Saturday, February 26, 2011

Homily for Mark 10:13-16 - Let the Children Come to Me

"People were bringing children to Jesus that he might touch them." Touch is essential to grow and to sustain life, but it is, so to say, a touchy subject. A touch can communicate so many messages, and we in the church are afraid to do it in the wake of the professional boundaries established since before the sex abuse crisis. We read this passage and we see the enviable freedom possessed by Jesus to greet these young children and embrace them. We yearn for those days when we can just be naturally good to one another and find blessings in our innocence.

We come on retreat because we want Christ to touch our hearts meaningfully. We want to go to him in a familiar way and with ease so he can lay his hands upon us and heal us, or affirm us, or as a display of affection and intimacy. We want to run unimpeded to him because he is attractive. He is our God and brother. But so many obstacles can get in our way and though we reach for him, and he reaches back, we can't always make that point of contact with him that satisfies our desires. We continue to try because he is the one who makes sense of everything.

The Gospel tells us the disciples rebuked the children who sought Jesus, who rightly became indignant. It is ironic that such a simple act of goodness can be rebuffed so quickly by those who are on the same side as us. We might expect it from our opponents, but it stings all the more when it happens from our friends, family, and colleagues. You would think they would want the best for us. I'm sure you have had many times when you offered a suggestion based on kind generosity and it was slapped down by a technicality from a colleague or friend. You wonder if they really heard the good intent and the real meaning of your message. It can be discouraging if others are closed to its potential of creating good.

We too can close down parts of the relationship without realizing we are doing it. We defeat ourselves unknowingly and it baffles us. Addictions, family formation, and learned behaviors stop us from reaching our potential. It is best if we begin by paying attention to our language because it is fundamental to all relationships. To speak judiciously and prudentially is a gift from God. When God speaks, God creates. Therefore, we can learn the same patterns of speaking. If we are not creating some good when we speak, we might want to consider what we need to do first in order to speak well.

I often hear people say that they cannot hear God speak and that they don't really ask for what they want and need. We essentially don't change the way we speak to God from the way we speak to others. If we don't speak up in front of others, we are not likely to speak up in front of God. We feel terrible if a person speaks over us, cuts us off, is dismissive, or has an angry tone. We sometimes do it to others, and it has negative consequences on the relationship, especially that it inhibits growth in one's comprehension and enrichment. If we know we do this to others, chances are we do it to God as well.

When we speak, it is better if we allow for greater amounts of silence. In this way, we refrain from assuming we know what the other person is thinking or feeling. Let them tell you. If we don't give the person freedom to fully speak, we shut the person down. Many retreatants will say, "I know what God will say so I don't bother to ask." We shortchange and limit God. Let's give God a chance to speak.

Get into the habit of saying "yes" in prayer. We tell God "no" all the time in our prayer. We communicate it through words like 'can't' or 'not yet', tone of voice, body language, avoidance, and our daily choices. We choose not to trust. We are unprepared to truly comprehend what God asks of us. We hold onto our attachments and feelings longer than God wants and we negate God's true intentions for us. Many of us have the experience of keeping God at bay because we are not ready to accept what God has to say. We serve ourselves best when we wonder, "Am I closing myself to God's graces? How can I encourage my openness? Do I give God permission to speak openly?" "Am I acting in freedom?"

We often don't honor our feelings. If we don't pay attention to our feelings, they are going to come out sideways. We might find we are grouchy, sarcastic, passive-aggressive, or somehow destructive to another person if we do not own what is happening to us emotionally. We win when we acknowledge our feelings and desires. Narcissists and sociopaths cannot respond to true human feelings. Everyone else will acknowledge the very human emotions that are swirling around inside of you. Bringing them out in a healthily helps us build confidence in our identity. It builds esteem and creates goodwill. We move onwards and upwards when we speak of our emotions. and we sanctify another person when we respect one's emotions. Our intent is to build up, to create anew, and to enhance.

We have too many complex ways that we keep ourselves cut off from Christ and cannot feel his touch, and it is what we crave most. We want an experience of God that is so real that it is engraved upon on hearts and it becomes a touchstone for us. Many doubt that we can feel his physical presence. I suggest we simply ask for what we want and know that it can happen. Ignatius of Loyola in The Spiritual Exercises asks the retreatants to beg, to actually beg, for a particular grace for ourselves. Too often we pray only for others and neglect our own needs. God wants to be generous to us. We have to give way to let God absolutely spoil us. Ask for what you want. Beg for it. And though we strongly beg, God enters our world in gentle surprising ways.

And if you don't know what you want yet, and that's O.K. It takes time to sort it out, just pray that you can run to Jesus like the little children so that he might touch you, wipe away a tear, hold your hand, or touch your heart. Pray that he remove any obstacles that prohibit you from reaching him. It is not within your power to remove those obstacles. It is better off in his hands. Ask him what needs to be taken away so you may reach him to feel the full extent of his embrace. When you approach him, let him hold you and gaze in wonder upon your face. Let him just marvel at your beauty, both inside and out. Let him greet you, his good friend, again in a blessing with arms outstretched that says, "I've missed you. Welcome back. Let me just hold you for a while. That's all I want."