HEROIC FAILURES?

Someone once said that in a world where success is the benchmark, the Church is the only place where failure is not only tolerated but allowed.

Certainly this was true of Peter. Just a few weeks before today’s gospel he had denied three times that he knew Jesus. And now, in what seems like a mirror image of his betrayal, Jesus asks him three times if he loves him.

No doubt this probing made Peter feel uncomfortable but it ended with Jesus entrusting the future of his mission to the man who had let him down when it counted.

Consequently we often find it hard to forgive ourselves and this can lead to our taking a back-seat when it comes to using our talents and proclaiming the gospel. In a nutshell, we feel unworthy and retire into the background.

Today we see Jesus in a practical act of forgiveness. Because he forgave Peter, Peter himself was able to feel loved and valued and was able to forgive himself. Since no one can call themselves praiseworthy in God’s sight it is pointless to absent ourselves from God’s presence under the pretence of unworthiness.

God knows our inmost thoughts and desires. There is nothing we can hide. And yet God never gives up on us even when we are guilty of the most blatant betrayal. No matter how far we wander from God, God never abandons us but calls us back to the table of his love.

Today we see Jesus inviting the man who had denied him to come and have a breakfast of bread and grilled fish. We too have received the same invitation as Peter. For though we are sinners we are invited to the table of the Lord
and each time we eat and drink his body and blood our faults and failures are washed away and we are nourished by the very life of God.


SOMETHING TO SHOUT ABOUT

There’s a lot of shouting going on this week.

It starts with the cheering crowd as Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Thursday night sees accusations and insults being flung around as Jesus is seized by the Roman authorities; and there’s more to come on Friday as he is jeered through the streets carrying his cross.

Holy Week is partly about remembering those events. But only partly. Yes, we carry palms, wash people’s feet, venerate the cross and light fires. But these things are only outward signs of what the Church is calling us to do inwardly. Our Easter liturgy doesn’t simply remember the past. If we enter into its spirit then we make the effect of those past events present today in our lives.

As we wave our palms (what a shame if someone has already folded them in the shape of a cross for us!) we recognise Jesus as Messiah just as the crowd did on that day long ago. But we also recognise our own fickleness. We acknowledge that we are capable of strong assertions of faith one moment and complete disregard the next minute.

When we wash people’s feet we re-enact what Jesus did at the Last Supper. But we do it to profess our belief in our call to serve others. It is a symbol of the Christian’s call to be of service to all our brothers and sisters in their needs. If we sit and watch but have no intention of increasing our desire to serve, then we are not taking part in the liturgy. We are simply present in church.

Venerating the wood of the cross is an act of devotion that we make as sinners. Yet it is also an opportunity for us to recognise our total dependence on Jesus whose death is the reason that today we can have life to the full. By dying on Calvary Jesus has tamed death, has overcome the worst evil that may befall us and has offered us the chance of
eternal happiness. That’s what we remember as we approach the cross.

The Easter fire burns in the darkness (provided we haven’t started too early!) as a sign that our lives are not clogged by obscurity, that we can live life in the light. Christ rose from the dead to offer us a risen life that transcends mere human existence. Our renewal of baptismal promises ratifies our commitment to this new life. Yes, there’s a lot going on.

The challenge is to take part in it all inwardly and not let our conversation with God be drowned out by all the shouting.

A TALE OF THREE KINGDOMS

FAITH IN FOCUS: A TALE OF THREE KINGDOMS

We use the word kingdom quite a lot in our liturgy. At every Mass we pray the Lord’s Prayer asking, “Thy kingdom come”. We acclaim God by saying, “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and for ever”. And we ask for “the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever”.

The first words Jesus speaks in St Mark’s gospel are “The time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand”. On one level the kingdom is past. Christ came to establish the kingdom of God and so it already exists. What sort of kingdom did he set up?

Some people thought it might be a political kingdom to overthrow the Roman occupiers, but Jesus said the citizens of the kingdom would be the poor, the gentle and the persecuted. Do we really want “Thy kingdom come” if this is what it means?So if the kingdom has already been set up, then it must also be present somewhere today. If we live in it, then how should we behave? When we pray “Thy kingdom come” we are telling God that we want to live under the reign of Christ the King. Do we let Christ into our lives or is he someone we have heard about but who doesn’t impinge on our daily existence. St Paul says that today is the day of salvation.

Do we try to make our todays conform with the kingdom or do we separate our daily lives from our religious beliefs? Do the values of God’s kingdom feature in my life, my family, my job? Who’s in charge of my life, who’s the king?

“Thy kingdom come”? Christ the King is not someone dead and buried. He is the Risen Lord and he leads us on to discover even more of the joys of the kingdom that he has established here on earth. He promises never to abandon us and to be with us always. Christ is king of our tomorrows and shows us the way to fullness of life, on both sides of the grave. So his kingdom is also a future reality and that’s why we pray for the peace and unity of the kingdom where God now lives.

The Father showed his great love for us by sending his Son. Christ himself now walks by our side. God waits for us in all our tomorrows. Past, present and future: a tale of three kingdoms that are really one.

 

THE BOOK OF LIFE

FAITH IN FOCUS: THE BOOK OF LIFE

The idea of a book with the names of those to be admitted to heaven rings strangely in our modern ears. Rather than a leather-bound ledger we would probably have a data base of names, addresses and personal details kept on computer disk or CD.

But when Daniel speaks of this book he is echoing in ancient terms the same situation that still applies today. Men and women still seek a meaning to life, to their actions, their choices, their ultimate hopes and dreams. And, just like us today, Daniel points out that God gives us the freedom to behave in any way we choose in this world, as long as we know that our conduct affects our eternal future.

It’s easy for Christians to get caught up in the here and now values of our world. Although society values great acts of personal heroism and admires people who make sacrifices for the benefit and development of others, it still is firmly fixated on the transient, on a passing view of life. Just look at the TV adverts to see what you are supposed to be aiming for. Most are about comfort, luxury and image. You’ve really made it when you have a beautiful person on your arm, can wear the latest designer products and drive the fastest of cars. You are judged by what passes for success.

Yet the gospel tells us that we are judged by how we treat others and how close we try to come to knowing and loving God. As the Church’s year draws to a close we remember once more that the values we seek are kingdom values which turn the world’s standards on their head.

If our names are to appear in the Book of Life then it will be because we allowed ourselves to respond to the inner promptings of God’s Spirit, because we took Christ’s teaching and his promises seriously enough to act on them.

And just in case we get sucked into thinking that God is so kind that everything will turn out fine whatever sort of lives we lead, we are reminded that God values our free will so much that he lets us choose to opt out of his plan of salvation.

God is the last one who would force us to behave in a way that we did not want to. His final judgement is real, and we are helping him to make it day by day.

GIVING

FAITH IN FOCUS: GIVING

At Sunday lunch the family were moaning about what had happened at church. The priest’s sermon was rubbish, the choir out of tune and the church cold. Then the youngest child silenced everyone by saying, “Still, it wasn’t bad for only £1.” 

The episode about the widow’s mite teaches us a lot about giving. First of all there’s the question of what we give. Obviously the amount is not the most important aspect of giving because it’s relative. The widow put two coins worth a penny into the collection whereas the richer people dwarfed her contribution by the size of their donations. But presumably we should expect richer people to provide more revenue.

Clearly, the amount given may bear no relationship to the wealth of the person. And Jesus pointed out to his disciples that in fact the widow had given much more than all the others. 

Secondly, there’s the business of how we give. When we see some sort of appeal for helping children or providing food and drink to people struck by famine, how do we react? Do we begrudgingly put our hands in our pockets and cough up as little as we can without seeming miserly? When envelopes drop through our doors asking for money for charity, what do we feel like?

