I remember hearing the story of an attorney in the US who had no time for religion. Each morning as he drove to work he would pass an old woman in his neighbourhood who was on her way to mass. He would usually pass her as she made her way up a steep hill near the church. This hill was difficult for her because it was very steep, but she was determined to get to mass. In his mind he laughed at her and at the stupidity of those who waste their time with such things as religion.
One morning in winter it was quite icy and as he headed off to work he didn’t expect to see the woman as the paths were dangerous. Then to his astonishment he passed her making her way up the steep hill on her hands and knees. The mass meant so much to this woman that she would get there no matter what. Apparently this brought about his conversion, he was so shocked at what he saw.
In recent years many people have dropped away from going to church or to mass. Many younger people especially don’t seem to be able to relate to organised religion. In one way I am not at all surprise at this, because it has been presented in such a negative way. So often the Church is seen as an oppressive organisation which is obsessed with rules, regulations and strange rituals. Who would want to be part of such a thing? I certainly wouldn’t if that was how I saw it. I believe what many people are searching for is an authentic experience of God, which must come before rules and regulations. For many people, this is what is missing. Once our relationship with God begins to grow, then the rules and regulations begin to fit into place, but it cannot be the other way around.
It is tempting to think that it is all over for the Church and organised religion, and that it is only a matter of time before it is gone. This would be true if it came down to human power only, but remember that behind what we can see is the power of God at work. Whenever the Church seems to be going ‘stale’, or seems to be less inspiring for people, God raises up men and women who inspire us again and to point us in the right direction.
A few years ago I read a book called The Heavenly Man about a young man in China to whom God began speaking when he was just sixteen. He was born in 1958, which means he is only 56 today. This man Yun, was not a Christian and knew hardly anything about God, but God revealed himself to him and used him to start spreading the Christian faith in China. He suffered terrible persecution from the authorities, who did everything they could to try and stop him. He was imprisoned several times and at this stage lives outside of China. Although he came from an extremely poor background and had almost no education, God filled this man with such fire that thousands of people all over China came to believe in God through him. People were very inspired by him because his faith was obviously something alive and on fire. That kind of faith is always contagious. He is just one example of the many ways that God puts life back into his Church.
Another way it seems to be happening today is through a mystic I mentioned a few months back known as Anne a lay apostle. Through her a whole movement has started which is known as Direction for Our Times and that's exactly what it is. She is a mother of six, and through her books many people are also being inspired to grow in their relationship with God. Since 2005 when her writings started to be published, over one million copies have already been sold worldwide and her writings have already been translated into numerous languages. They can hardly keep up with the demand. The reason why this is happening is because we need inspiration and so the Lord God sends us the people we need to help us.
The one thing that is striking about all these different people and how God uses them, is that people are reintroduced to God through a relationship with him. The experience of God has to come first and then the various rules begin to fit into place, because then and only then, people want to know how they are supposed to live that relationship.
How does this apply to us? Well first I think it is good to know that all these people are being inspired so that we don’t become discouraged. It is also a reminder of how close the Lord is to us and looking after our needs. What we are called to do is to live our faith as well as we can. If God is at the heart of all that we do, then we are constantly bearing witness to the people around us. Our love for God has to be in the first place. Everything else comes from this.
You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.
The more difficult challenge for us is to be able to love, respect and be tolerant of the people around us, who can often be challenging and difficult. However, the strength and ability to love and respect the people around us comes from our relationship with God. That’s why the commandment to love God has to be first. The more our relationship with God develops, the more we are enabled to love the people around us. We need grace, or what you might call divine help to do this. That is why we keep returning to mass each week, to be guided and inspired by the word of God and then to receive the Eucharist—Jesus himself—into our own bodies. With this divine strength and help we are enabled to love the people around us.
You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind...and your neighbour as yourself.