Bishop Morneau's Column|
"Reflection on the Readings"
|Bishop Robert Morneau
Don't give up the search for peace
Refuse despair by focusing on Jesus' message of love and forgiveness
September 30, 2001, Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Bishop Robert Morneau
Questions for reflection:
1. What values guide your life?
2. Do you listen to the prophets? To the prophet, Jesus?
3. How do you pursue holiness and righteousness?
In a novel by Walker Percy, The Moviegoer, the central character is searching desperately for something but he's not sure what it is. He turns to money and sex, but making money as a broker and engaging in several relationships fail to bring him peace.
In a sense, this fictional character resembles the man in Jesus' parable who is suffering in the afterlife because of a selfish and indulgent life. The rich man had spent all this energy pursing wealth and wound up losing himself in the process. And yet, from the the dead, he had concern for his relatives hoping that they would not make the same mistake.
Back to The Moviegoer. John Bolling (nickname Binx), our stockbroker and searcher, although not a person of faith, has several serious conversations with Lonnie Smith, a 14-year-old boy confined to a wheel chair. Lonnie has a deep faith life -- he prays, celebrates the sacrament of reconciliation, attends Mass. Like St. Paul's advice to Timothy regarding righteousness, gentleness and love, Lonnie is focused on these virtues.
In speaking with Binx, Lonnie mentions that he must fast to control his "habitual dispositions" that take him away from God. When ill, Lonnie received the sacrament of the sick in deep faith and recovered from a serious illness.
Interestingly, the "unbelieving" John is very understanding, kind and affirming of Lonnie's faith even though he himself does not practice any faith. In spite of his undisciplined lifestyle and his despondency, something (someone) empowered Binx to relate at a deep level with the disabled youngster. Let's call that something "grace."
Toward the end of the story, Lonnie dies at age 15. His siblings ask Binx whether Lonnie will have a wheelchair in heaven. John states emphatically -- no, no wheelchairs in heaven. Lonnie will be able to water-ski just like the other kids.
Here is another parable, contemporary in nature, that deals with the mystery of eternal life and has a different conclusion than the Gospel narrative. Jesus' story of Lazarus and the rich man ends on a sad note. Even if someone were to come back from the dead to tell people to change their behavior, it would be for naught. Jesus recognizes that conversion is difficult and that humans get set in their ways. That's why the prophets have in their vocabulary such words as "alas" and "woe." Caught up in fine wine, luxury, "everydayness," we lose the search and slip into despair -- not even knowing it!
What about our lives? What does God's word and a contemporary novel have to say to us? Probably this: don't give up the search. Pursue a deep spiritual life in our complex, affluent culture. Refuse despair. Keep your sight fixed on Jesus and his message of love and forgiveness. Challenge one another when things become more important than relationships. Affirm one another when discouragement overwhelms the heart. Never give up.
In heaven everyone will be able to water-ski because in heaven we are free from all physical, psychological, and spiritual impediments. All this because Jesus, the risen Lord, is near and living among us -- in all this messiness we call life.
(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)