Tag Archives: humanity

September 11. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, 9: Resurrection and Eucharist

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As we have seen, to try to understand the Resurrection we have to start with the reality of death. Created for intimacy with God we lost this, turned away from communion with God, towards whatever we create as our own gods, or deny any need for God – if we turn away from life all that awaits us is death. Jesus, truly human, born, lived and died and in rising from death swept away forever the dominance of death. The most visible sign of death is the corpse; the most visible sign of Jesus’ Resurrection was the empty tomb – there was no corpse.

The Resurrection remains mystery, no one saw it happen. The crucial evidence for it comes from his few followers. Not just telling something; but first experiencing something, literally life-changing themselves. They were given a totally new way of seeing God, and an understanding what it really means to be genuinely human. This was far more important than any attempts at rational explanations of what happened. In a very real sense they found themselves taken-up, included, in Jesus’ new bodily presence.

This highlights the Eucharistic reality of Jesus. Debates and discussions have taken place about bread becoming the body of Jesus – issuing in the somewhat awkward neologism [a new word because we can’t find an existing word] Transubstantiation. Before we attach any importance to what we have to say about this mystery we must heed what Jesus says: this is my body for you – his body becomes bread, food for us to eat. It is important to stress this today because the history of the celebration of the Mass shows it being separated into two parts, with the emphasis clearly on part one: the consecration, bread and wine becoming Jesus’ real presence; the second part, the ritual meal of Jesus’ as food seems to be a kind of afterthought.

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Eucharistic Rood of the risen yet dead Jesus, OLEM, Cambridge.

According to tradition, the human being, designed and destined for intimacy with God, has fallen out of knowing God in this way, and settled for simply knowing good and evil, a knowledge of which God is not the source. Fallen away from God [life] we are on our own with death on the horizon, compelling us to struggle for survival for as long as possible – so much so that we even justify war and violence in our pursuit. Death in place of God is how we chose to live our three score and ten. Death is that terrifying nothing that draws us to selfishness and sin, the ultimate black hole.

Jesus is human as originally intended by God; yet totally part of our history – even under the reign of death. Death swallowed him up, intending to thrust him into the negativity into which we have fallen – it has been called his descent into hell, where death is king with oblivion its promise. Highlighting how death is the controlling factor of all our thinking.

However, there is a difference – in Jesus’ case death is for unfallen man, and so marks the removal of the final obstacle to union with God – the transforming of the finite and limited. Everything that death means for fallen humankind – the horrors, the abuses, the murders – nature’s cynical reply to any claims to be God-like – all this changed with the death of Jesus from the highway-to-nothing to the gateway into intimacy with God – forever.

His death is real, he endured the death of fallen man though sinless – was made sin for us – 2Corinthians 5.21. It is this darkness of our fallen state that the Easter Candle illumines with new hope. Darkness is swallowed up in God; a darkness felt in moments of despair, in the hopelessness of teenage suicide, in those long and interminable bouts of loneliness. But how can the divine removal of all this be brought home to us?

It is dramatic – the drama of the empty tomb. The absence of the body is the sign of something that cannot be seen or imagined, only available through life-changing faith – the coming of Jesus through death, when through the death of the god of fallen humanity, there is the fullness of God. The trophy of our own god – is not there, there is no corpse. But if we fail to understand, forgetting to be human as we face the Easter mystery, then the empty tomb fails to speak to us; and leaves us with the Sanhedrin trying to work-out how it happened – who stole the body.

The empty tomb is a fact – the resurrection is a mystery that cannot be witnessed or imagined. There is no way of combining the two other than to say the empty tomb is beyond what history can say, leading us to the reality of something transcendent. That is the realising of God’s original plan for us mortal beings to be drawn into complete intimacy with God, through the removal of what was impeding this, our tendency to the nothing of oblivion we were inevitably facing.

We enter next into an interim period, a time when the risen Jesus was visibly with them, the time before the Ascension. It was a time when the new way had the chance to take hold – the fact that it did take hold is seen from the Easter texts. After the Ascension, when the disciples were sharing their experiences, there is no hint of nostalgia. Nowhere does it say if only you were there! He had not gone away – he is till with them and them with him through the dynamic faith he brought to them.

The new life he has introduced is not what we commonly call life after death. He is alive among the disciples, and they are aware of it. He is still here but otherwise. They enjoy a new togetherness of love binding them together, from which he is never absent. The Apostles were telling us what it is like to have Jesus with them in this new way.

If we are to hear the Easter message as it is – we need to hear the question: Why are you looking for the living among the dead? If we remain locked-into our way of understanding, Easter has not yet happened. As a new community the disciples experienced the real now of Jesus – the new way of living was so overpowering that things could not remain the same. The lesson here: their experience of the now of Jesus brought them together as a community. If we are not experiencing community – dare we look at the now of Jesus in our own lives?

