September is the month of recounting some big disasters. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and hurricanes past have been on my heart lately, and seem to evoke the same sense of looming that we have been experiencing in news reports of the Catholic Church. I have ready many related articles and posts speaking to the history of the church (and the world in fact) of these diabolical situations which have been happening since the beginning of time in one way or another. One particularly interesting relation of these events by Father Edward McIlmail LC, discusses the third fall of Christ on the road to Calvary. Considering his message further, I thought about the two times Jesus fell with the cross as he walked to his death were horrific moments inciting the help of Veronica wiping his face with her veil, and the women, including his mother, weeping at his pain and suffering. It was the third fall that brought him down, so to speak, but after this is where we see Simon of Cyrene, a “passerby“, forced into the action and made to pick up the cross.
While meditating with these situations over the past two weeks, I have felt strongly that we are to be mindful that we are individually called to be holy; to act; to help. We are Simon–passerby or patron–picking up the cross for Christ; witnesses to the persecution. When we look at 9/11, we commemorate and remember the brave volunteers and first-responders that quickly acted to save those in the Towers and get them to safety. We look to the heroic passengers of Flight 93, who took down terrorists mid-flight, sacrificing themselves for the lives of others; perhaps not a situation of their choosing, but rising to the occasion none-the-less.
Looking to the great damage of past hurricanes as Florence pummels the coast of North Carolina, we watch weather reports and volunteers gather up those left behind who could not evacuate for health reasons or financial reasons, etc. We see volunteers working to help find food and shelter for them, and later we will see many people from around the US donate money or help clear debris and rebuild. Despite feeling helpless, many of us feel compelled to help in some way when we see a mess, even if it is to share the heartache as we watch on TV and offer a prayer.
As we gathered to read this upcoming Sunday’s gospel, we see that we humans are not like Christ in wisdom and strength perhaps, but he entrusts his message and plan to his disciples despite their human weakness. Why? Because they are needed, as are we, to respond to the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in the world, and spend our lives for the salvation of souls. Like our case study this week, we may not think we have anything to give, but that is an untruth. Everyone one of has something, if only a prayer.
Gospel MK 8:27-35
for the villages of Caesarea Philippi.
Along the way he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that I am?”
They said in reply,
“John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others one of the prophets.”
And he asked them,
“But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said to him in reply,
“You are the Christ.”
Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.He began to teach them
that the Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed, and rise after three days.
He spoke this openly.
Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples,
rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it.”
Reflections From The Group
We all can identify with the human response of Peter. He is listening to his beloved friend and Master tell him that he will suffer and be rejected, and it stirs in him a sense of injustice, causing him to outwardly reject what Jesus is saying. Our human senses often react strongly to any idea of suffering, naturally so, but God was doing something new here. Jesus took the time in the paragraph just before to acquire the apostles understanding that he is the one sent to complete the fulfillment of God’s plan; the Messiah. When describing the way this plan must be exacted, he was rebuffed because it was hardly conceivable to the disciples that he must suffer. God’s ways are not our ways. We often may react to our own circumstances–especially ones that make us uncomfortable or cause us suffering–in ways that can cause us to go awry. Our sense of loyalty, justice and duty certainly can be gifts that lead us to courageous acts but without calling on help from the Holy Spirit for help in understanding our next move, we can divert our own path. As usual, our next, best move comes down to prayer and trust.
As Jesus reacts to Peter’s recoil, he says “Get behind me, Satan,” not “Peter“. God knows our hearts, and although we can make mistakes he knows the temptations we face and who is behind them. When we do our best every day to give all we have to Christ, asking for the Holy Spirit’s intercession in our thoughts, hearts and actions, he will protect us from confusing our own faulty thinking above God’s wisdom. We ask for His accompaniment throughout our day and for purity of intention in each decision we make.
Making a Refuge Out of Closet
A school custodian with little income and a big heart noticed some students in her school arriving 25 minutes early each day and using the restrooms to wash up. Soon it was understood that these kids were living out of their mother’s car, and had no permanent home and few basic needs. The custodian started to collect food, toiletries and even clothing to provide for these and other students in her poverty-stricken school district. Kids could come to her–no questions asked–and pull supplies that they needed from a broom closet/storage area for which she obtained permission to store her collected items. Even on her low custodial income, she was donating hundreds of her own dollars each month to help supply the closet with the needed items. Soon others found out about her serving the kids in her school in this way and also began to donate items. She later received a few thousand dollars to provide more items for her make-shift student refuge from a talk show host who heard of her efforts.
Focusing on the Cardinal Virtue of CHARITY, we examined further the human virtue of JUSTICE carried out by this women who had little to give financially. She provided for hundreds of kids and families simply by doing what she could with what she had. We are all called to be saints in this way. God does not expect us to put on capes and fly around thwarting villains with our jet-powered boots, but He gives plenty of resources within our hearts and minds to utilize for helping our brothers and sisters within our own reach, including asking for the help of our angelic and saintly friends. Even a kind gesture of a simple smile or hand-written note reaching out to a neighbor we have never met can be heroic charity for some.
How We Will Pray
Before we act, we pray for guidance in all of our weekly resolutions. This week, we seek the guidance of one who knew how to do so much with little or nothing at all. Saint Teresa of Calcutta gives us this prayer:
Lord, open our eyes that we may see you in our brothers and sisters.
Lord, open our ears that we may hear the cries of the hungry, the cold, the frightened, the oppressed.
Lord, open our hearts that we may love each other as you love us.
Renew in us your spirit. Lord, free us and make us one.
How We Will Act
- Discerning with the Holy Spirit the recipients of our continued efforts to spread kindness in the world around us, we will write notes to three people, reaching out to offer kindness and help, particularly someone we rarely talk to (a neighbor we haven’t really met or someone who is alone or may be lonely).
“Never mind about numbers. help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest to you.” –Mother Teresa