Posts

It is all the same mystery.

The Irish Dominicans are always fond of recalling memories of past brethren. One particular memory is that of our brother William Barden, Archbishop of Isfahan of the Latins. Archbishop William was noted for his intense spiritual life and his deep insights into the Christian mystery. One day, just before the community processed out for Christmas Mass, one of the brethren on noticing a lady praying the stations of the Cross said how ridiculous it was. Fr. Barden, as he then was, said gently “ Leave her, it is all the same mystery.”

Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel tells the Pharisees that all the teachings of the Prophets and the whole Law can be summed up in two great commandments of love: Love of God being the greatest and first and Love of neighbour being the second. Love of God is the foundation for love of others. St. Augustine said love of neighbour is sure proof of love of God. One could not love authentically without first loving God. What seems like two commandments are really one great commandment to love. In the end Archbishop William is right, it is all the same mystery, the mystery of Love.

 If it is the same mystery we should disregard the temptation at times to see God and our neighbour at opposite ends. Perhaps there are times when we feel we have to forgo the delights of prayer or time with God in order to help someone, we may feel disgruntled to be called away from our solitude with the Lord. However, this can be a false dichotomy because if we get up and go to help our neighbour we are in fact choosing God as well. We recall our Lord’s words “ You did it to me.” Our love and service to others is really love and service of God. Thus, we cannot love God with all our hearts and minds and souls without loving each other. It is all the same mystery of love.

 Gospel Reflection for the 30th  Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matt 22: 34-40) IMG_0409_DxO

” 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)

 

The Annunciation – How to Be Ourselves

fra-angelico-the-annunciation

“I want to talk to you…” begins a song that was once very popular (“Grace Kelly”, by Mika). Far less formal and reverent than the archangel Gabriel’s greeting to our Blesséd Mother, “Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” it still portrays the idea that words of great import are to come. And while Gabriel goes on to tell Mary that she has been chosen to become the Mother of God, the song continues:

 

I could be brown

I could be blue

I could be violet sky

I could be hurtful

I could be purple

I could be anything you like…

 

Anything you like?! Surely to be one’s self would be far more desirable?

 

And that’s what Our Lady teaches us: how to be ourselves; how to live. And the surest way to be ourselves is to live out our vocation! Vocation: a word that is fast becoming a dirty one in a secular society that thrives on immediate gratification; A word that speaks of something both dreaded and dreadful – constancy. Committing ones whole life to one thing when, at the drop of a hat, one can do something else instead, move somewhere else instead, love someone else instead, become someone else instead? In a world that only claims to thrive on chaos and the ephemeral, why would anyone settle for, let alone strive for happiness in steadfastness?

 

How, then, does one live such a life? The example of the Virgin Mother is a good place to begin. In the midst of all the challenges we face as Christians, we must never forget the heart of the Christian message, conversion through Jesus Christ, is seen perfectly in Our Lady. That is the path to steadfastness, the path to happiness, the path to salvation.

 

“I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me.” When Mary spoke these words the whole of human history was forever changed. Surely then, speaking these simple words, proclaiming our own “Yes” would change our personal worlds irrevocably too? The words of Mary were spoken from a heart filled with love for God and came from a pure and humble heart. She was not self-protective, looking out only for her own self-interest, nor was she cynical. She was therefore able to completely give herself over in love, to Love. That is the example of Mary. That is our path to holiness. She spoke these words in Nazareth, and Nazareth means consecration, and to be “holy” means to be set apart, to be consecrated, entirely dedicated to God’s plan for us.

 

We are called to respond to His invitation to us too, to say “Yes” to a relationship with God. In saying Yes to God, not by saying “I could be anything…” but by proclaiming, “Yes, I can be myself in You!” what I am called to be, we discover the path to conversion, to happiness, to authenticity.

 

God, who always initiates and then awaits our response, calls us, sets us apart, not to retreat from the transient world to become ourselves, contradictory though that may seem. Instead He wants our unique gifts and personalities, our own distinctive personal histories and backgrounds shape the way we see the world and what we can offer it. God does not call us to become someone we are not. Instead God lovingly calls us to be the best version of ourselves, living our giftedness in the world in the same way that Jesus did. This dynamic leads to a conversation and way of life that is one that travels a heavenly road. Mary shows us that way. Let us choose now to follow her example and to enjoy that happy path.

