Tag Archives: Gospel

November 8: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: viii – ‘ A radically new way of being human.’

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Putting Jesus on a divine pedestal leaves no room for a radically new way of being human.

Why are we preoccupied with the divinity of Jesus? Presumably we believe this enhances our faith. But is this what Jesus wanted to bring? Was the salvation of the immortal soul his prime concern? The Synoptics, Matthew Mark and Luke, interpret Jesus as a divine figure – corresponding to their contemporary expectation of a divine liberator from Roman oppression. But what was in Jesus’ mind? He certainly promised liberation and new life; was this freedom the expected liberation, or was it a great deal more than that?

I was asked on numerous occasions do I believe in the divinity of Jesus – but never once: do I believe in his humanity. Jesus was offering a radically new way of being human – one totally disconnected from a way dominated by the thirst for power. We know from the Gospels that the disciples had problems with this – preoccupation with messiah-ship became a series of obstacles to seeing what Jesus was really about. Ignorance of the great human story meant they were unable to see the human face of God revealed in that story, reaching its apex in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus.

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Relishing and appreciating the full story, and appreciating God’s creativity at its core gives us a more credible and authentic appreciation of Jesus’ divinity – insisting that we attend much more to the new way of being human that this inaugurated, of which Jesus is the first disciple. We condemn Jesus to divine captivity – so divinely holy and remote – that his new way of being human is seriously compromised. Our preoccupation with his divinity is a distraction from knowing the real Jesus.

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We picture Jesus as a loyal and faithful Jew, whereas the sources suggest something different; and the following of Christ was seen as fidelity to divine rules and laws. The Jesus story came to be known as a set of facts around which his life was written. Yet this shape doesn’t figure strongly in his life and mission – his stories testify to this: he defied convention, social and religious – and flaunted the hopes of the establishment by calling for equality based on inclusiveness.

AMcC

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November 4: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: iv – Jesus Ignites a Spark

 

How does Jesus fit into our ever-changing world? This is a question many are asking; instead of the more helpful: how does our ever-changing world fit with Jesus Christ? There is a difference of emphasis between talking about the cosmic Christ and the Christic cosmos! How does Evolution sit with Christian faith, for example?

From a Christian point of view, those seeking this new truth tend not to be Church-goers, they are familiar with the Christian story, but suspicious of institutionalised religion being able to address this in a creative and liberating way. They say that the Jesus story is for scholars and theologians; whereas Jesus belongs to all who are struggling with faith. There is something about Jesus that is bigger and more embracing than the formalised Jesus story.

For many, Jesus grips creative imagination in ways that make formalised religion less than relevant. He ignites a spark within that seeks for much more than formalised dogma – which obviously has its place. Instead of simply reading the Gospel, use imagination and see if Jesus telling his own story has something revolutionary to say. Hear the facts about him, and let them take you beyond the words. After all, the Gospel Jesus gets rid of boundaries and conditions apply!

It is a first principle of education that we learn first from experience, and from the dialogue resulting from experience. The human search for genuine spiritual living is as old as 70,000 years – well before the 4,500 years of the existence of formal and institutional religion. This is why we must begin by appreciating the very real difference between the two. Religion refers to formally, institutionalised structures, rituals and codes of belief which are to be found in one or other of the official religious systems. Spirituality is about the ancient search for meaning and is as old as humanity itself and is part of the evolutionary process.

In modern times spirituality has been seen as an off-shoot of religion; however, research has shown that no less than two-thirds of adults have a personal spirituality, whereas fewer than one in ten go to church regularly. Spirituality is more akin to human experience than is institutional religion. There is need to reinstate true spirituality, highlighting its vital role in our search for the meaning of life. What is seen as the moral and spiritual breakdown in our time has more to do with religion than with spirituality. Spirituality today is alive and well and worth fighting for.

AMcC

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November 2, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: ii- Jesus Knew the Way

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All of us search for moral truth – and we find ourselves in agreement with folk of other faiths on values like peace with justice, truth and honesty, with respect for human life and above all – the primacy of love.

Jesus came as one who appeared to know the way to all this; and the Resurrection told them he had succeeded. Relief and excitement followed – he’s found the way out! This is the Good News – the Lord is risen! Jesus has entered the new life where death and sin are not there; and he offers the same invitation to all – come and see.

