Our National Conference is held each year around the feast of St. John the Baptist. In the days before the conference I thought of how John was the one chosen by God to herald the coming of Jesus and how he leapt in his mother’s womb when Mary and Elizabeth met. In Luke 3 we hear of him again preaching repentance in the troubled world of his time “the voice of one crying in the wilderness Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight, every valley shall be filled. And every mountain and hill shall be laid low and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth and all flesh shall see the salvation of God (Is. 40:4-5). I thought about how badly the world needs to wake up We are in dark and terrible times. Christians are being persecuted and martyred. The rise of terrorism has created fear and danger everywhere. War and destruction, human misery is reported daily on our news bulletins. In “settled “places people are asleep, drugged with consumerism, drunk with acquisition and success, apathetic to the plight of suffering humanity: despondent at the inability of governments to lead and deal with economics and injustice. Do we need to WAKE UP? We sure do.
The hour of praise and worship is always a great starting point for the conference giving people time to focus on the Lord- the only reason for being there,–Jesus Saviour of the world. Ronan Johnson and the Emmaus group did a great job leading the songs of praise, listening and responding to the theme as it developed. We were urged to anoint the body of Jesus with our praise, to come to Him as the women went to the sepulchre on Easter morning to anoint His body and that as the praise would rise the mercy of Jesus would pour out on our broken bruised world, healing division, rescuing His people and softening hearts. “Come back to the living waters I once called you to, to the waters flowing from my heart”. “I am offering you all the victories over death through many streams of grace flowing from my heart so that you may be alive in me and I in you”. The praise time finished with the lovely Emmaus hymn based on 1Pet.2:9 and Ps. 40:2 “You have called me out of darkness into your light” “ You have pulled me from the depths and set my feet on a rock”
From that safe starting point Fr Jack Soulsby launched forth. “I am a happy priest” he told us over the course of the two days. From a point of not practising his faith as a young successful person, the example of his boss (also an engineer) “bred in me a holy desire to be happy like him” The journey through life is inward, to discover the gold that’s been there all our lives since Baptism. In each person there is the seed of glory planted there by God. In that seed God has squeezed all His goodness, the Trinity, mankind, angels, saints, nature all of which can be discovered as we allow God to father us as he fathered Jesus.” God is “bridegroom”to me, the best husband one could ever have. He is fascinated by me.” We laughed a lot during his talks. He shocked us with holy wit and wisdom. “Do you want to be a dwarf, a shrimp or a GIANT?” he asked. Every day God wants to give you as much as you ask.
Praying with the congregation he prayed with one group through the scene of the Annunciation and gave a new name to that group—“Highly favoured” just as Gabriel addressed Mary. The second group whose prayer was based on the baptism of Jesus were named “Beloved Son”. We have these titles now so “ Look out Ireland”! . We have these titles to wake up the world.
Dennis Wrigley came to us with greetings from his Maranatha community in Manchester.
Here was a giant of a man.
“What is God saying?” he was often asked during visits to Northern Ireland during the troubled times. “God is not silent. If we listen, we hear” he said. In Scripture from Genesis onwards we come upon God who speaks “Let there be light” etc. Through the centuries He spoke through the prophets. And then His Word became flesh in Jesus-, and Jesus speaks to us “My sheep know my voice” He speaks in simple words. . “Peace, Come, Follow me, Seek, Listen, Awake. Jesus is spoken of in the past tense but Jesus is alive.( Buddha and Mohammed are dead).The words Jesus spoke are still speaking to us today Jesus also says Go, Do. There is so much to do in this world which is being swamped by secularism. We have to find ways to speak against the lies being spoken and written which promote a culture of death, abortion ,euthanasia. Today if we criticise and judge we will be rejected. But, if we are filled with love of God and weep for the world, the ruins of our culture( and the situations in the Middle East that seem impossible), God will act. Pray as people on fire for the Lord. Do we believe Jesus when He says “I am the way the truth and the life”? Jesus is the way to God, Lord of all or nothing. We are in a battle. We have been anointed, equipped and empowered. God can do all things if we trust in Him. These are the days of Elijah and Ezekiel. The Gospel is Public Truth and we have to declare it.
This being the year of celebrating Consecrated life Sr. Philomena Gallagher gave testimony of the great and simple ways that God has worked in her life. Smiling and walking with the aid of two canes she said ”Jesus fills my life with good things so that I stay young” . Trying to fit her 77 years into 15 minutes she finished “ We can trust God to keep His promises to us”.
Together Fr Jack and Dennis reminded me of Psalm 92:12ff “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar of Lebanon, Planted in the house of the Lord they flourish –they are always green and full of sap still bearing fruit in their old age.”
Two remarkable men.
God blessed us through their ministry. May He continue to fill them both with the energy , joy strength, wisdom, laughter and grace they dispense and keep them in the palm of His hand.
Dympna Sheehan 29th June 2015.