TRYING TIMES Even among the devastation caused by the Japanese tsunami, a story emerged which restored faith in humanity.
Rome rule and rural reality - a twain that rarely meets
Fr Kevin Hegarty
Some years ago a friend of mine was asked to deputise for a friend in a rural parish, a venerable Canon, who had gone on holidays.
On his second Sunday there the chatty altar server told him that he said ‘a lovely Mass’.
My friend asked him what he had liked about it. The boy replied, “Well Mammy liked it anyway. She said to Daddy on the way home in the car that it was a treat to hear a short sermon. The old Canon, God bless him, is a holy man but he would wear you out to the last.”
Preparing a sermon, for Sunday after Sunday, that seeks to be interesting, inspiring and challenging is a daunting task. Few priests have the ability of Joseph Cassidy, the retired Archbishop of Tuam. He always punctuates his sermons with relevant stories and stirring phrases. He has the timing of a professional actor.
I once heard him give a homily on the intrusiveness of moralistic gossip. Speaking one’s mind, as Oscar Wilde once said, may sometimes be a duty but should never be allowed to become a pleasure.
He told the story of a pious lady in a country town, the sister of the diocesan bishop, who rejoiced in self righteous judgement on her neighbours. Her parish priest was prone to the occasional alcoholic binge. Whenever this happened, she reported it to her brother who duly reprimanded the priest.
One Sunday, after he had been summoned to the episcopal palace, she came to the altar rail for communion. She barely opened her mouth, her tongue lay daintily on her teeth.
The priest could not resist the opportunity, “Stick it out,” he commanded, “it’s long enough.”
Some weeks ago, the Sunday gospel was the story of the miracle of loaves and fishes. While preparing my reflections I found myself drawn to a modern miracle of sharing of which I had just read.
It formed the main part of what I said on the Sunday. I know that orthodox liturgists would frown, as only they can frown, at this.
Then I worry little about orthodox liturgists. To me it seems as if they live in ivory sanctuaries, occasionally making short forays into the real world, to give ordinary priests in parishes prissy lectures on what to say and do.
I remember some years ago one of them dogmatically outlining the kind of singing which a priest should demand at a wedding Mass.
He had such a supercilious air that I was eventually provoked into telling him that the first I often knew about the wedding music is when a guy with a guitar alights from a Hi-ace van, a few minutes before the celebration and asks me, “Is it alright if I sing a few songs, Father?”
Rome rule and rural reality are the twain that rarely meet.
To get back to the modern miracle story, I found it in the current edition of the ‘Far East’, the lively missionary journal of the Columbian Fathers and Sisters.
Unlike the toy earthquake that struck Belmullet some weeks ago, Japan experienced a dreadful tsunami in March of last year. A Vietnamese policeman, Ha Minh Thanh, working in Fukushima, wrote to a friend of an extraordinary act of sharing he witnessed. The following is an extract:
“These last few days everything has been in chaos. People here remain calm; their sense of dignity and proper behaviour are very good. There was one really moving incident involving a little Japanese boy. I had been sent to a little grammar school to help a charity organisation distribute food to the refugees. It was a long line that snaked this way and that, and I saw a little boy around nine years old.
“He was wearing a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. It was getting very cold and the boy was at the very end of the line. I was worried that by the time his turn came there would not be any food left. So I spoke to him. He said he was at school when the earthquake happened. His father was working nearby and was driving to the school. The boy was on the third floor balcony when he saw the tsunami sweep his father away.
“I asked him about his mother. He said his house is right by the beach and that his mother and little sister probably did not make it. He turned his head and wiped away his tears when I asked about his relatives. The boy was shivering so I took off my police jacket and put it on him. That’s when my bag of food ration fell out. I picked it up and gave it to him. I thought he would eat it right away, but he did not. Instead he went up to where the line ended and put it where all the food was waiting to be distributed.
“I was shocked. I asked him why he had not eaten the food and had instead added it to the food pile. He answered, ‘Because I see a lot more people hungrier than I am. If I put it there, then they will distribute the food equally’. When I heard that I turned away so that people would not see me cry.”
Our faith in humanity is often battered and bruised but that story restores it.