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The Holy Father, Pope Francis instituted the Holy Year of Mercy by opening the Holy Door on the 8th December 2015 at the Vatican. Each diocese has its own holy door and we are all invited to pass through this door. Since last month’s article I have been on a pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome as part of my Holy Year. I have passed through Holy doors in Assisi and at the Vatican as well as other basilicas in Rome.
So what is it like to pass through this door? What happens as you pass through? Well it’s like passing through any other door. What happens is you go from the outside to the inside. Going through the door doesn’t do anything to you. It is a symbolic act. It symbolises my coming in from the world’s values into the values Christ taught us. By walking through the door I express my willingness, my intention to change, to follow Christ’s teachings of mercy.
Walking through the door is only the start. We are expected to stop and pray, contemplating our coming to Christ’s mercy. To gain the jubilee indulgence we are also expected to receive the sacrament of reconciliation and the Eucharist soon after. Confessions in a range of languages were available in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran when we went through that particular holy door and our parish priest; Fr. Eamon Sweeney celebrated mass with us every day of the pilgrimage.
This was my first time in Rome. The Vatican is a magnificent setting. Saint Peter’s Square, (It’s not really square) filled with people is something to be experienced. Security in The Vatican City is very tight with armed police and soldiers at strategic points. We had to pass through airport type scanners each time we went in. That didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowds.
I didn’t find Saint Peter’s to be the place I had expected. The architecture, the history and the artworks are very impressive but it felt, to me a bit like a museum. The crowds of tourists milling around taking pictures added to this feeling. I was looking for the centre, the core of the Church and it didn’t seem to be here. Turning round I met a young man from the Balkans with his little daughter Matilda on his shoulders. Now that is where the core of the Church lies; in the people, especially the children.
My image of the Vatican has changed. I don’t see it as the core of the Church but as a kind of pin that Catholics all over the world are linked to and through that linked to each other. It’s a symbol of our unity together under the leadership of the Holy Father. However I can understand why Pope Francis decided to live somewhere other than the Papal apartments.
During our time in Rome we attended the Papal blessing and the Holy Father’s general audience. His address during the audience was enlightening. He referred to the parable of the Good Shepherd and the lost sheep. The Pope told us that Jesus doesn’t see any of us as lost sheep but just sheep waiting to be found. His intention is for everyone to be saved. Just as the Good Shepherd rejoices in bringing back the lost sheep, Jesus rejoices in the return of the sinner.
He also mentioned that the rest of the flock rejoices in the return of the lost sheep. That raises the question of how we, the rest of the flock, view the return of the sinner. That was a bit puzzling. I’m not sure whether I am one of the rest of the flock or a sinner making a return. I suppose I am both. My life seems to go in cycles when I am sometimes out of touch with God and times when I get closer. However, it does imply that I should be rejoicing when sinners return to the fold. That raises the question of how I respond to returning sinners. Do I welcome those who have seen the error of their ways or am I dismissive of their motives? Jesus spent a lot of time with people who were widely regarded as sinners. Some thought that made him a bit suspect. Am I willing to be thought suspect by welcoming sinners?
Another important theme in the story of the Good Shepherd is that the lost sheep can’t find its way back on its own. Just like the sheep we can only find our way back to Jesus because He reaches out to us. The Church provides the paths back to Jesus through the sacrament of reconciliation, bringing forgiveness and the Eucharist, nourishment for the soul. How can we act like Jesus and help bring lost sheep back to the fold? I pose the question but I’m afraid I can’t give the answer. I can suggest what not to do. We should never condemn sinners; for two reasons. The first reason is that I am a sinner and I’d rather not be condemned and the second reason is that Jesus never condemned anybody.
If I can come back to the Holy Door for a moment, I’d like to point out that after going in through the Holy Door I came back out. If going in through the Holy Door was a symbol of turning back from worldly ways to the gospel teaching, then going back out can only be symbolic of taking the gospel out into the world. Passing through the door and taking the other steps to gain the indulgence offered is only the first step, not an end in itself. There is no going back to our old ways. We are now on a new path, bringing mercy to our fellow sinners.
Perhaps we could take a leaf out of the Holy Father’s book. When we attended the General Audience in Saint Peter’s Square the security was highly visible and very strict. Armed police and soldiers screened everyone entering the square and the Pope’s personal security men kept very close. Despite this and the threats that lay behind it, he was joyful on his tour round the square. His face lit up as he toured and the crowd cheered.
Our gospel story is the greatest story ever told. It is the good news and that should surely show in our faces as we make our daily rounds of work, shopping and our home life. I have to ask myself if I am showing the joy that Christ’s message brings or if I’m just a grumpy wee bald guy, muttering to himself as he goes about his day. I’ll have to give that some thought. Am I encouraging others by my joyful outlook or am I putting people off by giving the impression that the Church is a solemn, glum place to be?
If you would like to hear the Holy Father and the English translation of the summary of his talk you will find it below.
I had a tree surgeon in to trim my trees. The high wings before Christmas caused some damage and brought down a neighbour’s tree. The tree surgeon, John, came out and disposed of a very tricky situation. He agreed to come out and make my trees a bit safer. Boy, he works fast.
Don’t believe me? Watch the video.
Now you must admit that was quick.
It’s fifty years ago tonight, I still remember it vividly. I was sitting watching TV with my Grandfather. The newsflash came on – a shooting in Dallas – President Kennedy has been shot.
Then the news that he was dead. How could this be? He was a hero to us teenagers. He challenged us to be better and to look to the service of others. Why would anyone kill him?
That was the end of my innocence. I saw the world differently; there are evil people there – in our own societies – not just behind the Iron Curtain. I saw this video and felt I had to share it. It encapsulates some of the things I feel about Kennedy and the effects of Faith.
Please share this with others you think would reflect on those events – is it really fifty years?
Last month I quoted His Holiness, Pope Francis I, telling us to build the Church. We must be the evangelists spreading the Faith. That sounds exciting and really scary all at the same time. It’s exciting because it places us in the forefront of building the Kingdom of God on earth. It is scary because we don’t really know how to go about it.
A few years ago I was in Liberia with Father Gary Jenkins, an SMA missionary. I was learning about how a mission works, looking at the school, the clinics and the people working there. He was a very experienced missionary and was working in remote villages, bringing the Gospel to people who had never heard the Word.
At that time Liberia was emerging from a disastrous civil war and people were returning to devastated villages to try to pick up the threads of normal life again. I asked Father Gary how he went about introducing people to the Gospel. How do you get them interested? His answer was quite simple. The culture in those African communities was an oral one. Most people could not read and write so everything was in the spoken word. Their culture was passed down through the generations in stories. Father Gary told stories.
His stories were the stories of the Bible. He visited villages and told his stories to generate an understanding of what Christianity was about. He told me that Missionaries did not bring God to Africa. God was already there. The Holy Spirit moved in Africa before the white man and created a thirst for knowledge of God. What was new to Africa was Jesus.
This seemed logical but it all seemed a bit too simple. Father Gary agreed and offered to take me on a visit he was making to a village in the forest where he had started a small Christian group. The village was not too far away but was not easy to reach. We drove off the road and down tracks through the forest until we reached a river. There we were met by a boatman in his dugout canoe.
There were only two men who were allowed to ferry people across the river. He came back and forth until the whole party was across. We found ourselves on the edge of the village and walked in to a great welcome. We celebrated Mass in a hut in the centre of the village before sharing a meal there.
As darkness fell we were treated to a spectacular dance display where Magongo, a forest spirit danced through fire, displaying his power over that element. The boys from the mission who accompanied us stayed close to us in fear. The old religion still carried sway. Magongo is really a man in a suit of grass, not exactly what you would wear to dance through a roaring fire but that’s why it is so impressive.
I wondered what it was about Father Gary that impressed the villagers more than Magongo. It turned out that Magongo is a spirit dedicated to Father Gary and he bowed down before the priest after the dance. Now I was really puzzled. Father Gary eventually told me the story.
He had gone to the village, telling his stories and building a community but there was another group there, an Evangelical group who opposed his presence. They disrupted his attempts to have a Mass in the village and he eventually gave up. He explained to the village chief that the people did not seem to want him there.
