I had read on the internet that a particular bird was to be seen at Magilligan Point, up where the ferry crosses from Derry into Donegal. Not sure of the best road to take I asked two men, both of whom I would consider experts in the field, the best way to go. I live beside Portglenone and wanted to know if I would be better going via Garvagh, Dungiven or Coleraine.
“Ah, go through Garvagh and over the mountain; shortest by far,” said my first friend. Then the second, who has a taxi business, confirmed what he had said and assured me that no sane man would go any other way.
I happened to mention my dilemma to a woman who calmly said, “When I am going that road I go to the edge of Coleraine and out the north coast road. It’s a better road and every bit as fast.”
It was time to consult the oracle: MapQuest was pulled up on the computer and Portglenone to Magilligan Point was duly typed in. Qué sorpessa! (What a surprise) It is 36.3 miles and one hour one minute from my house to Magilligan Point over the mountain and 36.7 miles and 58 minutes up to Coleraine and out.
Off I went to Coleraine and out the coast
I told my two friends. One accepted what I said and the other dismissed it totally. Even in the face of evidence he was not going to change. “There is no way that road is quicker,” he said in a tone that led me to understand that enough was enough.
The whole episode set me thinking; how many things in my life do I hold as certain truths that are in reality lies.
The West is taking on the belief that all Muslims are bad and not to be trusted. Surely that can’t be true and yet it is becoming ever more the accepted reality. Do you recognise that kind of thinking?
Well, what about all those years that we spent in Northern Ireland living in the certainty that ‘they’ were not to be trusted…….indeed, I would even maintain that it is still the case in Northern Ireland; we still don’t trust each other.
It is amazing the divides that we have in our country and the way that we are becoming much more divided. Do you know, I was never a real friend to an SDLP member until about four years ago. I certainly would have known people with SDLP leanings but as to being a close friend to one, I had none.
There is a sort of preconceived idea among people of the republican mind-set that ‘they’ were never to be trusted. My friend when I got to know him did not have two heads nor was he in any way untrustworthy. In fact, in many ways he has proven himself to be an honourable man.
All this reminds me of a great story about Abraham Lincoln. In 1851, long before he had even dreamt of running for president, Lincoln wrote in his diary: “I met a man today, I did not like him, I have to get to know him better.”
Then there are all the preconceived ideas we have about the English: a pagan country, a hater of Ireland and a den of iniquity.
Sorry, I still believe that….some things haven’t changed.
Mr Spock has changed; he changed from being alive to this world to being alive in the next. Dying would have been quite logical for Mr Spock: he was eighty three, had a chest infection and would have known that this mortal body could not hold on to the soul forever.
Having fought numerous aliens and shape shifting badies, Mr Spock will enter the next world with no preconceived ideas. By now he knows the answers to all the great questions: is there a God, what is life about, is there a place called Vulcan and will anyone ever ‘boldly go where no man has gone before.’
The mission of the Enterprise, as we were told at the start of every episode, (and I am proud to say that I have seen them all) was to last five years; Spock’s new mission will last slightly longer.
In fact, for Mr Spock, life has come to a sudden end when he closed his eyes, as the atheists believe, or a whole new adventure has begun. Even writing that line, ‘life has come to a sudden end when he closed his eyes,’ makes me feel quite uneasy; it has actually no meaning for me.
Spock has started a new journey. We all know in our heart of hearts that this life is not the end of everything. But then again, what will heaven be like? We have no idea, but we do know that it has three elements and they come in three successive stages.
The first is God’s truth and we get our first glimpse of this when we meet Jesus and see our lives as they really were. Here there shall be no preconceived notions; no hiding behind false emotions to justify our behaviour, there will only be the absolute, unbounded truth of how we lived our lives. Then we shall see our lives as we really lived them, not as we like to think we did.
Then, after having been shown our lives we shall experience God’s justice. Thankfully God’s justice is his mercy or we would all stand no chance! We shall understand and see how we treated others, how we were part of this sinful place which puts the rich whites before the poor blacks and where every human life has a monetary value.
In God’s justice all people are equal: we cannot even conceive of a situation in which all people are equal. Every one of us has within us that belief in the hierarchy of victims: it is our nature, and it is ingrained; some people are worth more than others.
Finally we shall see God’s beauty. But don’t worry, for most of us we shall have to spend a long time somewhere learning to be purged of all the preconceived notions we have held. What about that shrug of the shoulders we have all done when we heard of the deaths of a few Iraqi civilians, or the times when we listened to the news to hear if a pub blown up was Catholic or Protestant.
