Reflection by Aidan Troy [Aodhán O Troighthigh] Please note: the view of the above alone.
Paddy was minding his own business. His daydream was interrupted by a motorist rolling down the window of his car and calling, ‘Which way to Mullingar from here?” Paddy thought for a long time, while the impatient motorist fumed. Eventually, Paddy replied, ‘If I was going to Mullingar, I wouldn’t start from here.’ Not much help to the motorist, but I think I see what Paddy was getting at.
Where you get to, has a lot to do with where you start from. This Sunday, if you start with an ‘angry’ God, you are going to end up with a lot of fear, shame and guilt. You will never be good enough. Even your best efforts will seem to you and others to leave God cold towards you.
If you start off with a ‘God who loved the world so much that He gave his only Son’, you end up with not being lost but having eternal life. You have peace in your heart which flavours all you say and do. You are alright inside. Your spirit is not one of fear and dread but of knowing and feeling who is in control. It is God.
When I was a child, I thought like a child and usually acted like a child. I was very happy as a child and thought life was simply wonderful. My parents, siblings, aunts and uncles and all the ‘big people’, made me think that this is what God is like. They brought me sweets, took me for fish and chips, brought me to the local fun fair and paid for the rides. What a great world and great people. God must be like them or they must be like God. To a child it was the same difference.
The snag is that I began to grow up, even though I was happy as I was. It seemed that God has put a way of changing inside people He made. I was hoping that when I was one of the ‘big people’, I would be as happy as when I was a child.
Maybe at too young an age, I chose to try life as a trainee priest. There I got quite a shock. God, I was taught, was often angry with his people because of their sins. There was more to God than His love and warmth. I was told, I must go out and tell people how hard they must work to pacify God for the evil done in the world. This shocked me, but these teachers of religious life told me that they knew best.
They didn’t know it all. The words of Paul to the Ephesians still bring tears of joy to my eyes – ‘God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy.’ That sounds right to me. ‘When we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ.’ Brilliant! As a child when grandparents died, we were told that they had gone to God in Heaven. I never doubted that for a moment. It was never about “winning” heaven by personal struggle and being told it unlikely we would make it!
Family homespun theology was spot on – ‘it is through grace that you have been saved.’ Heaven is not the reward that I can earn. It is what God created me for and for which He prepares me daily. God does not run out of grace – ‘how infinitely rich he is in grace.’ The teachings that tell us we must keep up this ‘titanic’ struggle for Heaven miss the point – ‘not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit.’ This is pure joy to the ears.
Paddy was right. It all depends on where you start from! After leaving home, where I knew I was loved, it was a shock to learn that love is not all you need. It is. God made each us as ‘His work of art’. I may not look like a work of art. But God thinks I am; His seal as Creator and Redeemer is set on me.
Happy St Patrick’s Day to all!