Throughout the Gospel accounts, Jesus uses one particular phrase repeatedly: “the Kingdom of Heaven.” Many assume that the Kingdom of Heaven means the place you go when you die—if you’ve been “saved.” But the problem with this interpretation is that Jesus himself specifically contradicts it when he says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” (that is, here) and “at hand” (that is, now). You don’t die into it; you awaken into it. Others have equated the Kingdom of Heaven with an earthly utopia. Jesus strongly rejected this meaning. “My kingdom is not of this world”
Author Jim Marion’s suggests that the Kingdom of Heaven is really a metaphor for a state of consciousness; it is not a place you go to, but a place you come from. It is a whole new way of looking at the world, a transformed awareness that literally turns this world into a different place. The hallmark of this awareness is that it sees no separation—not between God and humans, not between humans and other humans. These are indeed Jesus’ two core teachings, underlying everything he says and does. To live in this kingdom is to follow him.
The “kingdom of God” and the “kingdom of heaven” are Jesus’ primary metaphors for the Eternal Now. He is trying to tell us that there is a way that we can live connected to the Real and to the Eternal in this world. That path is surrendering to the here-and-now, whatever it offers us. It may feel like nothing, like nowhere (now-here), and still it is where everything always happens to us. So be sure to be here now—and not somewhere else! If our minds or hearts are elsewhere, nothing really happens to us that matters or lasts. This consciousness will teach us how to actually experience our experiences, whether good, bad, or ugly, and how to let them transform us. Words by themselves divide and judge the moment; pure presence lets it be what it is, as it is. When we can be present in this way, we will know the Real Presence, we will live in the Kingdom.
John says, “I did not know him”. Of course, he knows Jesus, his cousin, while at the same time he does not know him. At first he did not know the real identity of Jesus. But eventually he can say: “I myself have seen that this is the Son of God.” John’s time spent in solitude and contemplation would have brought about the change in his way of knowing Jesus. Is this the message that today’s gospel holds for us?
‘Contemplation is any way one has of penetrating illusion and touching reality.’ (Parker Palmer) Contemplation is an entirely different way of knowing reality that has the power to move us beyond words, theories, doctrines, and dogmas so that we will come to know the very Source of everything that exists. Contemplative Prayer is gradually detaching us from the God we think we know to the God who actually is and whom we don’t know. The goal of contemplation is not success, only the continuing practice itself. Contemplation reveals more and more of the mystery of silence and the importance of receptivity over effort. Silence leads to stillness; stillness leads to surrender. At first our experience may be one of emptiness but we are not speaking of just emptiness, but of emptiness that is beginning to be filled with a Presence. Perhaps we could say that contemplation occurs when interior silence morphs into Presence. This Presence, once established in our inmost being, might be called spaciousness. There is nothing in it except a certain vibrancy and aliveness. You’re awake. But awake to what, you don’t know and cannot describe. Contemplation is another word for prayer, a kind of prayer that doesn’t seek to fix, control, or explain but surrenders to Presence.
Adapted: Thomas Keating; Richard Rohr
‘Is there anything I can do to make myself Enlightened?’ ‘As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.’ ‘Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?’ ‘To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.’
At the beginning of his public ministry Jesus chooses to be baptised by John and it is significant that as he begins his mission he hears the words that every human being longs to hear and needs to hear: ‘This is my beloved….’ It is the experience of who we are in God that enables us to carry out our mission in life even in those times when it is difficult to experience love because of experiences of failure, humiliation, suffering and difficulties in relationships.
It is true that we not only are the Beloved, but also have to become the Beloved. It is true that we not only are children of God, but also have to become children of God. It is true that we not only are brothers and sisters, but also have to become brothers and sisters. If all that is true, how then can we get a grip on this process of becoming? If the spiritual life is not simply a way of being, but also a way of becoming, what then is the nature of this becoming? Could it be that:
our growing awareness of being the beloved will gradually lead us to stop identifying ourselves with our jobs, our emotions, our life situations? These are not who we really are.
finding people and places where we are reminded of our deepest identity will renew our experience of what is already within us?
celebrating our belovedness with gratitude and wonder for our many daily experiences of love, we will fully live even when life is full of hurt?
When we claim and constantly reclaim the truth of being the beloved, we soon discover within ourselves a deep desire to reveal to others that they are also beloved. Once we deeply trust that we ourselves are precious in God’s eyes, we are able to recognise the preciousness of others. At the beginning of a new year, today’s gospel tells us that being the beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence. Our main mission in life is to embrace our belovedness and to become who we are.
An epiphany is not an idea. As D. H. Lawrence said, people can do
anything they want with an idea, but a truly new experience changes everything.
Before you can do anything with it, it does something with you! Most of us prefer
ideas and words; we are afraid of any authentically new experience. The Magi had
to do that most dangerous of things: trust and follow their own limited
experience. Which is all that any of us has! And God seems humble enough to use
it in our favour. Unlike the Magi, we do not tend to allow stars to divert us
to a new and unknown place. Most of us stay inside our private castles and
avoid such questionable adventures. Yes, we avoid death supposedly, but we also
avoid birth. We miss out on the great epiphany.
The feast of the Epiphany tells us that from the very beginning Jesus
was someone to be personally experienced, and not just mentally agreed upon,
proven, accepted or argued about. It is fairly easy to discuss and have
opinions; it is much harder to be present to another and to meet them.
The first allows us to maintain ourselves as we are; the second demands love
rather than mere duty, surrender and trust rather than mere obedience. What we celebrate in the mystery of the
Epiphany is that it is God who is manifest, not our formulations of God! The
mystery of the Epiphany is saying that God is perfectly hidden and perfectly
revealed in the same physical place! God is shining forth in the most unwanted
and unsuspected of places: the material and even vulnerable world.
Epiphanies, thank God, wake us up so we can in fact experience our
experiences, learn from them and be transformed by them. We now have the
ability to find God in all things, even the sinful, the broken, the painful and
the tragic. Reality itself converts us. The actual is what leads us to
God. Epiphanies leave us totally out of control, and they always demand that we
change, that we go back home by a different route, yet realigned correctly with
what-is. Reality is still the best ally of God, and God always comes disguised
as our life.
It can seem somewhat strange that we portray Jesus, Mary and Joseph as the ideal family to be imitated. We have to admit that there is nothing normal about this family: the boy was the Son of God, his mother was a virgin and we last hear about Joseph when Jesus was 12 years old. We do believe that they were loving and faithful people and in the second reading Paul invites us to ‘clothe ourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.’ The supreme work of our entire lifetime is to develop the capacity to know how to love. Love is a science; love is a discipline; love has to be our main priority every day. We are all naturally inclined to think that everything ‘is all about me’. Overcoming our basic self-centredness entails a willingness to say ‘I’m sorry’, a willingness to admit we are wrong and to ask for forgiveness. This comes with great difficulty for most of us. St Paul also reminds us three times of a basic need to say ‘Thank you’ – as often as possible to everyone and for everything in our lives. The author Ann Voskamp, embarked on a daily discipline of being open to the wonders which surrounded her, finding joy in the midst of deadlines, debt, drama, pain, loss and daily duties. She discovered that where there is wonder there is thanksgiving.
More than anything else, love involves the ability to be present. And that takes work: to really be right here, right now, in front of this person and out of myself enough to feel their feelings instead of just mine. That is heroic for most of us. We can be so trapped in our own feeling that we cannot imagine what the other person is feeling right now. To put ourselves ‘in the other person’s shoes’ is the beginning of love. To make this our art form, our science, our daily decision – for love is a decision, not a feeling – we need to draw upon a love that is much bigger than our own, the love of God. The good news is that eternal and perfect Love is within us and we are already one in Love. Thomas Merton tells us that we just need to start becoming what we already are. All that is absent is awareness.
The gospel ‘yardstick’ of true normality is a life lived in a loving response to God, the source of love. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are rightly the ideal family to be imitated.
