Stories Seldom Heard
- December 2018
Matthew 5: 1 Beatitudes
Blessed are the
poor in spirit for theirs is the reign of heaven.
Welcome to the first
week of Advent and to Stories Seldom Heard. I would
especially like to welcome the parishioners of St. Joseph of the
Holy Family, Harlem, New York.
Since this is the first
week of Advent, I thought I would begin with a quote from our dear
Dominican brother Meister Eckhart. His words might help us focus on
the reason for this season:
“We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if
this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but
does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary
is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to
me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I also do not give
birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness
of time. When the Son of God is begotten in us” (Meister
Eckhart, the Dominican friar of 14th century Germany).
Eckhart’s questions invite us to see humanity, and not Bethlehem, as
the continued birthplace of God. How amazing is that? God has
chosen humanity to give birth and life to the world so that God will
become a real presence in our world. That says a lot about what God
thinks of us. So often we look at ourselves and say, “I’m only
human! What do you expect?” But God looks at us and says, “Humanity,
created in my image and likeness! You shall be the ones through
whom, by whom, and in whom my Son will be born.”
Eckhart challenges us to answer his question. How will we give
birth to the Son of God in our time and our culture? How do we
bring Christ’s presence into our local communities, schools,
workplaces and family gatherings?
In the gospels those
who are poor are not just those who lack money. Poverty has a
broader definition. Poor women and men are people who have no voice
or influence in society or in their religious tradition. In a way
they are non-persons: nobodies. Involuntary poverty is not a good
thing. It destroys a person’s dignity and works against building
healthy communities. In scripture as well as in everyday life,
poverty is a sign that God’s law is not being fulfilled. That is
why Jesus does everything in his power to alleviate poverty.
In Jesus’ time, as well
as now, the majority of the poor were women and children. They were
the ones who needed the most protection and care. They were the
dispensable ones, the ones who didn’t count. We have a
not-so-subtle reminder of this prejudice especially in Matthew’s
two references to the multiplication of food: the feeding of 4,000
and that of the 5,000 men. Both stories in the Gospel end with the
same phrase, "not counting the women and children” (Mt. 14:21 and
Mt. 15:38). Yet, we know that women and children counted greatly in
Jesus’ life and
ministry. He reached out to them and responded to their concerns.
He healed them. Along with the men, women were his companions and
intimate friends. He called them to full discipleship and sent them
to preach the Good News. In fact, Mary Magdalene was the first of
the disciples to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection. She
was also the one Jesus sent to tell his apostles that he had risen.
However, when we talk
about poverty of spirit we are not talking about living a life of
involuntary poverty. Rather we are talking about a spirit or a way
of living that frees us from making material goods the focus of our
lives. There are many people in the past, great saints, whom we
admire because they chose, among other virtues, voluntary poverty.
St Dominic sold his books and gave the money to feed the hungry. He
was an itinerant preacher who trusted that God would provide for him
as he traveled and preached the gospel. St. Francis of Assisi chose
to leave his affluent life style to give himself totally to God
through prayer and service to his brothers and sisters. Dorothy
Day, as well as Mother Elizabeth Seton, chose to “live simply so
that others might simply live.”
In today’s society
there are many people who have made similar choices. Those who
minister in the Catholic Worker houses that Dorothy Day inspired
continue her care for the poor and work to change structures that
keep people in poverty. Organizations like Doctors Without Borders,
Bread for the World, Southern Poverty Law Center, the Center for
Justice and Accountability in San Francisco and Catholic Relief
Services (1), all remind us that as
disciples of Jesus we are called to use our talents not just for
ourselves, but also for the common good of the whole earth
community. There are many people who contribute to the health and
well-being of others even though it means receiving lower salary and
at times risking their own lives. I am always amazed at how many
people make selfless choices.
California, in the midst of horrific fires and personal loss, many
families opened their home to strangers, not just for a day or
week. Many people are still receiving gracious hospitality as they
continue to search for more permanent housing. The crisis at the
border of Mexico and the United States has not only touched the
conscience of professional caregivers, nurses, doctors and crisis
counsellors, but also has called forth ordinary people like us to
volunteer in a variety of ways. Catholic dioceses, religious
congregations and peace organizations have helped these volunteers
use their gifts to serve those whose lives are at danger. Even
though many of these volunteers don’t speak Spanish, they have taken
leave of their paid jobs to support, comfort and help in the
resettlement of those fleeing from violence.
April fifteen volunteers from the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York,
joined “All Hands and Hearts” in their work in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico.
They spent their days on tops of roofs, stripping off the old tar
and inside homes chiseling away mold from the walls and ceilings.
“All the residents wanted to do was cook for us,” one volunteer
said, “Food is love in their culture. And we were grateful.”
This is one aspect of
poverty of spirit. We use our power to enable the powerless. We
use our influence, education, competence, connections and personal
power to bring about changes in society that bring dignity into the
lives of others. We can do this as individuals and as members of
organizations. The voices of the poor surround us. Perhaps that is
what makes it so hard to know what to do and how to respond. The
need is so great and our time and energy are limited. So where do
we begin? The poor in spirit know where and to whom to turn. We
pray not only to recognize our gifts, expertise and talents and to
know where and how to use them, but also we petition God to deepen
our trust and confidence in God’s power working in us and in the
world. Father Kenneth Untener put it this way.
“It helps, now and
then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only
beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our
lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is
God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of
saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us…. (Yet) We plant
seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will
need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects
beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do
everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be
incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for God's grace to enter and do
the rest… We are
workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are
prophets of a future not our own”
The work we do is God’s
work. The task is too great for any one of us. If we think we can
do the work that is needed because we are strong, young, well
connected and talented we might very soon become disillusioned. The
poor in spirit know that. So they/we turn to God in prayer. Prayer
reminds us that we are not on our own and that ultimately everything
depends on God.
The scriptures are rich
with images of God. As we face difficulties and desire to develop a
stronger, deeper relationship with God, it is often helpful to use
one or more scriptural images of God for prayer. When we feel we
need someone to strengthen us, someone on whom to depend we could
call upon God “the rock” who is strong and dependable. God is also
imaged as a tower or pillar of justice who stands with us against
violence, a mother hen who comforts us when we are fearful and Lady
Wisdom who calls to us at the crossroads of life and points us in
the right direction. And of course, Meister Eckhart offers us yet
another powerful Advent reminder.
“We are all
meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal
birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take
place within myself?
1. If you are not familiar with these
organizations you can find their information on the web.
2. This prayer has often been attributed to
Archbishop Romero because it was prayed at his funeral and it
captures his spirit of ministry.
Special thanks to
Mary Ellen Green and Maria Hetherton who have helped in editing this
article. "Stories Seldom Heard" is a monthly article written
by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a Dominican Sister of San
Rafael, California. This service is offered to the Christian
community to enrich one's personal and spiritual life. The articles
can be used for individual or group reflection.
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