Saturday, January 30, 2010

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Gospel: Luke 4:21-30) Love is our greatest calling

Yesterday I was talking to a married friend of mine and we were talking about the struggles of married life and religious life. He was saying jokingly that when a couple walk up the aisle, the man is usually thinking, ‘I hope she always remains the way she is now.’ And the woman is usually thinking, ‘I can’t wait to change him.’ There is probably some truth in that!

There is an extraordinary quotation that I want to read you, written by someone famous in the middle of their life. See if you can guess who it is.
'Since 49 or 50 this terrible sense of loss—this untold darkness—this loneliness—this continual longing for God—which gives me that pain deep down in my heart.—Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason.—The place of God in my soul is blank.—There is no God in me.—When the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God—and then it is that I feel—He does not want me—He is not there. —...God does not want me.—Sometimes—I just hear my own heart cry out—“My God” and nothing else comes.—The torture and pain I can’t explain.'

This was written by Mother Teresa of Calcutta when she was about 51. It is not what you expect to hear someone like her saying, someone who so radiated the love of God and brought such joy and hope wherever she went. Her own experience was one of interior darkness for most of her life. [There is a wonderful book which only came out in 2007 called Come Be My Light, (editor Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC), which gives an amazing insight into the interior struggles of Mother Teresa.] For me this quotation raises the question, ‘what does this tell us about the path to love and the path that is love, since this is what her whole life was about?’ One thing it says to me is that the path of love is not an easy one. I’m sure you all know that from trying to make relationships work. No doubt for those of you who are married you know it at a deeper level again.

I believe that probably the most difficult, but also the most important part of the journey of love is self-sacrifice. It’s also the part that we resist the most. If we want to grow it requires a lot of self-sacrifice. I see from many married friends of mine, especially when they have children, the total self-sacrifice that is involved. So often I have heard first time parents say 'nothing could have prepared us for the demands of this baby!' The problem is that at the same time we are constantly being told that we should be able to have everything our own way. However, if we were able to have everything our own way we probably wouldn’t grow very much, because real growth requires a lot of self-sacrifice.

Why would God make Mother Teresa, who was bringing such love and such hope to so many people, go through this kind of darkness and almost despair? Perhaps this was part of the self-sacrifice that she was asked to give because of the extraordinary way that God used her.

I think it is good for us to be reminded that this life requires a lot of self-sacrifice, no matter what state of life we find ourselves in. It is simply part of the journey and not something we should be afraid of. We are mostly presented with the romantic side of love, which is wonderful and is a great gift to us, but it is only a short part of the journey. The long-term journey is much more demanding, but is also much more rewarding. Both stages are wonderful but very different.

The ultimate witness of love is that of Jesus dying on the cross, showing us that God is prepared to completely sacrifice himself for us. God also asks us to follow his example. That doesn’t mean that we have to run off somewhere and do something completely different. It happens in our own life wherever we find ourselves. But I think it is good to be reminded that the demands that are constantly being asked of us are part of what helps us grow in love and grow closer to God. It depends how we respond to each situation of course. We could equally become totally selfish. But if we continually try to respond to the situations we meet with generosity and love, then through this the Lord will help us to grow.

God is also saying to us not to be afraid of the demands that are made of us, because He is with us and will give us the strength we need. That is what the first reading is saying. Don’t be afraid of it, because God is also with us to sustain us, and we will make it. That’s also what the whole idea of the sacrament of marriage is all about. The couple promise before God to try to be faithful to each other and they also ask God to be with them. It is the same in religious life, and indeed in every way of life. God assures us that He is with us and so there is nothing to be afraid of.

Love is our highest calling and our greatest calling and although it can be very demanding and ask not less than everything of us, it is worth it.

‘In the end there are three things that last: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.’

Saturday, January 23, 2010

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Gospel: Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21) -He has sent me to bring good news to the poor

(I'm back, after a few days away and a week with the flu!)

A few years ago a priest friend of mine told me the following story. He is a Dominican priest and he was based in Tallaght (Dublin) at the time, where they were using a make-shift chapel which was a bit cramped. The chapel was jammed as they were celebrating the Easter Vigil and he said that the reader was reading the account of creation in Genesis. While he was reading this piece of Scripture a wino came up to the top of the chapel and sat down right underneath where the man was reading and listened to the reading. When he got to the part of the reading that says ‘and God saw all that He had made and indeed it was very good,’ the wino said out loud, ‘you’re havin’ me on!’ Then the reader went on to the next part and again when he got to the part ‘and God saw all that He had made and indeed it was very good’, again the wino said out loud ‘you’re having me on!’ While it might have seemed very ignorant of the man to interrupt the reading like this, what he was saying was that this might be what the scriptures say about the world, but it certainly wasn’t his experience.

How do we make sense of a reading like today’s Gospel which says that Jesus, the anointed one of God, came to bring good news to the poor, to free prisoners, etc? For many people, such as that wino, and indeed so many others too, their experience of the world is that it is a difficult place where often things don’t work out. Think of the people of Haiti at this time, trying to make sense of their lives now when they have lost so many loved ones and all their material things too. What could possibly be ‘good news’ for them?

