when beauty and purity are corrupted
Daily Readings: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20; James 3: 16-4: 3; Mark 9: 30-37.
Come from afar is a musical comedy about the true story of a small town called Gander in Newfoundland, Canada, which, after the closure of US airspace after the September 11 attacks 20 years ago, graciously housed the 7,000 passengers and crews of the 38 flights that were hijacked there for an entire week.
Through the eyes and stories of various characters, the musical honors our human ability to transcend division and hatred, thereby extending compassion and solace even to strangers.
One of the most poignant songs in this musical (Me and the sky) tells the story of Captain Beverley Bass. It begins with her childhood dream of being an airline pilot and the challenges she faced in the male-dominated world of commercial aviation; then the song happily celebrates his pioneering achievements with the lyrics: “Suddenly there is nothing between me and heaven”.
But then, September 11 arrives. The tone of the song – which until now was soaring and jubilant – sinks into melancholy. Now that reflects Captain Beverley’s heartache when she laments that “the one thing I loved more than anything was used as a bomb”. We can’t help but feel for this woman who now sees flight and planes – her lifelong passion – being perverted into instruments of hatred and violence. The joy and freedom she once associated with flying is now forever tarnished as she sings, “Suddenly, there is something between me and the sky.”
Every time I hear this song, I can’t help but view its predicament as a metaphor for the corruption of all that is pure and beautiful. Consider, for example, how religion has been abused and misused through the ages. September 11 was a good example: secularists and atheists rushed in, indiscriminately condemning all religions as instruments of death and hatred, with mottos like “Science takes you to the moon; religion makes you fly in buildings ”.
Although their logic is wrong and their conclusions wrong, I see the point they are trying to make. When clerics act in outrageous and harmful ways, it is they who undermine their religion and beliefs, not atheists. Even Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), a French philosopher of deep faith and religious sentiment, observed that: “Men never do evil so completely and happily as when they do it out of religious conviction. Too often, unfortunately, religious people are the worst advertisement for religion.
If I am honest, therefore, I must admit that my sin, selfishness, and pride are “something between me and heaven.” Saint James, in today’s second reading, makes it explicit: “Wherever you find jealousy and ambition, you find disharmony and bad things of all kinds being done. These selfish desires in our hearts, he insists, lead to wars and battles between communities.
Today’s gospel offers us a salutary antidote. He shows us once again Jesus teaching his disciples about his passion and his coming death, in fulfillment of prophecies like that of today’s first reading of the Book of Wisdom.
Unfortunately, the disciples’ initial confusion soon turns into quarrels over who among them is the greatest. Even the mere prospect of their master’s imminent absence was enough to spark a frenzied fight for position among them.
Undeterred, Jesus uses this as a teaching opportunity, placing humility and service at the heart of all genuine religious sentiment: “If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and the servant. of all. Then, to these two criteria, he adds a third: welcoming others, especially those who are less well in society. Embracing a child as a symbol of those who are ignored and excluded, he promises that by welcoming them we are welcoming God himself.
As the citizens of Gander, Newfoundland did 20 years ago.
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