Fr. Reginald Martin, 08/08/2017
One of the real joys of my new assignment as Director of Vallombrosa Retreat Center is the opportunity to share time with individuals making retreats. Last week a member of a religious community described a very moving experience when she journeyed across the street, to pray in the chapel of the cloistered Dominican nuns, at Corpus Christi monastery. Sr. Anne Marie is a deeply spiritual individual, and she had prepared for her time of Eucharistic adoration by composing a prayer to the Holy Spirit, “I await your touch.” She was quite annoyed when her prayer was interrupted by an elderly woman, who put a hand on Sr. Anne’s shoulder. Sr. Anne looked up at the woman, who discerned Sr. Anne’s annoyance, and walked away.
Not long afterward, Sr. Anne felt the woman’s hand on her other shoulder. This time she opened her eyes and said, “Okay, I get it.” Sr. Anne is hard of hearing, and the woman spoke something other than English, so Sr. Anne simply reached out and embraced her elderly companion.
Members of the Order of Malta daily pledge themselves to extend charity toward the poor and the sick, but this enterprise may be undermined if we seek Jesus only in those who demonstrate unmistakably visible evidence of poverty or illness. Our Savior assumes a number of disguises, and sometimes he appears as nothing more dramatic than a nuisance in need of a smile or kind touch.
If you had the good fortune to attend Mass this past Saturday, you heard St. Matthew’s account of John the Baptist’s martyrdom. We are all familiar with the gospel’s description of John’s coarse dress and modest diet, but what got Herod’s attention – and what ought to get ours – is John’s preaching. A 20th Century member of our Order reflected on John, and remarked
[he] was a model of intransigence…Nothing stopped him; he was unafraid of powers, or honors, or wealth, or danger, or prison, or death. He accomplished his duty, whatever price it cost. (Geza Grosschmid, Spiritual Heritage, p. 149)
At the same time, John is a model of humility. Not some cringing dullard suffering from a low self-image, but one fully aware of who he is, and what he has been sent to do. Which is to prepare the way for Someone far greater. Our belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection informs our reading of the initial chapters of the gospel accounts, but we should try to look at the gospel from John’s point of view. He made the nice distinction between the voice and the word.
The book of Genesis tells us we were the last word God spoke in the beginning. We were created in God’s own likeness, and because we shared God’s power to speak to get things done, God put us in charge. The Romans said when the gods created the first humans they looked at their work, and one asked if the effort wasn’t too good. Another picked up two seashells, which he put on either side of the first human’s head, for ears. “By the time a word echoes through all those chambers,” he said, “no two of these creatures will ever agree on the meaning of a single word!”
This shows a great flaw in our words: they can be misunderstood. Worse, we can ignore words or change their meanings. It began in the Garden, when we said “yes,” when we meant “no,” but we’ve been equally inventive over the years, and oxymorons, mental reservations, and perhaps especially the vituperative political combat we’ve experienced the last couple of years, show how we’ve perverted words – and the gift of our voice. John the Baptist reminds us words are holy because God’s Word became flesh. And we have been given voices to prepare his way.
May God bless all our words during these summer days!