I know that the first reading at Mass today (Jeremiah 20: 7-9) is a favorite of many, including my friend and fellow-blogger Anne Bender, whose blog "Imprisoned In My Bones" takes its name from this passage. The first lines ring true for most of us: "You have duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped." Sometimes I think of my vocation story in light of that line.
My parents grew up in the 1930's, a time of economic crisis known as "The Great Depression." In rearing their children they emphasized education as a way to get ahead or at least guard against economic difficulties. This was especially true for their only son whom they encouraged to get what in their eyes was the best Catholic education in the city of Milwaukee--at Marquette University High School--even though this meant economic sacrifices on their part. Thus I made my way from the south side of Milwaukee, across the Menominee River Valley, to a Jesuit high school, having never met nor heard of Jesuits. One of them played an important role in helping me negotiate the trials of adolescence and so when the time came to consider what I was going to do when I "grew up," I began to think about being a Jesuit priest. I wanted to do for others what he had done for me. And so, forty years ago I entered the Jesuit novitiate with the dream of working in an urban Jesuit high school just like the one from which I had graduated a year earlier. How much time have I spent doing that? Zero. Nada. No time. Not even during our novitiate apostolic experience when I worked at a non-Jesuit high school and parish grade school in the inner city of Omaha.
Am I disappointed? Do I feel that my dream has gone unfulfilled? No, not at all. God may have used the desire to teach in an urban Jesuit high school to lead me into the Jesuits, but what I've done since has been better than I imagined. God's ways are not ours. If I had known what I ended up doing or if I had known the challenges I faced in my Jesuit formation and life, I would probably have never applied. I would have been afraid. Yet now, in retrospect, I am grateful because God's plan was indeed much better than mine.
In today's Gospel (Matthew 16: 21-27) Peter, out of love, tells Jesus, who has just informed him and the others that he was going to suffer and be killed: "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you." Peter loved Jesus and wanted to save him from pain and death. Jesus rebukes Peter for thinking in human ways, even though they arose out of love, rather than in God's way--the way of perfect love. Jesus loved Peter and all people and wanted to save them from ultimate pain--separation from God--and eternal death. His own suffering and death would accomplish that and he tells Peter not to stand in his way. He challenges Peter to pick up his own cross of sacrificial love and join him in the work of salvation.
This is the life of every Christian. It is the "simple and profound" spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer. We often quote today's second reading (Romans 12: 1-2): "Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice." We do that by praying the Morning Offering, then striving to live the offering we've made throughout the day, and then reviewing the offering we've made at the end of the day. It's a "living" offering that needs to be constantly renewed because it can be easily taken back.
Blessed John Paul II often said that to love is to make a gift of yourself. We have been loved by God who proved that love my sending the Son to suffer and die. We return love for love now by making a total gift of ourselves, by offering to God the most precious thing we have--time--the seconds, minutes, and hours of every day, one day at a time.
When I entered the Jesuits I didn't plan on doing what I've ended up doing these past forty years, but I'm glad my plan didn't work out. God's plan was better even though it involved challenges and pain that I would have avoided had I known they were going to be part of the plan. But I wouldn't change any of that plan. Through it I've received more of God's love than I ever imagined. Through it I've been touched by God's love through my neighbor in ways that I never imagined.
In the end the story of God's dealings with us is all about love. That's why I prefer a different translation for the first reading. Where the New American Bible has the prophet saying that he has been "duped," the Jerusalem Bible has a different word that I think captures better my own experience: "You have seduced me, O Lord, and I have let myself be seduced."