Monday, 29 March 2010


I was fascinated by a TV programme about the Australian Outback. For most of the time this is barren sun-baked clay, with hardly any signs of life. It looks as though nothing could possibly survive, let alone flourish there.

But every few years it rains. Amazingly, plants suddenly appear, flower and seed. Insects come to pollinate them; toads, which had remained dormant beneath the hard-baked clay, appear in the new pools, mate and spawn. Perhaps, most surprisingly, fish, which have hatched from long dormant buried eggs suddenly appear. And pelicans, sensing their presence, fly hundreds of miles to eat their fill. The life-giving waters have transformed the barren land into an outburst of vibrant energy. Then the drought returns and apparent death falls upon the land until the next rain.

Reflecting on the Australian Outback has given been me a fresh insight into the powerful Biblical imagery of the water of life. Its presence or absence literally makes the difference between spiritual life and death. We are born from above through the waters of baptism and the power of the Holy Spirit. We become alive as God's children. We receive a divine vitality and momentum to reach beyond our human limitations to share God's own life and happiness. We die with Christ to sin and rise with him to new life. Only then can our barren lives become truly fruitful. Reflecting on the Australian Outback has enriched my understanding of baptism through which we enter into the Paschal Mystery of Christ's death and resurrection, which we are about to celebrate.

Perhaps, surprisingly the Outback has also reassured me as a preacher, and hopefully will assist all of us in our responsibility of handing on the faith we have received.

Now I've been a preacher for many, many years. This can be a most discouraging business! After years of study we begin the work for which we've been trained. Enthusiastically we want to share the Good News, which has become so much a part of our lives. We want our sermons to strike a spark in people's lives and transform them. We want to make a difference, to see results. But usually we don't. Then we may well identify with the prophet Isaiah when he wrote,
"He, (the Lord) said to me, 'You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified. But I said, 'I have laboured in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity,'" (Is. 49. 4).
If we are not careful we may go on to say, "Why bother?" Or perhaps, "I'm a useless failure as a preacher."

But then I remembered how rain made the barren Outback burst into life. So, too, the life-giving Spirit can water barren lives, revive dormant faith , so that unexpectedly, they can blossom and bear fruit. It would be wonderful to see this happen, but we must allow God to work in His own good time and in His own way. Being patient with God can be very difficult!

I have constantly to remind myself that God can make the desert bloom, and that throughout the Bible water is a powerful sign of His blessing, His gift of life. In hearing confessions I've witnessed people's faith being revived, perhaps after lying dormant for decades. This usually happens during Advent and Lent, as we prepare for Christmas and Easter. The Holy Spirit has blown life into what, mistakenly, we had thought were dead, cold embers. Something has touched their hearts. Perhaps nostalgia for what had been important in their lives, or perhaps someone's casual remark, made long ago had re-kindled the flame.

Sometimes this can be amusing. There was the parishioner who congratulated me on a point I'd made in my sermon. In fact I'd said nothing of the sort. I could take this in one of two ways. I could think he was being sarcastic and was suggesting that I should have made the point of which he approved. Or, more positively, I could conclude that the Holy Spirit had used my sermon as a kind of springboard from which the listener had leaped off at a tangent in a direction, which responded to his needs. It's surprising how often, when preaching, a casual aside can make the only point which strikes home and helps someone. All that matters is that my sermon helps someone, perhaps in a way that I had not planned and probably would never know.

My reflections on the Outback have removed an enormous anxiety about the difficult task of sharing my faith. The Spirit of Truth is with me as I prepare and give a sermon, and much more importantly, is with the listener who hears what I say. God is involved at every stage -in the giving and receiving. When I get depressed I remind myself of the Outback, which bloomed once rain had fallen. Similarly, the Water's of Life -God's Spirit -can revive faith, which seemed long dead. This is so reassuring for all of us who have the responsibility of sharing our faith.

Isidore O.P.

Peter and Isidore wish all our readers Easter Blessings and Joy

Next week Fr. Peter will reflect on 'The Sounds of War'

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