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The Little Ones
August 11, 2020
Win a Brother
August 12, 2020

Homily for Tuesday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time, 11 August 2020, Memorial of St. Clare, Matthew 18:1-5, 12-14

“Look into that mirror daily and study well your reflection…” This is the advice of St. Clare in a personal letter she wrote to Sr. Agnes of Prague, which happens to be in today’s Office of the Readings for the Memorial of Saint Clare of Assisi which we celebrate today, August 11. The advice brought back to my memory a personal retreat that I made in the Guest House of the Poor Clares’ Monastery in my hometown in Betis, Guagua, Pampanga.
I was just a young priest back then, so that’s more than thirty years ago now. I was getting dressed for an early morning Mass and I was going to comb my hair in the bathroom and realized that there was no mirror. So I looked around the bedroom and still found no mirror. “That’s strange,” I said to myself. Everything that I needed including towel, soap and toothpaste, was there, except a wall mirror. So I went down to the sacristy thinking there would surely be one there. There was none.
So I asked the Sister who served me breakfast after Mass why I couldn’t find a single mirror in the guest house. She laughed (and I assure you, these contemplatives really laugh heartily) and she said, “Sorry Father, we don’t have mirrors in the whole monastery. Only Christ is our mirror.” I thought back then she was joking. After I read the letter of St. Clare to Sister Agnes of Prague, I understood. St. Clare uses the word MIRROR seven times in that letter—as an analogy for Christ! She said, “In this mirror blessed poverty, holy humility and ineffable love are also reflected. With the grace of God the whole mirror will be your source of contemplation.”
I suppose they also do it as an act of self-denial, to keep the sisters from being vain and preoccupied with their physical looks. In Jesus, St Clare says we can see the best version of ourselves. We’re supposed to be ourselves reflections of him who is the best image and likeness of both God and humankind.
Today’s Gospel is basically saying the same thing. The disciples wanted to know who the greatest was in the Kingdom of Heaven. In reply, Jesus called a little child and set that child in their midst, as if he was pointing them to a mirror. St. Clare’s reflection reminds me of another great woman in Church history, also a contemplative: the Carmelite St. Therese of Lisieux, otherwise known as Therese of the Child Jesus. She developed a whole spirituality around the Infant Jesus and she called it “The Little Way” or “The Path of Littleness”.
Not only does Jesus invite his disciples to see in a child the best version of ourselves. He also asks us to pay attention to them, to put them at the center of our priorities, as well as the last, the least, and the lost: whether as individuals, as families, or communities, if we want to build a truly humane society. Remember that scene when the disciples were reprimanded by Jesus for driving away the children? I suppose they got irritated by the kids. You know how kids can be—they can sometimes get really noisy and unruly. In today’s Gospel, Jesus even gives a stern warning to those who despise or abuse or scandalize children! He says they have angels in heaven who are always ready to report to his heavenly Father!
Our first reading from Ezekiel sort of balances the tendency to idealize the child image. The prophet Ezekiel is addressed by God as if he were a stubborn child, or one who was behaving like a squeamish brat who was picky or choosy with food. God says, “Listen then, son of man, to what I say, and don’t be hard-headed. Open your mouth and take in what I am about to give you.” The image that comes to my mind is that of an American kid who is being asked to eat a plate of broccoli and he says, “Yukk. It looks disgusting.” Well, in our first reading, the prophet Ezekiel is being given, not a plate of veggies, but a scroll with words of lamentation written on it. Remember how the prophet Jeremiah also behaved this way? How he complained to God because the words that the Lord had given him to proclaim were mostly unpleasant oracles of doom and judgment, angry words that only made him unpopular and got him into trouble? Remember how he resolved to just keep his mouth shut the next time the Lord wanted to put words again in his mouth?
I find the situation funny. God sounds like a mother who says, “Now don’t give me that attitude, my boy. Open your mouth. This is good food. You better learn to eat your veggies if you want to be healthy. It can’t be always chocolate and ice cream for you, you know?” So the prophet Ezekiel opens his mouth, except that what God gives him is not a spoonful of broccoli but a scroll with words of doom, groanings and woes. He tries to overcome his disgust and, to his great surprise, what seemed disgusting actually turned out to be delicious!
Perhaps it’s the same with us. It can’t always be good times and sweet and pleasant words. We also have to learn to take the bitter pill of criticism, of denunciation, of calling a spade a spade, of redemptive pain and suffering. Not only can it serve as medicine for our spoiled souls; it can also be as nourishing as ampalaya and malunggay. That is how we grow and become beautiful like Christ. That is how we gradually become the best version of ourselves.
I know, a lot of unpleasant things are happening in our country today. Did not one author once say we get the kind of government we deserve? Are not the kind of leaders to whom we entrust the future of our country also a reflection of who we are as a people? There is one song in the movie THE LOST HORIZON entitled REFLECTIONS. It says,
“When you look at yourself do you like what you see?
If you like what you see, you’re the person you should be. Because your reflection reflects in everything you do, and everything you do reflects on you.”
Perhaps we can try what St. Clare recommends in her letter to Sr. Agnes: to look at no mirror other than Christ on the cross, if we want to eventually see the best version of ourselves.

 

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