Various things have recently inspired me to think about the communal nature of our faith. The truth is we are called as community. Well, having said that it is true we are called by name, and of course we are called through our baptism to be engaged in a personal relationship with Christ. This can only happen when we engage in serious soul work, by which I mean prayerful reflection, appropriate reading of Sacred Scripture and other spiritual works, and most importantly of all, the setting aside of regular periods of sacred silence. However what is often neglected is the fact that we are a ‘pilgrim people’. If we are truly pilgrim we cannot be static. We must not allow ourselves to become stuck. To be a pilgrim is to be free, to be on the move. A second very important aspect of being a pilgrim is to be concerned with others. When we as a pilgrim see another pilgrim stumble, we should be reaching out immediately to steady them lest they fall. Just last Sunday the Gospel reminded us of the beautiful prayer that the Lord himself gave us, the Our Father. It is interesting to note that it does not speak of ‘my’ Father, nor does it suggest we say ‘give me, my daily bread’. This prayer is to be said by the gathered local faith community. The ‘Our Father’ also reminds us of the sacredness of the ‘name of God’ and the centrality of forgiveness for a healthy faith community and indeed for personal and communal relationship with God.
We can easily become casual about the name. Our own name is significant: by it we are called, we are known. The calling of our name gets our attention. Last year I carried out a little experiment around the use, or indeed more correctly, the abuse of the name of Jesus on television. It was extraordinary to discover how easily we can cheapen the name of Jesus. It appears to me, and I may be wrong about this, that other major religions do not have this tendency. Is it that we have become too familiar with the Holy Name? Or is this part of a wider loss of the sacred? In addition to the call to keep God’s name holy we are reminded of the importance of forgiveness.
I think this is something much more crucial to a healthy spiritual life than we imagine. Think of it like this: if God forbid, we are physically unwell we can undergo tests, and there are various ‘scans’ available that will assist in the diagnosis. Now imagine if we could have a ‘soulscan’. If you had a ‘soul-scan’ today what would it show up? Is it possible we would have little blockages in our soul? I believe these little ‘spiritual-clots’ may will be limiting the free flow of God’s grace. Personally, I did not realise for a long time the significance of any lack of forgiveness on my part in inhibiting my own spiritual health. The reality is that the lumps of resentment, or bitterness that we can hold onto, sometimes for years, actually fester and eat away at our very souls. Putting this another way, whilst we can readily acknowledge that to forgive is to do what God wants, and is in turn good for our neighbour, we often fail to see that it is essential for ourselves. The lack of forgiveness in us actually makes us unwell.
In the liturgical calendar at this time of year we have two interesting ‘nudges’ of the Holy Spirit. Recently we celebrated the feast of St. Mary Magdalene. People often refer to her as a woman of ill repute. This is based on the unfounded premise that she is the adulterous woman in chapter eight of the gospel of St. John. Of course Mary Magdalene from her place in heaven is beyond any fallout from this, and I imagine her smile at the whisperings. If we were more particular in our study of the Sacred Scriptures we would celebrate this Mary as
one who loved the Lord deeply and is honoured to be one of the first witnesses to his Resurrection. It is however a good example of how loose we can be in our language. The second ‘nudge’ is coming up soon. On August 4th we will celebrate the Feast of St. John Mary Vianney. This is a particularly beautiful Saint, and one well worth acquainting ourselves with. John Vianney is the patron saint of parish priests and was a man of deep prayer, who led a very simple life in the service of the people of Ars in France.This humble priest spent endless hours in the confessional and one day a lady confessed that she had slandered her neighbour, destroying her reputation and character. John Vianney, or the Cure of Ars as he became known, asked her as a penance to take a pillow stuffed with feathers to the top of the hill and scatter them and to come back to him when she had done this. Now when the lady returned to report that she had done as the holy confessor had asked, he asked her to go back up the hill and gather the feathers up again. Of course this was impossible. So too it is impossible to restore the reputation of another once destroyed.
Yes my friends of course there are times when people will drive us mad but the inescapable reality is we are in this together. We are relational people. Whilst at times it can be very difficult, we actually thrive in unity. We have one Father and we are all going to him, surely then it makes sense that we help each other.