Sunday, 26 June 2011

Corpus Christi

GospelJohn 6:51-58 
Jesus said to the Jews:
‘I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh,
for the life of the world.’
Then the Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. Jesus replied:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood
has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food
and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
lives in me
and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’

Juliana of Li├Ęge, an Augustinian nun,  had visions of a full moon containing a single black spot. The Lord came to her in these visions and explained that the spot was the absence of a feast to celebrate the Blessed Sacrament. Twenty-something years later and with the approval of Bishops and Pope Urban IV and the feast day was established. 

Despite the fact that we celebrate the Last Supper during Holy Week and the Eucharist itself at each Mass; the Lord seemed to think that we needed a dedicated feast day. 

A wonderful feast day to celebrate and we have celebrated. In our church we have held the Quarant'Ore (40 hours vigil before the Blessed Sacrament). The opportunity to stay overnight in church being something I love to do; we have had Holy Communicants and people received into the church and the revival of a procession to bring the Lord out among his people (albeit still within the church grounds) and our ministers renewed their commitment to their various vocations all over this one weekend.

Overnight vigils are always bound to inspire thoughts and images -  the lack of sleep -  the commitment of those trying to be attentive grooms and maids - the midnight feeling that you simply are joined to something greater.  Whatever reason they are times when my journal writing often goes into overtime and this was no exception. 

 As I sat last night in our tall roofed church, with the rafters cracking from the wind and rain; the candles bobbing and flickering from untraceable draughts and car headlights passing across the angles of the church like searchlights it was impossible not be drawn to the Blessed Sacrament enthroned in his sunburst monstrance. Way back when I started my blog I wrote about how Benediction was the high point 
           of my spiritual youth; seeing our tiny priest being turned into an Aztec god by the elevation of the monstrance during a service spoken in Latin. It was, for a long 
          time, my understanding of God's majesty and mystery. 

These days, mystery for me surrounds much simpler things, and I find myself feeling sorry for a God who  we think we can lock in a tabernacle and bring out for high days and holidays and as I sat with the Lord I wondered why he would want such a feast;
 after all he is a man of humility and didn't seem to take very well to being adored.But then it is not so much about the Lord's need of us as our need of Him. 

Pope Urban approved the solemnity after he had witnessed a consecrated host bleeding.  Proof enough for him that the Consecration did bring about the changing of the bread and wine into the Real Presence. But why had he needed this proof? The belief in the Real Presence was confirmed by the Church hundreds of years earlier.We have a strange sense of the miraculous - that it is easier to see Jesus heal the paralytic man that for us to believe his sins were forgiven. We have not learnt much from that Gospel.  Why had the Pope needed a miracle to convince him; why today, do we?

According to various polls, anything between 30 and 50% of Catholics don't believe in the Real Presence as a Real presence; the celebration is a memorial; an evangelistic tool; a reminder of who we work for. 

Perhaps we would do well to remember exactly who it is we do work for? Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, Person of the Trinity, Alpha and Omega, the Word made flesh. God, for whom nothing is impossible. Jesus said; 'For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.' And, as Karl Rahner pointed out if God says bread and wine is his body and blood - should we not expect it to be true. 

Jesus asks us to continue his work; to be his brothers and sisters; believing that we can do what he does with less than a mustardseed of faith and the food of eternal life.  St Paul tells us that this is the purpose of Eucharist - to be fed by God, with God, calling to us to be temples of God's living presence. 

A presence that cannot be contained; if Jesus can give himself to us then we cannot hope to keep him just to ourselves - the Lord is not like that - remember he overfills water jars with wine and baskets with the crumbs of feeding thousands. His generosity is a challenge to us to do the same. In the early church the response to 'The body of Christ' was 'I am'. 

Take me, eat me,  be me, share me - what a fearsome challenge - a challenge that Jesus made to his disciples repeatedly through John's Gospel until there were only a few left. And for them his promise 'to be with you always'. 

Corpus Christi - a feast day that is not meant to remind the Lord that he is the Body of Christ but to remind us that we are.


Saturday, 18 June 2011

Trinity - is like....

     John 3:16-18

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

One of the things I love most about Jesus is that he is just as tongue-tied as the rest of us about explaining mystery. Well, maybe somewhat better than some of us,  but the 50 parables of the Gospels are no more than metaphors and imagery as Jesus tries, over and over again,  to refine the statements - God is like....the Kingdom is like....Heaven is like...

