John Moriarty was a Philosopher, writer, broadcaster and sometimes hermit from County Kerry. He died in 2007 leaving behind a legacy of passion for God, for the earth and the renewal of Christianity. I liked a lot of what he had to say, liked to look at him with his wild head of woolly hair, to listen to the sound of his voice. I tried to read his autobiography ‘Nostos’, a 500-page book without paragraphs or chapters, no break of any sort. It fascinated me but wore me down half way through and gave it to my mother who read the whole lot of it.
Memories of his awful depression come back to me and some wonderful wisdom. He wrote of a woman in the village where he grew up. She used to cycle past their house and always looked very happy. He asked his father why she was so happy and the reply was, “she is content not to be a tree where only a bush will grow!” Content to be a bush rather than a tree. That resonated with me, still does and it remains an ongoing challenge. I keep wanting to be more than I am.
He spoke about the state of European civilization, comparing it to a plant in a pot. A plant does well in a pot until its roots start to wrap themselves around each other, becoming tangled in each other and they become sour. The solution is for the plant to be removed from the limits of the pot and be planted in open ground where the roots can spread out, breathe and thrive again. Europe’s roots have become tangled, wrapped around each other, gone sour and need to be replanted in open ground. This applies to its culture, its faith and its spiritual life.
In her commentary on the parable of Dives and Lazarus in St. Luke, Frances Hogan identifies Dives with the “rich, overfed and indulged West” and when I read that Gospel I think of Europe, “ensconced so snugly”, so wrapped up in itself that it doesn’t really see beyond itself to the poor of the world. There is some attentiveness to the poor but they are literally the poor relations. And, while Brexit is a very serious issue, there is the feeling of a society consumed in itself, in its own wellbeing almost to the exclusion of everything and everyone else.
The gulf between the two is wide and there’s no mistaking which side of the gulf God is on both in this world and in eternity. Jesus is saying that the gulf in eternity cannot be crossed, so any crossing that needs to be done needs to be done in this world, otherwise we will find ourselves on the wrong side.
The Christian community in the parish and elsewhere is called to be the heart of God in this world, being really attentive to the Lazarus who lays outside our gate, hungry, in need in many different ways. We are to be his companion, the presence of God sitting with him, doing what needs to be done to relieve him, free him. And when the Lazarus of our lives is taken up to heaven, we will be taken up with him.
The need is not necessarily material in terms of money and food. The need can be emotional, mental, spiritual and Lazarus might not be outside the gate. He might be in the house with us, the gulf might be in our homes and any one of us might be too wrapped up in our own little world to notice, wrapped up in our own thoughts, in television, computer games, our phone, caught in a kind of stupor. Jesus wants to shake us out of our stupor, to get us to pay practical attention to the other who is in need. When we are repelled by the other person then we need to pray that we can see with the eyes of God, understand with the mind of God and respond with the heart of God. It is the difference between being saved and lost, between eternal life and eternal death.
A little girl explained to me once, “you have to believe in God if you want to go to heaven because if you die and you believe in God you go to heaven but if you die and you don’t believe in God, you stay dead!” And, believing in God means going beyond ourselves, our self-interest, and our self-indulgence to look after those in our midst who are in need. This is at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus and the ministry of Pope Francis.