When those first disciples proclaimed Jesus is Lord, they were saying they had witnessed the moment when all this became clear. They had seen him suffer and die, they had been there at his burial – but now he is here, fully alive. What was reassuring was he seemed to be simultaneously dead and fully alive – he carried the marks of death yet was fully alive – death had been stripped of its power to frighten. The Son of God “loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). By suffering for us He not only provided us with an example for our imitation, (cf. 1 Peter 2:21; Matthew 16:24; Luke 14:27) He blazed a trail, and if we follow it, life and death are made holy and take on a new meaning. (GS.22)1

To believe Jesus is Lord means that life is no longer hovering on the brink of absurdity. No goodness is wasted and there is no ultimate defeat of human values. They are the building blocks for making all things new, to be transformed, as was the peak of human endeavour, in the Resurrection. This is what makes Christianity unchangingly always new, he has found the way through – the Lord is risen! What they were saying was some of them had seen him, walked and talked with him. Yahweh had kept his promise in this one man, who was saying to everyone – come and see.

This is telling us that the deaths of people like Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero… are only tragic in the way Calvary is tragic. With Easter morning death has lost its sting. The Resurrection reveals the divine intention with regard to everything that is good, anything that reflects the full human response to God is doing the Father’s will – i.e. creating the kind of world of the Messianic promises: peace with justice; coming to the help of the poor and powerless; universal fraternity and the freedom to worship the one God in whatever way is appropriate.

AMcC

1Gaudium et Spes – Joy and Hope – is the Second Vatican Council’s Document on the Church in the Modern World. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_cons_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html.

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September 19: The reality that is proclaimed

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Austin’s reflections, Constantina’s art, the Zambian Poor Clares’ dance that we saw on St Clare’s Day; these reflections too: all are intended to bear witness to – what exactly? I think we need to remind ourselves often what is the Gospel we proclaim. I was about to throw out a scrap of paper this afternoon, but held off till I’d copied this.

When preaching takes place, the ‘reality’ that is proclaimed, the crucified and risen Christ, is made present for the preacher and the hearer alike and is imparted to those who hear the preaching with faith.

Thus writes Fr Gerald O’Collins.*

He is developing an idea in Ad Gentes 9 the Vatican Council’s Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church.

By the preaching of the word and by the celebration of the sacraments, the centre and summit of which is the most holy Eucharist, He (God) brings about the presence of Christ, the author of salvation. But whatever truth and grace are to be found among the nations, as a sort of secret presence of God, He frees from all taint of evil and restores to Christ its maker.

‘A sort of secret presence of God’ – it sounds almost like Francis Thompson! (see post on August 9th)

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Tis ye, tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry—and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Let’s pray for the wisdom to know how to share the many-splendoured thing, and the humility to perceive Jacob’s ladder pitched on our own pavements – and the unlikely characters shining as they ascend!

MMB.

*Vatican II and the Liturgical Presence of Christ in irish Theological Quarterly, 2/2012.

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September 14. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, XII: Forgiveness is a relationship and not just absolution.

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The fact that forgiveness is a relationship and not just absolution means that it just doesn’t apply to my past. The Spirit forgives – And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven [this is not reserved for the Sacrament of Reconciliation]; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven – John. 20.22. The Spirit is also the Spirit of Judgement and Discernment When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:  about sin, because people do not believe in me – John. 16.8. Jesus filled with the Spirit, is himself the judgement of the world, without uttering a word. As the Body of Christ the Church is called to be the conscience of the world by its authentic presence. It must start, obviously, with self-scrutiny to discern how, when and where it is turning to the Word.

This is crucial since no one is entirely free from creating victims. What kind of Gospel can be preached when the Church is unable to cope with the moral collapse of its ministers – except by silence and punitive measures? Excommunication, instead of being the penitent state, a breakdown in relationship, actively seeking restoration – has become simply an imposed penalty.

The Eucharist begins with locating ourselves as sinners, recognising through the gift of Grace of the pure victim that it is our entitlement to Christ – I have come for sinners, and so gathers to do this in remembrance of him. St Paul shows the connection between the Paschal Mystery and Baptism –

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life – Romans 6.3.

Jesus refers to his own death as a baptism – Can you … be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with? – Mark 10.38. Death isolates and severs relationships – for Jesus it is the opposite; it opens a new network of relating, the antithesis of isolation. Jesus’ death came to be seen as the source of a new way of living, in the Resurrection he is given back to the world as the one in whom anyone can be graced by hope.

