We are called today to repent, in these Covid days to think of the welfare of children and the elderly first, to believe. God’s rule is close at hand. Love your neighbour, work for justice and peace. St Paul insists that the first step is to be ready to leave aside what is passing in this world. For him and the apostles that literally meant leaving everything to walk with Jesus wherever that led. If you live for love of God’s Kingdom you may have to die to self and risk your life for others as nurses do for patients and as teachers do for special pupils. That’s the Christian way.
That gospel teaching inspires others, not only Catholics. The late Swami Agnivesh, an Indian religious man gave up his very successful legal career when he was thirty and went to help indentured impoverished workers who were in fact enslaved to their owners with no rights or hope for a better future. They had to pay off their parents’ debt by working all day every day for little reward, with no proper family life, in awful conditions, for the benefit of their masters and richer nations like ourselves. He told his friends that love and a sense of justice drove him on and he argued that those poor people deserved better here and now as well as in the next life. He provided hope, friendship, practical advice and legal assistance. He freed over 170,000 enslaved people. He died to self to free others and bring them peace. His work is a sign of God’s kingdom on earth.
You may say these are exceptional examples. What of those who are living life to the full in the midst of the world? Leonard Cohen the song writer was a worldly person by all accounts. Passionate love and perhaps surprisingly the death of love were his obsession. In his love song Dance Me to the End of Love he observes that we all want to dance to the end. On one level he meant eat, drink and be merry, enjoy craic agus ceol.
Yet in this Holocaust Memorial week it is interesting to note that the inspiration of his famous love song came from the Nazi death camps, a scene of hatred, injustice and conflict. He read once about a string quartet which was pressed into playing music amidst the horror of killing. He wrote, “dance me to your beauty with a burning violin,” in memory of the way their beautiful music accompanied their friends who were being led to be incinerated, just as they would be. They witness to the hope that love, courage and beauty could survive the evil before their eyes. Like Paul, their Jewish ancestor, they looked beyond. I advise you to listen to the best version of Cohen’s song recorded against the background of War (and Peace) with Natasha Rostova. The visuals depict a young woman’s desire to be recognised and appreciated. Her emotions are laid bare. A handsome man is captivated by her femininity. Both are lost in the dance which takes them out of this world. They are ‘dancing to the end’ because their love affair is doomed. Yet they learn from their experience that true unselfish love must be based on honour, respect and dying to self. We have to relearn that message today in Ireland.
We must repent for the distortions of love in the recent Troubles, for the continuing maltreatment of mothers and babies. Jesus invites us to be part of the emerging kingdom where he works with God the Father to heal and repair. Love calls for courage and sacrifices because the poison of hatred, arrogance and cowardice can be injected so easily into Irish society and the Church. Thankfully Frank Duff and the Legion of Mary followed the gospel of life, justice and kindness. God’s love reigns again when look beyond ourselves, offer support to the poor, create beauty out of darkness, fulfil innocent hopes. With the help of God we can repair past wrongs. Jesus reveals how to make things right when God’s love reigns. He asks you and me to believe in him and in his gospel.