There is no rational explanation for Jesus’ conception and birth. That’s where most of us get stuck with today’s gospel reading. That’s where Joseph got stuck as well. So he “planned to dismiss Mary quietly.” We shouldn’t be too surprised. Isn’t that what we tend to do when we don’t understand? We dismiss what makes no sense. We turn away from possibilities that don’t fit with our ideas, beliefs, and experiences. In dismissing what makes no sense, that which we don’t understand or can’t explain, we are refusing to open ourselves to something new. Sometimes that means we refuse to open ourselves to the life and opportunities God wants to birth in us and through us. What do we lose when we demand answers and refuse to live with questions, when we limit our lives to what we know, what’s familiar, what makes sense, and close ourselves to the not-knowing, to something new, different, or unexpected? Do we dismiss Emmanuel, God-with-us, by our searching for explanations and understanding rather than trusting and entering into the mystery?
Ultimately, Joseph took Mary as his wife. However, he first had to move beyond what he understood and what made sense. He had to allow God-with-us to transcend the limits of his knowledge. He had to let go of trying to put it all in terms of a rational explanation. This first had to happen within Joseph himself and it must first happen within us as well. It is a shift that happens within us.
That is our preparation for Christmas. It means that we are to see our whole lives through the lens of God with us. Instead of looking for answers let’s ponder what might be born in us, what needs to be born in us, what is waiting to be born in us. That’s how we open ourselves to the life and possibilities God offers us. That’s how we experience Emmanuel, God with us. That’s what Joseph did. He took Mary as his wife and opened himself to something new, something different, something unexpected, something unexplainable. He opened himself to the life and possibilities God offered and he named it all Jesus.
May we all have a wonderful Christmas and spend the New Year unwrapping the mystery of the reality of God-with-us.
Today’s first reading and the gospel speak of two kinds of justice: retributive justice and restorative justice. The gospel offers a very different picture of John from last week. Today he is a prisoner with a question, “Are you the one, or are we to wait for another?” If John did have doubts, it was because of the peaceful way that Jesus behaved, not at all like the violent revolutionary the Jews expected as their Messiah. John preached retributive justice – if people do something wrong, we punish them. That satisfies our need for what we think is justice. It just punishes the person, gets him out of sight. It doesn’t change the person. It restrains them. That’s how most people understand justice. Most people’s notion of purgatory and hell is based on retribution.
The first reading speaks about another kind of justice: restorative justice. This is the way God does justice. Isaiah’s prophecy tells us that God doesn’t come with punishment but in fact He is going to love us, restore us, heal us and transform us by loving us unconditionally. God “punishes” us by loving us more! It is only love that transforms the human heart. Restorative justice is to restore people to who they really are at their best, to change their mind and their heart. This happens when people experience love. Retribution might be a starting point. This was John’s teaching. But Jesus leads us much farther than that. Those who understand that transformation takes place through restoration, those people are ‘greater’ than John the Baptist. Punishment is the best that the unenlightened mind can do. It doesn’t really waken the heart or change the soul.
The third week of Advent is called ‘Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday’ reminding us of the celebration of Christmas soon to come. The readings and text of today’s Mass are full of joy. When we reflect on God’s restorative justice we deepen our awareness that God does not love us because we are good; God loves us because God is good. And then we can be good because we draw upon such an Infinite Source. Rejoice!
Adapted : M. Marsh, José Antonio Pagola, R. Rohr Homilies and Meditations
On 30th September 2019 Cardinal Vincent Nichols officially launched the Year of the Word under the title, ‘The God Who Speaks’. His prayer is that we may all be enriched and transformed by the living Word of God. Perhaps we may do no more than read the Scripture passages for each Sunday. But maybe we could spend more time with them, allowing God’s word to speak to us and transform us.
