With six children, having enough cars that ran well had been an issue in our household. On one occasion, when I was rushing to drop kids off at school and get to an important meeting, my car died. I was furious! Steamy hot mad. Eventually, however, I decided to confess my “righteous” anger at the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The priest listened patiently, and then calmly—almost with a smile—remarked, “Welcome to the rest of humanity.” Welcome to the rest of humanity? Ouch!
It stung, but after time, my conscience reflected honestly on this startling statement. The priest was right. I was born into privilege, and gifted with a loving, faith-filled family, an excellent education, and all the advantages of being upper middle class. I have never experienced hunger, inadequate drinking water, serious health issues or homelessness. Indeed, I knew little about the rest of humanity.
This Sunday’s Gospel relates the story of the Pharisee who prays in the temple, “‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity.’” The Pharisee’s pride allows him the illusion of being different: better, above, privileged, righteous. The tax collector, however, stands off at a distance, beats his breast and pleads, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” He understands himself as one in need of God’s mercy—like the rest of humanity.
Knowing ourselves as one with the rest of humanity deepens our compassion for those struggling with material or spiritual poverty. How dare I condemn the greedy woman when I’m guilty of envy? Or look down on the dishonest man when I tell little white lies? Or snub the pregnant teen when I’ve searched for intimacy? In reality, the greedy man is hungry for self-esteem, the dishonest one is thirsting for validation, and the pregnant teen is looking for love in all the wrong places. I am slower to claim my own righteousness when I recognize our common humanity.
When driving through Atlanta at seventy-five miles per hour, I glanced three lanes over, and there was a sight I will never forget. An older black man, standing in the pouring rain, next to his broken down pickup truck, which held a mattress. It seemed to me the height of misery and my heart ached for him—my brother, the rest of humanity. I empathized—to a small extent— because of my experience with broken down vehicles.
Parents/grandparents name grace—God’s compassionate presence—in the domestic church by refusing to judge, condemn, or make derogatory statements about others. We name grace by teaching our children that each person is struggling with something, and to respect the classmate wearing worn out shoes, failing in math, acting out, or sitting alone. We name grace by reaching out to the brokenhearted—no matter the circumstances.
Pride marched me out of the confessional but, after time, humility led me right back in, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner. Forgive me for thinking of myself as righteous and different from others.” For the truth is, we are all loved sinners in need of God’s mercy—we are each a part of the rest of humanity. Now, that’s good news!
How have you experienced being with the rest of humanity?
How will you convey this concept to your children?
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Our son, Erik, spent his childhood collecting rocks. He gathered deep grey pebbles from the Cedar River, ordinary rocks from grandpa Fred’s backyard, smooth, skipping rocks from Minnesota lakes, red rocks from Philmont Scout Ranch, and stunning crystals from Montana. At first, it was a few rocks placed carefully on his bedside table, but over time rocks filled a milk pail, a wooden toolbox, and several ice cream buckets. Though I was often irritated by his rock collection, as it gathered dust and occupied much needed space, this Sunday’s readings shed light on Erik’s heavy habit.
Naaman, a foreigner, was healed of leprosy after obeying Elisha’s command to bathe seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman, returning home, requested earth, “two mule-loads” from the holy ground of healing to build an altar to the God of Israel. Whenever he remembered the wondrous deed of his healed, soft, clear flesh, he could then bow low and give thanksgiving to the one true, God. In the Gospel, we read of the ten lepers who were healed, and only one, the Samaritan, returns, prostrates himself before Jesus with profound thanksgiving.
Perhaps Erik was collecting rocks as a way of remembering sacred—beautiful, life-giving, healing—moments. A dear friend collects pressed crimson and golden leaves from her annual autumn retreats as a way of remembering God’s unconditional love. Seaside vacations provide shells as a way to recall God’s soothing presence. A favorite mug, held tightly during prayer, reminds one of God’s daily sustenance. All these items collected recall holy ground and sacred moments. When down or discouraged, one can easily visit the altar of the heart to remember God’s faithfulness and give thanks,
As parents/grandparents, we name grace, God’s living presence, by building “altars” in our homes, collecting and displaying mementos of places where we have experienced God’s goodness, beauty, and healing to regularly remember and give thanks. We name grace by teaching our children to build an “altar” in their hearts, where they can, at any moment (whether sad, scared, happy, lonely), remember their blessings and give thanks to God.
For the most part, Erik’s heavy collection has been dismantled, rock-by-rock. But I pray he continues to remember sacred times at the altar of his heart. Most important, I pray all our children worship at the holy altar of the Lord, which remains, forever and always, the primary place of healing. Each time we pray, “But only say the word and my soul shall be healed,” and receive the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, our souls are made clean as the “flesh of a little child.” The Mass, the holy ground of the universe, where we remember God’s wondrous deeds—Jesus’ death and resurrection—leads to the GREAT thanksgiving for God’s saving power, where every weight is lifted from our lives. Now, that’s good news!
How will you encourage your children to create an “altar” in their hearts?
What will you bring to the “altar” in your home?
The blog on this page presents reflections on the Sunday readings through the lens of a parent/grandparent, aiding leaders of the domestic church in their vital task as “first heralds” or “first preachers” of the Good News in the home.