It was a very difficult period in my life. I was feeling terribly lonely. On a very special occasion I was given a gift by some significant persons in my life that I felt were not supporting me in my struggles. The gift they had chosen somehow accentuated my sense of isolation. I was not able to disguise my reaction.
Some years later when I was more actively dealing with my sense of alienation from this group (to the disquiet of those same persons) one of them complained that on the occasion of the gift I had not shown any sense of pleasure in the present. My response was, “Maybe what I showed reflected what I was feeling”.
This scenario reminds me of the children who want to control the mood of their playmates rather than allow them to be who they are. We played the flute for you but you did not dance. We sang a dirge but you did not weep.
People treated Jesus and John the Baptist the same way! John was so ascetic that they judged He is possessed! Jesus celebrated with his disciples and so he must be a glutton and a drunkard!
Our culture is very much like that. People are expected to fit into the current mode whether they are comfortable with it or not. We are supposed to go along with the crowd, to support things we don’t really approve, to accept the attitude, the belief, the behavior of “the majority” or the “in” group even when our conscience says “NO!”
Jesus was always himself! He did not conform to others’ expectations. Consciously or unconsciously we tend to decide who we want Jesus to be. We hold our image of him in our minds and hearts and even in our prayers. When preachers or teachers try to open the scriptures for us – bringing out images of Christ that challenge our preferred images, we sometimes treat them as heretics, disloyal Catholics, misinformed Christians, etc. We prefer to tell Jesus who he should be rather than let him express who he is for us.
But: Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life, you have the words of everlasting life. (Gospel Acclamation Wednesday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time).
- Fr. John M. Lee, C.P., is Retreat Director at Bishop Molloy Retreat House, “The Passionist Spiritual Center in New York City”. www.bishopmolloy.org