Sunday Reflection

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

What is a Miracle?
 
The word miracle describes a happening, inexplicable by natural or scientific laws. Miracles, generally held to be the work of God, are extraordinary and welcome. They are often revealed through ordinary people.
 
Luke’s Gospel for Corpus Christi (9:11-17) has greater clarity if we begin at verse 10. It tells of elated but weary Apostles just returned from their first missionary experience. Jesus wanted to bring these closest collaborators apart, to a peaceful place for some rest and recuperation. But, the crowds discovered their location and came in their thousands. Jesus safeguarded the privacy of his Apostles by himself taking on the healing and the teaching of the people.
 
With the end of the day approaching, the Apostles asked Jesus to send the crowds away as they would need to find both food and lodging. Jesus answers the Apostles: “Give them something to eat yourself.” The Apostles had very little provision, just five barley loaves and two dried fish. There’s a message here, barley made the poorest and least nourishing bread. It was known as the bread of the poor. Luke says there were five thousand men to say nothing of the sick, the women and the children.
 
You may like to consider two ways of visualising this miracle.
One: It happened as it is told in the Gospels, Jesus multiplied the five barley loaves and two fish not only to feed ten thousand plus people but also to provide a substantial surplus to help sustain them as they made their journey home.
Two: could it have been that many, individuals and families in the crowd, had brought a little food for themselves. But, seeing the crowds, each fearing that they would be forced to share their small amount with outsiders. So, they kept their food hidden. People fearing hunger can be determinately selfish. Then the people watched as the Twelve laid their small amount of food before Jesus. This moved others to reveal their previously hidden food. Thus began a seemingly endless succession of people adding to the Apostles meagre store so that, in the end, there was more than enough food for everyone.
 
In this alternative interpretation the miracle was how Jesus’ presence changed anxious self-interest into a willingness to share.  His presence allowed human selfishness to be transformed; suspicious and watchful folk became generous. Quite likely, Jesus still caused the food he received to be multiplied so that all could have their hunger satisfied. The miracle brought home the meaning of the traditional prayer every Jew offered before every meal:
"Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King of the world, who causes bread to come forth from the earth."
Jesus, as a Jew, would not have eaten without first giving thanks to God, the giver of all good gifts. 
 
 
This miracle can remind the Baptised that they have it within themselves to become the nourishment that so many long for, often without realising it. When the faith of the Baptised is vibrantly alive with God’s grace it radiates from them in a self-deprecating way. Like a ripple travelling across water, faith communicates itself through a person’s behaviour, disposition, attitude, as well as words and actions.
Nourishment is more than the food we long for or ingest. Our daily prayer, reflection, fasting and almsgiving brings nourishment to the souls of others as well as our own. We are constantly told of fellow human beings whose limited food intake means they live with undernourishment and death by malnutrition or disease on a daily basis. We only have to think of the recent appeals of the DEC (Disaster Emergency Committee). Our ‘widow’s mite’ contribution to the DEC, when united with that of many, many more, has the capacity to become life-saving and life-sustaining to a degree that is truly incalculable.  Yet, tragically enormous as the number of the sick, the homeless, the starving and medically-deprived are, they barely register against the incalculable number of our fellow human beings who are, today, spiritually starving through being dangerously enmeshed in the secularism of our contemporary society, especially in the West.
When we genuinely petition God for his help, that is when such petitioning is our daily habit, his grace helps us to overcome that core selfishness which, having initiated humanity’s separation from its Creator, still afflicts people today. Only God’s grace, within us, can amplify our fragile altruistic effort to be faithful, loving and just in our interaction with others for His sake.
 
It is of course a matter of choice which interpretation of the miracle of the feeding of the (five) thousand appeals to you. I am persuaded to support the second interpretation since, incidentally, this is the only miracle of Jesus related in all four Gospels (Matt.14:13; Mark 6:30; John 6:1).
 
Our celebration of ‘Corpus Christi’ is, in the first place, the affirmation of our belief of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. But, consequential to this, we must also affirm our individual responsibility to become the sacred food that we are given as nourishment so that, through our example in word and action, others may be fed the life-giving Word and Eucharist. 
 
You may care to reflect on Pope Francis’ teaching at his General Audience at the Vatican on Wednesday 27th March 2019. The Pope was continuing his Wednesday catechesis on ‘The Our Father’.
In the “Our Father”, in the second part of the prayer, we present our needs to God. The first such petition, “give us this day our daily bread”, stems from the fact, often forgotten, that we are not sufficient unto ourselves. We need to be nourished every day. Yet Jesus teaches us to make this invocation united with the many men and women for whom this prayer is also a plea, forged amid a daily struggle for the bare necessities of life.
 
Seen in this light, Jesus’ words appear with even greater force, reminding us that Christian prayer is not an exercise for ascetics, but emerges from the needs of real people. The bread we are to seek, then, is not ‘my’ but ‘our’ bread. Jesus wants us to pray, not just for ourselves but for our brothers and sisters.
 
In this way the “Our Father” becomes a prayer of empathy and solidarity. We see such a desire to assist others in the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, where Jesus also anticipates the ultimate offering of himself in the bread of the Eucharist, which alone is capable of fully satisfying our hunger for God himself.”
(Pope Francis 270319)
 
Some months ago, Pope Francis also said:
“The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
We are all classifiable as weak because we are recovering … sinners.

The Holy Trinity

Learning Without End
 
 
Students, now facing finals, may be looking ahead to their graduation. The longed-for end of years of academic toil comes into sight, but a new type of toil called employment awaits. We humans are always engaged with work in one form or another. In the same way our search for truth continues throughout our earthly life.
The only ‘graduation’ from the school of The Truth is through the portal of death because The Truth is a supernatural endowment we receive over our lifetime. We are able to receive The Truth in proportion to our willingness and capacity to engage with it. As a result, the journey to The Truth has many stops and starts as well as false turnings resulting from Satan’s attempts to make subtle but significant alterations to the signposts.
 
 
Despite Jesus’ repeated attempts to forewarn the apostles of his approaching Passion and Death, they appear not have grasped the significance of this particular Passover meal in Jerusalem. St. John’s Gospel extract for Trinity Sunday (16:12-15) begins with Jesus telling the disciples at, what we refer to as ‘The Last Supper’: “I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now”. Are not these words perhaps reminiscent of our childhood when, pestering our parents for information, we heard something similar? Older children are not usually given to believing that anything is too much for them though experience confirms, at a price, what elders tried to impart for free!
 
Jesus continues: “But when the Spirit of Truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth …” For Jesus, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth who labours to bring God’s Truth to humankind. This labour of love we call Revelation because it is not our discovery or our creation, it is God’s gift.
Prayerful contemplation of Jesus’ life and teaching allows Revelation to continually open up for us the depths of Jesus’ words and how they infuse every aspect of our lives. No human has fully grasped the significance of Jesus’ teaching about God and about life, about the world we currently inhabit and about nationhood.
 
This Sunday’s passage from John gives us what might be called, the principles of Revelation. The implications of Jesus’ statement: “The Spirit of Truth … will lead you to the complete Truth …” is that whatever we presently hold to be The Truth remains incomplete in our comprehension. What we have received, down the ages, through Revelation and the authoritative teaching of the Church embodies the fulness of Truth but our sin-damaged life so impairs our spiritual vision that we are able to grasp only fragments of the unifying spiritual totality of The Truth. Our celebration of Trinity Sunday marks such a moment. As the gathered Church, we vocalise, prayerfully, our belief in the Holy Trinity through the words of both the Nicene and Apostles’ Creed as well as through many of the prayers of the Mass and celebrations of the seven Sacraments.
 
 
Our most frequently used Trinitarian prayer is The Sign of the Cross – “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Though most frequently used (and, sadly, abused) we bless ourselves with the words that our well beyond our comprehension. The prayer is an act of faith for we believe in the Holy Trinity, Three Persons in One God, without comprehending their nature or understanding how they relate to one another. God’s continuous revelation comes to us in multiple forms but in a uniquely special way through the Second Person of the Trinity whom we identify as Jesus of Nazareth, God-made-Man.
 
 
Faith, then, is when we deliberately step-off the pathway of logic and comprehension and accept what we cannot presently comprehend as The Truth because it has been given unique verification by Jesus, the Son of God-made-Man. Someone once compared God calling us to have faith in Him with a parent calling a young offspring to have faith in stepping off the edge and trusting that the parent’s open arms will catch him. Faith is condition-less trust in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
 
God, our loving Father, is always actively revealing himself. It is true that God’s supreme and unsurpassable revelation came to us in Jesus; but Jesus is not a figure in history, he is a living Person and, therefore, in him God’s revelation continues. The Spirit of Truth continues to lead us into an ever-growing realization of Jesus and his message for us today. The more we align our life with that of Jesus, the more he becomes real for us and the more his Spirit will be able to reveal to us. In order to receive this Revelation, we must proclaim our faith, our trust, that Jesus is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity coequal with the Father and the Spirit.
 
Perhaps, this is a day to review, just how casually perhaps, we make the Sign of the Cross. 

Pentecost

Giving Visibility and Audibility to Pentecost
 
The Christian celebration of Pentecost lacks the ‘visibility’ of Easter and Christmas. Commercial interest has overpowered and obscured the religious significance of Christmas and Easter that, for so many, it is little more than a secular holiday. Pentecost, having no commercial trimmings, slips past almost unnoticed, even by some of the Baptised. Pentecost is one day with no Octave to add emphasis, as Easter and Christmas have.
 