Pre-Technological Revelation

Epiphany

St. John assures us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Ours is an embodied faith. In Christ Jesus, the Scriptures have found their fullest revelation. The ancient prophecies have taken on a new dimension of reality, no longer confined to the speculative or spiritual spheres, crucially important and all as those are. The whole drama of Christ’s birth in the stable is one that highlights His body; that is why we speak of His incarnation.

Today’s celebration of the Epiphany reflects this new embodied dispensation. God’s desire to be known by all peoples and nations is beautifully recounted with the arrival of the Magi from the East, who represent the universal scope of God’s dominion. Rather than remaining within the cosy confines of their places of study, feeding on revelations from books or oral traditions, the Magi were moved to encounter the concrete reality of the Word made flesh. Deceitful though he was, Herod indirectly attested to this new reality when he encouraged the Magi to “go” and find out all about the child (Matthew 2:8). This demand to physically go and embrace more fully, more profoundly, the incarnate Word has a lot to tell us about the way we engage with each other as embodied persons today.

More and more, bodily encounters are yielding to online encounters. Of course these are not bad in themselves but still, technological progress seems to have resulted in bodily regress to some extent. Now it is so easy to construct identities independent of the reality of our bodies, and can often even be contrary to them. Self-revelation online need not have any connection whatsoever to the embodied person constructing it. In some sense it has the potential to dis-embody people. Rather than being this body we are reduced to being anybody or even worse, nobody.

Yet God chose to reveal Himself in the flesh, physically and tangibly in time, in history in a particular cultural context. What are we to make of this? It seems to me that there is a connection between the human body Christ assumed and the message He wanted to convey to us. In other words, our bodies reveal something of us also and to neglect this is to give a skewed or limited description of who we are. Blessed John Paul II spoke of the body “as revealing the person”. By taking on our human flesh, God is saying that He can justly be said to be true man. This message is vital if we are to understand Christ’s redemptive suffering on the cross.

Indeed, God could have stayed at a distance as we so often do in our online interactions and gone along with the stereotypes of the Messiah that was expected. He could have given the impression that He was the warrior Messiah or the social and political revolutionary some hoped for. Yet He chose to reveal Himself as a helpless infant born in poverty, saying something about the nature of who He is and what he wanted to achieve. He did not construct or present an idealised self. The Magi saw the new born Saviour for who He was, in ways that other limited means of communication cannot account for. Their response too, by giving gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, is a physical manifestation of their worship. It says more than clicking the “like” button on social networking sites can say.

God’s revelation in Christ’s incarnation might well have been read from a book but, as is the case today, some deny this. By showing it in its lived physical reality, the Magi’s theoretical expectations were proclaimed in practice, confirming them in who they had encountered and giving us an authentic example of how to humble ourselves before our God.

Gospel Reflection for the Feast of the Epiphany Year A – (Matthew 2: 1-12)

Mary Mother Of God

happy-mothers-dayAnd they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had

been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

If someone was to walk up to you today and say ‘Happy Mother’s Day!’ would you think that they had been partying a bit too hard the night before and lost track of days, months even? For you know well that mother’s day is not until later in the year, the 30th of March in fact. And yet they would be right to share this greeting, celebrating as they are the great Church feast of Mary the Mother of God.

On Mother’s Day we celebrate our earthly mothers because they brought us into this world, loved and cared for us when we were utterly dependent on them, and helped raise us with good values and example which helped us to make our own way in the world. Our earthly mothers are indeed a great gift and blessing to us but so too is our Heavenly Mother Mary. As the adopted children of God we are also all her children and she loves each of us with the purest and most tender motherly love. She is constantly watching over us and calling us to come closer to her Son, Jesus.

At this time of year many people choose to make new year resolutions. May one of these resolutions be to grow closer to Mary during this coming year through our devotion and prayers to her – particularly by praying the rosary – so that we may learn from her example and receive the many graces that she has been given by God for us. By drawing close to Mary, she will bring us closer to Jesus.

