Daily Reflection
November 18th, 2000
John Fitzgibbons, S.J.
English Department
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Third John 5-8
Psalms 112:1-6
Luke 18:1-8

Frequently, when I teach first-year students rhetoric and composition or world literature, the phrase “I believe” replaces “I think.”  It’s natural enough, I suppose, though problematic for me as a teacher.  And it may be literally true that my students “believe” something more than they “think”something, given the difficulty of learning how to argue effectively in academic discourse.  Still, I get puzzled looks from them when I gently try to persuade them that while I really do care what they “believe,” in this paper I’m much more interested in what they “think.”

The root of the verb “to believe” has a variegated history.  Words like “trust,” “love,” and “permission” are related to it.  “To believe,” as Kathleen Norris points out in Amazing Grace, is “to give one’s heart” to something.  It is one of the most beautiful moments one can witness ­ to see a little child believe her father and mother; she gives her heart to them in trust.

Today’s gospel reading from Luke (18:1-8) is a parable by Jesus set up by his admonition “to never lose heart.”  In other words, Jesus warns his disciples to keep giving their trust to God.  Jesus tells the story of the importunate (persistent) widow who seeks justice from a corrupt judge.  It’s another “if this is how corrupt humans act, then how much more generous will your loving God be” story.  Jesus wants his hearers to give their permission to God to enter their hearts and take “possession”of them.

So, my students, despite their need to learn how to use their heads in academic argumentation, have their priorities right for life. That is, “heart” takes precedence over “head.”  Knowledge or “head work,” while extremely important, has never saved anyone; compassion or “heart work” does.  We’re not judged by God, in the last analysis, on what we think; we are judged on whether we lived a life of compassion and caring, especially for those who are marginalized.

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