As Christians of diverse denominations, can we walk towards the unity desired by Christ?
Walking towards such a goal implies a pilgrimage for we are all pilgrims on a journey through life. It is a journey, which each of us must make but there is a choice of whether to make it alone or together with others.
The Women's World Day of Prayer organisation, an interdenominational movement, produces an annual booklet entitled, Together in Prayer, containing background material for a Service held in over 170 countries and islands throughout the world on a set day each year. Women attend the Service, held in a different Church of a different denomination, from the different denominations in each area. The Order of Service, prepared by a different country each year, is translated into more than sixty languages, so far apart, yet for one day each year, a wave of prayer sweeps over the world from Samoa in the Pacific to Ireland in the Atlantic, as Christian women are 'together in prayer' as pilgrims on a journey.
The choice is ours, not for one day but for every day, to walk together towards unity desired by Christ.
You shall rise before the aged, and defer to the old, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19.32)
The wisdom of old age is the fruit of the cumulative effect of all human experience. This has enabled the elderly to learn and embrace what is best in human culture. This culture is the sum total of religious convictions, norms and practices of generations, which have been tried and tested over the years.
I once had the privilege of anointing an old man of 105 years of age at Easter Time. When I asked him if he would renew his faith, i.e., 'Do you believe in God?' etc., he became annoyed with me, as if I was challenging his faith. He said to me, as I was then a younger priest, ‘Listen here, Father. What else is there to believe in?’ That encounter strengthened my faith thereafter.
The decline of the extended family at a time when life expectancy is increasing has reduced the chances of many older people of living at home until they go home to God. Therefore, a nursing home service of the highest standard within commuter distance of everybody in the country is essential. This service should cater for the spiritual and cultural needs of older people.
Old age is a gift of God that enriches our social, cultural and religious heritage. We are indebted to old people for their invaluable prayers and wise counsel and for handing on the culture and religion essential for good and happy living in society.
Fr Micheál Mac Gréil, SJ
A friend of mine is actively involved in providing assistance for trafficked women. She works for the rescue and rehabilitation of women and girls who have been snatched away or duped into a life of prostitution and degradation, many spirited away to other countries. This is at the extreme end of disrespect and disregard for the rights and dignity of women. However we are also bombarded with pictures of refugee women surrounded by frightened, hungry children, fleeing from the violence and horror of civil war and other conflict, women in famine-ravaged regions of the world whose rights to security are brushed aside by those who should be protecting them. There are cultures where violence against women is the norm. We have had the highly publicised rape case in India and the example of Malala, the Pakistani girl who was shot because she wanted something which seems basic to us - an education.
Women in developed countries now enjoy a status that millions of others can only dream about, but their rights to equality have been won against powerful opposition over many years. What are the rights we are talking about? Freedom from violence and hunger, equality in marriage and before the law, education, economic independence, personal integrity? We pray that the Holy Spirit will enlighten those whose responsibility it is to change attitudes - religious leaders, politicians, government officials - so that around the world women will eventually be treated as the equal children of God, equally made in his image and likeness - the source of all our dignity.
HOPE FOR THE SICK
That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.
One of the most famous efforts to make sense of suffering is found in the Book of Job. The author's considered opinion after all was said and done, is that suffering is a great mystery that God alone understands and before which he thought it wiser to remain silent.
It was only some centuries later that Jesus, by what he said and did, revealed the mind of God on the evils that beset us all. God hates sin but loves the sinner; He hates sickness but loves the sick; He hates death but loves the dying. Jesus is the One who delivers us, His sisters and brothers, from these evils. However, He does not wave a magic wand causing all our difficulties to disappear leaving us a totally passive role. He invites each of us to co-operate in our own salvation by sharing something, even if only a few splinters, of his heavy cross.
No one finds this easy. Not even St Paul himself. He begged over and over again to be delivered immediately from a painful ‘thorn in the flesh’. He learned the hard way, however, that none of us is tried beyond our strength. ‘My grace is sufficient for you’. It is for you and me too.
