It’s personal (The Faith)

Few thoughts shared around Sunday’s Gospel ….


“What about you, do you want to leave me too?”

In our first reading there is mention of marriage.  Central to the celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage is that moment when the man and woman (the husband and wife) say “I do”.  The wording of the vows may differ on occasion and the terminology used may be slightly different but the answer boils down to those two words; “I do”.  Nobody else can say them.  It’s personal.

Likewise, in the Ceremony of Ordination, the man to be ordained is called from the seat – where he sits with his family and is addressed by the bishop.  There are a number of questions asked and the answer to each one is “I am”.  Nobody else can answer that – only the man being ordained.  It’s personal.

The Feast of The Queenship of Our Lady too centres on that personal call to a young girl to become the Mother of Jesus.  Only she could answer.  It’s such a personal Gospel Passage.  We are given the names of all involved; the Archangel Gabriel, the young woman Mary, the man to whom she was engaged, Joseph and the elderly cousin that needed to be visited, Elizabeth.  It’s God’s way of saying this is a personal relationship.  I know you by name.  I call you by name.  It’s personal.

Turning to Peter Jesus asks “Do you love me more than these others do?”  He had to hear the words directly from Peter’s lips, like the time he asked him “But you, who do you say I am?”  It’s as if God does not want pre-programmed answers or someone else’s words.  It has to come from us.  It’s personal.

I always loved that passage around the Easter days where the disciples as Jesus where they are to have the Passover.  “Go down the street”, he told them, “you will see a man carrying a bucket of water.  Follow him, go into the house he enters and ask “where’s the room that the Master may have the Passover?”  He’ll take you to a large room, furnished with tables and chairs; make the preparations for us there.”  I often wonder could that man, filling the bucket of water know what a central part he’d play in the great Story, the great “drama” of our faith?  Could he have known he’d lead them to the Upper Room that leads us to weekly and daily worship around the Altar?  That man was so important.  We need to find this man in our own faith journey.  We need to realise we are, at times, asked to be this man – this woman, that others may follow to find a better place.

Outside the emptied Tomb on Easter Sunday morning, the close friend of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, searched for him.  She concluded they’d taken his body.  It was the final humiliation of a personal friend.  She saw a man and, presuming him to be the gardener, she asked where they’d put the body of Jesus that she might go and reclaim it.  I wonder how exactly he spoke to her?  What intonation did he use? We’re told he said “Mary” and whatever the tone, whatever his way of saying her name, she immediately recognised him.  That’s the way He wants to be with us.  He wants us to know he knows our names, that they’re important to Him.  He wants us to know it’s personal.  Take a moment to imagine God speaking your name now.  How would He say it? Would you recognise Him in the tone used?  It’s personal.

We gather on days like this – at Sunday Mass – and we become a congregation, a MASS of people but we are and remain individuals.  “The Lord be with you”, “And with your spirit”.  Only YOU can answer that.  It’s so important.  The priest is reassured by you that you believe he is standing in the right place, doing the right thing and that it truly matters.  Only you can say it.  Don’t ever under estimate the power of your presence in the church.  Were you not here, we’d be the poorer for it.  Every voice matters.  It’s personal.

It can be easy to get lost or to hide in the crowd.  We can allow our face be hidden and our voice silenced.  At day’s end, however, it’s about doing the exact opposite.  Our gathering in church is about showing face and finding voice.

The little boy in the crowd found his voice as he announced he had “five loaves and two fish”.  He offered what he had and as his offering was taken to Jesus, I imagine him feeling ten foot tall.  He had made a difference but then he heard the adult in the Apostle say “but what is that between so many?”  It must have been a crushing moment.  I wonder was it the turning moment for Jesus?  Did he say to himself that he’d let them all know the boy’s offering was more than sufficient.  Why?  Because it came as a personal response to a given need.  The boy was willing to give what was personal to him.  We should never under estimate the potential of our offering.

There are two singers from home, Makem and Clany (both now deceased, R.I.P.) and I have a recording of a live concert of theirs.  One of the songs performed is an old folk song “Wild Mountain Thyme” or “Will you go lassie go?” There’s a lovely moment in the final chorus of the song when Liam Clancy speaks the lines of the chorus and the audience sings them back to him.  I love that moment.  He turns the audience from being listeners to being performers, from being receivers to being partakers.  He allows them find the voice within.  I sometimes think that’s what being a priest is about.  It’s not that I am holier than others, more closely linked with the Altar than others for all too often I am aware of my own fragility and sinfulness.  It is about me knowing that in the struggle of life, the struggles of faith, we share a common journey.  I sometimes think I am just helping people find the voice that is already there – finding the words in the drama that they already know and having found them, allow them to be used.

It’s great to see so many people at Mass and to know that many others join us in prayer.  The numbers are important and give us a sense of togetherness but the individual commitment is vital.

So we finish where we began; Jesus asks “so what about you?  Are you going to leave me too?” We find our response; we make it our own and personal:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life”.

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