Tag Archives: Saint Luke

12 June: Crowding Round

MAfr photograph

The tax-collectors and sinners were all crowding round to listen to Jesus. This is what St Luke reports in 15:1. This line is worth lingering over. Sometimes only one sentence is enough to tell a story of its own. As I repeat these words slowly to myself, my imagination fixes on Jesus. He’s not talking to scribes and Pharisees for a change. Good – because he has such a hard time whenever he is dealing with the synagogue officials. They don’t want to hear what he has to say, they pretend interest but are always preparing a trap. Of course, they never get the better of Jesus. He seems to handle these encounters effortlessly and he is never wrong-footed by them. But I feel certain that these encounters were very painful for Jesus: discouraging, and exhausting.

So, by contrast, here is Jesus in the centre of a very different crowd – one that is sincerely interested. These were people one would not usually associate with religion, or with much else that was respectable, for they were the type of people that find themselves on the outside of respectability, looking in. They were the type that most cultures reject. They were labelled tax collectors and sinners by the culture of Jesus’ day. And Jesus loved to be with these people. On this occasion, as on every occasion when he sees his that his words are welcomed, he must have been deeply moved by their interest and love. These are the ones who allow him to reach their hearts – and he wants this ardently himself. He came into the world to reach all people, but reaching such cast-offs is a matter of urgency for him. These are the ones who have probably never been given a break in their lives. Tax-collectors were generally considered a dishonest bunch at that time, most of them reputed to abuse their position in order to grab a cut of whatever money they collected from people who were already poor to begin with. And so-called “sinners” were people who were thought to be involved in all sorts of iniquitous practices, whose entire life-style was considered morally dubious at best. I daresay that then as now, there were people relegated to this group who were essentially honest but had fallen on very hard times, people for whom earning a living had proved impossible, and for reasons beyond their control. But many will have been truly as dishonest and even criminal as they were thought to be, and all were deeply wounded people for one reason or another. This is a crowd of seeming failures – if you judge success by the sleek appearance of it. And this is something Jesus never did.

This is the bunch who “crowded around Jesus” – and not because they wanted a hand-out from him. He had walked into their lives and they were bowled over by him. They had never met anyone like him. Our text indicates that we are not dealing with just one or two from this sector of society. It says they were “all” crowding around Jesus. Luke is talking about a lot of people here. How did Jesus manage to reach them? Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have been there as an invisible observer to see how he looked at them, for example, to hear what he said, to note the words he chose, and to see these tough characters melt, and the deeply hurt ones lift up their heads. By his radiant and gentle personality, by his words that showed he understood everything that had ever hurt them, Jesus cracks open the hard shell of their hearts and eases them away from their distrust and fear of him. And there they were – crowding around Jesus, bumping each other, trying to get closer to him. They wanted to hear what he was saying, to “listen to him.” These aren’t usually the types to go in for sermons, but Jesus was different. Very different. His word was hope and forgiveness. Everything about him was a message of peace.

This is where I stopped reading and placed myself in that crowd. Is there anyone who has a completely clear conscience? If so, perhaps this isn’t the bible passage for you. But if you have anything you regret on your conscience, if you bear remorse like a constant and heavy load on your back, if shame is your daily companion join this crowd. That’s right, squeeze in there, between the bag lady and the guy with long, stringy hair hanging down his back. Look at Jesus. He is looking at you, he sees you join this group, he catches your eye for a moment and smiles a beautiful warm one right into your face. He’s talking. You are able to move in closer. Miraculously, the others make room for you and glance at you with understanding – they are catching something of Jesus’ own tenderness. What do you hear Jesus saying?


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17 May: Stirring It Part I. (Shared Table XXVI)

A shared table awaits the guests

After Dr Johnson’s exploits yesterday, Sister Johanna has been considering another shared meal among, well, if not enemies, men who were uncomfortable in each other’s company. Unlike Sam Johnson, Jesus was not setting out to be polite in order to let the conversation flow smoothly.