We have him under the appearances of bread and wine, he came to them through hands and feet. Reflect on: He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit – 1Peter.3.19. The move from the body dead to the body alive was experienced by the disciples as from the body we killed to the body we are in. We are all too familiar with put to death in the world – but he comes alive in an entirely new way – not back from the dead. He would not walk the earth again, but showing himself in moments of real community, it was through this that they recognised him when they saw him – incarnate in a Church of joy and welcome, as a community, not a man alone.

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Prayers Please!

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Caernarfon in David’s corner of Wales.

Dear Friends,

Please pray for David Powell, our contributor DBP, who is gravely ill.

It was David who invented the Ossyrians for Agnellus Mirror– aliens who disguised themselves as T, a male human and two male chihuahuas, Alfie and Ajax, when they were sent to earth as, in David’s words: ‘a special observation unit established to closely watch the earth and its strange inhabitants.’ 1

Of course they have been learning lessons in life ever since they pitched up in Margate. An inspired vehicle for reflection on all manner of things. Thank you David!

MMB

1See April 26 2016, ‘Peace on Earth I’ and subsequent posts by various writers.

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June 21: Shared Table IV, Bread and Wine?

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Herbert McCabe O.P. was always thought-provoking. Nicholas Lash once laid these quotations of Herbert’s before his own readers:

Christ has a better right to appear as food and drink than bread and wine have. The doctrine of transubstantiation, as I see it, is that the bread and wine become more radically food and drink.

I am suggesting that the consecrated host exists at a level of reality at which questions of whether it is bread can not relevantly be asked.

Nicholas Lash, ‘Traveller’s Fare’, New Blackfriars, May 2007, pp129, 131.

Lash warns against the ‘reification’ of Christ in the wheaten host. In other words, I think, we must not see the host as a thing we can call Jesus. Despite the old hymn it does not ‘my very God conceal’, but it reveals him.

It reveals him as humble, as nourishing,  as one  who,

though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:6-8

 MMB.

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30 May: Sunrises

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I love watching for sunrises

I mean surprises

proclaiming without fanfare that

we are not selfish

pre-determined muddles but have

at least a sky’s worth

of space in us just waiting for

that warm sunrise of

empathy and so here is one

 

Mister Darwin sir

 

fossils prove Neandertals cared

for the weakest ones

in their tribe and didn’t leave them

to die oh surprise

for love loved the most fragile and

not just the fittest

and survives from barely biped

to barely upright

humans God I love sunrises

 

Sister Johanna sees more sunrises than most of us. If I got up as early as she does, with a ladder and some glasses I could see to Minster marshes – if it wasn’t for the houses in between. Let’s enjoy her sharing the blessings of sunrise. An appropriate image to ponder when we have the feast of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth tomorrow, a truly ‘warm sunrise of empathy’ and a neat challenge to Darwin.

Will.

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27 May: Humour in humility.

 

I was reading the obituary of Bishop Douglas Milmine, the first Anglican Bishop of Paraguay, and of late an honorary assistant Bishop in Chichester. A remarkable man of God.

He had a favourite prayer which would have tickled the Lord as much as it tickled himself: ‘Lord, make me humble for you know how important I am.’

Is that the Publican or the Pharisee or the funny man speaking? Which of the three would write a memoir called ‘Stiff Upper Smile? The prayer is a hearty laugh at himself, and God bless him for sharing it and for all the good he did in his life.

MMB.

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22 May: A is for Aston

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back-to-back houses, Birmingham

 

Why the spruced-up slum? I was going to write about Aston Hall, the mansion that overlooks Villa Park in Birmingham. My boyhood home was nearby so we could go there on the green diesel trains, taking care to cross the roads safely and watch out for the ‘rough’ Aston kids, who never actually bothered with us. I thought there were priest holes at Aston Hall, but you can appreciate just how mixed up I was when I began writing this post by reading Carl Chinn’s article here.

Consider the contrast between the splendour of the Hall and its park, and the nineteenth century slums all around it. Again,  Dr Chinn gives some insight into the very different ways of life and how the local people themselves raised money to save the hall and park.

One route from Aston station was along ‘Lovers’ Walk’, a narrow alley of grimy red brick; I doubt any lovers would have lingered there. Was it a lovers’ walk before the slums surrounded it, and the name stuck, or an example of slum-dwellers’  humour? After my great grandmother died I was entrusted with taking her clothes along there to the rag merchant’s yard. What they raised was hardly worth the trouble and train fare.

Aston smelt (literally) of stale poverty, but some remarkable people grew up there. My friend Gill remembers dressing the 8 year old Ossie Osborne in old clothes and a mask, and pushing him round the streets to raise money for November 5 fireworks. Penny for the guy?

If Britain could demolish Aston and build new council houses in the 1950s when there was less wealth in the country, why is it now so impossible to house families decently?

WT.

 

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21 May: Going the Extra Mile while Sitting Still.

