People are respected today because they are influential, because they are important or even useful. Who respects or cares for people who are not important? A young man who says he doesn’t believe in God happened to say to me recently that he supported churches because they represent and values that are good and healthy, like compassion. And compassion is a commodity that’s getting scarce.
It sometimes happens during the celebration of Mass that a young child begins to cry out. Glancing quickly and discreetly in the direction of the sound I’d spot the culprit, a two-year-old with well-developing vocal chords. More often than not the kid is on the pew between its parents, either in a portable baby carrier or just fidgeting and holding on. The child’s entreaties continue until Mom or Dad takes it up, holds it close and rubs its back. Then all is quiet again.
Jesus looked like the real ticket for a while, and for the few people he lifted out of their misery by his miracles, he was a godsend. In the end, he appeared to be a failure and a disappointment to his contemporaries. In our current world, he is a nobody. Unbelievers see our preoccupation with Jesus as “hocus-pocus,” sheer nonsense and a waste of time.
We live in a world of tit for tat. The rhythm of history is one of hurt, resentment and revenge. Efforts at peace have been, in the larger picture of history, ineffective. Forgiveness has always been in short supply, extremely difficult and short-term. Fake.
Bombs and explosives, killer vans and forest fires, mudslides and floods, gangs and cartels. Jails that are overflowing and churches that are near-empty. TV images of people running for their lives. What’s going on? Who’s in charge? Has hope abandoned our world?
There’s much heart-ache in life. We dream of getting away from the pressures and resting in the hammock of delight. But we can’t let go the daily agenda so as to eat and enjoy what we’ve cooked. There’s little permission in our culture for rest and silent listening. “Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened and I will give you rest.” An attractive invitation to those who are seduced by their desires. There’s an artificial urgency that tends to dissolve Jesus’ call to those who would follow him. A little discipline might help us to lighten
Public comment on the “Tuam babies” and Magdalen laundries (**), the cover-up and protection of clergy sexual abuse, Marie Collins’ resignation from the papal commission and the subsequent cover-up by Vatican beauracy all point in the one direction: the institutional church as we know it chronically dysfunctional and is currently unfit for purpose.
Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (Mk 7:21). But Christ’s message in this regard offers a radically positive approach. He unfailingly preached God’s unconditional love, which welcomes and forgives. He taught his disciples to love their enemies (cf. Mt 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (cf. Mt 5:39).
“Wasting your life’, that was really the answer you got from most people,” Sr Gwen Collins says of her life as an enclosed nun. “Why are you wasting your life up there and locking yourself up there?