We are so accustomed to living in the 24 hr., seven day, twelve months, time frame that it is requires a deliberate effort to think outside of it. Yet, if we are to grow in understanding and appreciation of the full impact of the Incarnation, Pentecost is irreplaceably important. In our world nothing is of permanence, including ourselves. For example, when we speak, our words, unless recorded, disappear as soon as they are uttered. Some short-lived memory of them may linger in the minds of those who hear us, but they are quickly overlaid by on-going speech.
 
It is so different for Jesus. Being both Divine and Human, his words contain his immortal life; they live on for ever, after he has uttered them. Their ‘life’ enables his words to be heard today by those who choose to listen, as clearly as they were heard by his companions when Jesus first uttered them. This ‘listening’, requiring dedicated attention and wholehearted affection, is achieved through the listener’s soul and heart. Moreover, Jesus’ ‘living word’, for He is the Living Word of God, communicates his life to those who choose to engage with him. Our brief extracts of Scripture at Mass end with either ‘The Word of the Lord’ or ‘The Gospel of the Lord’. Our response of either ‘Thanks be to God’ or ‘Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ’ is not an acknowledgement of dead words but of the life-giving presence of the Living God. And here is the question, do our worshipping communities communicate, by the vitality of their response, their belief in the presence, in their midst, of their life-giving Lord and Saviour? Liturgical ceremonial is empty pageantry if the soul and heart is not engaged.
 
The gift of Pentecost enables us to step aside from the 24-hour, 365 day ‘entombing’ frame, and ‘breathe’ in the timelessness of the Lord who calls us to share his life. It could be said that we no longer read his words, as we would some ancient manuscript, but rather we embrace his living word and, in so doing, welcome his truth into our fragile, recovering-sinner lives.
One, painful, consequence of doing this is that we experience the ‘clash of wills’; namely, The Will of God and the Will of Satan. In this world of our self-imposed exile, the battle is joined and will remain so until God declares the end of time. Presently, the battle is being fought not territorially, where we expect belligerent conflict to be conducted, but within ourselves where the engagement knows no respite.
 
How vital, therefore, it is that people are continuously offered the opportunity of listening to the Living Word of the Living God! The mind may switch to acknowledged preachers and major occasions. They have their place. It is no less important that the neighbours and work-colleagues of the Baptised be presented with the Living Word in a non-ostentatious manner on a daily basis. The silent making of the Sign of Cross before eating is a communication. The Spirit-inspired response given by the Baptised to hostility or jibe may cause others to ponder. If the Baptised knowingly and lovingly carry within them the Living Word, the Spirit will lose no opportunity to initiate an engaging outreach or the offering of an appropriate response. As easy as this may seem, none should underestimate the disruptive powerful influence of the Evil One who battles to thwart the Spirit and drown-out the Living Word.
 
Pentecost is so much more than a liturgical day of twenty-four hours. When we welcome the Spirit into our personal lives, and the life of our religious communities, we are engaging with the Author of Life without end. As Jesus, in his earthly life, experienced conflict with power of the Evil One we should expect nothing less. We do not have to look beyond our self for encounters with the Evil One for, as recovering sinners, our defences are continuously under siege; a siege that can be cunning and subtle as often as it is brutal because Satan is no novice.
 
When, at the Last Supper, Jesus said: “Do this in memory of me” - was his final statement at that assembly a reference to his immediate words and actions or to his entire life on earth, or was it a case of ‘both and’? The total expressiveness of Jesus’ human life from beginning to end is as alive today as it was when our Saviour walked on this earth. Today, Jesus is alive in us, please God, his adopted and much-loved body on earth that we refer to as The Church. Yes, the Church today knows what it is to be wounded, as did Jesus. But today, tragically, Christ’s earthly body has inflicted wounds on itself through the invasion of the Evil One. That the Church is an assembly of recovering-sinners does not always mean that it is in recovery mode. Sometimes, we let our defences fail and Satan loses no opportunity.
 
So, Pentecost is a general call to arms. We are called to re-engage with the Spirit by a re-ordering of our lives putting the Living Word first and foremost and being supported in this by our Baptised family, both particular and universal.
Where do we start, you might ask? Well, I was heartened by something written by Alan E Lewis (‘Between the Cross and Resurrection’. Eerdmans):
“To be willing to hear a faith-creating Word is an act of faith in itself.’
This gives us hope that our every thought, word and action, however seemingly small and unnoticeable, which God’s Spirit prompts in us, has a purpose that lies within the intricate Will of the One God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
 
Today, we have a choice of 2nd Readings. Both bring this reflection to a conclusion with uplifting words for a Body under siege.
 
“Brothers and sisters:
No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.
As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”                              (1 Cor.12:3-7,12-13)


“Brothers and sisters:
If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin,
the Spirit is alive because of righteousness.
If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead
will give life to your mortal bodies also,
through his Spirit that dwells in you. (Rom.8:8)

6th Sunday of Easter

The Value of Reassurance
 
It is in the nature of human beings to seek reassurance. In fact, our need for reassurance indicates our having an underlying sense of incompleteness. This is true even for those who, arrogantly, deny their need for reassurance. A much-to-be treasured reassurance is found in the presence of someone with whom is shared a profound mutual love. There is reassurance, to a lesser but still important degree, to be found in a familiar setting, or when we are surrounded by our personal effects. A problem occurs if these two, mutual love and possessions, are reversed. Then the exquisiteness of Henry Vaughan’s poem ‘The World’ comes into its own:
‘The fearful Miser on a heap of rust
Sat pining all his life there, did scarce trust
His own hands with the dust;
Yet would not place one piece above, but lives
In fear of thieves.
Thousands there were as frantic as himself,
And hugged each one his pelf.’
 
 
The fundamental reassurance that all seek is summed up in the words of Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) who wrote, Revelations of Divine Love, the earliest surviving book in the English language to be written by a woman: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”. Julian’s faith supported her when Norwich, one of the most religious cities of the Middle Ages, lost half its population to the ‘Black Death’ in 1349 and was then devastated in ‘The Peasants Revolt’ in 1381.
 
 
Jesus, through his words and work, always imparted reassurance, even when, in order to do so, he first needed to dismantle any falsehoods upon which some had become dependent. Hence, his many instances of verbal contest with his Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem and elsewhere. An error-free environment needs to be established if true reassurance is to have its healing effect.
Often, a sense of impending and unstoppable tragedy, real or fabricated, can undermine whatever reassurance people may have been depending upon. The expert in such fabrication is Satan. Read his dialogue with Eve and Adam (Genesis 3:1-13) and his temptation of Jesus (Matt: 4 1-11) Assailed by false alarm or other subtle undermining, people can be left bewildered and numbed.
Something akin to bewilderment must have seeped into the awareness of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus had been forthright in his foretelling of what lay ahead for him …  and for them. The Gospel excerpt for this Sunday (John 14:23-29) gives us another example of Jesus, sensitive to his disciples’ plight, speaking words of reassurance to them. St. John has Jesus using the word for ‘orphans’ but this word was also used of disciples and students left bereft of a beloved master or teacher. Jesus told his disciples that would not be the case with them, “I am going away and will return” (verse 28).
 
 
Jesus is speaking of his Resurrection and of his Risen presence among his disciples that will, eventually, remedy their bewilderment and restore their numbed faith. St. John is underlining a key element in his Gospel namely, God, who is Love, is the sole author of True Love. For John, True Love is the basis of everything. The True Love between the Father and Jesus and between Jesus and the Father is The Holy Spirit. The Third Person of the Holy Trinity is the True Love uniting not only the Father with the Son and the Son with the Father, but also the Father and Son with us, his beloved created in his own image and likeness. Moreover, it is The Holy Spirit who links us with one another and with our God-created environment. God intended an unbroken bond of True love to run through all that He sustains. Satan had and has other ideas.
 
 
True love, nourished by obedience, is not servility but that deep sensitivity of listening to the one loved that epitomises true love; namely, the desire to give oneself wholly to the other in response to their desire. The Risen Jesus appears to his ‘recovering’ apostles and disciples. He does not restrict his presence amongst them on the basis of their outreach to him. Rather, he opens himself unreservedly to them. He recognises how they have been subject to bewilderment and the undermining influence of Evil and freely shares his love with them because they are struggling with a recovery they desire but, as yet, are incapable of fully believing.
 
Pentecost has not yet happened for the disciples. When it does, they, holding on to their shaky belief, will begin the process of discovering a depth of faith that they have previously never known. The true Christian wears an ‘L’ plate to his or her dying day!
The Holy Spirit is the source of sustaining spiritual refreshment for all who seek a loving relationship with God. Through our times of prayer, the Holy Spirit enables us to rediscover Jesus’ teaching that has temporarily slipped our minds. This rediscovery provides the template of The Truth against which we can check our daily decisions, great or small.
 
 
Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. A peace the world cannot give, I give to you.” So, if the world cannot give the peace of Christ then there is a struggle, in this life, for each and every one of us. Jesus encourages us to resist the bewilderment and undermining of the Evil One: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
 
 
Notice, too, how Jesus is speaking to all his disciples, as in former times God spoke to the whole assembled people of Israel. Through his prophet, Ezekiel (14:60), God addresses the entire community of Israel: “Say to the House of Israel, ‘The Lord Yahweh says this: Come back, turn away from your foul idols, turn your backs on all your loathsome practices …” The reading of the Old Testament is not merely a preamble to be listened to distractedly but rather the key that opens up our understanding of the Gospel.
 