That would have been the end of the story but for the start of a new war. The civil war was, as I have said, disastrous for the people. Many fled into displacement camps, seeking safety but often finding very difficult conditions. Father Gary stayed in his post throughout the war and did his best to alleviate the condition of the people and sought aid from many people in the UK. Many of you will have helped him via SIR and Mary’s Meals.
When the war finished and the people were returning a messenger came from the village. The chief wanted Father Gary to come back. He went to the village and asked the chief why he had sent for him. He had tried before but the people had preferred a different group. Why would things be different now?
The chief agreed that the people had been drawn to a different Christian group who had offered prosperity in this life. When the war came that group left. Father Gary had stayed and had continued to work to alleviate their difficult conditions. The people had realised that Father Gary brought more than promises; he brought himself. By his selflessness and good works he had shown them the true meaning of the Gospel message.
It seems to me that it’s not the telling of the story that is important. If we are to build the Church we must be prepared to give ourselves to be used. Evangelisation is the work of the Holy Spirit. We must allow the Spirit to use us to influence other people. We can be an influence by behaving like true Christians in the way we go about our daily lives and in the way we treat others.
Telling the story of Magongo dancing through the fire made me think back to the boys who were afraid of the forest spirit. At the time I was both puzzled and amused. These boys had been boy soldiers in the civil war and had seen dreadful things. They were Christians, firmly believing in one God and yet they still feared this other god.
The apparent weakness of their faith made me think of my own faith in one true god. Do I really have no other gods in my life? If that is the case then why did I make sure I had a lottery ticket last night? If my Faith was strong I would understand that money will not bring me happiness or satisfaction. I tell myself that money is useful and could be used to change the lives of so many poor people. It could do a lot of good.
I’m deluding myself. Millions could be put to good use, but the Gospel message is not about using easy money. It is about the hard reality of sharing the little we have, not the surplus we can’t think how to spend. If I won the lottery would I help the poor before or after buying myself a shiny red sports car?
Yes, there are still some false gods in my life and I need to recognise them for what they are. Only then can I live a life that truly teaches by example. Only then will I be able to live up to the task Christ set for all Christians; to lead the world to Him.
Now I’m not so sure of myself than I was when I started writing this. I need to go off and seek out those other false gods that might be lurking there, somewhere in the back of my mind.
You will find him there. Are there any false gods lurking in your background? They might not be dancing through fire but they could be hiding in that lottery ticket or that bottle of red. Oops, that might be another of mine.
My September column is published today (Friday 27th September) in the Scottish Catholic Observer. This month I look into how missionaries share the Faith. I talk about an African village and Magongo – a forest spirit. See the video below.
Get the paper this weekend for the full story.
I had a class to take yesterday (Thursday 4th) and it was such a beautiful morning I decided to take my camcorder and record my stroll through the park. I get the train to Charing Cross (Glasgow) and walk through Kelvingrove park to the university. It is so pleasant I felt I had to share it.
I held the camera in my hand as I strolled through and, of course, the video is bumpy as I walk. I used the YouTube skake corrector which steadies the picture. I didn’t realise the side effect. As I pass near to stationary objects they seem to be alive, bouncing like objects in a Pixar cartoon.
I kept it like that because I think it’s funny and adds something to my walk. Have a look and see what you think. I’d be interested to know.
Glasgow is really a beautiful city. I love the old buildings and the open spaces. It has a sense of history for me and I know many visitors enjoy the same feeling as they walk around.
Enjoy your mornings. Enjoy today.
I met an American pilot on my walk through northern Spain earlier this year when I attempted the Camino. His name was Ray King and on our walk together he told me about his hobby – geochaching, following clues to find a hidden container. It’s a bit of walking in the fresh air and solving puzzles.
I’ve started to search for local caches and chalked up my first one. Ray told me about some really ingenious hidden containers. I hope to find some really tricky ones – just for the joy of solving a puzzle. I found this video which shows some really fancy caches. Have a look and see if it inspires you.
And, if you find Ray King on your travels, pass on my regards; I lost touch on the road.