Wednesday 28 October 2009

Hell ?

Father Ignatius visited the local Catholic School to address the 15 years-old children at Catechism Class.

One of them asked: “Father, is it true that hell is full of fire and devils poking you with big forks and all that …”

“And all that …” repeated Father Ignatius with a smile.

“Hell has been described as a burning place many times in the Bible,” continued Father Ignatius. “Jesus tells us the story of a rich man who did not care for poor Lazarus starving at his gate. When both of them died, Lazarus went to Heaven whereas the rich man went to hell.

“Jesus says in this story that the rich man was in torment in the fire, so much so that he begged for a drop of water to cool his tongue.”

“So it is a fiery hot place; is it Father?” asked one of the children.

Father Ignatius cleaned his glasses of imaginary smudges. A habit he had acquired when he wanted to buy more thinking time.

A few seconds later he said: “The Bible often refers to hell as a fiery place where the flames never stop burning.

“When I was a young priest, and that’s many years ago as you can imagine, the message we gave from the pulpit on Sunday was that hell is indeed a fiery place, where torment is eternal and the worms that eat you never die. Fire and brimstone was the message of the day back then.

“A place where there will be crying and gnashing of teeth as it says in the Bible. Although I’ve often wondered what would happen to people with no teeth … perhaps they’ll be provided with dentures to gnash!”

The children laughed in unison.

“These days, however, the message has changed,” continued Father Ignatius pensively, “we no longer seem to talk much about hell in our sermons.”

“Why?” asked a child.

“Good question. I suppose because people have become hardened and they no longer believe, or no longer wish to believe.

“If I were to say in my sermon on Sunday that hell is a burning place full of demons with long spears, as one of you described it, the congregation would scoff in disbelief. They would just not want to buy such an imagery of hell.

“It seems to me that today’s generation wishes to believe in a nice place called Heaven, whatever they perceive it to be. And everyone seems to think that they are destined there.

“If you were to ask people in the street about Heaven most of those who believe in such a place hope they’ll go there. That’s because people consider themselves to be good and worthy of Heaven regardless of the way they live their lives.

“They’d rather not think about hell or what it’s like. Some may mention fire and damnation, but do they really believe it?

“And the only one laughing secretly at this state of affairs is the devil. For he exists all right although he’d rather we think he didn’t exist.”

The children were attentive to his every word. The priest continued in his gentle soothing voice:

“Someone once described hell as a place or a state of being totally without God.

“When I look around me these days I see many people in that state right now. They live without God in their lives. Totally unaware of Him; some even rejecting publicly His very existence. Others revel in the fact that they don’t believe in God, and consider themselves somewhat superior to the rest of us who believe in a supreme Creator of the Universe and all that is in it.

“So is hell just a state of being totally devoid of God’s love?

“Personally, I’d like to describe hell as a place not only totally devoid of God and His love, but also with a big difference.

“It is a place where you know for certain that God exists. You are made aware of His existence, His omnipotence, and His love for mankind. A place where you realize how wrong you were in choosing not to believe in Him, to reject Him and to mock Him in your lifetime.

"A place where you know of His eternal love for us and you see this love being shared amongst His followers in Heaven. Yet you are totally excluded from His presence and His love.

“It is denied to you because of the choices you have made when you were free to choose.

“Can you imagine that? Knowing for certain that God exists yet being excluded from Him.

“Isn’t that worse than any eternal fire?” asked the priest.

“Wow …” muttered one of the children.

Father Ignatius smiled reassuringly. “So, what is it to be,” he asked, “a fiery place or a place devoid of God?”

A child raised his hand and said: “I think it’s a place where I would rather not be!”

“That’s very wise,” remarked the priest, as the bell rang to indicate the end of Catechism lesson.

Thursday 22 October 2009

I'm more famous than ...

Have you noticed how these days if you’re “famous” or a “celebrity” your opinion on any subject is suddenly sought after, even though you might not be an expert in that subject, or any subject at all for that matter.

The other day they had a young entertainer on TV. A few months ago a total unknown. But because of success at some TV show or other this “personality” was being interviewed about a topical political issue of the day. The answers given were non-committal, almost nonsensical, and obviously prepared before-hand by some advisor or other.

Of course, we’re all entitled to our views on political and other issues; but are these celebrities' opinions any more relevant than yours or mine? They're interviewed because they are famous and we are not.

