“Come with me”

It is said that when a memory comes to us from the past, there is something there for us either to put to rest or to learn from. Recently, a memory came to me of an incident, when I was newly ordained and was asked to supply, for a month, as Chaplain to Wandsworth Jail in London. I would go to the jail each morning, see those prisoners, who wished to talk with the Chaplain, then I would visit first the punishment wing and then the hospital wing. One day, when I went to the hospital wing, one of the warders told me that there was a young Catholic man in the padded cell, who was having a bad reaction to the withdrawal from drugs. They had put him in a straitjacket, he said, and locked him in a padded cell so that he would not hurt himself – and then he added, “It is too dangerous for you to go in, Father, but you can talk to him through the small glass window”. I went to the window and saw him lying on his side on the floor, not looking towards the door, and twitching slightly. I tried talking, but he did not respond, so I left him.

            The next day, the warder told me that the young man was over the attack and that I could go into the cell – “but”, he said, “leave the cell door ajar”. I went in, leaving the door slightly open, as told, and found the young man, whose name I cannot remember, sitting on the floor – because there was no furniture in the cell. He greeted me politely and began to chat, but I was a newly ordained priest and full of my own concerns; all I could think of, at first, was – ‘should I sit on the ground, rather than speak down to him’ and then when I sat down I began to wonder whether I could reach the door in time, if he chose to attack me!! However, slowly, I began to hear what he was saying to me. “For the last two days, Father, I have been in hell”, he said, “All I wanted was to kill myself to escape from the horrors that filled me and surrounded me. However”, he went on, “I have told God that if he will use that pain and suffering to help cure some sick child somewhere, then I am willing to go through it again.”

            What strikes me now, as that memory comes to me from across the years, is that the young man’s thoughts were not on himself. He was not primarily concerned about the terrible time he had been through, nor was he expressing regret for what had landed him in that prison cell – his crime and drugs – instead, somehow the Lord had touched him, taking him into his love and concern for the sick and the weak. It had obviously been an extremely intimate experience for him and his heart had responded to the invitation of his Lord to help a sick child and so he offered the only thing he had – his suffering.

            I cannot help thinking that had that been me, how different my own reaction would have been. My first thoughts would have been to ask the Lord for mercy for the crimes that had brought me into prison and for the stupidity, which had led me to start taking drugs – but that young man’s thoughts and prayers had gone past those thoughts and were concerned for others, which is a true sign that the Lord had touched him.

            I, like many other Christians, have a rather selfish spirituality; it is centred on myself, my needs and my concerns – and only rarely do I reach out in thought and prayer for those beyond my immediate circle of acquaintances and friends. The Scriptures rebuke me for this, for as 1 John 3ff tells me quite clearly, the only way that I can know that I love God is that I love my brothers and sisters – and, in God’s eyes, there is no one who is not included in this category, for all are the children of God. To accept having boundaries to my spiritual life, which limit my concern for others is just not acceptable.

            We often make the mistake of thinking that our primary spiritual relationship is between God and me and only after that am I called to concern myself with others, for God’s sake. That is not true! The primary invitation from God is not to love him, but to join with him in his love for the world – and in so doing I come to discover that I have been bonded to him in a love and compassion that will last forever. The union I am being invited to is not, fundamentally, the union of two lovers looking at each other and concerned just about themselves, but the union of two friends who together look with love and compassion towards those in need and – hand in hand – reach out to care for them.

            Our prayers will reveal to us, which of these two attitudes are ours – do my prayers reach our beyond myself? Am I being led by the Holy Spirit, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son” and who wants to take me with him on his mission? Or are my prayers concerned with my own problems and my own needs and the needs of those closest to me? If they are the latter, then I need to change my prayers and begin to make them include those I do not know, do not yet love and do not yet care for. Such prayers may well be a formality at first, that is, prayers which I say without much fervour or meaning, but there is an old saying, “We fake it to make it!”, which means that if I say the words, out of a choice to share with God in his love for the world, then the Holy Spirit will give life and love to those words and I will find myself being drawn ever deeper into the heart and soul of the Trinity.

            It has been over forty years since I met that young man, and if my memory serves me well, I met him only the once, but I now see that he was far further along the way of the Lord than I was – and maybe still am. He seemed to know that Christ was his Saviour – and all the wrong he had done could only be righted by the Saviour and not by his prayers – so having entrusted all this to the Lord and being thus freed from their weight and chains, he had heard the call to love and care for those in need – and had jumped at the chance with an enthusiasm and trust that forty years later I am still trying to emulate.

