Reflection on 33rd Sunday: 17th November 2019

A Temple Destroyed

We may not like it, we may deny it, we may resist it, but the reality is that things are changing: our world, the church, our lives. Sometimes changes are welcome. But there are days when change brings loss or the fear of loss. We could each tell stories about those days. They are stories about the death of a loved one, the diagnosis, a divorce, the business that failed, the job that was lost. These are the days when the temples of our life and world fall. They are stories of dreams and hopes that never came true. We all have temples. Some have been given to us, others we have built for ourselves. Sometimes our temples are people, places, values and beliefs, institutions, dreams. Regardless, they are the things that we think structure and order our lives, give meaning and identity, provide security and stability. At least we think they do, until they fall.

Change has a way of pushing us into the future, looking for signs. What will happen now? What do I do? How do I get through this? If we are not careful we will soon be living in a future we do not yet have. We will be living in a future created in our heads. When Jesus describes things that will happen he is not asking us to speculate about the future. He invites us to be still, to be quiet and not to be led astray. He tells us not to allow our lives to be controlled or determined by fear, not to listen to the many voices that would cause us to run and go after them. Endure he says. Be faithful, steadfast, persevere here and now. Jesus is calling us to be present and faithful in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. If we cannot find God here, in our present circumstances, even in the midst of our temple ruins, we won’t find him anywhere.

We can all tell the story of the day our temple was destroyed. Too often, however, we believe and live as if that is the end of the story. It will be if we run away, scapegoat, respond with anger, look for quick fixes or try to put it back together like it used to be. But it can be the beginning of a new story, a greater story of how we discovered God with us in the temple ruins It is the ongoing story of God, the source of all being, recreating life out of loss and ruin.

Adapted: Michael Marsh

Reflection on 32nd Sunday: 10 November 2019

Living a resurrected life

In today’s gospel reading we have a familiar scene of Jesus being asked a question by a group or individual with their own opinion about the answer to that question. The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection and the problem they presented to Jesus was based on a tradition, known as levirate law, by which a man was expected to marry the childless widow of his brother. This was so that the dead man’s name would be carried on to the next generation. (It was presumed and expected, of course, that a son would be produced.) The Sadducees felt that, without belief in life after death, there is no problem. The dead simply disappear into oblivion. But, for those who did believe in the resurrection of the dead, the Sadducees felt their hypothetical problem created an insoluble solution. As in similar ‘trick question’ situations, Jesus leads his listeners to a growth in consciousness; he invites them to ‘die’ to religious convictions which prevent them from being fully alive. He explains that life after death is a completely different plane of existence. In Christ we enter into a new relationship with God and with all other people. This relationship transcends blood and marriage and our concept of time. ( “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”) And we can live that resurrected life here and now.

Death is the doorway to resurrection. There are degrees of death before the physical death. We die when we hit the depths of suffering, beyond where we are in control, when everything falls apart, when nothing makes sense. We all have moments like that and if, like the seed planted in the ground, we allow that darkness to do its work, new life emerges. Until we go through that transformative experience at least once, we do not know about resurrection. We only believe in Resurrection if we have already experienced it beforehand. When our lives fall apart, we move to a deeper level, we find our deeper source which we call God and we start drawing life from that source. That’s resurrection. And we can live that resurrected life now.

Adapted: Richard Rohr meditations and Living Space website

Reflection on 31st Sunday: 3 November 2019

Touching Eternity

When we hear about someone whose words and lifestyle have influenced the lives of many people, we want to find out more about that person and if possible see him or her for ourselves. This might entail getting away from all the pressures that crowd in on us; risk being different; being willing to see things from a different perspective. And often that longed-for encounter – either in person or through that person’s writing or art – brings about a transformation in our lives. Zacchaeus’ story is our story and when he meets Jesus his experience of being loved unconditionally gives him an insight into who he really is in God and who everyone is in God.

