THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION (St Mary's) 01709 363753 * email@example.com * Clergy Fr Desmond Sexton Fr Leonard May *
Address The Presbytery 238 Herringthope Valley Road Rotherham S65 3BA
Seventh Sunday of Easter
The four gospels show to us the surprise, uncertainty and fear of Jesus’ followers when they realised He is risen from the dead.
The separation from their Lord through His death has been devastating; His resurrection and appearances to them seems to have unsettled them even more. What turns the situation around is His Ascension to heaven. It’s a second separation only this time they realise Jesus is returning to His Father. It’s a moment when they begin to understand that their experience of His companionship has indeed been in the presence of God.
Though the physical presence of Jesus being with them was now over they knew the Divine had come into their human lives. ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still and trust in me’. He was not leaving them as orphans nor does Our Lord leave us on our own today. This is why the scene in the 1 st reading for today’s mass is so important for us. This time the small community of His followers gather together not out of fear, but in preparation for the reception of grace to continue the mission entrusted to them.
Last Ascension Thursday’s gospel reading from Matthew tells us to go, make disciples, baptise in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and ends by assuring us that Our Lord will remain with us until the end of time. And as I reflect upon that gathering in prayer I think of our parish watts app group, bringing us together in prayer over the past ten weeks. Again and again within the watts app group the question is asked, are we contacting those who do not have an iphone or are not on the internet? Are we linking everyone up. Who is missing?
This work cannot be done by just a few of the faithful helpers it has to be something each of us is doing. If each person connected by their iphones is in contact with five people of the parish who are not connected by iphone or watts app then the network can grow. And when we meet family and friends or a familiar face from the parish we can tell them about the parish watts app group and invite them to join. We cannot stay with only the family or social bubbles we are comfortable with. There is the call to speak to someone we do not know that well.
These sorts of contacts are the mortar that puts the bricks of the Church together and the bricks are the people. We know we are not being called to stand still, we are realising that how to be a parish, the local church community in this area during these times is going to be very different and we also need to be listening. As that gathering of Jesus’ faithful followers came together in prayer, they waited first for the Spirit of God to fill them with the wisdom and strength to begin their mission.
They were the labourers of the harvest and not the masters. We can only do God’s work when we pay attention to Him. In our gospel reading for today Jesus is praying for us, He is interceding for us and as we read his words we realise that we are important to Him. The relationship we have with Him matters to Jesus. We also learn from His prayer for us that in taking the time to be still and to listen we begin to understand His Word, the path to follow and how to travel on it. We make the mistake of being always active in our life of prayer, for example we decide to do this novena, that devotion, a particular penance. Whilst these can be good, more beneficial to us are patience, endurance, acceptance and perseverance through difficulties - the passive night, in faith, hope and love. By this path we allow God to make space within us for a deeper relationship with Him. In very practical terms at this moment of time, we could be thinking of so many distractions to look for to take away the challenge of the present moment.
We can hold on to frustrations and anger about the disruptions in our daily living. Alternatively we stop, listen, open ourselves to what the Lord may be doing in our lives, what it is he showing to us about the importance of prayer, silence, family, listening to each other, courtesy within relationships, simple acts of service. Be still before the Lord and ask for his Spirit within us to show the way. In a recent sermon I recall suggesting each one of us make the sign of the Cross before leaving the home, before talking to someone, before emailing or texting a message. It can be enough to remind us to allow the passive dark night to come to us and let the Mystery of Our Lord’s relationship within, guide us.
Let’s pray together like the followers with Mary His mother, not just on watts app, or on zoom but also in our words and actions and that can only happen when we are willing to listen.
Sixth Sunday of Easter
In last week’s first reading we learned that in the early Christian community those of a Greek background complained to their Hebrew members that the Greek widows were not getting a fair deal. The community agreed to select seven people with Greek names to administer the distribution to all of the widows. Lessons in openness and trust were learned. However there were others outside of the community who were determined to break it up. Stephen, one of the seven people chosen to help with the distribution was martyred and everyone else had to scatter. But in persecuting the community, the perpetrators only managed to spread the message of Our Lord’s resurrection further.
