If you read my daily posts with any regularity, you’ve likely discovered that I’ve been struggling with the terrible suffering which seems to have engulfed our world as of late. While I have absolutely no doubt that God is with us in all of this, I’ve been wrestling with how I can possibly improve things for those both near and far. Sunday morning, as I spoke with some fellow parishioners at my parish, I discovered that they, too, have been stressed with pain which seems too difficult to bear. Though I tried to find the words to offer some much-needed comfort, I don’t know that I succeeded. I went home determined to use this space to inspire us all with what we need to deal with whatever lies ahead. When I failed to type even a paragraph in this regard by Monday morning, I attended my parish’s 9:00 Mass on Labor Day in observance of the holiday and to pray very hard for inspiration.
After greeting the usual morning Mass crowd, I saw a familiar face across the gathering space. It was Father Charles! He occasionally stops in when he’s in town visiting family. Our priests always welcome him to join them at the altar and Father Charles always happily accepts. Though I’m not a regular at morning Mass, I met Father Charles some years ago when he joined our pastor at the altar. Afterward, we spoke a bit and discovered that we share a very dear friend. Father Bill O’Connell mentored each of us throughout our youth and as we explored our vocations. Father O’Connell also inadvertently introduced my husband and me. Every time I see Father Charles, I can’t help recalling Father O’Connell’s smile and the lifetime of wisdom he shared with me. Still, when I left Mass on Labor Day, I was convinced that I had nothing to share with you.
When my husband and I returned home after Mass, he headed outdoors to water flowers and I ran upstairs to my desk. On the way, I prayed aloud, “Please help me! I don’t know what to say!!!” Before returning to the few sentences I’d rejected Sunday night, I reopened today’s scripture passages. Though I was already convinced that they are rich with meaning, I told myself, “Maybe I’ve missed something…” I slowly reread every line of the selections from Ezekiel (35:7-9), Paul’s letter to the Romans (13:8-10) and Matthew’s Gospel (18:15-20). It was when I read the very last line of today’s gospel that I spoke aloud once again, “Thank you, Father Charles, thank you Father O’Connell and THANK YOU, DEAR GOD!”
Matthew tells us that, after telling his disciples how to deal with one another’s transgressions, Jesus reminded them, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” As soon as I read the line, an image of Father O’Connell after a rather contentious meeting came to mind. Father was extremely frustrated that he and a group of parishioners weren’t seeing eye-to-eye at the moment. Though he was usually a diplomatic leader, Father was extremely passionate, and correct as it turned out, regarding the topic of discussion and he wasn’t about to give in. His only comment was to quote the last line of today’s gospel with a minor and quite meaningful change: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there will be a fight!” Though Father was far from laughter that day, I laughed until I cried. I deleted what I’d already written on this page and began anew. Though Jesus’ observation concerning God’s presence among us is absolutely true, we humans have seen to it that Father O’Connell’s edited version is also true more often than it should be.
You know, loving one another is seriously difficult business, especially when we find ourselves in the midst of unhappiness, disappointment, suffering and loss. Though I’ve done my best to remind you and myself that God is with us in everything, I find myself as troubled as people with no faith at all when the misery of this world threatens to overwhelm us. Then, I remember Father O’Connell’s frustration after that painful meeting and the positive outcome which came after he calmed down, listened and then worked with his people toward a solution. Then, I remember Jesus’ promise that whenever two or three are gathered, God is with us as well.
Though we may argue with those around us or wrestle with ourselves deep within, when we calm down and listen, answers do come. While it is unlikely that God will use words, it is absolutely certain that God will use you and me to bring God’s loving presence to the needy souls around us and to ourselves. Though none of us can promise a miraculous cure, the overnight rebuilding of Houston, an end to poverty or a loved ones depression or this world’s conflicts, we can roll up our sleeves and do our best to bring love to the moment at hand. More often than not, we’ll manage to do something which makes a very important difference to someone in need and to ourselves.
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