Many years ago, there lived a king, who fell in love with and married a beautiful woman. They lived happily together for about four years and then the woman died. The king was inconsolable and he decided that the woman he loved would be forever remembered, so he ordered that her body be embalmed and placed in a coffin made of the most beautiful and expensive wood, with ornaments of gold and precious jewels. Then, when he saw the coffin, he decided to erect a beautiful tomb over it, made of the most costly marble and inlaid with other beautiful stone. However, when this was completed, he was still not satisfied and ordered that a tremendous mausoleum be erected over the tomb and employed the finest masons and artists to decorate it. He then placed a magnificent dome on top of the mausoleum and ordered that it be surrounded by gardens, lakes and fountains. All this took many years to accomplish, but, at last, it was all done – the most beautiful building in the world – and he went in to look at it and saw what a wonder he had built; it towered above him – a thing of beauty and wonder – and then he looked at the small tomb in the middle of the mausoleum, which now seemed so small and poor, in comparison to the building he had built around it. So, he turned to his servants, pointed to the tomb and said, “Get rid of that”.
Everything we do can be divided into two parts: “What we do” and “Why we do it”. For instance, a man goes out to work to feed and care for his family. The “Why” is his desire to take care of his family, the “What” is the work he chooses in order to do that. However, a person may become so absorbed in the “what” that he or she forgets the “why”, just as in the story of the king and the mausoleum. We see such people in those, who start out working to provide their children with a good life, but then become so absorbed in their work that they have very little time left for their children – and so their children end up with a poor life, but surrounded by money. This is not just true of lay people, for men may become priests or women become sisters because they want to serve Christ, but then they get so absorbed with their parish, their school or whatever the particular way in which they have chosen to serve God, that their original vision becomes lost under the many duties of every day. This is a danger for all of us and one which the Lord warns us about.
This is why throughout the year, but especially during this time of Lent, we are asked to listen to the parables of Jesus about the end of time, when we will be asked to account for what we have done and become – as in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Mt 25:31-46). This parable is not told to frighten us into doing good, but to urge us to look at the “why” of our lives to see whether it is being obscured by the “what”. This parable points out that the criterion for judging our lives is not whether they are a “success”, but whether they are concerned with people, especially the smallest and poorest. In the realm of faith and spirituality, the only thing that truly matters is whether we are compassionate and care for others – especially God’s little ones. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me”.
One of my favourite spiritual writers, Rabbi Lionel Blue, tells how his family were not very religious and got a shock when he decided to become a rabbi. However, they gradually accepted it, but one day his mother asked him, “Lionel, will all this religion make you a kinder person?” In that question is the heart of all religion and it is a good question for us to ask ourselves during this Lent. Does what I do, as a Christian, help make me a kinder person? If not, then I need to begin changing my way of life or, like the king, I may well end up throwing out of the building of my life that which gives it meaning and purpose – and so end up among the goats!
Last weekend, I went to Sabah to give a weekend retreat to a group of Parish Councillors. I enjoyed it and, I think the retreat went well, for the participants said that it was, for them, a new way of looking at things. During that weekend, I met two old students of mine – one, who was a student with me just over a year ago and another, someone I had not seen for nearly 30 years – and both smiled warmly at me. Quite a compliment, I thought!
We seem to be having more and more rain. I know that this is traditionally the rainy season, but everyone here agrees that it seems so much wetter than usual. I notice it, particularly, when I try to mow the lawns – some areas are now so muddy that I can do nothing. I have to ask the students to work on them with the strimmers.
This time, last year, I was panicking, trying to get my passport returned from the British Passport office, where I had sent it to be renewed – for I had just heard that my brother, Bernard, had only a short time left to live. All was such a rush then, trying to get to see him before he died, but now, a year later, I am going over again all that happened, but this time slowly and reflectively. Yesterday, I was reading a short article on Maggie Smith, the Dowager in Downton Abbey. She was talking about her husband who died some twelve or so years ago. She said, “Some people say that the feeling of loss gets easier – it doesn’t – it gets different.” Then she added, “I’m not special to someone any more”. I think that is a good way to describe a brother – someone for whom you are special!