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Can't wait to meet our Class of 2022 at the High School Placement Test Saturday, Dec. 9 at 9 a.m.!

Gospel Reflections

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, December 3, 2017: Mark 13:33-17
By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

I used the time off over the Thanksgiving break to clean out parts of my house than needed an overhaul. Once such area is the family room where we are in desperate need of new furniture to sit on. In fact, sitting on one side of our very old couch is a downright hazard; it feels like falling directly to the floor. We also decided that the very old, big-box TV downstairs may need replacing since it’s too out-of-date to connect to my son’s more modern electronic game system. So I took pictures of what I was ready to part with, posted them on Craigslist and Offer Up at the low, low price of very little, and then waited. Unfortunately, it appears that I’m not the only person who doesn’t want a beat-up couch or boxy TV. I didn’t get even one bite. 

Until I changed the list price from very little to absolutely nothing. Then everyone and her uncle emailed me to claim one or more of these now completely free items. Within hours, a couch, oversized chair, TV, and small entertainment center were gone. 

I knew I’d be happy to be out with the old in order to have space for the new. But I also found other huge benefits to my clean-out project that I never anticipated. I was struck by how profoundly thankful the people were who claimed my old things. The folks who hauled away my cast-offs looked like they were on top of the world at having landed my freebies. They shook my hand and clapped me on the shoulder and said, “God bless you,” more than once. I was humbled by their abject gratitude. 

But that wasn’t all. I thought my only furniture option for the odd layout of my family room would be to replace the pieces I got rid of exactly and in the very same position. But now that the couch and big chair are gone, I can truly see the room and all its potential. I realize now that I have more options in replacing the old pieces than I ever thought possible. 

For weeks now in the Gospel readings, Jesus has been telling us cautionary tales about the importance of being ready for the coming of the Son of Man. We’ve heard about the virgins who didn’t prepare well enough for the arrival of the bridegroom and the servant who buried the resources entrusted to him rather than using them well. And this Sunday, he’ll directly tell us, “Be watchful! Be alert!” (Mark 13:33). 

This kind of language resonated with the Jews of Jesus’ time. As a people long exiled, the Jews had a storied history of waiting for deliverance, so preparation for a future event was part of the fabric of their very consciousness. But our modern ears don’t hear these words the same way. The kind of waiting we do involves the minutes or even hours we are caught in a traffic jam, behind a long line of people in the supermarket checkout lane, or on the phone listening to the automated customer service message telling us to press “7” for the billing department. Although this kind of waiting frustrates us to no end, it’s nothing compared to the generations-long waiting that was part of the Jews’ very identity as a people. So instructions like, “Don’t get caught off guard,” don’t make as much sense to us. 

For me, “Be watchful! Be alert!” means something more like, “Clean things out!” Get rid of what is no longer needed to make room for something new. And in doing so, revel in the unexpected joy that this kind of renovation brings. Fortunately for us, the Church provides us times during the year when we are invited to “clean things out,” and one of them is the season of Advent we are now entering. It’s a perfect time to get rid of the old stuff – like past resentments and prejudices and our need to always be in control – to make room for all that is new – like forgiveness we once found taxing and compassion we thought too inconvenient. 

In other words, it’s a time to clear out our mangers to make room for the Christ Child. And quite paradoxically, we find that it’s in cleaning things out, in letting things go, that everything begins to look different. And surprisingly beautiful. New possibilities emerge. Opportunities that once seemed impossible now become sure things. New life blooms. Advent is calling us to “be watchful.” May we be alert the miracle of new life just waiting to explode around us.

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, November 19, 2017: Matthew 25:14-15, 19-21
By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

 

Not once in my entire life have I gone on a trip completely prepared. In the literally hundreds of trips I’ve taken - everything from a one-night stay by myself less than an hour away to a 12-day trek through seven different countries in Europe with 40 other people – I have never brought everything with me that I needed. Sometimes it’s minor toiletries I’ve forgotten, things like shampoo or deodorant. No big deal. Those aren’t hard to replace. But I’ve also been on a trip where I failed to bring even a stitch of underwear. None at all. I’ve been to the beach without a bathing suit, and I’ve been to a northeastern mountain retreat without a coat. Once I traveled to a conference where I was scheduled to speak . . . without my slides. As my mother always told me, “You’d lose your head if it weren’t attached.”

 

Now, don’t judge too harshly; I’m not a completely lost cause. It’s not like I fail to schedule time to pack or prepare a written list of what I’ll need ahead of time. I do all of that in spades. My problem is that I get caught up in “travel speculation” about the details and lose focus of the main point. “Travel speculation” is a malady I made up but believe should be a real thing. It’s where I think to myself, “But what if we have corn on the cob for dinner one night and I get food stuck in my teeth? If that happens, I’ll need dental floss.” So I make sure to pack dental floss . . . but forget the deodorant. Or I think, “But what if the people at the conference want to go out dancing after the awards banquet? If they do, I’ll need comfortable shoes.” So I pack my Dr. Scholl’s . . . but forget the suit I bought months ago for the sole purpose of being worn to the banquet itself.

 

In the Gospels lately, we see Jesus providing us with a lot of travel advice. Of course, it comes dressed in the form of quirky stories rather than Fodor’s travel guides.   Last week, Jesus told us to make sure we pack the right stuff. In the parable of the ten virgins, those who fail to bring oil for their lamps miss out on the arrival of the bridegroom. The message is clear – be prepared! And then this week, Jesus will tell us that it’s not just about bringing along the right stuff; it’s also about using it all wisely along the way. He’ll tell us the story about the master leaving differing amounts of his resources with three of his servants. The ones given five and two talents or resources are able to double theirs while he is away. But the third, who buries his and fails to increase his at all, seems to suffer from another malady known as “atychiphobia.” Believe it or not, I didn’t make that one up. It’s really just a fancy name for “fear of failure.” This servant was afraid to lose what he was given, so he did nothing and was consequently cursed by the master. The message in this parable is also pretty clear. Bringing the right stuff on our trip alone isn’t enough; we have to use it wisely. After all, all the clothes and underwear and toiletries and PowerPoint slides in the world won’t do me any good when I travel if I leave them all in my suitcase.

 

I’ll admit it. I’m not always the perfect traveler on this journey known as life. Sometimes I lose sight of the important things to pack when I engage in ridiculous “travel speculation.” Sometimes I think, “But what if I need to achieve great things and impress people?” At those times, I pack large quantities of “ambition” but forget to include even a tiny bit of “patience.” And other times my simple “fear of failure” makes me want to bury my resources rather than take a chance at spending them. Sometimes I think, “Compassion here will be too exhausting and time consuming, so I’d better save my energy for when I may need it later.” And then I end up with nothing but what I started with, which is really less than nothing in the end.

 

Our life’s journey is a crazy, confusing, heartbreaking, exhilarating one, but in the Gospels, Jesus has some great advice for us along the way. You know what you really need. Bring that with you and forget the rest. The rest will take care of itself, and you can’t predict the future anyway no matter how hard you try. And don’t keep everything hidden away in your suitcase. Get it out and use it up. In spades. That’s what it’s meant for.

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, November 5, 2017: Matthew 23:1-12
By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

Want to break the Internet? I figured out how. Just Google the word “love.” Go ahead and try it. In just 0.68 seconds, you will get a mind-blowing 7,870,000,000 hits. That’s close to eight trillion – with a “T” – which is exponentially more than the results you’d get for “restaurants near me” and “funny cat videos” combined. 

Why is there so much out there on love? Maybe it’s because love is a many splendored thing. Or because it makes the world go ‘round. Maybe it’s because all is fair in both it and war or because it’s better to have done so and lost than never to have done so at all. Or maybe there’s so much written about love because nobody really knows what it is, and we think that if we just keep talking and writing about it, we’ll eventually figure it out. It’s funny, isn’t it? The thing we most desire in life, that which we would take impossible risks for, the thing we might even give up our very lives because of . . . is something we’d be hard pressed to define with absolute certainty. With a little more study, I could probably explain the basic principles of quantum physics more definitively than I could define love with confidence. 

That said, we all have a working definition of the term anyway, whether we are conscious of it or not. All of us use the term to mean . . . something because we need it to get by in the world. For some of us, our working definition of love is an intense feeling of warmth for another. For others, it’s a physical attraction. For still others, it’s something we greatly enjoy or take pleasure in. I could probably go on for hours. 

My own working definition has evolved quite a bit over the years, and it will probably continue to grow and change as I do. In my youth I thought love was an emotion. Certainly, I still use it that way: I love my son dearly, I love a vacation at the beach, I love to read, and I love snow days. Like so many of us, I use it that way because people understand what I mean. In truth though, I see love less as a feeling and more of an “approach” or a “stance.” Maybe even a “decision” about how to be alive in the world, or perhaps a “recognition” of the essence of reality itself. 

To me, love is the recognition that the “other” is not really separate from me. It’s putting the other person’s needs before mine but not because doing so helps keep social order or because I was told to in church. Both of those are true, but for me, it’s putting the other person’s needs before mine because I recognize that we are not really separate from each other after all. Being made in God’s image and likeness is just another way of saying that we are all made of the same “God stuff.” We all came from God, and we will all return to God. The image of the ocean is helpful for me here. We each might be our own individual wave crashing onto the shore, but we all came from the ocean, and we will all return to the ocean. When you think about it, you realize that it’s no big deal to be a wave. They come and go in seconds. But it’s a really big deal to be the ocean. 

That “attitude” or “approach” makes it illogical to intentionally do harm to or keep from helping other people. That’s true whether those people are folks close to me for whom I have deep feelings of warmth OR people I will never know personally but whose choices I find abhorrent. If those people are “ocean” every bit as much as I am – no matter how annoying or downright evil I find their particular waves to be – then it simply doesn’t make sense not to seek the best for them. I’d call it “enlightened self-interest,” so to speak. 

In last week’s Gospel, Jesus gave his Cliff Notes address where he distilled the whole point of his entire ministry into a tiny nutshell. What do we need to do? Love God and neighbor. Sounds simple, right? But this week he will caution us against trying to take the easy way out. The easy way to love would be to simply get the externals right - follow the rules, say the right things, be seen doing the right practices. By scolding the Pharisees for their “look at how holy I am” antics, I think he’s telling us that doing and saying the right things are great . . . but those are just the leaves on the tree that fade and fall and merely reflect the health of the trunk and roots. The true essence of love is far deeper than the simple matter of checking the boxes. It’s a truly transformative, inner journey we take throughout life that makes it possible for us to recognize God present in everyone and everything and act accordingly. It’s about approaching life knowing that when it comes right down to it, it’s all “ocean.”

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, October 22, 2017: Matthew 22:15-21
By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

I’d like to think of myself as a person of keen intellect, clever wit, and the occasional burst of genius. But if I’m being honest, I must admit that the contents of my thoughts most days are nothing but the most mundane, unremarkable stuff around. This morning was no exception. As I got out of bed, I started thinking about the possibility of EITHER eating in tonight OR going out to dinner. Then I looked at my calendar on my bedside table to see if we would EITHER be free this evening OR had a scheduled event. After discovering that we were booked after all, I started to wonder if my son would EITHER have enough time to study for the big test tomorrow given this family event that will take up his time OR if he’d end up with a low grade in a class that he finds challenging. That prompted me to reflect on the decision to EITHER stay the course with our current academic support plan OR add some additional tutoring. And that, of course, made me ruminate on the issue of EITHER finding the extra money right now to spend for said tutoring OR needing to come up with another strategy. From there, my mind went to further thoughts about money and if we’d EITHER have enough saved for retirement OR be in trouble when the time comes. Then I mused about the possibility of EITHER having more money in savings if we decided not to eat out very much OR that the additional savings isn’t worth the sacrifice. Which brought me back to my first though – EITHER eat in tonight OR dine out?

 

This morning was not unlike most other mornings . . . which aren’t unlike most other afternoons and evenings. Mundane. Commonplace. But the difference this morning was that I noticed something interesting about all this tedium that makes up the contents of my thoughts and, by consequence, the stuff of my life – “either/or.” We make our way through the world by the answers to all the either/or propositions that make up the fabric of daily lives. Either right or wrong? Either black or white? Either win or lose? Either Coke or Pepsi?

