The Little and the Big

Today’s second reading has what is seemingly a confusing declaration from St. Paul.

Brothers and sisters: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up
what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.

Christ’s afflictions weren’t enough? Christ’s passion needs more to be done?

For almost two millennia this passage has been discussed and explained by many. St. Alphonsus’ explanation is as follows: “Can it be that Christ’s passion alone was insufficient to save us? It left nothing more to be done, it was entirely sufficient to save all men. However, for the merits of the Passion to be applied to us, according to St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa theologiae, III, q. 49, a. 3), we need to cooperate by patiently bearing the trials God sends us, so as to become like our head, Christ” (St Alphonsus, Thoughts on the Passion, 10).

We need to cooperate? Hmm. My take on this passage and St. Aphonsus’ explanation is: What is missing from Christ’s action is nothing – what is missing is that we need to bring the Gospel to our generation.  As St. Alphonsus reminds us St. Thomas Aquinas says ‘we need to cooperate’. It is up to us, Christ’s followers to introduce His Gospel to those who haven’t heard it, or who have and don’t or won’t comprehend it.  For Christ’s Passion to truly take affect here on earth, to change the world, to make manifest the Kingdom here, we need to show what the kingdom is about, we need to cooperate.  And just what does that cooperation entail? Witnessing to love, embracing everyone as family, loving our neighbor – really loving our neighbor.  Not just in the great debates and iconic issues of our time.  Not just going and righting the big wrongs of our day. As important as that is – it isn’t everything; indeed it is impossible if we don’t live love every moment of our lives. If we don’t radiate the Gospel in every situation we find ourselves in, small and large, we are witnessing to a weakened and watered-down Gospel. I would like to read you an example of true witness.  Please bear with me as I relate a story of one man’s day.

On Friday May 31st Pope Francis’ schedule was as follows:

  • Meeting with Cardinal Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
  • Meeting with Archbishop Ferrer, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
  • Meeting with Mr. Vuz Jeremic, President of 67th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
  • Participating in the torchlight rosary procession and giving a reflection closing the month of Mary.

And in between these great meetings and events that concerned 1.2 billion Catholics and even the 6 billion inhabitants of the world was this hardly noticed event.  In the Chapel at Domus Sanctae Marthea the Holy Father met with 22 children; these children, from all over, Italy were patients of the Pediatric Oncology Department of the Gemelli Clinic in Rome. They had just come back from Lourdes. This is taken from the Vatican newspaper L’osservatore Romano:

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“When we were in front of the Grotto of Massabielle”, explained Don Gianni, “in order to bring a little cheerfulness to the situation we invented a game: draw the Grotto of Lourdes to show the Pope who has never been there”.  However, the priest confessed, while they were telling this to the children, no one ever thought that they would have ended up actually showing the Pope their drawings of the Lourdes Grotto.

The picture by Giovanni – an 8-year-old child from Sardinia, blinded by a brain tumor – was drawn on a Braille board based on a description given to him the assistants, and was so moving that they decided to actually send it to the Pope with an explanatory letter.  Not much more was needed for the fame to finish “in the best way possible”.

Little Giovanni and Pope Francis facing each other on Friday afternoon was quite a sight! Giovanni asked him: “Do you have a sweet tooth?’.

The Pope responded: “Yes, I really do.  I like sweets, Chocolate.  And you? Yes? Don’t they give you a tummy ache?”.

Then Giovanni showed him a large red bag: “Thanks goodness you like sweets because I brought you some from Sardinia”.

“Yum, thanks!”, the Pope said, “But shouldn’t we eat them with the other children?”.

The whole meeting seemed like a conversation between a grandfather and his grandchildren.  The little ones with their parents and their caregivers, sat in a semicircle in front of the Pope, who took his seat in front of the altar.  They prayed together and the Holy Father told the children a story: “Jesus once had to go to a very important place. But it took him a while.  He arrived after midday and the disciples immediately asked him: ‘Teacher how, come you arrived so late?’. Well do you know what Jesus said? Listen carefully: ‘Along the way I met a child who was crying.  I stopped to stay with him’. This is Jesus’ way with a child who cries.  With a child who isn’t well.  He touched the heart of Jesus who loves him so much”.

The Pope Francis let little Michelle speak. “I am very happy”, she said, “to be here at your home with my friends from the Gemelli clinic, the doctors, volunteers and priests who came with us to Lourdes.  It’s nice to be able to really see you and not just on television! At Lourdes we prayed for you, we drew the Grotto of Our Lady as a gift for you. We promise you we will continue to pray and we ask you to pray for all the sick children of the Gemelli and throughout the world”. The Holy Father thanked her, holding her close to him. He stroked her little head, half covered by a bandage.  Moved, he began speaking again to the children, continuing the discussion on Jesus’ love and asked them: “Is Jesus with us now? Is he? Are you sure? Good. He is with us because he always loves us. Jesus walks with us in our lives and when we have problems he is always near us”.

There was a very special atmosphere at the meeting, one of extraordinary love. The Pope could not stop showing his affection for the children, comforting their parents, thanking the doctors and volunteers for their work in aiding these little suffering children. Then the encounter closed with a prayer. But first the Pope desired to speak to the heart of the children and asked them to repeat with him: “Jesus is always with us, when we are happy and joyful. Jesus is always with us when we are sad. Jesus is always with us. Why? Because Jesus loves us. Never forget this”.

It will be difficult for these little children and their parents to forget it. It will likewise be difficult for the Pope to forget Michelle’s last request: “Pope Francis, pray for our parents so that they may have a smile like yours”.

(Mario Ponzi – L’osservatore Romano, English edition 6/5/2013)

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THIS is what cooperation is all about!

THIS is what being the family of God is all about!

Being in the moment with the same love for the ‘little’ events as for the ‘great’ events.  May each of us take this witness and grow from it.

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