But will he find any faith on earth? (Mission Sunday 2013)

Just in from Evening Mass – the vigil of Mission Sunday.  A bit of a thought to share but need to work it out a bit more in my head …. call back when you get a chance ….

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The next day …. thanks for calling back!

This is Mission Sunday – that day in the Church’s Year when we think of the work of Missionary men and women with the “young” Church.  In the past there was hardly a parish that didn’t have some of its sons or daughters working “on the Missions” – mostly priests, brothers and sisters but, increasingly in recent years, young people – lay men and women – who opted to spend sometime working in far away countries to bring the Gospel Message to people who otherwise might not hear. What took them there?  I’m sure they would tell us a sense of “being called”, like Patrick to share the message and bring new hope to people.  Called they were! The sharing took place, the hope was given and a real difference was made.

It is said by some, and not without some justification, that Ireland is now “missionary territory” too and that many of us need to hear or hear “again” the call of God to enter relationship with Him.  The relationship for some is now non-existent and for others damaged and strained.  On Mission Sunday maybe we too need to think about our own “faith” story.

I used to very much like (still do) the TV Series “The West Wing” – the story of a fictional President of The United States and the life he experienced, and lived out of, in the “West Wing” of the White House.  His name was Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen) and his character was Catholic – the son of an Inter-Faith marriage.  His faith featured in a number of episodes where he had to wrestle with his faith and conscience and seemed to be able to do this out of the foundation of his conviction.

There is a great scene in the final episode of one of the series, where he is wrestling with the decision of whether or not he should run for a second term of office.  He has been diagnosed with an illness and had already been diagnosed when he ran for election but he had not declared this to the people. Now it looks as if this might be used against him though he has achieved much during his term.  He is frustrated by this and nobody knows if he’ll seek another term, risking the exposure that is sure to follow or decide not to run even though he feels he has something to offer the Presidency.

Added to this, his long term secretary, Mrs Landingham, buys a new car.  He offers her some money towards the cost but she refused it, feeling it might be seen as a “political gift” so when she goes to collect the car, Bartlett asks her to come back and let him see it.  On the way back she is struck by a drunk driver and is killed.

The scene I like takes place following her Funeral Service in the National Cathedral, Washington DC.  The president asks his Chief-of-Staff to get the agents to “seal the Cathedral” and you hear the doors slam shut.  There is a sense of Bartlett being alone with God and he turns angrily towards God, saying that He is “vindictive” – he uses some colourful language and challenges God’s stance in his life.  At one level, it could be regarded as blasphemous language but it is rooted in belief.  It is intense prayer and shows, more clearly than ever perhaps, how important God is in Bartlett’s life. If he did not believe in God this moment would not take place.  It is absolutely because of his faith that he enters this moment.

(Just spoke with a friend who looked at this piece and wondered did it give the wrong impression of Bartlett’s Faith.  I had to agree as we talked that it may well have done.  It seems that he walks out on God and though, I don’t think that’s the case – since I believe his character was a man of deep faith, the point was well made.  My friend said the clip reminded him of the Book of Job – so also it reminds me – but that in Job God had the chance to reply. He does not seem to have that chance here.  I explained to my friend that in the following scene there is an encounter between Bartlett and Mrs Landingham and that she challenges what has just happened in the Cathedral – in a way, this is God’s answer and the encouragement he needs to make his decision ….)

Whatever the Cathedral moment speaks out of, it is not “indifference”. Bartlett believes in God, feels let down and annoyed but it’s only because he believes that he can be angry with someone in whose friendship be thought he could trust.  Indifference is the enemy of faith, the quencher of enthusiasm and the risk of our age.  There seems to be so much of it about.

On Mission Sunday, we might think about this.  The closing line of the Gospel today raises the question “When the Lord comes, will he find any faith on earth?”  It’s a very valid question.  If he were to walk into your world or mine, how much faith would he find?  Even those of us who consider ourselves as having “the Faith” might well question its degree and intensity.  Is there anything in us leaning towards “indifference”?  That’s the question for sure ….

During the week I watched two TV shows, both Irish made, they ran very violent story lines.  Each ended with the rolling of credits and a voice-over, telling people “If you or someone you know has been affected by any of the events portrayed here ……” and then a list of helplines and websites.  I thought it sad, in a way, that programmes intended to be “entertainment” should have the potential to lead people to a dark and frightened place.  Of course that does not mean that there are not such places and that they don’t need to be tenderly explored, but the question I had was around the mentality of TV entertainment that runs the risk of causing hurt in the life of someone who just sits down to watch a programme.  I sometimes think the violence portrayed can lead us to indifference and indifference takes us to a dangerous place.

We need action rather than indifference, commitment rather than complacency and a Church alive.   The image that comes to my mind this weekend is the shopping trolley outside a supermarket.  We put in our coin or token, take the trolley, wheel it around the shop, take it to our car, empty its contents and then return it to where we got it and take our “token” back.  I think we can be “token” people at times – just putting something in for as long as its useful to us but then taking it back.  Of course we have every right to do this and it’s what we do with the shopping trolley but that image has been with me in thinking about “mission” – about “church” and about “Faith”.

It is certain we need people at this time who “stack the shelves” too.  Those people who see what’s needed in the store and take it from the storeroom so that its there for those who need it.

What about the parish?  What about the local church?  Can we have a few more “stackers” of shelves, stock-takers, who look around, identify needs and do something to put in place what is needed?

The “young” Church of the Missions still needs its missionaries and we, as part of the “older” Church are the ones to supply that demand – to bring the “FAITH” to others.  Truth told though, we cannot give what we haven’t got so it could be the case we need to develop again our own sense of Faith, even in a God who appears to disappoint and confuse us at times, so that having developed it, we can live it, be it and share it ……

Deliver us Lord, from indifference.  Amen!

PS.  Okay, this is not totally linked with the above but I’m going to include the closing scene of the episode of West Wing.  During the Service in the Cathedral there is a flashback to a conversation between the young student, Jed Bartlett and the school secretary, Mrs Landingham.  She is asking him to become socially active and to speak up (to his father, the school Headmaster) about inequality in pay between men and women on the staff.  He asks her for figures and she gives them to him.  Then she walks away, looks back and tells him, he’s going to do it.  He points out that he has said nothing but she says, “you put your hands in your pockets, looked away and smiled” and that when he does that, it means he’s made his mind up to do what is asked of him, expected of him and, in effect, the right thing to do …..

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