September 23, 2012


If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.

– Mark 9: 35

   In one episode of the comic strip “Peanuts,” Charlie Brown is worrying about his chronic, lifelong sense of low self-esteem. He says to Linus, “It goes all the way back to the beginning. The moment I was born & stepped on the stage of history, they took one look at me & said, ‘not right for the part!’” There is an expression that describes this feeling – toxic shame.

   In the creation story of Genesis, we find these words: “And God blessed them & God said to them….” Only to His human creation did God speak, & therein lies our true dignity: the capacity to commune with God & with one another.

   When we stepped on the stage of history, God had prepared us for the performance & made us right for the part. But with this capacity goes the requirement of fulfilling it in a certain way. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15: 12).

   When we stepped on the stage of history, we were destined for greatness, & were given the capacity for it; but to achieve that destiny we must learn to love. I say “learn” because this kind of love does not come automatically. It requires us to deny ourselves. The kind of love the Greeks called “eros” is self-centered & self-serving. Love does make the world go ‘round in the sense that creation itself is an expression of God’s love, & apart from it life is absurd. In the words of St, Paul:

“If I speak in human & angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy & comprehend all mysteries & all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, & if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor. 13: 1-3)

To which we might add, “If I have put away enough CD’s & Treasury bills to guarantee financial security for life, but have not love, I am nothing. If I have been a conscientious citizen, voting in each election & paying my taxes, but have not love, I am nothing. If I’ve worked my fingers to the bone to send my children to college, but have not love, I am nothing. If I have skillfully managed the household budget for 25 years, but have not love, I am nothing. If I have been a faithful Church-goer all my life, but have not love, I am nothing.”

   To paraphrase the late Gertrude Stein, “We’ve got the syrup, but it doesn’t pour.” We’ve got the God given capacity to be something special, but we don’t use it: we subordinate it, suppress it & stifle it with our own desires. We’ve got the capacity to really live, but we sacrifice it on the altar of conformity & laziness.

   The challenge Jesus confronts us with is to choose life & choose it NOW. Many of us who claim to be His followers seem always to be waiting, never participating lovingly & graciously in what is now – in life today. Because we’ve never found ourselves today, tomorrow never comes. Like poor old Charlie Brown, “When my ship comes in, I’ll probably be at the airport.”

   “And God saw everything He had made, & behold it was very good.” May Good look upon us & say once again, “Behold it is very good. Behold, they are right for the part!”  AMEN.