Why is it that tearing down is easier than building up? Despite our advances in technology and infrastructure design we seem more and more to be a People of Destruction. We thirst for words of encouragement and edification yet fail to offer any of our own to our fellow travelers.
I thought of this while sitting at the final Mass of the school year yesterday morning where my two youngest children attend school. I sat in the back pews occupied by other parents, grandparents and the younger siblings of those Kindergarten-through-7th graders (the 8th grade graduated over the weekend) who filed in to sit and pray in the front 2/3s of the church. Well…sit anyhow. My daughter spent the final Mass of her kindergarten year on her knees appearing to pray but discretely chattering to the boys sitting in front of her and looking six rows behind her to where I was seated to wave every ten minutes. Life never slows down for Sophie, whether dressed in a powder-blue polo with plaid jumper or a summer dress. (I wrote about her first day of Kindergarten here.)
The gospel reading for yesterday was from Mark and began:
Jesus said to his disciples: “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward. (Mark 9:41)
I always enjoy attending our school’s Mass because the priests do a great job of simplifying the message in each day’s gospel for the children. On this day Father Lyle spoke of how when we offer our words of encouragement to others we are giving them a cup of water of which Jesus spoke. “All during the school year,” Father continued, “your teachers have given you many cups of cool water to drink. So have your friends, your parents and the rest of your family.” He spoke to the students (and to us in the back) about being ready and willing to provide these cups of water and encouragement to others around us. We wouldn’t just walk by a man or woman dying of thirst. And in a world whose throat is parched for lack of encouragement we’d be cruel to do so.
After Mass I went home for an hour while the kids and teachers finished their last “class” together. It was a cool and overcast morning as I sat outside with my coffee and breviary. In the Office of Readings I read the following from Ecclesiastes:
Do not be hasty with your resentment, for resentment is found in the heart of fools. Do not ask why earlier days were better than these, for that is not a question prompted by wisdom. Wisdom is a precious legacy, a boon for those on whom the sun shines. For as money gives protection, so does wisdom; and the good that knowledge imparts is this: its possessor finds that wisdom keeps him safe.
Avoid resentment. Make wisdom my legacy. Got it, Lord. I’m trying. Oh, how I’m trying.
Do not be over-virtuous
nor play too much the sage;
– why drive yourself too hard?
I am hardly the paragon of virtue, so that one is easy. But I try to be sage-like. I seek wisdom, because I know it does keep one safe in ways seen and unseen.
So I read on. And then in the second reading, from the instructions of St. Columbanus:
God is everywhere. He is immeasurably vast and yet everywhere he is close at hand, as he himself bears witness: I am a God close at hand, and not a God who is distant. It is not a God who is far away that we are seeking, since (if we deserve it) he is within us. For he lives in us as the soul lives in the body – if only we are healthy limbs of his, if we are dead to sin. Then indeed he lives within us, he who has said: And I will live in them and walk among them. If we are worthy for him to be in us then in truth he gives us life, makes us his living limbs. As St Paul says, In him we live and move and have our being.
He is within us. In truth he gives us life. We are his living limbs: the body of Christ.
St. Columbanus concludes:
Therefore, seek the highest knowledge not by words and arguments but by perfect and right action. Not with the tongue, gathering arguments from God-free theories, but by faith, which proceeds from purity and simplicity of heart. If you seek the ineffable by means of argument, it will be further from you than it was before; if you seek it by faith, wisdom will be in her proper place at the gateway to knowledge, and you will see her there, at least in part. Wisdom is in a certain sense attained when you believe in the invisible without first demanding to understand it. God must be believed in as he is, that is, as being invisible; even though he can be partly seen by a pure heart.
And there’s the whole shebang in a nutshell. We cannot seek or display wisdom through argument. No matter how much we try or how good we get at it, it simply will not do. Instead we must employ “perfect and right action.” Not through the tongue, but by faith.
We must show we are willing to offer our cups of water. Not just to those who are obviously thirsty and closes to us, though that would be a great place to start. But we must also provide them to those for whom it is not always easy to do so.
As if to drive the point home the reading from Morning Prayer was from 1 Peter 4:10-11:
Each one of you has received a special grace, so, like good stewards responsible for all these different graces of God, put yourselves at the service of others. If you are a speaker, speak in words which seem to come from God; if you are a helper, help as though every action was done at God’s orders; so that in everything God may receive the glory, through Jesus Christ, since to him alone belong all glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.
Speak and help. Ok already God! I got it.
Four examples, two pulled from today’s headlines:
Example #1: Russell Shaw, writing in the aftermath of the bombings at the Boston Marathon, asks “does faith point to any meaning in current events?”
Looking for an answer, I turned to an old book by Caryll Houselander, a notable British spiritual writer of the last century with a strong mystical streak and a powerful sense of the Mystical Body of Christ. The book, This War Is the Passion, was written in wartime London at the height of the Blitz and published in 1941. The title wasn’t poetry but, for Houselander, a statement of literal fact. “For us,” the book begins, “the war is the Passion of Christ.”
This is not the place to attempt a genuine summary of this unusual book, much less a critique. I quote only one passage in illustration of the author’s message:
“The consistent Christian will, with Christ for his strength, be led on to risk all he has, gladly, offering his sacrifice in reparation for all evil. He will see men not as people of different nations at war, but as one great family, wounded, insane, in dire need of healing and help, and in all that he does he will offer the only healing and help there is, Christ in his heart for a sacrifice.”
Example #2 happened only two days ago in London. Meet Ingrid Loyau-Kennet, the mother of two who calmly confronted the men who butchered Lee Rigby in the streets of Woolwich, England.
Ingrid Loyau-Kennet, a practising Catholic, told the Daily Telegraph: “I live my life as a Christian. I believe in thinking about others and loving thy neighbour. We all have a duty to look after each other. A whole group of people walking towards those guys would have found it easy to take those weapons out of their hands. But me, on my own, I couldn’t.”
Mrs Loyau-Kennet was travelling on the Number 53 bus through Woolwich in south east London on Wednesday afternoon when she saw a man lying in the road. She immediately got out to help him.
She said: “I took his arm to feel his pulse. There was blood on the pavement where he had been dragged and blood was pouring out of him. Suddenly this excited black man came up to me and said: ‘Get away from the body; don’t touch it.’ I looked up and I could see red hands, a bloodied revolver, bloodied meat cleaver and a butcher’s knife. OK, I thought, this is bad.”
After speaking to the first suspect, Mrs Loyau-Kennett asked the second suspect “if he wanted to sit down and give me what he had in his hands”.
Mrs Loyau-Kennet remained with the soldier, identified yesterday as Drummer Lee Rigby, despite an onlooker advising her to move away. She said: “I told her I wasn’t leaving; as long as I don’t see professionals here, I’m staying. He knows me; he knows I’m calm. I’m not afraid whatsoever. I’ll stay until something happens.”
Shaw provides encouragement to us all to imitate Christ, with our very lives if necessary. Loyau-Kennet manifested this through her actions and thus provided us all with a cup of cool water.
Example #3: Stacy Transancos recently blogged The Fable of Can and Could. It is truly a parable for our times and contains a great moral.
Example #4: a call to action by the organization Catholic Vote.
At www.catholicvote365.org visitors are encouraged to join this movement and pledge to make acts of Faith, of Charity and of Hope.
Now those are some cool cups of water offered to dry and parched lips. Who’s thirsty?