March 13, 2009

More stories from the Reflection Ministry of St. Monica Parish

Opening your arms to love

Similar to most Christians, Bill Bradbury sometimes struggles with the best way to love God and others. A lesson from his goddaughter opened his eyes to a new way to share his love.

“My 4-year-old goddaughter, Elizabeth, knows about love. Last Sunday at church, she spotted me and was running up the aisle. She shifted into high gear, squealed and hurtled toward me. She was experiencing the total vulnerability of love. But what if I stood up and turned to talk to an adult? What if I was in a bad mood and greeted her half-heartedly? It would be joy or heartbreak.

“We’re called to love God and neighbor as Elizabeth loved at that moment—with all of our heart, soul and strength. Jesus said if we are to realize the reign of God, we have to become as little children. God endows us with that nature deep in our heart—where our emotions, intuitions and playfulness reside. It’s the part of us created in God’s image where the Holy Spirit resides—the same spirit that guided Jesus. But it’s hidden under layers of cultural biases, anxieties and distrust.

“It’s hard to be vulnerable.

“Jesus wasn’t like that. He wore his heart on his sleeve. When he met the Samaritan woman at the well, she realized he knew ‘everything I have ever done.’ A mind-reading miracle? No. Jesus’ unconditional love led others to drop their guard, forget their vulnerability and totally open up to him.

My mind tells me to love as Jesus did—to love the homeless, the sinful, the outcasts of society—and the challenge scares me. But my heart tells me to love like Elizabeth does, and I gain courage that maybe there’s hope after all.

“If I can hurl myself down the hallways of life, throwing myself into people’s arms, maybe some of the unconditional love that Jesus shows me through Elizabeth can be passed on to them. And they can pass it on to someone else.”

Seeking a new beginning

While reading the Bible story of Noah, Ruth Iliff thought about the theme of new beginnings as she prepared for another season of Lent.

“After all those days of rain, and weeks of waiting out the receding floodwaters, Noah got a sign that there was again land. A place to settle.

“The first thing he did was build an altar. He consecrated—perhaps re-consecrated—himself, his people, the animals and the washed land to God. First things first.

“As I read today’s passages, I am thinking that next Wednesday starts Lent. It is a time to re-land, to re-focus ourselves. To re-consecrate. What beginnings can I build into my Lenten days that will help me re-start or re-energize my fidelity to God?

“I spent a lot of Lents trying to stop doing things and mostly became more aware of what wasn’t there anymore. ‘No thanks, I gave that up for Lent.’ What daily routines or blessings will I use this holy season to re-direct my attention to God, to re-strengthen my connection with my redeemer Christ?”

Making the right call

Jean Galanti uses her grandson’s appreciation for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning as a starting point for a reflection about Jesus’ call to serve people in need.

“Our 7-year-old grandson is a huge fan of Indianapolis Colts football and quarterback Peyton Manning in particular. A few years ago, when his barriers between imagination and reality were a little looser, he’d speak excitedly about a great play, saying things like, ‘Did you see me throw that touchdown pass?’ He was so enthralled with his hero that he identified with him completely.

“In today’s scriptures, we read a portrayal of the Last Judgment which is unique to Matthew’s gospel. Jesus foretells the second coming when God will separate the just from the unjust according to a single criterion: how well each one cared for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill, and those in prison. He declares, ‘Whatever you did/did not do for one of these least brothers, you did/did not do for me.’

“In other words, Jesus completely identifies himself with the lowliest. Like our grandson, the Son of Man is enthralled with humankind—with us.

“This really shouldn’t surprise us. Throughout his public life, Jesus was most often found with the lowliest members of society. Yet when we seek Jesus, is that the first place we look for him? Do we go in search of him at the food pantry, the soup kitchen, the St. Vincent de Paul warehouse, the homeless, the sick beds, in prison? If I were honest, I’d have to admit that I’m way more comfortable seeking him in church or in prayer yet there’s no dodging Jesus’ pointed call.

“He says quite plainly that the same barriers that keep me from compassion and solidarity with my neediest brothers and sisters will also keep me from the embrace of God that I long for,

“As Lent began, we heard the call to return to God. May we find our way to God this Lent by our generous service to needy brothers and sisters through whom Jesus beckons to us with love.”

Holding on to life

The image of Mary holding the baby Jesus inspired Anne Corcoran to reflect upon the bonds, the pains and the joys that connect all parents and children.

“I have always had a particular attraction to Nativity scenes that sculpt Mary holding the baby Jesus. I imagine Mary that way, holding Jesus close. It’s what moms and dads and maybe all of us long to do. There is a special fascination, an unmistakable feeling of wonder—an awareness of how deep and wonderful and precious life is—as we look, spellbound, at the tiny person in our arms. It’s as if there is nothing in the world but this tiny new being.

“But the world does continue on, seemingly unaware of the miracle that has stopped me in my tracks. I know the rest of the Christmas story. Mary holds Jesus again, and this time the image is of the Pieta. This time, Mary is holding her grown son in her arms, and his body is broken and lifeless.

“Just a few months ago, my friends lost their son, just before he would have been born. I know they held their tiny son for a very long time before they let him go.

“In today’s first reading, Hannah brings her 3-year-old son and offers him to God. She leaves her only son Samuel, the child she long prayed to have, at the temple in Shiloh. Hannah had promised God that if only she could have a son she would give that son to God.

“Her prayer as she leaves Samuel is toady’s psalm: ‘For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and he has set the world upon them. He will guard the footsteps of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall perish in the darkness. For not by strength does man prevail.’

“Even in our deepest sorrow—perhaps especially in our deepest sorrow—we can meet the Almighty. It is the lowly who are blessed, not the comfortable or the powerful. My friends have a saying to the effect that finally holding their son was worth the pain of losing him. Somehow, pain and the fullness of joy go hand-in-hand—all of it existing within the Almighty.”


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