By Tom Peri, Science Teacher
Mr. Peri shared this story as a call to worship for a faculty liturgy earlier in the school year. In celebration of Catholic Schools Week and Lent, which begins next Wednesday, we offer it to you today.
This year our theme and our challenge is to “Build a City of God.” I want to share an old story that you may have heard but maybe not till the very end that will give us an idea of how to accomplish our goal.
Once upon a time…
There was a monastery that had fallen into hard times – building in disrepair, vocations dwindling, enthusiasm waning, church attendance evaporating. The Abbot, let’s call him Brother Thomas, was beside himself trying to think of ways to turn things around, so one day he decided to go to town and talk to his old friend the Rabbi about what to do. The Rabbi greeted him warmly and after Brother Thomas described the situation the Rabbi smiled a peculiar smile.
He said to Thomas, “I am surprised your monastery is in such a state because I know a great secret about it that I can tell you only if you promise that you will share it with the brothers and sisters only once and never speak of it again.” Thomas, in desperation readily agreed. The old Rabbi leaned in close to Thomas’s ear and in a voice barely above a whisper said, “At your monastery the Messiah lives among you.” Knowing the Rabbi to be a man of great spirituality Thomas was stunned into silence by his words.
Returning to the monastery, at evening prayer in the presence of all the brothers and sisters, Thomas told them he had great news to share and that he could only share this once and it was never to be spoken of again. Taking their vow of obedience most seriously they all agreed. Thomas then said with great conviction only this, “One of you is the Messiah,” and turned and left the chapel.
Of course, they were all flabbergasted by this news. Many doubted its veracity but all had just enough faith in Thomas to ask themselves who among them might it be??
The next day they went about the chores with their very best effort in case the Messiah really was with them. They cleaned as never before so that the Messiah would have a spotless home and chapel in which to pray. The fields were tended with exceptional care so that the Messiah would know they were good stewards. The cooks cooked meals fit for the Messiah. They were slow to anger and quick to forgive in case it was the Messiah they were speaking to. Their prayers took on a higher level of piety and gratitude for the nearness of the Messiah. These new behaviors soon became the norm and not long after the townspeople noticed the change. Attendance increased, vocations multiplied, and in a few years the monastery became a center for learning and spirituality – a destination for pilgrims the world over.
Exactly 10 years later, Thomas could look upon a great, vigorous, vibrant monastery – it could even be described as a City of God. Ironically that same day, news reached him that his friend the Rabbi was dying. Immediately he went to see his friend and upon arriving one look told him his friend would never leave his bed alive again.
They greeted each other warmly and spoke for a long time. Finally, Thomas said to the Rabbi, “My dear friend, your trick worked. The monastery changed because of what you told me.” With that the Rabbi pulled Thomas close and said in a quiet voice, “That was no trick….you Thomas are the Messiah.” Before Thomas could object and tell him he knew for certain he was not, the Rabbi went on, “and so is everyone in the monastery. Each of you carries the Messiah in you. God lives in each of you. Your faces are truly the face of God for each other. The Monastery turned around only after each of you became open to the Messiah in all of you.”
Pretending to be the Messiah is not that same as believing it. Every war, every fight, every crime, every hurt, insult, grudge, failure to forgive is the result of not really believing in our heart that each of us is the Messiah – we all share equally in that divinity. So Building a City of God is easy if we can believe each of us is the Messiah.