 

In the Gospel reading we’ll hear this Sunday, the Pharisees try to trick Jesus by asking if he believes it’s lawful for people to pay the census tax to Rome. This question puts him between the proverbial rock and hard place. If Jesus said it was just to pay taxes to Caesar, then his fellow Jews who felt persecuted by the Roman occupation would be irate and feel that he had sold out to power instead of being the savior they hoped he’d be. But if he said the tax should not be paid, Roman authorities would have every reason to find him in contempt of the law. Jesus was too clever for them though and responds, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God" (Matthew 22: 21). Instead of choosing to EITHER accept the tax or reject it, he says to BOTH give the tax to Caesar AND surrender our lives to God.

 

So many of Jesus’ parables attempt to break us free from our “either/or” thinking and move us into more of a “both/and” acceptance of life. We divide so much of our experience into false dichotomies: either young or old, either American or foreign, either educated or unschooled, either Democrat or Republican. But life in Christ is not an either/or proposition. It’s both suffering and joy, both sinfulness and sainthood, both death and resurrection.   “Both/and” is part of the very essence of life, something at the core of what it means to be human. “Both/and” may be the very blueprint of our salvation as lived out by Jesus Christ. And how blessed we are because of it.

 

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, October 1, 2017: Matthew 21:28-32
By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

Ah, the good ol’ days. For me, they were the late 80s back when I was in college and the livin’ was easy, or at least hindsight makes me think it was. I had everything I ever needed: parents still supporting me financially, ultra-hold hair spray for my big permed coif, cute boys calling on landline phones to ask me out, and a clearly visible waist. Life was good. 

Thanks to my revisionist view of history, there were just two things I remember worrying about during that time. One was nuclear annihilation at the hands of the Soviet Union. The Cold War was at its frigid extreme during that time, so there was a lot of talk about all the nuclear warheads our countries had, how we could obliterate each other several times over, and that the only thing that stood between us and doomsday was some big red button. Call me stupid, but I can’t say this was more than a minor league worry for me. My family didn’t have an underground bunker created to preserve life in case of attack like wealthy people, so I figured that either cataclysmic destruction wouldn’t happen at all – in which case I’d be fine – or it would happen and I’d be vaporized – in which case I’d be fine, just in a different way. 

Honestly, I worried far more about the second fear I had at the time – U.S. adoption of the metric system. It was in the news a lot, and we were told to prepare for the transition. What if I could no longer speak in terms of inches or miles? What if I had to quickly convert units in my head? It was enough to make a girl put down her Aqua Net and shudder in fright. 

One thing that people seem to be existentially afraid of today – granted, there are more than a few, but let’s take one just for fun – is the dominance of algorithms. A quick Google search for the term turns up articles with titles like, “How Algorithms Rule the World” and “Algorithms Will Continue to Spread Everywhere” and “Will Algorithms and Artificial Intelligence Change the Human Species?” And we thought the Zika virus was scary! 

As I understand it, an algorithm is a set of steps or instructions for completing a task or solving a problem. Given certain inputs, it will generate consistent outputs. My morning routine – wake up, hit the snooze, shower, dress, etc. – is an algorithm at its most basic level. We think about them more though in our digital lives where computer codes make them as ubiquitous as they are hidden from view, like air . . . or maybe elevator music. Ever do a search on Google? Or purchase something online? And then maybe track that purchase via UPS to your front door? Ever download music? Or read Facebook’s news feed? Or find your perfect match on eHarmony? Then you have been either the beneficiary or the victim of algorithms at work. 

The beautiful thing about them – the whole reason they are seemingly everywhere - is that they make sense. Every time certain inputs are given, certain outputs are produced. Just like clockwork. Every time I log on to Amazon.com., click “add to cart” for the item I want, and then “checkout,” I know I will find a box on my front porch in a couple days. We love algorithms because they’re logical, predictable, and reliable. The doomsday prophets may be right when they caution against algorithms taking our species into places we shouldn’t go, but at their essence, they give us a valuable treasure – they make perfect sense. 

In last week’s Gospel, Jesus tells what I consider to be one of his most challenging parables. The landowner agrees to pay vineyard workers a given wage early in the morning and sends them off to work. But then later in the day, he does the same with another set of workers, and later still with only one hour left in the work day, he does the same. But when it’s time to pay up, all the workers get the same wage. Naturally, those who had worked all day long were outraged. Surely, they deserved more than those slackers who only put in an hour’s work! Surely, certain inputs should lead to logical, predictable outputs! But the landowner turns that logic on his head and says hey, I gave you the agreed upon wage. Why complain just because I’m generous? It’s actually the folks at the end of the line who win the prize (Matthew 20: 1-16A). 

Then this week Jesus teaches a similar lesson by contrasting the responses of two sons to their father’s request to work in the vineyard. One says, “No way, Dad,” but later changes his mind and works anyway. The other says, “Sure thing, Pop,” but never goes. Jesus agrees that the first son is the one who “did his father’s will” (Matthew 21: 28-32). At first glance, the second son appears to be the righteous one, the one with the correct inputs that that will lead to the proper, logical outputs. But in reality, it doesn’t work that way. 

Jesus goes to great lengths during his ministry to teach his disciples what seems to them – and to us today – to be a very twisted logic. You don’t get to heaven by doing things right. Instead, you find your life in God by dining with tax collectors, hanging out with prostitutes, paying unequal wages, ignoring the good guys, rewarding the undeserving. You don’t become rich by saving your money; you find wealth sharing it extravagantly. You don’t find your life by preserving it; you find your life by giving it away. In a very real sense, the Gospel of Jesus Christ makes no logical sense. It’s the “anti-algorithm.” 

I’m happy to say that I no longer fear the metric system. Plenty of other things have taken its place on my list of things to worry about. But I don’t think the future of algorithms will be one of them. No matter how pervasive they become in our Google searching, Facebook liking, 140-character tweeting, Amazon purchasing, and whatever-come-next-ing, algorithms will never be able to point to the ultimate truth at the core of life that Jesus taught us about. I’ll take that “pearl beyond price” over the benefits of photo sharing or right swiping any ol’ day.

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, September 17, 2017: Matthew 18:21-35
By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

I have attended hundreds of wedding ceremonies in my life. I’ve seen everything from a “high church” Catholic Mass with an army of attendants and doves released in flight to the quickie “I-Do-So-Let’s-Get-This-Party-Started” four-minute ceremony with a justice of the peace. I recently attended the wedding of a colleague of my husband’s, and since I didn’t know either the bride or groom and was only there as my husband’s “plus one,” I was able to evaluate the whole ritual from an unbiased, objective point of view. Sitting in the pew that day, I drew a surprising conclusion - just about every wedding homily or sermon I’ve ever heard is woefully off base. 

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying they were poorly written or uninspiring. Quite the contrary – I’ve heard incredibly moving descriptions of love and commitment. I’ve been enraptured by oratory that I can only describe as sheer poetry. I’ve been moved to tears on multiple occasions. But the problem is that as beautiful as these addresses may have been, they’ve also left out a whole heck of a lot. As a 23-year veteran of the institution of marriage myself, I think if I were giving the homily or sermon, I might say something like … 

The love of two people is a sacred gift from God. It just doesn’t always feel that way. Like when you share something really important, something emotionally painful with your husband because he’s your soul mate, and when you finish, he says, “I’m playing nine holes after work on Thursday, so I’ll be late for dinner.” Or when you ask your wife what she might like as a gift for your anniversary, and she responds with venom, “Well, if I have to tell you, then we might as well not even celebrate an anniversary!” Or when your husband invites his mother who lives out of town to stay with you after the baby arrives. For six weeks . . . and is hurt because he doesn’t understand why you aren’t overjoyed to have the help. Or when you open the trunk of your wife’s car to make sure she has jumper cables before an upcoming road trip only to find that she has hidden numerous department store purchases there hoping you will never find out how much money she’s spent. Yes, the love of two people is a sacred gift from God. But at times, all the muck you have to slog through in marriage makes you seriously wonder if you weren’t temporarily insane when you said, “I do.” 

In last week’s Gospel, we heard Jesus tell his disciples that if your brother sins, then take him aside and talk to him about it. And if that doesn’t work, then bring in some others to help you work with him. And if that doesn’t work, get some more folks involved. And if that doesn’t work, get the whole church on board to help him. In other words, Jesus says that when people do dumb things or hurt us deeply, we should simply keep at it. Even when people seems like lost causes, when nothing we try seems to work, when it looks like there isn’t one iota of anything worth redeeming in their selfish little souls, we should still keep at it. Then this week, we’ll hear Jesus say that we should forgive. And then when we get hurt again – even at the hands of the very same person – we should forgive again. And again. And again and again and again. In other words, keep at it. Keep slogging through the muck. Keep trying to love. 

Naturally, Jesus wasn’t referring to marriage in these passages of Matthew’s Gospel – or at least, not to marriage alone. I think he was giving us insight into ALL human relationships. The closer we are to people, the more muck there is to slog through. And Jesus’ advice is to keep at it, to never give up, even when giving up is the only thing that makes any sense. Of course, there are some relationships that must be ended for the individuals involved to heal and move forward in a healthy way. But I wonder if sometimes we want to pull the plug on some of our relationships because we think love means beautiful emotions and sacrificial giving. It can. It does. But as Jesus explains in the Gospels, perhaps even more so, love also means slogging through the muck. In fact, I think the slogging itself is far closer to the true definition of love than any hearts or flowers could ever be. Love of any kind doesn’t always feel like a sacred gift, but it always is.

 

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, September 3, 2017: Matthew 16:22-23
By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

When I was a young adult, my guilty pleasure was watching Days of Our Lives. Every day. VCRs had become commonplace during the late 80s and early 90s when I graduated college and started teaching, so the first thing I did when I got home from a long day at school was to rewind the tape and hit play on that day’s episode. It became my end-of-the-work-day-stress-relief ritual.   

I loved that I could rely on Days to comfort me by repeatedly demonstrating that no matter how bad my day had been, someone in the fictional town of Salem had it far worse. Consider Carly Manning who was buried alive and almost died until the nefarious Vivian Alamain who put her there confessed. Or Sami Brady’s attempt to sell her half-sister on the black market. Or the evil Stefona DiMera who brainwashed John Black, extracted his memories, and somehow saved them to a computer disc. Of course, who could forget the demonic possession of then heroine Marlena Evans? Without a doubt, these folks were a lot worse off that I’d ever be.   

But it wasn’t just the crazy storylines that captivated me; it was also the characters themselves. In most every case, each character was either “good” or “bad,” not anything in between. And it took only seconds upon meeting a new character to know which side of the good vs. evil conflict he or she was on. Today, I get bored with such flat, uncomplicated, one-dimensional characters in the fiction I read, but back during my soap opera days, the simplicity of being able to identify the good guys from the bad guys was a welcome relief. 

In the Gospel reading we heard last Sunday, Jesus embraces Simon Peter as the ultimate “good guy.” When he identifies Jesus as the Christ, Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah . . . you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16: 17-18). Could there be any higher praise? But then this Sunday, we’ll see the complete opposite! When Jesus tells the disciples that he will suffer and die, Peter gets in his face and insists, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall every happen to you.” But instead of feeling warm and fuzzy about Peter’s obvious concern, he blasts him by saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me” (Matthew 16: 22-23). My goodness, even the vile Stefano DiMera never spoke so harshly! 

To me, each individual story is less instructive than both of them taken together. After all, Peter goes from saint to sinner - from hero to villain - in the space of a mere four Bible verses! Together, they highlight the universal truth that real human beings aren’t good or bad but both at the same time. We are not built for soap opera life. Instead, we are beautiful persons created in the image and likeness of God with the capacity for love and compassion without limitation. And . . . we are broken beings who can engage in all manner of evil when we feel our backs are against the wall. Like Peter, we are good guys and bad guys all at the same time. 

But just what does recognizing that truth do for us? Hopefully, it will make us humble because no matter what virtuous heights we reach today, tomorrow might find us descending into the pit of greed and hatred. Hopefully, it will allow us to forgive ourselves and each other because no matter how much I have been hurt, I know that I have also hurt others. Hopefully, it will prompt us to recognize that we are works in process with a visceral need to grow, to reach beyond ourselves, to stretch toward God. We are not flat soap opera characters. Rather, we are complicated creatures on a journey that twists and turns and even at its calmest still requires seat belts.

I believe that this moral complexity is woven into the very fabric of our being. This bewildering blend of the good and bad within us and the continual struggle between them is one of the few constants in our ever-changing lives. We will probably never learn that our son is really our late husband who was cloned by a criminal mastermind or that we were cruelly switched at birth only to need a kidney from our unknown biological mother. But we will continually struggle with the angels and devils inside of us. It’s the unfolding of this holy tension that makes up the real-life days of our lives. 

