A little while ago, someone wrote telling me how, on returning from Mass, one Sunday evening, she had been attacked as she got out of her car to open the gates of her house and her purse was stolen. She was deeply shocked by the incident and asked how the Lord could allow such things to happen, especially, as her mother pointed out, it had happened as she was returning home from Mass. The only thing I could do was to sympathise with her and to gently say that the Lord had never promised that no bad things would happen to us – but that whatever happened to us would never destroy us and, moreover, he would turn all those things to the good for those who loved him. (Rm 8:28)
Such happenings, which occur in all our lives, are very threatening, because they not only damage our sense of security and well-being, but they also threaten our faith in God. However, in a strange way, they are the way in which our faith grows and deepens for in the midst of the uncertainties that such happenings create, there is also an opportunity – and invitation – to deepen our trust in the God we believe loves us.
Our faith in God begins at a quite simple level – we know that God wants our well-being, which we understand in a rather material sense, for do we not pray in the Our Father, “Give us this day our daily bread”? However, as we learn to live and trust in God, we begin to realise that he also wants something deeper for us and from us, for we begin to experience a call to join him in his care of others. We begin to learn to share the things we have with the poor we have not seen and we learn to pray for justice for people we do not know and so our vision of God’s Kingdom grows. There is, however, a price to pay for this new vision and calling, for if we are to care for the poor, we have to sacrifice some of the good things of this world and share them with those less privileged than ourselves. Sometimes, this is more difficult than others, but that gentle urging inside us leads us on to give up some of our material good for the sake of coming to a deeper closeness with our God in his love and care for people. This is how we enter the second stage of faith.
It is the next step of faith that we find the most difficult, and this is the step of faith that my friend found difficult. She asked why the Lord allowed such things to happen and why did he not punish them by, for example, making their fingers swell. That would soon stop them, my friend said. I can sympathise with her sense of outrage at such injustice, but while punishing a thief in this way might stop him acting in this manner, it would not turn his heart to love and gentleness, that road can only be reached in a different way. As the Lord himself said, “My Kingdom is not of this kind. If my Kingdom were of this kind, my servants would have fought to prevent my falling into the hands of the Jews, but my Kingdom is not of this kind.” This is the third level of faith, where we realise that God does not primarily want right actions, but right people. He wants people with love and kindness in their hearts, a goodness which although challenged and abused will not give up. It is at this level that we have to learn to forgive, for not to do so will mean to become as hating as those who injured and damaged us. It is the stage where we have to be with the Lord on the cross and say, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This can only be done by the power of the Holy Spirit and our opening to the Holy Spirit can only happen at times of such outrage.
We become the children of God, not by God doing things for us, but letting God help us face up to the challenges and difficulties that life throws at us. To do this involves this third deepening stage of our faith. A friend once put it this way: I once thought that my relationship with God meant me saying, “Lord, that is my problem, if you fix it for me, then we can become friends.” Now, I realise that I should be saying, “Lord, that is the problem I am facing, if you come and help me face up to it, then we will be friends”. God wants us to be his true children, which means not avoiding the difficulties of life, but facing up to them. This is the way we grow and mature, for we are being formed by all that happens to us in life, but we are not being formed for this world, but for eternity. That goodness and love that we learn by letting God live with us gives to us a treasure that will be ours forever and can never be taken from us – not even by death.
The seminarians entertained a large group of migrant workers at the College, last Sunday. There were knock-out matches in seven a side football and also volley ball. The seminarians won the football and lost the volleyball. That is to be expected, for the migrants do not have access to enough land to play football on. The largest bit of land they have is only big enough for a volleyball court. Thus, the results of the contests showed also something of the difficulties of life that the migrants face – and those difficulties are many.
When I first came to Sarawak, forty years ago, I taught myself to eat whatever was put before me – even though I also taught myself never to ask what it was. I discover that I have become soft during my long years away from Sarawak for recently we have had python and squirrel on the table for supper – but both dishes I have quietly ignored!
I bought some potting compost recently to grow some African violets but planting a leaf. Sr Pat also gave me another plant to grow, so I put them all in my room alongside the African violet I already have and which is doing very well. However, the rest have all died on me and I am not sure why. It maybe that I gave them too much fertiliser or I gave them too much water. So, I am beginning again.