My March Column – Full Text

Lord have mercy

Lord have mercy

In this jubilee Year of Mercy we are being encouraged to be merciful as God is merciful. This month I’d like to look more closely at that. How do we see God being merciful and is it possible for us to emulate Him? If you ask people how God is merciful you will get some surprising answers. Some people see God’s mercy in ways we didn’t imagine while others don’t think God is merciful at all.

Many people look at tragedies and decide that God is not being merciful. These might be personal tragedies such as sudden deaths or incurable illness. It is understandable that when we suffer the loss of a loved one we may feel that God is being unfair to us. “That’s not right” or “why should this happen to me” are typical responses in those situations. How can God be merciful when He allows someone to die young or to suffer a long illness?

Sometimes these things are taken a step further. If God is not merciful then He is not the God I believe  in, some will say. If that’s the case then I don’t believe in God anymore. You can see the train of thought but it’s not really logical. You can’t blame God for things and then not believe in Him because of what He does. If He does not exist then He can’t be blamed. Logically, then we can believe in a bad God who is not merciful. Does that make any sense?

I suppose it all boils down to people believing in a different God. We might like to believe in a God who will be looking out for us and making things work out the way we want. We can believe in a God who will always give us what we ask for. That is not the God of Abraham and Isaac. It’s not the one God. Perhaps we really believe in Santa Claus; a Santa Claus who doesn’t restrict his work to Christmas but is always on tap.

Sadly I don’t believe in Santa Clause. It’s true that God expects us to be childlike in many ways but He expects us to take an adult view of our faith. God gives us the gift of life. It is only a temporary gift in this world. It will be taken away and replaced with a better version. Is that cruel or merciful? Imagine you are driving a fifty year old Ferrari and God takes it away (sad) but replaces it with the latest model (delighted). Would you complain? That’s a silly question; some people would complain.

What I’m saying is that we have been given a life in this world and we are constricted by the physical laws of our universe. We can’t fly like superman and we don’t have X-Ray vision but we have been given much greater powers than the rest of creation. We are the only species that has the intelligence that enables to reshape our world. We have free will to choose how to behave. Sometimes we get it wrong. How does God behave when we get it wrong? He forgives us.

So, this year I’m going to try to be more like God. That might sound a bit pretentious. After all, God is the Supreme Being, all powerful and omnipresent. I’m not very powerful (not in our house anyway) and I’m only ever in one place at a time. How can I become more like God? How forgiving must I be?

Let’s see how forgiving Jesus was. When Peter asked him how many times he must forgive his brother Jesus’ answer must have surprised him.

Then Peter went up to him and said, “Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me?”  As often as seven times? Jesus answered, “Not seven, I tell you but seventy seven times.”

Matthew 18:21,22

 

Seventy seven times is a great deal of forgiving but I don’t think it stops there. Jesus was not putting a limit of seventy seven times on forgiveness. It was His way of saying that we must just go on forgiving. I must say I can see Peter’s point. Having forgiven seven times I would expect the other person to get the message and stop whatever he was doing.

That’s where I’m falling down. How many times have I gone to confession and confessed the same sin? I can tell you it’s much more than seven times, probably more that seventy seven times. Each time Jesus gives His forgiveness.

How can we understand forgiveness like that? Jesus gives us the answer in the story of the prodigal son. The younger son is cheeky and feckless. He wants his inheritance while he is still young enough to enjoy spending it. That’s just what he does. He goes off and spends the lot on living the high life. When the money is gone he finds himself in a foreign country and is starving. He sees how wrong he was and returns to his father to ask to be a servant.

The father is watching out for him and goes to meet him. Everything is forgiven because he loves his son so much. The older brother who stayed and worked for the father gets annoyed because the son who returned is welcomed and he gets no recognition.

There are hard lessons here. Jesus is telling us that it is love that will enable us to forgive. It is in forgiving that we show our love for our neighbour. The younger brother does well in this story but the older brother feels hard done by. Where do you fit into this story? Are you the prodigal, happy to be forgiven or the older brother getting annoyed when sinners are forgiven? I think I’m the prodigal and if you are the older brother I ask your forgiveness also.

Long before this Jubilee Year of Mercy, forgiveness was a big issue for us. One of the first prayers we were taught was the Our Father. We say it at every mass, at the start of each decade of the rosary and it is often the prayer that unites Christians of different churches. However it must not be taken lightly. It is a dangerous prayer.

In the Our Father we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others. Do we really want God to treat us in the same way we treat people who have ‘trespassed against us?’  That’s what we are saying. Perhaps the Year of Mercy has come along at just the right time for me. I have to think about how I treat other people, especially the ones who annoy me or actually harm me in some way. I might feel righteously aggrieved and feel I have every right to make them pay. Be that as it may, I must learn to forgive, even if it’s only so that God will forgive me in turn.

It’s a few months since my last confession and I’m going before Easter. I’m not going because I can earn forgiveness by going (although I find it very hard as someone who is always right to go and admit I’m often wrong) but I’m going to experience that great Love that God has for me just like the father for the prodigal.

Happy Easter.

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Jesus is Stripped of his Garments – Full Text

The Way of the Cross 10

Jesus is Stripped of His Garments

Jesus on Calvary

Jesus is Stripped of His Garments

The tenth station on the Way of the Cross concerns Jesus being stripped of his garments before he is crucified. Considering the treatment Jesus experiences on this journey, this might seem to be almost trivial in comparison. In our society people go off to Spanish beaches and strip at will. What is the significance of this station?

Obviously Jewish society in Jesus’ time would not have shared our permissive attitudes. To strip someone in public would be to shame them, to remove their dignity. I suspect most of us would feel the same despite the permissive society we live in. Clothes are very important to people. Your clothes don’t just guard your modesty; they make a statement about you.

Your clothes can say something about your status in society. Their messages can be confusing at times. We had a conversation about a dress code for Eucharistic ministers at a recent Parish Committee meeting. Is it permissible to wear jeans on the altar? I noted that my ‘respectable’ trousers from the outlet shop cost much less than the expensive jeans worn by many young (and not so young) people. Who is being more respectful?

Keeping up with fashion can be tricky and I suppose I’ve just given up on that one. Clothing can also tell about what we do. Uniforms identify nurses, firemen, the police and other groups who command our respect. We can choose our clothes to put on appearances, to create the right impression and, perhaps, disguise who we really are. Clothes don’t just fool other people about who we are. If we choose the right clothes we can feel better about ourselves. We like to pretend we are somebody special.

When the soldiers stripped Jesus they thought they were stripping him of his dignity. They took his clothes and even drew lots to see who would get his seamless garment. They thought they could win this ‘treasure’. In fact their attention was on a piece of cloth while the real treasure was being nailed to the cross. How easily our attention can be taken by the clothes and we miss the real person inside them.

In the Nazi concentration camps of the second world war the victims were stripped of their clothes and their dignity before they were gassed. The guards collected their clothes and meagre belongings as a fundraising exercise. They valued the belongings but not the human beings. My clothes can hide the real me. Perhaps they hide the real me from me as well as everyone else. Perhaps I’m not too keen on looking at the real me. What am I trying to hide? I suppose I’m not terribly impressed by the real me.

Without my clothes to create a good impression I’m just an ordinary human being with no status and no special properties. Worse than that; I’m an imperfect human being. When Adam and Eve lunched on the forbidden fruit they discovered their nakedness and were ashamed. They donned some makeshift clothes to hide themselves and hide their sinfulness. We have been doing the same ever since. We don’t want to admit that we are only sinners. We are ashamed of that.

When Jesus was stripped of his garments he showed us his humanness. He was a human being with a body just like ours and he was God. By adopting our humanity he showed us that our dignity does not come from our clothes or the worldly status the clothes proclaim. Our dignity comes from being human; from being created by God. Not only are we created by God but God sent his Son to be sacrificed for us. We are created in God’s image. What greater dignity could we hope to have?

One of the most important things I learned in my teacher training course was that we can not learn anything unless we realise that we don’t know. It’s only when we realise that we don’t know something that we can set about finding out. Similarly, it is only when we realise that we are imperfect that we can go about improving ourselves.

We tend to think of ourselves as being nice people. I had a woman at the door a year or so back with a bible tract that declared that Jesus would return to deal with the wicked people. She asked me when this would happen. She was a bit disturbed when I said that I hoped it would not be for quite a while. “Why don’t you want Jesus to come and deal with the wicked?” she asked me. I told her I needed some time to sort myself out or he would be dealing with me.

She insisted that I was wrong. Jesus was coming to deal with the wicked, not people like us. She wasn’t too pleased when I hinted that we might think we are ok but others might have another opinion and I would need some time to improve. She went away but I don’t think she understood my point. There are none of us so good that we can presume that Jesus won’t be coming to deal with us.

When we can admit to ourselves that we are sinners we can start to get things into perspective. Try as we might we do not have the power to make ourselves perfect. Only God has that power and I for one am relying on his infinite mercy for my salvation. The whole point of the crucifixion and Jesus’ suffering on the Way of the Cross was to save us; all of us. He did not come to condemn anyone. Jesus is ready to forgive our sins. He is ready to forgive all our sins, no matter how terrible we might think they are.

He will forgive the greatest sinners. Who is the worst person who has ever lived? Is it Hitler? Is it Stalin? Try to imagine the greatest sinner and now try to imagine how anyone could be so forgiving as to forgive that terrible person. Well Jesus can do that. I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to die and go to Heaven. Who would you meet there? I would imagine meeting the great saints and the martyrs. Perhaps I would come face to face with Adolph Hitler. How could that be?

If the greatest of sinners looks at themself and admits what they have done and asks for forgiveness with true contrition then Jesus will forgive them. That’s the message in Jesus being stripped of his garments. We must strip away all the trappings of status and grandeur we like to clothe ourselves in and face the real person we are. I need to acknowledge my sinful nature and admit that’s who I really am. Then I can ask God for forgiveness and by his mercy be forgiven.

I don’t really need fancy clothes to impress people. If other people can’t see beyond the cloth and recognise me as a person, then that’s their problem. After all, the God who created the universe can see who I am despite my numerous failings he sent his only son to save me.

If you ever have one of those days when you feel worthless, then just remember God sees you differently.

Joseph McGrath

Jesus is Stripped of his Garments – My October Column

My series of articles on the Way of the Cross continues this month with thoughts on the tenth station, Jesus is stripped of his garments. How significant is this event in the light of the horrors of crucifixion? Why is this included in the way of the cross?

In an age when people regularly fly off to sunny shores to strip themselves of their garments it might seem to be a strange thing to pray about. Perhaps it goes deeper than that. My column is published in this weeks Scottish Catholic Observer. Why not get down to your local parish and get a copy? You may find it interesting.

If you are too slow and the papers are all gone when you get there, don’t worry. The full text will appear here next week.

Jesus Falls the Third Time -Full Text

Way of the Cross 9

The Third Fall

The Third Fall

The ninth station; Jesus Falls the Third Time

In this month’s column I want to look at the third fall of Jesus. Just as with the earlier falls,I can’t find any reference to the fall in the gospels. The three falls are included for a reason. They carry a message for us and we have to figure out what it is. What is the significance of this third fall?

The number three has had a mysterious significance for people since ancient times. Mathematicians list a whole range of special features of the number three. For example, according to Pythagoras and the Pythagorean School, the number 3, which they called triad, is the noblest of all digits, as it is the only number to equal the sum of all the terms below it, and the only number whose sum with those below equals the product of them and itself. Three is regarded as a magic number.

Storytellers often used this in their tales. Think of children’s stories like the three little pigs. The story repeats with the big bad wolf attacking the pigs in turn. At the third pig’s house the wolf is defeated. This pattern is repeated in other stories, even some modern films. We might expect the third fall to be the end of the story on the way of the cross. After all Jesus is now exhausted. He has lost a lot of blood and has had a night of torture and no sleep.

When Jesus falls again he knows what awaits him. There is no place to go. Why does he get up? That is the mystery here. He could easily have lain down and died there without the humiliation of the cross. Why, then,did he get up and struggle on? Jesus knew that he had to die in humiliation. He died to conquer death and save mankind, but the manner of his death had to convey a message to those who chose to follow him.

In searching for the message I’m drawn to the image of a man suffering and on the verge of death pulling himself up and pressing on to face something even worse. That’s a message which strikes home today as we face calls to change the law to allow euthanasia. Why should someone suffer when they could die in dignity? Why should they not just give up? Jesus gives the answer to that question. His life had a purpose and he could not give it up before that purpose had been served.

Each of us enjoys the great gift of life. Our lives also serve a purpose and we must keep going till we have served that purpose. Some might ask what purpose can be served by someone dying a long, lingering death? I have not been there, yet. I do remember my great aunt who lay dying in hospital for what seemed like many months. I would drive my mother and grandmother to visit her every week. Each time she seemed to get smaller and smaller. I remember the last time I saw her before she died. She lay there, skeletal, praying her rosary for the souls in purgatory. She still had a purpose

His Holiness, Pope John Paul II also saw the need to make a point about the sanctity of life. As he aged his body deteriorated and he suffered debilitating illness. Many people both in the Church and outside thought he should retire and make way for a fitter man. He decided otherwise and carried on in his vocation.

I’m sure he would have made his decision after spending a great deal of time in prayer. He was reminding us of the message Jesus gave us in the manner of his dying. Everyone has value, the poor, the sick and the dying. John Paul may have been physically wrecked but mentally he was fit to carry on.

I believe Jesus’ message to us was to show us how we must value the gift of life and the reason we have it. That is not the only message he left us.Jesus showed us something about humiliation. Nobody wants to be humiliated. None of us want to be ridiculed in public. When Jesus allowed himself to be humiliated before the mob around the cross he was sending us a message. When people humiliate you they do it for a reason. The Jewish authorities had to humiliate Jesus in public to protect themselves. They wanted to put an end to his teaching that exposed the hollowness of their own teaching. By humiliating him they hoped discourage his followers and remove the threat to their authority.

How often do we see this today when someone can’t be overcome in a debate and their opponent makes personal attacks on them? How often are people howled down in Parliament when their opponents have no answer to their questions? The message of the ninth station is clearly that we should never be afraid of being attacked or abused for our faith. In fact we should be happy when we are abused for being a follower of Christ. The abuse is not only a conformation of the correctness of our cause but it is much more.

Suffering abuse for the faith allows us to share, in a very small way,the humiliation that Jesus suffered. It also gives us an opportunity to show others that we can face up to the abuse and not give up our faith. Recent events in the Middle East have given us the example of Christians who were faced with the choice of giving up the faith or being killed. Many fled before the Isis terrorists but some gave up their lives, some beheaded in front of their children.

We are more fortunate than those poor souls, but their sacrifice should be an example to us. Where we are expected to do much less than them, surely we should be ready to stand up and be counted for the faith.

This is the purpose that the Christian has in life. Our lives are a gift and we are asked to use that gift to work for the coming of the Kingdom of God. We may all have different roles in life but we are all expected to bear witness to the Father. We can do this every day. We can do this at home and at work. We must bear witness to everyone we encounter, every day.

We bear witness by behaving as Christ would in dealing with the joys and fears, pleasures and pains that life puts before us. We show the world a better way by our reaction to the problems of the world. How do we react to those who are suffering at the hands of Isis? What do we do about the refugees from the fighting in Syria? We can make a financial contribution but, is that it? Can we walk away safe in the knowledge that we have done our bit?

The Christian calling is not a simple matter. Trying to be like Christ is setting ourselves up to fail. We will never match him. It’s not about succeeding but about how we go about failing to match our Saviour.

My September column: The Ninth Station

The ninth Station on the Way of the Cross;- Jesus Falls the Third Time.

The Third Fall

The Third Fall

Why is this significant? Why did he fall only three times? Why did he get up again?

For my thoughts on this mystery get your copy of the Scottish Catholic Observer this weekend. It’s out today. My column should be there.

If you are away on business or holiday or still have your head tucked under the blankets duvet afraid to find out the result of the referendum then the full text will appear here next week. The paper is better though with so many other interesting writers. (Should I have left out ‘other’?).

My April Column – Full Text

Jesus Meets His Mother

The fourth station on the Way of the Cross is where Jesus meets his mother. There is no mention of this in any of the gospels. I wonder why. Then it seems obvious, we know his mother was at the foot of the cross. She must have followed him all the way there.

Jesus has recovered from his fall. He is continuing his final journey, weakened but goaded on by the shouts and blow of his executioners. Then, struggling on, he lifts his head and sees his mother in the crowd. Their eyes meet. What are they thinking?

Mary is there, not by chance, but because she has followed her son. Less than a week ago he was welcomed to Jerusalem by cheering crowds waving palm fronds. Now, a few days later, things have changed completely. Did Mary understand what was happening or was she bewildered by the sudden change? How did she feel, seeing her only son, weak and bleeding, being led to a criminal’s death?

Mothers always seem to feel the pain their children experience. Anybody who has seen a toddler bump his head on a table and cry out in pain will remember the mother scooping him up, wishing to take the pain herself, and soothing the child. That never ends. Mothers continue to watch their children grow and experience the pains of growing. The mother feels their pains. When the child is too old to scoop up and comfort the mother is still there, comforting as best she can. Once a mother always a mother.

Mary must have been confused but I imagine she must have been remembering the prophesy of Simeon when Jesus was taken to the Temple.

You see this child: he is destined for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.

Luke 2: 34, 35

Mary must have been feeling that sword as she stood in the crowd. Here, before her, is Jesus being rejected. The crowds that had welcomed him only days before were now baying for his blood. Mary knew that Jesus was here for a purpose. She must have realised that this was all part of his destiny. There is no mention of Mary screaming or making a fuss. She did not try to intervene. I wonder how I would react if my child was in that situation? Could I stand passively by and watch the torture and humiliation unfold?

I also wondered how Jesus felt when he saw his mother. He would see the pain in her face and he would know that, even though she was powerless to do anything, she was there for him. That’s what parents have to do. We have to be there, often powerless to help, just there as moral support. I suppose we all cause our parents worry and pain as we grow up. I’m sure I caused my mother a great deal of worry as I moved from one job to another and never applied for the job in the Post Office that she thought would bring me security. Through it all she was supportive in everything I did. That’s what I owe my children, my support and my acceptance of their decisions, even when I don’t understand the reasons.

Of course, when I think of this station I never consider the crowd. Who were these people who howled for his execution? Where were the supporters and the people he had helped? To put it bluntly, where would I have been if I had been in Jerusalem on that day? I like to think that I would have tried to help Jesus. If I look at my behaviour today I have to question that.

As a practicing Christian am I really following Jesus’ example? Do I behave like Jesus in my dealings with other people? How do I react when others attack the Church? Do I stand back and watch or do I speak up? Am I there for the stranger who is lost or in difficulty? How do I treat the people I don’t agree with? Am I happy to see them in difficulty or do I step forward and offer my help?

I recently viewed a Youtube video of a member of the Orange Lodge arguing for a NO vote in the Independence referendum. The comments from other viewers accused him of being a bigot who was not worth listening to. Nobody was considering the points he made. He was condemned for who he was rather than what he was saying. I was ashamed of the treatment he got. Would Jesus have reacted in that way? It is easier to be part of the mob than to speak out for justice.

The school I taught in before I retired had just that as its motto. Speak out for justice. What better advice could a catholic school give to its pupils? How many of us follow that advice? Do I speak out for justice or am I happy to see someone get their comeuppance? I suppose I need to remind myself that I meet Jesus in everyone I encounter. Do I see Jesus in the eyes of a beggar on the street? Do I see Jesus in the face of the convict being led off to start a long sentence?

Am I able to see Jesus in the illegal immigrant being flown home in handcuffs? Can I imagine that Jesus is to be found behind the balaclava on the pro-Russian protestor in Ukraine? You might argue that these are hard questions. You would be right. How could I imagine that you could find Jesus in someone you oppose? Well, that’s what Jesus could do. Think of the times he was seen in the company of the lowest of the low, the people most despised in society. Jesus could see worth in the worst of people. I must learn to do the same.

I must face up to the possibility that on current performance I could be one of the crowd. Perhaps I would have joined in the shouting, afraid to speak out for the innocent man and too ready to seek approval from the powerful elite. Would I be willing to suffer the disapproval of my friends and neighbours by saying they were wrong?

This is very hard but Jesus never promised that following him would be easy. Mary followed him and was there for him even at the worst of times. I think we are called on to do the same. We must be there for Jesus in his suffering. Where will we find Jesus in his suffering? Look around. Wherever we see the rejected people we see Jesus rejected. Wherever we see the criminal, jailed for his crimes, we see Jesus suffering with him. The sick, the homeless and the lonely are all opportunities for me to step out of the crowd, stop howling for Jesus’ execution and become a follower, helping the Jesus I find in unexpected places.

Joseph McGrath

The Way of the Cross 1

Strangers to Christianity often wonder at the symbolism we use. The cross is a reminder of Christ’s violent and ignominious death, a failure in human terms. Similarly, the way of the cross must seem strange to them. We follow the last steps of Jesus as He carries His cross to the place of execution. Why would we wish to remember that?

Of course, as Christians, we understand the significance of this event and we are charged to take up our cross and follow. The Stations of the Cross which we are familiar with originated in the Via Dolorosa followed by pilgrims to Jerusalem. They retraced the path Jesus followed to His crucifixion.

Today we are following a tradition which is reputed to have started with Saint Francis of Assisi who made this a devotion in churches. We don’t need to go to Jerusalem to retrace Our Lord’s last steps we can do it in our own parish. It is so much an accepted part of Catholic life that I have never given much thought to its origins or deeper meanings.

This time last year I was making my preparations for my attempt at the Camino, a testing pilgrimage. When I set off eventually I passed through Lourdes and had a passing thought about starting from there. The train moved off and the thought went. At the end of last year I returned to Lourdes for the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a less strenuous pilgrimage.

On that feast day we had Mass in the grotto followed by The Stations in the underground basilica. We were led by Father John Ahern and his commentary had a lasting effect on me. The basilica was dark and cold on that December morning. Perhaps the strange surroundings led me to think again about the Stations as a pilgrimage.

That’s where I’m going this year. I’m going to take each station in turn and see what I find. I hope you can come along.

The First Station – Jesus is condemned to death

I start by looking at what we are told in the Gospels. All four evangelists agree that Jesus was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate. They go to some length to show that Pilate was reluctant to do this. He said he could find no case against Jesus that merited death. The crowd applied pressure. They howled him down. They applied political threats. They claimed that Jesus’ claim to be a king was a threat to Caesar, Pilate’s boss.

Pilate reluctantly gave in and condemned Jesus to death. In Matthew’s gospel we learn that he washes his hands of Jesus’ blood. Matthew goes further to tell us that the people say “Let his blood be on us and our children.”

