According to the astronomical calendar Autumn begins today, September 23rd. Albert Einstein tells us to “look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.” In his teaching, Jesus often used examples from nature. Autumn leaves are subtle reminders that we are asked to let go of many things throughout our lives. Autumn’s energy causes us to take stock and decide what to hold on to and what to let go. No new growth will come unless Autumn agrees to let go of what has been. The same is true of our lives.
In today’s gospel, Jesus challenges his disciples to let go of two of their misconceptions. Firstly, he wanted to prepare them for bad news (the Passion) and good news (the Resurrection), but they did not want to hear him. Jesus’ prediction of the future was incomprehensible because it did not coincide with the disciples’ hopes and plans. Secondly, Jesus presents to his disciples a completely different interpretation of the word ‘greatness’, one which involves service, of being last. We’re not told their reaction to this but we can imagine that they also found it difficult to accept. Maybe they felt like the man who fell over the edge of a cliff and on the way down managed to grab a branch that stopped his fall. Hanging in midair, he called up to heaven in desperation, “Is there anyone up there?” A voice answered, “Let go of the branch. I’ve got you.” The man hung there in silence for a moment, looking up and then down at the yawning gulf beneath him. Finally he looked up and yelled, “Is there anybody else up there?”
When we let go of the branch of our security, we will find that it is really but a short drop to the ground below, where we will find God waiting for us. He does not strip us of all that we have but rather teaches us to use all that we have in ways that benefit not only ourselves but also those around us who appear to be in more need than we are. Whenever we are called to let go of something safe, secure and familiar we are invited to be birthed again. Each radical change in our lives summons us to a greater fullness, to a more complete transformation of our inner self.
Another reflection for this week. Kindly contributed by Cathy York.
“ Who do you say that I am?”
The definitions of Jesus abound: a great prophet, teacher and healer. Some people’s definitions are more negative, depending on their life experiences and their religious beliefs. “For those of us who grew up in the church, believing in Jesus was important. For me, what that phrase used to mean, was ‘believing things about Jesus, believing what the gospels said about him, believing in doctrines about Jesus.’ That was easy when I was a child, but I now see that believing in Jesus can (and does) mean something very different from that. In both Greek and Latin the root meaning of the word ‘believe’ is ‘to give one’s heart to.’ The ‘heart’ is the self at its deepest level. Believing, therefore, does not consist of giving one’s mental assent to something, but involves a much deeper level of one’s self. It means to give Him our heart, our self at its deepest level.”
Today’s gospel is not about giving the right answer. This is not a test. This is not about what is in our head but what is in our heart. It’s about what lies at the core of our existence. Jesus is asking the disciples to consider what centres their lives. What is the axis about which their world turns? We all have some centre from which we live. People, things, and experiences tend to become our anchor point, the centre of our life. They give us our bearings and stability. Our centre orients our life and the direction we take. It not only shapes how we live but, more importantly, who we are becoming. Who or what is our centre? Whatever it is, that centre is capable of propelling, enlivening, and growing us or it can keep us stuck and stagnant.
“You are the Christ.” With those words Peter has re-centred his life. Re-centering is our life’s work and it is not easy work. It means we must continually let go of what we thought centred our lives and move to our true centre, Christ. It is something we do over and over and we don’t always get it right. Look at Peter. The gospels describe his many weaknesses but ultimately he was crucified for re-centering, following, and loving Jesus.
Who we say Jesus is has everything to do with who and how we are and will be. In some ways our answer says as much or more about us than Jesus. In some sense there is no once and for all, finally and forever, answer to Jesus’ question. We are always living into the question, moving from simply knowing about Jesus to knowing him. It’s not that Jesus changes. We do. We are constantly engaging his question and in so doing we not only discover Jesus anew we discover ourselves anew.
( Michael Marsh )
Our reflection this week is once again kindly contributed by Cathy York.
We can make of today’s Gospel just another one of Jesus’ healing stories proving that Jesus is a miracle worker, proving that Jesus is God. But that’s not the point at all. The key is given to us in the first reading of Isaiah and it is an important reading about restorative justice. When we hear Isaiah speak of vengeance or vindication and retribution we immediately think of a threat of punishment and we may not want to hear any more. But we have to continue listening. “He is coming to save you.” 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 even more.
Almost all of us have been educated with the notion of retributive justice. Our judicial system is based on it. Even our old idea of heaven and hell is based on it. People get what they deserve. Well, Isaiah surprises us by saying that we are going to get much more than we deserve. He tells us that God’s way of retribution is by loving us more, loving us deeply. That’s the only way we change people. In the Gospel, we have Jesus revealing this pattern. The God he presents us with is not a God of retribution and punishment but a God who always transforms us by loving us unconditionally. It is only love that transforms the human heart. Wherever he can, Jesus speaks restorative words of healing: “Be open. Be transformed. Be alive.”
