You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
Having read my Reflection last week, my friend Simon told me about a decision he had to make recently. He is happy that I share it with you as he felt it may help others. He said:
‘Listening to the Epistle being read at Mass the other Sunday it came to me, that I should volunteer to read in Church. How hard is it to read aloud a few verses from the Bible; especially as the Church needs a few more readers? But then came the Gospel reading from Luke 18, the parable concerning the Pharisee and the publican praying in the Temple. Now doubts arose in my mind. What was my real motive for volunteering to read? Was it to help the Church, the vicar, or was it so that the congregation would look at me as I stood at the lectern reading to them from the Authorised Version of the King James Bible? “Look at me standing here, on a raised dais above and in front of you all, am I not important? I can read these arcane words, can you?” Was it my own pride, my self importance leading me to volunteer? In other words, was I acting just as the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable? Then again, I thought of the difficulties of driving in the icy perhaps snowy weather. At my age could I commit to making the journey in all weathers? Supposing I forgot that it was my turn to read? Was I really offering to read to serve God or my own selfish ends? I spoke to a wise old friend who said: “In you I see a willingness to serve as called. Pride comes from a dark, evil place and that is not how I see you. Service and response to a call comes from God” In his words I recognised the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius where in the Call of the King exercise he pictures the risen Christ calling every person to follow Him. Suddenly the decision became clear. The voice I heard was God’s call to serve Him so my response must be to follow. If reading Scripture is what God has called me to do then that is what I must do, and to the best of my ability – ‘for the greater glory of God’.’
As a result Simon is now on the approved list of readers for his Church. But the question remains for us all: when God calls how do we respond? In his book What is Ignatian Spirituality David L Fleming SJ reminds us: ‘Our response occurs now. We are not to be inhibited by our own weakness and failure. We are not to ponder our unworthiness.’
But do we still put up barriers, walls, excuses? Or do we embrace His call whole-heartedly? Remember: ‘ Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.’ 1 Peter 5:7 NIV and: ‘As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead’ James 2:26 NIV.
We all have to make a thousand decisions every day. Many are easy and can be made without thinking; blinding flash moments really, since the answer is obvious. Sometimes though the decision requires a lot more thought and consideration, like choosing a life partner, changing jobs or maybe taking on an additional responsibility. In such cases it can help to write down the pros and cons. Equally, it might be useful to talk things over with a trusted friend or relative.
Speaking of blinding flashes remember the story of the hot-headed young Pharisee and Christian persecutor Saul on his way to Damascus with letters from the high priest to the synagogues there, (Acts 9: 1-19), so that ‘if he found any there who belonged to the Way he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.’ Acts 9:2 NIV. Nearing Damascus a blinding flash caused him to fall to the ground as Jesus asked him why he persecuted Him. Now he was really worried. Whilst he had once been a student of the more liberal Rabbi Gamaliel who as a member of the Jewish Council advised against punishing the early Christians severely, yet Saul had rebelled against his teacher by allying himself with the corrupt hierarchy of the Temple. Maybe the old man had been right all along, he might have thought.
Suddenly Paul had a life changing decision to make. Should he continue with the high priest's orders or side with those of ‘the Way’? On the one hand he was a well thought of young Pharisee who, if this mission was successful would be held in high esteem with the priesthood. Think of all the wealth and status that might bring. Anyway, was this voice he had heard real? After all his companions heard a noise but did not see anyone. Yet when he got up he could not see anything; he had to be led by the hand to Damascus. The whole event was deeply troubling yet he knew he had to make a decision, one way or the other. He had spent the next three days turning the matter over and over in his mind, but unable to come to a decision when Ananias came to the house where he was staying. Whilst the Bible does not say so, I suspect that they spent some time discussing what had happened but ultimately: ‘Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit’ Acts 9:17. The decision had been made! Thanks be to God.
In our decision making we must talk things over with our best friend, the one who loves us and wants the best for us - God; the same God who appeared to Saul. Let us pray for God’s help whilst remembering that whilst there are no guarantees of success, whatever decision we come to He will love us just the same.
The church notices on Sunday asked that if anyone had excess fruit or vegetables, as they would be very welcome to leave them in the church porch for others to help themselves, in exchange for a donation to church funds. A reminder, if one were needed that autumn starts on 1 September and the trees are already heavy with fruit with crops ripening in the fields. Very soon the Church will celebrate Harvest festival as it has done for ages past. Indeed, three, agriculture related pilgrimage festivals are mandated in Exodus 23:14-17, whilst the manner of their observance is described in Deuteronomy. To this day our Jewish brethren know the autumn festival of Ingathering as Sukkoth which historically celebrates the wandering of the Israelites in the desert for 40 years, when they had to rely only upon God for food and protection as well as celebrating the last harvest festival before the onset of the winter rains in the land of Israel. Those winter rains in their turn watered the ground making it fertile so that it provided food for the coming year; it still does and so the cycle continues. As our ancestors did all those years ago, we celebrate the bringing in of the harvest each year with gratitude. Thanks to God for providing the rain and the sun to give us such abundance of food but also for the opportunity to share some of God’s bounty with others in need.
Then I remember an old grace said before meals: ‘Bless, O Lord, this food to our lips and us to thy service.’ The festival of Sukkoth then reflects that prayer asking that God blesses us and gathers us into His Family so that we may be of service to Him. Just as we bring fruit and vegetables to the Harvest Festival service so each of us has a unique talent to bring to the table to offer in God’s service, and we are called to do so, for as Teresa of Avila said ‘Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks out his compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.’
After the service, I saw Joan carrying in a big box of pears from her garden to add to the collection of fruit already in the church porch. She remarked that it is surprising how much money accumulates in the wall safe!
But the real question is: Are the abundance of talents with which God has blessed you being used as wisely in God’s service?
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years