I like books. For a while, books were my main friends in the faith. I would hang out with them until it was late at night. I would eat lunch with them and grab a cup of coffee with them. They were the best. I thought they were the way to learn about my faith. Then I went to Reconciliation and the priest essentially said, “That’s great that you like reading, but you need some friends”. he meant friends whose spines were actually in their bodies and that I couldn’t put in a backpack with ease. So, I got some friends and thought I had found the cream of the crop for learning about my faith. Then I had kids. Now, I’m learning about God and my faith in ways that are challenging and amazing.
Just this past Wednesday my son helped me see into a dilemma that I have often tried to enter. Maybe I’m not alone here, but I struggle to find the balance between rigidness and wishy-washiness that we call being pastoral; the balance between enablement and coldness that we call mercy. Then, in one 5 minute exchange some of that was revealed to me.
I was getting Iggy (my son) his breakfast. Now that he is a big boy (2 ½) he likes to be the one that puts his fruit in his granola. I know he shouldn’t have half of carton of blueberries in his bowl (my wife told me that was a bad idea), so I rinsed some off, put them in a second bowl, and plopped them down in front of him. Boom! Dadding like a boss.
I went back to doing dishes and heard his sweet voice saying he doesn’t want those blueberries. I must not have heard him correctly. He doesn’t want the blueberries he just asked for, are you serious? I asked him and he repeated that he doesn’t want ‘those’ blueberries. Wait a second, what was wrong with ‘those’ blueberries? There was nothing wrong with ‘those’ blueberries. Then he said, “Those your blueberries.” But, I didn’t have blueberries, I was doing dishes.
That’s when I saw it. His granola was in a kid bowl and his blueberries were in an adult’s bowl. Thank the Lord for showing that to me before the battle of wills began. I quickly switched the blueberries to a suitable plastic bowl covered in blocks and letters and he made quick work of putting them in his granola. Then God told me, “That is what it means to be pastoral.”
Did the blueberries change? No. Iggy still got blueberries, but he received them in such a way that he knew they were meant for him. Does being pastoral or merciful mean that the Gospel, the Church, the Sacraments, the Moral life, or any of the other blueberries get thrown out of the bowl in place of M&Ms and Skittles? No. It means that the bowl in which they are presented is considered with empathy so that the recipient can see, “This is for me.”
But how do we make sure our efforts are keeping the blueberries in the bowl? We do exactly what Christ said in today’s gospel, we look at the fruit. Is the fruit conversion, discipleship, joy, and a desire to bear witness and serve others? Or is it a refusal to be challenged, abandonment of Christ, a lack of joy, entitlement, embarrassment about one’s faith, or coldness toward others?
We need to look at the fruit and identify where our pastoral approaches are ripe and where they are rotten. We need to identify when we are so rigid that someone believes that the Gospel is for someone else? Or when we are so wishy-washy that people are left wondering if we really believe what we are sharing? This isn’t a mathematical formula, but to be a Church of Mercy that pastorally goes to the fringes, we need to see through others’ eyes and judge our success by Christ’s criteria. And if we are expecting to see conversions in others’ lives, we need to be able to turn from our own rigidity or wishy-washiness when we see that our approach isn’t bearing fruit.