FLAWS, FAULTS, FAILINGS AND FORGIVENESS

Psychologists tell us that often when we get on our high horse about someone else’s faults, it’s because we recognise those same failings in ourselves and our ranting and raving at others is a way of exorcising them from our own psyche. As long as we have a target at which we can direct our anger we can push our own imperfections to the back of our mind. So we love to accuse other people of the very things that we know deep down are the same flaws that we have. As a nation we need to be satisfied by demonising certain types of criminals who become our national hate figures. It makes us feel righteous and clean.

To refuse to forgive another person is an extraordinary thing yet one which we often hear from those who feel wronged. It’s tantamount to saying that they have harmed us and we are so perfect that we have never needed forgiveness from another person or from God.

For that’s where forgiveness comes from: God. Our sins deface the beauty of God’s presence in our world and we need to ask forgiveness from God. And it usually happens that someone who is deeply aware of their own defects is also acutely aware of how much they are in need of God’s love and presence, that presence which is stronger than all of our sin. The more we live lives that recognise our dependence on God’s love and forgiveness, the easier we find it to pass on the forgiveness that has first been shown to us. We don’t forgive out of our own store of forgiveness but out of God’s.

When Jesus went out to the Pharisee’s home for a meal he had his feet anointed by a weeping woman who gate-crashed the dinner. She had a reputation in the town and it wasn’t a good one. Jesus cleverly pointed out that the great love she showed him would be impossible if she had not experienced forgiveness in her life. Strangely it was the religious people who had difficulty forgiving her. Maybe they had kept the rules and felt better than her, and in no need of God’s forgiveness?

Our “trespasses” are only forgiven to the same degree that we forgive those of others. How forgiving are you? Your answer will tell you a lot about how much you have experienced God’s love.

THE GRACE OF BEREAVEMENT?

It’s hard to imagine the grief of the widow in today’s reading as she takes part in the funeral of her only son. How anyone can cope with such a situation is hard to fathom.

When someone we love dies, our first reaction is often shock and denial. Nothing seems to make sense; we can hardly believe it and we keep thinking that it’s all some sort of mistake, even if we’ve been expecting it for months or even years. We can feel numb, and there seems no point in lots of things that previously we took for granted. Yet this shock and denial can be our way of getting through things, since without it everything could become too much for us.
Could it be that shock and denial are part of God’s grace?

And we can feel angry. Maybe we direct our anger at the easiest targets; perhaps it’s the medical staff, maybe it’s the priest, often it’s the Church or even God. Later, it becomes those who didn’t attend the funeral, those who never sent their condolences, those who’ve avoided you since the death. And sometimes we get angry at ourselves, blaming ourselves for not doing enough, being hard on ourselves for not being as loving as we could have been. Such anger is a powerful thermometer of our love for the person who has died.
And love, of course, is grace.

But anger like this inevitably leads us to feelings of guilt. We feel that somehow we have let ourselves down as well as the other person. We experience bargaining situations with God or whomever we believe in. “What if….”, “If only… ” There’s a real temptation to go back in time and act in such a way that the death could be avoided and the clock turned back. We try to negotiate our way out of the hurt. Doing this promotes healing.
And healing, of course, is grace.

It’s not surprising that people become depressed in bereavement. It’s perfectly normal to feel depressed under such circumstances; it’s a natural reaction. Yet grief is part of the healing process that restores us to some sense of equilibrium.

With the passing of time, however long or short, we manage to accept if not exactly embrace what has happened. But we do reach a stage where we can survive, where we can be grateful for our time with the person we loved, where we go from good days to bad and back again, and where we realise that this new reality is with us for the rest of our lives. We realise that other people still need us and that we are called to respond to the world and to life.

On that day in the town of Nain, no one could have missed the grace of God at work when Jesus raised the widow’s son to life. Today, when we are faced with bereavement for the loss of someone we love, there is no shortage of God’s grace.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

Nine out of ten people who use the word “Eucharist” think of an object. They think of the Eucharist as a thing, bread or wine that is transformed into the body and blood of Christ.

But strictly speaking Eucharist is not a thing, it’s an action. It’s the action of giving thanks.
In fact, the word for “thank you” that is heard thousands of times every day in modern Greece is “evcharisto”, the same word as Eucharist.

