Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
I hope everyone has had a chance to sit quietly in church at some point this week, or maybe this coming week, to just sit, consider the power of the Presence of Jesus among us, surrounded by all the children and gifts that cover the walls. There is a holiness in this “community” that I have not experienced before. A holiness that is filled with love, and hope and expectation, and possibility.
Never say “the youth are the future of our Church.” It ignores the present moment in which we live together. The youth are as much a part of the present moment as anyone else. Why spend time thinking about what might be? When we can be enlivened and thankful and filled with hope for what is. The youth are the present of our Church.
We are confronted with the many faces and many gifts that are the people of God. I think it is probably a whole lot easier for a child to recognize his or her gifts and celebrate them. Adults become encrusted with all kinds of opinions and expectations they have for themselves, and others have of them, that have shaped us into a group of doubters. One year I filled in at St. Leo elementary school in Fairfax as the art teacher until we could hire a new one. My first day I asked, “How many of you are artists?” In kindergarten and first grade all the hands shot up. Second grade, doubt had begun to enter. By fourth grade maybe one-fourth of the students admitted their creative ability. By eighth grade maybe one uncomfortable student would look around to see if anyone was judging them and raise their hand halfway. I asked the rest why there were no artists in the room. Most answers were like this: “My friends / parents / teachers told me I’m not an artist.” “My friends / parents / teachers told me I can’t sing.” They must have been friends / parents / teachers who didn’t understand what it was to be a friend or parent or teacher!
Is it any wonder that Jesus says that unless we become like children we will not enter the kingdom of heaven? Not because children have it all figured out or have the secret of sanctity. They just love, and live in the possibility. When God says something that might seem unlikely to our adult ears, they can allow wonder and pay closer attention.
This week I have intentionally asked people what gifts they have that make them uniquely who they are. You know, the whole “no two snowflakes are exactly alike” thing, only applied to people. We are distinct and unique not because of our fingerprints, but because of the combination of gifts each of us has received. The call is the same. To holiness, to fulfillment, satisfaction and fullness of life, and joy. The way each of us responds by using the gifts we have received is what makes each of us different.
So I asked people the question about their gifts. And the number one answer was, “I don’t know.” Some said they doubted that there was anything that made them special at all. Most probably didn’t realize that a gift isn’t just something you like to do or are good at – but a tangible way that God has chosen for each of us to be instruments of his love, to help our world, our brothers and sisters, all those who seek what is good – to touch the Mystery of God. To be servants after the heart of Jesus.
We have lived our lives, and are teaching our youth to think the same way we have, as if what is real and God’s will is always something out of reach, something yet to be, some state of future perfection. The problem with this thinking is that it will never happen. We will always be dissatisfied, most will give up after a while, a long while or a short while.
But what if you really believed that God has already given you everything you need? He has. You are who you are, who you always will be. He has given us his divine life in baptism, a call as a member of the Body of Christ to share in his mission, the gifts of the Holy Spirit to accomplish a life’s work, free avenues of reconciliation and mercy, and perfect Communion with God. Is there more?
The way to start this awareness of the new life we have already received is to look into ourselves and see how God is calling, according to the gifts he gave us, which make us who we are. It isn’t mysterious, any more than we can say what color of eyes we have and what our favorite food is.
I imagine a Church where people live fully in their gifts for the glory of God, and nothing is a chore or burden. They say that there are no volunteers in the Kingdom of God, just people who are living out the call that they have received. Because it is who we are. May all of us begin to build this Kingdom on earth, living with youthful hope to look not at some undefined future moment, but to know the love of God now and live in it, and care.
God bless you.