02 Oct 2022

Offaly man's thoughts on the challenges ahead


Clara native Ronan Scully

While we have all endured another year of uncertainty, Christmas can be a difficult time for many, and that has, of course, been exacerbated by the pandemic in its second year. Whether you are fortunate enough to be surrounded by the warmth of family this festive season, or whether you may be struggling with your own personal challenges, please know that you are in my prayers this Christmas for together in prayer, we are a powerful and wonderful force, a force that can continue to combat the fear, sorrow, and anxiety that plagues our world in current times.

This thought for the week is about gaps and divides, about walls and bridges and about the "haves and the have nots." A gap or a divide is a break or difference between two things and a wall is a blockage, while a bridge is a coming together. In many respects, this describes the difference between certain people in our society, in our county, in our country and in our world today. There are very wide gaps and divisions between certain people in our society, such as 'the rich and the poor' and some people try to build bridges between the two while others try to "build walls!" It is not hard to know this for a drive through most towns and cities in this nation of ours and indeed in our world that show to us vividly a large number of poor and desperate people.
The gap between rich and poor is hard for people like you and me to admit, but it has always been there, except nowadays the gap is getting even bigger especially as we learn to deal and live with the coronavirus. Those with money tend to live easier lives with less sickness and hardship while those who do not have money generally have hard, often short lives. When we stop for a moment to think more deeply on the gap between the rich and the poor we find it astonishing how big that gap really is. Close on 2 billion people are starving with hunger and are undernourished in our world.

Hungry people as I have seen, and whom I try to help on a daily basis, experience horror every day, gnawing pain in their stomachs, physical exhaustion that comes with chronic deprivation and dehydration, the pain of making choices no one should ever have to make. Why don't we weep for people who have to make such choices? Why don't we feel anguish for parents who cannot feed their children. One reason is that many of us have allowed our way of life to be shaped by the economic preference of a materialistic society rather than by true goodness, mercy, compassion and genuine love and care for one another. And although the gap between the rich and the poor is one of the greatest challenges facing us today along with the coronavirus and climate change, we would rather not think about it. We also find it difficult to concede that what we have, has anything to do with what others do not have. We do not want to think about how we would explain to a hungry child why we do not share more of what we have. Most of us think more about the one percent of the world that has more than we have than we think about the ninety-nine percent that has less.

What is it about the homeless, the poor, the refugees, the traveler, the abused, the orphaned, the destitute and the abandoned that makes people so uncomfortable? These are our fellow human beings and children who have hit on hard times, often through no fault of their own. Loss of a job, the poor economy, illness, addiction or family circumstances can push people and families onto the streets where they are looked down upon by general society. Exposed to the extremes of bitter types of weather, they sleep in doorways, street alleyways or trash bins, fearful of discovery by the authorities while keeping a watchful eye out for predators or others who might do them harm. A story from my Nana Scully's prayer book might help explain.

What did you do for me?

"A priest transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the church that he was to be introduced as the new parish priest that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for mass. Only 3 people said hello to him, most looked the other way. He asked people for change to buy food because he was hungry. Not one gave him anything. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was told by the ushers that he would need to get up and go sit at the back of the church. He said hello to people as they walked in but was greeted with cold stares and dirty looks from people looking down on him and judging him.

He sat in the back of the church and listened to the church announcements for the week. He listened as new visitors were welcomed into the church that morning but no one acknowledged that he was new. He watched people around him continue to look his way with stares that said you are not welcome here. Then the elders of the church went to the podium to make the announcement. They said they were excited to introduce the new parish priest of the church to the congregation. "We would like to introduce you to our new Parish Priest." The congregation stood up and looked around, clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. That's when all the clapping stopped and the church was silent. With all eyes on him....he walked up the altar and reached for the microphone. He stood there for a moment and then recited so elegantly, a verse from the gospel's..... “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you as a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me.’

After he recited this, he introduced himself as their new parish priest and told the congregation what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry and bow their heads in shame. "Today I see a gathering of people here but I do not see a church of Jesus. The world has enough people that look the other way. What the world needs is disciples of Jesus that can follow his teachings and live as he did. When will you decide to become disciples? He then dismissed service until the following Sunday as his sermon had been given."

