Sunday, October 02, 2011

At DC Red Mass, A Call "To Do the Good"

Per tradition, this morning's 58th edition of the Washington Red Mass in St Matthew's Cathedral took place before a six-justice majority of the Supreme Court, and an assortment of other top officials, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley.

As previously noted, though, the day's prime turn fell to this year's guest-preacher: Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle.

Here below, Sartain's fulltext (emphases original).

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When I bought my first pair of Asics running shoes many years ago, I noticed a familiar Latin maxim on the box – “Anima sana in corpore sano” – and soon realized much to my amazement that the name “Asics” is in fact an acronym for that very maxim. It is a variation on “Mens sana in corpore sano,” usually translated, “A sound mind in a sound body.”

The Roman poet and satirist Juvenalis (55-127 A.D.) is usually credited with the saying, and his point is a good one. People of every age have championed the value of a healthy body, even if notions of health and beauty have varied greatly through the centuries. The body/mind connection is a reminder that we are whole persons, that one aspect of living directly affects the others. Physical, intellectual, and psychological health go hand-in- hand. We live more serenely, think more clearly and work more energetically when we take care of our bodies – when we literally put our Asics to use.

It is interesting that Asics chose “anima” over “mens” for its corporate slogan, because while “mens” usually referred to the mind in its intellectual aspects, “anima” referred to the more encompassing “vital principal” of life, the “breath of life,” one’s “heart,” and one’s overall sense of well-being. In fact, “anima” is the word used for “soul” in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, in Church writings and in the liturgy.

Juvenalis was not a Christian, but his famous maxim certainly lends itself to an essential Christian application: “A sound soul in a sound body.” We do well to remember that there is something deep within, something all-encompassing and literally life-giving, the very life-principle that makes the body human, which begs for attention, discipline and nourishment: our soul.

Juvenalis was just a kid as St. Paul was drawing near his martyr’s death, but Paul was keenly aware of the influence of comparable writers and thinkers in Greco-Roman culture. They shaped in part the environment into which the Lord sent him to preach the gospel, and it was critical to his mission to be familiar with them. Paul was a master of observation when it came to culture, law, language, philosophy – and yes, athletics – and put to work his highly-honed skills when framing the proclamation of the Christian message.

He borrowed from Stoic thought to exhort the Christian community in the Roman colony of Philippi to live a life of integrity:

“...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

A sound, healthy soul will be truly nourished only by the good and the beautiful, the noble and the pure. A Christian cannot live a life of integrity or peace when wittingly or unwittingly stuffing oneself with or indifferently absorbing the superficial and the fleeting. Moreover, one cannot hope to be healthy or to do well in one area of life when the rest of life is malnourished. The Desert Father Poemen said, “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.”

St. Paul recognized that Christian freedom is not only freedom “from” the constraints of sin but freedom “for” positive striving for fulfillment in Christ, a natural and critical outgrowth of faith and one’s desire to live life to the full, peacefully and integrally.

He also knew that at the heart of the Gospel is a mandate which both draws challengingly on the deepest resources of human freedom and opens up for the individual and for society the most complete fulfillment possible: and that is the spirit of loving self-giving, made manifest in acts – in lives – of total sacrifice.

As human persons we are not fully alive – even if we follow a balanced, healthy lifestyle and nourish ourselves with all that is good and beautiful in culture – unless we live for something beyond ourselves, unless we give ourselves to Someone beyond ourselves. It was that spirit, that stance, in Solomon which caught God’s eye:

“Because you have not asked for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right – I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you” (1 Kings 3:11-12).

Solomon desired to use his gifts for others – literally for the good of his people, who were, after all, God’s people – and thus for the purpose for which God gives every one of his gifts. It is love which makes the using of one’s gifts perfect; it is love which makes the gift of oneself beautiful in the eyes of God; it is love which best manifests the presence of God in our personal and public lives. This love is not just altruism. Rather, it is conscious participation in the sacrificial love of Christ, which the Christian disciple realizes he or she is called to communicate and proclaim – in everything.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the perfection and integration which self-forgetfulness, generosity, and humility bring to a Christian’s life of service. Why? Because these virtues manifest our desire not just to do well, but to do the good and to deliberately manifest in our lives the One Who Is Good. We can barely grasp the extraordinary depth of God’s humility, the infinity of his love, and the mind-boggling truth that he has invited us to share in his very life and in his care for his people.

Try as I might to wrap my mind and heart around the image that Jesus presents in the gospel passage we have just heard, I am always utterly astounded and speechless when I picture it:

“Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them” (Luke 12:37).

The Lord Jesus, having left us “in charge” until his return, will himself return – but still a servant, ever a servant, with perfect love and unimaginable humility – and will serve us at table. It could not be otherwise for the One who “came to serve” and to “give his life as a ransom.” Likewise, it cannot be otherwise for us who are his disciples. St. Augustine writes,

“...the Christ who is preached throughout the world is not Christ adorned with an earthly crown, nor Christ rich in earthly treasures, but Christ crucified... Thus, at length, the pride of this world was convinced that, even among the things of this world, there is nothing more powerful than the humility of God” (see Epistle 232:5, 6).

In the end, it is in our relationship with the Lord that we find the spiritual health that reveals and makes possible true balance, true integrity. We are speaking here not of a formula, and certainly not of self-improvement: we are speaking instead of lives lived in God, for others. It is God who created us who makes us complete, and it is a life lived in humble union with the servant-Savior that literally does the most good.

A sound soul in a sound body makes for a balanced life, a life of integrity. And such sound, integrally healthy lives given to public service lift up and transform society. And consciously committed lives of discipleship reveal the living, saving presence of the humble Savior who gives himself as food to those who are his own. It is his love, his sacrifice which sets the standard for every life of humble service – and thus it is a living relationship with him that integrates our lives and makes them truly healthy. That is what we call holiness.

My sisters and brothers, we who are here this day know that it is from God that we come and toward God that we are headed. Each of us, according to the calling given us, has been put “in charge” of the Lord’s vineyard. The vineyard is his, we are his, and those we serve are his. And we pray that we will be humble servants like him, who seek to do only his good. It is that for which we were made – and it is that for which we are sent into the world. Amen.

PHOTO: Reuters