 

 

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, August 20, 2017: Matthew 15:21-28
By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry


I never went to law school, but I don’t think I need to because I now know everything I need to know about the law. And I learned it all by watching TV. No, not Law and Order or NCIS. Not The Practice, Scandal, or Boston Legal. Not even L.A. Law or Perry Mason. This summer I started watching Drop Dead Diva on Netflix, and now that I am completely hooked, I feel confident in several new legal skills I’ve gained. I now know what it means to “file an injunction,” I can dismissively say, “See you in court!” with appropriate venom, and I am prepared to yell, “I object!” with the red-hot passion of a real attorney fighting for a wrongly accused, scruffy, yet adorable defendant with whom I may one day fall in love. 

But that only scratches the surface of my new knowledge. Before this show, I thought a “second chair” was an additional place to sit. Evidently, it’s also the term for a fellow attorney who assists with a case but does not call the shots. I’ve also learned that if the initial claim you file doesn’t work with the judge or jury, you just need to come up with another one. Language like, “Your honor, I’d like to amend my original claim and now contend that . . .” should do the trick. But if you still aren’t successful, think of yet another. In one clever episode, the initial petition started out as “defamation of character,” quickly moved to “sexual harassment,” and eventually – and successfully – landed with “breach of contract.” It seems that the best attorneys, on this show at least, never give up. If your “wrongful death” petition doesn’t get the jury on your side, then dump that and try, “reckless endangerment.” And when that one bites the dust, give “willful negligence” a shot. In short, my recent Netflix preoccupation has reaffirmed for me the importance of a good, old-fashioned value -- persistence. 

Both last week’s Gospel and the one we’ll hear this Sunday deal with faith, something this drop dead diva thinks may be one of the most tortured, misunderstood words in the English language. For many of us, “faith” simply means believing a contention to be true, even without any physical evidence to prove it. It’s sweet – romantic even – to think of faith in this way. And it’s easy too. If faith is simply a matter of intellectual assent to a proposition, then we’re kind of off the hook – no heavy lifting. All I have to do to be “in the club” then is to agree to a list of statements. There’s one problem though – “easy” is rarely the path to wisdom. In short, “I object!” to the notion that simply agreeing that various statements are true is what faith is really all about. 

Last week, we heard the classic story of how Jesus walked on water, and Peter did the same . . . until he felt the strength of the wind and heard the crashing of the waves and became frightened. He cried out, “Lord, save me!” And of course, Jesus did. But he had some harsh words for Peter -- “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14: 30-31). It seems that when things got scary, Peter gave up. Persistence was not his forte. 

Then this week, we’ll hear about the Canaanite woman who maneuvers herself to see Jesus saying, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” The disciples want Jesus to send her away, but no – he won’t hear of it. But when she calls out for his help again, Jesus answers with some of the most bizarre, confusing lines he says in all the Gospels: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs" (Matthew 15: 22-26). 

Seriously? Is Jesus really saying that he doesn’t want to help her? That to do so would be like taking food from children to throw it to lowly dogs like her? Of course not. I think Jesus was cleverly trying to throw up a roadblock just to see if it would make her fold. And it didn’t. In fact, she does not take offense or walk off in a huff, like lots of people in TV courtrooms do. Instead, she persists by saying, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." Jesus applauds her persistence and replies, “O woman, great is your faith.” And at that, her daughter is healed (Matthew 15: 27-28). 

To me, faith isn’t giving intellectual assent to a list of statements. It’s less about what we think in our brains and more about what we do with our hands and feet. In my view, it’s more about persistence than insistence. Faith is waiting for long hours in the waiting room every time the person you care about has another treatment. It’s picking your kid up from school and taking her to practice even when it’s your ex-spouse’s day to have her and you must cancel other plans to make it happen. It’s knocking on your grumpy, old neighbor’s door to ask if he wants some of your homegrown tomatoes even though he hasn’t answered the last four times you’ve tried to visit, even though you know he’s home. It’s calling to check on your nephew every day for two months after he got out of recovery to make sure that he made it through the day without a drink. It’s taking the time to show your technology-challenged colleague how to get her email on her phone for the third time today even though you have an injunction to file, you need to see someone in court tomorrow, and you object to all the times that helping her out cuts into your lunch hour. 

For me, faith isn’t so much about the beliefs we say we agree to be true. Certainly, there’s a place for that, and a strong sense of what one believes in is empowering. But this particular drop dead diva thinks faith is far more about persisting... when life is hard and heartbreaking and anything but happy. When things got tough, Peter quit reaching out and moving forward. But the Canaanite woman persisted with Jesus despite the complication he threw her way. That kind of faith – the kind made up of words and actions that look really ordinary because they are – is the kind of faith to which I have no “objection.”

 

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, May 28, 2017: John 14: 16-19
By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

 

In addition to my “day job” as campus minister at AHS, I also teach ESL writing virtually to students in China two mornings each week. With the exception of having to wake up incredibly early those days due to the time change, I can honestly say I love my part-time gig. And what’s not to love? My maximum class size is four, I’ve never once had a student fail to complete a homework assignment, and the kids I’ve taught are completely delightful in countless ways. I have enjoyed every minute of it.

 

Until we covered prepositions. Go ahead . . . try to define “preposition.” Just try. I dare you. Then try to explain it to a nine-year-old kid for whom English is a second language. If you were to look up the definition, you’d find something incredibly vague like, “a word that connects nouns or pronouns” or “a word that shows a relationship.” Nouns and verbs are easy to explain, but getting my students to understand prepositions has felt every bit as hard as plugging a hole in the Titanic. After some frustration and head-scratching though, I used a new tactic, something I think I stole from a far more creative teacher ages ago, and explained prepositions as anything that a squirrel can do to a tree. A squirrel can go around, over, to, behind, in, into, out of, near, over, towards, under, and beneath a tree. So I created cute little pictures of squirrels doing just about every imaginable thing in relation to a tree and voila! It worked. They now understand prepositions.

 

In last Sunday’s Gospel reading, we heard Jesus oft-quoted line, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). For over 2,000 years, we have loved this line. It’s black and white, easy to understand, and gives us our marching order. Want to be a Christian? Great! Then just follow the rules: go to church on Sunday, be kind to others, forgive when injured, give to the less fortunate. Piece of cake.

 

Unfortunately, though, life isn’t quite that simple. Most of us don’t get too far into young adolescence before we realize that life has a whole lot more “grey area” than black-and-white clarity, and simple rule-following doesn’t always get us where we need to go. Nouns that we used to find pretty straightforward and unambiguous – things like love, sin, death, justice, pain – can become obscured in the clash between rules that guide and laws that stifle, between being right and doing good, between the presence of faith and the persistence of culture.  

 

Verbs don’t have it any easier though. In our youth, to love meant having warm feelings and continual happiness, but as we grew we learned that loving is often one of life’s most painful experiences. Similarly, to die meant the end of the story, the point beyond which life is no longer possible. Fortunately though, we learned through the Paschal mystery and our own life experiences that things are not always the way they seem and that life can follow death. And in such a mysterious, maddening world as the one in which we live, just “following the rules” is rarely enough when it comes to the fullness of life that Jesus spoke of.

 

But if we look past the nouns and verbs and simple “do what I say” sense of morality, I think both last week’s Gospel and what we’ll hear this Sunday celebrating the Ascension has a lot to say about ultimate reality through, of all things, a couple mind-blowing prepositions: with and in. Last week, we heard Jesus say that he will send an Advocate “to be with you always” and that we should not worry about recognizing this Spirit of Truth because “he remains with you, and will be in you.” He goes on to push the envelope even further by saying that eventually we “will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you” (John 14:16-19). And this Sunday we’ll hear Jesus say again, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

 

Call me crazy, but I think Jesus’ use of prepositions is telling. I think he calls us to live in love and with hope, in faith and with compassion. To me, his message is more about invitations than prescriptions, more about relationships than rules. And I find this invitation to relationship far more compelling and life affirming than the promise of a ticket to the afterlife if I follow all the rules.

 

My ESL students are right to be confused by prepositions. Many of them are tiny, but they pack a powerful punch. Nouns and verbs have their place, and following the rules is an important part of a healthy, happy life. But Jesus came to help us see that living in relationship with God every second of every day takes us far beyond anything that simple adherence to the rules ever can.

 

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, May 12, 2017: John 14: 1-12
By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

Remember that old riddle, “What’s the sound of one hand clapping?” I think I heard it for the first time when I was ten or eleven, and I thought, “You can’t clap with one hand! What a stupid question!” I was aghast to learn that it was an often-quoted, downright famous question that even adults much older and wiser than myself found captivating. To me, it was complete, useless nonsense. What idiots adults can be! 

It took a lot of years before I understood the genius of that question. It’s a great example of a “koan,” which is a kind of riddle that contains what appears to be a far-fetched, illogical, or even impossible paradox. They have been used for centuries by practitioners of Zen Buddhism as a way to break down one’s dependence on reason in an attempt to get at truths that only an intuition or wisdom deeper than the logical intellect could apprehend. Some koans are dialogues or little stories while others are simple statement or questions. Famous ones I’ve always liked are, “What is your original face before you were born?” and “What is the color of wind?” 

We Christians from the West might be tempted to think that our tradition doesn’t have much room for the koans common to ancient Eastern thought, but not so! In fact, our tradition is chock full of them, in a manner of speaking! Take for instance the shepherd and the lost sheep. What a koan that is! Any person who has been in charge of anything or anyone for more than half a minute knows that there is no way the head honcho can leave the masses to set out in search of one lost cause. At best, any “shepherd” like that will find himself at the Unemployment Office by the end of the week. At worst, he’ll behind bars for criminal negligence. And consider the father who throws a huge party for the son who squandered his money and made him a laughing stock. I don’t know about you, but if any friend of mind did this same thing today, I’d be on the phone trying to get her some help for her mental health issues pronto. Both of those stories – and many more like them - are koans in their own right because the only way to make sense of them is to let go of our need to understand them rationally. They convey a truth beyond logic and reason that speaks to us about the depth and richness of God’s love, a reality that can never be fully understood through the intellect alone. 

Our Gospel readings since Easter have come from the Gospel of John. The other Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – are pretty straightforward in how they describe the life and death of Jesus Christ for their individual audiences. But John breaks rank with them and uses much more poetic imagery and figurative language to get his ideas across. I would argue that he’s no stranger to the koan either. Last week, we heard Jesus say, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” My ten-year-old self would have said in response, “Jesus, you are many things but a gate is not one of them! You are a man and God but not a gate!” Then this Sunday we’ll hear Jesus say the same thing but in different words: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” 

Again, ten-year-old me would object and say, “How can I possibly go through you? That makes no sense!” 

At times, I think we Christians have tried to interpret these sayings with reason and logic. We tell ourselves that going “through the gate” of Jesus must mean that we need to believe certain tenants, follow certain laws, take certain actions, say certain words. All that is well and good and has its place, but I’m not sure that’s what Jesus was trying to get us to see. After all, all of that is what our logical, rational minds have come up with in the face of something profoundly mysterious. Surely, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” has to mean something more than just, “You need to be a card-carrying Christian in order to make the cut into heaven when you die.” 

When I sit with the image of a gate – really sit with it and let it speak to me rather than trying to rationally figure out what Jesus had in mind - I see it swinging open for someone to walk “through.” I don’t see it closed with a lock on it or a guard in front of it. I don’t see it made of precious metals or attached to a large mansion. I see it by itself, simple and ordinary . . . swinging open . . . inviting someone to walk through. 

I think Jesus might be inviting us to the far-beyond-rational understanding that to “have life and have it more abundantly,” we need to swing open ourselves – to relationships, to risks, to poverty, to pain, even to death. After all, the resurrected Christ has shown us that even the worst that life can dish out is no match for God. Therefore, there’s nothing – absolutely nothing - to be afraid of. Perhaps it is in just such a faithful openness that we are able to hear the sound of one hand clapping and see the beautiful colors of the wind.

 

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, April 30, 2017: Luke 24: 13-35

By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

 

I have often wondered how the state of Missouri pulled it off. But somehow, despite a crowded field of 49 other competitors, Missouri alone got the designation as the “Show Me State.” In my mind, our whole country - perhaps all of Western civilization - seems filled with “show me” people. We are a skeptical bunch. We need the facts, alternative or otherwise, and we spend a lot of our waking hours sharing them, debating them, refuting them, retweeting them. Making a decision? Show me my options. Going to court? Show me the evidence. Investing in high-yield stock options? Show me the data. But ask me to take something on blind faith? Show me the door. 

