Monday, March 7, 2011

Oh, to Have a Heart Like Tobit!

Today's first reading for Daily Mass comes from the Old Testament Book of Tobit (1:3;2:1-8). The excerpt tells the story of how Tobit, a faithful, law-abiding Jew exiled in Assyria with his fellow Jews from the Northern Kingdom, responds instantaneously to news that one of his fellow kinsman was found slain in the local marketplace. The story goes that Tobit had just sat down to a sumptuous feast and had sent his son out to look for a fellow Jew with whom to share the meal. The son comes back and tells Tobit the disturbing news about the murder. Tobit responds by springing to his feet, leaving his dinner untouched, and carrying the dead body back to his own home to be buried later, after sunset. The story continues by stating how Tobit wept while eating and buried the man after sunset, much to the chagrin of his neighbors. It turns out that Tobit had done this same thing before, putting him at cross purposes with the Assyrian powers that be, and was nearly executed! His neighbors mock him saying, “He is still not afraid!
 Once before he was hunted down for execution 
because of this very thing; 
yet now that he has scarcely escaped, 
here he is again burying the dead!”

Oh, to have a heart like Tobit! First he shows charity by sending his son out to look for a neighbor to share his meal with. Than he immediately foregoes his meal to retrieve the murdered body of a fellow Jew. Finally, if that were not enough, he buries his kinsman, risking life and limb in the process! This story and the character of Tobit exemplify what true religion is about: so thoroughly imbibing and integrating the laws and customs in letter and spirit that one can than be open and responsive to the moral challenges inherent in life. This is really the purpose of religion and spirituality, isn't it? To condition our minds and hearts, through story, symbol, and sacrament, to be radically opened to the sum total of what constitutes human and humane life so that we can embrace and live it as fully as possible. Part of what constitutes life, as was the case in this story about Tobit, are situations that are heavy with moral and ethical implications. Depending on how we respond to them, we become more opened and attuned to what life should and could be about or less. Religion and spirituality really is precisely about this: attuning our bodies, minds, hearts, spirits, and souls to respond to life with a heart like Tobit. Pat, TOR