Perhaps the more consistent, if unreported, ‘miracles’ at Lourdes and Fatima are not the medically inexplicable physical healings but the collective spiritual healing that results from the united prayer and supplication of a gathering of pilgrims, often unknown to one another.
 
The need for the Baptised to unite and act corporately to draw all peoples into a unity of prayer and apostolic life would seem to us, alive today, to have never been more urgent. There is a sickness in the Church that is closely intertwined with the corruption of culture across the globe. Corporate action is called for. This Sunday’s Gospel is addressed to each of us personally. For, individually, we need to find in the Gospel our personal motivation to unite with our sisters and brothers of faith in Jesus Christ and then to become missionaries to the world. For only when all are called to attend on God, at the end of time, can salvation be effected.

7th Sunday Of Easter

Jesus, the Reflected Gory of God
 
Searching Jesus’ prayer for meaning is a prayer in itself. In John’s Gospel extract for this 7th Sunday (17:20-26) Jesus shares his prayerful thoughts with his disciples at the Last Supper. Knowing that extreme pain that was shortly to embrace him, Jesus’ vocalised prayer to his heavenly Father has particular significance. This was to be Jesus’ last vocal communication with his disciples before his crucifixion and death. Here he reveals his love for God and for the humanity with which he has been endowed by his heavenly Father.
 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they may always see the glory you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
How are we to understand Jesus’ prayer? The Second Vatican Council document, ‘Gaudium et Spes’, tells us:
“For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every person”.
 
We derive our image and likeness from our Creator, God. This inheritance endures irrespective of the choices we make throughout our life on earth when exercising our God-given free will. At the Last Judgement we will recognise God who, likewise, will recognise us, individually.
Jesus prays that we, his members, may be with him where he is. If we interpret this to mean being with him in heaven then, necessarily, we must be prepared to share his earthly journey. There is no way to heaven other than Jesus’ way and that includes all that we recognise by the word ‘Calvary’. While our lives are unique and entirely dissimilar in experience, each of us is certain to encounter death.
In our journey to the point of death we have, as the Baptised, the choice to offer our life, daily, to Jesus as our willing share in his redemption of the world. A redemption that is still unfolding and which will continue to unfold until the Father decrees the end of time. This is where Jesus is looking for us to join him – “to be with me where I am”.
 
Jesus’ prayer continues:
“…..so that they may always see the glory you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
What is this ‘glory’ and how does it differ from the secular understanding of the word? In secular terms, glory is associated with riches, military strength, prestige and power. These were the characteristics the Jewish people had expected in their promised Messiah, their deliverer. Instead, Jesus came from Nazareth, a place held in no regard, – “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathaniel asked Philip (John 1:46). Jesus rode on a colt, the foal of a donkey, not a stallion of war when he entered Jerusalem (Matt. 21:7)
So, what is ‘the glory’ that Jesus prays his disciples may always see? Perhaps these clues may help identify ‘the glory’ to which Jesus refers.
One: Jesus identified the Cross as his glory. He never spoke of himself as being crucified. Instead, he spoke of being glorified when referring to his Crucifixion. Jesus’ life on earth was his battle with Satan’s empire of death that had entrapped his heavenly Father’s beloved creation. The death-knell of death was not a bell tolling but the Crucified Jesus’ final words” “It is accomplished.” (John 19:30)
As disciples of Jesus, Christians are called to find the reflective glory of Christ in whatever form of cross they are called to bear. A Christian’s cross may vary in form and content in the course of life. Christians are to see their cross not as a penalty for sin, but a call to participate in humanity’s redemption from sin which is Jesus’ life’s work (John 5:17). The more demanding and difficult the cross, the greater is the willing bearer’s participatory role of sharing with Christ in humanity’s redemption. It is said that Simon of Cyrene resented being compelled by the soldiers to help Jesus carry his cross to Calvary (Matt. 27:32). But, by the time they reached the summit, Simon had come to believe in Jesus. His sons, Alexander and Rufus, probably boys at the time, are mentioned later in the history of the early Church as believers. 
 
Two: Jesus also gloried in being perfectly obedient to the will of his heavenly Father. Much of life’s contest is in battling between self-will and God’s will. When we live exclusively for self, as not a few have, we meet with sorrow and disaster not only for ourselves but also for others. Wholeness of life, God’s glory, is found in choosing and implementing God’s will which incorporates the wellbeing, here and hereafter, of all who allow God to have an active presence in their life. 
 
Three: The glory of Jesus was identifiable from how, here on earth, he reflected his special and unique relationship with his heavenly Father. In Jesus, it became clear that nobody could live as he did unless they were at one with God the Father. It is to God’s glory when people see in us, as Jesus’ disciples, a reflection of God’s grace.
As his disciples, we believe that we will share in the experiences of Christ, though not to the same degree, in walking in his footsteps here on earth. As Jesus said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’ (Matt.16:24) . St. Paul wrote to the young Timothy: “If we have died (to self) with him (Christ), we shall also reign with him” (2Tim 2:11-12).
  
Jesus, in his prayer, extends his vision to include all peoples:
“Holy Father, I pray not only for them,
but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
so that they may all be one,
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me.
And I have given them the glory you gave me,
so that they may be one, as we are one,
I in them and you in me,
that they may be brought to perfection as one,
that the world may know that you sent me,
and that you loved them even as you loved me.”

(Today’s Gospel)
If we truly share our earthly journey with Christ, his glory will be visible in us and we shall share in his glory in heaven. Perhaps this word-picture may help. A single daisy in bloom is a perfect creation. So, too, is a rose in bloom. Both reflect perfection, but they are quite incomparable. Perhaps, please God, despite our fragile attempts at discipleship here on earth, others journeying with us along life’s path will have been attracted to discover and so to love our, and their, Redeemer.

5th Sunday Of Easter

In Transition
 
 
The words ‘ being in transition’ can be applied to multiple situations. We hear it used in association with life-threatening illnesses, with recovery and rehabilitation programmes and, more recently, with what is entitled gender re-assignment. However, a more basic being ‘in transition’ is common to every human being, without exception.
Our common and basic being ‘in transition’ happens at our conception. From that moment, for however long we are humanly alive, be it long or short, we can be described as being in ‘a state of transition’. The fertilization of the female’s egg by a male sperm begins, for each of us, an earthly unending process of cell multiplication and development. 
 
 
Anonymous editors, long ago, selected the Scriptural excerpts we hear at Mass. In making their choice of a Gospel for this 5th Sunday of Easter (John 13: 31-33,34-35) it is a pity that they did not include verse 30:
30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. Night had fallen.”
John’s inclusion of those three words: “Night had fallen” is telling. They set the tone for all that is to befall Jesus in the coming forty-eight hours. The transition from day to night in that hemisphere is not a protracted as it is, for example, during summer in the UK. In Palestine, the period we know as ‘dusk’ is brief.
Up to this point, in John’s Gospel, Jesus had been the initiator of all his outreach in word and action. John’s phrase: “Night had fallen” signifies Jesus’ behavioural transition from active to passive. From this point, Jesus neither initiated nor proposed anything. He embraced, totally, the will of his heavenly Father understanding the suffering that this would entail
Jesus transitioned from theory into practice in his post Last Supper prayer-vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was a decision to which he had long been committed but, as we well know, the enactment of promises made does not always follow without a struggle.
 
 
Cancer we know to be a generic name for a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. Cancer’s spiritual equivalent is sin. It invades the imagination, desire, heart and will. Unless checked by our firmness of decision and bold petitioning for God’s grace, it will spread with amazing and spiritually-disabling rapidity.
Medical opinion believes that the early detection of the disease of cancer is the best way of successfully overcoming it. Spiritual opinion supports the belief that the early identification and treatment of sin is essential if we are not to be overcome by it. The spiritual remedy is frequent use of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist together with prayer and acts of self-denial that may allow for greater alms-giving.
 
John’s Gospel recalls for us Jesus’ new Commandment:
“Love one another.
As I have loved you,
 so you also should love one another.”
The commandment to love was not new. What was new was Jesus’ definition of how to love, namely, “As I have loved you.”
 
Jesus’ new definition of the mutual love his disciples were to show one another called them, and now calls us, to a transition beyond anything previously known. Humankind had previously never experienced God’s love as it was manifested by the Son of God-made-Man. When Jesus spoke those words at the Last Supper table he was just hours away from allowing them to be enacted. That the disciples lacked understanding of the significance of Jesus’ words was shown by Peter, James and John falling asleep in the garden of Gethsemane, while Jesus sweated blood just yards away from them.
 
Hearing Jesus’ words to his apostles today must surely challenge us to wonder whether we, too, are guilty of ‘sleeping on the job’? Have we succumbed to a reality-numbing not entirely benign form of spiritual cancer (sin) that has halted, or at least, interrupted our spiritual transitioning into becoming holy? For it is the holiness of God to which we are called, both by our creation as well as by our Baptism.
 
Jesus’ announcement, at the Last Supper, of his ‘new’ commandment was the vital enhancement of God’s original commandment as recorded in the Old Testament’s Book of Deuteronomy chapter 30:
6The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.”
9The Lord will again delight in you … 10if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
“11 Nor is what I am commanding you today too difficult for you or beyond your reach.12  …  14 No, The Word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”
 
 
In today’s Second Reading (Rev.21:1-5) John foresaw “a new heaven and a new earth”. We are presently ‘in transition’ to this new heaven and new earth. It is vital for us, as the Baptised, to remember at all times that we are called to live, evidentially, our Christian commitment.

