From the mid 1970’s through the early eighties a group of 5 priests known as the St. Louis Jesuits recorded several songs that are still very popular in our church today. One of them, entitled, “Earthen Vessels,” comes to mind for me in light of the first reading from today’s Mass. Here are Paul’s first words: “Brothers and sisters, we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. (2 Cor. 4:7) We sang several St. Louis Jesuits songs at the chapel on the campus of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, where I attended college. The words, especially of this song, always evoke a lot of emotion in me. This morning early, when I poured that first cup of coffee and sat with today’s scriptures, the words struck me in a new way. I read them, and, almost immediately, I thought, “sometimes, I think, we forget what we carry.” We carry something sacred within us, made sacred by “the who” that we carry. It is, as Paul reminds us, Christ himself. In my mind, it is when we forget this, about ourselves and others, that things tend to come undone.
To be sure, we do at times encounter differences and difficulties between one another, but each person is a vessel of the sacred. This may be hard to see sometimes, but it’s true. Can I believe this about myself and about others? We seem to “get it” fairly easily at the beginning and end of life. When you hold a baby, you can’t help but think, “Wow! That’s God!” At the other end of the spectrum, when we are faced with saying goodbye to someone as they slip from us, we are reminded that the body is just a shell, “a tent,” as Saint Paul says elsewhere. Not an easy experience to go through, but a belief that ultimately gives us hope. How do I do in-between, though? That’s the real question. Remembering “who and what” we carry, remembering that we are fragile, imperfect, earthen vessels made holy by He whom we carry is what gives us our dignity. It can motivate us to a deeper holiness, good health, and a deeper charity toward our neighbor.