Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: We must realize that the whole of God's plan is greater than the part we play in it.

Thursday of Second Week in Lent 2016

Joy of the Gospel

Sometimes I think of irony as God’s invention to help us cope with the effects of original sin. Just consider this rich guy, fat and happy, with what he thinks is everything he ever wanted. He dies, and the Douay-Rheims translation says, “is buried in hell.” Only then does he realize that his riches were actually poverty–that he didn’t have what he really needed at any time in life. He lived the life of a sagebrush, and when he was uprooted from impoverished spiritual reality, he was blown away like a tumbleweed, fit only for incineration. Poor Lazarus, however, lived a life of misery, but clearly had a rich spiritual existence, because he ended in the arms of Abraham. Dives was enslaved to particular meals, particular friends, particular vices. Lazarus was open to the whole of reality, nasty though it was on a physical level, and apparently could give praise and thanks to God, as Paul preaches, in everything.

The Holy Father has been giving us four principles that would lead us to peace. Today he tells us about the whole and the part: ‘An innate tension also exists between globalization and localization. We need to pay attention to the global so as to avoid narrowness and banality. Yet we also need to look to the local, which keeps our feet on the ground. Together, the two prevent us from falling into one of two extremes. In the first, people get caught up in an abstract, globalized universe, falling into step behind everyone else, admiring the glitter of other people’s world, gaping and applauding at all the right times. At the other extreme, they turn into a museum of local folklore, a world apart, doomed to doing the same things over and over, and incapable of being challenged by novelty or appreciating the beauty which God bestows beyond their borders.

‘The whole is greater than the part, but it is also greater than the sum of its parts. There is no need, then, to be overly obsessed with limited and particular questions. We constantly have to broaden our horizons and see the greater good which will benefit us all. But this has to be done without evasion or uprooting. We need to sink our roots deeper into the fertile soil and history of our native place, which is a gift of God. We can work on a small scale, in our own neighborhood, but with a larger perspective. Nor do people who wholeheartedly enter into the life of a community need to lose their individualism or hide their identity; instead, they receive new impulses to personal growth. The global need not stifle, nor the particular prove barren.

‘Here our model is not the sphere, which is no greater than its parts, where every point is equidistant from the centre, and there are no differences between them. Instead, it is the polyhedron, which reflects the convergence of all its parts, each of which preserves its distinctiveness. Pastoral and political activity alike seek to gather in this polyhedron the best of each. There is a place for the poor and their culture, their aspirations and their potential. Even people who can be considered dubious on account of their errors have something to offer which must not be overlooked. It is the convergence of peoples who, within the universal order, maintain their own individuality; it is the sum total of persons within a society which pursues the common good, which truly has a place for everyone.

‘To Christians, this principle also evokes the totality or integrity of the Gospel which the Church passes down to us and sends us forth to proclaim. Its fullness and richness embrace scholars and workers, businessmen and artists, in a word, everyone. The genius of each people receives in its own way the entire Gospel and embodies it in expressions of prayer, fraternity, justice, struggle and celebration. The good news is the joy of the Father who desires that none of his little ones be lost, the joy of the Good Shepherd who finds the lost sheep and brings it back to the flock. The Gospel is the leaven which causes the dough to rise and the city on the hill whose light illumines all peoples. The Gospel has an intrinsic principle of totality: it will always remain good news until it has been proclaimed to all people, until it has healed and strengthened every aspect of humanity, until it has brought all men and women together at table in God’s kingdom. The whole is greater than the part.’

There are any number of saints in heaven who lived lives of obscurity, of rejection, of physical and financial failure. On earth they were considered “losers,” but inside–where it counts–they were achieving victory over sin by nurturing within themselves virtues of humility and habits of service. They realized that the whole of God’s plan is destined to be triumphant, even if the particulars of one life or another seem hopeless and done in vain. Let’s reflect on that and learn from it the next time something we do flames out and crashes.

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