Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today, we invite you to explore children’s wisdom, and how slavery and racism have so deeply damaged the United States, with the help of Wendell Berry; engage the concept of synodality in the Catholic Church through the Synod on Young People and Pope Francis’s response; and embody the wisdom of youth with the help of Greta Thunberg, anti-Nazi youth groups in 1930s-40s Germany, and Norman Rockwell’s artwork.
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Rejoice in heart and soul, daughter of Zion,
shout with gladness, daughter of Jerusalem!
Look! Your ruler comes to you” victorious and triumphant,
humble, riding on a donkey.
The ruler will banish chariots from Ephraim,
and horses from Jerusalem;
the bow will be banished.
The ruler will proclaim peace for the nations;
the empire stretching from sea to sea
from the River to the ends of the earth.
Response: I will extol You, O God.
I will extol You, O my God, / and I will bless Your Name forever and ever.
Everyday will I bless You, / and I will praise Your Name forever and ever.
R: I will extol You, O God.
Adonai, You are gracious and merciful, / slow to anger and of great kindness.
Adonai, You are good to all / and compassionate toward all Your works.
R: I will extol you, O God.
Let all Your works give you thanks, O God, / and let Your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of Your reign / and speak of Your might.
R: I will extol You, O God.
Adonai, You are just in all Your ways / and holy in all Your works.
You lift up all who are falling / and raise up all who are bowed down.
R: I will extol You, O God.
But you are not in the flesh;
you are in the Spirit,
since the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Those who do not have the Spirit of Christ do not belong to Christ.
But if the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,
then the One who raised Christ from the dead
will also bring your mortal bodies to life also through the Spirit dwelling in you.
Therefore, we are under an obligation,
my sisters and brothers,
but not to the flesh or to live according to the flesh.
If you live according to the flesh, you will die,
but if you live by the Spirit,
you will put to death the evil deeds of the body
and you will live.
Then Jesus prayed,
“Abba, Creator of heaven and earth, to you I offer praise;
for what you have hidden from the learned and the clever,
you have revealed to the youngest children.
Yes, Abba, everything is as you want it to be.”
“Everything has been handed over to me by Abba God.
No one knows the Only Begotten except Abba God,
and no one knows Abba God except the Only Begotten —
and those to whom the Only Begotten wants to give that revelation.
Come to me,
all you who labor and carry heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon your shoulders
and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble of heart.
Here you will find rest for your souls,
for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved.
The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.
The Wisdom of Children
In this week’s gospel reading from the eleventh chapter of Matthew, Jesus praises God for revealing to children what is hidden from the educated and wise. Of course, all of us were children for one brief period of our lives. What then, in our learning, obscures God’s truth and strains our bond with Him? This is a question which farmer, writer, and Christian pacifist Wendell Berry addresses in reflections on his youth in his 1970 book The Hidden Wound. Berry is well known for his promotion of responsible environmental stewardship, most famously expressed in The Unsettling of America, and his extensive poetry, which includes the “Sabbath Poems” he has been writing since 1979.
The subject of The Hidden Wound is how slavery and racism have damaged every person, place, and community in the United States, from the obvious violence and disregard for human life to the still present disdain for physical labor and disavowal of the land. One of the most memorable chapters in the book concerns Berry’s belief that it is a moral obligation to maintain “a continuity, a vital connection, between childhood vision and adult experience.” In a harsh and honest critique of American society, Berry explains how and why the truthfulness of children is discouraged and ultimately extinguished:
“To me, the great power that children possess is candor; they see the world clear eyed, without prejudice; honesty is not immediately conceived by them as an uncomfortable alternative to lying. On the contrary, the tactics of deceit are customarily given a high priority in the training of a child. What white Americans call manners and social conventions consist very largely of such tactics. A child is, as we say, impressionable, and acts directly on the basis of his experience. If a person is lovable or respectable, a child will love or respect him without first asking his class or his race or his income.
In a racist society, the candor of a child is therefore extremely threatening. That is also true of a puritanical society, as witness St. Paul, the genius of puritanism: ‘When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man I put away childish things.’
This is perhaps why racism and puritanism have meshed so perfectly in the United States. To both the racist and the puritan, childhood is not a time of life that we grow out of, as the life of the child grows out of the life of the parent or as a plant grows out of the soil, but a time and a state of consciousness to be left behind, to cut oneself off from.”
Of course, the danger a child poses to a corrupt society is central to the story of Jesus’ birth as well, notably as told in Matthew:
“After his birth astrologers from the east arrived in Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the new-born king of the Jews? We observed the rising of his star, and we have come to pay him homage.’ King Herod was greatly perturbed when he heard this, and so was the whole of Jerusalem.”
Nearing the end of his life, what did Herod think he had to fear? How long did he expect to rule that a newborn baby felt threatening? Perhaps his fears mirror our own society’s fears of each successive generation. Fear that the structures adults have spent their lives building or maintaining, however questionable their value, will be destroyed.
