Twenty-second Sunday – Ordinary Time Cycle C
Several summers ago I was recovering from surgery on my vocal cords and couldn’t speak for a week. I was out walking one very hot Sunday afternoon and began to panic because I had run out of water and was still a mile from home. One of the churches on the corner of a busy intersection was having a “Getting to know you” picnic on their grounds as an outreach to all those speeding by. Ah, thank you, God. Here I can get a refill for my water bottle and make it home.
There were lots of warm, friendly congregants out on the front lawn, pouring lemonade and passing out cookies and information about times of their services. Because I couldn’t speak, I smiled and indicated my empty water bottle. All these years later, I’m still hurt by the detached indifference I experienced. The smiling hospitality members took a few steps back and walked away. No one would make eye contact with me. I was, I guess, the odd, sweaty interloper who wasn’t speaking and kept pointing to her water bottle. For some reason that made me scary, or at least not the person they were hoping their picnic would attract.
But I’m a SOMEBODY! I’m a SINGER! I’m just TEMPORARILY DISABLED! I’ll be at the top of my game again in a DAY OR TWO!
And you know what? That day never came.
How glad I am now for that tiny peek into the world of those who come into our churches without resumes, without connections, but with a sliver of hope that someone will notice them and reach out. The “last” are actually SOMEBODIES, as those of us who have been “first” a lot will surely one day find out.
Sharing God’s Word at Home
What experiences of “first” and “last” have shaped your life?
What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).
I was always last in my family. Financial resources and emotional support went to my older brother first, and whatever was left seemed to mostly dissipate before it got to me. After years of therapy, and the realization that I’m not dead last with God, the impact of being last still affects my life. I always expect to be last and disrespected, so my perspective is looking for that slight. I have to consciously remind myself that my family was dysfunctional, and the “last” status was not about me. It’s hard at times to make that connection prior to reacting to a perceived slight, but I’m getting better at it. Yesterday morning, Father started his homily by asking, “Who’s the best person here?” I didn’t automatically think it was for certain somebody else! That’s progress.
It is so hard to accept how God strips us of things that we have claimed as our identity, like Kathy losing her beautiful voice, her identity as a singer. As I’m getting older (wait a minute, how can I be 60 years old…that’s my mother’s age) and as a consequence am losing some of my physical abilities (or anticipating losing some of them as my older friends have), and soon my identity as a high school counselor as I move into retirement from that job and on to other activities the Lord is moving me toward, I try to remember it’s all part of the plan to move me closer to God, more dependent on Her, and ready to join the throng of adorants(if that’s a word and if not, it’s a good one) populating Heaven. And part of the process is to realize we are all ok, no one is better than the other despite what we may have been led to believe by our family or life’s circumstances. We are all the face of God, to quote someone! As one of my students reminded me, “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger”.
I was the first born in my family. My parents divorced by my first birthday, and each remarried, having children with their new spouses. I still remained the first born, the eldest, with the most expectations to “set an example for your younger sisters/brothers.” But, living with my grandparents for most of the first 9 years really designated me as “last”. As much as I loved my sisters and brothers, my place was never fully recognized in either family. It was as though I just didn’t fit in, and seen as an outsider. I got married at 15, because I want to “belong” someplace and be “first” in some relationship. That was the first of many mistakes made in my search for a place to belong. The golden thread that came out of the whole situation was that I grew up with a passion for justice and became a champion of the underdog; and, I always had this innate sense that I belonged to God. As I begin my 80th decade, I am grateful for the gift of compassion and acceptance this life experience brought.
as an addendum, let me say that the weeds that come with this experience is that I continue to feel like an outsider in many situations. Even though I have many wonderful, thoughtful and faithful friends, and belong to multiple communities, that sense of not “fitting in” often lifts its head in my consciousness. I feel as though I march to the beat of a different drummer, but have come to accept that as a good thing most of the time.
You seemed to open the vault with this one, Kathy. It feels like I could just let the words flow endlessly. The unfamiliar knot in my throat and the sense of vulnerability lets me know that a chord was struck. No matter how much work one does on “issues” a remnant seems to always remain that flares up once in awhile. Thank you for this forum.
The first time I really “got” this teaching…the last shall be first was when we traveled to Guatemala. While in Antigua we visited the church of San Francisco where Saint Hermano Pedro is buried/interned.
Here we saw the “last” of a very poor society, the poorest of the poor…hundreds of “lasts” approaching the church on their knees, smiling, hopeful, FAITH-FILLED. They had so very little materially, but so very much spiritually. The contrast between them and me was stark and it became crystal clear to me in that moment how the last in our society, those whom we completely overlook and ignore, will be the first in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Possibly, we might ask ourselves, “how can I be last in my community?” Jesus teaches us the value of humility in this week’s reading. Fr. Tim this past Sunday made 2 thought provoking points that I would like to share with all of you.
1) Humility is not something we strive to be good at. If we intentionally go to the wedding feast seeking the lowest seat with the thought that we’ll hopefully get moved up, then, we’ve missed the point.
Humility must become part of our nature, not our intentions.
2) Jesus commanded us to “Love one another”. But how does one do that? Fr. Tim said, “Humility is the basis for love of others.” And it hit me like a ton of bricks, that he is so right. If we are able to make humility part of our nature, putting others ahead of ourselves, then how can we not love them?
True humility may not come easily. But I will pray for the Peace and Grace of God to help me find it. For it is only with God that I will.
I am not sure which would be better——-to be in the accepted group and then move to the outsider group or the other way around. My experience is of the first type. It is a very hurtful time to know you somehow don’t belong. However, it opens ones eyes to those around you, the ones you never saw before and for whom my heart now aches. It is good to be “opened up”. You see after 63 years I now accept my self as a lesbian.
Thank you leehemminger and brevis for sharing your stories. You heal all of us by doing that. – – Cris
What a poignant reminder that holiness is defined by who we include as opposed to who we exclude. Do we let spiritual materialism harden us or by connecting with our own woundedness can we begin to humbly realize that “self” and “other” are not actually different? Can we begin to train without bias and learn to communicate from the heart essence? If we lack empathy for another perhaps it is because we are afraid of confronting our own brokenness. It is in letting go of appearances that we connect with suffering and can begin to reflect upon the countless beings who are feeling exactly what we are feeling at this very moment. The experience is different, but the pain is the same. What people really need is for others not to distance themselves from them. Are we willing to risk such openness of vulnerability? It will likely force us to examine our perspective. Maybe when we view the banquet from the eyes of wakefulness we will see that there are no seats of greater or lesser honor. There is only a table: come and eat….
Many thanks to those individuals who have responded to Kathy’s message with just such vulnerability. You are our compassion warriors!
The responses this week have really touched me and most importantly made me think. Thank you all for sharing!
I grew up with a mother that I could never please, no matter what I did it was never good enough. As an adult I realized (after years of hurt) that some where in her life she was wounded. I went into nursing trying to take care of
people, I went into a marriage feeling not good enough to be loved by a man who didn’t even love himself, because he was alcohol addicted. I felt like such a failure!
Then like a miracle the realization that My God loves me more than I can imagine, and loves me unconditionally…He was always there, waiting for me to invite him into my life, and he gave me his mother too! Thank you Jesus!
Thank you Kathy for this website and for being such a great teacher,and everyone for sharing your intermost thoughts!
I can’t stop thinking of the song by Joan Collins in which she says “I’ve looked at life from both sides now”.
Wow. What can I say to this outpouring of friendship and community that we are building here? The purity and depth of painful, prayerful, faith-filled, intimate sharing on this site is more than I had dreamed.
I read every word and hold each one close, as I know all the contributors to the conversation do as well. Thanks for listening and holding each other up.
I’m always struck at how many people whom one would assume have always been “first” perceive themselves as “last”. Maybe that will be a surprise too, when we are “bathed in the crush of intimacy” (Fr. Pat’s words, again,)in heaven, and realize that we held on to our feelings of being “last” so long on earth because taking the leap to pull away from that safe place of pain was too much work.
But the writers here grabbed on to faith and found a safe place, even in the face of lifelong struggle. Now that’s true strength and true humility.
God bless every one of you who have shared part of that journey.
I’ve read every response and I am so humbled and touched by the honesty that flows from feelings to written words. Kathy, I am so taken aback by your personal loss. Having heard you speak and watched your body language…the glow
that never leaves your face; the tenderness that exudes from your smile…one would never think that such disappointment had touched your life.
I am in a continuous wrestling match with myself. So many “good” days; and, so many days filled with self-talk;
attempts to keep myself encouraged and believing that I’ll be okay. Parents are powerful. They know us before we truly know and understand ourselves. They truly are armed with the power of love or the weapons of self-doubt which can be flung at our fragile, developing selves. Two things have finally begun to unravel inside of my mind…leaving me with such a sense of inner happiness. I have gone into deep smit over the most wonderful author…Rosamunde Pilcher. She’s now in her 80’s and “retired” from writing in 2000. I can become so immersed in her words. I am living inside the world that she’s writing about. I leave her books; sad to have finished, eager for the next one and
bursting with insight. To my point…in one of her books;
a father’s 12 year old daughter has died. He grieves for months. The upcoming Christmas holiday brings visitors into his home…one a 14 year old girl. They become friends. She is asking him about his daughter. Heavy on paraphrasing here….”We used to sit at the piano and play together; I helped her with her school work.” The girl asks if his daughter played the piano well…”no..not really.” She pursues if she was good with her studies…
“no,not really.” She asks..”tell me what she was good at doing” and he replies…”LIVING”. This has made all the difference in my thinking. I have wasted so much time being afraid, holding back when I want to simply be living and experiencing my life. Secondly, I realize that I haven’t “hit” that magical plateau that I was supposed to be at by this time in my life. Supposed to be mature; understand life; be filled with wisdom; and be a sage to others! I find that I am still a mix of parts! Much like a puzzle. Last night, at choir practice, we sang for two hours…glorious, beautiful music. I went across the street to Poppies and sat with fellow choir members…now my friends. I drank a beer. I laughed and talked and listened. On the way home, I listened to Sly and the Family Stone sing SUMMER DAYS…cicadas singing their own song of summer. Wind rustling trees…trees still laden with leaves and sweet smells. Here I am…69 in November…
mother, grandmother, friend,church member, still working full time….feeling “those summer days” and permission, AT LAST, to FEEL alive; to be ME!
