Have you ever had a splinter bury itself in your hand, say into the meat of your thumb, or under a fingernail, and try as you might you couldn’t get it out. It hurts, but no amount of pulling or squeezing dislodges it. So you leave it alone…maybe put a band-aid on it. A day later, the area is red and sore…infected, and it hurts, but you can’t remove it. Finally, perhaps by the third day, your body has had enough and the building pressure pushes it out far enough for you to grab and remove it–that intrusive thing that has no business infecting your body!
Well, in today’s reading from 1 Samuel, King Saul is that persistent splinter in David’s young life…and from Saul’s perspective, David is HIS splinter! Saul is both jealous and intimidated by David’s success in battle and he wants David dead. David, on the other hand, refuses to retaliate, even though he could have easily dispatched Saul on two occasions. Why? Because David considers Saul to be the Lord’s rightfully chosen King of Judah and so overlooks Saul’s attacks.
Speaking of the tug of war between good and evil, St. Paul notes that we wrestle with two natures—our human nature contaminated with the original sin of Adam, and our spiritual nature through our baptisms into the Person of Jesus Christ. We therefore battle within ourselves at times trying to cope with life’s challenges and disappointments. We may dig deeply to forgive others who harm us, but we are just as likely to want to strike out against, or shut ourselves off from those with whom we vehemently disagree.
Jesus, knowing full well the battles human beings wage, reminds us in today’s Gospel that anger and violence toward others only perpetuates unhappiness and pain. If we allow others to goad us into retaliating in a mean-spirited manner, our lives quickly become mired in bitterness. Like that splinter, we can worry over old hurts until anger infects our attitudes and actions so much that we are both irate and miserable at the same time. Such bitterness, psychiatrists tell us, can even make us sick!
Jesus tells us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, and bless those who curse us. Stop judging one another, Jesus says, and even if others condemn us, the Father will not! Forgive and we will be forgiven. Give freely, without reservation, and we WILL receive what we need.
In today’s world, we are bombarded with news of rioting, wanton murders, international conflicts, soaring inflation, COVID infections and deaths, political vitriol, and the threat of schism within our own Catholic Church. Without prayer, without sacrifice, without the effort to treat others charitably, especially those with whom we disagree, things will only spiral downward and get worse. Someone has to say ENOUGH! True, there are plenty of “splinters” in our society, in our Church and in us as individuals, but if we insist on focusing on only what is wrong or not to our liking, how will that improve our situation? Consider all the good done by our Church locally and worldwide: hospitals, food banks, St. Vincent de Paul conferences, religious education at all levels, funeral services and dinners, just for starters. If we want a better Church, let’s focus on what we each can do to contribute to positive change and healing where it is needed. You know…it takes courage…and faith in Jesus, to limit criticism, emphasize the positive, and move forward…in our personal lives, our society, and our Church!
So…this coming Wednesday, at 5:30 p.m. at St. Augustine’s Church, we have a golden opportunity to help launch the world-wide Synod called by Pope Francis. For the first time in Church history, the laity is being called to share our thoughts on how the Church can move beyond the current issues that threaten to divide us. Beginning at 5:30, Bishop Peter Christensen will lead us in reverencing the Holy Eucharist, followed with Mass. Then we will gather to prayerfully respond to a series of questions being posed to Catholics, active and lapsed, and non-Catholics around the world, the results of which will be collated and forwarded to Rome. There will also be opportunities to respond to these same questions soon on the diocesan website. Perhaps we are being tested today by Christ: who will show up, to be counted as disciples who love the Church and want to see it heal and grow? Who will remain unengaged, silent but critical, their voices lost in the gloom? May Catholics worldwide speak courageously, listen respectfully, and strive tirelessly so as to realize Jesus’ prayer for humanity—that we might be one in faith, one in hope, and one in charity toward all.