Sunday, July 13, 2014

Futility Conquered

Today's Mass Readings were on a similar theme, a theme I've written about in the past, a theme that is close to my heart.

The first reading was a powerful passage from Isaiah ...

Thus says the LORD:
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
and do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
so shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.  (Is. 55:10-11)

I have always taken consolation from this, as it has so often seemed that much of my effort in life, with friends, and with the Theater of the Word Incorporated has been for naught.  When your neighboring parish raises and spends $300,000 to repave their parking lot, but won't take a free show for the spiritual health of their parishioners, it's a tad disheartening.  When parishes in Massachusetts book several performances of our pro-life show, but then cancel for fear that we might disturb the pro-abortion Kennedy Catholics in the audience, it's a tad disheartening.  When the whole town shows up and responds enthusiastically to a performance in the middle of nowhere, but then the priest tells you he won't be able to book you again for "maybe another five years", it's a tad disheartening.  (My response, "Just call me in ten years and book two shows.")

Indeed, the priest at Mass today said in his homily ...

When I was a student, I was given an assignment.  Write a philosophical synthesis that answers all the major problems in philosophy.  Of course this is impossible to do.  It's a doomed enterprise.  
But how many of us are involved in doomed enterprises?  Are there any parents here today?  How many of you have striven for years to raise perfect, happy, well-behaved children, only to find out that such a goal is impossible to achieve?
But we keep trying all the same ...  

In fact the earthly ministry of Jesus seemed to be an utterly doomed enterprise - especially the way it ended.

But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him.  We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.  (Luke 24:20-21)

... but He wasn't.  At least not in the way they expected.

The cross, then, is the ultimate symbol for futility.  (And the conquest of futility.  More on that in a minute.)

And in our second Mass reading today, St. Paul speaks about futility ...

for creation was made subject to futility,
not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it,
in hope that creation itself
would be set free from slavery to corruption
and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Rom. 8:20-21)

Paul here is talking not just about frustrations in our families or careers; not just about doomed enterprises or impossible goals; he's talking about the universe itself.  Everything about us is "subject to futility", including death and entropy.  There is a growing disorder and confusion in human nature and in physical nature.

And yet ...

We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom. 8:22-23)

Futility, then, is not the order of the day.  Not any more.  All of creation groans in travail, but those are labor pains, pains of the first fruits of a new creation, for even death itself has been overcome, and God's word will not return to Him "void".

"Vanity!  Vanity!  All is vanity!" says the Preacher (Eccl. 1:2), which is to say "All is meaningless!  All is emptiness!  All is futility!"

We live in a world where people actually believe that life is meaningless, empty, futile - and is filled only by the arbitrary meaning we throw upon it (though, if you notice, that meaning always seems to spring from our groins).  This is the religion of the 21st Century - the Cult of Sterility.  People love "free contraception" and "gay marriage" and all forms of sodomy and perversion because these things are deliberately futile.  They are rote sacrifices made by the casteratti, the self-made eunuchs of the smart set - sacrifices made to their God of Nothingness and Pointlessness, the idol of the Cult of the Absurd.


However ... our Gospel reading is the Parable of the Sower (Mat. 13:1-23), in which Our Lord shows us that indeed while much of what we do will be futile and pointless, not all of it will.  For there remains in all creation not merely the principle of decay and death, but from that very thing (mysteriously) emerges, supernaturally, a new life.

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)
Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. (Mark 4:27

And it is important to note that we are not obligated to cultivate a field of unresponsive soil.  We are to "shake the dust off of our feet" and move on when we are rejected.  (Mat. 10:14)  Shake the dust off your feet, don't bang your head against the wall.  Part of the Stewardship of Love is prudential investment of time, treasure and talent - setting boundaries and sticking to them, having a backbone, unlike so many artists and creative types who give heedlessly and are taken advantage of because of that.

This is because life is not futile, the word will not return to Him void, and the nature of soil is fertility.  We say amen to the Spirit in our hearts, and He bears forth His fruit by virtue of our fiat.  

And all creation groans for us to bring forth this Kingdom by accepting His seed and saying yes.

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