A grimy painting hung for about 60 years on the wall of a dining room in a Jesuit house in Dublin. No one paid much attention to it until one day in 1990 an art expert realized that this could be a work of great value. Under close investigation, it turned out that it was the work of no less than the great Caravaggio of Rome. His painting of the arrest of Jesus in the garden now hangs in the National Art Gallery in Dublin and is one of the Gallery’s great treasures. All that time it had hung in the dining room, it was no less a treasure, but its real value went unrecognized. Continue reading
Fr. Charles Ryan, who died some time back, was a good friend, and colleague of mine. He worked in Esigodini parish in KZN some 15 years ago. He once told me that one of his parishioners, a young man, won the lotto, not once, but twice and all in the space of two years. Sadly, he wasn’t able to handle it. Having received his rather immense bag of riches he lived the high life, contracted AIDS and died some 8 or 9 years later. On his deathbed, he told Fr. Charles that the worst thing that ever happened to him was winning those two lottos. A tragic story. We can speak about the temptations that money puts in our way and agree that it is the root of all evil but the fact is that we live in a culture that idolises money. It is one thing for a poor person who struggles to pay the bills to set one’s eyes on money, but the rich and even the very rich never seem to have enough of it. Once they make their first million they are gung-ho on making the second. Continue reading
One of the tragic consequences of leprosy is social. The leper was separated from family and community and destined to live out one’s days in caves off the beaten track — and no frail care centre either. The first reading spells it out. Once the person is declared unclean they must live outside the camp, that is, in a leper colony. How heartbreaking for a mother or a father to leave young kids behind and never have a family meal again. I was reminded of this a few years ago at the height of the Ebola crisis in West Africa when I saw a picture of a young mother being led away by two men in white overalls. The poor woman was terrified, and the children looked on aghast, forlorn and in tears. Continue reading
If we had a choice, all of us would, without hesitation, choose a life of ease and comfort. We would avoid like a plague all hardship and sacrifice. Yet we need hardship too. Those who cannot suffer can never grow up. Besides, hardship saves us from a life of mediocrity and superficiality. Continue reading
G.K. Chesterton, the English writer and wit, enjoyed literary lunches in the London restaurants. On one occasion he expounded on the relationship between power and authority. He described the difference in these terms: ‘If a rhinoceros were to enter the restaurant now, there is no denying he would have great power here, but I should be the first to rise and assure him that he had no authority whatever.’ The same goes for tyrants like Herod. Yes, they can lock up a John the Baptist and put him to death, but they have no authority.
With Jesus, things are different. It is the Sabbath and it’s the first time in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus sets foot in a synagogue to proclaim the Good News of God. What the people hear surprises them. They have the impression that up until now they have been listening to old news, spoken without authority. Jesus is different. He doesn’t repeat what he has heard from others. He speaks a truth that he lives and that speaks to their hearts. They must have sensed God’s life-giving liberating power working through him. This is the kind of authority he speaks with that made such a deep impression on them. Continue reading
Time was when religion was a very localised affair. Back in the fifties in Ireland when I grew up it was all things Catholic with just a sprinkle of Protestants. The Protestants were viewed upon as a more or less a lost cause although my mother always emphasised that there were some very good protestants — even saints among them. For all intents and purposes, however, we had the one ‘true’ faith and you didn’t have to look any further than that. How different today where religion has become a fascinating subject with an endless variety of religions to choose from. One can get lost in a sea of different religions all with their sacred books, rituals, and practices to engage the mind. These religions are not short on guidance of right or wrong, or again on the meaning of life here and hereafter. Continue reading
Spare a thought for Eli. He’s been in the game a long time. Now he is old, his vision dimmed and with nightfall, all he hopes for is a good night’s sleep. But on this night young Samuel wakes him up three times thinking Eli has called him. Doing this to an old man in the middle of the night is certainly moving to an edge but Eli shows endless patience. He simply replies that he didn’t call the boy and tells him to go back to sleep. On the third occasion, however, Eli reflects a little bit more and realises it is the Lord who is calling the young boy. It took some time for him to make out what was going on, but then he realised that it was his job to help the youngster to recognise God’s voice: he had no doubt taught Samuel much; he would have regarded him as his protégé, but he had the wisdom and the humility to see that all his teaching must lead Samuel to meet the living God, not just to be a clone of Eli. Sometimes if others are to learn of God from us we have to stand aside and let them move beyond our wisdom and discover the source of all wisdom. Continue reading