Mary was a woman who valued the word of God, who treasured it and made time to meditate on and ponder it so that she could discern what God was saying to her at every stage in her life. Today let us resolve to learn from our Heavenly Mother how to make time for God in our busy lives. If we are to hear God speaking to us, we too need to make quiet time each day to listen to God speaking to our hearts and to ponder his Word in the Bible.

Let us pray that during this year all mothers may truly cherish the gift of unborn life that they carry within them and like Mary, they may say ‘yes’ to life and ‘yes’ to motherhood. Today is also the ‘world day of peace’ and we pray that Mary the Queen of Peace, who gave birth to the Prince of Peace, may through her powerful intercession bring peace to the many war torn countries in the world and to the hearts of all men and women.

Mary Mother of God, pray for us.

Gospel Reading: (Lk 2:16-21)

Come, Follow Me

come-follow-meThis year has been marked by awful violence in Syria. Again and again, our newspapers have been filled with images of children displaced by a conflict beyond their understanding. This rupture of familial relationships is one of the marks of tyranny, and it is a pain which the Holy Family knew well. Herod was the tyrant in their time, and thanks to his king-sized insecurities the little ones in the region of Bethlehem were under threat. As Moses had led Israel out of tyranny in Egypt, now Joseph had to lead his little family to safety in that very place.

There’s so much we can take from this Gospel story. It shows us just how much the Son of God identified with our humanity in all its frailty. It challenges us to see refugees and the homeless in light of the Holy Family in flight. It teaches us also that the gift of Christ in our lives is precious, and sometimes demands our vigilant protection; as an 8th-century Irish poem says, addressing Mary: ‘You spent your exile in Egypt, holy maiden, protecting gracious Christ: it was fitting to protect him’.

What strikes me, though, about this passage, is the obscure little signpost to Old Testament prophecy, which merits further meditation:

This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son”.

The evangelist is here applying a prophecy of Hosea to Christ, the Son of God, but it’s worth looking at the prophecy in its original setting:

 

When Israel was a child, I loved him,

and out of Egypt I called my son.

The more I called them,

the more they went from me; […]

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,

I took them up in my arms;

but they did know that I healed them.

I led them with cords of compassion,

with the bands of love,

and I became to them as one

who raises an infant to his cheeks.

and I bent down to them and fed them

(Hosea 11:1-4)

The prophecy is first of all about God’s treatment of Israel, and is one of the most beautiful statements of His gentleness and compassion, even in the face of rejection. Generation after generation, God bent down to pick Israel up, and this repeated action reaches its climax in the Christmas mystery. In the Incarnation, the Word of God becomes one of us, and shows us how to respond to the love of the Father, whom Jesus called ‘Abba’.

What the reference to Hosea shows us is how the story of Christ ‘maps onto’ the story of Israel. In his person, Jesus sums up all of the history of Israel. As they were led out of Egypt into the Promised Land, so the Holy Family is led back to Nazareth. The mystery we celebrate at Christmas, then, did not appear out of the blue, but was the climax of the world’s longest love story.

As always, though, we should ask where we fit into the story. Jesus’ story mirrors that of Israel, and we are asked to mirror His. Where He goes we follow, so when we read of Christ being ‘led out of Egypt’, being led ‘with the bands of love’, we hear not a mere narrative, but an invitation. Our pride urges us to be independent ‘grown-ups’, but the feast of the Holy Family encourages us to become like little children, and to accept our Father’s invitation, calling us out of Egypt and into his everlasting arms.

Feast of the Holy Family (Year A)

Mt 2:13-15, 19-23

All is changed, changed utterly

christmas-day-2013Pondering the gift God has given us in Christ’s incarnation, Pope Saint Leo the Great joyfully exclaimed “O Christian, be aware of your nobility”. That God should take on our lowly human nature says something of the exalted status with which He regards it. This is a gift for all people, believers and non-believers alike. Yes, the birth of Jesus means different things to different people and to some it means nothing at all but there is a unifying theme in it that says to all people, ‘it is a good and beautiful thing to be alive’. It says, ‘I am a person and I have a dignity and value simply by virtue of the fact of being’.  This is a truly inclusive celebration for all people. It is a celebration of humanity in all its full, tangible reality.

