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’?).

The Way of the Cross -8 My August Column

The weeping women

Weep not for me

Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

In this series of articles I’m looking at the way of the Cross and I’m trying to find the meaning behind it; the message for us. This is a curious incident on that final journey. Who were these women/ Why were they weeping and why does Jesus speak to them in the way he does? It’s very strange and it needs looking into.

I looked into the gospel accounts to see what I could find there. The only mention of this comes in Luke’s gospel.

Large numbers of people followed him, and of women too, who mourned and lamented for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, ’Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep rather for yourselves and for your children. For the days will surely come when people will say, “Happy are those who are barren, the wombs that have never borne, the breasts that have never suckled!” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”; to the hills, “Cover us!” For if men use the green wood like this, what will happen when it is dry?’

Luke 23: 27, 31

The other three evangelists do not mention this incident. Why has Luke picked this out? He must have recognised an important message in this passage. The women in the passage are not the women who followed Jesus from Galilee. They are women of Jerusalem. If they are not followers why are they weeping and why does Jesus seem to discount their sorrow?

The question is one of ritual. Death has many rituals in different societies. In Jewish tradition women would be hired to come and weep and wail at funerals to set the sad, sombre tone of the occasion. This harks back to the story of Rachel whose tears prompted God’s forgiveness. Rituals like this are not uncommon in many societies. In Africa there are many tribes where wailing women are a matter of course.

I recall a story from my friend Father Pat McGuire who was on his first mission station in Ghana when he had to officiate at a funeral. The dead man’s widow jumped into the grave to be with her husband and could not be persuaded to come out. At a loss, Father Pat turned to a local priest for advice. He was told to start filling in the grave. When the first spade of earth was put in the woman jumped out. She was following a local ritual.

This may seem strange to us but we do similar things. Do you remember the film Oliver? Oliver was sold to an undertaker and dressed in black with a top hat, a mummer to precede the hearse and set a sad tone. We are still bound by funeral rituals today. We wear black. We have solemn faces, bells toll a solemn message of sadness. Yet, as Christians, we believe that death is the start of our new life in heaven; surely a happy occasion?

Rituals around death are changing in our society as we reject religion and need something in its place. I remember watching the funeral of Princess Diana and being amazed when people began throwing roses on to the hearse. Laying bunches of flowers, teddy bears or football tops on railings or at the roadside has become a ritual to mark the death of a loved one or even someone we barely knew. People are searching for something to replace a religious ritual. Perhaps the religious ritual really held no great meaning for them in the first place.

I am writing this while we are celebrating (?) the start of the First World War, the Great War as the media are calling it again. We have solemn ceremonies of rembrance of those who dies one hundred years ago. There seems to be little remembrance of those politicians who failed to avert a war in the first place. History shows little evidence of lessons learnt from the slaughter as we have managed to keep fighting wars where there need be none.

Is this false ritual what Jesus was referring to when he told the women not to weep for him? The ritual can hide the truth. Jesus’ words refer the women to another part of the Torah, our old testament, where in Jeremiah it says,

You there! Call the mourning women! Let them come! Send for those who are best at it! let them come! Let them lose no time in raising the lament for us! Let our eyes rain tears, our eyelids run with weeping! Yes, the wail is to be heard from Zion, what ruin is ours, what utter shame!

Jeremiah 9:16,19


This is in the face of the punishment that God is to wreak on the Israelites for forsaking the law.The passage about calling on the mountains to fall on us is a reference to another scriptural passage. This one is from Hosea 10:8 warning the Israelites of the punishment God will mete out for their unfaithfulness. Perhaps Jesus is warning the Jews of what is to befall them after rejecting him as the Messiah.

Jesus is the green wood in the quote. He brought the completion of the covenant between God and man a new covenant. The Jews rejected him and stuck with the dry wood, the incomplete covenant. This would not be immediately obvious to the people. After the crucifixion the Jewish religion continued and does to this day. Christianity started small and grew slowly.

The message in Luke’s gospel is really one for us. He is warning us about adopting rituals which, though not bad in themselves, can hide the real message. What do I mean by that? Let’s look at ritual in our Christian lives. Going to mass on a Sunday is a good place to start.

