There is strength and confidence that grow from faith. The passage from Isaiah is a confident prayer for deliverance. The Psalm makes the point that trust should be in the Lord. The Gospel is Jesus’ call for listening and action. I find that I am better at listening and action than at confident faith and trust.
Tonight is “Saint Nicholas Eve”. In my childhood, we would hang our stockings. St. Nicholas would come during the night and fill the stockings with candy and toys. (My wife would get fruit and nuts.) As I became older, it was clear that it was my parents who were the source of these gifts. Although I still enjoyed the presents, some innocence was lost.
Today I find myself reflecting on how we choose our words. For me, “certainty” has been replaced by “knowledge.” I grew up to be a scientist. My understanding of the world grew out of inductive reasoning. I look at observations from the past and make best guesses on future outcomes. There are first principles, from which things can be deduced, but these first principles are subject to change. (Historically, Newtonian physics gave way to relativity and quantum mechanics.) In my own lifetime, the factual content which was found in some chapters of my 45-year old textbooks has changed.
My professional background makes it difficult to say anything with “certainty” in the way that I use that word. Perhaps this grows out of how people in science tend to define certainty. I had a colleague who was once asked by a journalist if he could say with absolute certainty that there would be no dangers in starting a new accelerator. He knew that everything was safe but prefaced his response with “As a scientist I cannot say anything with absolute certainty”. Of course, the paper published that this scientist could not say with certainty that the accelerator was safe. This required the commissioning of a blue-ribbon panel who would state that the accelerator was safe in words that would not carry any ambiguity to journalists (or the general public) and it delayed the accelerator’s start up by a few months. My experience seems to tell me that there is something more than the physical world, but my choice of words may be different from the authors of Isaiah or the Psalms. Although I will concede that my way of thinking does not always bring the peace and depth of confidence that these authors seemed to possess.
I know that I am much better at listening to the Gospel than to my physician. (I still need to improve my diet, get more exercise and lose weight.) I am concerned with trying to understand the message in context. Again, this leads me to consider the various ways Jesus’ message could be understood rather than a literal acceptance of the text. I do not enjoy the ambiguity that this creates or relish the extra effort that it requires.
I see the foundation in today’s Gospel as corresponding to one’s character. I see Jesus as asking, “How does one respond to challenges and difficulties?”. Does one respond with grit and resilience or is one willing to give up when faced with unpleasant demands or adversity? I recall the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They seem well matched to such an understanding of today’s Gospel
My prayer today is for a resilience in my commitment in service to the Gospel.