Dear Friends in Christ,
At Pentecost, the Apostles underwent a kind of baptism. It was as if they cast off their old clothes to be robed anew in the resplendent and radiant white garment of the Holy Spirit. The idea of being clothed in a resplendent and radiant garment reminds us of Christ’s Transfiguration on Mount Tabor: ‘And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white’. There is a profound connection between the transfiguration on the mountain and the transformation on Pentecost morning. The Holy Spirit changed and changes everything! The Spirit has and always will astonish, amaze and astound us.
One of the greatest works of the Holy Spirit was the Second Vatican Council. Pope John XXIII, the Council’s prophet and visionary, had an acute sense of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church and in us all. One of the wonderful fruits of the Council was its teaching documents. As one example, Lumen gentium says the following about the Holy Spirit: ‘Whenever the Spirit intervenes, he leaves people astonished. He brings about events of amazing newness; he radically changes persons and history…It is not only through the Sacraments and the ministrations of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes holy the people, leads them and enriches them with his virtues. Allotting his gifts according as he will, he also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank… He makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church’. (para 12)
Being filled and renewed in the power of the Spirit is an invitation we cannot refuse. To receive the gift of the Spirit we bow our heads in expectation of God’s blessing. We make this prayer conscious of our sin, weakness and failure, for the Spirit is poured out not when we are strong but when we cry out in need and supplication.
Dear Friends in Christ,
6th Sunday of Easter 2019
Two things dominate the human condition: war and fear. The opposite of war is peace; the opposite of fear is courage. Peace, as the Bishops at the Second Vatican Council taught us, is not just the absence of war but an inner tranquillity, the fruit of knowing that we are reconciled with God and justified by the blood of Christ. This peace transcends our understanding and can, if we let it, rule our hearts.
Jesus taught that two significant fruits of being his disciples would be peace and courage. We can know these two blessings in our lives in a real and tangible way. This must be true because Jesus promised: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid’. Well, that’s the teaching and there’s the promise, but what of the reality?
Even a cursory examination of our lives can bring to light not peace but an inner turmoil and not courage but timidity. So what is going on? Why is it like this? Jesus promises peace and tells us simply not to be afraid. Why isn’t this good enough and why doesn’t it work? Well, the truth is it is good enough and it does work – however, we play a part. Our faith isn’t magic: it’s faith. The key is the Holy Spirit: ‘But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you,’
But we can’t be reminded of what Jesus said unless we read the Scriptures. So there is a way in which our peace and courage has a relationship with our reading the Scripture. The Spirit counsels us to immerse ourselves in his life-giving Word. Remember this: ‘Bibles that are falling apart are often read by people whose lives are not.’ Now, that does not mean that those who read the Scriptures do not give in to fear or at times lose their peace, but, because they remind themselves frequently of what Jesus said, the Spirit is able to lead them back to peace. And give them courage.
Dear Friends in Christ,
5th Sunday of Easter 2019
Shortly after his death Jesus gave his disciples, and us, a new commandment: ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another’. To be a disciple is to be called to a life of love. And in particular to agape love, which is rooted in self-sacrifice, in loving without thought of return, freely and unconditionally. Christian love is probably both the most important of all Christian virtues and the hardest to achieve. We may have faith, we may have hope, but don’t always have love.
Here’s the thing about love: we all want to be loved – more than anything else in the world we crave love. The Greek philosopher Aristotle said: ‘No one would choose a friendless existence on condition of having all the other things in the world.’ In other words, we were created to receive love and to give love. None of us is an island; none of us is without the capacity to love and be loved. Love, however, is rather like mercy: to show mercy we must first receive mercy; to love, we must first know we are loved.
So we see that to be a Christian is to be called to a life of love. But how far short we fall! None of us loves as we should love. Our hearts incline so easily to malice, envy, jealousy and rage. How can this be when we are called to love? We cannot love with our old hearts – they are callous and hard. No, a new commandment requires a new heart: the heart of the new creation, the heart of Christ.
This new heart of love is a blessing of the Spirit which we receive when we call upon God’s help, grace and strength to love in those situations where we find it hard to love, to forgive, and to show mercy where we, left to our own devices, are devoid of mercy. This kind of love, agape love, is the blessing and fruit of the Spirit and to this we are called and for this we receive every spiritual blessing and grace.
Dear Friends in Christ,
4th Sunday of Easter 2019
Human beings are frequently compared to sheep in the Scriptures – not, it has to be said, the smartest of animals. In Animal Farm, George Orwell depicted the pig as the most intelligent farm animal – for him sheep were easily manipulated and easily led. In his tale the sheep were good at chanting slogans but failed to think things through for themselves. The French poet Jean de la Fontaine said: ‘A certain fox, it is said, wanted to become a wolf; who can say no wolf has ever craved the life of a sheep?’
Sheep are vulnerable and needy; they need feeding, guiding and leading. They are prone to stray into danger. They are easy prey for such animals as foxes and wolves (both sly animals). On the more positive side, they are good at recognising the voice of the shepherd. If we are honest, we have to admit that the comparison of human beings and sheep is an apt one. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer includes the following confession in its liturgy: We have erred and strayed from the ways like lost sheep. We followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.’ We are like sheep in the ways that we go astray, but the Lord is the Good Shepherd who leads us through the valley of the shadow of death to quiet verdant pastures.
