ASTONISHING WAYS OF ADDRESSING GOD
HUMAN REFLECTIONS OF THE DIVINE FACE
Thoughts based on a homily at Maynooth College, Kildare, Ireland, on 7 August 1998,
the International Dominican Youth Movement Meeting
Thomas McCarthy OP
George Bernard Shaw wrote a long letter to a friend, and concluded by apologising to his correspondent, saying that if he'd had more time he would have written a shorter letter. I say this because I think what I'm about to say would be a finer homily if I'd had more time, and if I weren't on my Irish holidays from Rome just now! Apologies.
Dream in the dark - live in the light! This is the theme, as it were, of your Meeting. But by now, after six days of work, sharing, listening and worshipping with song, you are not to feel any sense of guilt if you also spend some of the daytime in the act of dreaming! Dreams can emerge into the light of action, into the reality of beating hearts.
I hope - indeed I'm quite sure - the Lord has a fine sense of humour. And I'm mighty relieved this is so! You see, I wish to discuss with you some of the quite astonishing things we say to God when we pray. We speak to the Lord in phrases like these:
Listen, Lord, to the voice of your servant.
See, Lord, the suffering of your people.
Accept the gifts we bring you, Lord.
[And, most remarkably of all], Remember, 0 Lord, and do not break your holy covenant.
Now the Lord Jesus was able to turn things on their heads, as it were, and to enable his disciples to see and understand more than they thought likely. We may have to do some overturning also!
Let us ask, then, why we do pray, and why we often ask God for very specific things, like success at examinations or the money that will make a new purchase possible, or for health and strength. I think it can be because - in expressing what we "feel" are our desires, we may be able to refine them, as it were, and even judge them to be more or less desirable than when we first knelt down to pray!
Imagine two people, one of whom is a psychotherapist at work. I am the patient/client, and I say something like "I'm just devastated, completely down and depressed." The current method in therapy requires the psychotherapist to repeat what I've said, in quiet tones, changing only the person used: "You're just devastated, completely down and depressed." And I say, quickly, "Well, perhaps not really devastated, not completely down, but - let's say - things haven't been going well just recently." "Not going well, I see", retorts the therapist. And I offer "What I mean is, not as well as they might have gone." And it continues like this. By the end of the session, what has changed? My problems have not been solved, or anything magical or miraculous like that, but I have a somewhat more focussed and even accurate sense of what my problem is. Part of the reason for what now looks like a wild exaggeration of my state was that I didn't know very well just how I was. Until I expressed it, and heard my words coming back to me.
So I speak to God. And if I manage to "hear" myself speaking to God, I may then "revise" my prayer, or in some way focus it a little more honestly.
When I sat on the rocks on the seashore in Galway last Saturday evening, with the setting sun behind me shedding its rose-coloured light on the hills of Clare, my eyes were drawn to two places in particular on that astonishing landscape. They were houses! And the reason was the sun's light was being reflected by the windows of the houses right into my face! And I thought - it being Saturday evening - there may be the nucleus of a homiletic thought there. If there is, let it be something like this. We have seen in the faces of other people a reflection of the light that comes from God: a couple promising life-long fidelity in marriage forms a reflection of what divine love is like. (And there could be examples from other sacraments as well, apart from many aspects of life.) But there have been moments when the faces of other people do not seem to reflect anything very uplifting or joyful. Moments when the Lord's own face seems hidden, or to have set into the western sea! I may have wondered if God is not asleep, or no longer caring, or on a journey! Now it strikes me God may be dreaming!
Whether in daytime or night, let us imagine. Let us dream. And why not? Look at the love God's dream and purpose for us has brought about, and what is still promised! Finally, however, let us imagine that the Lord is speaking to us, and (not unlike the psychotherapist, but more present) repeating to us the words we've spoken ourselves.
Listen, my people, to the voice of my son.
My people, see the suffering of your fellows.
Accept the gift I sent you, my only son.
Remember, my people, and do not break
the holy covenant.