Saturday, 28 January 2017

It's not easy being green

Gospel Matthew 5:1-12

The Beatitudes are so important that they return more than once in the Church's calendar. They are subversive and challenging; questioning the way we live and the way that will lead to God's Kingdom. Jesus tells us that the Kingdom already exists here on earth; on our planet. But how hard is that to believe?

The Beatitudes shout out for a faith in social justice that is almost too hard to fight for because it means that you (and me) become less and less important. The current economic and political climate screams 'Me first'. 

Exploitation and suffering is never right; but  we believe there is little we can do about it. It is a global problem in more ways than one. Away in Jesus' time, the Lord was able to say that the lilies of the fields and the sparrows of the sky could live without worry because their Father was looking after them. Now the fields and the skies are empty. The humans that God gave dominion to are not taking their responsibilities very seriously. Exploitation and suffering is something that is being felt not only by humanity but by the world that God called 'very good' and we regard as 'not good enough'.

Pope Francis recently wrote his thoughts on the environment. Laudato Si describes the shared understanding from the faith and scientific communities that recognise the destructive influence of humanity and the need to forsake the 'I'm alright Jack attitude' for the sake of future generations, both human and non-human. I thought I should take up the challenge myself. Maybe these would be the Bee-atitudes?

‘How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Be one of those who knows that the world is not all about them; be someone who is humble enough to understand that their own uniqueness only serves to prove just how precious every part of Creation is; to value even the smallest, most insignificant of God's creatures.

Happy the gentle: they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Be considerate; care for the earth as a living thing. The injuries caused by exploitation of oil, water and land cause scars that may never heal.  Damage caused through pollution and waste sicken the air and water, the veins and arteries of the planet. If the earth is our heritage then it should be respected as a mother or a grandmother as the early peoples used to do. After all, we have nowhere else to go; no-one else to take us in.

Happy those who mourn: they shall be comforted.
Be aware. No-one likes bad news, particularly bad news that hits close to home. Easier to turn up the power levels in your home so that you are warm and comfortable and sit watching celebrity tv.
Fourteen more species of animal have become extinct during the 21st century; 20% of Amazon rainforest destroyed in last 40 years; this has been the shortest arctic winter in history triggering more fears of rising sea levels. What is not to mourn? Our only comfort in realising that there must be something we can do something about it.

Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right: they shall be satisfied.
Be involved. There are organisations, Christian organisations that seek to help; A Rocha; CAFOD; Charter for Compassion; Catholic Climate Covenant; the Resurgence Trust all have the satisfaction of working towards a better world. Join them?

Happy the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them.
Definition of mercy - Compassion for those under one's power
Definition of Compassion - Deep awareness of suffering and the desire to relieve it
Be gracious. God gives us dominion over all - this is our realm - how we treat the world is our decision. Even if we cannot relate to the natural world itself all these actions reflect on the lives of others. The neglect of the the natural world is reflected in the neglect of human life. 'As you do to the least of these....'

Happy the pure in heart: they shall see God.
Be wholehearted. There is a theory that everything we do is for our own sake; that our actions will always be 'all about me'. Maybe there is an element of truth - I will feel better if I am doing the right thing; I will feel good if I am pleasing God; I will feel pure in heart if what I do does not undermine or take advantage of others. Listen to your conscience, buy Fairtrade and other ethical clothing, trading goods and foodstuffs.

Happy the peacemakers: they shall be called sons of God.
Be a voice for peace. War is one of the greatest threats to the planet. It uses up money; resources; people; time; energy and opportunity. The cost of building walls and strengthening borders runs high with both economic and humanitarian cost.  Borders are man made - environmental issues know no such boundaries.How can you clean a river in one country when the pollution is caused in another, hostile territory? How can you come together to plan for the future when you are too busy arguing about the mistakes of the past or the greed and politics of the present?

Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you
and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.’

