Thursday of 26th week in course 2015
Joy of the Gospel
Last Thursday we heard the words of the prophet Haggai to the returning exiles–rebuild the Temple of the Lord. It would not have the glory of Solomon’s Temple, but it would be a place around which to restructure the worship of the Lord and the life of the community. Today we read of the prophet Ezra, and the governor Nehemiah, associated with a solemn ceremony celebrating the conclusion of the rebuilding project. Jerusalem was again a city of the Lord, but under the Persian empire. The Book of the Law–probably the Book of Deuteronomy–was read. The people started to weep, because they had been unable to obey the ritual law of sacrifice while the Temple was in ruins, and they had been unwilling to obey the moral commands. That’s what got them into the fix that led to the destruction of the city. So they wept. But the leaders did not want that to be the outcome of the ceremony. No, it was time to celebrate the rebirth of Israel–rejoicing in the Lord would be their strength. And so it should be ours, whether we have a victory to celebrate, or a peril to work together against. Together–for the good and against the evil. A true community.
The Holy Father realizes that our culture, terribly, has become a collection of what might be called “rugged individuals,” but is really a collection of weakened, self-absorbed automatons watching today’s version of Oprah. ‘In a culture paradoxically suffering from anonymity and at the same time obsessed with the details of other people’s lives, shamelessly given over to morbid curiosity, the Church must look more closely and sympathetically at others whenever necessary. In our world, ordained ministers and other pastoral workers can make present the fragrance of Christ’s closeness and his personal gaze. The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life.
‘Although it sounds obvious, spiritual accompaniment must lead others ever closer to God, in whom we attain true freedom. Some people think they are free if they can avoid God; they fail to see that they remain existentially orphaned, helpless, homeless. They cease being pilgrims and become drifters, flitting around themselves and never getting anywhere. To accompany them would be counterproductive if it became a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption and ceased to be a pilgrimage with Christ to the Father.
‘Today more than ever we need men and women who, on the basis of their experience of accompanying others, are familiar with processes which call for prudence, understanding, patience and docility to the Spirit, so that they can protect the sheep from wolves who would scatter the flock. We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders. Only through such respectful and compassionate listening can we enter on the paths of true growth and awaken a yearning for the Christian ideal: the desire to respond fully to God’s love and to bring to fruition what he has sown in our lives. But this always demands the patience of one who knows full well what Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us: that anyone can have grace and charity, and yet falter in the exercise of the virtues because of persistent “contrary inclinations”. In other words, the organic unity of the virtues always and necessarily exists in habitu, even though forms of conditioning can hinder the operations of those virtuous habits. Hence the need for “a pedagogy which will introduce people step by step to the full appropriation of the mystery”. Reaching a level of maturity where individuals can make truly free and responsible decisions calls for much time and patience. As Blessed Peter Faber used to say: “Time is God’s messenger”’
We aid each other in the effort to build an authentic community of people working together to do God’s will. The Gospel talks about finding a “son of peace,” a “ben shalom”. That means not just one who abhors violence, but who yearns for a kingdom in which all work together for the common good. I believe the Holy Father’s recent visit to our hemisphere was meant to attract these benai shalom to the Church. Let’s see and pray together that this be the outcome.