The late author Madeleine L’Engle was and is one of my heros. Growing up, I was deeply touched by her science fiction youth book series starting with the famous A Wrinkle in Time – which was recently adapted into a movie. Her writings were full of deep reflection on core themes in the Christian faith and theology.
In a publication of her journals after her death called A Circle of Quiet, we can see how Madeleine’s faith was so significant in her creative work. In that book, she relates a conversation she had about the term “Christian” and her reaction to it. She said:
“Two people whose opinion I respect told me that the word “Christian” would turn people off. This certainly says something about the state of Christianity today. I wouldn’t mind if to be a Christian were accepted as being the dangerous thing which it is; I wouldn’t mind if, when a group of Christians meet for bread and wine, we might well be interrupted and jailed for subversive activities; I wouldn’t mind if, once again, we were being thrown to the lions. I do mind, desperately, that the word “Christian” means for so many people smugness, and sanctimony, and holier-than-thouness. Who today can recognize a Christian because of “how those Christians love one another?”
Although written decades ago, there are many who would look at the lives of many Christians in our world today – even very powerful ones – and see more of the holier-than-thou, than of the holy.
Today’s readings remind us of the primary focus of our faith, which is a recovery of the ‘dangerous memory’ of Jesus which Madeleine L’Engle wrote about, as well as the heart of faith as trusting relationship and a gentle correction to those who think they always have it all figured out.
St. Paul reflects in the first reading about being reminded in a painful way – ‘a thorn in the flesh’ – as he says it, that all of his spiritual gifts and his very life come from and are dedicated to God. He recognizes that when it seems he is weakest, God can lift him up in strength and in turn strengthen others.
Maybe you see yourself as weak in faith or wonder if you are a good person because you doubt or are suffering. St. Paul has a word of inspiration for you today – Christ is always with us, even in our suffering. Our faith doesn’t always need to be perfect, but we are invited to remember that God is with us, even in times of deep doubt and uncertainty. What a blessed word for those who are sick or struggling to hear! It is a reminder about humility in the face of our weakness but also a call to trust in the promise that God loves us and sustains us. And when we experience that sustaining, amazing grace, it gives us an even deeper humility and compassion for others.
In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us that if money and power are what we seek, we will desperately want to acquire it and cling to it. Jesus’ advice about not letting worry overtake us isn’t a call to abandon the plans we have for life and our daily needs, but to remind us that the desire to have more, and hold more, breeds anxiety. That makes us act out of fear of loss rather than remembering that our God is a God of abundance, who loves us abundantly, and cares for our needs more than we could ever possibly imagine.
When we cling to things rather than to God we become as Pope Francis has said, slaves to the possessions. And when we think we are better than others – as Madeleine L’Engle reminds us – there is no longer room for love of others. In that case, our hearts are literally ‘possessed’ by fear.
By seeking first the Reign of God – as Jesus says – that is the right relationship with God and one another in our personal lives and the life of our world – we will build the community of love we desire which will bring forth the abundance of God’s love in its fullness and begin to drive out the fear inside and outside that wants to be “better than”others and, instead, embraces, in humility, the good that God has created us to be.
God give you peace!
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As Director of Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I have the opportunity to record video reflections on the readings of the Scriptures proclaimed at daily Mass. I do so as part of larger group of colleagues at the Conference, along with lay and ordained leaders from around the country. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the readings for the life of faith today and to share them here, along with the written text of the reflections. To view these video reflections for past and upcoming celebrations of the Eucharist, visit the USCCB website.