Monday, May 23, 2011

Mistaken Identity?

My good Jesuit friend Fr. Rob Kroll, who writes periodically for the Magis Institute, had a good reflection on today's first reading (Acts 14: 5-18):

We live in a culture that idolizes Hollywood stars graced with beautiful faces, athletes endowed with muscular bodies, rock stars showered with fame and fortune, and politicians wielding power. The attraction of beauty, fame, wealth, and power-and the desire to worship individuals possessing them-has existed in all societies and epochs, of course. The great temptation of the "rich and famous" is that they allow the adulation of the masses to go to their heads. They forget the divine source of all their gifts, and become puffed up with pride. Treated like gods by others, they begin to think themselves gods.

In today's reading from Acts, the crowds in Lystra seek to idolize Paul and Barnabas, worshiping them as gods after they heal a man crippled from birth. How might Donald Trump, Moammar Gadhafi, or Charlie Sheen respond if their supporters cried out like the Lycaonians, "The gods have come down to us in human form"? Fortunately Barnabas and Paul tear their garments and direct the crowds to the living God, humbly asserting that they themselves are mere mortals.
Each of us, too, can be tempted to pride. We might secretly aspire to be worshipped in some measure by others for our wealth, power, beauty, and talents-perhaps even our holiness! Let's remember today that all good gifts come from God and are to be used for His greater glory. May we humbly make the psalmist's words our own: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name give glory" (115:1).

I preached about this a little differently at the Jesuit retreat house in the St. Louis area where I began a retreat with 34 women this afternoon. The people of Lystra mistake Paul and Barnabas for "gods" because they see something of the divine in them. They perceive grace or supernatural power at work in and through them. This is how it should be for all of us.

As images of God we should reflect God to the world. As members of the Body of Christ, people should see Christ in us. I'm reminded of a song by the contemporary Christian musician Warren Barfield, "Mistaken." It brings these two reflections--Fr. Kroll's and mine--together. Here are a few of the lyrics:

Oh the more and more I disappear
The more and more He becomes clear
'Til everyone I talk to hears His voice
And everything I touch feels the warmth of His hand
'Til everyone I meet
Sees Jesus in me
This is all I wanna be
I wanna be mistaken
For Jesus

Do they only see who we are
When who we are should be pointing them to Christ
Cause we are who He chose to use
To spread the news
Of the way the truth and the life
Oh I want all I am to die
So all He is can come alive

This is the great mystery of the Christian life. In being emptied of ourselves we are filled with our truest, deepest self--Christ. We can say with St. Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2: 19-20). In dying to ourselves we are born to real life.

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