“Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”


A man clutches his ice cream

I am sure that, this morning, as soon as we awoke, all of us had just one major concern in our minds – would Ireland beat England at Twickenham this afternoon?

When I was very young, my mother’s most annoying favourite saying was: “Offer it up for the Holy Souls in Purgatory”. Usually she said it to me when I was filled with righteous indignation at some major injustice that had been perpetrated against me – such as an unequal division of the ice cream. It is not, you understand, that I could ever be so petty as to argue over a small amount of ice cream. No, it’s the principle of the thing. As any child knows, if the dangerous precedent is established that another child gets more ice cream than he does, then who knows to what even greater injustices this might lead? It’s just not fair! And a firm stand has to be taken straight away. {And at the time I was in the practice of taking very seriously my responsibilities to take just such firm stands on a very regular basis and on a remarkably wide range of issues.}

It was at just such times that my mother would invite me to “offer it up for the Holy Souls”. And by golly it used to infuriate me! It seemed to imply that the issues of high principle in which I was engaged actually mattered little compared with the – to me – rather minor matter of maintaining peace and harmony in the family home. Worse, it implied that by standing up for my rights I was somehow at fault and failing in generosity – failing to serve God, when surely it was God’s business to be on my side in righting a grave wrong.

Well, with thirty years of hindsight, I think I am just about ready to concede that my mother may – just may - have had a point. In my homeland of Northern Ireland a peace has been made which has involved sacrifices of principles previously sacred to both sides. My letters and telephone calls from home tell of greater joy than I have ever heard my friends and family utter before. It may not be entirely peace with justice, but it’s better than it was - nobody is dying and everyone is happier than they were. Slowly, my home country has learned that “an eye for an eye and the whole world soon goes blind”. Not every principle has to be stood upon. Not every right has to be asserted every time. Sometimes it really is better to bite one’s lip, take the hit and “offer it up for the Holy Souls”.

Just about this time <nine> years ago, on 24th February, 2007, something previously unthinkable happened: an international rugby match was played at the home of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Croke Park, in Dublin – the highest citadel of Irish political republicanism – and the scene 80 years before of one of the most appalling atrocities in the Black and Tan war. The English rugby team stood to salute the British national anthem, ‘God save the Queen’. And eighty-two thousand Irish people – the largest crowd ever assembled at a rugby match in Ireland – stood in respectful silence and offered it up for the Holy Souls. It was a beautiful moment of true Christian forbearance. It also rather helped that Ireland then played out of their skins and won 43 - 13,… but let that pass.

Steve Waugh, the Australian captain of the most successful cricket team there has ever been was once asked about what was the most important thing in being a successful cricketer. I think the interviewer expected him to say something about “talent, or “commitment”, “hard work” “focus”, or some other words like those. But actually he said, “being a good loser”.
Cricket, like all other games depends on there being a good loser. Every game has a winner and a loser; but after the game, there will only be another game if the loser is prepared to try again. The winner always wants to play again; the loser has to overcome his humiliation, swallow his pride, summon his courage and try again. That is why the continuance of all sports depends not on the quality of the winners, but on the quality of the losers – on their ability to offer it up for the good of the game.

I have to admit that, even in advancing middle age, I still notice when I get less ice-cream than the person next to me. And when I do, I hear my mother’s voice in my head saying, “Offer it up for the Holy Souls”, because that is a small part – a tiny part - of the Christian forbearance that is the foundation in the world of peace, justice – and even good sportsmanship.

Let us pray that that peace may be in our hearts, and in our lives, in our families and in our entire community. And let us pray that it may begin in those moments when each of us - in the secret of our hearts - offers it up for the holy souls.

Let us, this weekend, profess our Faith in God who places His holiness in all of our Souls.

Paul O'Reilly SJ