A few years ago I was at a charity fundraising event. As in most of these events a guest speaker comes for the dinner. On this particular occasion the speaker rose to the microphone and immediately everyone noticed that he only had one arm. He introduced himself to the audience and all the while he was speaking he began to undo his necktie with his one hand. He spoke of the accident in which he lost his right arm; he was right-handed.
He talked about the seriousness of the loss and the psychological challenges he faced by the trauma of the accident. He mentioned that doctors involved in his care and eventual therapy spoke to him of the great obstacles he would face having only one arm. They even told him that he would have to use “clip-on” ties. At one point, he determined that he had to set goals for himself. He said that he would not let this injury, nor the loss of his arm, hold him back. He was determined to go forward.
As he was speaking, he was retying the necktie with his one arm. As he finished this segment of the talk, he also finished tying the tie. It was moving to watch him tie it into a perfect knot, a feat not many can do with two arms let alone one.
The story recalls a man who set a goal for himself; a seemingly unreachable goal, one with many obstacles and challenges and one that many people said he could not reach. Yet he did reach it with much effort, determination and help.
Many times in life we set goals for ourselves. The goals can be simple as in daily tasks or chores. The goals can be lofty such as a change in work or lifestyle. The goals can be interior or exterior. Regardless of the type of goals most of us regularly set goals and seek to accomplish them.
When we look at these goals and the places they have in our lives we might ask, “What is the ultimate goal in my life?” or “What do I want to do with my life?” or “Why am I here in this world?” Jesus gives us some very foundational teachings that help us answer these questions and either renew, reinforce or establish the fundamental goal we all share in life – life itself.
Jesus teaches us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Jesus comes and proclaims the Kingdom of God, indeed he establishes it through his paschal mystery. The Kingdom of God can be described as God’s vision or plan for the world, for human beings, for each one of us. As creator, he creates for a purpose, which is love. As redeemer, he heals and we experience his mercy. As sanctifier, he strengthens and purifies.
Jesus reveals the Kingdom of God in his person and teaches us how to live in the kingdom he establishes. Being united to Christ Jesus and seeking to live in him and according to his way is our participation in the Kingdom of God. This is the primary goal of our lives. This is the life of love and mercy.
At the core of this quest is the realization that we are loved by God. We are loved into being, created by God and for God. His love for us is the greatest of loves. Far above all other creation and all other manifestations of love is God’s love for us.
Jesus uses examples from nature to make this point. When we look at creation and nature we see beauty. The birds of the sky and the wild flowers that grow in the field are the two examples he uses. It is not so much their “doing something” useful or “providing something” that causes God to care for them. He does so out of love.
Jesus compares these examples to human beings. If God so cares for the birds of the sky and the wild flowers, so much more is his love for us. “Are not you more important than they?” Jesus asks us. As a result we should not worry and say, “‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’”
The first reading, from the Book of Isaiah, echoes the theme using the image of motherhood.
Most of us have had the experience of being loved by our mothers. Many of our community are mothers and know what it is like to love like a mother. This is a great love, a love that empties oneself for another, a love that is powerful and strong.
Yet even greater is God’s love for his people. “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness of the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” God knows us through and through. He loves us and calls us to himself in love. He teaches us how to live life to its fullest, to live a life that gives life and to enter into the divine life of Trinitarian love through Christ Jesus, his Son.
Life today can pose many challenges. Responsibilities can weigh heavily at times. Family, work and community responsibilities, not to mention the desire to grow as a human being, pull us in different directions and beg our attention. The situation is not unusual or unique but it might be heightened today by the quick pace of our lives.
The busy-ness and cares of life might cause us anxiety or restlessness at times. The psalmist, however, reminds us that the peace and tranquility we seek comes only from the Lord; nothing else can provide these for the depths of our being.
“Only in God be at rest my soul, for from him comes my hope. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed.” Jesus’ message is similar for when we seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness there is no need of worry, or anxiety, or fear: “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.”
Setting goals in life is one way in which we manage responsibilities and in the parlance of the day – “we seek to ‘move things forward.’” Jesus is inviting us to look at life a little more closely. He invites us to recognize God’s place and plan in our lives, to acknowledge that God has the answers to the questions we ask, to understand that he has the power to give us life and to know his love for us is more important than any other reality we can experience or imagine.
Jesus invites us to have God as the primary goal of our lives and, while we journey to the Father with him, to experience the greatness of his love: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.