Sunday, 30 June 2013

Peter and Paul

The blessing of Peter and Paul

May your ego be upended by the hand of the Lord 
May your certainties be silenced by his Word
May ambition become desire to be Servant of all
May your life become aflame with his Love

In Jesus' name

'I do not know the man'

I know who I am. Or rather I thought I did. A simple man, even by my own admission: and proud to be. I know what I need to know; the stars, the wind, the sails, the nets. I can smell a storm and be in the tavern before the first drop of rain; I can look at cloud shadows on the waves and find the shoals hidden in deep water. I know the price of fish…

But I don’t know the man.

I’m no Temple man; my brother is the one for that: knows his letters and his Scripture; prays enough for the both of us. Has to… the fish don’t keep the Sabbath; feeding the family is my job, my living. I know what I am good at.

But I don’t know the man.

And I still don’t know what happened, when Andrew brought him to the quay, when he took my hand and called me to him. I’m not one for the road, for the desert. Not one for crowds, for teaching, for preaching, for caring for the sick, for caring for anyone outside my family and my crew. I was so sure I’d be making my way home after a few days, with a tale to tell and a yearning for the open water.

Yet there I was sitting by the dying embers of a brushwood fire, watching his hands and his eyes like a moonstruck girl as he talked about his hopes, his plans and his mission. Listening as he told me that I was part of the plan; that I was a ‘rock’ and not just because I was heavy and slow. Because there would be others who would depend on me as much as I had depended on him. Recalling the times I had blundered through miracles, spoken nonsense, known nothing; thinking he must really not know me at all. And yet, more than anything I wanted to be that person he saw; to fulfil that destiny he foretold; to be all he wanted me to be. And I promised myself that despite all my clumsiness, arrogance and ignorance I would not give up, I would not go back.
I don’t know the man, may never know him; but I love him and I believe in him.


'I was given a thorn in my flesh,' 

I know who I am; although who I am is not who I was and is not what I will be. 

That makes me sound intelligent, I know. I am, indeed,  intelligent; an educated man - languages, law, travel, scripture, a man of letters - and now -  a man of Letters. Writing to tiny jewels of faith, communities of saints, sanctuaries of hope. Telling them of my faith, my hope - in Him.

The Him I met on a dusty road; knocked, for the first time but not the last, from my high and mighty seating. Disarmed from all my justification by the simple question 'Why?'. A 'Why' that echoed through the universe until it vibrated through the skin of my existence; becoming the very heartbeat of my soul; the murmur of my breath; the throb of my pulse. 

Is that my 'thorn'? Ah, that it was; there is a satisfaction in the admission of guilt; in the knowing that what follows is forgiveness.

But no; for my thorn I look to Peter; though I do not blame him. But Peter has what I do not and for that I feel the prick of envy, the spike of resentment.

Peter has Jesus.

Peter's roads were filled with the dust from his feet; the song of his voice; the comfort of his arm. Peter's own home was filled with the sound of his storytelling; the delight of his laughter; the mystery of his dreams. Peter's boat was filled with his landlubber's awkwardness; his hands at the net; his snores on the passage. 

Peter knows the man.

I do not know the man. 

I know the Christ; the God that Peter finds so discomforting; who is my comfort. I know the Christ that turned my heart and my head to his will. The Christ that threw the stars into space; who set the tides and the shoals to swim the depths; who lights the heavens so brightly that the darkness flees in utter terror. I know the Christ that loves me.

I know the Christ that loves me.

I want to know the man.


Saturday, 15 June 2013

Fight or Faith

Superman - Man of Steel

For longer than any normal pregnancy the birth of the new Man of Steel film has been awaited with baited breath and the fevent prayer that it would be the worthy successor in the legacy that is Superman. 
The fact that the film was received with a round of applause, and I can't remember the last film I was at when that happened, says it all. It seems that the film community has found its saviour.

Superman as saviour is, like most superheroes, what he is all about. He is part of the original band of superheroes including Batman and Wonderwoman who entered the world through the comic imagination in a response to the tensions of the early 20th Century. The world had survived one World War and was fast tracking towards another when the blue, red and yellow streak of light first flashed across the storyboard. What the western world psyche needed was someone who could handle the 'bad guy' on a planetary scale. In a time of miltary escalation, the superhero had to be a superpower beyond our imagination.

In the Cold War tensions of the 1960's, with the added suspicions and fears about nuclear power, it was the mutated humans who fought the good fight; heroes such as the Fantastic Four, X men and Spiderman. The dangers that faced the world also formed it's heroes. 

What bound all the superheroes together was a moral compass that always pointed to the good, driven to protecting the weak and bear with the animosity and distrust of those they were meant to save. 

