On the surface, these readings for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time seem to be a bit harsh and contrary to the kind of celebration in which we are engaged here today: After all, Ezekiel, resisting God’s call to tell his people a message that they will receive with a hardness of heart; Paul seeming to tell us to just put up with our aches and pains and problems; and Mark vividly picturing Jesus being rejected by his own people and, then, being unable to “do his thing”. He apparently feels “paralyzed” by this experience of being rejected.
Of course, as always with the scriptures, much lies beneath the surface. There are really three scriptural calls here.
The first call is to prophecy. I believe that recognizing the Spirit which has entered into each of us and being willing to be “set on our feet” (by that Spirit) is part of full religious experience. Ezekiel, some thousands of years later, is recognized as a “prophet”. Talking about prophecy is always a somewhat dangerous topic as its meaning is so easily watered-down and misleading. Walter Brueggemann says that the crucial test for true prophecy in ourselves and in our Church lies in fidelity to the covenant between the Divine and us humans. That covenant is, of course, based on love and justice. I propose that true prophecy comes from what some call “deep listening”. In so doing, we each seek to be true to ourselves and true to God who dwells within us.
The second call is to recognize our weaknesses. In Paul, the call is to see our own weaknesses and to, therein, grasp a little of the mystery of the cross. Although many scholars have speculated, to his credit, Paul goes into no detail about that “thorn in the flesh. He simply says, “My grace is sufficient for you…for power is made perfect in weakness…for when I am weak, then, am I strong.”In that paradox is the core of the paschal mystery which is the central reality of our faith.
The third call is to acknowledge and embrace life’s contradictions. Mark’s story is a call to acknowledge (and embrace) the contradictions within our selves and those present in all of our lives in this chaotic world. In Jesus, something is being seen that obviously was other than what they thought they knew about him. They could not quite put it together with the child they had watched growing up. This child of a working family was now speaking with insight and authority in their temple. They just could not accept it, so they groused and criticized and ultimately rejected him in that moment.
In these invitations to listen deeply to the calls: to prophesy, to recognize our weaknesses as integral to the paschal mystery, and to embrace the contradictions of our lives as redemptive, we see some dimensions of our own human lives.
Anthony de Mello tells the story of an elderly gentleman who ran a curio and antique shop in an urban area. One day, a tourist stepped into his shop and they got to talking about all the many things crowding the shelves of the little shop. The visitor finally asked the old man what was the most mysterious thing that he had in his shop. The old man looked around seeing antiques from various eras and places – stuffed animals, delicately carved boxes, mounted fish, shining trinkets and so much more. He then paused, and said to his visitor: “The most mysterious thing in this shop is unquestionably my self.”
We celebrate these five women celebrating their Jubilees – their call, their accomplishments, their gifts, and most of all, we celebrate the mystery of God acting in and through them.
As a group, they have been educators, worked in parishes, began their Benedictine life at one of our academies, entered the community directly out of high school. Each is a faith-filled member of this community of Benedictine women. Each is a unique gift to the group.
In looking at the historical context in which they each grew up in community, we find the presence of war (World War II in the 1940s, the Korean War in the 1950s, and the Vietnam War in the 1960s).
We also see significant signs of change in our Church – with the publication of the landmark encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi in the 40s, the growth of the liturgical movement and of the laity’s role in the Church in the 50s, and the post-Vatican II seismic changes in the 60s.
Looking at each for a moment in the mode of jubilee and unique gifts, as opposed to the mode of Mark’s presentation of the people of Nazareth.
Sister Marilyn Hattrup is a woman who courageously left her people of the great farmland in the middle of our country to join this urban community. Along her life’s journey, she has faced many obstacles, the most recent of which is the challenge of impaired vision. She enjoys exploring new areas of knowledge and excels in doing so through the use of the internet. In her life as a member of this community she has had opportunities to explore new kinds of ministry in many different spheres. She is generous to many who need her and serves well in scheduling our liturgical presiders. Marilyn loves her family and is a faithful friend.
Sister Judith Murphy is a passionate leader in Catholic education, with a creative, pioneer spirit: first in parish schools, then, at both of our academies, as the very first principal and innovative curriculum developer at the very first Cristo Rey School, and now at the office of Catholic Education for the Archdiocese of Chicago. She enjoys many good friends and a large family of many generations and dimensions. She also enjoys the out of doors and the beauties of nature. In her artistic approach to life she is always searching for meaning and always does so with a great sense of humor. Her love and skill in Spanish enables her to enjoy the great diversity of the Latin cultures.
Sister Mary Ann O’Ryan leads the many faceted O’Ryan pack and so enjoys her siblings and their offspring. She is a person who has a wonderfully strong sense of history and loves to know first hand other cultures (China and Israel, just to name a few places she has been). In the past four months, she has been tremendously generous support in the challenges we have faced as a community. She has served our community well as our prioress, as a monastic council member and, now, as our treasurer. She is a woman of prayer, and a person who enjoys order and good organization.
Sister Margaret Ann Holtz, like Sister Marilyn, stepped out of her childhood setting, in this case, Pennsylvania, to follow her aunt, our memorable Sister Gertrude, here to Chicago. Unlike the classes before and some after her, she was a class unto itself as both a postulant and a novice. She is a faithful community member, taking on whatever community roles she is asked to assume, whether it be as a teacher, a sacristan, a bookkeeper, or a supervisor. Her low key sense of humor is greatly appreciated as she moves through the day. Her companions will concur, I am sure, that Margaret Ann is one who loves sports and enjoys a good game now and again. In all things, I find her to be extremely kind and gracious in receiving suggestions.
Sister Joan Gannon has spent these past 70 years serving in many, many different ministries both within and outside of the community – from Kindergarten teacher to high school chemistry teacher, from director of our infirmary to parish staff, and from supporting the work of the St. Jerome Parish seniors (known as the “Tip-Toppers”) to her careful care of our feathery friends in our aviary. In her wisdom years, she is curious and always interested in what is going on around her. She is deeply concerned about others, loves her family, and is definitely a woman of strong faith.
The mystery and the glory of God and of any human life are not always fully recognized. Jubilee celebrations offer us a splendid opportunity to counterbalance our experiences that are too much like Jesus’ in today’s gospel selection.
So, these readings and these women seem to call us to ask “who are we as human beings?” and “How is it that God is acting through each of us?” When we participate in the practice of deep listening to ourselves and to our God, we find that life is made up of joys and sorrows, of being chosen (like Ezekiel), of being given grace enough to endure hardships (like Paul), and of facing contradictions (like Jesus).
Each of these women, and in fact, each of us, is a mystery and above all else, is a powerful revelation of God.