Pandemic Awakenings Week 12
Day 1 – Change
Forty years ago on the 22nd June I lay in front of the Altar in Rosslare Harbour Church before being ordained by the then Bishop of Ferns, Donal Herlihy. Prostration is a symbolic act that forms part of the Ordination ceremony and it was also one of the most real and deeply personal moments of my life. I had decided that it was all or nothing and had to be a total dedication and handing over of my Life to Christ, placing myself fully at the service of his Gospel. The storm clouds were already gathering and since that time the religious landscape has changed beyond recognition. The clericalism that was still strong back then is now almost dead in the water and with it the insidious control that kept the church stagnant under its dead hand. Who, even in their wildest dreams, could have envisaged reaching out with the Gospel to thousands of people via webcam, and yet be looking down at an empty church. The word ‘webcam’ probably wasn’t even in existence back then. We may not like change but if we don’t go with it then it will force itself upon us whether we like it or not. The future is never what we think it’s going to be so it’s important to live in the NOW which could stand for No Opportunities Wasted.
The NOW is where everything is changing while the important things never change, God’s love for us being one of them, and the life giving power of the Gospel to enlighten our lives and nourish our souls. How that message is presented and the language used has to adapt to the present age because if there is one sure way of turning off a younger generation it is to use the religious language and methodology of an earlier time.
Day 2 – Vocation
Reflecting on this mysterious thing we term ‘vocation’ there are certain aspects to it that I have found to be true over the years, and these principles hold for every kind of call, and not just for priesthood. We are called not just for who we are, but for who we can become by God’s grace. In St Peter Christ saw the rock while he was still the jellyfish. We are always called into something that is beyond us so that we will rely not on our own strength but on Divine grace. As such it is our weakness rather than our strength that can be our greatest asset. Finally, and this seems a contradiction to what has just been said, whatever we are called to do we are already fully equipped for the task. We are a bundle of divine potential that has so may hidden gifts and talents that we only discover as we walk the path. All of these come to the fore and surprise us as aspects of divine providence and feel as if they were tailor made for doing what we are called to do. Where God calls He also provides and where the appointment is, so will be the provision.
The healing ministry of Christ has always been close to my heart and over the years I have experienced that healing at so many levels, especially emotional and spiritual. Such profound healing has gone on in my life that at times I hardly recognize myself as that newly ordained priest of forty years ago when I was still in ecclesiastical short pants. I daily choose to think and speak health and wellbeing and I believe this to make a difference and my hope is that it will long continue.
For my later years I have adopted a line from St Paul that is both a prayer and a wish. That at the closing of the day, I may present myself before God as a man who has overcome his trials, who has no cause to be ashamed of his life’s work, and who has steered a straight course with the message of truth. While that is my prayer for myself on my 40th anniversary, it is my wish for all of you as well.
Turning the other cheek
There are parts of the Gospel that on the surface would seem to be misleading. For example Jesus’ advice to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile would appear to advocate a very passive approach to living the Christian life. Yet we know that being too passive is to lack self-respect and elsewhere it says that if we fail to confront someone for doing wrong we take their sin upon ourselves. Also we know that if everyone adopted a passive approach no injustice would ever be righted. In this case some Biblical scholarship comes in useful and points us in a different direction. Under Roman law a master was entitled to reprimand his slave by slapping him once on the cheek. However under law to do so twice was to grant him freedom. Similarly a Roman soldier was entitled to conscript a civilian to carry his pack for a mile but no further, otherwise he could be reported and get reprimanded. Viewed in the light of Biblical scholarship such pieces of advice look very different and advocate not passivity but assertiveness.
The Problem with Passivity
Passivity often masquerades as Christianity. The meek and mild individual who takes everything on the chin and never stands up for himself is sometimes classed as a real saint. The passive approach is to deny one’s own voice and keep silent; least said soonest mended, and anything for a quiet life become the mottos. Yet not to say what needs to be said means the problem is set to continue and in some cases the person responsible is left unaware of the hurt he or she may be causing. The passive person takes everything in with the approach of let sleeping dogs lie. However they do get angry and eventually wake up. What was buried for so long can now manifest as depression and sickness. In the wooden piece shown above the spikes are loose and appear to go in but the reality is that they always come out underneath just as the passive person’s anger will also manifest in an underhand way. The truth is that to be passive is to lack self-respect.
In contrast to the piece shown yesterday the above looks like a medieval mace with the spikes hard and unforgiving. As such it is a fitting symbol of someone who adopts an aggressive approach to living. To shoot first and ask questions later can lead to a lot of misunderstanding because questions need to be asked before any situation can be understood. They tend to be inflexible and rarely open to compromise; it’s my way or the highway! Making judgments, fault-finding, and being harsh with criticism comes easily to them. Neither are they the most forgiving. With the aggressive person there’s only one side of the story and it is always their own. They tend to control and bully others by their aggression and while they demand respect they fail to command love. In truth to be too aggressive is to lack respect for others.
There are several design features in the piece shown that capture the essence of assertiveness. It has very firm boundaries; the assertive person respects the boundaries and privacy of others and doesn’t infringe. The ten circles are loose and all connected; to move one is to move all. Being flexible and able to make compromises is an essential feature of being assertive. Each circle is hollow making it possible to see from one side to the other. This points to another characteristic of the assertive person; one who is able to allow others to see into their own inner world. Their strength lies in not being afraid to be vulnerable and in being able to admit it. In contrast to the assertive person who lacks respect for others and the passive one who lacks it for themselves the assertive person has respect for both.
Being Passive Aggressive
While most of us can easily identify whether we tend to be more passive than aggressive, or vise-versa, we may also find that we have a tendency to be passive in certain situation and aggressive in others. A man who is afraid to stand up to his boss, whom he perceives to be a bully, can then come home and be himself the one who acts the bully. Closely allied to this is where someone who is passive by nature is unconsciously storing up a lot of repressed anger. A very small straw can then break the camel’s back that has become overloaded. This is where a mild and gentle person lets fly and appears to lose the plot over something quite trivial. They appear to be now using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. What has been repressed for months, or even years, bursts its banks leaving the recipient of the onslaught bewildered and often very hurt