Sunday, February 22, 2009

Copilots and Paralytics

A few (about ten) years ago, I heard a sermon by Fr. Michael Pfleger. I’m pretty sure that it was the same Chicago priest that gained nationwide notoriety this past year for his mockery of Hillary Clinton at Trinity United Church of Christ, former spiritual home of President Barack Obama.

When I heard him, he was speaking to a group of Catholic men in Cincinnati. This was at the height, or perhaps just past the peak, of the men’s fellowship movement, when groups like Promise Keepers were filling stadiums (should that be stadia?) with tens of thousands of men united in a desire to follow Christ and provide spiritual leadership for their families. Promise Keepers was a largely evangelical Protestant endeavor, and it spawned a Catholic response that included St. Joseph’s Covenant Keepers and the Catholic Men’s Fellowship. In Cincinnati, an annual men’s conference, Answer the Call, was initiated. It was at one of these conferences that I heard Fr. Pfleger speak.

Fr. Pfleger gave a real stem-winder of a sermon that day, although I don’t remember his saying anything particularly incendiary. All of the speakers that day were recorded, and cassette tape sets of the conference were made available, so I’m certain that a recording exists of this particular sermon. That sermon made enough of an impression on me that, to this day, I clearly recall two of the points that he made.

The first point was that God doesn’t just want to come along for the ride. If we invite him into our heart, as if into our home, we can’t expect him to just sit there. If we tell him to make himself feel at home, he’s going to start rearranging the furniture. To further illustrate the point, he brought up the popular poem, God as My Copilot. After describing the poem, or maybe even reading it, he practically shouted, “GOD DOESN’T WANT TO BE A COPILOT!” He doesn’t want to sit by while you steer the course of your life. He wants you to give him the stick! I can’t begin to estimate how often, in the years since then, that phrase, God doesn’t want to be a copilot, has run through my brain, leading me to surrender my own desires to the will of God.

The second theme that I remember Fr. Pfleger speaking about that day was the subject of today’s gospel reading about the paralytic lowered through the roof to be healed by Jesus. Recall that, the paralytic had four friends who brought him to see Jesus, but because of the crowd, they were unable to get to him. Undeterred, the four climbed to the roof, removed the tiles and broke through the roof, then lowered their paralyzed friend, on his pallet, down before Christ. Moved by their faith, Jesus first forgives the man’s sins, and then heals his paralysis.

As men, we all suffer some form a spiritual paralysis which we, on our own, are unable to heal. We need the healing touch of Christ. But sometimes, the paralysis might be so bad that we are unable to approach Christ on our own. In that case, do we have four friends who would do for us what the four friends in today’s gospel did? Do we have friends who care enough about our spiritual health to know when we need God’s grace and are determined enough (and half the spiritual resources themselves) to get us to Him. A related question is this: what would we be willing to do to get one of our friends the healing that he needs?

Fellowship is important, but too often ends at good times and donuts. Friendship makes demands. I have to ask myself whether I am a good friend those that I count as friends. Am I willing to literally raise the roof for the spiritual health of my friends? It’s a humbling question. It’s a question that I might very well have to answer at my judgment.

No comments: