Saturday, 29 June 2013

A Thin Place

Twenty years ago today I was in Medjugorje; its an important place to me even though back then in 1993 I was more concerned with the War than the Queen of Peace appearing.

It seemed a very odd mixture really, 3 simultaneous wars raging, one was with bullets and rocket launchers, the second was the bickering between religious types arguing over whether the apparitions were real or not, signs and so on, and lastly the rescue mission, where the souls of men and women, individually and personally, were wrestled from satan’s clutches.

Whilst religion always gives me a headache, what the living God does, so often at the behest of Our Lady, always captures my attention. To see the stones on the hillsides of medjugorje eroded with the tears of millions of penitent lost sheep is amazing grace indeed. Addicts are set free, the sick healed, the broken hearted put back together again.

But those steep mountain sides of Krizevac and Apparition hill are not an end in themselves, just the foothills for the difficult trail that lies ahead. It’s a new beginning to be sure, a clean slate, but it’s only a beginning in the greatest adventure of your life, the journey of faith.

‘In’- language is difficult to translate, Medjugorje converts have theirs as do our saints and mystics of old to describe the supernatural encounter that leads to repentance and renewal of heart. I think of it as akin to waking up from a dream; a sudden realization that the real world is entirely different to the one you thought you were living in.

What I do know is that all are welcome there. A contrite heart will find its rest. If you know you need it, jump on the next plane.

Monday, 17 June 2013

To die gloriously

Many years ago I was with my mother-in-law in her kitchen as she was eating a midnight snack when one of her daughters came in and scolded her, (there is an old wives tale that if you eat a lot before bedtime, you’ll die in your sleep). She responded quite candidly that if she did then she would ‘wake up in the arms of Jesus’ and then filled the room with her laughter as she always did.

In that moment, although rather amazed at her confidence, I felt that it was probably true in her case, and a couple of seconds later contemplated my own chances; an unfriendly encounter with a pitchfork seemed more likely at that time.

We seldom think of death, at least not in the right way. Outside of the medical profession people rarely see it up close which adds to its mystery.

I heard once that we manufacture many of our crosses in life in our own hearts; I think there is an awful truth in that and it seems to me that the manner of our death is also by design, sometimes by our choices in lifestyle but also a heavenly purpose too.

As a boy I always imagined dying gloriously in battle, pierced through the heart by a sword or riddled with bullets in a noble cause. Every afternoon the living rooms and backyards of our neighbourhood were littered with corpses, and whilst immortality was frowned upon, we believed in the resurrection, a few seconds on the floor and we were up and back in the fray.

In my mother-in-law’s case I have seen her gradually lose her strength; in the last 5 years she has dispensed with her walking frame in favour of the wheelchair, then to the confines of the bedroom. The laughter that filled her house has stopped now as has her voice entirely, she can no longer stand or move, she has to be fed and changed. After the anointing of the sick she now mostly sleeps, opening her eyelids is a rare occurrence and seems to take all her strength.

Her service is almost over. She has had a beautiful life though; she made it so by being that. A wife and mother, primary school teacher, but mostly remembered for her charity and kindness to others. She always visited anyone in the neighborhood who was sick, armed with soup, bananas and money, and her daughter in tow to lead the prayers for healing.

As I watch I sense that these last years have not been cruel, but rather just the completion of a process started long ago; one that she has cooperated with and even now in submission to losing every faculty and ounce of strength and becoming utterly dependent, as she gives up her life in order to receive it again. I hope that the flames of purgatory will not need to touch her; perhaps her spirit will soar like a cool breeze as she passes through there and ‘wakes up in the arms of Jesus’.

It doesn’t look glorious, but it is.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Bronze, Rubber and Rice

The commodities market has always been a bit of a mystery to me, the buying and selling of futures in metals or foodstuffs; fortunes made and lost. I suppose it depends on your social standing which ones have importance to you in real life too.

Politicians and civic leaders are fond of monuments and landmark buildings, their constituents more often than not with feeding and clothing their children. This is certainly true in the area I live in, near Manila bay.

Along the sea front there is a walk-way and dotted along it are a series of bronze sculptures of various people, from General McArthur, to a sea captain, various political figures, and one of a ‘typical’ Filipino family gathered together enjoying each others company.

Many people live by the sea, under the trees or tarpaulin canopies, often whole families and from time to time pieces of the bronze statues are chipped off and find their way to junk shops to be weighed in and sold for money to buy rice most probably. I found the sculpture of the Filipino family to be most striking in this regard. All the arms are missing, the little girl is gone now except for one foot, even the dog’s tail is gone. 

A clash of priorities between state and people but a minor one compared to the latest. The recently passed Reproductive Health bill, in part  aims to provide free condoms and other contraceptives to the people (the poor people). The estimated budget for this is 3 Billion pesos.

Not really in keeping with the culture of a country that is 90% catholic, 5 % other denominations and 5% muslim. Perhaps some enterprising people will recycle them or sell them back unused to the suppliers and there will be some benefit, otherwise a total misuse of public funds to no positive end.

I am reminded of stories I heard from Africa, where rural clinics were pilled high with contraceptives people didn’t want (as its not part of their culture either) but had no medicines at all for the real needs of the people.

Supporters believe the reduction in population will eliminate poverty. As if overpopulation was related to their poverty; with most of the wealth of the nation in the hands of a small minority here, and everyone else scrambling for as much as they can get, poverty is much more related to inequalities in distribution of wealth not a lack of it or an excess of people. But that is an inconvenient truth. So many measures like these around the world; the imposition of lesser values, are little more than a smoke screen for greed to flourish without having to look at the consequences.