Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The second reading for today speaks about predestination, and of course we have some fundamental questions: how could we follow Jesus if we had no choice but to do whatever we do? Why would we even want to God if we posited a god who predestined some people to sin and hell?[1]

As we come to a deeper knowledge of the free will of man, we realize clearer and clearer, that the ability to make rational decisions distinguishes us from animals, so predestination cannot eliminate free will. If it did, we would no longer be human. What, then, is predestination, father? Well, Predestination is God's choice to share his love with us.

St. Paul tells the Romans –and us of course- that we are called to share the image of the Son of God. By sharing this image we are justified, raised up to God, and glorified. To put all this simply: we are predestined to share God's goodness, but we have the freedom to reject this goodness.

More practically: we cannot go around blaming the things that happen in our life to fate. Fate is a pagan expression and a pagan concept[2]. Nor can we blame the devil, “the devil made me do it". We have to take responsibility for our own actions. Even if something negative happens to us beyond our control, like sickness, we have the ability to use this situation to be closer to our Lord.

The knowledge of what God is calling us to; the understanding of what is true and good, right and wrong; all of this is Wisdom, the topic of the first reading.

The Old Testament developed the notion of wisdom as the understanding one gains of oneself, the world and one's place in the Divine Plan for mankind. Wisdom is knowing who we are. Jesus is the Wisdom of God for us, for we become whom God has called us to be by uniting ourselves to his Son. Each of us is very different from everyone else who ever lived. As we come to a deeper knowledge of whom we are, we come to a deeper knowledge of what God wants us to be. Wisdom is understanding God's individual predestination for us.

When we know ourselves and our God, when we understand our talents and our limitations, we recognize God's love for us as individuals. When we realize what God's position in this world is for each of us, we have found the pearl of great price. We know how to respond to God's call with our very being, our very personhood. When we come to a deeper understanding of what God wants from us as individual people with unique personalities, then we have no choice but to sell everything we have and go and buy the field, for we have found a priceless treasure. Nothing can be more valuable than living our God's unique call to us.

Wisdom, predestination, and the Christian life. Our readings for today give us just a clue of the profound love the Lord has for us. What a Savior we have in Jesus! ■

[1] Sunday 27th July, 2008, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Readings: 1 Kings 3:5, 7-12. Lord, I love your commands—Ps 118(119):57, 72, 76-77, 127-130. Romans 8:28-30. Matthew 13:44-52.
[2] Many Greek legends and tales teach the futility of trying to outmaneuver an inexorable fate that has been correctly predicted. This form of irony is important in Greek tragedy, as it is in Oedipus Rex and the Duque de Rivas' play that Verdi transformed into La Forza del Destino ("The Force of Destiny") or Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey, or in Macbeth's uncannily-derived knowledge of his own destiny, which in spite of all his actions does not preclude a horrible fate.

Illustration: One of the most famous of the paintings by Velázquez, and an example of his great mythological works, is The Fable of Arachne (Las Hilanderas), also known as The Tapestry Weavers or The Spinners. It was painted not for the king but for a private patron. The mythological story of the contest between the goddess Athena (Minerva to the Romans) and the mortal woman Arachne was perhaps told best by the Roman poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses (Book VI). According to Ovid, Arachne lived in the country of Lydia (which had a legendary reputation for producing some of the most splendid textiles in the ancient world), where she matured into one of the finest weavers ever known. Arachne was in fact so adept at weaving that she became arrogant, and claimed that her ability rivaled that of the goddess Athena. Athena, as the patron deity of weavers and quite an accomplished weaver herself, immediately took notice of Arachne, and travelled to Lydia in order to confront the boastful woman. There the goddess assumed the guise of an old peasant, and gently warned Arachne not to compare her talents to those of an immortal; Arachne merely dismissed this reproach, and so Athena was compelled to accept the mortal woman's challenge. They would each compete by creating a tapestry. Athena wove her tapestry with images that foretold the fate of humans who compared themselves with deities, while Arachne's weaving told of the loves of the gods. Such was Arachne's skill that her work equalled that of the goddess, and Athena, overwhelmed by anger, struck the hapless woman repeatedly. Terrified, Arachne hung herself, but Athena transformed the woman into a spider who quickly scurried off. Thus, this tale explains the spider's ability to weave its web. In its composition, the artist looks back to his bodegones, where two different areas and two planes of reality balance each other. The everyday scene in the foreground shows a plainly furnished room where women are at work spinning. Sunlight falling in from above conjures up a complex range of colours. On the left, an elderly woman is at the spinning wheel, while the young woman seated to the right is winding yarn. One of the figures of naked youths by Michelangelo on the roof of the Sistine Chapel has been identified as the model for her attitude. Velázquez conveys their industry with brilliant immediacy, seeming to mingle the hum of their mills with the shifts of colour in the light. Three other women are bringing more wool and sorting through the remnants. The scene may reflect the disposition of the Royal Tapestry Factory of St Elizabeth in Madrid. There is a second room in the background, in an alcove reached by steps. It is flooded with light and contains several elegantly dressed women. The woman on the left wearing an antique helmet and with her arm raised is a figure of Athena. Opposite her - either really in the room, or part of the picture in the tapestry on the back wall? - stands the young Arachne, who has committed the sacrilegious act of comparing her skill in weaving with the goddess's. She has begun their competition with a tapestry showing one of the love affairs of Jupiter, the rape of Europa. Velázquez borrowed the theme of this tapestry from a famous picture by Titian, also extant in a copy by Rubens, to show his artistic veneration for the Venetian master. Around 1636 Rubens had painted a version of the same story for the Torre de la Parada, showing the punishment of Arachne, when she was turned into a spider. Velázquez omits this detail, instead treating the rivals almost as equals. By comparison with the weight of symbolism in the background scene, he shows the simple work of the women in the foreground with monumental dignity; it is the basis of the technique without which no goddess could practise her arts. This interpretation is still relevant if Velázquez has in fact represented the figures of Athena (now disguised, but with her shapely bare leg indicating her timeless beauty) and Arachne a second time in the figures of the old woman and the young woman in the foreground. Here, at least, Velázquez has transferred mythology to everyday reality. However, there is a whole series of possible meanings beneath the surface of this painting, and scholars are still puzzling over some of them to this day. The canvas was probably damaged by a fire in the Alcázar (1734) and an upper section was added.

Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez, The Fable of Arachne (Las Hilanderas) c. 1657, Oil on canvas, 220 x 289 cm, Museo del Prado (Madrid)

Y entonces uno se queda con la Iglesia, que me ofrece lo único que debe ofrecerme la Iglesia: el conocimiento de que ya estamos salvados –porque esa es la primera misión de la Iglesia, el anunciar la salvación gracias a Jesucristo- y el camino para alcanzar la alegría, pero sin exclusividades de buen pastor, a través de esa maravilla que es la confesión y los sacramentos. La Iglesia, sin partecitas.

laus deo virginique matris