Thursday, June 26, 2003

Spirituality and Today's Mass Reading

From the First Reading at Mass Today:

The LORD's messenger found her by a spring in the wilderness,
the spring on the road to Shur, and he asked,
"Hagar, maid of Sarai, where have you come from
and where are you going?"
She answered, "I am running away from my mistress, Sarai."
But the LORD's messenger told her:
"Go back to your mistress and submit to her abusive treatment.I will make your descendants so numerous," added the LORD's messenger,
"that they will be too many to count.


I have put the passage that struck me in bold. Interestingly other translations do not translate this passage in the same way. The RSV translates it as "Return to your mistress and submit to her." But back to the text as it exists in the Lectionary, Hagar who flees the harsh treatment of Sarah is told to go back and to submit to it. When I attended Mass the priest ignored the reading commenting rather accurately that it would be hard to offer a pious homily on the first reading, I would differ with him on that point.

The reading and the verse in particular point to a certain way of approaching life. Do we flee the reality we are placed in (this is obviously the "way" many approach life in our culture) or do we face the good and the bad? What is more is to look at how we view the world around us and in particular the part of the world where we are placed, is it a curse or a blessing?

Hagar's return to Sarah is accompanied by a promise of blessing. The Christian's taking up the cross with Jesus carries with it a promised blessing.

I recall many years ago hearing Father Benedict Groeschel, at that time a Capuchin, preach on the mental health of some of the saints. His diagnosis is that many of them suffered from neurotic states but through their devotion to God while not relieved of their condition it was sanctified. Grace building on nature.

Every day we all suffer at the hands of our "Sarah's" who abuse us out of jealousy and envy. The small mindedness that backs such abuse is easy to understand but difficult to deal with when directed at yourself. We all are tempted to flea but God tells us to stay and what is more to see a blessing in it all.

The next time you read the life of a saint, take off your pious sunglasses and try to imagine what it must have been like to live in a community with such a person. Would you have experienced them as a gift or a burden? It is clear from the testimonies of many who have enjoyed the blessing that it hardly seemed like a blessing to them at the time.

In the case of facing our abusers we have to understand that if they can be helped we can lead them in that direction. Perhaps that is why God wants us to go back so that they may face their own activity even as we face up to it.

The severity of life is often ignored both by those who make it harsh for others and for those whe enjoy it's cruel deserts.