Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday after Trinity (Third Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.
Meditating on our eucharistic Collects is always a good and holy spiritual practice. I invite you all to find time during each week, even each day, to set aside a period of prayer to savor the Collect of the Day that is assigned for not only the Sunday but the whole week long, Sunday through Saturday. These Collects are the same, year after year. They are theological, yet presented in an accessible way that summarizes the Bible, and puts us into a right relationship with God. Being well composed, the Collects remind us of the importance of dignity in our prayer life, of the value of the right words in the right order.
“O God,” our Collect begins, “from whom all good proceeds.” How often we are to remember this. Everything that is good, everything that is true, everything that is beautiful, comes from God, and has its origin in Him. He has given us every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; we shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, God has given every green plant for food. And when God saw everything that He had made, He beheld His creation, He venerated His creation, and He said, “It is very good.”
The world, and all that is in it, from one end of the earth to the other, is full of grace, because God makes, loves, and keeps all things, and fills them with His blessing. He loves His creation, He loves all His creatures, and we are invited to do so—invited to participate in His beholding of His creation, participate in what is first and foremost listening: listening for how God speaks through His creatures; listening for how God expresses His will and His glory through His creatures.
The Church teaches that people with the habit of doing this are transformed by grace: transformed in the way they think, the way they live, the things they value, the way they act; a transformation of worldview. Taking serious the truth that all good things come from God leads, through the Sacraments and the liturgical life of the Church, into a transformation of consciousness. Jesus said clearly: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
The problem is when we don’t. The problem is when our choices do not reflect the truth that God’s authority is absolute over all things, but rather reflect a false view that limits God’s authority. We see this in both our passage from the third chapter of Genesis and the third chapter of Saint Mark’s gospel. In Genesis we have Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. This fruit in all likelihood was figs. There is nothing inherently wrong or sinful about figs or even this specific tree. It is named by God as the True of the Knowledge of God and Evil and God proscribes eating from it. His authority extends over all things, and certainly over this Tree. What Adam and Eve do, in disobeying God’s command, is in effect a pretending. They pretend that God’s will no longer includes this tree. It is like they create some sort of safe zone where God’s will applies elsewhere, but not within this safe zone of their creation.
We do this sort of thing all the time. It is something along the lines of “Oh, God won’t notice; or if He does, He won’t care if I do this little thing.” We pretend that we can create a little bubble out of God’s reach, within this bubble, this safe zone, we can do whatever we will. We can say rude words within this safe zone bubble; we can harbor ill thoughts towards others in this safe zone bubble; we can seethe in quiet hatred towards those people we do not like, within this safe zone bubble. We think, Oh God won’t notice; this little thing is to small, too insignificant for the God of all Creation to care or take much notice.
How wrong that is! All of our ways are before the eyes of the Lord, the Book of Proverbs teaches clearly, and He watches all our paths. He watches to see how we treat people, not only to their faces but behind their backs. He watches not only our habits in public, but what we do in the privacy of our homes. The eyes of the Lord are upon the baptized, for they are to follow Christ, and by following Him, imitate Him in our thoughts, words and deeds. His expectations for His children, the baptized, are high: He expects us to constantly be trying to seek and serve Christ in all persons we encounter, whether in Tazewell County or anywhere else. God knows we will not do that perfectly or without misstep, but He expects we at least try, to make an ongoing attempt day in and day out. How we treat people, whether within the Church or outside of the Church, is of upmost importance to God’s will.
This is why Jesus teaches that all sins will be forgiven, no matter what blasphemies they utter; who whoever blasphemes against the holy spirit is guilty of an eternal sin, indeed will never have forgiveness for such an act. Now, Jesus is not referring to the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. Rather, Jesus is referring to the innate holiness present in every person by virtue of being created of being created by God, from whom nothing but good proceeds. It was common Jewish belief that every human being naturally possesses God’s holy spirit. This is captures in Psalm 51: Take me not away from your presence, and take not your holy spirit from me. All people deserve our respect, our love, and our ministry by virtue of this fact. In this world, there are not two groups of people: the good on one side and the evil on the other. There are only people in varying states of pathology or wellness.
Our task, our commission, is to reflect on the goodness that is in all people, without exceptions, and allow this glorious truth to drive our actions in Mission. Reflecting on this glorious truth: that in all things, in all creatures, in all people, God is present and active, the same God that is present and active in our hearts, present in our Tabernacle, present shortly on our Altar. The open secret of Christian Mission is the more we open our hearts to the tremendous glory of God, the easier it is to do the hard work of Mission, of meeting people where they are. Indeed, as we sing at every Mass: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might: heaven and earth are full of your glory. Heaven—and earth.