The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
(1Sam 3:3b-10, 19, 1Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20, Jn 1:35-42)
Our five senses are continually sending in raw data to our brain. Our brain, then, is constantly sorting through all this information, making sense of it, and determining what is reality and what only seems like it. An example might help.
In the evenings I eat supper in what we call the “infirm refectory,” which is just off from our kitchen and main refectory. It has a lot of glass and looks out at what we call our Zen Garden. When you sit at the table you face the window, whereas in the main refectory, your back is toward the window. In the winter it’s fairly dark outside, so instead of not seeing the window pane and focusing on the greenery and flowers in the Zen Garden and the baby Killdeers running around, like in summer, you very much focus on the glass and the reflections that are playing out in it. The glass is just one flat surface, but it is reflecting several layers of reality and several rooms and individual spaces. All this data would be confusing and is sometimes puzzling until my brain sorts it out and puts each part of the reflection into its proper space of reality. I see my own face, of course, and the yogurt I’m eating. Behind me is Br. Augie, facing the opposite wall, eating his soup. To his left, against that wall is Br. David Wilson, carefully peeling his apple. To my right, along the same long table, is Br. Barsanuphius, not paying much attention to the window and eating his sandwich. Further along the same table are Br. Matthew and Br. Benedict; they’re lost in their thoughts and, hopefully, praying. Behind me to the left is sometimes Fr. Isaac at a table against the end wall, absorbed in a book while he’s eating and occasionally making a slight sound over an interesting tidbit or something humorous. All of this, so far, has only been in the one space of the infirm refectory.
In the opposite wall to the left of Br. Augie is a door leading into the pantry. It is mostly glass, so all the action happening in there can be monitored by my curious eyes, especially if someone turns on the light and starts looking through the shelves. The reality of that second room is still part of the flat plane of the window reflection in front of me, and it might look like it’s happening next to Br. Augie, but my brain is able to disentangle the layers and tell me that’s happening in the pantry.
I see more movement in the glass in front of me. This time it’s Br. James with his supper that he’s picked up in the kitchen and he’s heading to sit down and eat it in the main refectory. He’s walking through the link that connects those two rooms. There is glass between that space and the room I’m in. So far, my brain has sorted out three individual spaces.
What’s happening in the kitchen, or at least a slice of it, shines into the infirm refectory and bounces off the window, and enters my eye. I can see Br. Louis making a peanut butter sandwich. Room four. So far, what I’ve been observing isn’t direct reality, but a reflection of it. It’s sort of like the analogy of Plato’s Cave, which I gave a homily on once.
As I gaze at the window pane I see other movement. Is that coming from the kitchen? No, it’s actually what’s happening outside the window in the Zen Garden. The dried Hydrangeas are bobbing around in the breeze. A fifth space.
Looking through the window and through the Zen Garden I see the windows to the main refectory where there’s plenty of light, and I see Br. Luke devoutly saying his before-meal blessing in this sixth individual space.
As I ponder all the realities playing out on that one piece of glass my brain differentiates the stained glass windows of our church on the other side of the Zen Garden. There are clear windows in the link connecting the church to the sacristy, and I see Fr. John walking by after fulfilling some MC duties after Vespers. That link brings the rooms or individual spaces up to a total of seven. They are sort of different layers of reality, but my brain, the data center, is able to interpret them and sort out which activity is happening in which space.
As I mentioned earlier, our brain is constantly having to sort through the data coming in from our senses. Sometimes, if we try to plug something into one layer of reality it doesn’t fit and we get confused. The swaying Hydrangeas weren’t part of what was happening in the kitchen but what was taking place in the Zen Garden. Similarly, in our first reading, Samuel keeps running to Eli when he hears his name called. He is only able to dispel the confusion when he breaks free of that layer of reality and his brain recalibrates to a supernatural layer of reality. “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And then God is able to communicate with him.
God is probably trying to communicate with us throughout the day but we’re not tuned into the right wavelength. We’re locked into the layer of reality of the natural world and missing God’s messages to lift us to a higher plane. The things around us tell us something about their Creator. Or, sometimes the things that bug us about other people are also things that we need to correct in ourselves. God’s communications are usually very subtle and easily missed. But “if today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts (Heb. 3:15).
In our second reading, we are told that our body is not for immorality but is a Temple of the Holy Spirit. On the natural level, the level we share with the animals, our instincts, and drives propel us to indulge in sexual gratification in various forms. But those pleasures are reserved for the sacrament of matrimony. We are all called to chastity, which takes on different forms in different states of life. For monks, it takes the form of celibacy – all options are off the table. For married couples, intimacy is reserved for your spouse and no other. Dating couples are also called to chastity, which means saving everything till after marriage, as hard as that might be in the age we live in. Temptations to gratify the flesh can be pretty intense sometimes. However, we are not like the brute animals who blindly are driven by their sexual urges. We have an immortal soul and a conscience. In a moment of passion or lust we need to rise above the animal layer of reality and hone in on the spiritual plane, which is much more real, and much more long-lasting. The Holy Spirit is within you. Do nothing to sadden him or offend him. “You are not your own. You have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.” (conclusion of the second reading from 1Cor)
Finally, in our gospel reading we observe people seeing one thing, but interpreting it to be much more than its face value. A man walks by and John the Baptist exclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” John the Baptist receives the grace to perceive not just a man but the promised Messiah. Because the Baptist is able to take his experience to a higher plane, his proclamation inspires his two disciples to follow Jesus and learn more about him. Then they too rise from one layer of reality to another and are able to see more than just a mere man. “We have found the Messiah,” Andrew tells his brother Simon.
When you look at a lot of the beasts of the earth, they have four legs and their head seems to be pointing down. It is a good symbol of how they spend most of their time looking at the ground and fulfilling their appetites. But we stand on two legs and our heads face out and up. We were not made for just the material sphere. We have a spiritual dimension. This layer of reality is the true one that will not pass away. We need to train our brains to interpret the data coming in from our senses in the light of this superior dimension. It takes work and dedication. But it will prepare us for our final reality. For, “now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face” (1Cor 13:12)