The ‘good news’ that the Son of God came to tell us is that there is a purpose to our lives. We are here for a reason. Our lives are not meaningless and the meaning of our lives does not depend on how ‘successful’ or otherwise things seem to be for us in this world. How well we do on the outside is really secondary. What is primary is what happens inside us, in the heart. God has created us to love and to blossom as people. Hopefully we will also do well on the outside and be able to provide for our loved ones and enjoy this life too, but whether or not everything works out well for us is really secondary. The only thing that really matters is that we realise what the purpose of our life is about—to love God and the people around us. That is something that everyone can do, no matter what their circumstances.

I used to visit a man in prison for a couple of years while I was studying to be a priest. He was in for a very serious crime and he was doing a life sentence. As far as I know he is still in prison. (A life sentence means you are convicted for life and will usually serve at least 12-15 years). Having got to know him I also realised that he was basically a very good man himself. The crime he committed, which was a murder, was one of these bizarre things that happens where 30 seconds either way and he would never have met the person he killed. Now his life is apparently ruined and he will spend most of it in prison. Does this mean that his life is meaningless, or totally wasted? Not necessarily so; it depends on what goes on inside him more than anything else, because that is what God sees and that is what God will judge him by. That is what God will judge all of us by: how we have loved. Whether we end up living on the street, in prison, or being the president of some huge company is really not that important. Of course we should try to make the most of the opportunities that we are given, but if we can see that the purpose of our lives is much deeper than just what we achieve on the outside, in the world’s eyes, then we will have an inner strength that will help us keep going no matter what happens.

This ‘good news’ that we often talk about, is that we are loved, we are noticed, we are valued, and there is a purpose to our lives. We are not just here by chance. God deliberately created us. God wants us here at this particular time in history, in the particular family that we are part of. If I cannot see this bigger picture then my life may appear to be meaningless, or pointless, especially if things haven’t worked out the way I think they should have. But that is to limit my purpose to my own very limited way of seeing the world. If I try to see it with the eyes of faith, then I will see something quite different. To understand that is to give sight to the blind and freedom to those who are imprisoned. It’s not just prisons like ‘Mountjoy’ in Dublin either, but the kind of prison of the mind that tells me that my life is a waste of time. No one’s life is a waste of time if we realise that God wants us here. Our job here is primarily to love God and to love the people around us. We leave the rest up to God.

I came that you may have life and have it to the full’ (John 10:10)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2nd Sunday of Christmas Year C (Gospel John 1:1-18) Apart from God we are nothing

Justify Full
Ten years ago we celebrated the beginning of the third millennium, which seems hard to believe. I remember at the time listening to some of the many speeches given by politicians and leaders boasting of all the great things the human race had achieved; and it’s true we have achieved many great things. But one thing that was noticeably absent was any mention of God. It was all about what we had done ourselves, by our own strength, by our own power. I think we can be quick to forget that everything we have and are comes from God. There is a lovely line at the beginning of Psalm 126 which says ‘If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labour.’ In other words, if God is not with us in what we do, we are wasting our time.

Over the last year we have seen so many changes in this country alone: the economy collapsing, crazy weather patterns, structures in the Church collapsing, so many people dying of cancer in spite of all our sophistication. Perhaps one thing that this forces us to remember is how small we are by ourselves, and how easily we can lose everything, even overnight. While this can be very painful I think it can also be very good, because it reminds us how much we depend on God for everything. Yes we have achieved great things, but it is thanks to all God has given us: the intelligence, the opportunities, the vision. All comes from God.

The reading today from St. John's Gospel says it so beautifully, ‘In the beginning was the Word… not one thing had its being, but through him.’ God was there first and we are part of his creation, not the other way around. He is not an optional extra for us. We are the optional extra for him. God didn’t have to create us. God didn’t have to give us all that we have. But the Lord wants us to share in his own happiness, that’s what He has created us for. And we will share in this happiness, if we keep to the right path.

We cannot go forward without God. We will never have peace without God. We can not exist without God. We are nothing without him. And with Christ there is nothing that we cannot do, because we do not have to depend on our own strength, but on his.

At the beginning of every new year people make resolutions to begin again, to try to improve their lifestyle, by giving up something, or taking up something. I would like to put to you the words of Pope John Paul II: in one of his addresses he said, ‘In the name of God I beg you, choose for Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.’ He is the only way, and our only hope of a good future, with peace and prosperity. Maybe we could include this as part of our new year’s resolution. Choose to be a follower of Christ, live what you believe, know your faith and teach it to your children, so that our world may be centered on Christ, whose world it is anyway.

We go forward with great hope, because there is always great hope for anyone who believes in God. When God is with us, we have nothing to be afraid of. ‘In the name of God I beg you, choose Christ, who is the way the truth and the life.’ Happy new year to you all.