Be yourself and don't expect it to be easy. As Christians we are called to be stewards; all people in the other great faiths have similar responsibilities. This is the world that the Lord has made; we should rejoice and glad in it; but there's a cost. To stand up for what we believe will always result in being made fun of; being the odd one out; being labelled a do-gooder or a doom and gloom merchant. Some people will not see the need for change; will live 'right here, right now'. As Kermit the Frog would say 'it's not easy being green'. but, like Kermit, it is part of who we are-  as Christians, as human beings -  since the Sixth Day.


Sunday, 22 January 2017

At once

Sunday GospelMatthew 4:12-23 

Hearing that John had been arrested, Jesus went back to Galilee, and leaving Nazareth he went and settled in Capernaum, a lakeside town on the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali. In this way the prophecy of Isaiah was to be fulfilled:
‘Land of Zebulun! Land of Naphtali!
Way of the sea on the far side of Jordan,
Galilee of the nations!
The people that lived in darkness has seen a great light;
on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death
a light has dawned.’
From that moment Jesus began his preaching with the message, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’
  As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew; they were making a cast in the lake with their net, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they left their nets at once and followed him. Going on from there he saw another pair of brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they were in their boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. At once, leaving the boat and their father, they followed him.
  He went round the whole of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness among the people.

'At once'...

It seems impossible or, at least improbably for these men; with homes, families, livelihoods, cultural expectations to be prepared to turn away and risk everything on this wandering preacher.

Some theologians put forward the theory that by living in in this lakeside town, Jesus had probably been working on or near the docks; that he had sat and ate and talked with these men; that he had spent time getting to know them; that perhaps they already knew and respected him as a rabbi of sorts. There is the possibility that he had already shared his mission with them so that the call to leave was expected, planned  - they were just waiting for the right moment.

Which is certainly more logical and makes much more sense but it's not what it says in the Gospel - it's not what it says in any of the Gospels.

The call did not come at the right moment; not for any of these men. Preparing a fishing boat; deciding where to cast a net; repairing, cleaning and folding the nets for the next days fishing - none of these are five minute tasks. A boat is not crewed with a few men 'spare' - every man on the deck, every man on the dock has a job to do; a crew to fit into; a tradition and a responsibility not just to himself but to his crew;  his partners; his family; the community itself. Every man has his place; every man knows his place.

The very thought of bringing in a boat without a catch; of dropping a net still tangled and torn would have horrified those around them; would have horrified them,  looking back on it. But they did it.

Why? Not because it is part of some great plan but because Jesus calls them by name.

In the spiritual world, in every culture; your name, your real 'this is who you are' name is incredibly important and holds great power. Some believe your real name is gifted to you at an initiation point in your life. Many cultures say that  you should not share this name recklessly with others; that knowing this name will give others power over you. God, who is only 'I Am',  tells us that our names are written on his hand.

Jesus knows the power of names; he calls demons by theirs and takes away their power to name him. He names and re-names his followers; he looks into them and sees who they really are. And calls each person into the light; onto the path that will lead them home.

The four may well have good fishermen; great family men; well liked friends and workmates, even competitors in getting the best catch. They may have believed that the life they were leading was as good as it gets. Any wonderings about the why and how of things may have been something for a walk under the stars  or a sleepless night, and no more.  The empty space waiting to be filled; the awareness of 'something else' given over to childish fancy or a moment in prayer.

And then they were called, named and transformed - fishermen - fishers of men. A small difference; but enough.

In our lives it can be just as subtle; just as extreme. 

Anyone who watched the media yesterday would have witnessed a massive calling across the world as women (and men) filled cities with, mostly, peaceful protest against a feeling that something is not going right with the world. Friends that I know went to different marches, in different countries, for different reasons, some completely political, some utterly spiritual, most a mixture of the two. There has been great criticism. That they were turning up for the show, that they took advantage of their right to march, that they abandoned families, that it was a media-fuelled hysteria. Maybe for some it was a one-off, a bucket list experience. But for those who will return to lives now fuelled by the need for social justice, inclusion, equality and compassion for this planet and everyone who lives on it, maybe it was a calling. Even if they didn't recognise who called. 

