Today I would like to reflect on two phrases from the gospel of John.
‘The Word was the true light that enlightens all people, and he was coming into the world. He was in the world that had its being through him and the world did not know him.’
Jesus is the Word. He comes to help us to live and to give. He is the one with the heart full of God’s love who enriches all. We have to learn to open our hearts to recognise him fully and follow him better. I want to illustrate that message by adapting a story written by Fr Peader O’Laoghaire, called ‘the Three Prayers’.
It tells of a decent ordinary man Sean, who is a bit down on his luck. He goes off to town to spend what money he has on essential supplies for his home. On the way he meets three poverty-stricken souls who one after another beg him for alms. ‘Give me something’ each says. ‘Think of what Jesus would want, think of the souls in purgatory, think of the blessings for giving to the poor’. He is persuaded and gives to each one and finds himself empty-handed. Was he silly to give everything away? But the last beggar surprises him by revealing, ‘I am not who you think I am. Now, ask me for anything you yourself want, but be sure to act out of mercy and kindness.’
In his haste Sean allows himself to be distracted by selfish thoughts of getting back at people who annoy him. He asks in short order that they all be punished and corrected and thwarted.
The Angel, for that is what the giver of gifts was, says to him, ‘silly, silly man. You had the chance to make three great prayers for the future and you wasted them all by wishing ill on others and asking for revenge, and thinking only of yourself. You’re now back to where you began, except you’re worse off, because you realise you missed your chance to do greater good.’
Note the progress of the story. There was natural goodness in Sean. God is working anonymously in everyone. At first he was inclined to help, perhaps out of a sense of wanting to be accepted as a decent person, perhaps because he had sound political convictions, perhaps he just felt that it is right to be generous at times. God was in his world even if Sean did not recognise him.
But Sean allowed his heart to grow cold, so when the angel of God comes to ask him to do something more which will eventually be to his own advantage Sean allows himself to be led astray by pettiness, by his annoyance at those who did him wrong, by wanting to prove himself right, by being essentially mean-spirited.
Jesus is among us today to give us all a chance to be generous and beneficent. He is here in this Church. Imagine him coming miraculously through the door, as he did after the Resurrection. He gives spiritual blessings. We can become more like Christ by occasionally going down on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, by listening carefully to the Word of God for a particular message for today, by going out from Church with a good intention to do a favour to a neighbour without any reward.
He asks us to be wise which is different from being clever and critical and even harsh about others. Being wise is to be honest with ourselves, to understand circumstances, to forgive mistakes, to recognise our own failings. Pope Francis says we should be open to listen and learn from unexpected people who might just have an insight we had not noticed before. Be prepared to be surprised.
He asks us also to be people of hope for the future. If Sean had only thought ‘what good could I now do to help everyone I know to be happier! He wanted to keep petty thieves away from his prized possessions and household treasures. He could have asked for the resources to help them and to work together with them and everyone would have gained far more.
Jesus gives a promise of eternal life and love. The horizon for a good Christian is very wide. You should be hopeful and keep searching for the generous of heart and keep practising being generous of heart yourself. Lift yourself and those you know out of the darkness into the light where Jesus leads us on. Jesus wants to teach us how to live and how to give. He says to you and me, Never let good will grow cold.