Sunday, September 23, 2012

"The Benjamins of Providence"

This morning I celebrated Mass at Mount St. Joseph, the care center run by the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence in Lake Zurich, Illinois for people with developmental disabilities.  My retreat with a dozen of the Sisters ends today and I celebrated Mass not only with them but with the residents, some of their families, and some of the staff.  As Providence would have it, the readings were perfect.

In the Gospel (Mark 9: 30-37), Jesus is on the road with his disciples, teaching them and preparing them for what is going to happen--that he is going to be handed over and killed and then will rise from the dead.  They are confused.  How could this man, so successful that crowds follow him to hear his every word, come to such a bitter end?  How could this man who has healed so many be rejected in such a way?  They are afraid to ask him for an explanation.  Better to let it pass.

Jesus knows their lack of comprehension and he walks ahead of them.  They begin a discussion that turns into an argument over which of them is the best, which is the greatest apostle, which of them is Number One.  When they arrive at the house in Capernaum, Jesus asks them what they were arguing about.  They fall silent, ashamed.  They know Jesus doesn't approve of such talk.

So once again Jesus begins to teach them about greatness.  He tells them that God sees things in a very different way.  God turns worldly values upside down so that the least are the greatest, the last are the first.  He tells them to be servants like he is.  Because he is the servant of all and because he will be despised and rejected and discarded, he will be raised up to be the greatest and the source of salvation for all. 

Then Jesus hugged a small child, one who in that world was considered unimportant, and said: "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me."  These words echo another Gospel--the judgment scene in Matthew 25, where Jesus says that whatever we do for one of his least brothers and sisters, we do for him. 

This is true wisdom.  Wisdom is not knowing a lot of things, knowing how to make a lot of money, becoming wealthy and powerful.  The Second Reading from the Letter of Saint James (3:16-4:3) says that this worldly wisdom leads to envy and conflicts.  True wisdom "from above" is, according to James, "pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits."  True wisdom is knowing what's most important--God and the heaven he has prepared for us.  In the Gospel Jesus shows us true wisdom, the way that leads to our ultimate goal of heaven.  It is to care for one another.  It is to care for God's "good children."  It is to serve all those who are in need and whom God places in our lives. 

That's what I told the congregation this morning.  The expression "good children" is what St. Louis Guanella, the founder of the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence, used when speaking about those who had developmental disabilities.  There they were in front of me.  The world thinks of them as the least and the last, as people lacking wisdom because they cannot read or write or care very well for themselves.  Many were in wheelchairs and movable beds.  Fr. Guanella had another expression for them--"the Benjamins of Providence."  Remember: Benjamin was the last son of Jacob.  After the disappearance of the second youngest son, Joseph, Benjamin became Jacob's favorite.  It is a mystery of Providence that some people are born with disabilities.  They are seen by the world as the last, but in God's eyes they are the first and the favorites.  They are given to us so that we may have the opportunity to love God by loving them.  What a privilege it was for me to celebrate Mass with them today.

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