I did something difficult this past week: I wrote my will. (Yes, of course, I should have done it ages ago; let’s take that as read.) While I am naturally hoping it won’t come into play in the near future, the truth is I have a significantly increased chance of dying now than I had a month ago. Hence the will.
Not, mind you, that I own a lot. My mortgage company and I co-own my cottage. I have a cat. That’s pretty much it—I thought. And then I got to the page where it discussed intellectual property, and I think I actually exclaimed “whoa!” out loud.
I have intellectual property. I write mystery novels. Not the Great American Novel, not even an ephemeral bestseller or two; but still, I write novels that, I am told, make for satisfying entertainment. On one hand, this doesn’t matter much, since there aren’t torrents of money coming in from them. On the other hand, who do I name as literary executor? Who is the person I trust with all my aspirations and dreams, my mistakes and my successes, my old outdated articles and my not-yet-published potential masterpieces?
Who do I trust?
It’s impossible to reflect on Scripture without seeing it through the lens of the present moment. It’s impossible to hear the word of the Lord and not also hear it echoing through our own lives and our own experiences. So, like everyone reading this, I am aware of the challenges of living and thinking—of everything I do, in fact—in the midst of a global pandemic. How can that not influence how we hear God’s voice? Every Biblical writer looked around themselves and said, “Look at the world! What are you doing? What am I doing?” It’s a cry for the ages.
And we find ourselves taking it up anew today.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is telling us who he is. He emphasizes how the Jews are looking for the meaning of life in the wrong places. Their thinking cannot make the connection between what they know and who they see before them; they lack that light. And the reality that shines through this reading—and to some extent also through the previous readings, the passage from Exodus and the psalm—is that we persist in looking for meaning in the wrong places. It’s the ongoing story of humanity.
Who do we trust? In Exodus and Psalm 106, we trusted a golden calf. In the Gospel, we trust in the things that point toward Jesus—the words of Scripture, the life of Moses, the appearance of John the Baptist—rather than in Jesus himself.
There’s a country song that bemoans the singer’s tendency to be “looking for love in all the wrong places.” Isn’t that what we do when we’re looking everywhere but at God? We look at the divisions and issues in the Church and we accuse God of not taking better care of us. We create pollution in our streams and earth and ask God why he allows children in those polluted areas to die. We listen to the promises of politicians and follow them even when it means moving away from our faith. Why are we looking everywhere but to Christ?
That’s how I resolved my dilemma, by the way. I asked myself where I should be looking. I looked at the people closest to me and asked myself, who loves my work? And once I asked the right question, the answer became immediately clear; I knew right away who it should be. Who I could trust. I had broken the issue down to its most basic reality, stripped it of all the extraneous “stuff” I’d put there. I finally asked the right question, looked in the right direction.
If we ask the question, who loves me? then our answer becomes clear, too. In the words of another song, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” Who do I trust? This I know.
It’s so easy in a time of chaos to let fear take the wheel. Fear makes us turn away from the right questions and the right road. Fear sows divisions and hatred among us; it helps us make bad decisions and turn to the darkness. We have to experience fear, but we don’t have to stay there. We can write our wills. We can take health and safety precautions. We can turn away from the golden calf, stop looking for love in all the wrong places, and instead rest in the love of the Lord.
This I know.
An optional prayer over the people from today’s Mass seems a fitting prayer for a time of pandemic:
O God, protector of all who hope in you,
bless your people, keep them safe,
defend them, prepare them,
that, free from sin and safe from the enemy,
they may persevere always in your love.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at http://www.pauline.org.