Yet, the whole reason that these towns settled where they did was due to the river. The river provided transportation of goods and people, a source of life-giving water, and opportunities for fishing and boating. The river, when it is within its banks, is a source of sustenance and life.
Today's readings remind me of rivers, and how they can be both blessings and curses. In the first reading, from Wisdom, we hear "and out of what had before been water, dry land was seen emerging: Out of the Red Sea an unimpeded road, and a grassy plain out of the mighty flood." Though we do not have the Red Sea nearby, in all other respects we have seen Scripture re-enacted right before our eyes. The water receded, yielding dry land, most roads are once again passable, and green shoots are emerging from the thick layer of silt and sand. The flood of 2011 is over. People are cleaning up and looking ahead to more normal lives.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us of an apathetic judge that eventually is forced to make a ruling, due to the persistence of a wronged widow. A river is a persistent force, if it is anything. It constantly flows within its banks. It does not seek permission. It just is.
Today is the memorial for St. Josephat. Though we don't have the space to go into his fascinating biography here (accounts of his life are easy to find on the Internet), it is interesting to note that his enemies often threatened to throw him into the river. When he was martyred, that's where he ended up -- with an axe injury and a bullet to the head to boot. The river was not his friend, it was a weapon used against him.
Yet, it was the river Cardoner where St. Ignatius had a “brilliant enlightenment.” The river was a sacred place where God spoke to him. The river is also a sacred place to people of many other religions as well.
So what are we to make of all this? The truth is that a river is an intensifier -- whatever one brings to it will be multiplied. If one brings openness to conversion, that openness will be multiplied. If one brings hatred and violence, that violence will be multiplied. If we disrespect the natural power of the river, forget it or ignore it, it will rise up to smite us.
The river is constantly moving. It is a symbol of persistence in our lives. Into it flows water from untold places, each a tiny drop of water that converges with other such drops of water until it has a power all its own. It becomes an unstoppable force. That is not something that we as humans created on a whim. It is bigger than us. It is natural power, the most compelling and persistent power that exists.
Though we may not all agree with the basic premise of the protests and sit-ins that are happening both in the U.S. and other places around the world, we have to acknowledge that there is unspeakable and unstoppable power in these gatherings; they are like rivers that overflow their banks. No matter how much a government tries to manage them, they cannot be ignored.
St. Josephat, though martyred, eventually accomplished the goal of stabilizing the Christian presence in his area through such persistence. He recognized the power of the river and trusted that eventually everything would work itself out.
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