“Good and upright is the Lord; thus, he shows sinners the way. He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way.” Psalm 25: 8-9.
The New Testament is filled with stories of irony and paradox. Last week we heard that the “first shall be last, and the last first.”
Paradox comes from Greek and Latin words “para” (outside of ) and “dokein” (to think).
Ancient writers were aware that such figures of speech like irony and paradox take us outside our usual ways of thinking and help us to see incongruity or outcomes contrary to expectations.
This Sunday, we read a portion of Chapter 21 of Matthew. Here Jesus is addressing his anger toward the religious leaders of his time. He tells the paradoxical tale of one son who agreed to do his Father’s work but failed to perform.
While the brother who said: “I will not,” then changed his mind and came to work in the family vineyard.
Gospel parables of irony and paradox abound, asking us to consider how we might serve the Lord as well as those in need.
Here’s a story of mine.
Several years ago, I was teaching a January Term course in Rome with my twenty students from Saint Mary’s College.
One of the features of our “Pilgrimage to Rome” is a day of sightseeing and prayer in the town of Saint Francis in Assisi, two-hours North of Rome.
It was winter in Italy, and the night before our road trip, we heard the forecast that Tuscany and Umbria were going to have snow and ice the next day.
It was freezing that morning, so we bundled up with our warm coats; I in my North Face winter coat and plenty of layers.
Assisi is on a hilltop, so I did not know what to expect.
As the bus made its way to the autostrada, I asked myself: Will we be able to drive up to the parking area with the coach? Will we be able to walk around the town? Will the famous sites be closed because of the weather?
These questions and more concerned me that morning.
We arrived in Assisi, and yes, it was cold; but with so little snow, the weather report was far more exaggerated than what we might have experienced driving to Lake Tahoe in winter.
As we got in touch with the guides by cellphone, and it took time to locate them, we waited in the cold.
With my coat, scarf, and gloves, I stood frozen even on the sunny side of the large piazza in front of the Cathedral. I wanted all the warmth possible, but it was cold. I was ready for a cup of hot coffee.
From across the long piazza, with its ice-cold pavement made of centuries-old stone, I noticed another group of pilgrims at a distance. They were coming towards me.
Also, I could see that their leader dressed in the Franciscan brown tunic secured with ropes for his belts – and then I realized this man had no coat, nor did he wear a hat — just his brown robe.
But to my astonishment, I noticed – the friar had no shoes! He had walked up that hill to this site on his bare feet.
Well, here’s my paradox: I was fearful of how snow and ice might affect and interrupt the success of “our pilgrimage.”
While comfort for this Franciscan hermit was of little concern to him – in the cold of winter or the heat of summer.
Wednesday, October 4th, is the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, the most famous saint of the 12th century or any century for that matter.
His life of poverty, his love for the natural world, and his prayer for peace inspire us to seek ways of reconciliation in our day.
From the “Third Consideration on the Sacred Stigmata” by Francis of Assisi, he tells of his pilgrimage of faith.
As a young man in Assisi, Francis knelt down to ask the Lord this most profound question:
“My Jesus, I am all yours. You know I have nothing besides my tunic, cord, and underpants.
And even these three things are yours.
So what can I give you?”
Like the two sons of Jesus’s gospel story, empowered by Christ, we are capable of excellent work beyond our own expectations.
And from time to time, we can even change our minds, to see how our doing well now might someday accomplish great good.
Our school motto: “Do well, do good,” reminds me of a simple truth, one so essential in discerning how we might choose to follow Christ’s call to holiness, happiness, and discipleship.
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.