The Sunday Project
The Mirror of the Soul
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time |
By Darby DeJarnette
Job spoke, saying: Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? Are not his days those of hirelings? He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages. So I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me. If in bed I say, “When shall I arise?” then the night drags on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.
Brothers and sisters: If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it! If I do so willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my recompense? That, when I preach, I offer the gospel free of charge so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.
On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them.
When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.
Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.” He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.
St. Teresa of Avila, in her autobiography, describes seeing her soul as a mirror with Christ at its center. “It seemed to me I saw Him clearly in every part of my soul,” she writes. When a soul is in sin, St. Teresa describes it as amounting to “clouding this mirror with mist and leaving it black; and thus the Lord cannot be revealed or seen, even though He is always present giving us being.” 1
We all have glass in our souls. When we love someone, it makes it very easy to see the light of Christ shining through that person. It’s as if they are reflecting the love of God onto us through a clear window. When we encounter sin in ourselves and others, it makes it very hard to see that light. Someone hurts us and the glass is clouded. We can’t see Christ as clearly in that person anymore. Sometimes the pain causes us to have a hard time seeing Christ reflected in ourselves.
The first reading describes Job’s utter despair at his plight:
“My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.”
Like Job, we can often lose confidence in the ability of God to reach us. We feel like we are walking around with sharp shards in our hearts and minds.
In the second reading, St. Paul writes:
“Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some.”
Like St. Paul, we often have to shrink ourselves, allowing the reflection of Christ to grow within us. It’s very difficult to trust in God’s ability to defend us when we’ve spent so many years trying to see God’s reflection in ourselves and others.
I find it hopeful that St. Teresa reminds us that, underneath the grime, Jesus is always with us. He is with us in the darkness and in the light. We have nothing that we need to do in this life except trust God, love Christ and love our neighbor as ourselves. We often consider progress to be a movement forward, but Jesus forces us to acknowledge the truth: We won’t move at all without allowing him to move our hearts. Interior transformation—seeing the reflection of God and the reflection of ourselves within our own soul and within the souls of others—is Christianity’s greatest gift. When we turn our attention to interior transformation, we refuse to allow the people who hurt us to destroy the parts of ourselves that really matter. We subvert the narrative that violence is necessary, or redemptive, through our surrender to God and through our love for others.
It is one of the most difficult tasks in the spiritual life to refuse yourself the satisfaction of using the world’s weapons against those who hurt you and instead recognize Christ within them and within yourself. In the gospel reading, Jesus does two things which provide a template for how we are to keep that mirror of the soul clear and in sight: he heals and he prays. Wherever Jesus went he found the sick and the broken and the marginalized, he freed them from their burdens. We all have a unique call to be like Christ in this way, whether it is through activism or art or intercessory prayer. All of us have the gift of being healers, regardless of our own wounds.
We have to believe that the light of Christ is strong enough in ourselves to illuminate the lives of other people:
“Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.”
If we do nothing else, we have to follow Jesus’s example of prayer. This is how we strengthen ourselves to learn to see the reflection of God in our own soul. When we pray, we have access to the infinite love of God that resides within ourselves. Make no mistake: All the good and holy parts of you are completely loved and cherished by Christ. Prayer is nothing but making yourself open and receptive to this love of God towards yourself and others. No matter how much fear or pain you are dealing with, you are always a gift and a reflection of God’s heart in the world, and a mirror which bends you interior light towards love and justice.
1 St. Teresa of Avila, “The Book of Her Life - Chapter 40,” in The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila Volume One, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Washington, DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1976), pp. 356-356.