Reflection on 15th Sunday: 12th July 2020

Good soil

The parable of the sower and the seed is very familiar to us as are the various interpretations of the nature of the soil which symbolise the state of our heart. We have rightly been encouraged to lead lives which have all the ingredients of lives rooted in good ‘soil’: lives of love, of prayer, of forgiveness, of gentleness, of compassionate action…. These are the fruits of growth from good soil. But what is good soil? In farming terms good soil is soil that has been ploughed, has been turned over and over, and has been fertilised. In other words it has had lots of manure dug into it. It stinks, it is messy but it is rich for planting. It is where growth takes place. The seed has to be transformed from one form into another. This is done in the dark womb of the soil. It is in darkness and in solitude that transformation takes place. Death, darkness and solitude are used as vehicles of transformation. Out of death comes life. Out of darkness comes life. Pain, darkness and discomfort are the vehicles or portals that are used to transform us.

Our culture today despises pain and difficulty, it does everything it can to avoid it. “We give answers too quickly, take away pain too easily and too quickly stimulate. We build false structures on top of the soil. The soil is piled high with things that will hopefully anaesthetise the pain. These are the weeds and the thorns and the hard ground. The seed cannot even reach the soil. In terms of soul work, we dare not get rid of the pain before we have learned what it has to teach us. Darkness and brokenness are where we learn lessons of humility, trust, gratefulness, resilience and reliance. Yet this sacred space is the very space we avoid…we avoid God, who works in the darkness – where we are not in control! Maybe that is the secret: relinquishing control?”

R.Rohr

If you feel that circumstances have ploughed through your life; if you feel that your life is messy; if you are in a dark place right now, know that you are in the very space where transformation can take place. Allow the spirit of God to begin that metamorphosis in you. Embrace the pain and allow it to teach you. Don’t become hard and bitter or look for things to anaesthetise the pain. Life will come to your spirit. Trust the process and allow it to produce good fruit in you. Let the darkness do its work. You are in good soil.

Adapted: Lisa Hunt-Wotton and Richard Rohr

Gospel: Matthew 13:1-23

Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn-and I would heal them.’

“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

Reflection on 14th Sunday: 5th July 2020

Rest

The story is told of a South American tribe that went on a long march, day after day, when all of a sudden they stopped walking, sat down to rest for a while and then made camp for a couple of days before going any farther. They explained that they needed the time of rest so that their souls could catch up with them. [1]

“Maybe our idea of rest isn’t really rest. When I felt the need to start slowing down, I took that literally. I spent more time on the couch. I crossed items off my to-do list. And I felt worse. I’m coming to see that when God asks me to rest it is actually more about my heart. Learning to trust instead of strive; learning to enjoy rather than push so hard; learning to focus on the moment instead of results. It’s an intimate invitation—not to step away from life but to embrace the Giver of it. ‘Come to me. I will give you rest.’ We need Sabbath time. [2]

“Sabbath can refer to a single day of the week, a day of rest. A Sabbath experience is not confined to chronological time. Sabbath is 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 then 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 share, 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! The ancient rabbis taught that on the seventh day, God created menuha – tranquillity, serenity, peace and joyful repose; rest, in the deepest possible sense of fertile, healing stillness. God celebrated and delighted in his creation. 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.” [1]

[1] adapted Wayne Muller: Sabbath [2] adapted Holley Gerth

Gospel: Matthew 11:25-30

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Reflection on Peter and Paul: 28th June 2020

“Who do you say I am?”

We are always living with this question, moving from simply knowing about Jesus to knowing him. It’s not that Jesus changes. We do. And in doing so, we not only discover Jesus anew, we discover ourselves anew. Then, with Peter, our response will be, “You are the Christ.”

Michael Marsh

It has been said that when Jesus said to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church”, he is referring to Peter’s faith and his understanding of the Christ Mystery. Christ is not Jesus’ last name. The word Christ is a title, meaning the Anointed One. Many people have limited that anointing to the unique person of Jesus. After his conversion experience, Paul understood that the meaning of the Anointed One, the Christ, includes us and includes all of creation since the beginning of time. “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, All things were created through Him and for Him. He exists before all things, and in Him all things have their being.” (Col 1: 15-17) Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” 164 times to describe this organic unity and participation in Christ. “I live no longer, not I; but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). “In Christ” is his code phrase for this new participatory life. Paul is obsessed with the idea that “I’m participating in something that’s bigger than me.”

What if we’ve missed the point of who Christ is, what Christ is, and where Christ is? I believe that a Christian is simply one who has learned to see Christ everywhere. Understanding the Universal or Cosmic Christ can change the way we relate to creation, to other religions, to other people, to ourselves, and to God. Knowing and experiencing this Christ-soaked universe can bring about a major shift in consciousness. Like Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus, we won’t be the same after encountering the Cosmic Christ. After conversion, we don’t look out at reality; we look out from reality. In other words, God is not “out there”: we are in God and God is in us.