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During his life-time he showed what living non-violently means, holding no one and nothing in disregard; and the Resurrection shows this is how God lives as a human being. He is not just a memory of something past, nor simply a resuscitated individual. He has a human history. What he is now shows that he doesn’t belong to the past in the sense that everything about him was over and done with 2000 years ago; nor is he present now simply as a good example. We are confronted with real presence in a way that shapes life in a totally new way. He is met wherever there is creative forgiveness – but the Church [his body] is able to say explicitly where forgiveness comes from – the risen victim is forgiveness.

We are baptised into this reality into a life meant to witness to the Resurrection; as one author put it I am the dance, he is the dancer. This says that life is for us not just to talk about him or even hold celebrations for him, but to make him present by the way we are present. That is the mission of Baptism, being enabled to live in such manner as to make the Lord present and able to be met – as Pope Francis urged: show others who Jesus is for you – and for them; in a world without barriers – where each individual and all together are welcome.

The integrity of our Eucharist celebration comes through those celebrating living by the new way the Risen and present Lord has brought. Baptism lets me call God what Jesus calls – [and for the same reason]: Abba. The gift of the Spirit is to be able to name reality for God, God who also chooses to be called by name. Wherever there is salvation its name is Jesus, and its grammar is cross and resurrection. It is the risen Christ not the crucified Christ who is salvation. Jesus crucified easily becomes the God of my situation if my world is one of failure, humiliation and exclusion – myself as victim.

It is important to distinguish God’s i.d. with the victim from a moral approval of the victim’s cause – to live in Good Friday is to see the cross reflecting my condition; and if I look for the God of my condition on Easter Day I will not find him – like the women expecting to find a corpse. Why seek the living among the dead? He is risen, waiting to be met in an entirely new way – the cross is his, not mine. I need to see the cross as the cross of my victim – not myself as victim.

Jesus is living proof that the new way of being human means we are not trapped in the inevitability of pain. Easter brings this change – not to see the cross as mine. I need to meet the crucified and risen Jesus – who has bridged the gap between oppressor and victim. Whatever I expected to find in the tomb – isn’t there. The Risen Jesus cannot be confined to a memory of what was. The Church is not founded to preserve what was – it is the community meeting him every day.

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The memory of one who had inspired hope, even though the hope had not been realised, the wistful Emmaus road setting saw Cleopas puzzled by an empty tomb – no body. In this narrative Luke brings us face to face with letting-go consoling memories. Three times the Gospel presents Jesus as unrecognised: Emmaus – Magdalene – Galilean appearances. This element of not recognising is evident – for some it was meeting with a stranger. At Emmaus he takes them to task for not seeing the connection between suffering and glory – he is not what they thought him to be.

The Lordship of Jesus is not a construct of memories – but in meeting him totally new. The Church is not a continuation of Jesus, but the ongoing group of those meeting him afresh. We must not interpret his story in the light of our stories – he’s not there, he is risen. The Church is not a preservation society – but sets out each day to meet him afresh. He is unchangingly always new – we can never get used to him who makes all things new.

I cannot be in charge of the change required to let this happen in me; I need to be led into ways I do not know – as a way of life, not a once and for all happening. To actively desire this to happen is to face real poverty in as much as I can truthfully say I do not know what I want! This means letting go of everything that qualifies as I had hoped, a tale where I was the hero. St Francis: as the Lord has shown me what it is mine to do, may he show you what it is yours to do.

The risen Jesus confronts me with eager acceptance and total forgiveness; I no longer have to compensate for what is lacking by victimising. My response to Grace is to receive what is offered, and to become each day what I have received – for others. I can be articulate in speaking of the cross, injustice and suffering – but I am completely lost for words seeing the empty tomb.

I am empowered with a new way of speaking when I am there to meet the stranger on the shore. When Jesus risen is recognised it is as one who is simultaneously dead and alive: and become one with him.

Become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith – Philippians.3.9.

When the post Resurrection appearances ceased the Easter faith did not change, since it is bound up with the community living this – the Church: Then Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed – John.20.29. Thomas’ failure was not a failure to understand – but not realising that the fact of the Resurrection is not just to see Jesus. It is by the faith of the Church that the world comes to believe – not a list of events:

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you love me – John.17.20-23.

