When I lived in Bali, I used to walk on the beach four or five times a week for exercise. However, that part of the beach was also the place where the “beach boys”, the male prostitutes, used to ply their trade and I would sometimes stop and chat with them, during my walk. In this way, I got to know some of their names, where they came from, and a little bit of their stories. I was reminded of this the other day, when I read that we are approaching Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, for many of the beach boys are Muslim and, during our chats, some told me that they would be keeping the fast. When I first heard this, I was a little bemused and wondered how they could reconcile their “beach work” with the keeping of a religious fast. Sometime later, however, I began to examine my standards of judgement, for I was asked to visit and pray with one of them, a Catholic, who was sick. When they first told me about him, I suspected that he might have AIDS and this was confirmed when I saw him – he was terribly thin and obviously in pain, but he was pleased to see me and the others of his group, both Catholic and Protestant, whom I had asked to come with me. It was very moving: we prayed and I anointed him and then everyone present came forward to give him the kiss of peace, for in a few days’ time he was going to go home to his family, who lived on a far island. Our prayer, at the hospital, was in a private room, not in the public ward, and I asked who was paying his for expenses and was told that the beach boys – Christian, Muslim and Hindu – had collected the money among themselves to pay for his room, treatment and medicine and also bought him an air ticket home, so that he could go home to die among his family. It was on hearing this that I began to question myself.
Christ calls us to walk with him in many ways, but that which is central to his invitation is his command, “Love one another as I have loved you” and he goes on to say, “Use money, that tainted thing, to earn you friends who will welcome you into the gates of eternity” and yet, most of us are a little backward, to say the least, in using our money in this way. We may use our money to help family or close friends, but it usually does not go much further than that, except for the odd small donation to charity. So we may point fingers at the beach boys, but that day I had to admit that they put us to shame when we look at that most basic commandment – that we should care for those less fortunate than ourselves.
I am reminded of the parable of the man, who sowed good seed on his farm, but an enemy came at night and sowed weeds among the good seed and both wheat and weeds grew up together. There is a temptation to interpret this to mean that, in the world, there are some good people and some bad people, but, in fact, all of us have both wheat and weeds in our lives. There are parts of us, where the Holy Spirit has made good things grow – but there are other parts where it seems there are only weeds. That being so, there can be no room in our lives to look down upon others and in fact to do so destroys that very goodness that we are so proud of. For if we are honest, we will have to admit that the acts of kindness and compassion, which have appeared in our lives from time to time, do not originate in us – we have no such roots of love within us – they are the work of the Holy Spirit. He moves through our actions, bringing God’s love and mercy into our world, and by giving him passage, we ourselves are made loving. But, to point the finger at others is to claim those acts as our own and such a claim begins the destruction of what the Spirit has brought about.
At the end of the parable of the wheat and the weeds, the Lord says that only at the end of time will the sons and daughters of God be revealed. Until that time, we all have to live among the wheat and the weeds, which we are a part of us. So, to imagine that we are able to judge the worth of others and then to look down on them when we find them wanting, is the height of stupidity and says much more about ourselves than it does about them.
Well, last week, I went to my football match –Arsenal vs. Malaysia – not the most sparkling of matches, but the atmosphere was magical. Most of the Malaysians there were supporting Arsenal, with great cheers, whistles and screams of applause, but they also supported the Malaysian team, when they did something good. So everyone got a clap and there appeared to be none of the bitterness and division which often marks football matches in the West. There was a difficulty, however, getting home afterwards. We were told that there would be taxis, but none arrived, so we turned to the train, along with thousands of others, and finally managed to catch, what I think, was the last train back into Kuala Lumpur.
I have a buyer for my house in Bali. I am glad because it has been difficult keeping it going and now I will now have some money to help one or two people. But I am also sad, for it is a lovely house and I have had some lovely times there. I will have to do what my late Aunt Mary used to do when she left a house where she had had a nice time: she would stand at the door, hold her medal of the Sacred Heart, and say: “Thank you, Jesus, for the lovely times I have had in this house”. I had over three years living in that house – and Aunt Mary’s example helps me to be grateful for that.
We have a renewal course for the priests of East Malaysia here at the seminary this week. There are about 60 attending the course and it is very nice to see old friends. Yesterday, I sat counting the ones I had taught and it came to just over half their number.