An uncomfortable comfort: A reflection on this week’s gospel – The Ascension (Matt 28:16-20)

(Another introductory note: Clearly I had last week incorrect. What I believe occurred is that last week there was an alternate Gospel; the one on which I reflected. If there was confusion I apologize.)

 

I recently attained a First Aid accreditation certificate as required by my employer. The day long course was filled with bandaging, dressing, splinting, treating, wrapping, resuscitating, and applying all sorts of things in all sorts of situations. I hope I am never in a position where I am required to recall my training, both for the victim and for me (I have this tendency of temporary memory loss in times of pressure. Thankfully it’s counteracted by my coolheadedness, but I digress).

The one take home point was that it was not obligatory for me to help in such situations, but if I did it is obligatory for me to stay until the victim recovers, more help comes or I can give no more. With such a demand I don’t know whether I would stop to help or not. This lack of confidence and resourcefulness adds to my discomfort. Like I said, I hope I am not put in this situation. Would I overcome these fears and do what I can to help others in such desperate cases? Honestly, I don’t know. It’s easy to find excuses not to.

The final words of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, often referred to as the Great Commission, is the Gospel for this week’s Sunday, at least for those who are celebrating the Ascension. This passage is thought of, though not explicitly expressed, as the words Jesus said immediately before his Ascension which we celebrate this week either Thursday or Sunday.

The first thing that comes to mind when reading this is that Jesus had arranged for them to meet at a given place but that place isn’t listed: Galilee is given but not the specific location. At a time when people and places had specific names which become clues about the person or place here it is noticeably silent in the matter. Yet the fact that they are only there because Jesus told them to be there is not lost in this detail.

With such intentional vagueness comes an easy path to modern application. It could easily be somewhere up the road to where Jesus calls us. The point is still the same: that they only go because Jesus says. While under instruction we are not obliged to go.

Those that choose to go meet Jesus are rewarded with divine recognition. Although Jesus these days is recognized as divine in his absence this was not the case for the disciples. Their faithful witness of Jesus’ resurrection then testifies to us today. They saw him; they bowed down before him, though some hesitated. We still bow down; some still hesitate.

Image

Whether we be one who bows or one who hesitates Jesus gives to each the same message, the same commission. This message hits home and brings forth a new reality. Like a bolt of lightning they are suddenly thrust into a situation that demands more from them. Through the authority of Jesus they are commanded to go forth into the world and teach what they have been taught and obey as they have obeyed. Warmth and comfort proceed the shock: I will be with you until the end of time.

The apostles are largely passive through this episode, though they go from one place to the next, but so much is demanded of them. They have been training for this by their life with Jesus. Though they willing chose Jesus they have not sought out this mission, it was thrust upon them. (Hello, Shakespeare.) But they are turned into men of action and discomfort. Knowing that Jesus will be with them until the end of the age (the end of time) is a comfort, but an uncomfortable comfort: the world will violently hate them, their faith will be shaken, their lives will be taken… and so on. But, hey, this is a great message and we should tell everyone and baptize them. This is what life is though; being uncomfortable for the comfort and benefit of others. Eternal life awaits them after all; a very real hope, a very real driving force into breaking beyond the comfort zone of apathy which is fueled by the Spirit which Jesus leaves.

I don’t know if I could do what I have been trained for. I could apply what I have learnt, but would it be enough? How would I cope if my actions not only failed to help them but made the situation worse? I could find myself in a situation like this at any time, even somewhere up the road. Even then I am not obliged to go. Would I hesitate? Would I go? Would I bow down to help them? Could I cope with the responsibilty when thrust into this situation? Can I become a man of action through discomfort?

In applying First Aid, I don’t know. In faithfully following the call of Jesus…

Advertisements

No Guts, No Glory: A reflection on this week’s gospel (John 17:1-11)

(An introductory note: in some parts of the church the Ascension is being celebrated this week; in other places it is not. In Australia, from where I am writing, we celebrate the Ascension next week. Therefore the gospel reading for these next two weeks may be reversed depending on what is being celebrated when. I will, as is my want, reflect on the gospel of the feast which I will be celebrating this week: 6th Sunday of Easter.)

Focusing on giving glory to God the Father Jesus’ monologue encompasses two areas: his mission given to him as he understands it and the work he has done in fulfilling it. The prayer strings together the relationship Jesus has with each and spells out how and why the are linked: to give glory to God.

Looking first at the mission of Jesus he realizes that his time has come, his hour. Requesting glory he wants to repay him with glory. This might seem a strange notion; to request something just to return it. One might think of the man with the talent who buried it and returned the same amount to his master. But just as this was not acceptable so too is getting glory from God.

Extending the image of God the Father and we his children, a common occurrence between parents and children when buying gifts is the request of money prior to purchase. We have recently celebrated Mother’s Day and I’m sure my children weren’t the only ones asking for money. And whatever gifts were bought – let’s face it, some are better than others – mothers everywhere are thankful; thankful that they are thought of, thankful that they are acknowledged for the work they do, thankful that they are appreciated. They are, in a sense, glorified.

