This reflection is being prepared two weeks before Ash Wednesday! I am running a good six weeks ahead of time (the result of being housebound and forbidden to drive after...
Have you ever wondered why it is that so many good folk in our parishes are suspicious (afraid?) of a priest, deacon, bishop (even a Pope!) who is sensed not to ‘fit’ the ‘folklore’ image of what he ‘should’ be? Well, it happened right at the beginning of the Church’s history.
“When Saul had come to Jerusalem he attempted to join the disciples; and they were afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.“ [see TODAY’S FIRST READING: ACTS 9: 26 – 31].
It was only when they actually experienced the effectiveness of his preaching that the penny began to drop …. this man might actually have something to say and offer! Yet, he was
“sent off to Tarsus.” Personally I have always doubted that the motives for Paul’s sending off were entirely honourable? Was he too hot a potato for the traditionalist element to handle? The subsequent history of Paul’s often tense relationship with the Jerusalem ‘authority’ gives good reason for this doubt.
How comfortable are we with fellow believers who rock the boat
? The Christian-Catholic disciple should never have an absolute mind set. A few days before composing this reflection, I read that Pope Francis, in a weekday sermon, said that “those who judge rigidly are hypocrites.” In this context we should always bear in mind the words of ISAIAH that “he will not snap the staff that is already crushed, or put out the wick that still smoulders.“ (42:1) (Matthew applies these words to Jesus in 12:20) In addition, Isaiah, in the same chapter, tells us that “I will turn the darkness before them into light, and the winding ways straight for them.“ (v 16)
Rigidity is not a virtue. In fact, very often, it is an escape route for the insecure
SECOND READING [1 JOHN 3: 18 – 24] puts it another way: “Let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before him …“ My own experience teaches me that the wayward (including me) are not attracted by the rigid, unbending, approach. I know that I react unfavourably by being pushed into a corner. The problem with the rigid is that they seldom recognise themselves among the wayward. They frequently fail to see their own need to reassure themselves before him!
THIS SUNDAY’S GOSPEL [JOHN 15: 1 – 8]
contains some strong messages regarding what we have been saying. Remember that these verses are proclaimed by Jesus during the Last Supper, and each time we come to Eucharist there is a basic need to approach with open minds and hearts. If we depart Eucharist with exactly the same rigidity of mind and heart, our celebration has been a dismal failure.
The Word of God that we hear at Mass on Sunday needs to clean us – words
“which I have spoken to you.“ Too rigid and overbearing an approach “bears no fruit“ – because it distances itself from being pruned, and “it is the Father who is the vinedresser.” In addition “the branch cannot bear fruit by itself.“
We must all learn, more and more, to never approach any situation, challenge or individual on our own. Rather, we must abide in him. I do not do the pruning. The best I am able to do is to create an atmosphere in which
THE LORD’S PRUNING will be accepted and welcomed.
Enforcing conformity is not the pruning method of God.