TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR C
One Sunday years ago, I was distributing Holy Communion in this church when a two-year-old girl broke free from her mother and siblings in the pew and ran up to her father who was in the Communion line. Her father swept her up in his arms and carried her with him. He extended his tongue to receive the host because his hands were full. Then, quick as a flash, the little girl reached into the ciborium I was holding, grabbed a host, and gave herself her First Holy Communion.
The liturgy today is all about reaching out to take hold of something that ordinarily would be beyond our reach. And what is that something? It is nothing less than Jesus himself and all of the power that he has to transform and renew human lives. And what is it that extends our reach, so to speak, so that we might take hold of him? It is faith.
We have a temptation as Christians to think that our conversion can be complete at some definite moment – after a good Confession, an especially fervent reception of Holy Communion, when we are Confirmed or ordained or take religious vows. The truth is that Jesus is always a little beyond our grasp, teasing us forward, tantalizing us, offering us opportunities to take hold of him the way the little girl snatched him out of the ciborium and fed on him.
St. Paul realized that when he wrote to his protégé, Timothy, reminding him of his ordination. “I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the impositions of my hands.” St. Francis, whose feast we celebrated on Friday, found himself enticed by the Jesus who called down to him from a crucifix, “Francis, rebuild my Church.” Francis spent the remainder of his life straining to possess Jesus more fully, to the point that before he died, he bore the stigmata, the wounds of Jesus on his own body.
“Write down the vision clearly upon tablets, so that one can read it readily.” That is what the prophet Habakkuk hears Almighty God command him, And what is the vision that God wants displayed, as though on a huge billboard high above a violent and strife-filled city? It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified for our sins and now exalted at God’s right hand.
Last August I visited once again with my friends, the Franciscans of the Eucharist at the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels in Humboldt Park on Chicago’s poverty-stricken west side. In a violent and strife-torn neighborhood are reaching out to Jesus in the least of his brethren. In the process, they have created an oasis of peace; and, through their joyful generous service, they are bringing people together: neighborhood residents, volunteers, aspirants to religious life. When Fr. Bob Lombardo tells the story of how he came alone to the rundown and abandoned former parish, he becomes an example of faith the size of a mustard seed that has removed obstacles more formidable than any mulberry tree.
A tiny hand, like that of the toddler who gave herself Holy Communion, can grasp the ruler of the universe. A little bit of faith can change lives. A little bit of faith, if it is the childlike passion to possess the Son of God no matter what the cost, can begin the change the world.
We had an example of that a few days ago. In a Dallas courtroom, a forum for considering all of the woes that Habakkuk complains about to God: violence, misery, strife and clamorous discord, a miracle of grace occurred, a mustard seed of faith grew suddenly into a huge mulberry tree of compassion and mercy. Police Officer Amber Guyger had been convicted of murdering Botham Jean whom she mistakenly thought was in her apartment. At the sentencing hearing, Brandt Jean, the brother of the victim, made an amazing gesture. After tearfully telling Amber that he forgave her, that he loved her like anyone else, that he wished only the best for her and urged her to turn her life over to Jesus, Brandt asked the judge for permission to give her a hug. Then he walked overt and embraced the woman who had taken his brother’s life. So small a gesture, that hug – as small as a mustard seed, as small as a toddler’s hand; yet it was the vision written clearly on the tablet of the internet, so that all the world could read it clearly. Yes, in a mission in Humboldt Park, in a Dallas courtroom, in a million and one unnoted places, mustard seeds are moving mulberry trees and the vision presses on to fulfillment. That is what we are celebrating here each time we assemble in faith to encounter Jesus the way a two-year-old did many years ago.