Spirituality of the Readings
My Own Heart
What is life about, here on earth?
The First Reading says,
Deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans. The body weighs down the soul, the earth weighs down the mind. … What is within our grasp we find with difficulty.
Sounds like the writer is having a bad day. But these words actually do apply to all life. We have choices, we have problems. What are we to do?
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
This is the Serenity Prayer, well-known, possibly trite to some people. But it shows us the essence of humility: be who you are, not more, not less. Trust in God for everything you can do and cannot do. Let go, let God.
So, we have the first answer. Life here on earth, even though timid and heavy, is about humility.
The second answer is love. Real, toiling, sweating love.
Look at the apostle Paul in the Second Reading—the fiery, tempestuous Paul, now an old man and in prison. We are reading a personal letter here, one he wrote to a man named Philemon. It turns out that Philemon’s slave Onesimus has run away and come to Paul, who was in prison. Paul became like a father to him, converted him to Christianity and now sends him back to Philemon, not as a slave, but “as a man and in the Lord.”
Listen to the language Paul uses. “I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.” Onesimus is not chattel. Paul is sending someone so dear to him that he refers to that man as “my own heart.”
A truly personal love. It is what life here on earth is all about.
The third answer, as the Gospel tells us, is to get our values straight. Jesus says he wants you to
1. hate your father, mother, children, brothers, sisters, and your own life,
2. renounce all your possessions,
3. carry your own cross just as he carries his.
Hang on, don’t panic. These sound horrible, but examine them.
1. The word “hate” is probably an oratorical way to say “love them in proportion.” If you let love of God be first in your life, your beloved family will come right along with it. If you do not, you will lose them. Hate means not going overboard in their importance to you.
2. “Renounce all your possessions.” If you are tempted to love material things above all else, then, renounce them. It is God you need to love above all things, and everything else in proportion.
3. Carry a cross? Why? Because it is far too easy for us to pretend that the world really is not painful, that no one actually suffers. But they do and we do, in a big way. “Taking up our cross” sends us out with Jesus to help others carry theirs.
And that is the real and final answer to the problems presented in the First Reading. What is life about here on earth? It is about being humble, about loving others truly, and about loving God above all things.
If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University