Homily of Bishop Kevin Doran at the Grotto in Lourdes
Do Not Let Your Hands Fall Limp
Homily of Bishop Kevin Doran at the Grotto in Lourdes, Wednesday 31st August 2016
I’m sure many of you know a song about three little birds sitting on a wire singing:
Don’t worry ‘bout a thing
Cause every little thing’s gonna be alright.
It’s a catchy little melody by Bob Marley and, when you put it together with images of Palm-trees and sunny Caribbean beaches, it certainly lifts the heart.
Reality is not like that of course. Yes there are Palm-tree moments in most of our lives, and thank God for them. But real people also experience real struggles – and some of you know all about that. Some of you have had serious illness in your own life or in your family. Others have had to deal with exam failure, unemployment, or economic troubles.
If you are worried, it’s not all that easy just to switch off. When someone says, “don’t be sad” or “don’t be angry” for that matter, what they really mean is: “I wish you didn’t feel sad” or “I hope you will be able to move beyond your anger”. These are kind thoughts. We wish these things for ourselves too, but the problem is that feelings happen and it’s not always easy to figure out how to deal with them. Sometimes we have to live with them and, for that, we need friends who will still be friends, even when we are sad, or angry, or grieving.
Advertising can be very clever. Even when we know that it is designed to suck us in, we still tend to believe it.
- Daz removes even the most stubborn stains.
- Smart flies Aer Lingus.
- Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet.
- Red Bull gives you wings.
It all contributes to the expectation that “every little thing’s gonna be alright”. I don’t think previous generations had that expectation, at least not in the facile way that it is presented to us today. For that very reason, I think previous generations understood that struggle was part of the human condition. If we expect things to be easy, then it is difficult to explain the meaning of sacrifice. If we have created a world in which we expect everything to be alright all the time, then maybe we have also created a world in which people are less able to cope with disappointment, failure or pain of any kind.
You might ask yourself where I am going with all of this. Let me honest. Earlier this week, I read the first reading for our Mass today. It says things like “do not fear, do not let your hands fall limp.” And my first reaction was to say to myself: “Why not let your hands go limp, if that’s how you feel. There are so many things for us to go limp about”. In a moment of crisis, anyone might be tempted to go limp.
There was a Jewish psychiatrist called Viktor Frankyl. He was sent to Auschwitz during the Second World War and he survived. While he was there, he kept himself going by doing a little research. He was trying to work out why some people died so quickly after their arrival while others survived, in spite of the odds. He came to the conclusion that those who died quickly were the ones who had lost hope; they had allowed themselves “to go limp”. The people who survived were often the ones who were able to remember the past with joy rather than bemoaning what they had lost. They were also the ones who could look forward to a future somewhere out there beyond the wire.
Christian Faith is like that. We live life in the present with all its challenges. But we lay our foundations on the goodness of God that we have experienced in the past and our hope is in a future where there will be no sorrow and no pain because, as the Scriptures say, “every tear will be wiped away”. So, when our first reading and our psalm tell us “you have no more evil to fear”, it is not just because of our own survival skills. It is because “the Lord, the King of Israel, is in (our) midst”.
Mary the mother of Jesus, was not naïve, she understood the way the world works. She knew that “instant happiness” is only a myth. She was a woman of faith, and she believed in a God whose “mercy reaches from age to age”. People of faith are not preoccupied with themselves and their own problems. They see the bigger picture. The focus of Mary’s hymn of praise, which is our Gospel reading today, is to give thanks to God who, in spite of our smallness “does great things for us”; a God who “lifts up the lowly”. When she set out in the early stages of her pregnancy, to cross the mountains of Judaea, she probably had more than enough concerns of her own, but her first thought was to bring something of the love of God to her elderly cousin Elizabeth. Some months later, when she found herself giving birth in a stable and when she became a political refugee in Egypt, she did not lose hope, because she knew that God would be with her to sustain her.. When her son was arrested and tortured and put to death, she was there at the foot of the cross, but she was also gathered with his friends on the day of the Resurrection, when God’s promise was fulfilled.
The resurrection of Jesus, likewise, is the fulfilment of God’s promise for us. Our future is already built into our present, if we could only see it. For those who like a little poetry, this idea is very nicely captured in the words of T.S Eliot, in his poem “Burnt Norton”
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end which is always present.
One of the great women saints of mediaeval England, Julian of Norwich, spent a lot of her early life trying to come to grips with how a loving God could allow evil to exist in his world. It was revealed to her simply that it had to be so. This was a mystery bigger than any of us but she was reassured, as she tells us, that “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” Here on earth, in this time and place, we can only deal with things as they come. When we look at it from the perspective of eternity, however, the song of the three little birds, “every little thing’s gonna be alright” makes more sense, because it doesn’t just depend on us. God, who loves us, takes the little that we are and the honest efforts that we make and, in his goodness transforms them into something that has value for all eternity.
So my prayer for you, especially for those of you who are sick, or worried or afraid, is that your present lives will be shot through with a future hope, because we trust in a God who is always faithful. In the meantime, may his care for us continue to inspire all the ways in which we care for another.