Becoming aware of the goodness around us
A teacher takes a marker and draws a small dot in the middle of the otherwise clean whiteboard. If the teacher were to ask the pupils in front of them what they saw, the response would indicate that they saw just a black dot; it is unlikely that any of the youngsters would point out the sea of white surrounding it. In the same way, it seems at times that we are pre-disposed to focus on the fault in others, or in the shape of the world around us, rather than being aware of all the goodness that is there.
At the beginning of a day of reflection which I attended some years ago, the leader of that first session began by inviting participants to quietly reflect for five minutes on all the acts of kindness that had been shown to them since they had awoken that morning. By the end of the five minutes, I was pleasantly surprised to have mentally listed sixteen such acts – all innocuously small gestures, but their accumulated effect was to elicit a feeling of profound gratitude for the kindness which daily surrounds me, and which I would otherwise have taken for granted, or let go unnoticed. Amongst the small acts recalled were awaking to a cup of coffee made by my wife, walking through a door being courteously held open for me and being invited to go first at a busy road intersection.
In his first encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis warns us not to allow ourselves to be robbed of the joy of the Gospel. Elsewhere in his sermons, he talks of ‘Hope’ as the virtue of a heart that does not lock itself into darkness, that does not dwell on the past, but is able to see a tomorrow.
The Pilgrimage of the Magi to the manger in Bethlehem is marked today, by the Feast of the Epiphany. Matthew ends this episode of his infancy narrative with the travellers being warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, but to withdraw to their country by another route (Mt 2:12). As we stand at the threshold of a new year, how might we avoid those death-dealing routes that lead to the various ‘Herod’s at large in this world and, if we are honest, too often given accommodation in our own hearts? How might we return by another route this year to that divine source that so attracted those ancient pilgrims from the East – and in our returning, find the securest source and guarantee of lasting hope through the certainty that we are loved? Let us begin by asking for that precious gift of an awareness of how loved we are; from this will arise the capacity to see things aright, with a divine perspective – and the ability to proceed on our way with thankful hearts.
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