Thinking Anew – A story of hope amid the mystery of life
The raising of Lazarus, a mosaic in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (fifth to sixth century). Photograph: Getty Images
I’ve been contributing to this column for many years. I usually take the Gospel or one of the readings of the following day’s liturgy as some sort of launch pad and use it to say something that makes sense to me. The hope is that it may also in some small way be enlightening to the reader. If someone, who has read it, says to me that they had never thought of the reading in that light before, then they have made my day. That’s what I have been doing for approximately 20 years. That’s no short length of time in anyone’s calendar.
All writing begins with a blank page. There is always a certain anxiety about getting down to writing something for a deadline. Deadlines require discipline. And then once the piece is written and finished, there is a sense of achievement, a great feeling of accomplishment. Before that moment there is always something hanging over your head. It makes for a certain uneasiness. I usually try to situate the piece in the world of today, the environment in which I live and work, the environment in which I presume most of the readers live and work.
These days are different. In all my cycling and walking, I have over the years visualised and fantasised about many happenings, often about my own demise. I’m not sure I ever visualised anything like this happening. Of course I didn’t. I am also a chaplain in St Luke’s Hospital in Dublin’s Rathgar and that adds to my own mix of concern and worry. But first I have to say how privileged I am to see the work that the hospital staff are doing. They are truly extraordinary people. I see their work ethic, their calm, their skill, their love and goodness right in front of my eyes every day.
In tomorrow’s Gospel St John (11: 1-45) writes an account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. It’s about life and death. In tomorrow’s second reading, St Paul in his letter to the Romans (8: 8-11) talks of the importance of people being interested in the spiritual side of their lives. He assures his Roman readers that they are interested in spiritual matters. And he puts that spirituality down to the fact that God has made his home in them.
Just that idea, that God makes his home in us, gives me hope, a security, maybe a realisation there is more to me than the physical body I inhabit. Not for a moment am I heading down the road of some sort of hocus-pocus superstition. Grace and nature are not separate realities; indeed, grace complements nature. A central tenet in Christianity is that there is more to us than the physical, tangible aspect to our lives. We say and we believe in resurrection, and our lives from the day we are born are constantly straining towards life with the risen Lord.
These last weeks I have been reminded every day of the saying that familiarity breeds contempt. Reading the prayers at Mass these days the words jump out at me. How apt and real they are, all the time assuring us, that peace, unity, the ultimate fulfilment of our human person is to be found in God.
The Jewish book of Psalms, which provides us with some of the finest religious poetry, makes for great reading in these days of turmoil.
Reading how Jesus raises Lazarus in tomorrow’s Gospel, whether we take it literally or metaphorically, paints a great story of hope. It encourages me to go away and think about my own mortality and then to think, maybe outside the box, as we are all bidden to do these days, of the mystery of life, its purpose and my ultimate goal to be with God, God whom I believe has already received my parents.
Last Saturday was the anniversary of the death of the German literary giant Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He died in 1832. These strange days I’m reminded of something he said: “Few people have the imagination for reality”. It’s easy to restrict reality to a very narrow vision. In the midst of Covid-19, I’ve been forced to expand further my horizons into the mystery of God and God’s love for us. God calls us to transcend ourselves by moving beyond our earthly boundaries and limitations. This is no ordinary day. Stay safe.