Service of Peace and Reconciliation, Saint Columba’s Church, Drumcliffe, Co Sligo
There was a crisis in the parish and a meeting of the Parish Council was called to discuss what should be done. One of the younger members, who was very idealistic, suggested that they should all take time to consider what Jesus would do. The chairperson, who was a bit more pragmatic, replied: ‘Let’s not get bogged down in that just now. We need to decide what we are going to do?
There is a subtle but important difference between faith and religion. I think it has to do with the way in which we allow our lives to be transformed by the Spirit of Jesus Christ. It is easy enough to belong to a Church; it is not so easy to be a disciple. The words we have heard from the Sermon on the Mount are challenging, precisely because they invite us to be disciples. They are not just what Jesus said. They reflect the way he lived.
I celebrated Confirmation yesterday in one of our parishes in County Roscommon. As we began, the young people presented symbols to represent the various Beatitudes. ‘Blessed are the Meek’ was represented by the school Anti-Bullying Policy. I thought immediately of this gathering here in Drumcliffe. For many years, wherever one went in Europe, Ireland was synonymous with violence and that violence was often associated in peoples’ minds with religion. Like the bullying in the schoolyard, there was an ugly display of power. Beneath the surface, however, there was a great deal of ignorance and fear. There was an apparent inability to recognise the other as a person like myself, often notwithstanding the reality of our common Baptism.
It is easy to speak of peace in a time of peace, but it is dangerous to hold out the hand of friendship in time of war. The peacemakers are indeed blessed, but not in any superficial way. It is a deep-down blessing. We give thanks today for those women and men who, in the darkest days of our island’s history, took risks for peace. Their strength was often seen in their powerlessness and in their gentleness.
It is easy to reach down in mercy, from a position of strength, to ‘lift up the lowly’ (Lk 2). It is far more challenging to be merciful even in the moment of our own vulnerability. This is made possible for us when we remember that there is One who has always been – and who continues to be – merciful towards us.
Pope Francis reflects on the theme of Mercy in a recent letter in which he announced a Jubilee of Mercy, beginning next December. “Pardoning offences becomes the clearest expression of merciful love” he says. “For us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves. At times how hard it seems to forgive! And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let go of anger, wrath, violence, and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully … ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’ (Mt 5:7).
Bishop of Elphin
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