Reflections on Sunday’s Readings: July 8, 2018
Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Expanded
Vulnerabilities and Prophetic Integration
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ezekiel 2: 2-5
2 Cor 12: 7-10
Mark 6: 1-6a
When I was newly ordained, I was hoping to go to one of our smaller parishes in Kansas or Illinois to learn how to be a priest. Instead, according to God’s plans and the plans of the friars in our province, I was stationed at one of our larger parishes and friaries in Cincinnati, Ohio. This parish was very near our Franciscan high school in Cincinnati, and so we friars from the parish, the high school, and a group of highly-skilled brothers known as the “Brothers’ Work Crew” all lived together there. The Brothers Work Crew were friars that went out to work on our schools and churches throughout the province. All told we were a community of 26 friars living and praying together.
In terms of weekday Masses, there were three Masses each morning. There was a 6 am Mass, a 7 am Mass, and an 8:15 am Mass with one of the classes from the parish grade school. One gentleman who I came to enjoy quite a bit was a regular participant at the 7 am Mass. Almost every day he would pray at the “Prayers of the Faithful” for “the priests and the friars and their vulnerabilities.” I didn’t know if he knew something that I didn’t, but I really appreciated his praying for us each day.
I believe this is really a part of why we come together in the Eucharist. We pray for one another beyond our family circle or our group of relatives. We really are invited to pray for one another’s vulnerabilities. Our prayers might help someone struggling with their vows, facing temptations to give up on their lives, or others struggling with a disease or other difficulties in their lives. Our prayers do have an impact on others’ lives just as others’ prayers for us help steady our lives also. So I found comfort in this elder praying for us and for our vulnerabilities.
Limits and Vulnerabilities
The Word this weekend reminds us that we all have limits and vulnerabilities. We can hear this especially in the second reading from Paul today. A very fine contemporary theologian speaks about how we might respond to our limitations. He offers: “It is possible to misread our limitations in two fundamental ways: to ignore them, thus impeding our spiritual growth; or to overemphasize them, restricting our efforts to do good.” [Fr. Jim Bacik]
The Scriptures are pointing us to a “balance” here. Like Paul, as we recognize our limits, we can bring them to God. We might then discover with God’s help what unreal expectations we need to let go of for a freer life or what we need to ask others for help with in order to complete a project. On the other side of things, we may discover that we need to ask God’s help in order to be brave and courageous. In both ways we are being called to a deeper reliance on God’s grace and power in our lives. We will in fact grow in our spiritual lives as we take time to be with God and to let God love us as we are.
Prophets and Freedom
In the midst of these reflections, the Word also offers us a reflection on prophets and what it might mean to be a prophet in our own time and place. There is a powerful quote from a spiritual writer that can help us understand the meaning of the word “prophet.” “The role of prophets and good theology is to keep people free for God and to keep God free for people. Our natural egocentricity wants to make God into who we want God to be.” [Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM]
Prophets and healthy theology help us to be free to encounter God and for God to be God’s own self with us. God wants to free us to become more ourselves, for example, to grow in our capacity to love and include others who are different from us. God is also helping us to learn how to communicate more fully with others, to move past hurts and traumas in our lives, and to be more truly ourselves. God too wants to be God’s own self with us and meet us as fully as God can … in order that we might know “communion” with one another: God and us.
Promises for a Fuller Life
In some of my studies for our Franciscan weekend retreat in August, I have been looking at the developmental stages in our lives as human persons. We can reach a “plateau” in our human development where the basic needs of our lives are met, and we might wonder “Is this all there is?” We can sometimes get “stuck” here in our lives, but we are actually discovering that this can be the moment of going forward into an even deeper awareness of our “true selves” and of our fuller relationship with God and others. Some writers speak of this as the “second half” of our lives: the place where we begin to be more “self-actualizing” in our lives and to find a deeper purpose for our lives. It is also a place in our life’s journey where we begin to “let go” and to “fall into the hands of the Living God.”
I wanted to share some of the “promises of spiritual integration” that I have come across that speak to this deeper journey within our lives.
• We will be able to risk failure in order to develop new, hidden talents.
• We will begin to feel and will come to know the vastness of our emotions, but we will not be slaves to them.
• As we gain the ability to forgive ourselves, our families, and the world, our choices will expand. We will release the energy that we have been using for resentments or regret.
• With dignity we will stand for ourselves, but not against our fellows.
• Serenity and peace will have meaning for us as we allow our lives and the lives of those we love to flow day by day with God’s ease, balance, and grace.
• We will laugh more.
• Fear will be replaced by faith, and gratitude will come naturally as we realize that God is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
• Community rather than loneliness will define our lives. We will know that we belong, we are welcome, we have something to contribute – and that is enough.
To live in this new way is to be “prophetic.” As we open ourselves more fully to God’s grace and grow as a human-divine person, we become a “witness” to this growth by living these changes in our lives. We attract others to this more “whole-hearted living,” if they want it, or if it is the right time in their lives for these changes also. There are also others in our lives who began this journey of integration before us, and they call to us “to come on along” and join in.
Yet some may resist this deeper journey, or we might find resistance in ourselves for making these new steps. Our charge is to keep “being open to God’s inspiration” and go forward. We cannot change others. God is in charge in their lives and in our lives also.
There is a quote from Cardinal John Henry Newman that fits well here. He offers, “To live is to change, and to be complete is to have changed often.” May we join in this journey of deeper integration and fuller self-actualization. May we hear God’s voice today in this Eucharist to “come on along”! There is much more to experience in our human-divine journey!
Fr. Henry B. Beck, OFM / St. Francis Retreat House, Easton, PA.
Reflections on Sunday’s Readings: July 1, 2018
The Power of Healing Touch
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 1: 13-15; 2: 23-24
2 Cor 8: 7, 9, 13-15
Mark 5: 21-43
In the mid-90’s, I was joyfully doing campus ministry in Indiana. My provincial minister stopped by for a visit and asked me to be the next director of our Franciscan Office for Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC). I shared with him that I had not been much of an “activist” for these causes, and I considered myself more of a “pastoral” person. He said that this is what he was hoping for in this office in the years to come.
My provincial minister also said that he wanted me to take some sabbatical time to intern with various Franciscans doing justice work and to take some time to study for this new ministry. This opened me up to some rich experiences especially in my work at our “Franciscans International” Office at the United Nations in New York and in our International Franciscan JPIC Office in Rome.
I also really wanted to meet people in a more “hands-on” way in my studies. I wanted to be grounded in the needs and lives of real persons as I prepared for the JPIC work. Looking back I think my longing here was similar to God’s inspiration at work in St. Francis and the early friars to work and live with the lepers near Assisi and near other nearby Italian towns.
Franciscan School of Theology
I discovered a course being taught by a former religious sister in massage therapy at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, CA. Her hope was to train religious men and women and lay ministerial persons in massage therapy so that those persons needing touch the most might be able to receive it. These would be persons in homeless shelters, in homes for seniors, and those with serious illnesses; and we served these persons in our training. I also was able to help massage therapy get started at a Lutheran outreach center that helped persons get off the streets and into a boarding house in the heart of San Francisco. I was living at a Franciscan friary in the Tenderloin neighborhood while I was studying at Berkeley.
This ministry was a time when I knew that I had to be in my best physical, emotional, and spiritual shape in order to meet these persons’ needs wholeheartedly. As I worked with various persons, I would feel somewhere during the massage that I was very close to the soul of the person. We truly are so united in body, mind, and spirit. We truly are “embodied spirits.”
These experiences taught me deeply of the value of good touch, healing touch. This kind of touch can affirm us on the many levels of who we are as persons. I believe this kind of good touch can even impact and heal us on the unconscious level: the places where we carry hurts, judgements, biases, shame, and fear; and this healing touch can move us toward greater wholeness. I also became aware, especially through others’ stories, of what bad touch can do to us: how a touch of anger, exclusion, or abuse can harm us on many levels; and how we are all called to be healers for others.
Today’s Gospel Story
I offer these insights because the Gospel story today is all about touch, the healing touch of Jesus. Mark mentions “touching” seven times, I believe, in today’s Gospel story. We hear about “incidental” touch: the touching that happens as we walk along in a crowd and bump up against one another. We also hear of the very significant touching of Jesus’ garment by the woman who suffered with hemorrhages and of the young girl touched by Jesus after she had died.
The woman who suffered with the hemorrhages had done so for twelve years – a number that can mean “all her life.” She would have been “unclean” all during this time according to Jewish law so she would not have been able to enter the Temple or the synagogues or really be able to join into community life in a wholehearted way. Possibly out of this “shame” or her own humility or fears, she wants only to touch Jesus’ garment and not speak to him in outright way. And she is healed by this touching of his garment! And Jesus knows this.
Here I would ask that you take a moment and remember the first time you touched the hand of someone you were attracted to … or your first kiss with someone you really liked. Remember the innocence of these touches, the vulnerability and sensitivity of these touches. This is the kind of sensitivity and openness with which Jesus touches us and receives our touches. And so he wants to meet this person who has touched him in this most significant way. Jesus looks around for this person, and the woman realizes Jesus is looking for her. She pulls back and possibly feels that she might have done something wrong, but Jesus pursues this encounter with her.
The woman pours out her whole story to Jesus. How she has felt like an outsider, her physical pain, and her going to so many doctors for a cure. Finally, she tells him of her longing to be healed and her hope that he can do this for her. Jesus responds with great depth of feeling and love, and he calls her “daughter.” This is the only time in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus uses this title: “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” Jesus reveals here how God looks at us always: as daughters and as sons. This is a forever gift: we are beloved sons and daughters of our Good God.
The Daughter of Jairus
Then the Gospel story moves onward almost interrupting this moment of encounter between Jesus and the woman with the hemorrhages. Again someone who deeply loves and cares for a family member, here another daughter, asks for healing for their child. Jesus goes, even after the news that she has passed, and takes the little girl by the hand and brings her back to life. And then Jesus adds, and I love this, “give her something to eat” … she was in the process of “passing over” to the next life, please, she can use some food, give her something to eat.
What kind of Beloved we have in Jesus! What kind of Savior! We are blessed with Jesus as one who touches us with such healing power, with such innocence and care … and who claims us as “daughter” and “son” … revealing our true relationship with God!
So much in our lives may feel like “conditional” love because we are limited human persons. We may also get caught up, because of these experiences of conditional love, in trying to “merit” or earn love from God or from one another. We may even try to change our lives or personalities to gain another’s love. But God offers us “unconditional” love and wants this powerful, abundant, and generous love to flow through us also.
Jesus reveals in his words and actions, especially through his touches, how much God cherishes us. Each one of us is uniquely cherished and loved. We truly are precious in God’s eyes, and God wants us to know this. This is why Jesus came to walk with us here on earth.
Jesus’ touch is an eternal touch, as our first reading points out today. Our being beloved of God is a “forever promise.” We need not fear the “passing over” time of our lives. Jesus will be there offering us his embrace.
May we receive this love and touch of Jesus once again today in this Eucharist, and may we pass this love along in our words and in our good touches … to all we meet.
Fr. Henry B. Beck, OFM / St. Francis Retreat House, Easton, PA.