Reflection on 29th Sunday: 18th October 2020

Truth Cannot always Take Sides

“Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” Today’s gospel is an example of ‘either/or’ thinking; all or nothing thinking. When presented with two alternatives, most people think that by choosing one we have the total truth. We call this dualistic thinking. The dualistic mind knows by comparison, opposition, and differentiation.  We do need the dualistic mind to function in practical life, however, and to do our work whatever that may be. It’s helpful and fully necessary as far as it goes, but it just doesn’t go far enough. The dualistic mind cannot process things like infinity, mystery, God, grace, suffering, sexuality, death, or love; this is exactly why most people stumble over these very issues.

Jesus unmasks the question for what it is: an effort to trip him up rather than an inquiry proceeding from a sincere desire to know the truth. The Pharisees are religious conservatives who abide by the law and do not believe in cooperating with the Romans. Nor do they pay taxes to the Roman government. The Herodians totally compromise themselves with the Roman oppressors and pay all the taxes they want.

Jesus pleases and displeases both sides. He doesn’t answer their question. We can’t really be sure what he means. That leaves us in the middle, where we don’t like to be. It’s a place where we can’t be absolutely certain that we’re right, where the only righteousness is God; where we’re never sure that we are good, because only God is good.  This is the rare space or place we call faith – where we have to live with a certain degree of darkness, anxiety and ambiguity. Many of us have not been taught how to live by faith. We’ve just been taught how to live with answers – so that we can prove that our group is right. When we grow in awareness that Christ lives in everyone and in all Creation, we come to realise that whatever choices we have to make, very few alternatives are mutually exclusive when we are listening and responding to Christ who is our Way, our Truth and our Life.

Adapted. Richard Rohr

Gospel: Matthew 22:15-21

The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that belong to him and to God what belongs to God.”

Reflection on 28th Sunday: 11th October 2020

We request the honour of your presence

When we read today’s gospel it’s a great relief to remember that there are different kinds of truth in the bible. In the early centuries of Christianity authoritative teachers such as Augustine and Gregory the Great spoke of seven “senses” of Scripture. 1 Later scholars taught that there are nine kinds of truth found in Scripture: scientific, which was primitive science; geographic; historical; mathematical; human character and relationships; moral; proverbial; symbolic truth which is found in parables, myths and allegories; spiritual truth, a record of the relationship between God and his people. The Bible is primarily spiritual truth. 2

In the first reading Isaiah introduces the theme of universalism, that whatever God is doing, he is doing for everyone. 1 “The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines.” In the gospel we find that the indirect, metaphorical, symbolic language of a story or parable seems to be Jesus’ preferred way of teaching spiritual realities. He also makes frequent use of hyperbole, exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally. Jesus invites everyone, ‘good and bad’ alike, who is willing to come to the banquet which is a symbol of eternal life. ‘One thing that distinguishes the first-invited guests from the second-invited guests is Presence. The second-invited guests showed up. The first-invited guests did not. The wedding hall was filled with the second-invited guests but the first-invited guests would not come. That’s the main difference between the two groups.’ 3

The key to experiencing the infinite, unconditional, loving generosity of God is to just show up, to be present. We can then pray “Lord, you are always present to us. Help us to be present to you.”

Sometimes we just can’t accept that God could be so generous – which is the spiritual truth in today’s gospel. By accepting God’s invitation to be present, ‘we are inside a different mind that will enable us to see our life from a worldview of abundance. I recently saw a Hubble telescope picture of the Sombrero Galaxy which lies at the southern edge the Virgo cluster of galaxies. The mass of the Sombrero is equivalent to 800 billion suns. The universe contains many billions of galaxies, and each galaxy contains many billions of stars! Read that again if it did not blow you over! God is clearly into abundance and excess and he invites us to share in that largesse, first in receiving it, resting in it and then allowing it to flow through us towards all people and all creation.’ 1

1 Richard Rohr; 2 Kieran Sawyer; 3 Michael Marsh

1st Reading: Isaiah 25:6-10

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

Gospel: Matthew 22:1-10

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.

The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Reflection on 27th Sunday: 4th October 2020

What is our cornerstone?

In relation to architecture, a cornerstone is traditionally the first stone laid for a structure, with all other stones laid in reference to this stone. A cornerstone marks the geographical location by orienting a building in a specific direction. Some cornerstones include time capsules from, or engravings commemorating, the time a particular building was built.

Today’s gospel asks us to look at the cornerstone which determines the direction of our lives. “This gospel is an allegory about negative energy, the spirit of rejection. The tenants are antagonistic and oppositional about everything. They beat or stoned or killed everyone. Oppositional energy just knows what it is against. It is sort of a sad substitute for vision, yet negative people feed on it. It knows what it is against but it doesn’t know what it is for, what it is in love with. What we reject and hate says much more about ourselves than about the people we hate or reject. If we want to know what or who our real God is we need to look at what we reject: if we reject poor people, our god is riches, money and success; if we reject foreigners, it is because we have made a god of our own country; if we reject anybody different from us then we have idolised ourselves, we’ve made a god of ourselves. What we fear or reject tells us what we really worship.”

Richard Rohr

What are we for? Are we in love with anything or are we just against ‘bad people’? When fear and rejection is our starting point, we are subconsciously creating a foundation stone which consists of our own self-centred priorities. However, when love becomes the cornerstone which determines the direction of our lives, we will see what we need to renounce and yet “we won’t need to renounce it we will just need to understand its true value and it will just drop from our hands.” (Anthony De Mello) In the second reading St Paul gives us an alternative to the spirit of rejection. “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things and the God of peace will be with you.” These ‘things’ – and many others – are already placed in the timeless capsule of our Christ-centred cornerstone.

2nd Reading: Philippians 4:6-9

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Gospel: Matthew 21:33-43

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders: “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces its fruit.”

Refection on 21st Sunday: 23rd August 2020

“Upon this rock I will build my church.”

Throughout the gospels Jesus teaches his disciples through his choice of metaphors and similes which speak to them – and us – more powerfully than doctrines and legislations. Today’s use of the image of the rock, reminds us of the expression ‘He/she is as solid as a rock’ which we use to describe someone’s strength of character, with the implication being that that person will be immovable in his/her adherence to principles and beliefs.

Yet, let’s reflect on the image of a rock, from the smallest pebble on the beach to the largest and most intricate of rock formations. Whatever its size, each rock has undergone many changes before it has become the rock we are holding or looking at. Elements such as pressure, physical and chemical changes, tectonic processes, temperature, weather conditions and water have shaped and transformed the rock before us. And they will continue to change if they remain open to the elements.

On the recent feast of Saints Peter and Paul we reflected on the same gospel story, and we saw that when Jesus said to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church,” he was referring to Peter’s faith and his understanding of the Christ Mystery. Peter has a moment of awareness of who Jesus really is – the Christ, in whom all things have their being, the Centre from whom we live and it is on a life centred on this awareness that Jesus builds his church (i.e. ecclesia : assembly of people/ disciples)

“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. They not only shape how we live but, more importantly, who we are becoming. Jesus is always inviting us to go deeper, to look within and discover who or what our life is centred on, and then to re-centre. The life of discipleship is one of continual re-centring. As the elements slowly form and shape rocks over time so does a lifetime of openness and surrender to all the circumstances of our lives gradually transform us into people who witness and testify to God’s life, love, and presence in our lives and the world.”

Michael Marsh

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 4th Sunday of Easter: 12th May 2019

Eternal Life

The verses that follow today’s reading tell us that Jesus’Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, not for “any good work, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? [Psalm 82:6] If he called you ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be wrong—then why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I say that I am the son of God?’