God loves a cheerful giver, according to St Paul, but sometimes we give begrudgingly. The widow could have kept one of her two coins but she gave willingly. And she gave everything she had.

Thirdly, there’s the issue of why we give. Some people give things to churches and then have a plaque made to let everyone know that they are the donor. Such recognition has already been rewarded. But there’s another sort of recognition: reverse recognition. We can give out of recognition of what we ourselves have been given. We give because we are conscious of being blessed by God in so many ways and our giving-back is just a token of our gratitude. God gave his only Son and his only Son gave his life for us.

So giving implies a what, a how and a why. And by willing giving her all, the widow got all three of them right.

 

HEART – SOUL – MIND – STRENGTH

FAITH IN FOCUS:HEART – SOUL – MIND – STRENGTH

The Jews had 613 laws and regulations which Jesus summarised into one two-part commandment: If you want to be in the kingdom of God then love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbour as you love yourself. 

Love God with all your heart. The heart is called the seat of emotion. Are you ‘emotional’ about God or is God just a cosmic idea, a celestial force that controls the universe? Do you feel passionate about God? Do you have ‘feelings’ for God?

Love God with all your soul. Your soul is the real you. It’s the deep down psyche that makes you what and who you are. Is your whole existence oriented towards God or is God simply a facet of your life that you turn to from time to time, on Sundays or in times of trouble?

Love God with your whole mind. Your mind accounts for the intellectual side of your activity. Do you make decisions about life and your future with God in mind? Do you use your brainpower to try to learn as much as you can about your faith or are you content to hobble along with the same understanding that you had when you were still a young child?

Love God with all your strength. Strength refers to the vigour with which we devote ourselves to God. Do you proclaim your faith with all the force and might at your disposal? Or is the practice of your faith heartless, soulless and mindless? Do you use all the faculties that God has endowed you with (heart, soul, and mind)?

Love your neighbour as yourself. Everyone is our neighbour no matter how far away they are. We can only love God if we love our neighbour. Do you give any practical help to the needy? Are you another Christ to the people you live and work with? If you want to be part of the kingdom of God, says Jesus, then just keep this two-pronged commandment.

Alternatively, you can apply for a copy of the original 613…

THROWING OFF HIS CLOAK

FAITH IN FOCUS: THROWING OFF HIS CLOAK

The odds were stacked against Bartimaeus. He was blind. He was a beggar. He lived in Jericho, a town meaning “cursed”. (Joshua cursed it when he captured it.) His name means “son of Timaeus” and the word “Timaeus” means a “nasty or corrupt man”. The blind beggar, son of a good-for-nothing, living in the cursed city.

On the day when Jesus came to town Bartimaeus probably wasn’t expecting anything special to happen. But he capitalised on his assets. He might have been blind but he wasn’t deaf and he had a strong voice. When he heard it was Jesus of Nazareth he began shouting out to catch his attention.

Bartimaeus wasn’t bothered about public opinion. They all told him to shut up but he shouted out all the more. He knew that this man Jesus could make things better for him. So he shouted all the louder. Being helped was more important than being thought respectable.

Beggars wore a special coat or cloak of camel hair that got them noticed more easily. When Jesus told the people to bring him over Bartimaeus threw the cloak off. He was going to be seen for what he really was, not just a beggar. He jumped up and went over to Jesus to beg his mercy and favour. The story ends with his sight being restored and him following Jesus along the road…without his cloak.

What’s your handicap in life? Is it some physical illness? Are you held back by your environment? Is it perhaps some spiritual blindness or habit that you’re desperate to overcome? Do you let yourself be put down by what others think of you? Do you feel sometimes like you’ve got a cloak? Do you want to be helped and if so what do you do to make it a reality? How do you capitalise on what you do have; you might be blind but you’ve got ears and a tongue.

Sometimes we have to take the plunge and throw off the cloak that drags us down. Because until we shout out to Jesus, there’s little chance of our blindness being cured.