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31 October 2010

Vespers Reflection

As best as it can be reconstructed from my memory [running time, seven minutes or so]:

A reading from the Book of Wisdom.


Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance
or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things;
and you overlook people's sins that they may repent.
For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
But you spare all things, because they are yours,
O LORD and lover of souls,
for your imperishable spirit is in all things!
Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little,
warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing,
that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!


I must confess, I forgot that tonight we will be celebrating the vigil of the solemnity of All Saints.  However, I think that this particular reading from the Book of Wisdom ties nicely into our celebration.  You see, the Book of Wisdom was written about one hundred years before the birth of Christ in Egypt.  The Jewish author wrote it at a time when the Jewish faith was under attack from both within and without.  The author used the image, the type, of Lady Wisdom to attempt to pull together a faith community that was hemorrhaging members.  In particular, the author concerned himself with apostatizing Jews attacking the faith community.  This text was his inspired effort - God's Word - to pull them back together.  In some ways, then, the author and his Jewish community faced a situation similar to the one we face in Boston at the present moment.  We are battered and broken here losing members, circumstances conspiring against us, but not without hope.  And we are led to the feast of All Saints: a time  to remember those who have gone before us and kept the faith, and also a time to recognize the saintly people that minister with us and to us at the present time.  


There are three pieces from tonight's reading upon which I wanted to focus.  


Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance
or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.



How little are we, when compared to God and His infinite goodness.  No matter what we seem to do, our God keeps giving and giving.  This is his generosity and something that we are called to imitate.  Recently, I read a book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, about a doctor, Paul Farmer.  Dr. Farmer originally worked at the Brigham and Women's Hospital down the road from here, but has spent the majority of his career working in Haiti, Peru, Russia and beyond, attempting to heal people with Multiple Drug Resistant Tuberculosis, or MDR.  A particular point in the book that stood out to me was his coining of the phrase, "hermeneutic of generosity."  The concept is simple.  The hermeneutic of generosity calls us into a posture in which we give people the benefit of the doubt, a posture where we naturally look for the good in others, instead of the bad.  It is a calling to be more likely to give that to take.  There are two friars in particular who stand out this regard.  Both Erik [a friar in the house] and Jim Gavin always manage to look for the good in people.  And, quite frankly, how frustrating it is to me.  I find myself often wishing that I might be as generous in my opinions as they are.  Indeed, we are called to imitate God in this posture of generosity on a daily basis.


And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?



I recently sat in on a spirituality group held at the Shattuck Hospital.  I found one comment revealing.  A patient emphatically made the point that we must not forget that God can obliterate us all at any time of his choosing.  True enough, of course, but rather dark as well.  However, it is only one part of the equation.  It isn't in God's nature to obliterate, to destroy.  Surely, it is within His power, but our God is not capricious, not vindictive.  Once again, he takes the posture of generosity with us: the hermeneutic of generosity.


Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little,
warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing,
that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!



In this last passage, we find a God who constantly prods us along, who constantly calls us to conversion.  I am reminded of the passage from the Capuchin Constitutions, in which we are reminded that our formation never ends, that we are constantly being called to be conformed to the image of Christ.  Again, our generous God gives us the time needed to find our way to Him, with the example and presence of Jesus.


All in all then, this reading does fit with the Solemnity of All Saints.  Today, we hear a description of the generosity of God, the call to all of us to be saints and to be generous with His people, regardless of the consequences.  Tomorrow, we celebrate those who have gone before us who have kept this posture of generosity and learn from there example.  And, the day after, on the Feast of All Souls', we're reminded to use this posture to find those souls which have fallen through the cracks.  Amen.

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