BY JOHN RYAN
I suspect that one of my best sermons was given many years ago, not in a Church, but in the kitchen of a Victorian farmhouse in the context of an ordinary conversation. Let me share it with you.
One day when I was on parish visitation, I called in on a family to find the mother busy bathing and attending to her new-born daughter on the kitchen table. Clearly flustered, she invited me into a situation where my presence could only be a hindrance.
Sensing her embarrassment and yet noting that she did not want me to leave without some chance for a word or two together, I suggested that I might adjourn to another room and quietly say my breviary, my prescribed priestly prayers, while she completed her motherly work.
So it was that I went off to pray! Eventually the lady knocked on the door and invited me to come through. As I did I noticed her husband had returned and where the baby had been now there was s nice table cloth topped with an array of tempting goodies all set up for afternoon tea.
As we began to talk, her first comment concerned my taking time out to be with the Lord and pray and with a note of envy and regret she spoke of how she longed for the chance to spend similar time with the Lord. Sadly her life as wife and mother of six young children just seemed to be too busy for this to happen.
I clearly recall feeling an impulse from the Spirit and while I sympathized with her desire to find time and space to be quiet and recuperate, I felt that I had to gently object to her implication that this was the only way she could be prayerfully with the Lord.
Quietly I set out to correct what was at least the beginning of a dangerous heresy.
I tried to explain briefly that while I had been trying to relate to the Lord by fulfilling my duty of reading a series of prayers from the Breviary, she had been in a parallel situation.
As she responded to the duties of her vocation as mother, she too could relate to the Lord through her contact with her daughter.
I ended up by saying that we each had our own breviary or way of praying and that while they took us along different paths, we could not say that one way was better than the other, they were just different. The words of my prayer book, and the physical presence of her baby, could each equally be an opportunity and an obstacle for communing with the Lord.
Somehow my hesitant words struck home and helped this woman come to a new and life giving realisation. Subsequently, whenever our paths crossed I could ask her how she was getting on with ‘her breviary’ and without a flinch she would respond with a knowing smile and usually an affirming nod.
What happened that afternoon, now long ago, was one of the most satisfying moments in my life as a priest and it made me forever sensitive to the danger of separating our spiritual life from our nitty gritty day-to-day existence.
In that instance, for that busy mother, on that day, the special conduit through which she could relate to the Lord was her baby.
For others of us and at other times, it can be any of host of possibilities. For the carpenter, it can be the piece of wood he is working on; for the carer the patient she is looking after; for a teacher, the pupils stretched out before her.
Above all else know this; whoever you are, wherever you are there is nothing in which God cannot be found.
Fr John Ryan, a Sandhurst Diocese priest who lives in Canberra, has spent much of his 49 years of ministry working in renewal projects, especially with priests.
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