12th August. Tuesday, Week 19
St Jane Frances de Chantal; also Saint Attracta, virgin, and Saint Muredach, bishop.
Jane Frances, Baroness of Chantal (1572-1641) married at the age of twenty but was left a widow at twenty-eight, with four children. Some years later, with the help of Saint Francis de Sales, bishop of Geneva, she founded in Annecy the Congregation of the Visitation. Her sisters were noted for their outreach to the sick poor, in contrast to cloistered female religious. Chantal said, “What do you want me to do? I like sick people myself; I’m on their side.”
Saints Attracta of Achonry (6th century) and Muredach of Killala (also 6th century) are Irish saints of whom little is known.
1) Ezekiel 2:8-3:4
(In a second inaugural vision the prophet is told to eat a scroll filled with woe yet sweet as honey to the taste.)
The Lord said: “But you, mortal, hear what I say to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you. ” I looked, and a hand was stretched out to me, and a written scroll was in it. He spread it before me; it had writing on the front and on the back, and written on it were words of lamentation and mourning and woe. He said to me, “O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.”
So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. He said to me, “Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. ” Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey. He said to me: “Mortal, go to the house of Israel and speak my very words to them.”
Gospel: Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14
(A little child is great in the kingdom of God and a sinner’s conversion causes joy in heaven.)
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.
What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.
The Courage to Change
The Scriptures point to two different forms of leadership in time of change, one of them external, enshrined in leaders like Ezekiel and the apostles; the other internal, in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, inspiring courageous decisions and initiatives. Both forms of leadership help us in different ways. The first handles routine matters, referring to external needs and projects, and is like caring for the ninety-nine sheep who are always with us. The second can give us energy to locate the one lost sheep, the elusive hope and golden dream. There can be more joy over the one lost sheep – that intuitive inspiration which suddenly flashes out and totally transforms life – than over ninety-nine other routine projects and prosaic ideas.
The Book of Ezekiel deals with a transitional phase. It spans the last days of Jerusalem (chaps. 4-24), hopes for the future (chaps. 33-39) and the blueprint of the new Jerusalem (chaps. 40-48.) By consuming the scroll, which was written over, front and back, with lamentation and woe, Ezekiel was condemning the evil ways of the past. The scroll that tasted “sweet as honey in my mouth” intimated the hope of a new, purified, spirit-filled people rising from the dead bones of the past (ch. 37). Ezekiel reminds us that transitions, however difficult can be necessary; though seemingly destructive they are actually transformative.
Today’s Gospel contrasts with the harshness of Ezekiel. Yet the call to become a little child is just as difficult as Ezekiel’s and requires the same steadfast courage which Moses asks of the people. Adults never find it easy to lay aside dignity and ambition, power and influence, to “become like little children.” Jesus is not calling for childishness but for a serious, mature realization that beneath the surface of our life God’s Holy Spirit is calling us to faith, compassion and simplicity beyond our normal range. If we are alert to this inspiration, then this one percent of ourselves, this seemingly lost sheep, this “infant” within us, will be found and bring extraordinary joy and new life to the ninety-nine percent which is the rest of ourselves. This recovery of the “little one” is true of each individual and of society and the church as a whole.