Our One Thing

“Purity of heart is what enables us to see.” ― Pope Benedict XVI

I’ve always been fond of a scene in the movie City Slickers, a story of three friends who go on a cattle drive adventure to New Mexico to help sort out their mid-life problems.  Billy Crystal plays one of those friends (Mitch) and Jack Palance plays the trail boss (Curly).  A turning point for Mitch comes in a scene where he and Curly are riding horseback together.

stills-city-slickers-2015-4Curly says to Mitch: “You all come up here about the same age, same problems. You spend about fifty weeks a year getting knots in your rope and then you think two weeks up here will untie them for you. But none of you get it.” He continues: “You know what the secret of life is? Mitch replies, “No, what?” Curly then slowly holds up one finger and says, “One thing, just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean [nothing].” Mitch then asks, “What’s the one thing?” And Curly answers, “That’s what you’ve got to figure out.”

“Kierkegaard!” I exclaimed in the theater while my friends and movie goers around looked at me with puzzlement and annoyance. What I was referring to, and what no one else in the vicinity seemed to get, was the Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s book Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing. It is a sermon based on James 4.8 – “purify your hearts, you of two minds.”

Kierkegaard teaches us that to be pure in heart is to be single-minded and put away all double-mindedness.  Do I want to be a Christian or not? Is my faith something that sits alongside other ambitions in life or does it direct all of my intentions? Is all my life directed toward what is good and what God wills for me or do I do that part-time?

Jesus Christ is our one and main thing and keeping focused on Him can be quite a challenge in a world full of distractions, but remember His promise: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Witness

We want to solve everything don’t we?  How do we fix the economy? Which candidate will be better? How do we cure cancer? Or obesity? Or poverty? What about violence in the Middle East?

It is, of course, natural to be solutions oriented.  When there is a problem, we try to fix it. If someone is crying, we want to help them stop and then fix their broken heart. And yet we’ve all heard or known someone to say, “I don’t need you to fix my problem, I just want you to listen.”

As Church, we must be cautious of the fix-it mentality.  No doubt, there is a call to fix things in church and world at times and Christians should play a part when needed.  But we are not called as Christians to be fixers first.  Jesus didn’t say say, “Go therefore into all the world and fix it.” So what are we called to do?

Witness.

jean-vanierOne of my Catholic heroes is the philosopher Jean Vanier.  Vanier is mostly known for founding L’Arche, a coalition of communities throughout the world for people with developmental disabilities and the men and women who live and work with them.  To understand the philosophy behind L’Arche, Vanier describes it this way: “Look, there are two realities, two cultures. There is a culture of power and there is a culture of relationships. The men and women I live with see that it is good to be together and we don’t have to solve all the problems of the world when we are together. They teach me to lighten up.”

Indeed, the point of L’Arche is to be taught by those who value relationship over power. Power is deemed of greater value in the world and we often spend too much time adoring it and those who have it.  The community of L’Arche is a witness to a different way of being, a gospel way of being.

If we believe that our role as Christians in the world is to fix everything, we can become tempted to power over relationship.  Jesus did not come in power, but in weakness.  And he came to be in relationship with us, which is the witness we offer to the world.