Sunday Reflection

3rd Sunday of Easter (30.04.17)

ONE INSTANCE AMONG MANY
 
The two Emmaus-bound disciples were, quite likely, not alone. Luke describes the Emmaus couple, perhaps a husband and wife, in his Gospel for the 3rd Sunday of Easter (24:13-35).
 
There would have been many people heading out of Jerusalem after the Passover Festival. Among them would have been the distressed for whom the sight of the crucified Jesus was utterly disheartening and demoralising. Among them would have been people whom Jesus had healed from spiritual as well as physical disablement, plus their many relatives and friends. Jesus, The Risen Good Shepherd – “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11) – would have made himself known to his beleaguered disciples, and not only on the Emmaus pathway, putting new heart into those who were open to receive his encouragement.

In the days and weeks following his Resurrection we will never know, while we are on earth, how many disabled-in-faith and hope disciples Jesus rescued. For sure, the Emmaus event was just one rescue among many. We can be sure that, on each of those occasions, Jesus would have tailored his approach to the particular needs of the people involved. He would have couched his approach and restorative message in a language and a style best suited to heal and restore faith. It would be hard to imagine Jesus employing doctrinaire statements of deep theology in such circumstances.
 
Our Baptismal community, the Catholic Church, is experiencing an Emmaus period. For a significant number, their ‘Emmaus’ experience began with Pope St John XXlll when he called the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church (1962–65). Pope John XXIII announced the Council on Jan. 25, 1959. He saw it as a means of spiritual renewal for the Church and as an occasion for Christians separated from Rome to join in a search for reunion.
 
For other Emmaus-like travellers it was the on-going effects of the two World Wars. Pope Francis has commented that a third world war has already begun, unlike the first two. This time it is found within the continuously erupting more localized conflicts affecting virtually all nations to a greater or lesser degree. These conflicts claim many lives while blighting others. For some their ‘Emmaus’ journey is a day while, for others, it is a lifetime. The ‘Risen Good Shepherd’ continues to reach out to all the distressed.

There is a picture on my wall of a prematurely aged Mrs. Poobalachandran Vadana, a Hindu woman of Tamil extraction. Through conflict in Sri Lanka she has lost her husband, and children, as well as her home. She and many like her are displaced not for a period of time but for a lifetime!  In September 2013, the Sri Lankan Government declared that there was not one displaced person in its territory. After the announcement, the Government advised international agencies to pack up and leave. There were no more people for them to assist, it said.

The ‘Risen Good Shepherd’ continues to reach out even to those who do not appreciate the significance of the distress that has engulfed them. Among them, the people so swamped by this materialistic, hedonistic world that they would neither recognise nor welcome, if they did, the companionship of the Risen Good Shepherd still bearing the open wounds of his suffering for them.
 
From among the millions of his adopted-through-Baptism sisters and brothers, the Risen Jesus seeks collaborator ‘Good Shepherds’ for, as he himself has said: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.…” (Luke 10:2-3) Many may not be seen in church buildings – at least with any regularity – but nevertheless they belong within His Church.

You find these Baptismally commissioned people, the actually Baptised, volunteering alongside others whose Baptism is ‘by a desire’ of which they have not, as yet, formally become aware. Among such volunteers would be those working with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International (Doctors Without Borders), CAFOD, Survive, Aid to the Church in Need. But, equally included, would be people caring for their elderly and incapacitated relatives, parents struggling to do what is right for their children, teachers who consciously try to offer their pupils an ‘Emmaus’ moment – opening their eyes to a hitherto unseen reality.
It is helpful to recall Jesus’ response to a concerned and much loved disciple, John: John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone else driving out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not accompany us.” But Jesus replied, “Do not stop him. No one who performs a miracle in My name can turn around and speak evil of Me.… (Mark 9: 38-39)
 
The Emmaus incident reveals a Risen Lord who continues to have the ability to make sense of things that confuse and distress others and cause doubt. When people allow the Risen Lord to accompany them, the meaning of life becomes clear, darkness become light. An author made one of his characters say: “I never knew what life meant until I saw it in your eyes”. Especially in bewildering times it is only through the Risen Jesus that we are able to learn what life means.
 
The Emmaus incident also speaks to us of the courtesy of Jesus. When the couple had reached their home in Emmaus Jesus behaved as though he needed to continue his journey. Just as he would never have forced himself on them, he does not force himself on those whom he lovingly longs to carry back to the fold. God has given us a gift at once great and yet fraught, the gift of free will. We are free to allow the Risen Lord to enter our lives each day or to pass on.
 
Elizabeth Rebecca Ward (1880-1978) was a prolific English writer of popular verse, religious works, and works for children. She wrote under the penname of Fay Inchfawn.

In Such an Hour
A poem by Fay Inchfawn
Sometimes, when everything goes wrong:
When days are short, and nights are long;
When wash-day brings so dull a sky
That not a single thing will dry.
And when the kitchen chimney smokes,
And when there's naught so "queer" as folks!
When friends deplore my faded youth,
And when the baby cuts a tooth.
While John, the baby last but one,
Clings round my skirts till day is done;
When fat, good-tempered Jane is glum,
And butcher's man forgets to come.
 
Sometimes, I say, on days like these,
I get a sudden gleam of bliss.
"Not on some sunny day of ease,
He'll come . . but on a day like this!"
And, in the twinkling of an eye,
These tiresome things will all go by!
 
And, 'tis a curious thing, but Jane
Is sure, just then, to smile again;
Or, out the truant sun will peep,
And both the babies fall asleep.
The fire burns up with roar sublime,
And butcher's man is just in time.
And oh! My feeble faith grows strong
Sometimes, when everything goes wrong!
 

2nd Sunday of Easter (23.04.17)

Sin – A Powerful Three-Letter Word
 
It would be fascinating to compare the very early followers of Jesus with the Christians of 4th century AD or later. During the intervening period significant changes had occurred within the community of believers founded by Jesus Christ. His followers had spread far and wide as they fled from persecutors of ‘The Way’, the name by which  Christianity was first know. Then Gentile converts began to outnumber Jewish converts. The Gospel, that had been initially orally transmitted, was written down as the original Apostles and disciples died. New languages were embraced as knowledge of The Way spread and this involved translations. The words of one language do not always transfer easily into another. Even within a language, over a passage of time, words undergo a change of meaning. Older speakers of English will ascribe a meaning to the English word ‘wicked’ that is completely at variance with what a 21st century English youth will understand by the same word.
 
