“[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.”
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In my kindergarten class, there is one little girl who loves to ask questions about faith. After going to Mass in the chapel last week, she asked me, “Who was the almost naked man on the wall in pain?” I smiled and answered, “Jesus, because he loves you very much.” While contemplating this, a few minutes went by until she had another question. She asked, “Why do they give cookies at church and why didn’t I get one?” These and many other inquiries were made that day, so it struck me: how can we as faithful Catholic adults help young children better understand our traditions, history, and faith? We must understand as children do.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). Only with the virtue and openness of a child can one truly have eternal life. Similar to my student who was so curious about the Mass, we as adults of faith must remember to love as children love, and to eagerly ask questions as children ask them. Having a burning desire to love and serve God is something that so many adults yearn for, but so few are able to achieve. Often times, children can be an example to adults of unconditional and innocent love for others.
Understanding our faith is difficult at times, and it is often hard to see the good in difficult situations. We get caught up in the stressful details and hardships that come with living our daily lives, and frequently become over-scheduled and sluggish in the practice of our faith. As “grown-ups” we have so many things on our minds, and deepening our understanding of God’s love and mercy is easily forgotten and overlooked. Instead of grumbling about an overdue bill or the laundry list of things to do, stop and think about how lucky we are to have a job or a family that loves us. Children love their parents and caretakers for simple things like good food, a comfortable bed, and new clothes. While we are forgetting that the simplest actions mean the most to children, we also forget that the simplest moments mean the most to God. A quick prayer of gratitude in the morning, for a traffic-less commute or a child’s hug goodbye goes a long way…God notices every grateful moment.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, believes that education and teaching provides knowledge of beauty, truth, and goodness. Inspiring others with a desire to learn about our faith is crucial in the life of a Catholic–whether you are a teacher, parent, or role model. Children are innocent and believe what they see. When they see parents and teachers serving God and the Church, they desire to imitate them and do the same. We must be like children in order for them to understand the Lord, ask questions, make mistakes, get messy…and always know that God loves us.
Krissy Kirby is a Kindergarten teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington D.C.
This Sunday’s gospel from Matthew asks us to love not only our neighbor, but our enemy as well. It says:
“You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’”
It is easy to hate those who cause us pain, but God calls us to love them instead, to demonstrate the perfect love that He shows us. As children we are always told to treat others with kindness and respect, and loving those who we do not like is a challenge that continues throughout our lives. How do we turn the other cheek? Jesus says, “Offer no resistance to the one who is evil” “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles.”
God asks us to embrace the challenges of our enemies and instead of responding with hate respond with the love He shows us. He points out that many of our enemies are not so different from us,
“For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
How can we translate this to our everyday life and what is the benefit? Find an “enemy” a rival in a class, a competitive sibling, a disgruntled roommate. It is easy to respond to their negativity or the feeling that they are persecuting you with equal hatred or unpleasantness. But, this benefits no one. If we instead respond with peace and love, we stop a cycle of hatred and persecution and show to them the love the God shows to us. This furthers peace throughout the world and within our society, it has the power to solve great conflict and bring the smallest bit of happiness to someone. God’s love is perfect and can only be achieved and spread if we his children are actively working to spread it, and if we are at the same time resisting the urge to respond to hatred with hatred. The beginning of this week’s gospel references the “Eye for an eye” form of justice in society, and it asks us to rise above this need to get even and bring about change through not just acceptance of our enemies, but love of them.
Eileen Welch is Regent of Catholic Daughters of the Americas Court #2646 at the Catholic University of America.