And talking of mothers, Mary too gives us an example of giving glory to God. Indeed the first line of her great canticle, the Maginifcat, is sometimes translated as “My soul gives glory to God…” It is through her example (as well as her unwavering faith and purity of heart) that directs us closer to God. She does not want glory for herself but any glory she does have is for God alone. We can together rightfully pray, “Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us” (whose feast we celebrate today and who is the Patron of my home, Australia, where she is also known as Our Lady of the Southern Cross).

Image

As Jesus is both human and divine, as God the Son he in his humanity asks God the Father for the glory naturally owing to him in his divinity; a glory that until now has been hidden. Like a child giving glory to their mother, or like Mary giving glory to God, so too the Son wants to glorify the Father; not only wants to glorify him, has glorified him – for he has finished the work he was given to do. He (the Son) has made his name (the Father) known; he has successfully taught those he was given (the disciples) as they have accepted it and have remained faithful.

Interestingly Jesus explicitly states he is not praying for the world but for those who have been given to him. Why is this? At the end of the prayer he makes known his faith in them – the disciples. He has so much faith in them that he knows in them he will be glorified.

There is a distinction that separates glory into its own category. Some strive for glory for themselves – we might think of sports stars, business men, actors, musicians, politicians and the like. The glory they seek (if I may generalize for a moment) is a glory of the world. It is based on themselves and belongs in the world. This is not so for the glory of God, the glory of which Jesus speaks. That glory is based on God, not the world and not themselves. He leaves them in the world as teachers, as believers, as those who glorify him through their example modeling the teachings left to them. It takes conviction, determination and courage to live this way in a world so obsessed with the self. You could say it takes guts. Especially when they are about to witness his death. Is it any wonder Jesus strengthens them through his prayer?

Take courage. Have guts. Be faithful, yes; but live faithfully. Glorify God as the disciples did, as Mary did.

 

On the right path: A reflection on this week’s Gospel (John 14:1-12)

Walking through the bushlands in my local area of southern Australia invigorates me. There is in me something which relates well to the varied natural elements, whether it be the ever-changing Victorian weather (I’ll leave that for another post!), the changing terrain of the path, the many glorious natural wonders and views or perhaps it is just a step away from the hubbub of the ordinary suburban treadmill in which I dwell. Either way, I love a good walk in the country.

Although it is very risky, in my locale (and no doubt others) to truly appreciate the moods of the natural day one is best to go alone. This semi-retreat allows me to gather my thoughts by distraction in natural surrounding beauty and to find peace by physical exhaustion to tranquility.

Image

 

  • (May not actually be in Australia) 

When bush walking it is easy enough to trip over something in the way; a rock, a stick, a hole. Often there are forks which demand a choice one way or another. Of course, I could be looking down when a darkening branch may smack me on the head or I run into towering rocks which hang overhead. There are all sorts of risks posed: and I haven’t even mentioned animals! Although I would like to walk alone I realize that to get the most out the surrounds I need a knowledgeable guide who can steer me on the right path, keep the risks at bay, and point me into a deeper wonder and appreciation of what is around me.

In this week’s gospel, Jesus is that guide: “I am the way.” Not only the guide, but also the path. In the second reading Peter calls Jesus The Lord the living stone. Some stumble on the path and are brought low. But those that follow the path attentively – hearing the guiding words, seeing the risks ahead, being in awe of the deepening appreciation – become a part of the “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart…”

As the path leads me and my appreciation of the smaller things deepens I become to realize both the immediate context of the landscape and to recognize a snippet of the bigger picture. Jesus reveals this truth to me, but he is also the truth. As I become aware of both detail and design it is Jesus who is revealed: he reveals himself. Also the invigoration of my spirit is found in him. The renewed life, and the strength received by it, is Jesus himself: Way, Truth, Life.

While Jesus is found in (actually surrounds) the way, it is worth noting where this path leads: it leads to the Father. This is our goal, our reward, our destination. At the end of the path we will see the glory of God, whether it be found in the glorious sunrise view from the top of the mountain or in the still waters of a valley, God’s glory will be seen – if we’re prepared to search.

Thomas and Philip are searching, yet they cannot yet see the detail or the big picture. Jesus draws them ever closer to himself. They were already on the path, they were already being shown the truth (though they were not recognizing it), and they were already being filled with the renewing spirit as seen in their willingness to search.

We are these disciples now: we can walk the path they walked, we are being shown the truth they saw, and we have the option to live in the same life. We can, but are we?

Take a moment to contemplate it. Take a day; a few days; a week. Perhaps get away from the busyness and rediscover nature. Find a walking path and walk with Jesus as your guide.