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Driving along certain motorways in England is rarely a pleasant experience, but sitting in a cabin collecting the charges for using the M6 Toll road must be at least as deadening to the spirit. Yet recently we had a pleasant surprise when the man in the cabin took our money – the exact change – and said, ‘Thank you, super duper!’ Just the little extra humorous touch that made a difference to our enjoyment  of the next mile and more.

You can sit in a little cabin and go the extra mile, spreading a little neighbourly love with your attitude. (And all hail the supermarket checkout operators!)

Whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two. Give to him that asketh of thee and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away.

You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? do not even the publicans this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? do not also the heathens this? Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:41-48.

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February 21: Inter-galactic Discoveries XXIV, It’s cold outside.

 

It was cold, too cold for pseudo-Chihuahuas to do more than put their noses outside the door but they were enjoying people watching from the bay window.

 

‘Look down there! It’s little Abel on the sands. What is he doing?’ Alfie was half wrapped in his blanket which had become a shared blanket, as so much was shared, freely, by the Ossyrians in dogs’ clothing, almost without their realising it was happening.

T got out his binoculars and soon focussed on the toddler, clad in blue wellington boots and a warm all-in-one suit. ‘Very interesting. We should go join them.’

‘But what is he doing?’ demanded Ajax, who could read the amusement shaking T’s shoulders, but not the reason for it.

‘Come and see,’ said T, shaking the dog leads, and off they went, past the Waste Land shelter and along the prom. Just by the Jubilee Clock, the dogs yanked their leads from T’s hand, turned tail with one accord and refused to go on to greet Will, Abel and his mother. T had to follow. When something made Will look up he just caught a glimpse of the dogs mounting the steps to their front door, with the Director some yards in the rear. He did not realise they were avoiding Abel, and T never told him.

Indoors, Alfie shivered: ‘Abel was wading about in that cold water at the edge of the sea and splashing rocks and laughing! I’ll never understand humans. He was enjoying it and his mother and Will were letting him do it, and they were laughing too.’

‘They can’t help sharing his fun, and they aren’t the sort to stop him doing it completely. Sun, Sand and Sea. That’s why we came to Margate.’

‘But not Sun, Sand, Sea and Splash!’ grumbled Alfie.

‘Lighten up boys,’ said T. ‘Laughter is part of being human. Why the wife of Abraham, mother of the great religions, even laughed at God and called her son ‘laughter’ or Isaac. But I don’t think the humans totally understand it themselves.’

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Sunset over T and Alfie and Ajax’s house, Margate, January 2017.

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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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October 11: CONSCIENCE IV: Under the Microscope, Continued

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William Blake, the Ghost of a Flea

There is such a thing as a true conscience and a false conscience.  Our true conscience is the one that is in touch with God’s law.  But it can be submerged beneath a false conscience that is formed not by God’s law, but by all sorts of other influences.  Today, it can be difficult to get away from the influence of our culture’s easy-going morality and its message that if something seems good to me, then it is good.    It is important to realise that this kind of thinking usually comes from ‘doctrines that have lost the sense of the transcendent or are explicitly atheist,’ as Pope Saint John Paul II said in his remarkable Encycylical Letter, Veritatis Splendor [no. 32].

In his last homily before he was elected to the papacy, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said,

“We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognise anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires”                                                                                  [Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on 18 April 2005].

Strong words.  But what is this “relativism”?  It is the popular teaching whereby the individual conscience is held up as the ultimate moral authority answerable to nothing but itself.  It refers to no objective criteria by which to evaluate its decisions; the only requirement is that of personal sincerity.  It does not refer to anyone else to discover what is right.  Personal sincerity is considered sufficient to justify any action.

In relativism, there is no awareness that if personal sincerely is the only yardstick by which I measure the moral content of my actions, moral chaos soon results.  What if, for example, I sincerely believe that causing harm to my next door neighbour is good because I sincerely believe him to be wicked?  Or, what if I sincerely do not believe that the foetus of a human being is human?  To call such exaltation of personal opinion a “dictatorship” is not too strong.  We try to tell ourselves that this way of thinking is tolerant of different points of view.  But what of the point of view of the one who is weaker than myself, and whose human existence and potential I “sincerely” do not acknowledge?

If you are even reading this post, you probably would not go to the lengths I have just described, but it is not necessary to ascribe consciously to such relativist or individualist doctrines in order to be susceptible in a lesser sense to the kind of thinking that goes with them.  The selfish tendencies that we all have as a result of our fallen nature can make it hard, at least at times, to realise that conscience is not about personal sincerity.

Then what is conscience about?

Conscience is directed beyond ourselves toward God and true goodness in a manner similar to the way a compass directs a traveller toward her destination.  The difference is that the traveller knows before she sets out that she doesn’t want to go round in circles, stay in the same spot, or end up further away from the place of her destination.  We expect a compass to direct us to a place that is different from the place where we began.  We do not necessarily have the same expectation with regard to our conscience.  We might prefer it if our conscience would kindly sanction what we are doing, or planning to do. We don’t want it to challenge us or deprive us of our fantasy.

SJC

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