The Child in Our Midst
When the disciples argue among themselves about who is most important, Jesus reaches for a child, places his arms around it, and offers the child as most important. Whoever receives the child in Jesus’ name, receives the One who sent Jesus. At St. Francis this week, I have been keenly aware of the role children have in our community. This past Sunday, we began sending the children to Break Open the Word in Children’s Liturgy. I was able to see every child at the 8:30 am Mass and those faces were priceless! Jesus was reaching for the children! Jesus was presenting another model of living The Way!
We also began faith formation classes with our elementary, middle, and high schoolers. From 10-11 am and again on Tuesday evening there were children everywhere on our campus. Very generous and Spirit-filled catechists welcomed them to sit in each other’s company to learn about God’s love for them.
Many of us stop what we are doing when we hear the littlest ones who are in Kids Day Out (KDO) as they pass outside our office doors and windows. They are not only God’s delight but also ours.
Jesus was clear in his focus on the children! Adults can go on squabbling, vying for positions. Where does ambition for power and authority lead? We can become jealous of who others are or what they have. We might feel unappreciated, undervalued, and unloved. We can fight about differing ideologies, political persuasions, and religious practices. In the midst of this, Jesus puts children in our midst, embraces them, and affirms them. It’s almost as if Jesus presents the child as a STOP sign! Stop your selfish behaviors and motives!
What would happen to each of us if we became more humble and became a servant, washing each other’s feet regularly? What if we affirm another’s gifts, offer them welcome, and embrace them as Jesus did with the little child? What if we became other focused and began to be grateful for the ways God has gifted us? When we affirm others, we experience God affirming us. We can welcome our gifts and our weaknesses, embrace them, and root out jealousy, selfish ambition and competition.
Children also remind us of our responsibility to create the kind of world, the kind of society, the kind of community and the kind of family we want for them. All of our actions or inactions have consequences for their future. Perhaps we too need to think of them more and less of ourselves. After all, they are learning from us!
My new way of describing “faith in works” is “doing faith.” For me, that is the major theme of the readings we are given for this Sunday. So how do we go about “doing faith”? I like verbs that end in –ing! They are signs that the work is in progress, is evolving, is dynamic, and continues. In other words, it is very ACTIVE! And it has great possibilities—Providential unfolding’s!
In a similar way, Oscar Romero preached: “When we leave Mass, we ought to go out the way Moses descended Mt. Sinai: with his face shining, with his heart brave and strong to face the world’s difficulties.” How well does that describe me? Us?
Isaiah uses the image of a ”face like flint” suggesting that our faces not only shine but that they have the capacity, the potential to set things on fire, to radiantly inspire, to put fire into our whole being. What does it look like and feel like to be on fire for God? To be passionate about our vocation, our purpose in life?
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up the cross, and follow me.” None of the verbs in Jesus’ invitation are particularly appealing to us—deny self, take up the cross, follow Jesus? We have so many crosses that are part of being alive today. There are even more in being faithful to the gospel. What Jesus asks us to do is often very controversial. It takes brave hearts, courage, and strength to act as Jesus did. It takes the same to give voice to injustices today. How do you name the suffering that is part of life today? How do you handle it? How do you advocate for the suffering? What is your way of doing faith? Listen especially to our Prayers of Intercession this weekend. Listen to the words of the music we sing. Here is a sample:
Do any of us have speech impediments? A loss of hearing? I can admit to both! In this week’s Gospel, Jesus heals—yes, using spit! He heals a man who does not hear and does not speak. This year, I am thinking about my own speech impediments—what keeps me from speaking and when do I feel muted. At times it is fear! At other times, it is a very real silencing—a dismissal by others of what I have to say or the way in which I say it. These too are impediments to my speech. And as for hearing, there are some times when I just want to say, “I don’t want to hear it!” The hearing often has consequences; I become responsible in some way for what I have heard. At other times, I know how someone needs to hear me say the words, “I hear you!” All three words are emphatically important. We all need and want to be heard. We all need and want to be acknowledged.
Ears to listen and hear, mouths and tongues to speak and advocate! When we gather each weekend as a community, we come to participate whole-heartedly—with open ears and bold voices. We aren’t mere spectators. We participate. And our participation does not end when we leave the church. That’s when following the Way of Jesus begins anew, just as it did for the disciples in Jesus’ time. When we witness a Baptism, we hear the words “May the Lord soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father” (Rite of Baptism for Children, #65). Perhaps we have forgotten this anointing we all received.
When I listen to the voices of our brothers and sisters in other parts of our city, I hear the inequities. Zoom meetings and virtual learning work for some of us. But if you don’t have access to Internet services, or you get a message like “your Internet connection is unstable”—everyone becomes frustrated. We become muted by a lack of access to technology. In this case, it doesn’t help to say, “Unmute yourself!”
