Tag Archives: gift

September 21: Up the Apricot Tree: II

apricots.17

Back in July, I wrote about the bumper harvest on the apricot tree. over the next four weeks I was up that tree a few times, harvesting and pruning. We made more than 100 jars of jam. That’s not really a boast, just a measure of the bounty from our tree this year.

Some of those jars have found their way to other people’s breakfast tables. We’ve had appreciation from family and neighbours, ‘best ever’, ‘lovely jam’ and so on. Those of us who have undergone the after-effects of surgery will empathise with the friend of Mrs T, recovering from her op who really enjoyed the jam with her breakfast toast. So good to receive the sense of taste again! What a gift it is, and how healing.

Where else can we spread a little apricot-flavoured happiness, I wonder?

Are there any people out there who might treasure a small gift from you, far more than perhaps you’d expect on first thoughts?

 

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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.

strasbgcrownthorns (405x409)

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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September 8, Jesus Beyond Dogma, VI: Hope – courage blossoms out of fear

good shepherd mada3

God is totally other, we cannot say God is like… which suggests that our behaviour – good or bad – has no relevance for God, reminding us that the foundation for hope involves setting aside being concerned about our goodness or badness [I’m not as good as I think I am, nor as bad as others say I am]. We are involved with something that has nothing to do with our worthiness or it’s opposite.

We are being offered what is totally gratuitous – irrespective. When we reflect on the parable of the workers, in which the latecomers receive the same pay as those who have toiled all day [who hasn’t sympathised with them?] we see that God can never give less than all of himself to everyone. What is in our remit is how we receive this gift – do I even recognise that I have it – do I behave as if I am self-starting and self-fulfilling. Revelation tells us that God gives us to ourselves in order to become what we are receiving as life progresses – gift for others. I’m not asked am I worthy, but am I willing.

I have a friend who is doing heroic things to help the poor and needy – a veritable example of Gospel value; he is alcoholic and his personal life leaves much to be desired. It seems that being unconcerned about his personal worthiness seems to free him up to bring support and hope to so many. How different things would be if he had been restricted by the reality of I’m not good enough! Hope doesn’t mean saying be of good heart, all will work out in the end.

Hope says here is good news for me here and now. Working with Samaritan volunteers on one occasion I asked a seasoned volunteer to role play, and present herself as suicidal. One of the volunteers interviewed her and did well, until she said and always remember we love everybody here – the role player got up and left. The volunteer asked why. We don’t want to be part of everybody, we want to be somebody. Hope is me being asked to be there for others, not in spite of who I am, but because of who I am – warts and all.

It is not for us to provide goodness, bringing light into dark places that starts from our own goodness. This is where the Spirit is active, enabling us to bring good news and to foster well-being, despite our complicity in selfish living.

Only those unpreoccupied with their own goodness or badness are free enough to build what is good [and probably have no idea that this is what they are doing]. Hope for others issues solely from the total otherness of God, not from ourselves. When Jesus said I have come for sinners he is telling us that he can make my story indicative of the story precisely by removing my preoccupation with my unworthiness.

We receive ourselves from what is other than us, be that other violent or kind. Just so it is by receiving ourselves from other than us that makes us children of Abba – the original giver of life:

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is – 1John.3.2.

AMcC

Good Shepherd from Madagascar

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September 4. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, 2: Living God

Harrowhell

Jesus saves each one from Hell.

According to the Parable of the lost sheep – Luke.15.3 – mercy is not shown to the group but to the lost member, the excluded. Mercy is changed from our ways – covering up violence, to something that exposes it. In God there are no outsiders, and any mechanism that would create outsiders is shown to be purely human, having nothing of God in it.

This is the new perception. When Jesus debated with the Sadducees – who deny the resurrection – Mark.12.18; Matthew22.23; Luke.20.27 – we discover how Jesus sees God. They hold that if there was resurrection God would have told Moses and it would have been written into the Pentateuch. It isn’t there, so it didn’t happen. Deuteronomy speaks of the obligation of a brother to marry his dead brother’s widow – if he died childless – and have children to ensure posterity, the only way of getting round death.

