Words on the Word

Our Lady of Providence

Hosea 8.4-13: Ephraim has built altar after altar.
Matthew 9.32-37: It is through the prince of demons that he does it. 

At first sight today’s readings may seem locked in time, descriptions of a culture-specific past of ancient idolatries. In reality they are timeless. What we face is the perennial trouble the true God has seeking to pierce the carapace of man’s self-made certainties. 

Ephraim ‘built altar after altar’ to a god in his own image, a carefully thought-out, reasonable, containable, insurance-broker-like god thought to be a guarantor of prosperity. It wouldn’t be at all difficult to find analogies in western society today. 

The people who, when Jesus enabled a dumb fellow to speak, weaving an outsider back into the social fabric, exclaimed, ‘It is by the prince of demons that he did this’, had no real concept of a divine agency benevolently governing phenomena. Their only response to a power upsetting the status quo, be it for good, was the thought: ‘This is bad, really bad’, the transformation of things and people being felt to be beyond possibility’s pale. Again, it wouldn’t be hard to find modern parallels. 

What a contrast with true religion! What a contrast with the madness of wishing, say, to restore the monastic life and grace in the ferment of post-revolutionary France, in a land labouring to find its corporate balance again after a frenzy of fratricidal madness, with so many more urgent things to attend to than the provision of facilities and places for women and men to sing Psalms in the night! 

We keep today the feast of Our Lady of Providence, specific to the Solesmes Congregation. We remember how Dom Guéranger, that intrepid and realistic visionary, knelt on a Roman street before an image of the Mother of God on 9 July 1837 as the carriages of cardinals on their way to conclave trotted past, entrusting his great founding work to Mary, the lowly handmaid who built her existence on the certainty that God can upset balances, exalt lowly things, and send the idols of the proud crashing down. 

If only we had a bit more of that trustful, serene, God-oriented, oblative madness in the Church today. Who knows what might happen. We can each start by examining ourselves. I have been helped to do so recently by a poem in Fr Paul Murray’s latest collection. It is called, ‘Confession of a Sober Monk’. It is the lament of a consecrated man stuck in his own too reasonable notions. Let me share it with you:

After drinking in for years
the new wine of your Word
I should be sodden-drunk, reeling
like a holy fool,
with gratitude and praise.
But, far from attaining 
that mad, that unhinged state
of joy, I have remained 
                  a slave
to norms and forms, a dullard
of the spirit. Sensible. Sane.

From which fate may the Lord, through the intercession of Our Lady of Providence, preserve us. Amen.