25th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 19 September 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Wisdom 2: 12, 17-20; Responsorial: Psalm 54; II: James 3: 16-4:3; Gospel: Mark 9: 30-37
Our Gospel reading for this Sunday concludes with Jesus telling us: “Whoever receives one child such as this, in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” This fascinating statement presents many profound opportunities and questions. The story of St. Anthony of Padua holding the infant Jesus is an illustration of this truth.
The story goes that Anthony was traveling through Limoges in France. Evening was coming so a friend of Anthony’s offered him a room for the night. Late that night the friend while walking by Anthony’s room observed a unique light coming through the cracks in the door. Upon looking in he was astounded to see Anthony holding a profoundly beautiful infant boy. The boy seemed to be smiling and caressing Anthony’s face. Anthony’s host realized it was the infant Jesus. In holding the child Jesus the saint was holding God. The story presents many questions. It also offers us a powerful lesson in the place of questions in our relationship with God. Questions for God..questions from our Lord..or simply, God questions.
For many Christians, there is a belief that we are to have unquestioning faith. The old statement: “God said it! I believe it! That’s good enough for me! This is a mantra of sorts when faced with questions about faith, life, God, or even each other. For some people of faith, it is felt to be possibly even a sin to question God. This thought process is often linked to questions flowing the other way as well. Why would God ask questions of me a lowly sinner? Yet this supposed humility and faith is neither taught nor exemplified in the Scriptures or the lives of the saints. Any healthy, growing relationship involves asking questions. It is how we learn, how we grow in understanding each other and of life itself. While loving reverence and faith in our conversations with God is vital so is freedom from fear and from pretending that questions don’t exist.
Returning to St. Anthony for a moment we have an excellent example. Humility and simple faith were vital elements for the Franciscans. To live the life of the Gospels was the basic rule for Francis and the early members of the order. In fact, St. Francis was very cautious of excessive learning and possible pride of intellect weakening his brothers and himself. Anthony was an exception that helped Francis realize that study, learning could actually enhance their faith. Anthony came from a very well-educated background. He had first been in an order whose focus was academic. Yet Anthony was able to integrate his intellect and his simple faith in a powerful walk with his Savior and that was evidenced in his preaching. The story of the saint holding the baby Jesus expresses the depth of the humble loving hunger to embrace God. And it is often, in the God questions we have our embrace of God can truly grow!
It is a simple, albeit often unwelcome, part of life that we encounter foggy days in our journey. It is part of creation and part of God’s design that we may not always see, clearly, what may lie ahead. This should cause us to slow down. Look carefully for the next step, and even to ask questions.
In our Gospel today the followers of Jesus were facing increasing foggy uncertainty. While Jesus was teaching them, clearly, they were not getting the message. And they were afraid to ask questions. Instead, they were debating among themselves other questions, particularly who was going to be the greatest. So often we waste precious time and energy debating and questioning many matters with each other instead of simply seeking God, God’s wisdom, and God’s answers. We wander around in our fogs of pride and human understanding instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to bring us the clarity we need.
God Questions are two-fold. First, we must allow, we must recognize that our Lord has questions for us. Study the Gospels, study God’s relationship with the Old Testament saints. The infusions of questions, invitations, and challenges permeated the lives of the followers, the seekers of God. Abraham did not know how or where God was leading. And while he followed in true faith he also had many questions for God. Our Blessed Mother welcomed Gabriel’s annunciation that she was to bear the Messiah. But Mary was also unafraid to ask “How can this be?” God has many questions for us. Will you come to me at Mass? Will you pray instead of worrying about the problems you face? Will you forgive, as I forgive you? Will you take up your cross? And most deeply…Will you trust me? Will you love me?
Indeed the challenges are great in the questions God would ask of us. And many are the questions we will have as we follow Christ, just as it was for Abraham, for Mary, for all His followers. Of course we must be loving and reverent before our Lord. But to pretend we don’t have questions for God is neither loving or reverent. To pretend we have no questions is dishonest and hypocritical. We must faithfully seek God, God’s wisdom and answers without fear or doubt. And very often we need to share our questions for God with and through each other. Sometimes we may be reluctant to ask a question of a priest, a teacher, in a class or even after Mass. We may worry we may appear stupid or ignorant. Well for some of us that ship has already sailed. But seriously the only dumb question is the one not asked. Sometimes teachers, leaders may not want questions. There are those leaders who expect their presumed wisdom and authority, their education is simply to be accepted. That is very perilous and foolish for all concerned. It is essential that we humbly confess that none of us has all the answers. It is liberating to experience that together, in the wisdom and Presence of God we can find the answers.
Much has been written and shared for the faithful of the perils of modern relativism. The perils can be very real. If we try to manipulate God, the teachings of our faith into the labyrinths of science or social feelings we can lose sight of the Truth that is the Person of Jesus Christ. If we allow our understandings, feelings or agendas to dictate our relationship with God and our faith we develop false gospels where only what the individual thinks or believes is relevant. This applies in matters of morality and our relationships (personal, social, economic and environmentally). But it also applies in our faith when religious or liturgical preferences are manipulated by personal preferences and misconceptions no matter how pious or traditional they may appear. All this breeds a culture where to truly allow God’s questions for us and our questions for God to be freely shared is quenched. Modern relativism is indeed a real peril. But the danger of not allowing our faith, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to be shared in ways that are truly RELEVANT is even more dangerous. To disallow the human soul to ask..”how does this apply to me? Why would God allow me to be this way? Or to disallow God to ask a damaged, crippled soul to come to Him is mortally and morally treachorous. Both modern relativism and a rejection of allowing our faith to be fully relevant is to deny the very wisdom of God shared in our second reading from James.
The Wisdom of God is experienced in a growing dynamic and relevant relationship with God. It is discovered when, as James teaches, if we lack wisdom ASK of God for it and He will give it freely. It is in our God questions we grow in His wisdom that is pure, peaceable, gentle, merciful, secure and abounding in good fruits.
God Questions are questions from God that will challenge us, pierce our souls and bring us into His His nail-scarred embrace. God questions… where we, in love and trust, ask of God the queries of our soul, our life, as we seek to navigate our quest for Him who is the Way, the Truth and our Life.
We must never fear allowing God to ask His questions of us. And we must never fear asking our questions of God.
As long as we honestly allow God to answer.