Daily Reflection
November 19th, 2007

Brian Kokensparger

Arts and Sciences
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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 desire?

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?

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