07.10.17: Simple gifts


A couple of summers ago, I was assigned to be a camp counselor at Sharing Meadows in Rolling Prairie. It’s a residential program started by a priest of our diocese about 20 years ago, and other-abled adults live there in community, perform certain tasks and are able to socialize with one another. During the summer months, they run a series of week-long camps for other-abled adults who still live at home, whether with their parents, other family members or in group homes. College students from Notre Dame and other universities work as counselors in the summer, and for a time the diocese sent seminarians there to do the same. Most of us who were there consider it one of the most formative experiences of our seminary years.

You see, we were there to be the teachers, but we wound up being the ones taught.

Each week, a new group of campers would come, they’d say their goodbyes and be assigned to a counselor. It was striking how these adults instantly put their trust in us. They didn’t greet us like wallflowers, they came up to us and instantly embraced us with big bear-hugs.

My fellow counselors and I might have thought we were the wise and learned ones, but these “little ones,” per society, had a wisdom we needed imparted to us. A wisdom engrained in them. A wisdom that shined like a beacon from their hearts.

Their hearts were simple, uncluttered with all the trappings that so many of us have. I understood why Father Blaney called them the “other-abled,” because my campers had a very unique ability: They couldn’t not love. They didn’t know how to distrust. They didn’t have the ability to hold a grudge. Their hearts wouldn’t allow them to do anything but love. Such a great gift from God.

I complicate my life, and I know you do to. All sorts of things are pulling us in all sorts of different directions all day, every day.

Each of us has different sets of questions running through our minds all the time. That can weigh us down. The complexities of our lives can be like carrying the stone of Sisyphus, we climb the mountain and no sooner we find ourselves right back at the bottom, facing the same challenges as before.

We can toil and agonize with these questions, turning them into burdens, weights upon our shoulders.

Enter Christ in today’s Gospel.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out? Come to me. Allow me in and together we’ll make sense of it. Let me walk with you.”

What does it take to respond to this invitation?

It takes a willingness to not focus on the past or the future, but to live in the moment and to respond to the invitation God is giving us in that moment.

We have to allow God to enter into our situation. We have to be willing to be known by God, and be patient because God’s intervention doesn’t always come on our time clock.

And friends, God usually doesn’t come to us in those cloud-parting, big booming-voice-from-the-sky moments. It’s usually through someone we’ve known, in a place we’ve been a thousand times before, but an opening in our life where we finally let our guard down and left a space for God to peek in.

The theologian Henri Nouwen said, “God’s presence is in the things that are closest to us, things that we touch and feel, that we move and live with day by day.”

Maybe it’s noticing the gentle, helping hand of a friend that’s been outstretched for us for so long we don’t really notice it anymore. Maybe it’s the good listener who’s been waiting to have coffee with us. God’s at work through us and those around us. I’m convinced of it.

I’ve seen it in this sanctuary when your hands brought bright green bags and covered the carpet, as the generosity of this community poured forth.

I’ve seen it in our children, whose little hands loaded boxes with backpacks, soap, shampoo and other items for the homeless they might never know, and crayons, coloring books and even socks for our friends in Guatemala.

I’ve seen it last night and this morning in so many of you who are signing up to lend a hand and help single mothers get a fresh start with our Tabor House going up by the Cathedral.

And I’m about to see it in a few moments when we outstretch our hands to one another in a sign of peace and unity, because we can’t approach this table as strangers.

When you and I take to heart our call to be Christ for one another – and allow others to be Christ for us – those things that have us weighed down, they seem lighter, don’t they?

When we become conformed to Christ, our hearts become vehicles of Christ’s love in the world and our hands become the hands of Christ acting in the world. This happens when we’re able to get rid of the clutter in our hearts and let everything flow from the love of God that’s always been there at the core.

The “little ones” in our lives remind us of this love – not through words or profound deeds, but through smiles, laughter and unmerited hugs. The simple of heart are a reminder of the joy that awaits when we let get go of the reigns, focus on what’s right in front of us and allow our hearts to beat to the rhythm of God’s grace.


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