Saturday, 6 August 2011

Walk this way

GospelMatthew 14:22-33 

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he would send the crowds away. After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, while the boat, by now far out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind. In the fourth watch of the night he went towards them, walking on the lake, and when the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost’ they said, and cried out in fear. But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’ It was Peter who answered. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ ‘Come’ said Jesus. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water, but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord! Save me!’ he cried. Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. ‘Man of little faith,’ he said ‘why did you doubt?’ And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.

St John Vianney  - 4th August - Matthew 16:13-23 - Who do you say I am?

Dedication of the church of St Mary Major - 5th August - Matthew 16:24-28 - Whoever wants to be a follower of mine let him take up his cross...

Transfiguration of the Lord - 6th August - Matthew 17:1-9 - ‘Stand up,’ he said ‘do not be afraid.’

Relying on the Sunday Mass to teach you the Gospel is  not the best of ideas. The pattern of the readings does mean that you will receive a broad understanding of the ministry of Jesus the Sunday readings are obviously chosen to particularly focus our minds on the path that Jesus wants us to take. 

But they can still become, like family reminiscences, an event out of context - not really to do with everyday life - a miracle like this one can surely not mean a lot to us - we are certainly not surprised that Peter almost drowned (and if he had been a traditional fisherman,  he wouldn't have been a strong swimmer - it was considered bad luck to challenge the elements).
Ideally, I read the Sunday Gospel the week before and allow it to mull - but this week it wouldn't mull - it didn't even get warm. I remembered how much I used to dislike Peter and how that has changed; I remembered that I had never thought about the fact that none of the others even tried to get out of the boat and I thought about what dramatic devices Jesus used for these people and yet they still managed not to understand. But I have written all that before. 

It wasn't until Thursday, the feast of St John Vianney, patron saint of priests, that something spoke - and it took all the other readings of the day - including the Transfiguration to see a story emerge. A story of priests(ordained or otherwise), discipleship, vocation and Jesus.

It seems astonishing that John Vianney is the patron saint of priests; he certainly struggled with his vocation -  including being considered academically slow, suffering severe illness, enforced enlistment into Napoleon's army and nearly failing seminary because he was no good at Latin.  He criticised his parishioners for their love of drinking and dancing - even withholding Communion from partygoers - and ran away from the parish several times because of a desire for a more contemplative life.

Yet in his last ten years he became so famous as a confessor that thousands would visit his country parish and he would spend 12  to 16 hours a day hearing Confession and leading people closer to the Love of God.
John was not a perfect priest; he was not a perfect man; he didn't become who he was through his own ego, his own strength or his own ambition. He became who he was because his eyes were set on another. He loved Jesus.

One of John's prayers :-
I love You, O my God, and my only desire is to love You until the last breath of my life.
I love You, O my infinitely lovable God,
and I would rather die loving You, than live without loving You.
I love You, Lord, and the only grace I ask is to love You eternally
My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love You,
I want my heart to repeat it to You as often as I draw breath.                                                                   
I imagine if Peter was a poet he would write something like this (and then pretend it wasn't him).
Because being a Christian isn't a career move, something you enroll in or hope to qualify as.
Vocation, discipleship is not about duty or responsibility. You cannot live a life simply by following a rule or a expressing a desire to be good; that will not be enough when things go wrong and people turn away; that won't be enough when you feel alienated even by friends and family  and you are not in the place you want to be. That will not be enough when even God is not where you want God to be.
Vocation and discipleship is about love and longing; a heartfelt longing to belong - it is like hearing the undeniable song of a Siren which calls you out of safe harbours and friendly faces and personal plans for the future.
 It's even as you know you are doing the right thing you are still wondering if there is another, easier way.
It is about not being good enough but trying to be; running away and constantly coming back; saying the wrong thing but wanting the right thing; being childishly needy yet thinking you can walk on water - but knowing you cannot - not by yourself.
It is about seeing Jesus indescribably transfigured; far and beyond  the preconceptions and the controlling image that you ever had of him, into the realisation of Jesus as the Beloved - not only of the Father but your own Beloved.
And seeing the transformation that will happen within yourself - his beloved -  as Jesus calls across the water



claire said...

When in France, I live not very far from Ars. I must have gone there two or three times in my life. Once it was for the ordination of a young priest. I must say, seeing 60 odd men on the altar, with the Vatican I bishop, was a turner offer for me.

Still, my grandmother, a very simple woman who was raised in a very poor region and then went and hired herself as a cook in the big city when she was 16, all that to help her parents, taught me a lot about 'le curé d'Ars', his simplicity and his holiness.

He is said once to have asked Godde to show him his sins. Apparently Godde did and he was unable to speak for three weeks.

If he remained speechless for so long, I expect I would never speak again :-)

Word in the Hand said...

The trouble with priests....
I was surprised that he continues to be the patron of parish priests although the history often concentrates on the later years than the earlier struggles. I can imagine your feelings at the 60 odd men. The International Mass at Lourdes was enough to give me the shivers seeing so many women around me being a 'priest' to those in their care.
The three weeks would probably just cover my resentment. :)

log said...

Whilst in Lourdes I feel it tremendously difficult to attend the International mass for the same reasons! One day the role of the feminine in the priesthood will be restored when we will be one in Christ....neither male nor female etc. and truly "catholic." God bless you. Laurence+x