Diary

I have had a rather busy two weeks. I went to Singapore for three days to do one or two things, including a fitting for my cassock, which was too long in the length and the sleeves – I think it made me I look a little like “Dopey” in Snow White and the seven dwarves! I came back on Saturday and then, on Monday, I went off to Sabah to give a “3rd Age spirituality” course to 37 older Sisters there. I returned on Friday, but I find I tire more easily these days, so I was grateful for a rather lazy day on Sunday. Now I have to catch up on student essays and assignments.

I wore sandals when I walked about Singapore – and I do not think they fitted very well, because I ended up with a blister on the ball of my right foot. It is a most awkward spot to have a blister, isn’t it? And for a man with a belly like mine, it is also very difficult to dress!!

I remember Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP, who used to be the Master General of the Dominicans, saying once that he got most of his theology, these days, from novels and movies. They are about life, he said, even if they are fiction, and if they are about life then they are also about God! Well, I went to see the movie “Maleficent”, a short while ago, and enjoyed it; and it reminded me of what Fr Timothy said, because there is a great insight into what “true love” actually is – but I will say no more in case you haven’t seen it yet.

God bless,

Terry

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He waited for me on the way

Some years ago, I lived at Mill Hill in north London, but once a week I would go into downtown London to teach and, on the way, I would usually see several people begging. I had heard stories that some of these were not true beggars and that others were drug addicts and so after thinking about it, I decided that I would not give them money. On one such journey, I remember passing a young man about 20 years old, sitting on the pavement with a handwritten sign saying, “Hungry and homeless”. We made eye contact briefly, as I passed, but I walked on; however, after having turned the corner, I stopped because a thought had come to me: “What if he is genuine – and really hungry and homeless?” So, I turned back to find the young man and give him something, but when I reached the place where he had been sitting – he had gone. I just stood there and in my heart said to the Lord, “Lord, if you want me to help someone, please give me time to prepare – I am not that good at being spontaneous!” He did not answer me – at least not then.

            Recently, I was preparing a homily and the memory of that young man came to mind again and also my words to the Lord – namely that he should forewarn me when he wanted me to help someone. However, this time I heard the Lord answer: “But you had already made up your mind to ignore anyone begging, without considering whether that might be me sitting there – so if you choose to live by such blanket rules, please don’t complain if I let you have your way!” I sat there humbled, for it was true, I had already made up my mind that I was not going to give money to anyone begging – and I had not considered the possibility that I might meet a genuine case and it would be the Lord himself sitting there with his hand out.

            In one of his sermons, St John Chrysostom, a 4th century bishop in what is now modern-day Turkey, scolded the people of his time, who came to church to worship, but ignored the beggars who sat at the doors of the churches. He said, “How can you worship the Lord Christ at the altar, offering gold chalices and beautiful cloths for his house – and then ignore that same Christ as he sits at the door of the church asking for alms?” His words bring home very powerfully a central truth of Catholic Christianity – Christ is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, but he is equally truly present in his people, especially those in need – as he clearly tells us in Mt 25: 31-46. Then why do we stress the one truth, but tend to pass over the other in comparative silence? This has much to do with what happened at the time of the Reformation.

            The Church teaches that Christ really and truly dwells with us in three ways: in the Eucharist, in the listening to the Scriptures and in the community. No one aspect is more important than the others – for all point to the others and imply all the others. However, at the time of the Reformation, the Protestants accepted the presence of Christ in both the community and the Scriptures, but denied his true presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Thus, Catholic catechetics began to stress the true presence in the Blessed Sacrament, because the truth of this teaching was under attack, but spoke only briefly of the presence of Christ in the community and the Scriptures because this was not being challenged. As time passed, the situation normalised and the Protestant threat was not so urgent, but our way of catechetics did not change and so we came to have a rather skewed teaching on the true Presence of Christ, emphasising it in the Blessed Sacrament, but often overlooking it in the Scriptures and the community.

            This has begun to be balanced out, as far as the Scriptures are concerned, over the last fifty years, since the Second Vatican Council, and we now have a much great appreciation of the Scriptures and Christ’s saving presence that comes to us through the Scriptures, but we are still some way from showing a real appreciation of his presence in the community. For instance, our Sunday services are supposed to be gatherings of the Family of God, not just my individual attendance at Mass, but our Masses are often rather cold and impersonal occasions, especially if you are a stranger to a parish. Rarely are we welcomed at the door; often we are left to find our own place to sit and the handshake of peace, which once brought in an element of friendship, has, since the bird flu scare, been reduced, in most churches, to an unsmiling nod of the head.

In our teaching, we emphasise strongly that we must fulfil our Sunday obligation by attending Mass – but we do not teach that Christ is standing there among us, waiting for a friendly smile or a kind word, with the result that he often waits in vain! If we truly believe that “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20) – then we must show it. Protestants are often much better at this than we Catholics and I have heard of Catholics, who have visited their churches and having been received with such warmth, never come back to our larger but often much more impersonal gatherings. The real presence of Christ in the community must not remain just a truth, but must become an experience – but this will only happen when each of us make it so.

