Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fourth Sunday of the Year (B)

[The following was preached, in Italian, for the Convent of St. Dominic and St. Sixtus in Rome.]

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 / 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 / Mark 1:21-28

In the story of Cinderella, when the prince goes out to seek the young girl to whose foot belongs that slipper, so small and delicate, the slipper she had lost at the ball, Cinderella's stepsisters and her stepmother are faced with a problem. Because their feet are simply too big, the stepsisters could not possibly succeed in fitting them into the slipper. So, at the advice of their mother, the stepsisters cut up their feet with a knife, the one cutting off her toes and the other her heel. Yet, even though they manage to fit their foot into the slipper after carving it up, they do so only with pain and injury to themselves, and all the same the prince discovers their fraud by the blood that bleeds from the slipper. In the end, their attempt to seem to be the princess they were not brings them to ruin.

In the Scriptures, we hear of a similar fraud and of a similar ruin, like that of Cinderella's stepsisters. The presumptuous prophets of whom Moses speaks are as unable to dress themselves with the name of prophet as the stepsisters were unable to fit their feet into the glass slipper, and like the destiny of those wicked women, the false prophets will be doomed to die. Through the falsehood of their prophesying, these prophets have cut off their own life and removed from the people of God their access to saving truth.

The case of the scribes in the Gospel is not much more encouraging. Even if they are not as wicked as the false prophets, there is nonetheless an immense gulf between the witness of the scribes and the witness of the Word made flesh. What they say and teach might be true in a material sense, but their lack of the authority to speak in the name of God is as clear as the blood bleeding from the feet of Cinderella's stepsisters. Both the false prophets and the scribes seem to tell the same thing. They seem to proclaim the same truth. They seem to follow a life approved and blessed by God. However, the pain in their own lives because of their hypocrisy, and the damage they cause to others because of their falsehood or their pride, reveal that this seeming has no real substance at all.

All of us here have been consecrated to a common life that ought to manifest the truth and the authority of the Gospel to ourselves, to one another, and to the whole world. There is no doubt that we, too, could present a convincing appearance of the inner truth of our consecration. Nonetheless, could we affirm with confidence that we do not suffer any pain, that we have not tried to cut off our lives, our hopes, so that we might fit into our common life? Is there in fact no blood as evidence of an inner lack, of the injuries we have inflicted to succeed in wearing the obligations that we made in our profession of vows? Do we truly proclaim the saving truth of the Gospel with authority? Can we speak, with integrity, the words that the Lord Jesus Christ was put into our mouths?

We have no need to be like the false prophets or like the scribes. We need not cut off that which gives us life and hope. In Jesus Christ, we have the capacity to be conformed to the life of our Savior, transformed into the image of the incarnate Word. Without losing anything of value, anything that helps us to come to that goal to which we have consecrated our very lives, we can make ourselves small enough to fit into the slipper of our common life through the grace of Jesus, and we will discover that we have been enlarged in faith, in hope, in love, and in the intimate life of the Triune God, who is the only source of our life together here in this convent, and forever in the life to come.

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