Tag Archives: Acts of the Apostles

September 15. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, XIII: A structural change in the foundations of the world

 cave5

Jesus brought a structural change into the foundations of the world, and he called it the Kingdom. A very grand statement for one who ended up isolated and abandoned, nailed to a cross – with “My God, why have you deserted me?” on his lips.

After three days a most unexpected and unheard of event happened. God raised him up. He came to his disciples, not as one back from biological death, but as one who, though obviously Jesus, showed himself fully transfigured, in whom all the possibilities for the human and the divine were now fully realised. Not the revitalisation of a corpse but a radical transformation of the earthly reality of Jesus, this is what we mean by Resurrection.

Jesus is revealed in a life no longer under threat. The Resurrection is the realisation of his message of total freedom. It is direct evidence of what the Kingdom is meant to be: “Death is swallowed up… Death, where is your sting now?” If Jesus is not risen: “your believing is useless… we are the most unfortunate of people”. But a door has been opened for us into an absolute future, hope is real: God really does have the power to achieve in us what was always promised [this is what Hope means]. Faith cannot be sustained without this, for this is the only foundation of Christian faith.

Historians cannot help much at this level. The Resurrection is not an ordinary historical fact [though it is an historical fact]; since it is a fact available only to faith. No one saw the Resurrection actually happen. What we have are appearances and an empty tomb. On the basis of all these, the disciples came to the conclusion: “The Lord is risen and has appeared to Simon“. If we are to do what Peter recommended: “Have your answer ready for people who ask the reason for your hope“, we should have a brief look at what is involved.

The Gospel does not present the empty tomb as evidence of the Resurrection. Instead of giving rise to faith it caused fear and fright. Mary Magdalene saw it as evidence of theft. For the apostles it was simply rumour. By itself the empty tomb is an ambiguous sign, capable of various interpretations, only one of which might have been Resurrection. It is only with the apparitions that the ambiguity is resolved, and the empty tomb can now become a sign of the Resurrection of Jesus. As such, the empty tomb makes people think, it is no more than an invitation to faith, it is not yet faith, and something more is required.

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He is risen!

The “something more” is provided by an angel: “Jesus of Nazareth is risen, he is not here. See, here is the place where they laid him…” The sepulchre is empty, not because someone has stolen the body, but because he is Risen. This interpretation by the women is held to be a revelation from God. It is expressed in the language of the day as being a message from an angel [God].

What finally got rid of the ambiguity once and for all was the fact that the disciples saw Jesus, spoke with him; they spent time with him and he ate with them. The oldest Resurrection formulation, Chapter 15 of First Corinthians and Acts 2-5., with marked absence of pathos, suggest that these accounts are more than subjective visions, products of the faith of the community, but real and trans-subjective, a witness to something imposed from without and not conjured up from within.

How many apparitions were there? 1Corinthians 15.5. contains 5 apparitions. Mark.16.1. has none, but says that Jesus will be seen in Galilee. Matthew.28.16. refers to one. Luke.24.13. refers to two. John relates three, and all of them happen in Jerusalem! There are two tendencies evident: Mark and Matthew are interested in Galilee; Luke and John concentrate on Jerusalem, emphasising the bodily reality of Jesus and the identity between the Risen Christ and Jesus of Nazareth.

Exegesis tends to show the appearances in Galilee as being historically certain. The appearances in Jerusalem are the same as those in Galilee but transferred for theological reasons to Jerusalem, for in Scripture Jerusalem possesses a unique place in salvation history: “Salvation comes from Sion [Jerusalem]“. Jesus’ death, Easter and Pentecost occurred there.

Details of the appearances: they are described as a real experience of the Jesus they knew. He eats, walks and talks with them, allows himself to be touched. It is so normal that he is confused with a gardener or a stranger on the shore. Alongside this there are strange phenomena too: He appears and disappears; he goes through walls, the bruised and battered state of Friday has gone.

Eventually it was asked: Is the Jesus of glory the same person as Jesus of Nazareth? Assertions are made: Christ is totally transfigured, he is not a spirit, nor an angel. The one who died and was buried is the one who is risen. This is why there is preoccupation with, as well as emphasis on the wounds, and the fact that he ate and drank with them.

This helps clarify things a little: The Resurrection is not a theological treatise put together by an enthusiastic follower. Faith in the Resurrection is the direct consequence of the impact on the apostles of the apparitions of Jesus Risen. Without this they could never even dream of preaching a crucified Lord, itself an abomination to a faithful Jew, without this event there could be no church, no worship in the name of Jesus.

What is being asserted through faith like this is not just that Jesus is risen, but that this says something about the possibility of the total realisation of the whole of creation. This is a scandal to many. The early church proclaimed the significance of the Resurrection for us as hope of a future life; what is now for Christ will be the now for us. The Resurrection makes it possible to read reality very differently: the past, present and future take on a new significance.

Christ told the apostles that they would all lose faith in him. Now all this is changed: they return toaustin faith in him, this time no longer as the Nationalist liberator, but as the “Son of Man”. They believed that the Resurrection began the end times. The language is deliberately Apocalyptic. The end will be the Resurrection of the rest of the human race. The very same Spirit by which Jesus was resurrected is now given to everyone.

AMcC

 

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September 12. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, X: My body for you

bread

It is said that torture is the imagination of the world; that Eucharist is the imagination of the Church. The real Jesus took real bread and identified himself with it – Tad Guzie [ex Jesuit – educator and advisor to Bishops]. We cling to life and the systems that preserve it; and we are challenged by the systems’ victims. Here is Jesus identifying himself as crucified – take and eat my body given for you. When we eat this bread and drink this cup we are taken up into the love that undermines system we live by.

This bread is my body for you to share and become, for each other, my body for you. This puts into context the reality of life as gift; my life is given to me for me to become what I am receiving, for you. My life is not for me, but for you; just as your life is not for you but for me. Notice how this can even be tested – ask anyone who freely gives self to help and serve others how do you manage with all your other commitments? The answer is always – I receive far more than I give – which means I am experiencing human living as it is meant to be. It is when your body for me becomes my body for you that the Mass is real.

It is here we see something more – Jesus victim is presented as our hope. When Jesus was tried and condemned we see active resistance to the saving will of God. However, there is nothing we can do to prevent this saving will. God’s saving will does not cease to be saving because it is not wanted. There is an open invitation with the free flowing of Grace – and as we see from Paul’s conversion – it is possible when the judges who condemn turn to their victim and recognise their hope, their saviour: There is no other name under heaven by which we will be saved – Acts.4.12, and salvation is offered for all. God can never give less than all of himself to whoever [no conditions] is willing to receive.

The Lord who judges is the saving Lord, and such is his judgement. He gave himself up for us to tell us you will be lost over my dead body – this is our judge. Judgement is not me sitting waiting anxiously for the verdict, his judgment is a relationship – turn to me and be saved! By locating this in Jerusalem we see a new priority, salvation is first offered to the guilty. Once it becomes clear that the persecuted church is the real body of Jesus-victim – I am Jesus and you are persecuting me – the definition of oppressor widens. Paul is on his way to hound the Christians in Damascus, which means there too is Jerusalem waiting for the Good News of the Resurrection, and so on as the Church spreads.

We need to recognise our victim as our hope – we need to turn to the victim and hear I am Jesus and you are persecuting me. In no way is this an abstract concept, we need to recall that this was first said to those who actually condemned this historical victim. When I make victims by judging, excluding, condemning I am setting myself up as judge, jury and executioner. But I will always be faced by the victim, and my salvation rests here, if I accept the challenge of grace to deliberately turn to ask – who you are. This is the great Easter lesson of hope – when we say only in Jesus is there salvation, this not just pious language. We are saying: only in the victim is my salvation.

Salvation does not neatly by-pass the fact and memory of guilt, rather does it build on it. Sad evidence of completely missing this point is seen in the Crusades, seeing them as justifying persecution and exclusion. The established relationship between me as judge over the victim has to be reversed, and then transcended. My behaviour is diminishing me, in judging I am victimising myself. I need another kind of relationship; I am not saved by forgetting or cancelling what I have done – Judas repented and returned the silver, he left contrite – but unforgiven – and destroyed himself.

