“Empty yourself.” How often I say that during Mass, and how often you’ve heard it. “One ear and out the other?” Or, just another churchy phrase whose meaning just plainly escapes us?
We were boldly told that we are special, unique with a whale’s potential throughout our entire education. Posters clutter the hallways conveying the same message. That short space above the chalkboard, again, proclaims your extraordinary presence in the world. You then go home to dutifully clean the bathroom toilet and wash the basement steps. (By nature, shouldn’t basement steps be dirty!?) By nature, how special is our specialness? I guess it’s encouraging to encourage youngsters. We all need a positive push during those developmental years.
Your parents then take you to church to hear me say those two words. If you are that special, you would wonder what the paradox is between the school’s push and the church’s pull.
The church would say, “Empty yourself of all that keeps you from being that special, once-in-the-universe child.” I wonder when a young person discovers a community not exclusively centered around one person. I hope it begins in the family and is then amplified through the church. I know people who read those posters and now live them to the disregard of others. That’s not the “pull” of the church. I can name and remember numerous others who read those “pushes” and, in faith, acknowledge and act upon those churchy “pulls.”
One of my favorite examples is a simple conversation between two people – in a coffee shop, mall, church entrance. Someone shares with you a personal story. Your interest and focus are seen in your eyes. Nothing will distract you from listening. No. It’s hearing the story from beginning to end. No interruptions. Smiles, frowns, and nods are acceptable with no audible sounds from you unless a giggle or sigh is called for. The person finishes speaking. Your presence and response are the emptyings of yourself by filling yourself with another person. A wrong exchange: “I was in Chicago last week and…” “Wow, I was in Chicago last week too and you wouldn’t believe…” That would be a sin against what ought to be the eighth sacrament of the Catholic Church.
Perhaps those always clean basement steps and those positive posters slowly taught me to be like the Jesus who then became the Christ.