Monday, August 20, 2007

From Monasic Musings: The Dialogue of the Mother and the Zygote

The a wonderful brief essay by Sr Edith OSB, a Benedictine nun and sociologist at the College of St Scholastica in Minnesota. Sister offers a summary on a recent Roman Catholic document on the journey of the human egg from fertilization to implantation. She writes:

When I took human genetics in the 1970s, we heard general, mechanical sounding statements: "The fertilized egg continues down the Fallopian tube and implants." It sounds like an assembly line carrying an inert lump, the zygote, into place. The reality I was reading last night was MUCH different!

The report is written for lay people, not scientists - but it assumes the reader is willing to pay attention and follow along. The sperm don't just stumble upon the egg - there are receptors and chemicals that help them find it. It doesn't just crash into the egg like a torpedo: there's a sequence of chemical exchanges that open the door of the egg to one sperm and, just as quickly, firmly close it to all others.

Her conclusion is very encouraging and one that I wish more Orthodox Christians would embrace as the emblem for how the relationship between their own work and spiritual lives. Again Sr Edith:

I came across this as part of my reading for a short Catholic Bioethics Seminar online - but I'm finding that the beauty and detail of the science makes it spiritual reading.
To read the report her essay is based on click here: The Human Embryo in its Preimplantation Phase. To read her whole essay, and the other wonderful things on her blog, click here: The Dialogue of the Mother and the Zygote.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

13th Sunday of Matthew

On Sunday, August 26th, we hear the parable of the vineyard owner and the wicked tenants from the Gospel according to St Matthew (21:33-42). St John Chrysostom is quite taken with opening verses of the parable:

There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit (vv. 33-34).

In his homily (Homily 68) on the passages Chrysostom asks his listen to "[o]bserve the great care that the owner took with this place and the extraordinary recalcitrance of the people." The saint goes on to say that the owner of the vineyard "did the work the tenants should have done." It was the owner who "planted" the vineyard, "set a hedge around it" to protect the crops, "dug a wine press" to crush the grapes in order to make wine. The owner even "built a tower" so that the works could observe the whole vineyard and see to its well being. For their part all the tenants had to to "was taken care of what there was there and to preserve what had been given to them."

Though nothing "was left undone" and all things necessary were "accomplished" by the owner, the tenants sadly "made little effort to be productive." When the time for the harvest came the tenants "not only failed to give the fruit, after having enjoyed so much care," they flaunted "their laziness" and "were angry with the servants who came" to collect what was due the owner.

The owner first sends his servants and then finally his son to collect what is his due. And each time the tenants "add even more to their previous pollutions" each new offense surpassing "their former offenses" until finally their greed drives them mad and they kill the owner's son.

Just as the tenants profited by the owner's labor, humanity is "honored" St John says by God becoming human for our sakes and working "countless miracles." At His own cost, "He pardoned" our sins and calls us into His Kingdom. And for our part, we are asked only be productive--to tend to what God has given us by His labor.

The fact of the matter is, whatever we do, we do so only as a return on the investment that God has made in us. No one succeeds except because of the labor of others, and ultimately no one succeeds who tries (as the ungrateful tenants did) to succeed apart from being of profit to others.

Too often I fail to cultivate in my life a spirit of gratitude to God and my neighbor for who their labor has made it for me to be successful in my life. And I forget, that my success is not only dependent upon my neighbor's, but, in imitation of the example of Christ, I am only successful to the degree that I labor on my neighbor's behalf. I cannot develop the gifts God has given me if I am indifferent, much less hostile, to helping you develop the gifts God has given you.

Sometimes I am asked, "How do you build a parish?" or "What's the secret to being a successful evangelist or missionary?" The answer is simply: Guided by the Tradition of the Church, I need to us all the resources at my disposal, personal, professional, pastoral, for the good of the person right in front of me. And as part of that work, as I have suggested before, I need to respect not only the conscience of the Church (as expressed in Holy Tradition), but also the conscience of the person I am caring for, as well my own conscience. In the latter two instances this more often then not means not only respecting the person's (and my own) limitations, but seeing these limitations as a positive invitation to become co-labor's for each other's well-being and for the life of the world.

To do less then this is to repeat the sin of the ungrateful tenants and assume (wrongly as it turns out) that if we "kill" the son "the inheritance shall be ours" (v. 38). It is this, more than anything else, that keeps our parishes from growing not only numerically, but spiritually.

And yet, at the same time, God is patient and waits for our repentance. What does this repentance look like? Simply put, we cultivate gratitude in our lives for the work of God and neighbor on our behalf, and we in turn work not simply for our own good, but for our neighbors' well-being also.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory