We’re strongly influenced today by science, which depends mainly on what we can see. Because scientists depend mainly on what they can see, they focus mostly on the beginnings of our world and its present state. Few facts are available about the future, and so science doesn’t venture too much into that part of reality.
Paul ventures into the future in the Letter to the Romans, which we’re reading at Mass today.
“The glory of God will be revealed for us,” he says, “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing. Creation itself “will share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.” There will be a new heaven and a new earth.
How does Paul know this? Not by what he sees, but by hope, which reveals what we cannot yet see. “In hope we were saved. Hope that sees for itself is not hope. But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.”
In his recent encyclical Laudato si, Pope Francis draws on that same hope revealed to Paul to bolster his call for care for our common home, the earth. All creation will share in that glory, which flows from the resurrection of Jesus. We must care for the earth because of its destiny:
“The ultimate destiny of the universe is in the fullness of God, which has already been at¬tained by the risen Christ, the measure of the maturity of all things. Here we can add yet an¬other argument for rejecting every tyrannical and irresponsible domination of human beings over other creatures. The ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all crea¬tures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the ris¬en Christ embraces and illumines all things. Hu¬man beings, endowed with intelligence and love, and drawn by the fullness of Christ, are called to lead all creatures back to their Creator.” (LS 61)
I think it’s safe to say that the scientific community has received Francis’ encyclical favorably, even with enthusiasm, not just as an ethical call to care for the earth, but also for the visionary hope it proclaims. Just as religion must respect science, so science must respect what faith senses. Our belief, which the pope expresses so well, is that the earth should not be degraded or discarded, but admired, loved and cared for. It has a destiny “in the fullness of God.”
Today, cardinals, patriarchs and bishops of the Catholic church across the globe, called on the leaders of governments, business and finance, the United Nations, NGOs and other members of civil society who will negotiate issues of climate change (COP21) at a meeting in Parish, December 7-8 to produce a just and legally binding and “truly transformational” climate agreement. The Catholic leaders cited Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, “Laudato si.”
“We join the Holy Father in pleading for a major break-through in Paris, for a comprehensive and transformational agreement supported by all based on principles of solidarity, justice and participation. This agreement must put the common good ahead of national interests. It is essential too that the negotiations result in an enforceable agreement that protects our common home and all its inhabitants.”
The Catholic leaders ended with a prayer for this important meeting:
Prayer for the Earth
God of love, teach us to care for this world our common home.
Inspire government leaders as they gather in Paris:
to listen to and heed the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor;
to be united in heart and mind in responding courageously;
to seek the common good and protect the beautiful earthly garden you have created for us,
for all our brothers and sisters,
for all generations to come.
Most Sundays this year we’re reading from the Gospel of Mark. Like the other gospels, Mark’s Gospel is a wonderful work of art. By that I mean it’s not just a series of stories or sayings of Jesus put together historically as a day by day account of Jesus’ life. No, Mark’s Gospel is skillfully arranged to teach us who Jesus is and what it means to follow him.
For the last five Sundays or so, Mark is taking us on the journey of Jesus and his disciples from Galilee in the north, where he began his ministry, to Jerusalem in the south where he will die and rise from the dead. Mark’s not interested in telling us what places they passed day by day. He’s telling us what Jesus is revealing about himself, and how people react to him.
On the journey Jesus tells his disciples he will be betrayed and crucified and die on the cross and rise again. He also tells them if they want to follow him, they have to take up their own cross. But over and over they can’t see what he’s telling them. Over and over, Mark says, “They did not understand him.”
Now, those following Jesus are good, normal people, as far as we can judge. Peter and the other fishermen from Galilee, James and John, for example, are good, solid reasonable people. The rich young man who approached Jesus in our gospel reading a few weeks ago– a good, solid individual. But they did not understand him.
“You think like human beings think,” Jesus says to Peter earlier in Mark’s Gospel. Peter had told him to put any thought of suffering and dying from his mind. James and John thought they could become big players in Jesus’ earthly kingdom. He would be a ticket to success when they reached Jerusalem. The rich young man was afraid of losing what he had. They’re all examples of the way human beings think. They did not understand him.
Of course, Mark’s gospel is pointing out that this is the way we think too. We’re so limited, we’re so self-serving, we’re so afraid to trust in the wisdom and promises of God. We think like human beings. At one point in Mark’s gospel, the disciples throw up their hands, seemingly in desperation, and say among themselves, “Then who can be saved?”