We have many names, many roles to play; lives that rely and are relied on by others. God may be in there somewhere. A scripture meeting; an hour at Mass; a book now and again; understanding that there are tasks that God is asking of all of us, but we are really too busy; too involved in the other day to day priorities that we all encounter. We could do more, but not now; not yet.

Then,  in the middle of some mundane, necessary task, it will come. Jesus will hold a mirror to your eyes and show you who he sees; will  call you by the name written on his Father's hand and it will be up to you.


Saturday, 14 January 2017

In the Unknowing

GospelJohn 1:29-34 

Seeing Jesus coming towards him, John said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I spoke of when I said: A man is coming after me who ranks before me because he existed before me. I did not know him myself, and yet it was to reveal him to Israel that I came baptising with water.’ John also declared, ‘I saw the Spirit coming down on him from heaven like a dove and resting on him. I did not know him myself, but he who sent me to baptise with water had said to me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is going to baptise with the Holy Spirit.” Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God.’

Something that I come across with people both seeking faith and rejecting faith is the need to 'know'. How to achieve the sense of certainty that allows one to sit back and be sure. Well it's not going to happen. Not from anything you will ever be able to hold in our hand or in our head. And this is a good thing because we should not be seeking a sense of certainty, rather, a sense of mystery. 

John of the John.

The John of Old Testament prophetic, spirit driven zeal speaks out of the Gospel  of mystic revelation.

Rather than the plea for reassurance from the confined darkness; John has his Baptist speak words of labyrinthine prophecy, echoing  a leap of faith made in the dark comfort of the womb. 

The turning of John's words; signs and wonders; befores and afters; knowings and unknowings - recognises the true mystery of who Jesus truly is. 

Recognition that faith truly serves mystery. 

'There he is. And I don't even know who 'he' is.' 

Mystery and humility.

We expect John to know. 

A cousin; a visitation. 

Forgetting that, by tradition,  the Holy Spirit whisked John into the desert not long after he could walk. Was part of that retreat from the world intended to embed in John the memory of that preternatural encounter? 

To allow that leap of recognition within the womb to be his talisman, a lodestone that blazed so brightly that so many others were drawn to the light of anticipation?

The thousands gathered together on the banks of the Jordan. Gathered in anticipation of the Messiah, the Chosen One,  Seeing the light so strongly in John's eyes and voice that some thought John was surely the One. That maybe he just didn't know. 

John did know that within him, he held a reflection of the Spirit's desire. A desire that was coming to fulfillment.

Humility and mystery.

Not John; never John. 

Always the One who was 'before'. 

Before life; before birth; before time. 

Known only, and ultimately, in the Unknowing. 


Sunday, 8 January 2017

Epiphany - All that I am

Sunday Gospel
Matthew 2:1-12 

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:
And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah,
for out of you will come a leader
who will shepherd my people Israel.’
Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

The story of the Three Kings is one that we are comfortable with; one that we all know. Not least because the Feast Day means we can take down the decorations and start to get back to normal. Except, that, according to the Church’s calendar we should leave our decorations up until the Baptism of the Lord which is next week (those Victorians and their 12 days of Christmas! – Bah, humbug). 

There is no evidence that the Kings were kings, certainly not from the gospels. It is far more likely that these were astrologer, proto-scientist, magician types. But then someone with too much interest in royal protocol decided that if Jesus was a King then only a King was good enough to visit – it’s a wonder the shepherds managed to stay in the story, given their reputation as thieves and vagabonds.

That is the way with stories. The Chinese whisper effect, the elaboration to suit the culture, the audience, the attitude of the times. And that is often a criticism of the Gospel – that it is only stories; easier to find the discrepancies, the add-ons, the need to scientifically prove or disprove that there was a ‘star’. 
And the gifts...the strange gifts for a baby. But maybe the thing about the gifts is more about where they are from... than who they are for?

