Reflection for Friday, July 7, 2000: 13th week in Ordinary Time.

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Meeks, Carolyn Comeaux
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A learning exercise that is sometimes done in educational courses for the helping professions involves the human issues and experiences of a dying patient. Students are told to write on individual slips of paper everything they value in life-maybe it's freedom, mobility, relationships with loved ones, sunsets, satisfying job, rollerblading, camping, needlework, playing the piano, etc. Each student arranges the slips of paper to fill the top of a desk. Then the instructor tells them their disease has progressed; they must take away one slip. Students are given a few moments to adjust to this loss. Then it's further along, they are told; take away two slips, and again some moments for the realization of the loss to sink in. Now it's progressing further and faster, so take away five slips at one time (and then the lights in the room start to dim). At the end of the exercise, students are left in a dark room with nothing on top of their desks: This is death.||My friend Margaret was relating her experience with this exercise when she was a nursing student. Margaret has a lively faith that seems to spring from her depths even when times are very tough. She said that at the end of the exercise, in near darkness, she had only one slip on her desk and she did not remove it, even though the instructor told her to.|Margaret's slip said "God."|Because of her one slip of paper, a discussion ensued that the instructor had not counted on. Margaret found the discussion revealing but also a little disconcerting. This was several years ago at a state university, and Margaret found herself in the minority as a believer with a strong experience of God's intimate presence throughout all of life's experiences-the not-so-good and the joyous, the life-giving and the painful.|I think of Margaret's experience as I reflect on the reading from Amos today. From the point of view of God and the prophet, there is NO loss greater than the loss of the creative-and-creating Word of God. God is angry with a people intent on going after greater and greater market share at the expense of the most economically vulnerable. God is SO upset with this market-driven people that he gives a litany of just how bad he will make things for these people: "I will darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning ... I will bring sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son ... "|God goes on ... . Even worse than the loss of a favored child will be the loss of his own self-communication:|"I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; They shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it."|For Amos the prophet and for the Hebrew people for whom the very Word of God is the essence of creation and life, this is the worst loss, the saddest predicament, the harshest punishment, the death of the most essential connection of all. God focuses this wrath specifically on those who exploit the poor.|Our own market-driven society and its many institutions run the risk of losing this most treasured thing, which is not a thing but a presence, a Word of Life: God. Perhaps today we can ponder what the marketplace's messages ("It's a dog-eat-dog world." "Life is a soccer game, and you have to keep control of the ball." "Keep control of your assets." "It's a jungle out there.") are doing to us as individuals, as faith communities, and as a culture. On a Sunday night as I first contemplated these readings, I realized I had just driven into a fierce thunderstorm to take advantage of a sale a few miles away, and had come home and then bought an airline ticket via the Internet-"driven" by the hopes to save a few bucks, using precious time from an already short supply on the Lord's Day to do yet more commerce. This had affected my family time, on the very day when my son had just come home from a freshman orientation at a college far away where he will go in a couple of months. I realized that I have a hard time avoiding the impulse described in the Amos reading: "When will the new moon be over that we may sell grain? And that sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale ... ." I have a hard time prioritizing God and letting the Word of God determine my priorities when there's a great "deal" to be made, even as a buyer rather than a seller.|I take some comfort that Jesus saw through the world of commerce and its effect on buyers and sellers alike. He saw the toll that this world can take on people, and he called forth from even the "tax collectors and sinners" their realization that there is a better way to live. May we who are the harried, the task-oriented, the burned-out, the schemers, the rich-at-others'-expense, the bureaucrats, the bosses, the successful, the top-dogs, the scrapers-by, the deal-makers, the sale-crazed ... . May we rise and follow him, the One-True-Thing, as did Matthew the tax collector in today's gospel.
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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