This Holy Saturday, just past, I was sitting in chapel – before the empty tabernacle – having said my morning office, when my mind began to wander. That first Holy Saturday must have been a day of terrible mourning for Our Lady and the disciples of the Lord and as I pondered this, I began praying for those of my own loved ones who have died and whom I miss – and among them began to appear the many faces of the Mill Hill men I have known, who worked in Sarawak over the years. However, the memories of those men were not of sadness, but of profound gratitude for having known them. They were also memories of something approaching awe – for the previous night I had had to struggle to get back to the seminary through the crowds and crowds of people observing Good Friday at the Cathedral. Little did those Mill Hill men of old know what a tremendous harvest was going to come from their work here, even though, on occasions, it must have seemed that they were hitting their head against a brick wall.
One MillHiller, for instance, about a hundred years ago, went by canoe, downriver from Kuching, along the coast and up the next major river until he arrived deep in the interior – which the only way one could get there, because there were no roads. There, he built a school and began to teach the local people to read and write and help them in any way he could. He spent the next twenty five years in that place, until he was interned by the Japanese, during the Second World War, and during that time he made very few converts, but, apart from the schooling, something else was also quietly happening, as a result of his presence, something that he could not see, and now that part of the country is almost completely Christian.
When it comes to the growth of the Christian Faith – and also the growth of movement of God in our own lives – there are two levels: there is the surface level, where we can see what is happening – and, at times, help them happen – but there is also a much deeper level, where the Spirit is at work, and we are usually unaware of what is happening at that level. And then, one day, much to our surprise, the results of the Spirit’s work begin to appear on the surface and Christian communities appear, where there were none, just as, in our own lives, we find ourselves doing things, which previously had been beyond our strength. This, we Christian proclaim, is the grace which saves us – but it always astonishes us, when it happens!
However, the time of waiting for these things to happen can be a time of great frustration – and it can seem as if we are wasting our time. I am sure that such thoughts must have come to that old MillHiller, but when that happened, he would have put the thought to one side and got on with the tasks immediately before him, whether that was teaching another class, walking to a village to visit people or saying his prayers, quietly by himself. This is the virtue of hope, a gift of the Spirit, which anchors us to the Lord at those times, when reason and experience tells us that what we are attempting is hopeless.
This “re-applying” of ourselves to the task before us, at such times, has been called, “the sacrament of the present moment”, for although I tend to see my life in terms of big things – baptism, ordination, conversion of a longhouse etc. – nevertheless it is only in the “now”, the present moment, that I actually meet my God and that “now” is nearly always concerned with the small, ordinary things of life – getting up, washing, eating, helping, working. God calls us to him in our living of the present moment, for the “now” is the only thing that is truly real in our life. The only place I can meet God, is where I am at the present moment. The only time I can say, “I love you” is in the present moment. The only time I can know that I am loved is “now”. That is why the “now”, the present moment, is a sacrament; this is why it is called the “Kairos” – the moment of grace. Whatever I am doing at the moment is of immense value, because I am doing it with God and that common action binds me to him, with a bond that can never be broken. It is outside of my power to know the worth of those little acts and outside of my understanding what they will bring about – but it is not outside of God’s power.
When we look at the lives of those old Mill Hill men, they seem to be men of mighty deeds and tremendous faith – but that can blind us to the reality, a reality we need to understand. Most of their days were taken up with small things, things that both we and they would consider relatively unimportant – but because they were all done with love, however distant the connection with others , they were seeds of immense value, seeds, the fruit of which, I was given the sight to see, when struggling to get home through the crowds last Good Friday.
My car is getting old and cranky and last Friday, in rush hour, it broke down. I was on my way home from visiting one of our old priests, when it just stopped and when I tried to start it, it seemed as though the battery was flat. So, I got out and pushed it to the side of the road, but when I tried to start it once more it worked, so I turned off everything that was not needed, such as the air-con and drove on home. However, it stopped twice more – the last time being at the junction of a busy road. So, again, I pushed it into the side of the road – this time helped by a kind passer-by – but it would not start again, so I left it there and began to walk home, as I did not have my mobile with me, with which to call for help. Fortunately, a young Catholic man stopped and gave me a lift back to the seminary, where the Rector phoned the mechanic and one of the seminarians took me back to the car to wait. While waiting, four motorcycle policemen arrived and asked whether I had called the mechanic and on saying that I had, they said that we should move the car out of the traffic. Then telling me to get back in the car and steer it, they pushed me some 30 yards up the road to where it was not blocking the traffic. So, thank you, Officers, in Indonesia I would probably have been fined for just being there!
This week I will go to Sabah for a two day meeting and retreat with four prospective candidates for Mill Hill. We will pray together and talk together – straining my limited knowledge of Malay to the full – and then if all goes well, arrange for them to join the Montfort Brothers’ Vocational school in June to learn English as the first step of their vocation journey. Please pray for them – and for me that I may receive the gift of tongues!.
There is one more week of classes, this term, then a week of exams and after that the College closes for a month. I shall be taking a group of 32 “Kuchingers” to Bali for a retreat cum tour, as I did last year. Then I shall stay on for another week to visit friends, both in and out of prison. Then, I shall visit the seminary at Penang, on the way back to Kuching, to see two Mill Hill students there. Then, I have been asked to give a weekend retreat in Sabah, which will bring our month’s break to a close. How quickly things pass!