The way UP is, first of all, the way DOWN
Fr Richard Rohr OFM, says: the way UP is, first of all, the way DOWN!
It sounds like a faulty recipe for happiness!
But, imagine a newly married couple: they have to learn to change from independent living and decision making to shared living & mutual decision making: being accountable to each other.
The way UP (a happy marriage) is first of all the way down (giving up independence).
For those who learn early, marriage is delightful and empowering. For those who are slow to learn, marriage can be a painful and frustrating experience.
For women, it is somewhat easier to make the transition once children come along:
a child demands so much that the mother automatically makes sacrifices. Not so easy for the man: it requires daily discipline and making considered decisions.
Our Gospel today reveals the No.1 desire of God for us: that we might have life,
and not just any life, but life to the full! This is a statement of love for us:
that God is more interested in our happiness than our sinfulness.
Now, being intelligent listeners, you will immediate ask: but what about the exile and humiliation recorded in the 1st Reading? Good question.
Ask your mother why she got mad at you from time to time when you were a child?
Ask your teachers why you got punished? Were they not duty bound to look after you?
Discipline is a necessary corrective to negative behaviour. Without discipline a child grows into an unhappy creature, hated by all around them because their behaviour is negative. Therefore, they will suffer rejection, loneliness and sadness after leaving the family.
So much for sorting out a child: how do we deal with a whole nation?
How do we correct adults? I guess in the year 600BC there were not too many other ways of correcting a nation than by allowing them to lose everything: the consequence of selfishness.
The way UP is, first of all, the way DOWN…
Then, as a sign of love, 70 years later – after one or two new generations of Jewish people had been raised in captivity, God worked through non-believers to return them to their own land – a return to freedom. But by then, they have re-learned the secret to maintaining their freedom: fidelity to the Laws of God: not as a burden but as the key to living peacefully as a Community.
This is a reflection of the 2nd Reading – the message through St Paul: “God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy: when we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ…”
It’s only in Community that we can find meaning and joy in our lives.
Community requires respect for each other: giving even as we are taking;
Community requires new life – either by design or even unintentionally!
Community requires activities that bring out the creative energy of each person.
Community dies – and we saw this in the 1st reading – when self-interest takes over.
As we look around the world today, it is easy to see that, where money is plentiful,
self-interest is increasing – the culture of death is increasing year by year.
Unfortunately, well-meaning people are promoting the culture of “my” happiness,
rather than a culture of “our” happiness. Too often we forget that we need the other in order to have a prosperous Community. My life is not my own, but I belong to, and am needed by, a Community.
The Wisdom of many cultures in Africa are helpful here: every ancient initiation ritual required elders to prepare the boys to be men who served their Communities, not just themselves.
Individually, we can make ourselves happy for a short time but, after some time, we experience great loneliness and dependence on the approval of others.
So how do we safeguard our Communities for a happy future? “The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert… everyone who believes may have eternal life…”
Acts of sacrifice by elders, for the good of others, are powerful examples of love which will instruct our younger generations. To keep doing good and helping, even when we are unappreciated. Eventually people will see: people will imitate that love.
Finally, the elders must create opportunities for the younger generations to do good, to make a difference, so they can discover God and feel needed by God.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI