Among the many reasons I admired Bishop Daly one was his decision he took to go around as many people as he could find who had been excommunicated many years earlier.
He apologised as bishop of the church for the pain and hurt caused. It takes a big man to do that. The shame brought on families when a son or daughter’s name was read off the pulpit must have been galling. I heard yesterday after the Mass how a mother in one such family never went out her front door again. As I have told you before my own godmother was excommunicated. There is an irony in the fact that the same pulpit from which her name was read out is the one where I, her godson, began my ministry as a priest so many years later.
Her husband, a Protestant and an American sailor refused ‘to turn’ in principle and as his ship was leaving Derry in the near future they married in the Guildhall.
She never returned. Many years later I visited her and her family in Orlando. I regret not apologising to her, but I was afraid to bring it up and cause more hurt.
In last Sunday’s Gospel we hear Jesus say ‘let them be treated as an outcast or a pagan’, in other words cut them off, excommunicate them. I was pleasantly reassured when reading the scriptural background of the account that many Scripture scholars now think that Jesus would not have suggested this step, and that it is a personal addition by the writer Matthew.
They wonder how this type of expulsion could be squared with Jesus’ openness to sinners, including corrupt government officials such as tax collectors and prostitutes, or with the story of the Prodigal Son.
But let us also remember that Jesus’ reception and welcome of these people depended on their change of heart and the abandonment of their old and sinful ways and thus they were enabled to be reconciled with God and the community.
Hardness of Heart
I have just returned from a wonderful pilgrimage to Medjugorje. There they were praying for rain. The ground was so hard it was cracked, hard, barren and lifeless. The words of last Sunday’s Psalm comes to mind ‘harden not your hearts today’. When the rain did come for those two days the people went around with a big smile just as we do when the sun come out. A soft heart has mercy and compassion. It can receive and nourish. It can be saddened but it can also be deliriously happy. Softened by the rain of God’s grace and warmed by the sun of his love the human heart can be turned from a bleak barren dessert into a garden of colourful flowers.
(In the quiet of the night)
Help me Lord as I sit with you
In the quiet of the night
When the prayers I try to say won’t come
The way I want them right.
So I’ll think of all who came my way
In the passage of the day
For those who have been kind and sweet
A word of thanks I’ll say.
Then there may be those
I’ve hurt by word or deed
For this I’ll ask forgiveness Lord,
And for your mercy plead.
Soften my heart O Lord
When a grudge I closely hold
For it’s the mercy I give out, I’ll get
When my story has been told.
I need no words of wisdom
To come to you in prayer
I’ll just sit with you in silence
For you promise to be there.
At times my heart is full
Of thanks and humble praise
For all the blessing I have received
From you throughout my day.
Take away my doubts and fears
And here I need your help,
Sometimes thinking in the silence
‘Am I just talking to myself?’
You know what’s on my mind
The love within my heart
For you and all created things
‘My God how great thou art!’
Your beauty in every hill and glen
In my art I try to see,
My hallowed hide-out by the river
And even in my bees.
No need for saintly pious words
I just make it up as I go along.
No need for holy books or texts
When my heart bursts into song.
Why was the rabbit looking so happy? Because some bunny loved her!
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