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.
I went on a boat trip on Sunday into New York harbor, one of my favorite places. We followed a giant container ship from Singapore under the Verrazano Bridge.
Indian tribes were the first here to fish and to trade. The Dutch and the English followed them. It’s a great harbor with a great history. The fishing’s gone, unfortunately, and I wonder what happened to the Indians? Their story never seems to be told.
The Hudson River reaching north was a trading dream. Early on, furs and timber and raw materials were brought here from the interior to be shipped all over the world. The Eire Cana only increased the river’s reach.
Millions of immigrants, looking for work and a place to live, sailed into this harbor from distant places. The sign welcoming them, the Statue of Liberty, and the place where many of them were processed, Ellis Island, are on the left of the harbor as you come through the Narrows from the open sea.
Many of our ancestors, my own included, first saw the New World here. Many never left the area. On a recent TV program on Italian immigration, the question was asked “Why did so many Italians choose to live in New York City and New Jersey?” “That’s where the work was, “ someone said. My ancestors–Irish and Swedes– chose to live and work here too.
As you look at the impressive skyline of New York, look also to Brooklyn on the right and Jersey City and Bayonne on the left, Staten Island behind you. Those places were where the immigrants who built the city lived–and still do.
Quarentine station, staten island,
The Quarantine Station built in 1799 by Doctor Richard Bayley, father of St. Elizabeth Seton, was located near Stapleton on Staten Island, just south of the Staten Island Ferry terminal at St. George. Passengers with infectious diseases like small pox, cholera or yellow fever were detained and treated there, and sometimes returned to their own countries.
In the summer of 1801, Elizabeth Seton was staying with her father at the quarantine station when a boatload of sick Irish immigrants were brought in. She describes what poorer immigrants faced coming here:
“I cannot sleep–the dying and the dead possess my mind. Babies perishing at the empty breast of the expiring mother…Father says such was never known before: twelve children must die for want of sustenance…parents deprived of it as they have lain for many days ill in a ship without food or air or changing…There are tents pitched over the yard of the convalescent house and a large one at the death house.” (Letter July 28, 1801)
That same year, Richard Bayley died from yellow fever contacted while caring for a boatload of Irish immigrants at the Quarantine Station. He’s buried in the family plot next to the Episcopal Church of St. Andrew in Richmond, Staten Island.
Too bad no remains of the quarantine station are left to remind us how difficult an immigrant’s journey could be. There’s no quarantine station in the harbor now; sick immigrants and travelers go to nearby hospitals, as far as I know.
People in ancient times looked at travel over the uncertain sea as a perilous challenge. You never knew when you would arrive or the welcome you would get. No cruise ships then to make the journey a pleasure. An anchor was the sign the ancients used to symbolize their arrival, safely reaching port. Some ancient Mediterranean seaports like Alexandria and Antioch adopted the anchor as a symbol of their city.
Early Christians used this same sign on the burial places of their dead to symbolize their hope in Jesus Christ. The anchor closely resembles a cross. Jesus would bring them safely home, to harbor, to the New Jerusalem.
The rich young man in today’s gospel seems like a nice enough person, doesn’t he? In fact, he looks like someone you’d want your daughter to meet. Good living, good to his father and mother, good morals. Well heeled financially; talented maybe, good education, has a good job, good connections. Good catch.
Is Jesus being too strong with him? Instead of giving the young man a pat on the back and telling him he’s doing great, Jesus seems to tell him he’s not doing enough. He’s urging him on to be more.
We have to fit any gospel story like this one, into the larger story the gospel wants to tell. The gospel we’re reading on most Sundays this year is the Gospel of Mark? What’s the larger message it wants us to hear.
The Kingdom of God has come, Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark. The world’s going to change, and Jesus is the one who will bring it about. But he’s not going to bring it about alone. We’re called to join him, to follow him, to change the world with him. That means we have to go beyond ourselves and our own interests and our own plans. We have to live in a bigger world. God’s world. “Your Kingdom come, your will be done,” we say in the Lord’s Prayer.
Often enough, this gospel is seen as a challenge to young people, like the rich young man, to embrace a church vocation, like entering religious life, or becoming a priest. I would love some young people to respond to a challenge like that, but it seems to me the call of Jesus in this gospel is wider than that.
The winners of the Noble prize are being announced at this time. I saw an interview with the winner of the prize for physics, a Japanese scientist, Takaaki Kajita. I don’t know anything about what he discovered, neutrinos, but his discovery has changed the way we understand matter and our view of the universe. In the interview you saw someone excited about what he was doing, dedicated to what he was doing, and urging young people to become interested in science.
I think Jesus would say here’s someone, not trapped in self-interest, but deeply engaged in the pursuit of truth.
I don’t want to limit the gospel message to Noble prize winners either. We’re all called to enlarge our own horizons, to go beyond our safe zones and live and work in a bigger world.
The Synod on the Family is taking place in Rome now. One of its goals is to urge all of us not to give up on families. In the western world, many young people are not getting married, not having children. It seems that people are afraid to get married; instead retreat into themselves. Marriage and family and children are part of God’s plan. They’re worth giving your life to.
In our story today Jesus tells all of us to aim higher than ourselves and our own interests. How do we know what to aim for what are we to do? Our first reading for today, from the Book of Wisdom tells us that.
I prayed, and prudence was given me;
I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.
I preferred her to scepter 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.
Beyond health and comeliness I loved her,
and I chose to have her rather than the light,
because the splendor of her never yields to sleep.
Yet all good things together came to me in her company,
and countless riches at her hands. Wisdom 7, 7-11