“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
by Maureen Kennedy Barney IVC volunteer
As we finish a summer of relaxation, hot sunny days, walks on the beach, brilliant sunrises and breath taking sunsets it takes some transition to move into the cooler, crisp days of fall, the shorter days, the regularity so absent in the summer; but, with the transition comes a sense of structure, a sense of readying for those shorter days and a more urgent sense to prepare.
In this passage so familiar to all of us, I see a parallel to what each person here today is approaching. The harvest…and for any Midwesterner, the urgency need not be explained….but the labor involved is one most of us have not experienced personally. The harvest requires many hands, many laborers. And as IVC prepares for a much deeper harvest in the work ahead, as laborers we need to spend time reflecting on what we will do as we move to the “fields” of Chicago as laborers for the Lord and his message to those we will serve.
If Jesus sees the world as a garden…an image we’ve so often heard… then he indeed is the gardener preparing the fields and gathering us, the laborers. Ignatian Spirituality Program, Cook County Hospital, Trinity Volunteer Corps at Old St Pat’s, Cristo Rey, and on and on…the places we’ll serve. And the kind of laborer we’ll be does, I believe, grow from the way we see and understand Jesus and the type of gardener he is.
Some may see Jesus as efficient, results oriented, careful that the garden is always healthy, meticulously tended. The weaker plants plucked and discarded, uprooted and abandoned. Yet others see him as one who shows care and tenderness for all, for the weaker plants especially so that they might become healthy, thrive and bear fruit. Just as we see in the parable of Weeds and the Wheat where the weeds sown are allowed to remain. This gardener has what I call the more “gentle” heart. Whichever gardener we identify with God will have real consequences in the way we see ourselves, the way we see others, the way we see God and the way we’ll see the people we’ve been called to serve this year.
I believe that the second type of gardener, the compassionate and tenderhearted one, is the more accurate way of describing Jesus. To say that he takes a preferential approach to the weak seems fitting as we see him spending time with sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors during his time on earth. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the one who leaves the 99 to seek out the one who is lost.
God does not leave the weak and sinful behind. Yes, he sees the world as a harvest, but he does not uproot those who appear lost; he tries to recuperate, to heal and to strengthen them instead.
And what then is our challenge? Our challenge is to work with Jesus, to be his hands and his voice in the streets of Chicago. Jesus wants us to care for the weak, the sorrowful, the forgotten, the ones discarded by society’s definition of success. He wants each of us to be the compassionate gardener wherever our harvest will be found. “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.” When Jesus looks at this world he sees an opportunity. He sees a plentiful harvest, but not a perfect one.
“Jesus was resolutely determined to travel to Jerusalem to be lifted up.”
by John Hynes, IVC volunteer
Please note: This reflection was written after hearing the readings at mass on Sunday, June 30.
I entered high school as a 74 pound 12 year old with the nick name “Howdy Doody”. I knew I had to get tough quick. So I began delivering the morning Tribune in the dead of Winter.
That first morning the wind howled! At 5AM I crept down the attic stairs so as not to awaken my seven sisters. I felt scared, all alone and completely inept. I walked into the kitchen. My mother sat there in the dark. She had alreadly folded all the newspapers, tucked them in my canvas bag and had a cup of steaming hot chocolate at my place. “Johnny,” she said “I want you to be safe and warm out there. You can do this” I walked into the winter darkness resolutely determined…and with a little chocolate still on my face.
Julian of Norwich says that Christ revealed himself to her as an unconditionally loving mother who continuously breaks herself open and pours herself out to her children.
Hold this image close to your heart. Today Jesus is inviting the IVC to journey to Jerusalem with Him… to be lifted up.
Happiness usually comes from circumstances outside of ourselves. So today’s gospel makes it very clear that Jesus does not promise us any happiness. Jesus says we may not have a place to lay our head. We will not get the inheritance from our father’s death. Family values do not seem to have a high priority. And we cannot even call down fire on those who disagree with us!
Joy however comes from an abiding presence that transcends every circumstance. Jesus does promise us Joy. But how so?
Listen to Thomas Keating the architect of centering prayer:
“Christ disappeared in his Ascension, not into some geographic location, but into the heart of all creation. In particular, he has penetrated the very depths of our being. Our sense of a separate self has melted into his divine person. Whatever we do, it is Christ living and acting in us, transforming the world from within.”
This is why Paul can say that those 8 words from the second reading, “Love the other as you love your self” shatter any reliance on the Law. For it means that we can love the other as our very own being…there is no separation; your sense of a separated self has melted into His Divine Person. We are each a luminous cell in the universal body of Christ.