Adapted. Richard Rohr

Reflection on 12th Sunday: 21st June 2020

“Do not be afraid”
FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real

One of the gifts of Lockdown is that is has given us time be in touch with our emotions and in the process hopefully we have dispelled the myth of the “stiff upper lip” as being a sign of strength. “We’ve become so used to suppressing and judging our emotional responses if things are difficult, or we try to make them last if they are happy, nice ones. By allowing what’s happening inside of us, we won’t reject our difficult emotions or try to force ourselves to feel something different. Whatever we resist, persists. This is actually one of the leading causes of our suffering. A deepening spiritual journey is an invitation to be grounded in our immediate experiences, allowing them to be what they are. We then learn to welcome all our emotions as valid, and as potential teachers. Our inner state of turmoil can gently settle down when we acknowledge and make room for whatever is happening.

Paula D’Arcy tells us that God comes to us disguised as our life. It has taken me a long time to start appreciating that this life, as it is, is our greatest teacher if I let go of my attempts to glamourise or improve it, and rather be open to it with an attitude of surrender and receptivity. ‘The word surrender itself means to hand oneself over or entrust oneself. It is not about outer capitulation but about inner opening. It is always voluntary, and rather than an act of weakness, it is always an act of strength.’ (Cynthia Bourgeault) It is an opening to the ‘I Am’ presence of God, to the peace that passes understanding that is holding all that is real. True peace is not smooth circumstances or permanently peaceful, calm emotions or better insurance against disasters out there, but an ability to find a stability of presence and a deeper grounding in the quiet calm, restful embrace of God. Eckhart Tolle wrote: ‘Forgive yourself for not being at peace. The moment you completely accept your non-peace, your non-peace becomes transmuted into peace. Anything you accept fully will get you there, will take you into peace. This is the miracle of surrender.’ ”

Adapted: Sharon Grussendorf

Of what are you afraid?
Has your vision come to be so narrow?
That you believe in only what you see and nothing more.
I know you know my heart. I embrace the lily and the sparrow
Whoever taught you different does not know how much I love you.

You Cannot Go Below My Resting Arms, David Kauffman: CD ‘Be Still’

Gospel: Matthew 10:26-33

Jesus said to his disciples, “Have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”

Reflection on Corpus Christi: 14th June 2020

Celebrating Eucharist

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955) was a Jesuit palaeontologist and mystic whose work brings science and religion together. For him, all beings and all creation “complete the Body of Christ.” In his travels and research as palaeontologist he often found himself without the means to celebrate the Eucharist in its traditional form. His fundamental vision of Christ as ‘All-in-everything’ inspired his ritual which he called the Mass on the World. “I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar. I will raise myself beyond these symbols, up to the pure majesty of the real itself.” His Liturgy of the Word is his contemplation and praise of God’s presence in all people and in all creation. He celebrates the Liturgy of the Eucharist (Offertory, Consecration and Communion) by “making the whole earth my altar and on it I will offer God all the labours and sufferings of the world. This bread, our toil; this wine, our pain, representing the solidarity of all human kind and all beings, and the earth itself.” For Teilhard, the desired Consecration is already there. “I firmly believe that everything around me is the body and blood of the Word. That is why, in our prayer at the altar, we ask that the consecration (transformation) may be brought about for (and in) us. From Offertory and Consecration there follows Communion. Consciousness (awareness) must and does yield to the truth of things, sees more clearly the ‘single life’ that enlivens all things.” Teilhard’s daily celebration of Mass was an openness and surrender to a growing awareness of Christ already present in all things.

During the past few months we have found ourselves without the means to celebrate our traditional weekly Mass. We have had to find some other ways of keeping alive that which nourishes and transforms us – and perhaps ask ourselves, “What does nourish us and open us to being transformed?” Have we said with Teilhard, “I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar. I will raise myself beyond these symbols, up to the pure majesty of the real itself.” What is ‘the real’ for us? For Richard Rohr it is “finding Christ in the body (in the material world), in the blood (in the suffering of the world). Little by little this transforms us into Christ. That’s what church is all about! That’s its only mission. That’s our only task. And because it’s too good to be true, too big to be possible, we take it in little doses. We hope that we will be humble enough, open enough, ready enough, empty enough to believe it.”

