“…find me on my knees with my soul laid bare” (Delirious?, Find Me In The River)
There’s part of a homily that you think might be better left out because it’s too focused on self, but it turns out to be one of the pieces that people connect with. The bit about me going round the empty church on my hands and knees on a Sunday evening.
We are beginning to listen to the Sermon on the Mount in Chapters five, six and seven of Matthew’s Gospel, teachings that are central to the teaching of Jesus. They are Divine Revelation and not optional extras. Jesus is presented as the new Moses who climbed Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments that were inscribed on stone by God Himself, Commandments that are the foundation of the faith of Israel.
Here Jesus goes up the Mount of the Beatitudes to deliver the New Law and that he sits down to teach emphasises the importance of what he is saying. He teaches “ex cathedra!”
The translation of the Beatitudes that we have had for many years is no longer regarded as accurate by Scripture scholars. How happy are the poor in spirit. Happy are those who mourn, those persecuted in the cause of right. We do not experience happiness when we are grieving the loss of one we love. Persecution does not bring feelings of happiness with it. Even Jesus Himself did not experience happiness in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Blessed is the better word. Happiness is hap-hazard and inconsistent whereas Blessedness is a constant state of being. Blessed are the poor in spirit. The blessedness comes from Jesus. It is ours when we have Him at the centre of our lives. This is the other movement that takes place at the beginning of the Sermon of Jesus – the disciples come away from the crowd and gather around Jesus. Their eyes, ears and lives are focused on Him and in this they are blessed, no matter what else may be going on in their lives.
We are called to apply the Gospel to our lives, to find beatitude, the blessedness that is ours in our present day experiences.
Over the past three weekends we have been experiencing a bit of disruption in our church at the hands of a few very wild boys, a wildness that I have rarely seen. I met them the first Saturday evening when they were running in and out of the church making an awful racket. So, I spoke with them outside, in a friendly way. There were about five of them aged between about ten and twelve years. We chatted back and forth. They were shouting but there was no sense of threat. One of them occasionally let out a most unmerciful scream – primeval – and I wondered what could have caused such a sound to emerge from a child. I told them we were starting Mass and that we needed quiet. They left.
Sunday evening, I returned from visiting someone. It was about 6pm and I leave the church open until 7pm most days. When I walked in I saw the people’s Mass books scattered around the floor and the children’s pencils scattered throughout the church with some newspapers. This was repeated the following two Sundays.
The third time they brought stuff in with them, possibly taken from a skip. A slow cooker, a carpet cleaner which they emptied out on the side aisle. Pencils and votive candles were scattered throughout the church.
This is what brought me to my hands and knees each of the Sunday evenings. My knees challenge me in that bending to pick something up can be very difficult at times and it is easier once I’m down to stay down. So, there I was crawling around the church on hands and knees picking up the bits and pieces. A fly on the wall might be breaking its sides laughing at the sight of me. I laugh myself. Many people after Mass commented that they understand my knees because they experience the same reality. It’s a connection!
The third object that had missed my attention was a dirty white mattress that had been placed on the altar and it was this more than anything that made my heart sink. It was a step too far, an invasion of what is most sacred and I wondered how much further they would go next time.
So, there on hands and knees, I was asking where is the blessing in all of this and it dawned on me – blessed are you when you are brought down to your hands and knees to pray for these boys. And that’s what I started and continued to do – “pray for those who persecute you and treat you badly.”
The heart of the Father in me, my priestly heart was moved to think of these boys as I would think of my own sons, what I would earnestly want for my own sons, a better way of living, the healing of whatever it is that ails them. Of course I would also like to give them a good telling off to bring them to their senses. But concern is uppermost. This is a blessing.
And there too I found myself singing Find Me in the River by Deleirous? – “if the blessing’s in the valley, then in the river I will wait. Find me in the river, find me there. Find me on my knees with my soul laid bare.” My soul laid bare in the best and most beautiful sense, laid bare to God to become like Him. Sean told me about a play in which God is portrayed as the “Cleaner, a skivvy, cleaning up the mess.” It’s who Jesus was, He who emptied Himself, taking the condition of the slave washing feet at the Last Supper (John 13 and Philippians 2). May I become this.
Another blessing was the response of the parish to the situation, their concern for my safety and for the protection of our church. The love that we all have for this place. And the children were so put out that naughty boys could do such a thing.
Blessed too is the response of parishioners who want to reach out to the boys in a positive way to offer them some kind of coaching. And those who volunteered to stand outside Mass on Saturday evening to keep an eye on things in case there might be a disturbance; those who came to be present in the church Sunday afternoon so that such presence might deter a repeat occurrence.
There was no repeat. The police had visited the church a few times since we made the problem public and they came Saturday to say they had discovered the identities of two of the boys and had spoken to their families. I told them how members of the parish wanted to offer help to the boys.
What became clear to the people keeping vigil on Sunday afternoon was the importance of the open doors of the church, the number of people who dropped in through the afternoon to find some solace and peace. An affirmation of our open-door policy. There was no repeat of the vandalism this week and probably will not be again.
The following lines are part of a poem written by a friend in response to the incidences:
“They know not what they do, and know not even that.
Sad Crusaders seeking comfort for their angry souls.
Who to blame? It’s hard. We fill our skips, with wounded hearts and lives.”
My own soul is sustained by the constant outpouring of love that I experience in this parish, a love that was at its peak on this weekend of my 68th Birthday and it included some beautiful portraits of me and cards from the children, one of which I share here.