Last week, I spent an afternoon talking with elementary school students about being an author. When asked to do this, I chuckled nervously as I’m not quite the “renown” writer that I was described to be. When I explained the narrow scope of my publishing experience to the person who’d invited me, she insisted that I’d be perfect for the job. I’m certain my willingness to speak for free contributed to my qualifications! So it was that I kicked off an all-school writing contest for kindergarten through fifth graders. I began by telling the children that I’m an author because I write. I brought along some newspapers and a magazine in which I’ve been published. I also showed them Page 2 of a few of our bulletins. Though none of this made much of an impression on the younger students, the fourth and fifth graders noted the quantity of small print for which I’m responsible. I did catch the little ones’ attention when I showed them my children’s book and the manuscripts and pictures for two more books waiting to be published. When they noticed my picture on the back of the book, the entire audience sat up and took notice. Apparently, that picture next to my name established my credibility for them.
I began by explaining the sources of my subject matter. I started to collect stories before I went to school. I gathered them from my parents and the other adults in our family. Perhaps I listened too well as I earned the nickname “Little Big Ears” in short order. Regardless, the adults around me continued to talk and I continued to store all that they had to say in my heart. When I went to school, I sometimes stored what I learned in my head. It was good information, but not necessarily something I cared deeply about. At other times, what we discussed went directly to my heart –like the day the entire student body gathered to hear that President Kennedy had been shot. Sister Mary Philip Neri allowed us to process this devastating news by asking us to write our reactions. As sad as I was, I found it easy to write that day. The words poured out of my heart. This phenomenon repeated itself in high school when I wrote my response the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. During college, I realized that I was learning things that could help other people. I studied hard and stored all of this in my head as well. Eventually, I wrote what I knew. I went on to tell the potential authors before me that whenever I do this kind of writing, the knowledge comes from my head, but the passion still comes from my heart. I invited the children to think about what they would most like to share with someone else. They volunteered their own family stories, their interests and the things about which they feel strongly. I ended by inviting the children to become authors by writing down these important things for the rest of us.
As I read today’s scriptures, I rediscovered some of the best of what is stored in my heart and my head. The passage from Zephaniah (2:3; 3:12-13) sets the tone with the description of a faithful remnant who illuminate absolute faith in God for the rest of us. They don’t behave as they do to earn God’s loving care. They live as they do because they know God cares for them every minute of every hour of every day. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul points out that, like Zephaniah’s faithful remnant, his followers fail to measure up to this world’s standards when it comes to wealth, wisdom and power. Nonetheless, these followers are everything they need to be because Christ is the source of these things. They don’t follow Christ to obtain these things. In Christ, they already possess a full measure of wealth, wisdom and power. In today’s gospel (Matthew 5:1-12a), Jesus continues in this vein when he tells his disciples that the poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers and those who suffer persecution for justice sake are indeed blessed. Like Zephaniah’s faithful remnant and Paul’s brothers and sisters in Christ, they aren’t blessed because they’ve earned God’s favor by enduring these things. Rather, they live and endure these things because God blesses them throughout their lives.
You know, some of the children I spoke to about life as an author have already begun their submissions for their school writing contest. They aren’t writing so they can become authors. They’re writing because they are authors. It’s the same for you and me today. We’re not going to behave as Jesus asks because we want to be blessed. We’re going to imitate Jesus because we know we’re already blessed. We’re simply doing what our heads and our hearts tell us, and we can’t possibly behave any other way.
©2011 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved