QUALITY OF LIFE

FAITH IN FOCUS: QUALITY OF LIFE

Did you know that they’ve invented some food additives that could keep you living until well past a hundred? All your friends will be dead but at least you’ll still be around with your memories. And scientists have invented a new drug that means you don’t have to eat and drink any more, just three injections a week and two litres of water a day. There are also some pills available that guarantee you’ll die really healthy. Worth trying?

We all want to live; it’s only natural. But what is it that we want to live for? What sort of quality of life do we want? What do we want our days to be filled with?

When Jesus raised people from the dead he added years to their life. But more importantly he added life to their years. For once a person is raised to life in Christ their experience of what life is about and what is on offer can never be the same. To be alive in Christ cannot mean simply living the same life as before, for the life Christ offers is one that is transformed. St Paul was so aware of this that he said, “I live; no, Christ lives in me”. Christian living is about being inhabited, taken over, consumed and hurled into an adventure that sometimes disconcerts but always takes us to the edge of our being. It suspends us in eternity.

So if you’re not excited by life then you’re not living a Christian existence because the life Christ offers is God’s very own. If you don’t appreciate the beauty of God’s world, if you’re not energised by the challenges that face you daily or thrilled at the prospect of meeting new people who themselves are reflections of God’s human imprint, then you may be alive but you’re not living. For life means taking part.

Christian faith takes us off the ventilator and lets us begin breathing with the Spirit’s breath. There is a qualitative difference to Christian life, one that’s not available to those without it. Ours is a blessed existence, one which summons and challenges us to live life to the full in Christ, not to prolong an existence that has been long dead through its dulled deception and disappointment, through its sin and shallowness.

 

When Jesus raises people from the dead life takes

on a new meaning. If not, then it’s probably time

for the injections and some more water.

 

A DISTURBING MESSAGE?

FAITH IN FOCUS: A DISTURBING MESSAGE?

He’s a shadowy figure, impressive but slightly perplexing. Everybody knows that John the Baptist was a cousin of Jesus, the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah. But some people think that he joined a type of separatist monastic community, the Essenes, who lived in the desert close to where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

They were a zealot group that was looking forward to the imminent coming of the Messiah who would once more set up the kingdom of Israel according to the promises that were made to their ancestors in the bible. Only those who adhered strictly to the Law would be part of this kingdom. If nothing else they were fundamentalists.

Certainly we do come across John in the desert, a strange character aged about 27, wearing a leather belt and camel hair tunic and living off locust and wild honey, and we know that he was preaching a message of repentance, getting people to be immersed in the waters of the River Jordan. Whether he was part of the exclusive Essene desert community we cannot say, but he converted many people and prepared the way for Jesus’ preaching. He told his own disciples to follow Jesus and he was beheaded in prison by Herod.

Many people refer to John the Baptist as the hinge between the Old Testament and New Testament prophets. The job of a prophet is to be a spokesperson for God. We may baulk at the thought of wearing a sandwich board and walking up and down the high street with Gospel messages. But because of our baptism we have each been called to be prophets, pointers, signposts and spokespeople for God and the Gospel.

Maybe John the Baptist stands as a reminder of how necessary this is in a world that seems to be looking for compass points.

THE INVISIBLE FORCE

FAITH IN FOCUS: THE INVISIBLE FORCE

Christians sometimes focus so much on the Church that they lose sight of the kingdom. They tend to think that the Church is the be-all and end-all of religious activity and they can become blind to the kingdom of God.

Yet the kingdom and the Church are not the same things. The Church is the bearer of the kingdom but not the exclusive owner. The kingdom, which Jesus today speaks about in his parables, is wider than the Church and is not so visible and tangible.

Jesus taught his disciples that the kingdom is already with us, though it can seem to be hidden. It has already been inaugurated, though it is yet to reach its fulfilment. Day after day it is unfurled, little by little in an almost unnoticeable way.

The ideals of the kingdom clash with the values of the world. That’s because the kingdom is eternal and universal whereas the world is about fads and fashion, about exclusivity and partiality. The kingdom is about truth and life, whereas the world happily lies and trades in destruction of all types.