 AMcC

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September 9: Jesus Beyond Dogma VII. Hope and System

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Every aspect of life is monitored and controlled by systems and their norms which we know and try to observe. System is effective in how we think, act and comport ourselves. Hope emerges from within all this not as an escape from dead-end living, nor as the natural completion of what we are already doing but as an unexpected breakthrough, an open door where there seemed to be no way out – because it is not where we tend to look.

The common understanding of hell is the violent separation of the good from the bad – where we have lost the Good News. This is system – a story already told, and when based on the final redemption of all – through God’s mercy: a drama with a beginning and a happy ending. There is no need for hope! If the story is already known – there is no place for it. The Good News is that system is not essential, we can leave it and discover what hope really means.

Revelation shows us how hope was born for the women at the tomb – out of what made them run away in fear [how often do we hear Jesus say don’t be afraid?] Nothing could ever be the same again after Easter Day. There is no system that can show us how to experience life that survives death and actually includes death. Jesus did not die and then come back to life, he is at one and the same time dead and alive – which is why there is such emphasis on the five wounds. Death has been emptied of its power by love at its very best. This is how the women’s fear was transformed [not ignored] into hope. When Revelation concludes with Maranatha [come Lord Jesus] we are asking that the forgiving victim be present with us – do not be afraid, it’s only me and I love you.

Is not our deepest desire to be desired by another for who we are, just as we are? This may be true but there is much more. We grow into desiring in imitation of what he have seen in others. They have a nice car, I’d like something like that. We are recreated, not by someone desiring us, but by what that desiring brings about in us – the Resurrection urges us to love as we are being loved. It means having the freedom to accept God’s love. Love creates only lovely things, love created me so I can rejoice that I am lovely, lovable and able to love.

For this to happen I need to let go of all concerns about worthiness. How awkward this can be comes out when we reflect: if you give a friend a present and then you say thank-you, how much do I owe you? We would be taken aback – so why do we do it with God? He has given us to ourselves as gift – why do we ask what do we owe – keep the rules – go to Church? We need to become less concerned about our reputation to make room for being loved and wanting to love. This love will know nothing of revenge or needing to blame, and so embraces the persecutor as well as the persecuted [with God it is always all] no matter how late we turn up for work. No mortgage.

When we stand free of concern for reputation, and from the need to settle old scores through our minds now fixed on things above – then we are beginning to love our neighbour without discrimination [which is what things above means].

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The central theme of Easter is that Jesus was present to them as forgiveness – and more, it is resurrection in the flesh not just a purely spiritual happening. Jesus walked with them entirely imbued by the ever present love between Abba and the Son – the Spirit. Such living is totally removed from any shadow of death – death has no place in this way of life [as is the case with the life we know now].

The only reason there is Christianity is Easter. The Resurrection was not a miracle happening within our understanding of God, but the way God makes it possible for us to respond to the presence of God. This is the Resurrection, Jesus enjoying this way of living including his death. This is why he told the Sadducees: You are very much mistaken. Every reality from within the death culture cannot speak adequately of God. God’s love is totally unaffected by death, also death was not a necessary separation – love carries on being mutual and complete even through death.

With the Resurrection we receive the grace [gift] to experience the presence of God, not just know about it. Access to God’s way of revealing is not ours by nature but by grace. This is revealed through the Resurrection, not because it never existed before, but we cannot understand with minds clouded by death. This man who is dead is alive. It is the total immanence of God – God totally involved with us – that is God’s transcendence.

This has something to say about sin. The Resurrection reveals there is no divine necessity for death; death is present as something that is – but now we see it does not have to be. Not only is our understanding of God very much mistaken, but contrary to the understanding God desires us to have. Death is a human reality; and as such is sinful. Putting Jesus to death shows how we are actively involved in death-dealing. The necessity of human death is a necessity born of sin. For us death is not just passive to be endured, but also what we actively deal out.

God did not raise Jesus simply to show his immunity from death, or to rescue him. Jesus is raised for us. The victim of our death-dealing ways is raised up as forgiveness:  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him – John.3.16-17. Death is seen as a human reality infected with sin, but it is a human reality capable of being forgiven by exposure to love – greater love there is not than you die for another.

None of this happens for the benefit of God – it is all for us, when forgiveness enters into human death. Forgiveness, the fruit of the Resurrection is not about what we have done or failed to do, but what up until now we had believed what was natural for us. If death is something that can be forgiven, we are wrong, not just about God but also about ourselves.