Some gospel passages make me groan. They are the passages where Jesus confronts the Pharisees and scribes, the “professional religious,” with their hypocrisy. Those passages worry me. As a nun, I’m a professional religious, too. I go around in special robes all the time. I’m greeted with respect when I go out – there are plenty of perks that come my way. People are generous and kind just because I claim to belong to God. Do I live up to their expectations? I wonder. So, I always feel implicated when Jesus details the aspects of the Pharisees’ behaviour that are at enmity with the worship of the true God, and with a life that is truly given to God.

At the same time, I groan over each occasion when the religious authorities in the gospels react with defensiveness to Jesus – defensiveness that builds and builds, until it becomes demonic, until it is beyond control, until it has become murderous. As I watch this well-known story play out day by day in my lectio divina, I sometimes wish Jesus had not been so inclined to “stir” the situation with the religious authorities. If the Pharisees often try to trick Jesus with ridiculous questions in order to force him to say something they could use against him, Jesus, too, at times seems to “bait” the Pharisees. One of those times is recorded in Luke 11: 37-38.

Jesus had just finished speaking when a Pharisee invited him to dine at his house. He went in and sat down at table. The Pharisee saw this and was surprised that he had not first washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him, ‘You Pharisees! You clean the outside of the cup and plate while inside yourselves you are filled with extortion and wickedness.’

This was clearly a set up – by Jesus. Surely, Jesus was aware that in failing to wash before the meal he would be pushing the Pharisee’s buttons. I feel certain that Jesus was just waiting for the Pharisee to express his disapproval. And he does so, but he does it silently. We can say a great deal by body-language, as Jesus well knew. I imagine perhaps one eyebrow slightly raised as Jesus was “eyed” by the Pharisee. I suspect an awkward pause in conversation occurred when Jesus sat down at table, unwashed. Jesus is ready, and jumps in with his spoken criticism as soon as he sees the Pharisee’s unspoken one. Part of me wishes Jesus hadn’t. Jesus could have handled the situation differently from the start, done the done thing, washed his hands, sat down and told a set of inspiring stories, tried to win the Pharisee with a more honeyed approach.

But, Jesus wanted to “stir” it. He wanted to bring the bad feeling out in the open – lance the boil. And, superficially anyway, I’m not comfortable with any of it. Jesus was not an easy dinner-guest: no elephants were ignored in any living room Jesus ever visited. Why? As I ponder this question and reread the text, I gradually become more aware of Jesus’ side of things. I begin to see that for Jesus and his mission, so much was now at stake. I become more aware that Jesus’ hosts were not usually easy for Jesus to be with, either. The Pharisee who had invited Jesus to dinner was unwilling to see that the core of religious truth – ‘justice and the love of God’, as Jesus expresses it in this passage – was being eroded by the practices and attitudes the Pharisees espoused. A few minutes later in this scene, the lawyers will also begin to feel attacked, and they say so: ‘Master, when you speak like that you insult us, too’ (11:45). And, instead of backing off, Jesus uses even stronger language: ‘Alas for you lawyers as well, because you load on people burdens that are unendurable….’

This all could have been very different, though. And not primarily because Jesus might have tried to be nicer. No, despite my discomfort, I suddenly realise that I emphatically do not want a nice, compliant Jesus.

What do I want? Let’s ponder this question for a day. What do you want from Jesus? Tomorrow we’ll resume our reflection.

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18 April: A sabbath day’s walk

Through early mist, the nail marks show a risen, if bewildered, Jesus.


This goes alongside today’s Gospel reading, and last year’s Easter walks.

We walked the fields and woods on Easter day,
Considering the flowers: bluebell, gorse for Edward Thomas, 
Campion for the martyr, David’s daffodils; and for 
Christ’s Mother, Lady’s Smock, a blue-white garment. 

For himself? I see him rising, feeling each rib, gingerly 
Easing the circle of thorns from his brow to spin it 
High and higher out of his ken, to Paris: 
Disputed relic but reverenced for his sake. 

His feet have stopped bleeding. He can walk 
Across the grass without pain. Almost. 
‘Mary, Please, please; do not touch me; not just yet, 
But tell them all, I’m going North to Galilee.

