As Catholics, many of our faith have learned the rules at the knee of a teacher, parent, or grandparent without ever having a disagreement, difference of opinion or question of anything. To be sure, there is an encyclopedia of information in the Church and learning a good portion of that could amount to a lifetime assignment. There are things that are dear to us and things that we don’t understand but none the less the supply of how to live for and with the Church is never ending. In the middle of it all, it’s probably easier to lose, rather than keep close track on the real crux of the faith, our relationships. Which relationship you say? Well, there are several that define who we are as a faith-based people: with God, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, with each other, with those the Lord sends to us and with ourselves.
The Church supplies information for each of those and every one of those will grow our personality in a different way. Sometimes that’s easy to miss the information in the middle of life’s milieu. The better we get, however, at recognizing the relationship and the information that it is providing us, the closer we come to spiritual maturity. The more often we have those fleeting glimpses of the peace of the Lord and the quality of our life changing for the better. Only in relationship is it possible to work out what is lacking in us, receive encouragement about “the journey”, be lifted from our discouragements and strive toward the real example of those who have gone before us! This simply cannot be accomplished by yourself. So the Lord sends us relationships to heal and sustain us. It’s why we crave them so!
The Matthew 5:13 salt and light passage gives the sacred logic that comes right out of God’s thinking! This reading is a clear call identifying our responsibility toward each other as we work our way through life and the relationships that appear in out path. “We followers of Jesus are meant to be salt, which effectively preserves what is best in the society around us. We are also light by which people around us come to see what is worth seeing. By the very quality and integrity of our lives, we shed light, illumining what is beautiful and revealing what is ugly. The implication is that, without vibrant Christians, the world is a much worse place.” (Commentary by Bishop Robert Barron in his Daily Commentary on the Gospel 6/13/2017)
One great recounting of heaven driven relationships is from the obscure book of Tobit. Tobit is Old Testament but contains contemporary lessons on lending, borrowing, prayer, disappointment, hope, joy, parents, children, marriage, God’s promises and how to deal directly with someone God sends especially to you. It’s worth a read. The book begins with a story of incredibly bad luck for Sarah, heartfelt prayer for relief by Tobit and continues through the saga of his son Tobiah as he diligently works to execute the wishes of his father. It takes place over a period of many months. At the conclusion of the saga the son returns triumphantly with a wife he did not expect to have amazing wealth and the company of a stalwart that did nothing but give him valuable assistance along the way. The companion turned out to be the “trustworthy man” that his father Tobit told him to find before he began the arduous journey.
In the Bible, we follow the story with all its twists. As the story comes to an ending one of the things that occupy the plot is a discussion between father and returned son about what would be “fair” pay for the stranger who simply appeared and proved to be an invaluable resource for Tobiah. As men of great integrity, they agree to a payment that is more than overgenerous and of considerable wealth even though they know nothing about this helpful stranger. Finally, the stranger speaks and reveals shocking information:
“I shall now tell you the whole truth and conceal nothing at all from you. I have already said to you, ‘A king’s secret should be kept secret, but one must declare the works of God with due honor.’ 12d Now when you, Tobit, and Sarah prayed, it was I who presented the record of your prayer before the Glory of the Lord; and likewise whenever you used to bury the dead.* 13When you did not hesitate to get up and leave your dinner in order to go and bury that dead man, 14 I was sent to put you to the test. At the same time, however, God sent me to heal you and your daughter-in-law, Sarah. 15 I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand and serve before the Glory of the Lord.” (Tobit 12)
Not only was God fully aware of Tobit’s plight but he was “working on it” far in advance as well as sending relationships to move the solution along. What if Tobias blew off the stranger because he didn’t know him? What if Father and Son agreed to cheat the stranger out of fair wages? What if either father or son decided to act dishonestly or with a lack of integrity in front of this stranger? Relationships “show up” in our lives and we mistakenly tend to believe that they are chance occurrences. More likely they are opportunities to flex our “believers’ muscles”. Do you have people in your life working on your behalf right now that the Lord has sent? Be careful how you handle the relationships in your life. You might be insulting or ignoring someone who has been “assigned” to you for your good despite your limited perception! …or maybe you’re there for them!
Copyright© 2017, Kathryn M. Cunningham