18 January 2013

Learning is for life.


As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me’. And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.

 ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’


This month of January the Word of God that gives life to me is precisely this strange short Word spoken by Jesus: Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. On Wednesday a group of 8 men in religious life met at the De La Salle house in St. Helens and after a shared meal, we shared what this might mean for an hour or so.


It was not easy to share. It takes time to know how to share what God might have done in our lives by trying to live the Word of God moment by moment. We had some discussion about different ways of translating from the original Greek text and the use of the word “desire” rather than the plainer English “want”. “I want mercy not sacrifice”. For some this was important, for others very unimportant. What struck me was that as we shared we got to know each other’s mind-set a bit better, we got to know what the other was like, and we grew in trusting each other.


But somebody pointed out that Jesus had said something before those words in the context of that meal with the tax-collectors and sinners. Jesus turned to those who did not like that sort of person and said: ‘Go and learn’…


That learning process echoes in my experience. What a journey of learning has taken place in my life to realise that in life it is not efficiency that is important, rather it is love or loving mercy that builds up relationships. Another learning point for me: it is not my way of doing things that is necessarily the best; there are other ways of doing things. Furthermore we all make mistakes in life and so all of us want (desire) mercy rather than condemnation.


Somebody also asked a question? “What do you do when you show loving mercy to another, and he or she simply refuses to respond, acknowledge or enter into any meaningful relationship with you?” That happens to me from time to time. There is no easy answer. I can only share what once happened to me.


One of my brethren who has now gone to his eternal reward found me very hard work and I did him. We got on from time to time, but often it was better to avoid each other. This wonderful man who had many skills was at work and there was no sign of any illness. But early in the day he had a brain haemorrhage and I went to see him where it had happened. He was sitting on the floor in an office where he was working, in the corner, comforted by a colleague. He could no longer talk but as soon as I saw him he gave me an engaging smile that I will never forget all my life. It spoke volumes. It said to me: ‘Jonathan, I want to be your friend. We may not have seen eye to eye, but all that is forgotten. Let us go ahead from now on caring for and loving each other as the Good Lord asks of us. Forget what happened in the past!’ I was able to be with him a short time, reassure him of God’s great love, join with him in prayer, me speaking him silent. And I felt with Mother Julian of Norwich what she wrote in her revelation of divine love. “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”


Learning is a life-time process and whoever can give you an easy answer to the mystery of difficulties in relationships is not speak the truth as we learn from experience. I shared something of this with a wonderful sister in the Carmelites in Preston. She looked at me and said: ‘Perhaps Fr. Jonathan we have lived to a ripe old age because God is still teaching us and we are slow learners!’