Edmund Rice Feast Day 2018

Reflection by Claude Mostowik msc on the Feast Day of Edmund Rice 2018

One description of Pope Francis’ papacy has been that of a ministry of gestures. Where John Paul II was a philosopher/poet and Benedict XVI the strict academician/theologian, Francis evangelises the culture and touches people’s hearts by the way of beauty where many have been captivated by stirring images of an approachable churchman — hugging children, kissing disfigured individuals, washing the feet of women and convicted persons on Holy Thursday – crucially outside St Peter’s. 

Because beauty is attractive to everyone, even non-believers are beginning to take a look at the Church that Pope Francis leads. Beauty is accessible to anyone. It attracts the human heart. Through his ministry of gestures and the way of beauty, Pope Francis has presented Christ and his message that is non-threatening and non-intimidating. But it still has a hard edge to it that cuts to the heart.

We pause to celebrate the feast of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice. I would like to suggest that Edmund Rice was a person of gestures so many prophetic figures. What motivated a forty year old reasonably comfortable and successful business man, widowed and father of a disabled child and someone with no particular background in education? Why give up his comfort he had to dedicate the next 40 or 50 ears to educating people to get them out of poverty and thereby also exposing a system that hid the face of Christ from them? Why set about teaching young children who were considered unreachable, unteachable and not worth anything but condemnation?

He looked at the world through the eyes of the marginalised – poor children and was transformed by what these people and their experiences revealed. We might call it conversion which is usually a gradual process ‘that stimulates and reflects a powerful and profound change…. a basic transformation of a person’s way of seeing, feeling, valuing, understanding, and relating.’

A few key words from the scripture readings help us focus - true justice, love, faith and bear fruit.

Edmund did not do what he did because it was easy or popular, but because he believed that it was the right thing to do. He saw a tough job that needed a response and went about doing it with a view or attitude ‘how do we think differently and find a new way of doing the hard thing.’ Working for true justice is rarely a simple or a popular choice. Motives and intentions will be criticised. We are told be realistic. Often times, a sign that what is being done is right is when there is criticism of the person him or herself. We are not asked to do what they did but to allow the spirit that animated them to flow through us as well. The circumstances of Edmund in Ireland. One thing that we might be called to do is to be in solidarity in ways with others that a passion may even be aroused in them – whether a youth or adult for doing the right thing, the just thing, especially when it may not be easy or at odds with the interests of the interest group. We might be asked if we would prefer to be unhappy with the right questions rather than happy with the wrong answers. He might ask us if we are prepared to take the risk of being prophets rather than selling ourselves for the sake of popularity or some profit. We might be asked how can we make things better for others?

This is connected with the word ‘love’. It is a tough reality. He knew married love and the pain of losing that love when his wife died. He knew the cost of having to care for his disabled daughter after his wife’s death, but this love also drove him to give all that he had to the street children of Waterford. He was successful in helping children and in inspiring others. He was successful because he was a person of compassion and love. He helped others to believe that they are not merely prisoners of the past but can be agents of change and be part of an inclusive future; to be people who speak to the heart and see beyond the peripheral, beyond the surface, beyond appearances, can see the person who is hurting.

Another word from the readings today is ‘faith’. It is about relationship, an abiding, with the One who revealed the heart of a God who believes in people and what they can do. It was this sharing that urged him in his compassion for broken human beings.

The final word or phrase is “bear fruit” This comes from learning the tough lessons of loving through thick and thin. Jesus’ disciples did not always cotton on to this. The key outcome of any contact with people in developing countries is to expand your heart. It is allowing ourselves to see through the eyes of the marginalised wherever they are and we do not have to go far to do that. It is about meeting people where they are and imitating the One who has come among us to walk with us, to be in solidarity with others, to acknowledge that they too can find the answers to their situations. It means meeting people as sisters and brothers and allowing them to be servants to us as much as we might think we are their servants. It means honouring them as having much to offer. As so many truly prophetic figures before him and since, Edmund found, any serious engagement - or presence - with people in need touches the heart. It is from there, from that presence, that fruit that is liberating and compassionate will be born.

