The Seventh Sunday of Easter
2018 – Cycle B
Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26; Psalm 103;1 John 4:11-16; John 17:11b-19
Isn’t it easier to live life in a fishbowl than in an ocean? Fishbowls are small and enclosed. You get to know all the parts of a fishbowl. The waters are calm. You are regularly fed. Living in a fishbowl you get to look out but not be disturbed nor get involved in much. An ocean on the other hand is vast. It is mostly a dark, forbidding place. Oceans are filled with hostile creatures making it an “eat or be eaten” world.
A couple of generation ago most of us lived and swam in fishbowls of Catholicism. It was, note ‘was’, a wonderful and safe place where pretty much everyone we knew was Catholic, we believed the same things and celebrated the cycles of seasons, fasts and feasts. We know that is no longer true.
The longing to escape from the world, to be protected and yes, isolated is very tempting. The fourth century movement of Egyptian monasticism was just that. Running away from the big, bad cities into the desert to be able to live Christianity unhindered and unchallenged. We see this in Hasidic Judaism, in the enclaves of the Amish and in our own day where small gatherings of conservative or liberal Catholics form their own groups living barely on the fringes of mainstream Catholicism. The author Rod Dreher, in his book The Benedict Option argues that in our post–Christian world the way forward is actually the way back to St. Benedict of Nursia, a sixth-century monk who was horrified by the moral chaos following the fall of Rome. He and his followers retreated into the forests and created a new way of life.
Is there something positive to be said for these religious movements throughout time, for the human temptation to escape; what we call retreats and vacations? Yes there is. Benedictine monasticism created Western culture: literature, music, agriculture, architecture, the roots of liberal democracy, spirituality, an education system. But the fruits of monasticism were taken up into the surrounding world and civilized the barbarism of the northern Franco – German tribes and, voila! You had the beginnings of Europe.
To vacate from ordinary live and its pressures, to withdraw for a time, and it is ‘for a time’, is important. Like Dorothy of Technicolor Oz fame, you have to eventually return to sepia coloured Kansas. All vacations and retreats, all worthy movements come to an end.
But that is not what Jesus prays for today.
“Holy Father…The world hated them because they do not belong to the world…I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. I [send] them into the world.”
Jesus does not want us living in fishbowls but rather to swim truth in a hostile ocean that hates us. We are to be in the world but not of the world. That is not an easy life to live when the surrounding culture no longer supports Christianity, nor does it have to. We are to make a personal commitment to Christ, not society. In nation after nation we see parliaments and congresses voting to legalize divorce, abortion, same-sex marriage, and euthanasia. We see budgets cut in regard to programs for the poor and those on the cusp of life. Care and protection for the planet, as taught by Pope Francis, the opening of the Book of Genesis and the Psalms, are being withdrawn. There are hostile pressures placed on families to conform and forsake Sunday for children’s sports events. Sunday is holy to Christians, not to society. Many choices being forced on Christians and families are not between good and evil but between various goods.
So how do we live in the world but not of the world?
It is easy to go to prayer in a Catholic school setting or a monastery; it is scheduled in. How do you do it when balancing, work, children, food preparation, taxiing older children to events, laundry and a spouse? How do you do create balance when you are a single parent?
How do you counter working on the holy day, Sunday when your family budget doesn’t make end meet and you may need to work 2? …3 jobs?
How do you live a committed married life swimming in a society where commitment is no deeper than “hooking up” and divorce is the norm.
How do we combat, because avoidance is not possible, the temptations of consumerism? The bombardment of advertising telling us what we need and cannot live without; this temptation to buy. Consider the struggles of parents with their children who are born swimming in this ocean.
If we Christians are going to make a difference in our society. We cannot isolate ourselves from this world.
Reflect on Christmas, the Christian Christmas. God became a human being and entered this created world. In this world, Jesus encountered the cruel Roman society he lived in. He taught about taxes and God. He countered Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” with his own declaration, “I am the truth…” and was crucified for his answer and life. There was talk of divorce in his own family at the time of his birth which was marked by the government sponsored murder of children in Bethlehem. He encountered adultery and slavery with compassion and healing. Note the issues have not changed: cruelty, taxes, family, government sponsored terrorism, truth.
Defending our faith and Christian life and moral teachings with arguments will no longer suffice. We need to proclaim Christ by the life we live and the choices we make. Retreat into a fishbowl is not an option. No one will hear us or see us; they will simply pass by. Like Jesus we cannot abandon the world but are to embrace it in love and compassion.
We need to swim in the ocean of contemporary society. It will mean having to say ‘No’ to ourselves and our children, as we say ‘Yes’ to other values. Jesus taught, this will cause divisions within the family.
We will need to dialogue with our society, as Pope John XXIII encouraged, and be persuasive not by our arguments but by our lives. Like Jesus we will have to pay the price for making choices in opposition to society and even among other Christians. We will need to steep ourselves in prayer as individuals, as families, and a gathered community on Sundays for insight, discernment and strength. In this struggle of living out Christ, we need to be assured deep within us that we will be protected from the evil one. That being in the ocean of this world we are under the protective care of God.
The prayer climaxes as Christ prays, “As you [Father] have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world”. In one clear, verse Christ reminds us, the Church, that the pattern of his own life was not to escape from the world but to engage with the world and all of its distortions, wounds and pressures so that all people might have a more abundant life.