Reflection for Sunday September 20 – Gloria Ulterino

WIS 2:12, 17-20; PS 54:3-4, 5, 6 and 8; JAS 3:16—4:3; MK 9:30-37

At every turn, there’s conflict.  Turmoil.  Cravings gone awry.  In today’s readings.  On the road with Jesus and his disciples.  On our everyday roads, as well.  Pick up a newspaper.  Watch the news.  What do we see?  What do we hear?  Conflict.  Turmoil.  Cravings gone awry.  On a train in France, three Americans subdue a lone gunman, about to unload a massacre.  In a drive- by shooting in Rochester, NY, three innocent young people are killed outside a Boys and Girls Club.  ISIS has just committed yet another atrocity.  It’s enough to numb the best of us to our world.  Where is the Good News to be found?  And what is our part in it?

The other night I was led to the Good News.  On public television, following the world news.  To my surprise, I was drawn into the next program.  I even found myself physically relaxing, and feeling peace.  Hmmm…  What’s this about?  Nothing less than an elective course offered at a local private school to high school seniors.  A course on “Hospice.”  By now, I had to watch.  The teacher offered this course to draw out the humanity of his students—to unplug them from all their devices.

He was preparing them to volunteer at one of two local hospices.  Gathering them together in small groups at first to share their losses and their fears.  To discover hidden bits and pieces about themselves and those they thought they knew.  To become vulnerable, to themselves and others.  And, to learn practically how to care for the guests they would encounter. To put lotion on their own hands, for example, before gently massaging someone’s foot.

Sometimes humor broke through.  As when one young man kept putting pink booties on a woman’s foot, after she kept pulling them off with her other foot.  Then he giggled; it had become a game.  Or when another young man came home reeking of cigarette smoke and his mother sent him to the shower.  No, he hadn’t been smoking.  He’d been out in the garage with one of the women guests, a chain smoker.  He was chosen for this because he was the most gentle of all in helping her control her smoking urge. “No, not yet,” he would say. “You have to wait.” In the end, what did they learn?  Life lessons in compassion, welcoming any and all we might overlook.  Life lessons about themselves.  About vulnerability and true humanity.

Jesus, of course, is our ultimate teacher, pointing the way to today’s Good News.  Receive… welcome… the most vulnerable in our midst.  In his day, a child.  The bottom of the heap.  In ours, the one who seemingly has absolutely nothing to offer us.  The one we keep at a distance.  Or choose to overlook.  The one we can’t … or won’t look squarely in the eye.  Yes, that one.

How do we do this?  James helps us out here.  First of all, go deep within, to our very core.  To the most vulnerable places of all.  To our flaws … our mistakes … all the parts we try to hide.  To the places of rejection.  Perhaps even shame, when we have been named a mistake.  Go there.  Go with Jesus, our teacher, our friend, our guide.  For he understands.  Didn’t he become totally vulnerable to human rejection?  To the worst that humanity can do?  Wasn’t he utterly naked in the end, for the loincloth covering him on the cross is for our eyes, to protect us from the truth?

Take a good, long, honest, loving look at what’s deepest inside, at whatever needs healing.  Also—and this is very important—what is the good we find there?  Where is compassion, gentleness, courage, persistence?  Where are the seeds, perhaps even the blossoms, of advocacy for a passion that will help set things right in this world?  What do we really care about?  Creating healthy families?  Including everyone, in family, church and society?  Mentoring children who are stuck in poverty and violence?  Tending to the healing and beauty of our earthly home?  Working toward a church leadership that more fully lives the Gospel?

Now, what are we to do with all this?  Where are the people and places of healing?  And, those that nourish our passions for a better world?  We have models, plenty of them.  The community of Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, for example, wounded, yet forgiving.

We have a pope, soon to be visiting our country, who has washed the feet of women and Muslims.  Who has challenged church leaders to listen to their people and smell like the sheep.  Who has named himself a sinner, in need of prayer, just like each of us.  Who passionately urges us, without mincing any words, to care for our planet rather than trash it.

Closer to home, we also have family, friends—people just like us—who act upon their particular passion, for the good of us all.  My uncle was a recovering alcoholic who mentored hundreds on the road to sobriety.  One friend refuses to let severe physical limitations keep her from using her gifts.  Another has brought hope in the form of education and healing to Kenya.

But, this week I found inspiration through a television program.  Through the compassion of a teacher and his “ordinary” teenagers, complete with acne.  It was their unconditional openness and generosity of spirit that moved me to deep peace.  They touched a nerve we all share: a craving for that same acceptance, non-judgmental tenderness, and unconditional welcome.  So it is that Jesus—who knows us better than we know ourselves—sends us forth this week.  With all our flaws and all our strengths.  To receive … welcome … listen to … and accept … anyone and everyone on our daily roads.  In the process, who knows what might happen?  Perhaps, in a moment of profound peace, we may well know that we’ve also encountered Jesus himself, and the Holy, Vulnerable One who sent him.

Gloria Ulterino
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