            This brings me back to where I started – to that young man sitting on the London pavement asking for money. If I am to meet my Lord on my journey in the many places where he stands waiting, I cannot live by hard and fast rules of “so-called” Christian behaviour. Christ demands that we be on our guard at all times, ready to greet him (Mk 13:26) ready to reach out to him wherever he appears. So, I need to listen again to St John Chrysostom and take his words to heart – I cannot just recognise Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, but then ignore him in the person standing next to me. Moreover, as I discovered on my London journey, Christ will not inform me beforehand where and when he is going to ask for my love – I must stand ready or I will lose a chance to come closer to him, just as I lost the chance with that young man begging on the streets of London.

Diary

We are deep into the term at the seminary and this has brought with it extra challenges. We had five new students join us at the beginning of the year and I am having to give them extra classes so they can catch up with what they missed. Then this term, another three students joined us and they also have things in my subject that they have to catch up with. All this has to be done together with me my normal classes – so I am feeling a little bit overworked!

I came back from Sabah by plane last Sunday, after having celebrated a “Sending Mass” for two Mill Hill students who will be going to Africa, and as I boarded I was greeted by the steward – a Catholic, whom I know. He always gives a cheery welcome to the passengers and he did so this time – asking people to raise their hands to indicate whether they were from the State of Sarawak or Sabah. He then announced that the Sarawakians were in the majority! He then proceeded to welcome all to the flight and added, “We are pleased to have Father Terry Burke with us on the flight today – he is our Catholic priest from Kuching” at which I received an applause from the people – for there was a group of Catholics who had been attending a conference in Sabah – and he then added, “Father, I have not been able to get to Sunday Mass today – so I need to go to confession!” At which there was a great cheer from the Catholics aboard – what the others thought of it all I cannot say.

God bless,

Terry

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THE RIVER

Hello to you all,

                             I came across this piece of writing during the retreat in Chiang Mai. I wrote it over 25 years ago and had forgotten about it. However, as I read it again, it touched a chord in me about how we are led by the Spirit. I thought you might like it, especially as we are now in the middle of the Great Novena to the Holy Spirit.

 

THE RIVER

 

And so, I came to the river. I knew, I think, that it was there, but I had never really seen it or felt its touch, probably because I was too young to know where to look – until that night in summer. It was still bright when I went to bed, but I was not allowed to stay up until it got dark, for I was still young and the summer evenings in Britain are long.  However, although I went to bed at the required time, it was difficult to sleep while the sky was still so bright and that night I lay there not sleeping and was still awake when I heard my sister pass by my room. She was allowed to stay up later than I, for she was older, and because I was bored, I called out to her and she came into my room and made that night different. She sat down by the side of my bed and began to speak and slowly she began to tell me about the river! 

 

            You can see the river, she said, when you make the Sign of the Cross. You raise your right hand to your forehead and say, “In the name of the Father“, and then you move your hand to your tummy and say, “and of the Son“, and then you move your hand from the left shoulder to the right and say, “and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” (We said “Ghost” rather than “Spirit” in those days!) I did what she said and suddenly I also began to see the river. It sparkled in the evening sun, and how pretty it looked. My sister began to speak again and said that I would be able to see where it was coming from if I said: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my life and my soul” I then said those words and did begin to see where the river was coming from. My sister then went on with other words, which I now know pointed to where the river is going, but from where I was then, I could not see those parts of the river. My sister soon left and I was left to snuggle down to sleep, but thinking how nice the river was – how gentle, how pleasant to have it running through the garden of one’s life! 

 

            How long it was before I felt the call of the river to come to it, I do not remember, but I grew up accepting its presence and found it nice to have there, although at times it did seem to bar my way and hinder me a little. For the most part, I accepted that others did not seem to have a river in their life, but that did not make me envious of them, but rather made me feel a little special, for I had my river and I appreciated that it was there. Those with whom I grew up accepted that it ran through my life and whereas they might be curious of it, they asked no questions and just accepted that it was a part of me.

 

            Slowly, however, the river began to exert its magic over me, calling me softly, so very softly until I began to move towards it. It was seductive, urging me to come ever closer until, at last, I was caught! I was drawn to its banks and there I saw a boat into which I could step, if I so chose. If I stepped in and cast off, it would mean daring what lay beyond the bend, but when I saw the boat I didn’t really think about that at all – all I saw was how seductive the river was as it lay there so temptingly, so cool, so joyful! All I wanted, all I could think of, was how to get into the boat and let the river take me wherever it would.

 

            How to step into the boat? I did not know! But, I was fascinated with the dream of getting into the boat and all through my latter school days I played with that dream. I would try it on at night, although not always with joy! Sometimes, as I would be going to sleep, a picture of the boat would come to me as I lay trying to sleep. It would be disturbing and I would try to forget it but it would keep coming back – urging, urging me to get into it. I would say that I wanted to sleep, but the thought would come again and a picture of the river would rise so powerfully that finally I would slip over the side of the bed, kneel on the cold floor and so enter the boat as I knelt and said my night prayers. Then for the rest of the night I would sleep in the boat, gently rocked by the breeze, the so gentle breeze that flowed across the river. 

 

Diary

 

May was a busy month. There was a retreat cum tour in Thailand – and we were rocked twice by earth tremors, which was quite exciting! Then, I flew to Bali for another retreat cum tour – but, this time, without the earth moving – although two of our people were quite shaken by something that happened. Let me tell you about it.

 

At the Carmel Retreat Centre, we were having lunch one day and I was opposite one of the men in the group. He was chatting away quite animatedly and I finished my meal long before he did. Normally, I would have stayed while my companion finished eating, but something urged me to leave him – so I made an excuse and left. By that time, no one else was in the room – all had finished – but one of the group came back for something and when she saw the man alone she began chatting with him – the first time she had done so.

 

This woman had been adopted as a child and whereas she knew a little about the family she had been adopted from, she thought they were all dead and that she was alone in the world. However, as the two chatted they were drawn to share more and more of their story with each other and the woman discovered that she was, in fact, sitting and talking to her uncle! It had a profound effect on both of them.

 

Thus, does the river draw us into places unthought of!

 

After the Bali retreat, I spend a few more days there, visiting people, including the prison. I stayed about 40 minutes, for it was so crowded and hot that I couldn’t stay longer. The next day, I had a streaming cold – which I think I must have picked up in prison. This developed into bronchitis, which only now am I getting over. However, I should be better by the time the students arrive back on Thursday – at least I hope I shall.

 

Two Mill Hill students – one from Sarawak and one from Sabah – are setting out tomorrow to go to the Philippines to begin their formal studies for the priesthood. They have dared to step into the boat – their names are Christian and Freadzeno – please pray for them.

 

The Dayaks in Sarawak are celebrating “Gawai Dayak” today – Dayak New Year – So, to you all:

 

“Gerai Nyamai, gayu guru, senang lantang, panjai umor nguan menoa”!

 

God bless,

 

Terry

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The power of Resurrection

Thirty or forty years ago, in another part of Sarawak, there lived a young man by the name of Thomas. Thomas did very well at his schooling, passing all his exams up to and including form six and his future looked bright – he would have probably been chosen to go on to University and then many careers would have been open to him. However, for several years, leading up to the time of his form six exam, Thomas had increasingly been afflicted by ill health. His feet and legs became swollen and rashes appeared on his body, but his doctors were unable to diagnose the sickness, until just about the time the form six results came out when they told Thomas that he had leprosy.

            Those were the days before a cure for leprosy had been found and people were very frightened of the disease and Thomas found that his friends no longer wanted to mix with him. Then he was told that he would have to go away to the Leprosy Hospital in Kuching, the RCMB, and a police escort was provided to make sure he got there. He was taken to Miri, the town from where he would take a boat and from there the journey to Kuching took three or four days. Thomas was left alone in the bowels of the ship, during that time, unable to move very much because his legs were so swollen and the only time people came near him was when they gave him his food – which they pushed at him and got out as quickly as possible. Thomas told me that he felt sure he was going to Kuching to die and as he lay there alone in the bowels of that ship his thoughts were very bitter – all the hopes of his youth were gone, destroyed by the leprosy and the fear and prejudice of those around him.

            The RCBM sent one of their patients, a man named James, to meet Thomas and bring him to the hospital. James was himself a leper and had been at the RCBM for many years. He knew the bitterness of Thomas’ experience for when he himself had contracted leprosy, years before, he had been arrested and taken by armed guard to the boat that would transport him to the hospital – and his pain was increased because his wife and children had refused to go with him. Thomas told me years later, that he still clearly remembered the moment that the door to the place where he lay opened and there stood James with a smile on his face. He also remembered James’ words, “Come on, old fellow, up you get, we’ll have you well again in no time!” Thomas said that it was like the sun suddenly coming out – suddenly there was hope again, maybe all was not lost, maybe he would not die. It was the beginning of new life for Thomas – it was “Resurrection”!

     Thomas spent the next two years or so in the hospital wing of the RCBM and as his health improved he began to take on various jobs around the hospital and eventually he rose to become the Warden of the hospital. In 1984, a cure was found for leprosy and the patients began to move out of the RCBM village, which had been their refuge for so many years and so also Thomas, who, by that time, had married and had two children. He became a man of influence in his parish, a man of great compassion and kindness, a man who always carried with him, I felt, a certain peace and gentleness.

