Good evening from Birmingham where we’ve just spent the last day. What can I say about Birmingham?

Perhaps a shopkeeper summarised it for us when we asked him if he sold and souvenirs like mugs or keyrings with Birmingham on them and he replied “No, you won’t find any of that type of thing for Birmingham”.

And that sums it up really, nothing extraordinary or exciting and not even a keyring to mark its existence!

That said the people were pleasant and it was nice to get out of London even if only for a day.

We did go to mass this morning in Chad’s Cathedral where we learn a fascinatingly story of how a bomb hit the Cathedral during the war and burst a radiator, the water from which extinguished the fire and saved the Cathedral! God certainly works in mysterious ways.

Today’s gospel continued on the theme of obedience to the will of God rather than sacrifice and it reminded me of the readings at mass over the last week from the second book of Samuel.

The people were grumbling to Samuel that they wanted a king and that they “wanted to be like the other nations”.

Samuel was disgusted by them because up to that point God was leading them directly through the prophets because they were his people and he didn’t want them to be like everyone else!

God warned them that a king would oppress them and make slaves out of them but they wouldn’t listen and insisted that they wanted to be like everyone else.

Eventually God said “so be it” and warned that one day they would cry to him in despair and that he would not listen.

It got me thinking of my own life and indeed your life too and the terrible temptation to “be like everyone else” and to reject God in an effort to fit in and to be accepted.

Whether it’s to talk like everybody else or to act like everybody else or to buy the same clothes as everybody else or to live a life without prayer like everybody else….there certainly is a temptation to reject God and to go along with the crowd.

And even in church circles there is also the temptation to go along with the crowd rather than discerning God’s individual and personal calling for each one of us.

This is especially true in my area of ministry where often gay people are taught that they are utterly disordered and that they should aspire to be like “everybody else”.

Years can be spent trying to heal the “unwanted same sex attraction” when the problem was never with the same sex attraction but the problem was with the “unwanted” part”!

Just like the people of Israel couldn’t please God by going against God’s plan for them and choosing a king of their own liking, neither can gay people however good their intentions may be ever really please God and obey his plan for their lives if they continue to reject their gayness.

The secret of making peace with oneself and with God isn’t about being like everyone else, it’s about being who God made each one of us to be and being obedient to that.

The devil often has a field day tricking people and deceiving people into thinking that they are doing God’s will when in fact they are doing the opposite!

I know for example lots of gay catholic men who live in the closet and look down their noses on Seamus and I because in their eyes they are living lives of self sacrifice.

Yet God would say to this miserable lot “I don’t want your sacrifice, I want your obedience”.

In other words, stop lording your so called ‘sacrifice’ and self righteousness over everyone else and actually accept yourself and learn to love!

A miserable frown from sacrifices isn’t a fruit of the Holy Spirit but actually a sign of inner rebellion where a soul is actually refusing somehow to do God’s will.

It’s easier to sit in the pews and go through all the devotionals and prayers like everyone else while looking pious rather than stepping out from the crowd and being counted.

In Medjugorje Our Lady is calling for such heroic people to be her apostles of love and to be obedient to her and the individual callings that she has for each one of us and of course sacrifice is a part of this but is not the essence, obedience to the will of God is always the essence and anything we do in our hearts for God with love will always give us deep inner peace no matter how difficult it may be and how much we may struggle with it.

And so all of us must be very careful for both our own spiritual lives and the lives of others that we are not putting prayers and sacrifices before the will of God and teaching others to do the same.

Do we spend enough time discerning God’s individual will for our lives or are we just babbling off prayers like parrots?

Are we continuing to seek out our own on-going inner healing with the help of a spiritual director with whom we are vulnerable and honest or have we become our own spiritual directors and camouflaging our wills as God’s?

The best way to know is to ask if we have joy in our hearts because true holy spirit type joy does not come from endless and often mindless sacrifices and prayers, it comes from obedience to the heart and will of God!

So don’t be a miserable catholic lording your misery and prayers and sacrifices over the rest of us when we’re laughing and smiling with Jesus but instead pray that you too will find the inner joy that comes from obeying God and not being like everyone else!