Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Child's Gospel in Chelsea

A Child's Gospel in Chelsea



Friday night Cindy and I went to see our son Michael. He sings with an internationally renowned all male a cappella group called Chanticleer. They are based in San Francisco but travel all over the United States, Europe, China, and most recently South America. You can probably tell I’m proud a proud papa. Twelve male voices singing music from the Renaissance to American Folk to a specially commissioned contemporary classic idiom. It was a wonderful concert. We were in Rockport at the Shalin Liu Performance Center. What a uniquely, special venue, overlooking the sea at the setting of the sun. A small intimate space where every word, every tone, every note is audible to the well trained ear. I could hear Michael's voice distinctly. Thank God I still have my hearing. 

After the concert, we went to the car and on the way, Michael said; “So dad, what have you been up to?” I had little to say. I was preoccupied with my feelings of joy and pride in him and the members of the choral group many of whom we have come to know quite well. I didn’t know what to say, to tell you the truth.

But he knows who I am. I’m just a simple parish priest; nothing more, nothing less. It is the joy of my life to live out my days in service to Jesus and the people Jesus died for. That would be everyone!

This week, for instance, I was faced with this challenge. Go to St. Luke’s, Chelsea and provide a worship experience for about 25 primary school age inner-city children. They are part of the B-Safe program of the Diocese of Massachusetts. How shall I proclaim the Gospel to these children, I asked myself?

By the way, the B-Safe Program has been organized by our Diocese to provide a safe place for youngsters all across inner city neighborhoods in and around Boston. Eleven locations and over 800 youngsters, staff and volunteers work every day to provide these safe places for these children. You and I know it is a dangerous world out there. Every year tens of thousands die from violence, many of them children. For the church to organize itself in such a way around the timely and urgent needs of our young people is a very impressive ministry. And, by the way, thank you for your wonderful support, Church of the Good Shepherd. Julie’s car was packed with good things to eat for these kids. She and others were there to help serve lunch. 

When I arrived at St. Luke’s/San Lucas in Chelsea, over 80 people filled the parish hall. Boisterous, vibrant, lively faces and voices of precious young filled the place. Finally it was time after lunch to go into the church for worship. 25-30 came into the church with me. They were good as gold. I was impressed with their reverent, respectful behavior.



I began by showing them how a priest prepares for church;
First I put on my alb and remember that we we all “put on” Jesus every day as we do our clothing and remind ourselves of the Joy of Jesus and the Purity of his love. 
I girded myself with my cincture and said that this rope reminds me that Jesus makes us strong with the power of God. 
I placed the stole over my shoulders to show that we carry Jesus with us; his yoke is easy, his burden is light. 
I placed the cross of Jesus carefully over my heart and invited the children to remember that God gives us eternal life through every difficulty, every sadness, every fear and every joy in life.

The children watched carefully. One of the teens asked me about the symbolism on my stole. I pointed to the wheat that represents bread, the grapes that represent wine and the Alpha and the Omega represent the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet. After all, Jesus is the beginning and the ending, the author and the finisher of our faith. Even the teenagers were now fully engaged in the unfolding worship experience.

We sang a somewhat silly song then, one I have loved through the years.

THE BUTTERFLY SONG
Words and Music by Brian M. Howard




If I were a butterfly
I'd thank you Lord for giving me wings
If I were a robin in a tree 
I'd thank you Lord that I could sing
If I were a fish in the sea
I'd wiggle my tail and I'd giggle with glee
But I just thank you Father for making me, me

CHORUS      
For you gave me a heart and you gave me a smile
You gave me Jesus and you made me your child
And I just thank you Father for making me, me

If I were an elephant 
I'd thank you Lord by raising my trunk
If I were a kangaroo
You know I'd hop, hop, hop right up to you
If I were an octopus
I'd thank you Lord for my good looks
But I just thank you Father for making me, me

If I were a wiggly worm
I'd thank you Lord that I could squirm
If I were a fuzzy, wuzzy bear
I'd thank you Lord for my fuzzy, wuzzy hair
If I were a crocodile 
I'd thank you Lord for my great smile
But I just thank you Father for 
making me, me
Then we prayed for our families and friends. Many of the children mentioned particular concerns and several mentioned a grandparent who had “gone to heaven”. Again there was a sacred silence in the place. 

Then it was  time for a story. I told them a simple Gospel story in my own words based on this week’s Gospel. It was much like the way my grandmother told Bible stories. They came from her heart to mine. From God’s heart to ours.

I said; 
“One day there was a little boy and a little girl who were very hungry and they went to their friends and said, ‘Gosh, we’re hungry, do you have something for us to eat?’ ‘The friends said, ‘Of course we do, and they put out all the food they had and shared everything with the hungry boy and girl.’” They had such a good time together

On the same day another boy and girl were very hungry and they went to their friends and said the same thing; “Gosh, we’re hungry. Do you have anything for us to eat?” This time their friends said “No, we're  keeping all my food to ourselves” The little boy and girl went away very sad, and very very hungry.

I asked the children; “Who do you think was Jesus to the hungry boy and girl? In one voice, they all said “The one who gave them something to eat.”

"Right, you are", I said.

So, then I asked the children to come with me to God’s Holy Table. We gathered around the Altar. I asked them to cozy up with me there. Again they were good as gold. I lit the candles on the altar. They were especially quiet and reverent. I took the bread on the altar and told them that on the night before Jesus died for us, he took the bread and lifted it up toward heaven. As I lifted the bread on high, I said, see the cross? When the priest lifts the bread up like Jesus did he looks at the cross to remember what Jesus did for us. There is an especially beautiful cross at St. Luke’s in Chelsea. Jesus on the cross with his mother to the one side and Mary Magdalene to the other. It took a little while for all the children to see what I saw, but I encouraged them to look way up, way high, and then when they all saw what I saw. I continued.



Then Jesus blessed the bread and said "this is my body which is given for you". Imagine, he gave his life for you. I then shared the bread with the children in that sacred and holy place where we all huddled close together in the presence of the Risen Christ.

You could hear a pin drop.

We said the Lord’s prayer together

And then we sang one more song.

Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak, but He is strong.

Refrain:
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me! This I know,
As He loved so long ago,
Taking children on His knee,
Saying, “Let them come to Me.”

Jesus loves me still today,
Walking with me on my way,
Wanting as a friend to give
Light and love to all who live.

Jesus loves me! He who died
Heaven’s gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin,
Let His little child come in.

Jesus loves me! He will stay
Close beside me all the way;
You who gave your life for me,
I will henceforth live for Thee.

This, by the way, is the song I sing to the dying softly in their ears as they near the end.



So yes Michael my son. I am just a simple parish priest. My church, my Diocese is spending this summer keeping 800 youngsters out of harm’s way at least for a few hours every day.

As for me, what I love more than anything is to bring folks into the knowledge that God’s love has been made known to us in Jesus. As we remember him in that special way we do at God’s own Holy Table, we come close to God. Jesus dwells within us. We dwell in Jesus.

Yes, Michael this is what I have been up to. I wish I thought to tell him that Friday night.

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity.
Amen.


Fr Paul

5 comments:

Gregory Peebles said...

I pray God grant me your humility. What a beautiful, beautiful post. Today at my church, during the prayer of Thanksgiving, a little 4- or 5-year-old girl came out into the aisle and did a little dance, sat down right in the middle of the aisle, rapt until the Sanctus, then danced again in the opening bars. It took me to such a holy place. I closed my eyes and offered what gift I have to the Lord, and by the time I opened them again, she was gone. My section partner told me one of clergy came and scooped her up and carried her away. I wish you'd been there to dance *with* her.

"Fr. Paul" Bresnahan said...

Good morning Gregory, how wonderful to hear from you and to know of your growing faith. Yes, I remember reading somewhere that the disciples of Jesus wanted to "prevent" the children from being themselves and then Jesus insisting that they bring the children to him and setting one of the little ones on his knee, he said something about the Kingdom of Heaven being much like a child's free, creative, and innocent spirit. Would that we could all be like the children we are within. ~Matthew 19:13-15.
BTW he also said some interesting things about marriage and eunuchs etc. in the preceding verses. Which means to me that Jesus fearlessly confronted questions of gender in ways that we are only now coming to terms with. You see why they crucified him perhaps. And no doubt you see why we both are so attracted to his inclusive and courageous love. Blessings my dear friend. Hope to see you this side sometime some one of these years. Paul of Lynn.

Cole Seaton said...

While I was having breakfast alone and aimlessly reading various posts from my friends here on Facebook, I was so glad the holy spirit led me to your post here on Michael's timeline. It was exactly what I needed to read as I begin my day and it filled my heart with joy! So thank you Paul, for being a "simple parish priest", and for all the work you do to enrich the lives of others while sharing the love, hope and word of Christ along your journey. I still miss your son's voice and presence in the Choir of Fourth Presbyterian Church here in Chicago.i found myself singing along with your post of, "Yes, Jesus loves me" and reflecting on my father's words, similar to your own, when I asked him what he loved most about life, he said, "being a simple farmer, nothing more, nothing less". May God continue to bless you and your family and the work that you are doing on his behalf!

Cole Seaton said...

While I was having breakfast alone and aimlessly reading various posts from my friends here on Facebook, I was so glad the holy spirit led me to your post here on Michael's timeline. It was exactly what I needed to read as I begin my day and it filled my heart with joy! So thank you Paul, for being a "simple parish priest", and for all the work you do to enrich the lives of others while sharing the love, hope and word of Christ along your journey. I still miss your son's voice and presence in the Choir of Fourth Presbyterian Church here in Chicago.i found myself singing along with your post of, "Yes, Jesus loves me" and reflecting on my father's words, similar to your own, when I asked him what he loved most about life, he said, "being a simple farmer, nothing more, nothing less". May God continue to bless you and your family and the work that you are doing on his behalf!

"Fr. Paul" Bresnahan said...

Hi Cole,
The highest compliment I can imagine, or at least among the highest compliments, is to be compared to a "simple farmer, nothing more, nothing less". Being a city kid from the beginning, I haven't spent much time in the fields but I often think of spreading "seeds" of at least some joy and kindness. Sometimes it is hard work, as hard as farming. Building a homeless shelter as I once did was the hardest job I ever did. I had to endure law suits and death threat but in the end, 28 folks had a place to live, safe, sound, and protected from the elements and so much more. It means so much to hear from folks from time to time that the work is appreciated. But whether it is appreciated or not, I can think of nothing else I'd rather be than "a simple parish priest". Blessings on you and yours.
Paul