Our first reading for today introduces us to Philip another one of the seven mentioned in last week’s reading. He goes to preach to a Samaritan community; the Samaritans were regarded with great distaste by the wider Jewish community at the time of Jesus; they welcome his message and when word gets back to the community in Jerusalem they send Peter and John to find out, they in turn prayed with the Samaritans and called on the Holy Spirit to come down on them. This young Christian community is now growing, Hebrew, Greek and Samaritan, Jew and none Jew, the lessons of last week are being developed further. But the opposition towards what they are doing will continue, in fact the writings of the New Testament all come from periods of persecution and trial and still these texts communicate to us all a great sense of hope, a belief in community in the name of Christ and trust in His love and the power of His resurrection.
In another New Testament reading for today, the letter of St Peter tells us to always have our answer ready for people who ask for the reason for hope that we all have in Christ. He also warns us that the answer we give will not always be accepted, that in fact we can face slander and suffering; ‘it is better to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong’ we are reminded. It’s a tough message and when we reflect on how we may have acted in the past we might see examples of where we shied away from doing what was right because of fear.
Many people are now beginning to recognise that living with the threat of the virus will be with us for some time. There are many questions unanswered about how to adjust; we are all on a journey where no ready answers are available. We cannot just take down a policy from the shelf and adapt it.
Yet we still need to learn how to move forward in to a future that is not easy to prepare for. Just as momentous was the experiences of the disciples, how do they live their lives once they witness the resurrection of Christ? The answer was not to be found in going back to what they were doing before because they could not go back. Their experience of Our Lord is so deep and life changing and we see changes of attitudes within members of the early Christian community towards one another’s differences and instead of holding back they come together.
We are learning the same things, how to live together in an environment that is beyond what we had expected, that has ripped up what until a couple of months ago we thought was normal. We are not in control and we have to live together with risks around us. We have to assess and manage risks and learn to live with the dangers . So how will each of us answer the question as to why we can still live with hope?
In John’s gospel Jesus tells us how. We are not being left as orphans. We have within us the Spirit of God, the resource that will give each of us the courage, strength, understanding, wisdom and counsel to work together, discover the new openings to go through in order to find the means to grow in faith and trust in God’s presence with us here and now. There will be opposition from some people. A fear of the future and frustration with not being able to return to the past will lead to persecuting people who are seeking how to live new ways in these strange times. But do not give up hope, we are not alone, we are not orphans. God’s Spirit is within each one of us. We have to let go at trying to be in control, managing everything and instead listen to what the Spirit of God has to say and be not afraid to live our faith in new ways and different means.
Community, parish, being church, never did come on a plate and maybe we are all guilty of taking these gifts for granted. Today we know for certain that like Stephen, Philip and their five other companions we are now the messengers of God, his deacons for today. Do not be afraid, trust in God still, let go of differences between us and rediscover how to be the Body of Christ today.
Firth Sunday of Easter
An important lesson for each of us is recognising that changes occur all through our lives. Some changes we look forward to and others we may wish did not happen. There are those changes that are upon us which are beyond our control and whatever our outlook at the time we still need to learn how to adapt and adjust to new experiences.
In our gospel reading for today Jesus is preparing His disciples for a momentous change. The setting is the Last Supper. He has just washed the feet of the disciples; already a humbling experience for them with one notable attempt to resist from Peter and Jesus has given them the command to continue serving one another with the same unconditional commitment as He had shown them. If the disciples thought that Jesus’ vision of living was already big enough to adjust to then they were in for a shock because there was more.
Jesus knows that his followers will experience the trauma of witnessing to His passion, death and resurrection. It’s a journey they have to embark on but Jesus says to them ‘do not be afraid, trust in God still, and trust in me’. He goes on to describe the strength he gains from the relationship He has with his Father in heaven. Jesus knows what is ahead. How he will cope with all that is about to happen will depend on His trust in His Father in heaven and at the table with his disciples He explains they will also have to follow this other example He is about to reveal to them.
In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles we have another example of facing a need to change that requires from people a willingness to open their horizons of what is required of them and the possibilities available. It’s a practical and down to earth challenge for this early Christian community comprised of people with a Jewish background. Some have grown with a Hebrew culture and others with a Hellenistic or Greek culture. The Hellenists are the ‘in-comers’ and they have a gripe, they feel that their widows are not being treated equally in the daily distribution of food. You could say that the first Christian Food Bank was running into a problem with fair distribution. The community faces up to the need to embrace one another no matter what their background and after prayer seven people are nominated to ensure that the distribution is done fairly and interestingly all seven have names of Greek origin which suggests that the community have entrusted the care of all widows to those who first raised the issue which is a brave thing to do.
