The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 3, 2000 Issue
Bishop Morneau's Column
"Reflection on the Readings"

Bishop Robert Morneau
Bishop Robert Morneau

Familiarity Breeds Commitment

Familiarity with God's initiative characterizes those who help others

March 12, First Sunday of Lent

By Bishop Robert Morneau

Questions for Reflection:

1) Does familiarity breed contempt or commitment for you?

2) How can you deepen your familiarity with the Lord this Lenten season?

3) What signs (rainbows, rings, candles) keep alive your familiarity with the Lord?

A line from a recent conversation: "Why is that we are not being trained to be familiar with the ways of the Holy Spirit?"

Was this a valid question?

As we enter into the Lenten season we are presented with Jesus being sent out toward the desert. When did the Spirit last send us anywhere: to the prison, to the nursing home, to the homeless shelter, to the laundry, to church? Are our lives Spirit-led? Are we familiar with the workings of the Spirit?

One of my favorite books over the past three years is Robert Ellsberg's All Saints (Crossroad, 1997). The author presents 365 individuals who made significant contributions to the common good. Some of the "saints" have been canonized; many are flawed human beings (like us) who struggled with their demons but who yet, moved by the Spirit, reached out to those in need and did works of justice and peace. Familiarity with God's initiative characterized a significant portion of their lives.

Noah and God had a working relationship. God was familiar with this ark maker; the ark maker was familiar with God. Another word for loving familiarity is covenant - that love-relationship that God initiates with us. Although the book of Genesis would have us believe that God "needs" a rainbow to remind him of the covenant, we know that we are the ones in need of reminders regarding God's constant, faithful love. Our large rainbow is the Mass. Here we hear the great words of familiarity: "with" and "for." The Lord is indeed with us and Jesus gives his body and blood for us. Such intimacy.

We tend to shun familiarity lest we're too well known and our vulnerability, indeed our dark secrets, be exposed. So we hide away, escaping in work or entertainment or satiation. This need not be. Peter's letter today assures us that God is patient, as he was with Noah.

Further, we are told that through baptism we need not fear the intimacy of God because in Jesus our sins are forgiven, our weakness is made strong, our daily dyings lead to new life. God's pledge of presence and our baptismal rainbow of grace give us assurance of things hoped for but not seen nor heard.

Jesus' familiarity with the Spirit is profound. Whether being lead into the solitude and temptations of the desert or being called to proclaim the good news in Galilee and beyond, the response is one of obedience. Every yes deepened the familiarity and intimacy. And the arrested John too knew the ways of the Spirit, even if it meant the total self-giving that witnesses to the reign of God.

The old adage maintains that "familiarity breeds contempt." When grace is operative, however, the reverse is true: "familiarity breeds commitment." All this begins in baptism and is nourished in Confirmation and the Eucharist. Now in Lent we take yet another step on the road of familiarity as we prepare for the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord in our liturgical year. Once again we commit ourselves to the paschal mystery, this dying and rising with the Lord.

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)

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