In the second book of the “Harry Potter” series, Albus Dumbledore tells Harry, “It is our choices…that show that we truly are far more than our abilities.”
Our choices define our character, who we are, our authentic self.
Reflect on this as we read this Sunday’s readings. The first two readings from Jeremiah and the Letter of Paul to the Hebrews show the sufferings that Jeremiah and Christ underwent because of their choice to follow God’s will and mission.
The choice they made brought them suffering, but it also brought out the best in them. It showed their authentic self. Suffering purified them and made them live God’s mission for them “excellently.”
One of the symbols of purification is the crucible, the device used by alchemists of the Middle Ages to refine base metal into gold. Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas did a research on what makes a good or even a great and inspiring leader.
They zeroed in on the person’s ability to handle adversity as key to being this leader; how people can learn and emerge from the most trying experiences in their lives.
Some call such experiences traumatic or monumental failures. Warren and Thomas called them formative and transformative moments, the “crucible experiences.”
They point out that these experiences bring to the fore some key questions a person must answer. Who am I? What is my identity—and, I add, integrity—as a person? What is important to me?
From this soul-searching and questioning emerges a person with a clearer sense of purpose, a renewed sense of mission.
As the crucible refines the base metals to bring out the gold, the “crucible experiences” purify us and distill our life to bring out what is basic and important.
A good window to see who we are and what we value are the choices we make, from the most profound and life-altering, to the day-to-day.
Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., put it eloquently: “What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.”
Christ in the Gospel for today frames choice in a somewhat radical way—“I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division…”
Many scripture commentaries say these verses refer to the radical choice a follower of Christ, a Christian, must make: “Either you are against me or for me”; “He who does not gather with me scatters.”
It is also said that “to cast fire” refers to the passion Christ hopes to kindle in those who follow him. It is this choice that becomes our “crucible”; to choose to “leave behind everything” to follow Christ.
The words of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus capture this passion beautifully: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was speaking to us on the road…”
This was a crucible experience that transformed the sense of defeat and sadness that Christ’s death brought, and inspired them to emerge from the darkness of the Cross and run back to Jerusalem to proclaim the glory of the Resurrection.
Greater social good
The 18th-century Irish statesman, political theorist and philosopher Edmund Burke’s famous line that has inspired many to work for the greater social good and for people to make choices—“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”—is the same choice Christ talks about that causes division among families and friends.
Our choice to be for Christ, for the greater good, will inevitably put us at odds with others.
Last week, the Inquirer carried the banner of how the pork barrel scam issue brought Cardinal Tagle to tears as he appealed on behalf of the poor—the millions who are deprived of the simplest and most basic of services: decent shelter, three simple meals a day, opportunities to earn a decent living, basic healthcare and basic quality education. The Cardinal cried for the poor who are made poorer by the scandalous-vile-corrupt-mother-of-all-scams.
As I mull this, I remember the words of Fr. Jack Carroll, S.J., in his 1986 post-Edsa Revolution reflection: “Where were the poor in Edsa?”
Almost 28 years later, today, we ask a similar question, “Where are the poor in all this?”
Then I thought to myself, “Is this the tipping point? Will this pork barrel scam finally inspire people to take a stand for and with the poor? Will it divide friends and families as people take a stand for or against the poor?”
We did it not once, but twice. First in Edsa 1 when we fought for our vote, and took to the streets, ready to die if need be. Second, in 2010, when we caught a glimmer of hope as people supported the fight against corruption and chose the straight and narrow path as their expression of solidarity with the poor.
I know of families who, in 1986, were solid behind the political and social establishment, but in 2010 chose to support the very same family, the very same person they were at odds with 24 years earlier. But this time they were at odds with their own families and friends.
Dreams are what make our heart burn. Dreams make us leave home and take the journey to pursue them. Those who have dreams must be willing to suffer for them, because dreams are transformed into realities only through the crucible.
As we emerge from the crucible, there is a renewed sense of who we are, what we value most and what our meaning and mission are.
The Cross and Resurrection is not just a recurring life-and-death cycle. It is the only cycle that all of reality and history moves toward—in the words of Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., the omega point, Christ, and leads to the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Maybe there is now an answer to close the 28-year-old question: “Where were the poor?” The answer comes from God: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor!”
To some, this means “beware!” To the poor and to others who chose to be for and with them, it is a confirmation of the choice they made—or still need to make or to renew—to follow Christ.
From the crucible, the gold is about to be formed.