April 30, 2017 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause
April 30, 2017
Fr. George Smiga
When I was the age of most of you who are making your first communion today, there was a girl in our class who was, how shall I say it, “a little different.” Her name was Hazel Peters. There were several things about Hazel that were not very attractive. First of all, Hazel wore her hair in a ponytail. Now there is nothing wrong with wearing your hair in a ponytail, but in Hazel’s case all of her hair did not make it back to the ponytail. Although most of her hair dropped behind her, there were all kinds of hairs that were sticking out of her head in all directions. The second thing about Hazel was that she had a lazy eye. What that meant is that both of her eyes did not look in the same direction. One would look this way, and the other would look that way. And so when you were talking to Hazel, you were not sure whether you should stand here … or maybe over here. But the most irritating thing about Hazel was that she was a giggler. She could hardly say anything without laughing. If you met her in the hallway, she would say, “Good morning, Hee, hee, hee, how are you today?” Or at lunchtime she would say, “Do you want half of, hee, hee, hee, my cupcake?”
Because of these things, Hazel was not very popular at school. In fact, most of the kids made fun of her. My friends would tell me, “George, stay away from Hazel. She has the cooties.” Now I don’t know even to this day what the cooties are, but you really did not want to have them. But the most difficult thing about Hazel was this: she liked me. I knew this because when we exchanged cards in class on Valentine’s Day, Hazel wrote in my card, “Thank you, George, for being my best friend.” But I wasn’t her best friend. I barely even spoke to her. But that’s what Hazel thought.
At the end of the school year, our teacher gave us an assignment to address the class on what was our favorite place to go during the summer. I gave my presentation on Euclid Beach. Now some of you don’t know about Euclid Beach. But this weekend when you gather together with your families, ask your parents or especially your grandparents and they will tell you all about it. Euclid Beach was this wonderful park right on the lake. It had rides. It had a carousel with a calliope, rocket ships, a fun house, and roller coasters. You could spend your whole day there having a great time all day long. That’s what I told my class.
After my presentation at recess, Hazel Peters came running up to me. I could tell that she was excited. She said, “George, hee, hee, hee, my dad works at Euclid Beach and can get free passes. Do you want to come to Euclid Beach, hee, hee, hee, with me?” I just froze. I didn’t want to go to Euclid Beach with Hazel Peters. I could see all my friends looking at me. “Cooties! Cooties!” they were saying. So I said, “No, Hazel, I don’t want to go to Euclid Beach with you. I want to go with my friends.” And Hazel’s eyes dropped (both of them) and she walked away sad. Now I felt terrible. I didn’t like what I said, but I didn’t know what else to say. I just wanted to forget about it.
Well, about three weeks later, my mom was busy with something in the kitchen. I said, “Mom, what’s going on?” She said, “Oh, the Peters are coming over for dinner tonight. I believe that their daughter, Hazel, is in your class.” “Mom,” I said, I don’t want to have dinner with Hazel Peters. I don’t like Hazel Peters.” My mom stopped and said, “Why don’t you like Hazel Peters?” And I said, “Mom, she has the cooties!” “The cooties! I’ll give you the cooties!” my mom said. “You are going to sit next to Hazel Peters at dinner and be a perfect gentleman or else.” And I knew what “or else” meant. So when the Peters came, Hazel sat next to me, and we had dinner. Mr. Peters said that the next time I came to Euclid Beach he could give me the inside tour and show me how the calliope works and how the brakes stop the roller coasters. I thought that would be fantastic.
After the Peters left, as we were cleaning up, I found on the table an envelope with my name on it. I knew it was from Hazel. I opened the envelope, and inside there were two passes for Euclid Beach and a note. “George,” it said, “these are for you. Take a friend.” I held my breath and thought, “How nice of Hazel to do this.” And then I thought, “Hazel is nice. She has frizzy hair, and you are not always sure she is looking at you. But she is kind and generous and God knows she is happy.” So at that moment, I decided that Hazel Peters did not have cooties. And the next day I called her on the phone and said, “Hazel, do you want to go to Euclid Beach with me this Saturday?” “Hee, hee, heeeee, Yes!” she said. And we went. And I got the inside tour. Now Hazel did not become my best friend, but we went to Euclid Beach several times that summer and really enjoyed ourselves.
To this day I am thankful that at the meal we had at our house I came to see Hazel in a new way. I tell you this story, because that is what happens to the disciples in today’s gospel. They are walking on the road and Jesus comes and walks with them, but they do not recognize him. They think he is a stranger. But they do not make fun of the stranger or push him aside. They listen to him. And then they invite him in to eat with them. And when they eat together, they see that it is Jesus and that he loves them. As we share together communion today, Jesus is asking us to welcome those who are a little different, to be accepting of those whom maybe other people ridicule. Communion with Jesus is communion with everyone Jesus loves. And Jesus loves everyone. So as we share this meal with Jesus at this table today, my prayer for all of us is that will be blessed with the ability to welcome and accept others, and that this gift will be ours today and always.