St. Patrick’s Day

Status

I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God, and he looked down on my lowliness and had mercy on my youthful ignorance. He guarded me before I knew him, and before I came to wisdom and could distinguish between good and evil, He protected me and consoled me as a father does his son.

patrick

PRAYERS FOR NOVEMBER

Status

 

INTERCESSIONS FOR THE DECEASED AND THE BEREAVED

We remember our own dead and our own sadness … Tears speak out our grief, but they also witness to our love and we are glad to have loved so much that we can cry.  May those we have loved rest in your embrace, O Lord.  

Click HERE for more intercessions

DAILY PRAYERS FOR NOVEMBER

ALL SOULS DAY

Prayer for the Release of a Loved One from Alcohol or Drug Addiction Through the Divine Mercy and Love of Jesus

Lord Jesus, I put myself into Your hands this day. I ask You, with all my heart, to cure the terrible addiction to alcohol (drugs) in (name the person). Create in them an intolerance for alcohol (drugs) that will prevent them ever offending those who love them again. And grant their loved ones the grace to forgive them for all the hurt they have caused. Through the Divine Mercy and blood of Jesus, I also pray that they will be healed of all withdrawal symptoms of this terrible affliction. I sincerely ask this, in the name of Jesus. Amen

Prayer for Mercy for the Dying

O merciful Jesus, lover of souls, I beseech You, by the agony of Your Most Sacred Heart and by the sorrows of Your Immaculate Mother, wash clean in Your Blood the sinners of the whole world who are now in their final agony, but especially those on their way to eternal damnation and who are to die this day. Heart of Jesus who suffered death’s agony, I beg You have mercy on these poor souls. Amen

Prayer for Mercy for the Souls in Purgatory

Eternal Father, I offer You the most precious blood of Your Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, for those in my own home and within my own family. Amen

Being Transformed and Helping Transformation

Status

Being Transformed and Helping Transformation – Liam O’Donovan SAC

Liam Donovan sacWhen Fr. Liam suggested that I base my talk on the Transfiguration I was struggling, with what to talk about. I asked a number of people for ideas and the reoccurring theme was transformation. So the general theme is “Being Transformed and Helping Transformation.”

When I first began to as I read and meditated on the Gospel I couldn’t see transformation. OK, Jesus is transfigured, but, as we will see, the disciples are not transformed by this experience. Their attitude before and after doesn’t seem to change. But if we take into consideration what frames the account of the Transfiguration, the events occurring before and what its leading up to we can see the disciples are being prepared for transformation.

Let’s just imagine the scene for a moment:

 Jesus decides to go up the mountain and he brings three of his disciples with him Peter, James and John. A few days earlier the Jesus made the first prediction of his forthcoming passion, his suffering and death. Peter as we know was scandalised and he rebuked Jesus for this: “There’s no way I’m going to let this happen.” He was full of his own ideas of what he wanted. You can just imagine him insisting with Jesus you know, “this is the way it is going to be—let there be no talk of this suffer and dying business.” He wanted to control the situation. But Jesus was quick to set him straight. “Get behind me Satan. He identified Peter with Satan, speaking on behalf of Satan by opposing to the cross. He accused Peter of thinking in human way and not God’s ways. And then he calls all disciples together and announces: You cannot come after me unless deny yourself take up your cross and follow me. Any who saves his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake and the sake of the Gospel will save it. The disciples thought they had it made; by being close companions to Jesus the Messiah they were going to have honour, power, privilege, wealth and glory. But Jesus completely overturns their ideas teaching them that disciples of the kingdom are to lay down their lives for others in imitation of him.

So as their heading up the mountain they must have been disturbed by these ideas; their heads must have been swirling. There on the mountain Jesus’ glory was revealed. His face shone and his clothing became radiant. For a moment the veil of his humanity, which had been shrouding his divine identity, was lifted. After this glimpse of Jesus’ glory, Peter, James and John were convinced beyond a doubt that Jesus was no mere human teacher, but the Son of God.

