31Jul 31st July. Thursday, Week 17.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

Ignatius (1491-1556), a Spanish knight from a Basque noble family, became a hermit and later a priest, who in 1539 founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and was a major figure in the Counter-Reformation. Loyola’s devotion to the Church was marked by absolute obedience to the Pope, with a solemn promise made by all Jesuits to go out on mission to wherever the Pope would send them. His Spiritual Exercises, based on contemplation of the life of Christ have so influenced Catholic spirituality that pope Pius XI declared Ignatius the patron of all spiritual retreats.

1) Jeremiah 18:1-6

(The Lord is a potter, forming Israel anew out of the same clay that had previously turned out poorly.)

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

Gospel: Matthew 13:47-53

(Jesus compares the reign of God to a net that draws good and useless fish from the sea and to a storeroom with new and old objects.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.

New Beginnings

Today the symbolic actions of Jeremiah announce the creative intention of God, the divine potter, to collapse the misshapen clay back into its primitive form and start over again in forming the people of Israel. The Gospel concludes Matthew’s main section about the reign of God (chapters 11 to 13). In these readings we find God’s merciful way of starting over again. Jesus suggests that life is like a storeroom full of new things as well as the old.

Biblical religion is generally marked by a forward vision towards a new future. It never consecrated a past golden age but kept moving towards its messianic age. Along the way Israel took monumental leaps, changes that were required by cultural or national crises, like the Philistine threat which led to the unification of the people into a one capital, one temple system under David and Solomon. Other changes were needed to renew and purify the people, as Jeremiah suggested under the prophetic symbol of God as a potter, moulding clay jars: Whenever the vessel which the potter was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making of the clay another vessel of whatever sort he pleased.

God is the divine potter who asks, “Can I not do to you as this potter has done?” There is continuity. The clay is the same and the potter is the same, just as the ark carried memories of Moses. Yet all these transitions are difficult. They can seem as drastic and cruel as the gospel parable of the dragnet with worthwhile fishes and useless ones. In the fierce ordeal, some are hurled into the fiery furnace. Yet, this is not the end of Jesus’ sermon. He adds one final parable, the storeroom from which “the head of the household.. can bring.. the new and the old.” At all transitional moments in our personal life or our church or national existence, we need to be courageous to suffer through the change, and clear-sighted to recognize the will of God and even his glorious presence in the new stage along the way, safeguarding tradition and genuine continuity with the past.