Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spirituality: Sorting things out

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the July 29, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky It won’t be long now. In just a few short weeks hundreds of young students will break free from the regime of home and hearth to set up shop in at least some form of semi-independence at college.

Before leaving home parents will attempt the last-minute lessons about life “out there.” Dads will pine wisely about guarding the checkbook. Siblings will beg for a weekly (if not nightly) phone call. And, in addition to a series of daily life tips which spring from a loving heart, moms likely will offer counsel about one of life’s necessities: how to do the laundry.

Don’t we remember that lesson well? Some of us learned it early from sharing responsibilities around the house. It’s a very simple, but practical, set of rules: dark/blacks in this pile, whites in another. In yet another, colored items. And, never – just never – wash a brand new red item with anything white!

There’s an obvious benefit to this business of sorting things out. Those who don’t heed the advice pay the price. How many budding college students wish they had?

Doing laundry is not the only one of life’s venues which call for the practical wisdom of sorting things out. Sometimes the very busy-ness and hectic pace of life in the modern world calls for a similar type of attention. Summer especially is a fruitful time to sort through the “stuff” of life, determining what belongs where. With vacations or just the changed pace that is the blessing of summer, we all have an opportunity to gain healthy perspective on those aspects of life which sometimes suffer from neglect or preoccupations. Without an occasional sorting out, all of life increasingly is treated with sameness. Important distinctions are lost.

Life is like doing the laundry. It is not all the same. Certain things require different forms of handling and management. What is important is not the same as what is an emergency or what bears the attraction of the moment. Unless a sense of vision or purpose holds it together, it all blends together into one pile of sameness. Without thoughtful distinctions, it does not take much for something of lesser significance to assume the place (and demand) of what is of lasting importance. We can even get feisty and pugnacious over the emptiest of things, fruitlessly spending energy and resources on what should have been avoided for the sake of things better.

In a Gospel scene which often passes without much comment, the apostles James and John learned a lesson from Jesus in sorting things out (Luke 9:51ff). Jesus and his apostles are making a bee-line for Jerusalem, where the Master senses the final establishment of the Kingdom of God is to take place. The Kingdom is the vision which nuances and inspires all he does and says. Jesus sends messengers ahead of him (a kind of advance team) to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God. Their path takes them through Samaritan territory, which their fellow Jews avoided like the plague. After all, the Good News invites the participation of everyone. The Samaritans – who bore the politico-religious scars of a centuries-old tiff – give a deaf ear to the “good news.”

James and John (properly nicknamed “Sons of Thunder”) immediately want to stop the journey so they can literally beat the hell out of the Samaritans for not responding with gratitude. Talk about losing vision and confusing what is important with the urgency of the moment! Had Jesus given in to their advice, the battle likely would still be raging in Samaria. (History has shown that men in the Middle East don’t cease their feuding easily!)

Jesus’ response is to keep moving. He maintains his vision: the gates of Jerusalem. He has come neither to pick a fight nor to win one. What is important is that the Gospel is announced and that people are invited to participate in its goodness. He must complete his Father’s plan in Jerusalem. The journey continues. The important must be accomplished.

Christian disciples do well to sort things out. Regardless of the age and its expediencies, some things just are not important, regardless of how urgent they appear at the moment. It takes a special gift of discernment to separate what is important from what is merely a distracting waste of time and energy. Without vision not only do the people perish; unnecessary fights also are engaged.

Summertime provides multiple opportunities to sort things out. After all, isn’t the blessing of leisure its gift of re-creation? How spiritually healthy it is to re-examine the things that keep us busy and occupied, crying out for the expenditure of or time, talent and money. Given the pressures of the modern age and the hectic life-styles we all tend to follow in our culture, we all too readily confuse the urgent with the important. We can even find ourselves fighting over Samaritan-like issues that in themselves are empty and without any lasting value.

Jesus has entrusted us, his disciples, with far more important things than winning familial, political, social or liturgical battles. As they say, we may win the battle but certainly lose the war. The true disciple shares Jesus’ vision and has his heart set on what truly is important: the proclamation and living of the Good News.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.) (Download an order form in pdf format to print)

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