“I will be their God and they shall be my people.”
– Jeremiah 31:33
Belonging is a key aspect of our lives – not just as Christians but more generally as human beings. We belong to families, friendship circles, clubs, groups and communities. Belonging is important to us because God didn’t create us to live alone (Gen 2:18); indeed, human flourishing depends upon being with and learning from one another, being generous with each other, and most importantly, loving others (Jn 13:34).
There’s an old adage attributed to St Francis, “It is in giving that we receive.” The saying is adapted from the Book of Proverbs (11:24-25), and reads, “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” In the context of our readings this weekend, we belong to God and to others when we give of ourselves: our love, time, gifts and resources.
Personally, I’ve never felt this sense of belonging more than as a soldier in Afghanistan with the Army. Being foreigners in a war-torn country – and certainly not welcomed by everyone – this sense of belonging to our group of 120 soldiers was magnified. We lived together, prayed together (those of us who were Christian), ate together and defended each other. We did this because our survival depended upon working together to achieve a common outcome – in our case survival.
I wonder if this was how the early Christians felt as they grappled with persecution. While we’re lucky to experience religious freedom in Australia, the early Christians weren’t so lucky. Their experience of belonging to a faith community was vastly different from what we experience and was highlighted by similar things a soldier might experience: a sense of belonging from necessity born out of life and death situations.
In our Gospel this weekend, John shares the analogy of Jesus’ death being necessary for the rich harvest of human flourishing: “Unless a grain of wheat falls on the ground and dies [he says], it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest” (Jn 12:24). While John’s community was experiencing difficulty in the form of isolation and expulsion from Jewish synagogues, they’d worked out that their sense of belonging and flourishing as a Christian community depended upon their ability and desire to be like Jesus: giving up their wants, desires and preferences in favour of the greater need of the other. Perhaps this is what we’re being asked to consider as a Catholic Community during this season of Lent.
The words of the prophets and Gospels should never leave us comfortable. Always and everywhere, they invite us to consider where God is calling us as a community. Today, that call is one which invites us to pray about what we need to give up in our lives as individuals and as a faith community. Perhaps we’re being asked to consider what aspects of our Catholic culture don’t serve the mission of going out and making disciples (Mt 28:19), such as an emphasis on feeding sheep (those who enter our churches) over catching fish (going out to those who are isolated and don’t feel like they belong). Where do you think God is calling us right now?
Peace and blessings, Fr Josh