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Anyway (end of plug), I'm returning to a favourite theme.
'I need 500 words,' said our good Editor, 'by yesterday. The theme is up to you.' Suddenly I was back at my Anglican selection conference when, just as I was about to leave the interview room, I was told: 'you're standing on the platform with three minutes before your train leaves. How do you share the essence of the Gospel with the anxious person who's just asked what you believe?'
Still in my mind was what, at the time of writing, was last Sunday's Gospel reading: the parable of the wheat and the darnel (Matthew 13:24-30). As the two memories collided and mingled, here's what emerged...
We were all told at Sunday School, I suppose, that one of the points of this parable is that wheat and darnel look almost identical while they are still immature. And so, as the owner of the field says, to try to weed out the darnel immediately would be to risk destroying the good plants too. But what else is there to learn? It's easy, and comforting, to think of the wheat as the Church and the darnel as the world. Frighteningly, it's just as easy - and it has a piquant comfort all its own - to see the Church as the field, and enjoy trying to spot who's the wheat and who the darnel. Nearer the truth, I think, is the realisation that we ourselves - each one of us - are the field; within each individual heart and soul is a tangle of wheat and darnel that even the Lord of the Harvest himself counsels against trying to weed: not yet. And meanwhile, here we still are as the Body of Christ.
We are uncomfortable with the unconditional love of God. We find it safer to hedge it round with ifs and buts: I suspect that, deep down, we actually find it hard to believe that we are so loved. And so our welcome to others becomes conditional, and that's something we should be concerned about. Surely we in the Ordinariate should understand what it is to be made welcome. Probably we can't remember being welcomed into the Church of God at our baptism (received just as we were, 'mewling and puking' as likely as not*). But we can remember the welcome from our prodigal Father to the ragbag, the Noah's ark, the patchwork of fields of wheat and tares that is the banquet of the Catholic Church. Did any of us deserve such a lavish gift?
Why do we continue to regard the Eucharist as a reward for good behaviour? And we all do, don't we, from time to time - whether for ourselves or others? We forget that God's gift of forgiveness is not confined to the Sacrament of Reconciliation but is right there in the invitation we are offered at each Mass: 'Behold the Lamb of God; behold him who takes away the sins of the world.' (Have a look at paragraph 1393 in the Catechism). To come to Communion in humble astonishment and trust in God's unconditional and redemptive love - knowing that we could never earn or deserve it - poses less risk, I believe, of receiving unworthily than to think we can or should somehow weed our own field first.
So, that's my three-minute message:
We are utterly unworthy;
We are utterly loved;
We are called to love as we have been loved.
Through the 'medicine of immortality' Our Lord nurtures the wheat already growing in us, and we can trust him to take care of the darnel as he knows best. Deo Gratias!
* Some of us may have been received into the Catholic Church in a similar state. God still loves us.