But most of all, the most indescribable of all, the Holy Trinity that is our God. St Anselm writes that 'faith seeks understanding' but the seeking simply creates more of a need to understand what cannot be understood. Over the years I have written reflections on the Trinity in the form of a dance; a mathematical paradox and a creative interactive force. Do I even dare to try again?

To be honest I wasn't going to.  When I was thinking about this feast a few days ago the thought came into my head that St Anselm was wrong - faith does not seek understanding - faith seeks reassurance. Asking God to find a way to let us know that it is true; that 'He' is true; that 'They' are true. Faith seeks ways of turning faith into proof and that is as impossible for us as it was for Jesus. It just has to happen; which is why, sometimes, it can only happen when there is nothing left; when all the 'truths' have passed us by or let us down. When we are hiding in the shadows believing ourselves lost and suddenly a shaft of light appears. Then the thought of this God of many levels and relationships becomes a need to have a parent and a family that we can belong to. Maybe we need less proof and more instinct. Heart speaking to heart(s).

But then I was driving home tonight and I had a 'God is like...' moment - so here it is. And, if you are a geographer you might have to forgive me.

One of the best things about the summer is that the time is often right for me to go and watch the sunset over the one of the rivers on each side of the penisular where I live. On the Liverpool side is the River Mersey, a remarkably idiosyncratic river that sailors and pilots have learnt to treat with respect over many centuries.

At the mouth of the river is a lightship called the Mersey Bar. If you asked most of the locals, they would say that the Bar is not the lightship but the barrier of water that keeps the river from the sea and vice versa. And indeed the flat bottomed ferry boats turn back at the heavy pulling of the 'Bar' tides and giant ocean liners and containerships will not cross this invisible gateway until the tiny, experienced pilot boats appear to lead them upriver.

It is a place of neither/or and both/and. This tract of water ensures that the ocean and the river maintain their identity. Freshwater meets seawater yet the borderland allows the salmon, the dolphin and the porpoise and myriads of other lifeforms to travel from one to the other. The water is uncontained, unlimited, unrestrained but there is a point where the ocean is no longer the ocean and the river no longer the river. This is the'Bar' - not the signage on a lonely lightship but the presence that is both/and.

Just as Jesus is the Gate and the Gatekeeper; the means by which the immense permanence of God and the creative impulsiveness of God is reconciled and made open to the universe, and beyond; as Jesus is the bridge holding Heaven and Earth, God and Man together; so he is the Logos  - the principal, the defining, the uniting element of was, is and will be.

And because he is both God and Man - we have been included in the mystery -by default or intent.
            As in  Rublev's Icon, the invitation has been made. The Trinity is no longer self-contained - it has a crack in it and we are meant to find our way in.

Perhaps this is no better an example than any before; perhaps it is a 'you have to know(love) the sea(God) to get it' moment; then when you get it you still can never explain it.  But it's an attempt and maybe it will resonate with some.

Explain mystery? Only a human being would even try.

            It is like....


Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Tradition Three

GospelMatthew 6:7-15 

Another Place - Anthony Gormley

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him. So you should pray like this:
‘Our Father in heaven,
may your name be held holy,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us.
And do not put us to the test,
but save us from the evil one.
‘Yes, if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours; but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either.’

 Tradition Three - The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking

I had intended to edit this tradition to create an apppropriate spiritual comparison. After all, the many hundreds of addiction and self-help groups have appropriated the Steps and Traditions as guidelines for their own needs and failings. As a guide for Christians, what would be the 'spiritual' comparison?

AA itself says that the principal of the Third Tradition is  ' to keep the primary focus of the fellowship from becoming diluted.' 

What is our primary focus?

The rich, young man asked this question - what must I do? And the answer was direct enough - let go of what is not important and follow me. 

What is not important is what dilutes our spiritual lives. The busyness, the aspiration, the place on life's ladder - the ties that bind. 

Caught in the bubbling streams of life we babble on whilst God sits and waits. Waits for us to recognise him as Father and Mother, and to call on his help.

The only requirement is to stop.


Saturday, 11 June 2011

Tradition Two

GospelJohn 20:19-23 

In the evening of the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.
‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’
After saying this he breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

Tradition Two; For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.  Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern. 

We live in a world that accepts hierarchy as a fact of life; a life that we often buy into. From the earliest of times we are encouraged to be aspirational; leaders are regarded with more esteem than followers; esteem is taught to children as something they should have for themselves and less overtly for others. 

One of the first things we do with our first year senior children is vote in form representatives, appoint council members and sports team captains. They have barely got to know each other but they already know that some are better than others. Group dynamics rely on some people knowing their place; and others are fast on their way to another place. On the positive side - the young people are able to make use of their gifts - but maybe because I was the one picked last for everything I wonder what message it gives at such an early age.