If God can raise someone from the dead in human history what we thought as being inevitable [death austinas the end] is clearly not so. It is not just a biological reality but a cultural one – and so is capable of change. Sin as related to death need not be. God created us mortal – mortality means experiencing death – we need to ponder on how death would have been experienced if there had been no sin. This has implications for understanding Original Sin – what we are as human beings moving towards death – now seen as capable of forgiveness.

 AMcC

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September 3. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, 1: What changed the disciples on Easter Day?

Easter Saturday

What changed the disciples on Easter Day? Their former understanding of God was gone, as was their awareness of what being human really meant. When disasters like the Tsunami strike – we don’t ask who is responsible; we ask what happened? We expect some kind of scientific answer rather than looking for someone to blame.

What happened to them on Easter Day was the same thing that made Jesus not be just another dead person, another victim of human violence – it was the Resurrection. An historical happening on the Sunday after his death – the same man they had buried is with them. What happened to this group of friends transformed them, took away fear and made them eager to share their experience. They had a change in perception of what being human means – but most especially, a revolution in their understanding of God. They shared their memories and wrote them down, from which we now have the New Testament. They talked of his life, living with him; his death and now this…

The Resurrection brought new insights – something Jesus had before his Passion and death; he had told them you do not understand now but you will… He spoke of God in an entirely new way, one which proved threatening to the Guardians of the Law, to Temple worship, to Sabbath observances and to ritual prescriptions. The last straw was calling God his father. The disciples were already unsympathetic to the authorities, but it is unlikely that when Jesus was executed that they dismissed the idea that maybe the priests were right after all, that Jesus was not from God; surely death is final, and puts an end to dissent?

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Two were walking to Emmaus with hopes shattered [we had hoped]. His death seemed to vindicate what authority was claiming. Jesus must have been a sinner for this to happen –he who hangs on a tree is cursed – Deuteronomy 21.23; Galatians 3.13. When he rose from the dead and appeared to them the whole system leading to his death is called into question. Jesus had been right, God is the way Jesus spoke of God; nothing like the description offered by his accusers.

The reasons they produced for getting rid of him were not reasons, but part of a sinful mechanism for getting rid of troublesome people – with nothing whatever to do with God. This leads to questioning the Law as not reflecting the true God, or as distorted by human violence. The Resurrection did not simply reveal Jesus’ innocence, not only was he right about God; it exposed the mechanism by which innocent victims are created by those who believe that in doing so they are doing God’s will.

We can now imagine the innocence of the victim and see the complicity in violence of the perpetrators. If we see things as the disciples first did, feeling uncomfortable that Jesus may not have been up to what he promised – and then see him back, how would we talk about it? Our stories have beginnings and endings, and, so they thought, was Jesus’ story ended – but now: how do we tell a story that has no ending? They tried telling this story which had no room for death – death which happens to everyone – and they didn’t know how to do it.

Resurrection has now burst into our storytelling. They couldn’t tell the story in the old way, and the new way they were inspired with we call the New Testament. It was not a question of eliminating death, but how death has its part in the story, but not as the ending. Jesus did not appear as someone who had been dead and is now better – like Lazarus. The risen Jesus was at once dead and alive – as the five wounds testify – and is now showing death as empty of its power. He is at once dead and alive. His whole life including death is present in its fullness. He has conquered death, not just for himself, but for all who share common humanity with him; death and its whole system by which all were held in thrall, is not necessary. Whatever death is, and it happens to all of us, it is not what dictates or shapes the pattern of life. It is an empty shell, a bark without a bite. We will die, but death cannot separate us from the source of the fullness of life.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death – Hebrews 2.14.

We need to ponder those empty marks of death [5 wounds] within the splendour of his risen life, which enables them to be seen in new light. His life did not cancel death, but includes it, letting it be seen so that they be not afraid. All human history including violence has been taken up in his risen life. God does not require us to deny the violence all around in order to give praise – God is praised when we are fully alive – Irenaeus.

The presence of the crucified and risen victim says the divine story is related to the human story. God becoming man creates the real human story – a story that knows nothing of violence or the structures that seek to foster it. For this divine story to make sense to us it has to start from the story we know how to tell. The divine story is not just at a different level, and replacing the human story, it includes all that is capable of being transformed – such as violence and victimising.