St. John’s Gospel (20:19-31) for this 2nd Sunday of Easter (Low Sunday) may contain an illustration of the complexities that have always and continue to simmer throughout Scriptural translation. The particular passage is:
“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:21-23)

Jesus was conferring on his Apostles their primary mandate to be ministers of his Divine forgiveness.
 
Perhaps you have heard of Sr. Sandra Schneiders, a Religious of The Immaculate Heart of Mary and a world-renowned Scripture scholar and lecturer. In her book, ‘Jesus Risen in Our Midst’, Sr. Schneiders points out that we are accustomed to translations that misinterpret this verse by adding a word not found in the original Greek text of the second part of Jesus’ command.

Jesus commissioned his disciples to forgive sins, but when he talked about retaining or holding on, the word “sin” is not mentioned in the Greek text. Jesus commissions the Apostles to minister his forgiveness of sin as they have seen and heard him do in his three years of public ministry. Sr. Schneiders suggests that Jesus was encouraging his Apostles to stay in touch with the person still distanced from Christ by sin.  They were to focus on “retaining”, or holding on to, people rather than focusing on their sins. She suggests that to ‘retain’ the sin of another is to hold another’s sin as a form of control, of leverage, over the sinner. She believes that, not only is there no evidence for such an attitude, but that there is positive evidence to the contrary in Jesus’ teaching and action.

John’s Gospel extract for this Sunday (20:19-31) goes on to recall not only the Apostle Thomas’ refusal to believe but also his pre-conditions if he were to believe in Jesus’ Resurrection. Far from refusing Thomas’ pre-conditions, Jesus demonstrates the lengths he is willing to go to embrace the estranged Apostle. In other words, Jesus holds, retains, Thomas within the bond of brotherhood rather than excluding him from it. If Thomas’ refusal to believe in Jesus’ Resurrection were a sin, Jesus, far from ‘retaining’ his sin went the proverbial ‘extra mile’ to embrace Thomas thereby effecting his full restoration within the fold.
 
Sr. Schneiders offer no comment as to how the translation from the original Greek appears to introduce a word not found in that particular section of the Greek text. But, for the sake of argument, let us suppose that those, long ago, who were concerned with this particular translation believed that, as Jesus was actually giving his Apostles his power to forgive sin, he must surely also be giving them the power to retain sin. This would be putting a benign interpretation on a translational question mark.

There could be another interpretation. To confer on the Church Christ’s power not only to forgive sin but also to refuse forgiveness gives the Church a power and a control akin to that of a secular ruler.

It may be useful here to recall that members of ‘The Way’ had been designated a pariah group until the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337 AD). Constantine enacted administrative, financial, social, and military reforms to strengthen his empire. He also played a significant role in the organisation and structure of the fledgling Christian Church. With his support, the Edict of Milan in 313 AD decreed the acceptance of previously persecuted Christians throughout his Empire. It was Constantine, not the then Pope, for example, who called the Church Council of Nicaea in 325 AD that gave us the Nicene Creed still being proclaimed in our churches each Sunday.
 
In the Constantine era Church leaders began to adapt some of the organizational and command structures of Constantine’s Empire in their governance of the Church. For example, the so called ‘Donation of Constantine’ bestowed on the See of Peter "power, and dignity of glory, and vigour, and honour imperial", and "supremacy as well over the four principal sees, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Constantinople, as also over all the churches of God in the whole earth". The Donation (later accepted as fraudulent) was widely accepted at the time and used to validate Papal temporal power in the Middle Ages. The synchronism that emerged between Empire and Church beginning with Constantine had enduring negative consequences, and perhaps some limited positive ones, that still reverberate in the Church of the 21st century!

Too close a confluence between the secular and the ecclesiastical is unhealthy with issues of overarching power and control as well as of politics. Believers such as translators, for example, may have been influenced to make ‘adjustments’, such as that identified by Sr. Schneiders. The power of even a single word should not be underestimated especially in relation to Scripture.
 
Power and fear were the tools Emperors used to govern their subjects. These same tools were adapted by church leaders – no doubt initially with the best of intentions – to govern the flock of God given into their care. The threefold mandate the Risen Jesus gave to the repentant and reconciled Peter was “Feed” my lambs, “Shepherd” my sheep, “Feed” my sheep. (John 21: 15-17) At no stage did Jesus endorse the use of power and/or of fear. Jesus did encourage people to ‘fear the Lord’ but in the sense that we must have respect for God which is distinct from a servile fear. Jesus is always near, his enduring love is not a threat but an invitation to allow us to be fed and shepherded by him.
 

Easter Sunday (16.04.17)

The Truth Is Inexhaustible

A syllogism, they tell us, is a form of reasoning in which a conclusion is drawn from two given propositions. So, for example, we can say with reason:  God is inexhaustible since nothing exists without God; Jesus, the Son of God made Man, defines himself as The Truth; therefore, The Truth is inexhaustible. I’m not sure if this is a syllogism but I’m inclined to think so. In any case who is going to doubt that The Truth – with the definite article indicating Truth in its entirety - is inexhaustible. The more we discover about ourselves and our world, the more we discover how much we do not understand!

This brings us comfort when we attempt to plumb the depth of our major Christian festival, Easter. Superficially, at least, the Resurrection of Jesus has been subjected to examination since it happened. Is there anything left to be said? Well, yes! Each individual gifted with faith in Jesus Christ enters and lives in a personal relationship with the Lord, in the midst of a worldwide community. Each personal relationship is just that, personal and unique. It may bear resemblance to other like relationships but there is no carbon copy, just as there is no carbon copy of you or me.  One of the joys of a personal relationship is that it is forever undergoing renewal through the living and life-giving bond of love. What I may find new in my relationship with Jesus, you may consider ‘old hat’, so to speak, and vice versa. Our individual relationship with Jesus is entirely unique.

In St. John’s Gospel for this Easter Sunday (20: 1-9) are insights that will touch the heart of some and not others. One such insight concerns the burial linen in which the body of Jesus had been hurriedly wrapped. The journey from Calvary to the borrowed tomb had to be completed before the beginning of Sabbath that late (Good) Friday afternoon. Nevertheless there was the customary Jewish decorum to be observed regarding the burial cloths and the face veil.

It was customary for Palestinians, in those days, to visit the tomb of a loved one for the three days after the body had been laid to rest. This was based on the belief that, for this period, the spirit of the deceased remained near the body before departing when decay made the face unrecognizable. Because (Holy) Saturday was the Sabbath nobody moved. So the Gospel scene opens in the predawn of day three, Sunday, the first day of God’s new creation, the first day of the Jewish week when daily life could be resumed. Mary of Magdala, driven by her deep love for Jesus, was the first to arrive at the tomb. She discovered that Jesus’ body was not there. Her response was to find Peter.

Her choice of Peter tells us that he was still the acknowledged leader of the Apostles. Peter’s cowardly denial of Jesus on Maundy Thursday night at the High Priest’s House would have been widely retold yet Peter remained the leader. Despite instances of Peter’s weakness and instability there must have been something outstanding about a contrite man who could face his fellow Apostles despite his enormous act of disloyalty. Have we previously considered this? A person’s momentary weaknesses should not blind us to their overall moral strength and stature. Jesus, later, chose Peter for the leadership of the infant Church. His successor is the Bishop of Rome today.
 
Responding to Mary of Magdala’s alarm about the missing body, Peter and John ran to the tomb. John tells us that, having arrived at the tomb earlier than Peter, he had looked in but not entered. John deferred to Peter who was the first to enter the empty tomb on that Easter Day. Our contemporary age is not known for people showing deference to one another. By his deferential behaviour John not only recognised Jesus’ prior choice of Peter for leadership but also, even more tellingly, it showed that John did not judge Peter for his denial of the Lord they had both chosen to serve. There’s a lesson here for us. How rashly we can jump to judgement when we are not called to judge!
 
John followed Peter into the empty tomb. Both apostles would have noticed the burial linens that had bound the body of Jesus and the veil that would have been placed on his face. The condition of the burial linen and also its placement imprinted itself so strongly on John that he was, much later, to make specific mention of it in his Gospel.

Had Jesus’ body been stolen, as Mary of Magdala had originally thought, the robbers would surely have taken the linen with the body as time would have been of the essence? Had robbers not taken the burial linen they would not have spent time arranging it but simply left it on the floor. Have we considered what it could mean that the burial linen and face veil were undisturbed and still lying in their folds?

One possible explanation for the condition of the grave-clothes is that Jesus’ Resurrected Body had, as it were, passed through them. After his death on the Cross, Jesus would never again be among us in mortal, that is limited, flesh. He showed himself, in his immortal flesh, to the frightened Apostles in the Upper Room on that first Easter Day. They saw, with their own eyes and touched with their own hands, how Jesus’ Resurrected Body could pass through solid material objects like walls and locked doors. (John 20:19-21)

Very early on Easter Day, at the empty tomb, the significance of the condition and position of Jesus’ burial linen must have entered John’s consciousness and soul so deeply that John would incorporate it in his own Gospel. It was in that borrowed tomb that John first believed that Jesus had risen!
 
The synergy between Jesus and John allowed John to identify himself in his Gospel as ‘the beloved disciple’ rather than by the use of his name. Love allowed John’s eyes to read the signs in that borrowed tomb and his mind and heart aided his acceptance. We hear, in the Gospel, how Mary’s great love for Jesus brought her to be the first at the tomb. Yet it was John, the beloved disciple, who was the first Apostle to believe in Jesus’ Resurrection. The first human to believe in Jesus’ Resurrection would have been his Mother, Mary. She had always believed. This why, perhaps, the Gospels make no mention of the Resurrected Jesus appearing to his Mother. There is a passage in Deuteronomy (29:1-6) that is appropriate and illuminative:
“These are the terms of the covenant the Lord commanded Moses to make with the Israelites in Moab, in addition to the covenant he had made with them at Horeb.
Moses summoned all the Israelites and said to them:
Your eyes have seen all that the Lord did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land. With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those signs and great wonders. But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. Yet the Lord says, “During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God.”
 
It may help to draw a parallel. We cannot interpret the thoughts of another unless, between that person and our self, there is a bond of empathy. Orchestral musicians are able to sense, for instance, when their conductor is wholly in sympathy with the music of the composer whose work they are playing and, equally, when this is not the case without a word being spoken.

Love is that great interpreter that can grasp the truth when the intellect is left groping and uncertain. A young unknown artist once showed the respected French artist Paul Gustave Dore his painting of Jesus and asked for Dore’s verdict. After some time, Dore answered: “You don’t love him (Jesus), or you would paint him differently.” How true it is that we can neither understand Jesus ourselves, nor help others understand him, without loving him with our heart, mind and will. We can misinterpret the mystery of the Cross by seeing it only through the prism of death and humiliation rather than for what it is, when we look through the eyes of faith, namely glorification.
 

Palm Sunday (09.04.17)

Holy Week, which begins today, is the greatest week in the Church’s year.
 
It is made holy by the death of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who died for his flock.
 
He died to atone for sin, and since we are all sinners, each of us can truthfully say that we had a hand in his death.  Jesus Christ, the sinless one, suffered the shame and agony of the Cross, that we might die to sin and rise to a new life of holiness and grace.
 
The Cross of Jesus stands at the centre of the Christian story as the sign of the lengths Love will go to in its passion for others. Should we ever feel unloved, we have only to look at the figure on the Cross, and reflect on the fact that, in spite of our sins and failings, God loves us unconditionally, so much so that He willingly  endured and suffered torture and death, out of his Love for each one of us.
 
Let us now reflect on those who had some part in putting Christ to death, and instead of condemning them straight away, perhaps look deeper and see how we also  could be capable of some such evil, but for the grace of God.
 
The Pharisees were austere, religious men, who devoted all their energy to doing good and the study of God’s law, but they were absolutely convinced of their own rightness, and could be capable of the most appalling evil.
 
Caiphas who was perhaps thinking mainly of religious orthodoxy, and how easily people get led astray by false messiahs.  The Church saw heretics burn at the stake – believing it was doing service to the gospel.
 