When I was a boy (not really that long ago, surely) we were taught that the obligation was to assist at the sacrifice of the mass. That is a wee bit more than just being there. At the consecration we are witnessing something extraordinary. The bread and wine becomes the second person of the Trinity. Lights don’t flash. There is no booming voice from heaven. Never the less we come into the presence of Jesus, our saviour. This is impossible for us to understand fully. It requires our belief. How do we react to this?

Reactions vary. Some people talk through this part of the mass. Some read the parish bulletin. Some kneel and appear devout but might be thinking about something else. Some are praying in the presence of the Lord. I’m not making any judgements here. I’m just admitting that the ritual sometimes does not highlight the importance of the moment but can fool us (me included) into thinking we have got it right. If we are not offering ourselves with the bread and wine, if we are not joining in the sacrifice at the consecration then we are missing the point.

The rituals are good. They are the signposts that can keep us on the right track, alert us to something important. When we forget to recognise what the ritual is alerting us to then we have lost the plot. We are like the weeping women. The Pharisees were hot on ritual and you know what Jesus thought of them.

This is not about ‘going to communion’ and then carrying on with things as normal. This is our opportunity to accept Jesus into our lives and give that life to him in our sacrifice. We should be going out of church on a mission. We should be out to change the world, starting small, growing slowly. Changing ourselves and becoming an influence on others by our example.

In this station I have learned something Luke wanted to tell us about ritual. We must be able to recognise Jesus there and be alert to his presence in our lives.


Joseph McGrath

My August Column – Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

The weeping women

Weep not for me

My August column is published today in the Scottish Catholic Observer.

The eighth station – Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. Who were these women and what were they really weeping about? Why do they get a mention today after almost two thousand years?

Is there a message here for any of us? Get the paper this weekend and see for yourself.

Don’t worry if you miss it. The full text will be available here next Friday (5th September). There is a lot more in the paper though.


The Seventh Station – Jesus Falls the Second Time


Jesus Falls the Second Time

Jesus Falls the Second Time




This month I’m looking into the seventh station on the Way of the Cross. Jesus falls for the second time. The second fall should not be unexpected. Jesus was getting weaker with loss of blood. Yet a second fall brings with it the warning that this will continue. I wrote earlier about tripping on a kerbstone in Paris and the shock of the fall. The problem is when tripping becomes normal.


Last year I found myself suffering with sciatica. I thought it would go away by itself but it got worse. What can you do? I went to the doctor and he sent me for physiotherapy. I thought that was helping but found I was stumbling when I walk. It now appears I have a worn hip so I just keep taking the tablets. When I walk I sometimes find my foot doesn’t go where I meant it to go. Tripping and the consequent fall has become a feature of life now.


Jesus’ second fall is a metaphor for sin. Just like my occasional fall, falling into sin becomes a feature of life. We can think of a fall from grace or a fall into sin. Falling into sin makes sin sound like a trap and so it is. I don’t know about you but I can excuse myself by thinking that a sin is not serious or is not harming anyone. That’s the trap. Just like my problem with tripping falling into sin is a normal part of life. We need to be aware and ready for the unexpected.


Now, in sin, I’ve changed my perspective. I’m seeing things slightly differently. When my perspective is distorted my decisions get distorted too. I’ll give you an example. I’m six foot two and I can reach for things on high shelves but often get into bother because if you measure me I’m only five foot eight. I have a similar problem with cameras that don’t capture my full head of hair. I think you get the picture.


If my view of reality is distorted then my relationship with others will be too. My sin distorts my view of the world unless I realise that I am wrong and do something about it. To return to the analogy of the fall, you can’t get up unless you know you are down.


This was brought home to me recently when I read on Twitter about a woman in America who threw her children out of the window. That was disturbing, shocking. What was more disturbing were the comments added by other readers. They posted all sorts of suggestions about the sorts of torture that the woman should suffer.


The comments were based on the view that this woman is evil. Nobody suggested that she might be suffering from some psychological disorder and be in urgent need of help. Was this based upon the perception that we are good and guiltless and the woman must be evil? If so then we are in the trap of sin. None of us are without sin. Once we realise that we can look with compassion on others.


Another example I found in the news was the funeral of Fr. Kenneth Walker who was murdered trying to defend his fellow priest in Phoenix, Arizona. A group of protesters from Westboro Baptist church demonstrated with placards at the church. They are an unaffiliated church and have been demonstrating at the funerals of service personnel who died in Afghanistan. They claim that these things are God’s punishment.


I suppose that’s an old idea of God. It’s a picture of a vengeful God who is watching out for us to fall into sin and take revenge on us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus came to save us, not condemn us. The sufferings and falls we contemplate in the Way of The Cross are how Jesus took the punishment for our sins. God is always ready to forgive. We just need to turn back to Him.


How often have you heard people talk about Catholic guilt? The story goes that we are brought up in an atmosphere of sin and guilt. This causes all sorts of psychological problems that are only solved when you give up religion. Of course it’s all nonsense. Being aware of sin and the effects of sin on our lives gives us the opportunity to change and improve life. As Catholics we have the sacraments to help us be reconciled with Jesus and rid ourselves of any burden we feel.


If we are forgiven, free of sin, then we are in a position to treat others in the same way. We should be able to “forgive those who trespass against us”. How much evil in the world is committed because of perceived wrongs others have done to us? There are wars in Africa and the Middle East caused by real and imagined wrongs. How much better the world could be if we were more ready to forgive.


We can look to South Africa for a great example of this. The black people in that country had faced oppression under the Apartheid regime for decades. Families had suffered great injustice and brutality. When the regime fell there could have been terrible bloodletting as people took revenge. Instead there was a system of Truth and Reconciliation. People could own up to what they had done and were forgiven. The bloodbath was avoided.


So how do we get out of the trap? It’s not easy. You know the story about the man who took a shortcut on his way home from the pub. He cut through the cemetery and fell into a grave dug for a funeral next morning. Try as he might he could not get out so he sat down to wait for morning. Soon another reveller fell into the same grave and tried to climb out. The first man tapped him on the shoulder and said “You’ll never get out.”. But he did with one jump.


Who can give us the tap on the shoulder? Who can help us out of the trap? Obviously Jesus is the one to turn to. In Jesus we can find the compassion we need to help us. We can find him in the sacrament of reconciliation. Some of us find that very difficult. We can’t shrug off the feeling of guilt and can’t bring ourselves to take that step into the confessional. In this second fall we see Jesus, in his agony, get up and take an even more difficult step. He encourages us to do the same.


I had a friend who had been away from the Church for years. After attending the funerals of two lifelong friends in succession he decided it was time to set things to rights. He told me he went to confession, ready for a hard time from the priest. He was surprised to find that rather than a hard time he was welcomed back and his sins forgiven. There was a visible change in him. He was a happier man in his dealings with everyone.


When we see Jesus get up from his second fall in the seventh station we should be reminded that no fall is too great for his compassion. No matter how far we fall or think we have fallen Jesus is there to help us up again. So let’s forget about guilt and concentrate on forgiveness. Jesus is ready to forgive us and we must be ready to forgive one another.


Joseph McGrath

When Falling Becomes a Habit

My monthly column should be bublished early this month. I’m told it will be in this weeks issue of The Scottish Catholic Observer. It deals with the seventh Station on The Way of The Cross, Jesus falls the second time. Is this about falling over? What could it really be about? Does it have any meaning for you and me?

Get your copy of the paper this weekend. If you are off to Turkey or some other exotic place you can get the full text here next week.


The Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

The Sixth Station

Veronica Wipes The Face of Jesus


This month I’m looking at the sixth station, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. This is a really puzzling station. In our story of Jesus men seem to get the main parts. Peter gets to be the head of the Church. John gets called the beloved. You can understand how people see the Church as a man’s world with women in the back ground. I’ll not get into the discussion on woman’s place in the Church, not today anyway.


This station gives us pause for thought if we think women have no prominence in our story. We have been considering the final journey of Jesus as he walked to his death. The scene is one of brutality, oppression and fear. Where are Jesus’ faithful companions? One of them has betrayed him and the others have run off. Jesus is struggling under the weight of the cross, his loss of blood so weakening him that Simon has been pressganged in to assist him. The crowd is shouting abuse and the guards are pushing them back. Into the middle of this Veronica forces her way through the crowd, ignores the guards and places a towel on the holy face. The face is streaked with blood from the wounds on his head. Veronica absorbs the blood on the towel to give a little comfort to Jesus. As she is pushed away she is left with the imprint of the holy face in blood.


I have no scriptural evidence for this but it is traditional. It is interesting to note that the name Veronica comes from the Greek icon meaning image and the Latin vero meaning true; the true image. The tradition seems to have come from the Eastern Church and became popular in the Roman rite about a thousand years ago. I’m more concerned about the message this story has for me than the history.