‘Oh, and Mary: just a dab of your oil on my brow. 
The scratches sting, but I find I’m healing like a babe, 
As Lazarus did last month when he came forth. 
Time now to take a walk, to find my legs and feet again. 

‘My feet are fine, thank you Mary. Go to Peter now, 
Give him my message, tell him what you’ve seen 
And rub his brow too with oil to firm his courage. 
I’ll see you by the lake, if not before. Now for my 

'Walk. I feel my legs can take me far, without 
Tiring. Those scars are not pretty but who looks 
At feet, except a salesman selling shoes, 
Or serving man with water, soap and towel? Or you.’

     .     .     .

Who is that ahead? I should know the gait of 
Clopas and his friend, red Isaac, expecting a kingdom by the sword. 
‘What are you saying on your way? Now, listen 
With your eyes and heart. Consider the flowers of the field. 

Do they toil and spin? No, all they have is gift of sun, and rain, 
And red-tailed bumble bee, loving them into growth 
And fruition. The grain of wheat has fallen. Stay with me 
My friends. Take and eat my given body. Stay with me.

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25 March: As Jesus was Speaking Luke 11:27-28

Sister Johanna was not thinking solely of the Annunciation when she composed this reflection, but the whole relationship between Jesus and Mary is there, as a newly germinated seed.

The woman who engages Jesus in this story receives his attention, respect, and a challenge. Our picture from the Baptistry of the Abbey of St Maurice, Switzerland, shows another encounter between Jesus and a woman – the Samaritan at the Well. Jesus is shown as the Word, his book showing Alpha and Omega, symbols to be engraved upon the Paschal Candle in ten days from now.

As Jesus was Speaking (Luke 11:27-28)

It happened that as Jesus was speaking, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said, ‘Blessed the womb that bore you and the breasts that fed you!’ But he replied, ‘More blessed still are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’ (see Luke 11:27-28).

Jesus’ behaviour to women is a study that goes far beyond what I can do in a short reflection. But I think it might be safe to say that in his conduct toward women Jesus is both straightforward and courteous. At times he is more the first than the second, and becomes surprisingly frank – but only with those women who reveal in the course of the conversation that they are capable of dealing with his frankness – and he seems to be unerring in knowing who they are ahead of time. Something in their glance, maybe? Or the way they stand? I don’t know. But in this instance, recorded by St Luke (11:27-28), Jesus takes the other approach. He is very gentle here in the way he corrects this woman’s words.

She is clearly a well-meaning person, but nonetheless, she only gets it partially right and Jesus is not really happy with what she says. This passage has often puzzled me; at first glance, I couldn’t find anything really wrong with her words. I wondered why Jesus found it necessary to add his bit. Why couldn’t he just let it go? After all, his mother was blessed. As I was pondering this seemingly small exchange and asking the Lord to enlighten me about it, it occurred to me for the first time that the words the woman uses in praise of Jesus’ mother may very well have been an expression that was common among pious Jewish women at that time – almost formulaic. A bit of research revealed that my hunch was correct.* It’s likely that these words were a saying used when it was clear that some woman’s grown son had turned out well. Even so, what is wrong with it?

As I pondered, the matter began to clarify. First I realised that, yes, Jesus’ mother deserves praise, always and everywhere, but Jesus was not content to let his mother be praised in words that failed to take in the full scope of her blessedness. She was not blessed merely because she bore Jesus and fed him. Such a blessing could apply to every mother who succeeds in bearing and feeding her child. But Jesus knew well and truly that no one had ever been or would ever be like his mother. Such faith as hers was unprecedented in religious history. The archangel Gabriel visited her, proclaimed her ‘full of grace,’ and gave her God’s message. She, in turn, gave her entire being, body and soul, to God in her response to the angel’s words, and she conceived Jesus miraculously, not by sexual intercourse, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. In every sense, and throughout her entire life, Jesus’ mother lived her faith in a way that was beyond the power of ordinary words to praise. And yet, here she was, being praised in a mere commonplace. Jesus knew he needed somehow to adjust the inadequate words that were cried out by this well-meaning woman – and without hurting her.

