Tag Archives: Saint Paul

September 16. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, XIV: True Religion is not Nostalgia.

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Why did Christ have to die, if God afterwards resurrected him? In asking this question the early communities had not yet realised the actual saving character of the death of Jesus, that it is an integral and necessary part of salvation, and not just an unfortunate event. There were many attempts to answer this question. All interpretations were unanimous in saying that Jesus did not die because of his own sins or guilt.

The fact of Christ’s death was determined by hatred and ill-will. But Jesus did not allow himself to be determined by the priorities of others: they hated him, he did not hate them in return. He died alone so that no one else need ever do that again: whenever isolation and injustice is thrust upon people, they are in a place already visited by God, one which is part of God’s experience. If Jesus is to set us free from whatever binds us, he must set us free from death. As he redeemed life by living, so he redeemed death by dying. He died in the manner in which we must die. He chose neither the time nor the circumstances of his death.

Because of the universal rejection of Jesus and the dismissing of the call to become Kingdom, which is meant to have cosmic dimensions, it could only now be realised in a single person, Jesus of Nazareth. This means that a path was opened up for the church, this is when the church became necessary, since the offer brought by Jesus must persist for all time and must be made in the same way, through a quality of presence which matches that of Jesus and, little by little, to universalise the Kingdom. As well as furthering the call of Christ, the church is obliged to make the values of Jesus present wherever the church is present: mission and evangelisation are entirely about experiencing life as abundant.

Above all the Resurrection ensures that true religion is not nostalgia. It celebrates a present emerging from a past enroute to a wonderful future; a future able to be anticipated in many ways in the present. The Resurrection represents the total realisation of human potential: capable, through grace, of intimacy within God.

What will Resurrection mean? Paul answers: the dead will rise up, imperishable, glorious and powerful, in a human reality filled full with the Spirit of God. The human body, as it is now, cannot inherit the Kingdom. It must be changed; “to have what must die taken up into life“. When Paul speaks of “body” he does not mean a corpse, or a physical-chemical combination of cells, he is speaking of the consciousness of human matter, or the spirit manifesting and realising itself within the world. The Resurrection transforms what we mean by our corporal-spiritual “I” into the image of Christ.

Already, in its terrestrial situation the human being-body is a giving and a receiving of giving. It is the body that allows us to be present one to another. But as well as enabling communication it also gets in the way of it. We cannot be in two places at once, and communication uses codes that can often be ambiguous and misleading. All such impediments disappear in the Resurrection, when there will be total communication with persons and things; the human being, now a spiritual body will have a cosmic presence. The object of Resurrection is the human being as body, totally transfigured open to universal communion and communication.

By faith and hope, commitment to Jesus Christ, welcoming and celebrating the sacraments, the seed of Resurrection [the real presence of Christ] is present within the human body, and it is not lost in death: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life“. To be clothed with Christ is to be made new. Being in Christ is the start of Resurrected living, and death is a form of being in Christ. Just as death is a passage to eternity where there is no time, so too complete communication will be realised, with the setting free of all that is fully human. The corpse will stay behind, our true body – characterised by “I” [something much more than physical-chemical matter] will participate in eternal life:

…we do not know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away. But we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth… The expectation of a new earth must not weaken but stimulate our concern for developing this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age… On this earth that Kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower – Gaudium et Spes 39

AMcC  austin

Thank you Austin, I’ve enjoyed revisiting these while preparing them for publication. I shall return to Part II of Jesus Beyond Dogma in a couple of months’ time.

Maurice.

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

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Jesus saves each one from Hell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMcC

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19 May: The Great Lie.

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Reading for Sext

All baptised in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

(Galatians 3: 27-28)

I loved books as child and read my way through the whole of the children’s library in my local village. As the day of my adult membership came nearer I marked in my mind the books on the adult shelves I was going to read first. I had a mind that loved all things supernatural and as a child read about faeries and goblins and witches; traditional tales of Hans Christian Anderson that still make me weep and sci fi. Oooh I love sci-fi but also classics like Jane Eyre, the Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner.

One book has stayed in my conscience and I recollected it recently after MOAB was dropped by the US in Afghanistan. It was a sci fi story and I cannot remember author or title – not a well-known one, I think – about an Earthman who was called to investigate a growing darkness spreading across the galaxy like a dark finger. All planets in contact with this darkness went utterly mad. He witnessed the madness but could not fathom its cause. It was utterly destructive. In frustration, he went to the Central Planets and awaited the inevitable doom of the people whom he had come to love and respect. He asked them to steel themselves and prepare for the worst, but they ignored him and carried on joyfully and peacefully with their lives, as they had always done. He was tearing his hair out as the darkness consumed one planet after another in the solar system, getting ever nearer this special place. The darkness enveloped the planet, yet nothing happened. No madness, no wars, no mental breakdowns. All went on as before.

Puzzled, he went to talk to the beings who had commissioned his service in the first place and realised what had happened. The inhabitants of the planet immune to the darkness were uninfluenced by the one thing that had destroyed all the other planets. They paid no attention to lies. The darkness was The Great Lie.

Christ calls Satan the Father of All Lies and perhaps the humble sci fi writer from the 1950’s used this as inspiration to suggest to us, in the form of a simple story, to pay no attention whatsoever to what is not truth. To do so means we need to clothe ourselves in Christ, so we may discern truth from lies.

In this era of fake news, tragedy and frightening weapons, maybe we can take heart from these simple, joyful beings who pay no attention to anything that is not of Christ. Oh, yes, we have them living among us – Franciscans! May the force be with you.

CW.

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17 May: The Renewing Grace of Stargazing.

 

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The Beehive Nebula

Reading for None:

Let your spirits be renewed so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:23-24)

Renewal is a central truth in our fellowship with Christ. Daily we have the opportunity for renewal. In the text above the word ’Let’ is the first. We can choose to be renewed or not. How can we do this? How do we know we have been renewed?

When I am weary, I desire an early night. Before I venture upstairs I am in the habit of going into my garden to see if there is a clear night sky with a good sprinkling of stars and a few planets to gaze upon. If there are, I will get out my Makutsov telescope with the battered azimuth cog that makes it judder and begin my astronomical observations. What joy and happiness I feel at such times. I see my old friends, Jupiter and four of his moons: Callisto, Ganymede, Europa and Io; then there is bright Arcturus; the baleful red giant Betelgeuse and if the atmosphere is clear I can see the nebula in Orion’s sword. I pay especial attention to the Seven Sisters and once I have tracked down my other familiar friends I start looking in earnest for something I have not found before.

Most recently, I discerned the Beehive Nebula, so named because it looks like a hive of busy bees.

It is also called the Manger, as, with some imagination, it does seem like two donkeys munching from a manger. Once you know where to look it is easier to find the next time. It took me months to find the Andromeda galaxy. She had been hidden by an overgrown apple tree but I found her eventually. A blurry smudge in the blackness. So distant, yet now present in my humble back garden. What is far is so, so near!

My joy is made complete when looking at the stars in the sky. It has been a lifelong interest but only recently have I been able to indulge in a good telescope. After stargazing I am renewed, refreshed, not tired and filled with a lightness both spiritually and physically. The universe visits my humble garden, impinges on my consciousness and refreshes my soul. I am renewed with love for all creation.

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15 April, Vigil of Easter : O Living Water!

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Holy Name Church, Manchester

Water is everywhere at the Easter Vigil, from Creation (Genesis 1) to the Exodus (Chapter 14) and the rain making the land fertile in Isaiah (35:1-11) to Paul’s ‘When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death … so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life. (Romans 6:3-11)

The water is blessed by immersing the Paschal Candle in it, as we pray that all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism may rise to new life with him. New Christians are baptised; we are all sprinkled with holy water.

The Church is serious about death, the church is serious about the Resurrection. As you enter the Holy Name church in Manchester you cannot avoid their magnificent holy water fonts: this particular church is very serious about the death of baptism.

If we are to be raised from the dead, then despite all our trials and troubles, everything is basically all right. All will be well, all manner of things will be well. If you cannot quite believe in Easter and everlasting life, ask yourself, if this story were indeed true, what difference would it make to me today? How would it change my life? Then try starting that change in behaviour, and see if it makes sense.

WT

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25 March:The Annunciation.

We are told (Luke 1.29) that, at the Annunciation, Mary ‘was troubled at his (the angel’s) saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be.’ The troubles did not end there, as Simeon foretold: (Luke 2:35) ‘And thy own soul a sword shall pierce.’

I would like to take a sideways look at this story with a passage from Father Andrew SDC, writing to a woman recently bereaved in World War II.

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable,’ (1 Corinthians 15:19) because, indeed, as S. Paul knew so well from his own experiences, our Christian hope brings us all sorts of pains which we only have because of it; I mean the pain that comes from the failure to live up to it, and the pain of sacrifices made because of it, and also as it deepens and enriches our relationships and makes our friendships much more deep and sacred, so our partings are made more poignant as each beloved one is taken from us. But it is not in this life only that we have hope in Christ, and so we can smile through our tears and be sure that our dear ones are with Christ, and nearer to him are not farther from us.

Life and Letters of Fr Andrew, p 162.

How much pain Mary took on trust when she agreed to the angel’s request!

 

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Wednesday 8 March, Ex Corde Lecture: Saint John in Bonaventure’s thought.

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Ex Corde Lectures

Johannine Dimensions of ‘The Word of the Cross’ in Bonaventure’s Thought.

Wednesday 8 March, 7.00 p.m. to 9.30 p.m.

at the Franciscan International Study Centre, Giles Lane, Canterbury,      CT2 7NA.

 

The famous passage from 1 Corinthians 1:18 – ‘For the Word of the Cross is to those who are perishing, foolishness but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’ – speaks eloquently of the salvific nature of Christ’s death in the thought of Saint Paul. The same is true for the great Franciscan mystic, Saint Bonaventure, who links that action of the second Person of the Trinity to the personalised experience of Francis’s stigmata and a perception of a Cross that ‘illuminates’ and is the source and summit of Christian contemplation. In this Ex Corde lecture, Father Tom Herbst OFM will relate Bonaventure’s treatment of the Pauline theme of the ‘Word of the Cross’ to his exegesis of the Gospel of John.

 

Father Thomas J. Herbst received a BA in History at the University of California at Santa Barbara, an M.Div. from the Franciscan School of Theology?Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He obtained a D. Phil. in Theology from the University of Oxford in 2001.

All are welcome. An opportunity to ask questions will follow the lecture. We ask for a small donation to cover costs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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11 February: Our Lady of Lourdes

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‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love…’ 1 Corinthians. 13:13

St. Paul pointed out the three enduring virtues in Christian life.  Mary is full of these virtues.

Mary is a model of faith.  When the angel appeared and gave her the news of God’s plan for her, she accepted without knowing what would happen in the future.

She is a model of hope.  Mary knew that Jesus came down from heaven.  When he died on the Cross she stayed beside him and hoped until the end.  Even after His death, she continued to hope in God’s promises, which were fulfilled when he rose again.

Mary is the model of charity.  It was at the foot of the Cross that Jesus instructed John, his beloved disciple, to take care of his mother Mary as his own mother.  Mary followed him and the other apostles to live their common life: sharing things, praying, fasting, praising God.  So, she is found with them at Pentecost.  She did not give up her vocation after Jesus went back to heaven.  She went on loving as a mother.

As Mary is full of these three enduring Christian values, so she is a model for all Christians.

Mary full of grace, pray for us.

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27 December: Big is Small.

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The cross shines into the stable in Blake’s Nativity

There is something ridiculous from a human point of view about the whole Christian story. It’s not as though we need Richard Dawkins to point that out to us. Saint Paul got there first and what he says about Christ crucified applies equally to Christ new-born:

We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness: But unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1Corinthians 1:23-25

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Over at the Vatican Observatory website, Fr James Kurzynski has been grappling with new research that suggests there are two trillion galaxies – galaxies, not stars – in the Universe. He concludes with these words:

According to the definition of the Sacred Name, God IS, God’s understanding of creation is not limited to the musing of the human person. Therefore, it very well might be that to God every microorganism is a universe and every universe is a microorganism. The God who Is, the God who is Being, can at the same time be present to the grandeur of the totality of all creation, both known and unknown, seen and unseen, while at the same time be present to the smallest singularity in which the potential of a two trillion galaxy universe resides. In short, God transcends our limited language of small and big, helping us understand that the God who brought all things into existence is also aware of the smallest of things in existence, even, to quote Scripture, the hairs on our head and the sparrows of the sky.

Reflection: How do you perceive your place in God’s creation? Does it fill you with awe and wonder or do you feel a bit deflated, feeling small and insignificant? In [this] season, let us remember that we believe in a God who both brought into existence an unthinkably big creation, but also entered into our smallness in the womb of Mary. And may we open our hearts to God [at] Christmas and allow God’s infinite love to enliven our soul through the intimacy of Christ’s love for us and the stirrings of the Holy Spirit.

Do find time over the next few days to read Fr Kurzynski’s essay in full HERE.

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