“Tradition has passed on a beautiful story about Zacchaeus. It concerns his life after he had met Jesus in Jericho. Every morning, taking a bucket with him, he left his house and about an hour later he returned. Curious to know what he was doing, his wife followed one morning at a distance. She saw Zacchaeus go back to the tree from which Jesus had called him. He filled his bucket with water from a stream nearby, poured the water at the roots of the tree, spent some time in silence and then set off for home. When he returned home his wife asked what this ritual meant. ‘I go back to water the memories,’ he replied. Meeting Jesus was a very significant turning point in his life. It had changed him forever, giving a new direction and impetus to everything he undertook. It was so precious that he wanted to keep the memory alive and continue to be energised by the experience. He had learned the wisdom of watering memories that give inspiration and vision.” (Galway diocese website)

Our personal history of transformation is always linked to particular people, places and moments when least expected our inner being gazes in wonder at a new insight into Creation and to who we are and in whose image we are created. These moments are not limited to quiet times, nor restful environments. Time, place and situation may determine how long we can savour each moment, but each experience transforms us and expands our being. “Those special times of disclosure, of spiritual ‘peak moments’, of maybe fleeting and timeless experiences of ‘otherness’ are sacramental moments. They last forever because they touch eternity.”

Daniel O’ Leary

Reflection on 30th Sunday: 27th October 2019

The prayer of the humble

“God, I thank you that I am not like….” How would we end that sentence? Jesus’ parable sets a trap for us, a trap that stops us and brings us face to face with the reality of our life and our relationship with God. Who is the Pharisee trying to convince – God or himself? His prayer is directed not so much to God but to himself. He is not describing his faith or spiritual practices. He is keeping score. Anytime we begin keeping score of our own life or the life of another we need to know that something deeper is going on. Score keeping can be a way we either deny or try to overcome the feeling of emptiness, the loss of meaning, the brokenness of our life. We use it to deny what is dead within us, as a way of convincing ourselves that we are okay and our life is fine. The problem is that when we think we have everything – answers, doctrine, law, piety, reputation, stuff, success – when we think we have the requisite number of points, then we have no need of God. We have no need of resurrection and we choose to remain dead.

From the outside the Pharisee and tax collector seem very different. They are not, however, as different as we might think, for on the inside they are both dead; lost, broken, and in need of God. The difference is not their place in society. The real difference is that the tax collector knows he is dead and the Pharisee does not. The difference is that the Pharisee keeps score and the tax collector cries out, “God be merciful to me, a sinner! One who is missing you. One who is in need of you. One who is and has nothing apart from you.” This parable is the invitation to stop keeping score, to acknowledge and hold before God the dead places of our life: the failures and disappointments; the break ups and break downs; the emptiness, sufferings, addictions; the places of our life where we no longer dream dreams, have visions, or prophesy. That is what the tax collector did.

The tax collector went home justified, not because he was good or better than the Pharisee, but because he offered God a dead life not a scorecard. God did not withhold anything from the Pharisee. We don’t know what happened after he got home but we know this: a choice now lay before him, the choice to walk into his own resurrection. That does not tell us how the story ends. It tells us, rather, how it might begin.

Michael Marsh

Reflection on 29th Sunday: 20th October 2019

Prayer

Today’s first and third readings give the impression that God can be manipulated, that if we yell at Him long enough eventually He’ll give in. We can’t talk God into things. Prayer is not to change the mind of God. It’s to change our mind.

Perhaps today’s readings are telling us that what we say, feel and think is heard by God. There is a dialogue going on. The important thing from our side is to stay in the dialogue, to believe that what we say, feel and think matters to God. Do we really believe this? Prayer matters when we know we are in a dialogue, that we are being heard by a sympathetic, empathetic ear on ‘the other side’. When we wholeheartedly enter into that dialogue, we change. And the very thing we first of all prayed for is re-assembled, re-directed and if we persist in prayer our intention, motivation and understanding changes. We reframe the question and little by little we learn to trust that God who is infinitely good, infinitely loving, infinitely merciful is hearing our prayer, holding it in an infinitely loving way. With our finite minds we cannot understand so he has to lead us to the trust we read about in the final sentence of the gospel. Do we want to be one of those people who little by little are edged into a bigger frame, a bigger picture, a more in-depth understanding of what we are praying for.

What is clear in today’s gospel is that the people who pray well are those who keep praying, those who keep the channels open. When we keep the lines open, we will grow in awareness of God’s Spirit within us filling us with the energies of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, trust, faithfulness, gentleness, forgiveness, compassion, understanding and the deep healings that we all need. Prayer does not change God. Prayer changes us. This will always happen if we rest calmly in this utterly safe Presence, allowing the Divine Gaze to invade and heal our unconscious, the place where 95 percent of our motivations and reactions come from. All we can really do is return the gaze.

Richard Rohr: Homilies. Adapted
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Reflection on 28th Sunday: 13th October 2019

Thanksgiving

Anne Voskamp writes the following: As I reflected on Luke 17, I remembered my Sunday School teacher Mrs Morrison and could hear her voice asking, “Do you always remember to say thanks?” Yes, I think I know this one, so I skim through the passage. “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’” Wait. I trace back. Hadn’t Jesus completely healed him? Exactly like the other nine who were cured but hadn’t bothered to return to thank Him. So what does Jesus mean, “Your faith has made you well”? Some translations read, “Your faith has saved you.” Saved you? I dig deeper. It’s ‘sozo’ in Greek, the original language of the New Testament. Sozo means salvation, true wellness, complete wholeness. Jesus came that we might live life to the full. And when did the leper receive the saving to the full, whole life? When he returned and gave thanks. Our wellness, our wholeness is intimately related to the giving of thanks. Mrs Morrison hadn’t said that.

Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life. Thanksgiving –giving thanks in everything- always precedes the miracle.

In Luke 22:19 we read: “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them.” In the original language ‘he gave thanks’ reads ‘eucharisteo’. The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning ‘grace’. But it also holds the derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning ‘joy’. St Augustine says that without exception, all try their hardest to reach the same goal, joy. That has always been the goal of the fullest life – joy. And my life knew exactly how elusive that slippery three-letter word, joy, can be. But where can I seize this holy grail of joy? Is deep chara joy to be found only at the table of thanksgiving? Is it that simple?

As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible. Joy is always possible: whenever, meaning now; wherever, meaning here. The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here! Here, in this piercing ache of now, joy might be – unbelievably – possible! Is the height of my joy dependant on the depths of my thanks?

Ann Voskamp. One Thousand Gifts: A dare to live fully, right where you are

Reflection on 27th Sunday: 6th October 2019

Quality not quantity

Like ‘prayer’, ‘religion’ and so many other words, the word ‘faith’ means different things to different people. Our understanding of Biblical faith has been very limited. What set us on the wrong path was making ‘ideas’ or ‘doctrines’ the object of religious faith, instead of a person. Our faith is not a faith that dogmas or moral opinions are true, but a faith that Ultimate Reality/God/Jesus is accessible to us – and even on our side. Jesus was able to touch and heal people who trusted him as an emissary of God’s love, not people who assessed intellectual statements and decided whether they were true or false. Such faith does not usually change our heart or our lifestyle.

We often interpret faith in terms of quantity. The apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith. We think we should have more faith. Jesus is not talking about quantity but about quality, the quality of our perception towards the moment.

Faith is an opening of our heart space or our mind space. Initially and foundationally, this is all that faith is but its effects and implications are enormous. Faith is our small but necessary offering to any new change or encounter. Such an opening of the heart and mind is entirely necessary to help us make fresh starts or break through to new levels. We normally have to let go of the old and go through a stage of unknowing or confusion before we can move to another level of awareness or new capacity. People of great faith often suffer bouts of great doubt (which is really fear) at many levels because they continue to grow at new levels.

Faith is a quality of seeing that allows us to expand our vision, to see things in bigger circles, in bigger realms and to know that at the centre of it all is a good and gracious and benevolent God. With such faith we can do impossible and wonderful things.

Richard Rohr: The Naked Now; Daily Meditations; Homilies

Reflection on 26th Sunday: 29th September 2019

The Chasm Within

There are many questions that arise when we interpret parables literally, turning them into a story of historical fact. When we do that the questions are usually endless and unanswerable. Neither can we, however, treat parables as merely metaphor or symbolism that have no real life implications for how we live. So what about today’s parable? What is it saying to us and what is it not saying to us?

Image result for lazarus gulf rich

At some point in our lives we have probably all been both the rich man and Lazarus. We can all name times when life has been good, full, and easy. Likewise we can name times when it has simply left us destitute, broken, and in sorrow and suffering. I don’t think this parable is asking us to make judgments about who is the rich man and who is Lazarus. Instead, it is asking us to acknowledge and deal with the gates and chasms that separate us from each other. The gate and the chasm are the same thing. The chasm that separates Lazarus and the rich man in the next world is simply a manifestation of the gate that separated them in this world. The rich man carried it with him into the next world. It was a part of him. The gate is a condition of the human heart. The gate that becomes a chasm always exists within us before it exists between us.

