Sitting here gazing at a blank computer screen for this January 2016 column it suddenly occurs to me that I have been gazing at a monthly, blank computer screen since 2008, perhaps even before that. At any rate, that is the first recorded year I began testing your patience, dear readers. And now, here I am, brazenly trusting that you may not yet have exhausted your endurance for yet another year of thoughts.
All of this brings to mind a quote from the writings of American/British poet, T.S. Eliot. In a poem entitled “The Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock” he muses on life with the following words: “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
Could that be a reason why I keep writing these columns? Could that be why you, dear readers, continue each month to discern whether we have ended our exploration into the meaning of Jesus, his life and work?
It seems a worthy cause because life on planet Earth seems to be filled with endless tragedies that have occupied us for as far back as we can remember.
In these most recent times we recall violent events in such places as Baltimore, Ferguson, death in an Oregon classroom, death of a black teenager on a Chicago street, death at an abortion facility in Colorado Springs and, last but not least, the killing of fourteen innocent Christmas celebrants in San Bernardino, California. Perhaps T.S. Eliot had come upon some deep mystery when he said that we keep coming back to our beginnings, hoping that we will discover some meaning in the events that face us, as though for the first time. Despite the mystery of human violence, we may yet discern even something resembling the possibility of deliverance.
When you read these words, good friends, we will just have celebrated the liturgical feast of the Baptism of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus knew that he lived in an age marked by violence, perhaps much like our own. He came then to a spot on the Jordan River where a spiritual leader named John was baptizing and calling for a renewal of life. As Jesus came up out of the water, he heard a voice, out of the heavens, referring to him as the beloved Son of Yahweh.
With that, he left the crowds behind and, walking out into a no-man’s land, he began to prepare for his ministry as the “beloved Son.”
In the quiet of that lonely desert place, he prepared for his work in this tragic world that was, in a way, was to begin all over again. He would set aside the threats of Roman power and Jewish religious control. He would embark on the task of creating a kingdom where peace would reign, where people might once again call themselves brothers and sisters of the same Father in heaven. Already, of course, he saw that his vision would bring about his eventual demise — death on a cross, perched on a lonely hill.
Nonetheless, he set forth on the great mission of his life: the establishment of the Kingdom of God, casting aside the fear of violence and death. Perhaps he, too, felt that he must not cease from exploration, that he must return once again, to discover hope. A worthy cause, indeed!
Scriptures for Jan. 8
Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7
Titus 10: 34-38
Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22
The writer formerly served the Anchorage Archdiocese as director of pastoral education. He now lives in Notre Dame, Indiana.