Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3: 2-4
It has been said that every great author has one main idea which she or he keeps working out in different ways. Some say that Shakespeare’s central theme is that things are not merely as they appear. If this is so, it is certainly a theme worthy of his greatness. This theme is at the heart of both readings for today’s liturgy. The gospel gives us the beatitudes according to Luke, and they remind us that we are not to live in accord with the pleasure principle, for real life often lies in the experiences of being that we would avoid. The pursuit of riches, status, power, and happiness neglects the nourishing of our deeper life which requires something quite different from these things.
The Letter to the Colossians calls us, in the same way, to think of what is above where our true life is “hidden with Christ in God.” This life is very different from what we take to be our life and will only fully show itself when we appear with Christ, who is our life. Almost all of our daily “thinking” is about our earthly or apparent selves and about what we must do to attend to its needs and desires. In our poverty, hunger, humiliation, and exclusion, however, we are drawn to consider our deeper selves. Who are we when we are nobody in the eyes of others? What are we for for when we can no longer do things for others or even for ourselves? What are we worth when we are humiliated and ashamed and unvalued? The beatitudes seem to say that the answers to those questions lie in our true and deepest identity in Christ.
Many who watched the teleconference of Pope Francis with people from three different American venues are reflecting on an interchange between the Pope and a young girl who had been bullied much of her life due to a physical deformity. She described to Pope Francis the suffering in her life but also the consolation she had in life through the gift of music and singing. In response to her, the Pope did not deliver a theological discourse but rather simply asked her to sing for him. She had great difficulty overcoming her fear and embarrassment, at which point the Pope moved toward her and gently but firmly told her to “be courageous.”
We are never more vulnerable than when called to give expression to our true life in God. So often we settle for the familiar, albeit often inadequate and painful, external life because we lack the courage to give expression to what is deepest in us. Pope Francis understood that the young girl could not experience her true beauty through any words he would say to her but only by bringing her beauty and uniqueness to life by giving them expression in the world. This is our call from moment to moment. To do the little that is given to us to do and to express in truth and utter sincerity the little we have to say (instead of imitating the ways of the world) takes real courage. To “think of what is above” is not merely to think, but it is also to act. It is to summon the courage from moment to moment to speak and to act the truth, as it is given uniquely to us. We “grow strong in our inner selves” (Eph. 3:16) each time we give expression to the truth of who we are and the task that is ours in the world. May we dare to be courageous when it is asked of us today.
Which person who has some experience of spiritual matters would desire that an angel come from heaven in order to make known God’s will, when it is possible to know it by following the ordinary way?… God does not have to give an account to anybody of His actions. If His Majesty wants to use an ordinary, simple and uneducated person – yea, a sinner; if God wants to make this person turn toward Him in view of a special work; if God does not take the direction which people think He usually follows. In all this His Majesty is completely free and nobody is entitled to disapprove God’s actions, let alone oppose them.
T. J. Ryken, Letter to G. N. Hermans