.
Mark tells us that Jesus was “setting out on a journey”. The man was evidently not one of Jesus’ regular travelling companions. Maybe he had familial or farming responsibilities that tied him to one location. His fear of missing this opportunity may have prompted both his question and his self-defense. He demonstrated a good heart but, in his rush, had he left himself short on in-depth reflection? The man assured Jesus that he faithfully observed the Commandments.
Then looking at the man with great love Jesus pointed out the way of perfection: "You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." Mark continues: The man’s “face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” Mark does not tell us if that man, later, had a change of heart. The path of our Baptismal vocation is not an autobahn or motorway. It can be like a ‘B’ or even ‘C’ class road with meandering undulations and narrow bends.
The seed of a vocation can be sown in a moment but germination can be as long as a lifetime. That lifetime can be a minefield the safe traversing of which has to be made in communion with the Holy Spirit. Satan, preferring not to reveal his hand by confronting us directly, deploys attractive and persuasive alternatives that, like social media, cleverly seek to trap our attention and appetite. As the old adage has it – ‘There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip’. Many Baptised people hesitate or falter at the challenges encountered in the working-out of their relationship with God. It is not God’s grace that is lacking in those moments but continuity in human application by the power of the Holy Spirit. Procrastination is truly called the thief of time.
The public act of committing oneself to God happens in what is, relatively, a moment. For example, the exchange of vows in a sacramental Wedding, the final Profession of a religious, the Ordination to Ministry, or choosing to make a public profession of faith (e.g. making a Sign of the Cross before eating) do not take a long time. What does take time is the journey to that ‘moment’. A loving ‘yes’ to God, or to another for God’s sake, will normally have had a well-honed history of prayer and sacramental life scored, no doubt, by struggles and battles with the power of Evil to the point where a deeply loving, lifetime commitment becomes possible.
Then, following its public announcement and acclamation, each person’s freely chosen commitment will continue to find expression, please God, in each successive moment of married, religious and ministerial life as well as in times of personal prayer or engaging in work for the benefit of others. For this to be, that ‘yes’ needs constant nourishment, Divine and human, to embrace the ever-changing circumstances and horizons of the unknown, likely not even dreamt of at the outset.
Most people will be familiar with Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s in Rome. It is not the first ‘pieta’. One of the earliest extant is the Röttgen Pietà in Germany, dating back to the fourteenth-century. The Röttgen Pietà is more clearly marked by grief. Mary’s mouth is open, Christ’s body shrunken. This pieta is an image of love, in the depth of suffering, being poured out for the world. The inspiration may have come from the plague we know as the ‘Black Death’. Then, many a mother reflected in her features her almost inexpressible pain as she held the death-enshrouded, withered, tormented body of her child.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, in his book on the rosary, The Threefold Garland, makes the point that it is in Christ’s Passion that the fullness of Mary’s Annunciation “Yes” – “Let it be done to me according to your word’ - is revealed. He writes: “Mary’s is a ‘yes’ which has been expanded wider and wider.” By constantly adding her love to God’s gift of graced sinlessness, Mary chose to embrace Jesus not only as an Infant but also as our Crucified Saviour on Calvary. In addition, Mary embraces the entire human race whom, without exception, her Divine Son has adopted as his sisters and brothers.
We, the adopted, struggle to hold together, let alone broaden, our fragile initial Baptismal ‘yes’ to God. Satan’s duplicitous words are as undermining today as they were to Eve: “Did God really say …” (Gen.3:1)
It is important to remember that, when Satan’s temptation is the most severe, Jesus is looking into our eyes and loving us with a love that is unvaryingly and infinitely compassionate. This Sunday, as Mark’s Gospel extract is proclaimed in Catholic churches in all the languages of the world, what will be peoples’ dominant reaction? Will listening congregations judge the man negatively or see themselves reflected in him?
We may like to think that, in a similar circumstance, we would have behaved like the Apostle Matthew, the tax collector, and given back or given away our wealth. But would we?
Maybe, the man in Mark’s Gospel had not foreseen the challenge Jesus presented. Are we sufficiently alert to the challenges on our vocational pathway when we pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done”? It would appear that, for that man, the missing element was his trust in the love of God. Might we be standing in his shoes?
It is helpful that the man is nameless. It makes it easier for any one of us to stand in his unisex shoes, if we have the love and courage to do so. Perhaps from such a standpoint, we could then not just read but actually pray the extract from the Book of Wisdom (7:7-11) that we are given for a First Reading this Sunday:
“I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to sceptre and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire.”
And, for a prayerful encore, try the Responsorial Psalm.