Jesus turns to their ignorance of the power of God. At first glance his answer seems to have no reference to the Resurrection: I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – Lk.20.37 quoting Exodus.3.6. He is saying who God is – God is totally alive, has nothing to do with death and seems to be saying to Moses he is the God of three dead men. Jesus isn’t speaking of a special power to do something miraculous, like raising from the dead. Living is who God is – completely and eternally alive without any reference to death. What seems obvious to us – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are a long time dead – cannot be so for God in whom there is no death. For us, being alive means not being dead – for God death is not, and nothing can be contrasted with it, as it can for us.

crosscave2

For Jesus God is alive always – I am does not mean I exist, but I am fully alive and ever present. His adversaries did not share this awareness. When he said you are very much mistaken, he wasn’t saying you have made a mistake – but your whole perception is wrong because it is influenced by death, and this is part of the human condition.

Paul was heavily involved in persecuting Christians and would have sided readily with the Sadducees. He came to know that being mistaken is not the lot of the few, but of all of us. Being mistaken in this way led him – and us too – into finger-pointing, blaming and even killing through ill-formed rivalries, simply to keep the system clean: It is good that one should die for the sake of the nation – Caiaphas John.18.14. In Chapter One of Romans – we have become futile in our thinking with darkened hearts; and in Chapter Two he says whoever dares judge others judge themselves. Excluding, eliminating is the action of futile minds and senseless hearts.

We are all greatly mistaken – Jesus came to tell us, and help us believe that God is entirely different from what we imagine. The Good News is not just about Jesus; not even about the Resurrection, nor how we should behave – it is about the nearness of God who is I am here for you. No matter whether I am there for God or not, God is always there for me: God loves me; will never stop loving me; and loves me exactly as I am! No conditions apply – never I will love you if you turn away from sin, or if you keep and commandments, or if you go to Church… no preconditions. Once I am able to be still and know this – all the rest will happen – or not; that depends on me.

We can’t see who God is, not because we are stupid, but because our minds and imagining are darkened – never is it change your behaviour and see God – rather, see God and all else follows. Jesus was able to say all this to the Sadducees because his mind and imagining was free and crystal clear, he did not share that condition we all share which Paul referred to: how is it I cannot do what I would like to do, and always do what I would prefer not to do – Romans.7.15. Paul also tells us how to get there – who will rescue me from this wretched condition, thanks be to God Christ Jesus – Romans.7.24. When this happens we will know what he meant by: I live now not I, but Christ lives in me­ – Gal.2.20. Jesus said what he said not because he is divine, but because he is fully human – made to receive the presence of God as God is.

Jesus possessed this imagination before he suffered and died – and the disciples had difficulty in following his teaching, as he said they would: this you cannot understand now, but later you will – John.13.7; 1Corinthians 2.16. It was through his imagination being fixed on God that he could move towards death without being moved by death: For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God – Hebrews 12.2.

Not so the disciples who, like us see death as the stumbling block. If life is to be eternal, something has to happen to death. If Jesus was killed, he must have done something against the Law. We are very much Job’s comforters.

But if God has nothing to do with death, then death is merely a cultural reality with no reflection on what I’ve done or who I am. Goodness cannot be defined by death. See what has happened when someone executed by the death system, apparently punished by God, appears alive beyond death. This is what the disciples were facing. God’s plan for the undoing of death in Jesus happened because his imagination is untarnished by death and so could extend through it and beyond it.

This is the new perception of God they were receiving – one which Jesus always had, even before his death. Human attempts to define God are wrong as also any attempt to shape moral life by those hemmed-in by death. Jesus began teaching this to them, but at the time it was beyond their understanding and would be until confronted by the Resurrection.

He spoke about the sun shining on the good and the bad, as also the rainfall. God is beyond the sphere of human morality – no judging or condemning. Look at the instinctive reaction to the Parable of the workers, when the latecomers receive the same wage as those who have borne the day’s heat – who has not felt sympathy with them? We are not to separate wheat and weeds – Matthew13.24 because we do not know how to judge. God can never give less than all, and give to all, irrespective.

Paul had persecuted someone he saw to be leading people astray from the God revealed to Moses. Now he sees God has raised this man up, and that he was persecuting him in the name of God. Jesus had been right in what he did and said about God.

As Paul saw it God is known and served through observing the Law, and killing transgressors was doing God’s will; since God is kind to the insiders and vengeful in punishment of the others. The Law had become simply a way of separating people – an instrument of death. Paul’s conversion happened through his being enabled to see Jesus, not as a vengeful God but as the Good Shepherd.

The fully alive presence of the executed victim shows that there is no violence in God, as well as uncovering the violence in all of us. Genesis shows us being expelled from the garden for eating when we were told not to. S John answers this: it is not God who expelled us, we expelled God – He came to his own, and his own gave him no welcome – John.1.11.

