Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. — Phil 4:8
This Sunday is the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings can be found here. This week’s reflection comes from Living Space of the Irish Jesuits and, using the biblical metaphor of a vineyard, calls us to ask what type of fruit are our local parishes and communities producing. You can read the entire reflection here but set forth below is an excerpt:
[W]hat kind of grapes do we as a parish community produce? Are they sweet and luscious or are they pinched and sour? Is our parish a real sign of Jesus’ presence and love in this part of our city? What kind of impact do we have?
Are we living out the words that Paul proposes to the Christians of Philippi in today’s Second Reading:
Fill your minds with everything that is true,
everything that is noble,
everything that is good and pure,
everything that we love and honour,
and everything that can be thought virtuous
or worthy of praise.
He goes on:
Keep doing all the things that you learnt from me
and have been taught by me
and have heard or seen that I do.
These last words are quite a challenge for all of us. But if we can live them out, then, says St Paul, “the God of peace will be with you.”
Our parish is our vineyard. It must not produce sour grapes that no one can eat. It must be open to the various ways the Lord speaks to it, whether those people are Church leaders or prophetic voices which may sometimes say things which are painful to hear.
There is always a temptation for a parish to become a security blanket for those who do not want to face up to the challenges facing every society. When that happens, it tends to cling to old, fixed ways of doing things and to resist change. People who propose changes that are necessary in serving a constantly changing society may be resisted and resisted very strongly. Each parish can find itself producing its core of “chief priests and elders” (who, by the way, may not be the clergy) who will make sure that prophetic voices (who may be the clergy) and people with real vision will be effectively blocked.
It is just as easy for us in these times to fail to recognise the voice of God in the messengers he sends us, just as the Jewish authorities of Jesus’ time failed to recognise the Word of God in him. It was Cardinal Newman who said more than 100 years ago that “To live is to change; and to be perfect is to have changed often.” If we are not really making sure that our vineyard produces rich grapes, not only for us but for others, too, to enjoy, then we are falling short as “tenants”. It may well happen that the Lord may ask others to come and take our place.
If our church was closed down, sold off and turned into a dance hall what real difference would it make to our district? Of course, we who come here regularly would miss it, but what of others who never step inside? Are we really concerned about that impact or do we think more of our own personal religious obligations and needs? Do we measure the quality of our parish by what goes on in this building or by what happens when we leave it? Obviously, both are important but there cannot be one without the other.”