Monthly Archives: April 2022

Emily’s Smile and the Face of God

“Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 18:4)

Have you ever been confronted with so-called medical facts that seem to deny a higher spiritual reality?

We had that experience with the birth of our daughter Emily, who was born with Down syndrome. I will never forget the meeting with the geneticist after Emily was born.  He spent an entire hour telling us about all the things that Emily would never be able to do, including, “She will never be able to read.”

His professional training and protocols blinded him from seeing a larger reality involving God’s perspective.  To the geneticist, Emily was imperfect, but to God she is flawless, part of his grand scheme to teach the rest of us about him and what really counts. 

Emily was born with an inclination to love.  Her first reaction when meeting others is to hug them.   She has no guile.  She is not calculating.  She is not likely to offend God as we have all done.  I have learned as much about God and his ways from Emily as any sermon, teaching or spiritual writing.

On a Sunday morning a number of years ago, I happened to be serving as a Eucharistic Minister in our church and it just happened that I was stationed on the aisle that my wife and Emily were coming down.  When Emily saw that it was I who would be serving her communion, she broke out with that big, beautiful smile of hers, started rushing toward me, cupping her hands to receive the Body of Christ, and exclaimed, “Daddy!”  My heart melted, and then I thought, isn’t that how God would like all of us to approach him – with absolute love and joy, not worrying about what others might think. 

Yesterday we celebrated Emily’s 36th birthday.  The geneticist got it completely wrong.  Emily did learn to read.  She has an incredible sense of time, remembering the birthdays of all our family — siblings, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, and thirteen nephews and nieces.  She knows what day to take out the trash.  She has a great sense of direction.  If I go a different direction on the way to church or to some other place she has been before, she corrects me.  Until COVID, she worked at a bakery and catering business from 9 to 2 every day for 12 years.  

Emily was not a genetic accident.   Medical science tells us that the extra chromosome that gives rise to Down syndrome is present in one out of every 700+ conceptions.  Children born with Down syndrome are not a genetic accident.  They are part of God’s plan to demonstrate his love, humility, and purity of heart.  When I see Emily’s smile, I see the face of God.

How tragic that our culture considers abortion a solution to the extra chromosome when the extra chromosome is really an opportunity to see the face of God.

Do you look for God’s presence in all people, particularly those with disabilities?

God’s Restrained Announcement

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?  “He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:5)

We have just celebrated the most important event of our Christian faith – Jesus’ resurrection.  Yet, as significant as it is for us and human history, God was rather restrained in bringing it to people’s attention.

There was no proclamation from a choir of angels  as at Jesus’ birth announcing that “A Savior has been born unto you.” (Luke 2:11)  In fact, God let Jesus’ followers kind of stumble into what had happened. On the morning of Jesus’ resurrection, we have a couple of angels asking the above question to the women who had come to anoint Jesus’ body.

The angels went on to explain that Jesus had risen from the dead just as he said he would, but the women did not understand.  For them, the only conceivable explanation was that someone had taken Jesus’ body.  Peter and John, upon hearing the women’s report had a foot race to the tomb only to find that the linens which Jesus had been wrapped in were neatly folded in two different places.  Neither did they understand, although Luke reports that Jesus did appear later to Peter. (Luke 24:34) 

Jesus also appears to Mary Magdalene, and two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, but there was no recognition of who he was until he called Mary by name and broke bread in front of the disciples.  In spite of all the times that Jesus told the disciples before his crucifixion that he had to suffer death and rise from the dead, they did not understand. 

Why?  It was not until they had personally encountered the risen Jesus and were anointed with the Holy Spirit at the Feast of Pentecost that they began to fully comprehend what Jesus’ resurrection meant for them and human history.  St. Paul reports that Jesus appeared to more than 500 at one time. (1 Cor. 5:6) 

The resurrection radically changed how the apostles and early Christians lived and modeled their lives.

Like the disciples and the early Christians, we too, need to personally experience the presence of the risen Jesus and the anointing of the Holy Spirit before we can comprehend the effect of his resurrection on our lives.  No announcement, no teaching by itself will get the job done.

That was true for me 45 years ago on an October evening when I had a personal encounter with Jesus. Through God’s grace and the power of his Holy Spirit he opened my mind and heart to the reality of his risen presence in my life.

Have you met the risen Jesus and experienced the outpouring of his Holy Spirit?

Jesus Fixing Our Mistakes

Have you ever experienced someone fixing a problem that you created?  That is what Jesus did for one of his disciples when the disciple cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant at Jesus’ arrest.

