The ultimate injury is injury to the soul

Father John A. Kiley

One of the major complaints that hastened the American Revolution was the harboring of British troops in private homes.

Since the British Army did not have barracks located about the thirteen colonies, individual families were required to provide room and board for a soldier or two in the unsettled years leading up to 1776. Although these men were British troops, they were not necessarily English men. A substantial number of His Majesty’s military men were Hessian mercenaries, foreign to both English ways and American ways.

The colonists not only found the quartering of military men an expense and an inconvenience; it was a frank insult to their dignity, a constant reminder that American colonists were not in charge of their own destiny but rather beholden to a mother country an ocean away. A red coat daily signaled America’s second class status on the world scene.

Jesus cites the indignity that foreign troops inflict upon a native population when he advises in St. Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles.”

The Jewish homeland had long been occupied by foreign troops. If it were not the Babylonians then it was the Greeks and lately the Romans. The presence of these alien militias was a constant reproach to the Jewish people, a daily rebuke to their significance in the international arena. The Romans could tap an individual on the shoulder and expect him to carry a soldier’s baggage, armor and weapons wherever directed. Simon of Cyrene was certainly a victim of this Roman heavy handedness when he was constrained to carry the Cross of Jesus Christ. The Jews of Jesus’ era lived in regular threat of this humiliating treatment at the hands of foreigners.

Jesus nonetheless directs his disciples to shrug off this humiliating indignity and happily oblige any oppressor by “going the extra mile” – a familiar Biblical phrase still regularly heard. Jesus means, of course, that this obvious insult to Jewish nationalism should be dismissed as trivial since a Jew’s true dignity, true worth, true esteem came not from his appearance in public but rather from his relationship with God. Being pressed into foreign service, no matter how shameful and degrading, had no influence whatsoever on a person’s innate self-respect. The most brutal Roman soldier could not rob a Jew, and later a Christian, of the presence of God’s grace in that person’s heart, mind and will. God, not political independence, is the sole and enduring source of all human dignity.

In less dramatic fashion, Jesus’ other advice in his celebrated Sermon of the Mount makes the same point. “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well.” Nothing is more insulting than a slap in the face. Popular usage even employs this phrase, “slap in the face,” as synonymous with a personal affront. Yet Jesus teaches that the faithful Christian will not let a slap in the face perturb him. The true Christian will not strike back as man’s native human impulse would expect. The mature Christian knows that one’s proper dignity comes not from a facility at self-defense but rather from an impregnable inner relationship with God. God, not a quick hand, is the source of authentic self-worth.

The same lesson is learned from Jesus’ instruction on the tunic and the cloak. Public nakedness, even in our relaxed society, would be an occasion for great awkwardness for most people. All of us would grab for a towel or a sheet if caught in a state of undress. Yet Jesus preaches that being robbed of our clothes should not be the occasion for the distress and embarrassment that being striped bare would ordinarily evoke. Again, a believer’s true dignity comes not from the abundance or magnificence of his clothing but rather from his personal, heartfelt, and unassailable relationship with God.

Jesus employs various figures of speech to underline his counsel that Christians should offer no resistance to injury because Jesus knows that the ultimate injury would be an injury to the soul. All other insults vanish in comparison. God, not political independence, not a quick fist, not fashionable dress, is the font of all dignity and no slight can diminish his presence in the soul.

Many lives of the saints are connected in some way with plants, the tilling of soil, fields and forests or the use of plants for devotion and healing.

From the earliest times the saints have often been honored with special flowers on their feast days, creating a “calendar of flowers” of sorts for saints. These holy men and women’s feast days marked the changing seasons and would often indicate when a laborer would be hired or when he would receive his pay. Plants were dedicated to certain saints or were used to decorate shrines built for them. Some plants, like the Angelica, were revealed to saints in visions. All flowering plants were used to honor Mary. The flower of the Trinity is Viola Tricolor, which in the Middle Ages was referred to as Herbal Trinity because as one monk said, “The flower is but one in which are three sundry colors and yet but one sweet savor, so God in three distinct persons, in one undivided Trinity, united in one eternal glory, and divine majesty.”