Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sufficient Means - Changing Hearts

Palm Sunday is sobering in a lot of ways. What strikes me every year is the abrupt change in the crowd from cries of "hosanna" to that screech of "crucify him". It is a constant reminder to me that the true test of genuine conversion, of turning to Jesus with heart, soul, mind and strength, is played out behind the closed doors of the inner chamber of my heart. The roar of the crowd is no indicator of belief; it is fickle and contributes little or nothing to winning me once and for all for Jesus.

I think that is what is key in comprehending St. Paul's exhortation to Timothy, the young bishop entrusted by him with the care of an important flock (2 Tim. 4:1-5):

"I adjure thee in the sight of God, and of Jesus Christ, who is to be the judge of living and dead, in the name of his coming, and of his kingdom, preach the word, dwelling upon it continually, welcome or unwelcome; bring home wrong-doing, comfort the waverer, rebuke the sinner, with all the patience of a teacher. The time will surely come, when men will grow tired of sound doctrine, always itching to hear something fresh; and so they will provide themselves with a continuous succession of new teachers, as the whim takes them, turning a deaf ear to the truth, bestowing their attention on fables instead. It is for thee to be on the watch, to accept every hardship, to employ thyself in preaching the gospel, and perform every duty of thy office, keeping a sober mind."

One of the errors propagated in the context of discussions about winning people for the faith, especially when it comes to winning children and youth for Christ, is deadly talk about something often referred to as socialization, which must mean integration into a larger community somehow associated with church. I would think that those genuinely interested in promoting the new evangelization would run the other way when the term "socialization" is used. Paul assures Timothy that people are won for Christ through the sweat, blood and tears of the shepherd.

The dialogue is personal/interpersonal and calls on the other individually: "...preach the word, dwelling upon it continually, welcome or unwelcome; bring home wrong-doing, comfort the waverer, rebuke the sinner, with all the patience of a teacher."

My Lent has been enriched this year by exchanges with priests in various contexts: in larger groups, in mixed groups with laity, in smaller groups and one on one. While certain topics come up frequently, like: religious education, animating Sunday Mass for children or youth, reaching out to "them" wherever they are at, other goals for the apostolate seem to be off-bounds, like: mom and dad, as the first and best teachers of their children in the ways of faith.

We hear gladly of the miracles worked by children and youth drawn to Jesus outside their homes, but flee the responsibility of helping young parents to see their responsibility. It cannot be that painful or daunting to take on young adults, one by one or two by two and lead them to face their duties toward their children. Crowd pleasing has no valence. To convince ourselves we need but look to today's liturgy and remind ourselves that among those who cried "hosanna" on Sunday with palm branches in their hands were also those who with clenched fists shouted "crucify him" and chose the rabble-rouser and murderer Barabbas to the Prince of Peace, meek and riding on a donkey.

I remember a Bishop friend of mine in western Ukraine telling me that in his eparchy Palm Sunday is actually more popular than Easter for those once-a-year Holy Week church goers. It's less demanding and more colorful (viz. the bouquets to be blessed of pussy-willow and bright yellow forsythia!). You might say, it's a crowd pleaser...


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