“God of mercy and compassion, slow to anger, O Lord, abounding in love and truth, turn and take pity on me.” (Psalm 86)
The dates are different but it happened on this Sunday nine years ago. My mother was in hospital in Merlin Park during, what turned out to be, her final illness. I had asked the nurse if it would be alright for me to celebrate Mass in Mam’s room and she said, “why don’t you say it in the day room for all the patients.”
So it was! I came in the morning to help Mam get ready for Mass and she said to me, “I can’t pray”- something that is very common during sickness and old age. I told her not to worry about it because it’s written in the Bible that, when we are not able to pray, the Holy Spirit prays within us. He is in every breath we take and every breath becomes a prayer.
I hadn’t done any preparation for Mass so I didn’t know what the readings were and there to my delight was the very thing I had said to Mam. Paul’s letter to the Romans 8:26-27 “The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words, and God who knows everything in our hearts knows perfectly well what he means, and that the pleas of the saints expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God.”
Mam noticed it too and it confirmed for her that this is what the Lord was telling her. When a passage of Scripture comes up more than once like that, then I take special notice of it because I believe God is getting His message through to me.
And it’s not just during the weakness of illness that the Spirit comes to help us but in all our experiences of weakness. The Spirit is there within us, expressing our plea in a way that is in accordance with the mind of God, in a way that will bear fruit.
This is true in our struggle with sin. Wherever and whenever good is at work the devil is always at hand to sow the seeds of opposition to God, confusion and discouragement. When we fail to overcome a particular sin in our lives, when we fall repeatedly into the same sin, the devil makes us feel hopeless, whereas the Holy Spirit encourages us not to lose heart but to think about the patience of God, His lenience that is spoken of in the first reading from the Book of Wisdom, “disposing of such strength, you are mild in judgement, you govern us with great lenience, and you have given your sons the good hope that after sin you will grant repentance.” (12:16-19)
The same lenient patience of God is revealed by Jesus in the parable of the wheat and the darnel, the weed that attaches itself to the wheat. The natural human instinct in the face of weeds is to get rid of them as quickly as possible, to root out the weed of sin radically and completely. But in our haste we can cause serious damage. Jesus says, wait, be patient, trust in God and do not rely on your own strength or understanding. Jesus says, “Let them both grow till the harvest; and at harvest time I shall say to the reapers: First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.”
What I have to do as a follower of Jesus, as one who loves God, is to sincerely want to live a life of virtue, free of sin, and do all that I can to make that a reality. But it has been my experience that I spend many years and prayers striving to overcome a particular vice or sin and suddenly the moment arrives when my effort meets with the grace of God and freedom happens. It is God and not I who will get rid of the sin. I will allow Him to do it and the more I surrender to the prayer of the Holy Spirit right now the better able I will be on the day of grace to surrender to what the lenient Mercy of God wants to do.
'I WANT TO SEE THE STARS' - A Reflection on the death of my Mother