To focus on ourselves is death … to focus on others is life-giving


To focus on ourselves is death … to focus on others is life-giving

In Kenya, this week, a Kenyan billionaire died at age 80; and the checkout man at a supermarket saw I was a priest and asked for some advice about his marriage.

Our Kenyan Billionaire said in an interview (Sept, 2020), that getting into marriage was like going to jail

Our man at the checkout shared how his wife has recently separated after 5 years of marriage and two daughters (2+4yr).  His mother-in-law she doesn’t want to see him in the compound.  The wife is a Protestant Reverend, and he’s a Catholic.  After getting the supermarket job, his wife continued his small leather shoes business – then refused.  Then, she wanted a salon: so he purchased all the equipment for hairdressing.  Then she said, she didn’t want that anymore.

As time was short, I shared about the issue of appreciation and how African men are not commonly noted for expressing thanks, praise or encouragement to their wives.  He smiled and agreed.  Then I shared about the ratio of appreciation words/actions versus criticism: 5 to 1.

He said, “but father, I don’t go with other women, I don’t do drugs or alcohol” (which is common here: so congratulations to him!).  I asked: “have you ever hit her?”  He hung his head said, “just once”, after which she left.  I helped him understand the attitude of the mother-in-law: “she is trying to protect her daughter.”  I then encouraged him to request a meeting and just listen to his wife, and then to praise and thank her for all the things she has done.
Perhaps, even, request the local priest to facilitate the meeting so she feels safe.

Finally, I encouraged him to keep praying, not so that God will do magic and fix everything, but that he himself might grow in understanding: suggesting, also, that Reconciliation would allow him to listen to himself as he verbalised his mistakes, and the reality of his life: when we take out issues outside of our heart/head, our perspective is always improved.

Family life is the most important institution in our world, but it is under serious attack by the media and a selfish culture of materialism and, perhaps, a shortage of good role-models.

The story of Job in the 1st Reading, and the storm on the sea for the disciples in the Gospel, both reveal the stress of people trying to cope with the challenges of life, alone.  Both situations show individuals trying to fix their lives by themselves – forgetting about God.

Today’s Gospel is more than a physical miracle: the storm became calm when the disciples remembered the presence of Jesus with them: immediately feeling fearless and peaceful. To voyage with Jesus is to voyage with peace through our personal “storms”.

While it’s true, we need to work as hard, and as smart, as we can, the underlying attitude we have in our heart/ mind while working hard, will determine how much energy we have. As St Ignatius of Loyola once said: “work as though everything depends on you, and pray as though everything depends on God.”  It’s a good description of spiritual teamwork.

For example, when a husband and wife feel they are appreciated by the other, they can both work long hours at work, and happily come home to several more hours of “work” at home: cooking, cleaning, sewing, repairs, firewood, help kids with school work, etc.

However, if husband or wife do not feel appreciated by the other, then, as they come home from “work” they lose energy, often feel dejected and look for shortcuts to skip “work” at home, and tend to argue and shout more often.

Feeling appreciated – expressed by words or little actions of thanks, encouragement and praise – is really a blessing from God in our lives, God’s presence even if we don’t recognise it.

St Paul’s 2nd Reading is a great reminder to us about the importance of making sacrifices for each other.  At first, it doesn’t sound very exciting or desirable, but, Christ our role-model, teaches us the value of sacrifice for others: a wonderful resurrection will follow shortly after.

There is a story by Victor Hugo (“Ninety-Three”), about a ship in a wild storm when, suddenly, some heavy cargo comes loose down below, and starts crashing into the sides of the ship.  Two men bravely go down to re-fix the cargo before it breaks the ship and they sink.  It’s a great reminder to us to look within ourselves and ask: what is crashing around inside of me?

Perhaps the loose cargo crashing around inside of us, these days, is twofold:
1) we struggle to accept that we are part of, or have caused, our problems;
2) we fail to demonstrate appreciation to people close to us, but often do so “outside”.

If we can stop focusing just on ourselves, and reach out to help others, we will then draw life from Christ who is working through the people around us. Christ is as close to us today, as Christ was to the disciples in the boat… What are we waiting for?

By Gerard Conlan, OMI