“The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw – and knew I saw – all things in God and God in all things.” – Mechtilde of Magdeburg
I recently took a week’s retreat at the Avila Carmelite Center in Dublin. Most of us need to carve out some time to make a retreat. It’s like having a spiritual check-up in slow motion. The week was designed to help me and the other five retreatants to become more aware, to wake up to God. And, I suppose, having woken up to God we may never be able to sleep again.
I parked and was hurrying along when I noticed a woman in a long brown dress and a scarf sitting on the side of the street against a brick wall near the entrance to a shopping mall. I knew I had two coins in my pocket, a two euro and a one euro piece. Which one to give her?
I’ve met many people who said they were angry with God. One woman in particular stands out in my mind. She was a church-going Catholic and a woman who was generous to others. The source of her anger was her husband’s infidelity and the subsequent break-up of their marriage. He was a professional and she had little or no marketable skills to help her get a job. She felt God somehow had it in for her. And her sporadic knowledge of the Bible, with its stories of God’s anger and punishment of sinners, left her feeling that she was
“I find the church irrelevant, out to step with contemporary culture.” You and I have heard this many times. When I see Sunday congregations that are mostly in their seventies and eighties, and look at an ageing and diminishing supply of priests and the dearth of vocations to religious life, I feel helpless and tempted to agree about irrelevancy. Where have all the young folk gone?
One day recently I was overtaken by the beauty of this ‘Garden County’ where I live and drove into the hills just to be alone with it all. I stopped for an hour by a roadside picnic table which was nicely situated overlooking a deep valley where sheep gently grazed, and into which swallows and martins playfully swooped from the summer sky.
American writer James Baldwin has been quoted as saying that “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions hidden by the answers.” You could say the same about religion’s purpose. It’s better when answers lead to more searching questions. The catechism had answers but we never asked the questions. DH Lawrence put it this way: “We have little needs and deeper needs, but have fallen into living from our little needs till we have almost lost our deeper needs.”
“If anyone loves me….” What? Another Gospel about love! Early life thinks there’s only one kind of love. Middle age believes there are many kinds, and the final stage knows there is only one kind. Whether it’s the love of lasting friendships, the love between spouses or love of family – they are all manifestations of a single reality.
One of the tried and tested ways of trying to forgive someone is to surrender one’s right to get even. The urge to get even jumps up when someone upsets or hurts us. It is often cloaked in terms of self-defence. “I can’t let them get away with this or they will do it again.”
Homily preached in Avila Carmelite Centre by Fr Vincent O’Hara OCD, on the occasion of the fourth centenary of the death of William Shakespeare. The context for the homily is Acts 13, 44-52.