by Father Mark Goldasich
How would you handle finding a six-pack of beer in your teen’s closet?
This was the situation faced by a single mom and her 14-year-old daughter, Maria. When her daughter arrived home, the mom pointed to the beer and said, “OK, Maria, what is this?”
“Looks like a six-pack of beer to me, Mom,” her daughter answered.
“Don’t get smart with me, young lady,” snapped the mother. “Now, you tell me about this.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Maria.
“I found this six-pack in your closet! You’d better start explaining,” the mom continued.
Maria thought fast and said, “Oh, yeah, I was hiding that for a friend.”
“You expect me to believe that?” shouted the exasperated mother.
At that, Maria stomped off to her bedroom and slammed the door, practically rattling the whole house.
Frustrated with the entire situation, the weary mother called Dr. Jane Nelsen, a noted family and child counselor, to ask for advice. Nelsen asked, “Why were you so concerned with finding a six-pack of beer in her closet?” “Well, I don’t want her to get into trouble,” said the mom.
“I understand that,” said Nelsen, “but why don’t you want her to get into trouble?”
The mother answered, “Because I don’t want her to ruin her life.”
“I understand that,” said Nelsen again, “but why don’t you want her to ruin her life?”
Finally, the mother got the point and said quietly, “Well, because I love my daughter.”
Nelsen then said, “Do you think she got that message?” When the mom said no, Nelsen continued, “What do you think would happen if you started with that message? Suppose you said,
‘Honey, I love you so much that I got really scared when I found this six-pack in your closet. Because I’m really afraid you could get into trouble, could we talk about it?’”
Being loving and vulnerable rather than “conducting an inquisition,” said Nelsen, can better lead to closeness and trust. In such an atmosphere, the child is more likely to open up, so that together both parent and child can find a solution. (Adapted from “A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers” by William J. Bausch.)
Jesus, I think, would approve of Nelsen’s philosophy. Some 2000 years ago, in fact, he was already practic- ing what she is preaching. The Gospel readings from the past couple of Sun- days are examples of this.
Because they’re afraid, the apostles are huddled behind locked doors after the death of Jesus. They expected that, if caught, they would undergo the same fate as Jesus. Suddenly, Jesus appears in their midst.
Their response is one of fear and shock. Part of their fear might be in wondering how Jesus would treat them. After all, these were some of
his closest friends who abandoned him when he needed them the most. Would Jesus explode in anger at their betrayal? Berate them for their lack of belief, even though they had listened to him preach and seen his miracles? Punish them in some terrible way? The apostles were no doubt very aware
of their cowardice and weakness and might even have been embarrassed to see their friend Jesus after how they’d treated him.
But Jesus calms all of their fears by lovingly saying, “Peace be with you.”
I imagine those words were delivered with a big smile. Who could expect such a greeting? No wonder last Sunday’s Gospel said that the disciples were “incredulous for joy.” How relieved they must have felt in knowing that Jesus loved them even in their weakness. That love and peace extended by Jesus opened their hearts to receive the Spirit and ultimately to proclaim boldly the good news to others.
In a world that is so often a “my- way-or-the-highway” place, a powerful witness of our Christian faith can be found in being willing to be vulnerable. Like that mother in the opening story, it rarely occurs to us to begin difficult conversations, especially with those closest to us, by stating, “Hey, I love you, and that’s why I’m approaching you with this issue.” We find it so easy to shout at one another rather than gently speak with each other.
The risen Jesus gives us the pattern we are to follow. Being people of peace, being loving and vulnerable, shows where true power is: It comes from God, not us. Living this way is costly, though. Notice that even after the resurrection, Jesus still bears the marks of the crucifixion.
Yes, being vulnerable is hard. Being willing to forgive is hard. Being a person of peace is hard. Being willing to take the lower place is hard. Being ready to be wounded in the name of love is hard. Only the powerful gift of the Spirit can make it bearable and possible.
Especially in this Easter season, let’s make our prayer that of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
It’s what our hearts, our families, and our world, needs now.