Reflection for the Vigil of the Third Sunday in Lent

February 27, 2016
Reading: Luke 13:1-9
By Constance Krstolic, OSB

Sister Constance KrstolicKitty Genovese…..remember the name?

She was a 28-year-old women brutally murdered on March 13, 1964, in New York City. Perhaps, now…. do you remember the news story?

The New York Times conveyed a scene of indifference from neighbors who failed to come to her aid.  Over 20 witnesses supposedly saw or heard the attack and did not call the police.  Eventually someone called for help.   The incident prompted inquiries into what became known as the ‘bystander effect.’

This story has been repeated over and over again. Why do I remember this story? Perhaps it’s because as idealistic sophomores at Donnelly in the '60s, my friends and I could not understand why someone would not help.  We were in the throes of the Vietnam War protests and the Civil Rights movement. This was a time to act…and yet these people in New York didn’t respond to her cries for help.  They became oblivious to her presence.  They hid behind a cloak of indifference.

There were terrible accounts reported in the newspapers….  “Her neighbors walked over her body”….   “They closed their ears to her cries for help”…. “They closed the windows in their apartments as not to hear her”…“It was business as usual”…  Don’t you wonder what would it have cost them to get involved?  Was it their time?  Their own safety?  Their personal convenience?  Indifference loomed.  

Fast forward to tonight. Has our world, since Kitty’s death, become even more comfortably numb, indifferent, to the needs of others?   

If our answer is ‘yes,’ then the questions arise: How can we shake ourselves up, or be shaken up, to see what is going on around us? Have we taken the time personally to name what IS going on around us?   What is needed to rid ourselves of our indifference...where we hear ourselves say that “It’s not MY problem?”  

Our Pope is trying to shake us up with his words and actions!  He asks us to give up our global indifference during this Lenten season.  The challenge he places in front of us deals with seeing with a new heart the needs of others and then acting in whatever way we can to rectify the situation.  Getting involved can be messy.

Being lackadaisical in responding to what’s going on in our midst is not what our Pope’s walk witnesses.  This Pope of ours strives to rid himself of this cloak of indifference and challenge us to do the same for he says “that hiding behind such a cloak is not life giving to others nor to ourselves.”

Looking at tonight’s gospel, we hear of a gardener who gets upset because the owner of an orchard wants a fig tree to be uprooted and discarded because it didn’t produce figs.  This in itself is not a new attitude towards plants, or, if we push it, towards, people who don’t perform their task. It happens all the time.   At this time, though, the gardener intercedes for the tree and asks the owner of the orchard to give him a year to fertilize around the tree so that it would produce fruit.   “Give me a year,” the gardener pleads. “Give the tree another chance.”

This indifferent attitude so prevalent in Kitty’s story is not prevalent with this gardener.

The gardener has opted to get down and dirty, to get on his knees, to assume a servant’s posture, to hoe, to touch the roots of this tree.  Perhaps these roots are slimy from over watering, perhaps sharp from being dried up because they lack nourishment.  

You and I know that we have a number of very dedicated gardeners in community.  I asked many of them what one quality stands out to be a good gardener.  The answer was patience

Gardening is a pretty messy, time-consuming and smelly occupation, especially when one is dealing with manure.

Spreading this manure, this fertilizer, isn’t the most pleasant of tasks when caring for a plant, a tree.  Spreading the nutrients of patience, love, peace, gentleness, joy, generosity is time-consuming and calls forth a commitment to nurture.  It calls for a lot of patience, as our gardeners have said. Letting go of our indifference to get involved in another’s journey changes our own lives and challenges us in our own journey.   Padding the ground of their walk with patient and tender care, being gentle with them, peaceful, will eventually lead to seeing a fruitful outcome.

We all are in a place of need in this orchard of life.  As one of our gardeners put it, "a gardener has the care of creation always in mind."  An invitation, for sure, to be aware of those around us.

This gospel-gardener invites us to get down and dirty, to move into a servant stance, if you will, a stance Jesus has taken with us, a stance of being present with us in the midst of the messiness of our lives of our world, a stance for which Pope Francis strives, a stance that we are invited to assume.  

Think about it…the stance of this master gardener is that of kneeling and bending and getting dirt under his fingernails and all over… of desiring to touch our hearts and coax us back into  wholeness.  This is the invitation of Pope Francis….to rid ourselves of indifference and walk into the newness of life.