The 29th Sunday In Ordinary Time – The Homily
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” Hester Prynne, who was found to be guilty of an affair, was forced by the townsfolk to wear a scarlet “A” on her dress, branding her and an unfaithful woman.
Nevertheless, she attracted an interesting following. Hawthorne writes:
“But, in the lapse of the toilsome, thoughtful, and self-devoted years that made up Hester’s life, the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world’s scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, with reverence almost. And, as Hester Prynne had no selfish ends, nor lived in any measure for her own profit, people brought all their sorrows and perplexities, and besought her counsel, as one who had herself gone through a mighty trouble.
In the continually recurring trials of wounded, wasted, wronged, misplaced, erring and sinful passion, – or with the dreary burden of a heart unvalued and unsought, women, especially, came to Hester’s cottage, demanding why they were so wretched, and what the remedy might be.
Hester comforted and counseled them, as best she might.”
What do you do with challenging, difficult or debilitating experiences?
On the one hand, we can develop an attitude that is callous and self-righteous, judgmental and haughty.
- “Hey, I made it. Why can’t you?
- I mastered the skills to overcome. Just do it.
- Sure it’s hard but ‘winners find a way to win.'”
This attitude would be one interpretation of the passage found in today’s Gospel:
“You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.”
On the other hand, when we face challenging circumstances, we can gain valuable experience. Often find that such experiences provide opportunities for increased virtue such as humility, compassion, sympathy, understanding and patience.
BUT – this is advanced spirituality and pastoral practice. This is dangerous territory. It involves a new kind of listening. It involves a different kind of praying. It involves a focused exercise of discernment. So let’s look at these:
Joseph Tremblay is a university professor and leads Adult Faith Formation in Green Bay. When he is not writing for Sky View, a current event and topic-driven Catholic blog, or a guest on Relevant Radio, Joe is home with his wife and five children. I have referenced Tremblay’s work in previous blogs of mine. Joe comments that there are various ways of “listening.” A different “way of listening to the Lord is to first, not fight, but accept difficult circumstances that each of us encounter.”
This kind of prayer – this listening to God – is reflected in “A Letter to Proba” by Saint Augustine:
Why he should ask us to pray, when he knows what we need before we ask him, may perplex us if we do not realize that our Lord and God does not want to know what we want (for he cannot fail to know it) but wants us rather to exercise our desire through our prayers, so that we may be able to receive what he is preparing to give us. His gift is very great indeed, but our capacity is too small and limited to receive it. That is why we are told: Enlarge your desires, do not bear the yoke with unbelievers.
The deeper our faith, the stronger our hope, the greater our desire, the larger will be our capacity to receive that gift, which is very great indeed. No eye has seen it; it has no color. No ear has heard it; it has no sound. It has not entered man’s heart; man’s heart must enter into it.
Other spiritual writers call this “going deep.” It is a type of discernment. What is the Holy Spirit saying in THIS moment, in THIS circumstance? But you don’t “go deep” on your own. This type of discernment can be dark, and painful and humbling. You let Christ lead the way and go there together with Christ.
The two passages from the Scriptures today are relevant to this:
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.
Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many.
People who have the courage to “go deep” will be given opportunities to offer, “A word that will rouse the weary.” “Raising up the lowly and feeding those who are hungry for God.” Now, this is good and noble and admirable. But Joe Tremblay adds the ability to offer such virtue and assistance to others, just like Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, isn’t free and it isn’t cheap. It “comes with a price tag.”
Delivering a message makes a HUGH difference if you don’t deliver it the right way. 99% of the message is not what you say but now you say it. Our Augustinian friend, Father Allan Fitzgerald, O.S.A. often talks about saying the…
If we can follow the guidance and prompting of the Lord, He will place us …
And like Hester, we will have the opportunity to comfort and counsel them, as best we might.
Audio version of the homily is here: