In Journey in Faith groups we are always preparing. We prepare ultimately so that choices about life and eternal life can be made and we prepare to celebrate the rites of Christian initiation along the way. Constantly we prepare, in ourselves and with others to live continually the consequences and responses to the ‘sign posts’ of the road we follow.
The celebrations of the rites for which we help others prepare seem always to be an experience beyond the expected for them. Words always seem to fail to express this experience of God’s action in the liturgies. Time after time, like so many others, I have glimpsed the bright sparkle in the eyes [the soul?], the intake of breath [the Spirit?] and the comparatively limp: “That was good” or “I enjoyed that”. The words usually carry some surprise because of the nervousness felt beforehand and because whatever was expected it wasn’t the response that struggles so much for words.
Moreover, the rites that are celebrated within the parish community don’t only take the candidates to unexpected places but affect everyone. Interest, encouragement (given and received), prayer and the reaching out to the new candidate/catechumen seem to overflow more each time, along with an increasing sense of responsibility. Those attending the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion in the Cathedral last week report their exultation too. One sponsor claimed that she was “On a high” all the way home and couldn’t stop talking about it when she got back. The candidates’ experiences went beyond their ability to convey.
We seem to be given so much to delight in for the ‘planting’ and planning that we do so that God can give the increase! What a privilege to be instrumental in preparing for the possibilities of moments when the Spirit of God moves over the waters of our lives.
Like Jesus in the gospel account for Lent week 3, year B, we long to clear a way for God, so that God is given space and time – so that honour can be given – so that all can experience the love offered and hear God’s desire for our love in return. In a bustling market that excludes those to whom the space belongs, that is, the Gentiles in the outer precincts of the temple, God has no point of contact because they are pushed out. In our preparation tasks we don’t usually make whips and throw tables around! We do, however, have times when we too are driven a zeal for what and who belongs to God. We fight to hold on to “Christ, the power and wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1, 2nd reading). This could be a stumbling absurdity in presenting a crucified Christ, if it weren’t for the fact that he is a real and living presence in our parish communities: witnessed in the ‘bits and pieces’ of life’s struggle. God’s way with and for us – be it called a law, rule, reign or dream – is simply a way of love
We know that being simple does not make it easy and we challenge those who inquire about our Way of living with the cost of discipleship, as we ourselves are challenged. There’s no cut price, no easy route. We find out the tough way the meaning of Jesus’ offering of a “yolk that is easy and a burden that is light”. It costs; it is not cheap. As Dietrich Bonhoffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship:
“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a [person] must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a [person’s] life, and it is grace because it gives a [person] the only true life.”
On the other hand, Bonhoffer’s thoughts on ‘cheap grace’ is a warning that we too could set up stalls where they ought not to be found and so put up the stumbling blocks that Paul writes of.
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. “ ditto
May our Lenten journey keep us true to the cross that gives us true living with Christ in God. In our preparation to enter the Paschal mysteries this Easter may the foolishness of God, in all its wisdom, be with us.