22 March 2009 - Fr Terry Tastard:

 I once wrote an article for a spirituality journal about an unsettling hospital visit. I had been counselling a seriously ill man at his request, when a white-robed party of doctors entered the room. They made it clear that I had to terminate the conversation and go. In the article I discussed what healing could mean, for I felt that the medical party had only one concept of healing. I sent the article to an older and wiser priest. He had been one of my professors of theology. He liked the article. But, he added gently, surely the doctors had also been doing God's work? He was right. It is a mistake to assume that God works only through the Church. On the contrary, God can influence the world at every level of its life and work. In the Hebrew scriptures it is understood that Cyrus was one example of this. In 586 BC the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple. Now the Babylonians were subjugated by the Persians, and in 538 BC the Persian emperor Cyrus authorised the rebuilding of the Temple and the return of the exiles. We hear about this in today's first reading (2 Chron. 36). It was a reminder to the people of the importance of never losing hope.

While it is true that God can work through people who will never realise that they are his instruments, it is also true that our faith must give us something distinctive by which to live. Unless our faith marks us out from the world in some way, then we will be swept along by every fashion, pushed by every force and lose our way. In exile many of the Jewish people had clung closely to their traditions, and found in them a way of life and a source of hope. Without this steadfastness the rebuilding of Jerusalem would never have been possible.

In our gospel today (John 3.14-21) we have to remember this necessity of choosing. It is central to the story. The words we hear from Jesus are spoken to Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night (v. 3). It is clear that Nicodemus is attracted to the message of Jesus, and finds him a wonderful teacher. Yet he comes by night because he is afraid of being seen with Jesus, afraid to be associated with him. Hence the words of Jesus about the importance of being in the light. You have to make commitments as part of the Christian faith. You have to try, under God, to live the commitments you make. If challenged, you have to be prepared to acknowledge your Christian faith and to defend it. The message of Christ gives life to the Church and challenges all the followers of Christ to be a creative presence in the world. This is the problem about the many people today who dreamily say they are 'spiritual, but not religious'. The world pressures us all the time to conform to its ways, to follow its standards. The world would be happy if we never challenged the fashionable way of thinking. But unless Christ sometimes leads us to see things differently, do we have anything to offer the world? Today's beautiful reading from Ephesians tells us that God is creating us anew in Christ to live the good life as from the beginning he has meant us to live it, (2.10). In and through Christ we have the possibility of engaging with the world, believing that God is there already.

Fr Terry Tastard is Parish Priest of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Brook Green, London W6.

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