Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
St. John Vianney, whose feast day we celebrate this week (Aug. 4), once wrote: “Some men immerse themselves as deeply in prayer as fish in water, because they give themselves totally to God. There is no division in their hearts … How unlike them we are!”
Truly, we admire such people. Just as truly, most of us don’t have such undivided hearts! Our response to God is yes and no; our lives are a mixture of grace and sin.
The week’s readings provide some direction, because they’re full of examples of such division. And, if we read them rightly, they offer a great vision for the All Things New pastoral planning process.
We hear the false confidence of the prophet Hananiah — that the yoke of the Babylonian Exile would soon be broken — contrasted with the hard truth spoken by the prophet Jeremiah — that the yoke of the exile would be strengthened and extended. We all know what that tension is like in our own experience: turning away from something hard because we wish it wasn’t true, rather than facing the hard thing with quiet courage. (Everyone who’s ever needed to initiate a hard conversation with someone knows what this is like!)
We hear Jeremiah proclaim the bad news of sin and exile, and we know what it’s like to receive such a diagnosis: “Incurable is your wound, grievous is your bruise; there is … no remedy for your running sore, no healing for you.” But we also hear him proclaim the good news of mercy and restoration, and we know what it’s like to experience this in our bodies and our relationships: “I will restore the tents of Jacob … city shall be rebuilt upon hill, and palace restored as it was.”
We see Peter walking on the water because he’s a man of great faith. And we see him sinking because he’s a man of little faith. How well we know that combination in ourselves!
We see Peter commissioned by Jesus as the Rock of the Church because of the great spiritual insight he has about who Jesus is. We see Peter rebuked by Jesus — even called Satan! — because of his great spiritual blindness regarding what it means for Jesus to be the Christ. We know that combination of insight and blindness in our own lives!
At each and every turn in the readings this week — whether we’re reading about the history of Israel or the episodes of Peter’s life — we encounter a tension that we can recognize as the pattern of our own lives. This tension, rightly understood, can serve as a launching pad for All Things New.
Because we encounter that tension in our own lives, we know that we need healing. So we turn to Jesus — not ignoring the tension, but precisely because we’re aware of it — to receive more deeply from Him. Unless we receive deeply from Him in the midst of our own brokenness, we have little to offer the world.
Then, when we turn toward the world, we see that same tension reflected in other people’s lives. So we go out with Good News — not because we ourselves can heal the the world, but because we can give witness based on our own experience that we have encountered the One who can heal brokenness.
So let’s receive Jesus more deeply in the tension of our own lives. And let’s go out and give witness more readily to the world: Jesus Christ can make all things new.