4th Sunday of Easter

What happens when you listen?
 
Spiritually deep-listening to God is a whole-body experience. It involves the coordination of the soul, in conjunction with all the senses, focusing exclusively on God. Deep-listening is distinctly different from casual hearing where we give low-level attention to a whole host of separate activities and noises. Only when a single focus attracts our whole fixed attention are we able to engage deep-listening.
 
The perfect exemplar of deep-listening is Mary. The profundity of Mary’s immaculate listening to God’s messenger, Gabriel, made real the Incarnation; the coming among us of the Son of God-made-Man. The committed and intense listening of multitudes of the Baptised, from all nations, over the past two thousand years has revealed the presence of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in his adopted family of recovering sinners.
 
When faith inspires and sustains our deep-listening to God, our vision begins to change. We begin to see through, as opposed to with, the eyes of Christ. Little by little we learn to shed our culturally-imposed singularity of mind, presently embraced by much of the world, in favour of seeing ourselves as numbered amongst the multitude described by the excerpt from Revelation (7:9) that is our 2nd Reading for this Sunday:
“I, John, had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
Then one of the elders said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
 
John’s vision is of a great and united community, rather than a gathering of individuals. The way of salvation, while requiring individual commitment, is not an exclusive ‘Jesus and me’ affair.  This great and united community, this ‘flock’, is brought together from multiple nations, races and languages without any loss of individual identity. The single source of unity, common to all, is the communal shouldering of the tribulation that makes us one with our Saviour God who, bearing the agony of Calvary, gave this great community everything it needs, including each other. On this 4th Sunday of Easter, the Scripture readings invite us to reconsider our identity, taking care to root out any tendencies to self-sufficiency. Instead, Jesus encourages us to live in solidarity with Him and with one another. In the Gospel for this day (John 10: 27-30), Jesus tells us:
“My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me.”
Our simple, yet profound, assignment is to deeply-listen to the voice of the Shepherd and to follow him. It is a life-giving assignment that draws the Baptised into an amazingly multifaceted world of relationships.
 
Pope Francis tells us that a committed deep-listening to God “commits us to serving others ... learning to find Jesus in the faces of others, in their voices, in their pleas” (“The Joy of the Gospel” 91). Clearly, the will to immerse ourselves in deep-listening to the voice of Christ, the Good Shepherd, involves a deep-listening to the voices of others, especially those who need us as well as those from whom we can learn.
 
 
The whole of the Book of Revelation invites us to look forward to Christ’s final victory. At the same time, we are to take into account the sufferings that will mark the entire journey. In the Book of Revelation, John speaks of the great multitude who have ‘washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb’, and the Second Vatican Council’s ‘Gaudium et Spes’ addresses “the entire human family, seen in its total environment ... bearing the marks of its painful laborious effort, its triumphs and failures” (Gaudium et Spes 2). Revelation describes human-kind’s destiny as a joyful celebration of life that no longer knows hunger or thirst because it has found the One who alone can satisfy all human longing.
 
 
In Revelation, we learn that the whole community will be shepherded by God who will lead it to springs of water and wipe away every tear. ‘Gaudium et Spes’ describes human destiny as the ‘familial solidarity that results from being guided by the Holy Spirit and giving living witness to Christ, who does not judge, but saves, who serves rather than is served’. (Gaudium et Spes 3).
Both Revelation and ‘Gaudium et Spes’ offer us a dream of what can be. Both are realistic in admitting that our road to God’s future passes through laborious effort, through contradiction and suffering. Both also affirm that getting to our destiny is possible not because we are so strong and visionary, but because that is where God is leading everyone who is willing to go there. There is no time more appropriate than the Easter season for us to pause and allow God’s dream to inspire us, as it did the author of Revelation and those who wrote the documents of The Second Vatican Council.
 
 
Jesus’ sheep learned to recognize him and his work; they know how he calls them and what he hopes both for them and from them. They are also watchful. They yearn to hear his voice at any given moment. They realize that every moment is indeed given to them through him.
This Sunday’s Scriptural extracts combine to offer us a practical mysticism, a way of life that is deeply involved in the events of each day and highly attuned to the grace offered in every moment. The extract from the Acts of the Apostles reminds us that our Christian vision needs to be expressed in terms that ordinary folks can understand, even though many will decline to do so. The Book of Revelation and John’s Gospel invite us to dream, to take the path of mysticism, to remember the Word we have heard and to imagine our destiny, as we move in both joy and sorrow toward the glory to be revealed.
 
 
Considering that God has imbued all humans with characteristics including counsel, creativity, understanding, wisdom, and the knowledge of the difference between good and evil, how is it that we are not living in Utopia? One explanation is that God also gave us free will so that we might choose the Divine will … or not. Sadly, it is true that some do seem to purposefully and consciously choose evil.
But surely it is more common for people not to make any choice at all? We seem to have lost the will — free or otherwise — to choose what is best for us. Access to knowledge has never been more available, yet we skim over the top, preferring sound bites and a never-ending longing for newness rather than deeply-listening to the Creator who sustains us. Ours has become a culture of distraction promoted by the abundance of Evil. If only people would stop to consider, in depth, the evidence. It is only when we deeply-listen that we lose ourselves and experience the Divine.
 
God of my heart, live in me and calm my mind that I may deeply-listen to You and then choose what is good.

3rd Sunday of Easter

Break-fast
 
This Sunday’s Gospel (John 21:1-19) depicts the Resurrected Jesus in the coastal settlement of Tiberias whose origins date back to 1200 BC, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. 
 
In times of uncertainty, the familiar is comforting and reassuring. People often drift back to a familiar place or occupation. Peter at some point in the post-Calvary and empty tomb period drifted back to his fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. For those unfamiliar with the Sea of Galilee, night time is when the fish rise from the cool depths to which the daytime bright sun had driven them. Also, once the sun rises it causes the surface of the sea, when calm, to become opaque. However, a person on the shoreline can often see the movement of a shoal of fish invisible to fishermen in a boat on the sea. Jesus acted as the ‘spotter’ to his fishermen friends, the same as people do today.
 
 
As well as a physical drifting back to familiar places, times of severe uncertainty reduce our willingness to reach out with the previous confidence we had shown. As a child of six, I suffered a fracture in my lower right leg. Having worn a whole-leg plaster cast for six weeks, I had to learn to trust my right leg again! It was tough, learning to walk again. I depended on the encouragement of those I could trust.
 
In John’s Gospel for this Sunday, there’s a message in every detail – the lit charcoal fire, the cooking fish and the bread - of Jesus’ preparation for his hungry, weary, deflated and massively hesitant returning fishermen/disciples. How many times previously had they eaten together on the shoreline with minimal amounts of food, blessed by Jesus, to satisfy as many as were present …. and willing to communicate? This early morning reunion of disciples would have also been a ‘resurrection’ of previous memories that had become overshadowed, lost sight of, in the terrifying all too recent trauma of Calvary that would still have haunted them.
 
This was yet another invitation to his disciples to break from their ‘fast of hope’ i.e. ‘break-fast’. These disciples were still adrift in an unending ‘night’ of uncertainty. Could they be persuaded to break-their-fast of belief in Jesus’ Resurrection? Aged six, I wanted so much to walk again on my previously fractured right leg now without its supportive whole-leg plaster cast but …. could it be trusted? Could I trust it? Each disciple would have had his own interior struggle on the Tiberian beach that morning.
 
It was highly significant that Jesus requested the previously empty-handed crew to: “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” By this Jesus indicated that this break-fast was not a fresh start but a continuity of call, of vocation. Jesus had not ‘fasted’ from calling them despite their probable ‘fast’ from believing in Him and in His call to them. Jesus was involving them in His enactment of their healing which would lead to their re-communion with Him.
 
At times our Baptised lives may seem bereft of a sense of God’s presence? Times when formalised prayer and sacramental practices feel as they have failed to touch our injured depths? Times when the ‘beaches’ provided by the Church had no visible charcoal fire, nor cooking fish, nor bread. Instead, there appeared an all-obscuring sandstorm-tsunami of contamination that washed not into, but out from, the Church and, most especially, appeared to have been caused by some those whom the Lord had called to be shepherds on his behalf.
 
 
Yet, if, while acknowledging the appalling contamination, we refuse to give in to it, we will find the Risen Lord recognizable amongst the debris, identifiable by his still active wounds. He invites us to put our fingers into the holes made by the nails and our hand to touch his opened side and “doubt no longer, but believe!” (John 20:27) the victims while they tell us of their all too real pain and disfigurement, for which we have no answer but our tears and our shared shame.
 
 
The original disciples had come back to Tiberias from the Sea of Galilee after what they had thought was a fruitless night’s fishing.  It was a bright, sunny Tiberian morning but they may have been unaware of it. Their inner vision might well have remained as obscure and damaged as had been the inner vision of their two companions on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Jesus may have had to work hard to re-engage with their faith fractured by their own disloyalty and fear and, for Peter, his thrice-public denial of knowing Jesus (Matt: 26:69-75)
 
Yet, it is Peter whom Jesus singles out. He asks Peter three times: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” To what was Jesus referring? Did he indicate Peter’s companion disciples or was Jesus indicating Peter’s former life as a Galilean fisherman? It is more likely to be the former, for Peter gives Jesus the uncomplicated answer: “Lord, you know that I love you”. Jesus, in his bountiful forgiveness, gives Peter the opportunity to have the painful memory of his threefold public denial of Jesus expunged by making a threefold public affirmation of contrition. In Luke 7:47 we find Jesus’ earlier teaching about genuine love counteracting the affliction of sin.
 