Pilate was probably thinking of his high office and the preservation of law and order at a time of great unrest.  He knew that Christ was innocent, but he feared that trouble would ensue if he did not give the religious leaders what they wanted.  He was also thinking about his own job.
 
Judas -  most likely he was now a disappointed, disillusioned man.  But even this character, so maligned down the ages, came to recognise and condemn the evil he had done, and simply despaired.
 
Peter:  here we have a man who is weak and cowardly, but afterwards repented and shed tears over his denials.
 
The soldiers  were simply carrying out orders...taking no responsibility for their actions.
 
The crowd  got really carried away, not knowing what exactly was happening, but joined in anyway.
 
Holy Week is not a week for throwing stones, but rather an opportunity to look at our own commitment to truth and justice, and our loyalty to Christ and his Gospel.
 
Christ shows us that the only way to overcome evil is by good, just as the only way to overcome darkness is by light.
 
Through His resurrection, Christ’s light shone even more brilliantly than before, and it can never be extinguished again.
 
Father, grant that through the death and resurrection of your Son, we may be able to die to our sins and rise to new life, through the same Christ our Lord.   Amen.
 

5th Sunday of Lent (02.04.17)

 “Preach the Gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.”
 
On a spring morning, a colleague and I were having a break at an outdoor coffee shop in a setting of natural beauty. From where we sat we could see an expansive lake and well cared for gardens. The setting was quiet and calm. At a nearby table, sat a young woman quietly reading her Bible. It was evident that she was absorbed in the text, occasionally looking up to consider what she had read. She never said a word, but her profile revealed both her heart and her priorities. To those who happened to glance in her direction at that coffee shop she gave a gentle, positive, silent witness for God.
 
Reading St John’s Gospel (11:1-45) for this 5th Sunday of Lent brought to mind that coffee shop and the woman reading her Bible. St. John focuses on Lazarus. Like that woman, Lazarus is a powerful yet silent witness for God. He belongs to that exclusive group of significant Gospel characters who speak by silence. Another, even more famous, member of that same group is Jesus’ foster-father, Joseph.

Speaking by silence may, at first sight, appear as a conundrum but consider these words from the Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch. (1450-1516):
Yielding your all to the Saviour
And letting His love flow through you
Makes even your silent witness
A witness of what God can do”.
or these
“Preach the Gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.”
(Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi)
 
The Gospels do not contain a single word that Lazarus spoke and only one thing that he did namely, to shuffle out of his tomb at the command of Jesus. His silence has not prevented knowledge of him from passing generation to generation into this present day. Nor is he the only Lazarus to make such a silent journey. Whom, do you imagine, the other silent Lazarus might be?

Jesus names him Lazarus in his parable in Luke 16: 19-31. This Lazarus is the injured beggar at the rich man’s gate (“ .. the dogs even came and licked his sores ...”). Has he disappeared off our radar in much the same way that being so busy and preoccupied prevents us seeing and hearing the most vulnerable and most easily overlooked who are not necessarily the most obvious? What if part of our discipline, for what remains of Lent, would be to stop and take notice … just once a day? How would it affect us if we were to reach out, just once a day, to someone we might normally fail to notice? It might change us! Implemented widely, it would change our world. Pope Francis places such challenges before us almost daily. In these last few days Pope Francis has asked if we reach for our Bible as frequently as we check our mobile phone?
 
Comments about Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary of Bethany, have to be speculative in the main. What we see is a brother willing to safeguard his apparently unmarried, possibly widowed, possibly orphaned sisters. In that distant society unmarried or widowed women would have been defenceless without the protection of a near male relative.  Moreover, Jesus being their friend and a visitor to their home, reveals something of the spirituality of their shared life in Bethany. Since no mention is made of Lazarus’ wife it is possible that he had foregone his right to a family of his own. The key is Jesus’ being, as it were, ‘at home’ in their company. What setting, do you imagine, Jesus would choose in which to relax?
 
Then the unthinkable happens! Lazarus dies. Over many years of pastoral activity as a priest I recall deeply bereaved people, faced with the unexpected death of a loved one, saying something like: “You know, Father, he/she went to Mass during the week as well as on Sundays!” It was almost as though they were experiencing, in their unexpected bereavement, a contradiction between sharing regularly in the Mass and dying. The Mass is the enactment of the ultimate self-offering that Jesus made of himself, on our behalf, on Calvary. By sharing in the Mass we are recommitting our self to the Calvary route at a date, time and place unknown and to sharing in His Resurrection.

The sisters’ reaction to their brother’s death and Jesus’ eventual arrival is as distinct as it was on another occasion. Then, too, Mary appeared reflective and Martha outspoken (Luke 10: 38-39). This Sunday John’s Gospel extract shows us Jesus encouraging Martha as she struggles to grow in faith. He points to the way but cannot make the journey either for her or for us when we also experience a tension between life here and faith. Maybe the clue is in their brother’s name, Lazarus means ‘God helps’.
 
It’s a fair assumption that Martha and Mary would have been overjoyed to have their brother, Lazarus, restored to them after his four days buried. This was his rising to life-continuing not life-made-new. It was resumption not resurrection with a capital ‘R’. Not to put too fine a point on it, if Lazarus had been arthritic before dying then he would still be arthritic!

There are no indications as to the brother and his sisters’ expectations. Did they realise that Lazarus’ restoration to life would have consequences? John (12:11) makes it clear that the chief priests determined to kill the resuscitated Lazarus as well as Jesus –“since it was on Lazarus’ account that many of the Jews were leaving them (the chief priests) and believing in Jesus.”
 
It is understandable if, hearing this Gospel extract, we empathize with the sisters in their loss. But it does raise the question about whether we are sufficiently alert to the implications of what we ask from God. Are we truly praying for the wellbeing of the other or our own comforting? It asks an unquantifiable love for a wife or husband, a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister to give the partner, parent or sibling the freedom to go to God when life here is evidently completing. How comforting must it be for the almost exhausted to hear or sense that their loved ones love them enough to will them into God’s arms.
 
Each silent Lazarus calls us to witness for Christ
with our life as well as your lips.
 

