Stormy Waters

shipstorm1How often amid life’s stormy seas do we feel like we are alone, abandoned by God? Our Lord is always in heaven and wherever that is, it doesn’t seem to be here where I am right now, at this moment, struggling with the demands of daily life. It is as though Jesus is away praying alone on the mountain, far removed from my woes. It can be difficult sometimes to live the hope we profess when we are on the verge of shipwreck.

The important point of today’s Gospel is that Jesus is not as far removed from us as we might think. This awareness of God in our midst puts a new perspective on those things that trouble us. Though the disciples did not know it, He had long since departed from the solitude of the mountain and was present with them in their struggles on the open waters. If this is so, perhaps a better question for us to ask might be why Jesus waits until the fourth watch of the night before He intervenes? A long, horrific night had passed for the disciples and it was almost at the break of day, when they were at breaking point themselves, when He decided to help. But why? St. John Chrysostom writes “Christ did not reveal Himself to His disciples until they cried out; for the more intense their fear, the more did they rejoice in His presence.”

Consider the difference between “rejoicing in Christ’s presence”, as Chrysostom puts it, and not hoping in Him. What difference does it make to us as Christians when we profess to believe in God, compared with many of our contemporaries who do not? It is the difference between Peter desperately clinging to life in a battered ship on a storm-tossed sea and his trodding underfoot the very waves that threatened to destroy him. Encountering Christ has the power to transform us in a very real way. It has to be this way. If our belief in God does not have any real life implications for the way we live then what is the point of it?

Jesus is the daybreak. The darkness of the night and the violence of the storm give way before the Lord who is peace. Where He is, there is hope. An awareness of Christ in our daily struggles and a deep belief that He alone can deliver us from them presents us with a new reality; a new mode of existence. Life takes on a new eternal significance. Loving Christ is not a guarantee that our voyage will be easy but it is a guarantee that when we are at the point of shipwreck, we have a safe harbour where we can hope to find refuge.

Gospel Reflection for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matthew 14:22-33)

” Beauty Ever Ancient, Ever New”

Personal testimony is a powerful way to speak of the way God’s love can transform people’s lives. “Every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of Heaven is like ….” (Matthew 13:52). In this personal testimony, Matthew is giving an insight into his own faith journey with the Lord. Just a few chapters prior to this he told of how he was sitting at the Customs House and at Jesus’ inivitation, he got up and followed Him (Matthew 9:9). Having become a disciple of the kingdom and having had time to reflect upon it from that early conversion experience at the Customs House, Matthew is now ideally placed in this morning’s Gospel to plumb the depths of what this discipleship means in practice.

He speaks determinedly about the need for a disciple to “bring out from his storeroom things both new and old” (Matthew 13:52). Those who have made a conscious decision to follow Christ usually speak from the heart with an authority borne out of experience. For example, I remember listening to a self-confessed gangster named John Pridmore from London’s East End telling the story of his life both before and after Christ’s transforming love changed his life. He spoke so passionately about his journey from gangland to promised land. While giving his testimony, he readily drew from the broken-ness of his former ways in the hope of deterring other impressionable young people from making the same mistakes he did.

Along with other high profile converts like St. Paul and St. Augustine before him, Pridmore is but one of the countless people in every generation who have become disciples, wounded though they are. It is because they know what it is to be wounded that they make such effective disciples. Their former ways proved incapable of bringing them to the happiness they so craved and thus they sought out Christ, the Way, who proclaims: “now I am making the whole of creation new” (Revelation 21:5).

Matthew’s testimony ensures that there is a value for disciples of the kingdom of Heaven to draw out from the storeroom of their heart all that can be learned from the old self, perhaps especially the broken self, so as to appreciate to the fullest extent the newness of Christ. Reflecting on the old in light of the new is a beautiful way to pray. It inspires thanksgiving in the person who realises more and more everyday the gift of a relationship with God, that pearl of supreme value.

 

Gospel Reflection for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matthew 13:44-52)

 

“O unutterable Love”

 

 

St. Catherine of Siena, in her conversation with God the Father, posed a question regarding creation; “Why did you create, you who are so perfect, who lacks and needs nothing?” The Father answers her saying that He creates us out of his overflowing goodness and love. Hence the creation is fundamentally a free gift of God’s loving benevolence. Therefore, God loves and upholds it in being. This is why St. Catherine says that everywhere she looks she feels to say “O unutterable Love that surrounds my soul.”

