Thirty-First Sunday of the Year
3 November 2013
St. Joseph’s Church, Monaghan 11.30am
My dear friends,
In the Carmelite convent the sisters always took a short midmorning break from work. They would have fifteen minutes for a coffee in the refectory and then return to their jobs. A number of the younger sisters thought that this was not a good use of their time; breaking their pattern of work in the morning seemed inefficient. Why not just get a coffee and take it back to your workplace? The prioress listened, and saw they had a point, and so the practice was changed. Each sister worked through and drank her coffee at the same time.
That is until one morning the prioress, spending the morning answering correspondence, found herself snatching sips of an increasingly lukewarm coffee, and trying to think about how to answer an especially tricky email. She stopped suddenly, “what exactly am I doing here Lord? Am I having a coffee? Or am I attending to this person’s letter?” In that moment she realised that the important simple discipline of the Carmel – with its focus on being present to the task or conversation before you – was being undermined by the apparently harmless change in arrangements for a coffee break. The convent went back to the original pattern, newly aware of how wise and precious it is to let each thing in life have its own proper space.
Most of us, of course, do not – and cannot – live a pattern of life like those in an enclosed Carmelite monastery. But this insight from such a community speaks to us all in the hectic, multi-tasking busyness of our lives. Like Zacchaeus in the Gospel story, many of us allow our lives to be consumed by furthering ourselves in the world. We feel the need to make more money or to move up the job ladder. For others the busyness of their lives may lie in the constant round of domestic cares and responsibilities. It may stem just from the efforts of keeping going or surviving in difficult circumstances. All of us – like the Thessalonians, have a tendency to fill the spaces of our lives with some form of anxiety about the future – what is coming next? All the time the present moment is in front of our eyes and we get lost in the crowd.
Zacchaeus’ gift is not that he has led a disciplined life of prayer and good works. He has probably become thoroughly sucked in to a life of chasing wealth and position even at the cost of marginalising himself from his own people. But at the moment the great need that he appears to have – and pretty acutely at that – is the need to see Jesus. In fact he feels this so strongly that he is prepared to take whatever action is necessary and that includes finding a space above the crowd. Whatever indignity might be attached to it, he is prepared to climb a tree, if needs be, to get a good look at this man who must have made an impression on him.
The first Reading of today’s Mass from the Book of Wisdom describes our God as a “lover of life.” He is the God who “overlooks men’s sins so that they can repent.” This is the God who always has room for us and finds a space in which to meet us and change our lives for the better if needs be. Jesus is the Son of God and we find in the Gospel story that the spontaneous and foolish-looking action of Zacchaeus in climbing the tree is repaid and responded to richly by the way that Jesus shows an interest and opens his heart to him. In the encounter which follows we are told that the life of Zacchaeus is changed and blocks removed which were preventing him from imitating God’s love in the way he lives.
We live in a world which is not only unprecedentedly busy and full of activity but one which prizes and rewards this way of life. Multi-tasking, working long hours, filling our schedules with activities are not only admired but seen as marks of success. The Gospel incident suggests to us that even if we feel small and crowded out, Jesus is still present and available to us. The problem may be whether we can stop what we are doing for long enough to find the time and a way to put ourselves in a more spacious place where we can see the Lord and he can show his face to us. We can be sure that if we do this we will establish a deeper relationship with the Lord. He is happy to come into our homes and eat with us.
We might have to take the risk of looking foolish like Zacchaeus. We may have to call into question our busy lives. Changes may have to be made. It may take that kind of action to free ourselves from what we might look back on as a form of slavery. To allow a form of salvation to begin to break into our lives, we may have to look out for a tree to climb from where we can better see Jesus and give him a chance to show his face to us.
He began to lose his voice about six months ago. Doctors found that one of his vocal chords was blistered and bleeding into his throat. He underwent surgery and the chord was successfully repaired. The early weeks of recovery required him to remain totally silent. At first he found this traumatic. But he found that as his wife talked to him to keep up his spirits he wasn’t just hearing her, he was listening to her. He found himself understanding her better on topics he previously dismissed. He also realised that his toddler was not just chattering nonstop but that he had surprisingly thoughtful things to say for his age. Over eight years of marriage he and her had talked a lot but more often than he would care to admit, he was going through the motions. “Of course I did dear” he would reply when he was asked, “did you even hear what I had to say?” Now that he is recovered he says that conversation in the house is much better these days. He says, “I’m just listening better and less and less surprised that I like what I hear.”
This story may have more than one moral for menfolk. You may have decided that it is vitally important that you take great care in looking after your vocal chords so as not to end up like the poor unfortunate in the story, or you may admit that salvation can come to your house in the strangest of ways. With a heart attuned to listening intentionally and completely, you may rediscover the voice of God and be surprised that it sounds feminine. In our humble efforts at kindness and understanding, in our seemingly unimportant acts of generosity and forgiveness, a form of liberation and salvation may be brought into our homes. If we are alert to it, you never know what might fall from a tree and become an unseen but welcome guest.
+Liam S MacDaid
3 November 2013