September 2, 2008

A Tale of Two Sisters

By O'Connell-Cahill, Catherine Scobey, Annemarie

You, too, might find the story of your family in Sunday's gospel. MY SISTER AND I ARE FEATURED IN THE GOSPEL at Mass in a few weeks (September 28 to be exact). The Pharisees are harassing Jesus. He replies with the tale of a man who one day asked his two sons to go work in the family vineyard. One son told his dad that not for all the tea in China would he toil for hours in the vineyard, but eventually he went after all. Son No. 2 said, "Sure, Dad, I'll go," but then spent the day at the beach.

"Which of the two did the will of his father?" asked Jesus. The Pharisees answered, "The first." Then Jesus hammers them: "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you" (Matt. 21:28-32).

My sister Barb stars as the first son. Surrounded by conflict avoiders, as a kid she alone did not shrink from an occasional protest about a chore she considered pointless or unfair; she often ended up doing it anyway.

I, like the other son, was content to duck the argument by saying, "Sure, Mom," followed later by, Oops, I meant to but I forgot." I can still perform this verbal sleight of hand as an adult. As you can imagine, it doesn't do my marriage any good.

Jesus certainly had a keen understanding of the human condition, didn't he? One of the wonderful things about being Catholic is that each week we see our orneriness and our struggles on display in the Word of God. Part of our job as parents is to connect the Christian story to the stories of our own family. The parables of Jesus especially are naturals for children.

I recall talking with my son about the story of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16, coming to a pulpit near you on September 21), featuring an all-day recruiting session for vineyard workers. The dilemma comes when the fellows hired at 5 p.m. are paid the same wage as those who began at dawn. I tried to explain the concept of God's mercy falling on the just and the unjust, that those who arrive late are just as precious to God as those who have faith from the start. My son, age 10 and big into fairness, as 10- year-olds tend to be, was having none of it. "Those guys needed a union!" he cried.

ONE DAY WHEN I WAS HIS AGE, I OBSERVED THAT MY BEST friend next door had received a new bike, something I'd never had in my life. "Aren't you going out there?" asked my sister. "No," I said, turning from the window. Little did I know that I could have recognized myself at that moment in another parable, that of the prodigal son, as the boy on the hill who refused to go down for his brother's welcome-home party, green with envy and hard of heart.

My best friend had an alcoholic father, a violent home. The police used to come. Violence would follow her as she grew up. Could I not let her have the joy of a new bike? (Jesus understood all this, I'm glad to say.) Finally I made it out of the house to her side, a rather stilted smile on my face. Perhaps the boy on the hill made it down to the party after all.

Later that year my dad got me a bike at the police auction and painted it a jaunty red and white. A labor of love, and of course it rode better than anything new from Sears.

On the Web

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Pint-sized prayers

Words surround us. For children especially, a day can be an exhausting series of "times to listen." Amid all these words, how do we teach children to be silent and listen to the voice of God within themselves?

Journey to the Heart: Centering Prayer for Children by Frank X. Jelenek (Paraclete Press, 2007) is an invitation to enter into contemplative prayer and find inner peace. The book begins with a simple explanation that God's kingdom lives inside each of us. It then guides children through the steps of contemplative prayers- from choosing a sacred word to being still and silent and letting thoughts float away.

-Annemarie Scobey

By CATHERINE O'CONNELL-CAHILL, senior editor of U.S. CATHOLIC. This article appears in the September issue of AT HOME WITH OUR FAITH, Claretian Publications' newsletter for families.

Copyright Claretian Publications Sep 2008

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