If it was ‘them’ it was not that bad!
How could we hope to see the beauty of God with such ideas in our head? No wonder the church teaches that there is a place of purification; could you imagine a place filled with all our bigotries and queer notions about ‘them.’
Mohammed Emwazi has some strange notions about ‘them.’ And ‘them’ seems to be anybody that does not see the world the way he does. Unless you have been living as a hermit this past week you shall know that Mohammed Emwazi turns out to be the real name of Jihadi John.
He was born in Kuwait, moved to London and then went to Syria to take up a job as chief beheader of hostages. Why did he do it?
The papers were full all sorts of reasons: he was harassed by MI5, he had a head injury at school and he was angry and had to have anger counselling while a student. Not one of us has any idea of why Jihadi John went bad. That will not be revealed until we see the Last Judgement, when everything shall be brought out into the light.
Until then we can only guess, but there are a few things we can know simply by looking at our own lives, and the first of these is that human beings like to choose evil because it gives them a sense of power.
In a world which has thrown out the idea of a devil and the concept of evil, people such as Jihadi John and IS are the best advert for the devil that we could possibly have. Imagine the feeling of power that can be had by being part of an army that just takes over an area and kills or rapes everyone who disagrees with you.
A man who returned from Syria and who knew Jihadi John said that he rose quickly through the ranks because he enjoyed torturing people.
Never under estimate the desire for power; look at what it has done to successive generation of politicians in these islands down the years.
Think of the last time you spent an evening plotting revenge on someone. How you thought of getting even and getting your own back and then think of the feeling of power that went with it.
We all like that feeling of power. Those of us who are old enough can remember how even we used to distinguish instinctively between those who were genuine freedom fighters and those who were there for their own gain; but shush, we can’t say such things.
In our lives we all choose evil at times. It is called sin, and there is not one human being alive today who is not guilty of sin in some way; being a sinner is being human. But, boy, do we have good excuses:
“My wife doesn’t understand me,” “He had it coming to him,” “I need the money to keep my business going,” or “He was charging me too much.”
John Paul said an interesting thing in his last book which I have always found very interesting. It was about governments and the laws that they pass. Basically what he said was that Prime Ministers and other leaders will be held responsible for the laws and their effects that they pass.
Not one of us could even begin to understand the effects of some laws, but imagine being someone who supports cutting benefits from the poor in order to give tax breaks to the rich, (Dear God, we need the rich people in the banks because we need that calibre of businessman) knowing that you are going to leave the poor running to food banks.
Or imagine trying to justify sending in a ‘drone’ to blow up an Afghan village in order to kill one man you believe to be a terrorist. What way would you explain that when you meet God’s truth?
As the world scrapes and scringes through every notion about what happened to Jihadi John, we Catholics know the answer. Like the rest of us there were times when he chose evil and he liked it. It gave him a feeling of power and he followed it to the end.
But it is not our place to judge him. We can say that the beheading of people is wrong, and we can say that if ever he is caught and brought to England he should face the full rigour of the law, but the judgement of where he shall spend his eternity is down to God alone; that end of it is none of our business.
You know, in two thousand years of reflecting on all these matters, the Church has never declared anyone to be in hell. Not even Judas, Hitler, Chairman Mao, Stalin or Winston Churchill have been declared to be in hell by the Church.
If you wonder why I mention Churchill, read a book called, “The Inhuman Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945,” by a German historian called Jörg Friedrich, and see what you think for yourself.
In his encyclical ‘Spe Salvi’ or more precisely, ‘Spe salvi facti sumus’ (in hope we are saved) Pope Benedict says that one of the great proofs for the existence of God is the fact that there has to be justice.
Benedict mentions such things as the Holocaust and other great mass killings, but there are many questions from history that need to be answered. And there are many questions from our own lives that have to be sorted before God’s justice is finally done.
For example, the people of Germany and all those who died in Allied bombing raids, have a right to know what was the motivation for the blanket, ruthless bombings of German cities. Was there a genuine military objective or was it revenge, did the pilots follow orders and try to select targets or did they just drop bombs for the sake of it?
The people of Northern Ireland need to know was there government involvement in the planning of Bloody Sunday, and why can the truth of Pat Finucane’s murder never be let out?
The Last Judgement will reveal a lot of things and there will be many very, very red faces.
But then again, during Lent, maybe we should think about the things that are going to be revealed about us as well.
The views expressed are not necessarily those of the editor but are the views of the writer.
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