I remember many, many years ago, when Infantile Paralysis, or Polio was rampant; very few families were untouched by this dreaded disease. We were aware of people living encased in Iron Lungs, or with paralyzed legs, and in many cases, death. Many people were completely dependent on others for everything. Then one grand day, a research physician, Jonas Salk discovered a vaccine that would prevent Polio, and wonder of wonders, he refused to accept any financial windfall for this discovery. He decided that this discovery was for the common good, not for just one person. Amazing!
This problem was serious and deadly. The Polio Virus attacked the human body and was devastating. There are still places in the world, where Polio exists – and there are still people in our modern world where parents refuse to have their children vaccinated against Polio and numerous other infectious diseases.
However, it seems to me that we have another form of Infantile Paralysis that needs to be addressed. That is one of the mind and/or the spirit. It is hard to let go of our idyllic dreams of being a child; where we are cared for, cuddled, and all of our needs are taken care of by mommy and daddy. When we were all small children, for the most part, we lived in a dream world where all attention centered on us for one bright shining moment. We were the center of the universe. Eventually, the cruel world began to make inroads and let us know that we were sharing our world with others and they too counted. As life is a harsh teacher, we also are difficult students. As we grow older, we relish having attention showered on us and seek ways to accumulate those items that seemed to bestow approval. The fancier the things that we possessed, the more others stood in awe and applauded. The trinkets of wealth and power became powerful aphrodisiacs. These signs of approval are addictive. And while some were able to accumulate great stores of things, others of us gravitated to walk in the shadow and to “eat the scraps that fall from the masters table.”
It is very human to desire that which glitters; expensive automobiles, homes, jewelry, or titles of honor. To choose the kingdom of this world is alluring and exciting. People and things are expendable and superfluous. Life becomes a competition to see who can accumulate more than the other – to have a world filled with winners and losers and to the victor belong the spoils. Greed and corruption dominate and it does not make any difference how many lives of those who are deemed insignificant fall by the wayside.
All too often, Religions buy into this mind-set, hook, line and sinker. History is replete with leaders of world religions seeking thrones, palaces, private airplanes, fancy robes and demanding absolute obedience. Those in power seek to create environments where the “people” remain children, afraid and obedient. They are afraid of offending those in authority; they might be burned at the stake or excommunicated from the community. In the meantime, they are taken care of; having just enough food, clothing and shelter to survive and filled with gratitude to their benefactors who demand that they be willing to sacrifice everything, including their lives for their benefactors. While we create the illusion of freedom, we choose to live in a feudal society that is camaflouged. The feudal lords promise us safety and security as long as we provide them with food and armies to protect their castles.
We seem to be involved in a major transformation – moving from adolescence into adulthood. This transformation is not easy, quick or without pain and struggle. To give up being a child and to move into adulthood is difficult; it is entering into a crucifixion/resurrection moment. The Gospel teaches us that life is filled with these moments – as does the study of science and history. In looking backwards, we see the movement of creation from the Big Bang, through the evolution of galaxies and life itself, becoming conscious on this planet. This journey began over 14.5 billion years ago, and continues today. Creation is a verb, not a noun. Creation is ongoing and we can see that in our struggle to grow in our humanity; to choose life and freedom. The scriptures teach us that we continue to engage in the struggle to accept l responsibility for ourselves and our world. We wait around for daddy to fix everything and to take away our pain, but all too often, all we do is blame and complain. We are afraid to grow up. Our daddies and mommies might be the neighborhood bully, the local or national political figures, corporate managers, priests, bishops or popes. They might be athletic heroes, rock stars or successful entertainment figures.
One message of the Gospel that I believe Jesus attempted to teach is to enter into life; to engage in the challenges, struggles and pain. To not give up. We cannot wait for someone else to solve our problems; we are called to engage together, recognizing that each person is gifted and has something special and unique to offer to the whole. We are called to collaboration, not competition. Any successful team requires the full attention and sacrifice of everyone else. When the elite are bystanders only, reaping the rewards while not sharing in the sacrifice and struggle, then we have a system that is dysfunctional and moving toward death. Life demands involvement, effort, blood sweat and tears. It seems that we are finally moving our of our Infantile Paralysis and into adulthood. The continuation of globalization and with the continuing growth of technology and modern communication, we are now developing the tools to come together and take co-responsibility to life. If we fail to continue to grow up, then we choose death.