Ephesians 4:32- 5:8
Be kind to one another
Some years ago Hollywood gave us a movie entitled, Patch Adams. It is the story of a troubled man who voluntarily commits himself into a mental hospital. There he finds that helping his fellow patients gives him a purpose in life, and he realizes that he is healed more by his interaction with the other patients than the professionals. Thus inspired, he is determined to become a medical doctor, but the philosophy at the medical school he attends is similar to the asylum…advocating an arms-length attitude to the patients that does not address their emotional needs or the quality of their lives.
Several recent liturgical readings mirror this contrast, and the invitation to clothe ourselves with compassion. Today’s first reading from Ephesians, for example, is similar to that provocative reassurance from Colossians 3, "…clothe yourselves in heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." Or, remember the conclusion to Jesus’ parable in Matthew 22 that we prayed last week about the banquet guest who wasn’t attired in a wedding garment? Jesus keeps reminding his disciples that they will never experience the Kingdom of God unless they clothe themselves in the garment of the Kingdom banquet: non-violence, gentleness, empathy.
Once again in today’s Gospel Jesus is leveling the playing field. In the same way that he pulls down the rich and haughty Zacchaeus from the tree (Luke 19), Jesus lifts up the poor and bent-over crippled woman. I think of the commentator who said that Jesus’ Beatitudes (Sermon on the Mount) are far more subversive that Marx’s Communist Manifesto! Or think of our Blessed Mother’s Magnificat, in which she praises our God who
"…has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty." (Luke 1:52-53)
Perhaps that is why Pope Francis warned the Synod participants (closing address) to beware of the temptations of "a hostile inflexibility" or "to come down off the cross" or to "neglect the depositum fidei"… Our Holy Father keeps inviting all of us to clothe ourselves in compassion, or, as today’s Psalmody states, "Behave like God as his very dear children."
At the emotional epicenter of Patch Adams, our protagonist addresses a court determined to dismiss him, You treat a disease, you win, or you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you will win, no matter what the outcome…
…What’s wrong with death sir? What are we so mortally afraid of? Why can’t we treat death with a certain amount of humanity and dignity, and decency, and God forbid, maybe even humor? Death is not the enemy, gentlemen. If we’re going to fight a disease, let’s fight one of the most terrible diseases of all, indifference.
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness. He is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.