Basil the Great
June 16, 2013
As noted in previous posts, I’m often asked why I’m doing what I’m doing. Why am I in Colombia? Why would someone with an MBA (aka, someone with a high income, or potential for one) transition to life as a missioner (aka, someone with a limited income, and/or dependent on donations)? I guess those are reasonable questions. And, as it turns out, good ones for reflection this weekend, as June 14 is the day that used to be the feast day of St. Basil, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (~330-379) [Yes, I’m back to reading Ellsberg’s All Saints.]
Basil came from a devout family; you might say extremely devout as his grandmother, parents, brothers and sister all came to be canonized. But he also, admittedly, came from wealth and privilege. He had the benefit of a classical education, and lived the life of a wealthy young man in his twenties. Approaching 30, however, he awoke “from a profound sleep,” as he described it. His eyes were opened and he immediately abandoned worldly ambitions and devoted himself to God. He spent his first years in monastic communities, but eventually agreed to be ordained so that he could better serve the church. After ordination, he divided his time between monastic and priestly duties.
As bishop, Basil became known for his emphasis on the social aspects of the gospel. He organized soup kitchens in response to famines and served the hungry personally. He also established a hospital that became famous. His theological and scriptural emphasis was consistently on Christ’s teachings regarding serving the poor and loving one’s neighbor. In his own teachings, Basil called for the church and world to move beyond charity, calling for social justice and the basic redistribution of wealth.
While I wouldn’t equate myself with Basil, I find it useful to reflect on his experiences and teachings. As I think about my own transformation leading up to my current work in Colombia, there are things about Basil’s experience to which I can relate. For example, my own struggles with privilege, my relationship with Christ, and my response to God’s call. Although in a very different time and cultural context, I think Basil’s spiritual journey is a great example, and still has much to teach us about transformation and letting go.
In many ways, I believe that all of our spiritual journeys are journeys of transformation. We may not experience an epiphany and radically change our lives, as Basil did. We may not sell all that we have and live in poverty like St. Francis. We may not change our employment or respond to a call to serve as a missioner. But if we’re engaged in a spiritual journey, over the course of our life what I suspect we will do is experience changes in the ways in which we think and behave. It’s not that we all have to be like St. Basil, but rather that we need to be willing to embrace our own spiritual journey, no matter where it leads us.