Saint Alphonsus Liguouri, Bishop and Doctor of the Church


Then it shall be they who turn to you,
and you shall not turn to them;
And I will make you toward this people
a solid wall of brass.
Though they fight against you,
they shall not prevail,
For I am with you,
to deliver and rescue you, says the LORD.

In today's first reading the Prophet Jeremiah describes the process by which he became a minister of God's word. It sounds like something only a Marine could enjoy; it's not meant to be fun. At first he was utterly delighted by God's gift;
When I found your words, I devoured them;
they became my joy and the happiness of my heart,
As an English major and lover of poetry and song, I understand Jeremiah's initial happiness. He ate up "your words" like a bon vivant diving into a box of chocolates. Much of the Bible is so well-written, with amazing similes, metaphors and parables -- in marvelous Hebrew -- it delights even people who have no religious affiliation. The Books of Ecclesiastes and Job are rated among the world's greatest literature.
Jeremiah, seriously introverted, enjoyed reading Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and other prophets more than idling in the company of people. He found God's word intensely satisfying.
But he didn't yet understand that there is more to God's word than great poetry. He had already cultivated a taste for sophisticated verse but it would mean nothing to him because God was seducing him into prophecy, a particularly unrewarding and thankless profession. Aesthetic appreciation will not purchase "the pearl of great price."
But with his inspired fascination for God's word he could no longer tolerate the tedious "circle of merrymakers." Popular entertainments bored him to tears. Gossips tired him. The deep, dark secrets of conspiracy theorists revolted him. Their cheap thrills meant nothing to one who had tasted God's word.
Under the weight of your hand I sat alone
because you filled me with indignation....
...especially toward the miasmic cloud of evil that penetrates every aspect of human life. Occasionally I get on a bender of self-righteousness about some particular problem. It may be an issue with the church or the government or society in general. As I look at the problem it takes me deeper and deeper into its bottomless abyss of misery and I realize it's intractable. It's the Original Sin! But I have been thinking I should "take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them!" Are you kidding me? We're looking into the abyss here. It is bottomless, penetrated only by the infinite mercy of God. My attempts to understand it are ridiculous enough; my fantastic plan for solving the problem is ludicrous.
Why is my pain continuous,
my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?
Like the Lord Jesus, Jeremiah suffered intensely with a vision of universal suffering. He foresaw the fall of Jerusalem and the dithering of its leadership. When he spoke of the coming catastrophe, urging his people to turn back to the Lord, they shushed him. At one point they dumped into a muddy cistern -- out of sight, out of mind -- to prevent his pessimism from infecting the populace. He complained about the Lord who had once given him such pleasure:
You have indeed become for me a treacherous brook,
whose waters do not abide!
But Jeremiah's voice and message were infected with himself and his own personal resentments. Like every young person he wanted respect from his elders and they dismissed both his message and his person. He was just another angry young man. He'll grow up and get over it and he'll learn to get along by going along.
Thus the LORD answered me:
If you repent, so that I restore you,
in my presence you shall stand;
If you bring forth the precious without the vile,
you shall be my mouthpiece.
Every Christian, not just the clergy, is a missionary; and we must practice penance, repenting of our hidden sins. When we must speak the truth to power, every shred of self hinders the word of God. As one who, in the course of a forty-plus year ministry has probably averaged one homily per day, I am sure that I have often gotten in the way of my message. Impatience, lack of preparation, impulsiveness, resentments and Lord-knows-what-all. If the faithful got anything out of my message it was only by the superabundant mercy of the Holy Spirit who apparently prefers to use vessels of clay. "...for we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us​".
If you bring forth the precious without the vile,
you shall be my mouthpiece.
Then it shall be they who turn to you,
and you shall not turn to them;
When Jeremiah stops trumpeting himself; when he stops bringing forth the vile, then he will be of service in God's hands. They -- the faithful -- will turn to you, and you will not turn to them. Meaning, you won't be so desperate for their approval. Isn't it ironic that the same "angry young" person who seems to intentionally antagonize everyone also begs for approval? The prophet will outgrow that as she knows...
For I am with you,
to deliver and rescue you, says the LORD.
I will free you from the hand of the wicked,
and rescue you from the grasp of the violent.
Jeremiah's personal story did not end well. According to legend he died a martyr's death, like his spiritual heir Jesus. But his message was delivered and preserved for all time. It was freed from the hand of the wicked and rescued from the grasp of the violent. There's reward in that.

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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.