Now don’t get annoyed by Paul’s apparent dualism, Flesh versus Spirit. By flesh I think Paul means that sense of a separate self.. the false self ..the ego that has but one agenda: to be separate from and to be superior to everyone else. Flesh is the Teflon by which we slide into isolation.
Spirit, on the other hand, always merges. Spirit seduces us toward solidarity. Spirit is the cartilage that knits IVC as one. Teilhard de Chardin says that ” Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God ” Where there is Spirit, there is always joy. At Catalyst Circle Rock where I volunteer Joy fills the Literary Brigade room like the scent of lilacs in early Spring. Sister Donna and Sister Helen are the gifted gardeners. Each child that we sit with becomes a sacred icon; to gaze into their innocent faces is to look into the Heart of God. It is not difficult to abide in His presence in the midst of these beautiful children.
But real soon we return to flesh…our separate self…separated from God…separated from others. So Jesus the wisdom teacher offers us volunteers two practices so we abide always in His presence.
First Eucharist! Simple bread and wine engraft us into the very body of the risen Jesus .We become Christ at a cellular level. Call it an explosive inter-abiding! No wonder the writer Annie Dillard says that as we line up for Communion, we should all be wearing crash helmets!
The other essential practice is the discipline of contemplative prayer. Two periods of daily meditation that act as anti-biotics to free us from the toxic illusion of a separate self.
The Signs of the Time cry out for intervention….a radical, self-sacrificing spiritual intervention. I shudder to think that in 20 years my great grandchild will ask my grandson Brendan this question: “Why didn’t your grandfather do something? The house was burning down…and all he did was put up a lawn sign. However, the Flesh ..the false self ..the separate self cannot be the incubator of our response to systemic evil. Anger is not the answer. But Spirit is longing to brood over us as we sit together in silent surrender. The Spirit of Jesus will give birth to our resolute determination in forms unimaginable! IVC itself is an example!
Then we volunteers can walk down those attic stairs together.Let the wind howl We will first be comforted by Mother God…and then filled with joy, be sent out to proclaim the kingdom of God, without looking back…but with a little chocolate still on our faces!
The Lion and the Mosquito
by Rich Pozdol, IVC alumnus
Father “Bo” T.M. Lyons, spiritual director extraordinaire, and I were having a traditional Friday night fish fry at Steve’s , an old-fashioned corner tavern. We were both having the seafood platter with shrimp, scallops, frog legs and, my favorite, lake perch.
Father “Bo” asked, “Do you remember a book by the name of Mr. Blue?
I replied, “I do. I read it as a teenager, so very many years ago. I remember loving the character Mr. Blue.”
“I have been rereading the book” said Fr. “Bo”. “What did you like about Mr. Blue?”
“Well, as a teenager I liked someone who did his own thing. Blue was different. Anyone who lived in a packing crate on the roof of a tall building was an intriguing character. He flew kites from that roof and released balloons to celebrate any occasion.”
“Think back,” said Fr. “Bo”. “Who did he remind you of?”
I thought for a while and then it came to me. “Saint Francis of Assisi. Yes, Blue was a modern-day St. Francis.”
“Quite so,” said Fr. “Bo”. “Listen to this quote from the book when Blue is challenging the narrator’s status as a Christian. ‘I suppose you consider the exhortation “love your neighbor” as a figure of speech. You would love only the lovable. Did you ever try to love someone who was mean, petty, shallow, selfish? Try it.’
The narrator responded to Blue, telling him that he was willing to try to love a villain, but that he could not arouse any affection for a mere annoyance, an irremediable nobody. ‘I think I could love a lion,’ the narrator said, ‘but I doubt very much if I could love a mosquito.’”
I laughed and responded, “I know God cannot make a mistake, but if He could I have always said that the one mistake God clearly made was creating the mosquito.”
Fr. “Bo” responded, “Myles Connolly wrote Mr. Blue three years after Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to provide a counterpoint to the materialism of Gatsby. For me, Blue raises the question of my calling today. He echoes so well what Pope Francis is asking us to do…to go out to the margins, to love the mosquito.”
“Yes,” I responded. “I think we IVCers have tapped into Mr. Blue’s spirit. So many irremediable nobodies to the world’s way of thinking. And yet, we have come to know them as members of the body of Christ.”
A Prayer for Compassion
Oh God, I wish from now on to be the first to become conscious of all that the world loves, pursues, and suffers;
I want to be the first to seek, to sympathize, and to suffer; the first to unfold and sacrifice myself,
to become more widely human and more nobly of the earth than any of the world’s servants.
Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, S.J.
See the archives for more reflections.