Fr. Paul MacNeil
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Life after delivery.
I want to begin today by sharing with you some of the greatest teaching the world has ever seen - moments in the history of humanity that have changed us. These moments have had a revolutionary impact on peace and life in the community, and all of them represent great moments of human discovery and advancement:
Monotheism. Humanity has always deeply needed to sacrifice and worship some deity above us. It is a deep human instinct and, as far as I'm concerned, a good one. I think it is responding to a fundamental truth that we are created by something greater than us for a purpose greater than us. I believe, of course, that this finds its highest expression in two related moments: the discovery of monotheism by Abraham and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Invention and imagination. Somewhere along the line, humanity discovered the value of work and the value of ingenuity. The advances in agriculture, economy, mathematics, and even philosophy have benefitted humanity, perhaps no more so than today. No, we haven't found a cure for cancer, but our discoveries in biology and chemistry have been nothing short of mind-boggling.
Love of others. At some point, humanity realized that compassion and love are important values. To put the needs of others ahead of our own in some circumstances is not always the first thing we think of doing. But at some point, humanity realized that we are much stronger when we work together.
But I don't think any of these discoveries can hold a candle (no pun intended) to the teaching of Jesus about turning the other cheek. This, as an engineer might say, is an order of magnitude different:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.“
What’s new in this teaching is a different perspective on sacrifice. Jesus here talks about total, self-giving love with no expectation of a reward. It is the ultimate in generosity, which He demonstrated in his death on the cross.
Allow me to consider a fitting example from an unlikely source: Spiderman.
In the latest cinematic release of Spiderman, Peter Parker (Spiderman's alter ego) laments deeply that his secret identity has been revealed. Society painfully rejected him, and his friends were put at risk. He wanted to correct this state of affairs, so he got his magician friend, Dr. Strange, to cast as spell undoing everything such that no one would remember his secret identity. Unfortunately, in trying to cast the spell so that his closest friends could still remember him, they screwed up the spell and put the entire universe at risk. The only way to correct the attempted correction was to recast the spell so that this time, no one would know who he was, not even his girlfriend.
I found this very sad and a very profound level of sacrifice. Not only would his friends not recognize all he did to save the universe, but they wouldn't even realize that he had sacrificed his relationship with them. They wouldn't be any the wiser, but he would know it. And he would have to live with that.
Thinking about this makes me wonder if we know what sacrifice means at that level. To forgive even those who may not forgive you. To love even those who we know do not love us. How do we do this?
We need a higher perspective. Peter Parker did what he did because he knew it would save the universe. He could live with that and get on with his life. If we are called to make that kind of sacrifice, we can do it if we respond to a higher calling, and that calling, in my opinion, is connected to our belief in eternal life. We can do this if we properly understand who God is and how much we are loved. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”
A story to conclude:
In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?”
The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.” “Nonsense,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?” The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.” The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”
The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”
The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover, if there is life, then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery, there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”
“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”
The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”
The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her, this world would not and could not exist.”
Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”
To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”