Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
It’s easy to watch the news these days and criticize others. What’s harder — and has always been harder — is to become something deeper and better ourselves.
In some ways, it’s a question of “sphere of influence.” Most of the things we see on the news are beyond our sphere of influence. They’re someone else’s problem.
The feast of the conversion of St. Paul (Jan. 25), however, can encourage us to focus on what falls within our sphere of influence, with our own conversion coming first. St. Paul’s first responsibility was to respond to the call of Jesus Christ in his own life. Eventually, in God’s providence, that had a large impact on the world. But everything flowed from St. Paul first, taking care of what lay within his sphere of influence.
In many ways, that was true of Mary, as well. Think about her small sphere of influence — living in the small village of Nazareth, in the small nation of Israel — compared to the world’s problems in her day. And yet, her “Yes” to God within that small sphere of influence had huge implications for the world!
It’s like the parable of the mustard seed, which Jesus uses in Friday’s Gospel. The seed is very small. But if it takes care of its own growth, it has a larger impact than you might expect.
That’s our story, all the way back to Abraham and his faith, and also all the way back to Adam and his sin. Whether or not we take care of what falls within our own sphere of influence has an impact — for better and for worse — on the state of the world. The temptation is to focus our attention on what lies outside our sphere of influence. The news is very good at focusing our attention there. But let’s name that for what it is: a temptation.
If we see what’s happening in the world and are content to criticize others who are outside our sphere of influence while taking no steps to become something deeper and better within our sphere of influence, it will call forth a like response in others. Nothing gets better that way. But if we see the problems in the world and try to be something deeper and better within our own sphere of influence, that will also call forth a like response in others. That’s the only way things get better.
What can I do in my own life, in my own family, in my own work and in my own neighborhood? Perhaps I could engage in more prayer, study or service. Perhaps I could be more involved in my parish or form deeper relations at work. Perhaps I could be less susceptible to outbursts of anger, or to building dissension and factions, and more patient, kind and generous (see Galatians 5:19-23).
The great saints of Catholic history saw the problems of their times and, yes, criticized the problems of their times. But first, they spent their time and energy becoming something deeper within their own sphere of influence. Their critique was more than words. It was articulated most powerfully in a deeper life.
That’s one of the great challenges of our day: to become something deeper than what we see. In the face of the world’s problems, our sphere of influence may seem small. But, in God, it can have huge implications.