Who is it?: a reflection on this weeks gospel (Mat 16:13-20)

A marque quote for papal apologetics (a topic which I have already addressed) this week’s gospel also poses the question, “Who do you say I am?”: a question frequently answered though not always asked.

I personally find this question challenging. Who do I say Jesus is? I know the right answers – Lord, Messiah, the Christ, Rabbi, Saviour, teacher, master, friend, and many more. But who do I say he his?

Jesus calls me to a deeper and more personal relationship. He is all these things and he can be all things for all men all the time. But for each of us at different times our relationship with him will have a different slant. By this I mean that as we grow our perception of things will change and in this way Jesus will be different things to us at different times.

Having thought about this deeper than I had in many years I still am unsure. I do not say this out of a wilful ignorance nor of a lack of personal relationship (for that though there is still plenty of room). But nonetheless, I was no closer to finding who I say Jesus is for me at this time.

Given that Jesus is the head of the Church, which is his body, I looked at the way I most profoundly experience Jesus in the context of the church. Surprisingly I most profoundly experience Jesus in the sacrament of Reconciliation. I say “surprisingly” because I have a love for the Eucharist. Yet there have been moments in my life where I have gone to confession in tears (quite literally) and walked out on an emotional high.

This has shown me that I experience Jesus most as merciful Redeemer.

Even with this self awakening, it is not to the level of Peter’s proclamation “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” But I don’t think it has to be. To Peter he is one thing, to me another: neither of these are wrong nor contradictory.

Who is he to you? It really is a challenging question, but with the answer comes clarity. So again, who is he to you? 

   

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The Busy Life: a reflection on the last few weeks gospels

Is this cheating? Putting a few reflections in one? Some might say so but I’ll do it anyway! I’ve been busy.

Have you had some busyness in your life? I’m sure you can relate. You may have been more busy I. You may have been less. But there comes a time nonetheless where the ordinary life becomes a memory and the mundane a dream. I wont go into with what my days have been consumed, suffice to say they unfortunately have somewhat limited my alone time with God.

Just as Jesus and the apostles seek time alone to pray, away from the pursuing crowds so we must seek it too. I am reminded of its importance recently and while I try, I am unsuccessful. There have been many who have said things like, “If you’re too busy to pray, you’re too busy,” or “It is when you’re most busy that you need to pray the most.”

I find this sort of advise more of a shifting of focus more than anything else. Not quite as practical as I would hope. And I’m afraid I cannot help beyond that. I found that if I shave some time off in the mornings, getting up a little earlier, say, or likewise in the evening, then I only rob Peter to pay Paul. It feels as if it is not enough. 

I find it is easy to get disheartened, feel inadequate and give up for a bit. In the last few weeks Jesus has reminded me how much we can get from just a little. It was only five loaves and two fish that feed five thousand: it was the first step that got Peter walking on the water: it is the crumbs from the feast for the people of Israel that heals the daughter of the woman of Gennesaret. It takes courage and obedience to take that first step.

The familiar cycle of willingness, courage, success, trial, then failure is one that is shared by many. Through these last few busy weeks I am reminded to keep my eyes on Jesus. Peter called to be saved by keeping his eyes on Jesus, the crowd was fed through the obedience of the apostles, and the woman saved her daughter through an at of courage.

With each cycle we become a little more courageous and a little more obedient, if we only keep our eyes on Jesus. I know that even the little time I give – as inadequate as I feel it might be – is enough for Jesus to do his work in me. Jesus, I am sure, is not only after quantity of time. A minutes prayer said with sincerity is worth a thousand years of hollow devotion. While time is worthwhile he wants our hearts, if only we are courageous enough to give it.            

Meet you in the middle: a reflection on this weeks gospel (Matt 13:44-52)

My time of late has been consumed with the thoughts of the state of the world. I seriously believe we are on the verge of World War III. The plane down over Ukraine, a result of a Russian military exercise; the escalating war between Palestine and Israel; the persecution of Iraqi Christians by ISIS. It’s hard to get my head around it all and I have my suspicions and theories, none I will get into right now. Keep them in your prayers.

Anyhow…

Continuing somewhat from the agricultural theme of previous weeks we depart from the harvester and welcome the fishermen, the merchant and the discoverer. And each is clearly distinct yet point to a central theme.

