Part of our Catholic way of life is to learn about the truths and traditions of our Faith. We do this either, as children, in catechism classes or, if we are older, in the RCIA classes, which prepare us for baptism or reception into the Church. This is a good and important practice, for we need to know what our Church teaches and holds to be true. but it can cause problems sometimes, because there are two types of religious “knowing” in us – first, there is the catechism “knowing” which tells us about what the Church believes and teaches, but there is also a much deeper kind of “knowing” in us, which comes from our unique, personal experience of God in our hearts and our lives, but while this second kind of “knowing” is very real, it is often so deep that often we are not really conscious of it – and this is where the problem can arise. For instance, if I ask churchgoers why they come to Mass on a Sunday, they will often answer, “Because it is a sin not to.” This is something they learnt in their catechism classes and while it is true, it is not the deepest or even the real reason why most come to Mass – as I hear so clearly when I sit in the confessional listening to people telling of their struggles to be faithful to God. I remember an elderly lady once telling me how she had missed Mass twice and when I asked her, “Why?” she said that she lived some way from the church and had no transport and on those two days it had been raining heavily. So, I told her, that there was no sin if she stayed home on such days, but she answered, “Oh no, Father, but I want to come!” This was not her catechism classes speaking, but her deeper “knowing” – which came from having felt the caring touch of God and his loving call to be with him – a call she tried to answer in the only ways she knew – which included coming to Mass on a Sunday.
We are helped to understand this deeper “knowing”, when we learn how God spoke to Abraham, saying, “Leave your home and your father’s house and go the land I will show you.”(Gen.12:1) In answer, Abraham left his homeland and set out on a journey that would take all his life and beyond. We learn of this in our catechism classes, because his story helps us understand what also happens to us – each one of us – in our encounter with God. In various ways, God speaks to us deep in our hearts, inviting us to leave our homes and go with him to the land he will show us – a land of kindness, a land of friendship, a land of love – and we want to go, we choose to go. Our attempts at living the Christian life are the ways in which we try to answer that call and as I sit in the confessional I hear so clearly that you are not just trying to keep the rules learnt in catechism, but are trying to live up to that great love for Christ in your hearts – and I also see the tears and feel the pain, when you think you have failed him. As I sit listening to you, I see my own failures, but you also show me what we so often forget – that the important thing is not that we have failed, but that he calls each one of us personally and in that call is the promise that he will never let us go – but will eventually bring us home. This is why we need the story of Abraham – not because we need to believe in Abraham but because we need to believe in ourselves – believe that God has truly spoken to each one of us, just as he spoke to Abraham.
I see this deeper “knowing” also on Good Fridays; when the celebrant sits down, after having unveiled and kissed the Cross, it is one of my great privileges, as a priest, to watch the faces of the people coming up to kiss the Cross, something the congregation cannot see, as the people have their backs to the congregation. I see the tears on some faces, I see the concern on others as they lift up their children to kiss the Cross and I see the love and hope on the faces of all. Each one comes because Jesus has met with them deeply in their heart – that same Jesus who died to set them free and who rose that they might live and live fully with him. Their faces reveal that deeper “knowing” that the God who calls them in Christ is a God who can be trusted – and so they come forward to acknowledge that trust touch by kissing the cross.
This deeper “knowing” is vital for our spiritual lives, because it is only there that we “know” that God speaks to each one of us personally. Catechism knowledge speaks in generalities; it speak of the truths that all should accept and the laws that all should obey and if we only had that type of knowledge, we would tend to think that only the heroes of the Faith – the great saints – were God’s special people, but, we would think: not “me”; I fail too often! Our deeper “knowing”, however, tells us to the contrary that each one of us is special, and that each has a special task, a mission given personally by God, one that only “I” can perform and that if I fail to do so it will never be done. When Abraham answered God by leaving his home, he began the story of our great Journey with God, of which we are all now a part, but our answer is just as important as Abraham’s, for we each begin a new stage of the journey and we will profoundly affect the lives of those we meet on our journey. For this reason, we need, sometimes, to return to the Abraham story so as to feel our way into that deeper knowledge of the heart, where God speaks to each and every one of us each day. I can only do this by daring to entrust myself into his hands, as Abraham did by setting out and as Christ did by embracing the cross. When I ask, “Lord, What is your Will for me today?”, I will be probing that deep “knowing” of my heart, which is far more profound than that which I learn in catechism – because it is the experience of God himself – the experience of the God who rose for us on Easter Day to bring us into the fullness of life.
We have been having a long and wet rainy season this year – so much so that many of our fruit trees did not fruit. This has also meant that you could almost see the grass growing, but fortunately I have got back some of my strength to do some cutting. I had not realised how much I wrote about ”grass-cutting” in these blogs until I was visited by two friends – separately – from UK recently and both remarked, “So, this is the grass I have been hearing about for years!”
Next week we have a visit from the Mill Hill Superior General and, among other things, he will be present at a Mass, Lenten Reflection and tea party of the Mill Hill Family at 3pm next Saturday at the Seminary. This is a group of people help support with prayers and donations our Malaysian Mill Hill seminarians. God has now blessed us with ten of them – now we have to find ways to look after them!
I shall be taking my leave in the month of May and going to UK to visit family and friends. I am looking forward to seeing the May blossom and flowers – and also the smiling faces of the many whom I know.