John records this public encounter between the Risen Jesus and the healed Peter to show how Peter was to become the great shepherd of Christ’s Body on earth. There were those in the early Church who drew comparisons between Peter, John and Paul. Peter may not have had John’s deep theological ability to visualize, verbalize and record. Nor may Peter have had Paul’s determination to journey to distant places and catechize the Gentile nations. But to Peter, explicitly, was given the beautiful and entirely demanding task of shepherding the sheep of Christ. We, too, may not have John’s capacity for theological exploration and exposition, nor Paul’s ability for voyaging and adventure, but we do share Peter’s fragility for, like him, we surely have denied Christ in our life and been the recipients of his healing forgiveness. And, like Peter, we can feed the lambs of Christ with the Word of Life, we can feed Christ’s flock by our communion with one another and we can guard others from going astray.
 
Each day, we need to hear Christ’s call directed to our self:
“----, son/daughter of ---- and ----,                                            do you love me more than these?
because we are called afresh, daily, to be one with Peter who, in this 21st century, bears the name of Francis.

Divine Mercy Sunday (2nd Sunday of Easter)

Is it always appearances that can be deceptive or our reading of them?
 
We use the word appearance to describe the outward form of visible, tangible matter. But we are also aware that what we see, touch, taste, smell, and perhaps hear, does not reveal matter’s totality. Further, and probably lengthy, investigation is needed.
 
In physical appearance, Jesus would have been reasonably indistinguishable from other Jewish males of similar age and upbringing. What was it then that set him apart, that distinguished him? There is a clue, maybe, in Mark 9:14/15:
“When they (Jesus, Peter, James and John) came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them.  As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.”
What was it about Jesus that overwhelmed the crowd? Other translations speak about the crowd being “amazed at his (Jesus’) appearance. People familiar with Jesus’ physical appearance could readily identify him. So, what was it that ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘amazed’ the crowd? Clearly it was nothing physical such his clothes as Jesus didn’t wear eye-catching attire.
 
 
Peoples’ eyes reveal their inner being. Parents claim they can tell whether their child is telling the truth or not by looking into the child’s eyes. Baptised people, committed to daily prayer especially in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, carry within them the impact of having been in the Divine Presence. Their eyes, and overall demeanour, can exude a supernatural quality of life visible to others who are, themselves, searching for God. When God is wholeheartedly welcomed by an individual, He responds with an indwelling of his Spirit.
 
The people, to whom Mark refers, looked into Jesus’ eyes. He had just come down from the mountain top, from what we call ‘The Transfiguration’ (Mark 9:2-8). His whole being had been alive with a non-earthly light that his eyes could not conceal. Recognition of that light in Jesus’ eyes was what would have drawn people to Jesus. It should be remembered that the perception of holiness in another does not necessarily happen instantaneously. It is more a becoming aware over time, be that long or short. The same can be said about people who allow the Devil to possess them.
 
 
 
Our Gospel for this Sunday comes from John (20:19-31) and tells of one of Jesus’ early post-Resurrection appearances. His eleven remaining Apostles had hidden themselves in a locked room. They were fearful for their lives from their fellow Jews, let alone the Romans. Inexplicably, Jesus appeared in their midst. Would they have accepted him as they had in previous times? Each one’s level of acceptance would have depended upon each’s personal belief in Jesus which, at that point, might well have been damaged by his apparent inability to save himself from crucifixion. Known as Jesus’ associates, they would have been fearful which explains their being in hiding.
 
Jesus’ greeting addressed their uncertainty: “Peace be with you.” The words and the voice would have been familiar but could they accept them as real? So, Jesus repeated his words and showed them the wounds of his crucifixion. John, in his Gospel, tells us that: “The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” The question is, did they really accept that what their eyes saw namely, their Resurrected Lord, truly was present in their midst? Did their inner but now insecure faith fail to accept the evidence of their eyes and could Jesus have seen this reflected in their eyes? Judging by Jesus’ repeated appearances in that locked upper room, he had work to do to win back the belief of the Eleven.
Today’s Gospel features Thomas. He continues to be tagged with the label ‘Doubting’ whereas, as a result of Jesus specific attention resulting in Thomas’ own proclamation of renewed faith, “My Lord and my God”, he surely deserves re-identifying as ‘Believing’. Sadly, human nature, weakened through unforgiven sin, often continues to favour the negative stance in preference to reaching out and embracing the possibility of a positive change.
Could it be that our own faith is insufficient when we fail to identify God’s presence in the eyes and faith-inspired demeanour of another? People who are infused with the Spirit exude a confidence based on their awareness that God is working through them; that in speaking the Truth they are doing God’s work. Not just their eyes but their smile and words convey the sense of God’s spirit within them despite their, perhaps, deprived human condition. Do others, knowing us to be Baptised believers, find a measure of disappointment because they cannot see in our eyes, hear in our words and observe in our actions the life-sustaining fulfilment of the badge to which we make claim namely, ‘Christian’?
 
Jesus would have been under no illusion when he appeared in the locked upper room in the evening of the first Easter Day. Evil’s howls of frustration at recognising that it could no longer win the war with God were far from silenced then or now, but on the Day of Judgement they will be forever silenced. Our lacerated Church in the 20th going 21st century resembles the lacerated body of our Lord and Head who appeared still carrying the wounds humanity had inflicted. It is hard to acknowledge a healing when the body remains so traumatised. It must have been significantly difficult for Thomas, and maybe others too, to experience tactile contact with the wounds Christ bore. They were, and remain, the open wounds of Calvary not the scar tissue that we are accustomed to seeing on our own and other’s bodies.
It is said that our Saviour’s open wounds will remain open until the end of the world for, even now, Jesus goes on working to recover us sinners and bring us, his scattered, at-risk and much-loved flock, home:
“Jesus said to the Jews,
"My Father goes on working, and so do I." (John 5: 17-30)
There are many who, like Thomas, are called to touch in some real or metaphorical way the wounded Body of Christ on earth. They find the strength, like Thomas, to say: “My Lord and my God” to the most unappealing and, perhaps, ungrateful victims of human disfigurement – even when such disfigurement has, in part, been self-inflicted. Jesus’ words to Thomas come to mind: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
 
It is said that ‘appearances can be deceptive’ and first appearances can be the barrier we have to overcome. For it is only when we have eye-contact with another that we truly begin to communicate. I remember a diminutive Poor Clare Extern (non-cloistered) Sister named Gerard, now long since gone to God. Clothed in a rough brown ankle length habit with a black veil over her head, she, with a companion sister, used to go begging around the dockland pubs in Liverpool on a Friday, the dockers’ pay day. Irrespective of whether she was sworn at, spat at or received a small coin, Sr. Gerard stopped and looked up into the eyes of each burly docker and with clarity said: “God bless you”. Sister Gerard meant it and the docker knew it!

4th Sunday of Lent

Parental Heartache
 
For the parents, the loss of a child is a pain like none other. St. Luke is the only Evangelist to record three of Jesus’ parables on the subject of loss. This 4th Sunday of Lent we read the best recognised of the three, remembered under the title ‘The Prodigal Son’ (vv.15: 1-3, 11-32). In this context ‘prodigal’ carries the meaning of a recklessly wasteful use of inherited resources followed by a contrition.
In the main, Jesus’ teaching parables are complete. He describes the scene, the ensuing action and delivers the conclusion. But the ‘The Prodigal Son’ parable is different. Despite the eventual return of the second son, the prodigal, Jesus leaves the parable open-ended. Not only does the elder son’s antipathy towards his younger brother remain unresolved, it appears to worsen. Then, the elder son turns his venom upon his parents. It is a cliff-hanger of an ending.
 
This ‘Prodigal Son’ parable is much depicted in paintings and essays. Rembrandt’s interpretation in oil on canvas probably stands head and shoulders above other artistic interpretations. A feature unique to Rembrandt is his portrayal of the father’s hands resting on the bowed back of his returned prodigal. Rembrandt gave the father one male and one female hand thereby deliberately including the boys’ mother. Rembrandt drew attention to the fact that, in Jesus’ era and for long after, women were without independent status, personal identity and power.
 
Since commentaries often give a detailed examination of the Prodigal Son, it may be refreshing to broaden the focus. The parents represent God the Father who, in creating us [male and female] in his own image and likeness, has endowed each of us with an equality of dignity and purpose. Another word to describe this endowment is vocation. Created by the Almighty, we each carry within us God’s personal invitation to understand that our vocation is not a choice we have to make, but our answer to His proposal that we will find in the words of his Son, Jesus Christ. The Prodigal, isolated in the foreign pigsty – the epitome of shame for a Jew – remembered his parents’ (God’s) lifelong forgiveness that he had repeatedly experienced in his early life. By contrast his elder brother did not consider himself in need of forgiveness – he had kept the Law!
 
Human parents pass on to their offspring genes that considerably influence the life decisions made by their offspring of either the first or subsequent generations. We can ask what was the prime endowment passed on by these parents to their two sons in Jesus’ parable entitled, ‘The Prodigal’? A tempting answer would be land but is that the correct answer?
Is the earth we inhabit God’s prime endowment to us? A Divine endowment is forever, literally. Our earth, as we now know only too well, has no permanence. Neither, apparently, does anything in the cosmos. Surely, the prime endowment we have received from God is our likeness to Him and its hallmark is Divine forgiveness.
 
