15 September 2012

'Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.' Sunday Reflections, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Christ Blessing the Children, Nicolas Maes, painted 1652-53

I am posting this early as I will be giving a retreat to Missionaries of Charity in Tagaytay City, south of Manila, from tomorrow, 17 September, until 25 September. I won't be online there. I would appreciate your prayers for the retreatants and for myself. Thank you.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

Gospel Mark 9:30-37 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Jesus and his disciples went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he would not have any one know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise." But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him. And they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?" But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, "If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me."

Scripture commentary on readings by Fr Martin McNamara MSC here.

In the late 1960s when I was a young priest and studying near New York City I met Betsy. She was at the younger end of a large Italian-American family. Her father Joe was a photographer and her mother Lee a homemaker. The family invited me to Betsy's First Holy Communion. I wasn't able to go to the Mass but went to her home that evening with another Columban priest for dinner. We were the only visitors. None of the furniture in the house was new but it was clearly a well lived-in home.

First Holy Communion at Holy Family Home for Girls, Bacolod City

As is the custom in some places, including Ireland, Betsy had visited her relatives and family friends that day and they had given her money. She had received more than $100, a fortune for her. During the evening Betsy's mother told her that we were missionaries and that missionaries needed financial support. As soon as Betsy heard this she wanted to give us everything she had. We were embarrassed and deeply touched at the same time and made an excuse that we didn't need it right then and there.

Betsy's act was one of pure love.

I think that Jesus is telling us that he makes himself and his Father known us to us through young people like Betsy. Usually the child is totally unaware of this. Some years ago i was travelling on a bus in Dublin - I have found that the Lord likes to travel on the bus - a girl of about 12 was sitting in a seat reserved for older persons or those with disabilities, if there are such passengers, when an elderly woman got on. Without being reminded the girl immediately got up and moved to the seat behind. But that isn't what caught my attention. As soon as the older woman sat down, and it was clear to me that they didn't know each other, the girl began to chat with her.

Again, I felt the presence of the Lord.

A friend of mine, Jacqueline, whom I have known along with her family since she was a child and I a young priest and who is now the mother of a large family, once told me when she was a young adult that she appreciated the fact that when she was a child I had always taken seriously. She wasn't saying that I was always serious with her, because I wasn't, but that I respected her as a person. I had never even thought about this.

I had just come off  the Thirty-Day Spiritual Exercises of  St Ignatius and I could feel the presence of the Lord in my Jacqueline's words.

When I was in kindergarten one of the retired Sisters saw me one day looking at a picture on the wall - I think it might have been of St Peter walking on the water - and reading the inscription beneath. She was so struck by my ability to read that she gave me a holy picture, a stampeta, as we call it in the Philippines. Around the same time my father, who read the morning and evening papers every day but seldom read books, gave me his copy of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, the full edition, not an abridged one. 

That same year, 1950, when I was seven, the Walt Disney version of Treasure Island came to our local cinema, The Broadway. For the Saturday afternoon show for children the ushers were dressed as pirates and there was to be a raffle before the main movie, the admission ticket being also the ticket for the raffle. When I got to the box-office I couldn't find the sixpence my parents had given me in any of the pockets of my brown corduroy suit. I began to cry and to head down the steps in front of The Broadway. The manageress, dressed in her regular reddish uniform and not as a pirate, came after me and asked what was wrong. I told her. She let me in free, God bless her, but I still wanted to get a ticket for the raffle. During the preliminary short movies I found it, with the same kind of excitement as that of the woman in the parable of Jesus who found the lost coin. I ran out to the ticket office, bought my ticket - but didn't win any prize in the raffle.

But I have never forgotten the kindness of that manageress who felt for a child crying with disappointment. That was 62 years ago and I'm sure she has since gone to her reward, and that the Lord has been as kind to her as she was to me.

Children haven't always been respected and cherished. Child labour is still widespread, as it was in the England of William Blake (1757 - 1827).

Columban missionaries are enabling children to develop their God-given abilities.

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