24 February 2006

Patience. Perseverance. Permanence.

7th Week OT(F): James 5.9-12; Mark 10.1-12
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory & Church of the Incarnation, Univ. of Dallas
Hear it!

The first few jobs I had after I left grad school had a theme: I kept families apart. My job was to keep husbands away from their wives, to keep children away from their mothers and fathers. I worked for Child and Family Services in the battered women’s shelter and in the treatment facility for children and teens who had been sexually abused by family members. My job as an employee of the county was to help these folks provide for themselves what they couldn’t, wouldn’t provide for themselves without help: stable, drug-free, abuse free family lives. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we didn’t. Whether we won or lost, I saw over and over again the hopeless choices people were making, sometimes forced to make, in the struggle to get along, to just make it. And it was almost always the case that what drove them to a debilitating despair was the false Spirit of Choices Without Consequences. What I saw acted out again and again was the farce of the human person believing that his or her choices were utterly free from prior commitment, utterly free from consequence, and utterly free from any sort of moral evaluation. Of course, this particular farce was written long ago and is, quite possibly, the longest running show in human history. And, if I had to guess, we’ve all played a part at one time or another, large or small.

Both James and Jesus direct their evangelical spirit to the question of forming lasting friendships, unbreakable familial and social bonds. And neither one of them say much that we want to hear. James tells us that we must look to the prophets who persevered in the face of constant hardship, working out of an enduring patience against opposition and oppression. Patience. He says that we call “blessed” those who managed to stick with it to the end, those who persevered like Job. Perseverance. Jesus tells us that marriage is more than a convenient social relationship based on mutual attraction for the other’s cool stuff. It is a permanent bond, two becoming one flesh, a bond made by God that cannot be put aside. Permanence.

There are two pieces of Good News today. The first is that the Lord is compassionate and merciful. The second is that our Yes and our No will mean precisely that when given in the spirit of patience, perseverance, and permanence that James and Jesus preach.

Against the vanities of the age, this age of disposal relationships, Instant Message Marriages, and quickie “hook-ups,” our Yes and No in Christ witnesses to the truth of the existence of the absolute, the universal, the enduring, the permanent, and the unambiguous. Our Yes and No in Christ stands as testimony to the possibilities and the power of surrender, sacrifice, and emptying out to be filled again with the Spirit. The mercy and compassion of God toward us and with us and through us transform our daily commitments into gifts of service, gifts of patience and, yes, oftentimes, into gifts of trial and grief. But it is precisely because we have said Yes and No in Christ that these trials will not always be trails and grief will not always be grief.

We have seen the purpose of the Lord: our life in the Kingdom right now and our life with Him eternally.

Sure, we have all played some role or another in the longest running farce in human history—the script plotted to make us believe that we can act without commitment, without consequence, free from all moral evaluation. Our Yes and No in Christ has closed that show. Demolished the theatre. We play on a new stage now in a play directed by the mercy and compassion of the Lord.

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