Message from Fr Toby Lees – 19 October 2022

Written by on 17/10/2022

The Holy Trinity (ca. 1500–27)

Dear Listeners,

It’s a truism that we live in an era of rights without responsibilities. Read the papers, scroll online and you’ll hear countless cries of ‘I have a right to’, ‘X ought to do more’, ‘something ought to be done about this’, we might call it expectation without obligation.

It isn’t a good thing. But, it’s not always a terrible thing . . . at least, not at the start. As a slightly naive 21 year old I went off to live and work in a shelter for street kids in Dar es Salaam. I had images of cute orphans who would be eternally grateful for all I did for them. What I came across was somewhat different. I remember the man who ran the shelter, in a moment of exasperation, once asking me, ‘Toby, why do you think so many of these children are with us?’ I had been expecting some comment on the ravages of AIDS or some other sociological explanation. When no reply came from me, he said, ‘Because they are so annoying!’ There was another word in that sentence, but it’s not fit for publication.

Some of the kids in that place were difficult, some had come from the rural areas to the city, in the hope of better things, and had found only drugs and destitution. Too embarrassed or too addicted to go home, they stayed, and they were not the adoring orphans of my expectations.

At first, I used to get irritated that they complained so much about the food in the shelter. They would often try and make an excuse for why they needed money for chips rather than eat the rather more boring ugali (a flour-based porridge) – and I would think to myself, ‘they should be grateful to us that they’ve got anything, without us they’d have nothing’. After two months of ugali I became more sympathetic to their request, I was bored of it myself!

Over time, however, my thinking changed. As a kid, how many times was I grateful for a run-of-the-mill meal? McDonalds maybe? But an average meal at home, not so much (no offence to your cooking, Mum, if you’re reading this!) What was going on in that shelter was that the boys had a sense of their own dignity now, they didn’t need to beg for food because they had an expectation of it, they knew that we would not let them go hungry. Though they might not have expressed it as such, they knew that we had the money to feed them, and they knew that because they were loved we would feed them. They had little knowledge about the constant scramble for funds that was going behind their backs to keep the shelter running, and nor should they, a child does not need to know everything.

To become capable of love starts with being loved. The child has to experience love for many years before they become capable of loving in a disinterested way. Some of us never become capable of such love. We never move beyond what one Rabbi calls ‘fish love’ – I love fish and so I eat it! But it has to start with being loved: ‘We love because He loved us first’ (1 John 4:19).

The experience of love is transformative, the experience of secure love is necessary to moving towards being fully human. But there comes a stage of maturity, where, without doubting in the security of the love, we become grateful for being loved. We are aware that this person might not have existed, that God might not have brought me into being, that my parents might not have met. And, when it comes to contingency of so much that is good, rather than the experience of fear – still resting in the security of love – we experience gratitude and the free desire, but also somehow spontaneous impulsion, to love in return. It’s the sort of unconditional love that exists between the Persons of the Trinity. It’s the love that we’re called into . . . ‘by which He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion and become partakers of the divine nature’ (1 Peter 2:4).

One of my Dominican brothers once observed that we do not give to the people that we love, rather we love the people to whom we give. It might sound like semantics, but it makes the point that love is a doing verb, love is an active relationship of love. The one who loves is never just concerned about their own feelings.

I mention love and gift because we have recently held our Mariathon, our fundraising drive to make possible the future work of this radio. We rely on your gift to make possible the radio that you love and to tell others of the great gift of God’s love for them.

Being a radio station that relies on donations forces us to rely entirely upon God’s providence. But that’s not a burden, it’s the way that ultimately all of us have to live, dependent upon others and upon God. There’s no shame in it and the things that we can truly control are not the things that truly matter, except when it comes to ‘making our “Yes” mean yes, and our “No” mean no’ (Matthew 5:37). Our integrity is one of the few things that circumstances cannot take away from us, though they may test it.

Resting in God’s providence is not just sitting back and doing nothing though. To briefly turn to technical language and use a term familiar to Thomists, secondary causality is crucial to understanding the operation of God’s providence. Now, secondary causality could be the subject of a letter on its own, but essentially it’s the recognition that God, in a manifestation of His greatness and humility, desires that certain events come about through secondary causes, and those secondary causes are often you and me. God desires that the poor be fed and clothed, and the way that His will is fulfilled is through the charity of other people. God desires that a woman be healed, and He desires that it should happen as a result of our prayers.

If God desires that Radio Maria England continue its good work of making others know the gift of God’s love, then it will have been made possible through the gifts of those who love this radio and want others to know the love of God through this radio.

At ordination, Bishops say to men at their ordination, ‘May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment’. Radio Maria is our work – ‘we are many members but part of one body’ (1 Cor 12:12) – and we contribute in the way that we can.

With my thanks and my love for your gifts that make our good work, God’s good work, possible.

God bless,

Fr Toby Lees OP


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