It seems these days we are regaled on TV, the news media and magazines with the views of singers, actors, sportsmen and all sort of famous personalities on a variety of subjects totally unrelated to their field of so-called expertise. We are told how they live, who they are currently dating, marrying, divorcing or just going out with. What they wear, whether they are on a diet and how well or not they’re doing. And so on and so forth.

Good entertainment – perhaps. Certainly it sells papers and magazines, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Is there?

But of more importance is that these people, because of who they are, have become opinion formers. Their views count. What they say and their advice is followed by many. They are emulated by their admirers. In short: they are role models.

This set me thinking. Was Jesus a celebrity?

He preached. His views and opinions were certainly novel as well as controversial for the time. He turned water into wine. He walked on water. He healed the sick. He even raised the dead back to life again.

He certainly had a following – as many as five thousand people at one time. He was listened to not just because of what He said and did, but because of who He was – or claimed He was.

His utterings, just like those of today’s celebrities, were aimed at changing lifestyles and life-long habits. But His message was different.

He didn’t advise people on the latest fashions, or how to improve their homes, or prepare a sumptuous meal. He didn’t talk about diets or all the superficial issues discussed by celebrities today.

He talked about God’s love for us, and how we should love Him back and love each other – even our enemies. He taught us to forgive – time and again. He asked us to turn the other cheek. He told us He was the Son of God. He came to forgive sins. He promised us eternal life.

A powerful and controversial message indeed. One which not only could change lifestyles at that time – but also eternally even after death.

His message was relevant then. It is still relevant today. Sadly, too many are tuned in to the wrong celebrities.

Friday 16 October 2009

Jesus is on Twitter.

As you know a “tweet” is a text-based message of up to 140 characters which your “friends” can receive and respond to. Here are some tweets sent by Jesus:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

Love your neighbour as yourself.

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.

Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you, for God will judge you in the same way as you judge others.

Do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too.

Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing.

Peace be with you.

I will be with you always, to the end of the age.

I say: This is great advice from our Lord, Jesus.

Are you a follower?

Friday 9 October 2009

Judgmental ?

I had reason to take someone to hospital. The waiting room was empty so we sat there reading some old magazines.

(Why are magazines always old at the doctor’s and dentist? The one I read announced the sinking of a ship called Titanic. But I digress).

A few minutes later a man in his thirties came in. He was dressed in scruffy jeans, T shirt and coat. He had long stringy hair and a beard. He sat there mumbling to himself. He looked a bit like a hobo.

A few moments longer and another man came in. He too looked untidy. As soon as he entered the waiting room the first man asked him: “Have you got a smoke?”

The second man handed him a pouch of tobacco and the first man proceeded to roll himself a cigarette – which thankfully he did not light up.

A little while more and a couple came in – a man and a woman. They too looked … not too well in the sartorial department. They cheerfully greeted the others in loud voices: “You’re looking good … your cheeks are rosy … not pale like the last time”.

Others kept coming in … men and women. All looked similar in that some were un-shaven (the men of course), all looked poor and unfed, and all spoke loudly with each other.

“Good Heavens, everyone’s here today …” “How are you doing me old mucker?” and so on and so forth with plenty of fruity expletive bad language to boot.

In conversation one of them pulled out a book entitled “Alcoholic’s Anonymous” and it didn’t take long from their conversations to establish that they were all here together for a regular check-up. One proudly announced that she hadn’t touched a drop for 18 days whilst the others congratulated her for her efforts.

By then I noticed that the other “normal” patients (whatever that means) who had arrived since, congregated at the other side of the large waiting room. Some stood by the door, some waited outside in the corridor, but none said anything about this motley lot speaking loudly. It was obvious that they were being judgmental by their looks and their haughty silence.

I must admit in shame that when they first arrived in the room, I too felt a little uncomfortable and intimidated by their presence. They were not violent. Just loud, unkempt and in some cases obviously sleeping rough. One complained that last night was particularly freezing and he slept wearing his overcoat whilst tucked into the sleeping bag he was carrying with him.

This set me thinking.

Jesus must have met quite a number of people like them in His time. The poor, destitute, down and outs, the sick and the lame. Lepers even. These people were shunned and ignored by society in general.

But how did Jesus react? Unlike me, He was not uncomfortable and intimidated by them. Whether He met them singly or ten lepers at a time.

He reacted with love, pity and compassion. And in most cases He healed them and returned them to a better life.

Years later, Father Damien De Veuster followed Christ’s example and went to help the lepers of Molokai.

Mother Theresa dedicated her life to the poor of Calcutta.

I’m sure you can name others who also did similar charitable works instead of feeling threatened, intimidated and uncomfortable.

As I was!