Category Archives: Daily Reflections

Reflections from friends and associates of the Franciscan International Study Centre.

20 July, What is Theology Saying? XX: The Eucharist 7; Presence for our presence

The Paschal Mystery is the New Covenant – not that the Old has gone [there is only one covenant]. New means greater depth of intimacy with universal outreach. Jesus takes the Law and the Prophets – Israel’s heritage – and through this loves his people into existence. By the end of his short life they were still in receiving mode, not yet deepening into giving what was received and so, as Scripture says, he loved them to the end; handing over his Spirit which has lived and a human existence to the Father to give to all willing to receive – Pentecost.

To sustain and feed them along this new way he gives himself as the bread of life; not like the feeding of the 5,000. Being with him at the Last Supper, eating the bread he broke, accepting his death is to continue his way; to come together to break bread and become sustaining food for others. The Covenant Community was set up at that supper table. This is why there is much more involved in celebrating the Eucharist than a memorial experience; it is to accept his presence through his death, to become body given and blood poured out for others – service.

The Eucharist is the mystery of God’s graciousness and our salvation. Transubstantiation is a word for something we cannot understand, something beyond the competence of human language; to claim to capture it is to nullify the challenge to attune the way we live so as to address the cry of the poor. Augustine [who used the word Transubstantiation] says we are present not to satisfy personal needs [or commandments] but to be attentive and proactive to the cry of the poor. We cannot appreciate Transubstantiation if we by-pass the challenge for personal change.

The Eucharist is the real presence, not just a memorial ritual. It is Presence there for our presence, so that what is in him can be in us. Jesus does not stand-in for us, but invites us to get involved. We cannot receive the Eucharist in passive ways – the fruit of the Eucharist is one community allowing God’s love to be felt in our world.

AMcC

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19 July, What is Theology Saying? XIX: The Eucharist 6, A Call to Simplicity

winchester crucifixWhen Jesus began his ministry he didn’t expect it to lead to this – it wasn’t the goal of his mission. What he challenged us with was totally radical – the way of non-violence, of not needing someone to blame. His death reveals both the compassion of God and the reality of sin. Faced with Jesus, his contemporaries, chosen as hearers of the Word – panicked. The Gospels don’t present the leaders as particularly evil; they used arguments we are still using ourselves – prudence, common sense, self-defence… This is why sin is so appalling, showing how our normal and accepted ways of living are so corrupt that they crucify the innocent – legally.

Some would argue for a proper distinction to be made between religion, politics and social living. Jesus didn’t invite people to be poor, but to be poor in spirit – detached enough from whatever possessions to notice the poor man at the door. There is no love for a hungry person which leaves the person still hungry – it is pointless to show how much is being spent here and there – when the poor remain unfed, unclothed and unhoused. The very point of the Eucharist is to free people from the oppression of such evil. It is naïve to think we help poor people simply by becoming poor ourselves. Our call is to simplicity – simple means uncomplicated, and is not synonymous with easy.

We come to the Eucharist to be involved in ways of everyday living that will bring change. We have the gift of the Sacraments to help us do this. It is easy to miss the point of the Sacrament of the Eucharist by seeing it as a very special ceremony celebrated in but distinct from everyday living. There can be no intimacy with God without seeking the well-being of others – we are told the Second Commandment is like the first; which cautions about eating and drinking unworthily – 1Corinthians 11.27.

Grace is not a commodity God has to give to those who do what they are told to do. In fact, it is not something – it is relationship. It is an invitation to intimacy along with the gift of courage to say yes. Grace cannot be seen but gracefulness can, in heightened sensitivity to the needs of others. We can love our own family to the exclusion of others, likewise for one’s country – but such is not love since love knows nothing of exclusions. Love means openness – no matter who no matter where. See this expressed in the way the local folk in Germany turned out to welcome the migrants. This is Eucharist beyond the table. We relate to God as community, because it is only in community [no matter how small] that relationships happen. We have little experience of covenant relationship with God when so many human hungers go unnoticed.

AMcC

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18 July, What is Theology Saying? XVIII: The Eucharist 5: How can a person be food for another?

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What God says is always infallible – and that voice is the sound of the poor! We can and do proclaim: man does not live by bread alone – which is in fact only half true; it needs to be completed with man cannot live without bread. What Jesus brings as Bread of Life is how these two actually fit each other – so much so that we could equally say – what God has joined together let no one break apart…

How can a person be food for another? A strange question when that is how every one of us began life in the womb. Indeed the Bible uses this example to express how God sustains creation. The Mystics speak eloquently of Jesus’ relationship: how often I have longed to gather you children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings – Matthew 23.37. Equally do we sustain each other when rescuing from hopelessness and desperation; like the Apostles on Good Friday night. But now they have been enlivened in a new way – as if they too had been raised from the dead.

Passover acquired a new meaning with the Resurrection – the difference Jesus makes in himself becoming food is linked directly with his death. Our Eucharist of bread and wine must remind us that here we have the Paschal Lamb – a lamb becomes food only when it is killed, not when it dies! Its vocation is to become food for others – to be slaughtered and eaten. When Jesus spoke of becoming food many were scandalised; yet it is in his death that he becomes the bread of life; and it is through our being taken into his death [Baptism] that this food satisfies human hungers.

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Our shared meal is a token piece of food celebrated within an elaborate ritual. God blessed creation making it fruitful. He also blessed the 7th day for us to enjoy what is given. The flood symbolises our complete disregard for what God offers. God blesses Noah with this very same blessing, now with a more explicit covenant. Blessing is a creative act, bringing something new, and making the one blessed a source of blessing for others. It is not only God who blesses – in certain places parents bless their children before they go out. Parental blessing is calling from within another something not yet there, it is an expression of hope for sustaining new life.

AMcC

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17 July, What is Theology Saying? XVII: The Eucharist 4: he is the beloved.

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There is no equal to God. However kind, benign and compassionate the Creator is, we remain creature and Creator.

Scripture will have none of this – it is totally refuted by Jesus. One of the most significant comments Jesus made was the seemingly simple – the Father loves me – John.15.9. et al. Indeed his total identity as we hear at his baptism and the Transfiguration is that he is the beloved of Abba – Galatians 4.4. So, Abba can love! But God cannot love a creature as such: as we have seen, there is no equality; but there is a reality in Jesus which is beyond creaturehood. To say God loves me is to say he is divine.

Where does this leave us? In telling us that the Father loves him, Jesus – who is truly human – is telling us that the father loves everything about him – and especially the common humanity we share with him: to all who believe he gave power to know God as Abba – i.e. we are loved by God as Jesus is loved, as equals yet each one uniquely; which is why the Church always concludes worship and prayer with ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’.

Saint Paul writes that it is the re-shaping of community that allows us to see the presence of Christ. Eucharist fails in its purpose if it allows any form of discrimination for whatever reason: 1Corinthians.11; Romans.12; Galatians.2. The Eucharist asks us individually and collectively where we are as regards God’s unconditional hospitality.

AMcC

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July 16, What is Theology Saying? XVI: The Eucharist 3: No way can creature = Creator.

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Jesus told Nicodemus of our need to learn to live differently – to realise that we are gifted with ourselves in order to become gift for others – a way often called tough love; not counting the personal cost involved in being concerned primarily with mutual well-being and not just me alone. A child walks because adults wait for and expect this – often before it is physically possible! Love means not just self-giving, but expressing confidence that you will be all the better for it, and flourish accordingly. But to challenge like this presupposes trust – the trust of a child for its parents.

Our Eucharistic celebrations look very churchy and remote from everyday living – carefully choreographed rituals, strange attire worn by leaders sitting apart, scripts for designated readers only – all well-intentioned to enhance the beauty and centrality of the Eucharist – but does it? It certainly is central in our worship – but what about our everyday living? Does your Sunday Mass impact noticeably on your social, political, economic involvement?

We are celebrating the hospitality of God in a gathering in which we are invited to be co-hosts; and this happens in the real presence of Jesus. He told his disciples to continue celebrating the Last Supper, interpreting his death and Resurrection in the light of the Passover. The Exodus is central for Jewish faith – the setting free from oppression – since love depends on equality. But this not simply a one-off event of long ago – it is a permanent reminder of how God is with us, as equals.

Do we have a problem here? Equality is of the essence of love – but God cannot have any equal by definition; does this mean God cannot love? Revelation is clear about the gulf between us – no way can creature = Creator. So we seem destined for an infantile authority/obedience relationship with God through keeping the rules. There is no equal to God. However kind, benign and compassionate the Creator is, we remain creature and Creator.

AMcC

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July 15: What is Theology saying today? XV: The Eucharist 2; mystery not magic.

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Gate to Jesus Hospital, Canterbury

The Eucharist is Mystery; mystery is not magic. Magic supposes there is no explanation or understanding – no way of entering-into the reality; whereas mystery invites participation in an encounter. This means a way-in to something greater than we are. Mystery is not something I can’t know anything about – but something can’t know everything about. How ludicrously wrong to say you can’t tell me anything about him – as if I can fit into my tiny mind everything about another person – when I can’t even know all about myself. Interesting to ask ourselves why did Jesus ask – who do people say I am?

To say we enter into something greater – to be with someone who can appropriately say we whereas I can only say I! What is happening for this to become my experience? The basic action of the Eucharist is sharing – not just eating. The experience this addresses in me is my experience of hunger. To be human is to be hungry, in the sense that I need more than myself to live fully – as well as food and drink, I need companionship and compassion… so many human hungers persuade me that I cannot be self-fulfilled. With all possible human hungers in mind – this is what Jesus means by I am the bread of life. Our Western culture persuades us that meal-times are essential and always available. There is no such thing as meal-time for the vast majority, who eat whenever food, affection and compassion are available.

If I am never hungry in any of these human hungers to the point of starving, it is unlikely that I feel for those who are permanently there. Compassion requires me to enter into the suffering of another simply because that is where they are [this makes sense of the ancient discipline of fasting before communion]. The obvious way to know about hunger is to be hungry. Hunger is intrusive; will not allow us to get on with anything else until it is attended to. When God created hunger he created a blessing – opportunity to experience so many good things. God created more than enough ways to satisfy every possible hunger – the fact of so much starvation serves to tell us what we have done with Creation’s good things, enough to make the experience of hunger a curse to be eradicated.

AMcC

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July 14, What is Theology Saying? XIV: Eucharist 1, We are invited to be present.

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Eucharist is how Jesus summed-up his life and death; something not nearly catered for by going to Mass! Let‘s be clear about Jesus’ life. The interpretations of the Gospel say nothing about his own experience of living in Palestine, nor indeed about the impact he made on the ordinary folk of his time. Freedom is of the essence of his presence. Unlike political liberators he didn’t have a goal to achieve. Part of the old devotions of the Way of the Cross – the Second Station – referred to him receiving the cross as the means whereby he would save the world. He didn’t come with a goal in mind – he came to live his life freely, and therefore differently – a new way of being human.

This new way – non-resistance to violence, no finger-pointing, not needing to blame – proved wonder to the few, but irksome to the many, especially the powerful, whose disenchantment turned to hate, and the compulsion to be rid of him. He didn’t come to die – nor did the Father send him to die – he came to live life and death in a new way. We tend to interpret his going to Jerusalem as seeing death as his destiny. Why are you going there, it’s full of enmity for you…? His answer makes no reference to a predestined fate – Jerusalem is where the prophets died – Luke 13.34. Prophecy is not foretelling the future but living life as it was meant to be lived.

We are invited to be present in the Eucharist as Christ is present to us – a person to be met and experienced. A Mozart Concerto can be analysed and dissected to illustrate its melodic and harmonious structure, but to be present to it as it is allows it to become an experience, a unique experience, and see how it satisfies a hunger within us; to be soothed with its harmony, surprised by its ongoing creativity.

It is not grasping the experience, but being grasped. This is what mystery means – a work of art, a unique person. Eucharist is mystery.

AMcC

Picture from Missionaries of Africa

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July 13, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXXI: A boy shares Francis’s mystical vision.

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How a little boy-brother while Saint Francis was praying in the night, saw Christ and the Virgin Mary and many other saints hold converse with him.

A LITTLE boy, very pure and innocent, was received into the Order, while Saint Francis was yet alive and he abode in a little House, wherein of necessity the brothers slept on mats. It befell on a time that Saint Francis came t0 the House, and in the evening, after Compline, lay down to sleep, to the intent that he might be able to rise up in the night to pray while the other brothers slept, as it was his wont to do.

The aforesaid little boy set it in his heart diligently to keep watch upon the ways of Saint Francis, that he might come to know of his sanctity, and chiefly that he might learn what he did by night when he arose. And to the end that sleep might not play him false, that little boy laid him down to sleep close to Saint Francis, and tied his cord to the cord of Saint Francis, for to be ware when he got up; and of this Saint Francis perceived naught. But at night in his first sleep, when all the other brothers were sleeping, he arose and found his cord thus tied; and softly he loosed it, so that the little boy was not aware thereof, and Saint Francis went out alone into the wood that was hard by the House, and entered into a little cell that was therein, and set himself to pray.