All of us across our three parishes along with the rest of the world are undergoing a huge change to our way of living with many challenges ahead. One big challenge is how do we continue to nurture our parish life and mission? Do we wait and tread water until a vaccine comes? Well, Frozen Three is not an option!
We need to learn new ways of activating our trust in the relationship we have with Our Lord. We need to bring the words ‘do not be afraid, trust in God and trust in me still’ deep within us and then as in the example of the community facing the problem of distribution of aid to their widows, work together, trust each other, inspire one another to continue to be active in the mission of the church today in our lives and the lives of those around us in Rotherham and to do so in ways that will be new, unexpected and which at first will be unfamiliar and which people might be unsure of.
Yet, this is what the Spirit of God is calling us to do as our second reading today encourages; continuing to build on the precious corner stone that is Our Lord, not down tools until someone else come to take away the challenges facing us. If I may be inspired by HMQ’s VE speech: it’s not about our churches being empty, it’s about our parishes being filled with love.
On Saturday 16th May our parish renewal group will be meeting to look at how to begin to deal with some of the challenges ahead. How do we continue with Alpha? How do we develop a new approach to helping parents prepare for their children’s baptism? How do we introduce to people young and old the concept of Godly Play? If you would like to take part in our meeting on Saturday then please do email me, join us on zoom and let’s work together. We have other questions that are to be addressed soon. What about First Holy Communion, Confirmation, and Weddings? And we still have the calling to reach out to people who are not part of the life of the parish and help people to feel a sense of belonging to the parish through which they can encounter Christ in their lives in a deep and nourishing way.
Leaving things to the few in parish life is the practice of old and we cannot return there. This pandemic has made us all awaken to what we can do for one another, so do not be afraid, trust in God still and discover how we are called to work together in His name.
Fourth Sunday of Easter
You may recall that the new inside doors to the church building at the Immaculate Conception were blessed during the New Year and called the St John XXIII Doors in memory of St John XXIII who as he began the sessions of the Second Vatican Council in 1962 asked for the Church to be opened and to let the Holy Spirit in. The doorways of churches are very important. They are where parents of children to be baptised stand as they are received by the parish and then ask their local church to baptise their child; it is where the bride is met before she walks down the aisle; and it is where we meet the body of someone as their funeral begins and remember the person’s baptism. At all times the church doors is where we meet people. What happens to them at the doors can have a profound effect on their lives. Depending on our behaviour the doors can be a point of welcome or a means of keeping people out. Likewise as we leave the church building the doorway is where we go out into the world to minister in God’s name or to return our own little bubble where we hide our light.
Today’s gospel has Jesus introducing Himself as the gateway where His sheep can pass through and pasture in safety. They listen out for His voice and follow His call ignoring the call from others who will distract them from where they should be and from what they should be doing. These words of Jesus follow after the incident where he healed a man born blind and enabled him to see. Jesus had seen the man’s suffering while those around Jesus only saw someone who was blind because he must have done something wrong to deserve it. They were ready to talk about the blind man but not to help him.
In the first reading Peter addresses the crowd telling them that the man they had rejected just a few days earlier and had crucified was in fact the Christ and encouraged them to change the direction of their lives, to begin their journey of conversion and be baptised. Their baptism was not simply a ritual for membership of a new group of believers but the gateway to pass through, the door to open and enter into a whole new way of living. At the end of each mass we hear the words ‘glorify the Lord by your lives’. We go through the doors of the church and out into the world after hearing those words hopefully to witness to a way of living that is very different to the expectations and value given to life by other parts of our wider society. Going back to John’s gospel the man born blind was helped to see. In our relationship with God we have passed through the doors of the place where we gather to worship him and if we are hearing His voice we too will be helped to see with his eyes the world in which we live.
Today we are not passing through the doors of our church but we do pass through the doors of our homes. We enter into the lives of others on our walks, or when we are shopping; when we are doing voluntary work or when working. We also enter into the lives of others through our phone calls and through our social media. Again these can become opportunities to glorify God’s presence in one another’s lives by the messages we give to each other. People are looking for something positive in each encounter. The words we use, the things we speak of and our actions towards one another can give sustenance and hope. We can help each other to find the green pastures in the present situation we are sharing in; the restful waters to revive our spirits and guide each other along the right path that gives light and hope; all in the name of our Lord. All are ways of serving God by our service to one another.
Let’s not be thieves taking away the opportunity to give hope, company and support to someone else. Let’s not be brigands absorbed in ourselves like those who were with Jesus when He saw the blind man for the first time. They failed to recognise the poor mans need.
So, when you step out of the door of your home and when you return, when you are about to ring someone or call on them through the social media make the sign of the cross first. Let the Spirit of God be expressed in both your heart and mind and enter through that gateway in His Name. Glorify the Lord by lifting up someone else’s life so that they can see signs of hope. Amen
THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
Yesterday’s early morning Farming programme on Radio Four was being broadcasted by the Presenter from her kitchen in a suburb of London. She drew the listener’s attention to the silence outside; it was unusual even at that early time of the morning. The only sound to hear was her voice and the clatter of cup and saucer as she drank her first cup of tea for the day ahead.
There are all sorts of little silver linings around us as we live our routines during the lockdown and many of them can help us to think a little more deeply as to how we have been living our lives before the pandemic began. What lessons can we learn and take with us into the future when the lockdown begins to ease so that our lives and the lives of other people can benefit?
But we also know that this lockdown is bringing pain and suffering into our lives. There is the pain of the physical separation from loved ones, the worry about jobs, the questions around how do we live with the threat of the virus around us and of course, people have suffered serious effects from the virus and many have died. Loved ones have to endure their grief within the limitations of social distancing and the restrictions on how to conduct the funeral rites.
Today in Luke’s gospel we are introduced to two people who are suffering. They are filled with grief as they walk to Emmaus just a couple of days after the death of their friend. A stranger joins them on their travels and picks up on their depression and despondency. He askes them what has happened? They are not pleased with his question and are amazed at his lack of awareness as to what has happened to their friend Jesus of Nazareth however it is they who are not aware. They have not recognised that the stranger is him. In response Jesus takes them on a journey through the scriptures explaining to them examples of disruption, suffering and pain that do not lead to the loss of life but instead to its renewal and salvation.
The last few days of Lent, the Holy Week and now Eastertide have taken us through painful experiences but at the same time they are teaching us something new about our relationship with God and through this, our relationship with one another. Like Thomas in last week’s gospel there is a voice within telling each of us that we cannot just go back to how things were before, because despite the disruption and suffering we experience now there is also a new way of living. The Risen Lord is being revealed to us. It’s an opportunity to rediscover how to nurture our relationship with God and through this, our relationship with one another.
Earlier in the lockdown someone shared on the parish watts app a prayer in the form of a poem composed by an Italian priest. It was called ‘Today I stay In’ and in the poem he spoke of inviting Jesus to stay
with him when the evening comes to help the priest with his isolation. That line was inspired by the invitation the two travellers make to Jesus as they arrive at Emmaus. They have been inspired by how the stranger has explained the scriptures but now as they gather around the table something more incredible is about to happen. As their guest breaks the bread they realise who he is and although at that
moment Jesus physically disappears, his presence still remains with them. They are no longer despondent for their suffering has led them to the Risen Lord. They are now sharing in his resurrection as well as
in his passion and death.
He has helped them to unburden themselves, listening with understanding and love. He has brought to their lives redemption and healing. As a result they are now on the road again only this time in the opposite direction. They are no longer despondent or feeling any sense of loss; they go to Jerusalem to share the good news.
One of the many graces of our parish watts app has been the opportunity for people to go on the journey together and also taking with them people who do not have access to the technology. Heartbreak and sorrow have been shared along with inspiring messages, laughter and hope. The risen Lord walks with us pouring into our hearts his love through the presence of his Holy Spirit in our lives. We are learning to listen to one another in the same way our Lord did to the two travellers, with understanding, and compassion. We help to unburden one another of the load. We take away the isolation and bring healing and redemption into each other’s lives in his name. We are still on the journey but like our two travellers we are not heading to Emmaus, we go instead in the opposite direction with hope and courage in our hearts. It’s another silver lining to be thankful for when we have the opportunity to enjoy another quiet moment in the day.
SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
If technology has been kind to me I will have earlier today managed to send you a cartoon via the parish app that depicts a modern version of St Thomas’ reaction when he heard that Jesus had risen. The cartoon shows the gallery scene familiar to any of us who have discovered Zoom these past three weeks. There are twelve boxes, eleven with the faces of the disciples on and a blank one with Jesus’ name attached. The caption reads ‘The Lord has risen’ followed by Thomas saying ‘unless I can see his face on the screen....’
Today the screen of our ipads, phones, laptops and computers are the only place where we can see some of our loved ones. I have been able to host some liturgies through zoom and it has been moving to see parishioners greet their brothers and sisters in Christ with a real sense of delight. In our gospel reading Thomas has the opportunity to place his figure into the side of Our Lord. We cannot touch, hold, hug or kiss some of our loved ones but we still know they are real. It is as if our current experience of life is in reverse to what Thomas was going through. He could not believe in the risen Jesus’ love for him unless he could touch Jesus, we had the experience of human contact and now without it we are learning to believe in their love for us based memories; and our relationship with the risen Christ is similar. In our second reading today we hear how people have a love for the risen Lord though they had not seen him.
I recently read a poem written by a woman whose husband had died some years ago. The poem spoke of his zest for life, his sense of fun and his passions. He was not able to spend the lockdown with her doing what he would have normally done, growing veg, being creative with wood and later in the evening enjoy a meal and a glass of wine, appreciating the company of his wife and family. However, she had accepted this, understanding that she cannot go back to the past. So she begins a new page in her life; together with her husband in her heart and mind she is able to turn over to that new page.
You may recall how in past years on this Second Sunday of Easter I refer to the painting by Caravaggio of Thomas meeting the risen Lord. The figure of Thomas is inside the wound of Jesus but it is the expression on the face of Thomas at that moment which communicates an important message. He is looking awayfrom the wound, as if into space, realising that life as he had known it cannot ever be the same. He is now a witness of the fact that Jesus is risen.
As people of faith we have journeyed together through three weeks that have been so very different to what we have experienced before. We are living the pain of not celebrating the Eucharist as we would normally do; of not gathering together in prayer; of Baptisms, Receptions, First Holy Communion, Confirmation and Weddings being on hold. We have travelled through a Holy Week and into Easter in ways we never thought we would have to do. Yet, we have been creative in finding the opportunities to draw closer together in shared prayer, have opportunities to rediscover what it means to speak of the domestic church and to have those moments of quiet contemplation when we do not speak but listen for the presence of the Lord in our lives. Fr. Chris Aelar at the US National Shrine of the Divine Mercy puts across in a very reassuring way how a sincere act of contrition and our Spiritual Communion keeps us connected with the grace of God. In other words, do not make the mistake of trying to contain the love and mercy of God within rituals. Be open to how the Spirit of God can stay with us whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in. As well as our spiritual wellbeing, the parish community and beyond has also been attentive and imaginative in caring for people around them and it’s often the small acts of kindness that lift people up. When the lock down is over do we then return to how things were before? If we have lived through these moments in a state of permanent anger then yes we will return to how we were before and look for someone to blame. But if these past weeks and the time ahead are being spent experiencing and sharing insights of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in our daily lives in ways that are deep and personal then like Thomas we will know we will not be returning to how we were before.
Lord, help our encounter with you during these times be decisive. Help us to continue to exercise the ears of our hearts, may we not live with hearts of stone but with understanding hearts only you Lord can give. Help us not to be afraid to walk along the pathway in to the future you are revealing to each of us at this present moment and may we do so with hope and courage, humble trust in you and a growing love for our neighbour.
I am writing these words on the morning of Holy Saturday. Normally on this morning I would have gathered with people in the Church to pray the Office of Reading and Morning Prayer after which there would be a lot of activity during the rest of the morning to get everything ready for the Easter Vigil and Sunday Morning Mass. People would be cleaning, hoovering, flower arranging, uncovering statues, getting Orders of Services ready and the sanctuary prepared. And while all of that is going on, musicians would be having a last minute rehearsal, people excited about being baptised or received into the Church, Confirmed and receiving Our Lord for the first time in Communion would also be having their rehearsals. In past years somewhere in the middle of all that I would have my last practice on the Exsultet. For the past two years my warbling has not been needed thanks to Eve who sings it beautifully, or in her words ‘smashes it!.
