No hands now but ours

    March 18, 2024

    While there is enough similarity in the Bible stories presented in today’s readings for them to be linked, there is an important contrast between the tale of Susanna — righteous, wrongly accused, and ultimately exonerated through the intervention of Daniel in the Old Testament — and the woman caught in adultery and brought to Jesus in the New Testament. If we are to believe the scene set in the latter story, the unnamed woman was guilty. Nevertheless, both are saved from death.

    The people who come to us seeking food, rent money, legal advice, temporary housing, or any of the myriad other forms of assistance we provide, all have back stories like Susanna and the woman standing before Jesus. Some of them may be innocent, while others may have made some bad choices in their lives — who among us has not done that at some point? Some may have experienced trauma. Some may feel trapped or wrongly accused. Who are we to judge? Beyond their “presenting problem,” the people that come to us for help are really seeking acceptance. They are hoping to be seen. They are wanting to be known and loved for who they truly are.

    In 2006, several months after hurricane Katrina, the CCUSA board and senior staff toured the devastation in New Orleans. While there, we met with Archbishop Hughes who told us the story of how, after the waters had receded, they found a statue of Jesus fallen off its pedestal in the seminary garden, intact except that it had lost both of its hands. He told us that Jesus had no hands now but ours.

    Now, in the leisure of my retirement, I have joined the funeral planning ministry of my parish. I also sing in the resurrection choir. As you may imagine, in these circumstances I hear (or sing) Psalm 23, the responsorial that accompanies today’s readings, quite frequently. While I may find solace in the belief that the Lord is my shepherd, guiding me all the days of my life, the episode of the broken statue in the garden invites us to reflect on this psalm a bit differently. Who, then, is this shepherd that accompanies those who walk in the dark valley? Who gives repose in the verdant pastures? Who leads to the restful waters and refreshes the soul? Who spreads the table and anoints the healing oil? The shepherd has no hands but ours.

    Jean Beil, having retired from over 30 years in the Catholic Charities ministry, first in local agencies in New Jersey and then at the national office, now serves as the regional coordinator of Caritas North America. She lives in Alexandria with her husband and two cats and attends Good Shepherd parish.