Our happiness depends on a happy Community … are you ready to die to personal desires and turn your hand to what the Community needs today?
As I prepare the homily, I’m conscious of a terrible fire in Mathare slums that happened yesterday. A workman who just finished tiling our “storehouse”, lost all his belongings and the tin shack he was renting. Thankfully, his wife and children are back in the village.
I share this news as a microcosm of all the disasters and destruction happening in our world at this time: floods in Philippines, terror attacks in Nigeria, drought in Kenya, war in Ukraine, social unrest, violence and poverty in South Africa, etc.
Can God cope? Funny question you might ask. At the end of the day, of course, God will win! But, along the way, will we be happy as God wants us to be? Will we survive our usual years? And, most important, will we help to create and experience Heaven on earth?
The answer depends on our faithfulness. But faithfulness to what? Our First Reading and Gospel have symmetry (7 brothers, versus 7 husbands), but vastly different topics.
There is a strong common theme underlying many of the crises around the world: the choice between protecting and promoting Community (7 brothers), or focusing on my individual desires (the future of 7 husbands – the woman was of no concern!).
It’s important not to dwell on the details of the first reading too much; focus rather on the spirit of the sacrifices: dying to self, to promote the Law which held the Community together.
And this is what we need to be faithful to: not just ourselves, but more so our Community. We do that through our taxes, our cooperation with the road rules, the cultural norms which govern our inter-personal interactions with others (ie. Manners! Respect! etc.).
However, many times we need to go beyond the normal. For example, to sacrifice our living standards to raise our children with more presence, guidance and control. Do we sacrifice some of our free time to do volunteer work for organisations helping the poor and vulnerable?
Do we meet the neighbours and help them when they have a problem?
Is my career only about promoting myself and my comforts? How does it help the Community?
Many of the crises in our own lives, and therefore the violence pervading all parts of the world, revolve around the drift in many cultures AWAY from what’s good for Community to focus on what do I want as an individual = what’s good for me?
A simple example: in our schools, we usually encourage the youth to dream and do whatever they like for a career. However, if everyone wants to be a chef or a policeperson, our society will crumble. Do schools/ parents ever do a survey of Community job needs and encourage students to think about helping to fill the shortages in order to make the community strong?
Whether we like it or not, our personal happiness depends on a happy, prosperous and functioning community. When people say “I won’t be happy doing that!” The unhappiness comes, usually, from thinking “what’s in it for me”.
If we thought, like the 7 brothers “what’s in it for the Community”, a whole new world opens up. Imagine experiencing the feeling that the Community needs me. It changes everything.
A bit like mothers and fathers wanting lots of personal things but, realising the fragility of their children, they think: “my child really needs me here, instead.”
In the Gospel, Christ spells out that people do not get married in Heaven and, therefore, indicates that people will now be “complete” in the presence of God. Marriage is a relationship that brings each person to perfection and complete-ness, through their generous role as co-creators with God to bring forth new life to build up the wider Community.
This also applies to single people or couples who cannot have children: as long as they reach out to help other people in society – like Religious who are supposed to be available to help others, and complement the efforts of parents, teachers and employers.
However, there is a great danger facing many of our societies today. Allow me to use examples rather than a complicated explanation. Less people want to be teachers today, largely because of the risk of being accused of abuse, lack of discipline and respect many students have due to poor upbringing in their families, etc. Nurses, likewise, are more open to accusations.
Police are often disrespected, good Politicians are not treated with respect, etc.
So, what are you doing to build the community? Is it time for a career change? Is it time to die to personal desires (like the 7 brothers), in order to be free to meet Community needs?
Older people transitioning to teaching might make all the difference by imparting wisdom, love and life skills to the new generations being born today. That might just save our Community.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI