“Are you happy there?”, she asks on the phone from across the sea. Happy is a word I treat with a bit of caution because I read once that it comes from a word that means hap-hazard. And indeed, happiness can be quite hap-hazard, unpredictable.
But I am happy now! A feeling has come over me lately, quite a strong sense that my whole life to date has been a preparation for this place and time. It used to seem that it was all fragmented, one experience or period disconnected from the rest but now it appears to me like one great continuous arc from eternity to eternity.
Celebrating Mass is never easy because it is an awesome reality – this great mystery of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection which I am privileged to share in a most intimate way. Never easy but here in this place, at this altar, in this church I feel at home and content in a way that I have never felt anywhere in my entire life as a priest. And that’s nearly 40 years!
The church itself is most beautiful, the most beautiful that I have served in. People, strangers wander in here and look up, look around saying what a beautiful place it is. It has a monastic feel for me and it seems to be the monastery that I have been seeking for many years now and I find this prayer appropriate, “O Lord, I love the house where you dwell, the place where your glory abides.” (Psalm 26) But it’s not the building, however beautiful! It’s what’s within it that matters; the abiding Sacramental presence of Jesus and we the people who gather in prayer every day, every week. The essential wonder of this place comes down to persons – Jesus and His people.
Indeed, Jesus Himself seeks to draw us from what is solid, external to the interior of everything. While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, "All that you see here- the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down." (Luke 21:5) The structures that we place so much trust in will be dismantled, especially those that are obviously unjust but also those that are essentially good, yet have lost their way. It is when the Church seemed to be at its best, most strong and ordered that the most wicked things were going on within and beneath.
The cleansing of the inside of cup and dish is uppermost in the mind of Jesus; the cleansing of the interior heart, soul and mind is what He seeks. And so, within this special place where we pray together, Jesus seeks to go further inside still, inside the deepest part of our lives to save us from our sins, to heal our wounds, to restore us to our innocence.
Recently I baptized a six-month old baby boy who took hold of my left hand and looked steadily into my eyes as I was pouring the water over him. The two of us were held in that mutual gazing and it seemed like God was saying, “this is how it is meant to be; this is how it can be!” The child is placed by Jesus at the centre of the Gospel of the Kingdom; the innocence of the child is available to us. In this place we can be restored to an innocence we have lost over the course of our lives.
This is what happens to us – the experiences of life can erode the innocence of our baptism; we damage ourselves by the sins we commit; we are damaged and hurt by life experiences but, as the Prophet Malachi teaches, “for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will shine out will healing in its rays.” (Malachi 3). Jesus is the Sun of righteousness who offers us the possibility of being healed; Jesus in the Eucharist; Jesus in the Word.
On a pilgrimage to Medjugorje many years ago there was a woman in our group who was extremely bitter and I was tempted many times to tell her what to do with her bitterness which was having a corrosive effect on the rest of us, but I stayed quiet. Then, on the last day we had a prayer meeting during which someone asked me to pray over each person. Every time I placed my hands on a person’s head, a Word of Scripture, the Word of God would jump into my head. I just spoke the Word over the person and something happened to each one. When I came to the bitter lady, this is the Word that came to me, “I will console you and give gladness for grief!” There was a dam burst of tears. She cried a lot and, when I asked her later what had happened, she told me her husband had died five years earlier and in had left her bitter and angry. This is an example of the impact of the Word of God. Her grief found healing and peace. You can never take the Word for granted. We are not in charge of it and it doesn’t happen automatically. But when the conditions are right, when the moment of grace arrives, then there are miracles.
Healing is often kept at a distance by ourselves because, even though we want to be healed we cling to whatever it is that needs healing. It has become so much part of our lives that we don’t know how we would live without it; we fear the emptiness it will leave behind. An addict is afraid of what life will be like if there isn’t another cigarette, drink or drug. And it is important when healing has taken place that we fill the emptiness with what is good, that we allow God to fill the emptiness. Jesus uses the example of a house possessed by a demon. When the demon has been driven out and the house is in a perfectly clean state, the demon goes off and gets more demons to come and fill the house. Emptiness is an opportunity for God but it is a risky thing and we need to be very vigilant about what we allow into the house of our heart and soul.
The same applies to the sins we struggle with. Like St. Augustine we can be reluctant to let them go or we might not want to admit that there is sin in our lives, not realizing the damaging effect unacknowledged sin can have on us, or sins that we are not striving to repent of. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)
God is faithful and forgiving. It is the Word of Mercy that heals us of our sins but we often find ourselves unable to accept God’s Mercy. We are unable to forgive ourselves and project this onto God, thinking the he cannot or will not forgive us. We might live under the burden of guilt, guilt of the present and guilt of the past. To this God says, “I no longer call your sins to mind” (Jeremiah 31), which Pope Francis says is God’s weakness – He is forgetful, doesn’t remember our sins. He has cast all our sins behind His back! (Isaiah 38:17)
So, we take a quiet time now to enter into the inner sanctuary of our souls and in the silence, allow what needs healing to rise up before God, the hurts and the sins that wound us. Let the risen wounds of Jesus touch, bless and transform our wounds into image of His glorious wounds, His glorious Body.