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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinOctober 20, 2006 Issue 

Greatness lies in being for others

Things are not as they should be, but Jesus provides us with salvation

October 22, 2006 -- 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Bishop Robert Morneau

photo of Bishop Robert Morneau
Robert Morneau

Questions for reflection:

1. How do you deal with the human condition?

2. Is romanticism something that afflicts your spirit?

3. Why is service given such high priority?

Every language has its "slang," a kind of informal and often entertaining language. Expressions such as "up for grabs," or "ran out of gas," or "a pain in the neck" are a few examples. One of my favorites is "hunky dory," meaning that something is satisfactory. The meal was "hunky dory" or the play was "hunky dory."

But in real life things are not hunky dory. Reading the front page of the daily newspaper or watching the evening news for ten minutes will knock any romanticism out of our souls. Things are not hunky dory as we read about wars and poverty and misuse of drugs. We live in a world that is insecure and fragile. Within seconds, everything can become topsy-turvy.

Isaiah the prophet did not have hunky dory in his vocabulary. In the short passage from our first reading the prophet talks about sin, affliction, suffering, and guilt. This is pretty rough stuff. And yet the prophet Isaiah is filled with hope because someone is coming who will bear our sin and guilt and through suffering and death bring us salvation. We have here a great mystery but one that is made manifest in Jesus and His dying on the cross. And with the resurrection we begin to regain the possibility that things might eventually be hunky dory.

In the letter to the Hebrews, we hear more about that someone who is coming and who, in fact, has come. Jesus is the high priest; Jesus is the one who understands from the inside what we all go through in terms of temptation and trials. If we do hold fast to our faith, we shall experience God's mercy and find help when difficulties come. Even the stern and sometime grim author of the letter to the Hebrews might be well to make mention of things becoming hunky dory.

Two things are happening in the Gospel passage for this Sunday that indicate that things are not satisfactory, not as they should be. One is ambition and second is indignation. James and John are seeking places of honor; the other ten apostles are smoldering over this power play. Jesus is in the center of this conflictive situation and brings His wisdom to bear on what is really important in terms of discipleship, sic., service. It is in being for others that greatness lies. To be ambitious about this is a way of life that is hunky dory.

The word of God is powerful because it is realistic. As we listen to the prophets and the Gospels, we are made aware that things are not as they should be. There is something drastically wrong with the world. We call it sin and that sin becomes manifest in shame and guilt. None of us is free of this reality and even Jesus embraced our human condition and, by His suffering and death, provided us with the grace of salvation.

William James, the great psychologist and philosopher, comments: "We divert our attention from disease and death as much as we can; and the slaughterhouse and indecencies without end on which our life is founded are huddled out of sight and never mentioned, so that the world we recognize officially in literature and in society is a poetic fiction far handsomer and cleaner and better than the world that really is." In other words, we want to pretend that everything is hunky dory.

But we have cause for rejoicing. God is with us in Jesus and in the gift of the Holy Spirit. If we follow the divine plan of service (love) and mercy, all will be well.

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.)

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