Stop; Look; Listen; Think.

There is an advertising campaign on TV which instructs young children on how to cross the road safely. The four steps are found in the title. Once you’ve approached the road you stop walking, look both ways for traffic, listen in case there is more you may not have seen and think about what to do next. (You’ve done the rest but could still walk out into traffic if you’re not being attentive.)
This sums up the attitude of Advent. Concluding our liturgical year we approach the coming of Christ. In preparation we stop, look, listen, think.

…Gathering lambs in his arms and leading them to their rest.

Stop

Advent, it is realized, is a time for slowing down. In its busyness life can pass us by – or rather we can pass it by. Stoping allows us time and space to recollect ourselves, breathe and remember the way we ought to live, the way of Jesus, without spot or stain. We begin the process of welcoming him again by separating ourselves not from the world necessarily but rather from the pace of the world. Don’t be afraid to stand still.

Let us see, O Lord, your mercy and grant us your saving help.

Look

Self examination has a long history in the church and this preparatory season is a perfect time to return to this practice. Looking internally we see our sins and our failings, our selfishness and our frailty. But this is counterbalanced with the recognition of our need of a saviour, for whom we long. Confession is a great way – I would say, a necessary way – to embrace Advent. Looking out with the eyes of Jesus we begin to see the movement of the Spirit in the world: a kind act here; encouragement there. Looking through the eyes of God we begin to recognize God; we see the great things he is doing.

The voice of The Lord has spoken.

Listen

It is no secret that we live in the age of noise. Silence is a rare commodity and is being infringed upon like logging to a forest. Our attention is demanded, our thoughts distracted. Even in prayer our minds can wonder. When we listen, truly listen, we deepen attentiveness. Enabling a connection beyond words, we listen to the tone, the rythym, the heart to which God speaks. We may be blessed to hear the still small voice of God.

Think before you do anything; hold on to what is good.

Think

Upon hearing the voice of God with our hearts we meditate, chewing them over in out mind. Are we to act? Where is our next step? Are we to remain? For how long? Despite these practicalities keeping our mind on God and being able to see where he has worked in our lives, we can be sure that we will recognize him when he comes.

And he does come. This is our certainty: that God becomes man; a mystery and reality far beyond comprehension. But we may grasp something of it if we are prepared to receive it. Stop. Look. Listen. Think.

Advertisements

Hey, Grab the rope!

Gradualism. In the last week it has been sweeping through Catholic circles quicker than Ebola through the USA. Rebirthed during the Synod of the Family graduality has been like a hot knife through butter dividing the bishops and the faithful into two though somewhat unequal camps. But what is it and what is all the fuss about?

Gradualism is the name given to the understanding that a person is on a journey toward God wherever their path in life leads. Atheists have a particular view of the world interpreted by the facts presented to them. People of other faiths live to the standards of that faith in which some of the truths of God are revealed. Society by and large accommodates and recognises the use of free will though not rarely the source of such a beautiful gift. To whatever their understanding of truth people live their lives. Gradualism recognizes the varied states in life.

The benefit of gradualism lies in pastorally approaching ones recognition of their journey to God; in meeting them where they are. These approaches can change dependant on their place on their journey. Like when discussing the faith one would not talk about the church’s teaching on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist to an atheist, the recommendation of annulments do not extend beyond the Catholic community except where such things occur in other church’s law or in secular laws.

The problem with gradualism is when the person is not on the journey to God but away from him. In meeting the person where they are we hope to proclaim the mercy of God in the hope of their repentance, echoing the first proclamation of Jesus. How this is done is one of the concerns of the synod. But the teaching of the church must remain the same. Allow me to use an analogy.

Imagine a cliff with a steep but graduated slope. On the top of the cliff are the people of faith. These hold true to the teachings of the church. Anchored among them is a rope which hangs over the cliff. People are found at various places down the cliff. The rope is there to help them up.

Now the people down the cliff are the people we encounter. To them we preach. Some may choose to grab the rope on which they are saved, some may not. We can only offer the rope not make them take it. The placement of the rope is our pastoral approach. Pastoral approaches change to the need of the person; the positioning changes, the end may feed one place or another. The rope strands are the teachings of the church which together reveal the fullness of the truth. The quality of the rope is unchanging. It is rooted in the church whose hands are secure at the top of the cliff.

Gradualism addresses the recognition of the location of the people on the cliff and the need to move the rope accordingly. What seems to be occurring in the synod is that the vocal minority Kasperian camp wants to weaken the rope by removing a strand. Who wants to grab a fraying rope? The question I pose is with regard to gradualism, who is moving and closer to what?

There have been many examples of the insatiability of liberalism: the latest of these is the pressure to accept a redefinition of marriage. The various attacks against marriage calls for the church to respond. But how will it respond? This will be a defining moment in the papacy of Francis, whatever be his bias. Does he feed into the secular pressures and risk never filling their perceived need or does he hold firm to the truth that will set them free?

Two opportunities exist. First, the church reasserts itself as the bearer of all truth and still changes the pastoral approach accordingly. Second, because of such a lively debate during the synod the bishops return to their postings invigorated in their faithfulness to the church and in their fraternal fellowship. Lets hope the synod can bring consensus in pastoral approach and renewed faithfulness in its teaching. Pray the Holy Spirit guides their hearts and minds. Pray now!

Women: Excluded or exalted?

The mercy of God appears in all shapes and sizes. In the to and fro of our daily lives we often miss it. Sometimes we don’t understand it, sometimes it is not what we expect. This is more so, I think, in the long history of mankind, in particular the modern and popular understanding of the history of the chosen people of God; salvation history. Mercy, as is often the case, leads to so much more than itself as it is not an end itself but draws us into a deeper relationship with God, as does love, beauty, goodness, truth, and so on.