Maybe that’s why I’ve always had something of a crush on the figure we know as Doubting Thomas. In last week’s Gospel, he was otherwise engaged when Jesus appeared to the other disciples, so when he gets wind of what he missed out on, he says, “Show me the wounds.” And then this Sunday, we’ll hear the story of the disciples meeting the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus without recognizing him. This is one of my very favorite Bible stories, and it’s sometimes used as the Gospel reading on Easter Sunday for Masses later in the day. I guess I like it so much because it’s a “show me” story.   

In it, the disciples are shocked that this stranger on the road doesn’t seem to have the first clue about whatever anyone else with a pulse knew – that Jesus of Nazareth, their beloved friend and teacher, has been put to death. But they walk and talk with him for much of the day. This guy has cool things to say about the meaning of scripture, they think. He’s a likable guy, interesting and kind.  So they invite him to stay on with them; no sense in parting ways so soon. And then it happens. It’s only in watching Jesus break bread at the meal that they realize they are in the presence of Christ.   

For me, the brilliance of this story is in the fact that it wasn’t a loud thunder clap or some sort of magic trick that allowed the disciples to realize the divinity present right there with them. It was the simple, ordinary act of breaking bread, something they all did multiple times a day every day of the year. On one level, it’s like the disciples had said, “Who are you really? Prove it to us. Show us the evidence.”  But it wasn’t an Orson Welles voice from the heavens or some celestial abracadabra that was offered as proof. The “evidence,” for lack of a better term, was the ordinary stuff of life. 

That is the best part of the “good news” of Jesus Christ. All life is sacred. Grace is right here, right now, everywhere, all the time.  Resurrection means opening oneself to the aliveness of God in every single moment, no exceptions. Put another way, our messy, astonishing, boring, chaotic lives hold within them our very salvation. I believe that this knowledge is God’s answer to perhaps our most profound “show me” request - show me the way. 

 

Gospel Reflection for Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017: Luke 24: 13-35

By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

 

I’ve spent many spring breaks in recent years visiting my sister and her husband in North Carolina. It has become tradition for us to get our first pedicure of the season together at this time each year, and we continue to find new, amazing restaurants to try out. But this year was a little different. We still had our customary rituals, but we also spent hours going through old photos, greeting cards, and letters. My father passed away 10 months ago, and my mother is declining dramatically now, so my sister thought it would be a good time for us to go through them.

 

I’m not very good about looking back. I have a terrible memory, and in all honestly, I usually have little interest in revisiting the past. I take pictures at family events and squirrel away artifacts of the milestones in my son’ s life but only in case he may want them some day. Going back through them myself hasn’t been something I’ve felt driven to do. I guess the plus side to that trait is that I rarely waste time on regret. What happened in the past is, well, in the past, so getting worked up about it now seems like a big waste of time. But the down side to my historical nearsightedness is that I may miss out on opportunities to honor – or even remember – the important people and events that have shaped the person I have become.

 

I have asked my son repeatedly in the last few years if he remembers his grandparents when they were happy and healthy, and he continually assures me that he does. But even though I’ve had them decades longer than he has, I struggle to call up images of them that don’t involve the the last four years: doctors’ appointments and medications, memory loss and physical impairment, financial and emotional struggle, Ensure and Depends.

 

I’m so glad I listened to my sister.  We spent hours reading the “long, newsy letters” Mom sent to my sister after she moved out of state that caught her up on the latest news about friends and family and her beloved Atlanta Braves. We went through hundreds of photos that transported me back to times when Mom hid Easter eggs in the house for me because I was too sick to hunt for them outside and Dad took us out for ice cream as a surprise when we least expected it. We found an incredible number of cards that she had sent to us during difficult times that repeated a common phrase, “I’m in your corner.” At times, it felt like we were back in the house we grew up in - with the Mom and Dad from years past right there with us - still pulling for us both, still in our corner.

 

On Easter Sunday we’ll hear one of two possible gospel stories. The first option is the account from John’s gospel about Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John finding the empty tomb. But personally, I’m hoping my parish with go with the other option – the story in Luke’s gospel of Jesus appearing to two disciples on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. These disciples are shaken up since the friend they dearly loved had just been crucified.  They don’t even recognize Jesus.  But they find him captivating and invite him to dine with them that evening. And of course, it is there – when he breaks bread and shares wine – that the disciples realize who is truly there with them.  They find that Jesus right there with them, in their corner the whole time.  

 

To me, the brilliance of this story is that the disciples’ recognition of Jesus comes not from miraculous feats or magic tricks. Instead, it’s in watching him do the simple, ordinary things he always did – break bread and pour wine – that them discover his true identity. By this simple act of sharing a meal, what was previously a past reality for them - that of Jesus, their beloved teacher and friend – breaks into their present reality in a tangible way. In Jesus’ simple words and deed, they remember. Literally, to re-member, is to “put back together again.” In their recognition of Jesus on the road to Emmaus, the disciples connect their past with their present; in essence, they get put back together again.

 

Going back through the words and images of my parents over the decades with my sister last week was a powerful re-membering for me. It helped me connect my past experiences with my present reality, something I very much needed to do as I prepare to say goodbye to my mother in the coming weeks or months. In a sense, we celebrate this same kind of re-membering as persons of faith. But not just once a year on Easter Sunday when we hear about the empty tomb or the stranger along the road. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, the experience of new life discovered in the resurrection in first century Jerusalem actually breaks through into our present reality through the ordinary gifts we bring to the table but which are sacramentally transformed. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we too can be transformed by our re-membering if only we have the eyes to see.

 

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, March 26, 2017: John 9: 1-41

By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

     There were a couple games that my sister, Vicki, and I played with neighborhood friends when we were little that drove my mother crazy. One was “Charlie’s Angels,” where we took on the roles of Sabrina, Jill, Kelly, Kris – even Bosley. We marched around the backyard pretending to solve crimes and apprehend evil-doers while being stunningly beautiful and maintaining shiny, bouncy hair. Mom was not a fan; she worried that it would make us want to shoot people when we got older. 
     The other was a game we thought was hysterically funny but our parents failed to appreciate – “Opposite Day.” Vicki and I would say all sorts of wild untruths to each other and crack up at what we thought was evidence of our superior intellect. I would bet money that you played it too and loved it as a kid . . . only to despise it as an adult when you had kids of your own who thought they invented the game and threw themselves into it with gusto. 
     But Mom and Dad were not fans of the game like Vicki and I were. “I hate you,” I told my mother, and just as her face began to wither, I’d shout, “Remember, Mom, it’s Opposite Day!” Charlie’s Angel or not, she looked ready to shoot me herself. 
     “Vicki fell off the jungle gym, and her leg looks funny,” I said to my dad and followed it with a quick, “Ha, ha, it’s Opposite Day! She’s really just taking a nap in her room!” Getting shot might have been preferable to my dad’s actual response. 
     Call me crazy, but I think Jesus might have liked “Opposite Day.” I feel certain he wouldn’t have been as horrible about its implementation as I was, but I think in the gospels he demonstrates a real affinity for paradox and apparent contradiction. For instance, last Sunday we heard Jesus ask the Samaritan woman for a drink of water. "’How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink? For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans” (John 4: 7-9). Jesus was a master of turning the conventional wisdom of the time directly on its head. Opposite Day, if you will. 
     Then this coming Sunday, his disciples will ask him if the condition of the man born blind that they encounter is a result of his sin or of his parents’ sin. Once again, Jesus pulls an “Opposite Day,” so to speak, and says “Neither,” which would have made no logical sense to a first century Jew (John 9: 2-3). 
     The older I get and the more I try to truly get to know the person of Jesus, the more I think that he is the master of paradox. When the logical response to a personal attack is retaliation, he says, “Turn the other cheek.” When we have been deeply hurt and the reasonable approach is to cut off ties to the person who hurt us, he says, “Forgive 7 times 70 times.” When we are asked for a handout and the most prudent response is to focus our resources on providing for ourselves and our family, he says, “Don’t just give him your shirt; give him your coat too.” When it seems to us that suffering and grief and poverty are the worst possible outcomes, he says, “You hit the jackpot; blessed are you!” 
     No two ways about it – Jesus’ message is confusing and frustrating and just plain mind-blowing. Unless... you start to see the wisdom in paradox and the power of contradiction. If only we could hold two opposites within us – black/white, Democrat/Republican, rich/poor, success/failure – maybe then we might understand something about ultimate meaning. Maybe then we might be able to glimpse something about the Kingdom of Heaven. Maybe “Opposite Day,” in the hands of more capable practitioners than my sister and me, is truly a gift.

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, March 12, 2017: John 4: 5-42

By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

 

Call me crazy, but I still watch Friends, the now classic sitcom that had an amazing 10-year run and was pretty much the soundtrack to the decade of the 90’s for me. Of course, it’s hard NOT to watch it since it’s airs in syndication on more cable channels than I can count. But although I’m sure I’ve seen every episode at least three times in random sequence, lately I’ve been watching it on Netflix from the very beginning in chronological order. Granted, I know there’s nothing realistic – or maybe even all that healthy – about a group of six friends who spend most every waking moment together. But there’s just something comforting about being drawn into a fictional world where even the most difficult life situations have their laugh-out-loud funny sides to them and Ross and Rachel eventually end up together. 

During one episode in the first season, Rachel questions her recent choice to leave her successful orthodontist fiancé at the altar. Sure, she didn’t love him, but she realizes that he would have been a safe choice. She would have had a clear path laid out before her, complete with the possibility of children, a big house in the suburbs, health insurance, and spending money, not the anxiety that comes from making one’s own way all alone. Her friend, Phoebe, tries to cheer her up by saying that she is like Jack, from Jack and the Beanstalk fame. Just as Rachel gave up her ticket to the good life, Jack gave up his family’s only source of income, a dairy cow. Instead of selling the cow for cash as his mother instructed, Jack exchanges it for magic beans. Of course, we know the end to the fairy tale; the beanstalk that grows from those magic beans leads Jack to endless treasure. But Rachel doubts that it will work out that way for her. She asks Phoebe and Monica, “Okay, see, see, you guys, what if we don't get magic beans? I mean, what if all we've got are… beans?” 

The gospel story we’ll hear this Sunday describes Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up a tall mountain and becoming transfigured right before their very eyes: “His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him” (Matthew 17:2-3). Peter is overjoyed and wants to capture the joy of that revelation. He offers to build three tents, one for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, so they can all stay there and live happily ever after. I think it’s his effort to bottle the experience, to capture that amazing revelation - that glimpse of the divine – so that he can have it always. Put another way, he simply doesn’t want regular ol’ beans. Only magic beans will do. 

But Jesus has none of it. Instead, he leads them back down the mountain, back down to their regular, ordinary, painful, confusing, anxiety-provoking lives. And he tells his friends not to even speak about what happened! But why? Why not let them set up camp where life is beautiful and pain free and “shining like the sun?” Why insist on getting back to the boredom and confusion and struggle of daily life? 

Perhaps his point is that regular ol’ beans are actually magic beans after all! Maybe regular ol’ life is where the divine is present every moment of every day. It might sound crazy or illogical, but if we stop and really think about it, it makes a certain kind of sense. After all, isn’t the very core of Christian faith the contention that how things seem to be isn’t at all how they truly are? That a tiny little baby born to a poor, unmarried couple holds the key to eternal life? That life actually comes from death? That love and compassion win out over power and greed? Perhaps this Lent can be a time of “transfiguration” for each of us if we can understand that regular ol’ beans are magic beans after all.

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, February 26, 2017: Matthew 4: 1-11

By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry


       Remember that old joke? In the words of Wolfgang Riebe, “There are only two things to worry about: either you are healthy or you are sick. If you are healthy, then there is nothing to worry about. But if you are sick there are only two things to worry about: either you will get well or you will die. If you get well, then there is nothing to worry about. But if you die there are only two things to worry about: either you will go to heaven or to hell. If you go to heaven, then there is nothing to worry about. And if you to go hell, you'll be so darn busy shaking hands with your friends, you won't have time to worry.”
       Ah, if only it were that simple. Every year the American Psychological Association reports on how stressed out we are, and the news isn’t good. Adult Americans’ stress rating in 2015 was 5.1 on a 10-point scale, up from 4.9 the year before. And perhaps even more alarming, a full 24% of adults reporting being “highly stressed,” up from 18% the previous year. The 2016 results reveal that in addition to the usual suspects we blame for our stress - money, work, family issues, and relationships – we are also now increasingly stressed out about politics and government.
       Against that backdrop, Jesus’ message in last Sunday’s gospel reading - about how we should learn from the birds of the sky and the grass of the field who do not worry about even the tiniest thing - seems almost tone deaf to our modern ears. In fact, it’s tempting to think that Jesus might have had a different view of things if he had an unreasonable boss who always stole the credit for his achievements or mortgage and tuition payments due at the same time. Jesus told us in last week’s gospel not to “worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” But it’s easy to wonder if he would have said that if he had a brother in rehab and a parent in a nursing home and no way to pay for either one.
       I’ve often thought that we Christians have a grammar problem when it comes to Jesus. We believe IN him; we just don’t believe him. That little preposition “in” is the easy part. We have very little problem with faith when we see it as a matter of just signing up to be on Team Jesus. Sure, I’ll go to church, and I’ll try to be kind, and people will see that I’m a Christian. No heavy lifting. But to actually believe what Jesus said - not just “IN” him - and to live our lives based on the truth of those words is quite another matter.  
       In this Sunday’s gospel reading, we’ll hear the classic story about Jesus’ temptation by the devil in the desert. We’ll hear the devil offer him a life without worry, a life of privilege, power, and everything a person could want. I have to admit - if someone offered me a life completely free of worry over money and work and relationships and death, I’d be tempted too.
       But that’s just it. We HAVE been offered that life. We are offered that life every moment of every day. We just think it’s too good to be true, so we assume it’s not. We believe IN Jesus, but we don’t always take him at his word.
        I think the greatest temptation – perhaps the greatest addiction – of our current age is worry. The very act of worrying, of being stressed out, demonstrates some unpleasant truths about many of us: that we think we have unilateral control over our lives and need to have everything worked out; that if we fail, we are unlovable or diminished in value; that if horrible things happen to us, we won’t be able to survive them; that death is the end of the story. But not so. The word we have for actually taking Jesus at his word, for truly believing that “tomorrow will take care of itself,” is “resurrection.”
       So maybe there are really only two things to worry about: either life goes the way you want or it doesn’t. If all goes well, you have nothing to worry about. But if it doesn’t, you have two things to worry about. Either you will recover or you won’t. If you recover, you have nothing to worry about. But if you don’t? Actually, if we truly take Jesus at his word, this isn’t even a possibility. The promise of the resurrection isn’t that we won’t suffer but that our suffering is not the end of the story. If I truly believe that, then there’s not much to worry about, is there? My intention during the Lenten season that begins for us next week is not just to believe IN Jesus, but to truly believe in the message he shared with us and to live more fully out of that truth.

 

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, February 12, 2017

By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

 

   I learned the difference between “good food” and “fine dining” in my early twenties. As a teenager, I thought the two terms meant roughly the same thing, a mere twist of semantics. By 28 I knew better. Much better. Thanks to frequent dinners out over the years with a close friend who knew what kind of culinary masterpieces awaited us if we were just willing to spend a little more and devote at least two hours to one meal without rushing, I became something of a “foodie” long before the word was in vogue. Some people spend their twenties traveling abroad, beginning a career, paying on student loans, and falling in love. And, come to think of it, I did each of those things too. But I also spent a good deal of time with my dear friend ordering the lobster bisque followed by the watercress salad with asparagus and beets as a prelude to a succulent beef Wellington accompanied by fennel and green beans seasoned with orange and almonds that eventually gave way to a glorious crème brulee finish.

   But then I got a big job, a medium-sized mortgage, and a small baby. In other words, good bye expensive pecan encrusted tilapia drizzled with a molasses demi-glaze; hello cheap chicken nuggets with unknown ingredients and unpronounceable preservatives.

   Sure, part of the appeal of fine dining for me was the elegant, relaxing atmosphere, the quality conversation, the unhurried sense of being truly present for perhaps the only time that week or month – with my guest, with the topic of our conversation, with the food.

   And oh, the food. My friend taught me one of the secrets to amazing culinary delights. “La sauce est tout,” my friend would say in the French he knew from living and studying in Belgium for several years. The sauce is everything. And boy, was he right. Even today, if you were to put a very light, properly blended, hollandaise sauce on a cardboard box, I’d devour it like it was filet mignon or oysters Rockefeller, only better. And I’d ask for seconds.

   I doubt Jesus was much of a “foodie” in his time, but he seems to know a thing or two about “special sauce.” In last week’s gospel, he told us that we are the salt of the Earth and the light of the world. In other words, there is something so precious, so remarkable within each of us that just by being true to it, we are able to flavor and enlighten others around us.

   But just what is it that makes us like “salt” and “light?” This Sunday Jesus will give us some important clues. He will tell us that the law says not to kill or commit adultery or take a false oath, but just following the law doesn’t cut it. The religious leaders of his time spent countless hours about the “right” way to make a sacrifice, divorce a spouse, avoid “unclean” foods, and honor the Sabbath. And no wonder, since the Hebrew scriptures are filled with detailed prescriptions about dietary and purification codes. In Jesus’ day, a good Jew was judged by whether or not he followed these laws. But Jesus has a whole different view. He says that the law is fine and dandy and he didn’t come to get rid of it, but by itself it isn’t terribly useful. Instead, it’s what’s deep down in our hearts that really counts. In other words, outward compliance isn’t enough; inward transformation is what it’s all about. Put another way, I think he’s telling us that following the rules may be the two all-beef patties of our faith life . . . but something more, something deeper is the “special sauce.”

   I think Jesus is trying to teach us to look beyond legal directives to find that special something within us – that place touched by the divine in our deepest being - that makes us salt for the Earth and light for the world. Rules and regulations can all have a place in helping us find that truth, but they are only a starting place, not the final destination. As the saying goes, the finger that points to the moon is not the moon. “La sauce est tout.”

 
Gospel Reflection for Sunday, January 29, 2017: Matthew 5: 1-12

By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

 

     Before I returned to Assumption as campus minister, I was employed as the manager of a training department for a large company. I had spent my entire career to that point working in a school or nonprofit organization, so my foray into the corporate world was quite an education. Business cycles, market share, balance sheets, supply chains . . . oh my! One particular training I found to be especially eye-opening was on the topic of Lean/Six Sigma, a methodology used originally in manufacturing that seeks to improve performance by reducing waste.

     During one activity, our large group was divided into teams of eight and taught how to make a standard paper airplane. Each of us was to complete one of the steps and then pass it to the next person in our makeshift assembly line. The first time through, we used a “push” model of production where each person completed his/her assigned step as quickly as possible and passed it on immediately. This worked . . . but not perfectly. Since some people completed their steps faster than others, some sat idle while waiting for the next airplane and got bored. Similarly, steps that took longer resulted not only in accumulating inventories, but also in mounting stress on the part of the people with the more time-consuming steps.

     After finishing that activity, we were asked to do the same thing, but this time using a “pull” model. In this method, one airplane at a time is “pulled” through the process in its entirety which left no backed-up inventory between steps. This method resulted in a faster cycle time, higher product quality, and workers who were less stressed. A “pull” method may not be the best approach in every circumstance though; for instance, marketing is a very different animal than manufacturing, so it’s true that what’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander. But in this situation at least, the “pull” method was clearly the way to go.

     In the gospel readings last week and this coming Sunday, we see Jesus doing his own training on the value of the “pull” over “push!” But this time, it’s not as a recommended work strategy; it’s an approach to a life of faith. Last Sunday, we heard Jesus call out to Peter, Andrew, James, and John as a way to “pull” them into a new way of life. "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). What’s most powerful about this story for me is that Jesus actually explains how to respond to that “pull.” He teaches them – and us – that being pulled into the fullness of a life of faith means that we need to "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17).

     Personally, I think the word “repent” has gotten a bad rap. It has some negative, dark connotations related to sin and evil and is often characterized as something we do when we’ve screwed everything up and believe a vengeful God is waiting to pounce. But that’s not really what it means. In terms of its etymology, the meaning of the root word is more like “to change one’s mind.” To me, it’s less about the gnashing of teeth over my unworthiness and far more about seeing clearly, seeing differently.

     The truly amazing thing about Jesus here is that after “pulling” some of his disciples into the fold last Sunday, we’ll see him actually teach them what it means to “change one’s mind” and see differently. In this week’s gospel, Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount. He’ll tell us that being “pulled” into a meaningful faith means that instead of striving to be winners, we need to embrace the losers and our own losses. Instead of amassing our own inventories of wealth and privilege and power, we need to squander them on those who don’t necessarily deserve it. Instead of working to secure our own spot at the front of the line, we need to head for the rear and accept everything that accompanies last place. In short, we need to change our minds – about what is important, who is worthy, and how to be a person of faith.

     To me, this is exceptionally Good News! Instead of “pushing” myself to get everything right and come out on top, all I really need to do is let myself be “pulled” by Jesus’ radical vision of the “good life.” Lent is only five weeks away. My goal this Lent is to stop pushing and abandon the false inventories of security and righteousness I’ve built up around me. I hope to do a better job of giving in to the divine “pull.”

 

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, January 15, 2017

By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

 

         When my son was a baby, my husband and I were never able to lay him in his crib while still awake for him to go to sleep on his own. He would scream bloody murder whenever we tried, and despite our plans to the contrary and the voluminous amount advice we were given, we were never able to listen to him scream it out until he would fall sleep on his own. That’s right, he had us wrapped around his little finger. But although I often wished our nighttime ritual didn’t take quite as long every night, I have to admit that I loved holding and rocking my baby until he gave in to sleep and rested sweetly in my arms. Now that he is a teenager, I cherish those memories now more than ever.

       I recall one time in particular when I rocked him to sleep, but every time I got up to lay him in his crib, he would wake up and make his disapproval well known. This one night in particular, after several failed attempts to put him down, I ended up holding my sleeping baby against me in the rocking chair for a long, long time. Afraid to get up with him and fail again, I had my husband gently lift him off my chest to put him in his crib. I remember the sensation of him being taken from me like it happened just now; it felt to me like I had been stripped of the top layer of my flesh. In the rocking and the cooing and the little prayers I would say over and over to lull him to sleep, he had become part of me again, and to let go of him at that moment felt like a sort of death. My husband successfully got him into his crib without waking up that time, but my arms ached to have my baby back within them until sleep finally overtook me too.

       The Gospel reading last Sunday and again this coming Sunday are classic tales. The stories of the Magi presenting the infant Jesus with their gifts and of John the Baptist identifying the adult Jesus as “the one” have been retold and enacted countless times over the centuries because of both their narrative and spiritual power. But the thing that intrigues me the most about both of these readings is one word that shows up in them three times: “behold.”

       Last Sunday, we heard the Gospel writer say, “Behold, magi from the east arrived…” and then later, “Behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them.” Then this Sunday, when Jesus appears, we’ll hear John the Baptist say, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” The word “behold” actually shows up 1,298 times in the Bible and is used from the very first chapter of Genesis all the way through Revelation. It’s a word that has gradually gone out of common use in English over the past couple centuries, but it’s a word I adore. In my mind, “to behold” means more than just to see; it means to see something so truly and clearly that it becomes part of you, that you actually “hold” it as part of your own being. And to have that thing taken from you is something like having the top layer of your flesh stripped away.

       The Gospel readings of late have asked us to “behold” not just the magi and the eastern star, which are merely pointers to ultimate truth, but to the very ultimate truth itself: divinity within humanity. I have been asking myself this week - what would it be like if I didn’t just “see” that truth or give it lip service but really “hold” that truth in the depths my soul? What if this truth were so important, so precious to me that letting go of it would feel like being stripped of the top layer of my flesh? And what would the world be like today if every person of faith did the same? That’s a world I want to be part of, one I think we’re all called to help create. A resolution for me this new year is to truly “behold” the gift of faith. Won’t you join me?

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, December 18, 2016: Matthew 11: 8, 11

By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

 

       I have no spatial intelligence. I can’t read maps, I get lost going to places I’ve been numerous times, and unless I can actually see the Ohio River from where I’m standing, I can’t tell you which way is north or south. Without fail, I always turn the wrong way when exiting a public restroom. For some reason, I picture myself on the other side of the hall than I really am and miscalculate my next steps nearly 100% of the time. I’d like to think that my darn good verbal skills make up for my lack of spatial competence. But when you have to rely on a GPS to make it out of the subdivision without backtracking, it’s not hard to be humble.

