Reflections for Sunday, October 29, 2017 by Ewelina Frackowiak

 

Reflection for the twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time by Ewelina Frackowiak

Readings: 1 Is 45:1, 4-6, 1 Thes 1:1-5B, Mt. 22: 15-21

When the United Church of Canada joined yet another political campaign during a humanitarian crisis abroad, my friend M. was happy but envious.  “In a crisis like this, we, Catholics, pray” – she said and rolled her eyes so I could get that prayers are not enough. Do you have an impression that Catholic communities abstain from taking a political stand or actions for social justice? I was about to disagree with my friend but then I remembered religion classes in communist Poland, my country of origin. We were certainly talking a lot about the next life, ignoring the confusing times in which we lived.

If there is some truth in my friends claim, and if Christianity becomes sometimes a shelter from life, today’s gospel, or rather a certain interpretation of it, is responsible. One way of reading it is to see a division: some things are of the world, some things are of God and we’d better focus on the latter. Such thinking is dangerous and we will see how shortly. But let me just point out that Jesus, who knows that the Pharisees do not want to learn from his answer but intend to ensnare him, sets a logic trap for them replying to deception with deception. When Jesus asks: “whose image is on the coin”, he means “who is portrayed on the coin”. He gets an answer – this is Caesar’s image. The phrase is ambiguous and he reacts as if the Pharisees intended to use it with the other meaning: this is an image that Caesar OWNS. Playing with language enables Jesus to avoid answering either yes or no and gets him out of trouble.

There is no division between the world and God. Certainly God must be on our minds and in our hearts – the greatest commandment is: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22.37).  But this love should not be practised in a vacuum, in some heaven-like world parallel to this one. This commandment about love of God is followed by the call to love our neighbour here and now… From the parable of the Good Samaritan, we know that everyone is our neighbour. We are called to love everyone, including our enemies, who in the light of our love cease being enemies altogether.

But how to do that? How to develop the capacity to love everyone including our enemies? One way is to start with loving oneself. I can start with loving the whole me – with my desires for pleasure, my fears of the unknown, my feelings of inadequacy that arise from time to time. Loving all those desires and feelings does not necessary mean acting on them, of course. But if you understand and accept them in yourself, you will not be in a conflict with yourself and hence you will not project your inner conflicts into the world.

Another way of practicing love for all is learning to drop the illusion of separateness from others. This one is harder because of the way our minds work. The moment we feel that something we experience via our senses is unpleasant, we ran away from it. By doing so we solidify the sense of self which we want to protect. Similarly when we have a gut feeling that something is pleasant – the sense of self in us gets stronger thanks to our desire to grasp and hold on to the source of pleasure.  Let’s practice staying with the feelings of either pleasant or unpleasant (only if it is not traumatic) and avoid either running away or grasping.[1] We can also contemplate the Eucharist and the sense of our interconnectedness it gives us, the writings of St. Paul in which he stresses that we are one in Christ, and our own experiences in which we felt one with someone we love or with nature.

Cultivating the sense of a division between God and the world can be dangerous. If we start feeling disdain towards something, someone, because we label it as “of this world” and not of God, we will put obstacles to our all-encompassing love and we will harm ourselves in effect.

And the world needs our love. The compassion we feel for those of us who suffer because of social inequalities, and the race to obtain wealth and power, may prompt us to act for justice. The compassion we feel for the Earth whose gradual destruction through pollution and climate change happens before our eyes, may prompt us to demand a change of the ways we use Earth’s resources. Naomi Klein in her latest book “No Is Not Enough” calls for a positive, value-based vision, a story that unites us all and that is based “on healing the planet and offering those who are hurting – for lack of jobs (…), lack of peace, lack of hope – a tangibly better life”[2]. In love, the all-encompassing love that God models, we a have a foundation needed for this vision.  Let’s leap into action.

[1] For more details see: Trungpa, Chogyam. 2010. Cutting through Spiritual Materialism. Shambhala Publications (chapter: The Development of Ego, p.143)

[2] Klein, Naomi. 2017. No Is Not Enough. Alfred A. Knopf Canada, p. 8-9