Can we stick to our Christian beliefs?

Gerry Clarke SJ

Family and friends of deceased Irish Jesuit missionaries gathered for the annual mass on Sunday 6th November held by the Irish Jesuit Missions. This year Fr John Guiney SJ was not present due to his commitments to the General Congregation 36 meetings in Rome. Fr Gerry Clarke SJ, the Parish Priest at St Francis Xavier’s Church in Gardiner Street, Dublin, threw out a challenge to the congregation in the following homily.

Encounter with a Muslim elder in Abéché, Chad

I remember a very warm encounter with a Muslim elder in the east of Chad where I was working with the Jesuit Refugee Service. It took place on the sheltered verandah at our National Office and it was a very hot morning. He arrived in the traditional costume for older men, covered from head to foot with a beautiful turban around his head. He had known a Jesuit who used to teach in the local school and is now the bishop of the diocese. There had been great mutual respect between them and this found its way into our meeting on the verandah. He showed an understanding of the Christian way of doing things; the way we value personal growth and education and at the same time he stood four square in his own tradition, exuding warmth and care.

Jesus sticks to his beliefs

Jesus did not receive this kind of respect after his arrival in Jerusalem. At Jerusalem Jesus has to stand up for everything he has been preaching to his disciples and defend his belief in the Resurrection after death.

Jesus teaches his disciples on road to Jerusalem

Every Sunday since June we have heard Gospel stories of Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem. He has been teaching his disciples two things: the qualities he wants from a disciple and the obstacles his disciples will meet as they attempt to follow him. All of these qualities are demanded of Jesuit missionaries we have known. All of the obstacles have been encountered by Jesuit missionaries we have known and have come here this afternoon to remember. Let me take a few of these Gospel stories as examples.

Humility is a quality Jesus teaches when he goes to dinner at Simon the Pharisees house. He utterly ruins the evening! He tells the guests not to be seeking out the best places but rather to go to the lowest place and there to hope to be invited higher. And he tells his host not to invite friends but to invite the people who will never be able to return the favour: the poor, the lame, the sick! Do you remember a Jesuit missionary who embodied humility?

Quietness and listening are qualities Jesus teaches Martha when she tears into Mary for not helping her with all the serving. Jesus sighs “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted about many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part which will not be taken away from her.”

Spirituality as opposed to worldliness is a quality lacking in the rich fool who dreams about the ever greater barns he needs to build for his bumper harvest when in fact that night his soul will be taken from him!

Counting the Cost is exactly what the thoughtless builder did and he ran out of building materials before completion of the tower: everybody laughed at him. Every Jesuit missionary had to count the cost when he went to Asia or Africa.

And then there are the obstacles on the way.

Fear has to be one of the first. Zacchaeus found the courage to stand up before his critics and declare that he would right any wrong he had done. Jesus helped him by inviting himself to his house when he least expected it.

Pride is the handicap of every missionary who thinks that their culture is superior to another. It’s easy to become like the pharisee when he went up to pray in the Temple and not like the tax collector who hung back and said: “Jesus be merciful to me a sinner.”

Indifference to suffering is the pitfall for the wealthy. It’s not that wealth is a bad thing in itself; it’s the indifference to suffering that it may lead us to. Such was the case in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.


Jesus faces down the Sadducees

We need to remember the context of his arrival in Jerusalem because the Sunday Gospel readings have skipped some important incidents:
• his triumphant entry on donkey-back
• his weeping over the city
• his angry cleansing of the Temple
• his confrontations with the Chief Priest, the Scribes and the leaders of the people.

Now he has to face an important group called the Sadducees. And they just want to catch him out and show him what a fool he is. But Jesus argues them down, out of his own knowledge of Scripture and his knowledge of God the Father. Jesus believes in the Resurrection and won’t allow his belief to be shaken by this dangerous group and their hypothetical cases.

Belief in the Resurrection and the courage to stick to it

There are some tremendous examples of courage in Christian history. None more so than those who opposed the Nazi regime in Germany. These are the words of Hermann Stöhr who refused to do military service under the Hitler regime. They come from a letter to his mother shortly before his execution for “undermining the morale of the armed forces”:

“Wherever there is still any shrinking from death, something is wrong. I have been thinking much about this recently and have studied the problem with the help of the Bible and the hymnal. From a purely mundane point of view, being sentenced to death is indeed the worst thing that can happen to us on this earth. But from the point of view of faith we say: What harm can come to us from men? With that we know that we are securely sheltered in the hand of the Almighty … If we really have the faith symbolised by Easter, faith in a resurrection of the body, it is precisely in the face of death that we are filled with a great joy that radiates towards us all the more brightly amidst earthly adversities. But if we let go this faith, then indeed it becomes dark around us. Therefore above everything I wish all of you and myself a never-faltering faith in the resurrection of the Lord.”

And what about us? Can we stick to our beliefs?

What qualities do we need to stand up for our beliefs and can we stand with Jesus in his belief in our Resurrection.

Author: Fr Gerry Clarke SJ, 10th November 2016