The first thing that strikes me is the courage displayed by Veronica. Many Jews had become followers of Jesus, some of them prominent like Nicodemus. Yet even prominent men were afraid to come forward to intercede. It was this lone woman who broke through the crowd and ignored the soldiers to bring some small relief to Jesus. The amazing thing is that she got away with it. Why did she act in this way?


I have no doubt that she was inspired by the Holy Spirit. There lies the first message. When the Holy Spirit moves you, you have nothing to fear. You will succeed. Now I had always imagined that the Holy Spirit would act through the Apostles, their successors in the Church and the saints. Veronica was just a wee wummin as they might say in Glasgow. She was not one of the elite; a bit like you and me. The message is clear. Be prepared to act as an instrument of the Holy Spirit. As ordinary people we can and will be called upon to act.


It may not be in a dramatic way like Veronica but in a small way. It might be to give that kind word to a stranger that gives them encouragement to carry on in a difficult situation or you might be moved to speak out against an injustice. The words just come to you. I remember Magnus MacFarlane Barrow describing how he came to found Mary’s Meals. He was just an ordinary young man, too shy to continue his university course who found himself starting a charity. He didn’t recognise what was happening at first but when he did he followed the Spirit. You know the rest.


The second message I get from this station is about the role of women in the Church. Not just women but all of us ordinary people. Critics of the Church often point out that we are a church of men and women are only good for making the tea. I think that is to fail to see how the Church works. It is true that our priests are men and the hierarchy is exclusively male. However, the vast bulk of the Church is not comprised of clergy and religious.


The Spirit acts through all of us. I think of the hierarchy as the management, the priests as specialists who alone can bring us to Christ through the Eucharist and the rest of us as the workforce whose job it is to get on with the work. The Church is not a club we join, pay our dues and draw the benefits. The Church is a way of life, new life in Christ.


Now I can hear the voice of reason tut tutting in the background. That’s all very well but we have lives to lead, families to look after, work to go to. We live in this society and we must fit in. We go to mass; we say our prayers. What more do you want?


I’ll let Veronica answer that. I’m sure she prayed and fulfilled all the requirements of the Jewish faith. Veronica did not stop there and she certainly did not fit in. She didn’t just stand out from the crowd; she elbowed her way through it. Do I stand out from the crowd or do I just try to blend in so that nobody will notice me? Veronica has shown us a great example. What she did was just a simple thing, mopping the face of a man in pain. The thing is, she did it publicly, her actions in stark contrast to the baying of the crowd. We don’t need to fight the world, we just need to be seen to live as Christ taught us and be a living example for those who don’t share our values. It takes a little courage to stand out. Where could I find the strength to live like that? I’ll have to double my prayers to the Holy Spirit.


The last message I see in this station is about the image that was left on the cloth Veronica used. At school I learned that Jesus left this image of his face as a reward for Veronica’s kindness. As Christians we are all seeking the face of Jesus. There are all sorts of pictures made by great artists but none of them is the real face. It’s not uncommon for great leaders to have their face shown to everyone. Kings, queens and presidents all have their image in the newspapers and on television.


Jesus is not going to appear on the box one night as we sit down to watch the news. If we want to see his face we must seek it out. I feel I need to take a leaf out of her book. I should be living my life as a true follower of Christ. If Christ’s teaching is at odds with the norms of my society then my life should reflect his teaching and be seen to do so. Do I meet the beggar is the same way Christ did? Do I speak out against falsehood and wrongdoing?


Perhaps if I try to live more like Christ and see people as he did, not just strangers but fellow children of God, loved by God just as much as I am, then I might just reach my goal and see God, face to face as it were. I’m fairly sure that if I continue to ignore my responsibilities to my neighbour then I might end up seeing a face I’d rather avoid.


My May Column – Simon of Cyrene

Way of the Cross 5


Simon of Cyrene is made to carry the cross.


Simon had come into Jerusalem, presumably to celebrate the Passover. He is mentioned in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In Mark’s gospel he is named as the father of Alexander and Rufus. I assume from that he was known to the disciples.


Simon was probably expecting to spend the festival with friends and enjoy the event in good company. He could never have expected that he would be accompanying a condemned man and playing a central role in his final walk to his death. This would be a very public role. He would not be in the background but would walk step by step with the figure of abuse. Simon would share the abuse.