However despite this reality of goodness and love Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel reveals a question deep in all our hearts. Father “was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the Darnel come from?” This same question could be rephrased to mean, why is there so many evil acts in the world? Why are innocent people murdered or oppressed? Why is there evil in the first place if the creation is so good and God is a loving God? So often many of these questions baffle us and make us question our faith and the goodness of God.

Jesus anticipates these questions in all our hearts and helps us articulate it through this Gospel. He does not leave us without an answer. It is clear that God did sow good seed and therefore there is indeed goodness in the world. However, Jesus explains that the Devil also sows his seed. In other words, every time for example we choose to hate, to lust, to be greedy, to conspire against others, we allow evil to come into the world, we allow the devil to sow his seed. The devil sows evil when good is absent. Since we are created with freedom of will, we can choose to co-operate with evil and reject grace. Hence, as the old adage says “evil exists when good men do nothing.”

We should never loose sight that though there is evil seed and we ourselves can at times be “subjects” of evil, we can always repent and God’s grace can remove the seeds of vice and plant the seeds of the virtues. The field of our heart can be made anew with a harvest full of fruit to offer the Lord. We ought also to try like St. Catherine to cultivate an awareness of God’s benevolence despite the apparent evil in the world so that we can say with her “ O unutterable Love that surrounds my soul.”

Gospel Reflection for 16th Sunday in Ordinary time- Year A (Mt 13: 24-43)

 

 

Eyes that see, ears that hear.

 

Last October some of the brothers and myself were attending the celebration for the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. After the Liturgy we were invited to a sharing. At the sharing a lady came up to me and started chatting, her face seemed familiar. For a brief moment I thought it could be Sr. Briege McKenna, a person I have always longed to meet since I read her book Miracles do Happen. However, my mental image of how Sr. Briege would look in person made me cast the thought aside. In addition, I also was interested in talking to someone else at the time and so I was in a hurry to get back to my other conversation. When Sr. Briege left one of the brethren turned to me and said “you do know that was Sr. Briege?”I could not believe that the lady I always wanted to meet was right in front of me and I did not recognise her. My opportunity was there and my closed eyes and prevented me from seizing it.
Like that experience with Sr. Briege, how often is the Word of God being addressed to us and we simply do not have the eyes to see nor the ears to hear? What biases and images of Jesus do we hold in our hearts that prevent us from recognising and understanding His Word ? Even if we receive the Word, what fears and anxieties do we have that prevent the Word from flourishing in our lives? What temptations and weaknesses keep our hearts keep distracting us from keeping watch with the Lord? This Sunday’s Gospel challenges us with these questions.
One could say that these questions are unfair and that Jesus seems demanding in the Gospel. We can often feel that it is impossible to really hear Jesus, someone  we do not ‘see’ or ‘hear’ as we do other people. We can feel at times he has abandoned us because when we think of him and talk to him we only hear silence in return. As a result, we can conclude that Jesus is asking too much of us when he tells us to receive his Word with a watchful heart.
However, maybe we need to gain a new perspective on how we hear Him and see Him. While we may not always hear Jesus voice in our hearts, through faith we know that he comes to us all the time, speaking to us constantly through the Sacred Tradition of the Church, through the Sacred Scriptures and through the Church’s teaching authority, the Magisterium. This is how we hear Jesus speaking clearly. We also see Jesus with the eyes of faith in the Eucharist, the sacrament through which he remains with us in Love. How easy it is to go to a Church to visit and spend time with him ‘face to face’ as friends. He waits with open arms to offer us his mercy and grace to give us the eyes that see and the ears that hear.
While I may have lost my opportunity to meet Sr. Briege, we should never loose the opportunity to meet Jesus. Despite our hardness of hearts, our dull hearing, Jesus comes to us over and over again. If we pray earnestly for faith and allow His grace to work in us, quietly but clearly we will hear him say to us “ But happy are your eyes because they see, your ears because they hear!” (Matt 13:)
Gospel Reflection for the 15TH  Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matthew 13:1-23)

