ROBUR AB ASTRIS ... 21st Sunday (Year C) | August 21, 2016



21st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C
August 21, 2016

Readings: Is 66:18-21 / Heb 12:5-7, 11-13 / Lk 13:22-30

ROBUR AB ASTRIS (STRENGTH FROM THE STARS)!

Last week, I wrote about the difficult struggle of a climb I did with friends at Mt. Ugu in Northern Philippines 26 years back. The support of my own little version of my "cloud of witnesses" kept me going, until we all safely made it to the destination, where we were able to celebrate Mass. One thing beautiful about trekking up heights is the difference that is made when one keeps the goal in sight, when one sees the ultimate destination in the looming, but beckoning distance. The sight of the summit, as much forbidding as inviting, keeps one focused on the goal. The view of one's destination, though seemingly unreachable, keeps one pining for more, walking some more, putting in just a little bit more effort each time, at least to put one foot before the other, "one step at a time."

The big difference is made by one's ability to keep the goal in sight, both physically and figuratively. One gains strength by merely focusing on the ultimate goal. This happened to me the first time I climbed Mt. Kanlaon in Negros island in southern Philippines. The smoldering, smoking crater, that sharply jutted out of the relative flatness of Margaha valley, was something one saw for a long, long while, as one inched his or her way toward the smoke-smothered summit.

Our readings today continue the theme of difficulty taken up last week. But this Sunday, the focus in on one having the strength to face that very difficulty. Where last week, we read that Jeremiah suffered and paid a very high price for his "prophetic criticizing" and for preaching the truth, this Sunday, we get a glimpse of the hopeful imagination of Isaiah, and his "prophetic energizing" as he speaks of a vision of a great "ingathering" of peoples from all corners of the world.

What Isaiah sees ... his vision, his reporting - in God's name - of God's dream, is what energized, not only him, but the people he was - and still is - speaking to. Strength comes from what one sees. When one has a vision of what's coming up ahead, one gets the necessary push to go on. The ability to face difficulties has to do a lot with what one sees, and where one is going to.

The letter to the Hebrews (2nd reading) takes up the same thematic as it reframes the issue of suffering as discipline that comes from God himself. Discipline of all kinds, is ordinary cause for "pain, not joy." But in the same breath, the letter declares, that "later, it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it." Whether it will all turn out for "joy or pain" depends a whole lot on how one sees it all. It is all a matter of vision.

I have it on the authority of schema therapists, that many of our problems can be attributed to what they call false schemas or "cognitive distortions."  What one sees is what one gets. False belief systems that remain embedded in one's psyche dictate one's feelings, and both cognition and emotion then influence greatly what one does. Healing, according to the same therapists, could only take place when one heals one's sight, and makes one capable once more of seeing wholes and not disparate parts.

We all have the tendency to see the pain and never the gain that can accrue from it. We all can very easily look at life as represented by a narrow door that the gospel speaks about. We can get so focused on the reality of the "narrow door" that we fail to notice the other side of that narrow door - a path that leads straight to glory, a straight road that leads direct to God.

I have reported to my readers on several occasions my recent experiences of deep pain and personal suffering. One in pain is hurting in many more senses that just one. One can feel abandoned, rejected, unwanted, and uncared for - rightly or wrongly. But the deepest hurt takes place in one's ability to see rightly. One's tears can truly cover one's eyesight literally and figuratively, on the one hand. But on the other hand, these same tears could become the "telescopes by which we can see far into heaven" as one writer has said many years ago.

It is all a matter of vision ...

What then would offer us the strength to be able to enter through the gospel's "narrow door?" What would it take us to gain strength to squeeze oneself through our own "cistern" experiences of rejection and personal suffering?

The readings today seem to offer us a clear answer. They counsel us to change eyeglasses, to change the way we look at things, to see beyond, and see things that most people do not see, do not want to see, or cannot see, for one reason or another. They tell us to see rightly, to see more, not less, given the eyes of faith that have been given us as gift.

Superstitious Roman pagans of old can teach us a lesson or two. Believing in fate and the positioning of stars, in the pseudo-science of astrology, they found solace and strength in the stars up in the firmament. Robur ab astris ... they would say. ... strength from the stars.

Ironically enough, this is exactly what I suggest the readings tell us today. They counsel us to see more not less. Pain is not mere earthly suffering. Pain is reframed by God's Word as "discipline," as a stepping stone towards greatness and holiness. "So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed" (2nd reading).

The star of our faith is worth giving a second look to. It helps us see the whole instead of parts. The whole does not consist of that "narrow door" alone, but what lies behind that narrow door. But we need eyes to see. We need to set our sights on the goal.

What or who then is our goal? ... no less than the Lord who reproves us because He loves us, who, on account of that same love, disciplines us, and who scourges every son or daughter he acknowledges.

What sort of stars do you see?

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