Sunday Readings Reflection

The Body and Blood of Christ – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. “Take this”, he said, this is my body.” He likewise took a cup, gave thanks and passed it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them: “This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out on behalf of all.” Mark 14, 12-16, 22-26

Today’s three readings take us on an excursion into the historical events and religious practices that led to the shaping of the Eucharistic ritual in which we regularly engage in today’s Church. The first reading from Exodus is an account of high drama, in which we see Moses involving his people in a sacrificial event designed to engage them in recommitting themselves to the God who had led them out of slavery in Egypt, moulded them into a cohesive nation, and given them a consciousness of being God’s Chosen People. The drama is intensified by the fact that Moses takes the blood of the sacrificial animal and sprinkles it on both the altar and the assembled people themselves, thereby signifying in action that the blood (the Jewish symbol for life) was a sign to them that they were being given a share in the life of God. Their commitment to God was ratified by their communal response (led by Moses): “All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do” (Exodus 24, 7), and then ratified by Moses as he sprinkled blood on them: “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of his” (Exodus 24, 8).
We cannot fail to notice that these words of commitment and covenant are echoed by Jesus in the various New Testament accounts of the Passover meal which Jesus celebrated with his disciples on the night before he died by execution.
The second reading from Hebrews puts the focus on the great Jewish festival of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), when the Jewish people, seeking reconciliation, recommit themselves to God. In the ceremonial and ritual of Yom Kippur, the Jewish High Priest enters the holy of holies (the dwelling place of God in the centre of the Temple, and shielded by the temple veil). When the High Priest emerges from the holy of holies as God’s representative bringing healing, reconciliation, restoration and recreation, he sprinkles on the people the blood of goats, sheep and bulls symbolising reunification with God. The writer of Hebrews declares that Jesus Christ is the new High Priest, who, by shedding his own blood, became “the mediator of a new covenant”, of God’s endless commitment to humanity and to all of creation. That commitment was expressed in similar words by Jesus when, at the Passover meal with his disciples, he announced that the sacrifice he was about to undergo was not only for them but for all. Today’s gospel-reading is Mark’s account of the Last Supper. Using the occasion of the Jewish Passover meal, which commemorated the First Covenant between God and Israel, Jesus, seen by Mark as the sacrificial Lamb of the New Covenant, instituted the new Passover of the Eucharist. In the early 5th Century, St Augustine reminded members of the Christian community of Hippo that, by sharing in the Eucharist, they became what they had received, and, consequently, were pledging themselves to be bread broken and wine poured out for others. To live Eucharist means taking on the responsibility of making the love of Christ visible to everyone we encounter. Every time we come together as community around the table of the Eucharist, we remind ourselves of who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ, and we come seeking from him and from one another the strength we need to live true to our responsibilities as followers of Jesus.
In this context, I share a poem written by a Franciscan seminarian, Scott Surrency, and reflecting on the question Jesus put to James and John when they asked for special privileges: “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I shall drink or be baptised in the same bath of pain as I?” (Mark 10, 38)
Can you drink the cup?
Drink, not survey or analyse,
ponder or scrutinise –
from a distance.
But drink – imbibe, ingest,
take into you so that it becomes a piece of your inmost self.
And not with cautious sips
that barely moisten your lips,
but with audacious drafts
that spill down your chin and onto your chest.
(Forget decorum – reserve would give offence.)
Can you drink the cup?
The cup of rejection and opposition,
betrayal and regret.
Like vinegar and gall,
pungent and tart,
making you wince and recoil.
But not only that – for the cup is deceptively deep –
there are hopes and joys in there, too,
like thrilling champagne with bubbles
that tickle your nose on New Year’s Eve,
and fleeting moments of almost – almost – sheer ecstasy
that last as long as an eye-blink, or a champagne bubble,
but mysteriously satisfy and sustain.
Can you drink the cup?
Yes, you — with your insecurities,
visible and invisible.
You with the doubts that nibble around the edges
and the ones that devour in one great big gulp.
You with your impetuous starts and youth-like bursts of love and devotion.
You with your giving up too soon – or too late – and being tyrannically hard on yourself.
You with your Yes, buts and I’m sorrys – again.
Yes, you – but with my grace.
Can you drink the cup?
Can I drink the cup?
Yes.                              Scott Sorrency, O.F.M. Cap. (2015)
Scott Surrency wrote this poem as a homily to which we can all listen and on which we can all reflect. Might I suggest that how we answer his last two questions will be a measure of our understanding of and participation in Eucharist?

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity – a reflection on the Sunday readings

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”       Matthew 28, 16-20

When it comes to writing a reflection on the Holy Trinity, I struggle. Like every other card-carrying Catholic and Christian I can publicly proclaim at least once a week: “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth…I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, who for us became human…I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son…” (Nicene Creed). But that does not mean that I can get my little head around it. Those statements encapsulate theological concepts which I accept in faith, but which I cannot prove. I can also say that I believe I was loved into life by my loving parents who reflected to one another and to me something of God’s love. And I am convinced that God loves me. But I cannot prove that I loved my parents in return, just as I cannot prove that I love God. Every year, one week after Pentecost, the Christian Churches celebrate “The Feast of the Holy Trinity” – the only Church festival that celebrates and puts the focus on a theological concept that theologians have tried to explicate for centuries. Their efforts, however laudable, have been attempts to explain the unexplainable. We are fooling ourselves when we fall into thinking that we can satisfactorily explain God. For that matter, do we ever think that we can fully understand and explain anyone whom we know and say we love? Moreover, I am convinced that Jesus was a man of his own time and culture, and that as he travelled the length and breadth of Palestine proclaiming the boundless love of God for humanity, he was not conscious of himself as being “The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity”. That became an article of faith in the institutional Church 13 centuries later, and only after much theological speculation. A more recent attempt to explain God as Father, Son and Spirit became a New York Times best-seller. It is a novel entitled The Shack, written by Canadian, William Paul Young and was No.1 on the New York Times fiction list for 147 consecutive weeks. Young personifies Father, Son and Spirit as three humans who, by their love, and compassion, and their skill in gently challenging, transform the lives of a grieving family whose daughter/sibling was abducted and murdered. Published in 2007 (Windblown Media, USA), it has sold 20 million copies. It has not exactly been lauded by scholars of theology, but it deals, in an innovative and even provocative way, with the mystery of God as Trinity. Young depicts the Father as a black woman named Papa, Jesus as a Middle-Eastern carpenter and the Spirit as an Asian woman called Sarayu (Hindi, meaning a refreshing wind).

Having said all that, I dare to suggest that no theologian has given us a better or more appealing description of God than John, who in his first letter wrote: “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love”    (1 John 4, 7-8).

While many of us can recall our primary school days and the religious knowledge we gathered with the help of the prescribed catechism, we may well be slow to recognise the lasting impact made by the catechism on our adult lives. Here is an extract from one of the catechisms of my primary school days:
Q. How many Persons are there in God?
A. In God there are three Divine Persons, really distinct, and equal in
all things–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
This is just one of the questions and answers which I and my peers learned so well by rote that we could repeat them in our sleep. What sense I made of it is anyone’s guess. But I believed it, because I was given to understand that rejecting it would put me in danger of ending up in hell. Generations of children have passed through Catholic primary schools across the globe since the 1950s (my era). While there has been an evolving approach to religious instruction over the last seven decades, I offer just one example of how one particular child (Clement) recently made meaning of what he heard as a 5-year-old pre-schooler at his local Catholic school. The story is told by his grandfather, who had overheard Clement giving a theological dissertation to his younger sister, Ruth: “Ruthie, we believe in three Jesuses: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the Spirit is the best one ‘cause it’s holy.” Grandfather says he just can’t wait to hear Clement’s take on the Immaculate Conception.

The Catholic Church was more than 13 centuries old before the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity found its way into the liturgical calendar. Despite our intellectual struggles with trying to understand the mystery of God, the focus of this coming Sunday’s celebration is on the revelation of God to our world as creator, on Jesus, who taught us about the boundless love of the God who loved us into life and who alone we seek, and on the Spirit of that love who dwells deep within us and frees us from isolation and enlivens us to live as community. The concept of God as Trinity helps us to see God as loving community, and it is yearnings for love and for community that are the deepest desires of every human heart.

It is love that is at the centre of the readings we encounter on Trinity Sunday. – the Love (God) who created our world and set it on its evolutionary journey; the Love that was so overflowing that it became one of us in the person of Jesus and showed us how to love; and the Love who could not even imagine leaving us alone and who is present to us in every moment of our lives. That, too, is something that I struggle to get my little head and heart around. Yet that’s what Jesus commissioned all his disciples to proclaim to our world.

The Quaker writer, Philip Gulley, in 2012, published a book entitled: The Evolution of Faith: How God is creating a better Christianity. In it, he told the story of an elderly Quaker woman who had spent most of her life reaching out to people in need. This is his story: “As I came to know her better, I was astounded at the many ways in which she had blessed hurting people. Though her income was modest, she lived simply so she could give generously. Though her many commitments kept her calendar full, she still found times to be present to those who needed comfort. The longer I knew her, the more I marvelled at her kindness, given the scarcity of her resources. Her humility made her reluctant to talk with others about what she did. But one day she let slip the principle that guided her life, when she said to me: ‘Little is much when God is in it.’ I have reflected on that often, coming to appreciate its truth more and more as the years pass. Little does become much when love is present. Jesus knew that. He knew that even the smallest gesture of love could transform the darkest of situations, and so fully committed himself to divine love that we are still awed by his life…We can be like him when we say yes, as thoroughly as we can, to the Divine presence that is also in us. As we do that, our lives and the lives of others will be transformed. God’s joy will be in us, and our joy will be full.”

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Pentecost – a reflection on the Sunday readings

“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” Acts 2, 1-11

I’m sure that most of us have noticed that, every now and then, when we find ourselves struggling to find the right words in a tight spot, we manage to come up with an answer that satisfies those who have been challenging us. I often recall a moment back in 1989 when I suggested to a group of seasoned, English-speaking Christian Brothers that they venture out as volunteers to engage with needy children and homeless adults in Rome. I was confronted with protesting voices of “How can we possibly do that if we can’t speak Italian?” The response I managed to find was: “Kindness, smiles and love speak all languages.” Somehow, those few words did the trick and, a week later, about thirty generous volunteers went off to an orphanage and several soup-kitchens to engage with complete strangers who had not a word of English. They returned home full of stories, and fuelled with eagerness and anticipation for their next opportunity.

As I reflect on Luke’s account of the first Pentecost in today’s first reading from Acts, I wonder if those first disciples were so successful in engaging with the crowds of pilgrims in Jerusalem simply because they spoke the language of love which they had learned from Jesus himself. When I look at our world, and, indeed, at our Churches, gripped by confusion, uncertainty and fear as a result of the Covid pandemic, I am convinced that we are in need of a new Pentecost. Not some kind of miraculous intervention by God, but an outburst of consciousness, inspired by God’s Spirit already among us, that we are all one, intimately connected to one another in our human diversity and respectful of one another irrespective of our race, language and adherence to a particular religion or to none.

We belong to a world in which we allow divisions, dichotomies and oppositions to keep us apart. Out of a need to somehow identify ourselves, we gravitate into polar-opposite camps like conservative or liberal, democrat or republican, radical or fundamentalist, pro or anti asylum seekers and immigrants, pro or anti euthanasia. Such polarities divide, and result in mutuality, open-mindedness, respect for and civility to others becoming casualties. And while, in the religious context, we have made some advances towards ecumenism, some Christian churches still reflect tribalism and bigotry, and those who hold different beliefs are turned into targets for demonisation. And, on the social level, we see how would-be immigrants and asylum-seekers are variously labelled as terrorist threats and queue jumpers looking to sponge on social security benefits. Even our own indigenous peoples are accused of being lazy and responsible for the injustices heaped upon them. Phenomena such as these fuel suspicion, doubt and fear that create confusion on the social scene. And on the religious level our churches sometimes look more like Babel than Pentecost.

In the psalm that follows the first reading from Acts, we are invited to pray: “Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth” (Psalm 104). This is not a prayer to God for some kind of miraculous intervention. Rather, it is a prayer that we will be open and generous in making ourselves available to God’s Spirit who is already alive and active in us and in our world. Today’s reading from Acts describes how God’s Spirit entered the community of those first disciples and fired them to take the risk of proclaiming to pilgrims, who had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish harvest festival, that Jesus really was the clearest expression of God’s love and hope for the world. The disciples were so excited about the good news they had to share that their emotions overflowed. Little wonder, then, that some who heard them were convinced that they had drunk too much. That was hardly a criticism from hard-working farmers and labourers who were able to recognise the disciples as fellow workers who were entitled to over-indulge on a festival day designed to celebrate the success of all Jewish farmers, tradesmen and labourers.

But Luke has a more serious purpose, evidenced by the details he provides. He emphasises that God’s Spirit came upon all the gathered disciples – at least 120 of them (“There must have been a hundred and twenty gathered together” Acts 1, 15; and some were definitely women.) Moreover, Luke goes to great efforts to list the countries and districts from which the pilgrims had come; some even from as far away as Rome. He further adds that Peter explained to those who had assembled to listen that what had occurred was a fulfilment of something the prophet Joel had foretold : ”I will pour out my spirit on all mankind. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; even upon the servants and the handmaids, in those days, I will pour out my spirit” (Joel 3, 1-2). We are told that some listened to Peter and took his words so seriously that they were convinced there and then that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. – and some 3000 of them were baptised. Others remained unconvinced and concluded that those they had heard were just drunk. While what Luke describes in Acts chapter 2, probably collapses several events into one, the Pentecost event provided the impetus that took the first disciples out to the wider world with the message of God’s loved lived and proclaimed by Jesus.

Worthy of note is that Peter, when he spoke to the gathered crowd, did not try to convert them or ram some new message into their heads. He told them that what they were witnessing was the arrival of God’s spirit foretold by the prophet Joel. That same Spirit is still alive in our world, but so often we are inclined to stifle the voice of the Spirit. We refuse to hear the prophetic voice of women and young people (“your sons and daughters shall prophesy”), dismissing them as trouble-makers or disgruntled and disaffected misfits. But today’s readings are challenging us on our openness to hear the prompting and goading of God’s Spirit coming to us in surprising ways and from people we are often inclined to dismiss. Yet, we are being invited to keep alive in our world the message of God’s love and hope entrusted to the disciples on that first Pentecost.

If there is one good thing that has come out of the Covid pandemic, it is that there are signs that people across the globe are beginning to grasp that we are all in this together, that we are all connected in our responsibility to protect one another, to see everyone around us as sisters and brothers. Surely that is a sign that we are beginning to appreciate we can walk together, helping one another to cope with truth that sometimes seems unpalatable, working with one another to accept and respect difference and diversity, thereby edging towards the possibility of sharing with one another the world’s resources and living in peace.

If the gospel-reading, which relates how Jesus penetrated walls and locked doors to appear to the disciples, tells us anything, it is that there are no barriers to the message of God’s peace, love and hope. The challenge for us contemporary disciples is to create a climate that will allow a new Pentecost to find a way into our hearts and our world. The first step might be to start practicing the language of love.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Ascension – a Reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses…to the end of the earth.” Acts 1, 1-11
“Go into the world. Go everywhere and announce God’s good news to one and all.” Mark 16, 15-20

University lecturers in the Faculty of Education have been known to say to their students: “When you go into a classroom, tell students what you are going to teach them, then teach them, and conclude by telling them what you have taught them.” Of course, that includes telling the students where and how to get help if they haven’t grasped what the teacher has tried to teach them. Today’s three readings combine to give a summary of what Jesus came to teach everyone who would be a disciple (students), where and how to get help (from the Holy Spirit and prayerful reflection) and what was involved in being commissioned (sharing with others what has been learned).

The way in which Mark opened his Gospel (“Here begins the Gospel, the good news, of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”) resonates with the way in which Luke introduces the Acts of the Apostles (often called the second volume of Luke’s Gospel): “In my first account (volume), Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up to heaven, having first instructed the apostles he had chosen through the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1, 1-2). Luke proceeds to record a conversation that took place between Jesus and his apostles immediately before he disappeared permanently from their sight: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you; then you are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1, 8). To put it bluntly, Jesus was telling the apostles to roll up their sleeves and prepare to go out and share what he had taught them. Moreover, we hear the very same message in today’s gospel-reading from Mark: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to all creation” (Mark 16, 15). The implication of the start of both Acts and Mark’s Gospel is that what Jesus said and taught was but the beginning of his good news to the world and that it was to be continued by all his followers, with the help of the Holy Spirit, until there was nobody left to hear that good news. The indicator that Luke gives to include all of us in the proclamation of Jesus’ good news is the fact that he addresses the second volume of his Gospel to Theophilus, a Greek name which literally means friend or lover of God. Surely that is a generic name for all of us who all claim to be friends and lovers of God.

The question which Luke attributes to all the apostles in their final exchange with Jesus, was probably put by one of them, on behalf of his companions. The very fact that they could ask Jesus: “Lord, are you going to restore the rule to Israel now?”, is a clear indication that those eleven apostles were a class of slow learners. They had not understood what Jesus had tried to teach them. Clearly, too, his telling them that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came down on them just didn’t register with them. Indeed, they probably could not even imagine who the Holy Spirit might be. But their question to Jesus would suggest that they were still expecting a political bonanza or a visit from the tooth fairy. Yet, Jesus still took the risk of trusting that God’s Spirit would breathe sense into them. So, he commissioned them to work at bringing his good news to the world, at continuing to contribute to his Gospel, but making sure to rely on the Holy Spirit.

I have no doubt that Luke and the other Gospel writers wanted to stress just how slow the apostles were in coming to understand who Jesus was and what he had tried to teach them. They also knew that the apostles did not know who the Holy Spirit was and how God’s Spirit works in the world. But are you and I any different from those first apostles? Have we yet grasped who the Risen Christ is and what our role is in living and sharing his message? And what role do we give to God’s Spirit in our day-to-day lives? How often, in the space of a week, do I reflect on the action of God’s Spirit in my life, in the world around me, and in the people I encounter? Or do I do that only when I make time to sit down to write a reflection like this? I can admit, too, that there have been times in my life when I have hoped that God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit would come with a spectacular solution to my challenges. I have even hoped that God would intervene and solve my problems for me. But isn’t it true that God has given us the resources we need to meet the problems and challenges that come our way, and that Jesus has assured us that the Holy Spirit is within and around us to guide us in the decisions we make? And yet, all too often, we delude ourselves into thinking that it all depends on us. We also have to remember that the blessings we have are for our community and our world, not just for ourselves.
There is an African parable about two villages separated by a river.  In each village, there lived a woodworker who knew how to make chairs.  Both knew the secret of making strong, durable and beautiful chairs. But the chair-maker in the first village was afraid to teach others because he thought they would not make the chairs correctly — and worse, if they did, they could cut into his business.  So, he jealously guarded his work.  He became suspicious of anyone with wood, worried that they may have discovered his secret.  He would ridicule them and warn them not to try and make a chair themselves.  So, he made all the chairs in the village, but no one wanted to go near him.  The young men of the village interested in woodworking left the village rather than ask him to teach them. The chair-maker eventually died alone — and his secret with him.
But the chair-maker in the second village did not keep his knowledge to himself.  He helped anyone who asked what wood to use, how to plane and cut the pieces, how to mix the glue to assemble the pieces.  Over the years, many of the young men of the village served as his apprentices.  Sometimes one of them would discover a way to improve the chair.  The master chair-maker would encourage the apprentice to show what he discovered to others.  As a result, the chairs in the village kept getting better and better.  People from other villages would come and buy their excellent chairs — and soon the tables and benches he and his apprentices began to make. 
When people praised the master chair-maker’s work, he would laugh and say, “I did not build these chairs alone.  These young men have improved my chairs.  I am getting old, but these young men will continue building better and better chairs.  I have given my skills and knowledge to them and they have given their love and friendship to me.  Together we have done far more than if I had worked alone.” (Adapted from Once Upon a Time in Africa: Stories of Wisdom and Joy, compiled by Joseph G. Healey. I am indebted to the writer, Jay Cormier for this story.)
We have all been instructed in how to live and witness to the Gospel. We also know that some who see our efforts to do that will ignore or ridicule us. Are we still up to it?

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Sixth Sunday of Easter – a Reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Live on in my love. If you keep my commandments, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love…This is my commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.”      John 15,9-17

The Jesus John presents, giving his parting words to his disciples on the evening before his death, didn’t mince his words. He gave them a command, not a mere recommendation, to love. All those wanting to walk in the footsteps of Jesus were expected to demonstrate that love was their distinguishing characteristic.

While we all know that we are made for love and that, as Christians, we are called to love everyone we encounter, we know from experience that there are people whom we find difficult to love. They rub us up the wrong way; we find their personalities, opinions and actions off-putting and even abrasive and objectional.  Yet in today’s first reading we hear John saying: “Let us continue to love one another because love comes from God” (1 John 4, 7).  In our gospel-reading for today, we are told that love is the Christian’s mark of authenticity. Love is so central to the life of anyone who claims to be a disciple of Jesus that John identifies loving as the one and only commandment that Jesus prescribes for his followers: “This is my commandment: Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15, 12).

Still, there is something in us all that suggests strongly that we don’t like commands and directives. We resent being told by others to do things, even if the one telling us is Jesus himself. Moreover, we don’t like conditions being hung on us, and being told, in the same breath, that fulfilling them is the only way of demonstrating that we are genuine. But doesn’t it sound like that when John attributes to Jesus the words: “You will live in my love if (my emphasis) you keep my commandments” (John 15, 10)? I dare to suggest that the “if” reflects the difficulty that translators have, and that Jesus (and John) are telling us that, whenever we reach out in love, we are reflecting the capacity for love that God implanted in the human heart and which Jesus modelled for all humanity in the way he lived and related. Jesus loved us unconditionally and surely does not want us to impose conditions on ourselves and on others as we and they reach out in love to one another.

And let’s keep reminding ourselves that we Christians don’t have a monopoly on the love market. All love reflects the love of God planted deep within our being. In a very moving memoir (All But My Life, 1957, Hill & Wang publishers), Gerda Weissman Klein recounts how she survived the atrocities of a concentration camp and the ordeal of a 300-mile death march from Germany to Czechoslovakia. Her lasting memory of the Holocaust is of her dear friend Ilse Kleinzahler, who had grown up with her and who was transported with her, both 16-year-olds, to a slave-labour factory in Grünberg, Germany. One day, on their daily march from their barracks to the factory, Ilse (whose name in Hebrew means “God’s promise”) came across a raspberry in the gutter. Unnoticed by the guards, she picked it up and kept it safely in her pocket all day long. Gerda relates: “Ilse, had carried it in her pocket – the temptation to eat it herself must have been incredible –  and gave it to me that night. She had plucked a leaf through the barbed wire, washed it and gave it to me with that slightly bruised raspberry sitting gently on it. Most people think of the Holocaust as unrelieved horror. I want to remember how people helped each other, how there was friendship and love and caring.”  Of the 2000 young women who set out on that long march into Czechoslovakia, Gerda and Ilse were among the 300 who survived the ordeal. But Ilse died just three days before rescue came from the American advancing forces. She was kicked in the head by a brutal SS guard, and died. However, on the very morning of the day she died, Ilse had given Gerda a potato and had encouraged her to promise “to hold out for just one more week”. Gerda, also tells of a female SS guard, Frau Kugler who had “the face and bark of a bulldog” but who proved to be “a warm caring human being” who dragged Gerda and three other sick girls to their work places and propped them up against their machines, thereby saving them from the notice of a German agent who had come to identify the sick to be sent off to the gas-chambers of Auschwitz. Gerda later wrote: “Frau Kugler put a lie to the lips of all those officers and guards who said they had no choice.” Gerda’s story is eloquent testimony to the fact that genuine love finds expression in countless ways and in those in whom we least expect to find it.

As we know, Shakespeare wrote a play entitled Love’s Labour Lost. We know from our own frailty that sometimes our love falls short, gets lost or goes unnoticed because we put the labour, ahead of the love. We know, too, that there are times when loving is difficult, when the people to whom we want to reach out are prickly, grumpy or very demanding. Moreover, they sometimes remind us that we are supposed to be kind and loving, without counting the cost. But we would be deluding ourselves if we thought that Jesus found it easy. The rejection, abuse, torture and humiliation inflicted on him over the days that led to his execution hardly gave him feelings of satisfaction. Yet the very fact that his love for all humanity was what motivated him to let his executioners have their way was the ultimate act of love. And Jesus calls us, too, to love, even when we are not buoyed up by the feelings we think ought to accompany loving. Moreover, John, in his First Letter, reminds us that authentic love must find expression in action: “If anyone boasts of loving God, and has no time for his brothers and sisters, he or she is a liar” (1 John 4, 20). In his account of one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, John underlines that love goes hand-in-hand with reaching out to our sisters and brothers. Jesus asked Peter three times: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Three times, Peter attested that he did. And Jesus replied that the way to demonstrate that love was go out and “feed my lambs, tend my sheep and feed my sheep” (John 21, 15-17). Action speaks far more loudly than words!

We cannot let this Sixth Sunday of Easter go by without giving some attention to the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. This is a story of the way in which God’s Spirit was at work in bringing together Peter and Cornelius (a non-believer, but a very decent man) and leading them to collaborate in shaping a future that neither one had even imagined.  Cornelius had a visitation from an angel who urged him to seek out a man called Peter, who lived 30 miles away in Joppa. Cornelius sent his servants off to locate Peter. Meanwhile, Peter, too, had a vision in which he was urged to eat foods that pious Jews refused to touch. On his three-fold refusal to give in to what he regarded as a temptation to evil, he was told firmly that nothing that God had created could possibly be regarded as unclean. Peter awoke from his dream to find Cornelius’ servants knocking on his door. Had he been true to his Jewish tradition Peter would have refused to have anything to do with a Gentile. However, he went with Cornelius’ servants and discovered a Roman centurion and his family who had been moved by God’s Spirit. This encounter had a profound impact on the early Christian community, for it led Peter and all the early Christians to realise that the only qualification required to follow Jesus is a readiness to love.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Fifth Sunday of Easter – a Reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br  Julian McDonald cfc

 

“I am the true vine and my Father is the vine-grower…Live on in me, as I do in you. No more than a branch can bear fruit of itself apart from the vine, can you bear fruit apart from me. I am the vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated from me, you can’t produce anything.” John 15, 1-8

The renowned Romantic, English poet and social reformer, William Blake was the author of the poem Jerusalem, which many describe as the unofficial English national anthem. Set to music, it featured in the film Chariots of Fire and is sung annually at the famous British Prom Concerts in the Royal Albert Hall in London. The poem is based on an English legend that Jesus, as a young man, visited the shores of England (formerly called Albion). The opening verse of Jerusalem refers to that legend:
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green,
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

Blake was a deeply religious man and wrote a much longer poem, also entitled Jerusalem (some 100 pages of verse and illustrations). The opening lines of this long poem echo today’s gospel-reading:

Of the Sleep of Ulro! and of the passage through
Eternal Death! and of wakening to Eternal Life.
This theme calls me in sleep night after night, & ev’ry morn
Awakes me at sun-rise, then I see the Saviour over me
Spreading his beams of love, & dictating the words of this mild song.
Awake! awake O sleeper of the land of shadows, wake! expand!
I am in you and you in me, mutual in love divine:
Fibres of love from man to man thro’ Albion’s pleasant land.
(Note: Ulro is an Anglo-Saxon word for the land of the living dead or hell.)

In yet another of his poems, The Little Black Boy, Blake describes what a young African lad learned about God from his mother. He attributes the following, profound words to the boy:
And we are put on earth, a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love.

Today’s reflection is not meant to be a lesson in the poetry of William Blake, but it is about the reminder which Jesus gave his disciples on the night before he died. – a reminder that in Jesus’ love for us and for all humanity we are grafted not only to him but to one another in ways that we probably don’t fully understand, and that, arguably, the central purpose of our lives is to “learn to bear the beams of love”.

The predominant theme running through today’s gospel-reading is that of love – God’s love for Jesus shared by him with all of humanity. If there is one thing that none of us has to be taught is that we are made for love. We know that because we have all felt love welling up from the very depths of our being. What we have learned from others, especially from our parents and from looking at the life of Jesus (love incarnate, loved enfleshed), is how to go about expressing our love in the best possible way.

To get grips on today’s gospel-reading, it is probably worth our while to give some attention to the context out of which it grew. We know that all four evangelists wrote their Gospels to instruct and encourage the communities to which they belonged. Their focus was not on providing a biography of Jesus or on giving an account of the day-to-day activities of his public ministry. Rather, they were offering stories and explanations as to who Jesus was and how his followers might go about embracing and living the message of love which he lived and proclaimed. John’s way of doing this was to employ language that relied heavily on symbols and metaphors. The key to understanding John is in discovering the significance of the imagery he used and coming to appreciate that he attributed that imagery to Jesus. We also have to acknowledge that Jesus probably used metaphors and symbols with which his various audiences would have been familiar.

In this context, it is worth noting that the culture and civilisation from which Abraham emerged was that of Sumeria. The nation of Sumeria was made up of city states which formed an alliance with one another for the sake of protection against invaders. These city states were located on the fertile plains between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (now Southern Iraq) and the culture and civilisation they developed were the seeds of what we now understand as culture and civilisation. Grapes have been cultivated in the Near and Middle East for thousands of years, and archaeologists have discovered the remains of a winery in Armenia that dates back 4000 years. In Sumerian culture, the symbol for life was the grape leaf. So, when Jesus used the symbol of the grapevine to describe himself, his listeners would have understood what he was talking about.

Today’s gospel-reading from Chapter 15 of John is an extract from the discourse that John attributed to Jesus at the Lord’s Supper on the evening before Jesus died. Moreover, it forms a key part of John’s unfolding explanation of Eucharist. It goes all the way back to his account of the feeding of the 5000 in chapter 6. Immediately after that event, John has Jesus declare: “I am the bread of life” (John 6, 28-59) – the very first of those seven “I am” statements special to John’s Gospel, and referred to in last week’s reflection. And Jesus proceeds to say: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them”. Now, in our gospel-reading today from chapter 15, we hear Jesus declaring: “I am the true vine…those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing…As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, abide in my love” (John 15, 1-8).

And let’s not forget that the “you” in these passages refers to the eleven disciples and to us. It is in the plural, so we don’t slip into thinking that Jesus is talking about some cosy, individualistic, personal relationship between himself and me. He is talking to a group of disciples as a community. John is using this part of his Gospel to address the community that he was leading, a community of believers that would grow into the early Church. In John’s theology, the Word of God became enfleshed in the person of Jesus Christ, and will continue to become enfleshed in our world through us who gather as a community of believers around the person of Jesus in the meal we now call Eucharist. The abundance of love and life that flowed from God into Jesus continues to flow from Jesus Christ into us as we gather round him, participating in the Eucharistic meal. Through our connection to the vine of life, we, as community, are nourished with the creative, loving, compassionate energy of God, with the very same energy that flowed through Jesus, the Christ.

In commenting on this part of John’s Gospel the mystic, Meister Eckhart wrote: “A plum tree brings forth plums not by an act of will, but because it is its nature to do so. In the same way, the community of the people of God, gathered around Christ in the Eucharist, allowing the energy of Christ to flow unimpeded into and through all its branches, produces what, by its nature, it must: the fruit of compassion, mercy, kindness, patience, wisdom and love.

Jesus (and subsequently, John) uses the image of the vine to illustrate and explain his continuing connectedness to his disciples and their connectedness to God through him and their connectedness (and ours) to one another and to everyone whom they and we encounter. The challenge for us is to live and love as though we really value that connectedness. Our lives are about learning to bear, appreciate and reflect the beams of love.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Fourth Sunday of Easter – a Reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“A hireling (hired hand) is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him. I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father. For these sheep I will give my life. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must lead them, too.” John 10, 11-18

In English, the word “hireling” is a derogatory term, equivalent to somebody who is a mercenary, who works only for the money and lacks a sense of responsibility for whatever he or she is engaged to do. The irony, of course, is that most of us started our working lives as hired hands, and progressed through the ranks only by demonstrating that we were able to act responsibly.

It seems that, from the way Jesus uses the word “hireling” in today’s gospel-reading, it had a derogatory connotation even in his time. It strikes me that John has constructed this section of his Gospel to highlight Jesus’ repeated criticism of the Jewish religious leaders of his time who, in his view, were closer to being mercenaries than to compassionate carers taking proper responsibility for the people they were appointed to look after. By proclaiming “I am the good shepherd” and repeating (five times) that a good shepherd “lays down his life for his sheep”, Jesus clearly signalled that he wanted no connection with the appointed religious leaders of his day.

In his Gospel, John attributes to Jesus seven “I am” statements: “I am the Bread of Life (6, 28-36)…the Light of the World (8, 12-30) …the door/gate (10, 9)…the good shepherd (10, 11-30)…the resurrection and the life (11, 17-27)…the way, the truth and the life (14, 6)…the true vine (15, 1-6).   The only one of those statements in which he attributes to himself an actively human role of caring is “I am the good shepherd”, and the significant word is “good” in contrast to the officially appointed, religious shepherds who fail to measure up.

At the very core of his role as shepherd is the intimate relationship he has with those whom he shepherds: “I know mine and mine know me.” Moreover he proceeds to explain how that relationship is like the intimacy he has with God – “I know my sheep and my sheep know me in the same way that the Father knows me and I know the Father” (John 10, 15).

So far, this reflection is something like a theological excursion into today’s gospel-reading in an attempt to make meaning of it by looking at it from the outside. However, to engage with it means making a move from the position of observer to that of participant. I suggest that John’s intention, (and Jesus’ intention, too,) was to alert us first of all to the responsibilities that fall to those who claim to be followers of Jesus. By putting ourselves in that category, we, too, commit ourselves to being good shepherds – spending our energy, directing our skills and giving our time to those we are privileged to serve. It means doing what we can to release those around us from fear, doubt and uncertainty, opening a way for them to shape their own lives in freedom, encouraging them to create a future for themselves with the dignity to which they are entitled. It means challenging the systemic injustices that rob struggling people of their rights, and enabling them to claim a voice for themselves. It surely demands that we set aside our own wants, needs and fears so that we can grow into shepherds of reconciliation, compassion and freedom for others.

Jesus stated, with no ifs or buts: “I know mine and mine know me”. If we claim to be one of his, we have to be prepared to allow his Spirit to guide us in getting to know him with some degree of intimacy. That surely means investing time in prayer and reflection, in being present to God present in everything around and within us, and in everyone we encounter in our day-to-day living. That demands making space for prayer and reflection.

Shepherding, let’s not forget, is double-edged. True, we have to learn to be good and sensitive at shepherding others. We also know from experience the need we have for being shepherded ourselves. Yet, so often it is more comfortable to feel needed than to be needy.

As we reflect on this gospel-reading, let’s not skip over Jesus’ comment: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must lead them, too, and they shall hear my voice” (John 10, 16). Membership in Jesus’ flock requires only one thing: Listening to his voice. Both Matthew and Luke highlight that in their accounts of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and his transfiguration on the mountain, with the accompanying voice from the heavens: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him” (Luke 9, 35; Matthew 17, 5). Sadly, there have been groups and institutions that have claimed exclusive ownership of Jesus and his Gospel, rejecting those who have not been admitted to signed-up membership.

The real challenges of today’s gospel-reading are, in essence, to be met in the way we respond to a few simple, yet demanding, questions: Do I listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd inviting me to shepherd and be shepherded? Am I prepared to spend my life reaching out to those with whom I am asked to share the blessings I have been given, for no other reason than that Jesus says to me: “I love you and you are mine!”? He says exactly that to everyone else as he invites us to be instruments of his love.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Third Sunday of Easter – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

The two disciples told the eleven and their companions what had happened on the road to Emmaus, and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of bread…While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said: “Peace be with you…Look me over from head to toe, touch me and see that a ghost is not flesh and bones like this.” Luke 24, 35-48

At this stage of my life, I find that I don’t go to weddings anymore, only to funerals, at which I find myself delivering the eulogy. Anyone preparing a eulogy normally sits with those who know the deceased, gathering stories and memories. Such meetings often end up with various friends and family members launching into: “Do you remember when he went up to the Cardinal and called him ‘Your evidence’ or when she embarrassed us all by telling the rent collector that mum was not able to speak with him because she was in the bedroom with the electrician?”

On reflection, we can come to appreciate that those who wrote the four Gospels relied heavily on stories about Jesus that had been passed on orally, by those who actually knew him, to the next generation, who in their turn related them to younger people who wanted to know more about Jesus. In time, such stories were changed in the ways in which story-tellers are used to doing. And remember, we are all story-telling people, who spend a good part of each day relating to others what we have selected from our experiences of the day as it has unfolded.

So, I suggest that a worthwhile preparation for reflecting on today’s gospel-reading is to read quietly the whole of chapter 24 of Luke’s Gospel. That chapter is Luke’s version, with minor variations, of last Sunday’s gospel-reading from John. It records memories of what occurred on the day Jesus was raised from the tomb. It leaves me with the impression that the prospect of new life heralded by Jesus’ resurrection took hold of the disciples slowly, in fits and starts. Very few of us rush to grab the prospect of a new way of doing things, let alone a new approach to living. We take on the possibility of new life with a degree of caution. We already know that embracing anything new requires change, and change is very often uncomfortable, even painful. New life, a new way of living and viewing the world, does not slip in quietly through the back door. Any mother will tell us, if we don’t already know, that the pain of giving birth to new life is excruciating, as are the struggles to guide a child successfully through infancy, early childhood, adolescence and early adulthood to maturity. Maturing as Christians is just as painful.

Traumatised by the injustice and brutality of Jesus’ trial and execution, the disciples were seemingly resigned to accepting the grief that had overtaken them. The women among them, accustomed to attending to practical demands, had prepared spices for anointing Jesus’ body, and headed for his tomb in the early morning. The men were slowly getting used to coping with their fear and grief, as victims of prejudice and persecution have done throughout the centuries. But, the expectations of all of them were jolted from the moment the women arrived at the tomb and saw the stone rolled away from the entrance. Moreover, when the women came back with the news given them by the two gleaming men who had greeted them in Jesus’ empty tomb, reminding them that their teacher had done his best to prepare them for the surprise that had just startled them, the Apostles dismissed their message as nonsense, and Peter ran off to verify for himself whether or not they were suffering from hallucinations. The women had returned, buoyed up with hope, but their stunningly good news was greeted with disbelief. This was Luke’s way of demonstrating just how difficult it is for the new to break into people’s lives, even into the lives of those who had walked with Jesus for three years.

