Reflection for Sunday – July 16, 2023
Readings: Isaiah 55: 10-11; Romans 8: 18-23; Matthew 13: 1-23
Preacher: Gloria Ulterino
Have you ever felt at a loss? Not sure which way to turn? So did St. Paul, it seems, as he groaned over human suffering. Surely there must be a way through this mess! We know it’s not magic. But, what is the answer? Come, take a look with me.
We all have our beginnings in faith. As a youngster in the pre-Vatican II Church, my name was Gloria O’Toole. So, every Sunday my Dad would take me to Church. And every Sunday I remember thinking, “What is that gibberish I keep hearing?” (It was Latin, of course.) But then, invariably, I would also hear “Gloria tua,” (Latin for “your glory,” referring to God). And I would sit up straight, saying to myself, “They know I’m here!” I belonged! What do you remember about your beginnings in faith?
Then, of course, we all have moments of profound change. For me, one such time began when a priest I trusted saw my love of liturgy. He called it forth and encouraged it. Before I knew it, I was studying theology and preparing for Church ministry, something I had never before imagined. Once in ministry, I always considered that one of my greatest gifts was precisely to see what others could do and then call forth their gifts.
Along the way, we’ve all received God’s gifts, always intended for abundance in life, beyond any deep-seated struggle. In Isaiah’s day, some 450 years before Jesus, the people of Israel desperately needed profound hope. They were in exile, having been conquered and carted away to Babylon. When, oh, when, would God hear their groaning? When, oh when, would God heal their pain? When, oh when, would they ever see their beloved homeland again? It was Isaiah’s magnificent poetry that spoke to their agony, massaging their hearts with the kind of faith-filled stamina they would need. It would take years before they would be released by the Persian emperor, Cyrus the Great. Who- and what- gives us hope today in the midst of our pain?
One way or another, we each respond to our tough times. Sometimes we fairly shout an enthusiastic YES to God’s hope! At other times, we doubt. We can underestimate ourselves and lack confidence in our perceived gifts. “Oh, no, God, you can’t mean me! I can’t do that! I’m not gifted enough. Not capable enough. It’s too hard.” Or, “How will I ever find the time to learn what is needed? Where will the money come from? How can I possibly justify spending the money… and the time… on this new thing?”
I still remember one woman, so gifted in her love and knowledge of Scripture. But somehow, despite my many requests, she simply could not trust that remarkable gift enough to share it with others. How true it is that fear and anxiety can crowd out God’s possibilities, right here and now. How have we responded to God’s personal invitations?
In all this call and response, we are always part of a community. Sometimes God’s call is directed at our entire community. For example, our beloved Pope John XXIII had a vision of a renewed, open-hearted, yet challenging Church. His deep-seated hope set us Catholic Christians on a new path, in and through the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. While he never lived to see the fruit of this Council, we are the beneficiaries of that great event. Have we ever considered how Vatican II enriched our lives of faith?
In our day, Pope Francis is calling us to walk together in a Synod: listening to one another from the heart before respectfully speaking our own truths of faith. The culmination of this process begins in Rome this October and resumes next October 2024, when some 370 people will express their hopes and dreams for our Church. For the first time, lay men and women (in equal numbers) will be able to vote, alongside clergy. Also, for the first time, the prepared documents will ask questions, rather than give all the answers. I take great delight in one of these questions: How can we imagine the call to ordain women to the diaconate? Has the time finally come? What are your hopes and dreams for this upcoming Synod?
In the end, our lives of faith are a gift, to be treasured and lived out. In the midst of our struggles, of this we can be absolutely certain: It is always God’s desire to provide abundant life for us all, the People of God.