The Body Is Not A Single Part, But Many

Today’s second Mass reading comes from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and it is a passage I think we could all benefit from reflecting on.

All of us, to at least some extent, have a sense that some jobs are more important than others. We tend to think more highly of the brain surgeon than the trash collector, or of the professor than of the cashier in the grocery store. Lamentably, we sometimes tend to carry over the view of the job to the person, therefore deciding that some people are less valuable than others.

Today’s passage from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians reminds us that we are all part of one body and, once we accept that, we can not say that any one part is more important than any other. For, as Paul quite logically says, using his analogy to the physical body, one can’t say the ear is more important than the sense of smell, for “if the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be.” Likewise, if the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? A functioning body needs all of its parts, so if one part suffers, the entire body suffers.

The same is true of our giftedness. Some gifts may look better or more important than others. But all are necessary and therefore all are to be honored and respected.

I think this is a hard lesson for us to internalize. We often see as the world sees, not as God sees. We need to remind ourselves that we are all part of one body, each part of which is gifted in a particular way and each part of which is vitally important to the functioning of the whole.

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Seedlings

While starting to put together the prayer material for the Lent Retreats in Daily Living I’ll be giving at both the University of St. Thomas and at St. Hubert’s this year, I picked up an old favorite collection of prayers and poems – Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits. It is a book I’ve used often (and heartily recommend), but haven’t looked at in a while.

One of the things I came across, which I honestly never remember seeing before in the book is something titled Seedlings, which contains some verses by Anthony de Mello, S.J. The suggestion is to place the statement in one’s heart and gently ponder on its inner meaning.

Here are two, each of which speaks a simple truth, but in each case a truth we sometimes often don’t grasp. So my invitation is to take one of them and sit with it. As the book instructs, the idea is not to “force it open with your mind,” but sipmly to “sow it in your heart. And give it time.”

You do not
have
to change
for God
to love
you.

Be grateful
for your sins.
They are carriers
of grace.

Answering the Summons

In today’s Gospel from St. Mark, Jesus “summoned those he wanted and they came to him.” The passage itself refers to Jesus’ summons of the “Twelve, whom he also named Apostles.” Those twelve were an incredibly diverse group, including fishermen, a tax collector and a zealot primarily interested in seeing the Roman forces overthrown. They included well-known names as well as some of whom we know nothing. They included the bumbling Peter, who never seemed to get things quite right, and Judas, who would betray Jesus.

It is good for us to remember the Twelve who were called. Today’s Gospel reminds us that God doesn’t only call people who look or act a certain way. He doesn’t only call those who look holy, those who occupy certain positions, those who will get all the answers right.

Instead, God calls each and every one of us. Whatever our our strengths and weaknesses, whatever our talents, whatever our leaning, God has some task to which we are each uniquely suited. Ours is a God who writes straight with crooked lines, as the saying goes, who looks at each of us and says: I can work with that.

Jesus summoned those he wanted “and they came to him.” God calls us and leaves it to us to decide whether to respond.

How will you answer the call?

Praying for Our Brothers and Our Sisters

We continue to hear reports of the devastating effects of last week’s earthquake in Haiti. Many are on the ground in Haiti, offering medical and other assistance. Many more of us are able to donate financially. All of us, however are able to pray. Those prayers will continue to be needed for a long time, long after many people’s attention have moved onto somthing else. And so this day I share this prayer from the National Cathedral, and ask that we join in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Haiti:

Gracious God,
I lift my voice in prayer with all the people of the world.

Surround Haiti and her people
with your loving embrace
that they may be:

supported by the world in the work of rescue and recovery;
comforted as they grieve;
strengthened as they bury their dead;
healed as they tend their wounds;
restored in faith and the
hope of things unseen;
and transformed through newness of life in Christ.

Make me an instrument
of divine love, of mercy, of hope, and of new possibility.
Give me eyes to see,
ears to hear, the will to act, and a discerning and generous heart
that I may serve you and those who suffer in whatever way I am able.

In and through the power of the Holy Spirit, I pray. Amen.