4th Sunday of Lent (26.03.17)

ANOINTING
 
How often have you been the recipient of an anointing? An equally fair question would be – how often have you anointed other people? It would not be surprising were the questions to cause initial puzzlement and no ready response! Outside of religious circles ‘anointing’ is not a word in common usage in the secular world. 

Yet anointing – understood as the willingness to bring a benefit to another as opposed to harm – is happening widely and continuously. Any one of our senses can be involved in anointing. For example, our sense of smell may detect the presence of a noxious substance that another cannot sense. Our eyes can radiate a greeting that helps bring calm. Our sense of touch can not only support but also reassure. These, and so many more frequent events, can be termed ‘anointing’ if we understand the word in its widest sense.
 
God’s Word for us this 4th Sunday of Lent has anointing as a common theme. The first Reading tells of God’s prophet Samuel being sent to anoint David as King of Israel (Samuel 16:1,6-7,10-13); St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (5:8-14) tells how the coming of Christ (The Anointed One) brought light to the darkness; and Jesus, in John’s Gospel (9:1-41) anoints a blind man with a mixture of saliva and dust.

For some people, the word anointing has religious overtones. But its multiple applications range from religion to the beauty and health industry. Anointing has a distinguished history. For example, the Hebrew people recognised anointing as God’s way of confirming his choice of a person. Aaron was anointed high priest. Both Saul and David were anointed as kings of Israel, at God’s prompting, by the prophet Samuel. The titles ‘Messiah’ and ‘The Christ’ in Hebrew and Greek translate as ‘The Anointed One’. 

In ancient Israel, a host would have anointed the face of a guest on their arrival with perfumed oil to help their recovery from the sun and wind of the journey. Servants would have washed the guests’ feet from dust and sand. St. Luke (7:45-46) recalls Jesus publicly declaiming his host Simon’s lack of courtesy: “And turning to the woman, Jesus said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give Me water for My feet, but she wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not greet Me with a kiss, but she has not stopped kissing My feet since I arrived. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she has anointed My feet with perfume.…”.
 
For Christians, the Sacrament of Baptism introduces them to anointing as a sacred action with eternal consequences. Maybe this is the time to ask what keepsakes of your Baptism do you still have? More senior Christians may have photographs and possibly a garment. The more recently Baptised will likely have videos and photos of a family party. The more apposite question for a Baptised person of any age is – ‘What do you treasure in your heart concerning your first anointing by the Holy Spirit?’

If your Baptismal anointing occurred when you were a newborn then your memory will be dependent upon what your parents, Godparents and family told you. If there has been supportive nurturing of your relationship with Jesus at home and in school, you may have a rich vein of memories on which to call. An adult, coming to Baptism, has her or his own personal memory. Our Baptismal memory, should we have one, will influence our daily relationship with Jesus. 

Practising Jews begin each day with a prayer from the Book of Deuteronomy (6:4-9). The Jew is to remember that he or she is God’s chosen. The same can be said for the Baptised woman or man.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God; the Lord is one.
And you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your means.
And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart.
And you shall teach them to your children and speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.”
 
The Deuteronomy text is grounded in family life. The parents are to ‘love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your means’.  By the example of their own lifestyle they affirm their children’s spiritual heritage. God looks to them to be the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith: “you shall teach them (God’s words) to your children and speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.” 
The Book of Deuteronomy dates back to 1400 BC (before the birth Christ). Its insistence on prayer and formation threading through the whole day is as valid for 21st century Christians as it was for the early Israelites. 
The prevailing breakdown in the transmission of faith from generation to generation can be traced to the breakdown in the integrity of family life. 

Spiritual or Sacred Anointing is more than the application of Chrism at Baptism, Confirmation and priestly and episcopal Ordination. God spiritually anoints all who choose to read or hear read His Word. Notice the emphasis - choose to read or hear. There’s no such thing as a haphazard encounter with God’s anointing Word. Whether we realise it or not there is deep within us a thirst that only God’s Word can satisfy.  God proffers his Word constantly but never compels our attention. 
 
Jesus as a child would have been continuously anointed, as it were, by the words of his mother and foster-father, Joseph. Their daily family prayer celebrated in Jesus’ hearing was an expression of their own relationship with God. The late Michael Paul Gallagher SJ wrote: “if faith is not an experience of encounter, we have little to reflect on except the words of others … and they will ring hollow unless touched by personal fire”. (‘Into Extra Time’ DLT)

Mary would have spoken to Jesus of the events surrounding his conception. We can imagine Mary telling Jesus of his visit, while still in her womb, to Elizabeth who was herself pregnant with John-the-Baptiser. Jesus would have been anointed daily with the communion of love that bonded Mary and Joseph. The prevailing current breakdown in the transmission of faith from generation to generation can be traced to the breakdown in the integrity of family life. 
 
Are today’s parents aware of how their words and actions, especially within the home, are anointing their offspring, whatever their age? Equally, are the ‘children’ sufficiently aware of how their attitudes and behaviour are anointing their parents, especially in their old age?
 
Anointing is associated with consecration inferring a solemn dedication to a special religious service or purpose. British monarchs are anointed to be of service to their people. Catholic priests and bishops are anointed to be of service to the faithful and the wider community in the name of Jesus. As a matter of information, Deacons are not anointed at their Ordination. Persons, places or things can be anointed. A chalice, for example, is anointed for exclusive use in the Sacrifice of the Mass.
For Christians, the anointing of a person signifies their association with God, their consecration to God by which they become holy by being associated with the Sacredness of God.

On the occasion of being Baptised, a person is anointed ‘priest, prophet and king’. Each Baptised person shares in the priesthood of the laity – the ability to make an offering to God of their life, of prayer, of dedication as a parent, teacher, nurse, carer and so forth. Each Baptised shares the prophetic role of speaking truthfully about the present time in relation to God’s declared will. Each Baptised is called, through adoption, to share in the kingship of Christ – who came not be served but to serve and to give his life for others.

In English, the antonym for consecrate is desecrate. As Baptism is accepted as the consecration of a person to God, the deliberate non-fulfillment of Baptismal promises can be nothing other than a desecration. 

Have I, this day, been sufficiently aware of how I have anointed the people with whom I have shared my life.
 