The mainstream media, print and broadcasting, have the inescapable duty of at least striving conscientiously to serve the truth in all its aspects. Pope John Paul II famously declared in one memorable message that the media had a significant place in the market place. In other words, that it had a distinct point of view in coming to register, not simply in a type of ivory tower context, but something of a reality of everyday affairs as it impacts on life and events. Equally, in the whole sphere of how life and society are constituted natural justice must ensure that the core right of the individual to recognition by the State and organs of power and influence are clearly visible, including recognition of the place of the vulnerable in the national life of a country.
An undue emphasis on the negative aspects of society is all too evident and does not augur well for the true wellbeing of society as a whole. In a word, good news is not news, so it is relegated to the detriment of over-all presentation of just what should constitute fair balance. Widespread peace, as is well known to humankind, is an indispensable ideal even though in realisation can be so difficult to secure. Jesus, as Scripture assures us, has especially bequeathed to us a quality of peace beyond compare. This is true for international peace as well as for local peace whether applied to nations or individuals. It is what he designated to us as his indispensable gift to humanity. It really is a core truth that the media has its true meaning in the scheme of things the more it is recognised as being necessarily indispensably linked, and widely seen to be linked, to the service of truth and peace.
The story is told of Edith Stein (born on October 12, 1891), who though born into a practicing Jewish family, by her teenage-years had given up her faith. She was very gifted and enjoyed learning. She received a doctorate in philosophy, but was unable to secure a chair at a university because she was a woman.
One day she went to visit a woman, who had recently lost her husband. She was met at the door by a young widow, who was not in despair, but who smiled at her heartily. The young woman told of her enormous sad loss, but also of her faith, which helped her to bear the pain and which gave her the security that her beloved husband is now with God.
Edith Stein was amazed and wondered for a long time about the faith of the young widow. She took to reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. This cemented her conversion and she asked to be baptized into the Catholic Church.
She entered the Discalced Carmelite Order in October 1933, taking the name Teresia Benedicta of the Cross. Although she moved from Germany to the Netherlands to avoid Nazi persecution, in 1942 she was arrested and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where she died in the gas chamber. She was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1998.
Edith Stein is one of the six patron saints of Europe.
Fr Niall Leahy, SJ
Can you remember the last time that you engaged in a sport or leisure activity? I'm sure that whether it was on a football field, or participating in the marathon or taking a leisurely evening stroll, or whatever it might have been, it was an activity that you did with someone else.
This month, the Holy Father invites you to reflect on how sport can foster both human fraternity and develop personal growth in your relationship with God, yourself and with one another.
Sport, whether you are an active participant or an observing spectator, is an activity that you rarely do on your own, but often accomplish with other people. It provides you with an opportunity to develop what is best in yourself and in other people by the way that you nurture the talents that you have been given by God and develop the cardinal virtues of fortitude, temperance, prudence and justice.
Sport requires a good team spirit, respectful attitudes, an appreciation of the qualities of others, honesty in the game and humility to recognize one's own limitations. Sport is a school of formation in the human and spiritual values, a privileged means for personal growth and provides an occasion of human fraternity within society.
Changing the ethnic profile of any community can breed fear and hostility from natives towards strangers. Many of us have witnessed incidences of verbal abuse, harassment and unprovoked violent attacks upon broken-spirited immigrants who have sought refuge in our country, fleeing war, famine or hostility in their own country.
Everybody comes into our lives with their unique talents. From each other, we learn and share, grow and develop together as brethren and children of one God. We possess the free will to hurt or heal, to invite or turn away, to open our mind, expand our horizons or stagnate in ignorance. Jesus instructed us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger. When we do this for the least of His brothers or sisters, we do it for Him.
Before we make our choices, we must remember the feeling of being treated as a friend or a stranger, to be welcomed or marginalised, to sense loved or unloved. Place yourself in the jaded footsteps of the refugees. In desperation, they have left their home, cultural background and, in many cases, members of their immediate families seeking safety among strangers of another culture with a different language in another land. Human goodness is beheld through tolerant individuals and the citizens who make up local community groups to work closely with refugees for their inclusion in the new community in which they find themselves. Welcome the refugee as you welcome Jesus.
