The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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February 23, 2001 Issue
Bishop Morneau's Column
"Reflection on the Readings"

Bishop Robert Morneau
Bishop Robert Morneau

Separate the good fruit from the rotten

The Holy Spirit anoints us with light to see and energy to do God's will

February 25, Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Bishop Robert Morneau

Questions for reflection:

1. What role does the Holy Spirit play in your decision making process?

2. What gift has God given you? Which ones has he taken away?

3. What good fruit can you bear this week?

The old threshing machines were a marvel to behold. Once a year they arrived at a farm with a crew of helpers to separate the grain from the chaff.

God's Word for this Sunday is all about threshing, sorting, testing. Sirach speaks about the sieve and human speech; St. Paul about corruptibility and incorruptibility; Jesus about good and rotten fruit. There is an ongoing need to discern and separate out good from evil, truth from falsity, beauty from what is ugly. The ultimate test is in the bearing of good fruit, an authentic life of discipleship.

This adventure of threshing and sorting out lies at the heart of a recent novel by Mark Salzman, Lying Awake (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000). It's a story of a Carmelite sister who has strange and supposedly mystical visions, phenomena which have various interpretations. Was this "seeing of God" sheer grace, the work of the Holy Spirit, or did these experiences arise from Sister John of the Cross' epileptic disorder which had the power to alter her world consciousness?

A decision had to be made. Would she undergo surgery to remove the tumor causing the epileptic seizure and violent headache or would she refuse treatment so as to not close the door on these momentary visions which caused unbelievable ecstasy?

Several passages tell of her struggle. "Epilepsy was particularly feared because of its reputation for producing compelling - but false - visions. Doctors and clergy alike had referred to the disease for centuries as 'holy madness.'" (67) Sometimes it can happen that an illness or a character flaw can open up new perspectives on God's presence. Sometimes it is simply an illness and character defect. The test will always be in good fruits, a deepening of one's Christian life.

When Sister John of the Cross attempted to discern God's will after a grace she had received was gone, she received this advice from a friend: "God must think you did enough with that gift. Now he wants you to do something else." (174)

Here is another way of living out discipleship. When one relationship or ministry ends, then we must move on and be open to new grace. God "lurks" around the next corner, waiting there to offer us yet another opportunity to live the life of grace. Crying over spilled milk is a loss of time and energy.

A third and final example of Sister John's struggle to discern and sort out the movements of her heart. "What if I have it all upside down? What if I am the one who knows nothing of God, and the people in the world are actually interceding on my behalf with their ordinary, daily struggles? (127) No small wonder that someone committed to contemplative life would lie awake with such a huge question racing through the heart. The beauty of this story (and ours) is the willingness not to run away from the big questions.

At times we all lie awake wondering what God wants us to do. We need to invoke the Holy Spirit to anoint us with light to see and energy to do God's will. Bearing good fruit, fruit that will last, depends upon our union with the Lord, our true Vine.

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

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