After the Amazement, What's Next?

12 January 2009. Tuesday of the 1st Week in Ordinary Time
Hebrew 2, 5-12; Psalm 8; Mark 1, 21-28

I would like to say something about the Ordinary Season. The liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter focus on a specific aspect of the life of Jesus. Ordinary Time is that season of the liturgical year where we celebrate the mystery of Christ not in one specific aspect but in all its aspects. The readings in this season instruct us how to live our Christian life in our ordinary, day to day life.

In Mark’s Gospel, the first chapter is an introduction of Jesus, therefore, focuses on His identity. Therefore, our Gospel today shows to readers who Jesus is. Jesus has set his office in Capernaum and He has taught in the synagogue. But we don’t know what He taught, but we know how He taught the people: He taught with authority. He also did not just teach with words, He did what He taught and His words were just as powerful. And so He showed the power of His words by driving the demon out of the man with an unclean spirit. And what is the effect of His powerful teaching and action on the people? They were amazed and astonished. Thus, Jesus did not just teach with authority, but He also taught with much power! Because of this extraordinary and spellbinding power, His reputation and fame spread.

However, it is this popularity that brought Him to the cross. And so, Jesus is challenging us today. Shall we also follow Jesus even if it hurts? It is easy to follow someone at the height of his fame! It is easy when we are amazed, astonished, spellbound, thunderstrucked, speechless as in being star-struck. Those of us who love show business know what it means. Will we still remain fans when the going gets tough, when the following entails some sacrifice, when loyalty and faithfulness is challenged by ridicule? But the Gospel is clear in its challenge: those who are convinced to follow the One who was astonishing should also follow the way Jesus went.

This is precisely the difficulty in our daily lives. We are amazed and spellbound once in a while: perhaps in a beautiful mass or a great homily, or a truly meaningful retreat, or a great experience of God’s grace as winning a competition or being accepted in a dream university, or having achieved an item on our wish list. This is the time when Jesus’ words becomes true: “I will not abandon you till the end of time!” This is the time when we actually feel that God has done something for us. This is the time when God’s presence is palpable and real to us. This is the time when we are inspired!

In as much as we would like these overwhelming events to happen in our lives, our experiences tell us that there are more days when everything is like a desert: lifeless and parched, boring and drab, uneventful and ordinary like many of our days. Mother Teresa and many of the saints have felt desolate for many years. It is when we feel God’s absence; when we feel abandoned; or our life is becoming meaningless and empty. It is when the cross becomes true to our lives. This is the time when God is not “doing” something to us (meaning: we cannot FEEL it), but this is the moment when we are asked to identify with Him: we feel condemned just as He was condemned by the authorities and the people He served; we feel distressed just as He was distressed at the Agony in the Garden; we feel abandoned just as He was abandoned by His friends on His way to crucifixion; we feel crucified just as He was nailed to the cross!

I believe we are called to identify more with Jesus, to be LIKE Him in our day to day life. We should therefore reflect whether we are stuck with the amazement, or we are already moving towards being really like Him by identifying with Him in our desert experience and in His carrying of His cross. This is how we are stuck: we keep coming back to re-experience the good feelings but forget that Christian life is not just about feeling good!

This is my personal experience when I was moderator: many who have entered the Days With the Lord in 1995-97 keep returning to refresh themselves to the point of intimidating our high school leaders (the returnees were therefore college students). After all, these retreats were very affirming of us --- and who won’t (?!) with all the inspiring letters from family and friends! Plus the emotional songs and the constant hugs! Unfortunately, some (not all!) of these returnees remain the same as the first time they went to the retreat. Don’t get me wrong: I think these retreats should be initial experiences. That is why they are necessary. But there is the angle that life is not all about having inspirations, good feelings, or being amazed! We also have to advance and mature, perhaps, by finding a constant and daily style of prayer.

Sometimes we can get addicted to the good feelings and forget that these initial experiences should lead us to study when we feel so disappointed with ourselves; to remain faithful when we are tempted; to continually strive to serve even when we are uncomfortable; to come to mass even if the priest is boring (unfortunately!). It means to remain faithful to who we are and what we are as Christians even when the gasoline runs out or when the well runs dry. It means that we continue to choose what is good (or what is better!) inspired or not!

No comments: