My parish is privileged to have a genuinely excellent homilist for its pastor: Monsignor Christopher Heller. (In this he follows in the path of his predecessor, the late Father Charles Papa.) From the Gospel reading for Wednesday, he extracted a wisdom that few lay Catholics, and perhaps not many priests, would have found there. The relevant reading is from Luke:
Jesus summoned the Twelve and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there. And as for those who do not welcome you, when you leave that town, shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them.”
Then they set out and went from village to village proclaiming the good news and curing diseases everywhere. [Luke 9:1-6]
It sounds like a mere bit of history, doesn’t it? No moral message, no parable about the Kingdom of God, nothing like that. But Father Chris found an important bit of counsel in this verse:
“And as for those who do not welcome you, when you leave that town, shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them.”
Far worse than mere unwelcome could happen to a traveler in those times – and far worse often did. The roads of first-century Judea were plagued by highwaymen, rapists, murderers, and others with no good in mind. (They didn’t yet have realtors or insurance salesmen.) That’s a great part of the reason why journeys of more than an hour or two were more often undertaken in caravans than by solitary walkers.
But what did the Redeemer tell His apostles? Not to watch out for marauders or thieves. Not to carry a weapon or be always on alert for the approach of threats. To beware harboring resentment for unwelcome! To answer rejection with rejection! To pass on without allowing it to attach a weight to their thoughts…or their souls. Their mission would be strenuous enough without burdening themselves with resentment against those who spurned them and their message.
How many of us have borne great weights of injury, usually composed of innumerable petty insults, slights, or infringements, for year after year, decade after decade? I’ve struggled with the anger and resentments from such treatment my whole life. So I buttonholed Father Chris after Mass for a brief chat. First, I asked him if it struck him as odd, even paradoxical, that it’s the lesser harms that have the greater grip upon one’s soul? He agreed that it was. So I asked if he had any suggestions for freeing oneself of it.
His recommendation was classically simple: “Coat your heart with Teflon for five minutes. Ask Jesus to take the obtruding thought away for just five minutes. Tell yourself ‘I’ll think about it tomorrow, if necessary,’ and pass on.”
“That sounds like prayer,” I said.
He smiled. “That’s exactly what it is: the ‘take it away’ prayer. Jesus prayed it in the garden at Gethsemane. Why shouldn’t we?”
I am reminded of something I’ve seen on a coffee mug:
Not every problem has a neat solution, regardless of the opinions of some. Not every solution is easily applied. But this one is.
May God bless and keep you all.