Take the Risk or Lose the Chance
Fr. Brendan Quinlivan
As a youth I was always something of a risk taker. I like to think that age has mellowed me and made me a little more cautious in my undertakings. Being a risk taker didn’t always lead to the best of outcomes. I was certainly more susceptible to peer pressure and could rarely refuse a dare from my contemporaries. I’m not sure whether this was a display of great courage or profound stupidity on my part. Either way, it got me into a lot more trouble as a youngster than I care to remember.
Just up the road from our house in Stonehall was the forge cross and inside the wall was a hollow dead tree. It had become home to a swarm of angry bees who had made their nest in it. As kids we always cycled a little more quickly down the Old Road when passing their nest lest we be subject to a painful sting or two. One day, probably in response to some childhood ennui, we dared each other to see who could move closest to the bees nest without being stung. General George Patton once reminded his troops that taking a calculated risk was not the same as being rash, but that was a lesson I was yet to learn.
I have no recollection of how the brinksmanship escalated so quickly, but I found myself poking the centre of the bees nest with an old branch that had been lying in the ground. The change in the volume, tone and intensity of the buzzing was immediate. Instinctively we turned and ran in a variety of directions but those bees knew exactly who the perpetrator was and followed me the 100 yards or so to my door, sacrificing themselves in a bid to exact merited vengeance and maximum pain on their attacker. My mother had little sympathy for my pain as she added to it by extracting the bee’s fallen comrades from my head and body one by one with a tweezers. She then proceeded to wash me with a ‘bag of blue’, believing it to have some hitherto unknown curative or disinfectant properties. The end result of my risk was that I was left in much pain and looking like an extra from Mel Gibson’s Braveheart for several days following the incident.
The truth is that risk does not always have such negative outcomes and many of humanity’s greatest accomplishments have begun by someone opting to take a risk. The consequences of risk-taking are on all our minds these days as we make so many choices in the face of an invisible enemy. We are faced in a particular way with the risks that may come with returning to public worship. The scriptures and our faith story are filled with people who chose to take extraordinary risks for God and for Faith.
The New Testament letter to the Hebrews, initially, was a letter written to the Christians of the first century church. Those people were suffering horrible persecutions. They had much to discourage them. They needed one another urgently and deeply. In this letter to them the writer says, “Stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” They needed the encouragement of their meeting together and being together. And so they met – whatever the danger to them, they gathered regularly together.
In our gatherings these days, you and I do not confront exactly the same kind of danger those people did. The danger we face and the risks we take can come at great personal cost to our health and well-being. Still we need one another no less than they did. As they could draw strength mutually from the faith and courage of one another, so can we. It is important to remind ourselves of the need to keep ourselves and those we love safe and perhaps we don’t feel ready to return to public worship. The beauty of the time in which we live means that we can still gather thanks to the means of communication afforded to us by modern technology.
An old saying goes: “Expect great things from God; Attempt great things for God.” We’re pretty good at the first; not so hot with the second. Remember the words of Shakespeare: “Our doubts are traitors, And make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”
The truth is, that everything worthwhile involves some element of risk. To reach out for another is to risk involvement. To expose feelings is to risk exposing our true self. To place your ideas, your dreams, before the crowd is to risk loss. To love is to risk not being loved in return. To live is to risk dying. To hope is to risk despair. To try at all is to risk failure.
But risk we must, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The man, the woman, who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.
Fr. Brendan Quinlivan, Co-PP, Tulla is Vicar for the Ceantar na Lochanna group of parishes, Tulla, O’Callaghan’s Mills and Brodford and is Communications officer for the Diocese.