Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

December 1: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxxi – We have problems

carvingwomanchichChichester Cathedral

Christianity is the only religion believing in the full enfleshment of God – yet we seem to have problems with it.

Even a cursory look at our tragic sexual state, our pollution of the planet, our out of control consumerism… suggests a problem. In practice sex seems to be the only sin we worry about, when Jesus reminds us of the weightier matters of faith, peace with justice, mercy and compassion – Matthew 23.23. The Incarnation tells us to trust our in-body experience – it is the way God provides for us to meet. Our spirit is illusory without body and soul. See it in religious practice that is all head. Soul is the lost sense of the Holy Spirit; and the body is rejected. This wasn’t always the case, though passion, father, mother, sister, brother have now become no more than titles instead of real experiences. Ritual has become safe!

If we encourage co-dependency on system [ritual] we are simply doing what the world does. An over-emphasis on personal prayer has left folk bereft of the intimacy of personal prayer. We are meant to experience the presence of God, not just acknowledge the value of it. Felt religion needs to be reclaimed. We are well aware of the anguish and ecstasy in relationships; can we say the same about prayer? Without the sense of presence anguish becomes anger and accusation. We seem to hear much more about annulments, excommunications and dispensations than about healing.

Praying in words helps me express my dependence on God – praying in silence lets me experience it. Watch a mother hold a feverish child – see the child calm down and even sleep, because it is experiencing safety and not just hearing about it. There is vastly more to living than my private life. Contemplation needs underpinning by belonging [community]. Social prayer recognises that there is only one goodness, one suffering, and even one sin! So much about life can neither be explained nor fixed, but it is felt, enjoyed and suffered. Crying is not manly! A man who cannot cry is not fully alive. We can’t relish life until we experience its tears – happy and sad.

If laughter and tears are not around, I’m on the wrong road. God heals our brokenness and our weakness. When we venture into sacred space there is an element of discomfort, if only because it isn’t where I usually am. It is the prophetic in life that lures me – showing me the inadequacy of the normal. Reality begins to arrive when death is experienced as integral to life, and failure and success are the same; and I no longer need to leave the secular to find the sacred – the veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom – Matthew 27.51.

There is no natural world where God is not present. But I need the eyes to see this. It is a move from simple consciousness into enlightenment – I have to let go, through some disillusion with what is. We seldom freely go there – it is usually thrust upon us by suffering, injustice, sin and bereavement. Normal tends to mean rejecting weakness and over-working strengths. By claiming to be in control I reveal my weakness, becoming who I am supposed to be rather than who I am.

While most problems are psychological, most answers are spiritual. Which tells us to stop trying to solve them – we need to forgive and integrate them.

AMcC

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November 24: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxiv – He washed their feet

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Picture: L’Arche Kent

So many of the dysfunctional illnesses are the result of a distortion in our relationship with the Spirit; living with no place for the spirit. Systemic evil – money is imbued with power and it is painfully apparent that it is not being used creatively. The freedom to empower which is the mission of the Spirit has been undermined by pernicious power games.

When Jesus spoke about prayer and fasting needed for casting out such evil, he was telling us that prayer gets us back in a right relationship with the Spirit; fasting is a form of discipline [art of discipleship] reminding us that we have choices to make and so need discernment. Life challenges us to make prophetic choices, rather than those which are conventional and political. It is allowing the Spirit its rightful place that life-giving choices are made.

Meal sharing is one of the main thrusts of Kingdom living. If priority was given to this we would soon rid the world of want and starvation. When Jesus invited his friends for a meal, he washed their feet – roads were dirt tracks with dust and grit. The first thing a host did was to provide for feet to be washed. No doubt Jesus had his feet washed when he was invited for a meal. But his washing of their feet was saying that his presence was totally inclusive – especially of the non-persons; this would include women as well as social outcasts. Peter objected – Jesus reminded him we are all called to be servants – because that is who God is. The washing of feet is not meant simply in the literal sense – it is to do with making welcome, especially to those excluded. Its significance is welcoming home those who have no home.

AMcC

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November 14: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xiv – ‘ A place for everyone at table.’

 

Throughout the parables and miracle stories Jesus is forever flouting rules and tradition; and offers no apology for so doing. He certainly went to the Temple to pray, but often accompanied by outcasts whose presence defiled the holy place. Jesus was committed to fullness of life above and beyond any and every system. He made people search for God not only in holy books, but principally in daily life; he uses everyday language – calling on everyday experiences; he insists we are constantly in God’s presence, not just when we formally pray – he makes care and concern for the other the key factor for kingdom living.

The Twelve certainly expected the messiah to be heroic – and they were disillusioned when he didn’t live up to expectations. Saint Paul’s vision of Church is more in line – centred on the Word in service of the community – but by the Second Century the Church was rapidly becoming institutionalised according to a shape at variance with Jesus’ own vision. This was when ecclesiastical [ritualisation] became more important than ecclesial [community in faith]. However, the original vision was never lost, nor will it ever be lost. Truth always survives, despite efforts to constrain it. What came to be known as the dark ages was when the Church had difficulty in controlling what was happening – whereas from the perspective of the Spirit it was a time of creativity and growth.