So who is guilty of Jesus’ death? The debate resurfaces from time to time. In recent years the Mel Gibson film “The Passion of The Christ” caused furore and accusations of anti-Semitism. Were the Jews to blame or was it the Romans? It is an interesting debate, but I think it misses the point. I was always taught that Jesus died for our sins. He died to redeem us. If there is any blame going then some of it must, surely come my way.

The focus of this station is not on who is to blame. We are asked to look at this situation and imagine what we would have done if we had been there. If I was one of the crowd would I have cried out “Crucify him!” just like the others? It might have proved to be a dangerous thing to do.

If I had been in Pontius Pilate’s place how would I have reacted? Pilate was a powerful man. He had a Roman army at his disposal. He could have sorted out the crowd easily. Pilate was governor to calm down Jerusalem. He didn’t want to stir up crowds. He knew Jesus was innocent and a victim of jealousy. Would I have acted differently? Would I stand up for truth in the face of displeasing my ruler and probably losing my job?

Well, that was then and this is today. It would be easy to say I would have been a man of principle and would have stood for justice. What would I do in a similar situation today? There are innocent people suffering and dying in unjust situations. In Africa there are poor farmers who will remain poor no matter how hard they work because the price of the tea or coffee they grow is decided by the dealers in the rich countries. I buy that tea and coffee. When am I standing up against injustice?

Asylum seekers in our country face inhuman treatment sometimes. I read today of an eighty four year old man in a detention centre for asylum seekers who died in handcuffs. Doctors had declared him to be unfit for detention or deportation but he died, having been in handcuffs for almost five hours. When did I stand up and speak out against inhuman treatment of people in my country?

Some might cite the abortion scandal in our country as another example of killing the innocent while we ignore it. In the light of these things I’m not sure that I could claim to act any differently than Pilate or the crowd who condemned Jesus. Perhaps that’s the point of the first station. It invites us to look, not at Pilate and the crowd, but at ourselves.

The Way of the Cross is a pilgrimage of sorts and it should enable me to see things in a different light. It should enable me to see myself more clearly, let me see who I really am. I think I must take stock and decide whether I want to be one of the crowd or stand up for justice.

Fortunately there are ways of taking action now that may not have been available in the past. If I want to take action against injustice I can join one of the many groups or organisations that combat injustice. I can become a campaigner with Justice and Peace or help organisations that work to help the poor like Mission Matters or Aid to the Church in need. I could volunteer to work for the poor with the Society of Saint Vincent De Paul.

There are lots of ways I could stand up for justice. One of the most effective ways is, of course, through prayer. Prayer must not be seen as an easy way out. Real prayer is not a quick Hail Mary for the poor. Real prayer for justice must be regular and unceasing. There are lots of prayer options for me. Perhaps I could look back to where I started, in Lourdes. The wee shops opposite the grotto are loaded down with rosaries, and for good reason. Regularly praying the rosary (not the mad dash through the decades) could provide me with an effective and powerful means to stand out from the crowd.

Just as importantly, I must become more observant. I should be able to spot injustice, be it at work, at home or in the public arena. I must become prepared to do something about it.

Joseph McGrath

My October Column – Full Text – The Power of Faith

This article appeared in the Scottish Catholic Observer on Friday 25th October 2013.

So far in this series I have looked at Faith in various ways – how I learned my Faith, how I grew in Faith and how my Faith might put me at odds with the world. I have looked at life as a journey of Faith, taking me from childhood into a more mature understanding of my relationship with God.

In this month’s article I want to take a look at Faith from a slightly different perspective. I have looked at the strength of faith and strengthening my faith. The other day I found that Jesus used a different idea. He spoke of the size of our Faith.

In the parable of the mustard seed He says that if your faith was the size of a mustard seed you could command a tree to uproot itself and walk. Now we can take that statement on many levels. Obviously I am not able to command a tree to do that so my faith must be really small. It can be taken as a simple comparison.

On the other hand it is saying something about Faith. Jesus is saying that Faith gives us power. In another place he tells us that faith can move mountains. He is telling us that we have the power to do things that we think are beyond our capabilities.

