In my final year in primary school, between the ages of ten and eleven, I was an altar server at my local parish church for the 7.30am Mass, Monday to Saturday. I was second up in the house, as my father had already gone off to his daily work at the pit. I had a bicycle and I rode the familiar path to the church that stood adjacent to my little school. Entering through the church porch I could see John Beirne, another server, moving about on the sanctuary as the 7am Mass came to a close. A few holy souls were scattered about the pews. Silence reigned. Candles flickered and the holy mysteries were celebrated.
I loved that early morning ritual. The world was just waking up. The streets were quiet and the schoolyard silent but expectant, and inside that little chapel the Lord came among us. Nowadays I can see Mass at any time of the day and from a myriad of places by the power of the Internet, yet it is that year of altar serving that is foundational in my life.
I was profoundly impressed by the teaching on the ‘real presence’ of Jesus in the host of bread, and by the fact that this presence remained with us in the tabernacle. I was totally convinced that Jesus is the Son of God and that in him I would find all that is most precious about life. As I got older it was the reading of the gospels that demonstrated to me how reliable this instinct was. The words of Jesus, and Jesus, the Word himself, would be the guide of life for me.
Every day the Church celebrates Mass and reads from the gospels. This is the Lord speaking to us and he has something to say to us every day. Not only that, but in fact every human situation, issue and problem can find its truth and its wisdom and its solution in the words of Jesus.
And not only in his words: In his actions too, in his interaction with other human beings we find the lessons in how we should proceed. Of course most of what we find is to do with personal behaviour. What does the Lord say about warfare? Let us see.
One thing he said was that if a burglar intended to invade your house, you would take measures to make sure that did not happen. You would defend yourself. Our very nature tells us to defend ourselves. So Ukraine is right to do that very thing, and without joining in the fight, other nations can lend support and give arms to the cause.
On the subject of violence itself, of course, Jesus told Peter to put away his sword. Those who live by the sword die by the sword. The two great wars of the last century are brutal reminders of that truth. We must defend ourselves against an aggressor. We must try to find negotiations and talks. Finally, if the other party refuses to respond then we should cut off all contact with them till they come to their senses. These are the things we must do.
There is guidance and example and wisdom for us every day of our lives from the Lord and from his gospel. My early morning bike ride did me the world of good.
24 March 2022