To the Kids in the Back Row (and the Front Row)

As he continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met [him]. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

Luke 17:11-19

Hello back row kids. This Gospel is about you. In fact you can be the hero of this Gospel. You see Jesus healed ten lepers, but the only leper who came back to thank him was the ultimate back row kid: the Samaritan. Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans. In fact it was against their religion to be around them. Yet the one person who came back to thank him was a scraggly Samaritan. Jesus told him his faith had saved him.

The Church is filled with back row kids that made it good. St. Augustine was a back row kid that made it good. In his youth he would pray “Lord grant me chastity for not chasing girls… but not right now.” Yet he became a bishop and is one of the leading lights of Catholicism. He helped make the Church what it is today.

Another back row kid was my favorite, St. Francis of Assisi. St Francis was the son of the richest family in Assisi. He was mischievous. St Francis would be the one who would be looking at his cell phone all through Mass. Yet he founded the Franciscan movement which is so powerful our present Pope took the name Francis.

Another back row saint was St. Ignatius of Loyola. St Ignatius was one of the few saints mentioned in police blotters for street fighting. Yet this street fighter founded the Jesuit order and developed the Spiritual exercises that are still practiced to this day. Here in Houston, if not for St. Ignatius we would not have Strake Jesuit or Cristo Rey, and Houston would be the poorer for it.

Just think if you had a girl crazy boy, a good kid that was tremendously mischievous, and a very aggressive kid that was always getting into fights. And then imagine that these three kids became great saints of the Church. Maybe one of the back row kids will become such a saint. So, back row kids, you have some saints that should make you proud.

Here’s the thing though: these saints didn’t stay back row kids. They showed up and stood up. They didn’t stay back row kids. My prayer is that you don’t either.

Now to the front row kids. First, thank you for all that you do. You also would be one of the lepers that returned to Jesus to give thanks. You are the kids that help out, that volunteer for no pay at sports camps. Somehow you are wise enough to know that even though you look good and are popular that you need God. You also have some wonderful saints that were front row kids.

One of my favorites is St Therese of Lisieux or the little Flower. St Therese popularized her little way. This is the way of making holy all that life means to you, all the joys and pains of raising kids, of growing up, of having a family, of going to work. None of these things are big in the eyes of the world, none will help get peace in the Middle East, yet all of them are precious in the eyes of God, and all of them are needed. St Therese used these little ways to become a saint. One of her quotes is important for everyone to know:

“I have long believed that the Lord is more tender than a mother. I know that a mother is always ready to forgive trivial, involuntary misbehavior on the part of her child. Children are always giving trouble, falling down, getting themselves dirty, breaking things - but all this does not shake their parents love for them.”

For Therese, God is a loving God. If we feel far from God it is we who have moved, not God.

Another front row saint was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was a teaching nun in India. She observed the horrible poverty of India and quit her secure position to go to the slums of Calcutta. Perhaps some of you will join the Peace Corps, or the lay Maryknoll apostolate, and serve in some of the poorest areas of the globe.

Another front row saint was Benedict of Nursia. He wrote a rule for monasteries 1500 years ago that was so well written it hasn’t been changed. In the time he wrote it those who were born into the nobility did no hard physical work. In the rule of St Benedict everyone worked. In fact, the head of the monastery had to do kitchen duty with the newest young person in the monastery. This was revolutionary in the 500s.

Maybe some of the front row kids are called to religious life. Maybe some of the boys are called to be priests, or brothers, or deacons. Maybe some of you girls are called to be nuns. The challenge for the back row kids is to come to the front row. The challenge for the front row kids is to stay on the front row and continue to grow.

So both front row kids and back row kids can be saints, and can return and give praise after Christ heals them. How will you say your thanks to Jesus for healing you? What kind of a saint will you be?

Father Mike Van Cleve

Father Mike is a priest for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.