Fr Brendan Nolan
The Liturgy of the Word today brings us to the depths of self-understanding. This is so because it, very powerfully, asks us to give due consideration to the power of the Spoken Word; most especially our mode of conversation. It also brings us into acute awareness of Conscience. In the Gospel Jesus challenges us to remove the log from one’s own eye before making any attempt to remove the splinter in the eye of the other. Here we are encouraged by Christ towards that attribute, that divine gift which we call conscience.
Conscience is never oneself in isolation looking at one’s personal life and personal attitude. “The disciple is not greater than the master”. For the Christian, Christ is the master of discipleship. He is the light into which we must honestly bring our lives. St. John Henry Newman indicates that conscience is that secret room wherein there is but oneself and God. Presenting oneself there means that there is no hiding place, for God sees into the depths of the heart. The standard of Christ is love. That is the measuring rod by which each of us, to remain authentic, must assess his or her life. Nor while we remain with Christ in that secret room are we allowed the dishonesty of manipulating the definition of love. In Christ on the Cross we see the very self- emptying of God in true love in the person of Jesus. That is our pathway. That is the route to follow.
In today’s Gospel Jesus did not say “do not assist your brother or sister to regain his/her better self”, rather, He asks us, within the light of true discipleship to look inward. The reason for this is clear; if we look inward and find our own frailty we will then encounter our vulnerability. When such vulnerability is seen in Christ’s company we will be changed and better words will flow from us towards that splinter in the eye of neighbour. Ecclesiasticus gives it succinctly to us “The orchard where a tree grows is judged on the quality of its fruit, similarly a man’s words betray what he feels”.
During the Nazi occupation of Poland, Karol Wojtyla (St. Pope John Paul) with a group of fellow students, men and women, from the Jagiellonian University, Kraków formed what they called The Rhapsodic Theatre. Its vision was definite. They all believed in the power of the Word. The Nazi oppression was at its worst. Many of their contemporaries had joined the Resistance. This involved taking life. The Rhapsodic Theatre opted for a cultural resistance. They anchored themselves in Words of deepest meaning for all of humanity. Props, Lighting, Effects, were of no consequence. The Spoken Word would convey to themselves and any audiences brave enough to attend their clandestine productions the world of the “good orchard” spoken of in today’s First Reading. The orchard, they believed, if kept alive in dark days, would blossom after every false occupation.
St Thérése of Lisieux, without knowing it, had within her being the power of the Spoken and Written Word. In her convent it was the custom to ask each nun to write an account of her life for the convent archive. Thérése without any pretensions, or any ambition for fame wrote hers. It was tied up in string and filed away and only opened on her death. Her Words became known to the world as “The Story of A Soul”. Like the productions of the Rhapsodic Theatre there were no lights, no effects, no costumes, just words from the orchard of her soul. As she describes her quest for her true vocation she writes “I will be Love at the Heart of The Church”.
Such a phrase can only come from “the orchard of good fruit”. Today we are asked to cultivate that inner orchard . Our words can be in union with Christ only after we honestly face the log in the eye. Then in any conversion we can validly speak words of correction and challenge, words of consolation, encouragement and peace. In such light we can clearly identify the culture of sensation and insensitivity and degradation, the culture where calumny and detraction hold sway, the culture wherein our youth suffer so much from cyber bullying. We can see all the Words that lessen our dignity by our utterance of them and by their effect on others. The Words of First Corinthians, put before us today will allow us to glimpse something different for by them we know the full harvest of the “good orchard” - “Death is swallowed up in victory”. In Christ we will put on “imperishability”.