25 October, 2013. Friday of the Twenty Ninth Week
Rom 7:18ff. I do not achieve the good things I aim at, but do wrong without wanting to. Who can free me from this dilemma? Only God, through Jesus Christ.
Lk 12:54ff. If you can judge rain or hot weather in the offing, why can you not interpret the present time?
First Reading: Romans 7:18-25
For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.
Gospel: Luke 12:54-59
He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
“And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I ell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”
Hope, the most difficult of virtues
Hope is the context for meditating on Romans and on the gospel today. Hope is perhaps the most difficult of virtues to appreciate and safeguard, since in many ways Faith and Love are more obvious. Faith can be clarified by studying the Bible and Church documents. Love can be practiced in our relationships and responding to the manifest needs of our neighbour. Of the three great virtues, Hope is the most intangible. Paul writes that “Hope is not hope if its object is seen… And hoping for what we cannot see means awaiting it with patient endurance” (Rom 8:24-25).
The hopes mentioned in prophecy are usually somewhat vague and generic, and applicable in different ways. Hopes are like the distant horizon of a sky which is continually changing color and shifting in cloud formation. Sunrise and sunset, clouds and stars all indicate the exquisite beauty of the heavens but no single moment catches the full splendour and majesty. Similarly, in a theological sense, we are always hoping beyond that which we see.
In Romans Paul takes another view of hope and of hopeful, gifted people. He views the situation, not in calm detachment as though from a distance but from inside, namely, from within himself. He was one of God’s most gifted and creative apostles, but a thorn in the flesh for many early Christians, especially for Peter and many others of Jewish extraction. Sometimes he becomes frustrated and despondent and feels that “no good dwells in me.” At other times he reacts so impulsively that it was done “against my will.” Paul agonizes at length over this situation: My inner self agrees with the law of God, but I see in myself another law at war with the law of my mind. This leads to the impassioned “What a wretched person I am. Who can free me from this body under the power of death?”
Paul does not end up this self-criticism with any kind of futile moaning but instead blossoms into an act of thanksgiving, “All praise to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” He is candidly aware of being conflicted, of his iner confusion, caught between his ideals and the ever present danger of impulsiveness and selfish pride. Today’s gospel shows how impulsiveness can be turned into a necessary virtue. Some chances do not come a second time, and our failure to rise to an occasion could mean losing a golden opportunity. Some graces belong to the day and the hour, the kairos, a favourite biblical term. Kairos is not just an ordinary moment like any other in the long sequence of time (chronos) but a very special moment with vital implications. The moment must be seized, for the sake of love and fidelity. The stakes are high, and not to decide is itself a negative decision.
We are to act to please God with the same energy as we put into practical aspects of our life. When our natural vitality is put at the service of religious activity, the body at the service of the soul, it the the most precious thing we can ever do.