The Jews did not know Jesus. They were not ready or willing to believe that what God has done in Jesus, he has done everywhere: putting together human and divine. In today’s first reading, Paul and Barnabas also met with a similar resistance from the Jews when they preached the good news. “Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles.” When the Gentiles (the outsiders) heard this, “as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers.” For the Jews it was all too much to believe, just as it is for us. We are a creation of God from all eternity. Our DNA is divine yet we are born in human form. How can we believe this when there is so much evidence to the contrary? We are so aware of our limitedness. How can we be sons and daughters of God? Yet that is the assertion that Jesus makes and he says that we are to follow him in believing this.

To follow Jesus is to know who we objectively are from all eternity, to know that we are created with the same personhood, the same identity, the same combination of divinity and humanity as he was. Nobody achieves this to perfection. It’s not a question of being perfect. It’s a question of our deepest core identity. We are created in God, by God and for God. The main difference between Jesus and the rest of us is that Jesus believed it and most of us don’t. He knew, he trusted and allowed himself to be God’s Son. Let’s allow our daughterhood, our sonship to be a daily choice; to daily allow and surrender to this glorious good news of who we objectively are in God from all eternity. This is the eternal life experienced by those who hear the voice of Jesus and follow him.

Richard Rohr (adapted): Homilies

Reflection on 2nd Sunday of Easter: 28th April 2019

Living the Resurrection

A week ago we celebrated the Resurrection. There comes a time, however, when we must live the resurrection. One week after Easter, is our life different? Where are we living: in the freedom and joy of resurrection or behind locked doors? What do we believe about Jesus’ Resurrection? If we want to know what we believe, we need to look at our life and how we live. Our beliefs guide our life and our life reveals our beliefs. We’re not all that different from Thomas. We each live with at least one “unless clause.” Unless I see, unless I touch, unless I feel, unless I experience, I will not believe. It reveals our struggle and desire to believe. It also reveals our misunderstanding of faith and the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ does not meet our conditions. Each condition becomes just another lock on the door. Resurrection empowers and enables us to meet our conditions. It lets us unlock the doors and step outside even when we don’t know what is on the other side.

Resurrection does not undo our past, fix our problems, or change the circumstances of our lives. It changes us, offers us a way through our problems and leads us into a future. God cannot lead us into the future until we are ready to let go of the past. That is why forgiveness is so central to the Easter mystery. We understand what it means to forgive others and even ourselves. Can we also forgive reality? To receive reality is always to “bear it,” to bear with reality for not meeting all of our needs and our conditions. To accept reality is to forgive reality for being what it is, almost day by day and sometimes even hour by hour.

Regardless of our circumstances Jesus shows up bringing life and peace, offering life and peace, embodying life and peace. Life and peace are Resurrection reality. The life and peace of Jesus’ Resurrection enable us to live through our circumstances. He gives us his peace, his breath, his life and then sends us out. We are free to unlock our doors, step outside and fully live.

Michael Marsh and Richard Rohr ( adapted)

Reflection on Easter Sunday: 21st April 2019

Easter is a Faith Moment

We might identify with the women through the events of that first Easter morning. They came to search and found an empty tomb. Then they were told they were looking in the wrong place: ‘Why look for the living among the dead?’ Finally they had to adjust to the staggering good news that Jesus was alive when they thought he was dead. Does their story remind us of our journey when we found life again where we thought there was none? We discovered that we had been looking in the wrong place.

No one saw the resurrection because there was nothing to see. The crucifixion is an historical event; the resurrection is a faith event. Easter is more than a feeling moment. It is a faith moment.

We can know little Easters all year round and if we develop a recognition of and a taste for them, they will deepen our faith in the Resurrection even when we do not feel the joy at the time of its celebration.

Our little Easters are those moments when we feel hope press against our spirit. Our little Easters are those moments when something that has died in us is raised to life again. They provide quiet reassurance that God keeps raising dead parts of our spirit to life.

We live the Resurrection when we try to live in the present moment, when we allow the Resurrection to change us now.

Taken from a variety of sources

“How does one become a butterfly?”

“You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”

‘Hope for the Flowers’ by Trina Paulus