Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reflection on the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Called to Dynamic Communion with Christ Through Prayerful Acceptance

Saint Paul has left the Church a treasure trove of profound theological and spiritual insights. His Letter to the Romans, believed to be the final letter he composed, still challenges theologians and scripture scholars to this day because of it's depth. Beneath the surface of the letters is revealed a dynamic and transformative communion with the Risen Lord. Paul became so closely bonded to Christ that he says in one letter "it is no longer I who live, but Christ." In another letter he remarks, "I bear in my body the wounds of the Lord." In today's reading from the letter to the Colossians he states something even more dramatic, stunning, and almost scandalous: "I am filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ."

If we really mull over these words, we can't help but arrive at the question, "what could possibly be lacking in the sufferings of Christ? After all, aren't we taught that Christ offered a perfect sacrifice upon the Cross?" Christian theology and our liturgy has focused so intently on the perfect aspect of the Lord's sacrifice that it has overlooked what is lacking and what is ongoing with regard to this offering. Certainly, Christ offered a perfect sacrifice for the remission or forgiveness of sin. But what is lacking and ongoing in this offering is our direct participation in the Lord's passion. Like Paul, we are called to regard our suffering as united to the Lord's - especially when this suffering comes as a result of serving others or bearing in our lives the values of the Gospel. In this way, our suffering becomes suffused with meaning and becomes a source of redemption for ourselves and others. It also becomes a doorway to deepened communion with Christ through the Holy Spirit. However, what is absolutely critical to uniting our suffering to Christ's and experiencing deepened communion is prayerful acceptance.

An example and icon of prayerful acceptance is Mary in today's Gospel. William Barclay, a renowned scripture scholar and author notes that this story takes place on the "journey to Jerusalem." Jesus is on his way to embrace his destiny. The storm clouds are gathering over Jerusalem and many of his followers are likely doing their best to either dissuade him or deny the disturbing word's that Jesus is sharing with them regarding his passion. Barclay states that what Jesus is in need of right now is quiet, understanding companionship and not a lot of fuss. Mary is able to prayerfully accept the "one thing that is necessary" and Martha, through her frenetic activity, cannot. Through prayerful acceptance, Mary's connection and communion with Jesus is deepened.

I don't know about you, but I for one identify more with Martha! When I am disturbed or faced with my own suffering I find that I often busy myself to the point of distraction, conveniently overlooking the angst that is there. However, prayerful acceptance means acknowledging all of what makes up our lives, including the angst, brokenness, failures, failed and strained relationships, and allowing them to be drawn into the life of Christ through prayer and worship. When we do this we discover, like Paul, that we bear in our body the very wounds of the Lord and make up in our lives what is lacking in the suffering of Christ. In so many words, we discover that we do not bear our suffering alone but that the Risen Lord bears it as well in, with, and through us.


Anonymous said...

Father Pat,
You are right on!!!
I too identify most with the Martha side, HOWEVER, as life goes on very quickly, I need the MARY!!!
Thanks for a great reflection!
Sister Georgene Golock, FDC