On that very day, on a road leading to Emmaus and then over a meal in an inn, the Risen Jesus had made a second attempt to break into the lives of two other dispirited disciples. That experience had lifted them from grudging resignation, to the joy of recognising their Teacher in someone who had presented as a sympathetic stranger, and had left them, too, buoyed up with a hope that propelled them to come rushing back to the apostles with the incredible news of resurrection. As they shared their excitement of how they had recognised the Risen Jesus in the simple act of breaking bread, and sat listening to how Simon had discovered that the Master had been raised up, Jesus made a third attempt to convince them that his resurrection could be life-changing for them, too. In extending to them the gift of peace and forgiveness, he urged them to set aside their fears and doubts and to come forward to touch him, as proof positive that it was really he standing before them. In so doing, he promised them his Spirit, who, in due course, would empower them to let resurrection, new life loose in the world.

Embedded in these stories is a very clear message that the very first disciples who had been privileged with first-hand encounters with the Risen Jesus, struggled to allow even the possibility of resurrection to break into their living. It was as though they had been inoculated against the new, against change and transformation. Therein lies a message of hope for us. As this very moment in our history, we look around at a world and its people gripped and dispirited by a raging virus. We can see, too, how, over two thousand years since Christ was crucified, violence and hatred still hold sway in many places, how our Church has failed the very people whom it was meant to protect and, in the process, has all but lost its credibility. We can look at all this and begin to conclude that resurrection is still beyond our reach. BUT, Luke will not let us ignore the fact that it is at the very moment when we tell ourselves that hope is dead and buried and when we do the preparations to complete the burial, that the stirrings of new life are likely to be felt. Like the women at the start of chapter 24 in Luke, we might set out on pilgrimage to the tomb of our long-dead dreams, only to be disturbed by the rumblings of hope and resurrection breaking out from unexpected places. We meet a complete stranger who stops to engage us in the supermarket. We read of a small child who gives his prized sneakers to a new-found friend, because “that’s what Jesus would do”. Our hearts break open when we hear the very human, yet very divine question: “Do you have anything to eat here?”
Perhaps some of the best places for us to understand ourselves and our role in the world and, indeed, to experience resurrection, are soup kitchen tables, budget cafe and family kitchen tables, where the people with whom we engage will mirror to us new insights and resurrection. When we stop to ponder the resurrection of Jesus, we might well discover that it is God’s affirmation that the universe and all of creation matter, that love, integrity and justice matter, that all of us human beings, with our mystery, complexity and in-built contradictions, matter, for we have all been loved into life by God and are in God’s image. We are all living proof of the Risen Christ’s breaking into our lives and resuscitating us with resurrection. And that process must surely continue.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Second Sunday of Easter 2021 – a reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he said this, he breathed upon them and said to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit”…Jesus said to Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” John 20, 19-31

Today’s gospel-reading has the potential to lift us up and fill us with renewed hope, if only we can absorb its message. In asserting this, I have to admit to struggling with part of it for many years. I just could not understand how Jesus, in breathing on his disciples and commissioning them to do as he had done, could say to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained” (John 19, 22-23).

Jesus had spent his public ministry reaching out to people who had been rejected and marginalised by the religious authorities who had labelled these people as public sinners. Why then would he tell his disciples to hold on tight to peoples’ sins and, in so doing, to discard them as the religious leaders had done? I found a solution to my puzzlement in a book entitled Jesus Risen in Our Midst. It was written by Religious Sister, Sandra Schneiders IHM, a former professor at the Jesuit Theological Union, Berkeley, California. She has written more than a dozen books, many of which were on aspects of Religious Life. I had found some of them really heavy-going, so I picked up Jesus Risen in Our Midst with some hesitation. To my surprise, it gripped my attention. In explaining Jesus’ commission to the disciples (quoted above), Sandra Schneiders noted that biblical scholars translating John’s Gospel from the original Greek added the word “sin” to the second part of Jesus’ words of commissioning. Schneiders points out that Jesus did direct his disciples to forgive people’s sins, but to hold tightly to those people, NOT their sins. Isn’t it true that we Christians have often been urged to reject the sin, but not the sinner? If we were to hold fast to rejecting sinners, none of us could claim to being acceptable to Jesus, and none of us could claim to be sharers in his ministry. So, hanging on tightly to our sins and the sins of others would imply self-loathing and the rejection of others. – a total contradiction of the commission given to anyone who would be his disciple.

The almost incredible aspect of John’s account of Jesus’ appearance to and commissioning of the disciples locked away in guilt and fear is that Jesus puts into practice exactly what he commissions those disciples to go out and do. By offering them the greeting of Peace/Shalom and then repeating it, Jesus demonstrates that he is not holding on to their sins of betrayal, denial and desertion, but forgiving them utterly and without reservation, proclaiming that he wants to hold on to (retain) them.

Just in case his community failed to grasp the fact that Jesus was modelling for them the mission of forgiveness he wanted them to take on and continue, John repeated it. A week later, when Thomas had rejoined the disciples, John recounts that Jesus appeared again, greeting them with: “Peace be with you”. Jesus was reaching out to them all, yet again, in reassurance and reconciliation. Reminding them of the promise he had made to them in the course of his final meal with them:
“Peace is my farewell to you, my peace is my gift to you; I do not give it to you as the world gives peace. So, do not be distressed or fearful” (John 14, 27).
We can understand that the disciples had locked themselves away because they were afraid of being done to death as Jesus had been. We can also appreciate that they were probably filled with guilt at the manner in which they had deserted Jesus when he most needed them. But why could they not accept the testimony of Mary Magdalen who had informed them of her encounter with the Risen Jesus? She had gone directly to them, declaring: “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20, 18).

It is true that, to the Jews of the time, a woman’s testimony was regarded as entirely unreliable. As a consequence, they were not allowed to be witnesses in legal proceedings. It’s also possible that all those male disciples had dismissed her words as “typical female hysteria”! In John’s telling of this story, Jesus has to repeat his greeting of peace to the ten disciples to convince them that he had risen, and that he had really forgiven them. It seems to me that the focus is put on Thomas because he had already earned a reputation for speaking out without thinking. His reaction to the other disciples repeating: “We have seen the Lord” is entirely predictable. He simply was not going to be convinced by anyone’s assertions. Maybe he, too, was struggling with believing that even Jesus could forgive the enormity of their failure as a group. Given his reputation for being outspoken, it’s entirely understandable that he could not accept that anyone so brutally tortured and done to death as Jesus was could possibly come back to life.

What then is the point of this resurrection account from John? To begin with, we have to remind ourselves that all four Gospel writers offer different accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, at times seemingly contradicting one another. Let’s remember that they were not writing historical accounts. Rather, their intention was to invite their communities to stop and reflect on their own faith in the assertion that God had raised Jesus from the dead. Nobody will ever be able to prove that Jesus was raised from the dead. In the same way, none of us can prove our love for another person. We can offer words of love and tangible expressions of the love we profess, but we can never prove it.

