Images of Grace
I have been a nun for most of my adult life so I have mostly lived with women. Strange as it may seem, women are sometimes ‘narky’ and even difficult. At one stage in my life, I used to visit a community that had some ‘interesting’ members who would give their opinions in a free and forthright manner. A friend of mine was superior of that community and no matter how another person acted she always treated them well. A friendly, courteous, even gently humorous response would be given to words and actions that did not deserve them. I found her inspiring so one day I asked her about her behaviour. She told me that she had decided that no matter how another person acted, she would try to treat them with the respect due to a human being, and she would treat herself in the same way. She was no door mat for bad behaviour. It sometimes took great effort to do this. She had to prepare ‘good’ responses for expected bad behaviour and she had good friends to debrief with. The consequence was that she acted in a particularly graceful manner in difficult situations. She is one of my ‘pin-up nuns’.
We all know people like this- the ones who seem to be able to turn around difficult situations. They are ‘graces’ in our lives and, if it is possible, we should talk with them and ask them how they do it. It is not magic. They are wise people, who know how to access the grace of God that can transform the negative into something positive and life-giving.
Loving God, sometimes people are difficult – not only others but also us, even me. Send us your Spirit that we may gracefully turn our difficult situations and bad moods into something that gives life. We ask this in Jesus’ name, confident that you will hear us.
Whether republican or monarchist, we all seemed to have been impressed with Queen Elizabeth’s courage and dignity during her visit to Ireland last week. In spite of all the security efforts she still was a target for a possible violent attack, as was the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese who accompanied her most of the time. Yet these two women carried themselves with dignity and beauty. Just by watching the courtesy between the two women, we would never have known that they were acknowledging and regretting nearly 900 years of domination, war, oppression and then turning to make peace and harmony. Through the trip we saw how big an impact can be made by small gestures: the Queen speaking in Gaelic, honouring the dead from the fight for independence and visiting Croke Park, the scene of a massacre. All these showed that she was sincere in recognising her own country’s past and in hoping for peace in the future.
Here, in own time, was the forgiveness of Christ being lived out in public. We all have our fights and feuds – certainly not as long lived and dramatic as the “Troubles” but real none the less. Whether it be in marriage, or family, or staff room, or club or school grounds or anywhere people live with each other, disagreements happen and injustice occurs. If we allow them to fester and grow, they can seriously distort us and our relationships. If we have wronged someone, we are often reluctant to apologise because we think it may demean us – the Queen showed that isn’t so. If we receive an apology, we often can be off-hand or gauche in receiving it: the President of Ireland showed how to do it well. In this coming week, let us look for opportunities for small gestures that make for peace.
Loving God, send your Spirit of Peace into our hearts and into our lives. Following the Spirit’s wisdom may we be like Jesus and offer forgiveness to those who hurt us. Teach us the wisdom of small gestures that say much. We ask this in Jesus’ name, confident that you will hear us.
Sr Kym Harris osb
Found or found out?
My niece brought home, mid-term, a sheet that both her parents had to sign. It stated that she was falling behind in chemistry. A free and frank response was given by both parents – then the family set down to work. Her older brother stated that the text book she was using was ‘useless’. The one he had used three years previously was much clearer so that was brought out. Her father sat down and went through her subject to find out just where she had gotten lost and later that afternoon her older sister was teaching her just how the periodic table worked. The body language of my niece spoke of sheer relief: she knew she was in trouble but, like most adolescents, and indeed all of us for that matter, she had trouble putting her hand up and saying, ‘Help!’ She feared being found out but discovered herself found instead. When we are ‘found out’ we think we will be humiliated even more but when we are ‘found’ we are given the hope of change. We discover there is a way out of the mess.
Often we can fear approaching God because of messes in our lives. We think we have to clean up our act before we are worthy. Nothing could be further from the truth. God knows utterly what is out of kilter, even wrong with our lives…and is waiting to help. That is the point of the parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son. We do not have to find our way out of the mess…which we probably couldn’t anyway. We just have to stop, put aside our fear of being found out and let ourselves be found instead. Go on, sit down in one of your messes and say, ‘God, please find me!’
Loving God, you know my life – my joys and successes as well as my griefs and disasters. Come find me in the midst of my mess. Let your good Spirit give me the courage to trust what you could do. I ask this in Jesus’ name confident that you will hear me.
Sr Kym Harris osb
“Forgive and Forget” No, not really.
The Resurrection stories in the Gospels are a little odd – not quite as straightforward as the rest of the Gospels usually are. To appreciate them, we need to put ourselves in the story even more than usual. For example, in next Sunday’s Gospel Jesus ‘confronts’ Peter about his three betrayals during his Passion. Peter’s denials were tragic. In a teen movie terms: ‘BFF denies knowing you to people who aren’t important, not once but three times! The friendship was DEAD’. In Jewish terms, three times met the decision was irrevocable.
But this is the Christian story. Jesus returns risen, feeds the disciples on the beach with a cooked breakfast on the beach. All is forgiven, yes…but not forgotten. Peter isn’t let off that easy. Jesus confronts him but not in the way we would. He doesn’t go back over the details of the betrayal but cuts right to the heart. He asks Peter three times, three times, if he loves him. Peter can barely get the words out saying that he does. Why? Because he knows that his actions have said exactly the opposite. Each question cuts deeper into Peter, uncovering the mess and, dare we say, meanness of his heart. By the time Jesus asks the last question, ‘Do you really love me?’ Peter is laid bare, ‘Lord, you know all things, you know I love you.’ Peter cannot trust himself but throws himself on Jesus’ knowledge of himself. He can’t reverse his actions – but Jesus can.
I think the saying, ‘Forgive and forget’ is silly. ‘Forgive, learn and move on’ is much better. Too often, in the process of forgiveness, we go over the ‘offending actions’ and only open the wounds even deeper. What we need is the wisdom that Jesus showed: a sifting of the heart to find the roots of the wrongdoing and to discover that love, true love, is even deeper. Betrayal and hurt then becomes stages of growth in our love for each other.
Loving Father, you know how we hurt each other, sometimes very badly. Give us the wisdom of your Spirit that we make sift through the hurt and pain, and find underneath it all real love. Let Jesus’ forgiveness of each of us guide us through the mess. We ask this in his name confident that you will hear us.
Sr Kym Harris osb