     This story of Thomas and James is a story of “Resurrection”, for our belief in Resurrection is not just the belief that Jesus rose from the dead two thousand years ago, nor is it just the belief that Jesus is truly alive and present with us today. Resurrection is also a power at work in our world, a power that shines into the darkness of people’s lives through the words and actions of people like James. It lifts them out of despair and leads them into hope and new life. It does not destroy the past and make it disappear, but uses it to create the door to a new future. You can see that in the Gospel John 20: 19-21, when the risen Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room. It says that he “showed them the nail wounds in his hands and his feet” – those wounds are not left behind – they are now part of his glory, part of his resurrection. We see what this means in the same passage, when the Lord speaks to Thomas, who had refused to believe that Jesus had risen, when first told of it by the disciples. Jesus came and spoke directly to Thomas, but with kindness, not condemnation. Thomas answered by falling to his knees and saying, “My Lord and God!” Such a deep response of faith and love could only be made because Thomas had first rejected that Christ had risen. In the same way, my friend Thomas’ experience of darkness on his journey to Kuching enabled him to receive his new life with a joy and gratitude that would last him the rest of his life.

It is Christ who brings us that new life of resurrection – but it is you and I who minister it. Through our words and actions, through our attitude to those in trouble, despair and darkness – never mind whether that be of their own making or the making of someone else – wherever there is darkness, we can bring the light that Thomas says he saw when James entered his cabin. But, we can also turn our backs on such people in fear or self-righteous condemnation and in so doing bang the door even more tightly closed. The trouble with that is, that when the day comes – as come it must – when I myself need to find the light, I will discover that it is behind the door I myself slammed shut – lying there together in the darkness with Thomas.

Diary

I have almost finished the preparations for the two retreats I shall be giving over the next week or two – one in Thailand and one in Bali. So I find myself with a little bit of time to write this blog. However, all my work is not over yet – I still have to examine the poor students – ten minute oral exams – and I remember from my own time as a student just how long those ten minutes can be.

This is the weekend of the canonisation of the two Popes – John XXIII and John Paul II, which I watched on TV. I still remember well the impact John XXIII made when he became pope. Suddenly there was a new vision of what Christianity could be – he was a resurrection man, of the type I write of above. I was reminded in an email today of one of the many stories about him. He once visited some children in a hospital and asked one little boy what he wanted to be when he grew up. The boy answered, “A policeman or the Pope” Pope John answered him, “I would become a policeman, if I were you. Anyone can become pope – even me!”

I am being chased by the makers of the tooth implant, who made the tooth that is now resting in my jaw. I have paid RM1500 already, but they want another RM4000 – about 700 pounds. I do not object to paying it – but they will not send me a proper bill. I get telephone calls asking me to send the money to a certain bank account, which I refuse to do without a proper bill. They have called me two times already, but still have not sent me a proper invoice.

         Last blog, I forgot to wish you all God’s Easter blessings, so I do now. May you feel that “resurrection life” in you and may you pass it to all whom you meet.

God bless,

Terry

Ps. “Thank you” to those who offered to help bring me my cassock. Things so often get list in the post.  

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The needs of love

My Aunt Mary was my Dad’s youngest sister. She and her husband, my Uncle Pat, really wanted children, but they never had any, so Aunt Mary decided that she would embrace all the children in the world – both young and old – and she very nearly did! No one ever went away from her house without a little gift of some sort – even if it were only a packet of biscuits – and none of her many nieces and nephews ever celebrated a birthday without receiving a card and/or a little present from Aunt Mary, and as these married and had children of their own, so Aunt Mary’s birthday list got longer and longer. Even when one of her nephews found his way to far distant Borneo, Aunt Mary’s love even reached out there with Christmas and birthday cards, even if they might be a little late in arriving. But, as good as Aunt Mary was at giving gifts, she was not so good at receiving them. She would always say, “Thank you!” nicely, for whatever gift you gave her, but you knew that nearly always that gift would find its way to someone else. When she died and, as her executor, I had to deal with her things, I found her wardrobe filled with many Christmas and birthday gifts received over the years, which had never even been opened!

            Only once, was I really able to show her my love and that was towards the end of her life when she got cancer. Her husband, Uncle Pay, died shortly after she was diagnosed – it seemed as if he did want to live without Aunt Mary around – and so as she neared the end of her life she was alone, apart from the many friends who rallied round. About a month or so before she died, she went away to a hospice for respite care – supposedly for ten days – but six days later, I received a phone call from the hospice saying that she was on her way home, so I had to jump in my car and race the thirty miles to her house – because no one knew she was coming – and I arrived just at the same time as the hospice ambulance. As I helped Aunt Mary into the house, she said she felt very tired would go up to bed and I said I would make her a cup of tea, but when she tried to mount the stairs she could not do so, so I picked her up in my arms – despite her protestations – and carried her up to bed. That remains with me as one of my most precious memories of Aunt Mary, for it was the one time that I was really able to show her my love for her – and I could do so because she needed me.

