Mass to mark the beginning of the Year of Faith
27th Sunday of the Year
St. Michael’s Church, Enniskillen, 12.30pm
7 October 2012
My dear friends,
The writer Patricia McGerr wrote a short story called “The Eight-Cow Wife”. Johnny Lingo was an entrepreneur on the Pacific island of Kiniwata. It was a place and a time where dowries were expected. Usually a dowry consisted of three cows or five at the most. Johnny offered eight cows to the father of Sarita, whom he wished to marry. Sarita was plain and considered to be too thin; she walked with her shoulders hunched and her head down. She had no self-esteem whatever. Everybody was shocked at the generosity of the dowry.
Months later, a visitor to the island of Nurabandi, where Johnny now lived, came over to get to the bottom of the story for himself. He had heard of the eight-cow dowry and the plainness of Sarita. But when he met her he was astonished at her beauty – the lift of her shoulders, the tilt of her chin and the sparkle in her eyes. The fact that her husband loved and respected her enough to offer an extravagant dowry for her made all the difference. She had become her best and most beautiful self. Two persons who love one another more then themselves can call forth the best in each other and show to the world that true love and mutual respect are very powerful forces in family life.
The author of Genesis tells us that the love between married people was built in to creation and blessed by God. He intended that the two became one so as to be helpmates and partners in all that they do. Together they are to be the stewards of all that God has made and participate in the creative power of God by passing on life to children who are to be cherished as God’s precious gifts.
That is why Christian Church leaders, and indeed people of good will who respect life in all its forms, are reminding the Government of the Republic of Ireland of their stewardship responsibilities. There is no obligation to legislate for abortion because of the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. The Government is free to respond to this ruling by seeking full protection in Irish law for the right to life of the baby in the womb. This could be done while ensuring that women in pregnancy continue to receive every treatment necessary to safeguard their lives. The Irish Government’s choice is bound to have implications for attitudes to abortion in Northern Ireland. Because every human life is beautiful, every human life is precious and every human life is sacred, love and respect demands that we choose life.
In the days when Jesus walked the earth, Rabbis were frequently questioned on their interpretation of the law. It was not unusual that Jesus, who was recognised as a teacher, would have been sought out for an opinion. The Gospel reading describes how the Pharisees questioned him about divorce. His response was both firm and compassionate. He acknowledged that Moses allowed for divorce, but pointed out that this clearly was a concession which was due to the hardness of heart of the Jews at that time. It was not the way God intended it to be. Due to human weakness, men and women who divorce were settling for less than the fullness of life which was meant for them and for their children. The response of Jesus to the question of the Pharisees showed clearly what God intended while offering compassion to those who could not sustain their commitment due to human weakness.
Jeanette Winterson was fifty years of age before she met her mother. At six weeks old she had been given up for adoption. Now, fifty years later, she was nervous and unsure at the prospect of seeing her real mother for the first time. As things turned out, it was a gentle and a happy encounter. Over the course of five hours on that first day, daughter and mother rejoiced in one another and began the long journey of putting their two stories back together. Most of all Jeanette heard the words that she had never heard before, “You were always wanted, Jeanette,” her mother said to her, “You were always wanted.”
For fifty years Jeanette had lived with the feeling that she was not wanted; not wanted by her natural mother who had given her away and not wanted by her adoptive mother who treated her with coldness. Jeanette’s new mother lived a rigid and miserable life of duty and loneliness. Her version of Christianity knew little of love and respect but she was an expert on control. At sixteen, Jeanette could endure no more and escaped into the world. Today she is a well-known English writer. After a harsh childhood and a turbulent adulthood, finally, through the meeting with her birth mother, she was enabled to arrive at a place of peace. She thought she could not trust love – it had always been unreliable. But now she knew differently, – “You were always wanted, Jeanette.”
The Pharisees were probably trying to put Jesus on the spot, trying to find something in the book of rules and their interpretation to use against him. But he takes the discussion on marriage to a deeper level. He takes it to the level of love and respect and to its true nature. Jesus brings us all back to Genesis where we are reminded that God’s original design is written in our bodies. Man and woman are equal. They are made for one another. They come together in love and mutual respect. They become one body. Into this world the child is born. The original design of God is what we need for our guidance. When we forget this, we lose our way.
We come into this world as helpless babies. We need all the help that we can get. That help comes to us from those who love us. We are clothed and fed, cuddled and comforted. Our parents tell us how much they love us. We are taught respect. When all this comes together, happiness is ours. When it does not then our troubles begin. Our first learning comes through imitation. We usually grow up to do as we have been done to. Many times we fail, not necessarily because we are bad, but often because we do not know any differently.
Those of you present who have worked in our Enniskillen Accord Centre and elsewhere with Accord, you have shown to others the understanding and love of Christ. Knowing your own weakness and failures, you have trusted in God and, moved by compassion, you have offered your time and talents in humble service to your brothers and sisters. That meant training and in-service, meetings, reading, study and learning on the job. You have supported and learned from each other. You have shared what you learned and helped young people to prepare for marriage. You have shared your wisdom and experience with young couples. You have walked with the wounded on the road to Emmaus and to Jerusalem. Warmed by God’s love, you have shared your love with those hurt and wounded in love and in marriage. You have truly loved your neighbour. We thank you and ask God to reward your generosity.
The child in us wants to grow up and be happy. So the Lord says to us, “Let the little children come to us; do not stop them.” Very often these little children come to us in the guise of grown-up people. They are older but maybe not grown up. Perhaps we all only grow up when we are loved. On the day that Jeanette Winterson left her home in pursuit of happiness, her adoptive mother challenged her, “Why by happy when you could be normal?” Normalto her meant a strict and miserable life of duty. Jeanette sensed that life had more to offer her than that. She went in search of love. It was a long journey but it led her, eventually, to her own birth mother and to the words we all long to hear: “You were always wanted, Jeanette.”
May the Lord enable us to discover and accept his love so that we can share it with one another. May he bless our families.
+Liam S. MacDaid