Will you not come in?


Where there's tea there's hope

'If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, they will most certainly not lose their reward.'

As you may know, I come from Northern Ireland, which is – or at least used to be - a very divided community between two sorts of people who, for very long and complicated historical, political, social, economic and even religious reasons, find it very hard to share one country. One race is called the nationalists - to which I happen to belong. The other race is called the Unionists. The nationalists are descended from the original Celtic inhabitants of the island and are mostly Catholic and poor. The Unionists are descended from immigrants who came only about 400 years ago and still haven’t quite fitted in. They are mostly Protestants and, though some of them are rich, most of them are quite poor also.

When I was about 8, I was out with my parents one night driving back from visiting relatives up-country, when the car broke down - miles from anywhere. It was midwinter. It was pouring with rain and bitterly cold. Away in the distance we should just see the light of a house. So we went towards it and knocked on the door. It opened and, immediately, we knew that we had made a terrible mistake. An elderly lady stood in the doorway and we knew to look at her that she was one of the “other sort”. Behind her in the hallway we could see  pinned up all the usual pictures and flags of the Unionist cause. And in her eyes, we could see ourselves reflected – three drenched miserable specimens of the enemy set against the background of the thunderstorm.

There was a long tense pause in which each of us knew exactly what the other was thinking – and feeling. And at the end of it she said - almost through gritted teeth – “will you not come in and have a cup of tea?” To this day, I can remember how good that tea tasted.

That was nearly forty years ago. I am sure that she is now long dead. And if she did nothing else good in her entire life, then for that one act of genuine kindness to people she regarded as her bitterest enemies, I believe  - and this Gospel teaches - that she will not lose her reward.

Let Us Pray that we also may be given the grace to love our enemies - in the hope that we may discover within them the presence of the living God.

Paul O'Reilly SJ