 

 

PS. My family and I just returned from the days activities – work, school, football training, then dinner. As we pull in the driveway, we see behind us a beautiful moon-rise. Yep. Moon-rise. We commented on the way home how there was a “spooky moon cloud” in the sky much like something you will see in Scooby Doo. By the time we got home the moon was just getting out from behind it like it was rising out of the cloud.the most extraordinary thing I’ve seen for quite some time. I fought the urge to photograph it so that I could just enjoy the moment with my family. Praise our Glorious God!

Often we don’t have to go to God, he comes to us. We just need to be attentive.  

The Pope and I: a reflection on this week’s Gospel (John 10:1-10)

Besides from being male, Catholic and loved the world over the Pope and I have other things in common (OK; maybe I’m not loved the world over). Recently I bought a cross that, well frankly, I thought was quite practical. I have high standards like that. Unbeknownst to me, it is a replica of the cross Pope Francis wears. Even then I didn’t realize until recently when looking at a picture of our pontiff and thinking, “I’ve seen that cross somewhere before”.

20140509-214913.jpg

More appropriately applied to our Pope this cross depicts Jesus as the Good Shepherd with his flock. Francis, as the current Vicar of Christ, is our shepherd today. But what does this mean, to be a shepherd?

This Sunday’s gospel speaks to us directly, the faithful ones of Christ. We are the ones who recognize his voice and follow him. He continues to guide us, call us, direct us to himself who is additionally the gate to heaven through whom we must enter.

As per usual there is so much to be taken from scripture, and this is no exception. It speaks of leadership, of discernment, of faithful obedience, of action, of life to the full, of self sacrifice. It is no wonder that, if your parish is anything like mine, there will be seminarians speaking at masses to promote the priesthood.

All of these attributes should be seen in a faithful priest for he is our shepherd on the local level as a representative of the bishop and as a representative of Christ for he is in persona Christi.

Though not having the unique sacramentality of the priest this passage speaks to me as a faithful Catholic and married father of two. For I, too, in a separate but no less necessary way am a shepherd for my family. As a leader I need to also be discerning, obedient, active, full of life, and self sacrificial. And I do this for my family, my children, myself.

While I wear the cross of the Christ the Good Shepherd like Pope Francis, I am reminded of the necessity to both be a sheep and a shepherd, to be guided and to guide. From Francis the Pope to I the peasant we are all shepherds: we each have a flock, we each represent Christ in a unique and necessary way, we each actively strive for life in the full through self sacrifice which is found only in faithful obedience to Christ.

Baa.

The Emmausene Christmas: a reflection on this week’s gospel (Luke 24:13-35)

This week’s gospel is the famous and much loved Road to Emmaus. It is among my favourites. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is another form of the Christmas story. I know, I know! Straight after Easter, right?!

There are few features that makes this story Christmasy, though clearly absent are the Blessed Virgin Mary, angels and the wise men. I propose, for sake of brevity, that Jesus is the star that points the way to the wise and the heavenly messenger to the simple-hearted.

– Before the appearance of Christ at Christmas the world was still awaiting the Saviour to come. This Saviour would restore the hope and fortune of the chosen people of God, renew peace in the world by abolishing oppressive forces, and guide a lost people back to a loving God.

On the road to Emmaus Jesus restores hope to saddened people, replaces the overpowering sense of loss and frustration with renewed hope, and the two disciples return to Jerusalem, the house of God, with an invigorated faith.

– Christ comes unrecognized among people. There are a few signs, in the form of prophets, pointing to him but he choses to reveal himself at his time and in his way.

Incognito, Jesus walk with his faithful discussing these signs that point to him as the Messiah. Discussing the prophets first, Jesus later reveals himself as their fulfillment.

– When he finally reveals his identity it calls for a change. Yet this change becomes unifying or segregating.

At Nazareth Joseph and Mary lives were changed through angelic messengers; the wise men began their journey when the stars foretold the coming. But Herod remained unchanged and more resolute in his ways. At Emmaus, following the revelation of Jesus the two turn back and meet the other disciples thus becoming unified with a each other (through faith) while being segregated from the world which lives in doubt and stubbornness.

Joy results. Love is revealed. Hope is renewed. The lost are found. It demands from us a decision. We may not always recognize Jesus in our lives (and that is OK, Jesus is there nonetheless) but when we do recognize him, what are we going to do about it? Are we united in faith?

Our faith is sacramental in that it is grounded in a physical reality but points to a deeper mystery. It was through the breaking of bread (clearly Eucharistic) that Jesus chose to reveal himself. A link to Bethlehem – the “house of Bread”?

Jesus is the bread of life. He his also the one who lights our way in the dark, the one who finds us when lost, the one who unlocks wisdom to the wise and the one who offers unity and an encounter with the Incarnated God, the Risen Lord. And this encounter demands a choice – for unity or for segregation. Chose this day who you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve The Lord.