|The Irish College, Rome.
As a priest, I often find myself in a position which is very similar to what we hear about in the first reading from the prophet Amos (7:12-15), even though this is 2000 years later. In modern English it might sound something like this: ‘Look Fr. Murchadh go and talk about God somewhere else. We don’t want to hear about it here, we are important people and we are busy with our own lives.’ And I might say, ‘Why don’t you listen to me?! I didn’t choose to do this. God ordered me to go and speak to you, and now you can take it or leave it.’
In one way we priests—and indeed anyone who teaches about the ways of God—are still in the same position today. We are asked to pass on the same message of Christ, regardless of whether people listen to us or not. This is not an easy thing to do, as people often don’t want to hear what we have to say, especially if it’s controversial. There is a big temptation for us, for me, to try to say what people would like to hear, so that people will think well of me, because like anyone else, I want to be accepted by other people too. But that is not what we are called to do by the Lord.
We are called by the Lord to do a specific job, and that is to tell people about him and his message; to tell people that Jesus is the way to the Father and that because of his death and resurrection forgiveness is offered to us; that He is the way for us to find happiness and that God has made himself known to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
The message that the Lord calls us to preach, often meets with opposition, as it has since the first Prophets began speaking in his name, because that same message challenges us when we are doing wrong and no one likes to be told that they are doing wrong. Most of the Prophets were murdered because of what they said. It is interesting that almost all of them resisted when God called them to go and speak to the people. For the most part their response was, ‘No Lord, please ask someone else. I am not able to do that!’
|Depiction of people going to John the Baptist
For me, there was a real sense of being called to be a priest, to be his messenger and that call continues every day. Twice in the last twenty years, I thought I could no longer continue, but again I had a distinct sense of being called to keep going and God gave me the strength to persevere. Many of the characters in the Bible were the same. The prophet Elijah, after working an extraordinary miracle, then has a death threat against him. He flees into the desert, sits down under a tree and says, ‘Lord, take my life, I am no better than my ancestors’ (1Kg 19:4). In other words, ‘I wish I was dead. I have had enough of this!’ It says that he lay down and went to sleep, but then an angel woke him and told him to eat the food that was there, as he would need it for the journey. God doesn’t let him off the hook, but pushes him to keep going.
The prophet Jeremiah complains that all he is getting for his preaching is abuse. He says that he tried to resist, but couldn’t.
But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot (Jer 20:9).
God’s response is not to say, ‘Poor Jeremiah, you are having a bad day. Take some time off and you’ll be ok.’ No, the Lord pushes him to be strong and keep going.
|(Far right) Fr. Ragheed Ganni, martyr, killed in Iraq 2007
In the last six years in Mexico, twenty-five priests were murdered. It’s not sure exactly why, but it is probably because they were speaking out against the terrible violence and corruption that exists, largely because of the drug Cartels. Preaching God’s word is not always popular, but that is what He asks us to do. I personally know two priests who were murdered: Fr. Ragheed Ganni (1972-2007) in Iraq for continuing to keep the church open and celebrate mass. He was continually warned by extremists to close the church, but he wouldn’t and so they ambushed him after mass and shot him along with three deacons. The other man I know, Bishop Michael Courtney (1945-2003), was working in Burundi, Africa, to bring about peace between two warring tribes. He was also ambushed and shot. That’s pretty-much what they did with the prophets too. If they didn’t like what they were hearing, they killed them.
So, pray for us priests that we will have the courage to do what the Lord calls us to do. Help us to be strong in our faith. It is not our place to preach our opinions, but to preach the Word of God. Our opinions will not help or nourish you, but the Word of God will. What we say should challenge you, because the voice of the Lord is a very challenging one. Hearing about all those priests and prophets who were killed might seem bleak, but it is really a sign of how powerful God’s word is and how much we need to listen to what God is saying to us.
Perhaps it seems like I’m preaching to the converted, but I believe that if we really want to grow in our faith, then we need to continually re-decide to follow Jesus Christ. The world around us may not agree with us, or like the way we live, but it has always been like that. Many people today are deciding not to be Christian anymore, sometimes consciously, sometimes through indifference. But the Lord is very strong in the Gospels about indifference. He demands a decision from us.
If any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet as a sign to them.