Our experience of life can be very full. Each day seems jam-packed with things we have to do, places we are expected to be, relationships we are responsible for. Even when something causes an interruption to this flow of activity—say, illness or accident, or something more benign like vacation or retirement—we quickly fill up our time with a whole new set of concerns.
Exploring the Word
A-B-C. 1-2-3. These are among the first lessons a child learns in our culture. Our earliest formal training reveals something about what society deems valuable and necessary to know. We have to master our alphabet so that we can participate in the world of ideas symbolically represented all around us in the form of written words.
“Early and often,” as the first reading suggests, we know where our actions are taking us. We know, for example, that violent means do not lead to peaceful ends. Yet we pursue them over and over, hoping the laws of human dynamics will change this time, just this once, just for us.
Travel to the bottom line of your life, for a moment. What’s there? What is your life about—what are you about? Are all your energies directed toward getting by? Getting your way? Being successful? Being invisible? Obeying orders? Doing what’s right? Following your heart? Following your appetites?
Let’s have a show of hands: Who gave up something for Lent this year? For many Catholics, the Lenten sacrifice is part and parcel of these 40 days. It’s another reason to wear penitential purple: 40 days without chocolate. Without dessert. Without coffee.
Remember when you were a kid, and you thought the Bible was a very large book of animal tales? The story went something like this: God created the world and all the animals including people in six days. Then later God drowned most of the people because they wouldn’t do what they were supposed to do but saved the animals in an ark.
Growing up in a small coal town in the East, everything about our lives was circumscribed by the mines. Most of the men worked in the mines. Families lived in row homes owned by the mining companies. We kids played on the banks created by the digs, and begged the steam shovel drivers to beep their horns for us.
As a young priest, Oscar Romero was passionate about books and the education of the mind. But when he was unexpectedly named the bishop of El Salvador, he turned from the world of academic learning and felt a growing passion for the oppression of the poor in his country. As a young woman, Dorothy Day gave her heart to the bohemian lifestyle of the smart, successful, popular people of her generation. But through a series of losses, she began to look deeper for meaning and purpose in her life, first by becoming a Catholic, and later by surrendering her heart to the needs of the homeless.
Not being versed in the sacred texts of other world religions, I can only wonder: Do other scriptures present their own constituents as badly as the Old Testament does its chosen people? Even before the Israelite nation per se arrives on the scene, the cast of protagonists in the Bible desperately wants a course in ethics.
Comparisons between Jesus and Jonah go back a long way. One might say that Jesus started it. One day the Pharisees came to him insisting on proof of his authority. Jesus was so angered by this demand—weren’t his teachings and miracles proof enough?—that he declared the only sign this evil generation would get is the sign of Jonah.