Sr. Theresa Baldini, MM, reflects on how this Sunday's readings call us to be a people of hope.
We are at the beginning of a long trek of Ordinary Time. The Scriptures are calling us to be a people of HOPE, particularly of hope in the next generation. The abiding Spirit, reaching from beginning to the end of the Scriptures, advises us to reach beyond our grasp, and yet never to be discouraged and lose heart if what we grasp is beyond our reach!
Every human person is created to belong to a family and community, to a project and undertaking far greater than their individual ability and lifetime. What little we achieve will blossom into a community achievement, bonded with love and trust. This kind of trust in the future requires heroic humility. We let the next generation pick up where we have left off and accomplish far more, at times in ways that we never anticipated. The new generation is bonded to us in love in our being part of one eternal family in God, affirming Pope Francis’ words in Laudato Si’: “Let us strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family!”
Different moments of this “letting go” come to our attention in the biblical readings. The prophet in the Book of Isaiah was able to draw strength and inspiration and compose his “Songs of the Suffering Servant.” As he wrote in today’s reading, his best efforts have been small, simply “to raise up the survivors of Israel.” By entrusting himself to God, he will become “a light to the nations” so that God’s salvation “may reach to the ends of the earth.”
The same spirit weaves its thread of hope through the gospel account of John the Baptist. John was not afraid to tell his disciples: “After me is to come a person who ranks ahead of me, because he was before me.” Yet, Jesus could not have come and accomplished what he did without the preparation which John the Baptist provided through his preaching and his extraordinary summons to justice, integrity and, most of all, hope in a future where the “I” becomes a “WE” – a future where all people and creation are woven into the fabric of our hearts, inclusively.
Today’s biblical readings call us to heroic humility, so that the new generation can build on our accomplishments and achieve far more than ourselves. They call us to continuous hope that the least effort on our part will yield good fruit beyond our dreams. In this way we are building a family that will reach for many generations into the future.
I spent 18 years with another Maryknoll Sister in a war zone in South Sudan sharing a simple “Prayer and Peace Presence” among the Sudanese people. The scriptures today reflect to me the suffering servants among the people we knew and loved in South Sudan, as well as the witness of John the Baptist and his call to conversion. I share just a few examples that have stretched my life:
- The courageous poor in South Sudan have taught us a theology of life that, through solidarity and our common struggle, transcends death and makes Hope an ongoing, energizing gift that is given and received.
- We were daily being blessed by the face of God in the people around us – the displaced, the refugees and the many handicapped people who have lost arms and legs because of the lethal shrapnel from the bombings. We met the God who is continually healing wounds of despair and giving hope to the people.
- The people around us taught us to ‘live with enough,’ that there are two things that can displace the human spirit: wanting more of everything and not knowing the meaning of ‘enough.’
- God invites us to leave the ‘known,’ walk with God to unknown places and to share meaningful relationships with those who touch our lives, and in the process we experienced God’s love made visible in the people around us. We discovered, beyond our imagining, there is always a Blessing when we step outside our comfort zone!
- We have also learned through the suffering of the people that a salient part of being human is to try to see that no one suffers alone, that no pain goes unnoticed, and that no suffering is without meaning. One holy Sudanese woman taught us that “No one can hurt us unless it comes from an unhealed wound in the person.” Then she said, “Knowing this, hopefully we will respond with compassion, which will contribute to healing that wound in the one who has hurt us, as well as other unhealed wounds in our world.”
Being with the people of South Sudan, we learned that the real journey of every human person is both personal and communal, and the conversion is not someone else’s but one’s own. The human journey is to our true self and our true home, where we are forever united to all peoples and all of creation in unbounded LOVE.
Photo: Maryknoll Sister Theresa Baldini with a child in South Sudan