The gospel reading from last Sunday’s mass (22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C) was, as all gospels tend to be, quite familiar. In the reading (Luke 14:1,7-14), we were reminded not to take the places of honour when attending a dinner where we can choose our seats but to choose the lowliest ones instead. After all, as the Lord reminds us, it’s better to be asked, ‘Friend, go higher’ than to have to suffer the embarrassment of having to shift to a less ‘honourable’ position at the dinner. While this is not going to happen very often to most of us, the ideas are interesting.
During the homily at that mass, the celebrant made a point that was simple yet incredibly striking. He said that there’s another reason why we should choose the seats furthest away from the seats of honour. We’d naturally want to sit at those seats because those are the seats because that’s where the Lord would be sitting and who wouldn’t want to sit there with him? The explanation was simple too – the Lord spent his life ministering to the poorest, those who needed help the most and thus if he had the choice to choose a seat in a banquet, he would automatically sit with the very people with whom he spent most of his time.
I found that though intensely consoling, especially at the end of a month of intensive Italian language classes in Genoa that also served as an immersion into all things Italy, courtesy of the Italian Jesuits. I came into the programme with high hopes for a dramatic improvement in my Italian. While I can’t say that my hopes did not materialise but it’s just that my improvement was far from dramatic and I’m still struggling. What it did do was to remind me of the need for patience, especially with myself, and how the Lord is indeed there with us, no matter where we are or where we’re sitting.
A case in point was the process of writing the homily in the last post. Writing the English version was relatively simple but converting that into Italian was a painful process to say the least. Leo, an Italian Jesuit Scholastic with the patience of a saint helped correct the horrific Italian that I wrote it in and the edited copy reminded me of the English essays that I used to hand back to my students. It not only showed me how far I had to go as far as Italian is concerned but also reminded me that I’m not completely in control and need the help of others and especially the Lord in all things, especially at this current moment.
Being someone who is used to being at least in some sort of control, being where I am is not quite as comfortable as I’d like it to be. The loss of control, the feeling of poverty of words and the humility that comes with having to accept that I’ve only the vocabulary and language ability of a 9-year old (if I’m optimistic) all point to one thing – the need to be with the Lord in the last seats and to revel in that experience of weakness. It’s only when I accept that I am at the last seats, that I’m far from the best yet loved by the Lord that the process of growth can begin.
Growth requires humility because one cannot grow without the help of others. Just as the person who’s at the last seats can move up because others ask them to, one grows with the help of others, working with the Lord in all things in the process. I realise that for a large part of my recent years, I’ve been part of the group that’s been helping others to grow. I do grow in the process but I’ve mostly been in a position to help others. Now I’m the one who needs help and lots of it. And it’s a grace in itself to be able to humbly receive the help without resentment and with the great gratitude that it deserves.
Control and letting go. Helping and being helped. Ability and inability. Humility. All part of the process of growth that the Lord seems to be leading me on. Upon prayer and reflection, I realise that I’m content with being in the place that I’m in. Not excessively happy or sad to be here but content. I know where I’m supposed to be and am sure that things will get better. Whether I move up in the banquet’s immaterial. What’s most important is that I sit with the Lord, sharing my inability and need for help with him, knowing that this is where I need to be now.