Note: In response to many queries as to when and where seminars and retreats are taking place and as a means of ordering books from the Wood You Believe series, I have launched a new website: jimcogley.com It is still under construction and more content will be added later.
Tue 7th Nov – Heart of Stone
At some point today I invite you to pick up a little stone and hold it in your hand. It need not be much bigger than the one in the photo found inside the acorn replica that I often use in different ways at seminars. The acorn has the potential to become an oak tree, or indeed a forest of oak trees. At a deeper level it represents the potential for loving and being loved that is in all of us. The stone can stand for the hardness of heart that we can experience from time to time, or in some cases all of the time. The stone you hold is an invitation to reflect on where we might find that hardness in our lives. There’s
a lovely promise in the Scriptures where the Lord reassures us that when we repent he will ‘transform our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh’.
Wed 8th Nov – Our Gift as our Handicap
Take in your hand the little stone from yesterday. Give time today for a few moments of quiet to reflect on the areas of our lives that need God’s forgiveness and healing. Perhaps sit in a quiet place and if you wish you might like to close your eyes. A heart of stone is a heart that can’t feel. It’s a heart that has a protective shell around it because it’s afraid of getting hurt. It’s so locked in, that it also keeps others out. Just invite the Lord to shine the light of his love into any of those dark corners of our lives where beneath our tough exterior we are actually afraid. If we are blessed with a good intellect it is quite likely that this has become our defense mechanism against fully experiencing our emotions. So, we live in our heads and think we have everything neatly packaged away there. The reality is, that we are just a speck of intellect on a sea of emotion. Our unlived emotional life can leave us living a very isolated life and is truly a great tragedy. By not allowing ourselves to feel we can never truly heal.
Thurs 9th Nov – Hardening Influences
It’s possible that we have been forced to harden our hearts from a very early age. There may have been things happening that were too much to handle and so we had to close down on how we were feeling. Particularly if we had an overbearing or needy parent the onslaught of emotions coming towards us made it necessary to batten down the hatches. If there was too much criticism at home we may have needed to close down. If we were being compared with another sibling or a neighbour’s child, it likely had a similar effect. Similarly, where there was conflict and division in the home, it was easy and perhaps was necessary to shut down. The death of a parent, a sibling a grandparent or even a pet could have affected us deeply. If we experienced any form of bullying or abuse it was probably too much for us. It’s also important to reflect on our school system left many of us with deep wounds that never fully healed. Many of us emerged from our school days, literary literate but emotionally illiterate!
Fri 10th Nov – Images Re-presented
Often when we feel hurt as adults it goes back to our childhood and reawakens old feelings that we thought we had long left behind. There may well be someone in our lives in the present that we have real difficulty with who reminds us of someone from our past. I may need to admit that my heart is hardened towards that person. But who might he or she represent? Sometimes there may even be a gender crossover where that person could represent another, but of the opposite sex. It’s more a question of similar energy than similar gender. If the offence was deep enough we might even want to throw stones at that individual whereas forgiveness is relinquishing the need to retaliate. The problem with resentment is that our anger is always being resent back to ourselves. As the word suggests it’s meant for the other but gets re-sent back home.
Sat 11th Nov – Self-Forgiveness
Very often the one we are most hardened towards is ourselves. It’s all too easy to beat ourselves up over mistakes and regrets. The person we may have real difficulty in forgiving is ourselves. Take a good feel of that stone from earlier in the week and ask if I have locked part of me inside there. If so, have I the humility to forgive that part of me that messed up, or that experienced pleasurable feelings even though at the hands of an abuser? At the spiritual level it’s liberating to remember that I only do justice to the God of infinite Mercy to the extent that I fully forgive myself. To not practice self-forgiveness and compassion is either to be unfaithful to the God that I believe in, or to have an infantile image of God that reflects more what my parents were like than what God is like. Remember to glorify God is to bask in the light of Divine Mercy.