 
The parents (God), in the first place, showed their sons the quality of respect for the law of God. Having chosen to retire, the father had no alternative but to accede to his younger son’s request for one third of the estate. It may have broken the parents’ hearts to divide their much-loved land that the boy’s father would have received as a cherished inheritance, but it was the Law.
 
Secondly, the parents showed their sons the quality of love. The parents had evidently lived this quality themselves and in doing so would have demonstrated it continuously to their sons and their household. In Jesus’ parable there is no trace of parental recrimination towards the elder son when his younger brother leaves home. The parental love for the elder son is shown in the father’s words: ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.’”
It would appear that the elder son remained as unmoved by his parents’ suffering at the loss of their younger son as he was unforgiving towards his brother.
The younger son’s actions and words speak for themselves.
 
 
Thirdly, the parents showed their sons the quality of forgiveness. A continuous exemplification of forgiveness must have been both visible and audible in the parental behaviour. How else could the prodigal son have been so sure that he would be completely forgiven and reconciled. Had he not been certain he would never have said:
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
 
St. Luke’s words paint a clear picture of the parental heartache: “While he (the prodigal son) was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.”
You can only hope to catch sight of someone or something for whom or for which you are committed to searching for specifically and continuously. The recognition is as much of the heart as of the head.
Note the earlier parable of the ‘lost sheep’ in chapter 15: 4-7.
Both the sons were the cause of the parental heartache. The Prodigal recognized that he was a recovering sinner. The elder son had yet to do so. Parental love continued to be extended to both.
 
 
 
God’s prime disposition towards each and every person whom he creates, in his own image and likeness, is forgiveness. When God invites us individually to our specific vocation it is not because we are without fault or even perfectly suited to it. Each vocation is a gift enshrined in Divine forgiveness because we can only come to him as sinners. We are invited to understand that our vocation is nor a choice we have to make, but our answer to Christ’s proposal that we recognise our need of his forgiveness and actively seek it. This journey, like that of the Prodigal, can be lengthy and arduous.
The Prodigal, at his homecoming, must have sensed his being forgiven, being ‘re-birthed’, was way beyond anything he had expected. It is his belief in Divine forgiveness that allows Pope Francis to repeatedly call himself a sinner. “Pray for me, please, I am a sinner.”  The Pope recognizes himself as a recovering sinner. He urges us to share his vision because this is how we will remain until our last breath.  
 
The elder sibling’s attitude towards his younger sibling, whom he sees as a miscreant, is one of God’s works in progress. Is there here a reflection of the divide between Jew and Gentile?
Jesus calls his Christian ‘prodigal’ adoptees to share in this on-going mission of repatriation through the teaching of the Second Council of the Vatican and subsequent Papal teachings. As Christians we are encouraged to pray for our elder brothers and sisters, the Jews, on to whom we have been grafted in and through the Person of God-made-Man, Jesus Christ, the Jew.
 
Faith and prayer embolden our hope in an era when, once again, there are worrying signs of the growth of widespread anti-Semitism. But, do we believe and pray with the same personal and deep faith that kept a mother and father, whose pain is incalculable, searching through rivers of tears that channelled the worn skin of their face as seen in the Rembrandt portrait?

3rd Sunday of Lent

The Effects of Spiritual Disorientation
Disorientation is a scary experience. It’s causes can be internal or external, neurological or circumstantial. Either way, disorientation is a cause of suffering. Dementia, for example, is a chronic progressive disorder of the mental process. Equally, a person trapped in a snow blizzard, a sandstorm or a total blackout can be suddenly and life-threateningly disorientated, as well as frightened.
There is also spiritual disorientation which Satan puts to much use. Unlike the sudden snow blizzard or sudden darkness, the Satanic initiated disorientation infiltrates a person slowly and progressively. Satan disguises his infiltration of spiritual disorientation by bombarding an individual’s senses with excesses of continuously stimulating and captivating momentary distractions and delights. This has been happening in Western Europe for decades. The result, for an unaware Christian, can easily be an increasing disorientation resulting in a lapsation. Lapsed Christians do not feel out of place in a society that is itself disorientated. A society no longer drawing on its Christian heritage for moral guidance becomes more and more secular.
An example of modern secular mentality is the ease with which people have assumed for themselves God’s prerogative of judgement and authority. People now block, erase and reject on Facebook and Twitter etc anyone or anything that does not share their outlook and current belief. A 2018 UK survey commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust found that one in five of those questioned did not believe the Holocaust happened. 
 
It is not that God refuses to share his prerogative with us. The prophet Jeremiah relays God’s message:
“I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them upon their minds. I will be their God and they will be my people” (31:33)
It is that in the Satanically induced disorientation affecting Western society many people, including Church people, have less daily awareness of God and God’s Word-made-Flesh. Wherever a ‘faith-gap’ opens up in a person’s’ life, Satan occupies it.
 
 
Christianity is anchored in God who has revealed Himself, in these last times, through Jesus, His only-begotten Son-made-Man. Jesus defined Himself as the one reference point underpinning all reality when he answered ‘doubting’ Thomas: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
For thousands of years The Truth has been accepted by thinking people as an objective feature of our world. It is external to us. We neither invented nor discovered it. Objective Truth is what should ground everyone’s thinking and decision making.
Tragically, many people today in our disorientated modern secular society choose to believe that Truth is what an individual decides. Even the number of Christians, who believe moral truths are unchanging and unchangeable, is shrinking because of Evil’s ability to disorientate them through the pressures of society’s shifting culture. Satan has persuaded many people that Truth is relative to the prevailing circumstances.
 
 
 
God’s Word for this 3rd Sunday of Lent presents three scenarios that could be said to share a theme of our need to be always alert and of the consequences of not being. There is an Evil-induced spiritual disorientation forever lurking whose purpose is human entrapment.
 In the 1st Reading (Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15) a youthful Moses is told by God:
“I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering.”
Despite promising to do so, the people of Israel had failed, collectively, to uphold the covenant they had entered into with God. This failure brought them a lengthy suffering and enslavement in Egypt. The Jews had become generationally disorientated in failing to appreciate that, by reducing to external conformity their observance of the Covenant, they had succumbed to Evil.
 
The educated one-time Pharisee, Saul, now Baptised and renamed Paul, was all too aware of the effects of ancestral disorientation. This explains why, in the 2nd Reading, we hear Paul address his young Corinthian converts to Christianity: (10:1-6, 10-12)
“I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea….  These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did….  whoever thinks they are standing secure should take care not to fall.”
 
In the Gospel extract from St. Luke (13:1-9) Jesus calls his people to repentance as a necessary step to escape the effects of Satan’s disorientation:
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? They were not! I tell you. No; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did!”
 
Jesus was aware that if his people continued their political intrigues, plottings and rebellions, they were committing national suicide. Their seeking of an earthly kingdom while rejecting the Kingdom of God could only have one outcome. After Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, this is precisely what happened. In AD 70, Roman patience finally ran out. The Roman army obliterated both Jerusalem and its people – see Luke 21:6, 24.
 
 
There is a paradox that links the deliberate choice of sin with subsequent suffering. While it cannot be said that individual sin and suffering are inevitably connected, it can be said that communal/national sin and suffering are connected. The nation that deliberately chooses to engage in sinful ways will suffer the consequences of its choice. Jesus did not mince his words in today’s Gospel: But I tell you, if you (the nation) do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”
In the case of the individual, it is different. Individuals, being part of a community, can be caught up in their nation’s activity and its consequences which they neither willed nor caused but were without power to halt. Where such individuals manifestly rejected their nation’s choice and did their best to persuade others to do likewise, they, as individuals, will not be held to account by God.
It is always unwise to automatically attribute an individual’s personal suffering to their sin. It is always safe to say that a nation that rebels against God will inherit disaster.
 
 
God shares with each of us his concerns for all his people. Our informed consciences are alerted through daily prayer. There will be ‘burning’ issues calling for our attention and engagement. There will be people we see at spiritual risk as well as in need of physical shelter. There will be seemingly unproductive situations absorbing precious time and energy. And when we feel ‘enough is enough’ we hear the Lord of all gardeners/carers plead for us to continue “one year more”.
The bringing alive of the Gospel message depends on the spiritual capacity of Christians today to collectively discern, under the leadership of Pope Francis, God’s action as it continues to unfold through the reiteration of the central spiritual questions of our age.
 
 
If we could just sense the treasure there is in participating in the Mass, in the Eucharist, then perhaps even a lame homily, a poor liturgy, a faulty choir or distracting neighbours would not diminish our sense of the presence of the sacred or our joy in recognising the depth of love God has for each of us. The Evil One is fully capable of using even distractions to further our disorientation, even when we are in church.
It is vital for us to remain alert and on guard against the Evil One’s surreptitious infiltration of spiritual disorientation. As St. Peter, in his first letter to all Christians, wrote: “Keep sober and alert, because you enemy the devil is on the prowl … looking for someone to devour.” (5:8)

33rd Sunday In Ordinary Time

WHAT WILL IDENTIFY YOU AT THE JUDGEMENT?
 
This is the penultimate Sunday of the Church Year. Mark’s Gospel extract (13:24-32) focuses on the ‘end of time’ as we know it. The whole of Mark’s Chapter 13 makes thought-provoking reading. At the ‘end of time’ all man-made identities creating social distinctions and division will disappear. The identities received from God, on the other hand, will remain.
 