       But all is not lost! (Pun intended.) I have come up with a strategy for figuring out which way to turn when I’m behind the wheel at an intersection and global-positioning technology is unavailable. Amazingly, my three-step process works approximately 85% of the time. First, I visually scan the intersection paying close attention to street names, block numbers, and landmarks. Next, I process all that visual data, compare it with my memories of previous trips through said intersection, and then decide on which way I think I should turn. Finally, I turn in the opposite direction. Who needs maps when such a counter-intuitive system works so well?

        Our Gospel readings last Sunday and this coming Sunday seem to be about turning the “opposite direction.” Last week, we heard Jesus talk with his followers about John the Baptist. He asked them, “What did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing?” Certainly not. One of the few things we know about John the Baptist is that his clothing was made of camel’s hair, and he subsisted on a diet of locusts. Clearly, he would not have made GQ’s Most Influential Itinerant Preacher list. But Jesus goes on to confuse matters even more saying that, “There has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11: 8, 11). Anyone who heard Jesus that day had to feel as lost I do driving to a new place. Least? Greatest? Huh?

        Then this Sunday we’ll hear the story about Joseph learning that Mary was pregnant and planning to secretly divorce her, which would have been a rational, compassionate course of action. But then the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream to explain that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit and that he should allow Mary into his life and home (Matthew 1: 18-24). I can’t begin to imagine how Joseph would have felt at that time. Surely, feeling “lost” would have had to be at least part of it.

        For me, Christmas is a celebration of the “opposite direction.” The experience of God in human history in the person of Jesus shows us how everything is “backwards,” but in a beautiful way. Yes, John the Baptist is not who we’d expect to announce great news, but there he is in all his locust-eating, camel-haired ickiness being identified as “none greater” by Jesus. And yes, a tiny baby born out of wedlock to no one of social significance in a damp, manure-infested barn is not who we’d expect to be the Prince of Peace, but there we go again.

People who celebrate Christmas are people who recognize the wisdom of going in the “opposite direction.” We are the folks who don’t always know which way to turn at life’s intersections, so we decide on the logical path . . . .and choose to go the other way. Instead of getting revenge on someone who has hurt us deeply, we try to forgive. Instead of being generous to only the people we love, we try to give to those who are ungrateful. Instead of giving the unkind and unthinking in our lives a dose of their own medicine, we try to be compassionate. We are a people of u-turns. But in this case, the “wrong” turns may be the right way. Perhaps it is in being lost, in going the “opposite direction,” that we actually find our path forward.    

 

                 

 

 

 

                 

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, December 4, 2016: Matthew 24: 40, 41

By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

 

As long as I live, I don’t think I will ever forget this one particular guy I met my freshman year in college. Let’s call him Jason. Although not very tall, he was ruggedly handsome and well built. More than a few girls on campus were captivated by his bulging muscles, northern accent, and baseball scholarship. I too thought he was pretty easy on the eyes at first and wouldn’t have minded being on the other end of his attentions, but in a short time, I learned that Jason had quite a reputation. It became common knowledge that Jason was a first class “player,” and not just on the baseball diamond. He was known for chasing anything in a skirt and went through girls faster than I went through Oreos after a break-up. He was big on heartfelt promises but small on consistency and follow through. It didn’t take long before Jason’s appeal was completely lost on me.

I’m not proud to admit it, but the truth is that eventually I thought very little of him. I didn’t know him well, mind you; I mainly just knew of his reputation. But I had decided that he wasn’t worthy of my time or attention. I remember complaining to a friend of mine that God shouldn’t have wasted those bulging biceps on someone like him. I mean, wasn’t there some scrawny yet upright and morally superior guy out there who could have used them? I thought Jason was a waste of perfectly good muscle mass.

Until that one day in biology lab. We had a biology lecture two days a week and a one-hour lab on Fridays. I remember us standing at our lab tables listening to instructions from our professor when I noticed a girl I didn’t recognize walk past me from her lab station, presumably to leave the room. Although I knew most of the students around my age at my small college, I didn’t recall ever seeing her before. I noticed that she seemed a little unsteady as she passed me, like maybe she was feeling unwell and was heading outside for some air or maybe to the restroom. Only five or ten seconds after she walked past me, I heard a loud whack... and then a horrible-sounding, barely audible wail. I turned to see that the girl had fainted, her head having struck the corner of a lab table on her way down. She laid on the cold tile, twisted and semi-conscious, with blood oozing from her head onto the floor.

I froze. I don’t know how else to explain it except to say that I was struck completely dumb with terror. This poor girl laid on a hard, tile floor not ten feet from where I stood, and I could not move even one muscle to try to help her. I simply stood there.

And then I saw Jason. Unlike me, his lab station was far from hers, well across the room. But I saw him leap over a lab table and run to her in the blink of an eye. He knelt down on the floor beside her, and I heard him say softly, “It’s okay... you’re going to be okay... we’re getting help.” He wiped some blood from her right eye with one of his bare hands; with the other, he stroked her shoulder to help her remain calm. “It’s going to be fine,” he kept repeating. “You are going to be fine.” At one point he asked her what her name was, which surprised me. I guess I had assumed that she was one of the many girls already in his acquaintance, but apparently, she was as unknown to him as she was to me. After that, he called her by name and said, “It’s all okay. I promise.” He continued to do that until she was calm and the EMS had her safely on her way to the hospital.

Jason was right. After several stitches, some pain medicine, and hours of observation in the ER, she was good as new. But I wasn’t. I truly hated myself at that moment in my life... for freezing in fear, for failing to help someone in need, and of course, for judging Jason so harshly. Clearly, I had gotten everything backwards.

The Gospel readings both last Sunday and this coming Sunday deal with waiting for an apocalyptic end of time, a cataclysmic reckoning. A concept rather foreign to us in our 21st century world, it was no stranger to the Jewish people of Jesus’ time. After all, their people had been under attack for centuries. The Jews had suffered captivity under the numerous conquering peoples, from Egyptians to Assyrians to Romans. Never in power, always fighting slavery and oppression, the Jews logically sought salvation from their social and political bondage. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the language of the Jews in Jesus’ time deals with end times, with deliverance.  

Last week’s Gospel message has Jesus saying that when the Son of Man comes, “one will be taken, and one will be left” (Mt. 24:40, 41). Some apocryphal words indeed! And then this Sunday, Jesus will tell all those who will listen that even if they are blood descendants of Abraham, they could still be on the wrong side of the judgment. The Son of Man will “clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt. 3:12). For sure, the Bible has a thousand vivid images for judgment and separation – the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats, the good people from the bad.

On one level, there are lots of scary words about judgment and being on the not-so-good side of God’s verdict. But if you get to know the God of Jesus, you start to realize that he doesn’t really go in for violent retribution or merciless punishment of even the guilty. Quite the contrary. Honestly, I think Jesus was using the language of his time, the eschatological, apocalyptic imagery that spoke to the people of first century BCE, to jar them – and us – from our labels, so comfortable and predictable and safe. In other words, I think Jesus was trying to grab each of us all by the collar and shout in our ear, “It’s the Jason’s of the world who got it right, stupid – not the righteous Mary Ann’s. Spare yourself the time and trouble of judgment because you’ve gotten it all wrong.”

I didn’t run into Jason all that much after the biology lab incident, only every now and again and never for long when I did. And although I haven’t laid eyes on him in the 25 years since we graduated college, I said a special prayer for him today. For his health and happiness, no matter where he is.  And I said another too... that I might be more like him in all the ways that really matter. The stuff we think makes us holy and righteous may not be what matters in the end. Being there – just being there, in all our human imperfection – may be all that we are called to do.

 

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, November 20, 2016: Luke 23: 35-43

By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

 

 The psychologists call it “flashbulb memory,” that surprisingly accurate, never to be forgotten memory of a specific moment in time that had profound meaning. For my dad, one of those memories is exactly where he was and what he was doing when he heard the news that World War II had officially ended and he could return home. For my mom, it was the precise moment she learned of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.  

      I have two such memories that I feel certain I will take to my grave. One was from when I was in college. I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt standing in an office. After laughing at the joke a professor made, I looked up to see the television screen over his shoulder where I watched the Challenger space shuttle, and the astronauts aboard it, burst into flame. The other was when I was an assistant principal at Assumption. I heard some commotion and walked out of my office to see the television this time replaying the tape of airplanes as they crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center over and over and over. That day, I was wearing black pants with a blue button down, a black jacket, and my favorite string of pearls.
       A funny thing, these flashbulb memories. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning or which meetings I had yesterday, but I think I will remember how I felt in the black suit and the blue shirt and the pearls until the day I die.   It seems that every generation has its cataclysmic events, and our brains are wired to capture them for us for all time.
      In last week’s Gospel passage, Jesus predicted just such an event for the Jews – the destruction of the Temple. “The days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone,” he told his disciples. And if that weren’t enough, he warned that this would be accompanied by “powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place.” Even more, he cautioned that, “before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons” (Luke 21:5-19). I imagine that his disciples felt as cold and numb and confused as I felt standing there in my blue shirt and pearls watching what looked to me like the end of the world.
       I think that we all face “the end of the world” many times in our lives and in many different ways.   On an individual, personal level, it can feel like the end of the world when a loved one dies, when we go through a divorce, when we are let go from a job, when we can’t pay back the loan, or when the test results come back positive. But it affects us as communities too. I think as a Church, we faced such a cataclysmic time during the priest sex abuse scandal. And as a country, many of us may feel something quite similar today. Both those who are happy with the results of the presidential election and those who are not seem to feel a sense of catastrophe across the American landscape, just for different reasons.
       But the good news is that there’s, well, Good News. In this week’s Gospel, we jump ahead to the story of Jesus on the cross between two criminals. Why the quick fast forward in the telling of the story? Because the Gospel writers symbolically paint a picture of Jesus as the Temple himself, the place where God and humankind can meet. And in facing his own demise, Jesus has some wisdom to share with us as we face the “end of the world,” both individually and as entire communities of which we are part. The one criminal hanging to his side taunts him dismissively by saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” But when the other one rebukes the first and asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom, Jesus promises that “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:35-43).
      In other words, in the face of his own unjust death and despite seeing everything he worked for come to a violent end, Jesus has a counterintuitive – if not completely crazy - response. Instead of righteous indignation and plans for retribution, he forgives. He speaks words of kindness. He accepts his own fate. He refuses to condemn others. He matches venom with peace and conquers hatred with love.
      Perhaps when our world seems to be falling apart, when our own Temple crumbles at our feet, the best strategy may not be rallying the troops and launching a major counteroffensive. Maybe the best thing to do is to be kind, to forgive, to be merciful - even to those who caused the crumbling. Perhaps this is the most courageous thing we can ever do.

 

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, November 6, 2016: Luke 20: 27, 34-38

By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

 

