August 11 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Reaching for Christ when all seems lost

THE BOW IN THE HEAVENS says that, like Peter in the Gospels, we cry out for Jesus in times of peril and darkness - BY Fr JOHN BOLLAN

I’m finding it hard to get into my post-holiday stride, and I’m blaming this on a four-pronged conspiracy designed to upset me. First, I returned home to the chapel house to find chips in the ‘dry’ recycling bin.

As anyone associated with St Joseph’s will attest, I am an evangelical recycler and regularly subject the housekeepers to lengthy discourses on what goes where, often posting helpful reminders via sticky-backed notes at eye level beside the bins. It has been suggested to me that I’m a little punctilious about the whole thing and should ‘lighten up: it’s a load of rubbish.’

No one is owning up to ignoring the green food caddy and dumping the said chips in the wrong bin.

Our normally trusty acolyte Matthew, who doubles as a house-sitter in my absence, strenuously denies being the guilty party (despite having previous form in less than careful disposal of domestic waste). I can only hope and pray that, when judgement day comes round, Matthew will not find himself in the ‘wrong’ pile when the angels come to separate the sheep from the goats, or the clear plastics from the landfill.

The next ‘bump’ in the road to normality also has to do with domestic matters.

My housekeeper Sandra, who is normally very attentive to such things, seems to have ignored the label on my black trousers which I left to be washed while I was on holiday.

She must have put them into the machine at too high a temperature and they have shrunk as a result. They were snug, though still easily enough fastened when I left, yet now getting them on requires me to lie on the bed and say three ‘Glory Be’s.

I think another helpful post-it note beside the washing machine may be in order.

The third challenge relates to my probity as administrator of the parish finances. The diocese and the charity regulator both keep a sharp eye on how the parish money is spent and I’m perfectly happy about that since, as I’ve said before, it isn’t my money.

After nearly three years as parish priest, I was delighted to get a debit card for the parish account, as this makes purchasing things online much easier.

I’m afraid, however, that I added this new debit card to an online payment website at the same time as a new personal debit card of my own.

The result has been that I’ve mistakenly transferred a personal magazine subscription to the parish account and this only became apparent when I returned from holiday to open the bank statement.

This subscription is for the fortnightly Doctor Who figurine collection and, although I could mount a spirited defence of this expenditure, I don’t reckon the auditors would be convinced that the parishioners of St Joseph’s should be shelling out for hand-painted, miniature reproductions of assorted monsters from the world’s longest-running science fiction TV programme.

So, I’ve had to write a cheque to reimburse the parish for these rogue expenses, which is really quite a hard thing to do when you’re used to it being the other way round.


The final straw came on the last day of my holiday when Sandra, taking time out from boiling my trousers, phoned me with the news that water was pouring through the lights in the parish hall. A faulty valve had caused a considerable flood between the upper and lower halls and this was scarcely a month after the previous water feature had been repaired—at no little expense.

Needless to say, as I surveyed the soggy aftermath of the flood, I contemplated heading straight back for the airport. The hall celebrates its 40th birthday this year, but it requires a makeover which is far from a nip and tuck here and there. John, our diocesan estates manager, thinks that insurance should cover the repairs; if not, I may have to sell my figurine collection.

On a more sombre note, there were also two funerals waiting for me on my return, one of an 80-year-old great-grandfather, the other of a 38-year-old dad who lost his life as the consequence of an act of violence which was as senseless as its effects have been devastating.

Any funeral requires sensitivity and gentle handling, but the violent loss of a young life challenges the priest to channel the grief and the other emotions swirling about without adding to them. Chief among these is anger: anger needs to be changed into something else, something more life-giving. After all, as Scripture says, holding on to anger is like clutching fire to our breast: it burns you, it consumes you (cf. Proverbs 6:27).

More happily, we also had a Baptism this week and there will be a wedding on Thursday. This will be my first opportunity to test drive the new Order of Marriage, since St Joseph’s will not be stealing Gretna’s crown any time soon.

Still, it’s lovely to have more joyful occasions to celebrate with your people as well as the sorrowful ones. But in all these moments, it’s important to remember that Christ is present.

In a recurring motif in Broken, the series I’ve reviewed over the past two weeks, the priest lights a candle to remind people of the presence of Christ ‘who shares the pain.’ But the light is also a sign of the presence of Christ who brings joy and who shares his life with us. Of course, the need for light is commensurate with the amount of darkness we find ourselves in.

In this Sunday’s readings, we encounter people who are at quite a low ebb. In the preceding verses of the reading from the first book of Kings, Elijah has been wishing for death. He feels that his best efforts to do God’s will have been in vain and that he himself is a failure, a waste of space.

“Take my life,” he pleads with God. God will have none of this, of course, and sends an angel to coax him back to life. As Elijah shelters in the cave, he finds God not in any of the usual theophanies or signs of God’s presence—the mighty wind, the earthquake or the fire—but rather in the gentle breeze.

St Paul also reveals a certain anguish of mind as he contemplates the reluctance of the children of Israel, scattered as they were, to embrace the fullness of God’s revelation in Christ.

He goes so far as to say that he would willingly allow himself to be cut off from Christ if it would serve to open their eyes to the fulfilment of the promises made to them. These are strong words, no matter how you construe them.

In the Gospel, it is Peter who rues his over-confidence in attempting to walk on water and cries out ‘Lord, save me!’

His plea for help is answered ‘at once’ by Jesus who grabs hold of him. I sometimes wonder if the Lord’s rebuke is directed more at Peter’s over-confidence than his lack of Faith in being able to do what he seen Jesus doing. Fear was his undoing. Whatever clouds our awareness of the Lord’s presence, or makes us take our eyes off him, is usually at the root of most of our spiritual problems.

It’s a thought which certainly occurred to Leonard Cohen, that unlikely evangelist, in the song Suzanne, where he opines that only drowning men can see Christ. While it’s not quite accurate to say that only those who are going under can see the Lord, it is often the case that we only properly perceive his nearness when we have reached in vain for other lifelines.

That’s a helpful reminder to those of us who sometimes get immersed in the absurd minutiae of life, and the silly dramas of recycling bins and flooded halls. In these moments, it’s good to heed the old proverb and, rather than curse the darkness, light a candle instead.


Pic: Jeremy Bishop


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