            I was reminded of that recently, when I read the Gospel story of Mary anointing the Lord’s feet with precious ointment, Jn 12: 1-11. Judas complained that it was a waste of money, but Jesus rebuked him, because he knew that Mary needed to show her love for him, even if the ointment was expensive. For if two people love each other, they have a need to show their love for each other – for true love longs to fill up what is lacking in the beloved – and the same is true between us and God.

            I have a small stained glass panel on the window of my office of Our Lady bending over and smiling at the baby Jesus, whom she is holding on her lap and when I look at it I am reminded of something I heard years ago: that God came to us as a baby, because a baby is helpless and needs demands love and care – and so by coming to us as a baby, God gave us the opportunity to love him. I see the same dynamic at work in the “Stations of the Cross”, when Simon of Cyrene and then Veronica reach out to help to comfort and help the Lord – one to help him carry the cross and the other to wipe his face – they were able to love him in this way because he “needed” their help. I see it also in our Triduum ceremonies of “Watching” on Holy Thursday night and the kissing of the cross on Good Friday. As Phil 2:7 says “He emptied himself” – and I think he did so, so that we could truly love him, for love needs to fill up that which is lacking in the beloved – and at these ceremonies help us to show our love for the loveless one!

            A thought follow on from this. This time before Easter is the time we have traditionally gone to confession. It is a time when we become very much aware of our sins and failings – those things, which seem to separate us from God. How many times have I wholeheartedly wished I were different and did not have such a burden. However, the above thoughts show those sins and failings in a different light, for it is precisely there that we have the opportunity to let the Lord love is as we are. They are that which is lacking in us, a lack which only love can fill; they are the wounds, which only he can heal. The above thoughts show us that our sins and failings are not a barrier to God, but are, in fact the doorway, by which he can enter and if we let him love us as we are, we find not only healing, but also the love and companionship for which we were made.

Diary

I enjoyed my visit to Singapore. I visited Universal Studios and went on some of the rides – just to show there is life in the old dog yet!! I also ordered from the Sisters there a new cassock – that is the long white robe priests wear. And I relaxed. It was very pleasant. However, when I got back, I discovered that the details of my bank card had been used by someone, but how they got them I do not know, because I only used it in an ATM machine. So, when I discovered the loss, I cancelled the card and Standard Chartered are investigating. There are four items amounting to about 3,500 ringgit or 650 pounds. I am hoping that the bank will take responsibility for those purchases, but at the moment they are still in my debit column!

We are fast approaching the end of term. We have a week of revision and then a week of exams, after which I go to Penang to visit our Mill Hill students there. Then I fly on to Chiang Mai, Thailand, to give a retreat, then I fly down to Bali to give another retreat, and then I come back to Sarawak for a Mill Hill meeting in Sibu. After all that I return to Kuching and we begin the next term. You are all supposed to say, “Aaah! Poor Lad!” But then, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it, would I?

One of our older Mill Hill men here, Fr James Meehan, had a slight stroke at the beginning of last week. Physically he seems to be ok, but it has affected his power of speech – he seems to know what he wants to say but often cannot find the words. It has also slightly affected his memory and one of our younger local fathers was a little upset when yesterday he went to visit him and James did not recognise him. I told him, not to be worried, for when I had visited him earlier he had said, “Oh, are you here again!” Jokes aside, please pray for him, He is, or was, a garrulous Scot, who loved to tell stories, so he is finding his affliction very trying.

God bless,

Terry

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Family or Wage-earner?

Some years ago, one of our Mill Hill priests told me a story about his sister, Ann, which I would like to relate to you. Ann came from a large Catholic family where she was one of the older children. When she left school, she trained as a nurse and then married, but when their eldest son was born, they discovered that he had spina bifida, a congenital disorder, which would mean that he would have to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. At first, Ann and her husband were very distressed and this also brought with it spiritual confusion – why had God given her a disabled child? However, after thinking and praying about it she came to the conclusion that of all her brothers and sisters, she was the one best suited to look after a disabled child, because she was a nurse and so she slowly began to see that God had especially entrusted her son to her and her husband – and this was a trust they came to wholeheartedly accept.

            Some years later, Ann met another Catholic mother, whose child had been born with webbed toes, a not unusual complaint. However, this mother was indignant and said, in Ann’s hearing, “How could God have given me a disabled child? I have always gone to Mass and said the rosary. How could God have allowed this to happen to me?” After listening to her, Ann said to her, “First of all, as a nurse, let me assure you that your child’s complaint is very minor, the doctor can just snip the skin between his toes and no one will know the difference. “However”, said Ann to the woman, “I can also assure you that you will never have another disabled child. God entrusted this child into your care and you rejected him. So, I tell you with certainty that he will never trust you with another one!”

            The more I think of Ann’s story, the more I realise what a profound insight was given to Ann of the relationship God is holding out to us. She came to see that God knew that her disabled child was coming into the world, not because he had deliberately disabled him, but because of the brokenness of our world which causes such things to happen. She also saw that God wanted to make sure that the child was wanted, cared for and loved and he turned to Ann for help. She opened her arms to the child, her son, and in so doing she was drawn into God’s love for this child. She thus, experienced what our Faith tells us – that God is healing our broken world, but he needs us, he wants to draw us into that ministry of healing. In other words, he is asking us to become his family, sharing in his care and his work – and as we do so we become loving people – which is how salvation works.

 The Catholic mother, on the other hand, whom Ann met, does not seem to see this invitation to love and serve with God. She is focussed only on herself and her ideas of what will bring happiness. She seems to see her relationship with God as solely concerned with assuring that her ideas of happiness will come to be. She seems to understand her relationship with God as something like a wage-earner – if she does her work, namely her religious duties, then God will pay her by making sure that her life goes smoothly. If she would but pause for a moment and think about this, she should come to realise, by God’s grace, that our religious duties do nothing for God – they are given to us for our benefit, not God’s. But the temptation is always there to imagine that we are somehow “buying” protection by our prayers and religious duties.

            I realise that my explanation of this story is a little too black and white, but I have done this deliberately to show clearly that there are alternative ways in which we can approach our relationship to God. However, I know that in real life, we are not black and white, but are rather shades of grey. There are probably some elements of the wage-earner in all of us, but I hope also there is movement caused by the Holy Spirit as he urges us and moves us, in the depths of our being, to realise our dignity as God’s sons and daughters and become family by taking God’s concerns to heart.        

Maybe Lent is a good time to take stock of ourselves and look to see if there are elements of the wage-earner in us. The best way to do this is by looking at our private prayers, at the way we pray – are we mainly concerned with trying to persuade God to be interested in our concerns – or do we, in our prayers, allow the Holy Spirit to open us to the needs of others, to share in what God is doing in our world? We can do this by asking, who Christ is concerned with in our world – such as the poor, the needy, the lonely, the outsiders etc. If we then begin a Lenten penance of praying regularly for these people – even if we find that we do not really care about them – then we will discover that through these prayers for the needy, our hearts are changing and the care and concern of Christ is becoming rooted in our heart. In other words, we are becoming true family. In other words, “we fake it to make it” for through these prayers, Christ is transforming us by his Spirit into ever more truly family members with him.

Diary

I remember that my Dad used to say that the Lord has promised us “three score years and ten” – which is 70 years – and that anything more is a bonus. He lived to be 71, but I remember that when he reached the age of 70 years, he was an old man, but then he had had a hard life. This memory of my Dad’s word gives me cause to pause, because this coming Monday – 24th March – I shall be 70 myself, but I don’t feel like an old man – even though I have aches etc that I once never knew.  So, it is a good place to pause and look back though – and I am sure I shall do so over the next few days. One thing that strikes me is that I have wanted to be a priest for as long as I remember – and in my early years I thought I knew what type of person I wanted to be and prayed that it would be so – I can only say now that I am profoundly grateful that the Lord ignored those prayers and made me both who I am and also gave me the family and friends I am blessed to have.

My birthday will be a day like any other, because I have classes to give and other things to do, but later in the week I am going to Singapore for a few days to meet a few friendsi, to eat and drink – even though it is still Lent! – and in this way to thank the Lord for his love and kindness, by relaxing with friends – which shows us who God is.

I have been suffering from a cough for the last week. It is not too bad most of the time, but it has caught me a couple of times during Mass, so much so that yesterday morning I had to ask one of the other priests to take over my duties as the main celebrant at Mass, due to a coughing fit. It began when I gave someone a lift the week before and he was coughing in the car. So, the motto is……. I am not sure!

God bless,

Terry

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Resurrection

Some years ago, I paid a visit to the famous Leprosy hospital at Carville, Louisiana, USA and there learned about a skilled surgeon, who had once worked there. He used to rebuild the hands of those ravaged by leprosy and so enabled many of those, whose fingers had been damaged or destroyed by the disease, to find a new life. However, if he were complimented on his skill, he would reply that the true miracle of these new beginnings came not from the skill of his hands but from the love in his heart. He said, “My skill can give them new hands, but only the love in my heart can give them the courage to use those hands and so find new life”. He knew that when the hands of his patients had been destroyed by leprosy, their self-esteem and ability to build again were also destroyed – not, however, by the disease, but by the hostile attitude of people to those afflicted with this disease. It was his love for his patients and because he believed in them, that they were able to believe in themselves and so begin to live again through the new hands he gave them.