This year, Holy Saturday morning is different; different in the sense that nearly all the above is not happening. Yet in other ways it remains the same because it is a time of waiting. Although we cannot gather to participate in the liturgies we still wait on Holy Saturday morning in joyful anticipation of celebrating the Resurrection of Our Lord, because whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in today, the Lord has truly Risen! While the liturgies help us to express our joy it is the Resurrection we celebrate. Although we may be by ourselves or with members of the same household, reminding ourselves that ‘Jesus the victory has won’ is still a joyful expression of our faith.
Holy Saturday morning is also different in terms of waiting because we will still be waiting on Easter Sunday and well on into the Eastertide. The stay at home policy has been extended by our government, a necessary action to slow down the spread of the pandemic in our country and ease the pressure on the NHS.
In Matthew’s gospel reading for Easter we have Mary of Magdala and another Mary going back to visit where Jesus had been buried on the morning after the Sabbath. When they get there the experience they have is described as like an earthquake as the angel of the Lord rolled to one side the stone to the entrance of the tomb where Jesus lay. At first the women were frightened but the angel reassures the women. ‘Do not be afraid’ says the angel,’ he is not here, he has risen.’ Their fear turns into awe and great joy and then Jesus himself appears to them. He repeats what the angel has already said to them, ‘do not be afraid.’ He then sends them to tell His brothers (the disciples) to meet him at Galilee. Later in the gospel when the disciples do meet Jesus at Galilee they are told ‘go make disciples of all nations, baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they are to teach people everything He had taught them and the last words of Matthew’s gospel are ‘and remember, I am with you always, to the end of time’.
We experience this extended waiting in the company of the risen Lord. Believing in the risen Christ does not mean believing in something that happened to the dead Jesus. It means hearing these words from the depth of our being: ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever’ (Rev1:17-18). We are not alone. Medical teams in this country and around the world having to make major decisions as to how to use limited resources while so many lives are in need are not alone; families and friends unable to be with their loved ones and comfort them are not alone; all of us waiting together are not alone; the whole world wondering what life will be like after the pandemic is not alone. The risen Lord stands by us, blesses what we can do and holds everyone safely in His arms. It is not a matter of the right decisions or the wrong decisions but the best people can do for the good of all in His name under these difficult circumstances.
This Easter is different to others in some ways and yet the message of Easter remains the same; and the message is to joyfully sense that the Risen One is here, in the midst of our fears and worries, forever upholding the moments of goodness and beauty that continue to flower within us as a foretaste of the infinite even in these difficult times.
Eve will still ‘smash’ for us the Exsultet. It is recorded and will be on the parish app for all to hear. In the words of the theologian Karl Rahner, ‘the Risen Lord remains the heart of the world’
May God bless you and all who share in your life this Easter.
PALM SUNDAY 5thAPRIL 2O2O
Palm Sunday has two gospel readings from the same author. This year the readings are from Matthew. The first reading begins the mass, (Math 21:1-11) and describes Jesus entering Jerusalem amidst jubilant crowds welcoming Jesus as he returns to establish his heavenly kingdom in full. In our lives there are moments when we too catch glimpses of the Kingdom of God breaking in and experience a foretaste of that joy in the conversion of a loved one, an answer to a prayer, or a surprising manifestation of God’s justice and love for His people in a real life event or experience. These moments help sustain our hopes as we also, like Jesus, must endure testing, suffering and the cross as we wait for the coming of our King.
Between the two gospels are readings from Isaiah (50:4-7) and the letter to the Philippians (2:6-11). It is Isaiah who introduces us to the Servant of God who will face suffering as he follows the call he is given. In the reading the Servant shows us that he has been prepared by God, he knows what to expect because his life is in tune with the calling he has received. For the Servant to live on his own terms will mean rebellion, keeping close to God will mean that no matter what he will face he knows the Lord is with him. He has tasted something of God’s glory and closeness; that experience will help him to face what comes.
