There is a fascinating account given by a man known as Brother Andrew, about his travels around the world visiting the different communities of the Missionaries of Charity. He was a Jesuit priest, who died just a few years ago, and he helped Mother Teresa to establish the male part of that order. For some time he had to go around and visit all the new communities. He wrote a sort of diary called What I Met Along the Way, which is an account of just that; what he met along the way.
One thing that is so obvious from his book and indeed the accounts of many others too, is the fact that in the western world while we have so much materially, so many people are absolutely starving spiritually. He says that it was always in the wealthiest countries that he met the most hatred, anger, loneliness and despair. He spoke about Sweden in particular, where the government provide just about everything you can think of for anyone in need. They will give you a house, money, food, healthcare. They also have abortion on demand, paid for by the government. Sweden had, at that time anyway, the highest suicide rate in the world. He said that three times the crucifix they had attached to the door of their little community was ripped off. They had the greatest material wealth, but also the greatest spiritual poverty. All over Europe, America and Australia you meet the same thing: people who are spiritually starved and you can see it in their faces: meaninglessness, loneliness and despair.
At funerals I am often struck at the look in people’s faces; people desperate for some meaning and for some way to make sense of what they are being faced with. They are searching for the purpose and hope that we already have come to understand through our faith. Many of them don't practice their faith and often they have plenty of excuses not to, but they are also missing out on one of the greatest things that our faith can give us and that is purpose and hope. Our faith helps us to understand what our life is about.
You might say, ‘So what if they don’t practice their faith? They are good people.’ I have no doubt they are good people, but being good on its own is not enough. We need to have some purpose as to why we are here and even as to why we should be good to others. It is faith that gives us that purpose. It tells us that we are loved and valued, and so that enables us to love others. It reminds us that God has a purpose for us, that God promises us eternal life with him, and that enables us to endure hard times without despairing. Most of all it tells us that our time here on earth is not the whole picture, but is a time of service, where life is not easy a lot of the time, but we are asked to put up with it, knowing that we are heading for a better life. Depending on whether you believe that or not makes a big difference as to how you live your life.
|What the people saw at Knock, Ireland in 1879|
In 1879, in a small village in the west of Ireland called Knock, fifteen people saw an apparition. They saw a lamb standing on an altar, surrounded by angels; to one side was Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John. The apparition lasted for two hours, but it was completely silent. What did it mean? The lamb on the altar symbolized the mass and it was surrounded by the angels and saints. It was heaven's way of telling the people that they were on the right track and not to lose heart. At that time the Irish had just come through a terrible time of suffering, between religious persecution and the great famine which wiped out about one third of the population, but the people had remained faithful and heaven seemed to be encouraging them, saying ‘We know that it is not easy, but we are with you.’ We also need that encouragement.
The readings today point to the fact that we are prophets, or ambassadors for Christ, witnesses to Jesus and to the reality of God and the afterlife. The faith that we have, even if you think that your faith is small, helps us to keep going when it is difficult, and God knows it is difficult a lot of the time: work pressure, family pressure, sickness, death, etc. It is easy to forget that many people do not have the faith that we have, even if it is little, which means they don’t have something to turn to when life is difficult and that is a big problem.
So what is our role? Our role is simply to live our faith as best we can, to be faithful to whatever duty the Lord calls us to, be it our families, our work, or religious life, etc. The way we live speaks to other people. We don’t have to open our mouth, people see it in us. They see that we have hope just by the way we live.
Remember the words of Jesus to his followers: ‘You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.’ He is speaking to us and telling us that we have a role to play, a very important one, reminding people of what this life is about, just by living as people who believe in God.
Christians have always been different from the rest of society. They have stood out and been noticed because they live with a different purpose. We have a different vision of the world. Our world at the moment desperately needs that vision. Even little things like blessing yourself passing a church, or saying ‘God bless’, or ‘thank God’ and not using the name of Jesus as a swear word, which is blasphemy. Our world needs the hope that we have. Let us not be afraid to bear witness to the faith that God has blessed us with. It may be the difference that enables someone to keep going, or to lose hope.