Knock and I'll break your hand!

I was once very excited by the sight of a doorbell. It was on the front door of the Jesuit house in Limerick in Ireland. I was interested in seeing places mentioned in the book Angela’s ashes, about the childhood of Frank McCourt. It was there on the eve of his sixteenth birthday that feeling very emotional and full of a sense of guilt, he rings the doorbell requesting to make his confession. The brother who answers thinks him drunk and tells him to go away or he’ll call the guards, and the door slams shut. When he rings again, the brother swings him round, and kicks him down the steps. And tells him that if he rings that bell again he’ll break his hand. Jesuit brothers are not supposed to talk like that, thinks Frank, they’re supposed to be like Our Lord, not walking the world threatening people’s hands.

This young man’s experience of the church was not one of knocking and having the door opened, but of knocking and having it slammed shut.He asks for an egg but receives a stinging scorpion.

Sadly, experiences such as these have coloured several people’s opinions of the church.  The whole church may well be judged by the behaviour of one so-called Christian. I often hear tales of rejection and harsh treatment from ‘Christians’ which has left scars and wounds many years later, and influenced their view of God.

The Old Testament story we hear today speaks of the essentially merciful nature of God, as well as of his servant Abraham. Abraham had an interest in the town of Sodom, his cousin Lot and his family were there, and so he pleads for the city to be spared. But he pleads for the whole city, not just for the deliverance of his family. Abraham does not want to see the city wiped out, but looks for reasons for it to be spared. Abraham looks for the good in Sodom.

We may be swift to write off other people, but there is good in everyone. If Abraham could find good people amid the wrong ‘uns of Sodom, then surely we can find the good in others too.  

Most of the churchmen of Limerick did not bother to look for the good in Frank McCourt. Quick as look at him, he was rejected as a potential altar-boy at St Joseph’s Church. As his mam said, they didn’t want the boys from the lanes on the altar. They didn’t want the ones with the scabby knees and hair sticking up. They wanted the nice boys with hair oil and new shoes and fathers with suits and ties and steady jobs. ‘Tis hard to hold the faith with the snobbery that’s in it.’ She said.

The story Frank McCourt tells is one of dogged determination and persistence against the odds. The teaching of Jesus on prayer in today’s gospel is a reminder to us to persist in prayer and faith and to have faith in a loving and compassionate God, who gives us the grace of the  Holy Spirit, to help us cope with whatever life throws at us.

However Jesus also teaches us that prayer is not all about getting what we want for ourselves.  In praying the Lord’s Prayer there is the sense that we are in this together. When his disciples asked him how to pray he told them to call God ‘Our Father’, not my Father, but our Father. And so when you pray this prayer you are not praying it just for yourself, but for everybody.

Forgive us our trespasses.

Deliver us from evil.

Give us our daily bread.

In this prayer we recognize our need of God,and that we all have a part to play in the building of God’s kingdom.For God’s forgiveness and mercy to be truly felt we must forgive and be merciful. When we ask God to act we must act as he would act.

I finished my tour of Limerick with a visit  to St Francis church and sat before the statue of St Francis where young Frankie weak from hunger and tears in the heights of despair and having been rejected all over by the church in Limerick, sits and pours his heart out. And at last, a  Franciscan brother comes and sits beside him and tells him to say what bothers him, that he will be a pair of ears for St Francis and the Lord.  He gives him absolution for his sins and he tells young Frankie, “God forgives you and you must forgive yourself, God loves you and you must love yourself for only when you love God in yourself can you love all God’s creatures.”

 All his fears are laid to rest, his tormenting questions answered, and he goes trotting home through the rainy streets of Limerick a happy young man.