Blessed is She


Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool footballer prays on the pitch

“Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

I wonder if anybody here has been following the football. If you have, you will know that my team, Liverpool, haven’t really been doing all that well. In fact it would not be too much to say that this season so far has probably been the worst ever performance by a Liverpool team in the history of the Premiership. It has already cost our manager, Brendan Rodgers, his job.

But what struck me was the reason that the new manager, Jurgen Klopp, has constantly given to explain the failure. He doesn’t think that our team is any less talented, or any less committed, or any less hard-working than any other. The problem, he feels is a lack of “belief”. He doesn’t actually say what sort of belief is lacking, but what he seems to mean is that when other teams are in trouble, they still have enough confidence in themselves and in one another to believe that somehow, with individual determination and collective teamwork, they can get through. By contrast, with Liverpool, too often it seems that when Daniel Sturridge leaves the field, the fight goes with him. There is such a thing as the self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you can succeed, you often do; if you’re sure you’re going to fail, the chances are you will. That is basic sports psychology. But there is something Christian about it too.

I don’t think that many people here will know the name Leonard Cheshire. But I hope that some people will have heard of the Cheshire Homes which cares for disabled children and adults. Leonard Cheshire was a British war hero in the Second World War. He was the squadron leader of 617 squadron – the Dambusters – you must have seen the film!

And, after the war, like so many war heroes, he was poor and unemployed in time of peace. One day, he met in the street another war hero – a man he had served with in the British air force. That man was destitute – homeless, sleeping on the streets, starving and… dying of cancer. He was also a Catholic. Appalled that a war hero - a man who had served his country so faithfully and so well at risk of his life - could now be abandoned and destitute in his time of need, Cheshire took him into his home and nursed him for the short time until he died – in peace. Cheshire was very struck by the calmness and tranquillity with which his friend died.

In gratitude for his care and compassion, the man had left him his only possession – a Bible. Cheshire read it and, a little while later, himself became a Catholic. This passage – “Blessed is she who believed that the promises made to her would be fulfilled” made a deep impression on him. And he believed that the promise made to him was that so long as what he did was genuinely in the service of the Lord, the Lord would bless it.

So he simply took into his home every sick and dying person who came. The few became a flood – so he rented homes to put them all in. And he says that he never once worried about how he was going to pay for it all. Donations seemed to come in without his even having to ask. People could see that he was doing something genuinely good and they wanted to support him because he believed that he had the Lord’s promise that his work would not fail once it was genuinely conducted in the Lord’s service.

Today the Cheshire homes – founded sixty years ago in Britain – exist with that same spirit of Christian compassion in nearly every country in the World – though I am assured by one of their staff that their financial management has come on a bit since the early days.

And I think that this is the kind of belief that Elizabeth is talking about. A single, unmarried, pregnant girl – with a rather unusual explanation of how she came to be pregnant – is told that her barren cousin is now pregnant too. Naturally, she goes to see Elizabeth to see if this could be true – and it is! She really will bring the Lord and Saviour of humanity into the world.

And that, somehow, is the promise to us all and the mission on which we are all sent. All of us are in the world and have the responsibility to make the child of Christmas present in the World.

Because, what will actually happen on Christmas Day? In many respects, it will be just a day like any other day. The only thing that really makes it different is what it means to Christians all over the world and that is EMMANUEL – God is with us – God is in us. And that is our responsibility – to be Christ for the world. Sometimes, that seems difficult. How can we, who know our faults make the Spirit of goodness so present in our lives that we can be Christ for the world?

Our belief may not be enough for us to found a world-wide charity which has helped the lives of thousands of people. It may not even be enough to win a football match. It may not even be enough to sustain our work beyond today. But it is our Belief that we are each and all of us the Incarnation of Christ in the World that causes us to believe in ourselves and causes us to believe that we are capable – in Mother Teresa’s phrase (who is once again on the road to sainthood) – of doing something beautiful for God. Happy are we who believe that the promises made to us will be fulfilled.

Let us profess our Faith in God who makes His promises come true in us.

Paul O'Reilly SJ