“At the sight of the crowds,” our gospel reading today says,”Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned,like sheep without a shepherd.Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Matthew 9, 34-38)
How should laborers in the harvest today approach the troubled crowds?
In his 1977 novel “Lancelot” Walker Percy tells the story of Lancelot, a man confined to a prison hospital after setting fire to his beautiful ancestral home in Louisiana and murdering his wife and her lover. The man’s fed up with today’s world and turned against it, but he’s still trying to figure out what life’s all about. He’s on to something, one of Percy’s phrases.
An old priest visits him frequently in the prison hospital– his only visitor, it seems– and listens to him, but hardly says a word. That’s partially because Lancelot doesn’t think much anymore of the faith the priest represents.
Yet, the priest listens. Lancelot occasionally asks him if he understands. “Perhaps I talk to you because of your silence. Your silence is the only conversation I can listen to,” Lancelot remarks. Only as the book ends does he say to the priest: “Very well, I’ve finished. Is there anything you wish to tell me?”
On retreat this week, we’re reading Pope Francis’ exhortation, “Gaudete et exultate”, a wonderful exploration of holiness today. At one point, the pope says “Nor can we claim to say where God is not, because God is mysteriously present in the life of every person, in a way that he himself chooses, and we cannot exclude this by our presumed certainties. Even when someone’s life appears completely wrecked, even when we see it devastated by vices or addictions, God is present there. If we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit rather than our own preconceptions, we can and must try to find the Lord in every human life.”
We’re sent as laborers for the harvest, but are words the only tools we have to use. Is silence, along with a persevering concern, ways to engage the troubled crowd?