Reflection on 5th Sunday in Lent: 29th March 2020

Unbind and Let Go

“Lazarus is dead,” Jesus tells the disciples. It’s not hard to imagine the questions that might be running through the minds of the disciples and the hearts of Mary and Martha. They are the same kind of questions we ask ourselves and each other whenever life is interrupted and changed in ways we do not want, when circumstances show us just how difficult, fragile, and beautiful life really is. “Why? How could this happen? What’s next for me? Is this an ending or a beginning? Could it be both? How do I move forward? How do I make sense of what has happened? What will life be like now? Is there life after this? Why didn’t God do something?” Every time life sets before us those kind of questions we are reminded that we live with more questions than answers, and the answers we do have no longer seem to carry the weight and authority they once did. Our lives are filled with unanswered questions.

The unanswered questions of life tend to leave us confused and disappointed. Disappointment is always wrapped up in and bound by our unmet expectations. That’s where Mary and Martha are in today’s gospel. They are disappointed and confused. “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Our ‘if only’ longings are ultimately about the past, our dislike of what is or our fear of something new.  We want to preserve what was and keep things the way they’ve always been. Almost always they come from a place of sorrow and loss, regret, failure, or disappointment. The illusion of “if only” wraps around our lives like grave clothes. We use it to try to bind up what has fallen apart, preserve what is decaying, and tie us to what has been lost.

Jesus does not offer answers or explanations to Mary and Martha, or to us. Instead, he uses our confusion as “an agency for transformation” (David Whyte). Confusion asks us to reassess ourselves and our inner world. It is the first step in freeing us from misguided assumptions. It opens our eyes to a deeper way of seeing. “Unbind and let go.”  Every time we refuse to live an “if only” life, we unbind the past and let it go. Unbinding and letting go of the past are not a rejection but an offering. We do not reject the past, throw it away, or deny its value and importance to us. Instead, we free it to be made new, to be given new life, to become a new creation.

Michael Marsh. Adapted

Reflection on 4th Sunday in Lent: 22nd March 2020

How do we see?

To the fearful eye, all is threatening. When you look toward the world in a fearful way, all you see and concentrate on are things that can damage and threaten you. The fearful eye is always besieged by threat.

To the greedy eye, everything can be possessed. A greedy person can never enjoy what they have, because they are always haunted by that which they do not yet possess. Greed generates a driven and atrophied possessiveness. Greed can never engage presence. Having has become the sinister enemy of being.

To the judgmental eye, everything is closed in definitive frames. The judgmental eye sees things in terms of lines and squares. It is always excluding and separating, and therefore it never sees in a compassionate or celebratory way.

To the loving eye, everything is real. Kathleen Raine, a Scottish poet, says that unless you see a thing in the light of love, you do not see it at all. Love is the light in which we see light. Love is the light in which we see each thing in its true origin, nature, and destiny. If we could look at the world in a loving way, then the world would rise up before us full of invitation, possibility and depth. The loving eye can even coax pain, hurt, and violence toward transfiguration and renewal.

Vision is central to your presence and creativity. To recognize how you see things can bring you self-knowledge and enable you to glimpse the wonderful treasures your life secretly holds.

John O’Donohue : Anam Cara Adapted.

How do we see the reality of our living with the coronavirus in our midst?
Can we say with the blind man in today’s gospel: “I was blind but now I see.”

“As life seeks out its new normal, I pray that we are able to apply the lessons of this exceptionally barren Lenten journey to redefine “normal” so that it includes more gratitude, appreciation, service, mercy and joy. Returning to our ordinary patterns of life is something that we all hope will occur very soon. Let us bring the memories of these moments with us into the future so that we better value and cherish what may have become under-appreciated opportunities of experiencing God’s presence in every aspect of our lives. This disease will not get the best of us; rather, we pray that we will use it to bring out the best in us.”

Archbishop Wilton Gregory. Washington. Adapted

Reflection on 3rd Sunday of Lent: 15th March 2020

If we knew the gift of God

We all start our lives with what we think we want and we rush out to get it, trying to fill an empty hole inside us. It’s been said that the joy of buying something new lasts until we take it home and open the box! All the fun is in the buying of it but we then ask ourselves, “Am I any happier, am I any more now that I have this new thing?” But still we continue to rush out to buy more and more, and each time always thinking, “This will do it, this will fill the emptiness, this will take away my inner thirst.”

The work of mature religion is to lead us beyond what we think we want to what we really need. The woman in today’s gospel has come to the well because she needs water. Jesus tries to lead her, step by step, beyond what she thinks she wants and to help her see that water is just the symbol of what she really needs. He’s not talking about water. He’s talking about Spirit. He starts by making her aware of her own thirst, hunger and need. Then he leads to a rather profound theological reflection on the universality and availability of God. He refers to the conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans, both groups claiming to have the truth. Jesus tells her that the time is coming when both groups will realise that they missed the point. If we don’t experience the Spirit, if we don’t find the living water, then it doesn’t matter which group we belong to. No group-joining or group-belonging can substitute for inner experience. He uses the most wonderful metaphor for this inner experience: ‘a fountain within you bubbling up unto eternal life.’

Spiritual knowing, spiritual cognition is always really re-cognition. It’s the realisation that “I already knew this. In those moments ‘it isn’t as if something more is given to us but a curtain opens and the infinite love that’s always being given to us touches us.’ (James Finley) But then we’ll say, “O but that’s too good to be true.” Jesus said to the woman very directly, “If you but knew the gift of God.” Many of us don’t. From our very beginning every one of us is the beloved of God. That is the water bubbling up from within us but we don’t dare to believe it. We shout out, “Lord I am not worthy.” The good news is that worthiness is not even the issue. Who is worthy? When we stop seeking our own worthiness, that’s when the fountain begins to bubble and we begin to know the gift of God and that it’s all gift, and it’s all free and all we can do is learn to enjoy it. And that changes everything.

Richard Rohr. Homilies

Reflection on 2nd Sunday of Lent: 8th March 2020

Do not be afraid

Immediately before Jesus takes Peter, John, and James up the mountain he tells them and the others that he must suffer, die, and be resurrected on the third day. He will tell them this again after they come down from the mountain. What happened on that mountain top took place between Jesus’ two statements of impending change. It is little wonder that they wanted to stay there. Maybe the transfiguration was about preparing and helping the disciples live through the coming change. Maybe that’s why every year the transfiguration is the gospel we hear on the Second Sunday of Lent, a season that focuses on change.

In the midst of change many voices begin to speak to us: some are outside of us and some are from within. The story of the transfiguration says there is only one voice to listen to. From the bright cloud overshadowing Peter, James, and John, God says:“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; Listen to him.” And what does Jesus say to us? – “Get up and do not be afraid.” (The words ‘Get up’ are the same words Matthew uses in other passages when speaking about resurrection )

Change often brings about fear – the fear of losing what we love, value, and desire. We all face changes that cause us to stumble and fall, paralyse us or leave us overwhelmed. Jesus comes to us in whatever circumstances of change we find ourselves; he touches us, and says, “Get up. Be raised.” It’s the promise that though life has changed, it has not ended. Somehow new life is hidden in the midst of change, even when we cannot see it or do not believe it. Whatever changes come upon us they do not have the final word.

Michael Marsh

Last week we spoke about Lent as being an invitation to take time to reconnect with whatever renews our spirit and deepens our experience of love yet doing so in a way that allows our perception of love to be changed. In those mountaintop moments of enlightenment we will experience God as “a Presence that protects us from nothing but unexplainably sustains us in all things. This is the mystery of the cross.”

James Finley

Reflection on 1st Sunday of Lent: 1st March 2020

A Path of Rediscovery

Today’s Gospel story follows immediately on from Jesus’ baptism when Jesus’ identity as the Son of God was revealed: ‘This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’ In the wilderness, the evil one challenges this reality: ‘If you are the Son of God…’ We, too, are tempted to doubt our divine identity. We can so easily find our identity in what we do, in what we have, in what other people think of us, instead of in who we are.

Do we approach the coming weeks of Lent as an invitation to spend time in the ‘desert’ of silence, rediscovering our divine identity? What if our Lenten practice this year is to reclaim and re-treasure that which is of ultimate importance and infinite value – people, relationships, justice and compassion, forgiveness, beauty and time to reconnect with whatever renews our spirit and deepens our experience of love? As we reclaim and re-treasure we somehow get ourselves back. We’re more whole, more complete.

We begin Lent by blessing and being blessed by the ashes of the palms used in last year’s Palm Sunday celebration. Do we see this as a ‘doom and gloom’ experience, or do we come filled with awe and wonder, knowing what God can do with dust?