3rd Sunday of Lent (19.03.17)

Thirst
 
Believers hold that God’s creation is a finely tuned network of interdependent relationships. Human beings are the high point of God’s creation bearing his image and likeness. In addition humans have the unique distinction of being gifted with the intelligence to rationalise and exercise free will. These unique gifts are to be used with care and creativity in the stewarding of God’s interdependent creation. Too often humanity has seen the earth and its resources as commodities for its own use, exploitation or destruction. We have too often failed to see creation as a community to which we belong.
 
Thirst is a common experience as frequent and individual as the number of people on the planet at any given moment. The primary antidote to thirst is drinkable water but this is not readily available, at minimal cost, to everyone. Thirst is at the heart of the Gospel for this 3rd Sunday of Lent (John: 4:5-42). It features the Jewish Jesus’ face-to-face encounter with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.
 
A human being can survive for three weeks without food but for only three days without water. How is it possible to justify the construction and manning of a ‘space-station’ while people are dying of thirst on earth? The six-letter word ‘thirst’ is capable of multi-layer interpretation but only if we stop to think about it. There is so much for which human beings thirst, besides a thirst-quenching drink.

We have a deep thirst for peace within our world and within our life. We have an equal thirst for justice, for love, for harmony between peoples. Humanity, in the course of history, has so damaged God’s finely tuned network of interdependent relationships that people have almost lost hope for its restoration. They deeply thirst for such a restoration without recognising that they are allowing themselves to be constantly ‘bought off’ by false distractions cleverly displayed by the power of Evil. The ‘distractions’ are numerous but often include the corruption of power, money, drugs, alcohol etc. 

Jesus, in John’s Gospel extract, says to the Samaritan: “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

The Samaritan woman hears Jesus’ words literally and answers: “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?”

With loving patience Jesus attempts to lead the woman to a previously untapped realisation of the depth of her thirst: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” The woman continues, understandably, to interpret Jesus’ words literally. There was a well, with drinking water, actually within the nearby town of Sychar where Jesus’ companions had gone to buy food. Had the Samaritan woman, because of her reputation, been prevented from using the town well by other women who resented her? Why else would she come all the way out of the town to Jacob’s well and at the midday and hottest hour?
 
Our experience of ‘thirst’ has multiple levels some of which we may be tempted to ignore for a long time. Our soul has an abiding thirst for God that only Jesus Christ can satisfy. In this land of exile, this territory of the Evil One, the soul’s pathway is strewn with the spiritual equivalent of IED’s. 
 
A person suffering thirst divests himself or herself of whatever makes them hot and uncomfortable. A spiritually thirsty person may be tempted by one of Satan’s ‘quick fixes’ – going into church, even attending Mass, saying a prayer, being generous towards others.  These, and such like, are good things in themselves but their very infrequency will not quench deep spiritual needs. People suffering from deep spiritual thirst have to be willing to divest themselves of whatever baggage Satan is using to entrap them or slow them down. People say that good habits are hard to form. It is equally true to say that bad habits are hard to break!
 
Jesus, in his on-going conversation with the Samaritan woman, enables her to revisit her own, perhaps long-buried, spirituality until, finally, she says: 
“I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything”.
At this point Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one speaking with you.” 
 
Try to imagine, if you will, the impact of Jesus’ words: “I am he, the one speaking with you.” That John halts the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at this point is perhaps telling us of a silence in which words would be impossible and inadequate. Was this the moment at which a nameless Samaritan woman found her spiritual thirst truly quenched?
 
“Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” The first instinct of the spiritually ‘thirst-quenched’ Samaritan woman was to share her discovery with the very townsfolk who had driven her out. She was compelled to share her revitalized faith! The Christian life is based on the twin pillars of discovery and communication. No discovery is complete until the desire to share Christ fills our hearts; and we cannot communicate Christ to others until we have discovered him, quenched out thirst in him, for ourselves.

Does this Lenten Sunday bring us an invitation to explore the deeper thirst in our own life? Are we willing to give time to imagining our self sitting near Jesus and engaging in a similar conversation that is personal to us? What challenges might Jesus lay before us in a demonstration of his love? 
 

2nd Sunday of Lent (12.03.16)

THE  TRANSFIGURATION
 
In today’s Gospel we hear the story of Jesus becoming radiant and aglow as He is recognised by God as “My Son, the Chosen One”, while others are still questioning and wondering who is really is.
 
Some say “this is Joseph’s son, surely”.
Others are not so sure.  They ask “Who is this who commands the waves?”
Most people admit that Jesus us more than meets the eye.
 
Jesus Himself keeps probing them when He asks:  “Who do people say that I am?”  “Who do you say I am?”   The responses vary as to whether He is one of the prophets come back, like Elijah, or maybe he is the Messiah who will have victory without suffering, leading them all unscathed into the Promise Land.
 
 All this happened as He was on His way to Jerusalem - there to undergo a horrifically violent death. 
 
In His humanity He recoiled from what was ahead, and needed the reassurance of His heavenly Father in order to face this ordeal, so He went apart with three of His disciples and climbed Mount Tabor to pray for strength and enlightenment.
 
While he was thus in earnest prayer to His Father He was favoured by a marvellous experience.
He heard His Father’s voice loud and clear exclaiming:-
 
You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
 
In that moment the darkness lifted and life was transformed with meaning.  His face shone radiantly with joy.  His disciples saw what had happened and were enthralled by it.  As He came down the mountain he was able to face that bleak future with faith, hope and love, convinced that the future was in the Hands and Will of His Father, and that His Father loved Him.  That was all that mattered .
 
At times life can become very dark for all of us.  It is in those moments that we need to experience our own Tabors.  We need to understand the true meaning of our pain and sacrifices.  True love gives them meaning – the love and support of our friends.
At times, they can do little to help except to stay by our side as the disciples stayed with Christ on the mountain.
 
It is in the life, death and resurrection of Christ that we discover the real meaning of our own lives and deaths, if we are prepared to follow Him along the road to Jerusalem.
 
What does it take to transfigure me!     What would it take to transfigure the people I know! 
Who calls my name in love!     Whose name do I call in love!
 
Yes, God asks us to transfigure each other by the power of God’s  love  in us.
We are all called daily to the ministry of Transfiguration.
 
LORD, You have given us a vision of the meaning of who we are.
With faith in You we can transform even the darkest moments into moments of light and beauty,
For You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.   Amen
 

1st Sunday of Lent (05.03.17)

Temptation In Abundance
 
Many would agree that our world is awash with temptation. Temptation exists because God has gifted humanity with freedom of choice, thereby distinguishing us from all his other creation. Necessarily contiguous with the gift is God’s inherent guarantee of an equilibrium within which humanity is truly free from coercion, truly free to rationalise and to choose. The Letter to the Romans (5:20) expresses it thus: But as people sinned more and more, (thereby choosing to align themselves with Evil) God's wonderful grace became more abundant.” God’s grace remains available even if, previously, we have chosen to discard it. Thus, in our life in this world, we are never without access to the equilibrium of counterbalance.
 
God and the Devil are at war in what we call ‘our’ world; this place of our self-imposed exile subsequent to humanity’s Original Sin. The eventual outcome of this daily battle is already settled by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come to pass: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

Meanwhile, our individual lifespan on earth is a time of testing. As St. John, in his First Letter (5:19), states: “We are well aware that we are from God, and that the whole world is in the power of the Evil One.”

Temptation, as a time of testing, relates directly with our capacity for choice. Historically temptation is linked with negativity, with what is contrary to God’s will. Each time we pray the ‘Our Father’ we say: “Lead us not into temptation … ” What do the majority of people understand by these words?

Our repeated failure to be faithful in loving God reveals the venom and duplicity with which Satan attempts to undermine us. We have every reason to seek God’s help! ‘Lead us not into temptation’ might more helpfully be understood were the translation to run something like – ‘heavenly Father, help us not to be beguiled and enchanted into making choices against your love and your will’.

There’s a painting somewhere of a youngster being drawn away by a parental hand from something that has captured the child’s attention. The child, though complying with the parental wish, continues to look back at whatever captured his or her fascination in the first place. We are not children! God will offer his hand, so to speak, but we have to respond affirmatively with our whole being. There’s no place for  - “I am coming…. but…” For us it has to be a whole ‘Yes’ or else it is a whole ‘No’.  
Jesus said: “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’
Anything more comes from the evil one”. (Matthew 5:37)

Our ‘yes’ to God has to be our whole-hearted intention ‘to be delivered from Evil’ even though, in particular instances, we may be struggling to assemble, let alone hold together, every fibre of our being. The Lord reads the intentions of our hearts, irrespective of what our lips may be pronouncing. If there is a discrepancy between what we say and what we will, the discrepancy prevents the Lord responding to us as he would wish to. The discrepancy is a compromise that leaves open a way for Satan.
 
Matthew’s Gospel (4:1-11) for this 1st Sunday of Lent tells how Jesus, following his baptism by John-the-Baptiser and his heavenly Father’s public acclamation of him (Matt. 3:17 and Mark 1:11), is guided into the desert by the Holy Spirit.

The word ‘temptation’ deserves to be explored. The Greek for ‘to tempt’ is peirazein. It implies being immersed in a ‘time of testing’ rather than being led astray. Temptation is a ‘time of testing’ of our declaration to love God above everyone and everything.

Daily life is full of multiple temptations that test our commitments ranging from dietary resolutions to Sacramental Vows. The grace of Baptism protects the Baptised’s inclination to love God, in whose image and likeness each is made. This inclination does not infringe our free choice. It prompts our search for a compatible wholesomeness of being that can only and uniquely be found in God. Baptismal grace requires continual replenishment and reinforcement over the course of our earthly pilgrimage. In just the same way, a married couple need to frequently express their love for one another in word and gesture.

Do we, as the Baptised members of Jesus, his adopted sisters and brothers, really acknowledge ourselves to be God’s committed ‘foot-soldiers’? Do we voluntarily, on a daily basis, engage with the Holy Spirit and offer ourselves to be ‘deployed’ against the forces of Evil?  This is what is at the heart of the word ‘temptation’.
 
Matthew does not give us any detail of Jesus’ forty-day fast. Almost automatically when we hear the word ‘fast’ our thoughts shift to food, drink and other pleasures. An alternative word for ‘fast’ might be ‘focus’. By a process of fasting, the setting aside of non-essentials, we can refine our focus and our will in the service of the Lord as we promised, or others did in our name, when we were Baptised.

We applaud the achievements of top-flight sportspersons. Do we understand that the price of their performance on the court, the track, the pitch or in the pool is an unrelenting commitment to focus … for years? Their goal is a gold medal. Our goal is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Jesus not for forty days but every day that we breathe the polluted air of this world.

Jesus’ forty-day fast had one objective namely, the refining of his focus. He had to eliminate everything superfluous that did not immediately concern his heavenly Father’s will.  Following his Baptism in the Jordan, Jesus’ focus was Calvary. Satan offered Jesus less arduous but false routes. Satan does the same to us. His snares are filled with the ‘quicksand’ of compromise to snuff out our will to love God.
 
Satan will not take issue with us as we fiddle with our usual Lenten ‘penances’ – sugar, chocolate, biscuits, the cinema and so on. He will certainly take issue with us if we make our Lenten 2017 a renewed daily focus on engaging with our Baptismal commitment to be Christ’s foot-soldiers in the battle with Evil. Wherever we are - home, workplace, supermarket, recreational facility – our daily focus is to make Christ present to others in the way we speak and interact.

This extract from the Letter to the Hebrews (12: 1-4) may help boost our will to ‘re-enlist’ with Christ this Lent:
The Example of Jesus:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time (03.08.14)

‘Previously’

Glacier explorers are always alert to the death-dealing danger of hidden, deep crevasses. These bottomless chasms have claimed countless lives over the centuries. A parallel can be drawn with the Church in Western Europe today. A chasm has opened up between the three Scripture readings at Sunday Mass and people’s weekday life. A homilist, unless truly charismatic, has an impossible task!

Just consider - entering a church for Sunday Mass - worshippers come from their electronically all-embracing 21st. century life to a setting, value system and vocabulary that has become, especially for upcoming generations, alien! Fewer and fewer young people speak ‘Christian’, which means having a mindset and a vocabulary resonating with Christian empathy!

