22nd Sunday B – The Heart of the Matter
I took a stroll yesterday in the early morning sun. It was Monday and the experience was a positive start to another week. Sitting on a stone I enjoyed the tangled lushness of nature – trees old and young, tall and not so tall, reed-like saplings and mere seedlings only inches from the soil – autumn leaves turning lemon and pumpkin orange, paths strewn with their fallen comrades, brown, burgundy and gold. Autumn comes early in these parts. Crows were cawing, small birds were flitting and gliding from branch to branch, grasshoppers were hopping through the perennial ryes and white clover, butterflies and bumble bees were out and about in the pollen-dusted morning light, the bees busying themselves for ‘Her Majesty’. What a Monday morning scene to gladden a soul! I believe we humans are related to everything existing in our universe.
Nature is like a book to be read. St. Augustine said back in the 5th century: “Some people, in order to discover God, read a book. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above and below, note, read. God whom you want to discover did not write this book with ink; he put in front of your eyes the very things that he made” – Sermon 86. And Paul, earlier still in his letter to the Romans, wrote: “Ever since God created the world his everlasting power and deity – however invisible – have been there for the mind to see in the things he has made” – Rom 1:20. And Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si says that nature is not only a constant source of wonder and awe but “a continuing revelation of the divine” (85). “The Spirit of life dwells in every living creature, and calls us to enter into a relationship with him” (88, cf. 80 & 238).
Returning yesterday from my morning communing with nature, I washed my hands. The Pharisees and scribes complained about Jesus’ disciples eating with unwashed hands. Coming out from posh Jerusalem 4, these people feared that the uncleanliness of Jesus and his disciples from the countryside would make the Pharisees themselves look unclean and lax about the “tradition of the elders.” Jesus recognises a teachable moment here and says that observing externals was far less important than paying attention to what goes on in the heart. Jesus’ message was about the internal commitment of the whole person, the essentials of healthy religion and life. Some twenty years ago, Fr. Ron Rolheiser wrote The Holy Longing, a classic on the “non-negotiable essentials of Christian Spirituality”. The basis of our spirituality is Jesus Christ. “He is not a law to be obeyed”, says Rolheiser, “or someone to be just admired, or a model to be imitated. He is a presence to be seized upon” – 74.
The feast of St. Jeanne Jugan, foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, is near at hand. This simple yet remarkable woman was grounded in one thing: Love of God and love for the poor. This was where the heart of Jeanne Jugan lay and found peace. To be seized by Christ was, for her, the heart of the matter. Today, the Sisters continue to live frugally, detached from owning things and depending on God for their needs. Their generous and good humoured hospitality bubbles up from their being possessed by Jesus Christ whom they see and serve in the poor. All who come to their Homes are received as Jesus by the Sisters. Their lives are simple and are sustained by daily prayer, the Eucharist, the sacraments and interaction with the residents and staffs of their nursing homes. Each year, on the 30th of August, the Little Sisters celebrate with joy and gratitude the gift of their founding Mother to the church and the world.
“Little Ones, you must always be cheerful.
Our old folk do not like long faces.”
– Saint Jeanne Jugan
Fr. QQ – 08/25/2021