This is the way the world is and maybe this is the reason some people find it difficult to cope with - that just being yourself is not considered enough if 'yourself' isn't noticeably outstanding. And perhaps the positives of success and achievement have their downside in resentment and a sense of failure. 

How do you create a nurturing, safe, spiritual  dynamic in a diverse group of people who have come together from all walks of life and all ends of the success/failure spectrum. How do Christians 'live' with each other? 

By remembering that they have given control of their lives, and any imagined control of other peoples lives, over to God?

St Paul's Letter to the Galatians 3:26-29
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

So often Paul's 'soundbite verses'  are used a a means of division or judgement. He is a man who speaks his mind although the interpretation can often be lost in the translation. But this verse seems pretty clear - there can be no division or exclusion between Christians because we have accepted Christ as our role model and our Saviour. If Jesus chose not to judge, deny or define others then how can we think we can?

Yet we do.
We say - we are being like Jesus but 'they' are not. 
We say - if it wasn't for 'them' we could be like Jesus. 

No wonder Jesus finds it so hard to leave us and no wonder he sends the Holy Spirit to act as our guide. The Spirit, the Essence of Life, is breathed into us many times during our journey of faith; we are energised by the sacraments and particularly the Sacrament of Pentecost - Confirmation - when we agree that we are prepared to live out the message of Jesus ourselves - that the breath of our 'yes' is returned by the Spirit's own acknowledgement - that each breath we take will remind us of God within us. 

Within us however, does not mean just for 'us'. We are brothers and sisters; we must love as we would wish to be loved; as leaders we must be peace bringers; as community we must hold that peace sacred.

Mark's Gospel begins with the stirring phrase 'Repent and believe the Good News'. If Mark had ever continued past the empty tomb I wonder if he would have ended it the same way? After all this is the message Jesus leaves us with - you are my friends - here is my strength and my gift - be redeemed - change your expectation and judgements - forgive and be forgiven - be together in unity with each other, for each other.


Monday, 6 June 2011

Twelve Traditions

Gospel John 16:29-33

His disciples said to Jesus, ‘Now you are speaking plainly and not using metaphors! Now we see that you know everything, and do not have to wait for questions to be put into words; because of this we believe that you came from God.’ Jesus answered them:

‘Do you believe at last?
Listen; the time will come – in fact it has come already –
when you will be scattered,
each going his own way and leaving me alone.
And yet I am not alone,
because the Father is with me.
I have told you all this
so that you may find peace in me.
In the world you will have trouble,
but be brave: I have conquered the world.’

Tradition One: Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon Unity

Whilst most people may have heard of the Twelve Steps even if they don't know what they are- very few people outside a Twelve Step programme will have heard of the Twelve Traditions.

The traditions are something like the Rule that is often followed in spiritual groups - except that it is not a rule at all. There is no 'you must' or 'you must not'. They are guides and hopeful desires that, like the communities in Acts, support the faith of the individual and allow the individual to be a creative part of the group. 

There are those who will try to live the Steps without support. There is enough internet information; enough books and cd's to tell you all you need to know; likewise with a life of spirituality. The solitary life can be very tempting if you don't want to be challenged, questioned, asked to move out your comfort zone, or to be noticed when you step out of line. But they are all the wrong reasons for living a solitary life - we need connection; we need fellowship; at the very least we need a few people who know us and share our desires; who will be there when we need them.

And whether in a intimate group of friends or a like-minded community of faith we need to realise that our personal strength is nurtured and comforted by our compassion and responsibility to the shared vision. 

The disciples have reached a moment when the scales have been lifted fron their eyes. They don't need the stories and parables any more - they have made the journey - this is a 'grown-up faith' moment. 

Seeing this, and gently bringing them back to earth, Jesus has to tell them of his leaving. This discipleship is no easy road. But no-one, including Jesus, should imagine that they are travelling it alone. 

Remember this moment and know that it is true but challenges will come; you are together in a unity of belief - there will be days when you think you are alone -in moments of strength and in moments of weakness - but - you will not be alone; I will be with the Father and the Father is eternally present. Your faith in the Father will bring you to my peace. 

As Jesus shares our yoke so it is up to us to share the load with those who need help; through action, through presence, through prayer - for ourselves and each other.

No matter how far we are physically separated from those we share our faith we should remember that our spirits share in the unity of Christ's peace. The peace that the world will never give.