The oddest thing! Walking home in the dark my eye caught sight of a piece of paper trapped at the base of a seafront bench. It was flapping in the wind and it looked somehow familiar. I bent to pick it up. A Pallottine Mass League certificate that was issued at the Pallottine College, Thurles in 1996 when I was a member of the community there. I recognized the script and know who typed it but have no knowledge of the person enrolled. So, I googled his name when I got home. Flight Lieutenant Gregory Mark Noble died at the age of 28 in an RAF air accident which happened in Norfolk in January 1996. Why should this distinctively Pallottine document find its way into the path of the only Pallottine in this town? I find myself praying for him, for his family, for the secretary who typed the cert, her family, for the rector of the college and the community. But mostly I pray for Greg himself and his memory. Such a sad loss of a young life.
Before the paper caught my eye, I had been pondering what I would say next Sunday – the Gospel of the Ten Lepers and the Canonization of Blessed John Henry Newman. The latter had a significant impact on my young life. On one occasion I misused him for my own advantage. Coming up to an examination in public reading in College, a friend told me that the President was particularly fond of John Henry Newman so I chose to read a piece written by him and the President was so wowed that I won the first prize in English. It wasn’t right to manipulate the situation in that way and I’m not proud it.
More significantly, John Henry Newman touched my life through his hymn ‘Lead Kindly Light’ which became my constant prayer during a two-year vocation crisis when I felt I was unsuited for life as a priest. It is a prayer that I turn to even now when I am uncertain about the path that lies ahead.
- Lead, kindly Light, amid
th’ encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on;
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
- I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead Thou me on;
I loved the garish day, and spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will; remember not past years.
- So long Thy pow’r has blest me, sure it still
Wilt lead me on,
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
Jesus is the kindly light that led John Henry Newman to the Truth that eventually led him through various stages of conversion into the Catholic Church; Jesus is the kindly light that drew the Lepers (Luke 17:11-19) from the shadows to the experience of healing; Jesus is the kindly light that leads us to the Truth and to New Life in Him.
It is often the experience of a crisis of some sort that sends us seeking Jesus with all the intensity of our need, when we have the desire to be healed like the leper Naaman (2 Kings 5:14-17) whose flesh became like that of a little child, the desire to be restored to the spiritual and emotional purity of the child. And when our feet become unstable and sore, our physical feet and all else that becomes unsteady in life, it is to Jesus we turn – “keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.” We learn from Him the wisdom of taking one step at a time, one moment at a time and not allow the distant scene of the future to overwhelm us.
Central to the kindly leading of Christ is the path that leads to gratitude, that I become a person who sees reasons for giving thanks to God, one in whom gratitude grows the more I express it, in the way that love between two people grows the more it is expressed and shared.
The great loss in life is that we take God for granted, that we use Him for our own advantage and when we have received what we need we become one of the nine who go away and do not return. It is common enough for people to use religion in this way. Perhaps it is true that nine times out of ten we behave like this in relation to God, short changing ourselves in the process. But even when this is true, the kindly light of Jesus finds ways of leading us, seducing us, drawing us to Himself in spite of ourselves and all of our mixed motives. I’ve seen this many times and it is a wonderful grace. “We may be unfaithful, but He is always faithful!” (2 Timothy 2:8-13)