“[Jesus] saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him (Matt 9:9).” St. Matthew (a tax collector, dishonest and greedy) accomplishes what usually seems like the most difficult task: simply following Jesus. The calling of St. Matthew reminds us that authentic Christian life is quite simple: Get up and follow Jesus. This could also be summed up in the words of St. Faustina, to whom Jesus revealed His message of Divine Mercy, “Jesus, I trust in You.”
As we all know, the Christian life is not always that simple. There is something to be said about why stories of the saints and stories of converts to the Faith are dramas of the highest caliber. I think we can learn a lot about the drama of the Christian life through the works of T.S. Eliot, one of the twentieth century’s major poets.
Eliot converted to Christianity in 1927 when he was 39 years of age. He became more fervent in his faith until his death in 1965. Eliot’s poetry is often divided by his conversion. Before his conversion, his notable works are “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915), The Waste Land (1922), and “The Hollow Men” (1925). After his conversion, he is known for “Ash Wednesday” (1930) and Four Quartets (1943).
Four Quartets is often considered to be one of the most important works of the twentieth century; it led to Eliot’s winning of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and in my opinion, is the most incredible summation of the Christian life in poetry—only surpassed by Dante’s Divine Comedy (1320).
Without revealing too much about the poem (I hope that you will read it here!), I wish to share with you a relevant section. Eliot writes about the saints whom we should emulate, and how difficult that is:
And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate - but there is no competition -
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
This section can be found in the second of the Four Quartets, “East Coker,” in the final section of the poem, section five.
On one level, Eliot is speaking about writing, and the timeless struggle to produce great literature. He is probably referring to Shakespeare, Dante, and other great authors in regards to emulation. On another level, Eliot is commenting on the Christian life and emulating the saints that have come before us. Eliot speaks of the struggle of living an authentic Christian life— “There is only the fight to recover what has been lost / And found and lost again and again.” But he sums up the task of Christian life quite simply, like the Scripture passage in the calling of St. Matthew: “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” We shouldn’t let ourselves be consumed with all the exterior drama and complications of everyday life (though these things are important to function effectively in the world), but with the simplicity of Christian life.
Get up and follow Jesus, and don’t ever stop trying.
And read some TS Eliot in your spare time!
Question for Reflection: What prevents you from simply getting up and following Jesus?
As we remember Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on this American federal holiday, I invite you to join me in reflecting on his dream for the United States and for the world. Rev. King fought for equality and justice in the United States using nonviolence. He helped empower American society to look past differences and come together through love by leading people in prayer and using words paired with non-violent actions. As a Baptist minister, Rev. King upheld Christian ideals and spoke to the hearts of all those facing injustice. He personally felt and lived through discrimination and had his share of fear and uncertainty. Yet through these hardships, he led others to see truth in justice and civil rights by organizing non-violent marches and protests, and by preaching unity.
Much of what Rev. King said through his words and his non-violent actions can be compared to the teachings of Christ. In the Gospel of John, for example, Peter tries to defend Jesus from a large crowd trying to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus tells Peter to “put the sword in its sheath” and in Matthew’s Gospel adds, “all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” In doing so, Christ tells Peter that fighting back with the same means as the enemy will get him nowhere.
Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, while he was preaching about the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded his disciples, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45). Christ preached forgiveness through love and mercy throughout his ministry and demonstrated this in a powerful way throughout his arrest and Passion. Jesus demonstrated how love can change hearts and save lives. Martin Luther King Jr. imitated this response. His promotion of unity has had powerful repercussions on our society that are still felt to this day.
Unfortunately, discrimination in various forms continues. Our next generation sees pain, division, and fear in the news and TV shows, on social media, and even sometimes right outside their doors. However, those who cultivate empathy for others can make Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream come true today and breathe life into Christ's teachings in the Gospel.
So how can you empower the nation with love? How can you teach through your actions how to live out Christian values and Catholic Social Teaching? In what ways can you help bring understanding and empathy to others?
I invite you to reflect on the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:3-10) as a way to embark on this journey toward building peace!
“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Please visit our website to learn more about Cultural Diversity, Catholic Social Teaching and Christian Unity.