Reflection on Trinity Sunday: 7th June 2020

Celebration of Trinity

Karl Rahner once said, ‘We must be willing to admit that, should the doctrine of the Trinity be discarded, the major part of religious literature could well remain virtually unchanged.’ The Trinity is supposed to be the central—even the paramount—doctrine of the Christian belief system. And yet we’re told, at least I was told as a young boy in Kansas, that we shouldn’t try to understand it because it’s a ‘mystery.’ But I believe mystery isn’t something that you cannot understand; rather, it is something that you can endlessly understand. We absolutely must maintain a fundamental humility before the Great Mystery; otherwise, religion worships itself and its formulations instead of God.

One of the major reasons the doctrine of the Trinity has been rediscovered in our time is that science and theology are beginning to use the same language, the language of relationship. In the beginning was relationship. “Let us create in our image” (Genesis 1:26-27). When we start with God as relationship, we begin the spiritual journey with an awareness that there has to be a “DNA connection” between the One who creates and what is created. One of the many wonderful things that scientists are discovering is that the pattern of the neutrons, protons, and electrons in atoms is similar to the pattern of planets, stars, and galaxies: both are in orbit around one another, and all appears to be in relationship to everything else. The energy in the universe is not in the planets, nor in the atomic particles, but very surprisingly in the relationship between them. The energy in the Trinity is not in any precise definition or in the partly arbitrary names of the three persons of the Trinity as much as in the relationship between the Three! We must reclaim Relationship as the foundation and ground of everything. This is where all the power for infinite renewal is at work. When Jesus’ prays that we will experience eternal life, he is inviting us to a Trinitarian way of living, loving, and relating.

The mystics would say that whenever we stand apart and objectify anything we stop knowing it. We have to love, respect and enter into relationship with what we desire to know.

Adapted. Richard Rohr

Gospel: John 3:16-18

Jesus said to Nicodemus,
‘God loved the world so much
that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him
may not be lost but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,
because he has refused to believe
in the name of God’s only Son.’

Reflection on Pentecost Sunday: 31st May 2020

Peace be with you

There are times when our life situation is so overwhelming that we wonder if we will ever experience the peace of Christ which is already within us. Jesus shows us how this is possible when almost immediately after his greeting, “Peace be with you” he speaks about forgiveness.

“Forgiveness reveals three goodnesses simultaneously. When we forgive, we choose the goodness of the other over their faults, we experience God’s goodness flowing through ourselves, and we also experience our own capacity for goodness in a way that almost surprises us. We are finally in touch with a much Higher Power, and we slowly learn how to draw upon this Infinite Source. The Spirit within us creates an unrelenting desire toward forgiveness and reconciliation. True Spirit-led forgiveness always frees and heals at least one of the parties involved, and hopefully both. To live in peace we need to extend forgiveness not only to all people but also to everything. We need to forgive reality for being what it is. Forgiving everything for being what it is becomes the only way we can finally live at peace.” [1]

“I’ve come to see that the deepest source of my misery is not wanting things to be the way they are. Not wanting myself to be the way I am. Not wanting the world to be the way it is. Not wanting others to be the way they are. Whenever I’m suffering, I find this war with reality to be at the heart of the problem. The answer to anxiety lies in focusing my attention upon that which is greater than those things about which I feel anxious. As I learn to rest and trust in the faithfulness of God, the anxious knots of my life begin to untangle. It begins to be possible to meet each day, not with fear and uncertainty, but with openness, acceptance and surrender.” [2]

Eckhart Tolle differentiates between our life situation and our life. “Underneath the various conditions that make up our life situation – which exists in time – there is something deeper, more essential: our Life, our very Being in the timeless Now. Only through surrender do we have access to it. Surrender is to relinquish inner resistance to what is.” This is the only way we can finally live in peace

Adapted: [1] Richard Rohr [2] Stephen Cope

John 20:19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Reflection on 7th Sunday of Easter: 24th May 2020

Oneness

“May they be one in us.”

Groups of various sizes can experience different levels of oneness linked with a variety of common interests: religion, sport, creativity, nature. Has there ever been such a global experience of oneness which COVID-19 has thrust on us? Those moments when we sense that we are at one with the joys and sorrows of others are “sacramental glimpses. They touch eternity.” [1] They remind us that “we are already one with everything. All that is absent is awareness. Awareness allows us to know this reality, and our openness to the Spirit within us allows this awareness to become transformational. To be one with everything is to have overcome the fundamental illusion of our separateness.” [2] “I’ve often said that great love and great suffering are the universal, always available paths of transformation because they are the only things strong enough to take away the ego’s protections and pretensions. Great love and great suffering bring us back to God” [3]

All over the world images of the rainbow remind us that there is hope and light to follow these days of chaos. The rainbow also reminds us of our oneness. “Everything is a facet of the one thing. Think in terms of white light shining through a prism to reveal the full spectrum of colour seen by the human eye: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Each of these colours is part of the original whole and cannot be separated from it. Turn off the light source and the colours disappear. Now apply this metaphor to the world around and within you. Everything you see, think, feel, and imagine is part of and never apart from the same Source. We call this Source by such names as God, Reality, Brahman, Allah, One, Krishna, the Absolute and the Nondual. The list of names is long; the reality to which they all point is the same.” [4]

“We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. What we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.” [5] “A heart transformed by this realisation of oneness knows that only love ‘in here,’ in me, can spot and enjoy love ‘out there.’ [3] This is eternal life, experienced here, now.

Adapted : [1] Daniel O’Leary [2] David Benner [3] Richard Rohr [4] Rabbi Rami Shapiro [5] Thomas Merton

Gospel, John 17:1-11

After saying this, Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said: Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you; so that, just as you have given him power over all humanity, he may give eternal life to all those you have entrusted to him. And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

I have glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.
Now, Father, glorify me with that glory I had with you before ever the world existed.

I have revealed your name to those whom you took from the world to give me. They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.
Now at last they have recognised that all you have given me comes from you
for I have given them the teaching you gave to me, and they have indeed accepted it and know for certain that I came from you, and have believed that it was you who sent me.

It is for them that I pray. I am not praying for the world but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All I have is yours and all you have is mine, and in them I am glorified. I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they may be one like us.

Reflection on 6th Sunday of Easter: 17th May 2020

Love is His Meaning

Where are you going? Can we go? Who will stay with us?

Today’s gospel passage is part of a larger text known as the Farewell Discourse, (John Ch14-16), and it is Jesus’ goodbye speech to his disciples. The preacher Fred Craddock captures today’s scene in a memorable image, likening the disciples to children playing on the floor, who happen to look up and see their parents putting on coats. Their questions are three (and they have not changed): Where are you going? Can we go? Then who is going to stay with us? [1] No doubt the disciples found it difficult to understand Jesus’ words. Even with our gift of hindsight we struggle when he talks about leaving and coming, absence and presence, seeing and not seeing. It is only when with love we hold these realities together in tension that we will experience that paradoxically they are not mutually exclusive. [2]

In her song ‘Love Always’ Carrie Newcomer sings:
It takes some starts and stops to hold a paradox.
I keep trying to understand, and to hold it in both hands
How to know what can’t be done and still envision all that can.

That ‘starting and stopping’ involves a willingness to be open to a constant dislodging of our perception of Love. It involves a growing awareness that our actions do not earn us God’s love: they help make us present to the eternal, unconditional loving presence of God within us. It involves being at the correct starting point. We are familiar with the story of the traveller who stopped to ask someone the directions to his destination. “If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here,” was the reply.

Jesus’ starting point was his awareness that ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me.’ (John 14:11 ) The Spirit of Truth abiding in us will help us grow in awareness of our abiding in God who is Love. Love is who we are. When we get the ‘who’ right and realise that who I am is Love, then we will love God and love all that God has created. [3]

Adapted : [1] Kelly Anne Donahue [2] Michael Marsh [3] R.Rohr

John 14: 15- 21

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Reflection on 5th Sunday of Easter: 10th May 2020

Don’t let your hearts be troubled

‘Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength – carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.’

Corrie ten Boom | MY HERO

Corrie ten Boom had plenty of cause for worry over the course of her lifetime. During World War II, she, along with her father and sister, provided a refuge in their home for a number of Jewish friends, playing a pivotal role in the Dutch ‘underground’ who sheltered Jews. Their home was eventually raided and the entire family arrested, her father dying in prison and her sister in a concentration camp. Corrie was sent to a series of camps but was released, and afterwards told her story in a book called The Hiding Place. Corrie’s heart must have been troubled, often, but her strong faith sustained her and became the lens through which she viewed her life story: ‘Every experience God gives us, every person he puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only he can see.’ None of us knows how the future is going to turn out, and that is precisely why we tend to worry.

Tríona Doherty

Neuroscience can now demonstrate that the brain has a negative bias; the brain prefers to constellate around fearful, negative, or problematic situations. Our negative and critical thoughts are like Velcro, they stick and hold; whereas our positive and joyful thoughts are like Teflon, they slide away. When a loving, positive, or unproblematic thing comes your way, you have to savour it consciously for at least fifteen seconds before it can imprint itself in your “implicit memory;” otherwise it doesn’t stick. We must indeed savour the good in order to significantly change our regular attitudes and moods. And we need to strictly monitor all the “Velcro” negative thoughts.

Richard Rohr

“Just beyond the storms of personal chaos lies the profound indwelling power of love, the Source and true Centre”

Cynthia Bourgeault

Dwelling in that Love we find a new way of being, a new way of seeing what is real and true, a new way of truly living life to the full.