One evening last week, I was taken out for a burger by a young man, who attends the parish church where I say Mass on Sundays. The burger stall is new and is run by two young chefs, who are trying to launch out on their own and after giving our order we sat down in a nearby café to have a drink, while we waited for the burgers to be cooked. When they arrived, the chef, who brought them, looked at me, and said, “I seem to recognise you; are you one of the Fathers?” I answered that I was and he then said that he used to go to Mass at St Joseph’s Cathedral, but added, “but I don’t go any more; there are too many hypocrites!” He seemed interested in chatting a little, so I replied to his remark by telling him about Evelyn Waugh, a British writer of the last century. Waugh was a convert to Catholicism and attended Mass regularly, but, at the same time, by all accounts, he was a most unpleasant man. One day, in the course of being rude, someone said to him, “How can a man like you go to Mass every Sunday? Aren’t you being a hypocrite?” He answered, “No, because you should see what I would be like if I did not go to Mass!” The young chef thought about that for a moment and then said, “That’s an interesting way of looking at it, thank you!” and then left to tend his stall.
Evelyn Waugh saw something about the Faith that we often overlook – at this present time, we do not have full freedom with regard to our behaviour, we are chained by the type of person we are – in other words: we are sinful people and so we act sinfully. However, he also saw that we are on a journey of growth and that gives us hope, for although we have not yet arrived at our final destination, we are on the way. We are being moulded by the Holy Spirit, day by day, into the likeness of Christ and if we cooperate with the Spirit, then, one day, we will be fully and completely like Christ. As St Paul says, “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” This is why St Paul can and does call us all “saints”, because although we are still sinful in many ways, we are in “process” – we are being led by the Spirit and, one day, we will be completely transformed into the likeness of Christ.
Does that mean we can just sit back and let things be? No, because the power of the Spirit is not magic; it rises up within us through our choices for goodness that we make in the depths of our heart – this is how we cooperate with the Spirit. Thus, whenever we look at our sinful ways and ask for forgiveness, we are not just asking to be absolved from those acts, but through them we are looking at ourselves and making a choice – “No! That is not the person I want to be! I want to be like you, Lord; I want to become like you; I want, one day, to be with you!” and in that heartfelt choice, I give leave to the Spirit to continue the journey we are on and mould me, make me, love me into the image of Christ.
One of the reasons that we overlook this aspect of our Faith is that we Catholics are trained to look at the things we do wrong, but not so often to see the things we do right. We start each Mass with an injunction from the priest “to acknowledge our sins”, but, as Cardinal Martini used to say, now and then, we should also call to mind the good things that we can now do – but could not have done ten or twenty years ago. This is the “process”, but how does it work?
St Paul says that “the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” This love is not so much God’s love for me, but God inviting me to love others with him. When I find myself in a situation where I see some good that I can do – a helping hand, a friendly word, a kindness – this is the Holy Spirit bringing it to my attention and also giving me the love to choose to do so. My part is to choose for that love. If I choose not to, then that love disappears, because it was not really mine in the first place, but if I choose to follow that inspiration and reach out in compassion to that person, then that love becomes my love – and thus I grow.
Our baptism is a “one-off” act, whereby God takes us to himself in an act of re-creation, but that act is also a process and goes far beyond the pouring of water and the saying of the words of the sacrament. It is an act that has tremendous consequences, for, as St Paul says, “The whole of creation waits with eager longing for the sons of God to be revealed.” (Rom.8:19) When that day comes, then there will be no more wars, enmity or hatred, but until then we have to learn to bear with one another’s failings, take time to help each other understand that we are on a journey and that can take place anywhere– even at an outdoor burger stall in Kuching.
For some months now, I have had pains in my right shoulder. I thought it was tendonitis, due to using a computer mouse too much, so I changed hands when using the mouse – which was interesting. It was rather like trying to do up a button when looking in a mirror! However, the pain persisted and then a memory came back to me of when I lived in USA and fell down some steps, resulting in a pinched nerve in my shoulder. At the time, I had an old friend – a nun and old-time nurse, who knew old-time remedies – and she advised me to take aspirin every six hours and it worked. However, I could not remember how long I was supposed to take it for and when I stopped, the pain returned. So, I went to an osteopath here in Kuching – a chirpy young woman – and she confirmed that it was a pinched nerve, together with a strained muscle. She began manipulation and I already feel a benefit from it – but I have to leave off grass-cutting for three weeks!
We celebrated the “Friends of St Peter’s College” day last Monday and about 500 – 600 people came for the Mass and the meal and entertainment afterwards. I met two elderly ladies whom I have known for the last forty years. They were among the many people who supported the College in the beginning when we had almost no money, and they faithfully sent us small donations over and over again and so we survived grew. The sheer devotion and love of such people overwhelms me and when I look into their smiling faces, I see the face of God.
I will be spending Christmas in Bali this year – as I am not really needed here in Kuching. I will go a week before Christmas and return the day after Christmas. That will give me time to visit my friends both in the prison and outside it.