So did this experience transform the disciples? Not really; not at all actually. Soon after they were squabbling among themselves about who was the greatest among them. And James and John, who were with Him on the mountain, requested that they would have seats at his right and his left in his glory. They were still in this mind set of personal glory, and prestige, their attitude hadn’t changed a bit.

Their transformation only takes place after they go through the experience of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Only then can they enter the life of the Spirit and finally give their own lives in imitation of Christ. What sustained the disciples through this was their experience at the transfiguration. These three who were to lead the disciples were able to endure the terror and tragedy of Christ’s passion because they had had been given a glimpse of the glory of the risen Christ. This gave them strength and hope to persevere.

Relevance for us

So how is this relevant to us as Christian today, as members of the UAC. A predominant theme that the Transfiguration speaks to us of is our prayer life. St. Pope John Paul II said about the our relation to the Transfiguration: “Like the three chosen disciples, the Church contemplates the transfigured face of Christ in order to be confirmed in faith and to avoid being dismayed at his disfigured face on the Cross.” So the story of Transfiguration is directing us to prayer, to contemplate Christ so that we can receive the grace, the strength, the hope we need as we face our daily crosses—the struggles and trials that we encounter in our lives. We can all I’m sure identify with the apostles as they go up the mountain with their hearts full of worry and anxiety. I know I often enter prayer with the distractions of what has happened that day or what burdens lay in the future. But that hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament, this encounter with Jesus, seems to bring a peace to any situation and the courage to face the challenges that come my way.

It’s not that you have to have dramatic experience like the apostles. I once read a story about St. Jean-Marie Vianney (The cure’ of Ars). He once noticed a man come in to the church and stay for hours in front of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The Cure asked the man what do you say during all that time before Jesus in the Eucharist? The man replied, “Nothing, I look at Him and He looks at me.” 

What passes between you and the Lord can often be hidden form you—it’s deeper than senses and emotions. As the story of the disciples shows us we’re not in control of what is given to us in prayer. It’s not so much what we say or do, but just gazing at Jesus and obeying the Father’s command “To listen to Him” with an open heart. Allowing the grace of the Lord to pass over us. This is particularly true when we receive the Eucharist, our Transfiguration encounter par excellence, our food for the journey.

The rule St. Vincent Pallotti left for us is the imitation of Christ.  Of course he understood that this could only be accomplished by contemplating Christ. He said:

“Never lose sight of the divine Exemplar, Jesus, but always contemplate him with the trust of receiving the grace of imitating Him.”

(All quotes from Pallotti taken from Yearning of a Soul: A study of St. Vincent Pallotti’s Spiritual Doctrine by Flavian Bonifazi, S.A.C)

So in prayer we contemplate how he acted, how he spoke, how he dealt with people, how he prayed. We bring this contemplation to prayer because it’s not just a question of thinking about these ideas, but allowing grace to act in us so that they become part of us. Again Pallotti wrote:

“Every Christian piously enjoys the thought of imitating Jesus, but only a few constantly and really strive to imitate Him because only a few pay attention to it. The more people internalise such religious thought, the more they will strive to imitate Him and, consequently, the more the love of Christ increases in them.”

The truth is that we faced with different challenges and situations than Christ did. Our society, our context, our world is not the same as His was, so we can’t just look at his external actions and say that this is what I have to do in this situation. We need to internalise them, to have his Spirit so that we can do what he would do if he was faced with our challenges and trials. This is what our prayerful contemplation and listening are about.

“To effectively imitate our Lord Jesus Christ, we must above all have His Spirit. Thus, all the interior operations of our soul become similar to those of the same Lord Jesus Christ.”

So as we face the challenges of our lives we have this we can respond almost instinctively as Jesus would because we have his Spirit.

Going down the Mountain toward Jerusalem.

Notice Peter’s reaction to seeing Christ in this glorified state with Moses and Elijah at his side: “It is wonderful for us to be here,” he says. He wanted to build three tents, he wants contain this wonderful experience, to remain on the mountain. But he had to go down the mountain, to follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, to his passion. And it’s the same for us. If we want our lives to be transformed we have to follow Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem. In the same way we have to pick up our cross and follow Jesus—our spiritual life is not about remaining in the church or the oratory. Our prayer life enables us to face the challenges and trails of life that ultimately bring transformation.

