Tired of all the bad news

While we can't deny the difficulites for so many people at home and overseas, it's important to take account of the positives, and to spread the Good News. I don't know who said this but; "No-one ever injured their eyesight by looking on the bright side." Blessings..

Sunday, 12 May 2019

The Driving Force - Religious Life in the twenty-first century

I sometimes look back to that September 1987 when I joined the Capuchins. Like most young people I loved music then and to this day, I associate some songs with the time I joined the order.  “Where the Streets have No Name,” by U2 would be one for example. Other artists charting that year would have been MAARS, George Michael and Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Mel and Kim, and even actor Bruce Willis had a hit.  I’ve just done a Google search and I note that in the UK, Rick Astley was No.1 in the U.K. charts with “Never gonna give you up” in the week I joined the Order. Around the same time in the U.S. Michael Jackson had released his single “I just can’t stop loving you.”

Now, almost 50, it is almost impossible to get into the head of that 18-year-old Bryan Shortall. I heard the ads on the radio, “Dear 30-year-old me…” And I wonder what I’d say to that lad if I could go back and talk to him.  But he wasn’t for talking to. He was full of it, and full of the habit, and full of the sandals, and the friary, and the sense of community even though he didn’t really know what it meant.  

He was scared and emotional the day he joined. He missed his family, and his friends, and his girlfriends, and his breakdancing, and his dee-jaying. He didn’t miss school though, that was one good thing. He hadn’t a clue. He was going from sharing a room with his two brothers in suburban Dublin, with posters of the Beastie Boys on the wall, to sharing a religious house in the country with other men and pictures of the Pope and the General Minister of the Order.  The question he and the others who joined got asked a lot was “Have you settled in?” He used to hate being asked that question. What does ‘settled in’ feel like? And what’s the time line for settling in? He brought a selection of his LP records and it didn’t feel the same playing them in the sitting room of the Friary. The older lads didn’t wear white socks and they liked Dylan, and Jim Croce, and Neil Young, One of them couldn’t even say L.L. Cool J’s name properly.  Things were never going to be the same. Not bad though, just different.

Over the years, I went back to the books but it wasn’t like school. This time I had a choice in what I learned and I enjoyed this. I began to grow up and learn what it is to be in religious life and I began to learn about the vows I had taken temporarily and would one day take for life. I learned more and more about St. Francis of Assisi and his influence on the world of his time and how his powerful message is still relevant in our world today. So relevant that our present Pope has taken his name.

Most importantly, I found myself growing in my relationship with Jesus Christ. Not in an over-the-top holy-joe way. There were never apparitions or claps of thunder and even though I kind of knew that this vocation was from Jesus Christ at the beginning, it is only as I go on I know it is. I know it deep down – it’s the driving force. Like a couple who fall in love, it’s a vocation. They work on their relationship; they have their highs, and lows, and their joys and sorrows. For a religious, it’s a similar dynamic, but perhaps our way of life is little understood in today’s world I would argue.

How does our society make sense of the vocation to religious life today? What language is there to explain why I still want to be a religious? I believe it is in me, and I can’t walk away. At the beginning and over the years, there weren’t any guns put to my head and I wasn’t forced to join. And I’m not being forced to stay. As the friars used to say to us, the friary is not a prison. The only reason why I’m still here is that I can’t go. I’m trying to find English language to explain it and I struggle, It’s like I had no choice and I still have no choice.

And how do we as religious put language on why we still want to be in this religious life? Or quite frankly how do we make the religious life attractive to people who may be discerning a way of life? I look around at meetings with other religious, and especially where there are younger religious and I don’t need to be convinced they believe, I can see it in their eyes, and the eyes are the mirror of the soul. This advice was attributed to St. Francis of Assisi; “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.” we religious will help people to know who we are and witness to Jesus Christ by our example primarily.

Did you ever wonder what it might be like to be a religious brother, a sister, or a priest in a world, and at a time when there are many other choices for people?

Monday, 6 May 2019

Going back in time

After Jesus rose from the dead, different people encountered him along the way. Whether it was at the empty tomb, or when the disciples were gathered together in the upper room, or along the road to Emmaus. The gospel for last Sunday (Third Sunday of Easter, year C) from John 21:1-18, tells us of another encounter of the risen Jesus but this time it is by the Sea of Tiberias. A few of the disciples of Jesus are together and Peter decides he’s going fishing. The others said they would go with him. They went fishing just like they did before they met Jesus. Jesus himself stands on the lake shore but they don’t recognise him.

When I was small, my dad brought myself and my brother, Kevin, to see Star Wars in the Classic Cinema up from Harold’s Cross when it was released in 1977. I still remember we queued up to get in to the ‘Pictures’ as we called it. In 1985, we queued up for another movie; Back to the Future. This was a story a California high-school student, Marty McFly, who loved his rock music, and his guitar, and his girlfriend, Jennifer. His friend, eccentric scientist Doc Emmet Brown invents a time machine made out of a De Lorean motorcar and with the aid of a ‘Flux Capacitor’, a device powered by Plutonium which is inserted into the car, they are able to travel in time back to 1955.

Where would you go if you were able to travel through time? Would you go to meet one of the major figures of world history? Maybe attend the scenes of history being made? Would you perhaps go and be around for the first gigs of your favourite recording artists? Or would you go back to straighten out a quarrel with someone which has lasted to this day? Since it is possible to travel through time, then we can go forward and see future winning horses in Cheltenham and Aintree and even see the winning Lottery Numbers!

However, it is not possible to travel through time like that. For one, the future doesn’t exist and the only place we all live in is the now. But we can go back in time and through different experiences, it is possible to be instantly taken back to childhood memories or place we’ve been.

I was over with the family the other evening and one of my sisters was up with her two children. The younger one, a baby boy, is four months old. My mother was trying to get him to sleep after a feed and she was walking him up and down as she sang to him. All the while she was saying; “Sshhh…” as the little guy settled. The conversation in the house quietened down. It took me back forty years to when my younger siblings (one who is now the mother of these two) came along and there we were playing quietly while the baby was getting to sleep. The sound of the television was down low, the fire was lighting, the dinner was cooking, and there was steam on the kitchen windows.

I can’t imagine going back to a time in my life and not having met the people I know and love now. How could we manage now if we had not developed the skills or learned all we have over the years? A musician would miss out on having learned the rudiments of the skill they now know and love.

The disciples who gathered on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias that day were lost and confused. By going fishing it was like they were going back in time to a place before they knew Jesus. Was it as if they never knew him? Then Jesus himself stands on the sea shore and calls out to them. Even after the years they spent with him, the things they all experienced, and the times they had together, they didn’t recognise him. They need to be reminded. So, he asks they have they caught anything? No. He invites them to throw their nets out to starboard. Straightaway, they net a huge catch. The penny drops. Immediately John, the beloved disciple, recognises Jesus. Peter reacts quickly and soon; they all begin to remember what it is like being with Jesus. It is Jesus himself, the one who died and rose again at Easter, who reminds us of the difference he makes when we walk with him on our journey through life.