Is there such a thing as a “healthy obsession?” According
to today’s readings, there is.
A quick survey of dictionary entries for the word
“obsession” provides us with “the domination of
one's thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc.”
[Dictionary.com], and “A compulsive, often unreasonable idea
or emotion.” [American Heritage].
Of course, these definitions are steeped in psychological terminology,
with loaded words like “domination” and “compulsive.”
The state of being obsessed with anything or anyone is generally
considered to be an unhealthy one.
Which leads us to our first reading. The Jews are allying themselves
with the Gentiles, and all kinds of abominations are taking place.
Here in the United States, we like to think of ourselves as a “melting
pot,” where people of various cultures mix and meld themselves
into a stronger sum of disparate parts. But a quick scan of the
first reading seems to read as a call for cultural polarization,
an “us” and “them” mentality. It very likely
could have been just that for the audience for which this passage
was originally written. However, today I view the first reading
as a warning against an unhealthy obsession. Many of the children
of Israel became obsessed with the Roman way, rejecting their traditional
practices and observances in place of the Roman ones. This obsession
took them into an unhealthy place, one where they did not belong,
and could not prosper.
Compare this to the Gospel passage, where our blind beggar hears
that Jesus is passing by. He immediately becomes obsessed with the
idea of meeting Jesus. Despite shushings and scoldings, he repeatedly
calls out to Jesus. It seems nothing will stop him, and he eventually
gets what he is really begging for: a moment with Jesus. Jesus asks
him what he wants, and he provides an immediate answer. His faith
has healed him.
I like to think that his obsession with the idea of meeting Jesus
had a lot to do with his healing.
Back to our dictionary definitions: they appear to be negative unless
we apply them to what we know about being a Christian. “The
domination of one's thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image,
desire, etc.” appears to be unhealthy until we apply it to
the Kingdom of God. Doesn’t Jesus repeatedly, almost obsessively
urge us to focus upon the Kingdom of God as a persistent idea, image,
And many lives of the saints are peppered with “a compulsive,
often unreasonable idea or emotion.” St. Francis of Assisi,
who walked out of court owning nothing but a hairshirt, obsessed
over rebuilding a church. St. Joan of Arc, a seventeen year old
girl at the time, obsessed over leading an army into battle to help
the King of France regain his kingdom. St. Francis Xavier, a man
with no fluency in eastern languages, obsessed over taking the Christian
faith to the East. All of these would be considered compulsions,
and unreasonable ones at that, by today’s standards.
However, the Kingdom of God, and the efficacy of our saints, have
never stood up to the rigors of judgment by contemporary standards.
Why should we?
Let us ask ourselves today: If we are obsessed over something, is
it over the right thing? Are we like the children of Israel in the
first reading, grasping obsessively at anything new and different
with the hope of finding the easy way to God? Or are we like the
blind beggar, calling out obsessively for Jesus with the hope of
encountering Him face-to-face?