Bob and Grace have lived behind us since we built our home in Gurnee in 1987. Mike met Bob one day when he walked across Bob’s yard to get to our lot. Mike had just taken our dog, Ernie, to the vet for the last time. His eyes teared as he looked over the barren plat that would become our yard. At the time, Mike thanked God that he was alone. Friendly guy that he is, Bob bolted out of his house when he saw Mike. He and Grace have a son and a daughter, and they were anxious to know if a family with children was moving in. Though Bob was probably taken aback by the grown man crying in his yard, he welcomed Mike with a warm handshake. This unexpected meeting grew into numerous conversations across yards and at various neighborhood gatherings over the years. During one such encounter, Bob shared that he’d just published a book. Though it was a business publication, Bob still found it exciting to see his name in print. Fellow writer that I am, I certainly related to Bob’s joy, and I asked him if I could read a copy. When Bob handed the book to me, he confessed that he’d begun another manuscript that he hoped to publish on a grander scale some day.
Bob hoped his book-in-progress, JUST BE GOOD, would develop into sound advice to those of us who truly hope to take the high road during our lives on this earth. Bob is the product of seventeen years of Catholic Education and, like many of us, he’s wrestled with his own variety of “Catholic” guilt. Over the years, Bob found that he and many of his peers became so discouraged with the rules they’d broken that they overlooked the many good things they’d done. This discouragement often drew people away from The Church because they felt they’d never be quite good enough. In the end, Bob concluded that focusing more on what we’re doing right and not fixating on our failures might just make us more productive people. Bob hoped that his story would encourage the rest of us to focus more fully on what we might do to help ourselves and those around us to become the good people we are meant to be.
As I read today’s scriptures for this writing, it occurred to me that Bob has the right idea about the power of our focus. In the first reading (1 Kings 19:16b-21), Elijah calls Elisha to leave everything behind so he can train to be Elijah’s successor. The Old Testament illustrates again and again that a prophet’s work is never easy. Elijah knows that Elisha will need all of his energy to proclaim God’s word to his stubborn people. Wasting time with unimportant considerations is a luxury Elisha cannot afford. So it is that Elisha single-heartedly follows his mentor. In his letter to the Galatians (Galatians 5:1, 13-18), St. Paul calls his followers to focus as well. Christ set his disciples free from earthly concerns to allow them to focus upon God’s concerns. Paul speaks with great passion from his truly singular focus on the teachings of Jesus. Paul can’t imagine why anything would concern his people more than God’s call to love and to care for one another. In the gospel (Luke 9:51-62), Jesus makes the ultimate plea for our focus: Follow me. When those who hear ask first to bid farewell to their families or to bury their dead, Jesus seems impatient in demanding their immediate response. It isn’t that Jesus doesn’t want his followers to care for their families. Indeed, it is Jesus’ deep love for we who are his family that inspires his response. Jesus knows his final journey to Jerusalem is in the offing and he is determined to provide a lasting example of the price and the value of remaining focused upon God’s call. His friends will not understand why Jesus allows himself to be arrested, misjudged, tortured and murdered. Rather than drawing upon the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching, the disciples will lose their focus on Jesus and respond to their fear. Only when the resurrected Jesus returns do the disciples see where their focus must remain and why.
I must admit that I’ve spent undue energy during my lifetime focused upon the wrong things. How much effort I’ve wasted on regret! I find that as much as I admire Bob’s insight in calling us to focus on helping ourselves and one another to be good people, it’s taken me a while to take it to heart. The good news is that, though I am a work in progress in this area, I’m already enjoying the peace that comes with focusing on Jesus’ call to Follow me. When we consider the arms of the father wrapped around his prodigal son, the kindness Jesus offered the Samaritan Woman at the well, the numerous times Jesus repeated, “Your sins are forgiven!” and the resurrected Jesus’ offer of peace to his errant followers, we realize that the focus is God’s love after all. How else can we respond other than to return that love in kind –to God and to one another?
©2010 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved