Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes 2014
Monday, 7 July, 9.00am
My dear friends,
In the Carmelite Convent the sisters always took a short mid-morning break from work. They would have fifteen minutes for a coffee in the refectory and then return to their jobs. A number of the younger sisters thought that this was not a good use of their time; breaking their pattern of work in the morning seemed inefficient. Why not just get a coffee and take it back to your workplace. The prioress listened, and saw they had a point, and so the practice was changed. Each sister worked through and drank her coffee at the same time.
That is until one morning the prioress, spending the morning answering correspondence, found herself snatching sips of an increasingly lukewarm coffee, and trying to think about how to answer a particularly difficult email. She stopped suddenly, “what exactly am I doing here Lord? Am I having a coffee? Or am I attending to this person’s email?” In that moment she realised that the important simple discipline of the Carmel – with its focus on being present to the task or conversation before you – was being undermined by the apparently harmless change in arrangements for a coffee break. The convent went back to the original pattern, newly aware of how wise and precious it is to let each thing in life have its own proper space.
Most of us, of course, do not – and cannot – live a pattern of life like those in an enclosed Carmelite monastery. But this insight from such a community speaks to us all in the hectic, multi-tasking busyness of our lives. Like Zacchaeus in the Gospel story, many of us allow our lives to be consumed by furthering ourselves in the world. We feel the need to make more money or to move up the job ladder. For others, the busyness of their lives may lie in the constant round of domestic cares and responsibilities. It may stem just from the efforts of keeping going or surviving in difficult circumstances. All of us – like the Thessalonians – have a tendency to fill the spaces of our lives with some form of anxiety about the future – what is coming next? All the time the present moment is in front of our eyes and we get lost in the crowd.
Zacchaeus’ gift is not that he has lived a disciplined life of prayer and good works. He has probably become thoroughly sucked into a life of chasing wealth and position even at the cost of marginalising himself from his own people. But at the moment the great need that he appears to have – and pretty acutely at that – is the need to see Jesus. In fact he feels this so strongly that he is prepared to take whatever action is necessary and that includes finding a space above the crowd. Whatever indignity might be attached to it, he is prepared to climb a tree, if needs be, to get a good look at this man who must have made quite an impression on him.
The first Reading of today’s Mass from the Book of Wisdom describes our God as a “lover of life.” He is the God who “overlooks men’s sins so that they can repent.” This is the God who always has room for us and finds a space in which to meet us and change our lives for the better if needs be. Jesus is the Son of God and we find in the Gospel story that the spontaneous and foolish-looking action of Zacchaeus in climbing the tree is repaid and responded to richly by the way that Jesus shows an interest and opens his heart to him. In the encounter which follows we are told that the life of Zacchaeus is changed and blocks removed that were preventing him from imitating God’s love in the way he lived.
We live in a world which is not only unprecedentedly busy and full of activity but one which prizes and rewards this way of life. Multi-tasking, working long hours, filling our schedule with activities are not only admired but seen as marks of success. The Gospel incident suggests to us that even if we feel small and crowded out, Jesus is still present and available to us. The problem may be whether we can stop what we are doing for long enough to find the time and a way to put ourselves in a more spacious place where we can see the Lord and he can show his face to us. We can be sure that if we do this we will establish a deeper relationship with him. He is happy to come into our homes and eat with us.
We might have to take the risk of looking foolish like Zacchaeus. We may have to call into question our busy lives. Changes may have to be made. It may take that kind of action to free ourselves from what we might look back on as a form of slavery. To allow a form of salvation to begin to break into our lives, we may have to look out for a tree to climb from where we can better see Jesus and give him a chance to show his face to us.
Daniel began to lose his voice about six months ago. Doctors found that one of his vocal chords was blistered and bleeding into his throat. He underwent surgery and the chord was successfully repaired. The early weeks of recovery required him to remain totally silent. At first he found this traumatic. But he found that as his wife talked to him to keep up his spirits he wasn’t just hearing her, he was listening to her. He found himself understanding her better on topics he previously dismissed. He also realised that his toddler was not just chattering nonstop but that he had surprisingly thoughtful things to say for his age. Over eight years of marriage he and his wife had talked a lot but more often than he would care to admit, he was going through the motions. “Of course I did dear” he would reply when he was asked, “did you even hear what I had to say?” Now that he has recovered he says that conversation in the house is much better these days. He says, “I’m just listening better and less and less surprised that I like what I hear.”
The story of Zacchaeus tells it all and is a source of encouragement to us. Salvation and health can come to our house in the strangest of ways. With a heart attuned to listening intentionally and completely you may rediscover the voice of God. In our humble efforts at kindness and understanding, in our seemingly unimportant acts of generosity and forgiveness, a form of liberation and salvation my come to our house. That is the well which can offer us the water of life that can be the reward of a pilgrimage undertaken and completed in the right disposition when we leave room for the Lord and make him welcome.
+Liam S. MacDaid
7 July 2014
Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes 2014
Mass at Grotto
Tuesday, 8 July, 8.30am
Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,
It was last November when Kathleen celebrated her ninetieth birthday. She had less energy than before and, as Christmas approached, she decided that buying presents for family and friends was more than she could handle now. So she got out her cheque book, wrote out a series of cheques, and in each designated card she carefully wrote “buy your own present” then had them posted and took a deserved nap. When the festivities were over, she was tidying a pile of papers on her desk only to come across the cheques she had so carefully written some weeks previously. To her horror, she had to face the embarrassment of realising that everyone on her gift list had received a nice Christmas card from her with a note, “buy your own present,” written inside but without the cheques. Not a Christmas she will want to remember for a long time.
When he was asked to speak about giving, the Eastern Mystic, Kahlil Gibran, said among other things:
You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?
And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the over prudent dog, burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?
There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, or give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in younder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.
Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes
He smiles upon the earth.
All you have shall some day be given
therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors’.
These reflections sit comfortably with the words of Scripture. Wisdom says she has “taken root in a privileged people, in the Lord’s property, in his inheritance.” Paul, addressing the Ephesians, blesses God the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ who has given us all the spiritual blessings of heaven, making us adopted children and enabling us to live through love in his presence.
John crowns it all in his beautiful reflection on the Word of God with which he opens his Gospel. The Word was with God in the beginning and it is from this source that all life comes. Light came to overcome the darkness. The Word was made flesh and lived among us. Not everyone recognised him, and more did not accept him but, those who did became children of God. This was God’s own gift to a wayward people. No one has ever seen God but we have seen and heard his Son who became man and made him known. Grace and truth have come to us through him.
There is nothing as precious as presence to those we love. Gifts, letters, cheques, phone calls are good, but they cannot take the place of being there. Presence brings comfort and peace. He lived among us. He became one of us. He tells us how close God is to us and how close we can be to God in the midst of our sometimes painful and sometimes joyful lives. If we allow ourselves to become disconnected from God, an enormous loss occurs and a huge vacuum results. A sense of God’s presence with us and of his love for us brings great richness to our lives and is something we can share with others in a way that enriches their lives too.
This is the core of Lourdes and especially of the Grotto area. God is present here in a special way and so is Mary. We owe it to others to guard and respect the silence and stillness of the Grotto. In that way we can talk and listen more attentively, more intimately to God and to Mary. They can be present to us more fully; they can give themselves more fully to us. And what is love if not the gift of self? And that, the Word of God tells us, is what we are asked to do with our lives – to give of oneself unselfishly to God and to one another. Grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ. The Word was made flesh (with Mary’s co-operation), he lived among us.
If we began with granny maybe we should give the last word to a child. A week or two before her birthday, the little fellow went into a clothes shop and declared, with all the confidence of a child that he wanted to buy a pair of ‘jammies’ for his Mum. The shopkeeper smiled benignly and said that was a very nice thing to do, but he would need to know a little more. “Tell me,” he said, “is she short or tall”. “She’s perfect,” said the little fellow. So the shopkeeper gift-wrapped a nifty medium size for her. A few days later, Mum gingerly exchanged them for an extra-large. Would the world be a better place if we could all see as that child? Is that what Jesus meant when he said, “Unless you become like a little child you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven”?
+Liam S. MacDaid
8 July 2014
Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes 2014
Mass with Anointing of the Sick,
Thursday, 10 July, 9.00am
My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
What did you make of the Readings you have just listened to? Genesis first, suggesting that mankind had made a mess of the earth and filled it with violence. God was going to scour the whole place with a flood and prompt Noah to build a boat and keep just enough pairs of living beings to repopulate and to provide food for the human survivors.
The Acts of the Apostles then, suggesting that when we get it wrong we really do foul things up. We do not always go to the Lord for advice and direction. But God is there to rescue us from many difficult situations which could have been avoided.
Then the Lord himself is the centre of attention in the Gospel story. A sudden squall breaks out and develops into a storm. Again, Jesus intervenes, calms the wind, settles things down and everyone gets safely home. He is the man, even wind and rain obey him.
It is important for us to remember that in the Biblical account of creation, it is emphasised that God saw that what he made was good. You will be much healthier in your attitude to yourselves and to others if you are quietly confident in yourself and in God’s love for you. Your life will be much more wholesome and productive for having a foundation of realising your own self-worth and dignity.
This is not the end of the story. As Noah’s Ark reminds us, we sure can make a mess of things and fill the world with violence. There are lots of times when our failure to go to the Lord for advice will leave us stranded. It does not take long in our lives for our feeling of self-worth to be complemented by an acknowledgement of our frailty and our weakness. Our mistakes will leave us in no doubt. In the end humility will demand, what truth seeks, a recognition of both our dignity and our frailty. If we search for him, if we knock on his door, if we waken him up – he will rescue us! He might even turn up in the guise of a parent or teacher.
You never know when a storm or a squall blows up and changes the whole direction of the boat. Jim Stynes was a Dublin footballer, who achieved success at under age level. He was persuaded that, with his ability, he could go to Australia at 18 y.o, became a footballing star, and make a small fortune in the process. He took up the challenge, achieved some fame and made some money. However, a storm changes everything. He developed cancer, fought it for years; eventually it took his life at 42 y.o. and he was given a hero’s funeral but for a totally different reason. While he was still playing, he saw a number of young people who were destroying their lives, often because of issues that they could not or would not tackle or maybe even acknowledge. So he founded a movement called Reach. Let me read you an extract from his autobiography:
Rather than explaining to you how the programs evolved, I would like to share what the programs began to teach me.
I learned that asking kids to be vulnerable is a bit like conducting an archaeological dig. You chip away, gradually removing one layer at a time, but you don’t know how deep you will be able to go. For fourteen and fifteen year olds, that can be quite scary. And you can’t just expect them to take responsibility for themselves straight away, because, to begin with, they have all the excuses in the world : society, their parents, their school or their friends have stuffed up their lives.
So you can’t begin by demanding that they not feel sorry for themselves. If you do, their response will be, ‘Who the hell are you, and how would you know anyway?’ They can’t relate to where you’re coming from until they are given a chance to share their stories. Then they will relax and realise that this is an environment where it’s actually quite heroic to share your story. Some will never have done this with anyone, and will fiercely guard that – but usually they are actually desperate for someone to listen to them.
And the more that kids listen to other people sharing their stories and getting positive feedback, the more they will think, I might give this a crack. Some will pour out their souls. Others will make up a great load of rubbish, but that’s not always a problem. Maybe that’s what they need to do to feel good about themselves. You still listen and start to build a rapport – then maybe you can get somewhere. If you don’t and you put them down, it just gives them another reason not to trust in someone.
There have been kids who have made a fool of me because I’ve trusted them or taken risks for them. I want to believe in people, and I make no excuses for that. I would never change that. However, you have to do it for the right reasons. Sure, you want to feel good about yourself for helping someone, but the motivation must be to help the young person. If the kid knows that, they will trust you. When you keep up a wall, people can sense it and will have trouble believing you are authentic. Then there is no vulnerability in the relationship. Reach helped me understand all of this, and for that I am infinitely thankful. Not because I had to read books and study, but because of what happened in camps or in a group environment, where kids have let go of some terrible, terrible hurt. That is when trust is needed, to allow them to be vulnerable and begin to heal. In the early days, some kids wanted to come along but had been hurt so badly that it took a year, maybe two years, before they were prepared to open up to anyone.
I had a poor understanding of drugs and what they can do to you. People would ask how it was feasible to understand kids who had taken drugs when I had no experience of them myself – I had never used or even tried them. I found that it was more important to love the kids whose lives were being wrecked by drugs. I didn’t need to have taken drugs to offer them that. You can accept people for who they are, with all their faults, their hurt, their shame. And that is the level at which you can meet.
I remember one incident at a camp in Lorne that really got to me. I was called to help a young girl who was lying on the floor of one of the cubicles in the toilet block. She was in a bad way, crying and emotional. She had swallowed some pills and couldn’t make sense of her world. We had real concerns for her. I lay down on the filthy concrete floor so that she could see part of my face sticking under the door. I lay there talking with her, just engaging. Waiting for that time to pass. It was horrific. She didn’t know what she was crying about.
Afterwards, I realised that I’d been forced to meet the girl where she was at – I couldn’t expect to meet her on my terms. I began to understand that the goal of Reach should not be to “fix” kids – it was simply about accepting kids.
It is inspiring work. The leaders at Reach learned that they have to find ways to inspire kids with their own lives. It is a privileged position to be in. And yes, it is selfish, because it makes you feel that you are a better person because you’re helping others. You must sit in a room with 400 or 500 kids and ask them to open up, to share their secrets and to trust that whatever is said won’t leave that room. They reach inside and pull up stuff that they have never told even their closest mates.
The amazing thing is that the other kids accept that vulnerability. They understand that they have been trusted with someone’s insecurity and they respect it, and commit to keeping the information to themselves. When kids are happy they don’t need to escape, whether it be through alcohol, drugs or eating disorders. They learn that their past does not control their future. Kids want to know what’s out there. Where are we going? What are we going to do? They want to be excited by life, but they also want a purpose. We all have a purpose – we just need to find out what it is. And you do that through your struggles. You do it through facing adversity.
In the readings of today’s Mass it was the man overlooked for advice, it was the man asleep at the back of the boat who was wakened, who calmed the storm, prevented disaster happening and brought everyone safely home. It was the Lord. And it was the same Lord who made a special case for not walking by the sick, the troubled, the hungry, the poor and the rejected. It was the same Lord who said that we would experience more happiness in giving than in receiving.
In God’s kingdom the V.I.P.’s are the crippled, the blind, the leper, the lonely. Behind what appears to be ugliness, there can be beauty; behind the faces of the scarred and the broken there can be great dignity; behind what seems to be foolishness you can find wisdom. Jesus keeps God’s favour to the little people to the forefront of his teaching. His is a love which pierces disguises, that liberates people, that sees beyond appearances. His love dignifies and transforms people’s lives. He asks us to live his Way in such a manner that we can equally enrich the lives of others.
Whether it be in your chosen profession, your daily living or your home life, remember the Lord of the Journey said – there are three; Faith Hope and Love, and the greatest of these is love.
+Liam S. MacDaid
10 July 2014