Saturday, December 23, 2006

With Great Power ....

Third Saturday of Advent
Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24
Psalm 25:4-5AB, 8-9, 10 and 14
Luke 1:57-66

Someone had asked about Wednesday's posting: Why would a sign have been a bad thing? The line that came to my mind upon reading that I remember mostly from the ads for one of the recent Spiderman movies: "With great power comes great responsibility" (official attribution is up for debate). While initially, the thought of a sign, or additional power or whatever it might be, may sound nice .... once the reality sinks in, it sometimes loses its luster. For example, a few years ago I got to experience the election of our new prioress — I remember having the thought that, while it might be nice to have your name come up for consideration, it's probably just as nice to have it dropped out of consideration after a certain point. After all, being the ultimate head of a community of 185 women has an awful lot of responsibility that goes along with it — a lot of decisions to make, a lot of people to guide, and a lot of everything for which you are the end of the line; the buck stops there.

In some respects, it's a similar situation to my entering religious life. No longer do I get to be "just Steph"; now I am Sister Stephanie, a Sister of Saint Benedict of Ferdinand, Indiana. Anonymity is no longer a privilege that I get to exercise. I continually am reminded of the fact that any and everything that I may do or not do, say or not say, may be viewed not just as my doing or not doing, but as potentially representing my community, or perhaps all Benedictines, or maybe even women religious in general, or even all Catholics. In becoming a part of this community four years ago, I gained immeasurably in so many aspects of my life; at the same time, I also gained immeasurable levels of responsibility. And, while it might be nice sometimes to dream of the days when I used to be able to blend into the background and not be noticed, ultimately the challenges of the added responsibility are worth the blessings and gifts gained from the community.

But it's not necessarily something to enter into lightly. That's why church law dictates that the process to become a fully-committed member of a community takes a minimum of four years, with most communities requiring a couple more years beyond that. There's a lot involved, and they want us to be sure that we know what we're getting ourselves into. While you can enter into the life with some sense of what the idea of not getting married or having kids can mean, it's not until you've lived the life that you begin to fully understand how ideas like "obedience" can play out. "Oh sure, monastic poverty, I get that idea" .... until you start teaching and realize that you have to seriously calculate which of your student's plays you'll be able to attend. And then, of course, there's the practical issue of living in community .... with 184 other women. Many of the initial romantic ideas of "life in a convent" don't actually play out in real life. My kids always ask me if it's like The Sound of Music or Sister Act ..... ummmmm, not quite! It's a good life, definitely, but it's not always an easy life.

Of course it's hard! It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.
~ A League of Their Own

Think, too, of Mary. We've heard it so often, we see it as a nice, sweet little story. But think of the reality. This young girl, unmarried, becomes pregnant. I'm sure that goes over real well with family and friends, even with the story of the angel. And what about her fiance? I've got friends who have broken off engagements due to infidelity, and that's even without a resultant pregnancy. Plus, there's the added element that the culture of the time required that adulterous women (which would also apply to an unmarried pregnant girl) would be killed — specifically, by having big huge rocks thrown at them until they die. Not a happy situation, by any means. There was a whole heck of a lot of stuff involved in her "Yes." Sure, being Mother of God, that'd be pretty cool .... but there's a lot more to it, too.

Our readings today also show that paradox: something that seems great and wonderful at first glance, but then once reality sinks in somehow it doesn't necessarily seem quite so cool.

In Malachi, we are told that "suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek." Whoo-hoo! Yay! He's on his way. Except .... "Who will abide the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears?" Ruh-roh. Reality check. He's gonna come like "a refiner's fire ... to purify the sons of Levi" — that doesn't sound too cool. Purifying? That's like a massive scrubdown to make things really clean. When I think of the massive scrubdown I have to give pots and pans sometimes at dinner ..... I don't know, maybe this isn't such a cool idea. I'm not sure if I can abide that day .... that "great and terrible day."

And, in the gospel, with the birth of John the Baptist, there's a similarly change of heart among the villagers. Initially, they were pretty happy with what had happened: [Elizabeth's] neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her. Pretty cool stuff — for so long this woman has been unable to have a kid, and now she's got one. That's awesome! But then Zechariah, who had been unable to speak even since the birth of the baby was foretold, was suddenly able to speak and began blessing God, the people began to get freaked out: Then fear came upon all their neighbors, [wondering] "What, then, will this child be? For surely the hand of the Lord was with him."

I guess the best part of these readings for me, then, is the reassurance that I'm not the only one who might be tempted to chicken out after looking beyond the first impression. The important thing, I think, is to realize that it's just human nature to freak out .... but at the same time to try, like Mary, to "do it anyway."

Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God's commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.
~ from the Prologue of the Rule of Benedict

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a wonderful homily.

Bless you sister Steph.

Merry Christmas - looking for another year of our friendship.

Joel

12/25/2006 11:23 AM  
Blogger Natty said...

Wow! Preach it, Sista! You got the gift! I can only imagine being able to, say, sit in your class and hear this stuff coming straight from the proverbial horse's mouth--with the accompanying gestures and facial expressions!

Miss you!!

12/27/2006 10:53 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Another really powerful and insightful reflection! Thank YOU!!

12/27/2006 9:39 PM  

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