Some years ago, when I worked in England, one of my nephews and his wife also lived in the parish and they had a little daughter, Lauren, about three years of age, of whom I became very fond. I would often see them on Sundays, when I went to lunch with my sister, my nephew’s mother, and after lunch, when we were relaxing and chatting at table, Lauren would play a little game she had invented. She would slowly climb up on the table, all the time looking at me, and I would pretend not to notice her, but all the while I would be watching her out of the corner of my eye. She would slowly walk towards me and then suddenly throw herself off the table into my arms, hoping that I would catch her – which thankfully I always did. The memory of that Sunday game still remains with me as an example of the faith that makes love grow. It is also the type of “faith” or “trust” that baptism asks for.
One of my favourite artists is El Greco. He was trained in painting among the icon-painters of the Eastern Church and so the colours he uses have symbolic meaning. His paintings of the baptism of Christ, of which there are three or four, all show Christ standing in the pool, just before or after having being baptised. At the side of the pool, from where he stepped into the water, there is a discarded red garment – red is the symbol of divinity – but Christ is shown as looking towards the other side of the pool, where he will emerge, for there stands an angel holding out a blue-green garment – the colour of humanity. Christ is freely choosing to lay aside his divinity and take on our humanity, with all its weakness and incompleteness.
We see this incompleteness in various stories in the Gospels, such as when Christ is surprised at the faith of the centurion (Mt. 8:10) he encounters. There are things he does not know, things he has to learn, but there will always remain places in his life, where in darkness he has to place his faith, his trust in his Father. We see this above all in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night before he died. We see him praying in fear, asking the way forward – trying, in his darkness, to be faithful to his Father. Then we see him replying in the only way we can when our understanding is insufficient – he surrenders to his Father in faith and in trust.
There come times in our own lives when we are faced with similar situations, when our knowledge and understanding are not enough, when our plans and ideas of “what should be” begin to crumble and we do not know what to do or where to go. At such times, we can only respond, as Christ did, by surrendering ourselves in trust to God – by jumping into his arms, not knowing whether he will catch us, but trusting that he will – just as my little great-niece trusted me.
However, such trust does not come naturally to us. I still remember the first time in my life, after many as a priest, when I dared say to the Lord, “Then, do it your way, Lord, not mine”. I said those words in fear of what would happen and I said them, because I had run out of ideas and knew no other way to go – but I am most grateful that I did so. Through that surrender, I have been brought so much closer to the Lord and have seen something of the wonderful things God does, when we trust him. I have also come to see that our baptism is a Covenant of trust and the promises made there can only come to us when we trust. But, my little great-niece did not just suddenly begin her game of jumping off the table into my arms, a lot of play and games had gone on before – games when she learnt to trust that I would not fail her. So, also with ourselves, we need to train ourselves by entrusting our daily problems into his hands – even if we think we know best – for if we surrender to God in the little things of each day, then we will be ready to jump off the table, when there is no other way to go.
Just before Christmas, I spoke at Mass, here in Kuching, about two of our Mill Hill priests. One of whom lives in Ambon, Indonesia, where a few years ago, he, together with his parishioners, were driven out of their parish by inter-religious warfare and have not been able to return since. The other works in Pakistan among the tribal peoples, who are, in effect, economic slaves. He and other Mill Hill men are trying to build a settlement for them, where they will be able to live free of their debtors. I spoke about them only briefly, at the end of six Masses, and added that I was sending them a little bit of money for Christmas –but I was not asking the Kuching people for anything. When I returned from Bali, I discovered that I was able to send £5000 sterling to these priests. I was astonished at the generosity – and the two priests concerned were even more astonished.
Sadly, I was not able to visit the prisoners, while I was in Bali. The first time I tried, there was heavy rain and I was not allowed in because the visiting area had been flooded. The second time I tried to go, I got a bad attack of tummy gripes and I did not dare being caught out. However, I sent them a message, telling them how sorry I was not to meet them and got a lovely message back telling me not to worry for although they always looked forward to my visits – there will be plenty of opportunities in the future. This is obviously a reference to the fact that the guy who wrote is sentenced to life imprisonment. Please pray for them. (I won’t tell you how the messages were sent!!)
I came back to Kuching with a heavy cold – and had to dose myself with medicine to survive the plane journeys – but I am glad to say that it is lifting at last. I have been without energy, both physical and psychic, for the last two weeks – which is one reason why there has been no terryblog for nearly three weeks. Now I have to try to catch up with myself.