Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

Church working toward more ways to love, grow relationships

Published: February 19, 2022

By Deacon Mike Cumnock
St. Mary of the Springs Church

When our daughter was in elementary school, she spent a lot of time in the agency where I was the CEO. A young, tall, Black man worked for us as an educator. He and my daughter became quite close. He often called her his “little sis” as she tagged behind him. One week he was substitute teaching in her grade school. When she saw him on campus, she called him by name. The children around her asked how she knew him, and she replied that she was his little sister.

When he walked by, he spoke to her in a familiar way. The children, all of whom were white, asked her how he could be her big brother because they looked nothing alike. She immediately responded: “Do you mean because he is so tall? I will probably be tall when I grow up, too!” The young teacher told me this story himself. He said he was impressed that she didn’t even notice the color difference. She didn’t gloss over their differences; they just weren’t important to her. Their relationship was what mattered. He had welcomed and included her.

At Pope Francis’ request, we as a Church and parish have been going through synodality, and some trends have become clear. People want to be more welcoming and inclusive but don’t know how to make that happen. Having identified some barriers the Church erected that makes community building more difficult, members are raising questions about what we as individuals — or even as a parish — can do to overcome these challenges.

This kingdom will be one of inclusiveness. I can imagine audible gasps. The pope is offering the Church an opportunity to examine what we do well and what we need to do or do better.

Often people think that “Church” issues are “too big” for them. I am reminded of the expression: “The ocean is so big, and my boat is so small.” We avoid important issues that do matter. Sometimes, it seems easier to create God in our image. A few weeks ago, Luke told us that he had investigated everything anew and his Gospel would be the orderly sequence of the story of Jesus.

It is the story of a brownskinned boy (even though most of our familiar images are European white), born out-of-wedlock to a young woman in a small backwater town. The population of Nazareth was less than four hundred, which would mean everybody knew what they thought was his birth story. In an honor-shame society, Joseph would have been blamed because he didn’t divorce Mary and thus accepted responsibility. People thought they knew their story.

When the adult Jesus returns to his small-town, people are astonished at his signs, even though some want to reject him because they think they know him. He appears in the synagogue and reads from the sacred text, the Prophet Isaiah. Instead of preaching, he proclaims that on “this day,” the words are “fulfilled in your hearing.” He is spirit-filled and states his mission and that of his kingdom: an offer of liberty to captives, recovery for those afflicted and freedom to those who are oppressed. He is reaching out and welcoming all those who have been shamed.

This kingdom will be one of inclusiveness. I can imagine audible gasps. The pope is offering the Church an opportunity to examine what we do well and what we need to do or do better. The excitement of those who want our journey to be more inclusive is palpable. Following Luke’s story, it becomes clear that Jesus recognized that all people deserve to be wanted, heard, loved and included in his kingdom. In heaven and on earth, it is relationships that matter.

Deacon Mike Cumnock serves St. Mary Church in Hot Springs.

Understanding Our Church