Now I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the Gospel, just to check. In Luke 8; 43 – 48 we hear of a woman who is suffering from a condition that has been dragging her down for twelve years. She believes that Jesus has the power to heal her. One day she pushes through the crowd and touches the hem of his garment, She feels the power that cures her that instant. Jesus feels it too. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

Everyone denied it but Jesus said,

 “Somebody touched me. I felt that power had gone out from me.”

The woman came forward and confessed to touching Him and said she had been cured. Jesus said,

 “My daughter, your faith has restored you to health; go in peace.”

He didn’t say that He had cured her because of her faith. In fact the woman felt the miracle happen before Jesus was aware of her.

Jesus frequently refers to the power of Faith. On visiting Nazareth, his home town, the people would not accept Him. He was still the carpenter’s son. In Mark 6; 4-6  we learn,

“And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house’; and He could work no miracles there, though He cured a few sick people by laying hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of Faith.”

The gospels make it clear that when we have Faith we have power to do good. We have power beyond our imagining. We have power to carry out the work that Jesus has set us to do. We know that, but do we really believe it?

My faith is certainly much smaller than that mustard seed and I’m sure many of us don’t feel we have the power to do marvellous things. However if we all have a small faith we can join together and in coming together our Faith can become much bigger. It is as though all our little mustard seeds come together to make something much bigger. I believe that is why it is important that we come together in prayer. We worship together because the Faith is stronger then.

Who has been to a procession in Lourdes, with thousands of believers singing and praying together and has not felt the effects. For that time our faith is magnified and we can feel it. I belong to a small choir and we work hard at our hymns. Recently we attended a couple of workshops in Motherwell Diocese. There were participants from across the area. When we all sang together we were lifted by the other voices. The sound was wonderful and it was not just more noise, we all felt inspired and sang better than our usual attempts.

As a community of Faith we are a power for good. There are, however, things we can’t do. In Mark’s gospel we hear of Jesus casting out a demon from a boy. The boy’s father asks Jesus to help him. Jesus casts out the spirit and the boy is cured. His disciples asked why they had been unable to cure the boy. Jesus answered,

“This is the kind that can only be driven out by prayer.”

Mark 9; 29

There we have our answer. It is through prayer that great things are done. When we are united in prayer we are most effective. Sometimes people tell us that they don’t need to go to Mass because they can pray at home or on the bus. While it is certainly true that we can pray anywhere and at any time, it is when we come together as a community of prayer that we are truly united. When we are united in the Eucharist then our prayers are truly powerful.

I recall being at a meeting of priests on a mission in Liberia. This was after the troubles there. Someone asked the priest who had run the Catholic radio station, Radio Veritas, to explain his escape from a fire there. The station had been broadcasting news of the atrocities Charles Taylor’s army had been carrying out. One night he was seized and locked in the inner studio of the station and the building set on fire. He was soon overcome by fumes, flames surrounding his studio.

He woke up on someone’s kitchen floor. Nobody knew how he had arrived there. His explanation was simple – he didn’t know how he got out, only that he had been saved by people’s prayers.

It is evident, then that Faith is not an individual thing. It works best in community, the bigger the community the better. Faith demands to be shared. There is a temptation for us to be smug in our religion. We could easily feel that we are chosen by God and other people may not get to Heaven but we will be ok. I don’t think it really works like that. Jesus calls all men (and women – I’m not looking to start a fight). As Christians we are called to help others to come to Christ. If we sit back thinking “I’m all right Jack.” Then we might be in for a rude awakening when the time comes.

I believe that it is vital that all Christians come together and show, by example, how Christ’s message of love can transform us. Only by being united in Christ can we persuade non – Christians to turn to the gospel. In sharing our Faith we will make it bigger and more effective in dealing with the problems of our world.

This Year of Faith has given me a timely reminder that the Faith I have taken for granted is not something to leave in the drawer and bring out on a Sunday. It has to be the guiding force in my life. I wonder where it will lead me?