Reflection for Sunday – September 4, 2016
Readings: Wisdom 9: 13-18b; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14: 25-33
Preacher: Gloria Ulterino
Jesus, surely you don’t mean what you’re saying! Hate our parents … our spouse … our children … those nearest and dearest to our hearts! What can I possibly say about that? Then I remembered. We were in London, visiting our son and his family. We had to get back from Trafalgar Square to pick up our grandson from school. So, we hopped aboard the bus, and I put in my oyster card. There were still plenty of fares on it. My fare, fine. But, my husband’s, not fine. He had to use his own card. But his card had run out of fares. The bus driver insisted: he had to get a new card. That would have made us late. The energy gushed out of me. “I need to pick up my grandson! My card is good! For both of us!” Nothing and nobody would stand in the way of being there for my grandson! So … he let us on the bus.
Isn’t this what Jesus is talking about today? The kind of energy that will not … ever … allow anyone or anything to stand in the way of following him? Not just a momentary kind of energy. But a constant, consistent, day in and day out kind of energy. No matter what!
Jesus knew what he was doing. He knew where he was heading, with purpose and determination. To Jerusalem. Precisely to the place of power in his day. A dangerous place. Where Rome’s long arm had the final word. Even on life itself. Would his disciples then—and us, now—have the heart, the guts, the “whatever it takes” to follow him there? Would they—and we—be able to count the cost of discipleship? For this isn’t a fun and games kind of following. This isn’t a feel good kind of following. Oh, no, this may well lead us all to the Cross. To face being stripped, beaten, even totally done for. Where God Alone will be found. Where the energy of God Alone can do the seemingly impossible: bring life even out of death itself.
How, then, do we tap into that energy? The energy that will allow nothing and nobody to stand in the way of following Jesus? Four women help point the way for us. Their names were Jean Donovan, Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clark and Ita Ford, and Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel. They were ordinary women, who might have grown up next door to any one of us. But, that very same energy of God— summoning them, preparing them for their mission to El Salvador—would not leave them alone. They had to go to El Salvador. They had to be with and for the people!
So it was that they came together there in summer of 1980. How they loved the people! How they loved building up their dignity! Even though it was a dangerous time. A brutal civil war time. Along the way, each one confronted her own agony in the garden. Jean put it this way. “I often think about leaving, and I almost could, except for the children … the poor bruised victims of adult lunacy.” So they stayed. And on December 2, 1980, they were brutally murdered there, on government orders. But Father Jon Sobrino said this: “The murdered Christ is here in the person of our women…. But he is risen, too, in these same four women…. Salvation comes to us through all women and men who love truth more than lies, who are more eager to give than receive, and whose love is that supreme love that gives life rather than keeping it for oneself…. In Maura, Ita, Dorothy, and Jean, God has visited El Salvador.”
Still, we might ask: how does their extraordinary witness connect to our so ordinary one? How can we be drawn into that powerful energy of God now … today… in 2016 … on this Labor Day Weekend? A time when we honor the dignity of human labor. When our church has long declared that every person deserves a living wage. When our national election is heating up more than ever. When we all face questions of “what really matters in life.”
Then I remembered. On July 20th, the “Nuns on the Bus” rolled into town. As you know, they are from Network, the group that urges government to reflect Catholic social justice teaching. This time they had begun in the Midwest, rolled through Cleveland, stopped at the Republican National Convention and were on their way to Philadelphia, via stops in New England. Full of God’s energy, that urged us all to be energized, as well! They spoke about their “holy curiosity,” while offering free lemonade to folks outside the Republican Convention. What did these folks need, hope for and dream about? Sr. Simone said this: along the way someone asked if they were ever afraid. Pausing, she honestly responded, “Yes! Until we remember our mission!” God’s mission, for them! To get people thinking about, considering: what are the justice issues today? What matters most to us? What must we do today to follow Jesus? We can only do our own little bit, but do that we must! Is it mentoring? Knocking on doors? Writing? Praying without ceasing? Whatever it is, we must listen for it. Then follow it.
So, then, what is the God energy that summons us? Compels us? What is the God energy that will never, ever, let anyone or anything get in the way of following Jesus, no matter the cost?
Why does preaching matter to me?
Can you remember a homily you heard manyyears ago?I can.It changed my life.In July, 1983, I participated in my first preaching workshop, given by Dominican Sister Joan Delaplane.A powerful preacher and expert professor of preaching, she “became” the man at the pool of Bethsaida, by the Sheep Gate.Ill for 38 years, Jesus confronted him with this question, “Do you want to be healed?”He replied (to us), “you may think that’s easy to answer, but it’s not.”As she listed all the reasons why she simply was not sure whether or not she wanted to be healed, I could literally feel a fire in my belly.Wow!I must learn how to do this!
Preaching is a sacred responsibility for me.I have worked long and hard to give my best: to pray with the Scripture, to meet with a homily team for an hour of conversation on the readings, to search out commentaries, and always to wait on the Spirit of God for a spark of truth, on which to build the reflection.Preaching is a joy, a challenge, and a calling.