The Friday Thought - The road to hell is paved with good intentions

My mother and father are going on holidays during the month of October for ten days. This creates a small dilemma with only my sister and I left in Derry who will look after the dog. On paper at least the dog belongs to my sister, although last week she started training as a nurse which apparently means she is going to be busy. The poor dog, which she insisted on getting, will require its own nursing. Like any female this canine requires a lot of attention and loving care. Let’s be honest the dog is high maintenance. She constantly needs to be spoilt, walked and fed. When you meet her in the morning she’s like a coiled spring bursting with energy which is generally released at the first unsuspecting person to see her. She literally jumps all over you and you have to respond for by petting her and rubbing her stomach for five minutes. If you fail to give her enough attention she starts whining and huffing.

I feel sorry for my father because my two brothers are now living abroad and it’s just him and three females. He admits that in the present situation he’s glad to escape to work in the morning even though it’s only the dog who witnesses and bemoans his departure. In light of this my mother caught me during a moment of weakness last week. She heard I had moved house and was now living on my own. With my father and her going on holiday she wondered would I have room for the dog. To this day I don’t know what came over me, even before I realized what I was saying I had agreed to take the dog for a few days. I now confess I’ve been a bit hasty, after living on my own for one week I’ve discovered I can hardly look after myself never mind a dog. The real fun will begin when I have to explain the new responsibilities I’ve taken on to my house keeper. I haven’t even mentioned the situation to the new parish priest yet, it looks as if I’ll be hiding the dog in the boiler house.

It’s very easy to make a promise; it’s quite a different challenge to live it out. Sometimes we can say yes far too quickly because it’s easier than saying no. We don’t have to think of excuses, there are no awkward silences, or stained emotions or farewells. When we say yes we give people hope, we create an atmosphere and a space where things are possible. It’s the living out of this commitment which is the difficult part; our words remain empty if there not backed up by action and reinforced by the personal investment of our energy and our time. It only takes a second to say yes but often it takes a life time of struggle to live out the promises we have made to others. I know there have been numerous occasions when I’ve made commitments only to slowly come to the realization that what I’ve taken on is beyond my capabilities or worse still I’m not prepared to put in the effort.

Jesus warns us about the dangers of discipleship; it is not an easy path. Our words are meaningless unless we are prepared to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Being human we’re forced to live with many limitations, suffer from countless disappointments. We know of numerous times when we have failed others and failed ourselves through our inability to keep our word. The decisions we make are never simple, often we wrestle with our indecision, we’re not quite sure or decided about what we what to do or how to do it. We slowly come to the realization for every two steps forward we sometimes end up three steps back. Due to our weakness and frailties we will always be haunted by our inability to consistently live out our decisions. Recognizing our struggles is the first step along the path of learning to trust in God by praying for the strength and the courage to remain true to our promises and commitments. Even though we fail many times God is always willing to give us another chance to remain faithful to our word.

Fidelity is at the heart of God’s love for us, he never changes, and God never alters in his desire to welcome all of us into a life giving and affirming relationship with him. Jesus constantly offers us the gift of salvation, eternal life beyond all change and uncertainty which plagues our day to day existence in the here and now. God’s faithfulness is our opportunity to be saved, our chance to be embraced by a love which lasts into eternity. God’s promises have lasted the test of time, withstood the wanderings, insecurities and the infidelity of his chosen people. He comes back to us time and again, knocking on the door of our hearts looking for the space to transform us into people formed and shaped according to his word.

The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard reflecting on last Sunday’s Gospel describes how ‘Though the yes-brother was not a deceiver when he said “Yes,” he nevertheless became a deceiver when he failed to keep his promise. When you say “Yes” or promise something, you can very easily deceive yourself and others also, as if you had already done what you only promised… A “no” does not hide anything, but a “yes” can very easily become a deception, a self-deception; which of all difficulties is the most difficult to conquer. Ah, it is all too true that, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”