Jesus says to the deaf man, “‘Ephaphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ He doesn’t say, “Now hear!” Hearing follows openness. He says the same thing to us. “Ephphatha” is Jesus’ longing for all human beings. The openness to which Christ calls us transforms and heals our lives. It reconnects us to God and one another, offering new life, new beginnings, new hope, and new possibilities.
( Richard Rohr. Michael Marsh)
Our reflection this week is once again kindly contributed by Cath York.
Those of us who are into gardening know we have to prune our bushes and shrubs. Otherwise, they can get too big and the flower or fruit loses its quality. Jesus was in many ways a pruner. He pruned back the traditions that had come to acquire an importance they did not deserve. Gardeners are also familiar with the term ‘perennials’. The term (per- + -ennial, “through the years”) is often used to differentiate a plant from shorter-lived annuals. The dictionary definition of ‘perennial’ is: lasting or existing for a long or apparently infinite time; enduring or continually recurring.
Many spiritual writers speak about The Perennial Tradition or Perennial Wisdom. The Perennial Tradition points to recurring themes and truths within all of the world’s religions. At their most mature level, religions cultivate in their followers a deeper union with God, with each other, and with reality. At their immature levels, religions can be obsessed with the differences that make them better or more right than others.
The theme of today’s readings is the nature of true religion. Jesus was very aware that religious tradition can hide God as well as reveal God. An important dimension of his work consisted in pruning back those elements of the tradition that were hiding God. In his pruning he tried to highlight what was most important in God’s eyes. The precise difference between Jesus and the Pharisees was that they looked at the external activity whereas Jesus looked at the heart, the source of activity. They looked to the fulfilment of law and tradition while he looked to love and commitment. They looked at the letter of the law while he looked at its spirit.
In the second reading, James tells us to ‘humbly welcome the Word which has been planted in you’ and that Word is God Himself. The message of Perennial Wisdom Tradition is “Don’t settle for anything less than the truth of your Christ-self.” This is the self that is not only at one with Divine Presence, it is at one with the world, and with all others who share it as their world. All that is missing is awareness.
(Adapted from Association of Catholic priests and Richard Rohr)
You have the words of eternal life
“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Believing in Jesus and his teaching requires letting go of what we think we know of God and allowing God to act in a whole new way. Israel’s expectations of who the Messiah would be blocked the way for some to see God acting in a new way and offering a whole new way of relating to us. Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. Peter’s response to Jesus’ question, “Do you also wish to go away?” is striking. He doesn’t say, “Yes, of course,” but he doesn’t quite say “No” either. Instead, he answers back with another question: “To whom shall we go?” It is not the most flattering answer in the world, but it is honest. Peter and the others have found nourishment in Christ’s presence and in His teaching and they stay with Jesus precisely because he has been a source of new life for them. They will soon be entrusted with the mission of communicating that life to others.
Peter’s reply reveals his uncertainty about what is happening within him. He is like the fledgling in Anthony de Mello’s story. “I have nothing to hold onto,” the bird said when it began to fly. Although Peter acknowledges that Jesus has “the words of eternal life” he doesn’t fully understand what that means because ‘we can never grasp a mystery; we can only allow ourselves to be grasped by it. That kind of surrender is needed if we are ever to experience the spirit who gives life.’
‘Those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.’
Our reflection this week is kindly contributed by Cath York.
Is there life within us?
How often are we asked the question: “How are you?” And how often do we give the standard answers: “Fine… I’m doing well… Things are really busy right now… I’m good.” Sometimes we add something about our family, our health, where we have been, or what we have been doing. More often than not those conversations focus on the circumstances of life but there is a difference, a vast difference, between doing life and having life within us.
Doing life or having life; that’s the issue Jesus is concerned about. That’s the focus of today’s gospel. It is so important that it has been the subject of the last several Sundays of gospel readings. Each week has brought us closer to the unspoken question behind today’s gospel: Is there life within you? That’s a hard question and one which many of us will avoid or ignore. We will turn back and walk away rather than face the question. “Fine,” “busy,” “good,” and “doing well” do not answer the question. We cover it up. The question pushes us to discover the hunger within us and the life Jesus wants to feed us. That’s what Jesus has been after these last few weeks.
When Jesus says, “Eat me. Drink me.” He is talking about more than just physical or biological life. He’s talking about that life that is beyond words, indescribable, and yet we know it when we taste it. We get a taste of it when we love so deeply and profoundly that somehow we are more fully alive than ever before. Sometimes everything seems to fit together perfectly and all is right with the world; not because we got our way but because we knew our self to be a part of something larger, more beautiful. There are moments when time stands still and we wish the moment would never end. In that moment we are in the flow, the wonder, and the unity of life – and it tastes good. Daniel O’Leary says that in these moments we touch eternity and because of that they do live forever.
When we choose a lifestyle that enables us to find nourishment in Christ’s presence in every aspect of our lives, we will become more aware that we have his life within us and our doing will be rooted in Christ and we will live fully wherever we are, whatever we do.
Michael Marsh (adapted)
Kindly contributed by Cathy York
The Bread of life
Once again Jesus makes the claim: “I am the bread of life.” ‘I AM’ is God’s own name, which Jesus applies to himself. And he is the Bread of Life. We should note that he is not talking primarily here of the Eucharist, of Holy Communion. Rather, Jesus is saying that he, his whole way of life, his teaching, his attitudes and relationships towards his Father and people, everything that the Gospel tells us about him is real nourishment and food for our daily living. Not to know and assimilate Jesus in this way is to be starved of essential nourishment for living a full life. To eat that bread is to have one’s whole life impregnated with the spirit of Jesus. And, in the Gospel, that is a definition of life. Such a person is fully alive – now and forever. We eat that bread by absorbing into ourselves the spirit, the truth and integrity, the love and compassion, the generosity and peacefulness of Jesus. (Living space)
Jesus invites us come to him and to feed on his presence, and in particular to feed on his word. In the Jewish Scriptures bread is often a symbol of the word of God. When we keep coming to Jesus and feeding on his word, that word will shape our lives. It empowers us to live the kind of life that Saint Paul puts before us in this morning’s second reading, a life of love essentially, a life in which we love one another as Christ loved us, forgive one another as readily as God forgives us. That, in essence, is our calling.
(Association of Catholic priests)
Kindly contributed by Cathy York
Come to Me
In today’s first reading we are told that for 40 years God’s people daily eat manna. When the Israelites see it, they say to one another, “What is it?” for they did not know what it was. Hungry, they choose to gather up that which is baffling. They fill on that which has no meaning. For more than 14,600 days they take their daily nourishment from that which they don’t comprehend. They find soul– filling in the inexplicable.
They eat the mystery.
They eat the mystery.
And the mystery, that which made no sense, is like “wafers made with honey” on their lips.
When we find ourselves famished, groping for more, we can choose. When we find ourselves despairing, we can choose to live as the Israelites gathering manna. When our life experiences lead us to ask “What is it all about?” can we allow these rents in the canvas of our lives to become places to see: to see through to God? How do we choose to allow the holes to become seeing-through-to-God places; to more-God places? How can we fully live? ( Ann Voskamp. One Thousand Gifts)
We can find the answer to these questions in our Gospel reading. “Come to me. Believe in me.” Ultimately, Faith means letting Jesus make his home in us, so that he can transform us in a permanent way. It means making space within for Jesus to not only dwell there but also to let his attitudes and values influence us in our way of life. Jesus tries to lead the disciples to long for this life that lives forever. The people hunger for living bread but he hungers to live in them to be bread that is assimilated into them. Jesus is the one who makes sense of what we are about. ( Fr Gerry Pierce )
Kindly contributed by Cathy York
Doing the Maths
Philip has done the maths. He has estimated the number of people in the crowd, how many loaves of bread it would take to feed them, the cost of a loaf of bread, and calculated that “six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” There is not enough to go around. Andrew concurs, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Andrew has also done the maths and there is just not enough to go around.
It seems that is how we often approach life – by doing the maths. We count what is there though we too often focus on what is not there. And pretty soon the reality of our circumstances blinds us to the possibilities of what might be. Our vision becomes narrow and the world small. We are unable to see a way forward, unable to see the Christ in our midst. We see through the lens of scarcity or lack and not through the lens of abundance.
As long as we approach life by doing the maths, as a problem to be solved, there will never be enough to go around. Jesus was not asking Philip to do the maths when he said to him, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” It was a test. Would Philip look around or would he look within? Would he see with his physical eyes or with the eyes of his heart? Would he focus on what was not there or would he focus on Jesus?
The problem was not a lack of fish and bread but a lack of vision. The abundance of God’s presence is hidden in plain view and often within the illusion of scarcity. Abundance is less a resource to be counted and more an interior quality, a presence, a way of being and seeing.
“Come and rest awhile.”
“Sabbath can refer to a single day of the week, a day of rest. Sabbath is also a way of being in time where we remember who we are, remember what we know and taste the gifts of spirit and eternity. Sabbath time is sacred time.
We need Sabbath-keeping not only for ourselves but also for the times when we go forth to heal the wounds of our world. Whatever we build, create, craft or serve will have the wisdom of rest in it. Rested and refreshed, we more generously serve all those who need our care. The human spirit is naturally generous: the instant we are filled, our first impulse is to be useful, to be kind, to give something away.
The world aches for the generosity of a well-rested people.
A closer reading of Genesis reveals that the Sabbath was not simply a day off! It says, ‘On the seventh day God finished God’s work’. The ancient rabbis teach that on the seventh day, God created menuha – tranquillity, serenity, peace and repose: rest, in the deepest possible sense of fertile, healing stillness. Until the Sabbath, creation was unfinished. Only after the birth of menuha, only with tranquillity and rest, was the circle of creation made full and complete.”
On the seventh day, God created rest.
Wayne Muller: Sabbath
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know
This reflection was kindly contributed by Cathy York