I was out with a friend the other night and we were discussing his upcoming wedding at which I would be officiating. It provided me with an opportunity to delve into their past and store away in the memory bank any stories which might prove suitably embarrassing on their marriage day. Not being a native of the city I was warning him about the dangers of marrying a Derry woman. I noted how the first sign of danger was the simple fact she left Derry in the first place in search of a man. The inevitable had already happened; despite living in Australia for six years whilst she spend some of the time in Boston eventually she convinced him to move back to Derry. As you probably guessed his future wife is back living with her mother. Life has become even more complicated because now he not only has one Derry woman to contend with but two, although in fairness his soon to be mother-in-law is from the county rather than the city. After this initial counselling session we moved on to discuss other things.
He’s from Dublin so inevitably he wanted to bring up the subject of the Gaelic football and the small matter of Dublin being the all Ireland Champions. He admitted it was a nerve wracking occasion because he had known too many false dawns and disappointments in Croke Park. Currently he works in Belfast but such was his apprehension he decided against booking the next day off work. If Dublin were beaten again it would have been a waste of one day’s holiday and they’re precious enough without being unduly careless. He didn’t fancy the idea of lying about the house being depressed when he could just as easily travel into Belfast being distracted at work and being paid for the privilege as well. Obviously his hopes weren’t too high due to his previous experiences and after all they would be playing Kerry, the most successful team in the country who always rose to the occasion when they played Dublin. Personally I didn’t want to mention the very small detail that I had been supporting Kerry that day too; it’s best to leave some things unsaid when it only results in adding petrol to the flames.
He continued with his story as he described the scene upon arriving at Croke Park; the place was awash with Dublin colours, expectations in the city were high and the atmosphere was electric. He confessed he’s had a few drinks in the build-up to the game and by the time he reached the stadium he was in high spirits. The tension was unbearable as he took his seat next to an elderly man from Kerry. The weather wasn’t great and the man, who must have been in his late seventies or early eighties, had his coat buttoned to the throat with only his Kerry colours showing. As the game progressed my friend became so caught up in the drama he was catching every ball and kicking every point. The excitement intensified and he began to nudge and bump his neighbour from Kerry every time Dublin scored. At point he was jumping up and down and got so excited he had the elderly man from Kerry in a headlock and was ruffling his hair. It was only at the end of the game when the old man unbuttoned his coat did my friend notice his white collar and before the Kerry priest left he promised to offer Mass for the young Dubliner in the morning.
In today’s world we don’t have to look far to see who are the outcasts, the social lepers, the people we label as unwanted, those who feel excluded from our community because of their background or their past deeds and failures. At many levels there are so many people today who long for healing; above all they want to feel they belong, to hear a voice of welcome who will encourage them to have faith. Life is not easy when you’re crippled by doubts and insecurity, isolated and alone because of feelings uncertainty and inadequacy. Many suffer from the burden of being told they are unwanted, useless and a waste of space. I know in anger I have been quick to judge and condemn, found it easy to join in the ridiculing of those who have found themselves in difficulty through their own mistakes and choices. As I ask for their forgiveness and God’s I wonder how I can respond to the example put before us by Jesus. At one level we create lepers through our attitudes and hardness of heart and on another level we have to recognise how we too are lepers in need of healing and mercy.
Paschasius Radbertus, one of the ancient Church Father’s wrote;
“However great our sinfulness, each one of us can be healed by God every day. We have only to worship him with humility and love, and wherever we are to say with faith: Lord, if you want to, you can make me clean. It is by believing from the heart that we are justified, so we must make our petitions with the utmost confidence, and without the slightest doubt of God’s power. Believing this may we become signs and instruments of God’s healing, mercy and forgiveness. The only genuine way we can make Christ known is through leading lives transformed by his love and compassion. his is how we give thanks to God for all his gifts, we try to strive to be more faithful disciples helping one another to take our places at his table in God’s Kingdom.