A Spirituality of Isolation
Fr. Johnny Go S.J., School Director
03 September 2006
Mary the Queen Parish
I’d like to tell you a story about two priests who like to go camping whenever they take their vacation. One morning as they were both relaxing in one such outing, they heard someone shout for help. Father Martin immediately picked up his binoculars to find out what was going on. Father James dropped what he was doing and ran off towards the direction where the voice was coming from. He reached the top of a cliff, and from there he saw what the trouble was: A young and beautiful lady was drowning in quicksand. Father James jumped into the quicksand to save the lady’s life, but Father Martin didn’t do much even if he saw what was going on because seeing that it was a beautiful girl, he wanted to protect his holiness, so he decided not get involved. As he was cleaning his rifle to prepare to go hunting, Father James walked right by with the lady in her arms to bring her to a nearby clinic. Much later that afternoon, after they’ve gone hunting, Father Martin told his friend he wasn’t too happy about what he did: “Priests shouldn’t go near young girls. Certainly not beautiful ones like that! Why did you do it?” Father James said, “I left the girl in the clinic, but up to now, you’re still carrying her in your heart!”
This little story tells us about two ways of living our faith: The first approach is symbolized by Father Martin—the spirituality of avoidance. The second approach is represented by Father James—the spirituality of involvement.
The spirituality of avoidance emphasizes going to Sunday Mass and performing all our other obligations, but for some reason, avoids getting near sinners for fear of being infected and contaminated by their sins. This type of spirituality focuses on keeping the person clean and holy, unstained by the world. People who subscribe to this spirituality believe that if we want to get close to God, we must stay away from sinners.
On the other hand, the spirituality of involvement also values going to Sunday Mass and all our other obligations, but does not do it at the expense of helping others. People who have this kind of spirituality get involved in the lives of people who are in need—the poor and the sinners—without much concern for how this will affect them. They believe that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Theirs is a spirituality not of exclusiveness, but of inclusion. They believe that the best way to get close to God is to get close to people in need and to lend them a helping hand.
Today’s Gospel talks to us about these two spiritualities. The Pharisees are emphasizing the spirituality of avoidance at the expense of involvement. They’re concerned about ritual observances, complaining about the disciples’ unwashed hands. You may be wondering why this is such a big deal for them. It’s not because of a special concern for personal hygiene. The Jewish ritual washing of hands was meant to distinguish the Jews from the Gentiles, who were considered unclean. By not observing this ceremony, the disciples of the Jews are blurring the distinction between Jews and Gentiles, and behaving as if the two were one. This is unacceptable to the Jews because they want to exclude the Gentiles. But our Lord is reminding them that their spirituality is not balanced since their concern for holiness is done at the expense of charity towards others. In other words, all their preoccupation with holiness is rooted in fear, pride, and selfishness.
The Letter of James tells us that it’s important to balance these two tendencies. He writes: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress (which is involvement), and to keep oneself unstained by the world (this is avoidance).” [James 1:27]
Today let us examine our own spirituality. Are we like Father Martin who tends to lean towards a spirituality of avoidance and exclusion, preferring to leave a lady drowning in quicksand to protect his own hoiness? In other words, are we like the Pharisees in the Gospel? Or are we more like Father James who, like our Lord, is inclined towards a spirituality of inclusion and involvement, helping others no matter what the cost to ourselves?
Remember, if nothing else, our spirituality ought to make us more Christ-like—and there’s no mistaking the brand of spirituality that our Lord espoused—he who did not hesitate to touch a leper, to eat with sinners and to let an unclean woman touch him. He got so involved with these people that they called him “a friend of tax collectors and sinners”—not exactly considered a compliment in those days (Matthew 11:9). His was clearly a spirituality of inclusion and involvement.
Remember the words of our Lord in the Gospel: “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile” (Mark 7:14-15).
In other words: “Don’t be scared of people who are different from us. Or don’t avoid people whom we, for whatever reason, regard as worse than us.” They will not contaminate us or infect us. On the contrary, when we avoid them because of fear or pride or selfishness, then we actually end up infecting ourselves by our sin of exclusion.
|Men fully alive, endowed with a passion for justice, and the skills for development.|
|© 2004 Xavier School, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our disclaimer. Contact us.
|All external sites will open in a new browser.
Xavier School does not endorse external sites.