Sunday, July 30, 2017

Lead the People; Leaven the People

He spoke to them another parable.  "The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened."  Matthew 13:33

The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us.  The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience.

The method presented here is adapted from a technique described by Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius thought that the Examen was a gift that came directly from God and that God wanted it to be shared as widely as possible. One of the few rules of prayer that Ignatius made for the Jesuit order was the requirement that Jesuits practice the Examen twice daily—at noon and at the end of the day. It’s a habit that Jesuits, and many other Christians, practice to this day.
  1. Become aware of God’s presence.  Ask God for the light.  I want to look at my day with God’s eyes, not merely my own.
  2. Review the day with gratitude. Give thanks.  This day I have lived is a gift from God.  Be grateful for it. 
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.  Review the day.  I carefully look back on the day just completed, being guided by the Holy Spirit.
  4. Face your shortcomings.  I face up to what is wrong – in my life and in me.
  5. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.  Look forward toward tomorrow. I ask where I need God in the day to come.

We tend to revere our saints today that it is easy to forget that they were not always, well, saintly.  Ignatius was not always a Christian soldier marching out to war on sin.  He started out in life as a soldier in a different army.  In a profile on Franciscan media, they note that he “was on his way to military fame and fortune when a cannon ball shattered his leg. Because there were no books of romance on hand during his convalescence, Ignatius whiled away the time reading a life of Christ and lives of the saints.”

But for the scarce choices in the library, who knows how else he would have turned out?  What is the library was filled with Fiction, Mysteries or Chemistry books?  What if he only had access to a dog-eared copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince? Thanks to those books on the lives of the saints, Ignatius brought about the creation and rise of the Society of Jesus.  Perhaps it is fitting that this former military officer is the patron saint of “retreats.”

The ideas in those books helped transform Ignatius and bring out a new spirituality in his life.  Those books and his subsequent formation were the yeast in his life, leavening his piety, study, and action.

Today, like the woman in the parable, when you bake bread, you typically add yeast to help the dough ferment and rise.  It adds air and lightness to the dough. 

For our Catholic Masses, we do not use the standard bread that we might find in our own pantries. There is no yeast.  We use bread baked without any leavening (rising) ingredient. Bread has to be made ONLY from wheat and water with no additional ingredients.

One of the reasons why Catholics celebrate an unleavened Eucharist is very simple. We just never changed it from the kind of bread used at the Last Supper, the Passover Seder. 

Leaven implies introducing something that enlivens, tempers, or markedly alters the total quality.  It modifies something or transforms it for the better.

However, yeast also is a symbol of corruption.  The notes in the NADRE explain that “yeast, which induces fermentation, is a natural symbol for a source of corruption that becomes all-pervasive.”  The purest bread for Sabbath is made without yeast.  If the woman put yeast in the flour, it would be ruined for use on the Sabbath. Reminders of the bad qualities of yeast permeate the New Testament.

However, yeast also has a positive meaning.  Really, where else do we see fermentation at work in the Bible?  For some reason, we want the bread to be pure but not the grape juice. That we want to be fermented into wine. After crushing the grapes, we have to add wine yeast for the fermentation process to begin.

So, yeast also is symbolic of infusion.  Wine yeast implants a new quality, trait or idea. When the winemaker pours in the yeast, it gives those grapes a new kick. 

Jesus was that leaven.  Jesus, the Bread of Life, could rise up on his own.  He could raise us up with him on the last day.  Jesus instilled those around him with the intellectual curiosity to rise up and complete further study. The woman at the well evangelizing her neighbors.  Zacchaeus climbing the tree.  Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night.  Matthew leaving his tax collection.  Peter leaving his nets. 

Leaven also is something that makes a situation or mood less serious.  Our word “leaven” comes from the Latin levare to raise.   It helps you to raise things up – the mood, the alcohol content, the bread.  It works a bit like the simple machine we called the lever in science class. 

When else did we talk about a lever?  During the “Palanca” talk!  Remember that “Palanca” is the Spanish word for a lever.  Not only is prayer and sacrifice a Palanca or lever.  You are Palanca.  You are leaven.

What will you leaven in your environment this week?  Where do you need God in the day to come?

No comments: