He meets us on the way

Some years ago, when I was a young and energetic priest, I was invited to officiate at a wedding some way upriver from my mission station.  There were five or six of us in our party and we travelled upriver by longboat for 5 hours and were then supposed to walk for 2 hours to reach the longhouse, where the wedding was being held.  I say “supposed”, because we took the wrong path and got lost.  There is a rule in the forest, “never leave the path” – so we decided to continue following the path we were on, because we knew that a path always leads somewhere.  However, we then came to a swamp and the path went on into the swamp, which we could see by the logs laid down just under the water to walk on and there was also a handrail, by that time we had no alternative but to carry on along the path.  Then, night came down and we had only two flashlights between us, so the person leading took one and the person at the rear took the other and we shuffled on into the darkness. We felt for the path with our feet and held on to the handrail, but still we slipped and two or three times I went down into the mud, but each time the others helped me up and waited until I was ready to move on.  Someone said, ” Father, let’s turn back!” But I replied, “turn back to where?  We have to go on.” So on we went until at last we saw some lights ahead of us and we found that we had arrived at the very longhouse, where the wedding was to be held.
    That memory came back to me this Easter, as I pondered, “How and where do I meet the risen Lord?”  When a memory comes like that, during prayer, there is usually something there that we need to learn concerning the situation facing us and, as I remembered my journey to the Wedding Feast, I saw there were three elements – the path we followed; the torchlights we had with us; and the company we travelled with – and I came to see that we met the living Lord in all these three ways.
    The Lord has given us the path to follow as Christians – and when we follow that path the Lord meets us on the way and journeys with us.  This path, however, is not the path of rules and regulations, which we sometimes present as the Christian life.  It is the path of love and service – it is the path of those little daily acts of kindness and compassion that show that Christ is truly living in us.  We sometimes think that our beliefs and prayer life are the signs that Christ lives in us, but this is not so.  Our beliefs and ways of prayer are given to open us up to the love of Christ, but we only know that he is truly living in us when we see appear, in our behaviour towards others, the love and kindness, the gentleness and compassion, the understanding and forgiveness that are the marks of the risen Lord’s presence.
    The torchlights that we had with us on our journey also reveal how Christ is present.  At Easter, we all receive a light from the Paschal candle as a sign of the risen Christ.  This candle, however, is not given for us to stare at and think of Christ – for that will only blind us in the darkness – it is given to use, to light the way ahead.  We often come up against situations where the best way to go forward is unclear and we have to decide how to go.  Our lighted candle reminds us that at such times we need to give the situation into the hands of Christ and ask for his guidance.  This does not mean that we decide what to do and then ask Christ to affirm our choice.  It means that we ask him to show us the way – we entrust ourselves and our situation into his hands.  When we do this, we live out the words of the “Our Father” – ” your kingdom come, your will be done”. When we dare to do this, we experience his guiding hand.
    But, above all, the risen Christ is with us through the people we journey with towards the Wedding Feast.  I slipped and fell in the mud, as also did the others, but each time our companions helped us to our feet and with words of encouragement helped us start again.  The true sign of the risen Lord’s presence with us is when we discover that we are willing to begin again – and again and again – but to do this, we need companions, whose love gives us the courage and the trust to begin again.  A true community does not condemn us for our fall, but in compassion helps us to stand up and start again – and it is here, in the supportive friendship of our community, that we experience, above all, the presence of the risen Christ.
     From this distance in time, it is difficulty to remember the fear and the uncertainty of that dark journey – that was all wiped away as soon as we arrived at the Wedding Feast – but fear and uncertainty certainly gripped us! We did not know what dangers lurked in the swamp. We did not know whether the path indeed led anywhere. We were not aware of the presence of the Lord – we walked, not in certainty, but in hope. We clung on to those three things we could touch and see – the path, the lights and the company – the rest was darkness and fear. Only when we arrived at the Wedding Feast did we realise that the Lord had truly journeyed with us, and that through those three things, he had held us close to him and given us the hope that led us on.
As it was on that journey so many years ago – so it is in the whole of our lives! Our journey is often dark and we are not certain of the way – only when we arrive at the Wedding Feast will we know. Until then, our anchor is hope and the belief that the Lord will not fail us.
Diary
I spent the last two weeks in Indonesia, visiting a Mill Hill Father in Ambon and discussing with the diocesan priests there how we, in Mill Hill, might be able to help them. Then I went to Bali and spent time meetings friends, saying Mass, etc. but I was disappointed in my prison visits. I went to the prison three times. Twice I could not get in because there were so many people, and the third time, although I managed to get in, I found that the Australian Consul was also visiting and so I was unable to see my friends among the Bali Nine. However, I received the good news that one of them, Scott Rush – who was 19 when he was arrested – has had his death sentence commuted to life in prison.
    I did meet, however, a Catholic Filipino woman, whom one of my group in Bali had told me about. To raise money to educate her children, she had agreed to carry drugs into Bali – but was caught and has now been sentenced to life in prison. Someone has kindly paid for her children to come out to see her next month, but she was terribly fearful of what she should tell her children – how could she tell them that she would never be with them again? However, when I spoke to her, she seemed much comforted because I helped her find a way to give her children hope that one day they would be together again. The Indonesian system is such that they give a harsh first sentence and then over the years reconsider and often commute part of the sentence.
    Now, I am back in Kuching, preparing lectures for next term, cutting grass for a little exercise and enjoying the peace and quiet. Next week I go to India for a few days, for the wedding of one of the boys from the Hostel for street children where I worked for a while when I was in India. I kept in touch after I left and managed to raise funds for his and other’s education – and he was insistent that I come to his wedding. He said that he wanted to stand up and tell people that I am his father. How could I refuse such an invitation?
     I shall be back for the beginning of the new term and then on 13th June is my Jubilee. It will be a modest celebration, but I think 40 years as a missionary priest is something worth celebrating!
                                                          God bless,
                                                                       Terry

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