Jesus said “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.” To be fruitful in the apostolate means that we have to enter in the Paschal mystery—to be united to the dying and rising of Jesus in our own life. This after all is a mystery that we enter into at baptism. St Paul wrote:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

(Romans  6:3-4)

So at baptism each of us enters into this paschal Mystery of Christ—we die with him and we rise to a new transformed life. But baptism isn’t just a once off event. It’s something we live out each day of our life. We cooperate with the grace of our baptism by doing what he asked us to do: to deny ourselves to pick up our cross and follow him. By uniting our daily trials and sufferings with his cross and in a sense dying with him we are transformed, brought to a new and resurrected life. Our failures, oppositions, our struggles with sin and temptation, our sickness, troubled relationships, anxieties and fears, our loss and grief these are all sufferings that we have to face in life on way or the other. But if we accept them with the eyes of faith they can bring about a transformation in our lives.

I remember when I began to rediscover my faith in my late twenties I was lucky enough to come across a lay community called the Foyers of Charity. My aunt asked me if I would do a retreat with them and looking back it was a transfiguration experience for me. The whole week was filled with light so much so that I decided to join the community as a lay member soon after. I spent two grace filled years with them and loved every minute of it. However, it was easy for we in a way on one level—as a reserved person that I naturally am I didn’t really have to put myself out there, I could just work quietly in the background. But eventually to priesthood I felt called down the mountain, to follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. The truth is even though I was happy, I wasn’t really fulfilled, I wasn’t growing as a Christian. The Lord was calling me to face my fears and the challenges of a more involved in priesthood. There’s no other way to fulfilment or transformation.

Ronald Rolheiser—his a Canadian priest who write for the Irish Catholic, calls this a Spirituality of the Paschal Mystery. This idea that united with Christ we accept and live out the paschal cycle, dying to ourselves and being resurrected/transformed more and more into the image of Christ each day. Just to be clear it’s not that we are to accept everything that comes our way. We don’t accept bad behaviour or abuse. We don’t become a doormat.  As Christians we stand up for what is good and right and just and try to bring good order to our relationships and situations. But Jesus clearly calls us to accept these daily crosses that come our way the little and the great. So for example, dying to myself when I’m called to visit this sick or lonely person even though I don’t feel in the mood for it. Or when I part of a group not always wanting to get my own way to control everything, but letting go and giving way to what others think. And this way of acting brings about a transformation in me and brings a greater richness to life.

Of course it’s not easy to accept the cross. There are some that are incredibly difficult to explain.  I don’t know if any of you saw Gay Byrne’s interview with Stephen Fry. His an English actor and TV personality; his one of these militant atheists like Richard Dawkins. The main reason for his disbelief is the incredible suffering in the world. How could a good and merciful God allow this to happen? And humanly speaking he has a point it’s a really difficult to accept certain things. But form a Christian perspective, we realise that God the Father did not spare his own Son from the fate of suffering and death, and that through it He has brought the ultimate hope, the ultimate transformation: Resurrection.

Vincent Pallotti certainly lived out this Spirituality of the Paschal Mystery in his life. He understood how essential it was for the Christian life, to the extent that he prayer for suffering. He wrote,

“Grant me, O God, the gift to live perpetually occupied in the most perfect compassion for all the mental and physical pains suffered by Jesus and Mary…Deign further to give me now and forever, with perfect fullness, the painful and meritorious participation in all those pains suffered by Jesus and Mary.”   

And to his followers he encouraged:

Long for food as you long for the cross and long for the cross as you long for food.”

It’s not that he had a morbid infatuation for suffering; it’s not that he saw it as an end in itself. He realised it was essential to bring about transformation in his life to make him more and more into the image of Christ. He always had the apostolate in the forefront of his mind.

“The more mortification and suffering we endure out of love to imitate Jesus in His sufferings, the more we shall have the grace to do the work of eternal life.” St. Vincent Pallotti

So the more we are transformed by our crosses the more grace can flow through us into the world. Pallotti in fact prayed to become a ‘Prodigy of God’s Mercy’ an outstanding example of how God’s grace can transform the most miserable sinner & nothingness as he Pallotti referred to himself.