Relating can be a complex issue – within the same relationship I can be both oppressor and victim. Having been exploited I can start to enjoy being victim, to make another feel guilty! There is no neat divide in me between victim and oppressor. Is there such a reality as a pure victim? Can I imagine a person capable of free choice, and so able to choose oppressive behaviour, who is only victim and never oppressor? Only the pure victim can be merciful. Jesus our judge is pure victim and so his judging is mercy eager to forgive.

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Throughout his trial he never counter attacks, retaining a dignified silence. He is judge because he is victim, and as pure victim is a judge who does not condemn. It is the Son, not the Father who judges because the Son is totally involved in our processes of violent injustice. Judgement on the world is not pronounced from on high, but from within the experience of pain, suffering and injustice – by the pure victim whose judgement is forgiveness. Judgement is not a task Jesus has to perform, it is his shared experience of living with us in our world, which he seeks to transform: this is the will of the one who sent me, that none should be lost – John. 6.39. This judgement is just because his sole desire is the Father’s will which is that none should be lost.

Jesus’ living his passion is not done passively, as pure victim it is creative – it is setting the world free from the treadmill of attack and revenge and it belongs wherever the condemned Jesus continues to face his judges as the mission of the Church; the cycle of oppressive relations is transformed by the judge who never condemns. The powerless sufferer, innocent or guilty, is always with God in virtue of being victim – pure or not. Conversion means turning to the victim, even when I am convinced of the rightness of my cause – as with Paul. This is not a moral issue but identifying what is causing the exclusion [justified or otherwise] – it is not me turning to God, but turning to the victim.

judasJudas is saved, not condemned, by Jesus, Lamb of God, saving victim

It is not unjust or misplaced violence that requires repentance but the act of excluding – no matter why. We need to remember for example that racism is not evil because its victims are good, but because they are human. God is not with the victim in order to make me a victim; even though our systems seek to do just that, with the oppressor becoming a victim of the victims. There is much concern for making sure our prison sentencing is sufficiently punitive, whether our counter-terrorism resources are adequate. Granting that coercion and retaliation are at times unavoidable, the fact is that our justice systems are such as to create victims, and to exclude. This is not suggesting that God sees genuine human outrage as of no consequence; it is not wrong to give in to pain and anguish seeking to react. It is saying that the wretched state of the prisoner must in some way reflect the Lamb of God.

If God is against all human diminishment, then God is within such situations. God does not condemn our kind of justice but transcends it. God is incapable of aggressive condemnation. The Gospel opens with repent and believe – it is confronting the executioners of Jesus [in the victim] asking them to accept responsibility. This is how it works – I need to let the Gospel confront me, gently; to show me my victimising ways and urge me to face my victims. Modern warfare specialises in techniques designed to avoid the consequences of our behaviour; but memories cannot be healed until they are exposed as the wounds they have caused.

AMcC

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August 13: H is for Holywell.

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There are Holy Wells all over Britain, most more than half forgotten. But people still leave little offerings and prayers tied to branches or stuffed between stones at St Nôn’s Well in Pembrokeshire. Even in Rome, coins are tossed into fountains to bring people back to the eternal city. Are they trying to force the hand of God or some lesser local deity?

R.S. Thomas, the Welsh priest-poet, had a holy well in his parish where he would pray. Whom did he and other visitors pray to there?

‘ where the coins lie, the tarnished offerings

of the people to the pure spirit

that lives there, that has lived there

always, giving itself up

to the thirsty, withholding

itself from the superstition

of others, who ask for more.’[1]

Holy wells challenge me, if no-one else! Whatever lies behind the legend of St Winifred’s well springing to life where her severed head fell, water has bubbled up here, people have prayed here, people have been cured and have left their crutches behind.

Is it superstition to ‘ask for more’? And is seeking bodily healing asking for more – or less – than a draught of ‘the pure spirit that has lived there always? More than likely people came to the holy well before the Welsh saints gathered around it.

Certainly water was a powerful sign to people before the coming of city plumbing and clean water on sale in plastic bottles. Here is Philip in the earliest days of the Church, riding in a chariot with a potential convert (Acts 8):

Philip, opening his mouth, and beginning at this scripture, preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water; and the eunuch said: See, here is water: what doth hinder me from being baptized?

 And Philip said: If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answering, said: I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still; and they went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch: and he baptized him.

May we never take water, or the Spirit, for granted!

Find out how to share the benefits of reliably clean water here: http://www.wateraid.org/uk

Winifred and her Holywell depicted in a window at her church in Plowden, Shropshire.

 

 MMB.

[1]R.S. Thomas, ‘Ffynnon Fair’ in R.S. Thomas, ‘Collected Poems, 1945 – 1990’, London, Orion, 2000.

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22 April: Easter Saturday. Beyond doubt?

Easter Saturday

Image from http://www.otherood-devos.com/2015/04/believe.html

Mark 16:9-15

‘He reproached them for their obstinacy and incredulity because they had refused to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.’

There is a strong temptation in me not to believe good news until it is proved to me beyond doubt. Perhaps, somehow, experience has taught me that it’s less of a trauma to be proved wrong by good news than to hope for good news and be let down by bad.

The challenge I take from Jesus’ reproach is this: can I praise and thank God for His goodness to me before seeing the desired outcome to my prayers? What if I don’t see the results I hoped for? If I believe God is the Lord of my whole life and is all good and directs everything for my good then I should be able to praise Him whatever happens in my life. But the temptation is always to wait and see God’s goodness proved on my terms before I will trust Him.

I feel God is currently asking me to take up the challenge of the advance ‘thank You’. Can I offer God right now the unseen outcome of all my intentions, and thank and praise Him in advance? I pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit to move me, like the eleven disciples, from a default state of disbelief towards the astonishing ‘assurance’ shown by Peter and John in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:13-21).

FMSL

 

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April 19, Easter Wednesday: They gave him what they had.

Easter Wednesday

Image from: https://www.lds.org/bible-videos/videos/peter-and-john-heal-a-man-crippled-since-birth?lang=eng

Acts 3: 1- 10; Luke 24: 13 – 35.

In today’s Gospel reading, we see two of Jesus’ disciples running away in fear and disappointment. Even when Jesus met them on the way, out of fear, they did not recognize him until the breaking of bread. In our lives when we face disappointment, do we run away in fear like these two disciples on their way to Emmaus or do we face our disappointment with courage, seeking the face of God through prayer?

In the first reading, Peter and John, filled with the power of the Resurrection, were going to the Temple to pray. They were met with a challenging situation at the Beautiful Gate. But they did not run away or ignore the man who was begging and, who “turned to them expectantly, hoping to get something from them”.   They looked at him with mercy and said, by the power that raised Jesus from the dead, “stand and walk”. This man received the best gift ever in his life. He was walking around praising God.

How do I respond to people on my way who look to me expectantly with the hope of receiving something from me or who ask me questions? We may not heal as Peter and John did, but we can offer a kind word, a listening ear, a kind smile. We all are poor in our own way and God has given us all something to offer to each other.. So, let us not walk away in fear from the poor person on the street.

May God fill us with the power of His Resurrection. Amen.

 

FMSL

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9 December: Mercy, a Tentmaker of Tarsus.

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Let’s take another snapshot from Masefield’s Coming of Christ.

And also there was Paul, receiving mercy, proclaiming mercy:

A tentmaker of Tarsus,

Who will deny you and denounce your followers

To torment and to death; and then will see

Your truth by sudden lightning of the mind,

And then go through the world, telling your truth,

Through scourgings, stoning, bonds, beating with rods,

The wild beasts in the ring, worse beasts in men;

To the sharp sword outside the city gates,

Glad beyond words to drink of your sweet cup,

Lifted and lit by you, christened by you,

Made spirit by you, I who slew your saints.

(P14)

Jesus told James and John: My chalice indeed you shall drink; but to sit on my right or left hand, is not mine to give to you, but to them for whom it is prepared by my Father. Matthew (20:23) We shall drink of his cup – whether sweet or bitter; we will be lifted and lit by him and strengthened to be tellers of his truth and sharers of his mercy.

WT.

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1 October: Feast of Saint Thérèse

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Thérèse was born in 1873, before Pius X encouraged Holy Communion for younger children; as a teenager she had to seek permission to receive the sacrament on major feast days. Her sister Marie prepared her each time as she had done for her first communion.

