Parenting my young, wild, energetic boy is a daily exercise in humility. It stands in particular contrast when said boy comes on the heels of a daughter whose greatest act of rebellion is a rising pile of half-read books on her bedside table. The boy ushers in a constant reminder to expect the unexpected and to never get too comfortable with the idea you have any clue about what you are doing. He pushes my energy reserves while getting restless at the slightest whiff of a still moment. With abandon he runs at break-neck speeds, constantly forgets his helmet, jumps directly off the most impossibly tall slide at the park, and is fascinated by lighting fires in the driveway with his magnifying glass.
My boy is incapable of thinking about consequences. Some days he drives me to radically dependent prayer.
I sat with Our Lord on one such day, feeling (as so many parents have) like I was most certainly going to be bailing the boy out of jail in the distant future. I turned to God in my helpless inadequacy and pleaded with Him to give me the words to share that might simplify things in my little second-born’s heart. Words that might help the boy understand how his energy is a gift and when well-harnessed could do incredible things. Words that he might hold onto when thinking about participating in an available buffet of high-risk behaviors. Words that would empower him and not diminish him. From that place of complete defenselessness, I heard God’s voice say: Keep your body safe.
It couldn’t be more simple; but those four short words held in this parent’s heart, a vastness of wisdom I could spend my lifetime pondering. Keep your body safe. It’s that simple, right? In the ‘keeping’ we are stewards of a beautiful unmerited gift. With the ownership of ‘your’ we are given the power to make healthy decisions. Our ‘body’ is given for divine purpose and is the vessel of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ Himself in the gift of the Eucharist. In its ‘safety’ we are acknowledging God’s plans for our good, to prosper and not harm. Plans for our future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
I’ve repeated those words to my son so many times they may as well be branded on his little arm. Keep your body safe, my love. Keep your body safe, buddy. Keep your body safe, big guy. Still, I don’t reserve them for only him. What better advice for a teenage girl? Keep your body safe, my girl.
A few weeks ago in our Sunday Gospel passage, Jesus gathers six hundred and thirteen Mosaic Laws and distills them into similar simplicity. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. And love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:34-40) It’s that simple, right? Those words, however, will take a lifetime to unpack.
At times, I think God must observe us parents with similar impressions to the ones I have of my little guy: reckless, ignorant, thoughtless. The Pharisees in this Gospel certainly bear the resemblance of Elementary School boys, plotting to catch Jesus and ‘get him in trouble.’ God’s temptation must be to throw his hands in the air and beg for new words to get through to us all.
Yet here, Jesus gives to all of us tiny, uncoordinated, impulsive, unrepressed mortals the words we should all have tattooed on our hearts: Love me. Love yourself. Love your neighbor. Spend your lifetimes figuring out the height, depth, and breadth of these words. It’s that simple.
Kelly Meraw is the Director of Liturgy, Music, and Pastoral Care for St. John – St. Paul Collaborative in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Kelly earned her Master’s Degree from McGill University, where during her undergraduate studies, she was received into the Catholic Church through the RCIA program at St. Patrick’s Basilica in Montreal, Canada. Kelly brings her deep love of scripture, liturgy, music, and devotion to Church teaching and tradition to her ministry.
In her parishes she leads bible studies; organizes faith sharing circles and social justice initiatives; leads communion, wake and committal services; offers adult faith enrichment programming; and shepherds bereavement ministries.
Currently she finds the undeniable movements of the Holy Spirit and great hope in the process of living as a deeply listening Church. After this first session of the Synod on Synodality she will continue to engage in the communal discernment process offering fulsome and inclusive ways to serve the Church’s current Synod.