A few years ago I received a Christmas card from a friend of mine who lives in Derry in Ireland. She is very politically active and was on the streets of Derry on Bloody Sunday, Jan 30, 1972 when British soldiers shot and killed 13 unarmed protesters and wounded 13 others. She was then and is now a pacifist and still works for peace and justice around the world.
Her Christmas card had a very political message. It pictured the Three Wise Men following the star which shone over Bethlehem. Unfortunately they could not follow the star that would bring them to the Christ Child, the Prince of Peace. Their way was barred by the security wall built by the Israeli government and surrounds Bethlehem and just about every sizable Palestinian community turning these communities into prisons. The card was a poignant reminder of the harsh and restrictive conditions under which Palestinian people live today. That’s why at every daily Mass we pray for the end of injustice and violence in the troubled homeland of Christ.
In reality we have no idea of the barriers and impediments those wise men from the East encountered on their journey to Bethlehem. They seemed to have come from no where and returned to no where. Considering the times, theirs had to be a dangerous journey but they were determined to follow this star where ever it would lead them.
With that poignant Christmas card in mind – these seekers helplessly peering over a high concrete wall, a wall that blocked their way to Christ – maybe we could question ourselves as to what barriers keep us from coming to Christ and growing in our own personal relationship with him. Is there anything in our life that holds us back from opening our lives and hearts to him? Usually it’s an unspoken conviction that holiness is beyond our reach, it’s for the ‘professional’ religious people like priests and nuns. We’re just ordinary people with too much on our plate to take time for a bit of silence and prayer each day.
We all know good people who are so caught up in the busyness of earning a living and paying off a mortgage or credit cards. They want to give their children nothing but the best, so Sunday is just like every other day, busy: shopping, getting the kids to hockey practice or ballet lessons or whatever – but time for God is not on the agenda. Their busyness is their barrier to God.
Maybe the barrier that blocks our way to Christ is the memory of past sins or mistakes. We may be convinced that our sins are as alive in the mind of God as they are in our memories. We find it hard to get our heads and hearts around these words of St. Paul “We were still helpless when at the appointed time Christ died for sinful men and women. It is not easy to die even for a good person – but what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us when we were still sinners.” Paul talks about a joyful trust in God through whom we have already gained our reconciliation. Lacking such a trust can be a barrier.
We all know people – good people – who live their lives as if God did not exist. They find their lives quite fulfilled without the trappings and demands of religious observance. We know other good people who see themselves as outside the parameters of the church. They may be in a second marriage which they know to be far more life giving than their first marriage – or they may be in a common law relationship because they don’t buy into the extravagance and cost of modern day weddings. They may be in a long term same sex relationship. Not following the laws they feel unwelcome and maybe they resent the rigidity of the church, its lack of understanding of their personal life situations. This can be the barrier that keeps them the life and love of God. How that barrier can be removed is something beyond this sermon. But we can pray that it will come down.
No matter what the barrier that may be that keeps us from deepening our personal relationship with Christ or the church maybe we will make the statement of St. Paul our own statement of faith “I am certain of this, nothing can ever come between me and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.” With God there are no walls, just open borders.