St John Application Questions

JMJ

THE ASSIGNMENT WAS to do one of several application questions from the Ignatius Study Bible for the Gospel of John for the assigned chapters (2, 7, 12, 17). The study questions for the Ignatius Study Bible are amazing. The study guides can be downloaded for free in PDF format here.

2:15–16. What attachments do you have that Jesus might want to drive out of your heart (his Father’s house)?

The therapist, my spiritual director, and I are working on my attachment to “being liked” or, rather, my attachment to the fear of being disliked. I write it negatively like that because it’s actually an attachment to the fear: you know, the adrenaline, the safety of being secretive, the chance to blame others (who have done nothing) for my own inaction. Yes, being liked is nice, but it’s not really what I want: the safety of being disliked is much better. 

When I was in High School then-President Regan reinstated the Draft and we all had to register for the draft, even though it wasn’t yet being used. I was obligated to register when I became 18 and I was required to register or else I would not qualify for any federal student aid or loans. (Back in those days such aid made college actually possible.) I had intended to register as a Conscientious Objector but the reason was not one of pacifism: rather just cowardliness. I didn’t want to go into the army. As much as I can (now) construct an argument for Christian Pacifism, it was only my attachment to fear that made sense out of this in High School. This is a passion I live with and, with God’s grace and the help of more than a few mentors I’m learning to drive this out of the Temple. This is not to say God can’t use even this for a blessing: if I hadn’t chickened out of some vocational process along the line I might, even now, be a Methodist minister somewhere. God can use even my fear of follow-through. But better to make an offering wholeheartedly than to set hands to the plough and then back away.

7:24. What does Jesus mean by judging here? How does he want you to judge? What should you be judging?

“Never deny, seldom affirm, but always distinguish.” So runs a Dominican saying which I’ve heard from my spiritual director as well as from the late Bishop Robert Christian, OP. The Greek for “distinguish” here is “krino” and Jesus is saying we should “distinguish by righteous distinguishing”. Between Augustine and Aquinas we come to think that no one (usually) does evil because it’s evil but rather because they believe it to be good. The working definition of evil, then, in many of the western Fathers of the Church is to prefer a lesser good to a greater one. Yes, it’s good – perhaps even good enough – but it’s not the highest good that can be achieved here. When I hear Jesus asking us for some “righteous distinguishing” he’s commanding us to go for the highest good. Yes, it’s good to obey the Sabbath, but making a man whole is better, right? Righteous! This seems to apply to many of our “cultural war” discussions and might teach us something. Yes, someone outside of the Church might prefer X to Catholic Teaching – but the Church should bring them to the higher good. At the same time we, as Catholics, should understand that (at the moment) the “outsider” is doing what they think is the highest possible good: they need to have their sights raised ever higher.  This is the same for me: taking 20+ years to apply certain parts of Orthodoxy /Catholicism to my life because I thought I was good enough rather than striving to be as perfect as God is perfect, for the Highest Good.

12:3–5. What does Judas’ question imply about Mary’s generosity? When have you criticized (or been criticized by) someone for being generous? What was the outcome of the criticism?

Judas says Mary’s generosity is misplaced. The implication is that she should have given the money for a “better use”. My job as Director of Outreach at St Dominic’s includes the function of Parochial Almoner: this process of “be critical re:generosity” is a daily part of my life! The questioning goes both ways: because parishioners can both give uncritically and also be critical of my disbursements. The constant process of confusing “getting rid of my junk” with “generously giving to the poor” is hard to work with and yet – even though I have to try and redirect the junk to other places – it also must be discerned as their own sincere actions.

The other side of this equation is folks who want to keep better track of our generosity to others. Now, to be fair, I’m not giving away my money. I’m here to facilitate the charity of others. So, they have some right to ask questions about where the money goes. So, again, I have to assume they are doing the best they can: my own charity is in how I act to them. 

The rest of this question is “What was the outcome ?” and it’s a learning curve for me: my boss has asked me to be transparent with the whole process so I’m finding ways to provide education and to not-judge at the same time. 

17:14–17. How does the saying “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy” apply to your own relation with the world?  To which of the two do you—in your heart of hearts—belong? How do you know that?

While I hope that one day there will be a final answer to this, it is not – yet- “unwordly” enough for me. Two weekends ago a mutual friend introduced me to someone from St Louis whom I had previously known only online. Within a few moments, we were small talking very well in what – I realized later – should probably be categorized as “near occasion of sin”.  For someone who could read the code, we were using it might have been heard as scandal, but it all sounded normal and polite with a good bit of laughter. I found myself wondering why there was always this meaningless and yet near-sinful patter like that just beneath the surface. 

One of my (American) Eastern Orthodox heroes is the late Fr Seraphim Rose (1934-82). He was raised as a member of the Methodist church and drifted into atheism and vaguely eastern “spirituality” but, eventually, joined the Russian Orthodox Church in 1962. By the time of his death 20 years later he had become a monk and was recognized as an Elder in that tradition, a spiritual father or “Staretz”. A story is told of one night a youth retreat at his monastery (in Platina) played a trick on him: serving vanilla ice cream as a special treat to the monks, the kids gave Father Seraphim a scoop of mashed potatoes. He ate the potatoes as thankfully as the other monks eating the ice cream. Although this is sometimes recounted as proof that he had “no attachment to food”. I think it embodies other Christian virtues: unwillingness to accuse others, joy in what one is given, and the blessing celebrated by a simple act of thanksgiving for all that is. I’m not there yet: I’d still complain. To cycle back to the first question, I’m still inclined to enjoy the ice cream more (eat dessert first) out of fear that I might miss out on something good. This is something to keep working on and pray gets set right in time.

Author: Huw Richardson

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He feeds the homeless and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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