take the short cut

Jan 18, 2013

In October 2002, to mark the beginning of the Year of the Rosary, Pope John Paul II issued a letter in which he announced five new mysteries of the Rosary. 

Many of us were raised knowing the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries, each with their five reflections on central moments of faith through the eyes of Mary the Mother of God.

The five new mysteries of the Rosary focus directly on the life of Jesus, through the eyes of faith. These Mysteries of Light, or Luminous mysteries, begin with the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. The feast of the Baptism of the Lord was our celebration of last Sunday. Today’s gospel reading brings us to the Galilean village of Cana, where Jesus begins his ministry of miracles.

Thirty years before this moment, it was the “yes” of the young woman Mary that opened the way for the birth of the Messiah. In the Cana event, it is once again Mary who prepares the way for her son’s ministry by instructing the stewards to: “do whatever he tells you.”

On of the flaws of our New Zealand, ‘DIY’ (do it yourself) cultural climate, is a compulsive resistance to authority. We don’t like doing what others tell us to do. In some ways this is a reaction against a time when we were encouraged to abdicate our own personal responsibility to those we feared in authority. The son took over the farm simply because the father expected it. The young woman married because the parents pushed for the wedding. You will all know of other examples.

One of earliest signs of emotional growth in a child is their resistance to simply doing as they are told because (and when) they are told to do it. While parents might dream and even pray that their child will blindly obey without question, it is necessary for maturity that a child begins to question and to think for themselves. When this happens, the child is beginning to take their own place in the world, and to establish a healthy degree of autonomy.

The teenage and early adulthood years are a time of tasting independence, and even pushing boundaries. At times this behaviour can appear as angry and rebellious. But the one who resolves this stage of life in a healthy way, soon moves (as the psychologists tell us) to a stage of generative creativity.

The healthy adult is one who appreciates the wisdom in the well-known Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.
I often think that young couples know this well. Not too long ago they were independent. They could do all they liked and nothing they disliked on a Friday night. They could vacation where they wanted, and come home when (and if) they felt like it. Now they have a baby or two, and the needs and demands of this little child take priority.

A parent who continues to assert their own teenage independence, especially those who do so to the extent of ignoring the needs of their child, is generally considered to be immature and irresponsible. We have little respect for this behaviour in an adult. We might rather bluntly think that this parent just needs to grow up and to realise that responsibility and love are greater values than independence and selfishness.

The same is true in our personal relationship with God.  The one who is a child in the life of faith will blindly and naively obey a religious leader. As a life of faith develops, the young person begins to question. At times it can be characteristic of this stage for people to reject some of the teachings of the Gospels and the Church. Even some of the teachings directly from the mouth of Jesus (love of neighbour, forgiveness of enemy, keeping of the commandments) might be rejected in this stage of growth.

It is important to note too that it is not only in the field of faith that the teenager might push the boundaries and reject the wisdom of history. I can only live without sleep on a diet of beer and pizza for so long!  Gradually the young adult grows to see the wisdom in a healthy diet, a moderate intake of alcohol, and a regular pattern of enough sleep.

This discipline of sleep and diet as a key factor in good health, is the same health theory that has been promoted for centuries, and is taught in all those musty books in medical libraries.

The wise person grows to realise, that had they simply lived by the basic rules of medical guidance, they would have saved themselves a lot of unnecessary sickness and suffering. But there is no teacher as wise as personal experience. And there are no commitments as deep as those that are emerge from personal trials, failures and successes.

You will guess where I am going with this!

In the life of faith, there is a lot of wisdom in the Church. “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) This wisdom for healthy and happy living might be recorded in musty old tomes, but it is also reflected in the lived experience and personal witness of people of faith.

It is a fact that humans are not created to live independently with total autonomy. “It is not good that man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18). Our human family comprises not only our contemporaries (family and friends). As members of the Catholic Church across two thousand years of lived experience of Christian life, we receive and learn from the wisdom of our Christian ancestors. These people are our family of faith.

We call this Tradition (the teaching of Jesus communicated to us by the Church), the Will of God. This divine will is revealed both as a general will for all people, (ie the commandments and the teaching of Jesus), and as a personal will uniquely tailored to every human person (as revealed by God in personal prayer and discernment). Our human health and happiness is found when we discover this divine will, and live in harmony with all we were created for.  In fact, the Will of God leads us to ourselves.

The instruction of Mary to the stewards at Cana, is Mary, in her loving motherly wisdom, trying to make life easier for everyone by giving the short-cut – the easy way forward: “Do whatever he tells you.”

I don’t expect you to believe this because I have written it here! Try this out for yourselves. Choose some aspect of Church teaching that you know (or sense) you are not living as the ideal the Church presents. This might concern forgiveness of enemy, love of neighbour, or some aspect of sexual morality. Then set a period of time, perhaps a day or a week, in which you seek to live what the Church teaches, one hundred percent. In other words, do whatever HE tells you.

At the end of your trial, ask yourself this simple question: “am I happier?” No doubt you will struggle with your renewed commitment. I do too. But if you find greater happiness and health in living in harmony with Jesus, and with the Church why would you let it go? 

After all, what Mary at Cana is seeking to do in this advice, is to give us the short-cut to the fulness of life.    

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