“Come and See”
At the beginning of every Mass Catholics admit to failure. We say I have sinned and then ask the Lord for mercy so as to begin again and go forth with God’s blessing to live well and give unselfishly with the help of the Lord. We admit sinfulness in a culture where so many do not wish to admit to sin or failure. Why are so many slow to say they do wrong? Maybe it was hypocrisy or to keep their job and protect others. It may nowadays be due to the prevailing ‘me-centred’ individualistic culture which obliges everyone to assert rights, to claim entitlement, to think they are ‘worth it’. Many refuse to be directed by any authority and want to make their own way forward independently. When Jesus says come and see they are not moved; they do not listen nor look. They are sceptical and suspicious.
Not only do modern sceptics not come and see but they are very quick to blame the Church as we saw this week after the publication of the Mother and Babies Homes report. Acrimony was primarily addressed to the wicked Catholic Church and its misogynistic teachings. Critics were not even deflected when one independently-minded interviewer on Radio Ulster stated accurately that the report mainly accused the male perpetrators and their irresponsibility. She correctly said blame rested on the coldness and heartlessness of the families who abandoned girls and babies into Homes. Mary Kelly in the Irish News was more balanced, yet the prejudice against Catholicism persisted. So, I found myself getting defensive. For me it is only fair to recognise those good nuns and religious who did so much for the poor and abandoned. What about Frank Duff and the Legion of Mary and those compassionate mothers who in local parishes cared for children and grandchildren born outside marriage without any condemnation? Then I think to myself why am becoming so defensive?
Sadly it is true that some hypocritical Catholics were openly punitive against women with so called illegitimate children. On the other hand, some Church people today are taking sides too quickly with vocal critics who deplore everything Catholic. Would it not be better for everyone to try to learn from past mistakes and to investigate more deeply why people do wrong and why the response was not always right and is not right?
Firstly everyone has to acknowledge the evil in society: the failures, disasters, injustice, death and destruction. It was and is true that people were often made to feel guilty for what was beyond their control. Many could reasonably protest that they were doing their best, that others were unfair and not enough resources were given to protect the innocent. But after all those excuses are made it is clear that human beings are responsible for much of what is wrong on our planet and we still do not do enough about it. So, we should listen when Jesus teaches us to care for neighbour even at our own expense, to take up our cross of responsibility more bravely, to admit dependency on God’s mercy. Remember that Jesus promises to help, to be a channel of God’s mercy and the Spirit’s encouragement. Jesus expects us to join him in his work. We will fail but he will help us to overcome and rise again. We can learn from past failures.
Take one example. What can we do about poverty which is so often at the root of injustice and harsh behaviour? We know that so many people in this world are far worse off than we are, often through no obvious fault of their own and we don’t help as we might. If we are brothers and sisters together, we should care. Pope Francis says we should accept their vulnerability and need of help. There are divisions which can be healed, barriers that can be broken down. In this town it may require a decision to cross the road, to notice our neighbour and to overcome differences.
On a global scale we can work together with Trocaire, confident that a tiny gift from us can make a huge difference there. It is Christian to get better informed and to explore non-violent means to challenge unjust structures.
How can I maintain the right attitude and be consistently active? My first and most important decision is to listen and learn from Jesus who commands us to love. Love calls Christians to live well and to give. The love of Christ spurs us on. Think of the best example of love, the love between a mother and child, a self-giving love, a wishing well attitude, a hope for the future, a willingness to do everything possible. A mother’s love is the best model for understanding God’s love and mothers should be supported especially when circumstances are difficult.
Jesus teaches clearly what God wants in the family home, in the Church family, as we try to build community where we are. We know that love is better than hate or fear or abuse. We should not add hate to society in any way, whether by doing wrong obviously or standing aside while wrong-doing happens. We need to avoid having hearts of stone.
Jesus says we love our neighbour when we help practically, without discriminating against the person in need. We can worry too much whether he or she is deserving. We will only find out by being the first to help. Being followers of Christ, we accept differences of race, religion and culture and we rejoice together at our common humanity. Let love grow, starting from the seed of goodness that the word of God sows personally in each one of us. To follow Jesus means being ready to give up some of what was in our lives before, to create a space for the Lord so that when he invites us to come in we will come and we will see. To love is to be patient and kind, avoiding arrogance, giving way to others, getting over irritation or resentment, being joyful, being faithful and hopeful, letting others grow. Do you know people like that? When Jesus asks you and me to come and see pray that love will make us ready to follow.