Today’s scripture proclaims that we all start from a place of sincerity, from a time when we knew right and wrong and hadn’t yet muddled it with excuses and selfish justifications. Although we can’t return to that time, we can be certain that there is a seed of honesty and moral clarity within each of us, that we are still capable of growth at any stage in life. We have a responsibility to clear the way for future generations – not to steer their path, but to free them from the burdens of debt, overwork, poverty, incarceration – so that they have the freedom to explore, create, and choose for themselves.
Commentary by Amy Shaw
Engage Catholic Social Teaching
In 2019 Pope Francis published his “Letter to Young People and the Entire People of God,” a letter that was a result of the Global “Synod on Young People” of 2018. In this letter Pope Francis simply curates together a synopsis of the synod with some personal reflections sprinkled in. Perhaps his most potent idea comes in chapter three of this letter when he says that “After this brief look at the word of God, we cannot just say that young people are the future of our world. They are its present; even now, they are helping to enrich it” (64). This idea is important for us to always hold close to us. That this Mystical Body of Christ includes all people, children, young, adult, geriatric, etc. It holds us all together in the present, or as Francis proclaims: “You are the ‘now’ of God.”
It is important to note that this letter came as a result of a church synod, which is a formal process of which usually bishops, and often theologians or others deemed as experts, meet to discuss a specific issue within the larger institutional church. This synod, though, did not just include the voices of bishops and other experts but also those of young people directly. It was this act of listening that marked this synod as a more special event than usual. This of course is something the world at large should do more often. To listen to not only the plight of “young people,” but also, as Wendell Berry suggests, those of children specifically would be a world shifting act. Not only listening to, but empowering and giving institutional power to young people would give them the ability, as Wendell Berry suggests, to create the world they wish to live in, instead of simply working to produce the world the previous generations want. For a Catholic, this would give children and young people the chance to build the church that they feel spurring up from within the Body of Christ of which they are a part. A truly deep commitment not only to the synod process but to synodality could be a way forward for the church to become more friendly to young people. (See now the Synod on Synodality).
But again, we must note that Francis’s letter was addressed to “young people” and the line following the aforementioned quote from paragraph 64 is: “Young people are no longer children.” But alas, here is where Wendell Berry can help us to explore how the Gospel passage from today can push the church forward on their view of children. We should value all ways of thought and all ways of interacting with the world no matter the age. And perhaps we should value most the dreams of the children, since, as Jesus said, they are the ones who have experienced the revelation of God (Matthew 11:25).
A Contemplative Exercise
This week, take some time to think about the ways in which you have maintained a connection between your own “childhood vision and adult experience.” What, if anything, was lost in your own upbringing and coming of age? Likewise, what were the most meaningful insights and skills that you gained along the way?
Think also about what you’ve come to expect of young people today. Have the changes you’ve witnessed throughout your life left you feeling more frightened, encouraged, or both? Have you met young people that you feel have something to teach you? Alternatively, have you encountered any youth movements that make you feel hopeful for the future? If so, in what ways have you fostered those hopes and helped prepare a way forward for today’s youth?
Like Severn Suzuki, who founded the Environmental Children’s Organization and in 1992, at age 12, addressed the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has energized the movement to avert climate catastrophe and environmental destruction. In 2018, Thunberg began advocating for a meaningful government response to the increasingly evident harm of climate change by leaving school on Fridays and protesting outside of the Swedish Parliament. By 2019, millions of students in cities across the world participated in similar school strikes called Fridays for Future, while Thunberg herself delivered a passionate and widely viewed speech at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, where she famously rebuked world leaders in attendance:
“I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
In response to Nazi military conscription and the mobilization of the Hitler Youth and the Band of German Maidens in 1930s Germany, groups of working class teenagers, like the Edelweiss Pirates, the Leipzig Meuten, Essen’s Roving Dudes, and Cologne’s Navajos, formed throughout the industrial cities of the country. Avoiding the Hitler Youth by dropping out of school and embracing slogans such as “Eternal War on the Hitler Youth,” these groups slashed the tires of Wehrmacht trucks, stole food for their families and the enslaved factory laborers, and fought the Hitler Youth whenever the Gestapo sent them. As related by one Nazi official at the time, “Every child knows who the Kittelbach Pirates are. They are everywhere; there are more of them than there are Hitler Youth. They beat up the patrols. They never take no for an answer.
In this 1964 painting, Norman Rockwell, who had just recently left the Saturday Evening Post due to political restrictions placed on him by the magazine, depicts six-year-old Ruby Bridges walking to William Frantz Elementary School during the desegregation of New Orleans’s public schools. Rockwell places her slightly off-center in the painting, closer to the two U.S. marshals in front of her, in order to convey her uncomplicated enthusiasm to go to school, in contrast to the vicious racist aggression exhibited by many adults in response.