Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Letting Go



Novena for Feast of St. Anne (Day 6)
You Are Called... To Trust In God

Readings: Isaiah 49:14-15; Psalm 61; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12

Sisters and brothers, I’m sure that at least some of you still remember that story about the atheist who fell off a cliff. He managed to cling onto a branch, and was left hanging from it, between heaven and earth. Knowing that he was in a desperate situation, the man decided that he should try to pray. Since, even though he didn’t believe in God, he had nothing to lose anyway. So he looked up at the sky and shouted: Is there anyone up there? To his great surprise, he heard a voice say to him: Yes, I’m here. What can I do for you? Save me! the man shouted back. Of course! Came the reply. Let go! Taken aback, the man kept quiet and thought for a while. Then he looked up again and shouted: Is there anyone else up there?

Funny though it may be, I think the story illustrates very well the message that we are being invited to ponder on this 6th Day of the Novena in preparation for your Parish Feast. You are called... to trust in God. What does this mean? Well, as the story shows us, to trust in God means to be willing to let go. And to let go not just of anything or in just any situation. But to let go even in a desperate situation. To be willing to place our very lives into the hands of God. That is what it means to trust. That is what we are called as Christians to do. And it's not easy.

I’m reminded of the news report that I saw on the BBC website earlier today. It comes from Sierra Leone in West Africa. As you know, this country was severely affected by the outbreak of the Ebola virus last year. The good news is that the number of new cases has dropped drastically. But the bad news is that there are now more than 8,000 children in Sierra Leone, who have lost one or both parents to the disease. Many of these children are now having difficulty finding a home.

According to the report, people are scared of them... They just don't trust that these children are okay now and they can touch them and go near them, so they push [the children] far away from them. And who can blame them. It is a matter of life and death. To accept these Ebola survivors is to run the risk of being infected yourself. Whether they realise it or not, the people are being called to let go. To let go of their fears and suspicions. To believe that, whatever happens, it is still better to accept the children than to reject them. And this is not an easy thing to do. But this is precisely what we Christians are called to do. To trust even and especially in desperate situations. Even and especially when it means letting go of our fears. And laying down our lives.

Desperate situations are also precisely what we find in each of our Mass readings today. Situations of life and death. In the first reading the city of Jerusalem, or Zion, has been conquered. And many of the people sent into exile. It is a desperate time. A time of hardship and heartbreak. But God tells the people not to give up. To continue to believe that even if a woman were to forget her own child–such as when that child might be infected by Ebola, for example–God will never forget them. God has their best interests at heart. What the people of Zion are being called to do is to let go of their doubts and their despair. To bravely endure their current difficulties. To lay their lives on the line.

This is also what Jesus is calling his disciples to do in the gospel. As you know, the passage is taken from John’s account of the Last Supper. It is Holy Thursday evening. Jesus has just washed his disciples’ feet. He is now about to walk the Way of the Cross. It is a desperate time. Their Master will soon be cruelly tortured and killed. Yet Jesus tells the disciples not to let their hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me. And to trust in God is to walk the way that Jesus himself walked. To live the Way that Jesus himself is. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. To keep doing the will of the One who sent him (Jn 6:38). To lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn 15:13).

The second reading tells us that it is this ability and willingness to trust, to let go, and to lay down one’s life, that sets apart the true believer from everyone else. Scripture scholars tell us that the Christian community to whom the second reading is addressed is undergoing some form of persecution. Probably not official State persecution. But more subtle forms of prejudice and rejection by their non-Christian neighbours. Perhaps they are being made to pay more for their food at the market. Or perhaps the vendors are refusing to serve them. Whatever it is, times are hard for all those who call themselves Christian.

And yet, faced with such difficulties, the second reading reminds Christians to continue to build their lives on Christ. The One who was persecuted and rejected before them. And for their sakes. The Lord is the living stone, rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him. To continue to trust in Jesus, even in the face of persecution, is to allow the Lord to become the cornerstone, the firm foundation, of their lives. In contrast, to reject him, as the unbelievers do, is to turn him into an obstacle. A stone that trips them up and makes them fall down. Trusting in God is what makes the difference between the Christian and the pagan. The true believer and the agnostic or the atheist.

But let us be honest. It is not easy to trust in this way. To be willing to lay down one’s life. Difficult enough just to live according to the values of the gospel on a daily basis. To insist on treating others well, for example, even when they may stab us in the back. Just to get ahead. To make time to reach out to those in need. Even when we ourselves may be stressed out and struggling with the demands of daily life. To do all this is not easy. It requires trust. The willingness to let go. The courage to believe what our readings are inviting us to believe. That the God who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us (Rm 8:32), will never forget us.

And perhaps that is the key to belief. To remember the God who never forgets us. To remember how this God has blessed and protected and provided for us in the past. And continues to do so in the present. Isn’t this what the Mass is all about? A mysterious memory of God’s powerful providence. Of God’s undying love. For all God’s people. And, in remembering, we find the strength to believe. To trust. To let go. And to lay our lives in God's hands.

Sisters and brothers, there’s actually something else in that BBC report from Sierra Leone. Something I failed to mention. The report wasn’t just about the difficulties of the children. It was also about the heroic life of an Ebola worker named Augustine Baker. While working tirelessly to help Ebola orphans, both Augustine and his wife Margaret died of the disease. And now their own three children, the youngest of whom is only one year old, have become orphans too. And are being cared for by their grandmother.

Sisters and brothers, isn’t this what trust looks like? Isn’t this what it means to let go? What we Christians are called to do? The very thing that God has done for us. How are we being invited to trust, to let go, and to lay down our lives today?

1 comment:

  1. O Lord, I find myself in a desperate situation where things just go "wrong" one after another..

    Yet, Lord, I do not wish to enter the "whirlpool" of self pity and be drawn into myself and AWAY FROM YOU- this road into self pity seems like a road of no return...

    Please lead me and guide me onto Your Paths and Your Ways...

    Teach me to TRUST in You more and more and to DARE to place my life into your Hands... it is not easy Lord yet with You, nothing is impossible.

    Lead me Lord and let me keep close to You, on my Journey back to You.

    Draw me near to You O Lord and never let me be parted from You.

    Amen.

    Seeing Is Believing
    23 July 2015

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