Tuesday, June 2, 2009

12-30-2007: Holy Family (A)

Sirach 3:2-6,12-14/Psalm 128/Colossians 3:12-21/Matthew 2:13-15,19-23
Many say the reason why bad things happen, why the world is in such a mess, why morality seems to have disappeared in our permissive society, is that people don’t pray anymore. We heed the incessant lament of religious gurus who tell us: pray the rosary, pray the Psalms, pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament, pray the Mass, pray before meals, pray after meals … And why should you do any and all these things? Because, they say, you need to nurture your relationship with God. Just as you dialogue with someone to build a friendship, so you must do so with God. Fair enough. But for most of us (I would venture to guess if we’re honest) that hoped-for dialogue amounts to a well-rehearsed monologue with an occasional echo of our own voice.

Truth be told, many of us don’t want any real dialogue with the Almighty. Voicing our concerns, verbalizing our needs and desires – that’s what we want. We don’t really – I mean really – expect an answer. Nor do we want one. We already know the answers we want. We just need God to agree.

Joseph, the near dead-beat dad who wanted to divorce Mary (she being pregnant with someone else’s baby) was a man who took his dreams seriously. It's through a dream, after all, that he decides not to divorce but marry Mary, and give her child the protection of his name. And it’s through a dream that he receives the warning to leave Bethlehem for Egypt before Herod murders all those new-borns; and through a dream that he is told to return and settle in Nazareth of the Galilee. Joseph is a holy and wise man because he doesn’t tell God what he needs – he really wants to hear what God has to say. Most of us, pray-ers or not, really don’t want to know what God wants; most of us have no interest whatsoever in accepting any other solution to our problems than the one we’ve already set our minds to. Our prayers already contain the answers we seek and so the only thing left for us to do is repeat them over and over again (somehow imagining God to be a bit deaf or, at least, forgetful); repetition, we think, will assure the hoped-for outcome.

Dreams, though, are outside our control. Some have suggested we may be able to summon dreams, but most admit we cannot control their content or the scenarios in which they play out. Dreams are powerful because they surprise us; and the messages they offer can be ingenious solutions to the problems we face. (How many a scientific discovery was the result of a hint discerned from last night’s dream?) The only difference between us and St. Joseph, between the sinner and the saint, between the foolish and the wise, is that the wise listen to their dreams -- as if they were entertaining angels. And angels, we should remember, are but messengers from a place outside space and time: some call that place Eternity; some, the Unconscious.

Developing a prayer life, as the religious gurus tell us, may be a very helpful thing, offering discipline and ritual, providing a certain routine that gives order to our lives which, as human beings, we desperately need. But for those times when things seem to fall apart and you need direction more than comfort, an answer more than that feeling of tranquility which ritualized prayer can bring, the lesson of today’s gospel is simple: take a nap!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your challenging message (listening is a rare skill!), which brought to mind the following hymn. Peace, Sandra.

    Spirit, spirit of gentleness.
    Blow through the wilderness, calling and free.
    Spirit, spirit of restlessness. Stir me from placidness.
    Wind, wind on the sea.

    You moved on the waters, You called to the deep,
    Then You coaxed up the mountains. From the valley of sleep,
    And over the eons You called to each thing,
    "A wake from your slumbers and rise on your wings."

    You swept through the dessert, You stung with the sand,
    And You gifted your people With a law and a land,
    And when they were blinded With their idols and lies,
    Then You spoke through Your prophets To open their eyes.

    You sang in a stable, You cried from a hill,
    Then You whispered in silence When the whole world was still,
    And down in the city You called once again
    When You blew through Your people On the rush of the wind.

    You call from tomorrow, You break ancient schemes,
    From the bondage of sorrow The captives dream dreams;
    Our women see visions, Our men clear their eyes.
    With bold new decisions Your people arise.