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Friday, September 5, 2014

The Courage to live in Community


This is the draft for the reflection on Sunday morning.


23D Sunday in Ordinary Time (070914)
Readings:  Ex.12: 1-14; Rom.13:8-14; Matt. 18:15-20;


“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

The Archbishop of Canterbury (Marcus Welby) has, if I remember him correctly, described the horror and barbarism presented by the ‘Islamic State’ as the greatest threat to civilization since the Mongol invasions of the Thirteenth century.  (That’s a sobering thought and worthy of deeper consideration – on another occasion.)  But holding that thought in mind at a time when the Islamic world seems so misrepresented by an evil force, it may be timely to go back to the 13th century Islamic world and how it too was threatened by the Mongols and opposed them.

Today we know him as Nazreddin; he was a Sufi philosopher and we understand him to have been born in Turkey in the 13th century and that he was sent by the Caliph of Baghdad to organise the resistance in Anatolia against the Mongols.  Nazreddin is remembered throughout the Islamic world – at least from Morocco to India – and beyond, as a wise man or holy fool whose teaching has a timeless quality and was passed on in witty tales and sayings.  Here’s an example of one:

A stranger stops Nazreddin at the city gates. "Will you tell me," says the stranger, "what Baghdad is like? I have to move to a city and I'm worried." Nazreddin replies, "Tell me about the place you came from." "Oh, it was a wonderful place! Neighbors were kind to one another, we looked out for the children, people shared and were generous and happy!" "Ah! said Nazreddin. "You will love Baghdad. Don't worry at all, and welcome!"

Later on, another stranger stops Nazreddin at the city gates. "Will you tell me," says the stranger, "what Baghdad is like? I have to move to a city and I'm worried." Nazreddin replies, "Tell me about the place you came from." "Oh, it was a terrible place! Thieving and fornication and children noisy and running wild. People are selfish and distrustful." "Ah!" said Nazreddin. "You will dislike Baghdad. You'd better move on to another city!"

You will notice that each tale turns on what each stranger brings with them to Baghdad.   The past that they bring with them; the way they see the world, will pre-determine how they see Baghdad.  You could say this is one key to unlocking the saying in our Gospel this morning, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

This is why the gospel’s emphasis on ‘peacemaking’ in the church community is grounded in the deep truth of who we are becoming – and learning to live with one another in peace is fundamental for shaping us and preparing us for our future in God.

Now I want to remind you of the work of the Catholic philosopher Jean Vanier who founded the L’Arche community at Trosly-Breuil. Vanier’s community was about people living together with others who have developmental disabilities.  In one of his books, Vanier explains the importance of what underlies the vision of  L’Arche.

Community means caring: caring for people. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says: "He who loves community destroys community; he who loves the brethren builds community." A community is not an abstract ideal. We are not striving for perfect community. Community is not an ideal; it is people. It is you and I. In community we are called to love people just as they are with their wounds and their gifts, not as we would want them to be. Community means giving them space, helping them to grow. It means also receiving from them so that we too can grow. It is giving each other freedom; it is giving each other trust; it is confirming but also challenging each other. We give dignity to each other by the way we listen to each other, in a spirit of trust and of dying to oneself so that the other may live, grow and give. (Vanier: From Brokenness to Community)


In a word, that describes our calling as the church.   Vanier describes the hard work we take on in our life together.  Our gospel is entirely realistic – hence the instruction on how we make peace when we encounter disagreement.  The church is not an abstraction but always it is about people and how we love one another with all our mutual wounds and gifts.  This involves discipline and commitment and we must care for one another: watch out for the negative personality who can suck all the energy from a room; watch out for the artful gossiper who can divide and disable a community; watch out for the envious spirit who, carrying their unacknowledged shadow, can demolish a church: “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
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