Can I have a Word with you?

altar girlsI’m sitting in the pew. The first reading ends; the song leader begins the psalm. “What shall I return to the Lord?” she sings, “for all the bounty he has given?”

I see my daughter, a tall 14-year-old, in her alb up in the sacristy. She has come a long way from the days of getting stomachaches worrying whether she’d remember what to do while serving Mass. My husband of 24 years sits next to me; through the endless grace of God and much hard work, we love each other more today than we did the day we got married.

On the other side sits my son, back in one piece from another year at college. Today it seems like a minor miracle for a 20-year-old to be at Mass, let alone with his parents. I don’t take it for granted.

The psalm goes to my heart; each time we sing it at Mass, it never fails to bring tears of gratitude to my eyes. What shall I return to the Lord for all the bounty he has given?

Pentecost Sunday. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells of the Holy Spirit filling the apostles; they are suddenly able to speak to those of many tongues who crowd the streets of Jerusalem.

Our church is filled weekly with people who have come to the U.S. from the four corners of the globe. During the homily our deacon takes a poll: “Who here learned English somewhere besides the United States?” Hands everywhere. “Who learned English once you came here?” More hands.

Yes, sometimes it can be hard to understand one another. Parish council meetings are in two languages, so you have to be patient. Cultural customs can both charm and frustrate those of another group. But we are a tiny mirror of the world in all its variety, and today we gather to hear that, never fear, the Holy Spirit leads us on the path to understanding.

My daughter’s graduation Mass from grade school is in full swing. She reads the first reading, which embodies the theme chosen by her class of 12: “Small but mighty.” It is, of course, the tale of David and Goliath, wherein an Israelite boy the age of these graduates, with a mere slingshot, vanquishes the giant Goliath in battle. David would go on to become Israel’s king only a few years later. Today the Word of God tells us that even a 14-year-old can lead the people out of danger, so long as she stays off her iPod long enough to hear God calling.

“People hunger for meaning during Mass,” says Father Thomas Sweetser, S.J., who works in parish renewal. Each week if we are mindful, the readings fill us up: They invite us to be grateful, to examine our prejudices, to look at our children with new eyes, to face our fears.

Just last weekend Jesus fell asleep on the disciples while out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. He was “asleep on a cushion,” says the text, endearingly (Mark 4:35-41). Soon he is being shaken awake by his buddies as a storm threatens to engulf them. His response? Basically it’s “What is it with you guys? Do you still not get it?”

Our homilist asks, “So how would you feel if you found out that you had cancer, or that you had lost your job, or that your son was on drugs, or that your spouse was leaving you?” His words recount the need to face our worst fears, assured of God’s steadfast presence. “And sometimes,” he says, “you have to wake God up.”

By Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our FaithClaretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2013 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

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