Each person’s unique identity owes its origin to our being made in the imagine and likeness of God. No one is duplicated. As we grow up, our unique identity may become overlaid by ever-changing clothing, make-up, badges, uniforms, possessions and behaviour. Through it all our likeness to God our Creator remains, though it may be hidden at times.
 
As human beings we come into this world as God’s creation. Christians believe that, through Baptism, God has initiated a revolutionary, eternal change in his relationship with his human creation. God has allowed his human creation, irrespective of tribe or people, to become His adopted daughters and sons by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Through this Sacrament, God makes each of the Baptised a brother or sister of His Only-Begotten Son, the Jewish man, Jesus of Nazareth.
 
For Catholics, each freely received successive celebration of a Sacrament enhances the presence of God’s spirit. This increase in God’s indwelling is to fortify our personal relationship with God. It also enables us to stand four-square with Christ our Saviour in His continuing battle, in this world, with the cunning power of Satan. As is testified by the history of the worldwide community of the Baptised, The Church, many have followed our Saviour’s path to death through persecution. An even greater number endure a bloodless, but still painful persecution, of interminable length.
 
For a non-Jew, Mark 13 is difficult to fathom, referencing, as it does, so much of Jewish history and thought. But then, that should not be wholly unfamiliar territory for the Baptised who have become the sisters and brothers of Jesus the Jew who is God-made-Man.  It may be helpful to reiterate here some fundamental distinctions between Jews and Christians who form the two original streams of people called by God.
For Jews, Jesus is a holy Jewish man. Jews do not accept Jesus of Nazareth as the Incarnate Son of God-made-Man. Therefore, they continue to await the Messiah’s promised ‘Coming’. For this reason, continuity is at the heart of Judaism. Their unconquerable optimism that they are God’s ‘Chosen’ has enabled them to survive horrendous persecution down the centuries.
 
Anglo-Saxon Gentiles consign history to archives. For the majority it is ‘The Past’ and, as such, quite distinct from ‘The Present’. 
For Jews, their ‘history’ is for them their ‘present’. It lives in them today. Jews, alive today, are the living expression of their ‘history’ with which they are very familiar. When a Jew speaks about the Holocaust, for example, he/she is mentally and spiritually living that experience in the present moment. When you visit Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, you will recognise this to be so.
So, too, each Sabbath Eve meal (Friday at sunset) is a sacred family gathering in which each member lives, here and now, the experience of their captured enslaved forebears whom Moses was to lead from Egypt to the promised land. Gathered to share their Sabbath eve ‘Passover’ meal, each Jewish family is doing more than remembering, they are making real and continuing the turmoil of that ‘journey of promise’ awaiting the ‘Passover’ that is the coming of the Messiah. This is the strength of the individual Jew and the entirety of Jewish identity.
 
There is a connection here for Catholic Christians. Sunday Mass is the gathering of God’s Baptised family whether it be a congregation of two or more than half a million. Each is called to renew their individual adoption by God through absorbing The Word of God and receiving The Word-made-Flesh. At the celebration of Mass, Jesus, our Lord and Brother, links each Catholic Christian present with two thousand years of Baptised forebears whose pilgrim steps we are walking in today, through circumstantially very different times. But also, through our communion with Jesus the Jew, Catholic Christians are linked to his Jewish antecedents including, of course, his Jewish Mother, Mary. I wonder how often we identify that linkage in our prayer even, when praying the Psalms particularly, we are making use of a Jewish form of prayer which Jesus would have known by heart and used!
 
This makes me ponder my Catholic identity. As a Catholic am I, at the time of Holy Communion, sufficiently aware of being united with Jesus the Jew who is the Christ? Am I consciously willing myself to be one with Him in His continuing self-sacrifice for the redemption of the world, for Jew and Gentile? Does Holy Communion unite me, as it should, with my suffering, imprisoned, persecuted brothers and sisters, Jews and fellow Christians, struggling to be faithful in this ‘Vale of Tears’? Am I motivated by receiving Holy Communion to become more actively engaged with corporal works of mercy and of the promotion of justice? Am I conscious of Jesus’ outreach to his fellow Jews … am I concerned for them as my sisters and brothers?
Or, is my thanksgiving after Communion over concerned with me, my agenda and my needs?
 
Mark’s chapter 13 shows Jesus making use of much that would have been familiar to his fellow Jews then or now but which is unlikely to be familiar to contemporary Christians. Mark 13 benefits from being read against a Jewish mindset and that does not come easily to a Gentile. ‘Listening in depth’ to the Gospels involves a lifetime of prayer to the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to switch meaningfully into such an in-depth listening mode for a few minutes at Sunday Mass.
Do we spend sufficient time dwelling on the implication of our affiliation to and identification with the Jew who is Jesus Christ, God’s Incarnate Son? Do Gentile Christians somehow identify with Jesus minus his Jewish background? A Jewish mindset can only be grown from the inside, from our hearts. In our prayer, do we ever ask Jesus to help us understand his Jewishness? It is not something that can be taken on board, like a fact of impersonal history. Nor can this short article supply what is needed but it may help point a reader in the right direction.
 
Mark 13 gives Christians much food for thought about, what we refer to as, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ as King and Judge of the world. We know today, sadly, that many non-Jews, and not a few Christians, disregard this revelation.
 
Jews and Christians share a belief that God will break into the Evil- induced chaos of this world, at a point we do not know, ending time as we know it and bringing about an entirely new order namely, eternity.
Jews and Christians share belief in the prophet Joel’s disturbing descriptions of the ‘Day of the Lord’ (Ch.2&3) that tell of that day of God’s intervention. We share belief there will be times of terror and chaos when the world, as it is known, will be shaken to its foundations.
 
Where we differ is that, for Christians, the Messiah has already come, 2000 years ago, in the Person of Jesus the Christ. Therefore, God’s return as King and Judge in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth will be, for Christians, the Second Coming of God-made-Man. Christians celebrate this article of our Faith next week on the last Sunday of the Church year, the Feast of Christ the King.
 
The Jews believe that the advent of God will be the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham and that, in this new order, they would occupy the place assigned to the Chosen People.
  
From the time of Jesus up to our present, Jews and Christians have walked parallel, semi-complimentary yet also vastly distinctive paths as we share God’s creation. The complementarity of our paths is to be found in that both Jew and Christian share belief in the visible coming amongst us of God. The distinctive difference between our paths lies in the gulf of belief that, for Christians, the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth is the Only-Begotten Son of God made Man; whereas, for the Jews, the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth is a man of God and probably the most famous Jew who has ever lived.
For Christians, God is among us and working in our world through his adopted daughters and sons, the Baptised, who are Jesus’ brothers and sisters.
For Jews, God has yet to break into our world. So, for Christians, the present year is 2018 Anno Domini (the Year of the Lord) when God-made-Man came among us. It’s a sad sign of our growing secularism that many have jettisoned ‘AD’ for ‘CE” (the Common Era).
For Jews, this is the year 5,778 which they regard as the number of years since the start of Creation.
 
Will the Jewish and Christians paths converge? Well, for certain there will be a convergence when God calls the world to order, but prior to that we can but pray for one another. It is said that when Judaism accepts the Divine Nature of Jesus of Nazareth, Mark’s chapter 13 will be fulfilled.
 
The question posed in the title above is: ‘What will identify you at the Judgement?’ The answer, for Christians, will lie in how loyal and dedicated each has been in acknowledging and responding to the Son of God’s call in John’s Gospel (15.4) “Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.”
Our Jewish brothers and sisters will answer for themselves.
May Jesus, their brother in race and ours by adoption, bring us both to his heavenly Father.
 
 
1645
 

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (13.08.2017)

Danger Is Not Our Only Constant Companion
 
“Would Jesus have knowingly sent his disciples into danger?” A university student put this question in a Bible-share on this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 14:22-33). Certainly a night crossing on the notoriously unpredictable Sea of Galilee would have its dangers.

Danger, specifically the unknown, is our constant companion. Since our first parents disobeyed God, thereby losing the peace and divine harmony of ‘The Garden of Eden’, humanity has been continuously endangered. The counterbalance to the presence of unknown danger is the declaration by God of his abiding love for us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

St. John, in his first letter (5:19) makes it clear that, while we belong to God, our world of exile is in the power of Satan. It will continue so until the Risen Lord returns as King and Judge of the Universe. Then, finally and forever, Satan’s grip on the world will be broken.

The ultimate danger for humanity is the loss of heaven, eternity with God. All other dangers, even the life-threatening variety, are relative. Just as God did not write-off our disobedient first parents neither does he write-off their descendants. The ultimate proof of this is that God the Father sent his only Son into our dangerous world. He knew that Satan’s power over this world would not triumph even when it inflicted crucifixion on his Son, Jesus.

St. Paul made this point strongly in Romans 5.20 “But however much sin increased, (God’s) grace was always greater; so that as sin’s reign brought death, so grace was to rule through the saving justice that leads to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Jesus knew the individual, as well as the collective, strengths of his disciples. Among them were experienced ‘Sea of Galilee’ fishermen. For them, sudden storms would have been nothing new. Matthew tells us that their boat was ‘battling with a strong headwind’, not sinking. There’s no mention of the disciples being in fear of the waves. Their terror came not from the storm but from the vision of Jesus walking on water. Sometimes in listening to the Gospel, as also at other times if our listening is distracted, we can insert our own preconceived interpretation on the words we hear. This can lead us to wrong conclusions and possibly faulty decisions.

