This Sunday will witness Derry’s first appearance in an Ulster Final in many years. Back in 1998 I was present at Clones the last time they won the provincial title. A goal in the last dying minutes was the deciding factor against, as fate would have it, this Sunday’s opponents Donegal. The Waterside parochial house is no longer dominated by the men from Tyrone but we now have to worry about the men from Donegal, even our housekeeper is from Donegal. So this weekend will be very interesting, there’ll be no doubting who will be supporting who apart from parish preist, Fr Paddy. Born in Donegal and raised in Derry it will be interesting to see who he supports.
I was thinking about these important matters as I drove home from Omagh last Saturday afternoon after celebrating the wedding of friends I met at the World Youth Day Pilgrimage in Cologne in 2005. Ever since then I’ve had to listen to their boasts as one All Ireland followed another. So I didn’t want to miss the opportunity after Donegal defeated Tyrone in the Ulster Football semi-final. There is always the fear these statements could and inevitably do come back to haunt you, but life’s short and after all we are talking about Tyrone! After welcoming the happy couple and all guests, some one hundred and fifty family and friends, I remarked how it was great to come together to celebrate what was an important occasion, after all I didn’t think they would be having too many other celebrations in Tyrone by the look of things. When the booing eventually died down after a few moments, I told them I would keep the sermon short because Tyrone were playing Longford in the qualifiers although I wasn’t sure what time the throw-in was because I wasn’t following the back door. This was greeted by silence and I moved quickly on to a subject I knew a lot about, marriage and relationships.
The danger we face in the light of the gospels is underestimating God’s generous love. We fail to be scandalised by his boundless mercy and forgiveness. Unthinking we can take a lot for granted and we fail to understand the implications for our own lives. We are forever putting up boundaries and walls to protect and differentiate ourselves from others. Instead of being something to celebrate our uniqueness and distinctiveness becomes a fact we feel we have to protect from the outside world. We live in fear of giving too much away, of being used or exploited without due recognition or reward.
In the parable of the seed and the sower, God casts the seed without caution, care or fear of where it will land. He gives without counting the cost such is the greatness of his love. He is never small minded or calculating, he gives everyone the chance of hearing his word then it is up them how they respond. This is the question posed to each of us who dare to call ourselves Christian, how do we respond to God’s word? Do we live his message daily in our lives, taking seriously the example Jesus has placed before us in this life and in the lives of the saints and the holy men and women we have known? Can we be as generous as God, on our own and relying on our own resources we will find this difficult, if not impossible. This highlights our need to pray and to open our hearts and minds to God’s presence. The journey of discipleship has to be shaped by the desire to become more like Christ. The starting point for all of us is cultivating this desire and not allowing it to become crowded by the many competing voices and pressures which characterise our daily existence.
As God shared himself in the Eucharist and in his word we’re challenged to share our lives in the service of others. This means overcoming our fears and concerns, refusing to make excuses and instead allowing God to lead and transform us. Driving back from Omagh I took the route over the Sperrin mountains through Gortin, Plumbridge and Donemana. The sun was shining and the scenery was spectacular as I drove through Tyrone and I couldn’t help but admire its beauty. We all have to pray for big hearts, big enough to recognise the gifts and talents of others and big enough to use our own abilities in the service of others. We should admire beauty where we can find it and celebrate the creation God has given us as his gift. This is what binds us together, God’s love for us.