Ordinary Time

I was reflecting on the fact that the Christmas season is over and we are now in Ordinary Time in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church. Although “ordinary” in this context doesn’t mean usual or average, so much as it means not-seasonal, there is some value in keeping in mind our usual understanding of the world.

Jesus, although he is without sin, got baptized, just like ordinary people.

Jesus picked for his disciples ordinary people.

God became human and ate and drank and slept just like ordinary people.

Jesus, of course, did much that is not ordinary – walking on water, raising the dead, feeding multitudes with a few fish and loaves of bread. But more often than not, he had quiet, ordinary moments with his friends and family and with those with whom he came in contact.

God’s becoming human inserted God into our ordinary lives. God shares with us our ordinary lives. God works through ordinary people, often doing quite ordinary things. And God’s constant presence in our lives, the strength we get from God’s working through us, makes our lives quite extraordinary.

Anoint Who?

Today’s first Mass reading, from the First Book of Samuel, reminds us that God doesn’t always make choices in the way we might expect. God tells Samuel to go to Jesse of Bethlehem, telling him that God has chosen one of Jesse’s sons to be his king.

As the first son, Eliab, is presented to him – doubtless the oldest, perhaps the most impressive, Samuel is sure, based on Eliab’s “appearance and his lofty stature,” that this must be the one. But God tells him no. One by one, seven of Jesse’s sons are brought forth and rejected. When Samuel asks if there are any others, Jesse (dismissively, one imagines) mentions his “youngest, who is tending the sheep.” When the youth, David, is brought in, God tells Samuel to “anoint him, for this is he!”

As God tells Samuel, “Not as man sees does God see, because he sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”

We are often fooled by appearances. It is easy for us to make judgments about people based on all sorts of external factors – their age, their stature or other aspects of how they look, how they speak, etc. Just as Samuel looked at Jesse’s Eliab and thought, surely this must be the one God intends, we make assumptions about who is “best” or who deserves certain positions or honors.

Today’s reading reminds us that we see only certain things – and often not the most important things, which means that not only should we be less quick to judge, but that we should be more open to choices that don’t seem to accord with ones we would have made. It also invites us to strive, as much as we can, to see as God sees.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Loving Our Enemies

Today, the United States celebrates Martin Luther King Day, one of the very few U.S. holidays commemorating an individual person. We celebrate King for his commitment to nonviolence in his protest of racial discrimination, a commitment that was rooted in his Christian faith.

King preached magnificently on many topics, including Jesus’ command that we love our enemy. In a sermon he gave in 1957, he rejected out of hand the suggestion that the Jesus didn’t really mean that we should love our enemy or that it represented a utopian dream. Instead, he called love of enemy “an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization” and claimed that in giving that command “Jesus wasn’t playing,” but was quite serious.

For King, a key to our ability to love our enemies is to discover the element of good in them, the starting point for which is recognizing that none of us is either all good or all bad. He said:

I’ve said to you on many occasions that each of us is something of a schizophrenic personality. We’re split up and divided against ourselves. And there is something of a civil war going on within all of our lives. There is a recalcitrant South of our soul revolting against the North of our soul. And there is this continual struggle within the very structure of every individual life. There is something within all of us that causes us to cry out with Ovid, the Latin poet, “I see and approve the better things of life, but the evil things I do.” There is something within all of us that causes us to cry out with Plato that the human personality is like a charioteer with two headstrong horses, each wanting to go in different directions. There is something within each of us that causes us to cry out with Goethe, “There is enough stuff in me to make both a gentleman and a rogue.” There is something within each of us that causes us to cry out with Apostle Paul, “I see and approve the better things of life, but the evil things I do.”

So somehow the “isness” of our present nature is out of harmony with the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts us. And this simply means this: That within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals. The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls “the image of God,” you begin to love him in spite of. No matter what he does, you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never sluff off. Discover the element of good in your enemy. And as you seek to hate him, find the center of goodness and place your attention there and you will take a new attitude.

Neither the command to love our neighbor nor King’s call for us to find the good in all people is always easy. But we see from the state of the world in which we live the consequences of our failure to do so. King may not be guilty of hyperbole when he said that if we are to survive we must learn to do this.