A Church Poor and for the Poor
These words of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, clearly shown us the direction that his papacy is taking. He speaks from a profound insight into the needs of the poor which can only be found in someone who has engaged with the poor on a regular basis.
At his Inauguration Mass the Pope developed this point by saying ‘[The Pope] must open his arms to protect all of God's people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!’
As Christians, we should draw inspiration from these words as we try to serve the poor and the suffering. Sadly, there are many people in these circumstances today. They need of our help. We pray for the courage to reach out to them in a spirit of true Christian love.
We can make a real difference to our families and to our communities by reaching out to those in need wherever we may find them.
Rev Deacon Gerard Reilly
Harvesters in the Fields
In St John's Gospel, Jesus says, ‘He who believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And He who sees me sees him who sent me.’ Since we are also called and sent, we are commissioned by the Lord Himself.
What we need to reflect on is the fact that we are not doing our own business but we are continuing with the mission of the Lord himself. We also need to ask ourselves whether we are doing this work alone or with and for him. Jesus also says, ‘I have not spoken on my own authority but the Father who sent me has himself commanded me what to say and what to speak.’ As Christians, we are invited to take these words to heart during this Year of Faith.
For us to succeed in achieving the dreams of our lives we need mentors. For Christians, our greatest mentor is Jesus Himself. If we believe in Him, listen to him, follow in his footsteps we shall surely become his true followers. Jesus is our great role model. He never gave up. He knew he was not alone. He was always in communion with his Father.
For our mission to be effective and bear fruit in our world today we must attach ourselves to the True Vine, lest we hear him say to us, ‘Amen, I say to you, I know you not’ (Mt 25:12). The worst feature of this declaration is that it could be final. There might never be another after it. I, therefore, feel that we are all called to pray more fervently and to call upon Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament so that we can be missionaries who leave a lasting mark wherever we take the word of God. May 'Our Lady of the Missions' be always with us.
Sr Mary Joseph Nyambura, Sisters of Emmanuel, Kenya
All Things Pass; God Never Changes
The feeling of internal hollowness and detachment from others, with nowhere to turn or nobody who understands us can be painful. This desolation called loneliness is different to being alone. When we opt to set ourselves apart, we provide ourselves with occasions for personal discernment, self-examination and life-readjustment. Being temporarily adrift by choice contributes to our betterment when we avail of a retreat or take a walk on a deserted beach. Loneliness, on the other hand, can be unexpectedly thrust upon us through bereavement, or it can be a gradual separation of ourselves from others. In whichever way we experience such isolation, our spiritual sustenance is in the Eucharist.
Saint Paul tells us that we are members of the body of Christ. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it. When we are aware and do nothing to assuage another's loneliness, can we call ourselves Christian? If our sympathetic words for another's isolation are disingenuous or glib, we are no better than Job's Comforters. God gifted us with each other to dispel loneliness. We are created to be sociable and to handle, with much tenderness, the soul of every person we meet.
The influential Christian writer, Clive Staples Lewis, held that God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. The Lord vies for our attention, particularly in the testing times of acute loneliness. Our God is not a fair-weather friend. In our cri de coeur directed to heaven, our God of love and compassion is always near. He hears and heeds us. In heartfelt prayer, silent or vocal, there is no loneliness.
O Lord, all my longing is known to you; my sighing is not hidden from you. Ps.38:9
Watching my eldest daughter, Annie, receive the sacrament of penance about a year ago, I was moved by the openhearted joy of the children, and the warm and welcoming atmosphere of the Church. I knew the other parents around me felt the same. Most of the parents present were in their thirties, and from a generation that had grown up with a Church enduring storms of controversy and apparently dwindling numbers.
We are, perhaps, the first generation to grow up having our faith aggressively questioned, and yet, there we were, watching our sons and daughters take the next step on a journey that we hope will last them a lifetime.
There are those who question us, who see Sunday mornings as a time for lazy breakfasts or a long lie-in instead of Mass.
Nevertheless, with each passing Sunday we see our children engage more and more with the liturgy, and feel the authenticity and promise of it for their lives.
As we left the Church after First Penance, I realised that the parents were as excited as their offspring, and I reflected that perhaps, in the end, it is children who are teaching us.