   You learn lots of things as a newlywed. There are the big ones, like how to honor your family’s holiday traditions while still creating some of your own as a couple and what “ground rules” must be followed when you have a fight. And then, there are the ones that don’t seem so important but really are, like what to say when she asks, “Does this dress make me look fat?” and the best place to hide purchases you aren’t ready to come clean on yet. Twenty-two years ago when I got married, I learned about all of these things . . . and then some. But the one that stands out the most is the time I learned firsthand about the differences in how men and women communicate.
   Kurt and I had been married only a couple months when I came home from a full day of teaching in quite a state. For the life of me, I can’t recall what I was so worked up about, but I was hopping mad about something that had happened at school that day. And there was my sweet husband, ready to listen and comfort. Just after walking in the door, I started into a litany of grievances about whatever it was that had me in a lather, and to my relief, I noticed that my husband held eye contact with me as I spoke. He even nodded periodically and murmured an occasional “uh huh” and “oh” to show he was following me. Encouraged by his empathetic listening skills, I went on, explaining in fine grain detail all about the hurt or disappointment that had me so upset. As I railed against my adversaries, whoever or whatever they were, I have to admit that on the inside I felt a secret pride in my excellent choice of life partner. We were in this together, I thought, and even though I was still upset about whatever happened that day, I was comforted in knowing that Kurt supported me. 
   Until, that is, he opened his mouth. The very second my diatribe ended, he said, “I need to withdraw $60 out of our checking account because the weed eater is broken, and I need to buy a new one.” 
   “Okay?” was all I could think to say in the moment. But I made sure to give him the cold shoulder for reasons he could not fathom for hours after he returned from the Home Depot. 
   I laugh about that story today . . . me longing for emotional support while Kurt just wanted to take care of business.  When I tell that story to friends, I make him out to be the unwitting villain, just for laughs.  But I know better.  He wasn’t the only “bad guy.” We had each missed the point. Yes, my husband had missed the fact that I needed him to really listen, not just wait for me to stop talking. But I had also missed the fact that I dove into my speech with big expectations from him without taking into account that he was in the middle of trying to solve a problem for us. 
   I think that last week’s Gospel reading about Zacchaeus, the short tax collector, and this week’s involving tricky questions about rightful marriage partners after death are really about the same thing – missing the point. I’ve always liked the story of Zacchaeus’ change of heart. At the time of Jesus, the Romans hired individuals to collect taxes due to Caesar from their fellow Jews. The Romans let these tax collectors charge any rate of interest they wanted as long as the Roman Empire got its due. Since he is described as the “chief tax collector” and a “wealthy man,” we know Zacchaeus must have used these rules to his financial advantage. But Jesus sees the short man atop a tall tree and insists upon visiting Zacchaeus’ home that evening, much to the horror of the religious elite who were scandalized at the thought of Jesus hanging out with a sinner. Undaunted, Zacchaeus announces a dramatic change of heart – that he will give away half of what he has and will repay any money he extorted four-fold.  And Jesus tells him that salvation is his reward.  To Jesus, the Jewish leaders who objected to Zacchaeus’ profession had missed the whole point.
   Then this Sunday we will hear about a clever scheme by the Sadducees, a group of the religious leaders at the time of Jesus who revered the Law and Temple but did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.  In an attempt to outsmart Jesus, they challenge him with a riddle. In the Jewish tradition, it was understood that when a man dies without children, that man’s brother should marry his widow. So they ask Jesus - if that man has seven brothers and each marries the widow before dying himself, only for the next brother to take his place, with whom will the widow be reunited in the resurrection once she dies as well?  She had been married to all seven, they reason, so who is her true husband in eternity? I picture Jesus shaking his head and saying something like, “Oh, for crying out loud, guys.”  He makes it clear that he doesn’t have time for such games.In effect, he tells them, “You’ve completely missed the point.” It’s not about the legal requirements of Jewish law; it’s about what’s in your heart. That’s the only thing that matters when it comes to eternity. 
   In one way, both of these stories point us to the same reality – that all too often we make the mistake of getting caught up in the wrong things, of failing to see the forest through the trees. We decide that it’s only people who live in certain ways and make certain choices and worship in certain buildings and vote for certain candidates and have certain jobs and say certain things who are “saved.” But Jesus makes it clear, both to the crowd that scoffs at his insistence in coming to Zacchaeus’ home and to the Sadducees who try to trap him in legal gymnastics, that they’ve completely missed the point. To me, the real point seems to be about having the right heart. About loving. About forgiving. About kindness. All the rest is just window dressing.
   Maybe we’re all a little bit like newlyweds as we awkwardly try to figure things out and find our way. In doing so, sometimes we miss the point. But like Jesus told us with Zacchaeus last week and as he’ll instruct us this Sunday, the external trappings of our lives matter so much less than what’s down deep in our hearts.  

 

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, October 23, 2016: John 18: 9-14

By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

 

 

     My mother is in a nursing home. I registered both of my parents as new residents there a little over a year ago. On that day, both of them walked into their new home using canes. In the 13 months since then, my father has died, and my mother’s decline has been dramatic. To be clear, their condition has nothing to do with the facility; I have been very happy with the care they’ve received. It’s just that their decline has been far more swift and profound than anything I was prepared for. My mother has not been able to walk or move on her own for many months now, and her dementia has turned this extravagantly kind and caring woman with a zest for life into a fearful, sad, barely recognizable version of the person I knew her to be.

     Mom still knows I am someone she loves, but she does not always remember my name. And although she asked about Dad in the weeks after his death, she no longer seems to recall his existence. Perhaps that is a blessing. Occasionally, she will utter a complete sentence, but more often than not, what she says doesn’t make sense. But that’s not the worst of it; the worst is how she reacts to the lift. Because she cannot use the bathroom herself or get in and out of bed on her own, aides must use a mechanical lift to move Mom. And it terrifies her. She doesn’t remember from one time to the next that it doesn’t hurt her at all, so every single time the lift is used, she cries in fear and desperation. I have a hard time hearing her like that; I usually have to walk down the hall and into another room to keep myself together. Then when it’s all over, she will continue to cry, and I’ll hug her saying, “Mom, what’s wrong?” And she’ll truthfully answer, “I don’t know.”

Last week’s Gospel passage was a tricky one for me. In it, Jesus tells us to be like the “persistent woman” who pesters the dishonest judge “who neither feared God nor respected any human being” (Luke 18:2). The woman needed his judgment on some legal matter, so she kept after him until he finally gave in and did what she requested. The tricky part of this story is that it’s so tempting to think it’s about the need to be persistent in asking God for what we want to happen. Maybe that’s a fine message, but to be honest, it leaves me cold. After all, I have been incredibly persistent in asking God – begging, actually – to make my parents’ end-of-life journeys less horrible for them . . . and for me. If there were medals for persistence asking God to change things, I’d have a gold one around my neck, Dad would have passed away having endured far less pain, and Mom would not be scared completely out of her mind multiple times a day just to be moved.

No, I can’t believe Jesus encouraged our persistence in prayer in order to get God to do something God might not otherwise consider. I can’t believe that Jesus thinks God needs to be cajoled or manipulated or bribed. I refuse to put my faith in a God doesn’t answer my prayers because he’s too busy with more important matters or because he wants to teach me a lesson or because he’s testing my faith. I cannot believe in such a small God.  

Fortunately though, this week’s Gospel reading has helped me unravel the trickiness of last week’s passage. This Sunday, Jesus will highlight the difference between the Pharisee who prays with much pomp and circumstance while making known how holy he thinks he is. In contrast, the tax collector who is humble and sinful yet honest on the inside is held up by Jesus as the one who makes the perfect prayer. And therein lies the rub. When it comes to prayer, it’s not about talking God into changing things on the “outside” of our lives. It’s about opening ourselves to the possibility of transformation on the “inside.”

I can ask God from today through all eternity to calm my mother’s fears and care for her physical challenges. I can be a gold medal winning, record-setting rock star of a persistent pray-er, but my mother will continue to fear the lift as though it were the devil himself. But it’s not because God is hard-hearted or a procrastinator. It’s not because he wants me to prove how much I really want what I’ve requested. I think it’s because Life is Life, in all it’s painful, maddening glory, and it will unfold however it will. All the bargaining I do with heaven to try to make things align more closely with my preferences probably won’t change a darn thing. On the outside, that is.

For me, prayer is much more of an “inside job.” It’s not about God doing magic tricks; it’s about God working in the depths of my heart to make me kinder, more compassionate, maybe even brave. I find myself now praying less that Mom isn’t frightened and more that I can be faithful to Mom even when I can’t stand to hear her cry out. I pray less that she will remember her grandson’s name and more that we can be true companions for her on this scary, painful journey she is on. I pray less that God turns Mom back into the person I remember from my childhood and more that God transforms me into the kind of person she needs me to be as she approaches death.  In my clearer moments, I know that God has truly answered those prayers.

Persistence in prayer isn’t necessary to convince God to do my bidding. But it is necessary to keep my heart open to work of the Holy Spirit in my life.   I’ve learned that God isn’t a Santa Claus in the Sky. He’s not a fickle Spiritual Sugar Daddy who needs to be coaxed into action. He’s not a vindictive Mob Boss whose palms need to be greased with abject begging in order to make things right. For me, God is the very heart beat inside the miracle of Life as it unfolds in its crazy, majestic, painful ways. When my prayer focuses on the inside of things, not just the external circumstances I’d like to see happen, I know my prayers are always answered. Prayer is real and it works - not because it changes God’s mind but because it changes our hearts.

 

 

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, October 9, 2016: Luke 17:11-19 

By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

 

        When I was a kid, my favorite television show was Super Friends, a weekly cartoon that aired every Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m. Each episode chronicled the tales of the Justice League, a band of crime-fighting superheroes who stood for goodness and fought crime no matter the cost. I loved Superman in all his faster-than-a-speeding bullet glory, and although I was partial to the real-life, Linda Carter version of Wonder Woman that I watched during prime time, every Saturday morning I longed to borrow the indestructible bracelets and Lasso of Truth that I saw her cartoon image wield with such strength and grace. And, truth be told, even at age nine, I had a wicked crush on Aqua Man. Something about him being able to talk telepathically to marine life sent me over the moon. I distinctly remember one Saturday morning at around 8:15 a.m. when my mother, for reasons surpassing understanding, decided to tell me about the “birds and the bees.” I blurted out, “Not now, Mom!” and ran back to my place in front of the television set before she was finished. After all, there were evil cartoon criminals intent on planetary destruction that had to be subdued. I couldn’t waste time on silly stuff when I was needed to cheer on the efforts of my pure-hearted, take-no-prisoners, anatomically impossible band of comic heroes.

       Even though I knew it was all make believe, I still wished for super powers myself. Perhaps all of us longed for to have X-ray vision, the ability to become invisible at will, or the gift of flight. When we were kids, it didn’t seem so crazy. We didn’t understand how lots of things in life happened as they did – how the sun rose and set, how steak fries weren’t actually made of beef, how our parents somehow knew what we did wrong at school even though they weren’t there to see it themselves. But then we grew up. And as we added full-time jobs and spouses and mortgages and countless responsibilities to our lives, we left our “magical thinking” behind.

        Or did we? Sometimes I think I may still wish for “super powers,” if not for myself then for someone else who will come to some imagined rescue. I think I still fall into the trap of thinking that what I need is some sort of “magic trick” or some sort of “superhero” to come along and make things the way I think they should be. Perhaps we all do. But in the Gospels, Jesus seems to have a different message for us.

        Last Sunday, Jesus told us that all we need is the faith of a “mustard seed.” It’s a lovely message . . . but that isn’t the part of the Gospel story that interests me most. Jesus goes on from there to make an apparently off-topic, downright insensitive comment about how servants who have worked in the field all day shouldn’t come in and sit immediately at the table for the meal. Instead, they should wait on the master first before dining themselves.

        Then this Sunday, we’ll hear Jesus tell the story about the 10 lepers that he heals although only one returns to thank him. Again, it’s a lovely message about the importance of gratitude . . . but that’s not the best part of the story for me. The real kicker for me is where and when the healing takes place. There’s no big poof or crack of lightning and then voila! –

the lepers are healed. Instead, after they ask Jesus to have pity on them, he tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. The healing takes place sometime as they walk off one difficult step at a time toward their destination and only dawns on the grateful one in transit.

       I think the genius of both stories is Jesus’ message about the simple beauty and miraculous wonder of putting one foot in front of the other in our daily, boring, not-even-close-to-Hollywood-kind-of-exciting lives.   Last week, Jesus did NOT say that after working all day, the servant should be rewarded by having his meal before his usual duties are completed. Instead, he said the servant should go ahead and do the daily chores he always does. And this week, Jesus will NOT heal the lepers instantly by snapping his fingers or waving a wand. Instead, the lepers recognize, perhaps gradually over time, that they have been healed somehow on the long journey by foot to see the priests.

        I hear Jesus telling us in these stories that faith isn’t about believing in some sort of religious magic. There are no “super friends” out there who are going to make the dreaded evils of our lives disappear in dramatic fashion. Faith is really about living life one day at a time – in all its tedious, unnerving, confusing glory. Religious writer and speaker Paula D’Arcy has written that, “God comes to you disguised as your life.” I think that might be what Jesus was getting at. The Kingdom of God isn’t created by today’s equivalent of Superman or Wonder Woman. Rather, it’s built one brick at a time by regular old folks like you and me who go to work and do our chores and get annoyed when the dog pees on the carpet and look forward to binge-watching House of Cards on the weekends . . . but still try to do good and be kind along the way.

         It must be said—I still think Aqua Man is a hunk. And I would still love to have both the graceful power and tiny waistline that Wonder Woman enjoys. But I don’t need them anymore. All I really need is the ordinary life I have.

 

 

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, September 25, 2016: Luke 16: 19-31

By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

 

      Part of my career journey included being part of the leadership team at a community center located in one of Louisville’s most impoverished neighborhoods.   In this role, I oversaw the staff and initiatives related to the center’s senior citizen program, youth development program, food bank, and child development center. And in this position, just like every other leadership position I’ve had, the absolute worst part about it was having to fire people.

      She worked in the child development center and was on my radar within a week of starting my job. She was nice enough and was pretty good with the kids in her care, but she came to work late more often than she was on time, and sometimes even failed to call in at all on days she was absent. Not knowing whether we could count on her to be present or not cause huge problems in providing appropriate care for the children, managing state mandated caregiver ratios, and avoiding resentment from the rest of the staff who showed up and called in like they were supposed to.  

