Mercy Moments: Season Two, Episode Five
We were on time.
Being on time is not a part of our genetic make-up. But today was special. I sat in a far back pew with my brother and his two brand-new foster daughters. Chris held 2 ½-year-old Miley, while I was, by default, responsible for five-year-old Mia. Having long planned to adopt, just a week earlier, Chris and his wife Claire received a call about a foster care opportunity instead; noting there was a high likelihood for future adoption. Within a matter of days, the girls had moved in. Years later they would be officially adopted and celebrated at the annual Oktoberfest hosted by Chris and Claire, cleverly dubbed “Adoptoberfest” that year. So it was during their first week with Chris and Claire that I had offered to come visit for the weekend, since Claire would be working. Also, I was curious. I just had to meet the girls! So here we were, seated beneath the ribbed vaults and Gothic style stained glass windows, with a minute to spare, ready for Mia and Miley’s first ever Catholic liturgy. Mass began and Miley simultaneously began to wail and didn’t stop for the next hour. And I soon realized a disconsolate toddler might be preferable to Mia’s constant questioning.
“Are they hurting him?” Mia did not even try to whisper as she pointed to the stations of the cross depicted in the window closest to us. “Is that blood?!” she cried.
Hhhhhhmmmm? How to explain the crucifixion to a five-year-old who has no reference point? “Yes, they’re hurting him, but he’s okay now. Shhh!”
“When’s Jesus going to come out of the gold box?” Mia again blurted out. Another would-be aunt had spent the week with them, saying bedtime prayers which included a countdown or “how many sleeps” until the girls would see Jesus at Mass on Sunday. Uncertain of how or when the misunderstanding took place, it was clear to me now that Mia fully expected Jesus –a grown man – to perform a Houdiniesque escape from the tabernacle.
Hhhhhhmmmm? So now you want a lesson on the real presence in the Eucharist? Really, Mia?
So I said, “Jesus isn’t physically present as a human being right now. He’s in the bread on the altar. Shhh!” There. That’s not confusing at all. Then I added, “In a minute, we’re going to all get in line and Chris and I are going to receive the bread from the priest, but it’s just for big kids and adults. Okay?”
“But what if I’m hungry?!” Mia was growing incredulous. So was I.
Recognizing that I was completely ill-equipped to teach an impromptu PSR class on the Eucharist for kindergarteners, I said something ridiculous like “It’s just one bite and it doesn’t taste good anyway. We’ll get a snack after Mass. Shhh!” My answers were clearly lacking. And whereas Mia’s questions were amusing while pointing out what cradle Catholics take for granted; they were also quite perceptive.
In fact, Mia’s questions are ones we would do well to keep asking — expanding the scope while searching for more spacious answers.
Who is hurting? Where is Jesus? What are we hungry for?
First: Who is hurting?
The final stanza of Warsan Shire’s poem titled “What They Did Yesterday Afternoon” goes,
“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
Here we have an accurate, albeit depressing, answer. And while the whole of creation might be groaning to be free, a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, as described in Catholic Social Teaching, demands we acknowledge that certain groups of people suffer explicitly due to political, economic, social and military oppression. Or as liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez explains, “Poverty is not a fate; it is a condition. It is not a misfortune; it is an injustice.” If we acknowledge that certain groups of people are clearly hurting more than others, our question might move from Who is hurting? into, How are we being called to work towards our collective liberation?
Next: Where is Jesus?
At the risk of being overly simplistic, we might borrow from Shire’s poem once again and answer “Everywhere.” And while I do believe God can be found in all things, the Gospel of Matthew challenges us to pay closer attention to how we are invited to love Jesus in the least of our sisters and brothers. Or as co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day, rather frankly interpreted this Gospel message, “Those who cannot see Christ in the poor are atheists indeed.” If we acknowledge the presence of Jesus in those who are poor, our question might move from Where is Jesus? into, How are we being called to encounter and serve Christ in the poor?
And finally: What are we hungry for?
Looking back, I know Mia didn’t really want a snack. (Well, maybe she did.) But more importantly, what she really wanted was not to be excluded. Even at five, she wanted connection and community, love and attention, acceptance and inclusion. Sounds relatable, doesn’t it? These are all some of my deepest desires. I too want to be seen and embraced for being wholly and authentically me. And what a gift it is to know that my deepest desires are God’s desires for me as well.
Yes, this hunger can only be satisfied in so much as we understand that we are beloved by God; but it certainly helps to know we are also beloved by people. If we acknowledge our own belovedness, our question might move from What are we hungry for? into, How can we be a Church that satisfies our collective hunger for kinship and compassion?
Grateful for the wisdom shared in community (the wisdom that comes from both young and old), this Lenten season, may we remain with the questions, always paying attention to how we are being invited to grow in love.
Author’s note: Special thanks to a special girl. Thank you, Mia.