3. Embracing the future with HOPE
The milkmaid and Nicodemus together with Francis, teachers of the future
What do these three persons have in common? Two of them are or were followers of Jesus, but the other did not even exist, why put them together in this reflection? Let’s see the contribution of each one of them to the theme that brings us together today: “Embracing the future with hope”.
A milkmaid carried on her head a bucket of fresh milk and walked to her home daydreaming. “Since this milk is very good,” she said, “it will produce much cream. I will beat the cream well until it becomes a white and tasty butter and for which they will pay me very well in the market. With the money, I will buy a basket of eggs and in four days, I will have the farm filled with chicks and they will spend the Summer chirping in the poultry yard. When they grow, I will sell them at a good price, and with the money I get I’ll buy myself a new green dress with embroidered straps and a big bow at the waist. All the girls in town will die of envy when they see it. I will wear it on the day of the festival, and certainly the miller’s son, when he sees me so beautiful, will want to dance with me. But I will not say yes out of the blue, I’ll wait for him to ask me several times and, at first, I’ll say no with my head. And then, I’ll say no: “this way!”.
The milkmaid began to shake her head to say no, and then the bucket of milk fell to the floor, and the earth was dyed white. So the milkmaid was left with nothing: no dress, no chicks, no eggs, no butter, no cream and, above all, without milk: no white milk which had inspired her to dream.
We have always heard the story of the milkmaid as a lesson for not daydreaming, to keep our feet on the ground. But by paying too much attention to the small mistake of the milkmaid we simply just conclude that in order not to fail like her we better stay with our “milk” and drink it, as the only sure thing that we have. It is a pity that the “milk” only quenched our thirst for a moment when it could have projected so much in the future.
What about the great values that the milkmaid is teaching us:
-her capacity to dream,
-the value placed on the fruits of her labor,
-her creativity in producing from something so simple as milk,
-the patient waiting in the long process that requires time and care,
-the dream to better herself, to always go further,
-the joy in every detail of the process,
-her ultimate goal was neither power, but love, the love of the miller’s son.
By paying attention to these values, we can draw many more lessons from the milkmaid and apply them to our lives. We can even learn from her mistake: her distraction.
Sure we’ll have more opportunities to turn our milk into cream, thank God, to prevent our pitcher of milk from being spilled onto the road, and to make real the dream that inspires our journey.
Pope Francis reminds us of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “You have enlarged the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at harvest time, as they exult when they are dividing the spoil” (Is, 9:2). “As the new heavens and the new earth that I create will last forever, so your name and your race will always remain” (Is 44:22). It is the joy set in a future of abundance, of novelty.
He tells us that if the daily journey, personal and fraternal, is marked by a discontent and bitterness that closes us in lamentation, permanent nostalgia for unexplored paths and unfulfilled dreams, it then becomes a lonely and barren road.
We are invited to cultivate a generative dynamic, not just administrative, in religious life, and to assume the spiritual events present in our communities and in the world.
When everything seems to end all hope, Mary of Nazareth, through faith, sees the birth of a new future that awaits with hope God’s tomorrow. Do we know how to await God’s tomorrow, or do we want the results just for today? How high does our dream fly?
Are we consumed by zeal (cf. Ps 69:10) or, rather, are we mediocre and settled in with our apostolic programming made in the laboratory?
Do we have great visions and impulses? Are we bold?
Do we have hearts that await something big or hearts lulled by things?
Jn 3,1-10 Nicodemus
1There was one of thePhariseescalled Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews,
4Nicodemus said, ‘How can anyone who is already old be born? Is it possible to go back into the womb again and be born?’
7Do not be surprised when I say: You must be born from above.
8The wind blows where it pleases; you can hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
9‘How is that possible?’ asked Nicodemus.
10Jesus replied, ‘You are the Teacher of Israel, and you do not know these things!
The other day in a chat with several women religious, the speaker reminded them of the group of liberation theologians who during the Latin American Conference of Medellin gathered in the evenings to discuss and prepare the arguments for the next day, so that the contributions of Vatican II would be present in the conference document.
This example invalidates for us the image of a fearful and cowardly Nicodemus looking for Jesus at night to avoid being seen. Rather it shows us a Nicodemus coming out in the “night” looking for Jesus, a Nicodemus who is guided by the insights he has been feeling when he heard the preaching of the teacher, a Nicodemus who seeks and finds.
The contemplative gaze on of the signs of the times does not unveil great revelatory glimpses but small reflections that capture our attention and that is why we follow them, because they are small illuminations or insights in the darkness that enslaves us.
Francis tells us that the relationship with Jesus Christ needs to be nourished by concerns of the search itself. That the encounter with Christ, who, like Augustine of Hippo, leads us to understand that the God he was looking away from is the God close to every human being, the God who is close to our hearts, he who is more intimate to us than we are to ourselves.
This search for God becomes the concern for knowing him more and more and to go out of ourselves to make him known to others. It is precisely the concern of love.
Like Nicodemus, Jesus forms us into a contemplative gaze of history, to see and hear everything in the Spirit’s presence and in a privileged way, to discern its presence in order to live our time as God’s time. When the vision of faith is missing, our own life gradually loses meaning, the face of the brothers becomes opaque and impossible to discover in them the face of Christ. The events of history remain ambiguous and deprived of hope.
Contemplation opens us to the prophetic capacity. A prophet is a person who possesses a penetrating vision and hears and speaks God’s words, a person of three time-periods: the promise of the past, the contemplation of the present and the inspiration that indicates the way to the future.
As consecrated persons we must have the capacity to be moved, to act and to opt according to the Gospel, even if we have to be born again.
The only lamp that was burning in the tomb of Jesus was the hope of the mother, which represents the hope of all humankind. Is our lamp still burning? Are we in constant search for God or do we already know everything about him? Do we go searching for him during our “nights”?
To dream, to search … is to embrace the future with hope.