      But I knew the score. I knew that the vast majority of the staff at the community center came from the surrounding economically challenged neighborhood. I knew that only 50% of the adults in the community had driver’s licenses, and hardly even that many had high school diplomas. I knew that poverty was as much a part of the fabric of their lives as oxygen was to mine. So when this employee’s absences, tardiness, and failure to follow procedures surfaced, I tried to find solutions. I offered to call her early each morning so that she would get up in time to get to work, and I purchased TARC vouchers so she would not have to pay for transportation. But no dice. Even when these measures failed to work, I still gave her numerous warnings in hopes that she would be able to get her act together before I had to take more drastic action. But nothing worked. Eventually, I had to terminate her employment.

      As hard and unpleasant as it was, I knew I had done the right thing . . . until the next work day when I saw her, not in the child development center where she had worked, but in line at the food bank. Now that she was out of work, she had to rely on Dare to Care in order to feed her young children. Looking back, I still believe I did what a manager has to do in that situation. But I do have a profound regret I can’t shake. I do not remember her name.

     The Zulu people in South Africa use a common greeting - “Sowa Bona.” It means, “I see you.” I find that to be an amazingly powerful statement. And even more, the Zulu people often respond to such a greeting by saying, “Sikhona,” which means, “Because you see me, I am here.” What a gift – to be truly seen by another, and in so doing, to become who one is meant to be. I have thought of that young woman I fired many, many times since then. But because I don’t remember her name, I would have to conclude that I never really “saw” her.

      In last week’s Gospel reading, we heard Jesus tell a truly bizarre story about an “unscrupulous manager” who is applauded for using some shady tactics to win favor with the boss.  And this Sunday, we’ll hear Jesus give us another warning about failing to share our earthly riches with those in need. In it, a rich man chooses not share even the scraps from his table with a poor, sick man named Lazarus. What fascinates me the most about this parable isn’t the message. After all, Jesus warning folks about the dangers of becoming too attached to worldly goods is nothing new or unique. It’s a topic he’s quite fond of. In fact, the word “poor” shows up in the Bible over 600 times, which is significantly more than even seemingly important words like “grace,” “joy,” “love,” and “wisdom.” The only words that show up more than “poor” are “God,” “Jesus,” and “Lord.” Clearly then, how we deal with those in poverty of all types is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. No, it’s not this message that really does a number on me; it’s the fact that it’s the only parable Jesus tells in which a character is named.

      In Jesus’ other parables, we meet the woman at the well, the good shepherd, the prodigal son, and a whole host of others. But in Sunday’s Gospel, we meet Lazarus – covered in sores, abjectly poor, a person who might as well be invisible to the rest of the world. He isn’t “a poor man.” He is “Lazarus.” He has a name.

      Mother Theresa, now Saint Theresa of Calcutta, wrote that, “The great disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread, but there are many more dying for a little love.” The sin I now ask God’s forgiveness for is not that I fired the young woman from the child development center. It’s that I didn’t know her name. I didn’t “see” her

      My prayer as I reflect on this week’s Gospel is not just that we all do more to help the poor. It’s also that we can grow in our ability to truly “see” the people whose profound needs – physical, emotional, psychological - scare us to our core and make us uncomfortable. I think Jesus’ call for us is not just to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty but also to truly “see” each other as children of God.

 

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, September 11, 2016: Luke 15: 1-32

By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

 

            If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said a prayer to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things, I feel certain I could retire next week. Comfortably. Remember the old rhyme? “Tony, Tony, turn around. Something’s lost that must be found.” As a kid, I probably said those lines two or three hundred thousand times in hopes I’d be reunited with my long lost stuffed animal, homework assignment, winter jacket, lunch box, borrowed sweater, camera, or spending money. I can’t be sure, but it’s quite likely that I may very well be the actual inspiration that prompted the first person to ever say, “That girl would lose her head if it weren’t attached.”

 Guilty as charged. Even as an adult, every few months I have a recurring nightmare about losing my purse – and the phone, credit cards, identification, and money inside of it. In each dream, I keep struggling to retrace my steps only to find no trace of my bag but quite a few annoying people who lack any concern for my plight. I have at times awakened paralyzed in fear before realizing it was just a dream. No doubt about it – losing important stuff can be terrifying.

 In the Gospel we’ll hear this coming Sunday, Jesus talk about all kinds of lost things. He will tell us about how happy the shepherd is when one lost sheep is found, how glad the woman is when she recovers one missing coin, and how overjoyed the father is when his son returns home. Why all the fuss over loss? I can think of a couple reasons.

 The first one has to do with what is going on in the Gospels when we hear these stories. For some weeks now, we’ve been hearing about how the Pharisees have been royally ticked off by Jesus because his disciples fail to adhere to all of the ritual purity codes that are part of their faith, and – horror of horrors - Jesus himself actually heals people on the Sabbath. They can’t imagine that this guy creating such a stir could be “for real” if he doesn’t follow the rules. But Jesus tries to explain that there are good reasons for what he does because it’s all about bringing people back to God. And God does some kind of an amazing happy dance when just one of us returns to his embrace. You think the shepherd and the woman are thrilled with their finds? You think the father is beside himself with joy when his sees his son? Well, that’s nothing compared to the party God wants to throw when one of us comes home.

 But there might be another reason this Sunday’s Gospel doesn’t just tell one story about losing something precious but three of them. Jesus might have something else to say about loss. Last week, the Gospel reading was hard to take. Jesus actually told us that any disciple of his would have to “hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life.” And if the point wasn’t clear enough, he goes on to insist that any disciple of his must “renounce all his possessions” (Luke 14: 26, 33). Tough stuff indeed.

 I find it fascinating that last Sunday’s “get rid of everything you hold dear” is followed by this week’s series of stories about loss. I can’t believe that Jesus literally wants me to hate my son and mother and have nothing to live on. So there must be something else at work here. Perhaps it is this – whether we “renounce” the things that are precious to us or not, we are likely to lose them anyway. Despite our best efforts, every last one of us will lose something and someone precious to us. During the course of our lifetimes, most of us will lose lots of possessions, like the missing purse in my nightmares. But far worse, many of us will lose our youthful optimism and the hopes we had when we dared to dream wildly. Some of us will lose our stamina, our patience, and at times, possibly even our faith. If we are lucky enough to live into old age, we’ll lose our looks, the physical abilities we now take for granted, and possibly even our cognitive grasp on the world. And without a doubt, all of us will lose at least one person we adore. Probably more than one. In many ways, being human means having your heart broken.

 But the great thing is that the brokenness isn’t the end of the story. As Christians we believe that it’s through that very brokenness that we are made whole. I think Jesus was really on to something. Like he said in last week’s Gospel, we could choose to “renounce” people and possessions by still loving and living fully but not insisting that life be the precise way we choose for it to be. Or like Jesus seems to be saying this week, we might just lose those things we cling to so desperately through bad choices, senseless tragedy, or dumb luck. Either way, if we are truly open to God’s work in our life, we win in the end. Being lost – by choice or by circumstance – invites the God of broken hearts into our most vulnerable places where true healing and peace and new life become possible. The old rhyme is true: “Something’s lost that must be found.” And in a crazy, beautiful sort of way, that’s very good news.

 

 

Gospel Reflection for Sunday, August 28, 2016: Luke 14: 1, 7-14

By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry

 

      I have a small yet deep scar to the left side of my right knee, and if I live to be 100, I don’t think I’ll ever forget how it got there.  I don’t recall what year it was, but I know I was very young, and it was summer, the kind of summer that to my middle-aged recollection seemed to involve a lot more ice cream floats and lightning bugs in glass jars and far less ozone action alerts and summer reading homework than the ones I’m familiar with today.

      I should have been ecstatic.  My parents had just gotten me a brand spanking new Barbie Pop-Up Camper.  I should have been on cloud nine.  And I was . . . until I noticed that my younger sister had also gotten a lovely new gift, the Barbie Dream House.  Sure, a mini-fridge, murphy bed, and portable hot tub all on four wheels is nothing to sneeze at.  But seeing the full three floors of this fully decorated, pretty-in-pink, palatial Barbie mansion land in my sister’s lap instead of mine was a little hard to take.  I sulked for a few minutes or maybe weeks, and then eventually decided to make the best of it.  I would make my own Barbie palace.  

      So I found some old Porter Paint boxes my dad had in the basement with the intention of gluing them together and adorning them with various and sundry discarded household items that I would paint pink.  I scrounged and plotted and dreamed, and for quite a while that summer, I spent hours outside each day working on my real estate project.  And each day when I was ready to call it quits, I would pack up all my found items, tape, glue, and finger paints into the Porter Paint boxes and stack them away until next time. 

       Until the day I cut my knee.  I had just taken my boxes to a shady place in the yard to begin the day’s construction work when I made my mistake.  Without thinking, I flipped the first box over to dump all of its contents out on the grass so I could see everything I was working with, but I had forgotten there was a pair of scissors in there.  One of the blades hit its mark straight on just southwest of my right kneecap.  There was blood everywhere, which terrified me, so I did the only reasonable thing a smart kid like me would do.  I screamed like I was being murdered until my dad ran outside, assessed the damage, and said, “Oh, for goodness sake, honey.  You’re fine.”  He cleaned me up and bandaged my cut.  And he was right.  I was fine.

      At mass lately, we’ve been hearing about things Jesus did and said that turn conventional wisdom completely on its head.  Last Sunday, we heard Jesus say, “For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Luke 13:30).  And then this coming Sunday, we’ll hear about Jesus dining at the house of a Pharisee and teaching the guests that when they are at a wedding banquet, they shouldn’t take the place of honor they are due.  Instead, they should let the lowly, good-for-nothing free loaders who don’t really know the bride or groom and didn’t bring a gift but sure do enjoy a good party when they see one have the places of honor.  And in case Jesus’ listeners didn’t get the point, He goes on to tell them that when they have a big shin-dig, they shouldn’t invite their friends and neighbors and the crew from the office.  Instead, they should invite the sick and the poor and the completely unworthy.  “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). 

      I doubt Jesus was all that interested in giving advice to party planners.  But I do think he had something to say about our old Porter Paint boxes.   Boxes help us order and manage our lives.  They help us store our gear when we move from place to place, and they provide a home for those old vinyl albums our kids still don’t believe ever really existed and that we secretly think we’ll make money off one day.  They give shelter to our belongings so that we don’t continually trip over the artifacts of our everyday life, and they allow us to be organized and efficient.  Boxes are good . . . until we misuse them. 

       I wonder if sometimes we put people and ideas in boxes when that’s not where they belong.  Jason is in the “Good” box, but Joanie is in the “Bad” one.  Tracy’s in the “Never Finished Her Degree” box, whereas Tony’s more of a “Hasn’t Seen the Inside of a Church Since Nixon” kind of guy.  Susan goes in the “Demonic Democrat” box while Sam over there is in the “Wretched Republican” one.  Manuel is in the “Afraid of Commitment” box, and Meredith is in the “Gold Digger” one.  We’re in the “Right” box.  And Lord knows they’re in the “Wrong” one.

      Surely, the Jesus we encounter in the Gospel readings lately is perfectly content to leave the seating arrangements for the big gala to the professional event planners.  I think He has a more powerful message for us.  Our Porter Paint boxes and the categories that come with them are good when we use them to decide whether we need to buy a new car or can make the old one work one more year or select the best mutual funds for the retirement plan or weigh the relative advantages of low carb vs. low fat.  But when we load up our boxes with things that don’t belong in them – like people, including ourselves – the hidden, sharp blades within them can cut us deeply and leave a scar.  


Special Forward from the Principal 

One of my favorite writers doesn’t happen to be famous at all…at least, not in the traditional sense.  And luckily for me, she’s right here at Assumption. Her name is Mary Ann Steutermann and she is our director of campus ministry.  However, Mary Ann has served in many roles over the years here at Assumption as an English and theology teacher and as an administrator.  It was during her time as an administrator that I came to appreciate her writing. Each week, Mary Ann wrote a reflection in the faculty/staff weekly bulletin and we came to love her insight and wisdom. We are thrilled to have her in the role of campus minister with this opportunity to share her reflections with you.

Twice a month, Mrs. Steutermann will invite us to reflect on the Sunday Gospel readings by sharing a reflection with the community. In this year where we are all working to help our girls experience the “adventure of a lifetime,” may these reflections give you insight, perspective, and focus for your worship on Sundays.

Sincerely,
Martha Tedesco ’90
Principal