25th Sun OT Yr B/2015
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center
One of the great joys of our parish family each week is the preparation of the gifts. I’m always struck by the beauty of the entire community living out their call to be cooperators in the ministry of the Church in that moment. It’s the baskets that have caught my attention in the weeks I’ve been settling in among you. The baskets.
Have you ever noticed that every single one of us – in one way or another – every single one of us plays a part in passing the baskets? The baskets – I love the baskets – the way we all play a part in using them to gather our gifts and then offer them to the Lord. And I absolutely love the way we include our children in this ritual. Young – some barely able to walk; older – sometimes not all that excited to be sent to the front (and we can all see it on their faces). Sometimes there aren’t young ones in our row, and we adults come forward with our baskets – but I’ve noticed a very child-like quality among the adults carrying their baskets, too. Some filled with the same joy – some carrying that same absence of excitement – all the way to the front and back again. Somehow in our community of faith, we all participate in the basket passing and collecting and bringing forward. And somehow as we all do that, we find a child-like moment in our faith each week with the passing of the baskets.
Children are amazing, aren’t they? Have you ever noticed that they don’t hide their joy? When a child is happy the whole world knows it! There’s a big smile on their face and sometime a giant laugh escapes them. They’re not worried about their clothes being wrinkled – or whether they’re wearing the right clothes or not. When they’re happy they’re just plain and simple happy. I’ve seen it at every Mass. Big smiles. Looking back to wave at mom and dad. Oblivious as to whether they actually get the envelopes in the big basket or not sometimes – having the time of their life.
Children don’t hide their joy – and they don’t hide their frustration, either. Once or twice I’ve seen a little one heading toward the big basket up front, and it’s very clear they had no interest in being pressed into service. I’ve seen a stomping toward the front with a big frown once or twice in my few weeks here – no pretending to be happy because that’s what we all expect. ‘Fine – I’ll take your stupid basket up to the stupid big basket – but I’m gonna’ make sure everyone KNOWS I’m not happy about it!’ Stomp – stomp – stomp.
Babies are the best though, aren’t they? When Father’s homily doesn’t put them straight to sleep, you can tell when the babies are happy and when they’re sad. They giggle – they laugh out loud – they scream at the top of their lungs in joy or in anger telling the whole world around them just how they’re feeling. Happy or sad – babies – children – they’re completely content to feel how they feel and don’t try to pretend one way or the other – they just show it to the world around them. And if God Himself were to sit right down in front of them, they’d let Him know too – no questions asked, no pretending, just plainly and simply being how they are, face to face with God.
I’ve been in St. Louis since last Friday with the Vocations Directors of our country – and it’s been a great time. Learning how to receive young men and women who are seeking Christ in their hearts. Learning how to walk with young men and women who are sometimes filled with joy in the moments Christ is calling them; sometimes filled with frustration and tantrums as they try to let go of what’s holding them back from saying “Yes” to Christ. And I’ve been thinking about this gospel passage the whole time, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me…” I’ve been thinking about this gospel passage, and reminding myself that the primary work of a Vocations Director (and a priest) is to receive people just as they are – receiving them as we receive our children who will come forward in a moment, some happy, some frustrated, with their baskets. I’ve been thinking about that, and looking forward to being here today to receive the baskets….
I’ve also been reminding myself that Jesus wants us to be child-like in our relationship with Him, and that when we do that He stands us right in front of Him and places His arms around us, and loves us… I’ve spent something like 50 hours giving spiritual direction and counsel since first arriving here in August, sitting in my office across from men and women, young and old – all trying to grow in their relationship with Christ – all trying in one way or another to hear the Lord more clearly and respond to Him more freely. And all week I’ve been noticing, as I’ve prayed for and with them – and prayed for and with all of you – that almost every obstacle and storm we encounter in our relationship with God comes down to forgetting that the Lord wishes to receive us, to love us, to talk with and journey with us as children. We are God’s children – and we do better in our relationship with Him when approach Him like children – when we simply are how we are with Him. Our problems and feelings of isolation in prayer come when we try to conjure up fake happiness to cover up our despair, or when we try to hide or tone down the happiness and joy we’re experiencing in life from God because we somehow don’t think it’s appropriate. And I’ve been thinking that perhaps the most difficult lesson in today’s Gospel is that, if we wish to be great in the kingdom of heaven, we have to first accept ourselves in child-like ways – simply feeling how we feel, not hiding it, and giving it to God just like we are in the moment we encounter Him.
Friends – one of the things we forget as we “grow up” is how to be a child of God. We forget how to receive ourselves in child-like ways in God’s presence. I believe when Jesus said, Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me – I believe when He said that He meant first of all to receive ourselves in child-like ways: simply, accepting and receiving how we feel, acknowledging what we’re afraid of, removing the masks that hide us from ourselves and from God. We can’t be God’s children until we accept ourselves in child-like ways in His presence.
Today as we pray around this altar, let the rest of the world slip away. Think about the baskets. Think about the children bringing forward their baskets. Some happy. Some perturbed. Some oblivious. And then imagine yourself carrying your basket forward to the altar – see yourself how you really are today – and go child-like into the arms of Jesus. Accept yourself just how you are today – angry, sad, scared, oblivious, numb, filled with joy, eager – however you are, come to Jesus today just like that – and feel Him wrap His loving, accepting arms around you.