Does this Gospel text challenge you and I to review and reassess the dangers, real or imaginary, we associate with our life? What do we see as the prime danger in our life? It should be any threat, from our self or from another, to our relationship with God. This always has to be our priority concern, even if the upholding of it costs our life here. The provenance for this assertion is the First Commandment – 

"YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD
WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL,
AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND"(Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Unless we give the preservation of our living relationship with God our ultimate and unchanging priority in life, then all our other judgements and evaluations become suspect. They could then, adapting words from the cigarette packet, ‘seriously damage our eternal health’.

To be a loyal disciple, follower of Jesus in this world has always been and remains for many today, dangerous.  Jesus himself said, “The birds of the air have nests and foxes have holes, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)

To the careerist Zebedee brothers, James and John, Jesus posed the question, “Can you drink of the cup of suffering of which I am to drink?” (Mark 10:38 & Matthew 20:22) Their affirmative response, like Peter’s boast to Jesus (John 13:37) “I will lay down my life for you” had yet to pass the test of reality.

Our extract from Matthew’s Gospel offers us confirmation, as the actual event did for the disciples, that Jesus is always near, fully cognisant of what we are experiencing. Even the darkest of circumstances, symbolised by it being the fourth watch of the night 0300-0600 when Jesus appeared, cannot prevent the Light of Christ reaching us. Notice though that it is the disciples, in particular Peter, who engage Jesus not vice versa. Jesus never forces himself upon us. We have to invite him – as did the two utterly dispirited disciples on the ‘Road to Emmaus’ after Jesus’ crucifixion (Luke 24:13-35) “Stay with us, for it is towards evening and the day is now far spent.”

One of life’s tragic paradoxes is that while our media and billboards are packed with information to enhance and protect our life here on earth, there’s precious little to direct peoples’ attention to eternal life. That Jesus became visible to the disciples in their hour of need indicates that they had first, in their hearts and minds, individually and possibly collectively, turned to him.

In times of desperation people, in all languages, can be heard to invoke the name of ‘God’. Is it a prayer from a humbled and contrite source or has it become just another swear word? Only God and the individual know. That is what it comes down to in the end, the quality or otherwise of that one-to-one relationship which, for God, began even before we came into being in our mother’s womb.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
 (Jeremiah 1:5)

The sinking Peter’s cry for help in our Matthew passage, “Lord, save me!” was from a humbled and contrite heart yet one, like our own, still being formed.
 

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time (03.08.14)

‘Previously’

Glacier explorers are always alert to the death-dealing danger of hidden, deep crevasses. These bottomless chasms have claimed countless lives over the centuries. A parallel can be drawn with the Church in Western Europe today. A chasm has opened up between the three Scripture readings at Sunday Mass and people’s weekday life. A homilist, unless truly charismatic, has an impossible task!

Just consider - entering a church for Sunday Mass - worshippers come from their electronically all-embracing 21st. century life to a setting, value system and vocabulary that has become, especially for upcoming generations, alien! Fewer and fewer young people speak ‘Christian’, which means having a mindset and a vocabulary resonating with Christian empathy!

Popular TV series insert ‘Previously’ segments before new episodes, even when just days apart, to help viewers’ recall. A combination of the visual and verbal triggers the memory, enabling the new segment to sit seamlessly with the habitual viewer.

Tragically, there’s no ‘Previously’ for congregations participating at Sunday Mass. Many have a six-day chasm of utterly different involvement with no meaningful remembrance of God’s Word from the previous Sunday. Moreover, the Sunday Scripture readings do not always ‘follow on’.

Through his prophet, Jeremiah, God addressed these words to his Old Testament people at a similar time of disconnect (14: 17-21)

“Therefore you shall say this word to them:
‘Let my eyes flow with tears night and day,

And let them not cease;


For the virgin daughter of my people
has been broken with a mighty stroke, with a very severe blow.
If I go out to the field,
then I behold, those slain with the sword!
And if I enter the city,
then behold, those sick from famine!


Yes, both prophet and priest ply their trade throughout the land and have no knowledge.’”

An exception is this Saturday and Sunday, 2nd and 3rd August 2014. By coincidence, Matt 14: 1-12, the Gospel reading appointed for this Saturday, reveals the background that led to John the Baptist’s martyrdom. Multiple-murderer King Herod’s conscience proved to be his personal ‘previously’. Herod had beheaded John the Baptist rather than lose political face. Uncharacteristically this had disturbed him and he now believed Jesus to be the resurrected John the Baptist! A troubled conscience is, at least, a living conscience!

In Christian times, John the Baptist was a familiar name. The memory of a man clad in animal skins, eating locusts and wild honey and with a fearless preaching style, would have endured. People would have recalled tales of his birth, mission and martyrdom to some degree. A street poll today would likely turn up few, if any, who could identify John the Baptist.

For centuries, parents gave their children the names of revered Christians. The Christian history of places was reflected in their name. This treasure chest of our noteworthy Christian antecedents has been replaced in people’s memories by the names of sports personalities and briefly enduring celebrities.

As we experience the world from an armchair or computer console, we are bombarded with more information than we can comfortably store. Experienced TV producers understand all too well the ever-shortening attention and retention periods of the human mind. ‘Soap’ producers need to refocus every twelve to fifteen seconds if they wish to retain the attention of their viewers. Maybe this says as much about the poverty of content as the state of the human mind!

Popular ‘soaps’ have weekly multiple episodes with full ‘watch-back’ facility. Sunday Mass, by comparison, is a one-day-a-week verbal-only event for the inside of an hour with no changing scenes and one male voice with readers making brief appearances. In times past, Sunday Mass was the gathering place of the local community followed by particular family get-togethers. Now, Sunday Mass has become the optional, often missed, ‘add-on’ to a busy weekend.

The reality of the six-day chasm (Monday to Saturday) means that many Sunday Mass-attending Catholics are progressively unable to link up with the Scripture extracts they hear. For there to be the essential, Scriptural connectedness, people would need a considerable time of pre-Mass acclimatization. Where once, daily life and Christian life were one and the same, now they bear no resemblance.

World Cup footballers and other sports stars are taken to expensive acclimatization locations well in advance of their professional events to ensure their fitness and readiness for the contests. There needs to be comparable preparation provided for the average Catholic who does make it to Sunday Mass.

The disconnect, now entrapping the Catholic laity in particular, has grown surreptitiously like the hidden glacial chasm. Sadly and tragically those who trek to Sunday Mass, unlike their glacier exploring counterparts, are largely unaware of the danger they are in. God’s Word is our essential lifeline for spiritual nourishment and fortification in our daily battle with Satan’s hidden entrapments. Without God’s Word alive and active, daily, within our souls and hearts we are not only a danger to ourselves but also to our companions. Jesus’ warning in John 15:5 comes to mind:

“I am the vine, you are the branches;
those who abide in Me with Me in them, bear much fruit,
for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Just today, the Bible Society sent me this appeal to support Bible literacy:

“We’re giving you the opportunity to help us teach more than half a million Chinese Christians to read the Bible. 

Han Xiao Lang from China learnt to read when she was 34. She was one of the first to sign up to Bible Society literacy classes in 2009 and said, ‘After the class I felt more hopeful, I could appreciate the message of God for me. I found it easier to hear his voice…’ (Han Xiao Lang, now 38)”


While I’m glad to support the promotion of the Bible in China, I’m alarmingly aware how many of the UK Baptised are sleepwalking into a disconnect with their Christian heritage. Unlike us, the Chinese are hungry for God’s Word. Perhaps it is all too easy to condemn Herod the Murderer forgetting that his conscience was at least functioning.

Matthew 15:14 is an appropriate quote for the spiritually unseeing who fail to appreciate the chasms under their very noses!

"They are blind guides of the blind!
And if a blind person guides a blind person,
both will fall into a pit."
Peter said to Jesus, "Explain the parable to us."…

The Gospel for this Sunday (Matt 14: 13-21) reveals Jesus’ wish to grieve privately when given news of his cousin, John the Baptist’s, martyrdom. But the pressing needs of the living called so loudly to Jesus that he stepped away from his grief to answer their cries. Jesus picked up John the Baptist’s baton adding it to his own mandate to establish a Kingdom whose hallmark was to be communion with his heavenly Father in the care of one’s neighbour. The crucial element is the depth of our connectivity with God. The Christian veneer over much of modern day Europe is as deceptive as the glacier with its hidden crevasses. In Matthew 13:21 Jesus warns about superficial Christianity:

“But since they have no root, they last only a short time.
When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word,
 they quickly fall away.”

Keeping to the glacial analogy, the last line could be amended to read, “they quickly fall victim to the crevasse”!

At Pentecost this year, Pope Francis spoke about the Christian disconnect:

“Christians without memory are not a true Christians: they are halfway along the road, imprisoned in the moment, who do not know how to value their history, who do not know how to read it or live it as a history of salvation. We, with the help of the Holy Spirit, are able to interpret the inner inspirations and events of life in the light of Jesus' words. And thus our knowledge of memory, the knowledge of the heart, that is a gift from the Spirit, grows in us”.   (Vatican 8 June 2014)

In the popular quiz show ‘I want to be a millionaire’, the lifelines are often crucial. Our Baptismal life, when functioning well, makes us wonderful spiritual lifelines for our family, friends and colleagues.