Reflection on the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
In the early 1980s, before joining Loretto, my housemate and I agreed to take in a drug and alcohol addicted 15-year-old who had been on the streets prostituting herself to support her habits. She had run away from her foster home after being removed at the age of 12 from the abusive home of her biological, alcoholic parents. It was a daunting challenge every day. There were addictions, sexually transmitted diseases, losses and traumas to face each day. We tried to be caring adults, not parents, and support her in her recovery and rebuilding a life. She tried, relapsed and tried again. She had all the usual issues of a 15-year-old along with all the extra burdens of addiction and trauma.
One weekend we took Paula camping and then asked the parish priest to come say Mass for us in the parking lot of the nearby community center on Sunday afternoon. I was the only one who enjoyed camping. Paula, it turns out, was not at all interested in being in nature, having time to walk, relax, read, etc. On that Sunday morning when we had Mass in the parking lot the first reading was the one we have today. When my housemate and I heard the line “you duped me oh Lord and I let myself to be duped,” we both looked at each other and had an immediate reaction.
When we went home and Paula had gone to her room, we talked about feeling duped into this decision to be a presence in Paula’s life, with no experience of parenting and believing we were called to try to do this, and how true the saying felt that “no good deed goes unpunished.” We felt that we had to continue to listen closely to know what to do next since we did not have training or experience in this new endeavor.
Over two-and-a-half years with Paula we continued to live that commitment despite difficulties, failures and ongoing confusion about what to do next. Friends questioned our continuing efforts and the amount of time demanded of us. We reflected on that reading and became comfortable with the not knowing and our need to trust in God. It felt okay to be duped by God.
I now wonder if these other two readings were part of the liturgy that day. It would have been some consolation to hear the words from the second reading that says, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” Believing that we were doing the will of God was often the only reassurance that we had. We had to let go of outcomes and do the best we could each day, no matter what. The doing had to happen amidst a lot of listening, waiting, praying, and hoping.
I imagine many people have taken on missions or works for which they did not feel totally prepared, and often there was talk of the “grace of office” that meant God would provide everything we needed. All we needed to do was follow God’s will and trust in God. Easier said than done at times.
And here we are again. Although I believe Loretto has faced significant changes in the past, the changes were often focused on renewal and increasing opportunities within the Community. Now we are looking at changes that will create something new and quite different, involving more than ourselves in this new venture. If we try to “save” the old life, we will surely lose it. We must look at how to provide for religious life to those who are vowed, provide for Loretto mission and community to those who are now deeply connected to us and find new ways of letting go to bring forth this new life.
And our country and the world are at a new place where it is especially important to discover God’s will for us and remain faithful to that. Democracy seems to be under siege in several countries, we see the rise of new dictators and ongoing conflicts that create refugees by the millions. We can help to support those people and institutions that will resist the tide of nationalism, supremacy and violent use of power. But, like Peter, we need to recognize how God thinks about these things, rather than how our limited human mind perceives them, and wants to respond.