I am more aware of how that declaration “Unmute yourself” isn’t as simple as a keystroke. In many ways, we are all called to be healers—like Jesus! We have the call to give voice to the voiceless, to hear God’s voice in new ways from unexpected places and persons. We have the call from our Baptism to open our ears to the voices of all our sisters and brothers throughout the world. This weekend let’s ask for healing. Free our mouths to speak words that invite justice, freedom, and healing just as Jesus did. (And we don’t have to use spit!)
Because We Love God
Do I have to? I remember how often the seven of us kids would ask that of our parents when we were very young. Now I am an elder, and it seems that not much has changed. It seems that people everywhere are asking that question. Do I have to wear a mask? Do I have to get vaccinated? Do I have to welcome asylum seekers? Do I have to recycle? Do I have to forgive the one who hurt me?
“Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” Our scripture readings challenge us to both welcome the word and to be “doers.” We are asked to express our faith, to follow The Way of Jesus in concrete ways, to show Jesus to others in words and in deeds. We are asked to use God’s statutes and decrees to help us to live God’s mind and heart, in pure and undefiled activity. Living God’s mind and heart is care for the orphans and widows in their affliction and to “keep oneself unstained by the world.”
How do we keep ourselves unstained by the world? It isn’t easy! Political ideologies, conflicting messages, lies even, anger and hatred, personal freedom over the common good, to name a few, make it difficult for us to keep ourselves unstained by the world. How do we make room in our minds and hearts for God’s commands and statutes—the ones that speak of love—love of God, love of neighbor, love of self? Who are the “widows and orphans” in our midst? Who are the afflicted ones? And how do words of love become actions of love? Kathy Sherman reminds us that we are who we are and we do what we do because we love God! Listen here:
God of Mercy, Give us today the strength and courage to transform the compassion of our hearts into acts of peace, mercy, and justice. May what we profess with our lips be proclaimed in our lives. We ask this in the name of Jesus and through the intercession of Mary, our Mother of Mercy. Amen.
Adapted: Praying in the Spirit of Catherine McAuley
And if you would like to pray more,
Is Anyone Subordinate?
“Choose your words carefully” was one of the foundational maxims I heard in my high school years. “Words matter” was another one. I am thinking of those maxims as I reflect on the readings for this weekend. We may or may not hear the following words this weekend: “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.” I know that there are also words about mutual subordination and mutual love and dignity expressed in the rest of the reading. But as I see the images of women and girls in Afghanistan, as I listen to the local news and the continuous “domestic abuse” and killing of women and girls in our own city, I, like many other women, am so aware of how those words “subordinate to their husbands” or subordinate to men are used. I would like to think that we have changed—that we have made other choices! How can we restore God’s intent to honor the dignity of every person God has created? How do we love and honor every human being? Is this one of the “hard sayings” that lead us to leave the path—The Way of being followers of Jesus? We too have choices in the words we use to describe our relationships to other humans (not just women and girls). Listen this week to words that express the subordination of any person or groups of persons. Then let us see if we can act as Jesus did to include everyone, without exception, in mutual love.
If you are curious about how others reflect on these readings, check these out:
The Answer to How is YES!
The Assumption of Mary into heaven is a celebration of the completion of her earthly life. She who bore Christ in her womb was raised body and soul in glory to be with God. This feast celebrates the end of Mary’s long life.
In contrast, the Gospel reading celebrates her youth—her amazing capacity to risk, to trust that God had great plans for her. She named her limitations—and she said YES! Her visit to Elizabeth is not unlike the visits that many of us have when as young persons we seek the guidance of our wise, more experienced elders. We discover that we need both, we need each other. In that visit, Mary’s joy is expressed in what we have come to know as the Magnificat. In that prayer, Mary shows what God has done for the poor, the outcast, and the stranger.
As we seek to imitate Mary’s holiness, how are we called to give hope to the lowly, food to the hungry, and to repair all that is broken in our planet and in our justice systems?
No matter our age or our ability, God continues to call all of us to boldly work to make the world a better place. Think of poverty, climate, starvation, justice, equity, peace! Like Mary, let’s look ahead to what we can do to make a difference. In many ways, the young continue to look to the elders. And the elders discover the promise of a future in youth. Mary’s question “How can this be?” is “YES!”
Listen to David Kauffman’s “Behold” here:
To Be Bread for Others
The sight of my grandmother hanging clothes to dry on the line was our calling to run across the field to join her. Yes, we helped her to wash and hang the rest of the clothes, but our real reason for going was to enjoy a treat. She always had freshly baked bread and freshly churned butter. Add a little homemade dewberry jelly and we were in heaven! Grandpa would join us at the table. We loved that time together. They gave us generous, undivided attention in conversation, in tears and in laughter. They fed us with food—the food that was love, compassion, joy, and wisdom. We fed them with companionship, stories about school and home, a lot of naiveté and countless opportunities to teach us something about life!
During this pandemic, many of you talked about how you had time to start baking bread again. And many of you have also been talking about how you became bread for each other in the same way my grandparents did for us. To “feed off each other” isn’t just an expression we use. It is real. Jesus continues to give us opportunities to be bread for each other.
