Monday, November 11, 2013

St Martin of Tours

...that which holds all things together knows every word that is said.
                                                          Wisdom 1: 7

Before ever a word is on my tongue,
   you know it, O Lord, through and through...
Too wonderful for me, this knowledge,
   too high, beyond my reach.
                                                         Psalm 139: 4, 6

.        .        .

I spend a lot of time thinking about what to say. Maybe I really should spend more time praying. The one who holds all things together (which Colossians 1: 7 echoes) holds all my words already, and knows what I ought to say.

Enough said.

St Martin, pray for us.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thursday of the thirty-first week in ordinary time

But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
Romans 14:10 NASB
"In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Luke 15:10 NASB
. . .
Just one. One matters to God. If God is out looking for the lost, if Jesus spent his time with tax collectors and 'sinners', then what possible grounds can any of us have for passing judgment on one another? That person I regard contemptuously matters to God as much as my friends do, as much as I do.
It is not new--surely our equality before God is a theological commonplace--but it is sobering. Awhile back, I made a rule for myself. It's not really a rule of life; I tried all sorts of things and could never quite manage the timetable. Much as I would love to pray the office daily, in solidarity with my 'home' abbey in Kent, I can't. But while I was there I realized that a very simple rule would do: not to speak a harsh word to, or about, anyone, even in my heart. I suppose something like Romans 14: 10 might have been rattling around in the back of my mind as I thought about this rule.
I never thought it would be easy. But it has proved a lot more tricky than I thought. Because judging and regarding with contempt (both count as 'harsh'!) aren't always conscious. I just don't 'warm' to this person or that person; I am inattentive. Sometimes I suppose that's fair enough--it's human to like some people more than others. Sometimes, though, that coldness hides a deeper dislike. Maybe it's envy, maybe it's scorn, based on some less-than-conscious judgment about the character of the person, or arising from feelings of insecurity on my part.
So of course the whole 'no harsh words' has not been a perfect success. I have, not surprisingly, failed. Still, insofar as I have become more aware of my own inclination to judge or to dismiss others, the enterprise has been, and continues to be, worthwhile. And today's gospel reminded me why the rule is so important. It isn't because I want everyone to think I am nice. It's because there is joy in heaven over one who repents. There is no contempt for the sinner in heaven, only joy at her repentance.
I still have a long, long way to go.
Kyrie eleison.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thirty-first Sunday in ordinary time

You can do all things and overlook [people's] sins so that they can repent.
Wisdom 11: 24
. . .
Somehow--maybe it was struggling to keep the two-year-old quiet--I didn't hear this in Mass this morning. Not that it wasn't read: it was read by the son of my two-year-old's godmother. But I missed it, and the priest didn't comment on it in his homily, which focused on the gospel. Fair enough, I suppose. There is a good deal to say about Zacchaeus. Still, the readings in the lectionary are ordered, and combinations occur for a reason. Sometimes that reason is pretty hard to discern, but today it is less puzzling.
At least it's less puzzling if you happen to be a Catholic who has strayed far into Reformed and Evangelical territory. Then the prevenience of grace leaps out of every page of the Bible--even the books of the Bible that only appear in the Catholic editions of the Bible. And here it is in the book of Wisdom. I always associate Wisdom with the key passages in chapters 7-9, about the role of wisdom in creation, including one of my favourites: omnia disponit suaviter, [widsom] arranges all things delightfully. So finding this other theme of the Bible, the grace of God that makes way for the sinner's return, there in Wisdom is, well, delightful.
And it is, of course, this path-breaking grace of God that drives Zacchaeus up the tree. The change has already begun. Can it be anything other than the Holy Spirit that draws Zacchaeus to Jesus? I don't think so, and I could quote some early church theologians to support that claim. Besides, Jesus does just what the verse in Wisdom says: he "overlooks" Zacchaeus' sins, so that he can repent. Religious leaders aren't supposed to hang out with infamous sinners, but Jesus doesn't seem too worried about that. He sees beyond the sin, sees the person who needs the space to repent. Jesus makes repentance possible.
Two things follow from this, for me. First, I am struck by the space-making work of Christ. I have noticed it elsewhere in the gospels (see Mark 5: 30-34, for example), but never connected it to Zacchaeus, to repentance. So also, I realize, Jesus is making space, always, for my repentance. Am I perceiving it? Do I enter into that space, or do I avoid it? (I'm not certain, but I am more determined to get to confession this Saturday!) Second, and this is something that has been tugging at me for a little while, Jesus makes space for pretty unpleasant people. Tax collectors are the bad guys in the first century, not the people the messiah is supposed to befriend. Who are the people around me that Jesus wants to befriend? I'm guessing they're not the people I would ordinarily find friend-like.
No wonder I haven't seen that space for repentance as space for me: I have just divided the people around me into people like me (friend-like) and people who need space for repentance. The fact that both (1) that Jesus makes space for me to repent and (2) Jesus makes space for "obvious" sinners--the "tax collectors" of our day--to repent means that I am not so different as I might like to think.
Luckily, there's plenty of that prevenient grace to go around.
Deo gratias.