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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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? 

   

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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Was Peter THAT important?

Peter, some dispute, was just another disciple, no different to any one else. Others some might say that he was the first among equals, he was after all the first to speak up when Jesus asked a question. What made him so special? Lets have a look at some significant scripture verses that support the catholic position of Peter being the leader Jesus intended him to be. 

Key Moments in History 

Luke 5:8 is significant because Simon is called Peter for the first time in Luke’s gospel. Luke structures this passage like those in the Old Testament. First a person is named twice. Look at Genesis 22:11 where God calls out “Abraham, Abraham” just as he’s about to sacrifice Isaac, or Exodus 3:4 where we see “Moses, Moses” in front of the burning bush. Another New Testament reference is found in Acts 9:4. This is the infamous road to Damascus where Saul is converted to Christianity through the words of Jesus, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Another thing that happens in this passage (returning to Luke 5:8) is that Simon’s name is changed to Peter, drawing on Matt 16:18. Again from the Old Testament we see a name change with Jacob to Israel in Genesis 35:10, and with Abram to Abraham in Genesis 17:5 (and Sarai to Sarah), none of which appeared in scripture before God uttered their names. 

Note that these events mark significant change in the history of Israel – the promise of a nation (Abraham); the beginning of the fulfillment of a covenant (Sarah bears Isaac); the test of fidelity (Isaac’s sacrifice); the start of the promised nation (Israel); the freeing of a nation (Moses). Could the same significance be given to Simon Peter? 

Another scriptural connection is the recognition of the divine name by way of falling on the ground. We see this, for instance, in the same passage as Abraham’s renaming when he falls to the ground in Genesis 17:3 after recognizing the divine presence of God. 

Promises to Peter Alone

There are promises that Jesus made to Peter alone: four in the marquee (and already referenced) Matt 16:18-19 – 1) “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church”; 2) “the gates of hell will not prevail against it”; and 3) “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven”; 4) “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven”. This last one was also extended to all discples later. Much has been written on all these but allow me to draw some things to your attention. 

First, Jesus’s church was not built on anyone else but on Simon Peter. Incidentally, this is the only time we see the two named Simon Peter in the gospel of Matthew. (Another key moment in history?) 

Secondly, the gates of hell words were spoken to him alone. The church founded on him contains gates that no evil will overcome. It reminds me of the prophecy of Jeremiah (15:20). Jeremiah in his distress calls out to God. God promised that Jeremiah will be as a fortified gate of bronze that will prevail against the evils of the world. I don’t think it is too long a bow to draw a comparison between Jeremiah and Peter, but perhaps it is. 

Next, the third promise, we see the giving of the keys to the kingdom. Drawing from the Davidic kingdom in which Eliakim is given the keys to the kingdom (Isaiah 22:20-22) Peter here is also given a different set of keys to a different kind of kingdom. There is a clear significance of authority given to the one to held the key. That significance is still recognized today in Peter. 

Lastly, from as early as Numbers 3:1-2 Moses relays what God has stated about the significance of binding something, that it is an oath or a vow. Like things, words can also be bound to a person, and by a person. Here Peter is that person. Additionally the gospel was written in Greek, and the Greek language, similarly to English, has tenses though somewhat differently. The tense in this phrase means from now on; it is an open ended statement without limitation. This is essentially like giving Peter a blank cheque. Whatever you bind… 

Sole Authority

As well the promises given to Peter there are commands that were given only to him. These two are “strengthen the brethren” (Luke 22:32) and “feed my sheep” (John 21:17). It seems to me quite perculiar that Peter alone was given these commands. Surely all the brethren should strengthen each other, there is strength in numbers (11:6) after all (just a little joke; look it up!). Likewise, feed my sheep – which clearly doesn’t refer to real sheep and real food – but the spiritual support of the flock of Jesus: those who hear his voice and follow him (John 10:27). But Peter has been singled out for this command. It just doesn’t make sense. Unless, of course, his role was different to those of the other apostles. And as the leader, his role was different. 

The Firsts

Here I’ll just list a few things. Suffice to say that Peter did many firsts in the church. 

🔹Peter initiated the election of the first apostolic successor (Acts 1:15-17)
🔹Peter preached the first sermon after Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36)
🔹Afterwards, Peter received the first Jewish converts (Acts 2:41)
🔹Peter performed the first miracle (Acts 3:6-7) 
🔹Peter inflicted the first punishment (Acts 5:1-11) 
🔹Peter excommunicated the first heretic (Acts 8:21)
🔹Peter was the first apostle to raise someone from the dead (Acts 9:36-41)
🔹Peter received the revelation to admit Gentiles into the church (Acts 10:9-16)
🔹Peter first recieved Gentiles into the church (Acts 10:44-48)
🔹And finally, Peter made the first decisive act at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:7-11)  

While there may not be one single scripture reference that states out rightly that Peter is the leader of the church (though many rely on Matt 16:18-19 and its interpretation) these lesser known ones begin to build a strong case, built on Rock. To those who say Peter was not THAT important, I say that Jesus thought he was, and the early church continued to respect his authority; as does the Catholic Church. In light of apostolic succession (Acts 1:15-17) we still have a Peter with us today. 

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.