Sunday, September 02, 2018

Following the Recipe


22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Mass@FMM Chapel

Picture: cc dolanh

My dear sisters, do any of you have any special recipes? Instructions for cooking or baking that have been handed down to you from your mother or grandmother, a friend or even another sister in your community? If you do, what can you say about these recipes?

For example, do you ever see a recipe as a burden? Does it ever make you feel angry for having to follow it? Or resentful of your mother or grandmother for having passed it on to you? If I have to guess, I would say probably not, right? No, we don’t usually see recipes as a burden, but instead as a welcome gift. Something given to us for a good purpose. Meant for us to enjoy. And to share with others. But, of course, for that to happen, we need to make use of it. For, however good the recipe may be, it will do us no good, unless we actually use it to prepare and serve and enjoy the dish. Otherwise the recipe will be wasted.

But failing to cook with it is not the only way to waste a recipe. Can you think of another way? Isn’t it true that I can also waste a recipe by not following it closely enough? It’s true, of course, that many recipes are quite flexible. One ingredient can often be substituted for another, and the dish will still taste just as good. Perhaps even better. But there are limits to this flexibility. For example, brown sugar could possibly be replaced with white sugar, but probably not with salt. To try to do so would be to ruin the dish.

A gift… to be used… within limits. These three characteristics of a good recipe are also what we find in our readings today. In the first reading, as the people of Israel prepare to enter the Promised Land, Moses encourages them to take notice of the laws and customs that God has handed on to them. Why? Because these laws and customs are God’s recipe for a happy life in the land. But to enjoy the full benefits of these laws, the people have to take care to observe them. To use the recipe. Adding nothing to them, and taking nothing away. For, like any good recipe, there is a limit to their flexibility. 

Which is probably why Jesus speaks so harshly to the Pharisees and scribes in the gospel. He calls them hypocrites. Why? Because, while they appear to follow God’s law, God’s recipe, they are actually substituting salt for sugar. They put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions. As a result, they end up ruining the dish that God intends for them to prepare. In their hands, what is meant to be a precious gift to be enjoyed, becomes a tiresome burden that they lay on the shoulders of others. Including Jesus himself.

A gift… to be used… within limits. We find these same three characteristics in the second reading. Which speaks not so much about the Law of Moses, as about the message of truth, the word that has been planted in human hearts. Which, for us Christians, is not just a legal code, but a living relationship with the person of Christ. Who laid down his life out of love for us. To set us free from our selfishness and sin.

The reading begins by telling us that it is all that is good… which is given to us from above… Implying that the word is not meant to be a tiresome burden, but a precious gift. But, to enjoy its benefits, we must do what the word tells us, and not just listen to it and deceive ourselves. Just as a good recipe needs to be used to produce delicious food, so too our relationship with the Lord should be translated into concrete actions. So that it can produce in us loving and merciful lives. And there are also limits to the flexibility of this recipe. The reading ends by identifying two ingredients that we cannot do without: showing mercy to those most in need, and guarding ourselves against all that is contrary to the teachings of Christ. Without these two ingredients, the recipe simply will not work.

A gift… to be used… within limits. If these three characteristics of a good recipe can be found both in the Law of Moses, as well as in our relationship with Christ, then perhaps they can also be found in something to which you, my dear sisters of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, will be paying particular attention, as you begin your annual retreat today. Do you know what it is? Nothing else than your own charism. The special recipe for holiness that was first received by Blessed Mary of the Passion, and then handed on to each of you. For you to use to produce delicious lives. Not just for your own benefit, but also for the enjoyment of others. Especially those most in need.

Now I have no idea what your experience of living this charism has been like. But, if it is anything like my attempts to live my own Jesuit charism, it may be that sometimes there is a temptation not to follow the recipe. To go beyond its limits, as the Pharisees and scribes do in the gospel. To add something to it, or to take something away. And, as a result, without our realising it, to change the charism, from a precious gift to be enjoyed, to a painful burden for all to bear. Producing conflict instead of peace. Misery instead of joy.

If this is the case, then perhaps a time of retreat might provide a useful occasion to allow us to be reminded of what we find in our readings today. That a charism is meant, first of all, as a gift. A recipe for a delicious dish, the benefits of which we have ourselves enjoyed over the years of our consecrated life. To remember its taste. To take the time to relish it once more. The better then to return heartfelt thanks for all that God has done for us and in us, with us and through us. To remember, to relish, and to return thanks…

A gift… to be used… within limits. My dear sisters, what can we do to better enjoy God’s recipe for happiness and holiness today?


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