Each time Christians celebrate Eucharist they thank God for all that God has done in the past and continues to do for us today. The Eucharistic Prayer is one long prayer of praise and thanksgiving for the fact that God made us, redeemed us through Christ and continues to support us today in the Holy Spirit until Christ comes again at the end of time.
In our worship we “Eucharist” God.

The feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus et Sanguis Christi) is a reminder to us that Christ has left us a memorial of his Passion and death and that by our action of Eucharist we make really present the grace and power of God on our altars.

At every Eucharist bread and wine is brought up in procession and laid on the altar. Our prayer to God is that the Holy Spirit may transform these humble elements so that they may become for us the body and blood of Christ.

If we are really celebrating Eucharist then we need to offer ourselves and our lives in sacrifice to God along with the bread and wine. We need to bring all our hopes and joys, our dreams and reservations, our plans and worries so that they too may be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Eucharist is the heart of our Christian faith. It is the central act of our community, the source of all our strength and the summit to which all our activity as Church is directed.

Corpus Christi invites us to stand before our God and celebrate Eucharist: to say thank you!

FATHOMING GOD

Dear Sons and Daughters,

I thought I’d drop you a brief line today since, after all, Trinity is my special feast. Though perhaps I should remember that your finite minds would find it easier on Trinity Sunday if I say “our” feast.
The other two agree with me on this!

You know, of course, I am the only one with a total grasp on reality. That’s because I exist infinitely; I had no beginning and will have no end, unlike you who are limited to time and space. One day, of course, you will join me in this never-ending happiness. I’m really looking forward to that day. Well, actually, it’s already arrived for me but that would take too long to explain.

It pleases me that you are trying to be holy.
It doesn’t matter whether you achieve it or not, because it’s the trying that’s important. What you are really doing is trying to become more like me. That’s because I possess the only real holiness: it comes naturally to me. And when you love, too, you are like a kitchen towel that blots up my love and passes it on to others.

One of the pleasures of being God is watching how much progress you are making on earth. DNA, space probes, computers, health cures: it’s all very impressive but sometimes I wonder what took you so long. And I have a good laugh when you try to take the credit for it all. It’s the same when you talk about the origins of life and of the universe. Big bangs, gases, planetary collisions. Well, yes, it’s all pretty close to the mark, but who do you think made the gases in the first place? Yes,
I know it’s rude to boast.

Still, don’t think just because I am the one you’re all trying to catch up with, without really knowing it, that I am too busy or important to be bothered about your own individual cares and concerns. I have always loved you, even before you were born, and that’s why I came down to earth. And even when people talk about me as if I were a thing from the past, and behave in ways that contradict all I’ve ever said, I won’t stop loving. But that’s probably hard for you to understand, even though I’ve
made you little less than gods.
In the meantime I send you my blessing.

Best wishes from your loving Father.
PS The other two send their regards.

ADVOCATING CHANGE

There’s a medieval song that was sung in Latin at Pentecost while the deacon carried the gospel-book in the procession at Mass, prior to proclaiming the gospel itself. It’s called the Pentecost Sequence and it contains line after line that speaks about the gift of the Holy Spirit. It describes the Spirit as Lord of Light, Father of the Poor, Best Consoler, Sweet Comfort, Healer, Giver of Strength, Renewer, etc.

In today’s gospel Jesus says he will ask the Father to send the “Advocate”. We tend to think of an advocate as someone who campaigns on a particular topic: an advocate for equal rights or an advocate for better housing conditions. In fact, the word advocate really means someone whom you call to stand by your side in solidarity. It’s the equivalent of the other strange-sounding word, Paraclete.

Pentecost rounds off Jesus’ saving work on earth as the Spirit completes the action of Jesus in taking on our humanity and humanising it to the point where it can glimpse the divine. What we see happening at that first Pentecost is that Jesus has not left us alone like orphans; he has sent the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to be by our side. And the effects are immediate. From being a frightened bunch of weak men, huddled for safety behind a locked door, the apostles are transformed by the Spirit’s presence, are emboldened to go out and confront their fears, proclaiming their faith in Christ to people from every race and nation.