In the times of the Jews from not long after its inception men were considered dominant. They were the protectors and providers of their wives and their families. This was the case up until recent years, perhaps it still is in parts. When women were not protected or provided for they were vulnerable to a host of exploitations. Perhaps they still are in parts. Additionally authority, like anything else, can be abused which lead to the mercies of God being twisted for the benefit of the self and not for God. This lead to oppression and so forth.

Before the blessed self revelation of God in Jesus, God gave the Law. It is well known that some key figures in the history of the Hebrews had many wives; I think it was King Solomon who had the most. Nevertheless, this was a mercy extended by God to his people. Widows and other vulnerable women needed the protection and provisions of men. Allowing polygamy was a conciliatory mercy from God to women particularly for their protection.  The ideal would have been to create a society in which women, married or otherwise, were not vulnerable.

In comes Jesus: God’s mercy further extended. Jesus shows us the way in so many things and his example of his treatment of women, in particular widows, shows us the intrinsic dignity of all people and the protection required of the vulnerable, children included. By living the way of Jesus this ideal society is brought another step closer to reality.

Mary has a foundational and unequal role in the perception of women. The Mediatrix of mercy is uniquely exalted in the Catholic and Orthodox churches like no other human ever, male or female. Above all creation there is no one like her. Her preciousness extends to all humanity but is seen fully within the church.

Therefore, somewhat ironically, the patriarchal church Jesus left behind has in its view an example of perfect manhood in Jesus (not the lest by his treatment of those in need) and an example of perfect womanhood in Mary exalted. To uphold these examples in bringing about the ideal society the notion of an exalted person among many (or to put it another way to recognize the distinction within sameness) needs to be lived out loud and permeate through all we do. The ordinary made extraordinary: seen in Mary, through Jesus, by God.

The previous polygamous relationships now have a better example to live by. The chains, no matter how merciful their intent, have been broken and freedom reigns in fidelity to God and witnessed in monogamous marriage. The faithful example of Mary Queen of Heaven is the exaltation of womanhood par excellence. She was not given authority but is above all who have it, like a reversion of the protection and provision of the previous era.

This restored relationship – of Mary exalted, of the example of Jesus – brings together equally the prevailing faults of each of us. The reunions here on earth reflect faithfully (though not perfectly) the restored relationship in heaven. By having the exaltation of Mary, women are given an example to live by, and men are given the example of how to treat them. By having the example of a sacrificial Jesus men are given and example of manhood, and women are restored. United in Christ perfect union is more than possible, its achievable. Praise God!

The Sign of the Cross

I was disgusted this morning to find in my news feed a video of a satanic monument being erected at New York (I think). It depicted satan with a bearded goat’s head on a human body, with added wings, and at his feet a few children in awe. There was also a place to sit at his feet, presumably for reflection and contemplation, just in case you’re not evil enough.

Supporters of the monument claim that if others can have a statue (such as a crucifix or a plaque of the Ten Commandments) then they should be allowed to erect one of satan. Those professing equality surely would have nothing to complain about then.

As I was driving the other day I saw a crucifix alone atop a church. There was nothing extraordinary about it; it’s just that it jumped out at me. I am reminded of the “glory days” of decades gone by where churches on every corner openly displayed the crucifix. Perhaps it just me or where I live, but I don’t distinctly remember a modern church displaying a crucifix publically. I’m sure there is but, as I said, I don’t distinctly remember.

There is an opportunity here, particularly with the feast of the exaltation of the cross looming. The glory days behind us, the world is filled all the more with indifference, mediocrity and at worst vitriol. The cross – a contradictory sign of the love of God – becomes the beacon of fidelity. Whether it is on a church or around a neck it becomes more urgent to display the cross. God (and the devil) do not reside in statues. The cross becomes a sign, a powerful sign, but only a sign; it is not the destination. God is the destination: the cross actively points the way to him.

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.

20140724-223532-81332058.jpg

Mouth to Mouth: A reflection on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Understand that man does not live on bread alone but that man lives on everything that comes from the mouth of God

The famous words of Moses at the end of the first reading (Deut 2:2-3,14-16) become the anchor on which, John especially, develops a Eucharistic theology. From this I take a particular importance of life and bread but also of the mouth.

Living in a land obsessed with water and the beach life we often see at beaches flags between which we should swim. This is the patrolled area of the beach where if one is swimming is watched by the surf lifesavers: mostly volunteers who are well trained in many aspects of the beach conditions and first aid. We Aussies know that swimming in the safety areas we are watched and have a stronger likelihood of surviving any danger that comes our way (and there are few dangers in the waters of Australia!). It is not uncommon to see in times of need the often life-saving technique of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Returning to scripture John the Evangelist opens his gospel with “the word of God made flesh” prologue. This prologue is expounded throughout his gospel, and not more-so than in the 6th chapter from where we get this weeks gospel. Jesus equates himself as the bread come down from heaven – the manna given by God in the desert. Jesus becomes the Word made flesh, the word of God which comes from his mouth, that which we must eat to live.

We need everything that comes from the mouth of God to live: words come from the mouth: Jesus is the word of God made flesh: Jesus gives us his flesh to eat: it is his flesh which we must eat to gain eternal life: gaining eternal life he lives in us and we in him. This unifies us in Christ, a true communion.

Coming from the mouth of God and us receiving God in our mouths Jesus brings the gift of life to us. Through him we are revived in a deadly environment – and there are quite a few dangers in the water. He is the one who watches over us, who revives us, who volunteers himself for us. He freely gives us himself, yes, but we must freely receive him; mouth to mouth.