Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Our Lady of Guadalupe/Wednesday of 29th Week after Pentecost

2 Timothy 4:9-22 / Mark 8:30-34

At the close of Paul's second letter to Timothy, we read what might well strike us as odd in a work inspired by the Holy Spirit and destined, by that inspiration is not directly by Paul, to instruct the whole of the Church of God, both in Paul's day and for the years to come until Jesus returns in glory. What is odd is how very specific and personal the letter becomes. Paul lists by name those who have abandoned him — Demas, Crescens, and Titus — those he wants with him — Luke, Timothy himself, and Mark who is to bring them both — those he sent elsewhere — in this case, Tychicus — as well as those who opposed him — Alexander the coppersmith. We hear lovely but altogether practical details, such as Paul's request for the cloak he left in Troas with Carpus, as well as his books and parchments. We also hear a litany of names at the close of the letter, the women and men he greets — Prisca, Aquila, the household of Onesiphorus — and even of poor Trophimus' being sick. Yet, in the midst of these very personal relations, relations which, on their face, seem to have nothing to do with the Church as a whole, or really with anyone but Paul and his immediate circle, Paul reminds us of the presence in all he has done and is doing of Jesus Christ: But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear.

We might likewise wonder at the Church proposing to us as a motive for thanksgiving the apparitions of Mary, as the Church does today for her appearance before Juan Diego in Guadalupe. Without doubting the truth of the apparition and the impact it made on his life, why, we may well ask, should the discourse in Nahuatl between a simple man in colonial Mexico and the Blessed Mother mean anything for the rest of us? Even if we grant that, for the peoples of Mexico, this gracious appearing serves to draw them and their story into the great narrative of God's redemption through Jesus Christ, why should this matter to those of us who are not Mexican, or at least those who do not live in the Americas?

What we learn both from the close of Paul's second letter to Timothy and from the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe is that the encounter with Jesus Christ is always particular. The Gospel, of course, if everlasting, but this does not make it timeless, if by "timeless" we mean addressed to all people indiscriminately in ways so general that nothing of the daily details of the world show through. Rather, the Gospel ought to be said to be deeply and irrevocably timely. It is the timeliness of the Gospel, that it was proclaimed out of and to the very particular hopes of God's people Israel, that it come to the Gentiles through the very particular acts and relationships of such as Paul, and that it continues to come to us, not impersonally or generically, but always as having been received by someone somewhere, always bearing the stamp of where it has been.

Jesus Christ does not mean to bypass the world, and each of us dwelling upon it, so that he might be known. Quite the contrary, the individual peculiarities of each of us is rather the whole point, that God might bring to eternal life not a generic and universalized humanity, but Paul and Luke, Prisca and Aquila, Juan Diego, you, and me. It is in that hope, a hope that the particular and quotidian details of our life do not fall outside of God's care, but that they are at the heart of his redeeming work in the sending of the Son and of his Holy Spirit that we can walk in hope, the hope of that glorious coming we recall as having happened in Bethlehem, we look forward in his glorious return, and we proclaim without reserve in the individual and irrepeatable wonder of each of our lives in Jesus Christ.

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