AMcC

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August 8: Francis Thompson VII: THE HOUND OF HEAVEN: VI

open hand

“Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),
“And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come.”

Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”

When I told Anne (see August 14 2016) I was sharing Francis Thompson on the blog, she said, ‘Francis Thompson, my father’s favourite writer.’ I hope you can see why. Maurice.

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30 June: Transfigurations

starrynight-small-fig-640x360

 

I didn’t expect

those stars in the wide

black Colorado sky

to be so bright

that ancient night

beauty yes but this

 

 

was bounty

so close

to earth so close

to me marvelling

open mouthed

almost as though

night rained light

almost

as if heaven’s shower

reversed the measure

of black to bright

forever

 

 

and

 

 

I didn’t expect

that little girl’s

first communion

to be so bountiful

that young summer day

sweet yes but this

 

 

was bliss

was heaven so close

to earth so close

to me wordless

and wedded

almost as though

the chapel were

host to glory

almost

as if Tabor

lit everything

evermore

as if Tabor

lit everything

evermore

sun-clouds-golden

SJC

See Matthew 17 for his account of the Transfiguration of Jesus.

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June 12: Justice, VII: Justice, Gratitude and Religion

open-hands-prayer

The just person does not repay another merely because the other needs it, but because the other has done something good for us. We wish to make a return. There is a deep and soul-enriching reciprocity about justice, then. We are touching something fundamental in the human make-up here. To repay a good deed done to us with a reciprocal good deed is something we need to do in order to be whole. On the other hand, to be constantly on the receiving end of goodness without ever acknowledging it is a kind of solipsistic existence that is not good for us, and in our heart of hearts we know it. Even babies will spontaneously respond to goodness by smiling back at a loving smile, by embracing the one who embraces them with love. We are made to respond to goodness and love by a goodness and love of our own.

In our life with God, we will always be indebted to him. The sheer size of what we’ve been given by God is truly astronomical: he has given us the universe! He has given us life. He has given us himself in his beloved Son. He continues to sustain us in being by his love. We will always be loved more by him than we can possibly love in return. But that does not excuse us from trying. It is religion that allows us to attempt some expression of our gratitude to God. God does not need gratitude in the same way our employee needs his pay, or in the same way our friend needs to be thanked for his acts of kindness to us. God does not need. Full stop. But we need to express it.

shared meal

Gratitude, then, is inseparable from religion and is an aspect of justice. Eucharist is a word that literally means thanksgiving. One of the psalms exclaims, ‘Oh how can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? The cup of salvation I will raise, and I will call on the Lord’s name’ (psalm 115). Through religion, we raise the cup of salvation, we give ourselves to God, who gives himself to us. This reciprocal giving, on such a deep level, is itself a gift – the greatest of gifts.

St. Thomas Aquinas, who never seems to overlook anything, ever, points out (S.T., II, II, Q. 106:5) that gratitude isn’t always related to the material size of what we have been given. From our human benefactors, also, we have been given many things, large and small, on many levels, by many people. Yet, as St. Thomas comments, we are ‘sometimes under greater obligation to one who has given little, but with a large heart.’ What a beautiful thought. I think of the gift of a sea-shell given by a child with shining eyes. The gift of a smile from an adult with intellectual disabilities. The gift of trust given by a friend. These gifts are what help to make us human, and to make life liveable. As we study here the virtue of justice, we see that it reminds us to notice that the gift with a heavy weight, with a countable quantity, or with a vast size is not the only thing that make a gift valuable, and that obliges us to respond in kind. The intangible quality of the gift is perhaps what is most valuable to us. The gift of the heart, the gift of love, this is the greatest gift. To return it is one of the greatest of human acts. The virtue of justice helps us to live lives of gratitude, of reverence, of joy and of greatness.

SJC.

Anyone wishing to make a further study may consult:

Josef Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues, University of Notre Dame Press, 1966.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II.II. Q. 58f.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1803 – 1811.

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31 May: The Visitation: Mary, Mother of God.

 

360px-Church_of_the_Visitation_IMG_0637On the feast of the Visitation, here is Fr Austin’s reflection on Mary, mother of God, and what that means for us.

When God chose to become part of Creation through the Incarnation, the motherhood of Mary was already implied. The Church says nothing about the course of her life from the day it began until the Annunciation. What happened during that time, what it meant to start life full of Grace we don’t know. It will have been ordinary, if only because ostentation and grace do not belong together.