Thomas had been told by his close friends that Jesus was alive, and that they had been talking with him. Typically, he just wasn’t going to buy their story. He wanted categorical proof. He wasn’t going to accept stories. He would not be satisfied until he met face-to-face with the resurrected Jesus whose stone-dead body had been sealed in a tomb just a few days before. What he got, however, was an encounter with the risen Jesus that threw him into such a tailspin that he dropped all his intentions of conducting an autopsy. The interaction between Thomas and Jesus is held up to us to teach us that searching for proof of Jesus’ resurrection, or, indeed, for proof of the existence of God, is utter foolishness. Rather, what we all most need is experiencing the presence of the divine in the very ordinary actions, decisions, encounters and complexities of our day-to-day lives.

I believe that Jesus breathed God’s Spirit into the disciples, Thomas included, in that upper room where they had locked themselves away from real life. I believe that same Spirit has been breathed into each of us. We know that we get glimpses of that Spirit at work in the love, generosity, compassion and forgiveness of people we encounter and, indeed in our acts of care and compassion towards others. The crucified and risen Jesus lives again in each of us. Maybe we have to get to know him a little better by first touching the scars we carry. Then, we might be able to go out and start practicing resurrection.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection

Easter the Resurrection – a Reflection on the Sunday readings

by Br Julian McDonald cfc

On entering the tomb, they (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome) saw a young man sitting at the right, dressed in a white robe. This frightened them thoroughly, but he reassured them: “You need not be amazed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the one who was crucified. He has been raised up; he’s not here. See the place where they laid him. Go now and tell his disciples and Peter: ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee, where you will see him just as he told you.’” Mark 16, 1-8

Since the onset of Covid, the restrictions around public gatherings have meant that we have been unable to conduct the funerals of deceased family members, relatives, community members and close friends in the manner to which we have grown accustomed. There have been no vigil services, wakes and sharing of memories. Numbers of those able to attend funerals have been severely restricted, and there has been almost no scope for refreshments and chats after a burial has taken place. It took me some time to appreciate the impact of these restrictions on those grieving for the person they had lost. I came to appreciate just how important are a cup of tea and a chat at the conclusion of a funeral. They are, I suggest, integral to the grieving process.

If we don’t share memories of the deceased, if we don’t share with those we know and trust something of our feelings of emptiness and loss, we can get stuck in our grief, we can get caught in forever visiting the grave of the one we have lost. And there is a consequent risk of becoming unhealthily locked in the past. That is not to dismiss or belittle visits to the grave of a loved one. Those visits can be part of healthy grieving. However, it’s important not to become trapped there.

In Mark’s account of the three women coming to visit the grave of Jesus, there is not the slightest hint that they were coming with thoughts of resurrection. Having so recently watched the execution of the one who was so important to them, they were coming with a supply of perfumed oils to anoint Jesus’ body. That was a natural and understandable part of their grieving process. But they were stopped in their tracks by an unnamed messenger, who was clearly expecting them and who not only gave them proof of Jesus’ resurrection, but also gave them a direction to share the good news with their friends, including information as to where to find him.

It’s important at this point to stop and look at how Mark had structured his Gospel for the community for whom he had written it. He launched his Gospel with the words: “The good news of Jesus Christ begins here” (Mark 1, 1). Then he spent almost 16 chapters elaborating on that beginning, at the end of which he handed it over to his community, urging them to involve themselves in continuing the story of that good news. If we are participants in the story, not mere observers, we, too, are being urged to continue the story of God’s love for the world expressed in the life, mission, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I read recently an article by a Lutheran pastor, in which he paraphrased the message the three women were given by the young man in white when they stepped into Jesus’ otherwise empty tomb: “I know you’re here for Jesus of Nazareth. But he’s not here. You need to go and do something else with your grief. There’s a good life out there in front of you. Go now and tell some of your friends what I’m telling you: Jesus has been raised, and he’s a good bit ahead of you. He’s gone on to Galilee. That’s where you can catch up with him.” (Peter W. Marty, It’s Easter. Step into the Future, The Christian Century, March 9, 2021)

We belong to a Church that will forever be in process. The process is not about changing the foundations on which it has been built. – the Good News of Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection. But it is about living that Good News in ways that will make an impact for good in a world that is also in the process of unprecedented change. And that is uncomfortable. There are those around us who want to reclaim a comfortable, secure, nostalgic past. We’re not always sure of the next step. For many, comfort is more manageable than venturing into an unknown future. However, the resounding message of Easter is to open ourselves to God’s confidence in a future opened up for us by the resurrection of Jesus.

When we gather in faith to bury our dead, we can forget that they, too, were people of faith who, like us, have struggled to express that faith as fully and effectively as they (and we) might have hoped. But let’s not forget that they probably would want us to keep on living with purpose, love and hope, doing our little bit to contribute positively to the world of which we are but a part. If our grieving were to be interrupted by a young man in white, we might hear something like this: “Friends, I know your thoughts are for the one you have lost, and even for yourselves and how you will cope. But, be assured that there’s good stuff ahead, a future into which you can step with hope. And Jesus, about whom you know something, is already in that future. Moreover, he’s waiting for you to notice and catch up.”

In a truly inspirational presentation to the Trinity Institute, New York (2007), Moral Theology Professor Peter J. Gomes from the Harvard School of Divinity spoke of the role that Christians have in continuing to tell the Good News of Jesus Christ begun by Mark in his Gospel. In speaking of our role in what he calls “God’s Unfinished Future”, Professor Gomes highlighted the role of hope. Christian hope is clinging to the certainty that even when things don’t turn out right, we will continue to endure, trusting in a God who will never abandon us. In his letter to the Romans, Paul makes it clear that hope is born of faithful endurance through the trials that come our way. It is not optimism that seduces us into pretending that all is right with the world while we fail to look at the dark side. Paul wrote: “We know that affliction makes for endurance, and endurance for tested virtue, and tested virtue for hope. And this hope will not leave us disappointed, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5, 3-5).

Easter does not deny the reality of disappointment, betrayal, suffering and pain. However, it does proclaim reason for hope in the human condition. If we dare to open our eyes, we come to know that the risen Christ is present to us in the compassion, care and acceptance we experience in engaging with every good person who in his/her way continues to share the good news of Jesus. We do that, too, when we rise above life’s difficulties to give love and life to others, to mend and renew broken relationships, to proclaim in our actions the good news of the empty tomb. Easter is God’s definitive proclamation that life is in the future, that it is up to us to continue to be good news. Paul surely got it right in writing to the Philippians: “I give no thought to what lies behind, but push on to what is ahead…life in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3, 13). Love, compassion, humility and selflessness will ultimately triumph over hatred, prejudice greed and death. That’s the message of Easter.

Posted by Gay Walsh in Sunday Readings Reflection