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Fr Billy Swan

This is the final part of a three part series, reflecting on the instruction from the prophet Micah that we ‘Act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God’ (6:8).

The final request from the prophet is that we walk humbly with our God. This invitation to walk together is timely for Pope Francis is leading the Church to become more synodal – a name which literally means journeying together. We are a Church community that is on the move, a pilgrim people on the march that goes out to meet the world with courage, confidence and a sense of mission. A healthy Church is a like a river of water that moves and flows.

This is what love requires. Love does not stay in the same place or in the words of St Catherine of Siena, “Love does not stay idle” (Letter T82).

One of the most inspiring books I ever read was one from a Jesuit priest called Walter Ciszek called ‘He Leadeth Me’. In this autobiography, Fr Walter looks back on his life and realised that as the moved along the pathway that even led him through a concentration camp, God was leading him. To walk with God is to know He is leading us somewhere, to overcome obstacles, to become fully human, fully healed and committed to justice and love.

To walk humbly with God is to know that the Lord goes with us wherever we go, even when we walk down the wrong path. After the first sin in the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve hid from God but God’s response was to search for them in the cool of the evening (Gen. 3:8). As God’s chosen people made their way out of Egypt and walked to the promised land, God was both with them every step of the way and went ahead of them, leading the way. In the Gospels, this promise of God to be with his people always is read with an important caveat as we see in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark where Peter tries to persuade Jesus away from the path of suffering. Jesus’ rebuke of Peter of ‘Get behind me Satan’ can be read as telling Peter: ‘Get behind me, not in front of me. I must mark out the right path for you to follow. I must go first. Only then can you follow’.

How often friends do we too need to be reminded of this! We are always tempted to make God in the image of who we think God should be instead of allowing God to be who he has revealed himself to be. We are always tempted to conform the truth to us instead of conforming ourselves to the truth. Therefore, keeping before us all the time that Jesus is ‘THE WAY’ and goes before us on our journey is a truth that saves us from presumption and pride. We are disciples, not Masters, ministers and not messiahs. In the Church’s liturgy on the Feast of the Presentation and on Palm Sunday, the processions with candles and with palm express who we truly are as followers of the Lord who walk humbly with him and yet follow after him. Processions and pilgrimages have a power that changes us as we walk along.

How can we fail to mention the Gospel story of the road to Emmaus where the risen Lord walks with the disciples even though they are walking the wrong way! In a parallel with what God did with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, God pursues us until we do like the disciples did on the road to Emmaus – turn back with his grace to return to Jerusalem, the place of resurrection and place of mission.

Of course, in the Church, we also walk with each other and accompany each other along the way. Here is the art of accompaniment and of building community as we share the pilgrim journey towards the Father’s house and help each other grow in justice, love and holiness. The whole spirit of synodality is about everyone in the Church coming closer together in faith and understanding. It is about moving away from polarisation and division and building bonds of communion with those we encounter who are different than us.

And it is here that Micah’s words come full circle. Because it is only when we draw close to others and truly encounter people who are different than us can we begin to love them. And it is only when we love them that we can fight for justice for them and give them what they are due.

A word about walking humbly. It has been said many times that what we need is a more humble Church. If this means a Church that is contrite of her sins, less arrogant, complacent and materialistic then yes, we need a humbler Church. But a humble Church that does not evangelise, have the courage to speak out and engage with the cultural issues of our time is not a humble Church but a dying Church. A humble Church has her feet on the ground but with one foot forward on the march, conscious of her mission from the Lord to go make disciples and proclaim the Gospel to all creation. A humble Church does not boast of herself but of the gift she has received and that she burns to share with a world that has forgotten God. In the words of Pope Francis:

“We have a treasure of life and love which cannot deceive, and a message which cannot mislead or disappoint. It penetrates to the depths of our hearts, sustaining and ennobling us. It is a truth which is never out of date because it reaches that part of us which nothing else can reach” (The Joy of the Gospel, 265).

Based on the Gospel, it is our conviction that the Church offers a broader, richer and more coherent vision of life than the many alternative narratives on offer today that are confusing, spiritually poor and morally bankrupt. Regarding specific issues of social justice, life issues, marriage, family, sexuality, care for the environment and others, this is not a time for the Church to be timid or retreat into private and hidden spheres. It is not a time for the Church to lose its identity by dissolving itself in the surrounding culture. The Church is not called to imitate the culture but convert it. In the words of Pope Francis, she needs to ‘go forth’ and to ‘put out into the deep’, engaging courageously with modern culture in the market square. As a prophetic community we are called, not to fit in but to stand out.


And so friends, I would like to summarise these three reflections with a prayer – a prayer that captures our calling to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God.

‘Merciful Father, we believe that you are love itself. In the life of your Son, your infinite love revealed itself as justice and mercy for all humankind. May we be just as you are just. May we never fail to give you the praise that is your due and keep your commandments that honour the right order you intend for your creation. Give us a new sensitivity to imbalances in the world where both extreme poverty and wealth dehumanise us. Never allow us to grow indifferent to the poor and dispossessed. May our thirst for justice be stronger than our fear or indifference. Disturb our conscience when we are tempted to look the other way. Raise up O Lord an army of new Irish saints as your instruments to bring a new civilization of love.

Lord let us never lose hope in the power of your mercy and love. You have made us to love and be loved. May we cherish this wound of love that stands at the heart of our nature. Give us the confidence and the words to evangelise by telling others what we love about you, your kingdom, the Eucharist and your mercy. Strengthen our sense of mission and purpose that is driven by your love for us that always comes first. Lord, help us to love, not just like you but with you. Help us to love as you love. May we love tenderly and show your kindness to all by weeping with those who weep and laughing with those who laugh. Lord, we ask you to form your Church as a family of greater unity that goes forth together on the path of life. Give us the courage to go beyond ourselves, to move out from shallow waters and to set sail on the open sea of mission. Never let fear, complacency or smugness hold us back. Give us gentle and humble hearts like yours.

Lord Jesus, but may we always be faithful to your truth and suffer for it if necessary. Finally, Lord, when our journey is over, may we praise you forever as we reach at last the eternal home you have prepared for us. There may we enjoy the perfect justice of your kingdom and bask in your tender love and mercy that will enfold us forever. Amen’.


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