AMcC

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Wednesday 12th July, 2017: Instruments of Peace

syrian-gathering

L’Arche Syria

By virtue of my Baptism, I am called to participate in the mission of Christ here on earth. That mission is to love and to serve. To be a true witness in a world whose values are different from those of the gospel is an uphill task, yet I am called to do it. By following the example of Christ, I will be ready to give up everything, including my life if demand is made for it because of the gospel.

I am called to be an agent of reconciliation in word and in deed; to be an ambassador of mercy and love.

I had the privilege of meeting a person who had been disappointed by someone whom she trusted. Every time we had the opportunity of meeting and talking, she kept mentioning that she would never forgive the person. When I saw I could not convince her to change her mind, I prayed to the Holy Spirit to intervene in the situation.

When we met again after some time; she said the unforgiving spirit she had been carrying all these years has been lifted. I couldn’t but be happy for her.

From this experience, I learned there could be so many people hurting but with no one to unload their burden onto because of fear of being judged. It challenges me to be more sensitive to my environment, to love unconditionally, to try to share peace and joy wherever I find myself.

FMSL


 

 

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15 December: Accept God’s invitation to change.

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There is an aura of joy about today’s readings; in the first, the people are told to: “Shout for joy” and mourn no more, for salvation was coming.  Isaiah was prophesying about a time when the people had repented and returned to God, and He had forgiven them, making a “Covenant of peace” with them which would never be shaken.  His only requirement was that the people had faith in Him.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus commends John, who had been the “greatest of all the children born of women”, because he had known what God wanted and had not been afraid to preach it.  He had been the person bridging the gap between the Old and New Testaments, showing people the first step of the new order: repentance and baptism.  Yet, those coming after who accepted the teaching of Jesus would be in a greater position than John because they had faith, having learned the truths of the Gospel, and were to benefit from the Sacrifice of the Cross.

The reading ends with a warning to the Pharisees, who had been too proud and too convinced of their righteousness to receive baptism from John. They had not realised that this was how God was leading His people at this time; they were “Thwarting God’s plan”.

Let us pray that we will always be open to change our ideas to do whatever God asks of us.

FMSL

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Good News, not Good Advice.

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The word “Gospel” means “good news,” not “good advice.” The gospels are not so much a spiritual and moral theology book that tell us what we should be doing, but are more an account of what God has already done for us, is still doing for us, and the wonderful dignity that this bestows on us. Of course the idea is that since we are gifted in this way our actions should reflect that dignity rather than the opposite. Morality is not a command, it’s an invitation; not a threat, but a reminder of who we truly are. We become taller and less petty when we remember what kind of family we ultimately come from.

We all have two souls, two hearts, and two minds. Inside of each of us there’s a soul, heart, and mind that’s petty, that’s been hurt, that wants vengeance that wants to protect itself, that’s frightened of what’s different, that’s prone to gossip, that’s racist, that perennially feels cheated. Seen in a certain light, all of us are as small in stature as Zacchaeus. But there’s also a tall, big-hearted person inside each of us, someone who wants to warmly embrace the whole world, beyond personal hurt, selfishness, race, creed, and politics.

The world isn’t divided up between big-hearted and small-minded people. Rather our days are divided up between those moments when we are big-hearted, generous, warm, hospitable, unafraid, wanting to embrace everyone and those moments when we are petty, selfish, over-aware of the unfairness of life, frightened, and seeking only to protect ourselves and our own safety and interests. We are both tall and short at the same time and either of these can manifest itself from minute to minute.

For John of the Cross, this is the way we heal:

We heal not by confronting all of our wounds and selfishness head-on, which would overwhelm us and drown us in discouragement, but by growing to what he calls “our deepest centre.” For him, this centre is not first of all some deep place of solitude inside the soul, but rather the furthest place of growth that we can attain, the optimum of our potential. To grow to what our deepest DNA has destined us for is what makes us whole, makes us tall—humanly, spiritually, and morally.

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Thus, if John of the Cross were your spiritual director and you went to him with some moral flaw or character deficiency, his first counsel would be: What are you good at? What have you been blessed with? Where, in your life and work, does God’s goodness and beauty most shine through? If you can grow more and more towards that goodness, it will fan into an ever larger flame which eventually will become a fire that cauterises your faults. When you walk tall there will be less and less room for what’s small and petty to manifest itself.

But to walk tall means to walk within our God-given dignity. Nothing else, ultimately, gives us as large an identity. That’s useful also to remember when we challenge each other: Gospel-challenge doesn’t shame us with our pettiness, it invites us to what’s already best inside us.

AMcC.

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