Fourth Sunday of the Year
St. Joseph’s Church, 8.30am
3 February 2013
My dear friends,
The Duke of Wellington was considered to be one of the great English soldiers and statesman of the nineteenth century. He fought a long and difficult war in Portugal and Spain, to free these countries from the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte. Later, Wellington commanded the allied army which defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. For all this, Wellington was showered with honours from Portugal, Spain, Prussia, Russia, Austria and France.
In his own country, he was voted large sums of money by the British Parliament, as a reward. When he returned to England after Waterloo, he was cheered every step of the way from landing on the coast until he reached London. The name of a newly constructed bridge over the Thames was changed to Waterloo Bridge, in his honour. He could hardly appear in public owing to the huge crowds who would gather to cheer and try to touch him.
Just a few years later, a mob smashed all the windows of his London house. He was booed and hissed whenever he appeared in public and several extremists, from both right and left, hatched plots to assassinate him on account of political positions he took up. The newspapers printed terrible stories and savage cartoons about him. A fire was lit under his pew in the church of his home village. Public opinion is always fickle, often badly informed and frequently manipulated by the media for their own ends.
The crowd that hailed Jesus as he entered Jerusalem was the same one that, less than a week later, was shouting “Crucify him!” Today’s Gospel starts off with everyone approving of Jesus and the gracious words which came from his lips, and ends up with them trying to throw him off a cliff. Why was that? What upset them? Jesus was repeating the message of the prophets. By referring to the widow from Sidon and Namaan the Syrian, he is reminding the people of Israel that they are meant to be a witness to God’s goodness in the world and an example to others. God chose the children of Israel not so that they could benefit exclusively from God’s favour, but so that they could mediate God’s presence to other people. Welcoming in the Gentiles was always part of God’s plan. It is in receiving God’s love that people become good and lovable and they are meant to reflect that to the world.
Looking over these Mass readings brought me back to a documentary programme made by R.T.E. called Lifers and shown during last week. For a programme dealing with the Church it was a welcome change of approach. It was really a splendid programme, balanced, reflective and graced with much sensitivity. It tried to give a life-picture of three Irish people who had chosen to follow a call they felt from God, and to commit their energy and lives to the service of others.
One was a Loreto nun, Sr. Patricia Murray who, after serving in Ireland and in Rome for many years, was now giving her life to the native people in the newly established country of South Sudan, one of the most dangerous places in the world in which to live and work, according to many. The second was a seventy-five year old priest, Fr. John Glynn who wishes to continue to work among the poverty stricken and oppressed people of Papua, New Guinea for the remainder of his days. The third was a Roscommon born priest, Fr. Pat Brennan who is now working with an Indian tribe, relatively recently discovered, in the Amazon region of Brazil. He was clearly feeling the pain of isolation from his own people and family, but felt he was being called by God to help this vulnerable Indian tribe preserve their environment and way of life from the greedy and violent hands of those who sought to use the region’s natural resources to make themselves rich and powerful.
The gift of love, whose praises are sung by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, comes from God. It is intended not just to sanctify us, but to help sanctify the world. The gift of love is the one that makes all the other gifts come alive. Love itself helps us to understand that God’s love is for everyone and that we can all be witnesses to God’s love in the world. God’s love was preached by Jeremiah, and he made it clear that it was not an easy path to follow. The Gospel story of today reminded us that living in love can bring people together in harmony and appreciation of each other; equally it can be a cause for rejection, even rejection accompanied by violence and scorn.
Paul’s description of the recipe for loving is not an easy challenge to live up to – always patient and kind, never jealous, boastful or conceited; never rude or selfish, not taking offence and not resentful. It means taking no pleasure in other people’s failures, delights in the truth and is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes. These are sentiments we like to hear when we are at our noblest and best, such as on our wedding or ordination day. Fifty years later we can all soberly acknowledge – easier said than done!
The three people featured in last week’s documentary were a tonic. They would make you feel proud to be Irish, and privileged to be a Christian and a member of our Church. They were at times weak and flawed human beings like ourselves. They had difficult days and days when they felt like throwing in the towel. But there was a conviction and a vision which kept them alive, and gave them the courage and commitment to be lifers rather than overnighters. They all acknowledged that it was God, in the person of Jesus Christ, who sustained them and showed them that it was in giving that we received and that it was in loving that we were happiest and most fulfilled. If you are listening R.T.E., congratulations! A few more programmes like that would be most enriching for young minds and hearts!
+Liam S. MacDaid
3 February 2013