But even more needed to be said. (I wonder if Jesus groaned a bit inwardly on first hearing the woman’s words.) Although the words were mainly about Jesus’ mother, Jesus himself was misrepresented by them. He – unlike us in our wandering life-journey – never lost sight of his identity as Son, and of his mission to the world. Therefore, anything implying that he could be properly understood as, say, his mother’s ‘pride and joy,’ was so wide of the mark that it could not be allowed at all. It would confuse matters, not so much for Jesus, but for his followers. Because of who Jesus and Mary are, they had a unique relationship in an absolute sense. Jesus did not live in such a way as to fulfil an ordinary mother’s ordinary expectations – the episode of finding Jesus in the temple when he was twelve years old makes that clear (see Luke 2: 41-50) – if any clarity was needed after the extraordinary revelations of glory surrounding Jesus’ birth. Jesus loved his mother – and provided for her care with his last breath as he died on the Cross (see John 19:26-27) – but he is not the doting son in any common sense. And surely, by this time in Jesus’ adult life, his mother will have grasped – somehow – the unfathomable truth that her son was the Father’s Beloved Son, and that his mission as saviour of the world superseded all other claims, hers included. So, as I reflect, I become aware that we are not meant to pigeon-hole Jesus as this woman’s words seem to do. His identity and mission, as well as his mother’s identity and mission, are matters for deepest contemplation. We will never plumb their depths – certainly not in this life. Therefore Jesus and Mary exist, then and now, as a challenge to our cultural mores, our family customs, and even some of our religious categories. These woman’s words of praise unwittingly “shrink” both Jesus and Mary down to a size that seems more manageable, but, in doing so, she also makes Jesus and Mary too small even to recognise.

What was Jesus to do in this awkward situation? How to respond?

Masterfully, brilliantly, Jesus, in one sentence, managed to achieve everything. First, he was able to use some of the woman’s words, as if to tell her, ‘Yes, what you say is good. But together we can make it even better.’ (Few of us would object to that.) So Jesus keeps hold of her desire to give a blessing (thereby affirming her) and says, ‘More blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.’ In these words, Jesus praises his mother rightly, for she alone of all women heard the word of God through the Angel Gabriel’s message and opened her heart and body to a depth that was and remains unprecedented. She ‘kept’ the word of God by literally giving birth to the word of God. Jesus does not want to give a theology lesson to the woman here, but he leaves us with words of such profundity that they are still yielding treasures to us two millennia later. Second, Jesus opens up this blessing to apply it to all people, men and women alike – even the hapless speaker in our text. The motherhood of Mary is, in fact, a vocation open to every person who hears the word of God and keeps it. Jesus had, after all, been speaking to a crowd of people. (‘As he was speaking,’ the text says, ‘a woman in the crowd’ cried out.) Jesus is always keen to invite all people into the state of blessedness and joy that is one of the signs of the presence of the kingdom now, on earth. This situation gave Jesus the opportunity to teach a deep truth about the kingdom and invite everyone in. And lastly, there is an implication about Jesus himself contained in his words. Jesus is the word of God. To ‘hear’ the word of God and ‘keep’ it is to be in a dynamic relationship not merely with a biblical text, but with the person of Jesus. There is no greater joy, no greater blessing than that.

This is a biblical text of only two lines. Look at it closely and it tells a story, which, had it happened to anyone else, would doubtless have ended rather awkwardly. But it happened to Jesus, and without distressing any well-meaning actor in this story, he broadens its message to praise his mother rightly, and include all men, all women, and all time in a salvific blessedness that will endure even in heaven. Blessed be He!

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18 February: Reduced to Silence

A Lampedusa cross should reduce us to silence. This is in the British Museum, it was made from wrecked migrants’ boats.