Simon had come into the city for the Passover. He would expect to share in the Passover meal and the rituals it involved. He would spend the evening with his friends enjoying the singing, storytelling and catching up with all the latest news. Perhaps he expected to learn about the events surrounding Jesus. Instead he found himself right at the centre of the story.


I wondered why Simon was at the centre of this story. He was not one of the disciples. We never heard of him before this and he was never mentioned again. Why is he shoved in front of us so boldly? Who is he? Then it struck me. Simon is really me, or perhaps a model for me. He found himself in a difficult situation, much against his will, but he got on with it and carried the cross.


You must have found yourself in situations like that. You are busy; you have plans. Then you are called upon to help someone. Perhaps they ask for help or someone directs them to you. You may not know them or worse, you do know them and you don’t get on with them. What do you do? Do you help or do you walk away? Why should you be put in this situation?


You are busy. I know I am. Just ask my wife; when there is cleaning to do or dishes to put away then I usually have something important to do. There is so much to do and so little time. Sometimes we are too busy to get involved with other people, sometimes even too busy for God. Perhaps we don’t pray as often as we should. Mind you, there are those times when a prayer springs to our lips moments of danger or times of worry. We pray for help from the only really reliable source, God.


What do we expect in answer to our prayers? When that young guy in his sporty car cuts in in front of us and we feel that a collision is imminent we instinctively call on God. What are we expecting? Is it angel Gabriel swooping down and pulling the car away? When we are confronted with a difficult situation and pray for help do we expect God to pop in and sort it out? That’s not how it works.


What usually happens is that someone comes along and we find a solution. God answers our prayers by using other people to help us. The person who helps usually does not realise that they have been used in this way. It’s not unnatural to feel put out at having to help someone when you are busy. Even Jesus experienced this.


In St. John’s gospel we read about Jesus and his mother at a wedding in Cana in Galilee. As we all remember, the wine ran out causing a worry for the family.

When they ran out of wine, since the wine provided for the wedding was all finished,the mother of Jesus said to him, “they have no wine”. Jesus said, “Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.”

John 2: 3,4

Jesus found himself in the situation that many of us encounter. Despite his reluctance he sorts out the problem. Admittedly, I would be at a loss in turning water into wine, but rest assured we are never called on to help when we are not capable of sorting the problem out.


Simon’s example is, perhaps, an extreme one. He was made to suffer the abuse along with Jesus. Sometimes we can suffer similarly when helping someone who is regarded as bad or otherwise unworthy. How often have you heard someone comment on the lawyer defending a notorious murderer saying “How could they defend someone like that. They should be ashamed.” Defence lawyers can suffer in the same way as Simon did.


The same sort of thing can happen with those who help asylum seekers or speak up for human rights. They become associated with a group who might be looked down on. I recall speaking with volunteers who worked with the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. They were finding it difficult to recruit new members. They found that people would happily give money to help but didn’t want to be associated with the poor.


So, if Simon is a model for me, what sort of changes should I be looking to make in my life and my attitude to others? I think I need to start by asking myself if I am really willing to help others. Am I up for carrying the cross? When someone is in need of help do I notice? Am I blissfully unaware of their plight?


I mentioned the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. The volunteers there, by joining the society, have made room in their lives for the problems faced by other people. How will I make room in my life for others? There are plenty of organisations in need of volunteers who are willing to help others.


Now you might complain that I am suggesting that we all need to change our lives. You would be absolutely right. I think that is what being a Christian is all about. Jesus came to change the world. He created a Church to carry on his work. So to be a Christian is to be someone who wants to make changes. The changes must start with ourselves.


A few years ago on a visit to Uganda our host told us we would be given a tribal name. This is common practice there. One woman followed us around and observed how we acted and what we did and at the end of the week there she gave us our tribal names. My name was Atwoki. I was told this meant ‘Leader’.


On further travels in the country we were asked for our tribal names and I responded with Atwoki. The reaction that brought convinced me that Atwoki did not mean ‘Leader’. Rather I suspect it means something like ‘grumpy wee bald guy’.


There’s not much I can do about the bald bit but I’m sure I could be less grumpy. When we all meet together in front of the throne of God and face our final judgement we might be assigned a name that reflects our performance here during our life. I’d be ashamed to stand there and be exposed as someone like Atwoki who is self-important. I’d much rather be seen like Simon who helped Jesus carry his cross.


Joseph McGrath



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