BASED, NOT ON HUMAN WISDOM, BUT ON THE POWER OF GOD

Novena in Honor of the Sweet Name of Mary
Dulce Nombre Cathedral-Basilica
Hagatna, Guam
4th Day: September 1, 2008

Based on 1 Cor 2:1-5 / Lk 4:16-30

I have just gone for a pilgrimage following some of the footsteps of St. Paul last May of this year in Greece, Turkey, and the Holy Land. Everything I saw, of course, was memorable, (even if I cannot remember the many details of what I saw and heard in those three places). Whilst everything was impressive and worth remembering, one seemingly insignificant detail remains etched in my memory and my thoughts. It is that little cove and port in Rhodes used by Paul in the year 58 AD that specially impressed me the most. From atop the acropolis of Rhodes, the port looked unimpressive at all. There was nothing that would make it stand out at first blush. But upon knowing what kind of port that was, then I kept mental tab of it, then – and now.

The port I refer to is a hidden one. It is like an inland cove, separated by a bluff that had a very narrow opening. From atop the acropolis, one could not even see the tiny opening in the bluff that separated the open sea and that inland cove and port. Only tiny vessels could have fitted in there, tiny boats that would definitely have been very dangerous to ride on out in the open sea, totally at the mercy of the unpredictable elements and the twists and turns of the weather patterns.

I was led to think of how daring and adventurous St. Paul was. But there was more in my thoughts. I was led also to think about the power that Paul must have had to brave the seas, to face up to the challenges of globalized travel which, at that time, must have been indeed more than just difficult. They must have been very dangerous, as indeed, he reports to us, recounting the shipwrecks he experienced in all this missionary journeys.

St. Paul, however, gives us a clue as to where that power comes from. Make no mistake about it. This is not shallow spiritualizing on his part. This is boasting, but boasting humbly in the Lord, as he puts it. This is the great, adventurous, and daring Paul, who, to use a phrase popularized by somebody you know very well, showed us what it means to have the audacity of hope.

That power, he says, comes from outside of him, above and beyond him. That power comes from the Spirit, the same Spirit, that the rest of the disciples born of normal course, as it were, witnessed and received in forms of tongues of fire and blowing wind on the day of Pentecost. Paul, the great missionary, impelled by the Spirit of the Lord, gives credit to whom credit is due – to God who sent His Son and to the Spirit that proceeded from the Father and the Son.

How many of us can do a Paul and give credit to whom credit is due? How many of us can really honestly step out of ourselves, and our world, and see reality from the vantage point of God? How many of us can distance ourselves from our own misguided sense of autonomy (the attitude that precisely leads us to “play God”), and attribute to God the so many good things we think we do?

Today’s first reading from Paul is a telling lesson on humility and truth. Paul claims the power that propelled him to do what he had done. That power is what led him to do the unthinkable, to do the impossible, and to achieve what is ordinarily unachievable. But he takes care that we get to know from whom it comes, who is the author of it all, to whom credit and honor, and glory is due. He attributes it to the power from on high.

The Lord in the gospel offers us a similar lesson. He was led by the Spirit to speak in the synagogue, where he told his listeners just what his mission statement was. Humble like Paul was, he spoke about being sent, to do humble things: to give the good news to humble folks – the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and give sight to the blind. He was a man sent. He was a man with a mission. And today, he lays claim to it in humility and truth. He boasts in God’s name, and boasts humbly in His name. But take note, that he boasts only insofar as he is sent, impelled, and empowered by the Spirit.

We must complete the picture of humble empowerment painted by Scripture and Tradition. There was someone else, whose birthday we are looking forward to, who was also humbly boasting in the Lord. That someone’s name, of course, is Mary, blessed among all women. Given the initial call from above, she proclaimed in all humility, “how can this be since I do not know man?” But the insistent messenger told her like it is: “the Spirit will overshadow you and you shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall name him Emmanuel, God-with-us.” And having been given those powerful words, she all the more humbly declared, but this time with a perfect attitude of “dancing with the music of the Spirit,” “Be it done to me according to your word!”

We are back to the happy mean between playing God and playing human. Mary, was as human as you and I. But Mary did not demure forever. She did not hem and haw and protested endlessly. She cooperated. She obeyed. She followed what Barack Obama, could only faintly and much less credibly claim – the audacity of hope.

One of my revered Salesian bishops who lived, worked and died in India, Archbishop Louis Mathias, had this interesting motto that is related to what I speak of now: “Aude et Spera!” Dare and hope. Like Paul he dared. Like Paul and Mary, he hoped. Empowered from above, all three – Paul, Mary, and Louis – did great things. That is why they could boast, and boast humbly in the Lord. And they could do so only because the power they showed in doing those great things, was really power that comes from above, power that they met with cooperation.

I quote some lines from D.H. Lawrence:

Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!
A fine wind is blowing the new direction of Time.
If only I let it bear me, carry me, if only it carry me!
If only, I am sensitive, subtle, oh, delicate, a winged gift!
If only, most lovely of all, I yield myself and am borrowed
By the fine, fine wind that takes its course through the chaos of the world
Like a fine, an exquisite chisel, a wedge-blade inserted;
If only I am keen and hard like the sheer tip of a wedge
Driven by invisible blows,
The rock will split, we shall come at the wonder, we shall find the Hesperides.


St. Paul was led by the Spirit and he obeyed. Mary, too, was overshadowed by the Spirit and she cooperated. Jesus, starting out in his public life, listened to the Spirit and he was led to declare his mission statement. Paul may not have found the mythical garden called the Hesperides, but he found greatness … greatness that he did not give to himself, but greatness given to him from above. Mary may not have cultivated beautiful rose gardens. Being poor, she most probably could not do anything similar or related to it. But she found more than just a garden of delights. She found total delight in living according to God’s word. Put into the picture the thousands and thousands of saints in the roster of the Church and you have a company of blessed ones who had faith, based not on human wisdom, but on the power of God.

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