LET US CONSIDER THE ALBATROSS

Author: Fr. Mike Byron
July 14, 2018

If you ever have occasion to stop in my office here at church you will see one of the most ambiguous of my possessions.  I have been much more aware of it this month because I have had to move it from St. Paul to Eden Prairie…together with everything else I own.  It is a book shelf that once was in our family home.  My parents had it custom made more than 40 years ago, and it was the center of our family room until they sold the house to downsize.  I ended up with it.  It is beautiful, and as of last week it has now been moved three times by me as my places of ministry have changed.

So what is so special about a book shelf?  This one is eleven feet long and seven feet tall.  It consists of two pieces; a top and a bottom section, and it requires at least three or four sturdy professionals to handle it.  And it is chock full of books, most of which I will never read again—but they are really good books!  I think the best words to describe that piece of furniture and its contents are:  a beautiful albatross.  So lovely, and such an obstacle to my mobility.

A few weeks ago I had decided just to leave it behind in my office as a gift to St. Pascal Baylon parish.  It fit perfectly there.  But the parish administrator was adamant in saying, “It’s an heirloom! You have to keep it with you!”  And so I have it.  (By the way, none of my five siblings had any interested in taking it.)  It cost a lot of money to have it transferred, but here it is.  My beautiful albatross.  

Today’s gospel of Mark is an invitation for us to reflect upon the things that for us may be our albatrosses, whether beautiful or not—perhaps even ugly.  Those things that hinder or prevent us from responding to our call to follow the Lord as we ought.  For the twelve whom Jesus summoned to be his first missionaries in Israel, that call was radical.  They were told to take with them exactly what they needed for the moment, not even making advance preparations for their next meal or overnight sleep, no money, no change of clothes, no companions other than the partner with whom they were to travel.  Nothing that would prevent them from being able to move on in an instant when that became necessary.

It was natural for me to contrast that vision with the one I had last weekend—ten volunteers and a big truck just to move all my stuff across town from St. Paul to Eden Prairie.  All of that property that I think of as essential.  The clothes I never wear, the photo albums I never look at.  The DVD player I rarely use, the memorabilia that stays stowed away in closets.  Beautiful albatrosses, all of them.  All making it harder to move.  

And it is clear from Mark’s gospel that Christian discipleship, when it is real, requires the capacity and the willingness to move, to follow the Spirit’s lead to wherever we are called to bear witness to the gospel.  When people reject the message, Jesus says, move on—immediately.  Do not become attached to your albatrosses, however alluring they may seem to be.  

And albatrosses can be much more than physical ones–more than material “stuff” and more than bodily needs.  Sometimes they are spiritual, emotional, or relational ones.  Resentments that keep me from responding to the demand to love and serve as Jesus did.  Anger and wounds that make me prefer to marinate in a stew of self-pity rather than to move on to where I am needed and called in the community.  

Those are ugly albatrosses, but there are beautiful ones like that too, such as friendships that threaten to become more important than God; of pleasurable habits of life—daily routines and consoling attachments that actually can get in the way of our being free to move on when it is necessary, for the sake of the mission.

The Prophet Amos in today’s first reading is superlative example of that.  Amos is distinctive among all the Old Testament prophets in that only he was sent by God to preach to people outside his own homeland.  He had been a contented shepherd in Judah when the call came for him to move on—literally—to a foreign country in order to prophesy.  The routine and relative calm of his former life could easily have threatened to become Amos’ beautiful albatross, his reason for saying, “No thanks” to the Lord.  But he went.  

And when his preaching, predictably enough, stirred up the anger of the authorities in Israel, and when they ordered him to go back home, he responded by saying, in effect, “Hey, I never asked for this job!”  And he moved on.  The heroism of Amos was in his ability to move, to be unburdened by any albatross.
That is our call too.  First to be aware of what threatens to immobilize us, physically or otherwise, and then to begin to rid of ourselves of anything that keeps us from being nimble in the moment to respond to the Lord’s summons.  My clunky, beautiful, burdensome, cherished, aggravating, familiar, gigantic book shelf is, for me, this week’s symbol of what are the temptations of the albatross.
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