 

            As I think about that story told by the guide at Carville, I realise that I was listening to a story of Resurrection – a story of new life and hope rising out of the destruction of the past – for our faith in Christ’s Resurrection is more than a belief that Jesus rose from the dead on that first Easter Sunday morning and also more than our hope that one day we shall share in his Resurrection. Our Easter Faith proclaims that the Risen Christ is a power now present in our world – not a power that wipes out what has happened, but a power which uses it to bring about something wonderfully new. We see this in the Risen Lord himself – his risen body still carried the marks of the nails in his hands and feet, for they are now part of his new and glorified life. We see this same power at work in the stories of Peter and Paul – Peter’s betrayal was used by Christ to bring about the new Peter – “Peter the Rock” and Paul’s persecution of the Church was turned, by the Lord, into the dedication that made him the Apostle of the Gentiles. Likewise, the doctor’s work at Carville did not take away the damage caused by the leprosy, but when their stumps were changed into workable hands, their hearts must have been so filled with joy at how wonderful it was to have hands – to be able to touch, to create, to caress!

 

            There is, however, something more about resurrection, pointed to by those words of the doctor – people can only use their new life if they are accepted in love by those around them. The doctor’s love enabled his patients to find a new life, even though this was a life still confined to the community of Carville and it would be many years before the attitude of people towards those with leprosy changed enough to allow them to find a new life outside those walls. And this is also true of our resurrection faith – Peter and Paul both had to be accepted by the other disciples in order to enter fully into their new lives as apostles – and we ourselves, when we are raised up by Christ from the dark places of failure into which we find we have fallen, we also need the acceptance and love of those around us to be able to start again.

 

            I have seen such new life and new beginnings come to be in many places and in many people – including myself. I have seen it in Bali, among those young people, who, having been sentenced to life in prison for drug smuggling, have found a new life of service to others. I have seen it in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, in people, whose lives have been wrecked by drugs and alcohol, but who have been drawn into new life and new ways of living, by, as they say “a Power greater than themselves”, but also, they say, by the love and acceptance of others in those groups, who help sustain them in those new beginnings. This is “Resurrection” they are attesting to, not “resuscitation”. This is not a mere going back to the way they were before the tragedy. As I have heard so many say, “In a strange way, I am grateful for having been an addict, for I now have a richer and fuller life than ever I had before my life was wrecked by drugs”.

 

             Resurrection faith is not magic. The power of Christ’s life-giving grace has its own momentum, its own path and its own timetable. It is a long process of gradually learning to entrust oneself to God: of learning to live life with God and for people and, as we do so, we are gradually built into something we never imagined possible. Sometimes this work runs smoothly, sometimes it goes slowly, sometimes it even stops or retreats, but if those in need are to find the courage to persevere, then they need people around them who believe in them, they need us to believe in them. The grace of resurrection needs to be both received and ministered and Christ has drawn us all into being ministers of resurrection. Both the helper as well as the helped equally need resurrection faith; both need to be willing to witness to this resurrection faith, both need to be willing to be surprised by grace, and, if this is done, then reaching out to our brothers and sisters in their time of need will not be a false dawn, but will be the beginning of new life both for them and for those who reach out to them in love!

 

Diary

 

When I first lived here in Sarawak, forty years ago, I remember that the only time there seemed to be wind was when it was going to rain. I remember once, when I first arrived here, walking down a road with a friend, when I felt a strong wind and heard something like the sound of a train in the distance. My friend said, “Run!” so trusting him I ran, but did not quite get to the house in time and was drenched by the coming rain. Now, however, global warming seems to have changed the weather pattern, for at the moment we are getting cooling breezes almost every day, such a pleasant change from the still, heavy humidity I remember.

 

We only have one Mill Hill Brother still here with us in East Malaysia – Brother Ben, who lives in the mountains of Sabah and has done so for nearly 60 years. Next week he celebrates his Diamond Jubilee and most of us MillHillers are going up the mountain to celebrate with him. Over the years our brothers have done sterling work here in Borneo – from building agricultural stations and orphanages – which Br Ben has done and still does – to building small hydro-electric stations way upriver to bring power to a small mission hospital. Maybe we should write down some of the exploits of this group – a group of usually quiet, but such dedicated men.

 

I have had to change my grass-cutting habits. I used to wear sandals while working, but recently I went to the doctor with a skin complaint on the soles of my feet and was told it was caused by the cut grass. So, I have had to start wearing socks and shoes – and this, together, with some cream for the feet, has healed the complaint. Just as well, with a belly like mine it is difficult to bend down to scratch itchy feet!

 

God bless,

 

Terry

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