by E. Clifford Cutler

What fun to see Chestnut Hill turned into Harry Potter’s Hogsmeade Village. Someone this week said our parish hall at Saint Paul’s Church looked like Hogwarts School where Harry Potter studied and starred on the Quidditch team. Our children on Sunday knew every wizard and book in the series.

My favorite quote comes from the second book in the Harry Potter series, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” The author, J. K. Rowling, writes, “It is our choices … that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Though Harry is a talented wizard he is certainly fallible, and there are others who might be more skilled.

What sets Harry apart is his willingness to help others. His choice to give without expecting anything in return will ultimately allow him to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort.

Voldemort cannot understand the power of self-sacrifice since the love that gives rise to it is the one thing that cannot bring personal power. Even the good can get caught up in attachments to power and possessions.

The kind head of school at Hogwarts, Professor Albus Dumbledore, in his younger years became obsessed with worldly power. His subsequent self-centeredness caused the death of his young sister. On her tombstone with remorse he inscribed the words from Matthew’s Gospel, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

He has learned an indelible lesson about choices. The will to personal power led to a more personal loss. The mature Dumbledore now chooses self-sacrifice over self-aggrandizement. It was a bitter lesson.

The Matthew passage in its entirety goes, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6: 19-21).

I have a confession to make. We haven’t chosen very well. We haven’t chosen well as a city. I read last week that Philadelphia has the highest incidence of poverty of any big city in the United States. More than a third of our children live in poverty. I think we have let the spiritual underpinning of our city deteriorate.

The Harry Potter story would say that we have been caught up in personal power and attachments to what we have and want and have left others behind. Like Dumbledore will our epitaph for the poor be the self-incriminating words, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”?

We need to choose differently. It is our choices that will show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. We have the ability to alleviate our city’s poverty. We have the ability to rebuild the spiritual foundation of our community. It’s the choice that matters.

The Very Rev. E. Clifford Cutler is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill.