Over the last weekend, had the opportunity to make a short visit to Tivoli, a town not too far from Rome. The interesting thing about that town is that it was, for a time, the administrative capital of the Roman empire under Hadrian. A huge villa was built there from which Hadrian ruled the vast empire. Some centuries later, a certain Cardinal D’este built his own villa on the side of the hills there, a villa that remains and testifies to the opulence of the church medieval. History aside, it was nice to be out of Rome to see the beauty of the hills around. But that’s not the main point. Context, as I always say, is important.
While walking through Hadrian’s villa, I happened to come across a young family enjoying their day out. The parents allowed their children to play in a small garden area and after a little while, the father gathered the children to move on. As they left, the smallest girl ran to the side of her father, extended her hand and said in a cute squeaky voice that only a 3-year-old can manage, ‘Mano! (Hand!)’ Her father in reply, reached out and held his daughters hand tightly as they left to continue their tour of the villa. It was a small word from a small person and a very natural gesture that struck me quite deeply.
The little action showed the complete trust that the little girl had in her father and how that trust was demonstrated in a real, concrete way in the holding of hands. It’s good to ask ourselves, especially those of us who might think that we’re grown up, in whom do we have such complete absolute trust? More importantly, for those of us who profess a religion, do we have a similar relationship with God who we believe guides and comforts us in all things?
In the simple act of extending her hand to her father, the little girl sought comfort and security in his presence while also acknowledging his guidance and knowledge. In prayer, we often reach out our hands to the Lord, seeking security and comfort that can sometimes only come from the hands of He who created us. The act of reaching out and saying ‘Mano!’ is both an act of faith and an act of humility of the creature before the creator, knowing that there will indeed be a hand that reaches out to grasp ours. The other movement is the acknowledgement of the need for guidance. We can’t do everything ourselves and certainly don’t know everything and thus are constantly in need of guidance that comes from the Lord. The act of putting ourselves in the shoes of a child, as the Lord said several times in the Gospels, removes the useless pride that we often hold and allows us to become more receptive to the graces that we need from the Lord.
On a similar note, yesterday’s gospel (Luke 6:6-11 from Monday, 23rd Week in Ordinary time) told the story of a man who had a withered hand (la mano paralizzata or paralysed hand) that was healed by Jesus on the Sabbath in front of the scribes and Pharisees. There’s much to be said about the latter but what was significant that was described in the homily at mass yesterday were the words of the Lord who said, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ The action asked of the man and the action of the little girl are similar – we’re asked to stretch out our hands in faith that God will do something greater with it.
Fr Mariano, who celebrated mass yesterday, mentioned that we’re all asked to reach out with our own personal versions of witheredness in our lives. We all come to the Lord with infirmities and are challenged to reach out to the Lord, going beyond ourselves and the self-consciousness that comes with the infirmities. Extrapolating from the homily, I also believe that sometimes, our hands might get withered from not stretching out enough and that we need to actively seek to help others or to be helped so that our hands are used in the way that they should be – in giving and receiving. If they’re not used for either, they get withered and that leads to atrophy.
With the command to stretch our hands out, the Lord seems to be inviting us first to reach out for the security and guidance that the hand of the Lord promises. We need first to receive before we can give. And we’re called to reach out in spite of our infirmities and quite often, we’re called to reach out because of our infirmities, to be healed even though we don’t quite want to be. That’s difficult in itself. But the stretching out and reaching, I believe, has a deeper purpose. We’re called to reach out not just to be healed but to be an instrument of healing. The father of the little girl reached out to his daughter to offer the same comfort and guidance that he must have received when he was young. So we’re called to do the same – to reach and receive so that we can ultimately do the same to others. Such is the life that we’re called to live – to receive and to give as we have received so generously in all parts of our lives.