The Baptism of the Lord
13 January 2013
St. Michael’s Church, Ardaghey
My dear friends,
During the last century a farmer who lived in India worked his land carefully and enjoyed his life. He was content. One day a visitor came to his house, who had travelled through many parts of India. The farmer offered him lodging for the night. The visitor had worked in the diamond mines and he spent the evening telling the farmer about his life, his work and the world of diamonds. The farmer’s family were fascinated by what he had to say.
When the farmer himself went to bed that night his head was full of diamonds. He couldn’t get away from the thought that if he were to find one diamond, even a small one, he could have more riches than he would have after many years of work on his farm.
The visit had a major influence on the farmer’s life. He lost his contented manner and became restless. He decided to sell the farm and go search for diamonds. He did that, searched and searched but found no diamonds. Eventually, the money he had from the sale of the farm ran out and he was penniless. In desperation, he took his own life.
The man who bought his farm worked hard at developing and improving it. Working in one of the outer fields one day, he dug up something that shone in the sunlight. He brought it to a local jeweller and was astonished to find that it was a diamond. Back in the fields, he found more and soon became rich. He had discovered what became the Golomo Mines and, in their time, they were one of the richest diamond mines in the world.
Does that sound familiar? Are there similarities with ourselves as a people? The farmer listened to others and their tall stories. Greed can take hold of any of us. The farmer had his head turned and his heart excited at the thought of diamonds and riches. Wealth without having to work too hard is an attractive proposition. For at least twenty years, we spoiled ourselves. We were generous to ourselves with salaries, with pensions, with welfare and all kinds of allowances. We continued to increase the numbers working in the public service, we borrowed more and more to satisfy our increasing desires and needs. We built bigger and better castles and barns. The lenders eventually told us enough is enough; no more until you take down your debt and prove to us that you are serious about it. Now the so called good times are gone, the dreams are shattered, and we face the challenge of years of living on much less. We have to give up most of our perks, and not having money to borrow, we have to rely on what is in our pocket. So we are back to working the farm and saying to ourselves – we should have known that what we have is what is our own and that we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that what is borrowed is ours. We have to admit that greed can poison a nation or an individual.
There was an Irish poet, recently deceased, called Dennis O’Driscoll. He had a lot of insights on contemporary habits and values. He commented quite a bit on the loss of a religious dimension in modern secular living. In a poem called Missing God, he wrote:
His grace is no longer called for
before meals: farmed fish multiply
without his intercession.
Bread production rises through
disease resistant grains devised
scientifically to mitigate His faults.
Yet, though we rebelled against Him
like adolescents, uplifted to see
an oppressive father banished –
a bearded hermit – to the desert,
we confess to missing Him at times.
Miss Him during the civil wedding
when, at the blossomy altar
of the registrar’s desk, we wait in vain
to be fed a line containing words
like “everlasting” and “divine”
Miss Him when the TV scientist
explains the cosmos through equations,
leaving our planet to revolve on its axis
aimlessly, a wheel skidding in snow.
This poem paints another picture of our society and its way of life. No need for grace before meals, farm salmon we associate with man rather than God. We rebelled against God like adolescents and chased him to the desert where he will not bother us. We are getting used to civil weddings at the registrar’s desk covered with flowers but no mention of God. Our world is now explained in scientific rather than biblical terms and is left aimless like a wheel skidding in snow going nowhere. The poem describes a world very different to the one which most of us grew up. Faith is not as strong, God’s presence is ignored by many and the rituals which once shaped life’s experience – like the marriage customs and funeral rites – are changing. For many, the greatest potential tragedy may still be ahead, if the public representatives allow provision for abortion in certain circumstances which has, in all other countries, very quickly become unlimited abortion. We care for our elderly and are prepared to do away with those not yet born.
All through Dennis O ’Driscoll’s poem there is a sense of something missing. The Biblical world painted in today’s Mass readings is very different.
Prepare a way for the Lord.
Here is your God.
He is like a shepherd feeding his flock
gathering lambs in his arms
holding them against his breast.
God’s grace has been revealed,
and it has made salvation possible
for the whole human race
he renewed us with the Holy Spirit.
Luke tells us,
The voice said “You are my Son,
the beloved, my favour rests on you.”
Three very different worlds. We have a choice to make. Do we allow our hearts to be seduced by diamonds and the easy life? De we make riches our goal and put all our energy into this pursuit? Or are we impressed by the secular world where man can set himself up as God, we marry at the registrar’s desk, get our questions answered by science and chase God to the desert? Or can we accept and believe the Biblical claim that Jesus is the son of God who was born and lived with us and gave us all the knowledge we need to direct our lives? This is the world of the Bible; this is the world of our Baptism. Our parents and grandparents made the initial statement of assent; now, we have to decide and speak for ourselves.
+Liam S. McDaid
13 January 2013