|Kilmacduagh Monastery, Co. Galway, Ireland. Early 7th Century|
Not too long ago I read about one of the organisations that Mother Teresa of Calcutta founded apart from her order. It was known as The Co-Workers. This was an organisation where lay people could be involved in helping the poor, through simple projects like making clothes or blankets, or sending food to help the poor in different parts of the world. A huge number of people became involved and were delighted to be involved. But at one stage she decided to disband this organisation completely. Many people involved were deeply disappointed and could not understand why. Apparently her reason for doing this was because it was starting to get too big and too powerful, too organised and structured. What tends to happen in any institution when it gets too big and powerful is that it starts to choke on its own rules and regulations.
The Holy Spirit seems to flourish best in small disorganised communities, where there is more room to breathe. The Church itself is a classic example. By now it is probably one of the biggest organisations in the world and at times as you know, in different countries it has become too influential and powerful in a very unhealthy way. Then we begin to get too full of ourselves and forget what it was that we are about. But God in his goodness and I stress in his goodness, does not allow us to remain that way and so He brings all the poison to the surface—the scandals, the corruption—so that we would be cut down to size again. The end result is that often these times of humiliation are probably one of the best things that can happen to us.
Ironically, you could say, it forces us to rely once again on the Word of God and on the power of his Spirit, instead of on ourselves. It is ironic because of course this is what we should have been doing all along, but when a group becomes big and powerful it is easy to lose the focus. Jesus himself says to his disciples:
You know how among the gentiles the rulers lord it over them and great people make their authority felt. Among you this is not to happen. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mt 20:25-28)
Being human as we are, when we are given some power we are often tempted to misuse it, even with the best of intentions. We forget what we are about and we lose the focus. God in his mercy continually pulls us back onto the right path and this is what we see happening. Today we are blessed with someone like Pope Francis who is reminding us what we are supposed to be about. He is a great gift to us.
Why was the ministry of the first disciples of Jesus so effective? Because they relied one hundred percent on the power of God and not at all on themselves. They knew they had nothing to offer of themselves and they had no idea what to do. So they had to continually turn to God and ask him what to do next and He showed them.
Several years ago in my home diocese all of us priests got together for a meeting to discuss where we needed to go next in the diocese. I couldn’t help being disappointed by the fact that we spent so little time praying and so much time talking. To put it another way, we were looking to ourselves for the answers, but the whole point is that we do not have the answers. God is the one who knows exactly what needs to happen next and if we really want the right thing to happen then we need to be asking God and listening to God continually until He tells us what to do next.
It is similar to the idea of having advertising campaigns for vocations. While it is good to try everything, vocations are a spiritual calling and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Where there is a healthy community of faith they spring up naturally. As soon as our Church becomes healthy again there will be plenty of vocations, because God never stops calling people to religious life.
In the readings today the parables that Jesus uses address these very issues. The Church is like a mustard seed which becomes a big shrub. It is meant to be small but it is an influence for the good. The other example Jesus gives is the yeast or ‘baking powder’ which a woman uses to make bread. You only add a couple of teaspoons of baking powder but it affects the whole loaf of bread and makes it rise. The Church, or people of faith, will be small in the world, but the influence is vital because we act as a kind of sign-post to God. We are an ongoing reminder to people of something bigger than ourselves. Yes many people think we are crazy, but that is beside the point. It has always been that way and will probably always be that way. It is much better when we are small and in the background, because then we stay focused on God and we remember that we are totally powerless without him.
The parable of the wheat and the darnel takes a different angle. It tells us that we will always have to struggle with evil. It is part of the world we live in. We address as much of it as we can, but there will always be a certain amount we are powerless over. At the end of time it will all be sorted out, but for now we must learn to live with it. When Cardinal Ratzinger was asked once about the problems of corruption and scandal in the Church, he pointed to this parable. This is how it is. We do what we can about it of course, but we also have to learn to live with it.
What is most important for us to remember is that God is the source of our strength; God knows exactly what needs to happen next and that God will continue to show us what to do if we listen to him. That is why we keep coming back each week, to listen to his word and to receive Jesus himself in the Eucharist.