After some short space the little boy awoke, and finding the cord unloosed and Saint Francis gone, arose and went in search of him: and finding the door open that led into the wood, he deemed that Saint Francis had gone thither, and s0 entered into the wood. And coming close up to the place where Saint Francis was praying, he began to hear much discourse; and drawing nigher for to see and learn what it was he heard, he beheld a marvellous light that shone round about Saint Francis, and therein he saw Christ and the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist and the Evangelist, and a great multitude of angels, speaking with Saint Francis. When this he saw and heard, the little boy fell on the ground in a deep swoon; so when the mystery of this holy vision was ended, Saint Francis, returning to the House, stumbled upon the little boy lying as though dead upon the ground; and in pity lifted him up and bore him in his arms, as doth the good shepherd with his sheep.

Learning thereafter from him how he had seen the vision set forth above, he bade him reveal it unto no man so long as he should be alive. And the little boy grew up in great favour with God and devotion to Saint Francis, and became a man of worth in the Order, and after the death of Saint Francis he revealed unto the brothers the vision set forth above.

From Ste Anne de Beaupré courtesy of Christina Chase.

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12 July: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXX: His sermon to the birds.

The sermon that Saint Francis preached unto birds was:

“My little sisters, the birds, much bounden are ye unto God, your Creator, and alway in every place ought ye to praise Him, for that He hath given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and hath also given you double and triple raiment; moreover He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world; still more are ye beholden to Him for the element of the air which He hath appointed for you; beyond all this, ye sow not, neither do you reap; and God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and the valleys for your refuge and the high trees whereon to make your nests; and because ye know not how to spin or sew, God clotheth you, you and your children; wherefore your Creator loveth you much, seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits ; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God.”

Whenas Saint Francis spake these words to them, those birds began all of them to open their beaks, and stretch their necks, and spread their wings, and reverently bend their heads down to the ground, and by their acts and by their songs to show that the holy Father gave them joy exceeding great. And Saint Francis rejoiced with them, and was glad, and marvelled much at so great a company of birds and their most beautiful diversity and their good heed and sweet friendliness, for the which cause he devoutly praised their Creator in them.

At the last, having ended the preaching. Saint Francis made over them the sign of the cross, and gave them leave to go away; and thereby all the birds with wondrous singing rose up in the air; and then, in the fashion of the cross that Saint Francis had made over them, divided themselves into four parts; and the one part flew toward the East, and the other towards the West, and the other towards the South, and the fourth towards the North, and each flight went on its way singing wondrous songs ; signifying thereby that even as Saint Francis, the standard-bearer of the Cross of Christ, had preached unto them, and made over them the sign of the cross, after the pattern of which they separated themselves unto the four parts of the world: even so the preaching of the Cross of Christ, renewed by Saint Francis, would be carried by him and the brothers throughout all the world; the which brothers, after the fashion of the birds, possessing nothing of their own in this world, commit their lives wholly unto the providence of God.

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11 July, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXIX: He preaches to people and the birds.

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Saint Francis rose up with fervour exceeding great, and said : “ Let us be going in the name of God”; and he took for his companions Brother Masseo and Brother Agnolo, holy men. And setting forth with fervent zeal of spirit, taking no thought for road or way, they came unto a little town that was called Savurniano, and Saint Francis set himself to preach, but first he bade the swallows that were twittering keep silence till such time as he had done the preaching; and the swallows were obedient to his word.

He preached there with such fervour that all the men and women of that town minded through their devotion to come after him and leave the town, but Saint Francis suffered them not, saying : “Make not ill haste nor leave your homes; and I will ordain for you what ye should do for the salvation of your souls”: and therewith he resolved to found the Third Order, for the salvation of all the world.

And so leaving them much comforted and with minds firm set on penitence, he departed thence and came unto a place between Cannaio and Bevagno. And as with great fervour he was going on the way, he lifted up his eyes and beheld some trees hard by the road whereon sat a great company of birds well-nigh without number; whereat Saint Francis marvelled, and said to his companions: “Ye shall wait for me here upon the way and I will go to preach unto my little sisters, the birds.” And he went unto the field and began to preach unto the birds that were on the ground; and immediately those that were on the trees flew down to him, and they all of them remained still and quiet together, until Saint Francis made an end of preaching: and not even then did they depart, until he had given them his blessing. And according to what Brother Masseo afterwards related unto Brother Jacques da Massa, Saint Francis went among them touching them with his cloak, howbeit none moved from out his place.

A terracotta swallow from Italy, at home in Canterbury.

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