In the 1980S movie “Amadeus,” there is a study of contrasts in the person of Salieri. In one scene, he is pictured as the hardworking, disciplined and methodical court composer. Upon completion of a work, he raises his eyes to the crucifix and gratefully says, “Thank you, Lord!”
This deep sense of pious gratitude turns into envy and hatred as the gifted Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart overshadows Salieri in the royal court. With very little effort, Mozart comes up with a brilliant composition that wipes out the competition.
For the rest of the movie, Salieri abandons his pious relationship with God and becomes consumed with the destruction of Mozart. The situation brings out the worst in him.
This was the first story that came to mind as I read this Sunday’s readings. The dynamics between Moses and Joshua, between Christ and his disciples remind us of how, even in the most seemingly noble of tasks, envy and jealousy may set in.
So what is the antidote to envy and jealousy?
Renowned British director Danny Boyle made a comment, after the world lauded the creativity and brilliance of the staging of the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.
Boyle said that once they accepted that China’s Beijing Olympics’ opening ceremony was a tough act to follow and they could never equal it, much less surpass it, it gave them the freedom to be creative.
Boyle pointed out, “Beijing in a way was something that was great to follow. Up to Beijing you could look back, and clearly there was an escalation. The shows get bigger and bigger and bigger, and you can’t get bigger than Beijing.
“So, that in a way kind of liberated us. We thought: ‘Great. Okay. Good. We’ll do something different then.’”
Boyle said he hoped there was an “innate modesty” about the London ceremony, but added, “it is not unspectacular and unambitious—quite the reverse.
“But there is a sense of modesty about it. You have to learn your place in the world and that’s a good thing…”
He said Britain, “which used to be the most powerful nation on Earth, was being forced to come to terms with a reduced role in the world.
“You know, this is our land, really. These are our islands. And this will be the last time we get something like this. There has to be a modesty.’”
It gave them the freedom to be creative. In accepting their limitations, in acknowledging others were better than them, they attained the freedom to be creative. They showed the best of who they are. They excelled by simply being who they are and not worrying about being like someone else.
I invite you to reflect on this theme from this Sunday’s readings. Some would call it tolerance, but more than tolerance I would like to propose we reflect on it as a humble and joyful acceptance that leads to freedom.
As Danny Boyle very simply and succinctly put it, the moment they accepted their limitations, their talents came to the fore. They were brilliant and showed authentic excellence.
In the book “Life Entrepreneurs, Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives” by Christopher Gergen and Gregg Vanourek, seven points in the path of the life entrepreneur are drawn from the stories of people who have lived extraordinary lives. The first of the seven is discovering one’s core identity.
They place core identity as the foundation of all other points. Without this strong foundation, Gergen and Vanourek say that all other points are not just of no value, but they may lead one astray in life.
It is this core identity, the humble and joyful acceptance of who one is that leads to freedom. As the Gospel readings suggest a major theme, this core identity is very much defined by our doing Christ’s will for us. It is defined by the personal relationship we have with Christ.
The admonition that Moses gives Joshua, and Christ, his disciples, is reminiscent of another scene in the Gospel. At the end of the Gospel of John, in the final Resurrection appearance in John, we have Peter “worrying” about John and asking what was in store for him.
Christ bluntly responds that Peter’s only business was to follow Him. It was not for him to worry about what was to become of John. In so many words, Christ told Peter “it was none of his business.” Just as Peter’s following of Christ was between him and Christ, so was John’s following of Christ a personal relationship between him and Christ.
One body, many parts
The other image from the scripture that helps us better appreciate and deepen the core identity we have is from the Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. Paul points out that we are one body with many parts and each part has a specific role or function to perform.
One has to be true to this specific role and function; otherwise the body gets all mixed up and becomes dysfunctional.
In my early years as a Jesuit, I met a Jesuit who forever influenced my professional outlook. This older Jesuit—he was neither old nor elderly at that time—was being asked to head one of the institutions to overhaul it. He was there to do a quick cleanup-and-fix job, come in and out.
He did not accept, and represented—the Jesuit term for bargaining—with the appointing superior. He asked, no matter how seemingly efficient it was at that time, was it the most helpful move for the institution and for the people who dedicated their lives to it?
Eventually, he came in as consultant and a lay person was appointed. The latter was nowhere near his competence, but they worked well together.
I visited the institution around 20 years after his stint there, and up to that time they had very fond memories of this Jesuit; grateful memories for the difference he made in their lives. All the lay people he had worked with moved on to positions of responsibility and influence. They were all one in saying how instrumental this Jesuit was in advancing their careers.
The second point in the path of the life entrepreneur of Gergen and Vanourek is awakening to opportunity. This is freedom, to see not just what is, but what is possible.
This is one lesson of our readings this Sunday. Be free, be free to accept our limitations and to accept the greatness of others. It is this freedom that leads to our authentic self to be who we are in our relationship with Christ. It is this freedom that allows us to see opportunities and to be creative; to create for others a better world.