However humanity on its own, apart from God, does not give a full account of itself. In its fullest Christian sense, the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, changing the whole course of human history. For unbelievers, the Word is but a word. Yet it was still powerful enough in its own right to have changed the whole course of Western civilisation nonetheless. Something happened all those years ago in Bethlehem that simply cannot be ignored.

That happening is a person. St. Luke tells us that Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manager. Some of the early Church Fathers saw in this not only the first Christmas but the first Easter as well; the swaddling clothes prefiguring Christ’s lifeless body tightly bound with bandages and the manger as an altar of sorts, bearing the sacrificial lamb.

The first reading at Mass today hints at the reason why this particular child’s birth is so significant. The prophet Isaiah says that “the Lord bares His holy arm, in the sight of all the nations” (Isaiah 52:10). What does baring His holy arm mean? We often speak of poker players ‘showing their hand’. Here Isaiah says God is showing His hand. What is more, St. Luke says God is showing not only His hand but His eyes, legs and even his mind in the infant Jesus.

God’s plan of redemption from all eternity has come to fruition now, at this time in human history. God has shown his hand by sending his Son for the salvation of the world. He has revealed Himself so completely in the child Jesus that St. John of the Cross believes God has no more to say. God has spoken His only Word, revealing everything to us – He has shown his hand; the hand that trumps all other hands in human history and gives them true perspective. God holds all things in being. The whole Christ event, from His conception at the angel Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, right the way through to His passion, death, resurrection and ascension into Heaven, stand at the centre of human history for believers. Only in this event, in this person, can there be any sense or meaning to human history or even in creation itself.

O Christian, today of all days, enjoy being loved by God. Many in our modern society are yet to discover this beautiful gift of God, engaging with Christmas in superficial ways. It is our task as believers to point beyond ourselves highlighting the full import of the dignity of being human in relation to God so that Jesus’ own joy may be in them and their joy may be complete.

Saint Joseph: our role model in difficult times!

The story of the Gospel this Sunday truly amazes me in so many ways. Consider the situation: Joseph is betrothed to Mary, but after the annunciation she goes to the hill country of Judah to spend three months with Elizabeth her cousin. We could imagine that Joseph would collect her, probably excited at the prospect of seeing his beautiful fiancee again. But he is in for a devastating surprise. Naturally we don’t know when he discovered that Mary is pregnant, but it is likely that Joseph noticed a difference maybe just in Mary herself: she was with child.

It seems that Mary did not explain the situation to Joseph, and in that case it must have been a long walk back to Nazareth with an uneasy tension in the air. Maybe it was during the journey that Joseph had time to think about what to do. He probably went over and over it again, not being able to believe what had happened, not able to understand it, and not being able to come to an easy resolve.

Sometimes life can be like that. Everything seems to go the right way, everything seems to be almost perfect, and then suddenly through a slight change in the situation our world seems to collapse. From living in heaven it seems we are suddenly trust down to hell, a dark place with no obvious way out!

How would we ourselves react to this situation, what would we do? I have to admit that I would probably not be as composed as Joseph, and it testifies to his sublime charity! Joseph was concerned about Mary first of all, but also wanted to do the right thing. This meant that he decided to separate from her informally, in order that she would not be persecuted for committing adultery, while he still did the right thing in the eyes of God. Joseph did this even if it meant he could not get married himself again. He makes up his mind: this is what he is going to do, until the Angel appears to him. Saint Joseph puts all his trust in the messenger of God and takes Mary home to be his wife.

As advent draws to an end, and Christmas draws near, let Saint Joseph be a guide for us and be an example. To have the faith he had in his own time of difficulty, so we too might develop a filial trust on God. If things get rough, when it seems that time slows down and when we experience a shrinking of the world around ourselves and feel claustrophobic, faith in God can deliver us. That is exactly the moment in which we should open our hearts to God, to search for and experience the refreshing love He can give us.

Through the eyes of faith the difficulties we experience can be made bearable from the perspective of His promises, our real goal of eternal happiness. God is always waiting for us to help us, He is there to console us. But He can only do this if we allow Him and let Him in! Especially in this time of Advent, we can take time to reflect and to see more clearly what God is doing in our lives. Let us be patient, and lovingly wait for his coming. We need to wait for a few days only to see His presence again, even if at the moment it can seem so far away.