‘I remember once she talked about suffering, telling me that I probably would not walk that path, but if I did, the Good God would always carry me like a child …

‘Soon after my First Communion, I made another retreat for my Confirmation. I prepared with great care to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14), not understanding why people paid little attention to the reception of this sacrament of Love. Usually there was one day’s retreat before Confirmation but as the Bishop could not come on the date set, I had the consolation of two days of solitude. To give us something to do, our teacher took us to mount Cassin where I gathered handfuls of moon daisies for Corpus Christi. Ah ! how joyful my soul was ! like the apostles I was happy to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2,1-4) I was overjoyed at the thought of soon becoming a perfect Christian, and especially of having for eternity the mark of the mysterious cross which the bishop would trace on my forehead … I felt the gentle breeze that the prophet Elijah felt on Mount (1Kings 19,11-13)

‘That day I received the strength to suffer, for soon afterward my soul’s martyrdom began… After these lovely, unforgettable feasts, my life went back to normal – that is to say, back to boarding school which was so painful for me. I was forced to live with girls who were very different, dissipated, not wanting to keep to the rule, and it made me quite unhappy.’

Mont Cassin is now the site of two World War II cemeteries, one German, the other Commonwealth. St Desir cemeteries

These men were forced to live and die with others who were very different, and if not dissipated, certainly would have preferred not to be under King’s Regulations.

Reader, pray for them.

Saint Therese, pray for them.

MMB.

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17 June, Year of Mercy: Release from Madness

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mercylogoOur lives are short. When they end, does a door simply close, or do our gifts, lovingly shared, also leave a trace of our passing? The name ’Swanston’ above this tutor’s office in Eliot College, of the University of Kent, quietly commemorates Hamish Swanston, a previous staff lecturer. He was the first Roman Catholic professor in an English university since the Reformation.

A number of Franciscan and Redemptorist students from the Franciscan Study Centre, who took degrees at the university, also took his classes. He was a splendidly energising lecturer, always keen to celebrate life’s varied potential. His approach to theology embraced poetry, music, drama and all sorts of story-telling.

Acts of the Apostles played a key role in his understanding of the mission-minded character of Christianity’s liturgical communities. Those willing to be launched on a transforming path in their lives can take a great deal of encouragement from his books, even long after his death in 2013. Titles such as The Kings and the Covenant, A Language for Madness and Handel provide a sparkling adventure for believers, inner journeys whereby they may learn to achieve far more creative uses of the gifts of the Spirit of God in their relationships.

 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; He who was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the spirit, Seen of angels, Preached among the nations, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory. 1 Timothy 3:16

He saw the early creeds, which were hymns such as 1 Timothy 3:16, as intended to stir the heart, to make people plunge into God. Mercy could then reach them in their many shocks and terrors. A community of friendships could lead them back from their insanity.

 

CD.

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January 26th – Timothy and Titus and Christ’s Ascension

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Jesus’ Ascension is described at the beginning of Acts of the Apostles, but people often suppose it was mostly a matter of returning to God to prepare for sending the Holy Spirit. These two windows together suggest exactly that. However, we can see from the letter to Timothy that it meant much more than that to the New Testament community in Corinth. That city had been a Greek achievement, a place of engineering sophistication, through which a great canal had been excavated, improving its trading capability. The Eastern Mediterranean was joined more easily to the West. The Greeks thought they appreciated and could imitate the harmony of the heavens, the spheres of planetary movement. But by Paul’s day, the Roman Empire had taken over and wrecked that notion of mechanical harmony with mechanical oppression.

The world then felt worse, claustrophobic. The spheres of the sky creaked around badly as if controlled by demons and destructive powers. But 1 Tim. 3:16 records for us the hymn, sung in Corinth, about Christ removing this stifling experience of life. Christ has ascended, breaking the obsolete spheres, overcoming the spirits of fear and threat.

“He was manifested in the flesh,

vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels,

preached among the nations,

believed on in the world,

taken up in glory.”

The message of hope contained here includes the gift of readiness to remove our neighbours’ fears. It is community guided by the Spirit which matters, not the trading opportunities and the economic advantages which favour a few over many others.

 CD.

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