Let’s address the first part of the gospel: the discovery of treasure in a field. Heaven is likened to the treasure, not the discoverer as some will say. The treasure lies dormant, overlooked and perhaps overgrown. Someone may stumble upon it but upon noticing it’s worth gives up all he has to attain it. Heaven is the reward for those who recognize its worth and do all they can to attain it. He who, with vigor, seeks heaven.

The second part of the gospel turns the tables around. Heaven now is like a merchant. Merchants travel widely looking for things of value. These riches are usually traded for greater riches but not all things were. Things seen too valuable were kept for themselves and not traded. However the merchant here has found something of far exceeding worth. We are the riches of heaven. Heaven seeks us.

The last part echoes the harvester in the fields of wheat but uses a new metaphor. The net is heaven dragging through the water and collecting all types of fish, perhaps even debris. Judgement is explicitly the selection of the good fish from the rest of the catch which when deemed unacceptable is thrown into a fire and the angels are the ones who do the separating.

The three parts meet in heaven. The first, heaven lies hidden; once it’s discovered is worth everything. The second, heaven is looking for us; once we’re discovered is worth everything. The third is the happy union of the two pursuits.

The pursuit of the heaven of great worth will cost everything. It’s easy to say that at home with my family around me. It costs so much more to so many. Martyrs today continue to witness silently to a deaf world. But with our pursuit of the same great treasure we can recognize both it’s value and it’s cost.

Are you willing to pay the same price that has been asked of so many? I would hope that many of us would say yes. But it is easier to die for the faith than to live it. Death thankfully where I live is not a necessary price to pay, at least not yet. I am reminded to pay in small things as well as in the big. It still takes cents to make the dollar. Or we might say, it still takes coins to make a treasure, no matter how small.

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Simplicity, two ways: a reflection on this weeks gospel (Matt 11:25-30)

Fathers have many unique gifts however some are more applauded than others. There are the standard ones that fatherhood demands like providing and protecting. But teaching, witnessing and being an example of fatherhood are other lesser known demands of the father. Each father has a unique way of expressing these to the capacity he is capable.

What has all this got to do with the gospel of the week?

This weeks gospel gives us a two pronged example of simplicity. How? First, Jesus, talking to his Father in heaven, acknowledges that children can better express the life he longs us to live than the learned. (As someone with a Bachelor of Theology I need to constantly remind myself of this!) With knowledge comes not only responsibility but also risk. I can find myself “above” certain things or correcting others: “I’m better than that! You do it”, “You know, it should really be done this way” and similar comments. Thankfully I go there rarely, but I do go there. The risk of return is real.

The simple – scripture refers to them as child-like – are blessed to have little responsibility and little risk; these are with their Father. These simple ones have a natural ability to soak in the example shown to them. We have a saying here that points out this fact: “Monkey see, monkey do”.

As I become more learned (it is a life-long process not just a tick-a-box achievement) I find myself projecting my understanding on things: I tend to read things in the way that bests suits my understanding and how it fits into my paradigm. Often this is beneficial and convenient but not always right. I tend to prejudge things, people and places because of my learnedness.

This sort of learnedness is above the childlike. They thankfully do not have the innate ability to prejudge with only a few exceptions. They rely on the example of the Father whom they follow. The responsibility and risks fall directly on his shoulders, not the childlike, for they have not the knowledge and the learnedness to fully grasp the occasion but it is not required. Such innocence is a grace that is easily corrodes with knowledge: knowledge, not wisdom.

Placing trust in The Lord lifts this burden from us, the learned. We need not carry the responsibility or the risk that we place on our shoulders. Here The Lord reminds us that while we may partake in this burden we desperately seek (a yoke) we need not carry it alone.

Trust The Lord. He acknowledges simplicity of mind, the unlearned, of not understanding every detail, of not prejudging things to fit our paradigm but The Lord’s. He acknowledges the associated burden in such understanding; a burden made simple when God takes control, if allowed.

The alternative is to find information and knowledge for all things: a know-it-all. We then take the burden of weight in our own shoulders and walk the path to godlessness replacing him with knowledge, or worse still, with ourselves.

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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.

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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…

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).

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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.

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  • (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.