Saturday, June 13, 2015


“I myself taught Ephraim to walk, I myself took them by the arm,
but they did not know that I was the one caring for them,
that I was leading them with human ties, with leading-strings of love,
that with them, I was like someone lifting an infant to his cheek,
and that I bent down to feed him” (Hosea 11:3-4).

This was the first reading at mass this Thursday; I’ve chosen to use the above translation from the New Jerusalem Bible because it conveys so beautifully the mood of tenderness and love that Hosea seems to intend.

As I reflected on the passage early Thursday morning, I found that it was a wonderful way to think of several things that had happened this past week (way too many to even list), and it has also come back to me several times since. I’d like to reflect on a couple of provocative phrases:

“but they did not know that I was the one caring for them.”  I was in a discussion about atheism this week, and wondered what it must be like to not have God in your life. This Sunday’s gospel includes a short parable about the farmer sowing his seeds, then the seeds sprout and grow “he knows not how.” It’s about you and me and how God acts in our lives although we aren’t aware of it any more than the farmer is aware of how those seeds sprout and grow and bear fruit. The parable seems to echo God’s remark in Hosea:  they did not know that I was the one caring for them.” What a shame to be loved by someone and not even be aware of it. 

“but they did not know ...that I was leading them with human ties.”  The truth of this verse has been showing up in lots of ways. Here’s just one example. Friday I drove down to a St. Benedict’s Prep “senior” alumni reunion at the Jersey shore. I was enjoying a really interesting conversation with a retired classmate (we graduated 55 years ago today) when his cellphone went off. He listened to it for a few seconds and replied, “Okay, I’m on my way.”

He’d mentioned earlier that he had driven over to our reunion after dropping off an elderly neighbor at the hospital for some sort of scheduled blood transfusion. The neighbor’s wife is unable to drive because of a broken ankle, so my classmate told me, matter-of-factly “So I told him I’d take and bring him back. They have no family; somebody has to help them, right?”

"But he did not know that I was
the one caring for him" Hos.11:3.
So as he slipped his phone back into his pocket he whispered to me, “The procedure got over much quicker than they’d expected, and he’s ready to go home. So I better get going.” That was the end of the reunion for him. We had just finished the salad, and he was now shaking hands with everyone at the table and simply saying “Something’s come up and  have to go. It's’ been great seeing you guys.”

As he walked away I was left with mixed feelings: I was really disappointed that our interesting visit had been cut short, but much more powerful was the feeling of being encouraged by his matter-of-fact selflessness and kindness toward a needy neighbor. I saw the Lord in action right in that noisy dining room, and wondered if the neighbor waiting at the hospital could see that God was “leading him with human ties.” "Human ties." Guess that means you and me, right?

“but they did not know that I was the one that I was leading them … with leading-strings of love.” I’m not exactly sure where the image of “leading strings” comes from, but I found a footnote that explains that God is leading his people “not forcing them like draft animals, but drawing them with kindness and affection.”  

I hope that you have had as many opportunities as I've had to notice God’s “leading strings” recently.

"leading-strings of love"
Yesterday, Friday, was the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a feast designed precisely to get us to reflect on Christ’s loving actions in our daily lives. After vespers of the Sacred Heart I stepped into the lobby of the school just as a stream of little children came bursting towards me on their way home after swimming lessons. The joyful, innocent faces of those kids were absolutely “leading-strings of love” from the Lord, tugging at my heart. They were a special gift on the Feast of the Sacred Heart.

I could spend an hour making a long list of the other signs of love that God has shown me just in this past week, ways that are often as subtle as they are beautiful.

I pray that today I may serve as one of the Lord’s “leading strings” that draws someone a little closer to the God of love. That seems only fair to try to pass the favor along.

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