Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Smouldering Wick

The gospel for today, Saturday of the 15th week of ordinary time, has another passage that interests me here and now. In the passage (Matthew 12:14-21) the evangelist applies to Jesus the prophecy of Isaiah 42 including the words, "He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick until he brings justice to victory." In the commentaries I have seen there seems to be a range of opinions about what this means and how it is to be applied but most say that it refers to the gentleness and meekness of Jesus. I liked the insight of St Jerome (quoted in the Catena Aurea): "He who despises a weak spark of faith in a little one, he quenches a smoking flax (wick)."

I think that this passage again illustrates one of the tensions facing the Church when it deals with adult faith formation, especially with regard to sacramental preparation. In our parish, for example, the RCIA director and the person in charge of marriage preparation have been troubled by the prevalence of young couples who have "irregular" living arrangements (they are as yet unmarried, but living together). When the pastor asked an outside expert about the seriousness of these "impediments" the expert answered that on the most basic level the answer depended on your point of view. If the pastor thinks that the Church should be smaller and more faithful to Church teachings he will act one way. If the pastor thinks that the Church should take care not to quench the smouldering wick he will act another way.

I like the point of view about taking care not to quench the smouldering wick. Sometimes people, for various reasons, are not capable of giving full expression to their faith in all that they do. In these cases these people need to be treated with the gentleness of Christ, welcomed, and invited to a fuller encounter with Christ and his Church. So, on the one hand, the Church must be welcoming; but on the other hand, the Church needs to be faithful to its message. This is clearly something that is done on a case by case basis and requires great understanding on the part of the Church representative dealing with this issue.

So, would I as someone involved with RCIA, ever send someone away from the group on the basis that they are not fit or ready for Baptism. I think that the answer has to be that I would not want to send them away but in certain circumstances (that I don't think I could outline right now) I would suggest that they delay Baptism until some future time. This is what has been done in the group I work with. A few years ago a man from a strong evangelical background came to us. During the Catechumenate he had great trouble with the doctrines surrounding Mary. When the time came for reception into the Church (at Easter Vigil) he was told that he needed to decide on his own if he could make the public promise that people being received into the Church make. He decided that at that time he could not, but a couple of years later was received into the Church. So, he was not excluded by the pastor or the RCIA director, but was invited to discern for himself the path he should follow. This, I think, made things work out for the best.

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