“Above and Beyond”

*Spoiler alert. Do NOT continue if you haven’t seen the new marvel movie! Or go ahead and read if you need a shot of spirituality along with your superheros.

I admit it.  I really like superhero movies. I was kinda jealous a few years back when my son got Captain America socks for his birthday.  I want to see the new Marvel movie.  Even my daughter who is highly selective about what she watches wants to see it.

“But Mom,” she said, “someone dies in it.  Everyone I talked to was very disappointed about that.”

“Eh”, I answered, “Big deal.  They brought one of those guys back from the dead in the movie we watched together last week, didn’t they?”

“That’s not Marvel, Mom.  That’s DC.” Said my superhero expert son.

“Again”, I say, “Big deal.  Seriously.  If they can bring someone back from the dead in the comic world once, I am sure they can do it again.  Give me the script. I will write it.”  Infamous for saying lines before the character gets to speak and for predicting outcomes at the apex of movies, I have undoubtedly annoyed my family with my wanna-be-movie-star-script-writer-aholic syndrome.

Overall, superheros in the movies are doing crazier and crazier things to save the planet, humanity, ancient dinosaur Autobots, whatevs.  It seems they go “above and beyond” themselves movie after movie.  What the Holy Spirit seemed to bring to light in our weekly prayer group today was to instead, take it back to the basics; “how about we just begin by looking around at the people near us and see if they need anything?” In the virtual world we live in today, going “above and beyond” can be just looking up from our cell phones; no cape needed.

In this upcoming Sunday’s gospel, Christ tells us that “no one has greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend”, and Christ laid down his life even for his enemies, those that rejected him, and the sins of the whole world.  He did this to free us from the slavery of sin, so that we have the ability to deeply love God and one another in return; and to save the world from disaster, we can begin at the grocery store, or even in our own family.

John 15:9-17

Jesus said to his disciples:
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you
and your joy might be complete.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”

Reflections from the group (some comments combined for flow);

  • I no longer call you slaves
    • “no longer” implies what was before as in the long-standing relationship between Jesus and the Father; we were slaves out of Egypt and then given the commandments.
    • God continually showed mercy and justice to His people but we couldn’t seem to get it right. He made a covenant and sent His only son, and now we are free of sin; out of the slavery of what was and brought into His mercy.
  • and your joy might be complete
    • God wants us to be completely joyful. He gives us the complete freedom we seek through Christ; we become enslaved when we rely on things or other people for our security,  pleasure or needs. We seek earthly pleasures which are temporary and fizzle out, then we go back and seek more and that is what creates addictive behavior (Matthew Kelly’s “Resisting Happiness”) The joy Christ gives us is COMPLETE.  It is eternal and not based on anything that fades.
    • Christ is the fulfillment of our joy and the freedom from sins that bind us and keep us from living a fully free life. We must find a way to hang on to our “Jesus Joy”.
      • Fr Ubald, an African leads a conference “Unbound” about finding freedom from the hurts and damage caused by events in our past (big or small) that unknowingly have caused spiritual damage.  We can be held “bound” by the fears and feelings of worthlessness and those can keep us frozen in a state of inaction or hesitancy in which we are immobilized from realizing God’s plan for our life.

A Son-In-Law Goes Above and Beyond

Finding a son-in-law who gets along with his mother-in-law isn’t rare, but it isn’t common either.  If he accompanied his wife when she went to help her mother, you might think he’s nice.  Today’s story was about a son-in-law who went out of his way to take his mother-in-law to her church for Easter because her own sons and daughters were out of town.  He was to meet up with his own family later in the day for church, but wanted to make sure she got to her own church for mass first.  Not only did he take her, he found  her a seat up front–there happened to be two empty chairs–and then offer to stay with her for the mass (even when he wasn’t dressed for church) because he didn’t want to leave her alone.  You might say he went above and beyond the call of duty. That’s what we thought about this particular son-in-law, and we spent some time talking about why what he did was special and how we can imitate that special quality (that’s what these “case studies” are about).

This man is the kind of person that can be a model for anyone in the world to follow by just being a really good version of ourselves anytime and anywhere.  There is no prototype, super-hero cape or phone booth involved (do those even exist anymore?) but you can be “above and beyond”–not to be confused with “up, up and away” like Superman–as an in-law, neighbor, friend, parent or spouse.  You can even be “above and beyond” as a stranger. How?

The easily identified theological virtue of CHARITY helped us begin to examine the case as we discussed similar stories/cases.

  • A mother who lived on the other side of the country from her daughter, immediately flew overnight to take care of her daughter, who the night before on the phone had complained of a bad cold.
  • A daughter-in-law who helps take care of her mother-in-law and has many difficulties, but does her best to help her get the things she needs, even if she isn’t always treated well in return.
  • A person in the grocery store parking lot who helped a stranger load their car with groceries and then offered to take the cart back up to the store.

After discussing many examples of “going above and beyond“, we examined the way the culture may view the situation.  It may not have been heroic to hold a door open for someone 50 years ago, but today with our busy ways of life, we aren’t looking around and considering others as much. Because most of us seem to go about our lives in our own world, busy with our own thoughts, focused on our own troubles, these small acts of kindness don’t seem as commonplace, making these little gestures of care-giving seem heroic.  To be a HERO in this world now, we need to be engaged in the world around us, on the lookout for someone in need and a way to help them.

Consequentially, “Random acts of kindness” are nice, but more important are offering Godly acts of kindness, random or planned, not just an act of philanthropy, but in hopes of spreading the love of Christ in the world.

The human virtue of justice seems to be making a repeat performance this week, alongside the gospel messages.  Most of our cases in the past few weeks have involved taking care of someone who needs extra help or kindness, and thereby restoring dignity to someone who may not feel as valued as a person.  God created and loves each of us and sometimes in the hustle of our day we neglect to show others this dignity and care.  We felt inspired to “go above and beyond” like the son-in-law in today’s case. We resolved for the week to keep a watchful eye for an opportunity to extend help and kindness and restore dignity to someone along our path each day.

To be spiritually aligned with our apostolic action, we made up a prayer to ask God to help us with this task of going above and beyond to help others and offer a sense of dignity to those who may need care or help:

Heavenly Father, please help me to have the insight to see opportunities throughout my day to help others, especially those who need extra kindness.  Help me to be aware of those around me, and to be mindful that each person I encounter today is also Your child, regardless of anything else.  Help me to be a blessing to those I meet out of thanksgiving for Your love for us, and to bring You glory, through your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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