Listen to Crystal Catalan here:
Moses introduces the grumbling, complaining Israelites to God’s gift of manna. “This is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.” Each day, for 40 years in the desert, there was enough to eat; they filled themselves. But when they tried to store some for the next day, it spoiled. This is recalled in the celebration of the Seder meal, in a song—Dayenu!—which means “it would have been enough.” The song is a litany, a counting of generous blessings from God.
In the small groups that have been gathering in our Parish ReConnect process, we are hearing many of us telling how this time of isolation was very disorienting for us. In the midst of our own wandering in a kind of desert, we learned to see and experience things differently. It shook us from our “taking things for granted.” Families discovered that they didn’t need “more” of some things; in fact, “less” was good for everyone. Priorities changed! People prayed more. Many became less self-absorbed and did more outreach to others, volunteering hours of time to help neighbors. And many stories shared told of how some of the losses became blessings. They discovered some of their real needs, different from what they thought they needed!
As we come to the table of the Eucharist, where we receive the Bread of Life, we are reminded of all the ways that Jesus is enough. We discover again and again that Jesus is the Bread of Life! Listen to Steve Angrisano and Tom Booth here:
When huge crowds gather to hear Jesus’ words, they come with hunger for his words and soon experience physical hunger. A seemingly impossible feeding of the hungry presents itself. An unlikely, unnamed little boy gifts his bread and fish and miraculously all are fed. And there are leftovers collected.
The boy with no name was recognized by one of the apostles as having a gift to offer, a gift that would solve the problem. Among so many, one boy, one gift! And the effort was miraculously multiplied!
Yesterday I had a conversation with a woman, a mother in our parish who is actively discerning what God is calling her to do next. During the conversation, she named several other older women who had invited her to consider using a specific gift they recognize in her. The older women, like the apostles, recognize that she can offer what she has, let God multiply it, and all will be gifted, will be fed with spiritual gifts.
As I listen to many of you describe your lives—the way you felt, the people you reached out to, the actions you took—I recognize that many of you have discovered during this pandemic that simple things can bring so much joy and love to you and to your families. When you encountered the absence of things you thought you needed to survive, you discovered new thoughts, new ways of being together, and new relationships. You had more time to pray. You volunteered to help others. You planted gardens. You stopped doing some things and that has been good!
Miracles occur in our daily lives. Like the boy in the gospel, we too have something to offer, to be part of and to contribute to the effort. Where in your life do you see a scarcity that God might be planning to turn into abundance?
The Shepherd’s Voice
Jesus has compassion for the crowds that bombard him. He claims them all with a commitment to teach them many things because they appear to be sheep without a shepherd. I think that many of us can identify with this scenario in Mark’s gospel. Sheep learn to recognize the voice of their shepherd, the one most responsible for their care. Ron Rolheiser presents us with ways to discern the voice of the Good Shepherd. After reading the quote below reflect on these questions: Which voice of God is prominent in your life, is most easily recognizable? Which voice is most challenging? Which voice will I listen to more intentionally?
Among all the voices that surround and beckon us, how do we discern the unique cadence of God’s voice? Which one is the voice of the Good Shepherd?
There’s no easy answer and sometimes the best we can do is to trust our gut-feeling about right and wrong.
But we have a number of principles that come to us from Jesus, from scripture, and from the deep wells of our Christian tradition that can help us.
What follows is a series of principles to help us discern God’s voice among the multitude of voices that beckon us. What is the unique cadence of the voice of the Good Shepherd?
- The voice of God is recognized both in whispers and in soft tones, even as it is recognized in thunder and in storm.
- The voice of God is recognized wherever one sees life, joy, health, color, and humor, even as it is recognized wherever one sees dying, suffering, conscriptive poverty, and a beaten-down spirit.
- The voice of God is recognized in what calls us to what’s higher, sets us apart, and invites us to holiness, even as it is recognized in what calls us to humility, submergence into humanity, and in that which refuses to denigrate our humanity.
- The voice of God is recognized in what appears in our lives as “foreign,” as other, as “stranger,” even as it is recognized in the voice that beckons us home.
- The voice of God is the one that most challenges and stretches us, even as it the only voice that ultimately soothes and comforts us.
- The voice of God enters our lives as the greatest of all powers, even as it forever lies in vulnerability, like a helpless baby in the straw.
- The voice of God is always heard in privileged way in the poor, even as it beckons us through the voice of the artist and the intellectual.
- The voice of God always invites us to live beyond all fear, even as it inspires holy fear.
- The voice of God is heard inside the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even as it invites us never to deny the complexities of our world and our own lives.
- The voice of God is always heard wherever there is genuine enjoyment and gratitude, even as it asks us to deny ourselves, die to ourselves, and freely relativize all the things of this world.
The voice of God, it would seem, is forever found in paradox.
The entire reflection can be found here: