Today marks the opening of the annual plenary assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. This year the gathering takes place in Ste. Adele, Quebec, in the beautiful Laurentian hills north of Montreal. At this time of year one sees a lot of tour buses, packed with folks who have come to view the many colours of the leaves. It is, indeed, a beautiful sight. At the same time, though, we know that the change of colour in the leaves heralds their death. Soon they will be dying, falling off and leaving the trees bare. Come Spring, that death will give way to new life.
Change, death, new life. The realities at the heart of the Christian life. The only appropriate response to the proclamation of the Gospel is metanoia, or repentance, change. The following of Christ requires a complete change from any way of living that is contrary to the truth that is given in Him. This change involves a readiness to die, by which is meant a death to self, a death to the ego, so that the life flowing within is that of Christ.
In the Gospel passage of Sunday (Mark 9:30-37), we see that the disciples of Jesus are slow to get this. Immediately after Jesus gives his second prediction of his passion and death, he catches them out arguing among themselves as to who among them is the greatest. They have not yet embraced the implications of their choice to follow him, because they are still listening more attentively to the voice of self-aggrandizement, which inhabits us all in virtue of the abiding effects of original sin, than to the teaching of Jesus. Later, of course, aided by the gift of the Holy Spirit, they understand perfectly the full meaning of discipleship and embrace it with enthusiasm and joy, even as it leads to their own martyrdom.
The leaves are at their most beautiful when they have changed and are about to die. The Christian is most beautiful when the change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit manifests itself in a willingness to give all for Christ in the certainty of the new life he will give.