They did not dare to ask Jesus any more questions (Luke 20:40). This sentence from the Gospel of St. Luke comes at the end of a passage that tells of an exchange between Jesus and some Sadducees. As usual, the Sadducees have an agenda. They were not keen on this upstart travelling rabbi, Jesus, and were looking for ways to up-end him. They decide that a theological debate might be a good way to do it. Therefore, they think up a rather implausible tale of a woman who outlives not only her first husband but her seven subsequent husbands (all brothers of her first husband, obliged under the Law to marry the widow and ‘raise up children for the brother’ if the previous union had been childless). Finally the widow dies. And the Saducees’s question for Jesus is: ‘At the resurrection, whose wife will she be?’

The Sadducees did not accept the notion of the resurrection from the dead. The hypothetical scenario they invented is meant to illustrate how ridiculous resurrection from the dead is. They seem pretty sure of themselves here, convinced that they have articulated an unsolvable problem. They expected to stump Jesus and to make him withdraw from the conversation, a disgraced loser.

As I reread and ponder this passage of Luke’s gospel, I can see the Sadducees gathered around, the speaker feigning seriousness, while secretly flicking supercilious glances at the others. They are subtly mocking Jesus. In typical adolescent fashion, they completely overestimate their own abilities and underestimate Jesus’; they are unprepared for his skill in theological debate, unprepared for a mind and personality like his.

I would love to have been there. St Luke shows that Jesus, with consummate courtesy and intelligence, not only pays the Sadducees the compliment of taking their question seriously, but answers it on such a deep level as to leave them amazed (Luke 20:34-38). When Jesus crafts his answer, his listeners were given the privilege of observing the workings of a truly beautiful mind. Anyone who has ever been in the class of a teacher who is a brilliant and deep thinker knows how exciting it can be to witness that teacher’s handling of difficult and subtle questions – off the cuff. There is always a moment after the question is posed when everyone wonders how the teacher will deal with the problem. Then, all the students share in the moments of unexpected enlightenment that break through as the teacher unravels easily and eloquently what, to everyone else, was a very tangled knot. It is an impressive event. Even those who are prejudiced against the teacher cannot avoid, if they are honest with themselves, being impressed . They may defend against it, as did the Sadducees here, but for the moment, even they must be quietly gob-smacked.

If you want to study Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees, I refer you to the text of Luke 20: 27-40. But the word-for-word answer is not actually what I want to linger over right now. What is amazing to me is that when Jesus finishes his answer to the Sadducees’s question, the whole pack of them ‘do not dare’ to ask him any other questions. This is a major achievement on Jesus’ part. The verbal cut and thrust of debate was what the professional religious thrived on, and practised daily. They were good at it and knew it. But Jesus was better. He could not be wrong-footed by them. They are, unusually, reduced to silence.

Most encounters that Jesus has in the gospels can tell us something about prayer. Can this one? At first this seems unlikely, but further reflection has made me change my mind.

There are some questions I think I need to answer honestly first. One, I wonder how prepared I am to experience a mind like Jesus’? Do I expect to be surprised by the depth of his penetration into my difficulties? Or do I want to reduce his mind to a smaller size – do I want, with at least a little part of myself, to outwit him? Two, do I realise that I am not always mature? Jesus will expose my immaturity – am I willing to accept what he may show me in that area? Three, on the other hand, I may be sincerely stumped, sincerely at the end of my endurance because of what life has thrown at me. I may ask for enlightenment, and Jesus may seem silent. In the event recounted by Luke, the Sadducees receive their answer immediately. I am, seemingly, not always so fortunate. But, what this story teaches me is that Jesus’ answer is probably going deeper than I expected. I may be right out of my depth, and that is why it seems that he has not answered. In reality, the answer is there, but I need to become deeper myself, to ‘grow into’ Jesus’ answer.

I seek, through prayer, a real encounter with Jesus, Lord and God. Like the Sadducees, I too may reach points when I do not dare to ask Jesus any more questions because of the depth of Jesus’ response to me. The Sadducees went away, however, only to continue to plot and scheme against Jesus. What do I do after I finish my prayer?

SJC

Lent is a time of prayer, a real encounter with Jesus. I’ve been saving this post from Sister Johanna till the right moment, and the beginning of Lent is a time of silence, as Our Lord experienced in the desert. It’s been something of a desert time for us all of late; let us use Lent to learn the depths of our love for those we are missing.

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21 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Day IV, Praying together

Invitation to pray, St David’s Cathedral.

“I do not call you servants any longer… but I have called you friends”

John 15:15

Romans 8:26-27 The Spirit helps us in our weakness

Luke 11:1-4 Lord, teach us to pray

Meditation

God thirsts for relationship with us. He searches for us as he searched for Adam, calling to him in the garden: “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9)

In Christ, God came to meet us. Jesus lived in prayer, intimately united to his Father, while creating friendships with his disciples and all those he met. He introduced them to that which was most precious to him: the relationship of love with his Father, who is our Father. Jesus and the disciples sang psalms together, rooted in the richness of their Jewish tradition. At other times, Jesus retired to pray alone.

Prayer can be solitary or shared with others. It can express wonder, complaint, intercession, thanksgiving or simple silence. Sometimes the desire to pray is there, but one has the feeling of not being able to do so. Turning to Jesus and saying to him, “teach me”, can pave the way. Our desire itself is already prayer.

“In the regularity of our common prayer, the love of Jesus springs up within us, we know not how. Common prayer does not exempt us from personal prayer. One sustains the other. Let us take a time each day to renew our personal intimacy with Jesus Christ.”

The Rule of Taizé in French & English, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Great Britain pp. 19 & 21

Prayer

Lord Jesus, your entire life was prayer, 
perfect harmony with the Father. 
Through your Spirit, teach us to pray 
according to your will of love. 
May the faithful of the whole world unite 
in intercession and praise, 
and may your kingdom of love come.
Amen

Questions

Jesus lived as an example of what it means to “live in prayer”. If prayer is the foundation of our relationship with God how much time and attention could you give to your personal prayer life?

What have you learned from praying with other Christians? What might God want you to learn from the practices and traditions of others?

What specific need in your community can you commit to pray for over the coming year?

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19 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Day II. “Abide in me as I abide in you”

smart

Ephesians 3:14-21 May Christ dwell in our hearts
Luke 2:41-52 Mary treasured all these things

The encounter with Jesus gives rise to the desire to stay with him and to abide in him: a time in which
fruit matures. Being fully human, like us Jesus grew and matured. He lived a simple life, rooted in the practices of his Jewish faith. In this hidden life in Nazareth, where apparently nothing extraordinary happened, the presence of the Father nourished him.
Mary contemplated the actions of God in her life and in that of her son. She treasured all these things in her heart. Thus, little by little, she embraced the mystery of Jesus.
We too need a long period of maturation, an entire lifetime, in order to plumb the depths of Christ’s love, to let him abide in us and for us to abide in him. Without our knowing how, the Spirit makes Christ dwell in our hearts. And it is through prayer, by listening to the word, in sharing with others, by putting into practice what we have understood, that the inner being is strengthened.
“Letting Christ descend into the depths of our being … He will penetrate the regions of the mind and the heart, he will reach our flesh unto our innermost being, so that we too will one day experience the depths of mercy.” [The Sources of Taizé (2000) p. 134]

Holy Spirit,
May we receive in our hearts the presence of Christ,
and cherish it as a secret of love.
Nourish our prayer,
enlighten our reading of Scripture,
act through us,
so that the fruits of your gifts can patiently grow in us.

Questions
• The Bible tells us very little about Jesus’ youth and early adulthood, when he seems to have lived an ordinary life in Nazareth. How are you conscious of God’s presence with you in the everyday things of life?
• In your church or group of churches how do you nurture your children and young people to walk with God in their everyday lives, and how could you do this better?
• What does the churches having a ‘presence’ together in the community look like in your area?

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12 December: What are you Hearing?

Advent is a time of watching and waiting: Sister Johanna invites us to listen to the Word of God and accept the challenges it confronts us with.

My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice (Lk 8:21).

Do I want to be part of Jesus’ family, his mother and brother and sister? Oh, yes. Absolutely. Then, the question to ask myself, and with some rigour, is: What are you hearing? Hearing the Word of God and putting it into practice is the prerequisite for being a mother and brother of Jesus. Well, am I hearing the word of God? Really?

What we hope to hear often affects what we are able to hear. Identifying my hopes tells me what I will be listening for. Ok. Be honest. Don’t I hope (at least with a tiny part of myself) to hear someone who teaches that the ‘wide way’ is the true way? That if something ‘sincerely’ seems good to me then it is good in itself (‘sincerity’ being the only test for ethical uprightness)? That good and evil are empty constructs, man-made, politically or sociologically engineered to foster a culture of guilt and unhealthy self-criticism? Or, if I can honestly say that I have no such hopes, isn’t it still true that I wish I could hear someone telling me that I am doing just fine, and don’t need to work too hard to get on the right track?

Hearing the Word of God demands something different of me. Such hearing requires some preparation, some awareness of the human tendency to evade the truth, to want things to be easy. To hear the Word of God means putting the false self elsewhere – the self that is focused on its outward appearance and that wants to impress others and be important. Those desires need to be seen for what they are: vain, addictive, and ultimately unfulfilling. The words these desires speak to our mind are not God’s Word, and they get in the way of hearing it.

I am a Benedictine nun, and strive to live by the teaching of the Rule of St Benedict, a profound spiritual document written in the sixth century for people searching for God in every century. Its very first word is the command to listen. How to listen better, more deeply, more honestly, without self-seeking: this is the crucial question.

The second half of the statement from the gospel of Luke is “…and put it into practice.” I suppose it is possible to listen and then carry on as before, without changing anything or correcting anything – possible, but I don’t know how. If one is really listening rightly, deeply, unselfishly, if one is really hungry for the Word of God, then the Word does what food does: it makes action possible, it strengthens us for the right kind action. The two – the hearing and the acting – are completed as one thing. The Word, if truly heard, results in a desire and ability to put it into practice. But truly hearing the Word is required first. What are you hearing?

Sister Johanna Caton

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10 December, Relics XXIX: Our Lady of Loreto

I wonder about this feast. This site is more than respectful of relics but angels carrying a house from Palestine to Italy? That does not move me to prayer.

Even, dare I say it, the chapel of the Portiuncula, where Saint Francis died, seemed lost in the basilica erected over and around it, and did not call me to my knees. Maybe I’d never make a Franciscan, and this site is more than respectful of Franciscans. And of Saint Francis.

It’s not just saints’ places that we value, and not just Christians that troop around palaces, or Gilbert White’s rectory, or the home of a teenaged Beatle to be, or even Dylan Thomas’s writing place overlooking the Estuary in Laugharne. We may not touch the exhibits or sit on the chair but we breathe in the air, sort of.

I doubt the authenticity of the site at the top of this blog, the reputed house of the Visitation, where Elizabeth welcomed Mary, who had come to be a home-help for her pregnant cousin. But the shrine is a reminder that this story is about two flesh and blood women and their flesh and blood sons. The statues show them about to burst into song and dance, which they surely did: Luke 39-56 is almost all poetry and song.

So today, let’s celebrate two real women who lived in real houses and raised real families. And may we heed Elizabeth’s son’s call to prepare the way for Mary’s son, however strange a Christmas we might be expecting.

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21 November: Peaceful tourists

After an arduous journey Doctor Johnson has arrived at Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. He is made welcome by Lady Macleod, and writes:

Here therefore we settled, and did not spoil the present hour with thoughts of departure.

Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, Samuel Johnson

Johnson, of course, was not a travelling missionary, but a tourist. However, I’m reminded of Jesus’ word to the 72 disciples as he sent them out:

Into whatsoever house you enter, first say: Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you. And in the same house, remain, eating and drinking such things as they have: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Remove not from house to house.

Luke 10:7-9

And there is plenty to be said for being at peace in our surroundings. May we be welcoming, and may we be the sort of tourist or visitor who does not have hosts thinking longingly of our departure.

Photograph of Dunvegan Castle: Pam Brophy, via Wikipedia

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