So let us be marked not for sorrow.
And let us be marked not for shame.
Let us be marked not for false humility
or for thinking we are less than we are
but for claiming what God can do
within the dust, within the dirt,
within the stuff of which the world is made.

Jan Richardson: Blessing the Dust

Various sources including M. Marsh and R.Rohr

Reflection on the 5th Sunday in Lent: 7th April 2019

Divine Mercy

‘If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain as he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.’ (Goethe). Jesus sees the potential in every person he meets. Today’s gospel shows us how in his presence people feel capable of more. He guides them to the realisation that their growth is far from finished. Mercy gives the sinner a future when there seems to be no future. He recognises the wrong done but does not demand a penalty for it. This gospel passage models mercy at its very best. Mercy looks at others with compassion, it understands, it does not condemn, it sets free, it enables, it gives life. This ideal continues to inspire many, but for a variety of reasons Jesus’ example of tenderness and mercy proves difficult to imitate. Some of the hindrances to that imitation need to be named if we are to overcome them.

One obstacle is fear. The scribes and Pharisees are very uncomfortable with moral failure. According to their standards of justice the sinner must pay the price for what he/she has done. If the law is not kept and failure isn’t punished then the danger is that chaos will take over and chaos is very scary. In their eyes the observance of the law makes for order and that keeps chaos at bay. For Jesus too the law gives direction to life, but he looks to its deeper significance and to the need to understand each individual who seeks to follow its guidance.

Another obstacle is the self-centredness that wants more, whether it is more freedom, more control, more material goods or more power. This attitude finds tolerance and forgiveness very demanding. It is becoming increasingly evident that the more individual our views and beliefs become, the higher the levels of intolerance.

A story that begins with deathly accusation ends with divine mercy. Where the community’s condemnation would have led the adulterous woman to death, Jesus’ mercy leads her to new life. A story that begins with exposing the sin of an individual ends with exposing the sinfulness of all. Where the community begins with awareness of the woman’s sinfulness, this encounter with Jesus makes them aware of their own sinfulness. A story that begins with human testing of the divine ends with divine invitation to repent. Jesus reveals a new order in which all are called to repentance and the experience of divine mercy. Jesus’ desire for us is not death but new life.

Sources: galwaydiocese.ie/reflection; Living Liturgy

Reflection on 3rd Sunday in Lent: 24th Mar 19

Choose life

Lent is intended to be a time of new life, a new springtime. The story of the fig tree is a reminder of the areas where there is zero growth in our lives. That stagnation could be the consequence our fears, prejudices, judgements and condemnations, the need for control, the victimisation of others and our impoverishment of God. Without even being noticed, buried anger can drain away the energy that could foster growth and peace.

God is willing to dig in the dirt of our lives

God does not cut down life. God gives, sustains, and grows life. He is a compassionate and caring gardener who seeks to nourish life, who is willing to get down on his hands and knees, to dig around in the dirt of our life, to water, even spread a little manure, and then trust that fruit will grow. This gardener sees possibilities for life that we often cannot see in our own or each other’s lives. Fruit, for this gardener, is not a payment, a transaction, or a ransom for being permitted to live another day. It is instead the result of mutual love, relationship, and presence. It is the evidence of life. Jesus does not seem as concerned about why people die as why people do not live. Everyone dies but not all truly live. Jesus’ call to repentance (i.e. change of heart ) is the invitation to choose life.

Now is the time to examine the fig tree of our life. Where is our life bearing fruit? Where is it not? Where do we need to spend time, care, and energy nurturing life and relationships? What are our priorities and do they need adjusting? Who or what orients our life? Are we growing or are we “wasting the soil” in which we have been planted? Repentance is the way to life, the way of becoming most authentically who we are and who, at the deepest level, we long to be. Ultimately, repentance is about choosing to live and live fully.

Michael Marsh

In Spanish the word manana means tomorrow or some unspecified time in the future. In common usage it often refers to postponing something, putting it on the long finger, delaying a response, not getting ruffled by events but adopting a carefree attitude. When one Irish man was asked if his language had a word that corresponded to manana, he said that it had in fact three words but none of them conveyed the same sense of urgency!

Reflection on the 2nd Sunday in Lent: 17th March 2019

Listen

The transfiguration of Jesus must have been a glorious experience for Peter, James and John. They wanted to stay there, as we all do when we have a peak experience. But they had to descend into the valley, to live their lives, to follow Jesus. It doesn’t seem that we grow in depth if we only have peak experiences, if we stay on the mountain top. Things have trouble growing on mountaintops. Beyond the tree line almost nothing will grow because it is too cold and there is a lack of moisture. Living things grow best in the valley: they can develop roots; they are grounded. While they may lack the excitement of mountain peaks, valleys tend to be growing places. But it is in the valley that we really acquire depth, rootedness, strength and flexibility. That is where we are called to mature emotionally and spiritually. Of course, we need both; we can’t always live in the valley.

Often our reading of this story focuses on what is seen but do we sometimes emphasise the light of transfiguration to the exclusion of the voice of transfiguration? We are looking but are we listening? A voice came from the cloud and said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” ‘Listen’ is the only thing the disciples are told throughout this whole event. Listening is central to transfiguration. Yet Luke records no words or teaching from Jesus during this event. Jesus is silent. So it must be about more than words, instructions, and lessons. True listening is an interior quality, a way of being. It is more about the heart than the ears. And it is more about silence than words. Ultimately, listening is about presence.

Listening creates an opening through which the transfigured Christ enters and transforms us. Listening asks of us intention, attention, and letting go of the things that deafen us. Anything that destroys or limits presence is a form of deafness. We are being told to be present, to be open, to be receptive to the one who is always present to us, whether we are on the mountaintop or in the valley or covered by the cloud of unknowing.

Queen of Apostles website; Michael Marsh

Walking Together With Jesus

Last Tuesday evening, at 7.30pm, we were delighted to welcome around a dozen people to the first of our Ignatian Lenten Retreat evenings entitled ‘Walking Together With Jesus’.

There was a wonderfully peaceful atmosphere as we gathered to pray with the Scriptures using the ancient practice of Lectio Divina, which has been described as a ‘four-runged ladder to heaven’.

Having shared a little of how Lent had started for each of us, and after a brief explanation of the history and practice of Lectio Divina, we were taken through the four stages of this prayerful approach to scripture, described as the four R’s; Read, Reflect, Respond and Rest, using last Sunday’s Gospel recalling Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness.

Our time together was punctuated by sharing and silence, and the chance for a cuppa at the start and end of our evening, and was appreciated by all as a great way to begin Lent supporting each other in prayer.

We gather together again this coming Tuesday (19th March) for the second of our six Lenten evenings to look at another helpful Ignatian practice related to praying with the Scriptures known as ‘Imaginative Contemplation’, and we would be delighted if you were able to join us.

Each of the sessions stands alone, so don’t worry if you can only join us for one or two evenings, and for more information of our coming sessions and the helpful on-line resources available to accompany the ‘Walking Together With Jesus’ Retreat please click here.

Reflection on the 1st Sunday in Lent: 10th March 2019

Temptation is more than just saying ‘No’

Today’s Gospel story follows immediately on from Jesus’ baptism. Each of the three temptations touches on Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, which had been revealed during his baptism: ‘This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’ “Notice that each of the three temptations is preceded by the same verse: ‘If you are the Son of God…’ The first way the evil one tempts any of us is to make us doubt our divine identity. Once we think we are no good, we are lost.” (R.Rohr) We can so easily find our identity in what we do, in what we have, in what other people think of us, instead of in who we are, which can so easily be overlooked or forgotten in our crazy, hectic, tightly scheduled, work-oriented lives.

The type of temptations we experience and the circumstances by which they come are unique to each one of us because they reveal what’s inside us, what fills us. That’s why just saying no is an overly simplistic understanding of this gospel and an inadequate response to temptation. Temptation is less about a choice and more about our identity and direction in life. Who am I? Where is my life headed? We answer those questions every time we face and respond to our temptations. We face ourselves and learn the ways in which our life has become disconnected from the original beauty of our creation and the transfiguring presence of God. Temptation offers us something to be discovered and the opportunity to recover ourselves. Regardless of what we see there within us, it’s just information, a diagnosis. It’s not a final judgment, a conclusion, or our grade on God’s final exam! We don’t pass or fail our temptations. We learn the truth about how we see ourselves. We learn the truth about the direction of our life and who we are becoming. This learning is neither easy nor pain free but it is the necessary learning which leads us to change our hearts (repent).

Now is the time to spend time in the ‘desert’ of silence where the inner life thrives. We need to create a time and a space to allow God to reshape and redirect our life, to return us to the truth of who we are, daughters and sons of God, beloved children, with whom He is well pleased. The angels of God will hold on to us when we can’t hold on to ourselves.                                                                         

Various sources