The second reading also echoes this development only this time the text is speaking of Jesus. Though He is divine Jesus does not cling onto His divinity in order to avoid the pain and suffering his human life will experience. He does not follow his own agenda and instead engages with what He has to do so that whatever state our lives are in we will have the opportunity of redemption thought His saving grace. So far the readings are preparing us for a truth we perhaps would rather not be reminded of. Yes we will experience glimpses of the glory of the Kingdom of God but if those insights and hopes are to be realised we also have to accept the cross when it comes into our lives because it is through the cross that we learn to let go of the false notion that we can be in control of our lives. If the current pandemic teaches us anything it will be that.
Pope Francis warns us of the temptation to follow a Christ without a cross. It would be copying Peter’s mistake when he said to Jesus ‘No, this will neverhappen’ for there is no true love without self-sacrifice. Pope Francis calls on us to embrace suffering, because as Christ told his disciples ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’ Pope Francis goes on to tell us not to become absorbed by the world’s vision to live an easy life, but rather to go ‘against the current’ pointing out the challenge to self-centeredness found in Christ’s words, ‘Whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my cause will find it.’ (Vatican City Sep 3 2017)There are people today risking their lives to save others; there are people today who are enduring the terrible sorrow of not being able to be with a loved one to comfort them as they die; and we are all experiencing major disruptions to our daily lives creating great uncertainties about what is in store for the future. We ask the question, ‘in all of this suffering and turmoil where are you Lord?’ and the answer is, ‘I am hanging on the cross’
In Matthew’s account of the passion Jesus is mocked, ‘come down from the cross’ ‘save yourself’. He does not react to the provocation, He does not say a word, He remains silent. That is until with a horrifying cry He shouts aloud ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’ He does not ask God to save Him, he only asks God not to be hidden. And God is silent. We need Jesus on the cross we cannot be alone in our affliction. How can God help us without feeling our suffering? Who else can give hope to victims of torture in many prisons around the world? In whom can defenceless victims of abuse place their hope in? Whose image can someone have before them as they gasp for breath on a coronavirus ward? When Christ suffers on the cross, the Father suffers with Him.
Christ suffers death in His human flesh the Father suffers the death of His Son in His Heart. In this way as Christ hangs on the cross He brings God’s communion to those who are suffering and thereby brings hope. Jesus’ life of commitment up to and including death shows us the way to liberation and salvation for us all. We began the liturgy for Palm Sunday with Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem with crowds cheering the coming of His Kingdom.
We end experiencing the reality of the Cross with Jesus on it. It is this that brings the Kingdom into our lives when we need it most.
FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT 29 th MARCH 2020
In Douglas Adams book ‘The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy’ a computer called Deep Thought is asked what is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything?
True to its name the computer goes into a deep thought and 7 and a half million years later comes up with an answer. 42.
A lesson there for us all, if you are annoyed with an answer then before you say anything else check with yourself as to why you asked the question?
We are all coming to terms with living the current way of life which is imposed upon us and faced with the very question ‘what is the meaning of life, the universe and everything ?’
Hopefully we will not be stuck in our houses for 7 and a half million years before arriving at an answer, however, we are faced with the question as to how we approach life, what is it that we have regarded as important in the past and what is it we now find ourselves missing?
We are learning what really matters to us.
On Friday evening Pope Francis led all of us to the Blessed Sacrament to be together, silent before the Lord and to place all out trust in Him.
Before the Adoration the Holy Father in his address spoke of how the storm in which we are all in the same boat and trying to sail through, exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities.
The first reading for this Sunday places a great emphasis on the gift of life and its meaning.
Ezekiel is living at a period of great trauma for the people of Israel. A captive himself, he saw his earlier prophecies fulfilled in the taking of large numbers of the people into captivity. In exile his pre-exilic warnings gave way to the message of hope. His imagery of the dry bones being filled with the Spirit of God bears witness to his faith and hope in the life- restoring power of God after the disaster of the exile.
Our lockdown will last for as long as is necessary,we can use this time to discover how the Spirit of God can enlighten
within us a deeper awareness of God’s call to us and our purpose in life.
In the gospel reading the raising of Lazarus proclaims the great truth that Jesus is Lord of life.
He can call us out of our tombs; our Christian life becomes alive when we begin to listen out for and obey the Word of God. We know from experience that we don’t have to be dead physically to be in need of being raised up. We can feel dead in the midst of life hoping for a word and a community that will put us together again.