Pentecost is almost upon us. It is a time for turning outward. A group of previously fearful and disillusioned men experienced something that causes others to question their sobriety but they were people who had been seized by something and were transformed by it. We are told that they received ‘the gift of tongues’. I read recently that it would be more accurate to say ‘ the gift of ears’ when we hear in the Acts of the Apostles that a significant part of it is that the surrounding crowd from many places heard in their own languages. It seems that today the church is speaking a foreign language and few are listening and even fewer are understanding it. People outside, even those inside, are expected to learn its incomprehensible language. An overarching question is whether we discover God in the past (doctrine and dogma) or in the future (beckoning from the horizon). It is among the people called outcasts and sometimes considered morally bankrupt that we/I discover Christ. This is where the tender heart of God is always at work. It is among fellow people, often broken, that we can discover the light, joy and peace of Jesus.

Instead of seeking to ‘talk’ people into our framework, we can find that begin to understand their language by being a hearer rather than a speaker. We might find that it is among the broken, the poor, the outcast, the stranger, the violated, the enemy, that many crave love rather than morality, healing rather than correction, acceptance rather than judgement, belonging rather than membership. It is in hearing the cry of the poor and disenfranchised, that we hear the invitation of God to be with them. Pentecost is an outpouring, not a bottling up.

In the Book of Isaiah (30:9) there is a line where the people say to the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel’..

They wanted to hear smooth, affirming and soothing talk where they could continue to be comfortable in their cosy perspectives and opinions. We have faced this with Australia Day, ANZAC Day, Indigenous dispassion, the arrival of asylum seekers. The Edmund Rice Centre has also been victim to this attack.

But God’s prophets and people like many founders did not oblige. They were provocative and inconvenient. They reminded us of the stormy Mondays and Tuesdays that people endure not the happy Sundays that are divorced from the rest of the week. Who wants to hear the truth about exclusion of the first people from the table, of racism, of dependence on the military prowess, of the indignity of being unemployed or under-employed, about climate change, crushing loneliness, of human trafficking, mental illness, etc? Who expects that the struggle, confusion, complexity and pain that mark their lives be acknowledged? Who expects action to back up words about God’s care and love, peace with justice, compassion and reconciliation? This is what keeps God at arm’s length. We are called to be caretakers of one another and of creation. Jesus shows us what it looks like to put flesh on this call. It’s time to stop speaking ‘smooth things.’ When the poor and the asylum seeker are not cared for, when people of other faiths and other gender identities and orientations are condemned or bullied, when our environment and vulnerable habitats are destroyed, when the sick have to stop buying food to pay for healthcare, we cannot speak smooth things. When violence and threats of war are constant and cause no public lament or debate but are simply accepted as the natural course of things, we need to stop speaking smooth things.

We can at least try to offer an alternative vision where there is polarisation and demonisation and exclusion. The world is living through a stormy Monday and longs for shelter from the storm. We cannot tiptoe around issues and failing to name the pain of exclusion or asking the real questions by playing church when the poor and oppressed are abandoned. Stop speaking smooth things.

Who wants to hear the truth about exclusion of the first people from the table, of racism, of dependence on the military prowess, of the indignity of being unemployed or under-employed, about climate change, crushing loneliness, of human trafficking, mental illness, etc? Who expects that the struggle, confusion, complexity and pain that mark their lives be acknowledged? Who expects action to back up words about God’s care and love, peace with justice, compassion and reconciliation? This is what keeps God at arm’s length. We are called to be caretakers of one another and of creation. Jesus shows us what it looks like to put flesh on this call. It’s time to stop speaking ‘smooth things.’ When the poor and the asylum seeker are not cared for, when people of other faiths and other gender identities and orientations are condemned or bullied, when our environment and vulnerable habitats are destroyed, when the sick have to stop buying food to pay for healthcare, we cannot speak smooth things. When violence and threats of war are constant and cause no public lament or debate but are simply accepted as the natural course of things, we need to stop speaking smooth things.

We can do our best to do more than pay lip service to the commandments to love God and neighbour. We can at least try to offer an alternative vision where there is polarisation and demonisation and exclusion. The world is living through a stormy Monday and longs for shelter from the storm. We cannot tiptoe around issues and failing to name the pain of exclusion or asking the real questions by playing church when the poor and oppressed are abandoned. Stop speaking smooth things.

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