Wonder and Awe

My eldest son is preparing to receive the sacrament of Confirmation. Last night we had the preparation night. While the night was largely about connecting children with their parent or guardian (presumably because they don’t talk to one another about this sort of stuff) there was one exercise that really stood out.

Dotted around the walls of the hall were the gifts of the Holy Spirit. You know the ones; knowledge, reverence, wisdom, understanding, etc. The Parents tell the child which gift they witness best and then the child goes to that place on the wall. For the record my son was at “understanding”

At this point I noticed there were two young girls under “Wonder and Awe.” On the parents explanation – one parent of each group was asked why their child was there – she said is was the observation of and appreciation for the small things around her. She had such innocent eyes.

When came the turn for the child to place the adult in the same exercise I was quite eager to get his response. He seemed a little apprehensive and unsure. Not wanting to sway on answer but rather to help him focus I asked him to now it down to a few, which he did. Soon he was pushed for time and, to my surprize, he chose “wonder and awe.” I was the only one there.

Like they did with the adults whose children were in groups, the children were asked about the adults. When my sons turn came (given I was the only one under this gift) he gives his reason why I was placed there.

I read the bible to him of a night. We have read all of the New Testament twice and much of the Old Testament. We are slowly working our way through Proverbs and the Maccabees. During this time I might pick a strange occurrence, or word, or person and elaborate on that for a moment. Its a way of bring it alive and relatable. (There was a story earlier where Jerusalem was getting invaded by an army with elephants. One soldier was flattened by an elephant as it died. A terrible way to die no doubt but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to exaggerate and elaborate this a little!)

Because of these reasons my son chose to place me in Awe and Wonder: because of my observation of and appreciation for the small things in scripture. Subtleties are everywhere; in the world around us, in scripture, in the people we meet. These draw us closer to God. His voice is in the gentle breeze not in the earthquake.

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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.

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.

Epiphany to Theophany: A reflection on this week’s Gospel (Mt 3:13-17)

One of the things I really love about scripture is it many historical and contextual layers. Often there are things going on in the text that today’s readers are likely to miss, at least without further study. Despite this, one can take profundity from any of these layers that can make a real impact on lives. In a more humorous and contemporary understanding one might say of scripture that, like Shrek, it has layers like an onion. All parts of the bulb are still the onion and still have the distinctive odour. Likewise scripture remains scripture at every depth. Nonetheless, this week’s gospel of Jesus’ baptism is a great example of this. I will explore just a few of these layers.   

 

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The first words spoken are from John the Baptist, “I need to be baptized by you.” These words on their own may for some create a discord already. For those reading it at the time it was written the discord has a deeper resonance. The context was that those who are baptized become subordinate to those who baptized them. This didn’t sit well with some early Christians because if Jesus was really God them he was not subordinate to anyone. While this was not articulated then, there was an understanding that it was so. A discord then lies: if his baptism could be omitted from the text (because of its implied subordination) why wasn’t it? And yes, some things have been omitted or redacted out of scripture.

The baptism of Jesus was likely a well known, though uncomfortable, fact: a public act which had to be dealt with. (You do know there wasn’t someone following Jesus around and writing everything he said or did, right?) Some speculate that the words of John were added as a way to deal with this: John recognizing his unworthiness and transferring the subordination to himself. While the transfer exists what’s to say it didn’t happen in this way? It would have been a matter for John, Jesus and the disciples to address then too.

Jesus replies, “Leave it like this for time being.” Implied here is an undisclosed future time, after the baptism, when the correcting transfer will take place. At the crucifixion? At the death of John the Baptist? Whenever it is, it will occur. In doing “all that righteous demands” Jesus in his earthly manifestation begins to fulfill his mission; a mission proclaimed from creation and a beginning confirmed by the Holy Spirit and the Father.

There is a technical term used when the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are revealed simultaneously in scripture: Theophany. With a similar root word to Epiphany, which means ‘to show forth’ or ‘to reveal’, theophany is God’s self revelation. There is one other, perhaps two, where thephanies occur. Most scholars agree that the Transfiguration is a theophany and some also include the crucifixion. Here at the baptism, the Son comes out of the water, the Spirit of God descend on him, and a voice in heard from heaven. The presence of the other two in such an explicit form confirms the divinity of the Jesus. Epiphany is God revealing more of himself; theophany is his self revelation.  

More could be said about the act of Jesus’ baptism being the sacramentalising of baptism given that at the time it was symbolic; More could be said about the symbol of water being cleansing and quenching; more could be said about the breaking of the surface of the water from the submersion in the Jordan as a sign of rebirth. But I’ll finish dwelling on the thought of God’s explicit self revelation. Here he is in his fullness, publicly declaring his presence. Do we do the same? Do we declare God? He publicly confirms humanity (and we as adopted sons and daughters); do we publicly confirm him? Do we reveal God?