Hope- Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul

 

 

  In preparation for the Easter Triduum ( Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday) our community made a retreat. The priest giving the retreat struck a cord in me when he spoke of the theological virtue of Hope. He remarked that it was his experience that very few people place as much emphasis on Hope as they do on the other two theological virtues, Faith and Love. This was true for me because I had seldom prayed for a greater Hope and yet Hope allows us to gather the vitality and energy we need to live out the Gospel. According to Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Spe Salvi,  says that our Christian Hope is what helps us face the present, “even if it is arduous.” Hence amidst the seeming darkness and despair of our present moments our supernatural sense of Hope as Christians can help us keep aglow with the Spirit and so not be discouraged to live out the Gospel.

 

This reflection on Hope is fitting in light of this Sunday’s feast of St. Peter and St. Paul because both men are witnesses of Hope. Their Hope in a Lord who has conquered sin and death, gave them the energy to overcome all temptations to despair and mediocrity. While these Apostles faced persecutions and the difficulties of the early Christian communities, it was to their faith and hope in Jesus  that they looked for the hope-filled courage to keep going.  Ultimately, they trusted in His grace, despite their weaknesses and failings. They knew the Lord’s heart, they knew he thirsted for their conversion and union with Him. Therefore, they had certain reasons to remain Hopeful.


In the Gospel this Sunday, in the wake of St. Peter’s confession of faith, the Lord affirms his faith with a truth that will become for St. Peter a pillar of his Hope,“ The gates of the underworld can never hold out against” the Church (Matt 16: 17). St. Peter knows then that when the going gets tough, the Lord will always be at his side. However, this is not only a great consolation for the first Pope but for us all especially in times when we see what appears to be a crisis surrounding our lives and the Church. History has shown that the Church, always under attack either from without or within, always reforms herself in the image of her Lord. It is important that our Hope be grounded on this fact. In addition, since we are members of the Church it also means that if we cooperate with Christ, his grace will triumph in us always reforming and purifying us.

 

 In short, our Hope is in the Lord both now and forever.

 

Gospel for this Sunday’s feast of St. Peter and St. Paul MT 16:13-19

 

 

 

Eating is Believing

communionChristianity is often characterised as a ‘religion of the book’, alongside Judaism and Islam, but it seems to me that one of the reasons this definition fails is that it leaves out a central aspect of Christian religious practice: eating and drinking.

On the feast of Corpus Christi this is what we celebrate: Christ’s body and blood, given to us under the appearance of bread and wine. Given to us for what reason? Not to nourish us physically, certainly, not to sustain mere biological life, but to enable us to live with ‘eternal life’ pulsing in our veins, with the life of Christ animating our every moment: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him’.

We are probably fairly comfortable with this mystery – we have grown up with it, and its strangeness no longer strikes us. In the ancient world, food and religion were certainly connected, above all in the practice of sacrifice. In ancient Greek religion, for example, an animal would be sacrificed in honour of a god, and its thigh-bones wrapped in fat would be burnt on a fire, so that the smoke could ‘feed’ the god in question. Such a practice was designed to curry favour with the gods – the sacrificer has given of his best in the sacrifice, and he hopes for the god’s best efforts in return.

The Eucharist turns this standard scheme of sacrifice upside down. Just as God fed Israel in the desert with manna, so the Eucharist is God’s way of feeding us. Yes, we offer Him a meagre amount of bread and wine as our sacrifice, but the real sacrifice in question is Christ’s offering of himself to the Father, and the real feeding in question is God’s nourishment of his people, not their feeding him.

This is all well and good, and the notion of being fed by God might be comforting to us, but this idea is just the sort of thing that made Sigmund Freud see religion as essentially ‘infantile’. He saw religious practice as stemming out of childhood anxieties about being fed, and the Eucharist he would dismiss as a symptom of this repressed anxiety.

How can we as Christians respond to this suspicious attitude to the eating and drinking which is so central to our worship of God? It seems to me that the best way to respond is by pointing out that all acts of eating and drinking involve a childlike recognition of our limits. We are not supermen, we have basic bodily needs which we must respect, and which make us dependent on each other. This was exactly the experience of Israel in the desert: ‘God humbled you, He made you feel hunger, He fed you with manna’ (Deut 8:3).

