9th May, 2004

Easter V: Blessed Damien of Molokai

Fr. Ian Elliott Davies, Rector

Lections:
Wisdom 3:1-9, souls of the righteous
Philippians 4:4-9, whatsoever…
St Luke 6:17-23, Beatitudes

The story is told that during the Second World War in a German concentration camp a group of good and faithful Rabbis wanted to bring the Lord God of Hosts to trial for the atrocities and unspeakable horrors inflicted on God’s own chosen people at the hands of the Nazis. God was placed in the dock and accused of betrayal, negligence and breaking the ancient covenant between the Lord God of Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Israel, Hannah and all their descendents. The charges of betrayal and breaking the covenant were articulated with ample evidence; God had promised to be faithful to his people and yet here they were in a concentration camp, God had sworn his undying favour and yet faithful Jews were outcast, mistreated and scorned.

God had sworn by God’s very Self that the descendants of Abraham would be more numerous than the grains of sand of the seashore or the stars of the sky and yet here they are tortured, murdered, cast into the very depths of misery and chaos. Could ever a legal hearing, court case be more compelling against the Divine- so how did He plead? The Rabbis pressed the question, “Lord God of Hosts, charged with negligence of your sacred covenant and unfaithfulness to your people, how do you plead to the charges against you?” Silence. There came no reply. The God who had spoken to Job from out of the whirlwind remained in silence. And silence reigns until, in the distance, a bell tolls. It is Friday night and the last rays of light have faded into darkness, Shabbat has begun and the Rabbis quietly pack up their books and cover their heads with their prayer shawls and begin “Blessed art thou, Lord God, King of all creation…”

The spirit of a holy discipline in prayer is the only appropriate context to make sense of situations of this magnitude. Some people have said that prayer, like poetry, is not possible in a world that can allow Holocaust and the genocide of countless millions. In a particular sense this is quite correct; there is no place for the type of prayer that is minimalistic, solipsistic navel gazing, the private contemplation of me.
Prayer must be maximalist, it is everything or it is nothing. Prayer must be music and poetry, creative imagination, beauty, frustration, doubt, courage, anger, despair, industry, relationship, sexuality, responsibility, community and human being.

The discipline of prayer is not easy and needs a good deal of encouragement and nurture: what we do need to do is to free ourselves from that old Puritan mindset that stipulates rules and regulations about how we pray- for example you must close you eyes and concentrate as hard as you can, you must put away all feeling, do away with all sense and emotion to achieve some kind of pure, unencumbered spiritual ‘blankness.’

Prayer, and the Daily Mass here at St Thomas quietly nudges us in the direction of a very different discipline and rhythm, is meant to open us to hear, to listen, to receive and to see in new and challenging ways… and you CANNOT do that on your own, we CANNOT achieve some kind of spiritual ‘reward’ by ‘being best at praying.’
Blessed Damien of Molokai, the faithful priest, could only make sense of the isolation of his community of people with leprosy by his daily offering of prayer that connected, made all those people whom he served present to God and therefore to all the Church.

Prayer, the Mass doesn’t solve the problems, it doesn’t make them go away. Blessed Damien didn’t pray, offer the Mass on his first day on the island of Molokai and hey-presto all the facilities the community needed descended from heaven, ready made. Far from it. Shame on the godless prayers of those who regard themselves as elite, spiritually elite, that want, want, want, for me, me, me.
Prayer is what articulates who and what we are today and what we shall become. Now there’s a real challenge. Prayer stretches us, makes us present to God and to one another.

Most Loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ Our Lord, Amen.

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