The Active and the Contemplative

October 15 Romans 4, 1-8 + Luke 12, 1-7

October 16 Romans 4, 13, 16-18 + Luke 12, 8-12

October 17 Isaiah 45, 1, 4-6 + 1 Thessalonians 1, 1-5b + Matthew 22, 15-21

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Every so often, the busy-ness of my life catches up with me, I apologize for the sudden hiatus in the daily meditations. To catch back up, I am looking at the past 3 days of readings as one meditation.

October 15th was the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, the great medieval mystic and doctor of the Church. She lived in an era in which women were expected to be in the background, yet she consistently spoke truth to power, corresponding with kings and bishops and popes. She was a spiritual director of St. John of the Cross and was instrumental in the founding of the Discalced Carmelite reform movement. She was a contemporary of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and spoke often of her desire to be a perfect blend of Mary and Martha -- the active and the contemplative lives. Then as now, we often like to separate these two -- we have our religious life, and we have our temporal life, and never the twain shall meet. When we go into the marketplace, too many leave our religion behind.

In the Friday and Saturday readings, Paul continues his major exposition of Christian teaching, in particular, the doctrine of salvation by grace and not by works alone. There is a call to community with all people who believe -- not those of our own particular race or ethnic group, he teaches the universality of the Christian faith. All of Abraham's works would have been for nothing without his faith in God -- which is to say, the active life is rooted in the contemplative, and our temporal activities are one with our spiritualities. It seems so easy and familiar, we have heard it ten thousand million times -- but when we are hot and bothered and busy, and perhaps even feeling sorry for ourselves because we are so put upon, do we remember then our salvation by grace, God's good gift to us, and thus the one-ness of our spiritual and temporal lives?

Jesus continues his "hard sayings" to the disciples and those who were following him. He warns of persecution, but promises that whoever confesses Jesus before others will be remembered before the Father. Do not be afraid! There's that phrase again.

The persecution of Christians has not ended. In the Sudan, Christians are captured and sold as slaves. In Pakistan, Christians have been condemned for death -- the usual charge is blasphemy, the context is greed for their property or revenge. But even here in the United States, a most religious nation, persecution may be found. Sometimes it is overt -- such as when prayer is banned at public assemblies or Bible studies are banned in homes. Other times it is just an attitude -- "religion doesn't apply here." (Note this attitude isn't directed only at Christians, but generally at all people of faith.) This is particularly true of the Marketplace, and our halls of Governance and Legislation. We may put "In God We Trust" on our money, but that is a bad joke, we do not trust in God, we trust in the Almighty Dollar. It is the prime value of this fin de siecle age, we think that all things are materialistic, everything not only can -- but must! -- be reduced to its economic quantification, and when we are done with that, there is nothing left.

We tolerate the most egregious sins -- actually, we don't just tolerate them, we praise them, hold them up as examples for our young people to emulate, and punish those who speak out against them.

Isaiah reminds us of how all things work together for the good. Cyrus, King and Emperor of Persia was a pagan, yet he was raised up by God to punish the Babylonians who had themselves in turn been used by God to punish Israel when it abandoned its covenant.

Sunday's second reading comes from the earliest writing in the New Testament, dating from about 51 AD. It is a formal greeting, recalling the faith and endurance of the Church in Thessalonica.

The enemies of the Lord Jesus attempted in today's Gospel reading to put him "between a rock and a hard place." They crafted a question designed to get him in trouble either way. "Is it lawful to pay tribue to Ceasar?" Say yes, and the Jews would be outraged, say no, and the Romans would get worried (governments always worry about threats to their tax programs). He neatly avoids the trap by advising his questioners to "render to Ceasar that which is Ceasar's, and to God what is God's."

No wonder his enemies were astonished, it is not only a clever answer, it is deep and fraught with meaning. What is God's? What belongs to Ceasar? We have not only spiritual duties, but also social duties.

These readings carry us three days closer to the Jubilee Holy Year 2000, a time of reconciliation and renewal, an opportunity for us to remember God's covenant with us and our covenants with each other. The world cries out for justice and peace, yet we daily experience injustice and violence. In this tension and contradiction is the place that we live. As we continue our journey, let us reflect on our place in time, in geography, and in covenant.

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