Sunday, July 14, 2019

Captured for Eternity

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Picture: cc Giuseppe Milo

My dear friends, do you like to take photographs? I believe many of us do, right? At the slightest opportunity, we delight in taking selfies and we-fies. And isn’t it true that, in addition to bowing our heads in prayer, many of us these days can’t resist the urge to also whip out our phones to snap a photo of our food before we eat it. Especially if we’re trying a new recipe, or dining at a popular restaurant. And this may happen not just when we’re filling our stomachs, but even when we should be nourishing our souls. Not so long ago, didn’t the Pope scold some priests and bishops for taking pictures at papal Masses? The priest says, “lift up your hearts,” the Pope complained, not “lift up your phones” … 

But why, my dear friends? Have you ever wondered why we enjoy taking pictures so much? I’m not sure. But my guess is that, deep within every one of us, there is a burning desire to collect souvenirs. A profound yearning to preserve what might otherwise quickly pass away. To save the unique experience. To capture the fleeting moment. So as to savour it later, or share it with our friends, or store it away for posterity. And while, in the past, you needed to be a reasonably good artist to do this, these days, all you need to have is a reasonably good phone.

Please don’t be mistaken, my dear friends. I mention all this not to criticise, but only because I wonder if it is not also what the lawyer is asking Jesus in the gospel. What must I do to inherit eternal life? The lawyer’s concern is apparently to prolong life. To capture what would otherwise be only a fleeting experience. To preserve it, not just for today or tomorrow, but for eternity. Of course, the reading tells us that he said this to disconcert the Lord. But could he perhaps also have been secretly hoping for some enlightenment as well?

Whatever the lawyer’s true intentions, his question remains. How to inherit eternal life? How to preserve the passing, to capture the fleeting, to immortalise the merely mortal? What is the Lord’s response? To capture eternity, I must love God with every fibre of my being, and my neighbour as myself. And I must do this in a particular way. Go and do the same yourself… Go and do for others, what the Samaritan did for the one who was mugged and left for dead. Go and help all who are in need, without worrying about whether or not they share my beliefs, or my nationality, or my race, or my social status… Just go and help them in whatever way I can.

But that’s not all. By asking the lawyer to do what the Samaritan did, isn’t Jesus also asking him to become the same kind of person? To become a neighbour like the Samaritan? A person able to feel what the Samaritan felt, to be moved in the way the Samaritan was moved. A person capable not only of experiencing compassion for someone in dire straits, but also of being courageous enough to let that feeling impel me to act, whatever the cost may be to myself.

But what if I am not that kind of person? What if I am not the sort who is easily moved to compassion at the sight of suffering people? What if the constant bombardment of shocking images on the media, has already numbed me to the plight of those in need? Such that I may see, but no longer feel. Or I may feel, but have not the courage to act. What if the daily demands of life and work have so narrowed my attention, and hardened my heart, that there is little if any room left inside me, even for a pinch of patience to show to my family, let alone being kind to strangers in trouble?

In other words, what if I am not a good enough artist to capture the fleeting moment? Does it mean that all is lost for me? Does it mean that I can never satisfy my deep yearning for eternity? And yet, in the first reading, Moses promises the Israelites that the keeping of the Law is not beyond your strength or beyond your reach…. No, the Word is very near to you. It is in your mouth and in your heart for your observance.

What does this mean for me, and those like me, who do not find in ourselves the kinds of feelings and impulses that the Samaritan experienced? Perhaps we can take comfort in the second reading, which speaks of Someone else who did manage to become a good neighbour. Someone who captured eternity so completely, that the reading proclaims him the image of the unseen God and the first-born of all creation. Christ Jesus, who by his Life, Death, and Resurrection, compassionately reaches out to save me from my often apathetic and self-centred existence. Just as the Samaritan went out of his way to save the one left for dead.

Could it be that, even if I may not be a competent enough artist to capture eternity, Christ is that more than good enough camera, who delights in doing for me what I cannot do for myself? So that what I need is to continually allow myself to be captured by Christ. To keep reaching for him, the way I may feel drawn to reach for my phone, whenever I wish to take a picture. To reach for him, not just as an individual, but also as part of that community that prides itself in being his Body, the Church. The same way we are reaching out to him even now. Allowing him not just to gather us to celebrate this eucharistic memorial of his Dying and Rising. But also to scatter us once the celebration is complete. Sending us out into the world to go and announce the gospel of the Lord. To go in peace, glorifying the Lord by our lives.

Could this be how we can truly make our own those moving words of St Paul, in his letter to the Philippians? Not that I have become perfect yet: I have not yet won, but I am still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured me (3:12).

Sisters and brothers, thankfully, these days, we don’t all have to be great artists to capture eternity. All we need is a good camera. What must we do to continue allowing ourselves to be captured by Christ today?

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