13th Sunday of Ordinary Time


by Bishop Marty Shanahan

Are we willing to live with the ambiguity of the paradoxes of faith long enough to learn what the paradoxes of faith have to teach us about ourselves and our God?

I’d like to begin our reflection tonight with a question:

What do you think has been the most consistently growing and most profitable franchise movement in the past 10 years?

Believe it or not….it has been reported by numerous organizations that the most consistent growing and most profitable franchise sector is STORAGE.

As a culture, Americans are collecting stuff at a rate that is heretofore been unseen. If you doubt, just count the number of storage places you see in the next week or two.

We collect stuff – and we collect a lot of stuff! I am not by any means better than anyone else. I have stuff which I have not seen, opened, used, worn, or read for years. Attic full, basement full, garage full – I attribute some of that to growing up with parents who survived the great depression. We threw nothing away when I was growing up, because we could always use it for something else, or make something from it.

But the problem is that I have not learned that times have changed and my life has changed. I will probably never get the time to make a quilt out of all the pants, shirts, and sweaters that I have kept over all these years.

In many ways, the Gospel today reminds us that the Spiritual Life is a lot like confronting the problem of stuff in our lives.

The problem is that the confrontation of the Gospel comes to us in the form of a paradox.

Rev. Colleen has often spoken of this paradox of faith, and it is true, and it can be very challenging.

If you lose your life for my sake you will find it.

Are we willing to live with the ambiguity of the paradoxes of faith long enough to learn what the paradoxes of faith have to teach us about ourselves and our God?

But what is a paradox?

Paradox

a :  a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true

c :  an argument that apparently derives self-contradictory conclusions by valid deduction from acceptable premises.

The beauty of any paradox is that is causes us to stop, to think, to ponder, and to digest what, and who, and how it can possibly work?

I believe almost all of you know this about me but let me start with one of the greatest paradoxes of my own life because you might find some of your own in it as well.

“Good evening everyone, my name is Marty, and I am an alcoholic!”

No rational explanation will ever account for how gathering together a bunch of folks weekly, to talk about their joint disease of alcoholism, works to control that disease. How talking about how the disease has wreaked havoc in their lives, personally and professionally, and how it affects their families and loved ones, keeps them from turning back to alcohol. How talking would ever be the one thing that helps keep them from consuming alcohol defies every concieveable notion of rational thought. That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. But I am living proof, that despite aparent reason, it works.

And I believe it works because it is one of the paradoxes of the Spiritual Life – In Paul’s Second letter to the community at Corinth, Paul says: That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 COR 12:10

This paradox of the Spiritual life has taught me much and continues to teach me much as well.

One of the greatest realizations, one of the most impactful learnings that I have gained from my own woundedness and powerlessness, is just how little I know and understand about God.

Socrates-the ancient philosopher understood this reality quite well. He said Wisdom is knowing what we do not know!

Another learning I have gathered from this paradox is what we do as a community tonight. You see my friends, if the invitation of the Spiritual Life is an invitation into a relationship with God, then why do we gather as a community?

We gather because I am stronger, deeper, more faithfilled, because we are! Archbishop Desmond Tutu coined a term for it – Ubuntu – which he came to understand through the tragedies of apartheid. Ubuntu means this: me is only possible, because we are.

We gather because your holiness, your understandings, your learnings enrich my life and mine enrich yours. The Spiritual Life reaches fulfillment in OUR relationship with God, not in MY relationship with God.

Are we willing to live with the ambiguity of the paradoxes of faith long enough to learn what the paradoxes of faith have to teach us about ourselves and our God?

– Bishop Marty