Someone once said that we should pray as if everything depended on God but act as if everything depended on us. Certainly this is true of the Spirit. We are only too aware of our weakness and our inability to “go it alone” when it comes to living out our faith and telling others about it. That’s why we pray constantly for the outpouring of the Spirit in our lives, that we may be transformed, strengthened, inspired and supported in our Christian lives.

One thing that we cannot do is to restrict the Spirit.
If we ask for the Advocate then we agree to an adventure in faith that has no boundaries. After all, we call on the Spirit just to make us feel good; we ask for the Spirit to come and transform creation: Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth!

UP AND AWAY?

The feast of the Ascension of the Lord is almost the Cinderella of Lent and Eastertide. While we give great weight to Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost, Ascension seems to belong to a second division of feasts that rarely get much of a mention.
Traditionally the number 40 has a mystical significance in the bible. The Hebrew slaves wandered for 40 years in the desert, Jesus fasted and was tempted for 40 days in the desert, and the Ascension is said to have taken place 40 days
after the resurrection. But what is this feast actually about?
It celebrates more than the mere fact that Jesus did not stay on earth after his resurrection. Yes, he went back to heaven. But today’s feast is not simply a historical memorial of that fact. It has a liturgical and spiritual meaning.
Essentially today’s feast is one of Easter hope. We rejoice in the fact that Jesus overcame the powers of darkness by rising from the dead. These powers still threaten us today but we are confident that Christ has crushed evil’s permanent hold over us, and that even death cannot hold us in its grasp for ever.
That’s something to celebrate!
But Ascension goes further. It allows us to proclaim our confident hope that where Jesus has gone, we too hope to follow. The ancient Roman preface for today reminds us that although Jesus has passed beyond our sight he has done so not to abandon us but to be our hope. God might have gone up, but he’s not gone away.
In a very obvious way, Jesus’ ascending into heaven is a way of saying that he has returned to his Father in order to claim for us a share in his divine life.
In just a week’s time this cycle of earthly trial and victory will reach its climax when we witness the sending of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus promised us. In the meantime we are left contemplating a God whose care for us is such that he sent his only Son to clear away those obstacles which prevent us from sharing fully in the life he created us for, and who is with us till the end of time inviting us to follow him and proclaim the Good News to the whole world.
That too is something to celebrate!

SOMETHING COMPLETELY NEW

Often the closer we are to something, the less clearly we see it. We might go on holiday to a beautiful island paradise only to find that the locals take the sunshine, the palm trees and the gentle pace for granted. It’s not uncommon for Parisian or Roman taxi drivers to consider the Arc de Triomphe or the Colosseum as mere traffic islands to be negotiated with difficulty at rush hour.
We tend not to appreciate the wonders around us when we see them every day.

The same can be true for Christians who live cheek by jowl with their faith. We can end up downsizing the importance of what we believe because we package it into sound-bites such as “God is love” or “Love your neighbour as yourself”. And if our faith and religion is reduced to maxims then it has to compete with all other political, commercial and recreational claims on our time and talent.
And thus it becomes relativised.

So Christianity is in danger of being seen as just one way of spending our spare time, along with party politics, sport, caravanning, bird-watching or knitting. And we get sucked into thinking that tolerance demands of us that we make no greater claim for our faith than we do about our hobbies and our interests. After all, it would be indecent to make a lot of noise about our faith, wouldn’t it?
Especially if faith is a private thing.

But Christians don’t think like that. We don’t consider our belief in Jesus Christ to be a take-it-or-leave-it affair. It’s not merely like being a member of a wine club or a social networking group. For Christians, faith in Jesus is massive; it is the single most important factor in our lives because it determines who we are and how we behave. To be a Christian is not simply a “nice” thing; it’s totally consuming.
Because it informs every aspect of our living and breathing.

In today’s scripture God says, “Now I am making the whole of creation new”. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. The old order is wiped away, death and evil have lost their power to keep us held captive, and we are offered a radically new and eternal life that has already begun now and that will come to fulfilment the other side of the grave. There is nothing “same-old” about our Christian faith.
It’s something that can transform the whole of creation.