Trinity Sunday (B)

Deuteronomy 4:32-34,39-40
Romans 8:14-17
Matthew 28:16-20 

The mystics believed that we are all born with a capacity for God (Capax Dei).
St Augustine believed that this capacity makes it possible for the human person to be re-formed through God’s gracious gift.

It has become common place for society to be described as ‘post Christian’ or as ‘secular’. While it may appear that Christian values are all but forgotten in the way in which our ordinary lives are ordered, I think we may have lost sight of the fundamental truth that we all carry within us the capacity for God. This capacity won’t always be expressed in the traditional ways, but I do believe that in the heart of every human being is the desire to know that they are part of something much bigger than themselves. Every human being wants to be connected to someone or something that gives meaning to their life. We are made for connection.

St Augustine sees our re-forming in terms of the image of the Trinity. Just as there is unity among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so too, there is unity in a person’s memory, understanding and will. At the core of each human being is a mystery which reflects the great mystery of the Godhead. In the ordinary run of life it’s easy to lose sight of this mystery that we carry within us. We are often more of aware of our failures than our triumphs. Maria Boulding,  expresses this so well in her book, The Coming of God, which has become for me a personal spiritual classic:

All your hopes and disappointments, your joy and suffering, your achievement and failure, your ups and downs: none of it is wasted. Provided only that you consent without qualification, the work of grace is going on in you through the whole business of living, to hollow you out, to make you Capax Dei, as the old mystics used to say, able to receive God. You yourself are the place of desire and need. All your love, your stretching out, your hope, your thirst, God is creating in you so that he may fill you.

When we celebrate the feast of the The Trinity we celebrate relationship and connection. Each of the readings for today highlights the quality of that connection:

Keep his laws and commandments as I give them to you today, so that you and your children may prosper and live long in the land that the Lord your God gives you for ever. (Deuteronomy 4) Israel is bound in a relationship of covenantal love.

The Spirit himself and our spirit bear united witness that we are children of God. And if we are children we are heirs as well: heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, sharing his sufferings so as to share his glory. (Romans 8) Our adoption as sons and daughters is the guarantee of our relationship with the Father.

Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’ Christ promises to be with us always when we speak and act in the name of the Trinity.

How can you live out this Trinitarian love this coming week?

Pentecost (B)

John 15:26-27,16:12-15

From the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday to the celebration of Pentecost, the Church has marked out a path for us to follow. We have walked in the wilderness with Israelites, fasted in the desert with Jesus, followed him as he taught and worked miracles, we have sat at the table in the Upper Room, fallen asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, stood in the cold in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house, we have watched from a distance as he drew his last breath on the cross, we have run early in the morning to the tomb, we have had breakfast on the beach in Tiberias and now Jesus stands before us saying:

When the Advocate comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father, he will be my witness.
And you too will be witnesses, because you have been with me from the outset.

Jesus promises to send us someone on whom we can call, someone we can call to be at our side. This is the literal meaning of Advocate or Paraclete. When I look back over my faith journey there are many who have been and continue to be people on whom I can call. There are many who have embodied the Spirit and been at my side when I needed them most.

Where in the coming week do you most need the Spirit to be at your side?

Saturday, Seventh Week of Easter

John 21:20-25 

‘If I want him to stay behind till I come, what does it matter to you? You are to follow me.’ 

We have come to the final chapter of John’s Gospel and perhaps have a sense of having made a long and sometimes meandering journey through the themes of Light, Life, Love and Glory.

There are puzzling lines in today’s text with mention of the Beloved Disciple and the idea that he was to stay behind until the Lord comes. It can seem strange to think of Jesus loving one person in particular. Much of our theology tells us that Christ makes no distinction among people. Of course, on a human level we know that we do in fact love some more and others less.

The image of the Beloved Disciple leaning on Jesus’ breast at the Last Supper has occupied the minds of many spiritual writers. It’s possible to weave all kinds mystical ideas into this scene. I like to stay at the simple level of closeness to Jesus. What does closeness to Jesus mean in my own life? Where are the Last Supper scenes in my own life? Where do I seat myself at the table?

We have a lifetime to ponder these questions. As you prepare to take up Ordinary Time again, look back over Eastertide and notice the times when you have known yourself close to Jesus.

Friday, Seventh Week of Easter

John 21:15-19

Our Gospel texts during Eastertide have laid before us many themes. They weave in and out of each other and form a kind of fabric. Amongst the many themes, these stand out for me: Love, Glory, Life, Believe in Jesus and Truth.

Today it is Love that is to be our focus as we re-visit the scene with Jesus and Peter, on the shore at Tiberias.

‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?’

For me this is one of the most profound and challenging questions that Jesus asks in the Gospels. Jesus is about to entrust Peter with the care and leadership of his followers. Every meal shared, every story told and every sign and wonder worked has led to this moment. Peter has grown in relationship with Jesus and it is from this place that he responds. Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him and each time Peter responds. Peter is commissioned to ‘feed’ and to ‘tend’ those in his care.

However we might understand Church leadership and authority today, its roots are in relationship. Henry Wansbrough osb comments on the three fold question and response:

Its form makes it clear that it is a demanding service of love and care, not a comfortable dominance of rank and authority.

How is Christ calling you to serve?

Thursday, Seventh Week of Easter

John 17:20-26

Father, I want those you have given me
to be with me where I am,
so that they may always see the glory you have given me
because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

Often in liturgy we find ourselves holding several time frames at once. We have celebrated the Ascension and now we wait for the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. But our Gospel text has us back around the table with the disciples at the Last Supper and Jesus is looking to the future. The whole text is about intimacy and connection. The disciples have experienced a close connection to Jesus while he was on earth and Jesus wants this same connection to be theirs when they are united in heaven.