“When his followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with our swords?’  And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.  But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’  And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.”  (Luke 22:49-51)

John’s gospel identifies Peter as the one who struck with his sword, and Malchus as the name of the high priest’s servant. 

It was God’s will for Jesus to be arrested and crucified, which was necessary for the atonement of our sins and Jesus’ subsequent resurrection to demonstrate God’s victory and authority over evil.  Peter’s actions, though well intentioned, were mistakenly getting in the way of God’s will for Jesus and his plan for the salvation of all of mankind. 

Jesus reverses Peter’s mistake with a miracle in touching Malcus’ ear and totally restoring it.  This is a miracle that doesn’t get a lot of commentary, but think of its impact on Peter and Malchus.   For Peter, Jesus is not only reprimanding him for resorting to violence, but miraculously healing the enemy.  It may have kept Peter from being arrested for attacking the high priest’s servant. 

Imagine if you are Malchus.  Your task is to arrest Jesus whom you have been told is an enemy of the Jewish religion and Israel.  One of Jesus’ followers attacks you with a sword and cuts off your ear.  Then this Jesus, your supposed enemy, reaches out, touches your ear, and heals it.  One moment it is hanging there, bleeding, about to fall off, and the next moment it is completely restored.  One moment your adversaries are acting as you would expect them to act, and the next moment, Jesus, the object of your arrest, is reaching out not to do you harm, but to undo the harm done by one of his followers. 

How can Malchus not be affected?  Since John mentions him by name in his gospel, it is likely that he later became a follower of Jesus and familiar to John.

We all make mistakes, and sometimes a friend, spouse or colleague is able to step in and take action to minimize the consequences.  A work colleague spots a mistake we have made in a report and corrects it before it gets submitted to the boss; or a friend saves us the embarrassment of not remembering the name of an acquaintance in a social situation.

When we make mistakes, we are fortunate that we can go to Jesus and ask for his help to remedy the mistake.  If our mistake involves a sin, we can ask him to forgive us.  If our mistake has offended someone, we can ask him for the grace to seek reconciliation, and to prepare the heart of the person with whom we need to be reconciled.

During this Holy Week, ask Jesus to help you fix a mistake you may have made with someone. 

Needed: Workers for the Harvest

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Mt. 9:37; Luke 10:2)

Both Matthew and Luke report this statement of Jesus as he sends out the disciples to proclaim the kingdom of God.  Part of God’s plan is to have his followers share with others about their experience with Jesus and the kingdom of God.  He calls them as laborers in his harvest. 

What happens to a crop that is not harvested?  It lies in the field to rot or be eaten by birds and animals.  Its intended purpose is not fulfilled.  If a grain of wheat, for example, is not gathered and ground into flour to make bread, its purpose and destiny are never realized. 

The same thing can happen with people if their hearts and souls do not embrace their creator and his purpose and destiny for their lives.  God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:5) 

Like Jeremiah, God has created each of us as a unique human being, distinct from one another, with unique gifts and talents designed for us to carry out his specific will.  His destiny for each of us is that we would come to know him as our creator and choose to embrace him and follow his will.  If our heart and soul are not harvested for him, we will likely stray from our purpose and destiny. 

Fortunately, there have been many harvesters in my life including my parents, a priest who guided me in my Catholic faith when I was a teenager, my wife whose example and words prompted me to go deeper in my relationship with God, and various Christian friends who have called me on to be more faithful and fervent in my walk. 

The more important question is whether I have served as a harvester for others.  Hopefully, I have had an impact on my wife as she has on me and on my children as well.  Hopefully, I have acted on opportunities to talk or pray with friends or work colleagues as they have occurred over the years. 

I am reminded of one incident many years ago when my secretary suggested that a women in our legal department talk to me about her intention to have an abortion.  I listened at length to all of the difficult circumstances she was facing.  I didn’t tell her what she should do, but commented that the baby she was carrying was a real person with little arms and legs to whom God had already assigned a soul.  I offered to pray with her, and we prayed that God would give her wisdom and courage in making her decision.  A couple of weeks later she came by to say that she was going to have the baby, and later she decided to raise the baby as a single mother. 

Sixteen years later she told me at a reception for my retirement that her son would not be alive today if it were not for that conversation.  While I don’t know if she became Christian, I do know she chose life for her son, and perhaps two souls were harvested for God.

How have you been a laborer for the harvest?