Is the real Jesus the middle-class revolutionary we have inherited? Are we true to the prophetic figure from Nazareth? Was the following of Jesus meant to be via a respectable religion? Can the freedom of the oppressed, and the empowering of the powerless happen this way? We surely should be recognised as different – to live for Jesus demands much more of us than to die for him. It means seeking justice, inclusiveness and equality – a place for everyone at table. Kingdom living was not something Jesus inaugurated for others to embrace and follow. He is the Kingdom. The Kingdom is how he lives and relates. What was he seeing that captivated him so much?

We are brought up through co-dependency – some are in charge, most aren’t. Our role is largely passive obedience. God is father, the Church is mother, making our relationship that of children. In such a setting the discipleship of equals has no chance. Adult is reserved for those in charge. Compassion is a fascinating quality in Jesus – it is always a verb, not a noun. Compassion means entering into the suffering of another, not just being there to help; and has nothing to do with pity and mercy.

AMcC

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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 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 7. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, 5: Perceiving God as Creator and Redeemer

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The Chosen People perceiving God as Creator was not done rapidly. They moved from a view that saw God as one god among many gods, towards God as the only God, Creator of all things, even Israel’s enemies. However, the fact that God created everything is not the same as God created everything out of nothing. This came later along with belief in resurrection from the dead [2Macaabees]. The order of the world does not correspond to God’s order – since those who follow God’s ordering are persecuted in this world. God is not responsible for the ordering of the world – establishing order out of chaos is the work of human violence – creation is prior to this and not party to it.

The resurrection reveals that persecution is not the monopoly of any particular group, but the consequence of the fact that all humanity is locked into violence. That this is universally so is seen in the fact that the Chosen People suffered equally, and in no way deserved what the Church used to speak of the perfidious Jews; rather is it that the very best of nations was locked into this violence also. Jesus was working to bring about what God always desired but which had become trapped into the violent charade we have made.

Creation, therefore, is not finished until Jesus dies shouting it is accomplished – opening up creation to this new yet original way. Understand creation starting in and through Jesus. God’s bringing into existence what is from nothing, is exactly the same as Jesus’ deathless self-giving out of love, breaking through the culture of death.

It is not as if creation was a different act happening alongside the salvation worked by Jesus, but this salvation was the completion of creation – the bringing into existence and making possible of human living together which knows nothing of death. Jesus was in on this from the beginning. Such is what we have done to our world that God could only be seen as Creator by means of overcoming death.

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Rather than the creation-fall-redemption-heaven model we have: The redemption reveals creation by opening its fulfilment in heaven and reveals at the same time the fall as that which we are in the process of leaving behind. All these realities were discovered only through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus didn’t come to tell us that God is our Father. He came to create the possibility that God be our Father; it needed someone to die to have us understand better our Father – that there is no access to him except within the process of total self-giving. Jesus says he will ask the Father to send someone other than Jesus as counsellor, and when this Spirit comes he will glorify Jesus – making clear everything he said. Jesus going deliberately to his death, opens up his way of living, his self-giving to become a gift to any who seek to live in this way.

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From the moment when death has its lie revealed through Jesus living as if death were not, from that moment it becomes possible for us to be possessed by his spirit – it is accomplished means that there is now a fully human way – from birth through and including death. The Spirit makes it possible to do the same for the Father as Jesus did, to live as if death is not. There are two elements to the mission of the Spirit – as advocate, and as one who leads to truth.

The Advocate absolves from accusations, whereas the Prosecution [from persecution] representing the order of this world ruthlessly seeks out a victim; and justifies the need for murder to maintain order – all the while convinced that this truly serving God. The Advocate knows the victim is hated without cause [as was Jesus] and brings this to light by constantly recalling the real memory of what happened to Jesus and why. The Spirit pleads our cause – which means forgiveness of sin. This means that forgiveness of sin and the recreating of the actual happening of the passion in the lives of disciples are one and the same.

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Prayers Please!

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Door of Mercy, Krakow Cathedral

This afternoon at 2.00 Mass, eighteen men in prison will be confirmed as Catholic Christians. Pray that God’s Spirit of Mercy will come down on them and give them strength and wisdom to see out their time in prison and be free in heart and spirit when they leave.

MMB

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Prayers, please!

good shepherd mada3

Please pray for the 16 Catholic men in HM Prison preparing for Confirmation at 2 pm Mass on Sunday next, 27th August.

MMB

 

 

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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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8 July: The Scandal of Disunity

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There are signs of hope. Here is Francis, Bishop of Rome, receiving a blessing from Justin, Archbishop of Canterbury. No charade, surely? The Pope would not bring about scandal by seeking a blessing from a heretic schismatic. When Bishop Nicholas Hudson joined Bishop Trevor Willmott in blessing the congregation at Canterbury Cathedral, what were we to make of the implied recognition of value in Anglican orders?

The scandal is not that these isolated events happen, but that we lack the courage of our convictions, so they remain isolated. Forty years ago I was assured that, juridically, Anglican orders were all valid since Old Catholic bishops had taken part in enough ordinations to ensure recognition of Anglican Apostolic Succession.

In another church, a good distance from Canterbury, a Catholic bishop was ordained recently, with his friend, co-worker and Anglican bishop, robed on the sanctuary. It was good to see him there, but he was not invited to join the Catholic bishops by laying hands on the ordinand.

And the announcement that day deterring non-Catholics from receiving the Eucharist? If a bishop being ordained is not one of those special occasions when Eucharistic hospitality is to be encouraged, I’m not clear when it may be grudgingly permitted. Put out into the deep!

WT.

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