In today’s gospel reading, God speaks to us about repentance which is much more than just being sorry for the past. The word usually translated as “repent” is the Greek word metanoia; this might be best translated as “turn around your mind” or change. It involves a deep and radical change in one’s thinking and behaviour. But most of us won’t move toward any new way of thinking or actual change until we’re forced to, which usually means some form of suffering or some disturbance that upsets our habitual path. Those are our experiences of inner wilderness where we face the truth of who we are and what our life is like. Sometimes we go to the wilderness, other times it comes to us. Either way it is hard work which most of us would rather avoid. There is no quick fix. There is no way out of or around the wilderness. The only way is through the wilderness. It’s the place where our lives can be transformed, the place we are most open to changing and being changed. For every wilderness there comes the word of God.
In the wilderness of exile the word of God speaks of coming home: ‘Make your home in me as I make mine in you.’
In the wilderness of doubting our self-worth the word of God speaks of our divine origin: ‘Let us make man in our own image and likeness.’
In the wilderness of the restlessness of anxiety the word of God speaks of stillness: ‘Be still and know that I am God.’
In the wilderness of apparent absence of God the word of God speaks words of presence: ‘Truly Yahweh is in this place and I never knew it.’
Hidden within every wilderness is the beauty of divine presence.
Sadly, we’re almost programmed (perhaps by childhood conditioning) to hear the Gospel in a threatening or punitive way, as if Jesus is saying, “You’d better do it right, or I’m going to get you.” With that outlook, we are likely to largely miss the point in today’s Gospel. This is the bad fruit of using religion and Scripture to threaten people into love, which is actually a total impossibility. Most people who start with fear stay with fear and never get to the higher motivations. Let’s try to hear it in a much more exciting and positive way. Jesus is not talking about the second coming of Christ. What he’s talking about here is the forever coming of Christ, the always coming of Christ, the eternal coming of Christ…now…and now…and now. Christ is always coming; God is always present. It’s we who aren’t! We’re always somewhere else. Jesus tells us to be conscious, to be awake, to be alert, to be alive. It’s the key to all spirituality.
Other gospels also use the image of God as a ‘thief in the night, as a landlord who returns unexpectedly.’ That sounds threatening but Luke tells us that the landlord on his return ‘will put on an apron, kneel down and wait on you.’ This breaking into our lives is actually good! God gets into our lives best in the interruptions, in the discontinuities, in the unexpected, in the gaps. God has to break into our lives like a thief in the night when we’re not ready, when we’re not prepared, when we’re not defended, when we’re not all in our head, when we’re not in charge, when we’re not steering the ship. Usually it is in times when we are in the presence of silence, in the presence of love or in the presence of suffering. Our preparedness is not the completion of a spiritual tick list in order to win God’s love. God breaks into our lives in moments of freedom, when we are free from our own ego, free from our own fears, free from our own anger, free from our limited perception of Love, of who God is and who we are in him. At this time of year the word ‘surprise’ is often on our lips. Today’s Gospel speaks about a preparedness which is an openness to a God of surprises.
The universe is not a place where evolution happens; it is evolution happening. It is not a stage on which dramas unfold; it is the unfolding drama itself. This great cosmological story shows us in the deepest possible sense that we are all sisters and brothers—fashioned from the same stellar dust, energised by the same star, nourished by the same planet, endowed with the same genetic code, and threatened by the same evils. This story humbles us before the magnitude and complexity of creation. It astonishes us with the interdependence of all things, and makes us feel grateful for the lives we have. And not the least of all, it inspires us to express our gratitude to the past by accepting a solemn and collective responsibility for the future.
Loyal Rue. Philosopher
Do we look at science and conclude, “This is better than we thought! The universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed.” When we stress the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science we might be able to draw forth untapped reserves of reverence and awe.
Carl Sagan. Astrophysicist
“In him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, in him all things hold together.”
Col: 1, 16. Today’s reading
‘When we experience the universe as Christ-soaked, when we know that the universe is both the hiding place and the revelation of God, when we grow in awareness that in Christ all things were made, our lives will reflect our oneness with every thing.’ We will be with Christ in paradise – every day.