Imagine...three (more or less) wealthy, wise men; intelligent; privileged; curious. Seeking out a 'something' until they find it. And then, maybe next year, seeking something else. Sounds very contemporary to me, this spiritual wandering. Yearning for something that will satisfy what their material wealth does not. This particular portent has them intrigued; coming together to share their wonderings and then to share their wanderings. Sure that the stars are telling them something; prepared to follow an unknown path. 

So they travel, with their caravan; their starmaps and their assurance. Assured enough to enter King Herod's courts as equals; as diplomats. Believing that the accepted authority will be the authority. 

Herod does not have the answer; their faith in worldly power fails. It is a different faith which holds the power; the faith of ancients; prophecies and portents. Did they recognise this other sign, leading them further away from the world they knew? Did they notice the lilt of truth against the hiss of Herod's deceit?

And there the truth is revealed in poverty; in the lacking. Seeing how little the Christ had; how little he needed; how much he trusted. Seeing how his life was held in the loving hands of two human beings with nothing to offer but their best. They see and understand. What could they give?

They offer their best. It wasn't that these gifts spoke of anything except their own sense of value; that these gifts 'valued' them - as merchants; as traders; as elite. It isn't the gifts they give but what they represent.  Offering what the Rich Young man, many years later, cannot. They give what had defined them; they give themselves into the baby's hands. Letting go of the world's control over them they ignore Herod's command; they hear the voices of angels; they return to their country by a different way - a way of humility and faith; a way of the prophet; a way of witness.

What can they give him? What Thomas gives as his witness. The witness of faith; that Jesus is 'My Lord and my God'. 


Sunday, 1 January 2017

Where your treasure is

GospelLuke 2:16-21 

The shepherds hurried away to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.
  When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception.

Pope Francis is forever reminding us to keep close to Mary because she is a 'Mamma' and she knows the way. In Matthew we have so little clues, we have to rely on Luke's fondness for her to see the 'Mamma' beneath the title, Mother of God.

At the start of the New Year, another Mary, Mary Oliver, is oft quoted as an inspiration for the year ahead;

'Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.” 

An excellent guide into mindfulness and the appreciation of all that is good in the world. 

Perhaps Mamma Mary would have written;

'Pay attention
Be astonished
Treasure it'

In a few weeks, Mary will receive the warning, as if she hasn't worked it out for herself, that her new life will have more than its share of heartbreaks.  And it is up to her treasure to show its worth.

Mary doesn't bring up a son who is tied to her apron strings; who afraid of his shadow, who takes the well worn road. The sword is overshadowed by the myriad graces and blessings of the everyday. Jesus has vision and courage and trust and all those qualities that makes you and I want to follow him because he follows his Mamma - and Abba - witnessing to the extraordinary in their ordinary lives. But it won't have been easy.

I wish you every grace and blessing for this new year and every year of your life. And for the days when you need it - I wish you the treasure of remembering.

There's an idea going around social media - you may have seen it - a Blessing Jar. The idea that you fill a jar with all the good things that have happened during the year - to be opened next New Year's Eve. 

I have a variation on the theme.

You can use a jar; a trinket box or journal that you got for Christmas, the techno's might want to set up a Facebook or Blog page that only they can see. 

And start collecting treasure; write in it, stick things in it. Blessings, graces, noticings, images, kindnesses. Add to it regularly. Don't share it (except when you feel it's right to) and don't store it. 

Keep reading it; looking at it; appreciating it and letting it inspire you. In difficult times make sure you go back to it so that you are not overshadowed by the pointy finger of isolation and fear. 

Treasure your friends; whether they are shepherds or Magi. Trust those whose words and gestures reach your heart. 

And give yourself time to ponder. Maybe then you can 'tell about it'.

When Mary stands at the foot of the cross, it doesn't come as a suprise. She is a Mamma; she is ready, she has made herself ready. Her courage is held in the years of grace and blessings; in all that God's promise has given. She knows where her treasure is. When we follow her we will find ourselves with  her Son.