One of the things I was very blessed with as a young priest, was getting to know a Baptist minister and his wife who worked in Galway; Kelly and Susan Curry. He and his wife had come over from the States because they felt the Lord was calling them there and they set up a centre in Galway to encourage people to come back to their faith. They weren’t trying to convert people to become Baptist, rather this centre was about encouraging people to take their faith more seriously and of course most of the people who came there were Catholic simply because there were more Catholics around than anyone else. But the reason I feel very blessed to have come to know them is because it opened my mind to different ways of faith. I got to know Kelly best. He wasn’t Catholic, but he was obviously a man of God and filled with the Spirit. Kelly has been a great source of encouragement and support to me as a priest. As I got to know him it helped me to realise that God was working in and through him just as much as through any priest I knew. Now maybe that should be obvious, but when you grow up in one particular way of faith, it is not always obvious and often we can be suspicious of people who don’t see things as we do, but God works through many different people in many different ways. Many people I know have been greatly helped by the work they do there in that centre. It is called An Tobar Nua (The New Well).
I know that many parents and grandparents at this time are distressed as they see their children no longer practicing or going to church. While it is a tragedy to us, it doesn’t mean that they have lost faith. We believe God offers us an extraordinary treasure in the mass and through the different sacraments and of course we would like that for others, especially for our children. But at this time many young people have become disillusioned with the Church and with official religion, and often for very understandable reasons. In many ways it is hard to blame them, they have probably more reasons than most to be turned off by it. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have faith, or that they are not searching for God. People are always searching for God. It seems to be an almost instinctual need within us. While they may find it difficult to relate to the Church at this time, that doesn’t mean that God is not reaching out to them, or guiding them.
Just as getting to know my Baptist friend helped me to realise that here are many ways God speaks to people, I think it is good for us to remember that God is still speaking to them and guiding them, perhaps in ways that we do not recognise or would never have imagined. I am continually struck by the great goodness that I have met in so many people, often people who have no interest in the Church at all. But they do their best to live good lives and help the people they meet, often with great generosity. They do believe in God, but they don’t relate to God through the means that we are used to.
Having said all that, I also think it’s amazing how people are still being drawn to the Church and to religious life. This year 5 young men joined us here in the Dominicans. Last year 6 entered. The year before 2 and the year before that 13. So God is at work around us all the time and that is something that should help us to take heart.
The readings today are also about how God gives his Spirit to whomever He wishes, often in ways that we don’t expect. The Apostles were surprised, just as the men in the time of Moses were surprised, when they found others teaching and healing in God’s name. But Jesus said to them, ‘Don’t stop them…If they are not against us they are with us.’
There are many paths and ways to God, although that is not saying that they are all the same. We believe that the path God has revealed to us is the true path, because it is Jesus the Son of God who has taught us this. And if the Son of God has taught us this then it is the true path with the most extraordinary gifts to help us: above all the Eucharist, the gift of Jesus’ own Body and Blood; the Word of God; the healing we receive through confession and many other things. We hope and pray that others will discover these treasures too. But God goes on reaching out to people all around us in so many ways that we will probably never know about. I think part of what we are called to, is to pray for the people around us that they will discover God too. We are blessed to have been given the gift of faith. So now let us pray that God will help us to be sign-posts to him, by the way we live our faith. Amen.