The Eucharist is the sacramental embodiment of this principle – we humans are not self-sufficient, we need to be fed, physically and spiritually. We should not be ashamed, then, of feeling like little children as we approach the Bread of Life – children, after all, are blessedly free of the illusions of independence which complicate and corrupt the lives of grown-ups.

Ministers of Mystery

cloud-question-mark-originalThe Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC No. 234) holds the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity to be the central mystery of Christian faith and life. “It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of the truths of faith.” Two points of interest, among many in this understanding of the most Holy Trinity, may be considered.

The first point refers to the importance of the concept of mystery. Any religious thought that does not treat God as being above and beyond what is knowable by the light of natural reason, probably does not have much to offer by way of relevance to a lived human reality that is steeped in mystery. This is an extension of the modern tendency of putting everything, including God, in safe, manageable categories. However, it does a dis-service to the oft-times unsafe and unmanageable certainty of realities like life and death, hope and despair. Great system builders like St. Thomas Aquinas were great system builders precisely because they saw their system in the mystery of God and not in spite of it. By constantly pushing the best of our rational human understanding of the world to its limit, we Christians become Ministers of Mystery. Not that God as Trinity could be known in any way other than God’s own revelation to us of course but we become Ministers of Mystery by encouraging our non-believing contemporaries to provide solid grounds for their claims. The inevitable inability to do so within the limited framework of thought underpinning the rationalist ideology, introduces possibilities for a broader discussion into the nature of being.

The second point refers to the pre-eminence of this mystery among the mysteries of faith. It is no coincidence that we believers usually begin our prayers by marking an invisible trace of the cross on our bodies, invoking the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is one of the most simple prayers and yet it so rich. The section of the Catechism mentioned above speaks of this mystery as the source; the most fundamental assertion of faith. However, not only is it the source but it is also the end to which the whole divine economy is ordered (CCC No. 260). Jesus’ prayer to His Father “that they may also be in us” (John 17:21), is our invitation to participate eternally in God’s own life. Thus, we usually end our prayer as we begun; by invoking the Most Holy Trinity.

God’s love for the world is described in today’s Gospel (John 3:16). That God continues to reach out to us is amazing to think about really, given the way the world treats God. The feast of the Most Holy Trinity, that community of pure love, should serve as a reminder to us that we are being caught up in the greatest love story ever told.

Gospel Reflection for the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity Year A (John 3:16-18)

 

 

Stay Calm and Receive the Holy Spirit

Wang_Radiant_Light_R-60011-CW-V2The readings on Pentecost Sunday highlight two moments of ‘reception’ of the Holy Spirit. Chronologically, the first is that in the Gospel, when Jesus passes through a locked door, turning the fear of the disciples into joy, and breathes on them, saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’. This simple event is quite different from the much more dramatic Pentecost event when the apostles, again hidden away in a room together, experience the Holy Spirit as a powerful wind, tongues of fire, and the ability to speak foreign languages.

What unites these two accounts? In both cases what is emphasised is the activity of God and the receptivity of Christian believers. In neither case had the disciples done anything special to invite the Holy Spirit, yet they appear to offer no resistance to what occurs, and in both cases the Holy Trinity is the protagonist, the ‘mover and shaker’ in the scene: ‘As the Father has sent me, so am I sending you… Receive the Holy Spirit’.

In our time, we prefer activity to receptivity: we want to be in the driving seat of our lives, not merely open to the possibilities that our life might propose. If someone fails to grasp hold of their life, their happiness, their dreams, we think of this as a moral failing. These people have no ‘guts’, no ‘drive’.

Pentecost teaches us to think twice about this hyperactive mentality. We must be responsible, of course, but if some of the greatest gifts in life are in fact beyond our little reach, and accessible only to those who have opened their hearts to receiving them, then perhaps learning to receive is one of the most important things we can do in life.

