Fr Jarek Kurek OSB
How fitting today’s readings for church that needs wise guidance, calling for leaders to take on the responsibility of following the teaching of our ‘Instructor’, Jesus Christ.
Now, when I say ‘responsibility’, I think of becoming ‘responsible’, that is, being capable of responding to the needs and challenges of our times, acquiring the ability to read and understand the world and human needs in the light of the instruction that Jesus Christ and all the tradition of the Church have left with us.
But there is also another, somewhat hidden meaning of the term ‘responsibility’, which is to able to set things straight, to guide the way, and ultimately to instruct.
We are just after celebrating the Feast of All Saints, and also, just two days ago, there has been a feast of a rather unappreciated saint, in our times I must add. Because in his own 12th century lifetime, he was a point of reference to many in this country and far beyond. Imagine that one of the most influential saints of all times, Bernard of Clairvaux, chose to write his one and only biography about this man. Such was Bernard’s admiration, that on arrival at his monastery in France, he hailed this man as the ‘true Orient from on high’, a label normally restricted to Jesus himself. Searching for the right modern analogy it’s like getting one’s face on the cover of Time magazine with the headline ‘Man of the Century’.
The man was an Irishman, and his name was Malachy, St. Malachy.
Now, it might be a pure coincidence, but today’s first reading was from the prophet Malachi! The name itself means ‘a messenger of mine’, ‘my messenger’ from God’s perspective, which I think fits quite well into the profile of ‘the one who bears responsibility for the spiritual well-being of people entrusted to him’.
As we have heard, prophet Malachi tried hard to instruct the priests of his times. Actually, he gave out to them for misguiding the people of God. What can we learn from our Irish Malachy about the proper way of instruction? Bernard puts down a striking note: Those who have never been disciples themselves are the blind leading the blind. Malachy, though taught by God, nevertheless sought out a man as a teacher, and he did so cautiously and wisely. A remarkable lesson for everyone who wishes to become more responsible for their own spiritual welfare, and perhaps of the others in the long-term: a prudent looking for someone who deserves to be their teacher and may lead them to Christ.
Our friend Malachy found such one, and after some years, he was ready to go out to the people of Ireland with Christ’s message. As his biographer St. Bernard notes, he was commissioned to give the ‘law of life and instruction to [sorry for this harsh description] an uncultured people living without the law’. What’s striking in what follows in Bernard’s story is that Malachy ‘accepted the command eagerly, fervent in spirit. He did not hide away his talents, but he was gasping for gain…he rejoiced as a giant to run everywhere…he was like a burning fire’. Setting things straight, leading his people toward the light by means of his instruction. Can you hear the intensity of his endeavour? By no means did he take his responsibility lightly. He got it right: to be truly responsible means, in this case, to be fervent in the spirit while spreading the message of the Lord.
But that’s not all when it comes to being truly responsible. St Malachy, according to the testimony of St Bernard, applied to himself one of the main responsibilities of any priest as prescribed by the prophet Malachi. His instruction was successful because his ‘holy lips…guarded knowledge’. Now, knowledge doesn’t get good press in our Christian circles nowadays; it is often seen as some sort of danger to our faith, ‘faith doesn’t go through the head’, we are told. Nothing can be more untrue. Faith and knowledge need to be seen as one; they are needed to form unity. As one of the spiritual masters put it: ‘Faith is a firm and certain knowledge of God’s kindness towards us, founded upon the truth of the promise given in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit’. Faith is a knowledge of God’s loving invitation, presented to us through Christ’s instruction and constantly renewed by the Holy Spirit. But it requires our wholehearted response, a daily fervent spiritual quest. If you are happy to seek this knowledge of God and hear God’s plans for you, at some point, you will hear this extraordinary message from God in your heart: ‘messenger of mine, now you are ready’.