I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it. (Jer 20:9)
Someone I once knew faulted me for being “addicted to religion”. This person was disturbed at how my belief in heaven colored all that I saw on earth. Interestingly, if I had spoken all day in support of liberal progressive subjects and of nothing else, this person would have judged me to be a concerned and vital citizen, but because I spoke often about God, it seemed that I required time in a rehab clinic.
Addictions never turn out well. The inordinate desire and extreme consumption of any apparent good as the one and only good always ends in unhappiness. This goes not only for those substances we consume but also for those social experiments that consume us: feminism, socialism, communism, and our new oligarchic capitalism, to name a few. True, religion too can be addictive if practiced as extremism. However, in my own humble assessment, those of us “religionists” who believe that killing a child in the womb is wrong, that hospice care is far superior to suicide, that marriage is a union of the male and female founded in nature, and that it should be legally permissible (and always advisable) for a man to enter into counseling if he thinks he is a woman, are not practicing extremism, but exercising right reason.
Now the interior suffering that the prophet Jeremiah speaks of in today’s scriptural passage (above) is not the woe of an excessive craving, but the holding back of divine adoration. The soul of Jeremiah is so united with the spirit of his creator that he cannot but speak of him. Even though Jeremiah faces pain and mistreatment when he speaks out the Lord’s word, he sees it as an even greater violence to himself when he keeps it in! This is not an addiction. This is a devotion.
For this 22nd Sunday in Ordinary time, we place on our bulletin cover a painting by the Baroque master Adam Elsheimer entitled St. Paul (Wikiart-1605). Elsheimer was a German painter who made his way to Rome absorbing its methods and adapting these to his German training. He eventually converted from Lutheranism to Catholicism. His style was influential on the Germanic (Dutch) traditions of Rembrandt and Rubens, the latter with whom he became friends.
Even though this image is of St. Paul, it is reminiscent of Jeremiah and of all who feel exiled for speaking their faith. Here Paul stands head bowed leaning on a sword, not for doing battle, unless one means battle for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul is painted here in a lovely pastoral scene and the image is meant to emote in us a sense of peace for having spoken out on behalf of God, his commandments, and his virtues. Paul’s clothing even takes on the color of the landscape which not only makes for a beautiful synchronized image but bespeaks the universality of Paul’s mission, “I have become all things to all, to save at least some” (1 Cor 9:22).
Lastly, Elsheimer places Paul upon the heights as one who has risen above the world through the knowledge of God. Paul must descend into the world, and we who know what Paul knows must follow him, burning interiorly and helplessly to speak the Good News.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services