This was published in The Scottish Catholic Observer on Friday 28th April 2017
Lent is over and we are now in Easter. I’ve had my glass of red wine and chocolate is now allowed in the house again. Getting to the end of Lent was a great feeling but was it all worth it? I thought I should review my Lenten efforts, just to see if I have achieved what I’d hoped for. Now I’m asking myself what I’ve done for Lent. Was it enough? Have I changed myself enough to make me think that it was worth it? I’m not sure about that and it forces me to have a look at who I am.
That makes me think of the television programme “Who do you think you are?” The television programme looks back at who your grandparents, great grandparents etc. were and what they achieved. I’m just going to look at myself.
I started school in the early fifties when we were still in rationing. The map of the world on the classroom wall was coloured with large swathes of red, the British Empire. We controlled a large part of the world and I was part of the ‘we’. I was British.
I was a Catholic, part of the one true Church. I was definitely on God’s side and would eventually be welcomed into Heaven. That couldn’t be said for a large part of the world’s population. I was also Scottish, a member of the nationality that gave the world steam power, telephones and television (though I didn’t have one) as well as lots of other inventions. To crown it all I was of Irish descent. The blood in my veins was that of saints and scholars, bards and warlords. This was a powerful identity, not bad for a wee boy in short trousers.
Of course, in reality I was not really able to claim credit for any of this; much of which was entirely illusional. All of those red patches on the map have managed to break free and look after themselves. Much of the Scottish and Irish images have been tarnished when we look closer at them.
If I’m going to measure the success or otherwise of my Lenten efforts I need to look at myself now and see how I measure up. What standard can I use to measure myself against? Well, the only possible one is Jesus. My Lenten efforts were really about trying to become more like Him. The end of Lent is Easter and the Resurrection. Am I risen at Easter with a new life?
Now my problem is – just how can I compare myself to Christ? Jesus is the Son of God and has divine powers. I’m merely human, how can I measure up to Jesus? I suppose I can only aspire to copy His ways and see how well I compare to the way He lived on Earth.
One striking thing about Jesus was the way he saw things. He didn’t see people as others saw them. People saw criminals and sinners as people to be avoided or even punished. They thought of lepers and cripples, the blind and the deaf as sinners being punished. Jesus didn’t see it that way. He knew that the afflicted people were not sinners being punished but used their visible ailments to give a message about sinners. He showed that he could cure physical ailments as proof that he could, and would forgive sins.
Jesus saw the laws differently from the Jewish authorities. He was accused of breaking the law by curing people on the Sabbath. Who was he to defy the laws? Jesus’ message was that the laws are there to help us, not to get in our way.
How do I measure up against Jesus? How do I see criminals and sinners? I admit that I think criminals should be punished in order to protect the innocent. Surely that’s not the end of the story. Every criminal is someone who needs to be helped to change their ways. Prisons can only do so much to rehabilitate criminals. As the prison chaplain at HMP Shotts told me, many long term prisoners are released into a world that has changed drastically since they were locked up. They come out to a home that may no longer exist and find nobody they recognise. How much has your town changed in the last twenty years? How welcoming are we to those who have ‘paid their debt to society?’
I must stop seeing criminals and sinners and start to see people who may need sympathy and help. I need to see laws and rules as guides to help me live a good life, not barriers that can cut people off from me.
I need to begin to think like Christ. Jesus was sent here on a mission and that was what he thought about. He wasn’t thinking about building up a good carpentry business and becoming wealthy. He was thinking about our salvation; saving us from sin and eventual separation from God.
We have been sent here on a mission too. We need to think about that mission above all. Now I’m not saying that we should forget about the questions of the day, forget about voting, give up our jobs and wander into the wilderness like John the Baptist. We need to deal with the problems of our world, work, vote and raise our families. However, we must be able to look beyond all that. We need to raise our sights to our future. We will not be here forever. This is not our home. There is no point in building up bank accounts with millions we can never spend. We are her to bring souls to Jesus. Let’s get on with it.
That means we need to act like Jesus. I don’t think I’ll be working miracles, curing the sick, turning water into wine (red wine, preferably) and raising people from the dead. I do need to be open to all people. I need to recognise that I’m no better than the sinners of this world; I’m really a sinner too. I must not pretend that because their sin is obvious and well known my secret sins are ok.
I need to act like Jesus and treat good and bad alike. Above all I need to be open and honest about myself and others. The school where I taught had a motto which translated as “Speak out for justice.” Do I speak out for justice for the poor, the sick and the disabled? If I did would anybody listen?
When do I get the opportunity to have my voice heard? Well there is about to be just such an opportunity. A General Election has been called and I will have a voice through my ballot paper. This is my opportunity to see, think and act like Jesus. I need to look at what’s being offered, looking, like Jesus, beyond the rhetoric to find the truth about what the politicians actually do.
I need to think about how my vote can help bring about justice for the poor and those in need. I must examine the consequences of my vote. What will the result be and who will benefit?
I then need to act like Jesus and use my vote for the greater good, not for my own benefit alone. There is no easy answer to all of this but if we follow Jesus’ example we will not be looking for a selfish outcome but keep the needs of other in our minds.
To paraphrase Saint Pio, Pray, Hope and Vote.