THAT “DAMNED SPOT” IN OUR LIVES
Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflections
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
September 20, 2009
Scheming and plotting – along with the guilt that they bring to the more sensitive souls among us, are not a monopoly of modern women and men like us. Among others, envy, jealousy, selfish ambition and other forms of “foul practice” are among the regular themes that help keep the teleserye crazed entertainment industry financially rewarding. Such emotions and baser drives that are considered part and parcel of our being human, constitute the foundation of so many plots of novels, movies, and soap operas so much awaited and appreciated all over the world.
“Out, damned spot!” This futile, though feverish – if, compulsive – cry of Lady Macbeth, gnawed by guilt after having taken part in a murderous conspiracy, is a very clear illustration of what all this scheming can lead to – misery for both the perpetrator and the victim.
But lest we fall into an unredeemable state of hopelessness and pessimism, I would hasten to add that this is just one side of the equation in terms of our being human, steeped as we are, by the will of God the Creator, in a world of possibilities to becoming holy… human, yes … but not only so … humans called to holiness!
We must situate ourselves in proper perspective at this point. The first reading refers to the nefarious plottings of wicked men: “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings.” But the same plottings are directed, mind you, towards the “just one.” Now, this is an eloquent declaration that good men, and the possibility for goodness to thrive in the midst of evil, do exist in the real world. James the Apostle is definitely cognizant of this twin sided truth. Goodness, which he calls “wisdom from above,” stands out in stark contrast to “jealousy and selfish ambition.” Wisdom, he says, “is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.”
Today’s liturgy places us right in the heart of the classical battle between good and evil.
Let us do a reality check for a short while … The world is still mired in so much violence. Terrorism seems to hog the headlines almost everyday. All over the world, people continue to get paranoid over terroristic threats that hang menacingly like Damocles’ sword. In the local scene, politicians always seem to get the better of us all. It seems so easy to slide to the rock bottom of pessimism and hopelessness, seeing that, for so long, all the people on whom we have pinned so much of our hopes, leave us all disappointed in the end, left holding an empty bag all the time. The whole system in the country always seems to corrupt even the most idealistic person who makes the mistake of going to the fray and entering the lions’ den called Philippine politics.
But let us say more. Let us not stop at this one-sided view of things. In the midst of all this, we see thousands of couples and individuals, along with thousands of ecclesial groups and clusters, not only in the Philippines, but also all over the world, who have taken upon themselves and generously responded to the Holy Father’s call to new evangelization. Literally millions of Filipinos have awakened from the half-stupor of their inherited ritualistic faith and made of it a more personal and dedicated commitment to a personal and living God, via the Catholic Renewal movement. Even as I write, I make a mental recall of names of concrete and living lay men and women who, in their own way, are shining examples of mature faith.
Still, the tendency towards sin, selfishness and “every foul practice” remains in all of us. The Gospel passage of today tells us that not even the small band of the twelve close-in followers of Jesus during his public ministry was an exception. The Lord was all enthused telling them about his imminent death and eventual rising from the dead. But the disciples apparently had other more important concerns in mind. They were locked in a little contest, in a race for whoever it was who would be the first and the greatest. Jesus’ words of utmost importance were obliterated by the disciples’ impertinence! The disciples, in a few words, just seemed to have lost perspective! Discipleship at that moment, was figuratively reduced to a discus-throwing contest. Following the Lord obviously became secondary to “pulling one’s own strings” and aiming for number one!
The disciples’ loss of perspective and their sliding down to utter impertinence occasioned not only a rebuke from the Lord, but also a living presentation of what it means to be first in the Kingdom: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” And he proceeded to present the most telling and living lesson that was never to be forgotten: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”
We all lose our bearings at times. When we are down and out, it is far easier to be focused on our goals, on the direction our life takes. But it is when the going is smooth and serene that we often lose focus and our life begins to veer off course. Too much attention now on money; too much worry later about one’s good name, one’s status. A little too exaggerated concern for comfort now; a lot of undue attention given to the distant future later … The list is endless. Wealth, power, prestige … either the undue desire for them or the perceived utter lack of them in our lives … they can make us all lose our perspective. And when we do, we lose enthusiasm; we lose optimism; we lose faith and trust in the Lord and we gradually get locked in a permanent struggle to be “the first and the greatest.”
Two extreme situations can both make us lose that needed perspective in life: too much, on the one hand, or too little, on the other. Success, fame, fortune … too much of a good thing; sadness, darkness, disappointment, death … too little of what is considered good … Both can send us right down to the basement of despair and personal darkness. Either way, we lose the meaning of life and we get the feeling that we simply have lost hold of everything in life.
It is good for us to be reminded – as the Lord does today – that a simple child in all its simplicity and freedom from care, a child that is the best epitome of one who goes through life focused on just being a child, oblivious of what worries may come, undistracted by the adult games of “who’s the greatest of them all?” can indeed shame us and lead us back to our bearings in life. And what seems to be the child’s message? “THE LORD UPHOLDS MY LIFE!” It is when we recognize that we are deep down in the basement of personal spiritual darkness that we can say with the psalmist and really mean it for what it is worth: “O God, by your name, save me, and by your might defend my cause… For the haughty men have risen up against me, the ruthless seek my life; they set not God before their eyes.”
That loss of perspective … that “damned spot” in our lives … must be nothing more, nothing less and nothing else than this: we “have not set God before our eyes.” And all it takes is a simple child to rouse us from this blind stupor of a bland, faith-less existence.