A world that is hurting

In a world that is hurting at this very moment because of many things including the coronavirus and that seems to be ravaged in some part by evil, the bitter fruits of greed, selfishness, war, disease and ignorance are multiplying. Even in so-called "rich societies" the homeless and the poor are growing populations. Thousands upon thousands of people starve to death every day.

Two billion more are malnourished, and thousands more go blind and suffer other ailments annually because of dietary deficiency and on top of that we have this dreadful pandemic to deal with. Approximately two-thirds of the world's population remains caught in a cycle of hunger, sickness and death. The majority of these individuals and families are destitute by political, economic, medical, cultural, or social events largely beyond their control. As I have written before, I have noticed over my life, that to be a good person or to have a good heart one does not need to depend on religion, status in life, job status, race, skin colour, where they are from, political views or culture. It solely depends on how each of us treat each other. I have also noticed that our ears are constantly bombarded each day by all sorts of sounds.

And these sounds stress a certain kind of hearing whether joyful or sad. But for me the hardest is hearing the cry of the poor, and even in that cry of the poor the worst of it is hearing a child’s voice. And although I believe that God is on the side of the poor and the homeless, I somehow feel, in our society and culture today, we have found ourselves separated not only from each other, but from the poor, the orphaned, the abandoned and the homeless. We live in a world that insulates us, for the most part, from that which is difficult and uncomfortable. We have diversions that keep us from encountering the pain, the loneliness, the weakness, the fear, the emptiness, the meaninglessness of those around us. We even have diversions to keep us from encountering our own pain, loneliness, weakness, fear, emptiness, and meaninglessness.

The more separated we are from real love and compassion, the more lifeless we become. The average years we live in Ireland is around seventy odd years or so. It’s a short life span when you look at how old our world is. For me and people like me I have about fifteen to twenty years left to live, in the scheme of things. So think of those times in your life when you have exercised real love and compassion. Think of the emotions that filled you, the love that you expressed, the tenderness you felt, the wonder of being human that you knew.

In the moments that you exercised that true love and compassion you were truly alive especially when you were helping or loving or caring for another human being especially for a child. Keep trying now more than ever to make those moments, especially for our homeless, our poor, our sick and unwell, our needy, our elderly and our children in need. There can be no easy fix for narrowing the growing divide between rich and poor in Ireland and indeed in our world. Individuals helping individuals, as important to the receiver and as gratifying to the giver, is not going to solve the massive challenges of poverty, hunger, mental illness, homelessness, illness and addiction; that will require policy reform, political and moral courage, and increased public spending. Raising the minimum wage, investing in job and infrastructure creation, re-balancing the tax burden, and establishing further medical and mental health care, quality education and job training as basic Irish rights rather than privileges will all be required to address the root causes of poverty, homelessness, pandemics and hunger.

Thought for the week

As your thought for the week, let me finish with a story by the author Paulo Cello whom I love to read and it goes as follows, "A monk was meditating in the desert when a beggar came up to him and said: "I need to eat". The monk -- who was almost reaching the point of perfect harmony with the spiritual world -- did not answer. "I need to eat," insisted the beggar. "Go to the town and ask someone else. Can't you see that you are bothering me? I am trying to communicate with the angels" said the monk sternly. "God placed himself lower than men, washed their feet, gave His life, and no-one recognised Him", the beggar replied. "He who says he loves God -- who does not see -- and forgets his brother or sister - who does -- is lying". And the beggar turned into an angel. "What a pity, you almost made it", the angel remarked before leaving." It’s been quite the year for all of us, but particularly for all our different types of frontline workers who are angels working in our midst. While navigating their way through it all, they’ve never lost sight of what they were doing for the good of all: Extending the compassionate ministry of Jesus by improving the health and well-being of our communities and bringing good help to those in need.

For that, I wanted to take a second in my writing and say thank you. Thank you for your sacrifices. Thank you for the countless hours you’ve spent serving others. Thank you for being flexible. Thank you for your understanding. Thank you for your strength. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your selflessness. As we head into the Christmas season, it’s important to take a moment and reflect on the gratitude you feel or we should all feel for all the people in our life – for those we work with, those we work for and those who work for us. From the bottom of my heart to everyone who has played a part in helping to care for our community – Thank you!

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