The voice of Jesus calls us away from making the tomb our natural habitat. It challenges us to take responsibility for our brothers and sisters who, like Lazarus, is loved by Jesus. We might not be seeing many people at this moment but we are becoming more aware of others and concerned no doubt for the wellbeing of family members
There will be those we can contact through social media and give each other support but we will also have on our minds those who have no access to social media. We have to use our imagination to work out how to keep in touch with them. Perhaps it will be through the phone via a land line, or a talk over the garden fence or maybe by rediscovering the art of one of the earliest forms of written social interchange which is writing a letter.
Our exile will come to an end and when it does will our priorities, our understanding of the meaning and purpose of life deepened by the new and reclaimed discoveries we have experienced during the lock down continue to influence the way we will walk into the future or will the false and superfluous certainties Pope Francis mentioned come back and lead us off in the wrong direction again?
Jesus tells us that he is the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in him even if that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in the Lord will never die.
The meaning of life and everything is found in two important relationships; firstly our relationship with God and then our relationship with our neighbour.
The number 42 was a random number picked by Douglas Adams to give an amusing answer to the question of the meaning of life. For every Christian there is nothing random about the relationships between ourselves and God and with our neighbour.
FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT – LAETARE SUNDAY MARCH 22 nd 2020
First Reading: 1 Sam 16:1, 6-710-13. Psalm 22 Second Reading: Eph 5:8-14 Gospel: John 9:1-41
There are moments when perhaps we feel we have been overlooked, ignored even forgotten; we may also have done the same to others. We are never overlooked by God or ignored or forgotten by Him. We are chosen by God who sees more in us than meets the eye.
In today’s first reading the prophet Samuel is commissioned by God to choose a successor to King Saul. He is sent to Jesse of Bethlehem to anoint one of his eight sons as the future King. Samuel is impressed by the eldest son and presumes that this young man of great height will be God’s choice. But no, in fact none of the seven sons presented is the one God wants as King. The eighth son, the youngest, has been left in the fields to mind the sheep. Samuel calls for him to be brought to him and so a new chapter in David’s life begins. The prophet learns: God does not see as man sees, man looks at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart. The Lord sees in David something more then what meets the eye. The young boy is to become King.
John gives to us today in our gospel a well-crafted and beautiful story about how a blind beggar man comes to see the light in Jesus. When Jesus’ disciples see the blind man begging they presume that his sorry state is a result of sin. But Jesus sees the blind man as something else. The road side beggar who has inhabited a world of darkness is to be the one to display the works of God and point to who Jesus really is.
Both the story of the blind man and the story of David speak to us of God’s choices. Because God sees the heart, God chooses differently from the way that we do. Both David and the blind man are remembered and celebrated by the Christian community because they point beyond themselves to the reality of the divine. We honour David as the one who points ultimately to the Son of David; we recall the man born blind as the one who points to the Son of Man, the light of the world.
In her book Forming Intentional Disciples Sherry Weddell reminds us that God has given to each of us a vocation, a calling. In other words God can see more in each one of us then what meets the eye. When we fail to help each other to develop as disciples, we are unwittingly pushing away the vast majority of the vocations God has given us. She goes on to remind us that a vocation is a transforming sanctifying path and work of love to which God calls us. She refers to an observation the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar makes: Simon the fisherman, before his meeting with Christ, however thoroughly he might have searched within himself, could not possibly have found a trace of Peter.
Over the past few days as the lives we have known are being radically disrupted and changed we are finding within our parish communities and beyond, great acts of kindness and thoughtfulness towards other and a desire to keep in contact with each other through our prayers. Last night I was talking to someone on the phone, I happened to mention that a young family I know with little resources was struggling to find flour. What the young mother can do with four to help feel her children is amazing. This morning as the church was opened he was there with a bag of flour!
What we need to do now is not only be grateful for all these acts of kindness, we need to learn what God is saying to each one of us through them. To take the time to prayerfully reflect what it is God is telling us, reminding us, calling us to become. Maybe in the past we have been overlooking God’s grace in our daily words and actions. Let’s listen to what His grace is saying to us, let’s find out what it is that God sees in each one of us that is more then what meets the eye.