Posts from Fr. Hall 

Sunday 22nd May.

6th Sunday of Easter 2022

Whenever there is a pause in fighting between two groups of people – two tribes, two nations, two neighbours at loggerheads with each other – we often hear this described as an “uneasy peace”. Now, those two words could never be placed side by side in reference to the kind of peace that Jesus is talking about and offering in that Gospel Reading. He tells us that this is a peace “that the world cannot give”. This kind of peace is of a completely different order than the one described when two sides are not actually fighting each other, but who are still very wary and suspicious of each other.

Peace, in the sense that Jesus is talking about, and offering, is something that happens on all kinds of levels. Firstly, within ourselves, we can often feel out of sorts because some sort of problem is taking its emotional toll on our lives at the moment, or even simply because we have something like a toothache. It could be anything, but we are just not right in ourselves. In the second place we could be in dispute with someone, or more than one person, in our lives at the moment. Finally, we do not feel at peace with God, for whatever reason. The kind of peace that Jesus is talking about is the kind where every aspect of life – within myself, with others and with God – is on an even keel.

Now, don’t get me wrong about this. This gift of peace is not like a magic wand that simply makes all life’s problems disappear. Far from it! What this kind of peace does is to help us deal with whatever is happening in life. Even if some pretty horrible things are going on we can still feel at peace with the situation. We don’t want horrible things to happen to us but when they do, and we are at peace, then we know that we can cope with whatever comes. We know that we are not alone in this pain, sadness and difficult time. Others are there walking alongside us; God is there to walk alongside us.

Another way of putting this is something Jesus says at the beginning of that Gospel: that he and his Father would make “our home in (the one who follows the commandment of love)”.

The biggest test for the disciples in relation to this promised gift of peace is the fact that Jesus tells them that in the next few hours he is “going away”. In fact, as we well know, what he means is that he is going to die on the Cross. Still, however, the promise of peace is assured. He will return. It is only after all this has happened that the disciples will remember his words and realise just how true they were.

There are times in our own lives when things are pretty grim for all kinds of reasons but even given how grim they might be, deep down we can still feel that presence of God in our lives giving us consolation and peace. It is not taking the grimness of the situation away with a magic wand. It is being with us as we go through these episodes in life. This is never an “uneasy peace”. It is complete and very consoling.

Sunday 15th May

5th Sunday of Easter 2022

Today, Sunday 15th May, marks the end of Mental Health Awareness Week. Even before Covid struck there were serious concerns being expressed about the issue of mental health among the population not only of this country but across the globe. In our own society pressure to succeed in exams at school; pressure to conform to certain supposed criteria of beauty; pressure to achieve great results in whatever work people undertake; and pressure to have possession of all those things that society insists are necessary for happiness in life (a good income, a nice house that contains all the best modern appliances, the list just goes on and on). All of this can create incredible, and often unsustainable pressure on any and all of us.

Instead of happiness all that is achieved is even greater stress and worry. So, in this last week radio stations, tv programmes have been offering ways to de-stress – with music, mindfulness meditation, and so on. Good mental health is vital for good relationships, for happiness and stability in any household, and if certain things seem to work, all well and good. There is, however, a more radical approach that would undermine all of these pressures, and that is to try to make a conscious decision to disengage from the insanity of believing that having more and more will somehow lead to satisfaction and contentment. Addiction has been described as “needing more and more of what doesn’t work.” There is little doubt that we live in an addictive culture. Our society appears to be addicted to “shopping”, “entertainment”, or whatever keeps people’s minds off what is perceived to be the awfulness of reality. Reality, being grounded in the actual situation in which we find ourselves, is, however, the only place in which we will ever find peace and contentment.

Our Readings this weekend all point this out. St Paul is leaving behind people he has nurtured and formed in the Christian faith and they feel bereft, but his task is to “put fresh hearts in them”. He encourages them and puts elders – ministers – in place in each community to look after them. The reality experienced by the people for whom the Book of the Apocalypse was written was truly awful. They were being persecuted. Friends and neighbours were being taken away, imprisoned and put to death. In the Gospel Jesus is warning his disciples that their reality, in the next few hours, is going to be his arrest – at which point most of them will scatter – and his death on the Cross.

In response to everything these people will have to face St Paul, St John, and Jesus himself do not offer a magic wand to take all the awfulness away. They do not say, “Go and use whatever mind-numbing substance or distraction that keep you preoccupied for a few hours.” They know, as we should, that a few hours later reality will not have changed one little bit. Instead, they offer real hope based on sound experience: “Encourage one another. Love one another in the way that I have shown you to do. Know that you are not alone in all of this. Know that even though I am going away, I will still be with you, just as you can be there for each other, and in this way, you will truly find hope, contentment, fulfilment in life.”

In preparing this homily I was reminded of an old adage about preaching that I use with students today, “The first person a preacher is preaching to is himself.” Every one of us is caught up in the pressure to conform to the norms of society, and we need the support of each other to face them down. In this way perhaps we will find enduring good mental, and spiritual health.