November 18, 2011
Friends and Colleagues
Warm greetings from National Office, in the hope that the end of the school year is as calm as it can be.
Earlier this month, I had the great privilege of spending time with the Christian Brothers’ community on the island of Negros in the Philippines. In this community, three Australian Brothers, Rod Ellyard, John Moody and Jim Quinn work hard in their different outreaches in education and do wonderful work for the poor in the footsteps of Edmund Rice.
One evening during our visit, Mark Walsh, a colleague of ours from EREA who is working in the Philippines and I were asked by the Brothers to lead the community in evening prayer. We put considerable time into preparing this prayer experience and planned each step carefully so that the prayer could run as smoothly as possible.
However, in the middle of this prayer time, at a reflective stage, there was an interruption; and one of the Brothers left the chapel and returned a couple of minutes later with a family of mother, father and a little baby, together with a lady who worked closely with the Brothers. I must admit that my first reaction was one of annoyance that this reflective experience that we had worked hard to orchestrate was being interrupted. Why couldn’t this family have waited outside until we were finished?
At the end of our prayer time, I heard the full story and was ashamed of my reaction. The little girl, Sophia, was three years old and had recently undergone an operation to remove a tumour from her stomach. When I got a close look at little Sophia, I could see that the reason the family had returned that evening was that the tumour had emerged again; and her stomach on her small frame was as if she had a basketball inside. Clearly, desperation had brought them to the Brothers’ house that evening.
Her mum and dad were very poor and they had eight other children and lived some hours away. The Brothers had supported the family through Sophia’s illness and provided the resources for the initial operation. They had also undertaken to support the family during the potentially expensive subsequent therapies that little Sophia would need. However, it appeared that things were much more dire than originally thought and Sophia was gravely ill.
What did I learn that evening? Upon reflection, I am sure that without doubt, the most pleasing thing to God that happened in the chapel that evening, was not our eloquent and well planned prayers, but the openness of the Brothers’ community to receive the poor family and to serve them as best they could.
We worship a God who sides with the poor and those at the margins of life. We authentically worship this God by serving and doing all we can for others. Service is worship! It doesn’t matter how eloquent and how wonderful our planned prayers and liturgies might be – without a commitment to serve, our worship will always be empty. As someone wise once said: ‘Worship is a lifestyle not an event… it is not what we do, but who we are and what we are about. It is (or should be) our life’.
As a postscript, the Brothers informed me that young Sophia died peacefully last Saturday, surrounded by her family and those who loved her. I will never forget the little angel who interrupted our prayer that evening; an invaluable lesson with more authority than even the most eloquent of theologians. She taught me that service to, and care for those in need is the most complete way we worship our God who stands with and for those at the margins of life.
With best wishes and gratitude