It can happen in the spiritual life that all of a sudden you feel as if your connection with Jesus has gone. Suddenly what once felt secure and life-giving just evaporates. When you are in the midst of this type of experience you have difficulty imagining that things could ever go back to normal. Today’s Gospel gives us hope. It is into our darkness and confusion that Jesus speaks these words:

I have given them the glory you gave to me,
that they may be one as we are one.

Jesus’ relationship with his Father is the guarantee that out of darkness light will come.

How do you hear Jesus’ words?

Wednesday, Seventh week of Easter

John 17:11-19 

They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.
Consecrate them in the truth; your word is truth.

If we trace the use of the word ‘world’ through the New Testament we find that we are being asked to hold several concepts at once. In John’s Gospel we hear that
Jesus and his followers, ‘do not belong’ to the world but are sent into it. And then at the same time we hear that God ‘so loved the world’ that he sent his Son to redeem it.

The Christian tradition of monasticism presents a similar picture with its classic teaching of ‘fleeing the world’ (fuga mundi) on the one hand and its significant contribution to learning, agriculture and even champagne production, on the other. I think it’s fair to say that monastics have always been steering a middle course. In his Rule, St Benedict urges his monks: ‘Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way: the love of Christ must come before all else.’ I find this helpful because it gives a focus and sets the counter cultural choice of monastic life in the context of love.

How can you put the love of Christ before all else today?

Tuesday, Seventh Week of Easter

John 17:1-11

I have made your name known
to those you took from the world to give me.
They were yours and you gave them to me,
and they have kept your word.

Today we hear again the opening verses of Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel. Each couple of sentences presents us with an idea which builds up our understanding of the glory that is revealed in Christ. We can see this lengthy prayer as Christ articulating his relationship with his Father. Faithfulness and trust run as a thread through the whole passage.

The dynamic of the relationship between Father and Son has been made concrete in the way in which the Son has nurtured those entrusted to him. Christ can confidently say that those entrusted to him have ‘kept your word’. In this simple phrase a whole thought world is echoed. I hear in this phrase the touchstone text of the Old Testament:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your strength.
Let these words I urge on you today

be written on your heart.
You shall repeat them to your children

and say them over to them whether
at rest in your house or walking abroad,
at your lying down or at your rising;
you shall fasten them on your hand

as a sign and on your forehead as a circlet;
you shall write them on the doorposts
of your house and on your gates.

Keeping the word permeates every aspect of life: the word binds in love and shapes in fidelity.

How can you keep God’s word today?

Monday, Seventh Week of Easter

John 16:29-33

I am not alone,
because the Father is with me.
I have told you all this
so that you may find peace in me.

How often have you prayed for someone that they may find peace? Perhaps someone might have to make a difficult decision or comes to terms with a difficult some difficult circumstances: we wish them peace. It’s possible to wish for others what we cannot find ourselves.

When Jesus is getting ready to leave his disciples his wish is that they may find peace. This won’t mean that they will avoid conflict or challenge. Instead they will find an inner strength in knowing that Jesus and the Father are one. Hidden in the tidy prose of John’s Gospel is the stark fact the disciples don’t know how things will turn out for them. They have been schooled in love by Jesus and promised the Spirit. Now it’s up to them to let the promises unfold.

What sense do you have of the peace that Jesus promises?

Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 17:11-19

‘Consecrate them in the truth;
your word is truth.
As you sent me into the world,
I have sent them into the world,
and for their sake I consecrate myself
so that they too may be consecrated in truth.’

In recent months as the inquiry into the Post Office scandal has unfolded, I have thought a good deal about truth and what it might mean to speak the truth. Time after time we have listened to terms being defined and redefined. Getting some someone to admit that they broke a rule can take months.

The truth that Jesus speaks of has resonances for me of uprightness, faithfulness and integrity. It’s not a question of actions and attitudes that will keep you on the right side of the law, but rather it is a question of relationship. Jesus’ desire for us to be consecrated in the truth sets us apart and marks us as chosen to be in relationship with him. This relationship moulds and shapes us to become Christ-like.

There’s a line in the old translation of Lent Preface 1 that comes to mind:

As we recall the great events
that gave us new life in Christ,
you bring the image of your Son to perfection within us.

This is God’s work if we will allow it.

How is Christ calling you to deepen your relationship with him?

Saturday, Sixth Week of Easter

John 16:23-28

I tell you most solemnly,
anything you ask for from the Father he will grant in my name.
Until now you have not asked for anything in my name.
Ask and you will receive, and so your joy will be complete.

In the Penny Catechism the treatment of prayer looks very straight forward:

What is prayer?
Prayer is the raising up of the heart and mind to God.

How do we raise our hearts and minds to God?
We raise up our heart and mind to God by thinking of God; by adoring, praising, and thanking him; and by begging of him all blessings for soul and body.

I am pleasantly surprised that what I learnt at seven holds as true now as it did then. Reading this as an adult I am struck by how this definition of prayer is wholistic and encompasses many of the things that define us as human beings made in God’s image. Prayer is about my whole self, my true self, in relationship with God. Jesus is our model for this. In prayer Jesus’ and Father’s will are one.

When Jesus tells his disciples ‘until now you have not asked for anything in my name’, I wonder if this is another way of saying ‘you haven’t asked for anything with your true self’? When we ask with our true selves we are given the assurance that ‘our joy will be complete.’ This is personal and graced. We cannot force this.

What do you most need and desire in Jesus name?