That means we must each examine our own heart to find the gates that separate us from ourselves, our neighbours, our enemies, those we love, and ultimately God. What gates do we live with: fear, anger, greed, pride, prejudice, loneliness, sorrow, addiction, busyness, indifference, apathy, hurt, resentment, envy, cynicism. Gates destroy relationships. Every time we love our neighbour as ourselves, every time we love our enemies, every time we see and treat one another as created in the image and likeness of God, gates are opened and chasms are filled. It is something we must each live our way into. It’s a choice set before us every day. It can happen in our marriages and families, at work and school, on the corner of parking lots, and in our prayers for the world. It can happen in the most intimate of relationships, or with strangers, and even with our enemies. It is not easy work but it possible. Jesus demonstrated that in his life, death, and resurrection. Gates were opened and chasms were filled. Christ’s love, mercy, grace, and presence make it possible for us to open our gates and ensure they do not become chasms. He is the image of our opened gates and our filled chasms, the image of who we most truly are and who we are to become.

Michael Marsh

Reflection on 25th Sunday: 22nd September 2019

Wise Management

“Give me an accounting of your management.” It may not have been those exact words but at some time in our life, probably many times, an accounting has been demanded eg from our loved ones, HMRC, our boss, our examination of conscience. Giving an accounting can be an uncomfortable and even a fearful time. We review our words and actions wondering, “What have I done? What have I left undone? What will happen to me? What will I do?” No one likes to have to give an accounting. We’re pretty private about our books. Not only do we not want others to see the balance, sometimes we do not want to see the balance ourselves. We do not want to face and deal with that reality. But that’s what this accounting asks of us.

Today’s gospel calls us to account for our management of all that we are and all that we have. The demand for an accounting often sounds like someone is in trouble. That’s how today’s parable begins. The manager has been charged with squandering his master’s property. He is going to be fired. He will lose his job, income, reputation, and status. A part of him is dying. At some level he will lose his life as he now knows it. We would expect the manager to get what he deserves. But that’s not how the kingdom of God works and parables rarely give us what we expect. So we ought not to be too quick to come to a final or definitive interpretation of this parable. The parable offers ambiguity and tension, not a neat resolution and that feels a lot like real life. The accounting that should have been the manager’s ruin became the starting point for a new life, new relationships, and a new home. The accounting demanded of this manager was both an ending and a new beginning, a death and a resurrection.

What if accounting is not about finding wrongdoing but new life? What if it’s about grace rather than punishment? That certainly changes our usual understanding of an accounting but isn’t that what parables are supposed to do? They change the way we see and understand. If a parable makes sense we’ve probably missed the point. The accounting of our management isn’t about numbers, wrongdoing, or punishment but about helping us see and orient our lives in a new direction. It enables us to respond to Jesus’ invitation: “Make your home in me as I make mine in you.” (John 15:4)

Michael Marsh

Reflection on 24th Sunday: 15th September 2019

Make your home in me

The Younger Son

Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home, and must look far and wide to find one. Home is the centre of my being, where I can hear the voice that says, “You are my beloved.” I have heard that never-interrupted voice of love speaking from eternity and giving life and love wherever it is heard. When I hear that voice, I know that I am home with God and have nothing to fear. The younger son in me returns home in the very moment that I reclaim my sonship.

The Elder Son

The ‘homelessness’ of the elder son is more difficult to identify. After all he was physically at home and did all the right things. The more I reflect on the elder son in me, the more I realise how deeply rooted this form of homelessness really is and how hard it is to return home from there. Resentment and cold anger are not easily distinguished and dealt with rationally.
Both sons needed healing and forgiveness. Both needed to return home. Both needed the embrace of a forgiving father. All of us will someday have to deal with the elder son or the elder daughter in us. The question before us is simply: What can we do to make the return home possible? We must not only recognise that we are lost but must be prepared to be found and brought home. How? Although we are incapable of liberating ourselves from our frozen anger, we can allow ourselves to be found by God and be healed by his love through the concrete and daily practice of trust and gratitude. Trust is that deep inner conviction that the Father wants me home. Gratitude and resentment cannot co-exist since resentment blocks the perception and experience of life as gift.

The Father

Today’s gospel is a story that speaks about a love that always welcomes home and always wants to celebrate. Though I am both the younger son and the elder son, I am not to remain them, but to become the Father. Do I want to be like the Father? Do I want to be not just the one who is forgiven, but also the one who forgives; not just the one who is being welcomed home, but also the one who welcomes home; not just the one who receives compassion, but also the one who offers it as well? The return home to the Father is ultimately to become the compassionate Father.


Henri Nouwen: The Return of the Prodigal Son