Bishop Morneau's Column|
"Reflection on the Readings"
|Bishop Robert Morneau
A double call to a rich interior life
The test of discipleship comes down to doing what Jesus did
September 3, Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time
By Bishop Robert Morneau
Questions for reflection:
1. What is the quality of your root system?
2. What "concern" has God called you to address in this month of September?
3. Is your love expanding every day?
Up at Chambers Island, at our diocesan retreat house, there is a huge oak tree overlooking the bay. That tree has a
double life: branches that reach high into the sky and roots that plunge into the dark, dank earth offering stability and
nourishment. Depth and expansiveness are two of its defining characteristics.
We too, disciples of the Lord, have a double call: To reach out to others in need (to serve the wounded of the world)
and to reach deep within, finding the source of our ministry in a rich interior life of prayer and mindfulness. We
cannot get away from this double vocation.
Jesus is concerned, in today's gospel, with the source of our actions. What are at issue are the deepest recesses of the
human heart for it is from there that good and evil emerge. Wicked deeds and designs come from energy cut off
from grace. And the Lord is clear in giving us a list of those activities that destroy and darken human life and the life
of grace: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, greed, maliciousness, deceit, sensuality, envy, blasphemy, arrogance,
an obtuse spirit.
We need but look within ourselves and our communities to realize that we stand in need of conversion. Too often
our lip service of worship is disconnected from our hearts. We stand in need of purification, mortification,
asceticism, self-abnegation, discipline. These spiritual exercises guide us toward freedom and open our hearts to the
transforming power of grace.
In the letter of James the heart issue is driven home. God's word is to take root deep within and is to be the source of
our ministry. Hearing and accepting the word is not sufficient; we must act on that word by being concerned with
those who are especially vulnerable: orphans, widows, those in distress.
Moses too urges his people to an integrated life. The commandments and decrees of the Lord are to be observed
carefully. This "doing the truth in love" gives evidence of the authenticity of one's relationship with God. The
possibility of living a holy and moral life comes from the fact that God is close to the people. God instructs and
empowers us to embrace and express the truth.
Back to our oak tree. A principle applies to its existence that also touches our lives: "the roots determine the fruits."
The quality of depth conditions the quality of expansiveness.
The Pharisees and scribes of the law were caught up in human customs and external actions. Jesus reprimands them
for this superficiality. They lacked depth and seriousness about the quality of their lives. Appearances were primary.
Because of a lack of depth, the expansiveness of their lives was extremely limited. Concern was not for the hurting
but for liturgical purity. Washing and sprinkling replaced visiting and caring. Such is the result of certain root
Were it ecologically correct, we might etch on the oak tree our responsorial psalm: "He [she] who does justice will
live in the presence of the Lord." The test of discipleship comes down to doing what Jesus did: acts of compassion,
forgiveness, love, justice.
I must admit I committed the sin of envy upon contemplating the oak tree. It had depth and expansiveness; it was
doing what it was called to do. Our lives contain that mysterious gift of freedom, which means that we need not
grow either in depth or expansiveness. In the Eucharist we thank God for the times in which we used our freedom
well through the help of the Holy Spirit; in the Eucharist we ask forgiveness for our superficiality and narrowness of
heart. Through the gift of Jesus we find new hope and courage to live more deeply our double call to rich interiority
and to do deeds of justice and love.
(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)