Today Solomon asks God to help him to be a good King. He asks for Wisdom to know what is Good and what is Bad.
When James was diagnosed with cancer the bottom fell out of his world. He felt there was a death sentence hanging over him. He got depressed. But he was treated for it and recovered.
Meeting him some months afterwards he told me: “It was almost like I needed to get cancer to wake up. I had been working all the hours God sends - making money. I hardly ever saw my children. My wife and I were growing apart. I had stopped going to church. There wasn’t time to do all these things. I had made my pursuit of money and my job the first priority.
"Getting cancer showed me how stupid I had been. I started to pray again with a fervour I had never had before. I spoke to God as someone who I knew would get me through all this - somehow. My wife was there for me all the time and I saw just how much she loved me. My kids stayed close. I had been throwing all that away. I was dead scared at the time but you know, I wouldn’t have said it then but now I am able to say Thank God I got cancer. It was a wakeup call to what is important in life. WHO is important in life. Thank God too I am getting a second chance now to appreciate life and what is important in it."
Sometimes what looks like a disaster when it hits us is often a grace. And that is what St Paul means when he says in today’s second reading.
We know that by turning everything to their good, God cooperates with all those who love him, with all those that he has called according to his purpose.
Let me finish with this story.
Once upon a time a King was out hunting with his court, when he injured his finger. His Doctor, who always accompanied him on the hunt, put a bandage on the wound. “Is it going to be alright?” the King asked the Doctor. The Doctor replied, “Good, bad… who knows?”
By the time he got back from the hunt, the wound had become infected. The Doctor carefully cleaned the wound, put some ointment on it and bandaged again. “Are you sure it’s going to be alright?” asked the King again. The Doctor replied, “Good, bad… Who knows?”
A few days later, the finger become so infected, they had to amputate it. The King was so furious with the Doctor that he threw him into the Dungeon! “See how you like being in jail, Doctor”. The Doctor said, “Prison sire? Good? Bad? Who knows?” The King told him, “You are insane! As well as incompetent!”
A few weeks later, the King went out hunting again but this time, he got lost and was captured by the indigenous forest people. It was their Holy day, and they needed a sacrifice for their Gods. They tied the King to a tree, and started dancing and chanting around him, and just as they were about to slit his throat, the Priest yelled “STOP! This man cannot be our sacrifice! He is not perfect! He has only got nine fingers!!” And so, they set him free.
The King went straight to the dungeon when he got back to the Palace and he apologised profusely to the Doctor. “You were right, losing my finger was good!” he said. “You saved my life! I am so sorry, it was bad of me to have put you in the dungeon.” And the Doctor said, “Bad? It was GOOD that you locked me here, otherwise I would have been with you on the hunt, and I have all my ten fingers!”
When something undesirable happens to us, it’s hard to think that anything positive can come from it, but there’s always a reason for everything, and sometimes we don’t see the reason yet. Don’t categorise things into good or bad, because who knows how the universe is conspiring to help us. An arrow can only be shot while pulling it backwards, so when life is pulling you backwards with difficulties, it means it’s going to launch you into something great. So stay focused, and keep aiming, and be happy, always!
(Homily given at Mass on Sunday 30 July 2017 - 17th Sunday A in Ordinary Time)
Canon Pat Browne is parish priest at Holy Apostles, Pimlico, and Roman Catholic Chaplain to the Houses of Parliament