July 2, 2017
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Last week I went to Sheridan Wyoming for a Kehrwald family reunion. It’s the town in which I grew up, and where my parents still live.
Part of returning home is revisiting old memories. I have a childhood memory that I want to share with you. But first, bring to mind the story in our first reading where the Prophet Elisha drops in to the woman in Shunem every now and then. She recognizes him as a holy man, a wise man, and so she wants to make a room for him.
As a child, I was a student at Holy Name School and an altar server at Holy Name Church in Sheridan. For nearly all my grade school years, Fr Tom Sheridan was our associate pastor. For many of those years, I had this crazy assumption that every associate pastor had to take on the name of his town. The parish in Gillette had Fr Gillette. The parish in Caspar had Fr Caspar. Didn’t quite know what to make of Rock Springs!
Every couple of months, at least in my memory, Fr Sheridan would come over to our house, and he and my dad would close themselves off in our living room and talk quietly and intently. My dad was not Catholic, but he was honored that the priest would come visit. The rest of us—my siblings and me and my mom—were in awe. When we pestered my dad what they talked about, he would not say. Only years later did I learn that theirs was a mutual friendship. My dad gleaned wisdom and truth from a holy man. And Fr Sheridan had found a friend outside the flock with whom he could just be Tom.
I love this image, from our first reading, of true wisdom coming by and stopping in now and then.
Think about it . . .
This leads to our Gospel story today. Jesus spoke strong words to his disciples: "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;”
What? Seems contradictory to other Scriptures that call us to honor mother and father. What are we to make of this?
I needed a bit of truth and wisdom to catch a glimpse of how to understand this story, and not unlike Fr Sheridan when I was a child or Elisha visiting Shunem, she came right to my house on Wednesday and spent the day—although I didn’t recognize the glimpse until the wee hours of Thursday morning.
I don’t know about you, but the call of nature wakes me nearly every night about 3 am, and then once I’m up the Holy Spirit has a habit of bickering with my worries making so much racket that I cannot get back to sleep. That’s just what happened early Thursday morning.
Amidst the racket in my mind, I recalled what Brenna Bailey, our Housing Advocacy specialist on staff, said during our staff retreat day on Wednesday at my house. She was telling us about the home repair work they are doing in the Arbor Mobile Home Park. She described a que of 35 households who need some sort of home repair . . . all which you and I would consider urgent.
But, of course, there is only so much money for materials, only so many experts to head up the repairs, and only so many volunteers to help the experts get the jobs done – from leaky roofs to leaky plumbing, from serious mold problems to serious structural problems, and on and on.
So, on the first Tuesday of every month, Brenna has a meeting with residents and experts and volunteers to prioritize the repair jobs. I think it’s a bit like doing triage with wounded soldiers in a war zone.
Brenna then told our staff how the residents do that. First, of course, they are aware of their own repair needs, and they want them fixed. But they are also fully aware of each other’s repair needs. And, even more importantly, they are aware of each other’s family and household situations. And they are clear with each other that the people are more important than the problems. And priorities for repairs are set for the sake of the people first, then the problems.
For example, Brenna told us about the man with a gaping hole in his roof who said, “Look, you’ve got to take care of the mold problem in the house next door first, because I don’t like the sound of those coughing children.”
I think this is what it means to live today’s Gospel story.
They are worthy of Jesus because they look out for one another, not just their own family.
They are worthy of Jesus because they live in authentic community.
They are worthy of Jesus because each is willing to take up the cross for the sake of the other.
They are worthy of Jesus because in so many ways they offer a cool cup of refreshing water to the little ones among them.
Do they forsake their families. Of course not. But they have been visited by true wisdom that shows them—and us—that their family can flourish only amidst authentic community, and genuine hospitality.
So today, I am grateful for the wisdom that visited my childhood home through Fr Tom Sheridan. And I’m grateful for the wisdom that came to my home just this Wednesday through Brenna Bailey.
So, I ask again: