Thursday, 27 December 2012

Holy Family

Sunday GospelLuke 2:41-52 

Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere.

  Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, ‘My child, why have, you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’ ‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant.

  He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men.

There is something very reassuring about Luke's Holy Family. For him, the  important elements were both 'holy' and 'family'. What made Jesus the man he grew to be was not an environment of closeted privilege but the sacramental  and mundane ordinariness of peasant life. The lineage back to David that includes so many 'black sheep' that few would admit to it; the young woman -  perhaps a second wife; a home in the Galilee surrounded by extended family; a life of habit and tradition - the presentation in the Temple; the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. 

But as the saying goes; everyone is ordinary until you get to know them.     

Thanks to the time Luke spent with Mary, we have these snapshot anecdotes that may have suggested something more; at least in hindsight. 

The meeting between the miraculous mothers- Elizabeth and Mary- bringing affirmation of what must have seemed like a dream; the Presentation in the Temple where the wisdom of elders recognised something in the child's eyes. And then this memory of 'the first time we thought we had lost him and maybe when we realised he was not ours at all'. Moments any mother would hold in her heart and that time would lend meaning to.

How many of us have shared similar stories over the past few days in friends and family get-togethers? Cutting through any illusions of superiority with stories of fears and adventures; dares and disasters - that all feed into the people that we become - the ones most likely to...  the ones who never did... and the ones you couldn't stop.

Even at twelve, Jesus knew he was part of something bigger than his mother and father; even bigger than the caravan of relatives, friends and neighbours. That knowledge widened his world; made him into someone more than a boy from the Galilee. The danger of a precocious child; Jesus could well have found a place in the Temple; pledged as Samuel had been. And how would his wisdom have grown then? Where would be his compassion; his friendship with the tax-collector and the fisherman; his appreciation of the shepherd and the farmer?

Mary and Joseph brought Jesus home; did they wonder if it was for the best, or did they understood the need for him to be grounded in his people; in his community? 

In Nazareth, Jesus learns the wisdom of what is important - the intimacy; patience; compassion and relationship of belonging to other people and other people belonging to him. He learns how Love is lived.


Monday, 24 December 2012

Home wanted

First reading2 Samuel 7:1-5,8-12,14,16 

Once David had settled into his house and the Lord had given him rest from all the enemies surrounding him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘Look, I am living in a house of cedar while the ark of God dwells in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go and do all that is in your mind, for the Lord is with you.’
  But that very night the word of the Lord came to Nathan:
  ‘Go and tell my servant David, “Thus the Lord speaks: Are you the man to build me a house to dwell in? I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader of my people Israel; I have been with you on all your expeditions; I have cut off all your enemies before you. I will give you fame as great as the fame of the greatest on earth. I will provide a place for my people Israel; I will plant them there and they shall dwell in that place and never be disturbed again; nor shall the wicked continue to oppress them as they did, in the days when I appointed judges over my people Israel; I will give them rest from all their enemies. The Lord will make you great; the Lord will make you a House. And when your days are ended and you are laid to rest with your ancestors, I will preserve the offspring of your body after you and make his sovereignty secure. I will be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does evil, I will punish him with the rod such as men use, with strokes such as mankind gives. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.”’

I'm not good with shopping. Perhaps it is a general aversion to crowds and noise; or, as my children would say, a reluctance to enter into the Christmas spirit. 

But this time of year I find myself asking so many questions. What is the spending all about? It is good to be hospitable; to be generous; to be thoughtful. But should we be judged on our buying expertise or our knowledge of the latest trend? Perhaps it is me - a' Bah Humbug' amongst the frivolities.

 Is it good though - to prove our affection- our love-  through 'goods'? Or, more specifically to be made to feel that we should prove it through 'goods'? Is the miracle of Christmas so dependent on it's rewards? Or is the world heaping  it's own good intentions onto a miracle that did not live up to expectations?

Too easily we side with the Wise Men- rename even them as 'Kings'. We  build houses; furnish them with luxurious comfort; deck the halls with something that glitters more than boughs of holly; and pile our precious gifts under cedar trees of our own fashioning. 

And yet, the Lord is happy with his tent; his hillside; his cave filled with animals ripe with the musky smell of fleece and fur. The Lord delights in his world and most wonderfully he delights in us. 

The castle of the God child is a peasant woman; she is his house; his home; his comfort. After her, there will never be a place where he can lay his head. God will only find rest in a human being; and so in all human beings; we are each of us - God's House. 

Tonight we will remember this beginning; we will share in this gift; we will bow our heads with the homeless and the outcast and see God in the flesh of a child; a poor child; a destitute child. 

Shall we build him a house? Attempt to impress him with glitter and gold? Or shall we, as the words of the carol suggest,  offer him a home; offer him our heart? Offer him ourselves?


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Love will come again

Sunday Gospel- Fourth Sunday of Advent - Luke 1:39-44 

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’

There is something about being barren; even if healing eventually comes.

Twenty-odd years ago 'barren' was a word that described me for some time until medical intervention and a visit to Fatima brought the miracle of conception. 

I hadn't told anyone, friends or family, I hadn't wanted the pity or the questions so, instead, got the assumptions and gossip - 'that I was too busy; too career minded.' There is no easy path.

When I conceived, of course, that wasn't the end of the anxiety - each week marked on the calendar - by eight weeks; this - by twelve weeks; that - by sixteen weeks; the first line of safety had been crossed but by then it was impossible not to watch the ticking of the days and measure the movement of the body and the life within. 

Sometimes, it felt that I spent the day holding my breath; believing that no-one realised just how precarious and precious this experience was. 

I wonder if this is why Mary ran to Elizabeth.

Did Mary move from those who would gossip and doubt to the arms of a kindred spirit? Run to her soul's friend, Elizabeth, who is filled with the knowing; the goodness and graciousness of God. 

After all, Eizabeth shares so much in common with Mary - Elizabeth knows that the Lord has spoken; has promised. Elizabeth speaks for each of us who sees Christ in another; who knows that God is faithful. 

She recognises that the Lord is with and within Mary. Knows that the Lord is also with her; that the Lord is with all of us who hear; who see; who trust.

Within Elizabeth, the prophetic voice of John also speaks; generations already naming Mary as blessed; most fortunate; most joyful of women - her fulness; our fulness of faith - if we have faith. 

If we are not part of the doubt and denial that the world can change - has already changed. If we hear the Spirit call to the spirit within each of us - telling us that we are - each one of us-  part of God's plan. If we believe that our very lives are fulfillments of God's promise.

Then, the Kingdom will come; Love will come again; Then, through God's grace, we will give birth to a new tomorrow. 


Magnificat Reflection

Reflection on the Magnificat

My soul proclaims
its nearness to the Lord
delighted and fulfilled.

But my heart aches
broken by the accusation of my own people
shattered by stones of mistrust and judgment
No angel's promise of comfort - rather 
Life's pathway set out in shards of flint.

A flinty gaze fills my eyes
and they widen, seeking the future road
staring into dark shadows;
welcoming the desert heat
that burns away the tears of hesitation
before they fall - 

They fall, regardless

Each breath a tightening 
a measured in and out 
words said and unsaid
considered, found wanting

But not 'yes'
Never 'yes'.

For always - 'yes'.

My heart aches with Love.
With Love too much to be contained
yet unrecognised.

With Love that will lie in my arms
bloody and helpless
more than once.

With Love that will live within me 
and without me
for more than Abraham;


Friday, 21 December 2012

Lamentation for the End of the World

The world will end today
It will end in hospital wards
in speeding cars
in shop doorways
in dark alleys
It will end in unrequited love
rejection and betrayal
denial and loss
in goodbye
It will end in dreams shattered
expectations dashed
starved ambition
It will end in abuse and misuse
in humiliation
random acts of neglect
The world will end today
and another and another
until the weight of the universe
presses down on human hearts
And a new world will not be born
If Pandora's box cannot be made
of rough timber and straw
if Hope will not fit in an infant's hand
The world will end today


Friday, 14 December 2012

Check your focus

GospelLuke 3:10-18 

When all the people asked John, ‘What must we do?’ he answered, ‘If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.’ There were tax collectors too who came for baptism, and these said to him, ‘Master, what must we do?’ He said to them, ‘Exact no more than your rate.’ Some soldiers asked him in their turn, ‘What about us? What must we do?’ He said to them, ‘No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!’
  A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’ As well as this, there were many other things he said to exhort the people and to announce the Good News to them.

As great a light as John the Baptist is - in every cell of his being - he knows he is not the Light.

But he would have 'done'. His followers were clearly devoted to him -  they thought little of Jesus and his friends. He may have had his oddness but there was something familiar in his ministry. He fits the profile but there is little difference between him and the prophets that had come before.

John's followers were rebels but not radicals. They wanted the Messiah that the Jews had always wanted; they wanted to topple the enemy; to have their land and their place in it. It was about them and their God; for them John was enough.

A true prophet; John knew he wasn't; knew that Jesus would be so much more than he could imagine - couldn't image - remember his message from prison - 'are you the One?'. John warns us - don't be distracted; look beyond; don't settle for 'enough'.

But we often do; we become captivated by something just a little out of the ordinary; just enough of a challenge. Sometimes we connect with the personality of others who are making the spiritual journey beyond; writers; theologians; priests and retreat leaders and we follow them. We grant them authority through lineage and tradition. We listen to what they say and read what they think; we rely on them to do the 'witnessing' and attach ourselves to their coat-tails.

To paraphrase St Paul we follow Rhor or Merton or Fr so-and-so; but they are just human beings on the same journey as us; we are meant for Jesus. Their words may tempt us but they will not fill us with the joy of that personal calling; the holding, healing relationship that is ours, and ours alone.

We admire the many that we recognise as witnesses; John himself, the saints, the 'wise' people. We cannot let them become the distraction. In following those that inspire us, we must never forget that we are intended to be witnesses ourselves.


Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Call

GospelLuke 3:1-6 

In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrach of Abilene, during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low,
winding ways will be straightened
and rough roads made smooth.
And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.

Last week, Advent began with the words of an adult Jesus; foretelling a world of chaos and bewilderment where only his followers could stand with confidence- if they dared.

Now, his cousin, John walks through the dustclouds of desert wilderness proclaiming ancient prophecy. Luke places John clearly in history; the who's who of leaders both political and religious will be recorded elsewhere; ensuring that the reader understands this is  not a parable, a myth or a fable. This is a prophecy fulfilled in their lifetime. A son of man - miraculous by birth - will bring God's promise to anyone who will open their ears and hear his voice.

In Advent we are reminded of our own journey through life; how the years go by and the expectation of Christmas becomes more and more defined by the actions of the past - our disappointments and regrets often more than our joys. How often we hear people say; hear ourselves remark how quickly the year has gone. And what have we achieved? We live not with expectation of the future but with a yearning for 'might have been'.

John demands that we stop. He demands that we stop thinking about ourselves and our needs; that we rethink our desire to have it all; and to have it all our way. After all there is a baby to consider.

A new birth calls for a new commitment and, just as we change our lives, our surroundings and our routines to fit in with our own new arrivals, the coming of the Christ Child calls for a 'metanoia' - a complete emptying out and turning around of everything we are. We are asked to attend to the pitfalls and avoidances in our lives. To become hopeful; to become joyful; to become adult in our faith and our responsibilities.

 How else could we expect God to trust us with his Son?


Saturday, 1 December 2012

End of Days

GospelLuke 21:25-28,34-36 

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.
  ‘Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.’

Faith is filled with paradox- experiences that talk to many in many different ways - that seem to lead one way only to bring us around to another. Advent begins as the Liturgical year ends - Luke's apocalyptic vision graphically mirrors not the 'End of Days' but the world that surrounds us now. Prophecy is not about the future but the present and the present hasn't changed very much at all. Since the Resurrection has there ever been a time when the world has not been menaced and people haven't felt bewildered?

Menace has also accompanied humanity along life's journey. This year we have been fascinated with the Mayan prophecy that the 21st December 2012 will see the end of civilisation; the media fills the news channels with disasters both natural and man-made. Yet the Christmas lights went on in the retail centres in early November and the same media channels are dispersed with the paradoxical advertisments of all the things that we 'need' to make us happy and the pleas to give a thought, and a donation, to those who have nothing. Bewildering indeed.

Jesus warns us that it is so easy to give in to the bewilderment; to allow ourselves to be distracted by the immediacy of worldly pleasures or the depression of apathy. There are those who look forward to the Second Coming with great anticipation or maybe the sense of 'let's get it over with'. Either way it takes our focus from the watchfulness of our vocation. We are told not to fear; to be witnesses to the freedom that has been won by Jesus' gift, already made, for all of us. We are told to live; to live with the awareness that we may encounter Jesus in any moment and to be ready to respond in love.

Mark spent all last year warning us that discipleship is hard and that there is no easy option. Luke's Gospel rallies us; assuring us that we can make a difference and to have confidence that we already belong. The early disciples were expecting Jesus to return in their lifetime; we have time to recognise what the presence of Jesus feels like; the movement inside like the turning of a child; the heaviness of a love that is lifelong.

Advent may resemble Lent in it's watchfulness; unlike Lent, there is expectation and longing. A longing for the bewilderment to end; for the message to be heard; for the chance to begin again. An expectation that, like pregnancy, will be fulfilled in its  own time.