Ecclesiastical Knight Fr Francis Mitchell
If you had the opportunity to attend daily Mass over the past couple of weeks you will most probably have listened to the Old Testament readings from the First and Second Books of Samuel. The readings from the First Book of Samuel outlined how God chose David as king in succession to Saul, how God called him to assume a particular responsibility as king of Judah, and later he was chosen to be, and anointed, king of Israel too – all at a very tender age!
It’s a powerful and engaging story. God didn’t choose the most obvious person to be in charge, he didn’t choose the one everybody looked up to or trusted, but rather, he chose the one God knew was best for the task in hand.
Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman was very clear in his teaching that God calls each one of us to do some particular task in the world. The way we do it will always be unique – we won’t do it in the same way as somebody else would do it, it will be different to the way the person who went before us did it, and it will be different to the way the one who comes after us will do it. The way David ruled the kingdom was very different to the way Saul ruled before him. That seems to be how God arranges things.
Maybe we can interpret that from the perspective of those who are the beneficiaries of what we do. At a certain time the skill-set of a particular individual is required to meet the needs of the people, and later another different skill-set is needed to build on the work already done. For me this point was captured quite brilliantly in the earliest days of Pope Benedict’s Pontificate. One commentator, thinking out loud about the contrast in styles between John Paul and Benedict, said: “John Paul gathered the people (as we saw so spectacularly at his funeral); Benedict will teach them.”
That’s one side of the coin. There’s another side to it as well. You might have noticed the first reading we listened to at Mass today. It too comes from the Old Testament, but this time from the Book of the prophet Jonah. It’s called a “book” but in fact it’s only about four pages long! Jonah was chosen and called by God to preach to the people of Nineveh. However, after receiving his call he balked and in fact he literally ran away from it. He boarded a ship and went in the opposite direction completely. He attempted to sail as far away from Nineveh as he possibly could.
While he was at sea there developed a terrible storm and the others on board were terrified that the ship was about to be torn apart by the waves and that it would sink and that they would lose their lives. They were also pretty certain in their own minds that the storm was a manifestation of God’s anger and they were anxious to discover with whom or why God was angry in the first place. After a little bit of investigation it became clear that Jonah was the one! To cut what is already a short story and make it even shorter, Jonah was dumped out of the ship and into the sea. God, however, had arranged that he should be swallowed up by a huge fish, and he was eventually brought safely to shore by that huge fish! But where was he brought ashore? Yes, you’ve guessed it, at Nineveh! He resisted God’s call; he ran away from it; but in the end he found himself in exactly the place God had chosen for him and doing the work God wished him to do – despite his own shortcomings and resistance. And, as we might expect, given that it was God’s will and God’s work, Jonah was hugely successful in his mission. Almost immediately the people of the great city responded to the message the prophet brought from God and they repented.
You see, when we cooperate even in the tiniest way with God then we unleash the unlimited power of God in the situation in which we find ourselves – and God will do the rest.
There are several examples of people who do this every single day in their lives, people who release God’s power into what appear to be dark and hopeless situations. I’m thinking of the person who cares for somebody who is ill possibly over an extended period of time; or the sick person whose whole attitude gives hope to others, or the married couple experiencing some difficulty in the marriage and yet they decide to see if it can be sorted out, the person badly affected by the current economic situation who decides not to thrown in the towel but search out another way of earning a living or up-skilling themselves, or the Knights and Dames of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem whose work, prayers and generosity in so many countries have done so on a grand scale, and so on. When we place ourselves at the service of God’s plan the results will always be miraculous.
Of course the greatest example of all is Our Lady at whose shrine we are privileged to gather. She co-operated fully with God’s plan although she didn’t understand it and she was greatly troubled by the news the angel was giving her, and the effect of her fiat, her emphatic “yes” continues to reverberate – for good – around the world even today! And it is to Our Lady that we turn today to ask her to intercede for us that we, too, might respond openly, generously and willingly to God’s will for us.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.