Scripture does not primarily tell us of the dignity of Mary by recounting facts about her physical motherhood of Jesus, or say that Mary is Mother of God as a consequence of a physical event. It tells us what Mary did, and this shows her importance and dignity. Luke shows us Mary, becoming through free consent one who is blessed. Because the divine motherhood is described from the start, not simply as a biological event, but as taking place through a free, personal and grace-inspired act of faith, Mary is seen not simply with a private relationship to Jesus, but as inserting her into the wider story of redemption. She appears as a figure in history, like Abraham and other characters in the historical dialogue between God and Israel. We are simply told that this person was asked, and replied: be it done… Because of her consent, the Word became flesh, and Mary is Mother of God.

God created the world, and so everything belongs. But this creation can stand forever distant, or it can belong. Which of the two possibilities is actually realised is not finally decided by the fact of creation; it is only decided in the course of history. God created a world of free persons, and so a drama develops between God and the world. For God is not the only one who is active, producing the drama as though through puppets. God creates in freedom, so there actually does arise a dialogue between a free God and free human beings. From God’s point of view it is a dialogue always open; we can act freely as long as our history lasts, we can freely choose to respond in any way we like.

From a natural point of view God is free to choose to respond in whatever way; we do not know God will act in our regard. God could dissociate from us, or invite us closer. Happily, everything is very different from that. God has spoken clearly, definitively and irrevocably. This word has been spoken into creation, and it will not return to the Father without achieving its purpose. God’s intention has become flesh in our world. God has determined that the world itself shall be taken into eternal mercy, and that it now has a destiny that transcends its own natural one. Judgement is not God’s last word, but compassion; not isolation but intimacy.

The Word was made flesh because a girl of our race, listened, was apprehensive but cooperative and said yes, freely. This is the way God chose to become part of creation. Of course, Mary’s consent her willingness freely given is itself the fruit of grace. Yet though all this is the fruit of grace, yet it remains Mary’s own freely given consent. When God gives gifts they become precisely what is our own, completely identified with us. God gifts me with the ability to love worthily, yet with a love that is truly mine! It is as much mine as my life – since it is gifted from the same source.

Mary’s motherhood is by the grace of God alone, and her own free act, inseparably; and since this belongs intrinsically to the story of Redemption, it gives Mary a real relationship with us, since we are living within the history of redemption. To praise her motherhood is not to honour something belonging to her private life, but in the light of the context of the Incarnation, she is also mother to us.

Saint Francis tells us we are all mothers of the Lord – we have conceived through word and sacrament, now bring him to birth by the way you live.

AMcC.

 

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May 4: A pleasure shared

Abel.bluebells

We walked home from church with a friend who wanted to see the bluebells in the wood. She had heard about them but did not know they were so close to home. A pleasure shared already, but she took pictures aplenty to share with her mother in East London, a pleasure further shared: her mother will enjoy not just the bluebells but the clear and infectious pleasure our friend received from them.

A gift that is special to an English spring.

A few days before we had walked that way with young Abel, who’s too small to damage the flowers as he walks, but he too loved the ‘blue flowers’: pleasure shared as a little child lets us into the Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t often quote Rupert Brooke, but I remember …

the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
    And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
        In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

The Kingdom of  Heaven is reflected in that very English carpet, but I’m less sure about an English Heaven? One that welcomes people from around the world, I trust, or it would not be Heaven, just an off-shore island …

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21 April, Easter Friday: “Who are you?”

Easter Friday
Image from: http://fatherkevinestabrook.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/homily-easter-friday-2016.html

Jn 21:1-14

‘None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, “Who are you?”

I was wondering why such a question would even arise? Didn’t the disciples know what Jesus looked like after going around with him for three years?

Then it occurred to me that perhaps Jesus’ appearance was different after the Resurrection. After all, the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognise Him either. It was only Jesus’ familiar actions – breaking bread, feeding and caring for them, creating miracles of abundance that gave Him away.

The lesson from this for the disciples is that, from now on, the Christ will be recognised not by an individual physical appearance but by what he does. That is why He asks Peter to feed and care for the people of God, continuing His ministry. It applies to us, His followers, who continue His mission today. People should be able to recognise Christ in us by our actions: breaking bread in the Eucharist, feeding and caring for people, trusting in the Father’s providence for our needs.

I ask God to keep reminding me that my actions should always be those of Jesus, to witness that He is alive in the world today.

Amen – alleluia!

FMSL

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