In California where the enormous Redwood trees grow to over 350 feet, they discovered that they had got so good at protecting these trees from forest fires that no new ones were growing. Then they realised that forest fires were actually necessary every once in a while, to crack open the seeds of the Redwoods. Only the heat of the fire was great enough to do this. Sometimes you need complete devastation so that new growth can take place. Maybe that is some of what we are seeing in our Church at the moment.
The day before yesterday (Friday) I wrote my homily for this weekend, but then I had to drive up to Ballina to give a couple of lectures there. As I was driving up and praying, I felt that it would be better to leave that homily aside and tell you why I remain a priest at this time.
Even though this last week has been a difficult time for all of us, especially if your faith means anything to you, one thing that has been amazing is the amount of affirmation and encouragement that I have received. I have met so many people who have told me that they are praying for me, it is very uplifting. That tells me that faith means more to the people of this country than the media would like us to believe. I think it’s good that we recognise that too.
If ever there was a time to quit being a priest, or I needed an excuse to have no more to do with the Church, this would be it. The funny thing is that all these events seem to give me more determination than ever to keep going and I would like to tell you why. The reason is this: first of all I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, Lord of all and master of all. I also believe that this person Jesus called me to serve him as a priest, to pray for people, to offer the mass for people and to pass on his teachings; not my teachings, or the teachings of any other human being, but the teachings of God himself. For centuries now Christians have wanted to come together each week to listen to the teachings of Jesus, to listen to Scriptures and to celebrate the mass. I still want to do this, with you and whoever else wants to come and pray with us. I want to hear the word of God and I want to receive the Eucharist.
I also believe that the Scriptures which we read each week are really and truly the word of God. If that is true, then there is a lot in them that I need to listen to, because through them God continually speaks to me and to all of us here, guiding us and pointing us in the right direction, especially during disillusioning times like these. If I only listen to the voices of the world it will quickly get me down and make me cynical. That is why I try and read some of the Scriptures each day, because they put things in perspective for me and keep me focused on God. ‘In the world you will have trouble, but do not be afraid; I have overcome the world.’
What do the Scriptures say? Jesus said that we would be betrayed, let down by people, just as he was. He also said that we should not be afraid of this because he would be the one to guide us. He said that we would be hated by all people on account of his name. I mentioned to you before that two years ago (3rd June 07) a priest friend of mine was shot dead in Iraq, specifically because he was a priest. They ambushed him after mass and shot him. Those who killed him saw the priesthood and Christianity as evil. They probably believed they were doing a good thing. Jesus said that things like this would happen.
So in a way I should not be surprised when I am faced with hatred or opposition. Peoples' anger is well justified, but of course it is difficult when all of us are blamed together.
If the Lord has called me to serve him as a priest, and if he is all the time calling us to follow him, then even though it is difficult, what could be a greater privilege than to do just that?
‘Lord where else can we go? You have the message of eternal life; and we believe, we know that you are the Son of God.’