During my second year as a novice, I had the opportunity to work at a L’Arche community in Tacoma, WA for about two and a half months or so. We had three core members at the house I was staying at, and one of those core members was named Bobby. I think I’ve probably told some of you about Bobby before.
Bobby was never able to develop in the way most humans do over time. Although he is about two years older than I am, he never was able to mature past the mental stage of infancy. He is unable to talk, and he cannot do most things on his own. As a live-in-assistant, some of my duties included clothing, toileting, washing, and feeding Bobby. Whenever you fed him, you had to put an apron on him because it could get a little messy. In the morning, I would have to gingerly attach him to a machine that lifted him out of his bed and would slowly placed him on to his wheelchair, and he was no small guy. Also, throughout the day, I would have to check to see if he had soiled his diaper and would have to change him on a regular basis. Changing the diaper on a baby is much different than changing the diaper on a grown man.
I imagine that many who come across Bobby are bound to feel sorry for him and the sad state of life he finds himself in. If we placed ourselves in Bobby’s shoes, what kind of life would that be? Knowing that we were that helpless and that we were so entirely dependent on others for our livelihood. Feeling the degeneration of our own human dignity because of our stark infirmity?
Whenever I think about Bobby, though, I do not feel pity or remorse for Bobby. Actually, whenever I think about Bobby, most of the memories that arise in me are memories of laughter and joy. Bobby was always laughing, and I would always think to myself why he was laughing. I would actually sometimes ask him: “Bobby, why are you laughing?” and look at him as if I was expecting an answer. Although he couldn’t communicate verbally to me, I read his laughing as a sign of his happiness and his smiles as his joy. Curiously, I consider Bobby to be one of the happiest people I’ve ever met in my life, and I truly believe that God in his mysterious power, was communicating something quite profound to me and to many others through Bobby.
In today’s gospel, Jesus asks us to consider the fig tree, and that when we notice the buds bursting, that this is a sign of summer. All around us are signs for us to interpret in the same way that Jesus asks us to interpret the sign of the fig tree. Sometimes, those signs are very ordinary. When we see that the fridge has suddenly become filled with Gatorade bottles and coconut juice, that is a sign of that the shoppers have gone shopping. Or, when the bathrooms are restocked with toilet paper, that is a sign that someone has done his manualia. Or when we are able to go to class because our bills are getting paid, that is a sign that Rich has been up to no good. Or, when we saw the amount of food before us during thanksgiving, that is a sign of all who pitched in before hand has taken the time to prepare the food. Contrary to popular belief, though, just because you score low on the karaoke machine is not a sign of the mic’s prejudice. But, I tend to think of these actions as presencing God in the smallest of ways.
Christ uses the fig tree to help us to be attentive of the signs taking place which are expressing how that the kingdom of God is near. But, clearly, unless God was playing a major joke on us, I think it would be difficult to think about the nearness of the kingdom temporally. It’s been almost two thousand years after the fact—where is this kingdom? It certainly doesn’t seem to be near. But, I would like to suggest not the temporal nearness of the kingdom but the physical nearness of the kingdom. For me, Bobby’s life was a sign for me that the kingdom of God is near. When I was in Bobby’s presence, as I mentioned earlier, I truly felt that God was near, and that each smile and laugh that he imparts on others is another brick offered for the kingdom. As we hear in today's responsorial psalm: "Here God lives among His people."
And, I think we are all challenged to be like Bobby in the certain sense. Of course, one of the themes that Joe has been reminding all of us throughout the semester is that we are who we are. I am me, and you are you, and you are not me. I am certainly not Bobby, nor should I be exactly like Bobby. But, during my time with Bobby, I was able to recognize the gifts and talents that he was able to share with the world—gifts and talents that are uniquely Bobby’s. In the same way, we must recognize the gifts, the talents, and the life that we have been given by God and to lay down our own bricks for the kingdom. We must challenge ourselves as Jesuits to make God present to others through the graces that God is pouring out for us on a daily basis. Through our prayer and our examen, we are challenged to notice and to be grateful for the ways in which Jesus seeks to nourish and sustain us and to be attentive to the signs made present to us on a daily basis in our Jesuit vocation. In being attentive to the signs, we ourselves can form ourselves more and more to become signs and witnesses to the kingdom of God. When we do that through the help of our Lord, then we are indeed helping to bring the kingdom of God closer to those around us.—especially to those who feel the kingdom to be tragically distant.
So, for your prayer, as we continue our celebration in which we believe our Lord to be very near to us in the Eucharist, I may suggest that we pray about those people or those experiences in our life that have been signs of the kingdom. Let us pray in thanksgiving to the many people who have touched our lives in this way, for those who have laid down those bricks in our lives. Let us also pray for the continued grace to be witnesses and signs to the kingdom, that our lives and vocations as Jesuits may help others to see and recognize that the Kingdom of God is indeed near.