Today’s gospel answers to that question. “As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.” They’ve reached Jericho where the road turns up to Jerusalem. The blind beggar is sitting on the road. He can’t see. He had nothing to recommend him, it seems. Nobody wants him near them, but Jesus calls him and gives him his sight.
Not only does Jesus give him his sight, but Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, gets up and follows Jesus on the way, up to Jerusalem. In a simple, beautiful way, Mark’s Gospels tells us a powerful story of God’s mercy. The blind man is a symbol of humanity, so blind to so much. But God’s mercy is stronger than human thinking, human weakness, even human sin. It reaches out to us and helps us . God’s mercy helps us to see, to get up and with Jesus enter Jerusalem.
A saint’s work is never done because, like Jesus Christ, the saints reach beyond their time and place. They’re agents of God’s plan. Their work is not finished at their death– our belief in the communion of saints reminds us–and even in old age they saw something yet to do.
They never say “The work is done,” and neither should we.
I’m reminded of a poem called “What then?” by W.B. Yeats; which he wrote as an old man at the end of a successful career filled with literary honors, financial rewards and a host of friends. You would think he’d sit down and enjoy it all, but listen to him as he hears the challenge of more to do:
‘The work is done,’ grown old he thought,
‘According to my boyish plan;
Let the fools rage, I swerved in naught,
Something to perfection brought’;
But louder sang that ghost,’What then?’
To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:
We read a few weeks ago from the 8th chapter of Mark’s gospel that Jesus, outside of Caesarea Philippi, asked his disciples “Who do you say I am?” In answer, Peter said, “You are the Messiah.” Then Jesus began to teach them that he had to suffer many things. He would be rejected by the Jewish rulers, the chief priests and the scribes, he would be killed and he would rise after three days. Then Peter, taking him aside, rebuked him for talking about rejection and suffering. Jesus answered, calling Peter, Satan. The Messiah has to suffer.
From Caesarea Philippi, Mark’s gospel goes on, Jesus and his followers began their journey to Jerusalem. On their way Jesus makes that same prediction that he’ll suffer and be put to death and rise again. But his followers and those whom he meets on the way are still troubled by his words about suffering. They don’t understand it. They’re heading for Jerusalem, the city of Jewish dreams, God’s own city, where God’s glory will be revealed.
They believe Jesus is their ticket to glory, to success.
In our reading for today from the 10th chapter of Mark, James and John, two disciples who, with Peter, were the first he called by the Lake of Galilee, approach Jesus looking for a place at his side when he comes into his glory. They were his first followers, after all. And they’re not just looking for a small favor either; they’re looking for a big place of honor and power. “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Glory. They’re only days away from it, they think, and they’re sure they deserve more than the rest.
Jesus response to them is also his response to us, so we should listen carefully to it. “Can you drink the cup that I drink?” What’s the cup that Jesus must drink from? It’s the cup he asked be taken away in the Garden of Gethsemani, The cup of suffering and death. Can you “be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, he accepted the mission he was given by the Father and the guidance of the Spirit. He accepted the life, the time, the circumstances that would come to him from God’s will. He accepted a life of service to others and forgetfulness of himself. I “did not come to be served, but to serve and give my life as a ransom for others.”
It was hard for his followers to understand and embrace that teaching, our gospel reading indicates. It took them time. It takes time for us too. We listened last week to the story of the rich young man who met Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. “What shall I do?” he asks Jesus. When he’s challenged to do more, he goes away sad. He wants only to hold on to what he has, his riches, a small piece of the glory that he thinks will last forever..
One of the great temptations we all face is look at the gospel as a gospel of success. The success we think we have now, or the success we would like to have right away. That’s not the real gospel, of course. When James and John approached Jesus, they wanted to use him to get ahead. They want to enjoy glory now, without experiencing his cross. They think that once at his side there will be no rejections, no failures, no hard times, no loneliness, no disappointments, no suffering, no cross. Only glory. They see religion as a highway to success, a winning lottery ticket that you just turn in and then pick up the winnings.
That’s not what Jesus teaches. Following him always means taking up the cross, and the cross is never far from us. Sometimes big, sometimes just a splinter, hardly felt, but the cross is always there. Yet, when the cross is there, Jesus is there, and there he begins to show us his glory.