Sun 12th Nov – 5 Wise Virgins and 5 Foolish Virgins
One of my favourite memories from College days in Maynooth was of an incident that happened during preaching practice where a group of university students were invited to come and listen to our homilies and give some constructive feedback. A few days before, each seminary student was assigned a parable from the Gospels and was obliged to write a three-minute sermon based on the text. A student from Cloyne Diocese, Derry Murphy, was unfortunate enough to be given the parable of the five wise and the five foolish virgins, which was a daunting task at any time. As he rose to the podium, when his name was called out, it was obvious that he had drawn a blank and had nothing prepared. With a smile he said, ‘The five wise and the five foolish virgins’. He waited a while, either in desperation or praying for inspiration and then said, ‘It would be a strange man among us who wouldn’t prefer five foolish virgins in the dark to five wise virgins in the light. It’s a clear case of where God’s ways are not our ways!’ Then he returned to his seat. When the laughter died down, the man in charge pretending not to be amused, and with a stern face said, Mr Murphy, ‘I do hope you realise that your job as a preacher will be to feed the sheep and not just to amuse the goats’!
Strange as it may seem that parable is still one that I struggle to make sense of, apart from the need to be prepared. With that student I hope he was prepared. While making up his mind as to whether to be ordained or not, he took a year out and went to Sierra Leone. There he went swimming on his own and got attacked by a crocodile and his body was never found. We were good friends and he visited me just before he left and his last words in relation to making his decision were, ‘I guess we have plenty of time,’ and he didn’t.
When it comes to peaching on the parable I will again sidestep the issue. Instead, on this day when we return Remembrance Plaques to relatives of loved ones who died during the year I would draw your attention to the first line of the second reading where it says; ‘not to grieve about your loved ones like those who have no hope’.
It must be dreadful to live with and love someone for a lifetime and when that person dies to see nothing but a hole in the ground. To not have faith, or to have lost it must be a truly lonely place; to think that death is the final destiny and there is nothing beyond and that we are never going to be together again. That truly is to grieve as an unbeliever without hope and I can’t imagine what it must be like. Often, we take faith for granted and we don’t realise the comfort and reassurance it brings especially when we lose someone close.
Having said that there is a most common myth that most believers buy into that is almost as bad as grieving without hope. This is the belief that when I lose someone close that we will not be together again until I die and get to the other side. This is a belief so dangerous that it has made so many give up on life. Essentially, it puts life on hold until it’s over. To be reunited with a loved one is not about getting to the other side of life, but much more about getting to the other side of grief.
Consider it this way. Two people can share the same bed and be a million miles apart. It happens all the time. Physical closeness is no indication of an emotional or spiritual connection. Yet two people can be separated by an ocean and still have a sense of togetherness and while they long to be together physically, they can still draw strength from their essential closeness.
My own mother had the unusual distinction of dying in one millennium and of being buried in another. The day before she died as I brought her Holy Communion and she said, ‘You know that I am dying,’ to which I nodded. She then reassured me that while she was going, I would never be on my own and that she would always be with me in spirit. Those words naturally became engrained on my heart and helped me to experience her death not as a separation but as a continuation. Later, I wanted to honour her and what she had said with a suitable inscription on the tombstone. What I had written expressed my deepest belief in relation to death, and the importance of grieving properly. It’s a few lines that I have also used at many funerals ever since and many have said that it touched their hearts and gave them comfort. Just four short lines say it all.
Death breaks an earthly tie
But love survives
When grief has passed
For love can never die.
Mon 13th Nov – Change Within – Change Without
It’s so easy to feel resentful that others are not as we would want then to be. We want them to change but can be so blind to where change is needed in us. The Buddha advised one time ‘to never seek a perfect person or a perfect world. Instead seek to perfect your love’. We will never have a perfect relationship or live in a perfect community, but we can work on ourselves. This often means dropping our judgements, and learning to accept people as they are, and reality just as it is. Most of us are familiar with the Prayer of AA. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Why not pray this version? God, grant me the serenity to accept the people and situations I cannot change. Courage, to change the one that I can. And, the wisdom to know that it’s ME.