Tuesday of the Fifth Week
Gn 1:20-2:4; Mk 7:1-13
February 8, 2011
The creation account from Genesis we have heard today reminds us of the order that belongs to the Lord’s design. The sacred author describes first the water teeming with fish and the air filled with all kinds of winged birds. (cf. Gn 1:21) Next, he indicates that wild animals inhabit the land portion of the earth. (cf. Gn 1:24) Then, finally, the Lord creates in a very different way. Man is made in God’s image. (cf. Gn 1:27)
As we are made in God’s image and thus constitute the pinnacle of creation, the sacred author is ready to bring his story to a close. He is not finished of course until he relates that God rests on the seventh day. (cf. Gn 2:2) The rest is taken for all the work the Lord does. (cf. Gn 2:3)
We recognize right away the anthropomorphism in the biblical text. God is thought to rest because we need rest from our labors. In something of a reversal then, what is good for us is by application good for God.
God is not following our lead, though; we are following His. After sending the Twelve out two by two to heal the sick, Jesus welcomes the apostles back with these words: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” (Mk 6:31) The Lord anticipates our need for rest before we can even articulate it.
Hearing the story of creation in Genesis today is a reminder that we are at work creating something ourselves. Conscious of our role or not, we are up to our eyeballs building and forming a culture. Through the songs we write, the movies we make, the plays we produce and so much more, we are giving expression to what we value and disvalue.
Despite attempts to deny it, the cultures we create can be judged and evaluated. Pope John Paul II makes this clear in Evangelium Vitae (1995) when he decries the culture of death and calls upon us to re-build the culture of life. (95)
Even when it is not a question of life and death, we must still submit culture to an appraisal. In 1987, while visiting the United States for the second time, the same Holy Father posed these questions in an address: “[H]ow is the American culture evolving today? Is this evolution being influenced by the Gospel? Does it clearly reflect Christian inspiration? Your music, your poetry and art, your drama, your painting and sculpture, the literature that you are producing – are all those things which reflect the soul of a nation being influenced by the spirit of Christ for the perfection of humanity?” (Address to Bishops, September 16)
Nearly sixty years ago, Josef Pieper published his volume entitled Leisure, the Basis of Culture (1952). In the Preface of his work, Pieper writes these words: “Culture depends for its very existence on leisure, and leisure, in its turn, is not possible unless it has a durable and consequently living link with a church community and with divine worship.”
The liturgy with its vestments, candles, incense and bells does not, as some people think, cut us off from our culture. In its other-worldly intimations, we find in the liturgy a time to rest and contemplate what we make – whether we are making with our hands or minds or both. In the liturgy, the true meaning and purpose of work is unveiled before us: it is a different form or manner of expression for our adoration.
We don’t just adore on our knees – although that’s not a bad first posture when it comes to the Lord of heaven and earth. We adore sitting and standing too – whenever and wherever these are the postures of men and women who labor not just for themselves but for the Lord. Work is a real part of what Saint Irenaeus (d. 202) calls being fully alive. We don’t just cheat ourselves when we slack off; we refuse God His glory also.
The liturgy checks our tendency to work only within what Saint Paul calls the horizon limited to this world. (cf. 1 Cor. 15: 19) The Risen Lord transcends this world and so does our work. Our work provides us with a living of course, but we live off the Lord’s word too. (cf. Matt 4:4)
The well-being of man cannot be considered satisfactorily unless and until we account for the deep hunger there is in us to hear the Lord’s word. This is the special province of every priest – to preach the Lord’s word. It is a work also, and it cannot be undertaken without diligence and effort.
In my view, a rather remarkable shift has occurred culturally. Historically, culture was something we preserved and held on to as a way of instructing ourselves over and over concerning our origins. Today, culture is just as often seen as something we consume. The Church’s liturgy is a counterweight against the consumerist mentality so widespread now. It reflects back to us the original meaning of creation which has been covered over by layers of production and efficiency in an economic system.
Many of the parables Jesus tells happen to refer to workers – workers in the vineyard, workers in the field, wherever the master assigns them. Their work eventually comes to an end, though. The Church’s liturgy reminds us that our dignity as workers is only surpassed by our dignity as sons and daughters of God. The older son in the Prodigal Son story, even in his resentment against his brother, cannot be faulted for working at his father’s side “all these years.” (Lk 15:29) The father, who forgives his younger son and his older son, is our model for reconciling shiftlessness with earnestness through love.
Praised be Jesus Christ!
Msgr Robert Batule