September 23, 2022
by David Crawford
Creighton University - retired
click here for photo and information about the writer

Memorial of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest
Lectionary: 453

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11
Psalm 144:1b and 2abc, 3-4
Luke 9:18-22

Praying Ordinary Time

Pope Francis on his visit to the grave of Padre Pio on his 50th anniversary

Rediscovering Corporal Works of Mercy

Before I get into the reflection, I want to be sensitive to those who, having read Ecclesiastes, now have the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” stuck in their heads.  I’ve put a link to it at the end of the reflection.

Our first reading covers a lot of ground, from birth to death and quite a lot in between.  The literary cadence of the verses may cause you to consider each line as a pairing of opposites, but life is not as orderly as these distinct categories suggest.  My time to be silent is another person’s time to speak.  And I may be covering several categories all at once, perhaps embracing as an act of healing while I mourn with others.  I may fluctuate between two “opposites,” such as at a funeral where a funny memory of the departed causes people to laugh and cry almost simultaneously.

My tendency is to focus on the list, but it helps me instead to focus on the end of our first reading.  The recognition that “He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts, without man’s ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done.”  It causes me to wonder how often I waste time, even if I am doing something productive, because I am not doing what God has called me to do.  In that light, the worrier in me is uncomfortable by the recognition of how my anxiety runs counter to trusting in God’s promises; the procrastinator in me wonders how often my “I’ll do it later” is actually telling God to wait until I am ready, while the impatient in me realizes that I too often am not willing to wait on God.  The planner and worker in me too often become bossy as I demand a project I’ve identified is done in a manner I’ve deemed appropriate.

The Gospel reading also deals with timing.  Peter’s time to speak, proclaiming that Jesus is “The Christ of God,” immediately followed by a time to keep silent as Jesus “directed them not to tell this to anyone.”  Imagine how difficult it must have been for Peter and the others to have their excitement tempered as Jesus then explained that He must suffer and die.  Imagine even further how they must have felt when Jesus immediately added that they, too, would suffer:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)

As I thought about what to write, concepts from two different pieces I’ve recently read keep coming to mind.  The first, a poem,* uses the idea of a tandem bike to talk about a relationship with God.  We begin our relationship with Christ seated in back, helping us by pedaling while we maintain control of where we want to go.  At some point, we reluctantly switch places, although (the poet notes): I did not trust Him, at first, in control of my life. I thought He'd wreck it[.]”  However, Jesus is a better bike/life pilot, able to navigate in ways we cannot, to take us places we otherwise could not go, and to do things we otherwise could not do.  All aspects of the journey became so much better once the poet learned to trust.

Joy is also essential.  Bishop Desmond Tutu talks about joy, not as a feeling, but as a faithful way of approaching life in good times and bad.  His bad times, of course, included a long battle against South African apartheid and a fight with cancer in his later years.  Bishop Tutu was in his mid-eighties when he visited his good friend, the Dalai Lama; and that visit resulted in The Book of Joy by Bishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama (with Douglas Abrams), which includes this quote:

“Discovering more joy does not . . . save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak.  In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily, too.  Perhaps we are just more alive.  Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters.  We have hardship without becoming hard.  We have heartbreak without being broken.”

* Some links, as promised:

Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)” was written by Pete Seeger, and it stays fairly close to the Scripture.  Only the title, sung in places, and the last line related to peace differ from Ecclesiastes.  The version running through my head (and with the link) is by the Byrds.

The poem is on several websites.  Not all agree on the title but “The Road of Life” is used by many.  The author is unknown.  
The Book of Joy, by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, with Douglas Abrams.

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