Sunday, September 29, 2013
The Starfish on the Beach
Most everyone has heard the story of the boy finding thousands of starfish washed up by a storm on the beach. Moved with pity, he begins tossing them back into the ocean before they die. A stranger asks him why he makes the effort: “It will make little difference when there are so many.” And the boy responds: “It will make a difference to this one,” as he tosses it into the ocean.
There are three lessons to this story, but I fear that often only one is taken to heart: that there are many in need and something must be done. But there is a second, perhaps more important message: I must do something. And even a third: I see so many people like me laying on the beach of life that I think I am “normal,” but perhaps I am just one of the many who are dying, missing that which would give me more life. I think people of good will often confuse the importance of those three messages.
Luigi Guissani in his book, Religious Sense, says that ideology is developed from a preconception, “based upon an aspect of reality … taken unilaterally and made, in principle, into an absolute.” It is “the starting point for the intellectual and his or her opinions, or by the politician to justify and publicize his own platform.” Guissani quotes Francis Bacon as saying: “People are not inclined to live by pure experience, that it’s easier for them to pollute experience with prejudices.” “The idols of the tribe, are the idols of the cave.” This has been happening since the beginnings of man, his prejudices toward himself, toward making his own life easier. Whether kings or presidents, a man tends to follow those who say: “I will do this for you.” He desires to follow an ideology which makes his life, and his obligations, easier.
Jesus came onto this earth and said: “I will do this for you,” and He did something so great that no mere man could have done it: He gave us eternity. But as for others things of life, He said: “Follow me” --- do as I do. Love your neighbor, and I will show you how.
He expects us to do this, and no one can do it for us. This is his message and example: Love. Be as the boy on the beach, and love your neighbor, one by one. Don’t worry about the size of the task. You are to help a hungry person. You are to offer a neighbor work. You are to show him the example of a life lived following Christ. And, you are to allow him to do the same for you. For some times and in some ways, we each are that starfish dying on the shore.
The priest at mass preaches to you. Missionary efforts ask for your financial support. Catholic radio broadcasts the truth. Christian saints, old and new, write so that you might understand. They are as the boy on the beach, reaching out to you, to save you from dying. Don’t reject the opportunity they present to you. Don’t say: “I’m okay. See, everyone else is like me; we’re okay together.” Don’t say or think this, as you die together. Be open to saving your life and those who would care for you, who were put there by God to give you the opportunity to save your life. And if you should be one of those rare ones, whose primary task IS to save many on the beach, to preach or lead a major Christian effort, do it well, and don’t be overwhelmed by the size of the task.
One at a time. Be as the boy, tending to your neighbor. Be as the starfish, open to the fact that you might grow more fully alive in faith; seek it and accept it. Don’t worry about saving everyone who is dying; don’t assume that God expects you to do everything: That is His task. Just love one person at a time, as He did and would. Be His presence in the world. And never, never, NEVER, look at the need and needy and just walk on, saying the task is too big. “There is nothing I can do.” As long as you live, even if it is only praying with your last breath, you can and should do something.