We are in the thick of political battles with all kinds of promises
being made for a better, stronger, safer America. There is always
the great temptation to fall into our political defaults: either
to criticize the “cash and spend,” bleeding-heart
democrats or to blast allegedly heartless, fiscally conservative
republicans “who only care about policies that benefit the
wealthy and powerful.”
We are overloaded with sound bytes, staged political appearances
and half-truths. Such stereotypes are too convenient and facile
given the complexity of issues and the busyness of our lives.
Whom are we to believe?
There is no question that we are facing difficult times: the never
ending war in Iraq which is costing a fortune, the crisis in the
financial markets created from the bets made on sub-prime mortgages
by the supposedly brilliant head fund managers and senior executives
of the nation’s most powerful banks and mortgage companies,
the resulting decline in the housing industry stock market, rising
inflation and unemployment, the deterioration of the environment,
to name only a few issues. In times of prosperity we tend to feel
confident in our ability to secure our future through rising assets.
Where do we turn when the tide changes and the answers to problems
seem far from clear?
The prophet Isaiah attempted to reassure fellow Jews in the eighth
century before Christ that despite the darkness of advancing Assyrian
armies and the corruption of government officials all is not lost:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”
The first reading from Isaiah with the promise of God’s
help is indeed fulfilled in today’s Gospel as we hear the
exotic names of the region of Zebulon and Naphtali repeated in
Matthew’s direct quote from Isaiah. Matthew wrote for a
Jewish audience and he continually demonstrates throughout his
Gospel that Jesus alone fulfills the job description of the long
Yet the words Jesus preached are not the words we want to hear:
Repent! Change! Convert!
We want cheap grace to solve out problems instead of doing the
hard work of introspection, self-reflection and willingness to
How are we to be delivered from the present uncertainty?
We need the clarity of Jesus’ teaching with his repeated
warnings about being ready for the Kingdom and living here and
now according to its logic where the “first will be last
and vice versa.” Chances are those who live too comfortably
here, indifferent to the cries of others, have already enjoyed
their reward. I was amazed to discover that the etymology for
the English word “candidate” actually derives from
the Latin, candidatus. Even though I work regularly with Latin
and know candidus is the Latin term for “white,” I
had never thought of its connection with “a person seeking
public office” who in Roman antiquity needed to make sure
his toga was as white as possible to make a good impression.
We want our candidates to be clean, honest and transparent. Yet
we fail to recognize how difficult it is for us to do the same!
Candidates are skilled at promoting themselves through the expert
advice of campaign managers and image makers. They are self-appointed
to respond to the clamoring desires of large, usually powerful
constituencies. Disciples, on the other hand, like Peter and his
brother Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee are “called.”
So too are we. In the final analysis none of us is smart enough
to figure out why God called us and not others who are brighter,
braver, stronger. We can only guess some of the reasons why Jesus
was drawn to these particular men. As fishermen they must have
been hard workers, adaptable, patient, persevering and courageous
to deal with the sudden gales and storms at sea. The Sea of Galilee
was shaped like a harp, eight miles wide and 32 miles around.
Jesus began his public ministry in Galilee at the very moment
when John the Baptist had been arrested prefiguring Jesus’
own destiny and the risk that all of us take on as disciples.
We have just concluded the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
inaugurated by founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement,
Father Paul Watson, a former Episcopalian priest. He struggled
within the Episcopalian communion early in the 20th century to
convince clergy and laity of the need to reconcile the tragic
divisions which had resulted from the Anglican break with the
Bishop of Rome. He would certainly echo the concerns of Paul in
today’s second reading to the Corinthians, “that there
be no divisions among you.”
Yet tragically the divisions within the Catholic Church today
parallel in many ways the very factions condemned by Paul. How
many identify more with their favorite ideological group than
with the Church? He is a “right to life Catholic”;
she belongs to “Voice of the Faithful,” he is for
a married clergy, she is pro ordination of women, he belongs to
SNAP, she is in favor of the Tridentine Mass, he’s a liberal
theologian, she’s an arch-conservative. I have even heard
the proud expression of a bishop: “he’s a John Paul
II priest” as if priests ordained in the sixties and seventies
were less loyal and orthodox.
Let’s be content to be disciples of Christ pure and simple,
accepting and tolerant of other co-disciples of Christ. We all
have different glimpses of the Lord and grasp various perspectives
of his truth. But we need the full vision which Catholic communion
offers with its embrace of the four corners of the world and the
accumulated wisdom of twenty centuries of faithful witnesses from
every walk of life and every nation and language.