Return to Me
June 6th, 2017
12 Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
In this text from the prophet Joel, God invites the People of Israel to return. The invitation is clear. God wants us – our hearts and our hands! God wants our fasting and weeping and mourning to be transformative – to change our hearts so that our focus is no longer on external things but on our relationship with God, which will in turn shape our day to day actions. The way we give thanks and praise, the way we trust and engage in the actions of love called for by our God is the real test of our fasting, weeping and mourning. God is not so much interested in what our fasting and weeping and mourning looks like. God is very much interested in what our fasting, weeping and mourning do! God wants to know that these actions flow from hearts that are changed and that these actions in turn change hearts.
As pastors, pastoral workers and as women and men who have entered the Church as adults know, the catechesis underlying the journey to acceptance into the Church at Easter calls us to be people who act to make manifest God’s merciful love. It is no secret to us that this journey is a difficult one and it is an ongoing one. No adult Christian can stand with confidence and proclaim that they do not need to ‘return to the Lord’ as Joel suggests. As baptized men and women we know that the call of God to enter more deeply into loving our sisters and brothers is a call that stretches us and our personal resources our whole life long.
As Oblate women and men we wrestle with questions of community life, financial accountability, proclaiming the gospel, prayer, exercising servant leadership and reaching out to the poor. All of these actions flow from our heart-relationship to God and they require ongoing conversion.
Throughout the congregation we have brought to a close our celebration surrounding the anniversary of our foundation and our charism. These celebrations have highlighted the gifts God gave to St. Eugene and his early companions. The celebrations held here in Saskatchewan certainly highlighted the gifts given to our predecessors and shared so generously with the Church and the world. The celebrations also reminded us that here in Saskatchewan fewer men are responding to our invitations to join us as Oblate brothers or priests. We have engaged in much hand wringing and discernment. We wonder why God is not calling young men to our community anymore. Some are quick to point out that we lack passion for our prayer and our Oblate life. Some are quick to point out that we do not value ‘community life and ministry to the poor’ enough. Some are quick to point out that young people in our culture lack deep spiritual convictions that have allowed previous men to make outstanding sacrifices that have transformed our country and our Church.
While all or some of the above things may be true, the call of Joel, which we heard at the beginning of the Lenten season, continues to echo throughout the Easter season. As Jesus so generously claims in John’s Gospel, “15-I do not call you servants* any longer, because the servant* does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16-You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17-I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” John 15:15-17
Wherever we may find ourselves we do not need our Holy Father, a Bishop or Superior to remind us that we are to once again open our hearts to the Word of God, to recognize our friendship with Jesus Christ and to see where we are with him. Whether we are in an isolated mission with few resources, in a modern parish with an abundance of programs and staff, a retirement home with good friends, good food and a regular rhythm of life, we are each invited to rend our hearts.
God seems to be more interested in how we are rather than where we are. We may not be able to do much about vocations to the priesthood or religious life. We can do something about our hearts. We can live lives of gratitude. We can give thanks for those who live and walk with us now. We can give thanks for the countless people who desire to join with us in mission. We can give thanks for those among us who desire to explore new forms of community and mission. We can give thanks that the charism of St. Eugene continues to touch people in our world. We can give thanks that today we are able to reorient ourselves so that our gaze is fixed firmly upon the Lord of Life who calls us to share in the gracious love offered by our Divine Host.
Today as we enter into our silent prayer in the presence of the Lord, let us imagine ourselves sitting with the Lord in our favorite place. Let us imagine Jesus our friend looking at us with love and inviting us to turn our attention to him. What is it like to hear Jesus say, “My friend, return to me?” What is my response when those words settle in my heart?
By Doug Jeffrey, OMI
God bless you!