“My God, I ask You that my mind and heart be always activated by an affectionate feeling of trust that you will work a miracle of mercy upon me, that you will do this by communicating to me many graces, favours, gifts and mercies for the purification and sanctification of my soul, and that You will transform me into You. Thus You, the abyss of mercy, will shine brightly in me, the abyss of misery.”

This is what his acceptance and even desire for suffering was about for Pallotti. To be transformed to the extent that Christ himself would be see in Pallotti.  And this is the result of our suffering with Christ, transformation into his image, that Christ will shine through us and bring hope to the suffering world. That we manifest God to others, that in a sense we bring a Transfiguration experience to others as the resurrected Christ shines through us. So before we say anything we proclaim the gospel to others. Pallotti’s life is a testament to this truth.

The Paschal mystery is the beating heart of the Church’s mission! And if we remain within this mystery, we are sheltered both from a worldly and triumphalistic view of mission and from the discouragement that can result from trials and failures…And it is from the Cross, the supreme act of mercy and love, that we are reborn as a “new creation.” (Pope Francis to Seminarians, Novices and Those Discerning Their Vocation, Homily of Vatican Basilica Sunday, 7 July 2013)

 

 

ALEPH: Silence of the Beginning

Status

Rocket Man, Starman, Life On Mars, I Am I said. Songs of my youth. Songs of identity, that interior aspect of me which reaches for the beyond. I am captivated by Voyager 1, the probe sent into space on September 5, 1977, five years to the day after I entered religious life  and on the very day I returned to the community, having been away for more than a year. 

Back then I had no knowledge of Voyager but we have somehow been travelling together these 40 years. There are journeys and journeys, I like to say. For every journey we undertake there is a deeper, spiritual significance that we are not always aware of. I have been a voyager, a wanderer pilgrim in spirit all my life – making journeys of significance and mostly journeying into the interior space of who I am; who I am in relation to others and mostly who I am in relation to God. My Mother called me Siddhartha, the nomad. 

Voyager 1 has become a kind of teacher to me, a teacher of what is beyond. The sheer immensity of its journey! When it was launched, it had an initial mission of about four years, after which it continued on an extended mission that brought it to inter stellar space, the first human made object to travel that far and it has left scientists amazed that it still works. It travels at about 60,000 kilometres per hour, having travelled a distance of over 13 million miles. If it keeps travelling it will reach what is called the Oort cloud in 300 hundred years, taking it another 30,000 years to pass through it! 

Voyager has been witness to the vastness of the universe; the sheer scale of it is staggering and it leaves me gasping in awe. And if the creation is so immense, then how much more immense is the Creator, how staggering and awesome! This is what happens to me when I read the first lines of the Prologue in John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) and it is there that I always have to pause and from there my meditation takes off into the awe-inspiring magnitude, the wonder of what it was like in that “beginning”, which is not a beginning at all but infinity, eternity.

In the beginning there was silence, that great silence in which the Word was begotten, the Word through whom everything came into existence. Silence! Jesus says of himself, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. (Revelation 22:13) The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is Aleph which corresponds with Alpha and Tav corresponds with Omega. Aleph is soundless, silent, suggesting that Jesus is the silence in the eternal beginning before being the spoken Word that gave birth to the creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And God said…” (Genesis 1:1-3) 

How deep are the rich mysteries of God; how inadequate language is – the words we use to express a reality that is so far beyond expression. And yet within each of us there is an innate need to reach out and grasp something of God. 

So I contemplate the great silence that is infinitely more expansive than the distance travelled by Voyager. I contemplate who God is in that reality. For compass and guide I take flight with Voyager and I am immersed in the Bible, the sacred Word of God that is alive and active with layers of deeper meaning, unfathomable depths. “I thought of my God and I sighed!” from Psalm 77 – Blessed Pope Paul VI identifies this as summing up the whole Prayer of the Church. To pray is to think of God; to think of God is to sigh with groaning beyond utterance which is nothing other than the prayer of the Holy Spirit within us (Romans 8:26). 

Above the moon and stars 

Beyond the edge 

Of what is known 

The space between all things 

The quiet dark 

The womb of light 

Where speed and stillness merge 

And distance has no measure 

A thousand years 

A single day 

Is all the same 

Where Love And Hope and Faith 

Remain pure and perfect 

Vision

Christmas 2018

Status

“Unleash the Gospel” is the title chosen for the renewal programme of the Archdiocese of Detroit, in the United States of America. The vision which underlines the programme was set out on Pentecost Sunday in 2017 and I have read of it many times since. The mental image it conjures up is of the Gospel on a leash, held in check, and straining to be free. And, of course, at the centre of it all is Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of Mary.

Christ at the centre of all of life, and of my life in particular is an on-going challenge. There are many things clamouring for attention in our world and in daily life, important things, essential things and others of lesser importance. Christmas time and all that goes with the preparation and the celebration of this holy season is an invitation to focus our attention on Jesus Christ, on Jesus at the centre of all of creation. In these days we will celebrate the birth of Jesus in time and in space, so that we might “attend to the birth of Christ within us” each day, a phrase I heard prayed this Advent which has stayed with me. Christmas is a time to savour that life of Jesus Christ within us, which is born, and reborn, and which can be unleashed or held in check. To savour this life of Jesus Christ with us, with family, with friends, with community, and with the community of faith, again and again until we are eternally in God.

This has been an eventful year in the life of the Church in Ireland and the visit of Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families was a highpoint. His presence, his care and concern, his words spoken formally and informally, all pointed to  his faith in Jesus Christ, present and active in the Church and in society. The visit gave me new hope, and as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in Spe Salvi 31 “we need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day.” Perhaps the visit of Pope Francis was one of the ‘greater or lesser hopes’ for us, “but these are not enough without the great hope … this great hope can only be God …God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety.” (Spe salvi 31).

Jesus, the ‘God with us’ has a human face, born of Mary, shared our human existence, and is born within each of us, we welcome him anew this Christmas and pray that his presence be “unleashed”.

A very happy and holy Christmas season to all who log in to our Province website.

Derry Murphy, SAC.

Provincial.

Abortion Cannot Be Supported – Catholic Bishops of Ireland

Status

Following their Winter General Meeting in Maynooth, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ have published the following statement:

“We are dismayed that, for the most part, the voices of those who voted against abortion in May’s referendum have been ignored. Even what many people would have deemed to have be very reasonable legislative amendments seeking to provide women with information and to prohibit abortion on the grounds of sex, race or disability, have been rejected.

“As we stated after our Autumn Meeting, Irish society must have respect for the right of conscientious objection for all healthcare professionals and pharmacists. They cannot be forced either to participate in abortion or to refer patients to others for abortion.

“Every one of us has a right to life. It is not given to us by the Constitution of Ireland or by any law. We have it ‘as of right’, whether we are wealthy or poor, healthy or sick. All human beings have it. The direct and intentional taking of human life at any stage is gravely wrong and can never be justified.

“Women’s lives, and the lives of their unborn children, are precious, valued and always deserving of protection. Any law which suggests otherwise would have no moral force. In good conscience it cannot be supported and would have to be resisted.

“We offer our prayerful solidarity with everyone dedicated to the sanctity and protection of human life at all stages. We ask everyone of goodwill – whether at home, in parish, in school or at work – to continue to choose and to celebrate the preciousness of life.”

During their meeting a delegation of bishops met with individuals representing various pro-life groups from across Ireland, north and south. The aim of the gathering was to acknowledge their on-going commitment to upholding the dignity of unborn human life and to consult on the setting up of a new Council for Life under the aegis of the Bishops’ Conference which will operate from March 2019.

ENDS

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long +353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm +353 (0) 87 310 4444

Getting Ready For God: Thoughts On Purgatory

Status

I was in my room in Dublin one bitterly cold January day, getting ready to fly to South Africa to give a retreat to the Pallottine Seminarians there. Travelling light had become second nature to me and the case on my bed was fairly small but while I was packing it a voice inside me said, “you don’t need all this stuff.” But I ignored it because anything in it was actually essential – my bible, notes, just enough clothes.

And I arrived at Heathrow for the flight to Johannesburg, checked in my little suitcase and boarded the flight. By now the temperature had dropped to minus 7 and we were left sitting a long time in the plane while they made up their minds to fly or not. When they decided they would fly they discovered that there were no baggage handlers to put our luggage on the plane and after another long wait the pilot announced that we would fly without the luggage. There was a discontent murmur among the passengers but I just smiled as I thought of the voice I heard back in Dublin.

In Johannesburg they took our details and promised to send on our bags. My destination was a farm out in the country a good distance away. The temperature was thirty degrees and by the third day my bag had not arrived and I was in a bad way. My clothes reeked!

On that third day one of the students, Cosmas, came to me to say he would give me some of his clothes to wear. He is much taller and bigger than me and I thought I’m going to look ridiculous but there was no other option. So, he gave me his clothes and took away my own to wash them. Every second day he did the same. He was an angel of mercy and I looked ridiculous! And my bag never arrived!

This journey has become a parable for me of my journey home to eternal life, a symbol of what might happen to me in death when I pass from this world into the next. It is a process of being carried, an experience of letting go of the unnecessary aspects of my life, a stripping away of the old clothes, the washing away of the sweat and grime of the journey and being clothed with something new.

Purgatory is the name given by the Church to the stage in between death and our arrival into the fullness of life in heaven, an experience of purification in the fire of Divine Love, that fire desired by the mystics which is spiritual and not a physical burning. It is the stripping and burning away of what is imperfect so that we can put on what is perfect, not a legal perfectionism but the perfection of Love, the perfection that comes from Christ that we cannot attain by our own efforts.

My sister and I were talking about purgatory and she was surprised when I said that I will spend time in that state after I die. She thinks I should go straight to heaven but I know that I am not ready and will not be ready for full communion with God because, as it stands, only a miracle would break my attachment to sin.

I will need to let go of my resistance to God himself; I will need to be stripped of my resentments and desires for revenge; I will need to divest myself of and make some recompense for the hurts I have done to others; the injustices towards others that I have tolerated; for my disregard for God’s earth, the ways in which I have participated in its destruction. These are some of the things I will need to shed and let go of and I hope too that I will be consoled for the hurts inflicted on me in life, that the wounds of life will be somehow transformed or glorified.

One of Ireland’s most demanding pilgrimages is St. Patrick’s Purgatory in Lough Derg, an island on a lake in County Donegal, a place of penance and prayer. Once you get on that island there’s no getting off and no avoiding of what must be done but at the end there is a real sense of having been purified and it serves me as a good example of what Purgatory might be like. It is devoid of pleasure and devoid of sleep for a day, a night and another day. The one moment of pleasure is getting into bed after 36 hours of wakeful penance. And then it’s done!

Getting ready for God to me is like getting ready for my wedding and I see myself as a fisherman coming home on his trawler after a long labour at sea, with salt and grease and the odour of fish embedded in my flesh. I would not go directly from this noble labour to my wedding without meticulous preparation, a deep immersion in a thorough cleansing, because I would want to look and smell and be my best for the one I love. I want at least the same and more for God.

And in order to become our best selves in the presence of God we need others to help us, the souls of our loved ones need us to help them by our prayers, especially by the Mass. That’s why we dedicate ourselves to this during the month of November.

Prayer to St. Anthony of Padua

Status

Dear Saint Anthony, we are all pilgrims on this earth. We came from God and we are going to Him. He who created us will welcome us at journey’s end. The Lord Jesus is preparing a place for all His brothers and sisters. Saint Anthony, Guide of Pilgrims, direct my steps in the straight path. Protect me until I am safely home in heaven. Help me in all my needs and difficulties. Amen!

KNOWN UNTO GOD: The Least Thing Has Meaning

Status

KNOWN UNTO GOD: The Least Thing Has Meaning

It’s the summer of ’78 when ‘Saturday Night Fever’ is in full flight and I’m a student working in Germany for the holidays.

