Where Do I Come From?

A twelve pointed star turned inside a miniature sphere within a sphere and held in the palm of the hand points to the complexity of our birth and divine origins

Not long before I left Kilmore Quay, just over nine years ago, an incident happened that was both very funny and quite tragic at the same time. A local shopkeeper had just put out some new picnic tables in front of his premises when he noticed one of two local boys misbehaving and marking the seats. He went out and said he would kick his ass if he caught him doing it again. Being more aware of his rights than his responsibilities, the kid replied, ‘If you do, I’ll tell my Da on you.’ To which the other boy said, ‘Sammy, don’t be so stupid, even your mother doesn’t know who your father is.’ At one level it was quite amusing and at the same time a sad commentary on where much of society is at in relation to moral values and parental responsibility.

I share it with you because it forms part of the picture in the gospel of today where in the synagogue Jesus had just outlined his mission statement as to what he was about; ‘Sent to bring good news to the poor, liberty to captives, to give the blind new sight and to set the downtrodden free.’ Everyone is amazed at his graciousness and he wins the approval of all. Then just as suddenly the tide of public opinion turns and the crowd becomes hostile to the point of wanting to murder him. They even take him to the brow of a hill with the intention of throwing him over.

Public opinion is very fickle and it’s never wise to get too concerned with other peoples approval, unless, of course, you’re a County Councillor seeking re-election! One of the big regrets of many who are dying is that they lived their lives too dependent on others approval and this prevented them from living their own lives and being true to themselves. Being too concerned with what others think of us can all too easily lead to the tragedy of an unlived life. With Christ the people he had grown up with, saw a man who was now everything they were not, but perhaps had always aspired to be. Here was a man who was now living outside the conventional box. He was bigger than downtown Nazareth; he was larger than family and he was no longer subject to their limited way of thinking. When the tide of public opinion turns hostile, probably because of envy, the crowd justifies their anger by trying to reduce him to his true greatness. So they jeer, ‘Who does he think he is anyhow, just Joseph the carpenters son, the one who grew up with us who now has all these grandiose notions about himself.’ The fact that Joseph wasn’t his actual father must not have been public knowledge at the time or they would have had a field-day on him being the illegitimate son of Mary.

You may remember a film that was out a few years back called Philomena. It was about a mother and baby home in Roscrea called Sean Ross. One of the most heartbreaking scenes in it was of a young child looking through the back window of a car and being taken off to America with the mother watching from a distance and screaming in anguish knowing she was never going to see her child again. At the time I knew someone who was born in that same home and had come within days of being that child. This was a lady who had grown up with seven others whom she believed to be her brothers and sisters but who were in fact her uncles and aunts. The one whom she believed to be her mother had died when she was nine, was in fact her grandmother. Up until she was nineteen the secret remained more or less in the family, and she was the secret. Then, out of the blue, someone blabbed the truth to her in a pub and naturally left her reeling. She didn’t know what to do with the information, but it made sense as as to why her older sister had always been kept at a distance by the family, and why there had always been such an unease, like an invisible barrier between them. Not knowing what to do and knowing no one to talk to about it she just kept silent for nearly twenty years and so the family secret became her secret.

However holding secrets can be dangerous and may make us sick, and so her health began to break down with serious back pain and early symptoms of cancer. Her life became a nightmare of hospital tests and consultancy appointments I encouraged her to bite the bullet and seek the truth. Whatever the cost it couldn’t be worse than losing her health. To meet her mother was not an easy decision as there was a lot of anger to overcome. Why had this woman not made the first move, why had she left her thinking that her mother was dead, why had she not taken her back when she got married? There were so many unanswered questions that could only be answered by asking direct. One day, during mass, she had what could only be described as a moment of grace where she was filled with love towards her mother who in spite of all the unanswered questions had gone through hell in order to bring her into the world and who had given her the precious gift of life, so how could she not be grateful? She made contact with this woman who was overjoyed that someone had finally broken the ice. She too had suffered bad health because of what had happened and badly needed to tell her story. She said that it was her greatest fear that she would die before her story would be told.

At eighteen when she found herself pregnant she was brought to Sean Ross where her beautiful hair was cut off, she was put in a drab uniform and worked in the fields until weeks before the birth when she was transferred to the laundry. The food was like pigswill and the girls were starving. The baby was large and she was cut. When she cried out in pain her face was slapped and told not to be making a nuisance of herself. She saw other babies being viewed for adoption and when she saw big cars arriving she knew what was happening and what was likely to happen to her little girl. Every day she prayed for help in front of the Grotto to Our Lady that is there to this day. At the eleventh hour, after her baby had been chosen for adoption, a letter arrived from her father to say they were keeping the child and would bring it up as one of their own. And so it happened, but it took its toll on the mother and a year later she had a breakdown but thankfully recovered and later met a wonderful husband with whom she had several other children. The unanswered questions all made sense as the mother and daughter spent time together and at a three day religious day event we held in Oylegate both of them very courageously told their story and for the first time publically acknowledged each other as mother and daughter. Very few in the congregation knew anything of the daughter’s background and when she stepped forward to acknowledge her mother it was perhaps the most significant and moving moment ever to happen in the history of that church. We had it staged in such a way that while the mother would first tell her story nobody would know who the daughter was. I don’t think that there was a single dry eye in the congregation when one of their own and the last person many expected stepped forward, it was such a special moment to be treasured. Unfortunately that woman didn’t have long to live and sadly passed away last year. Thankfully there was no unfinished business and no questions left unanswered but just a lingering sadness over years of relationship lost through secrecy that could never be recovered. The daughters health came back completely since her body no longer need to say what she was unable to say for those nineteen years.

For so many the untold story of their birth can affect their lives. The facts and circumstances of our origins and birth can be a very sensitive issue for so many and one that is very important for all of us to have come to terms with or else it with be like a ghost that will continue to haunt us all of our days. If we happen to be in this situation its useful to remember that it was something that Christ also had to become reconciled with, he didn’t know about his paternity and he was one of the many for whom his real father was not his da. For him, all that mattered was that God was his true father and so everything else was more or less incidental. In effect he was the embodiment of the words from the Prophet Jeremiah. ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and before you came to birth I consecrated you.’ To know our divine origin is really all that matters and that whatever else may have happened in terms of being a mistake or not being wanted carry little significance. God wanted us to born, He loves us and he has chosen us and once seen in that light nothing else makes that much difference.

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