The Magic Seed? 7-23-2017

July 22nd, 2017

There was once a woman whose only son died. In her grief, she went to a holy man and said, “What prayers, what magical incantations do you have to bring my son back to life?”
Instead of sending her away or reasoning with her, he said to her, “Fetch me a mustard seed from a home that has never known sorrow. We will use it to drive the sorrow out of your life.”
The women set off at once in search of the magical mustard seed. She came first to a splendid mansion, knocked at the door and said, “I am looking for a home that has never known sorrow. Is this such a place? It is very important to me.”
They told her, “You’ve certainly come to the wrong place,” and began to describe all the tragic things that had recently befallen them.
The women said to herself, “Who is better able to help these unfortunate people than I, who have had misfortune of my own?” She stayed to comfort them, and then went on in her search for a home that had never known sorrow.
But wherever she turned, in hovels and in palaces, she found one tale after another of sadness and misfortune. Ultimately, she became so involved in ministering to other people’s grief that she forgot about her quest for the magical mustard seed, never realizing that her small gestures of care, and concern and compassion, had in fact, driven the sorrow out of her life.

Lord, we spend so much energy frantically searching for that magical elixir, that magical cure to take away our grief, our loneliness, the hurting parts of our life that need fixing. Help us remember today, this week, that one small gesture on our part, a smile, a handshake, a hug, a phone call, a short visit, a few encouraging words….is the best medicine to bring about real healing for ourselves and for others. Amen

The Prison Angel 7-16-2017

July 16th, 2017

She rises each day at 5 A.M. in her tiny prison cell. She spends the first hour in quiet prayer; then, fueled by countless cups of coffee, she begins her rounds of the cell blocks, distributing clothing, blankets and soap to prisoners. She visits the prison hospital, counsels new inmates, and meets with families. She has diffused tensions between desperate inmates and nervous guards; she has made the most hardened con accept responsibility for his crimes and seek forgiveness from his victims.
She is not the warden. She is not a guard. She is a 78-year-old nun known as Mother Antonia. Her “home” is Tijuana’s La Mesa prison, just across the border from San Diego. For 28 years, she has lived among the 6,000 inmates of what was once one of Mexico’s most dangerous prisons.
The only member of her order allowed to live inside the prison, Mother Antonia spends ten hours a day among the prisoners. Sisters in her community work in Tijuana’s neighborhoods providing support for families of both inmates and guards, counseling mothers separated from children, even helping arrange funerals for those who die in prison.
Mother Antonia’s own life and upbringing could not have been more different. Born Mary Clarke, she was the daughter of a wealthy Los Angeles businessman. A striking beauty, Mary grew up in a Beverly Hills mansion with Hollywood stars Dinah Shore and Cary Grant for neighbors. Twice married, she raised seven children who adore her. Mary’s many hours of charity work became a source of tension in her second marriage and eventually led to divorce. In 1977, with her marriage over and her children all grown, Mary felt a powerful pull to do more.
With the support of her children, she sold her belongings and drove to Tijuana, where she had been making church-sponsored relief visits, and began religious life. She convinced the warden to let her stay and began the dangerous task of winning inmates over with small acts of kindness.
(Her journey from Beverly Hills to the barrios of Tijuana is chronicled in the book The Prison Angel, by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan.)
“I wanted to dedicate my life to the poor,” she says. “I didn’t want to just pity them. I wanted to become a significant part of their lives…I guess you might say I’m in love with these people who the rest of the world finds unlovable.”
The warden believes that Mother Antonia is the most important person at La Mesa. “Mother Antonia brings hope to men and women here. And they find hope in themselves. She spreads the love of God.” Beloved by the guards, her presence has made their jobs safer and more humane.
What drives her, she says, is her faith. “[My faith] is what makes my heart beat. That’s who I am.” Of her work among the prisoners of La Mesa, she says: “Like a mother, I always search for the best in my children.”
Mother Antonia models the sower of today’s Gospel, who sows seeds of encouragement, joy and reconciliation regardless of the “ground” on which it is scattered, and who is willing to do the hard work necessary to realize the harvest that Christ has promised.
I close: The reign of God is like a seed. That seed is the kindness we do, the worship we share in, the conversation around the dinner table, the soup to the sick neighbor, the decisions to put the family first. The seed is being sensitive to minorities. The seed is making your children bring back the little things they’ve stolen, and apologize. The seed is having them catch you at prayer. The seed is your being here.
I like the seed symbol, mostly, I guess, because it fits me. I can handle a seed. We seldom have the opportunity, or even the courage, to do the big things, the really big, heroic things. But everyday, like Mother Antonia, we all have the opportunity to do the small ones that display our values and the values of Jesus; values, perhaps, small as a seed, but seeds that will bear fruit thirty, forty, fifty years from now.
Remember this: do the little things well and let God do the rest.

The Class of the NCAA 7-9-2017

July 9th, 2017

A few springs ago, Western Oregon State played Central Washington University in women’s softball for the conference championship. An NCAA playoff spot was on the line. With two on, Western Oregon’s Sara Tucholsky connected to hit a home run clearing the center field fence. It was Sara’s first home run ever. A part-time starter in the outfield, Sara, a senior, had only 3 hits in 34 at-bats all season.
But as she circled the bases, Sara fell and hurt her knee. The five-foot-two-inch senior lay crumpled in the dirt a few feet from first base—and a long way from home plate.
Her teammates ran to help her—but their coaches stopped them: According to the rules, if any teammate ran on to the field, Sara would be called out. The umpires said that if Sara could make it back to first base, a pinch runner could be substituted—but Sara’s home run would be scored a single. Any assistance from coaches or trainers while Sara was an active runner would result in an out.
While Western Oregon was deciding its next move, the first baseman for Central Washington asked the umpire chief if she and her teammates could help her. The umpire knew of no rule against the opposing team helping the player—so two Central Washing players put their arms under Sara’s legs and Sara put her arms around their shoulders and the three headed around the base paths, stopping to let Sara touch each base.
Central Washington’s compassion cost them. They lost the game—and the playoff berth—4.2.
But that didn’t seem to faze Central Washington. “In the end, it’s not about winning and losing so much”, Washington’s first baseman Mallory Holtman said. “It was about this girl. She’s a senior; it’s her last year. She hit it over the fence and was in pain, and she deserved a home run. It was the right thing to do”.
This ultimate act of sportsmanship mirrors the generosity of spirit and humility of hear that Jesus asks of us in today’s Gospel. When Jesus calls his disciples to embrace the simple faith of “little ones”, he is not saying that our approach to faith should be “watered down” to the level of children. He is calling us, instead, to embrace a faith that is centered in the love and compassion of God: love that is not compromised by self-interest and rationalization, compassion that is not measured but given completely and unreservedly. Christ is asking us to embrace a faith that is simple, pure and honest—not complicated and compromised by “adult stuff” like winning and losing. May the “wise and learned” among us embrace the spirit of generosity and selflessness exhibited by the Central Washing University women’s softball team—the class of the NCAA.