Under the psudonym ‘Neil Boyd’, many years ago, Peter de Rosa wrote books about an Irish parish priest in London – Father Duddleswell – which were also used as a sitcom on ITV under the title ‘Bless me Father’. When things were going well for him, Father Duddleswell was apt to declare that God was an Irishman; but if matters were going very badly, and he thought that the fates were against him, he would say that God must be an Englishman.
I suppoe, when we think about it, we do tend to think of God as being in some way ‘just like us’. As we know, the figure we put on the crucifix usually has a fairer skin than Our Lord himself probably had in first century Palestine.
So we do tend to try, inv arious ways, to bring God into our own culture, our own history – and there is nothing wrong with that; but at the same time perhaps we tend to think that God is not part of the culture of other peoples, part of their history – and that would certainly be a grave mistake. As Peter says in the first reading today: ‘The truth I have now come to realise is that God does not have favourites.’ This must have been a very difficult conclusion for Peter to come to: he grew up believing that the Jewish people were God’s chosen people, God’s favourites – and now he had to admit that God has no favourites! Elsewhere in the New Testament we hear of St. Paul coming to the same concluson – and it must have been just as hard for him as well. So now Peter realises that ‘Anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him’.
This is the love of God, that St. John talks about in the second reading and in the gospel. God loves all his people, and if we love God, if we are sure that God loves us, then we must love one another and be in communion with one another. God does not have favourites, so the Church cannot have favourites either.
Of course, we all know that there are people we get on with better than others; and there are those who, no matter how hard we try, we always seem to be at loggerheads with. This is human nature. But as followers of Our Lord Jesus, we are expected to put such problems behind us: it doesn’t mean that we get on with certainpeople any better, but it does mean that we can accept them as part of the same communion fellowship, and treat them as people whom God loves, and who are responding, in their own ways, to god’s call.
I think this is one of the good reasons why we have the ‘exchange of the sign of peace’ at Mass. It is a time to acknowledge that, despite the differences which we undoubtedly do have between us, we know that these are insignificant compared with the love of God shown to us in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, who calls us all into his fellowship, to live with his life, to be his body on this earth, to do his will, and to come to salvation and eternal life in him.
The fact that God does not have favourites is also a reminder to us of the need that we all have to recognise the needs of other christian communities throughout the world. We cannot be christians and live in our own ‘coccoon’, without a care for our fellow christians in other parts of the world. How do we see the future of our own community in relation to other communities, and what role do eachof us think that we might play in these future relationships? We might think of ecumenical relationships in our own region, county, and diocese: do we pray for unity among christians? Do we work with other christian communities in our own parish? Do we even take part in such annual events as walks of christian witness on Good Friday, or the major event which is now held every year in Leicester City on Good Friday? In regard to christians in other countries, we might ask ourselves whether we contribute at all to the missionary work of the church, or to the aid agencies. Many do contribute, for example by means of the Missio ‘Red Boxes’ or by means of other contacts which have been made oer the years with missionary groups; others ensure that they do contribute to the collections which are held at least once a year for missionary endeavours (usually after a Mission Appeal); and we all do our bit, at least twice a year, to support CAFOD and other such agencies. But perhaps we still need to ask ourselves whether this is sufficient: do we really show our care for others, as we should for other members of the one Body of Christ.
Do we show our care for those who are disadvantaged or marginalised in other ways – for those who suffer from prejudice, for example, because of their colour, race, gender, upbringing, or for any other reason at all?
As we reflect on such questions, we undersatnd that the Holy Spirit is drawing us to reflect on a more fundamental question: what do we see as the future of the Church in our parish, and how do we see our own part in the future parish community of St. Pius X? Do we see it as all-embracing, welcoming, united, caring for others – as Our Lord calls us to be? And if we do see the future in that way, what are we going to do practically to be part of such a future?