Friday, 9 December 2016

Advent Week 2 Friday

Readings: Isaiah 48:17-19; Psalm 1; Matthew 11:16-19

Jesus does not condemn the people for their fickleness. In fact it is not clear whether such fickleness has any moral significance at all. It may be the result of sin, this tendency in human beings to focus on the limitations and weaknesses of situations and of people. But it might also be a consequence of the fact that, as St Augustine says, we are created for God, to enjoy the infinite good, and so any finite good will necessarily leave us unsatisfied. Whatever the reason for it, it is clear that human nature is still as it is described by Jesus in today's gospel. If a John the Baptist shows up we will find him too rigid, too ascetical, too humourless. If a Jesus shows up we will find him too indulgent, too soft, hanging around with prostitutes and other shady people.

So we are, seeing always limitations, weaknesses, arguments against doing things, the imperfections of other people. Pope Francis, in his closing address to the extraordinary synod held in October 2014, gives an intersesting analysis of the discussions that took place. His talk is becoming quite famous, not least for the analysis of various temptations which he gives. They link up with the reality spoken about by Jesus in today's gospel.

Pope Francis identifies six or eight temptations, ways in which we are pulled into partiality, in danger of allowing the limitations and weaknesses of other positions to pull us away into prejudice and exclusivity. So we might be too rigid or we might be too liberal, we might want to come down from the cross and soften the challenge of the gospel so as to be popular with people, or we might want to turn the bread of life into stones, matter that is inedible, that weighs people down, laying on people burdens which we do nothing to help them to carry.

It seems to be about the same kind of issue: partiality, exclusion, feeling obliged to point out other people's limitations, never being fully satisfied with anything.

The solution to which Jesus ponts at the end of the gospel is that we should seek wisdom. Wisdom is broad and deep, as spacious as the mind of God. It means trying to see things as they are seen by God and held in God's mind. Wisdom includes, forgives, seeks to understand, tries to combine rather than to separate. Pope Francis also turns in that direction, talking about the Holy Spirit working through the discussion and dialogue and arguments of the synod. Asking the Holy Spirit to be present in our gatherings and synods and councils means asking God to help us to be open to the views and opinions of others which are as valid as my own, open to the experiences of others which are as valid as my own.

Thomas Aquinas says that this is how the Holy Spirit works in the time of the Church, through what he calls 'colleges', meetings or councils of human beings, discussing and reflecting together in the light of God's Word and in the power of God's Spirit. It is in that fraternity or communion that wisdom is sought and wisdom is to be found. Pope Francis has coined the ugly word 'synodality' but his meaning is cleare. Working together, thinking and talking together, including everybody in spite of their prejudices and limitations - this is how to seek the way ahead, to discern what the Spirit is saying to the Church. Staying close to the source of life, like the tree in today's psalm, and working together in councils and colleges: this is how we seek wisdom, this is how we share together the life which Jesus has already shared with us.

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