July 7 – Saba Saba in Tanzania. The Gospel for today is the call of Matthew and it comes a day after I signed up for a Divine Renovation course which is designed to kick-start priests into becoming more effective leaders in parish life, leading the parish itself to new life in the Holy Spirit. The course begins in September on the feast of St. Matthew.

I told the young man who interviewed me on Zoom that I was doing it in obedience to a suggestion from a parishioner who sees that I am in need of renovation. And mutual obedience is a characteristic of the Christian life as we are told by Saint Paul – “give way to one another in obedience to Christ.” Renovation is one of those odd words that are used in Church circles. Synod being another one that has no use in the language of the ordinary person. Renovation! It brings to mind a crumbling building that is in need of serious repair.

But I am taking part in both the Renovation and the Synod. In the first, because I know how much I am in need of renewal and conversion. The second because it has been called by the Pope to whom I owe at least as much obedience, if not more. More, because I am under a vow of obedience as a priest. And obedience has always worked for me, even when it has turned my life upside down.

I also believe in the Synod as a Pallottine because it was the vision of St. Vincent Pallotti that every baptised person is called to collaborate in the mission of Christ in the Church and in the world. That’s what Synod should be, should bring about. But I fear greatly that it will bring about something else, that it will be hijacked by various agendas. But even if that does happen, I trust completely in the Holy Spirit who has guided and led the Church from its pre-Pentecost days of confusion and fear.

Back in the days of Samuel when Israel wanted to have a king as a ruler, God told him to give in to the people even though in seeking a king they were rejecting God as their ruler. “Listen to all that the people are saying to you”, God said to Samuel (1 Samuel 8:7).

The Synod leader in our parish met with me the other day and during our conversation the question was posed, “what is the purpose of what we are doing?” Something like that. And we both agreed that the  purpose is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

To this I would add what Jesus Himself says in the Gospel, “learn from me!” And in learning to become like Him – the disciple will always be like the Master. “Learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart.”

Follow in the footsteps of Jesus
Learn from Jesus
Become like Jesus

This is what we – what I – must become. Become gentle and humble as He is. These are the two qualities put before us on this particular day. There are may others.

I was pondering this in the church the other evening as our pigeon flew back and forth from its perch high up on top of the organ to the crown of the reredos at the back of the altar.

The pigeon arrived the  previous Friday so this was its sixth day in residence and all our efforts to set it free came to nothing. We tried to frighten it out with noise, to coax it with food, all to no avail. In my anxiety for its welfare I resorted to Google and there discovered that when a pigeon gets into a church it will keep close to the ceiling and nothing will bring it down. Nothing except weakness and hunger. They can survive for a week or more without food.

So, with that knowledge I let go of my anxiety and left the pigeon to the care of Jesus who is Lord of all creation, Lord of pigeons, Jesus in whose presence the pigeon resided.

Only weakness and hunger would bring it down to the place of freedom. And that’s what happened on the seventh day. It came down and left, leaving me with a parable of gentleness and humility.

We tried to force the pigeon, to take well-intentioned control over its destiny, whereas gentleness would have trusted, letting nature take its course.

And we so often are caught in a height from which we are unable to come down – the height of our fear, the height of our pride, the height of our own strength, the height of our deepest hungers. Height that keeps us at a distance from the freedom we seek, from the One who would set us free.

The  only thing that will bring us down is our weakness, the thing by which we are humbled and  in being brought down in that way we come close to Jesus  in a way that would otherwise not be possible.

Many people know this as an idea. Addicts know it by experience. We are brought low, literally humbled by our weakness, our deepest hunger, strongest craving. And by these, we who are so unlike Christ become like Him, not by our own efforts but by grace. We are humiliated mostly by ourselves, brought to the bottom of the barrel, the rubbish-heap of life. In that place, Christ transforms what has been humiliating into the beauty of His own gentle, humble heart.

Whatever a person’s weakness is, it becomes paradoxically the thing that brings us closest to Christ and to that rest that is promised to those who are heavily burdened.

The other central piece in today’s Gospel is the place of children in the mystery of God. It is to them that the greatest mysteries are revealed. They hold the truth of the Gospel within them in ways that adults have forgotten. Every encounter with the children that I have is a reminder of this. When they come up close to the sanctuary at Mass and I ask them to close their eyes and open their hands in prayer to the Holy Spirit. The sincerity in them is inspiring.

It’s there too in young parents, in the freshness and innocence of new parenting, carrying new-born babies in the Holy Communion procession. Babies sleeping or dangling freely on a father’s arm. A baby falling asleep on his mother’s shoulder as I cover him with his white shawl immediately after his Baptism.

Oddly, adults, the adult Church will go through many meetings, writing thousands of words in hundreds of documents in our search for what the child possesses by instinct. That which the child knows and we have forgotten.