FR. MICHAEL WRITES:-
I was unfortunately two whole days out of the parish last week exercising other responsibilities to which I have been appointed in the diocese, which is to say in education. Together with others I was interviewing applicants for the headship of a Catholic secondary school and even with only four short-listed applicants, the interviews are these days so multi-faceted, that two days are required. The first of the many tasks the applicants were asked to undertake, was to give a morning assembly for about 120 children, to include scripture, a reflection and leading in prayer. All the staple stuff of a Catholic head’s morning routine. One potential head was asking the children what was essential in their view to being a Catholic. “Saying prayers?” offered one (excellent) pupil. “Not really” replied the applicant, making me already uncomfortable with this potential head’s understanding of the Christian life. Other various suggestions were proffered and were variously received. So far so (fairly unengagingly) good. The applicant was much more excited when a pupil piped up with “Loving others as Jesus did?” “Yes,” he cried, “and what else?” “Going to Mass every Sunday?” came the reply from another (excellent) child. “No, no,” said the man reassuringly, “this is a mistake. You don’t have to go to Mass every Sunday to be a good Catholic.” I was looking and listening in disbelief and even the Local Authority’s secular (non-Christian) representative on the interview panel turned to me and asked, “I don’t think that’s right, is it?” “It certainly isn’t” I replied! Being a disciple of Jesus Christ, which is to say, being a Catholic, is clearly not about a ‘privatised religion’ like any other form of consumerism in which I choose one aspect of faith or not to suit me. ‘If God is so loving,’ I suppose the thinking runs, 'then He can be useful to me when I need Him, living as I am my busy and demanding life, and even loving when it suits me.’ It is clearly not about how little commitment I can get away with but rather that, amazingly, God loves us so much that He calls us into a relationship with Him and so with each other. It’s as if He needs me to step up and play my part in this relationship in which I will bear fruit while I strive to love day by day, nourished in that love Sunday by Sunday at Mass. God wants our happiness, as we hear in today’s manifesto, as it were, from Jesus in the Beatitudes. But this happiness is not a quality among others we can tick in expectation from God who confirms to our set criteria of give and take. It is rather the fruit of humility of mind, generosity of heart and fidelity in prayer and love. It is, in short, that joy which is the hallmark of friendship with God.