Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. -Mark 10:2-16
Advocate of the weak and marginalized, Jesus chose to befriend (and eat with!) sinners, prostitutes, the unclean, the poor. Particularly vulnerable in Jesus’ time, women and children needed the institutional protection of family and marriage to survive. In this Sunday’s Gospel some Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce. Jesus answers with a cadence of anger against arbitrary use of power over the weak, “For hardness of heart this commandment was written for you!”The Gospel reading ends with Jesus blessing children whom even the disciples tried to turn away.
The meditation prompts this week press against hardness of heart and are drawn from monastic sources. The monastic vow of chastity seeks to uphold human relationships of mutuality without dominance, exploitation, or power imbalances, stressing love over lust. A strategy in accomplishing something this difficult may require the skill of humility over the strength of asceticism (meditation one).The vocation of love encompasses all vocations (meditation two).Monastics (and many Christians) intentionally choose a prophetic life outside the mainstream as a way of love and as insight into the lives of the marginalized (meditation three).
From the Edge of the Enclosure, Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) holy charity
A friar inquired of Friar Giles and said unto him: "Father, teach me in what manner we may keep ourselves from carnal sin." Whereto Friar Giles made answer: "My brother, he who would stir any great weight or any great rock and move it into another place should study to move it more by skill than by strength. And so we, in like manner, if we would conquer carnal sins and obtain the virtues of chastity, may better obtain them by humility and by good and wise spiritual regimen than by our presumptuous austerity and violence of penance."…
… A friar asked Friar Giles, saying: "Father, is not the virtue of charity greater and more excellent than that of chastity?" And Friar Giles said: "Tell me, brother, what thing in this world is there to be found more chaste than holy charity?"
- The Little Flowers of St. Francis, trans. W. Heywood (1906)
Child Jesus Reclining, Monk Michael, New Skete, late 20th century
Truly I tell you whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will not enter it.Mark 10:15
As a parish priest I gave the smallest size versions of Child Jesus Reclining to very young children as their very first personal icon. One mother called this icon "bumper bed baby Jesus napping in the heavens." The wooden icons are easily held and indestructible. http://www.skete.com
Franciscan Allegory of Chastity, Detail, Giotto c. 1330
Meditation Two (insight) the little way
Therese’s “little way” discloses to us the inexhaustible depths of the commonplace, where each choice to love is that point of intersection of the timeless with time, where the impossible union, the mystery of the Incarnation, takes place in our lives.Love is a step-by-step journey into the heartland of the ordinary, choice by choice, choice within choice.
-Marc Foley, O.C.D. The Love That Keeps Us Sane: Living the Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux
In her autobiographical writing Therese of Lisieux expresses her frustration that as a cloistered nun (and woman) she can't fulfill her heroic ambitions in vocations such as priest, martyr, apostle, missionary, or teacher. The following quote describes Therese’s breakthrough while thinking about Paul’s analogy of gifts of the spirit as parts of the body (I Corinthians 12:1-31) and the discourse on love which follows. First Corinthians chapter 13 ends with this line, “these three remain: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love” (13:13). The capitals and italics are hers.
I understood that LOVE COMPRISED ALL VOCATIONS, THAT LOVE WAS EVERYTHING, THAT IT EMBRACED ALL TIMES AND PLACES…IN A WORD, THAT IT WAS ETERNAL! Then, in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: O Jesus, my love… my vocation, at last I have found it…MY VOCATION IS LOVE! Yes, I have found my place in the Church…. I shall be Love.Thus I shall be everything and thus my dream will be realized.
-Therese of Lisieux(1873- 1897)The Story of a Soul
Meditation Three (integration) marginal by choice
Religious are marginal by choice, but that marginality is in the service of prophecy, not of escapism. From the edges of the system there is a view of what the system does to those who are excluded, to those who are made means to other people's ends. If contemplation fosters immediacy to God, marginality fosters immediacy to the oppressed. The religious wants to be where the cry of the poor meets the ear of God. To feel the pathos of God is not a warm and comfortable religious experience; it is an experience of the howling wilderness driving one to protest.
To cheat oneself out of love is the most terrible deception.It is an eternal loss for which there is no reparation, either in time or eternity.”
“To Cheat Oneself Out of Love”
Before I became cripplingly challenged by high school math I hadn't noticed that students in my high school were tracked into vocational streams - those going to college rarely had classes with those slated for going into a trade. After struggling beyond my level of competency, I was put into a remedial algebra class with the 'hoods', that is, students who generally wore black clothes, faux-leather jackets, short skirts, heavy eye-makeup, teased hair, and who always seemed to me a bit threatening.
I wore black too, but my artistic black represented a different expression of identity than 'hoody' black. One of my teachers used to call out to me in the hall while classes were changing, “Brighter colors, Suzanne!” I was nervous among these other slow math students. But not for long. My new friends were sweet, welcoming, interesting, and, yes, smart, although challenged in math like me, bored and resistant to learning as I was. I felt loved by the 'hoods' and I loved them and couldn't figure out why we hadn't been friends all along. I realized I'd been carrying around a really stupid prejudice I hadn't even known I had. The friendship landscape opened up, and so did my heart.
I've caught myself in scores of prejudices since, both elevating people above some imaginary status line and dismissing others below it and with much more serious implications than what style of black I'm wearing. I love the security of my prejudices. Hardness of heart keeps me perversely organized. But can I really count on such organization while following a man who said, “the last shall be first”?
Hardness of heart keeps me safe in my place. But that's another irritant of Christianity. Do you really have a 'place' when you follow the man who said, “foxes have holes and birds have nests but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head?” If Christians have a 'place' it must be on the prophetic margins of discomfort in empathy with the marginalized.
My worst prejudices are still the ones I don't know I have, still blinding me to truth, still hardening my heart in embarrassing ways for a supposedly open-hearted liberal striving for universal compassion. HA!
But broken prejudices, however humiliating, have always opened me to new people and ideas, and a wider sense of compassion, understanding, and wisdom. Kierkegaard said, “To cheat oneself out of love is the most terrible deception. It is an eternal loss for which there is no reparation, either in time or eternity.”
Every small hardness of heart cheats me of the love within which was born to thrive. And surely love is more desirable than temporal security or status.