Monday, May 18, 2020

The Gift of Noticing

This guy had ONE JOB. But now, thanks to him, the party's all but over.

Who stops a BBQ before serving burgers? Who cancels fireworks at dusk? Who dismisses New Year's Eve guests at 8:00 PM? 

WHO RUNS OUT OF WINE AT A FIRST-CENTURY WEDDING? (And if your wedding fails this spectacularly, what does that bode for your marriage?)

This guy, though, he lucks out. His party is literally saved by a Hail Mary, as in: "Hey Mary, HELP."

Jesus' mom, a guest at the wedding, realizes they're low on wine before the headwaiter even has a clue. Does she overhear the nervous, whispering servants, vulnerable to abuse if their master gets angry? The anxious vendors, left unpaid if the event ends early? Or maybe a fretting mother-of-the-bride who's only ever wanted a joyful life for her daughter but can't overcome one extenuating circumstance after another? 
“Like Mary at Cana, let us make an effort to be more attentive in our squares and towns," Pope Francis encourages, "to notice those whose lives have been ‘watered down,’ who have lost – or have been robbed of – reasons for celebrating.”1
We've all been here. We see a problem, and we hurt with those who are hurting, but the problem is too big for us to solve alone. From this place, Mary shows what to do with problems beyond our control: she gives it to Jesus. 

"They have no wine," Mary mentions to her son.2 

I often respond like Jesus when asked to do something outside my To-Do List: “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” (Modern-day translation: I'm doing something else. I can't get to that right now!)

But Mary, unphased, walks off to prepare for a miracle. She knows Jesus' compassion in a deeply personal way, and she knows help is coming.

"Do whatever He tells you," Mary reassures the servants. I imagine she smiles, makes eye contact, squeezes their shoulders with affirmation: Everything's going to be OK.

These are the people Jesus chooses to witness his first miracle: the servants, the people who work while others celebrate, whose labor is often invisible, underappreciated, and underpaid, who are as easily criticized as they are ignored, who serve day after day after day after day. 

As we enter a third month of quarantine from schools, playgrounds, rec centers, daycares, playgroups, and summer camps, still expected to raise happy children innocent to the seismic stress around us, I feel like the servants in Jesus' first miracle: the reserves of joy have long run dry, and I need a miracle to keep this party going.

How reassuring it is when someone, like Mary, notices and has compassion for our struggles. It reminds me that I'm not alone, that others are thinking of us and helping to share our burden. Mary can't change water into wine, but she connects us with Someone who can.

How has this looked for our family? How could other families be blessed by the gift of noticing? 
  • Ordering pizza delivered to our door at dinner time, 
  • Answering my kids' bored Facetime calls 3 times an hour, 
  • Teaching social-distancing art classes from the yard across the street, 
  • Waving through car windows as we pick up milk and sandwiches in the school drive-thru, 
  • Writing encouraging letters, 
  • Sponsoring Starbucks and McDonalds treats with gift cards,
  • Planning graduation parades and social-distancing award ceremonies,
  • Sharing a computer so each kid can keep up with school, 
  • Hosting Cub Scout Zoom meetings (and not judging how weird we all are in the background), 
  • Answering my anxious midnight emails with confirmation that peace in our home is more important than any finished assignment, 
  • Writing "X" in the grade book instead of "0" when we just couldn't get it done, 
  • Mailing a package, addressed to the kids, of shelf-stable food they can proudly prepare themselves (haystack cookies, pizza kits, pudding, tuna-chip casserole, taco casserole, chips & queso, PB&J with dinosaur cookie cutters),
  • Sending board games galore, and 
  • Bribing my kids with money to play happily for an hour and leave me alone. (Seriously, my kids' grandparents pulled this off, and it may be the greatest gift I've received during quarantine).
As days become weeks, months, an extended summer, an uncertain future… may other struggling families also be blessed by people like Mary in their lives, people who notice and intercede. In the words of Pope Francis from a 2018 homily: 
“In the same way, Mary passes through our towns, our streets, our squares, our homes and our hospitals… She notices all those problems that burden our hearts, then whispers into Jesus’ ear and says: Look, ‘they have no wine.’”3
How can you share the gift of noticing today? 

Mary, pray for us. Jesus, work miracles in our families. Please fill our empty jars – our physical, mental, emotional, financial, spiritual neediness – with joy.

Also published May 2020 at

Pope Francis, Homily, January 18, 2018.
2John 2
3Pope Francis, Homily, January 18, 2018.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Gate and The Shepherd: A Reflection For Good Shepherd Sunday

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on the readings for Mass this Sunday, May 3, 2020, at From His Heart, our parish blog.

Jesus says, "I am the gate" twice in this Sunday's Mass readings.1 

But this is Good Shepherd Sunday. Why does Jesus refer to himself as "the gate" before "the shepherd"?

At that time, the corrals of shepherds at pasture with their sheep "usually consisted of a circle of rocks, with an opening at one end. The shepherd himself would serve as the gate to such sheepfolds, laying across its entrance to sleep... The shepherd himself was the door," Father Thomas Rosica explains.2

And so, Jesus is both the shepherd who guides the sheep and the gate that protects them.

Pope Benedict XVI describes Jesus as "the One who follows us even into our deserts and confusion... the One who took upon his shoulders the lost sheep, which is humanity, and carried it home."3

How is Jesus present in my desert and confusion? What hope does He bring?

We read in today's calming Responsorial Psalm, "The Lord is my shepherd," a good shepherd who brings rest, refreshment, courage, and blessing to his sheep:
"In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul" (Psalm 23). 
How can I become a sheep of the Good Shepherd? Through Jesus and the sacraments He instituted, we receive the Holy Spirit and become part of the church, as St. Peter teaches in Acts 2:
"Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit… Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day."
Yes, I received Baptism; I committed to the vows of my Baptism at Confirmation; I ask God's forgiveness directly and through Confession; I receive Jesus in Communion. Still, how can I follow Jesus more closely?

In today's Gospel reading, Jesus teaches that the sheep "follow him, because they recognize his voice" (John 10). What happens when someone hears God's voice? We read in Acts: when people recognized God's voice in the words of Peter and the apostles, "they were cut to the heart" (Acts 2). 

Is my heart soft enough to hear the Shepherd's voice? Am I listening?

These are difficult and unusual times; we've stopped our daily routines in the hope of preventing illness and protecting the vulnerable among us. Today's reading from 1 Peter reminds us that when we "suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God."

Archbishop Jose Gomez says this is what it means to be shepherds, like Jesus: 
"This is a wonderful responsibility that we all have; as much as possible, try to be 'good shepherds' for other people... beginning with those who are closest to us, in our homes, in our families, in our places of work, in our daily life."4

How can I be a good shepherd to others?

1 Mass readings, May 3, 2020.

2 Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B. Reflection for the 4th Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2011. 

3 Pope Benedict XVI. Homily, May 7, 2006.

4 Archbishop Jose Gomez. Homily, April 21, 2013.

*Also published 04/2020 at Sacred Heart Blog