Sunday, September 30, 2007

Missionaries of Charity host these small children in a storefront "school" in Jamshedpur, Bihar, India. These children have nowhere else to go to school and, without some education, little prospects but the street.
A meeting with Poor Lazarus on the streets of Calcutta
Sunday, September 30 Luke 16
If they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” Luke 16: 31

Here is the story of an unlikely voice, taking the place of that poor Lazarus whom the richman Dives wants to send as a messenger to us, warning us against the security that we place in our possessions.

In 2003 I traveled with a group of lay colleagues to India in the IIIE (Ignatian International Immersion Experience) program to see the Jesuit works there. We visited Calcutta, a perplexing place where the trappings of contemporary life meet teeming crowds of the poor. One afternoon our group took a cab to a craft shop that catered to tourists; some of us wanted to purchase gifts to take home. I finished my shopping first and decided to wait for the others outside on the crowded street hoping to find some rhyme or reason to the riddle of Calcutta. I found something that surprised me. A beggar boy of about ten, no doubt carefully trained and rewarded for his skill, began to pester me for a handout. I resisted and decided to go back into the store knowing that the guard would prevent him from coming in. The plate glass doors, I knew, would become, in Abraham’s phrase, “a great chasm” to prevent that boy from crossing.

But as I sat inside waiting for my companions the boy kept up a vigil within sight of me through these same plate glass doors. He kept staring at me and every once in a while our eyes would meet. No doubt his handlers trained him in this stare knowing that it would finally shame the target into making a donation.

It worked. But in this unexpected way. Sitting there I heard the eyes of that beggar boy telling me that I was no better off than he. In the great scheme of things, his eyes said, we are both beggars lacking the means to a secure destiny. And I heard Jesus’ question from the scripture: “Which of you by worrying can add even a cubit to your stature?” His stare said to me: “you are poor like me; we are all poor; and the poor always share what little they have.” The boy crossed the chasm. He had nothing to lose and it was clear who was the vulnerable one.
I forget faces of people I met last Thursday but I know I can pick this boy out of a lineup now four years later. The boy takes the place of Lazarus, a messenger sent from another world to warn us.

Myself and my companions as well, we all gave him some money as we left that fancy shop and it was all we could do to tumble into a cab before other beggars came to besiege us. I have no illusions about that boy…. His only future was the hardness of the street. But I am praying that I have something positive to tell him when we meet in the world to come.

Friday, September 21, 2007

These triplet boys are members of Saint Malachy Parish.
About a year ago their father, Scott, sent this message to his friends:
Earlier shortly after their baptism I got this message:
"I did say [at the baptism] that Sean, Matthew and Luke
have many mothers and fathers [who helped out greatly when the boys were born and not all three could go home from the hospital at the same time].
The three boys have already worn little baby [Saint Joseph's] Hawk socks. The class of 2027
sounds great."
These boys are blessed with Barbara and Scott. Don't the three now look like angels?
Those of us raising or working with kids and young people of all ages can take heart from last Sunday's gospel.
Sunday, September 16. Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father
The power of this parable of love and forgiveness seems never more needed than it is needed today.

And without any doubt in this gospel Jesus speaks of this power as a divine power, a power exercised by the God whom he calls Father, the God whom he invites us to know. This God in the divine wisdom reaches out in love and forgiveness especially to the young, to sons and daughters, to those who have not yet come to an understanding of themselves. Not that God neglects us who are older or us who have stopped doing very much searching. But young people face particular challenges and the evidence of this parable shows us that our God is the kind who longs to help the young meet their challenges.

And why is the story consoling? Indeed the young may find consolation in this story. Especially the ones who have run away from their families and seek a way back. Especially the dutiful children who are not sure of the love of their families. But those of us who are older, we, too, can find consolation.

Those who labor on college campuses can find the image of God depicted here to be particularly consoling. Engaging the young in the pursuit of truth, helping the young realize their potential, fostering in the young the tools to bring about a better world of peace and justice, forgiving the young for their youthful excesses or resentments, and drawing them always closer to the sources of true love and service, all these actions make those older people who conduct them colleagues with this God whose image we read about today, the image here in this loving Father of the prodigal son and the dutiful son.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The tree stands in front of the house that Kay lived in all her life. Across the street is the Church of the Holy Family.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Those who do not carry their own crosses and come after me cannot be my disciples. Luke 14.

When we were growing up, lots of grownups encouraged my siblings and me Among our favorites was my godmother, Kay, (my mother’s friend from her childhood). She was a witty woman, unmarried, with a career as an office manager. Kay lived her entire life in the same small house across the street from Holy Family Church in Manayunk. After her retirement and after her parents had died peacefully in their beds, she lived alone. Her life was her church, her house, her siblings and their families, her friends and a stray godchild like me. Her life was an easy one, her house immaculate, (we joked that everything in her basement could pass the white glove test), her routines her own.

But she told me about her doubts. She knew this gospel. She knew that the Lord was asking us to take up our cross and follow him. And she never had any crosses. She asked herself: Will I get to heaven without carrying any cross? So she did a very courageous thing-an initiative that the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola, might recommend, but an initiative that I, and perhaps most of us, would shrink from doing. She prayed for a cross.

Not long after she began this prayer, the Lord answered her. Her favorite niece went through a divorce and found herself and her two teenage children without a place to live. Aunt Kay responded generously. The three of them descended on her and transformed her happy home. Her cross was giving up control of her space, giving up her privacy and peace, giving up the calmness of her prayer. She told me later to be careful about what I pray for!

All things worked out eventually for the good. Aunt Kay became the Lord’s disciple. And best of all, of course, Aunt Kay, dead now a number of years, is reaping her reward.