In working with youth and young adults, I often witness awkward moments. Specifically, my heart always softens for the young person who is desperately trying to fit into a group where they maybe don’t quite belong. This young individual deeply wants to fit in and tries a little too hard at it, causing a few clumsy encounters and uncomfortable looks. I can’t help but think Peter is this person in today’s Gospel. I can almost feel his inner monologue crying out, “Something so strange and sacred is happening and I don't know how to respond, and I’m not really sure if I belong here, so I know what I’ll do…I’ll MAKE TENTS! Wait, I should probably say something! What can I say for certain that won’t make me look out of place? It is good that we are here. Yeah, that’s it!”
I absolutely feel Peter's response to his circumstances today, as I have with other characters in the Scriptures for many years. I find myself identifying with the person who does not quite get it rather than the hero of the story. I hear the parable of the Prodigal Son… and I always feel bad for the older brother. He worked hard to honor his father and uphold the family name. When Mary and Martha welcome Jesus into their home and Mary sits lovingly at Jesus’ feet, I usually roll my eyes. Honestly, if it had been me, I would have been trying to clean up my house and have some kind of food ready. I care deeply about hospitality and helping people feel welcome in my home. Why would I treat Jesus any differently? And again, I understand why Peter proclaims, “It is good that we are here.” I would want others to think I knew what was going on. How else does one respond in this situation?
A mentor of mine used to point out that it was normal to identify with any character in a particular passage. The ones I identify with that try so hard to do the right thing, to try and be worthy of God’s love and Jesus’ attention...they deserve our attention. They can reflect our own opportunity for growth to us by providing their own insight and guidance, despite God correcting each one of them. The father has to explain to his eldest son how wonderful it is that his younger brother returned. Jesus gently lets Martha know that Mary has made the better choice. In today’s reading, Peter’s actions are cut short because a bright cloud and a voice from heaven appear. In each of these stories, the individual is invited to simply be and encounter the Beloved. Herein lies our challenge. In our culture of busyness and doing, of impressing and achieving, we begin to believe we have autonomy and control in how we are seen and how we encounter anyone, including ourselves and including God.
The reality is that I, along with Peter, Martha, and the rest of us, do not control or earn being God’s chosen or beloved. Timothy’s letter points out that we are called “not according to our works but according to God’s own design.” The love and grace we receive is unaccounted for in a ledger book. I find this quite frustrating. I far prefer being able to show a linear equation to explain exactly how I earned that paycheck or helped someone out. Many of us like the control in how others see us because we can tuck away the ugly parts. We don’t want others to see those things and we certainly do not want to be faced with our own vulnerability and identity. I am more like this than I typically choose to admit and I suspect I am not alone. Whether we ignore our flaws or try to hide our brokenness, many doubt that these aspects of ourselves are worthy enough to bring before God or that they could be loved. In Fr. Michael Moynahan’s “Broken Record” prayer, the voice of God tells us:
“I love you because I can’t do anything else.
I made you, every last part of you: all that’s hidden and all that’s revealed, all that’s muddled and even all that’s clear.
You are, at the risk of repeating myself, dear to me.
You are precious in my eyes because...just because you are mine.
That’s enough for me. And it will have to do for you.”
That will have to do for you. That will have to do for me, for Martha, for Peter. We can bring our whole selves before God, confident that everything about us is already loved and accepted.
Ok, we are beloved. So what?
The experience of being loved and claiming it gives us the yearning to find it in new ways and ultimately transforms us. Henri Nouwen wrote in his book, The Life of the Beloved, “Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply.”
Once we get past our own barriers of receiving love and the other voices in our lives that try to refute God’s truth, we can begin trusting the voice of love. We can begin to believe, despite the darkness and brokenness evident in the news, despite the challenging people we have to engage, despite the times when it seems our own sin and brokenness cannot be overcome, that there is hope. Jesus is the epitome of that hope. He did not run when God’s voice proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Just before this passage, Jesus predicts his passion and explains the cost of discipleship. He is beloved and yet remains committed to the project God has for the Kingdom. He is our example of being called, being loved, and responding with courage.
The more we listen to Jesus and pattern our lives after his commitment, the more we transform into people of love and hope. We can be confident that we do belong with God, so we do not need to work so hard to try and fit in. Freeing ourselves from that effort frees us to have authentic encounters of belonging and an opportunity to respond to this love. Those awkward students I mentioned earlier? I often would see them a year or two later spending time with real friends, friends that allowed them to be fully themselves despite their quirks and awkwardness. They would relax and shine in genuine relationships. I believe this is where our invitation takes place. May we seek to live our belovedness, relax with knowing we cannot control it, and seek to deepen a genuine relationship of response with the God that loved us into existence. Thank you.
Lauren M. Schwer
Lauren M. Schwer
Lauren serves as the Associate Director of Campus Ministry at Loyola University Chicago. She is responsible for developing and implementing a campus-wide retreat program that serves over 1,000 students annually. In her ten years at Loyola, her priorities have included making Ignatian Spirituality accessible for students and staff, developing meaningful connections between the Athletic Department and mission, and practicing spiritual direction. She has taught a variety of courses, including All Things Ignatian for undergraduates and Spiritual Direction in the Ignatian Tradition for graduate and continuing education students. Most recently, she and her dear friend/former colleague are working on a writing project coinciding with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Lauren’s past professional experience includes parish and retreat ministry in the Hudson Valley of New York alongside the Capuchins, college retreat work and immersion trips at Boston College, and high school teaching, coaching, and campus ministry work outside of Washington, D.C. with the Xaverian Brothers. Lauren earned both her Masters of Arts in Pastoral Ministry and her Bachelor of Arts in Theology from Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. While at Boston College, she was a four-year varsity volleyball player. Her passions include running, traveling, and gathering her loved ones in her home.