Reflection on the 2nd Sunday in Lent: 17th March 2019

Listen

The transfiguration of Jesus must have been a glorious experience for Peter, James and John. They wanted to stay there, as we all do when we have a peak experience. But they had to descend into the valley, to live their lives, to follow Jesus. It doesn’t seem that we grow in depth if we only have peak experiences, if we stay on the mountain top. Things have trouble growing on mountaintops. Beyond the tree line almost nothing will grow because it is too cold and there is a lack of moisture. Living things grow best in the valley: they can develop roots; they are grounded. While they may lack the excitement of mountain peaks, valleys tend to be growing places. But it is in the valley that we really acquire depth, rootedness, strength and flexibility. That is where we are called to mature emotionally and spiritually. Of course, we need both; we can’t always live in the valley.

Often our reading of this story focuses on what is seen but do we sometimes emphasise the light of transfiguration to the exclusion of the voice of transfiguration? We are looking but are we listening? A voice came from the cloud and said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” ‘Listen’ is the only thing the disciples are told throughout this whole event. Listening is central to transfiguration. Yet Luke records no words or teaching from Jesus during this event. Jesus is silent. So it must be about more than words, instructions, and lessons. True listening is an interior quality, a way of being. It is more about the heart than the ears. And it is more about silence than words. Ultimately, listening is about presence.

Listening creates an opening through which the transfigured Christ enters and transforms us. Listening asks of us intention, attention, and letting go of the things that deafen us. Anything that destroys or limits presence is a form of deafness. We are being told to be present, to be open, to be receptive to the one who is always present to us, whether we are on the mountaintop or in the valley or covered by the cloud of unknowing.

Queen of Apostles website; Michael Marsh

Reflection on the 1st Sunday in Lent: 10th March 2019

Temptation is more than just saying ‘No’

Today’s Gospel story follows immediately on from Jesus’ baptism. Each of the three temptations touches on Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, which had been revealed during his baptism: ‘This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’ “Notice that each of the three temptations is preceded by the same verse: ‘If you are the Son of God…’ The first way the evil one tempts any of us is to make us doubt our divine identity. Once we think we are no good, we are lost.” (R.Rohr) We can so easily find our identity in what we do, in what we have, in what other people think of us, instead of in who we are, which can so easily be overlooked or forgotten in our crazy, hectic, tightly scheduled, work-oriented lives.

The type of temptations we experience and the circumstances by which they come are unique to each one of us because they reveal what’s inside us, what fills us. That’s why just saying no is an overly simplistic understanding of this gospel and an inadequate response to temptation. Temptation is less about a choice and more about our identity and direction in life. Who am I? Where is my life headed? We answer those questions every time we face and respond to our temptations. We face ourselves and learn the ways in which our life has become disconnected from the original beauty of our creation and the transfiguring presence of God. Temptation offers us something to be discovered and the opportunity to recover ourselves. Regardless of what we see there within us, it’s just information, a diagnosis. It’s not a final judgment, a conclusion, or our grade on God’s final exam! We don’t pass or fail our temptations. We learn the truth about how we see ourselves. We learn the truth about the direction of our life and who we are becoming. This learning is neither easy nor pain free but it is the necessary learning which leads us to change our hearts (repent).

Now is the time to spend time in the ‘desert’ of silence where the inner life thrives. We need to create a time and a space to allow God to reshape and redirect our life, to return us to the truth of who we are, daughters and sons of God, beloved children, with whom He is well pleased. The angels of God will hold on to us when we can’t hold on to ourselves.                                                                         

Various sources

Reflection for the start of Lent: 6th March 2019

We begin Lent by blessing and being blessed by the ashes of the palms used in last year’s Palm Sunday celebration.  Do we see this as a ‘doom and gloom’ experience, or do we come filled with hope, knowing what God can do with dust?

Blessing the Dust

Hubble image of deep space looking back to the formation of the early galaxies.

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

Jan Richardson

Reflection on the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 3rd March 2019

Put the oxygen mask on yourself first

We are familiar with the pre-flight instructions, “…make sure to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before attempting to help someone else put on theirs.” The same is true spiritually; we must breathe deeply of God’s Spirit ourselves before attempting to help others. When we attempt to teach or lead others, and we haven’t opened ourselves to God’s Spirit within us, we’re putting on a front, a mask, a costume. The word hypocrite is from the Greek word meaning play-actor.

In his letter to the Galatians, St Paul describes the working of the Spirit of God as the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Joyce Rupp says that she used to think of these fruits as ‘things’ given to us, something in a gift box. Then she began to think of them as energies, dynamic sources of growth already within in us. We can choose whether or not to act upon these energies, whether or not to allow them to become effective in us.”

When we are asked to take the risk of reaching out to another, to offer forgiveness to the heart that rejects us…..

Spirit of God, fill us with the energy of your love.

When we walk with sadness …..

Spirit of God, stir the energy of your joy within us.

When anxiety and concern take over our spirit…..

Spirit of God, deepen in us the energy of your peace.

On those days when our anger flares because our agendas aren’t met…..

Spirit of God, draw us towards the energy of your patience.

When we stop giving people our acceptance and understanding…..

Spirit of God,awaken in us the energy of your kindness

As we struggle to believe in our own gifts and blessings…..

Spirit of God, strengthen in us the energy of your goodness.

As we struggle amid the many changes of growth…..

Spirit of God, move us with the energy of your faithfulness.

When harshness or abruptness dominates our moods…..

Spirit of God, bless us with the energy of your gentleness.

During those experiences of growth when we are tempted to doubt all the ways we have known you…..

Spirit of God, renew in us the energy of awareness of our true self in you.

Spirit of God, you call us to open our minds and our hearts to receive your energising, transforming radiance so that we will follow your loving movement within our lives. We trust in your powerful presence within us.

Joyce Rupp

Reflection on the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 24th Feb 2019

Be compassionate

Compassionate action means working with ourselves as much as working with others. In order to feel compassion for other people, we have to feel compassion for ourselves and as we learn to have compassion for ourselves, the circle of compassion for others becomes wider. In choosing to be compassionate, we are yielding to the compassionate nature of God flowing through us. Compassion is the love that recognises and goes forth to identify with the preciousness of all that is lost and broken within ourselves and others. To care about people who are fearful, angry, jealous, overpowered by addictions of all kinds, arrogant, proud, miserly, selfish, mean, you name it—to have compassion and to care for these people means not to run from the pain of finding these things in ourselves. It means acknowledging our need for healing if we are to heal others.

Pema Chodron. James Finlay

May you desire to be healed.
May what is wounded in your life be restored to good health.
May you be receptive to the ways in which healing needs to happen.
May you take good care of yourself.
May you extend compassion to all that hurts within your body, mind, and spirit.
May you be patient with the time it takes to heal.
May you be aware of the wonders of your body, mind, and spirit and their ability in returning you to good health.
May you be open to receive from those who extend kindness, care, and compassion to you.
May you rest peacefully under the sheltering wings of divine love, trusting in this gracious presence.
May you find little moments of beauty and joy to sustain you.
May you keep hope in your heart.

Joyce Rupp

Reflection on the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 17th Feb 2019

The ‘How-to-Be’ Attitudes

The temptation is to think that the beatitudes are rules or conditions for being blessed or receiving our heavenly reward. They are not that at all. They are not about building up, accomplishing, or acquiring. They are about letting go, surrendering, living with a vulnerable and open heart. That does not mean we run away, back down, or isolate ourselves from the realities of our life and world. It means we engage them in a different way, Jesus’ way. The beatitudes teach us to trust God more than the external circumstances of our lives. They invite dependence on God rather than self-reliance.

In the trauma and setbacks of life we discover that we cannot do life by ourselves. As we admit our need of God we find purity of heart. The arrogance of self-sufficiency gives way to meekness. We realise that all that we are and have is from God and we begin to know ourselves as poor in spirit. Our own misfortunes awaken and connect us to the pain of the world for which we cannot help but mourn. We think less about ourselves and become merciful to others. We have nowhere else to go and so we turn our gaze back to God. The longer we gaze at God the more we hunger and thirst for righteousness, for God’s life, and we become peacemakers reconciling ourselves to God and our neighbour. This is the life for which Christ’s disciples are willing to be persecuted, a life of righteousness, the life for which Christ died and rose again.

The beatitudes are not so much about what we do (our actions), but how we do, (our being). They are less about actions and more about relationships. To live the beatitudes is to live a life of reckless, exuberant, self-abandonment to God and our neighbour. That’s called love. The only reason we can do that is because we know and trust ourselves to have already been blessed by God. We live the beatitudes as a response to God blessing us. That is the way of Christ. That is not only the way forward through this life, it is the way to life. If we are to follow Christ it must become our way.

Michael Marsh

As always, thoughtfully selected for us by Cathy York who has prepared all our Sunday reflections despite the impression the website has given by attributing them to John, who only posts them. This problem is now solved and we have a way of attributing them correctly.

Reflection on the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 10th Feb 2019

Put Out Into Deep Waters

Jesus called Peter, James and John to something completely different to what they knew. When he said, ‘Put out into the deep’, Jesus was saying, ‘I am taking you into unknown territory, into something you are not familiar with; but I will bring great things out of this if you trust me.’ The Lord is also saying something similar to us. Life is a constant ‘launching out’, being taken out of comfort zones and experiencing a loss of control. The Lord is saying to us not to be afraid of ‘deep waters’, of the unknown, of what can be very frightening. He is with us. Not only that, but if we trust him, He can bring great good out of it. To enable us to grow, God often has to lead us to places and situations that we would rather avoid.

The unseen boundary between two worlds is known as threshold. This symbolic line marks the division between who we are now and who we will become. The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word limens, meaning “threshold.” A liminal space, the place of transition, waiting, and not knowing is a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run, you will do anything to flee from this terrible cloud of unknowing.

These thresholds of waiting and not knowing our “next” are everywhere in life and they are inevitable. Each ushers in a new chapter of life, and each holds varying degrees of disruption. Whether it is graduation, a new job and career, being overwhelmed by debt, new homes, new cities, marriage, divorce, sickness, life stages, changing friendships – all will disorient us for a while, regardless of our awareness during the transition. Liminality requires acceptance of mystery and a heart full of trust. The challenge is to give ourselves fully to the process of change while being unsure and unclear of how this liminal time will affect our future.

During these times of mystery our prayer must be a simple request: that we be reminded that we have not been abandoned; that we hear the sometimes tiny voice within that whispers wordlessly, “You are always loved. You are never alone.”

Various sources

Reflection on the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 3rd Feb 2019

Our picture of God

A young girl was bent purposefully over her copybook, her pencil poised in a clear declaration of intent. When her mother asked what she was doing, she said she was drawing a picture. ”Of what?” the mother asked. “Of God,” was the answer. “But you can’t draw a picture of God,” her mother declared. “No one knows what God looks like.” “Well they will, when I have finished drawing,” replied the girl, nodding her head.

In a sense we could say that Jesus drew for us a picture of what God is like. The Jews in the synagogue were angry when Jesus reminded them of God’s mercy towards a Gentile widow and the Gentile leper Naaman. Jesus made it clear that God is the God of all peoples; he belongs to all classes; no one is excluded from his love; he is not subject to our caprice or prejudice. Eckhart Tolle wrote of how prejudice can degrade another human person: “Prejudice of any kind implies that you are identified only with the thinking mind. It means you don’t see the other human being anymore, but only your own concept of that human being. To reduce the aliveness of another human being to a concept is already a form of violence.” In effect, Jesus declared that God has no favourites, that there are no privilege cardholders to receiving love and compassion, that all are equal shareholders of God’s love no matter who we are, where we come from and whatever our socio-economic status. We don’t earn divine favour by the titles we hold, but receive it freely from the unconditional love of God for us.

The challenge for us is to draw, in our own lives, a picture of God that is in line with what Jesus gave us. When we have finished drawing our picture, will God recognises himself in it?

Association of Catholic Priests

Thoughtfully selected for us by Cathy York.

Reflection on the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: 27th Jan 2019

Good News

Today’s gospel reading is often described as Jesus’ inaugural address, his mission statement. He is saying very clearly what he is going to stand for and it is summarised so simply. He ends the quote from Isaiah with the proclamation of a year of favour from the Lord. Jesus omits the words which follow in Isaiah 61:2 : “and the day of our God’s vengeance”. Jesus does not quote these words because he has not come to proclaim judgment. His message is different. It’s not a message of retribution or retributive justice. This is a classic text for what we call restorative justice. God’s justice is fulfilled by lovingly and patiently remaking us into His image and likeness. Jesus announced that he has come to replace the old Jewish love of law with a new law of love.

What we hear depends greatly on what we bring to our listening. Poverty might be about money or material needs such as food, clothing, or housing. It might also be poverty of love, hope, or meaning. The captive might be a prisoner, an addicted person, or one overcome by anger and resentment. Blindness is not only physical but can also be emotional or spiritual. Oppression happens in hundreds of ways from physical or emotional violence, to racism, to fear, to profound sorrow. Today Jesus brings us good news of healing and freedom. With one foot in the past and one in the future we straddle and completely miss the present. We become captive to what was, oppressed by what might be, and blind to what is. To the extent we are unable to hear Jesus’ words we are either stuck in the past or living in a future we do not yet have.

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Hearing is about more than sound. It is about our presence, openness, and receptivity. We must be willing to take into ourselves the reality and truth of what is spoken. We must also be willing to take into ourselves the life and presence of the one who is speaking. Jesus is not just speaking words. He is speaking new life. In his speaking and our hearing his life and our life become one life. And it is happening today.

Various sources

Once again we are favoured by Cathy York who writes these thoughtful reflections for us. Thanks Cathy.

Reflection on the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: 20th Jan 2019

Jesus’ First Sign

The literal interpretation of Scripture is the least helpful. The symbolic level is the level filled with meaning that changes our lives. John’s writing is full of symbolic language. We would miss much if we were to see here only a ‘miracle’ by which Jesus helps a young bridegroom who finds himself in an embarrassing position on his wedding day. We don’t know if the events in today’s Gospel really happened in this way, but there are a lot of give-aways that there is a deeper message here.

One of these is the focus on the six stone jars that were used for purification rites, for ceremonial washing. Much of the history of religion is about ceremonial washing where the emphasis is on purification because we are not perfect enough. The jars in today’s Gospel are empty. Jesus filled the jars to the brim with wine. This is not just a miracle story. It is a transformational story about what Jesus is bringing about in the history of religion. We thought that religion was about a list of requirements which we have to fulfil so that God will love us.

As in so many Scripture passages, matrimonial imagery is used in today’s Gospel to tell us that what God wants with humanity is a love affair, a marriage. We find it difficult to accept that God would want such an intimate relationship with us, so we keep going back to the six empty jars of purifying water, to fulfilling the law. But laws don’t teach us how to love. In today’s Gospel, Jesus changes the focus of religion from a religion of legalism to a religion of love, filled to the brim with joy and celebration. And this is his ‘first sign’.

Richard Rohr and Living Space website. Adapted