That same summer I went to visit the Rheinberg War Cemetery, the resting place of more than three thousand victims of World War II. I was struck by the silent stillness, the sheer beauty and peace of it and I pondered the contrasting uproar of ugliness, the unspeakable suffering that gave birth to this place. War is an awful reality that I cannot understand but I find in myself a great respect for every single person who has served in war in any capacity; the selfless generosity and courage is deserving of my honour and admiration.

And the peaceful silence that rests over such cemeteries seems to me to speak of promise – God’s promise of a lasting peace that is eternal, a peace that only Christ can give, a peace that will perhaps elude us as long as we live on earth, a peace that will find its fulfilment in heaven. Such a promise in no way is a justification for war but God has a war of turning all things to good.

Most of the headstones in Rheinberg bear the name of the one buried but there are 158 that bear no name and at the bottom of the headstone is written “Known Unto God” – this more than anything impresses itself on my heart and mind.

Known unto God is the most important knowing there is but it is part of our human makeup to ignore such knowing because we really want to be known by those around us. To be known and noticed and appreciated. Small things like someone noticing your new hairdo, the meal you cooked, the job you did in the garden and how we suffer when the ordinary things of our lives go unnoticed.

It’s a harsh reality for many people that there is no one there to notice anything about us and God is inviting us to pay attention to the fact that He takes notice of every single aspect of our lives. For sensitive souls, for the scrupulous of a certain generation this conjures up notions of God watching us in a fearsome way, ready to catch us out as soon as we make a mistake. I’m thinking about God noticing in an admiring, appreciative way. This matters when one is left feeling unimportant, insignificant in life.

When my mother died, I suddenly realized that I was no longer anybody’s son. My father was already 18 years gone and I became nobody’s child in this world. It hit home to me when someone asked, “whose are you now?” It happens to the widowed or when one’s child has died. It creates an emptiness that cannot be put into words and in some way we became nothing for a while, a long while.

I’m thinking about a book someone gave me years ago – ‘Even the Least Thing Has Meaning’ – and I’m thinking about a single leaf on top of a tree that I was admiring one day. That leaf is visible to no one except God and the birds and in that lies its meaning – that it is seen by God, known by God, admired by God who created it and that is enough. During that little meditation I was feeling very insignificant and, on the edge, and it was a grace that I could accept that it was enough for me to be seen and known by God. Ultimately, I am a son of God and that’s enough.

It’s what we come across in the gospels – the supreme importance of what is little and seemingly of no account. The child. At our family Mass on Sunday we have a rather lengthy offertory procession – someone suggested that it takes half an hour which is not true. Maybe it takes ten minutes but it is important because every single little thing presented there by the child matters to God, every single child matters as do the parents who walk with them. They represent all of us and somehow, they are making all the little offerings on behalf of the whole community. After Mass today a little girl came to me with a fallen, fading leaf which she handed to me with a smile saying, “this is for you Father.” Even the least thing has meaning!

It is one of the lovely things I liked about the offertory in Tanzania. Not just the children but every person in the congregation came forward with an offering – some with money, others with a few onions or eggs or a bag of grain – essential aspects of life, things that matter however small.

There’s an offering taking place in today’s gospel (Mark 12:38-44). People putting money into the treasury, some putting in a lot and maybe feeling important in doing so but the one who catches the attention of Jesus is the poor widow who puts in two small coins. She might have put in the least amount compared to all the others but, for Jesus, she has put in everything she had and so her offering is wholehearted, completely generous.

So, when we find in life that we have little or nothing to give, it’s important to give all the same because it matters in itself and it matters to God with whom what is insufficient becomes sufficient, more than enough.

The widow of the first reading reminds me of a little experience I had at communion time at Mass one time at a retreat I was attending.  I was given the chalice to share with the people and as soon as I saw it, I said to myself, “this is never enough for all this crowd” and I felt a bit annoyed with the priest who had put the wine in the chalice, that he hadn’t put in more.

And so the people were coming to me one by one and I kept thinking that this will never last, the Precious Blood will run out when the words of the Prophet Elijah came into my mind, words spoken in today’s first reading – “The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail” ( 1 Kings 17:10-16)– and so it was with the chalice. When Communion was finished there was actually some left over. More than enough in the end!