Spirituality of the Readings
My Own Heart
What is life here on earth all about, anyway? We know it is not an easy task.
The First Reading spells out the problem:
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.
These words apply to all life. We have difficult choices, we have problems. What are we supposed 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 the essence of humility: be who you are, not more, not less. Trust in God for everything you cannot do and for everything you can do. Let go, let God.
So, that is the first answer. Life here on earth, even though timid and weighed down, is about humility.
The second answer is love. Real, toiling, sweating love.
Look at the apostle Paul in the Second Reading—the formerly fiery, tempestuous Paul—now an old man and in prison. We are reading a personal letter here, one he wrote to Philemon. It turns out that Philemon’s slave Onesimus ran away and ended up being with Paul, who was in prison. Paul says, touchingly, that he became a father to Onesimus, 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 a piece of chattel. Paul is sending someone so dear to him that he refers to the man as “his own heart.”
This is true personal love. It is what life here on earth is all about.
As the third answer, Jesus says (surprisingly) that 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.
Shocking, but not as bad as it might first seem. Let’s look.
1. The word “hate” is probably an oratorical way to say “love them in proportion.” If you allow love of God be first in your life, then your beloved family will come right along with it. If you do not, you will lose them. “Hate” means not having anyone get overboard in their importance to you.
2. “Renounce all your possessions.” If you are tempted to love material things more than anything else, then renounce them. It is God you need to love above all things, and everything else in proportion.
3. We are supposed to 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
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University