The kingdom espouses holiness and grace, concepts which the secular world considers laudable but outmoded. And the kingdom’s principles of justice, love and peace are more likely to be echoed in the world’s pop songs than in its strategies. Does this mean that we’ve nothing to hope for? That injustice, violence, corruption and oppression will always be with us? Is it just par for the course?

Jesus says not. With his arrival on earth the kingdom of God has begun to embed itself in all aspects of our world. There are invincible forces already at work as the world matures and the kingdom silently grows. Like a seed planted in a field it grows unobtrusively, by day and by night. Like a mustard seed it starts off tiny but becomes a force to be reckoned with. And even now we sometimes catch a glimpse of the power of the kingdom when world events are confounded and when men and women, even just for a moment, unite in a shared vision that reflects the will of God.

The kingdom is here now. The way we behave will help or hinder it. But it’s bigger than all of us put together. That’s why we pray: Thy kingdom come.

 

FORBIDDEN FRUIT?

FAITH IN FOCUS: FORBIDDEN FRUIT?

The story of Adam and Eve is widely known. Eve eats the forbidden fruit; Eve persuades Adam also to eat it; and God finds out . Their excuses: ‘the woman made me do it’, says Adam; ‘it was the serpent’ says Eve. But they have disobeyed God so they get thrown out of Paradise into a harsh world. The Original sin.

But is it just a sin of disobedience? No, rather, the sin is more profound. The devil has tempted Eve by telling her the real reason that God has forbidden them from eating the fruit is that if they do they will  be  ‘like gods’.

To be like gods, to be in control, to have no need of God; this is the original sin which affects humanity. The growing child wants their own way; for the adult the temptation can be only to do it ‘my way’. 

But society, businesses, organisations, need people who can lead, who can exercise authority and who can make things happen. However they must always do so for the common good and as servants, not as masters.  

The opposite is the dictator who wants to take over the world. The quest for power, influence, control, is the great temptation of humanity and seen all over the world today where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. ‘I did it my way’ is a recipe for a sad life and a poorer world.

But life tells us that we are not in charge. ‘No man is an island’ is a reminder that we are all cogs in the wheel of our great and wonderful world and working together is a recipe for a better world.

And the Gospel tells us that we are not in charge: love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. Jesus constantly challenges us not do it our way or the ways of the world but God’s way.

And if we do it God’s way we become sisters and brothers of Jesus, today’s Gospel tells us. Do we want to be sisters and brothers of Jesus?  Or do we still want to do it ‘my way’? Is that forbidden fruit  still a temptation?

 

ON MEDICINE FOR LIFE

FAITH IN FOCUS: ON MEDICINE FOR LIFE

There can be nothing sadder than listening to someone who believes that they are not good enough to go to communion. They feel that they are unworthy and they simply stay put in their seat when the rest of the congregation gets up to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ during the celebration of Mass.

Of course none of us is good enough. That’s why we say, ‘Lord, I am not worthy… ‘ just before we approach the altar. We realise that we mere human beings cannot presume to receive such a gift without acknowledging our unworthiness. But beneath this idea of unworthiness there lies a fatal error.

Communion is not for good people. It’s not for saints. It’s for people who are not very good, who are sinners but who want to get better. Our feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus et Sanguis Christi) teaches us that communion is not a reward but a medicine.

When we eat and drink (both!) Christ’s body and blood we are signing up to be better. Some of the Church’s early hymn-writers used a lovely phrase to describe the Eucharist: they called it food for the journey. An ancient hymn (O, Esca Viatorum: O, Food of Travellers) makes it clear that the Eucharist is not some celebratory picnic on the journey but is the survival rations, the staff of life.

At the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the Eucharist he commanded us to eat and drink and to do this in memory of his death and resurrection. God has made an agreement (a covenant) with us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He will be our God and we will be his people by ratifying the covenant: by eating and drinking in memory of Jesus.The Eucharist is our way of signing-up again

and again to the promises of God, showing our renewed commitment and gratefully receiving God’s gift. Saint Ignatius of Antioch called the Eucharist ‘the medicine of immortality, the antidote which prevents us from dying so we can live forever in Jesus Christ.’ On the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ we share in communion here on earth, and we pray that one day we may be found rejoicing together at the everlasting meal of heaven.