The following is the reflection given by Sister Sue Scharfenberger, OSU, at the Mass on October 23, to celebrate the Angeline Award given to Joy Green of Cumberland, Maryland, and Carmen de la Cuba Laurel of Callao, Peru. 

I would like to share a story. Very possibly you will recall it from some years back. But it bears repeating today.

Once upon a time in a very remote unfriendly village that clung to the side of the mountain, there lived an old woman whose habits seemed strange to her neighbors. Since the harsh winters kept people near their families inside their homes, they rarely spoke to anyone outside their immediate families, and did not cultivate the art of hospitality. The mountain side was bleak and barren and uninviting, even in the less harsh seasons of the year. Only the children dared to climb and would only to climb up to a certain part.

They were cautioned not to go near the mountain. But they went anyway and met up with the old woman. They saw that she was bent over, digging small holes into the earth, and dropping something into the holes. The children asked her “What are you doing old woman?” And the woman replied, always the same; I am changing the face of the mountain.

The children grew up and most moved to the city.

It came to pass that one grown child returned to describe to her family the harsh reality she had lived as a child.

But she did not recognize the mountain. It was ablaze with colors, of beautiful flowers gently swaying in the breeze. Clusters of trees provided shade to the many children gathered with their families.

She saw a totally different scene. All were talking with each other. Children playing games. Families picnicking with each other.

The woman asked one of the villagers, “When did all this come about? What happened to the bleak and barren mountainside of my childhood?”

And they told her: “What you see now is because of the old woman who lived on this mountain a long time ago. She went out every day and planted seeds, knowing all the while the seeds would bear fruit.”

She then recalled the words of the woman, the old and bent figure from her childhood. And at last, she understood those words: “I am changing the face of the mountain.”

I could not resist telling this story. These two women in front of us and whom we will honor in a few moments, remind me of the woman who changed the face of the mountain. Perhaps by encouraging, affirming, challenging a young student in school. Or perhaps accompanying the sick, providing transportation when they could have no other means, or simply sitting with them in their loneliness or illness.

The reading from Ecclesiastico or Sirach is clear. Sirach or Sir is the name of the author. The book attempts to pull together some fundamental truths basic to anyone who wants to live close to the one who loves us all. It is clear in the book of Sirach that the call we receive always takes us first to those most in need. Sometimes they are the ones who give us trouble, make us doubt, even wear us out. But it is for them that we are called to be present to journey with, to affirm when parents or family life is not supportive or does not respond to the immediate need.

Following the recommendations of Sirach or following the message of Jesus involves that step by step, day by day stooping down to the earth, to plant seeds. No one notices at first. Some may even laugh and call it a waste of time. One more infirm person recovering from an illness. One more student moving onto third grade. No one points to us and says, “Look, they are planting seeds” or “Look, they are sitting with the sick.”

Being noticed doesn’t matter.

And that takes us to the gospel story. I feel like I have dealt with this story all my life. And frequently after reading the story, I moved quickly to the tax collector to do a quick review of my life. The truth of the matter is however, that I can identify a lot with the pharisee. I want people to notice the good things I do. I want some recognition when I come up with a new idea or proposal. They should notice that I take breakfast to the homeless every Saturday or participate in the march for justice for those who do not experience it, that I too stood on the corner of Bardstown Road and Dundee to protest the Iraq war, or I am now composting in my back yard. We can probably fall in line with any of these, but what is important is not that people notice, like the pharisee wanting recognition. What is important is to keep dropping seeds into the ground, quietly, and unassumingly.

Today there is a big and barren mountain waiting for its face to be changed. The mountain is covered with war and poverty; hurricanes and tornadoes; racism and exclusion.

We can change the face of the mountain.

I think the lesson goes something like this—whatever you do well, do for others. Whatever you do for others, do it well. And when you can bring others to do it well with you, building community wherever you go, All will be well.

We are grateful for the Carmens and Joys in our lives. And we are grateful for the God who loves us all.

The LORD is a God of justice,
who knows no favorites.
Though not unduly partial toward the weak,
yet he hears the cry of the oppressed.
The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan,
nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint.
The one who serves God willingly is heard;
his petition reaches the heavens.
The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds;
it does not rest till it reaches its goal,
nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds,
judges justly and affirms the right,
and the Lord will not delay.

Sir 35:12-14, 16-18

Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Lk 18:9-14

To read more about Carmen and Joy and the Angeline Award, please go here: