A couple of weeks ago I called your attention to some small corrections in the way we celebrate the liturgy. After the Orate Fratres (“Pray, brothers and sisters…”) the missal instructs the congregation to stand and respond, “May the Lord accept..” You are doing pretty well. I will try to remember to lift up my hands as signal to stand.
At our Parish Council meeting on Thursday, we talked a bit about the Sunday liturgies. One member mentioned the problem of cell phones. Not everyone turns them off when they come into the church. Once he said that a phone went off in the pew ahead of him. A lady started fumbling through her purse. He thought she was going to shut it off. But, no, she held it to her ear. “Hello…I’m at Mass…no,not too much longer…we’re at Communion now.” He said he wanted to wrestle the phone out of her hand and throw it out the window. I hope we don’t need to do something that extreme. But please do turn off your cell phone.
This Sunday Jesus tells us that the person who receives a child in his name receives him. I want to thank the parents here, some young, some now elderly who opened themselves to the gift of a child. Perhaps the child came at a time when you did not expect - or under difficult circumstances. Still, you accepted that child as a gift from God. In the name of Jesus I thank you for your generosity.
The verse about receiving a child is easy for us to misunderstand. Many people think than when Jesus held up the child as a model, he is saying we need to become pure, innocent, without guile – like a child. That would be great, but that is not Jesus’ exact point. To understand what he is telling us we need to look at the context in which he presents the child to his disciples.
Jesus had just spoken about the humiliating death he would soon face. Now, the disciples were a bit thick headed. Instead of trying to understand what Jesus meant, they did what men typically do. They started telling each other about their personal accomplishment. Maybe the conversation went something like this:
--I am not bragging but I did heal five people last week.
--Well, I brought in forty denarii in donations. Get realistic, guys, can't do anything without money.
--I was talking to some folks in Jerusalem, real movers and shakers. We are going to need them on our side.
--Oh, I’ve been working so hard I can barely move, but let me tell you about it...
--What a crowd turned out for the talk I gave! Made some converts to our cause.
--If someone only listened to my suggestion, we wouldn't be in this mess.
In the context of that kind of discussion, Jesus brought forward a child. It was like holding a freshly hatched chick up to strutting roosters. Why is the master interested in something so paltry when he has moi myself right in front of him?
The apostle’s wanted others to think they were “somebody.” Jesus presented them with one who in that culture was a “nobody.” The disciples wanted to be heard – but a child was supposed to keep quiet. His opinion counted for nothing. The disciples wanted to assert their own worth and dignity – but a child in that culture had no “rights.” He was not “his own person” – he belonged to his father. In Jesus’ time, they had no romantic notions about a child being “innocent.” Rather they believed a child needed regular correction and discipline.
When Jesus said, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me,” he was once again identifying himself with the bottom rung of society. And telling his disciples to do the same.
Someone who did that in a profound way was Mother Teresa. After a couple decades of teaching in a somewhat elite girls’ school, she noticed a dying man on the streets of Calcutta. No one wanted him – just like many men on the streets here in Seattle. Mother Theresa cradle him in her arms, washed his sores and got him to a decent place for his final days. He said to her, “I have lived on the streets the like an animal but you are letting me die like a king.”
Four weeks from today, October 19, Pope John Paul will beatify Mother Teresa. What a great day that will be! To be able to say Blessed Mother Theresa. She lived the Gospel so deeply. As she said, “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus. ” For love of Jesus she embraced those who had no great worth in the eyes of the world. She lived his words, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me,”
From Archives (Homily for 25th Sunday, Year B, 2000): He Placed a Child in Their Midst
1997 homily: Twice as Many Things, Twice as Unhappy
Bulletin (Ordination of Abel & death of his mom, Bequest from Steve Antonow, Mary's Family Medicine)
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C