Blessings and love.
At 5’9”, I’m taller than many women I know. As a child attending Catholic school, I was frequently last in line because we stood smallest to tallest. Regardless of whether or not I could make out the writing on the blackboard, I was assigned the last seat in a row of desks so that I would not block the view of other students. There was something about “not blocking other people’s view” that seems to linger in my head even now. I tend to stand behind people when watching a parade march by. What happens is people taller than I am find a way in front. Then guess what. Someone is blocking my view. I automatically go to the back of a group picture so that I don’t cover anyone’s face. This usually means I’m in an awkward position and an even more awkward pose. As I write this, I’m asking myself why I’ve allowed this labeling as a child to become the way I behave today. In truth, my height is something I cannot control.
Since I’m far from athletic, during high school gym class I found out what it means to have a team “stuck with me.” Usually one of the opposing team captains sighed loudly before choosing me or another teenage girl. So sometimes I was next to last, which didn’t make me feel much better. I realize I’ve developed an “I should be last” attitude. I tend to wait for other people to take their seat, then sit wherever there’s an empty space. When meetings break up into smaller groups for chit chat, I often find myself left out. It takes so much energy to “break into” one of those pairs or threesomes. Then I ask myself if I’m not interesting enough to be part of the conversation. Perhaps I’m not good enough for them to be with me.
Being last comes out as not being worthy, loveable or good enough. How sad is that?
When it comes to ice breaking and introductions, I usually make the first move. Though it takes a lot of courage, it keeps me from feeling rejected, even if the conversation is short lived. The first step is something I can control. In a group setting, if someone asks a question about something I know, I am first to offer an answer. I take pride in my knowledge, and as I grow older, my wisdom, so I feel free to share it. (Notice, I keep showing up on this website.) The place I most allow myself to be first is in church. I sit right up front, not quite the first row, but in the second. Before Jesus, I just know that he invites me to come up closer because with him I am worthy, loveable and enough. Ad it doesn’t seem to matter whose view I block.
Claudia wrote, “Kathy, I am so taken aback by your personal loss. Having heard you speak and watched your body language…the glow that never leaves your face; the tenderness that exudes from your smile…one would never think that such disappointment had touched your life.”
I am absolutely convinced that Kathy smiles in her sleep!
Oh, yeah, something else that struck me on Sunday morning as Father gave his homily on humility. The Magnificat — Mary’s proclamation that from now on “all will call me blessed.” She knew who she was in God’s sight. Humility is not feeling bad about oneself, or thinking we are less than others, as we were so often taught. True humility is simply knowing who we are in God’s sight. It’s accepting the gifts and talents that God has given us and using them to further the kingdom here on earth.
First, of course, I have to say again how humbling it is to read all your reflections. What courage you show in revealing your vulnerability and affirming one another with compassion and such wisdom.
The single most important experience that shaped me on this question occurred at the Mile Hi Religious Education Congress many years ago (is that what it was called, and has it also disappeared?). I don’t remember what the workshop topic was, but I remember an impassioned and Spirit-filled presenter talking about liturgical ministry. There was a particular segment in which she talked about how we identify people suited for the various ministries. She used the analogy of a family dinner, and I’m sure I’m paraphrasing like crazy, but she said something like: “Everyone is good at something. YOU can cook; YOU can set the table; YOU can lead the prayer; YOU can do SOMETHING. And without all these contributions, there cannot be a dinner to share.”
This articulation of her approach crystallized what I experienced every Sunday in the parish where she was the liturgist and music director. That presenter, you won’t be surprised to learn, was Kathy McGovern, who made everyone in that parish feel like she or he was first, not least the socially inept young man who assisted her each week, and who is so grateful to her to this day for seeing something in me then and knowing how much I wanted to participate, to belong.
That lesson stayed with me during my sojourn in the religious life and later as I had the good fortune to manage employees in two very different industries. There’s no better feeling than showing another person that you really SEE him or her, affirming the special gift she/he brings to whatever enterprise you are sharing.
I’m so touched by the desperation you must have felt that day Kathy. I cannot fathom the impact your loss still must have today. You rise above it like no one I can imagine, but just the thought of it is painful to me.
It’s crazy when I’m part of a wonderfully accepting community and family that I can still have little moments of fear and dread reminiscent of my adolecence I’ve never quite grown out of. Surely I’m not cool enough, not smart enough, not young enough, not enough, enough, enough. But I am human and Jesus became a part of all our humanity. We are enough. May this give me the confidence and faith to love and act with justice and grace.