Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, wrote that “every good person shapes the infinite life and compassion of God in a unique way” —a personal and unique brand, so to speak, of living out God’s spirit of life, love and compassion in the world.
This unique brand characterizes situations where our souls flourish, when we are in our element.
Our personal best is our unique contribution to making God present in the world today. In a deeply spiritual sense, it means living our life in the spirit of the Risen Lord.
Today, the last day in the Octave of Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday, I invite you to take stock of your personal best in making God’s life, love and compassion present in the people you encounter.
From disappointment to joy
This Sunday’s Gospel is a good starting point for reflection. We see in the Resurrection narrative the basic structure of an encounter with the Risen Lord. The opening scene’s mood is somewhat negative—rife with fear, disappointment, despondence.
Although the Risen Lord is immediately recognized, this is not always the case; Thomas’ doubt prevails. Then, upon recognition, the atmosphere is filled with joy, a radical reorientation.
From doubt, Thomas proclaims, “My Lord and my God!” This is the same proclamation of faith we repeat at every raising of the host and chalice at consecration in the Mass.
This reorientation bears fruit in mission, or the renewed sense of inspiration that leads Christ’s followers to “follow more nearly” in the day-to-day.
Let me recall two contrasting stories that dramatize this reorientation.
Alone and lonely
In 1940, American writer Carson McCullers, then 23 years old, told the story of John Singer in her debut novel, “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” The book was adapted into a movie with the same title in 1968.
Singer, a deaf-mute, is portrayed as a very giving person. He moves into a small town, the setting of the story, so he can regularly visit his close friend in the hospital. The story revolves around Singer’s helping of four other persons who are “broken in body and spirit.”
In the end, feeling alone and lonely after his close friend’s death, and perhaps feeling the weight of the burden he helped others make sense of, Singer shoots himself in the chest and dies.
Singer’s story dramatizes, though in a negative way, what I have discussed in several articles and homilies: There are many good things we can do, but there is only one right thing to do. This right thing is what God wants us to do, our mission. It is not a question of doing good; if it is not of God and springing from our mission, there is no life and love.
As Fr. Joe Blanco, SJ, told us in our 1983 retreat, referring to Jesuit obedience: No matter how great and good what one is doing, if it is not your mission from God (as revealed in the superior’s assignment, in the case of the Jesuits), there is no grace in this work.
Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” is the contrasting story. This 1964 classic portrays the different stages of the relationship of a young boy with a tree.
The tree provides the boy with a playground, where he plays under its shade, climbs its branches and eats its fruit.
The fruits of the tree also serve another purpose, to be sold, as the boy grows up and starts to need money.
The branches of the tree likewise become useful as the boy turns into a man who needs to build a house.
The trunks of the tree are used by the man to make a boat as he goes on a journey.
What is left of the tree is her stump.
The man grows old and returns to the tree. Asking for a “quiet place to sit and rest,” he sits on the tree’s stump.
At each stage of giving, the story concludes with the line, “And the tree was happy.”
“The Giving Tree” is a sharp contrast to “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” whose giving did not lead to happiness, but to despair. The latter story tells us of the radical reorientation of self-giving, to the point of dying—dying to self and actual death.
This is the radical reorientation of the Paschal Mystery, in which the self-giving of Christ to his Father’s will and mission leads him to his passion, death and Resurrection—and thus fulfilling his mission.
What is your personal best— where your soul flourishes—because you are doing what God wants you to do? It is not easy to answer, but we must respond, if we are to live a life of meaning and mission.
Like Thomas in today’s Gospel, we also straddle doubt and faith. We struggle with despair as we stand at the threshold of hope. We carry the burden of our crosses in life, often bent and near broken, as our entry into the renewed inspiration of the Risen Lord. He is in our midst as we journey, to give us peace and keep our “hearts burning within us.”
This is Easter. This is the promise and the gift of the Resurrection. It renews our day-to-day life to reinspire and reorient us toward our mission.