Their return in the 21st Century suggests that, under our bravado of being in control, the fear continues. Moviemakers have the technology - a la Six Million Dollar Man (1970's and in response to the 'space race' and developing medical technology) - to rebuild our childhood heroes. 'Pow' and 'Smash' now scream out of the Dolby speakers of a 60 feet IMax  screen with deafening force. Hi definition 3D (and soon to be 4K) imagery allows us the experience of flight, fight and fright in flinching reality. 

The cinematic experience often feels more real and more inviting than that late night walk home through the grey drizzle of city streets and the baleful glow of yellow street lights; flinching, this time, at the rowdy group of late night revellers or the street people's requests for money or a cigarette. 

What these icons now have, and Superman particularly, is a history. Superman's early life mirroring that of another Saviour. The Christian theme is undeniable.

But first, we get to see Krypton in all its alien glory. From a world that had ravaged itself into annihilation, a child is sent seeking refuge. His starship Moses basket sailing the celestial winds until it is found, on earth, by a childless couple; their poverty and  marginilisation shown by their life in a peeling timbered farmhouse in the middle of Kansas. They bring the child up with the constant fear that the 'authorities' would be looking for him, to take him from them.

An encounter with the local bullies, at around age 12 -  finds him reading Plato; a wise child indeed. His strength and strangeness acknowledged by the townsfolk who seem to honour his secret. Then his first act of life-saving wonder takes place from a fishing boat and, afterwards, baptises him in the depths of the ocean.

When the simulacrum spirit of his father finally reveals who Clark really is, and renames him as Kal-El, he enters into not one but a Discovery channel of deserts, his father's disembodied voice explains his mission - to protect our world and enable it to become what his homeplanet was not.

As the enemy looms over the planet, darkening the lives of the people, the relationship between Superman and Jesus becomes explicit. Clark enters a church to consider his options. His strong profile is etched against a stained glass window of the Good Shepherd and he leaves with the priest's advice to take a 'leap of faith'. Dali-esque images of Superman hovering over earth, arms outstretched cannot fail to suggest the offering of a life. 

Following the resulting fight for survival of the planet Superman is accepted as hero and saviour; following his own sense of morality with nowhere to lay his head.

The people of Metropolis has its saviour, their messiah and all is right with the world, until the next time.

In my Sunday Gospel blog for this week here I commented that the Jesus we want is not the Jesus we need. Superman is the proof of this. 

The messiah that is Superman does not hold his superpowers in check; his desire to appear 'normal' is a disguise willingly thrown aside at the first sign of trouble. In defeating the Krypton criminals he manages to raze most of the city to the ground, cause the destruction of half the military contingent, and still be called a hero. The side of right is also the side of might. 

Forgiveness, reconciliation, is not an option. The bad guys were born bad (DNA modified) and there is nothing you can do about.

At the end of the film, a twist in the tale that caused a moment of silence throughout the cinema. Superheroes rarely kill 'on screen' but General Zod has declared himself unredeemable, his nature is to destroy and a young family stands in the path of his bloodred laser gaze. Superman, we are to assume, is left with no choice but to kill Zod, breaking his neck in a cry of agonised frustration at the belief that 'there was no other way'.

And so Superman, for all his strength, abilities and desire to do good, is shown to be just one of us. The sigil on his armour that gave him his title means 'hope' in Krypton. It is hope rather that superpowers that he needs. Clark is a son of Adam; flawed, failed, human. Needing his own redemption, needing relationships of love and friendship, seeking a path towards a world that is not of this world.

And, for a comic book Superhero, that is probably just as well. 


Sunday, 9 June 2013

Spread the Word

GospelLuke 7:11-17 

Jesus went to a town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a great number of people. When he was near the gate of the town it happened that a dead man was being carried out for burial, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a considerable number of the townspeople were with her. When the Lord saw her he felt sorry for her. ‘Do not cry’ he said. Then he went up and put his hand on the bier and the bearers stood still, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you to get up.’ And the dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Everyone was filled with awe and praised God saying, ‘A great prophet has appeared among us; God has visited his people.’ And this opinion of him spread throughout Judaea and all over the countryside.

The Gospel of Luke plays with time, just as we so often do. Written in a theatrical way it plays with flashbacks and portents like an epic story where the audience is in on all the acts.

Jesus has only just answered the prayer of the Centurian. The prayer that we say at every Mass - 'I am not worthy to have you under my roof but only say the word and my servant will be healed'. The faith of a Gentile; a Roman soldier at that, surprises even Jesus. in a buoyant mood and with the crowd at his heels he enters the next town to be faced with the saddest of sights.

The death of an only son is hard enough but for a widow in a desert town it brought the promise of hardship. Surrounded by sorrowful townsfolk for the moment, their sympathy will go only so far. With no-one to care for her the widow could be forced into destitution or begging.

Is this a moment of fortelling? Does Jesus see his own widowed mother grieving over his own lifeless body in the sadness of the funeral procession? Or is there the simple compassion of knowing that he has the ability to help and so he does.

The mere understatement of the miracle must have been part of the wonder; God truly in the midst of his people.

In the midst of life we can believe we have experienced  a miracle; the bringing back to life of what was gone. Whether this is a relationship, a commitment or a life. In those times we speak out joyfully, knowing that God is in our midst.

But, far more often,  it is the smaller ways; the tiny acts of faith, friendship, unexpected kindness that also remind us that God is present in our lives. Practicing gratitude, generosity, mindfulness; all acts of faith that the world considers too hard.

In school we discussed miracles and decided that they didn't exist. Then I told them about a miracle I believe happened to me when my daughter was conceived. 'Oh yes' - one of the students had a similar story; then another and another until we all had at least one healing event in our lives that we hadn't expected. A classful of miracles that left us feeling the presence of something powerfully divine.

The story of the son brought to life must have spread throughout the countryside but why not the smaller stories of grace? Like the little house churches that carried the faith wider and farther than the stones of the temple; like the two or three that are all that are needed in the gathering. Be prepared to believe yourself blessed; to believe that coincidences can be miracles; that prayers are answered.

And then, let that faith spread throughout your life.


Sunday, 2 June 2013

Hand in hand

GospelLuke 9:11-17

Jesus made the crowds welcome and talked to them about the kingdom of God; and he cured those who were in need of healing.  It was late afternoon when the Twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the people away, and they can go to the villages and farms round about to find lodging and food; for we are in a lonely place here.’ He replied, ‘Give them something to eat yourselves.’ But they said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we are to go ourselves and buy food for all these people’ For there were about five thousand men. But he said to his disciples, ‘Get them to sit down in parties of about fifty.’ They did so and made them all sit down. Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven, and said the blessing over them; then he broke them and handed them to his disciples to distribute among the crowd. They all ate as much as they wanted, and when the scraps remaining were collected they filled twelve baskets.

For Luke, the feast of Corpus Christi has very little of the mysterious in it. The mystery is that we, like the disciples of the day, have trouble getting it.

The feeding of the Five Thousand is one of the miracles recorded in every Gospel; it carries a message for all of us, no matter which viewpoint it is given from.

It seems that Luke has a bit of an issue with the Twelve; the ones who are closest to Jesus and who should have, surely, known better.

The day has been spent talking with those in need, offered acts of healing, Kingdom moments of acceptance and welcome. A day you would want to last forever.

But not the Twelve; they have only just returned from their sending out and it seems that they want to have their friend to themselves again.  It isn't the place but they who are feeling 'lonely'. They want to let go of the responsibility of caring for those in need; to put these stranger's lives in other people's hands. 

Noone has complained of hunger; these people have homes, they have the choice to leave or stay. They may well feel that the 'price' of a missed meal is nothing compared to the food of life that Jesus has blessed them with. 

Jesus sees a group of people that has moved beyond the ordinary; people glad to be with each other; who have been transformed; whose spiritual hungers have been met and who don't want the moment to end. 

So he turns the tables on the apostles, just as he does with the more obvious opponents - 'you feed them'. Jesus reminds them that those you have made welcome cannot be cast aside. Hospitality is not an option; not for Abraham in his desert tent; not for a widow with a cup of flour to her name. Hospitality, Sh'khinah, is a grace and a gift that one Rabbi calls "greater than welcoming the Divine Presence '. 

The Twelve react with fear; the crowd is too big; their resources too small; the effort to do more asks too much. They still haven't spoken to the people; not even to find the generosity of a child.  'But...' they say. That demon word that rejects hope. 

I imagine this another moment when Jesus raises his eyes to heaven; it can be no less than he expects.

Let's begin with what we have. We can know ourselves inadequate but that doesn't mean we have nothing to offer. Taking the time; making an inventory allows us to acknowledge what it is we do have.

Then, the 'other'- the crowd - is given identity; placed into communities where people sit together with friends and strangers; where names and livelihoods are shared and recognised. 

 Jesus takes what the disciples offer; accepts all that it is and, through his Father's grace, multiplies it beyond all earthly possibilities. Then it is returned to them to fulfill their part; to give each and every person something to eat and not to overlook anyone because they are simply part of the crowd.

At the end, enough to put a basket of scraps into the arms of each of the Twelve; for them to feel the weight of God's overwhelming generosity if they are prepared to offer what they have rather than bemoan what they have not. And when they 'have not', to remember that God can provide.

Five thousand, plus women and children, was a lot of people for the time. We are surrounded by many more people in need today. How tempting it is to look the other way as we enter our churches and listen with assuredness to the prayers that confirm us as chosen. How often we hear the comments that people would be better back where they came from, or that other people are better suited to care for them. Is it too hard to believe that the 'someone suited' might be yourself, with a little dedication and God's grace.

Our belief tells us that Jesus could have done this himself from nothing; that all could have been fed with a word from the Word. Our faith tells us that it has to be this way. Maturity and integrity are learnt by realising we are not number one. Compassion comes from having a community to care about and the courage not to say 'but'.