My parents weren't "joiners." Pop was a proud member of the local laborers' union; mom, besides participating in the Legion of Mary, joined only one other organization: the Daughters of Isabella. She always enjoyed her D of I experience, deeply appreciating the friends she made through it.

Fortunately, I never discussed the historical Queen Isabella with her. Since my mother vigorously fought against all kinds of prejudice, such a conversation would have created more tension for her.

Isabella's name surfaces frequently during the interfaith dialogues in which I participate. Besides pawning her jewels to help fund Columbus' 1492 expedition to India, she did something else that year: as part of her reinstating of the Inquisition, she gave Spanish Jews the choice of becoming Catholic or finding other countries in which to live.

Loving enemies

Obviously, today's Daughters of Isabella don't imitate their namesake's anti-Semitism. They emulate the more generous dimensions of her personality. But how does one explain the queen's refusal to carry out Jesus' command to love even our enemies?

The authors of Sunday's readings provide a clue. They recognize that God's word never is completely fulfilled. There are dimensions of that word still uncovered, parts not yet evolved enough to be understood, aspects still imprisoned by the culture in which we live our faith.

Habakkuk, for instance, can't understand the violence he experiences around him in Israel (Hab 1: 2-3; 2: 2-4). According to what he learned as a child, evil, violent people will be punished quickly by Yahweh and peace be restored. But it's not happening. Violence is getting worse. No one is punished.

The prophet's only hope comes from his belief that there's more to God's word about violence than he's able to understand at this point of his life. "The vision still has its times," he proclaims, "presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not be late."

Both the author of II Timothy and Luke the evangelist experience something similar. Those who first followed Jesus thought they were only in this "faith-thing" for the short run. No matter the difficulties they faced, Jesus would return quickly in the Parousia, punish their persecutors and take His faithful with Him to heaven. But by the last third of the first century, when the two authors write, Jesus still hasn't returned.

Plans alter

Each informs his community, "There's been a change in plans." Because they no longer expect Jesus' return in their lifetime, they reinterpret His words, applying them to the long-run faith both communities now experience.

The II Timothy writer encourages his people to "bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God....guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us" (II Tim 1: 6-8, 13-14).

Luke zeroes in on his community's faith, quoting Jesus' famous statement, "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you" (Lk 17: 5-10).

All three authors make an important point: While each lives in a world in which things aren't quite what God's word said they would be, developing a meaningful relationships with God guarantees their faith won't dead-end.

"The just one, because of his or her faith, shall live," Habakkuk promises. "Take as your norm," the II Timothy author writes, "the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." Luke's Jesus teaches, "When you have done all you have been commanded, say, `We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'"

Those who fault Queen Isabella for her anti-Semitism can do so only if they're willing to explore parts of God's word that they've yet to uncover.

(10-04-01)