By listening to the news reports of the World Cup now happening in South Africa I’ve learned a new word: vuvuzela. This is a long plastic horn that gives off a very loud and, by all accounts, unpleasant noise. I have also noticed how the soccer players complain about them. They have one goal: winning the World Cup. To accomplish this they need to be focused, work together and communicate with one another. However, it is said that, because of the vuvuzelas, they cannot concentrate and have great difficulty communicating with each other. That’s not surprising. Thousands of those things sounding off at once in a football stadium must create quite a racket.
The Scripture readings for yesterday’s Sunday Eucharist are all about remaining focused on a goal and not allowing the “vuvuzelas” of life to spoil our concentration or distract us from working together for its accomplishment.
The goal of the Christian is to do the will of God, to be faithful to Him at all times. Our model, of course, is Jesus himself. The Gospel passage from Luke speaks of Jesus having his “face set toward Jerusalem”. This means that he was resolutely determined to go to that city. Nothing could distract him from going there. The significance of this is that Jerusalem is his place of destiny. There Jesus is about to offer his life on the Cross for the salvation of the world, the mission for which he was sent by the Father. The fidelity of Jesus to the will of the Father is absolute and unconditional. Furthermore, it is clear in that same passage that he expects a resolute determination to be faithful from those who would be his disciples: “Let the dead bury their dead; no one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Jesus is saying in these responses to people who sought to follow him that no attachment, not even to family, should hold us back from doing the will of the Lord.
St. Paul reminds us in the second reading from Galatians what that will is: “love your neighbour as yourself”. Christ calls us to love one another as he has loved us, to place ourselves at the service of each other. That is our goal. Required for its accomplishment are focus, concentration and good communication – communication with God through prayer and communication with those we are called to love and serve. But there are many very loud “vuvuzelas” in our society that can spoil our concentration and inhibit our communication and communion with others. What might be some examples?
St. Paul mentions self-indulgence, by which he means love of self to the neglect of love of neighbour. That is a very loud “vuvuzela” in our day. Allowing that noise to distract us leads to indifference to the plight of the poor, to a refusal to forgive or apologize, to attacks on the dignity of human life, and to the fighting, devouring and violence that brands the relationships of far too many peoples and nations. It is a very serious distraction from our goal of loving God and others.
For many people today the “vuvuzela” is fear and anxiety, the loud distraction of worry. Life has a great many pressures, many of which are beyond our ability to handle. We need to be careful not to allow the noise of fear to drown out the message of the Gospel that invites us to trust in the love of God. Fear paralyzes and makes us slaves to ourselves. Paul reminds us that the love of God sets us free and liberates us to be servants of one another.
Particularly troubling “vuvuzelas” today are the lies that are told about human life: that one’s dignity is dependent upon usefulness; that we become burdens to society if we grow ill, weak or disabled; that we count and are worthy of notice only if we are beautiful, talented or have accomplished great things. This is a very loud noise today and an extremely ugly one at that. It can and does lead to a terrible sense of isolation and loneliness for many people. We cannot allow it to drown out the beautiful message of the Gospel that each and every person is willed and loved by God. Neither can we permit it to distract us from the truth that each person is deserving of our love, service and protection.
We can remain focused on doing the will of God, we can close our ears and our lives to the distracting noises of the world, only if we live in close communion with Jesus and share in his own fidelity to the Father. This is precisely what he enables us to do every time we celebrate Mass and are united to his self-offering to the Father. In our celebrations of the Eucharist let us pray for the grace of resolute fidelity to the will of God and for the ability to distinguish clearly the beautiful sounds of the Gospel from the ugly noise of self-indulgence, fear and falsehood.