Learning to receive, however, is a lot more difficult than it sounds. Our culture has trained us to think of our worth in terms of what we produce and achieve, and this way of thinking can infect our prayer life too. It becomes difficult simply to rest in the presence of God, receiving his love – try it the next time you are praying and you will see what I mean. We begin to feel uncomfortable, to feel that we should be doing something, saying something. If this is what you experience, simply allow Christ to enter into the locked room of your heart and hear his words again: ‘Peace be with you… Receive the Holy Spirit’.

The Garden of Eden and the Concrete Jungle

Frankfurt Skyline PanoramicThe big news story in the wake of the Local and European elections held last week has been the rise of the far left and far right in various parts of Europe. The ascension to power of those who are dissatisfied with modern European society and the direction it is taking threatens the status quo. This might not be such a bad thing. If the new political landscape inspires in us a collective examination of conscience about who we are and how we are to live together in community, this election will have been a success.

There is another, more important ascension that we as believing Christians assent to every Sunday at Mass. We claim that ‘He (Jesus) ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father’ each time we recite the Creed. It is a fact largely ignored in our post-Christian society and yet this heavenly perspective must somehow shape any authentic examination of conscience, whether collective or individual. If it does not, the dissatisfaction of a divided human society that has expelled God from its version of paradise will reappear time and time again. The European project has all the marks of a Tower of Babel, striving for the sky but creaking unsteadily under the weight of its own expectation. Its foundations are unsure. There is something missing.

Contemplating our Lord’s ascension and viewing our earthly affairs in relation to their eternal significance puts perspective on how we live, vote and build societies here on earth. Or at least it should. Faith in God is not something distinct from our everyday lives – it is the salt that flavours it. If our new band of Councillors and M.E.P.’s cannot see that, we Christians need to help them. ‘Go therefore, make disciples of all nations’ we are told (Matthew 28:19). We have been commissioned by the Lord to help people realise there is a bigger game afoot. That is our job as witnesses to this authentic Christian understanding of human existence. Our assent to God has to shape our choice of who ascends to the echelons of political power and ultimately, our own hopes of ascending to heaven with Him.

Gospel Reflection for the Ascension of our Lord – Year A (Matthew 28:16-20)

Thou shalt not not love

Moses commandmentsThere are many ways to come to know a society. How a society understands and presents itself to the world will be reflected in those things it values most. Various indicators reveal something of the forces that shape the way a society operates.

 

Imagine a diplomat from a distant country, sent to establish relations with an unknown territory. The Stock Exchange and the Government’s Budget figures might offer an economic perspective of that territory, highlighting its socio-economic landscape. The numbers of people emigrating to other parts of the world may tell a story as would its reception of those who arrive on its shores. The clothes people wear, their hairstyles and the music they listen to has the power to define whole generations. Even the statute books paint a picture of that conduct which a society deems incompatible with the common good.

 

Is it not the same with Jesus? He reveals God to man in many ways. Commandments are one such way of making God known to us. Talk of commandments inevitably brings with it allusions to obligation and conformity to rules. It is easy to see commandments as a list of prohibitions, limiting freedom, spontaneity and fun. ‘Thou shalt not’ resonates in every age. Jesus however, links keeping His commandments with love. There are undoubtedly things God commands us not to do but even then we ought to understand what it is that such prohibitions says about God. When we are commanded not to kill, not to commit adultery and not to steal, what is God communicating to us? Should it be seen as a restriction on our freedom to do these things or is it a lesson in authentic loving of others?

 

God’s charter of charity is much simpler that the reams of regulations accrued on the statute books of the state legislature over the centuries. It was given to Moses in Ten Commandments. Not only are the content of these directives ordered towards authentic love but their brevity too, according to G.K. Chesterton, should be understood in relation to God’s benevolence. He claims that “the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden.”

 

Furthermore, if this were not simple enough, Jesus teaches that the whole of the Law and the Prophets hang on the twin precepts of love of God and love of neighbour (Matthew 22:37-40). Whether or not any new foreign diplomats will arrive on our shores to establish relations with us is uncertain but we can be sure to expect a return visit from our Lord. He says so in today’s Gospel. One wonders what He will make of our society. Will He want to establish relations with us when He sees the things we value?

 

Gospel Reflection for the Sixth Sunday of Easter – Year A (John 14:15-21)