AFFIRM YOUR NEIGHBOR
During my sabbatical in Asia, I was celebrating Mass with two friends. After the Gospel I invited them, both very learned and devoted Christians, to share their reflections on the Bible readings. To my great surprise, there was nothing I could do to get either of these usually very talkative people to speak. After Mass, they told me, apologetically, the reason for their great difficulty in sharing their personal impressions. Over the years, as they had attempted to express their reflections within their community, they had been consistently met with ridicule. One of them had recently published a book that had been well received, even in Europe, but not at home. Members of his own community criticized and belittled his work. As Jesus said: “No prophet is without honor except...in his own house”(Mk 6:4).
Jealousy infects and undermines families, friendships, and communities. Rutgers is no exception. How often, instead of affirming and supporting each other, gifted and hard-working students are gossiped about, or shunned, by jealous housemates or classmates. The success of our friends should be a cause of joy for us. But it can have the opposite effect. If our own self-esteem is low, if we have given in to timidity or laziness, the achievements of others can leave us feeling sad and guilty about our own lackluster performance.
The talents of others can serve as a challenge and inspiration for us. While I was studying for the priesthood in Washington, DC, there was a seminarian a year ahead of me who was a rather mediocre student. But, as I was to learn, he had chutzpah, a boldness in seeking his goals. I remember one particular day when he returned home triumphant after a meeting with a nationally famous television broadcaster, whose assistance the seminarian was seeking on a project for our foreign missions. I was dumbfounded that this undistinguished student had been able to arrange a meeting with such a distinguished person. Never would I have even dreamed of attempting such a thing! I admired his chutzpah.
I could have felt jealous and tried to pull him down as a celebrity chaser or publicity seeker. Instead, I remember asking myself if there wasn’t some bit of chutzpah within me that I had left untapped. Not that I was going to try to run off and meet some celebrity. Rather, I began looking within myself to see if I had been too unimaginative or timid in my own thinking and acting. The example of that seminarian gave me the courage to be more bold. But more importantly than that, this was the experience that taught me to be continually exploring within myself for other God-given talents that might still be lying dormant. There is much more to each of us than even we are aware of.
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Saint Paul invites us to see ourselves as members of one great Body, Christ’s Body, the Church. As with any body, each member of the Church has its own particular functions or gifts that are meant to be used for the benefit of all.
Each one of us is unique in all the world, in all of history. Another person might look like you, but no one has your exact combination of gifts and failings, your life story, your special connection with people inside and outside your family. Each of us has a God-given mission in life--in the home, in the workplace, in the community. It is vitally important that we courageously and generously fulfil that mission, that we discover, develop, and share our talents, that our overriding life-goal be to put our unique gift of love into action.
With so many billions of people in the world, it is tempting for us to think that it really won’t make much difference in the great scheme of things whether or not we live up to our potential. Nothing could be further from the truth. “If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy” (1 Cor 12:25).
There is, however, one thing just as important as sharing our gifts with others: affirming the gifts of others. One of the primary purposes of the Church is to create a nurturing environment in which each member feels encouraged to grow. We need to support one another through the discouraging trial and error involved in discovering, developing, and sharing our talents.
Jealousy and ridicule kill the spirit and rob the world of badly needed gifts. Affirmation and support make us all come alive. Affirm your neighbor, as you would have your neighbor affirm you.
Ronald Stanley, O.P.