Denis McBride recounts a story written by the novelist Graham Green. It tells of a fantasy scenario which takes place in some very distant future when, God forbid, the world is governed by one party. The opening scene takes place in a sordid little hotel in New York, when an old man, tired, poorly dressed and down at heart comes in and asks for a room. He signs the register and disappears upstairs at which point the house detective asks: “Did you see who that was?” “Nope” came the reply. “It’s the pope!” “The pope?” came the reply ‘Who’s that?”
In this dystopian future only the pope survives and he is destined to rule over a church that does not exist. Everyone else, cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, religious….the whole lot have been shot. The only reason why the pope survives is because he is useful in demonstrating how dead the church is. In the end the world Dictator wants to put an end to all of this and be remembered as the man who extinguished Christianity once and for all so he takes out a gun and shoots the pope while he is praying. “But”, says McBride, “something happens. In the second between the pressure on the trigger and Pope dying, a thought crosses the Dictator’s mind: is it just possible that what this man believed in was true?” In that question, he says, another Christian is born.
On this the 5th Sunday in Ordinary time few if any of us will regret the passing of January with its freezing temperatures. Thankfully the Abbey along with a huge number of volunteers across Ealing churches was once again able to offer temporary respite to some who were in dire need of shelter and food. Perhaps it is no coincidence that our first reading today from the prophet Isaiah invites us to ‘share bread with the hungry and shelter the homeless poor.’ This is all very practical stuff, something we can understand and respond to. The Gospel on the other hand speaks in metaphors and Jesus instructs his disciples as he calls them ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’. But these metaphors are not mere fancy images. They cut to the core. Discipleship is not only about having a right relationship with God but having a right relationship with our neighbour, or to extend the metaphor we are called to share the light, it is not for hoarding or hiding.
In Graham Greene’s story the quiet witness of the last pope puzzles the dictator into wonder and isn’t wonder the beginning of what we call faith? The late Pope Paul VI in his exhortation Evangelisation in the Modern World shares the following insight: “through this wordless witness these Christians can stir up irresistible questions: Why are they like this? Who or what inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelisation.”
So leading others to wonder is the first act of spreading the gospel to others. If we hide our light we puzzle no-one. When we share it with others another Christian is born.