Memorial of Saint John Vianney, Priest

Lectionary: 406

The priests and prophets said to the princes and to all the people,
"This man deserves death;
he has prophesied against this city,
as you have heard with your own ears."

Americans have a penchant for prophecy. We have long admired the solitary individual who challenges "the system" or "the bureaucracy" in the name of justice. 
American Christians -- I think I can speak especially for Catholics -- have a desire for sanctity. "Why not be a saint?" our spiritual mentors ask. Most of us aspire at least to the communion of saints. If, to cite Mark Twain's quip, we had to choose the friendlier climate of heaven or the more interesting company of hell, we'd opt for the boredom of endless worship. 
Finally, Americans aspire to happiness, and heaven is supposed to be a place of endless happiness. True, it's hard to imagine. Those few who get everything they want don't seem to be very happy. And if getting what you want isn't happiness, what would it be? 
I think of these philosophical speculations as I remember the Prophet Jeremiah. He didn't aspire to holiness but it was thrust upon him; he didn't yearn for friendship with God but, having tasted it, he couldn't think of, or desire, anything else. In fact he complained of God's love, "You seduced me and I let myself be seduced. You were too strong for me and you prevailed."  
We certainly don't point to Jeremiah when we invite our children to be good and become like Jeremiah, the most unhappiest of saints. 
I prefer the word bliss when I think of heaven. There's a purity about the word, a suggestion of simple, uncontaminated joy that may not last forever but is nonetheless endless. 
But when I consider my own desire and personal experience, my hopes and disappointments, I aspire to communion. In communion people may experience both sadness and joy. 
We say that "Friendship doubles pleasure and halves sorrow." And, "A friend in need is a friend indeed."  
I've seen people walk the other way when they spotted an acquaintance who had recently lost a loved one. "I just can't deal with her right now." they said. I knew a woman who never visited her best friend in the hospital and rehab facility for ten months, but immediately resumed their relationship when he came home. Oddly, he understood! She suffered a kind of spiritual disability. 
But the Spirit of Jesus urges us to remain with one another in good times and in bad. Avoiding sorrow, one's own or another's, is the surest path to isolation and its misery. 
Jeremiah remained faithful to God , his mission and his people. He continued to speak the word convenient and inconvenient. In today's story we learn that the people respected his office of prophet and rallied to his defense. They respected the holy man that much. But his position was always perilous and he remained an outsider, a voice in the wilderness. His was not a happy ending but perhaps that's not terribly important. 
Saint Theresa of Calcutta has reminded us we're called to be faithful, not successful. The same might be said of communion and happiness. Happiness is about me; in communion we find one another and the Lord. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.