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Sunday Readings for Feb. 6, 2011 (5A)
By Fr. John Foley, S. J.
In the Gospels of the last four Sundays we have been following the story of Jesus’ early career. First he went to be baptized. Then he moved to Capernaum from Galilee when John the Baptist was killed, and he chose his apostles (who somehow knew him as the one to follow). Last Sunday we heard part of his “inaugural address,” the beatitudes.
This Sunday Jesus begins to instruct the disciples about how to be his followers.
In the Gospel he says, in effect, be what you are. If you are salt then don’t lose your flavor of salt. If you are a lamp then don’t put a basket over yourself so no one can see your light. Give light. Give savor.
Consoling advice. Be yourself.
But what does it mean, to “be yourself”? The First Reading says to share your bread with the hungry. Shelter the oppressed and the homeless. Clothe the naked. Do not turn away from you own. Rather than being a self-centered “yourself,” begin to let the small light that is you shine in the darkness. This is how Jesus enlightened the world. He even went to death for it. Couldn’t this be the real meaning of “becoming yourself”?
Ouch. It is a huge assignment, and maybe one I do not want.
Why not go instead with the contemporary definition of “being me”? “I do whatever I feel like doing.” “I take care of number one.” “If it feels good, I do it.” And so on.
Be like the song that Sinatra and Paul Anka wrote a while back:
I planned each charted course,
each careful step, along the byway,
and more, much more than this,
I did it my way.
Rather than planning or being careful, or having a real course of life, “I” have succeeded in life because I did everything however I wanted to. “I” don’t want to live according to someone else’s design. “Me.” It is my life.
Why is this so attractive? For one thing, mass production and mass advertising and mass purchasing have made us cogs in a giant, international, industrial wheel, not worth anything of ourselves but contributing to the market as long as we do and buy what we are supposed to. They even try to make us feel free about it. So, “to do it my way” is a statement about facing down the great machine and defying it outright. Unfortunately, by facing it down, we are following another dictate of advertising. “I'm worth it.”
The scriptures envision freedom in a very different way. They suppose that every human being is created with an unrepeatable, deep, interior shape. Rather than fighting to do my own will—no matter what—freedom is allowing the Spirit of God to find a home deep within the space that is me, the Spirit of loving, of respect, of forgiveness. This is the Spirit of God. You and I are built to be at one it. Becoming myself means becoming what I was built to be: a home for the Spirit of Jesus and of God.
This love becomes us, in both senses: it is “attractive” (like a becoming dress), and it turns into us. It shows us ourselves really deep down: receivers and givers of food, of help to the homeless, of forgiveness and love for all members of society.
Nothing else is more truly your own free self.