Popular TV series insert ‘Previously’ segments before new episodes, even when just days apart, to help viewers’ recall. A combination of the visual and verbal triggers the memory, enabling the new segment to sit seamlessly with the habitual viewer.

Tragically, there’s no ‘Previously’ for congregations participating at Sunday Mass. Many have a six-day chasm of utterly different involvement with no meaningful remembrance of God’s Word from the previous Sunday. Moreover, the Sunday Scripture readings do not always ‘follow on’.

Through his prophet, Jeremiah, God addressed these words to his Old Testament people at a similar time of disconnect (14: 17-21)

“Therefore you shall say this word to them:
‘Let my eyes flow with tears night and day,

And let them not cease;


For the virgin daughter of my people
has been broken with a mighty stroke, with a very severe blow.
If I go out to the field,
then I behold, those slain with the sword!
And if I enter the city,
then behold, those sick from famine!


Yes, both prophet and priest ply their trade throughout the land and have no knowledge.’”

An exception is this Saturday and Sunday, 2nd and 3rd August 2014. By coincidence, Matt 14: 1-12, the Gospel reading appointed for this Saturday, reveals the background that led to John the Baptist’s martyrdom. Multiple-murderer King Herod’s conscience proved to be his personal ‘previously’. Herod had beheaded John the Baptist rather than lose political face. Uncharacteristically this had disturbed him and he now believed Jesus to be the resurrected John the Baptist! A troubled conscience is, at least, a living conscience!

In Christian times, John the Baptist was a familiar name. The memory of a man clad in animal skins, eating locusts and wild honey and with a fearless preaching style, would have endured. People would have recalled tales of his birth, mission and martyrdom to some degree. A street poll today would likely turn up few, if any, who could identify John the Baptist.

For centuries, parents gave their children the names of revered Christians. The Christian history of places was reflected in their name. This treasure chest of our noteworthy Christian antecedents has been replaced in people’s memories by the names of sports personalities and briefly enduring celebrities.

As we experience the world from an armchair or computer console, we are bombarded with more information than we can comfortably store. Experienced TV producers understand all too well the ever-shortening attention and retention periods of the human mind. ‘Soap’ producers need to refocus every twelve to fifteen seconds if they wish to retain the attention of their viewers. Maybe this says as much about the poverty of content as the state of the human mind!

Popular ‘soaps’ have weekly multiple episodes with full ‘watch-back’ facility. Sunday Mass, by comparison, is a one-day-a-week verbal-only event for the inside of an hour with no changing scenes and one male voice with readers making brief appearances. In times past, Sunday Mass was the gathering place of the local community followed by particular family get-togethers. Now, Sunday Mass has become the optional, often missed, ‘add-on’ to a busy weekend.

The reality of the six-day chasm (Monday to Saturday) means that many Sunday Mass-attending Catholics are progressively unable to link up with the Scripture extracts they hear. For there to be the essential, Scriptural connectedness, people would need a considerable time of pre-Mass acclimatization. Where once, daily life and Christian life were one and the same, now they bear no resemblance.

World Cup footballers and other sports stars are taken to expensive acclimatization locations well in advance of their professional events to ensure their fitness and readiness for the contests. There needs to be comparable preparation provided for the average Catholic who does make it to Sunday Mass.

The disconnect, now entrapping the Catholic laity in particular, has grown surreptitiously like the hidden glacial chasm. Sadly and tragically those who trek to Sunday Mass, unlike their glacier exploring counterparts, are largely unaware of the danger they are in. God’s Word is our essential lifeline for spiritual nourishment and fortification in our daily battle with Satan’s hidden entrapments. Without God’s Word alive and active, daily, within our souls and hearts we are not only a danger to ourselves but also to our companions. Jesus’ warning in John 15:5 comes to mind:

“I am the vine, you are the branches;
those who abide in Me with Me in them, bear much fruit,
for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Just today, the Bible Society sent me this appeal to support Bible literacy:

“We’re giving you the opportunity to help us teach more than half a million Chinese Christians to read the Bible. 

Han Xiao Lang from China learnt to read when she was 34. She was one of the first to sign up to Bible Society literacy classes in 2009 and said, ‘After the class I felt more hopeful, I could appreciate the message of God for me. I found it easier to hear his voice…’ (Han Xiao Lang, now 38)”


While I’m glad to support the promotion of the Bible in China, I’m alarmingly aware how many of the UK Baptised are sleepwalking into a disconnect with their Christian heritage. Unlike us, the Chinese are hungry for God’s Word. Perhaps it is all too easy to condemn Herod the Murderer forgetting that his conscience was at least functioning.

Matthew 15:14 is an appropriate quote for the spiritually unseeing who fail to appreciate the chasms under their very noses!

"They are blind guides of the blind!
And if a blind person guides a blind person,
both will fall into a pit."
Peter said to Jesus, "Explain the parable to us."…

The Gospel for this Sunday (Matt 14: 13-21) reveals Jesus’ wish to grieve privately when given news of his cousin, John the Baptist’s, martyrdom. But the pressing needs of the living called so loudly to Jesus that he stepped away from his grief to answer their cries. Jesus picked up John the Baptist’s baton adding it to his own mandate to establish a Kingdom whose hallmark was to be communion with his heavenly Father in the care of one’s neighbour. The crucial element is the depth of our connectivity with God. The Christian veneer over much of modern day Europe is as deceptive as the glacier with its hidden crevasses. In Matthew 13:21 Jesus warns about superficial Christianity:

“But since they have no root, they last only a short time.
When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word,
 they quickly fall away.”

Keeping to the glacial analogy, the last line could be amended to read, “they quickly fall victim to the crevasse”!

At Pentecost this year, Pope Francis spoke about the Christian disconnect:

“Christians without memory are not a true Christians: they are halfway along the road, imprisoned in the moment, who do not know how to value their history, who do not know how to read it or live it as a history of salvation. We, with the help of the Holy Spirit, are able to interpret the inner inspirations and events of life in the light of Jesus' words. And thus our knowledge of memory, the knowledge of the heart, that is a gift from the Spirit, grows in us”.   (Vatican 8 June 2014)

In the popular quiz show ‘I want to be a millionaire’, the lifelines are often crucial. Our Baptismal life, when functioning well, makes us wonderful spiritual lifelines for our family, friends and colleagues.