A little while ago, I was talking to Fr. Albert, one of my Mill Hill colleagues here in Kuching, when he remarked that a characteristic of Mill Hillers is that they are always somehow involved with those on the edges of society. I thought about that for a moment and then replied that I could see that in him – for he has a great concern for migrant workers and children in need – but I could not see it in myself, sitting comfortably as I am in the seminary. He answered, “What about your prison visits in Bali?” That made me stop and think and I began to realise that there is more going on in my life than I am aware of. The Founder of Mill Hill, Herbert Vaughan, gave us, Mill Hillers, the motto “amare et servire”, which means “to love and to serve” and since that conversation with Fr. Albert I am coming to realize that this is more than just a motto; it is a way of life that we Mill Hillers were invited into by the Holy Spirit, when we were first attracted to and applied to join Mill Hill. In other words, our joining Mill Hill was both inspired and enabled by the Holy Spirit and, when we said “yes” to that invitation, that same Spirit began to make that motto the agenda of our lives, whether we were aware of it or not.
Bishop Cornelius Piong of Keningau once asked why we Mill Hillers did not speak more about our motto, for, as he remarked when speaking of the Mill Hill pioneers in what is now East Malaysia and Brunei, “When I think of all they did and endured they could not have done it without great love in their hearts.” But were those first Mill Hillers aware that they were living heroic lives? I doubt it! Just like so many people today, who live lives of great dedication, they probably saw only the immediate tasks that had to be done and so got on and did them, without being aware that they were being inspired, led and carried along by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This phenomenon is not confined to Mill Hill members, for it can be seen all around us. For instance, those dedicated members of the Legion of Mary or the SVP, who go out to visit those in spiritual or material need; their vocation began with a tug of the heart strings inviting them to that work and when they responded and, in some way, said: “Yes, I would like to do that”, the Holy Spirit began to move them in that direction, creating the occasions and opportunities where that “Yes” could be put into action.
Moreover, we should not just see this in explicitly religious terms, for it runs throughout the whole of humanity. As that ancient adage says, “Where there is love and friendship – there is God” – and there the Holy Spirit is at work, for there is no love and friendship outside of God. Maybe it is in families that we can see this most fundamentally of all. When a couple make their wedding promises – however that might be done – they are responding to the prompting of the Spirit and so setting in motion that movement of love in their lives, which brings about their dedication to their children and family to an often extraordinary degree. In other words, although we can only see the part that we play in the love and care of others, there is, in fact, a far greater power at work in all of us, and it is this power which brings about such wonders of love and dedication in our lives and in many other lives throughout the world. As St Paul says:
“Glory to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine; glory to him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
But, you may say, that does not always happen. Mill Hill men have been known to leave the priesthood; members of the Legion of Mary or SVP sometimes give up such work; and married people sometimes walk out on their children. That is all true, for that “Yes” made to the gentle prompting of our God has to be affirmed in the daily opportunities to love and to serve that he brings before us. If we start to say “no” to these opportunities – and I do not mean here that we fail to do it, but that we ‘refuse’ to do it – then slowly that basic “Yes!” will be worn away, until one day it breaks. So, in our lives, both things are needed – the daily attempts to give care and service, to which God invites us, but we also need to sometimes sit back and listen to that invitation of God in the depths of our hearts, urging and inviting us to be one with him in his love and care for the world. In my experience, I have never heard this in the form of words, but as a ‘wanting’, a longing to be part of that love and service and maybe that was why I never realized that this was not just my ‘wanting’, but was the call of my Lord – and I had yet to learn that God speaks to us primarily through our heart, not through our head. As Pascal said, The heart has reasons that reason does not know!
So, the Magi, whose coming we have just celebrated, were not the only ones who had a star to guide them. That desire in our hearts is our star. On their long journey to Bethlehem, there were probably cloudy days, when they could not see the star, and often the terrain would have been so difficult that all their attention was needed for the next step of the journey. There must also have been times when they wondered where it was leading them, wondered whether it was all worthwhile and wondered whether they would in fact make it. Their story is very much like ours, for we often wonder about the journey in the same way. They probably found courage by sometimes sitting quietly looking at the star and this urges us also to sit quietly, now and then, and look at our star and to remember that it is the Holy Spirit leading us on – and just as the Kings found what they were looking for – so shall we!
I had a good Christmas in Bali, but a very hot and sweaty one. I had forgotten just how humid Bali could be and at one point I was changing my shirt three or four times a day. I met a lot of old friends and made some new ones and I managed to get into the prison and spent a little time with my friends there. However, the humidity and the hard floor meant that I only spent about 45 minutes chatting with them. It was great to see three of the guys, but please keep them in your prayers – they have been there for seven years already and are facing many more years. I told them that you were praying for them and they were very touched and asked me to thank you.
The students are on holiday, so I decided to keep the grass on the football field cut while they are away. However, I tried yesterday and got bogged down in mud. We have been having so much rain that the football field is a quagmire in places. We need a week of sunshine to dry it out.
Now, some news about goats in Pakistan and needy people in Ambon, Indonesia: as you may remember, I told you a young Mill Hill priest in Pakistan is trying to provide a goat or a milking buffalo for the poor families, especially widows, in his parish. Well, I have been given about RM15,000, which is about 3,000 pounds sterling, and now I shall divide it up and send it off. Most will go to Pakistan as many of those who gave the money wanted it to go to that cause. Thank you, then, for your gifts – not of gold frankincense and myrrh – but goats!