Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sermon Notes: Saul's Jealousy, Robbed of Joy

Reflection for Communion Service
St. Vincent de Paul Parish
Thursday Week II of Ordinary Time
Optional Memorial of St. Vincent, Deacon and Martyr
January 23, 2014

Saul’s Jealousy: Today’s first reading is a classic lesson on jealousy or envy, one of the capital or 7 deadly sins. David returns home just having slayed Goliath, and the crowd goes wild: “the women came out from each of the cities of Israel to meet King Saul, singing and dancing, with tambourines, joyful songs, and sistrums...‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands’” (1Sm 18:6). The Westlake cheerleaders might as well have shouted Nick Foles had 56, but Drew Brees had only 31 touchdowns! And like any man would react, “Saul was jealous of David” (1Sm 18:9).
Jealousy, what is it: Jealousy is clearly bad, something on which we all agree. Yet, what is it that makes Saul jealous and not simply admire David? Does he not see in David good things worth imitating? What is the difference between admiration and jealousy?

Vainglory: There are two aspects of Saul’s jealousy towards David. The first is that which Saul desires in David. In the tradition of the Church’s moral teaching, jealousy is seen as an offspring of the desire for vainglory, that is, fame, money, power, glory, and pleasure. As long as we do not desire such things, our admiration remains pure. Indeed, jealousy is a type of “zeal,” that is, a drive to obtain what we do not have, yet admire in the other. [1] St. Paul even exhorts us to “Be zealous for spiritual gifts.”[2] Yet, if that desire or zeal is oriented towards bad things, vainglory, it is sinful and instead of causing the joy of admiration leaves us in the sorrow or grief of our own lack. This is most true in the case of Saul who desires the fame and glory bestowed by these women upon David for his triumph against the Philistine, Goliath. Because, therefore, Saul desires in David earthly gifts which are passing and do not give true happiness, his jealousy and envy begets sorrow and grief in his soul.

Joy: This leads to the second aspect of Saul’s jealousy: joy, or lack thereof. St. Thomas Aquinas says that our grief or sorrow (jealousy) over our own lack is sinful because it causes us “to grieve over what should make us rejoice.”[3] Here St. Thomas is tapping into another of St. Paul’s teachings on the Mystical Body of Christ when he says, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”[4] Saul should rejoice with the women for such a great defeat of their enemy for as St. Paul gives reason for this teaching, such honors or gifts are possessed by the whole body; David’s victory is Saul’s victory. There is nothing of which to be jealous. Thus, instead of rejoicing in David’s gift of victory, Saul murmurs thoughts of his death, jealous of his fame and glory.

For Us: This is best understood for us by analogy of our children. We are never jealous of the beautiful and wonderful things our children accomplish, even if we were not able to do them ourselves, because we understand that in a way it is ours as well. It brings joy and happiness to the whole family. This comes easy because we love our children. Love keeps us away from jealousy. Indeed, jealousy is a sin against charity, or the virtue of love. Looking then at our brothers and sisters in the work place and in daily life, let us remember to love them so as to rejoice with them as they receive accolades or recognition, for we can share in their joy or remain in our own grief.

[1] Cf. ST II-II q. 36 art. 2: “We may grieve over another’s good, not because he has it, but because the good which eh has, we have not: and this, properly speaking, is zeal, as the Philosopher says (Rhet. ii. 9).”
[2] Cf. Ibid, citing 1Cor 14:1
[3] Ibid
[4] 1Cor 12:26

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sermon Notes: You Believe Crazier Things

Reflection for Communion Service 6:30 am
St. Vincent de Paul Parish
Friday January 17th
Memorial of St. Anthony Abbot

Miracles: If you have kept up with the readings for this week, or even simply listening today, you will notice that, going through the first chapters of Mark which encompasses the beginnings of Jesus’ public ministry after His baptism, there are lots of miracles. Jesus casts out demons (1:23-28); heals people of the fever and other ailments (1:30-34); cures a man of leprosy (1:40-45); and today the healing of the paralytic (2:1-12).

Playing the Skeptic: If we are honest with ourselves, when we hear all these miraculous events, we cannot help but be a little skeptical. “Did that really happen?” “Why doesn’t that happen now?” “There is probably a perfectly logical and scientific explanation for that. You know their science was bad.” Many in our secular society and in many Christian communities have encouraged us to raise these questions. There is a famous commentary on the bible, which gives such explanations for events like the calming of the sea, attributing the event to Jesus’ superior nautical skill rather than His Divine command of the sea; He just pulled the boat behind a mountain out of the wind.

You believe in crazier things: To this I would simply say that we believe in crazier things. We balk at hearing of these healings and cures, yet we receive the looks of bread and wine calling them the body and blood of Christ. We scoff at the casting out of demons, yet we rejoice seeing water give birth to a new child of God. We don’t trust that Jesus’ words could really affect such realities, yet we feel the weight of sin and guilt lifted from us by the words of absolution in the confessional.

The Gospel: Jesus plays with this dynamic in a real way in today’s Gospel. If you notice, Jesus did not heal the man first. No, He forgave the paralytic’s sins, having seen the faith of these men (2:5). The scribes scoff at this: “Blasphemer! Who can forgive sins if not only God Himself?” (2:7).  Jesus responds: “Is it easier to say: your sins are forgiven, or rise, take up your mat, and walk?” (2:9). The Scribes had the opposite problem we do. they believed easily in the earthly miracle, but not the heavenly reality. We confess our faith in the heavenly mystery, yet are reluctant to trust the earthly miracle. To this we must simply ask for a stronger faith in God, Lord of heaven and earth.  

Practically: This means a firm trust in both heavenly and earthly aspects of our faith. We do believe in such workings of grace as the sacraments but also miracles performed in the world. The resurrection of the dead, for example, but also more humble workings through you and I in our encounters with others throughout the day.