How do we hear the voice of the Shepherd? In our prayer, through the Scriptures, through the teaching of the Church and through the light of our conscience. We all err and fall and walk in darkness, but the Lord’s voice is constantly calling us to life eternal. Jesus wants not one of his sheep to be lost. Our lives are a pilgrimage to the safe pasture of heaven and the gift of eternal life.
‘Looking beyond this life, my first prayer, aim and hope is that I may see God. The thought of being blessed with the sight of earthly friends’ pales before that thought. I believe that I shall never die; this awful prospect would crush men, were it not that I trusted and prayed that it would be an eternity in God’s presence. How is eternity a boon unless he goes with us? And for others dear to me, my prayer is that they may see God.’ (Bl. John Henry Newman)
Dear Friends in Christ,
3rd Sunday of Easter 2019
Although deeply spiritual and theologically profound, St. John’s Gospel records some very personal moments in the life of Jesus, such as when he wept at the death of Lazarus, and the incident recorded in today’s Gospel when the risen Lord cooked his disciples a fish for breakfast, inviting them to ‘Come and have breakfast’. We learn that God cares for us body and soul. By death the soul is separated from the body but our hope is that they will be reunited on the last day. The resurrection of Jesus revealed the nature of this new body – a risen body, infused with God’s light and life, and not prone to sin and death.
The breakfast story leads into the fascinating exchange between Jesus and Peter in which the fisherman was asked three times to feed the Lord’s sheep. What did this mean? It meant that as the Rock he was called to ensure that believers were fed with nourishment of Christ. We see this in Peter’s first letter. Like new-born babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. One way we can literally feed off this pure spiritual milk is by praying and studying Peter’s two letters. When we do this we draw directly from the original rock on which the Church was built, the pure well of our salvation.
If we do not feed we grow weak, and unhealthy. The same is true in our spiritual lives and the staple diet from which we feed is prayer, the Scriptures, the teachings of the Church (the Magisterium) and lectio divina (spiritual reading). Supremely we feed from the Eucharist, food for our soul, and food which is good for this life and the next. God has given us rich sources of spiritual food – we do not live in a parched and weary land, but rather a banquet of teaching and spiritual life has been prepared for us. Just as with our physical bodies, eating on the run is not ideal; we need to carve out time and space to be with the Lord.
Lord, I give you praise and thanks for the table from which we feed – the Word of God, the tradition of the Church, and the source and summit of our faith, the Holy Eucharist.
Dear Friends in Christ,
2nd Sunday of Easter 2019
Thomas, whom we know as ‘Doubting Thomas’, was blessed to have put his fingers in the wounds on the Lord’s hands and to have touched his pierced side. However, he was gently rebuked by the Lord: ‘Stope doubting and believe’. Thomas, despite his doubts and unbelief, was led to faith and perhaps should be remembered as ‘Believing Thomas’, since his subsequent profession of faith was so sincere and genuine: ‘My Lord and my God!’
This is the confession of faith that the Lord seeks from every true believer: My Lord and my God’ or ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’. This admission of faith in the Risen Lord is always the fruit of grace in our lives. It is also one which we are called to make every single day. Every day invites a re-dedication of our lives to Christ.
The coming of Jesus Christ can be likened to the major theme in a musical performance. Often in musicals, operas and classical works, different instruments give hints of the main theme: first the flutes, then the clarinets, the bassoons, the string instruments and the bass – all take up different variations. In its final climax the whole orchestra sounds the theme towards which everything has been moving. In a similar way, in the coming of Jesus God’s eternal plan of salvation is fully and finally revealed, and when we freely accept and embrace this plan we receive God’s gift of joy.
Jesus is both the Word and the Event in which the fullness of divine revelation is made known. We can lose sight of what an amazing grace of revelation it is to humbly bow before God’s greatest gift – the sending of the Son. We receive in this moment the grace which understands that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see. We have not seen and touched as Thomas did, but we are blessed for despite not seeing we believe. As Peter said: ‘Without having seen him you love him; though you do not see him you believe in him and rejoice… As the outcome of your faith, you obtain the salvation of your souls’.
Dear Friends in Christ ,
EASTER SUNDAY 2019
In ancient time, on Easter Sunday morning, Christians greeted their neighbours with the salutation ‘Christ is Risen’, and their neighbours answered, ‘Christ is risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon.’ Perhaps this ancient custom should be resurrected today. Christ has risen indeed! The Easter Liturgy leads us in an exultant hymn of praise. The tomb is empty! Jesus is the Risen Lord, the Victor, the Lord of Life, the Living One who conquered sin and death.
Today we put our lives in a missionary key and take the message that Christ is risen into the world, courageously bearing witness to the truth that death is not the end but merely the door through which we enter into the fullness of eternal life, with God. The resurrection of Jesus is the central and crowing truth of our faith, handed down to us first from the apostles, who witnessed it with their own eyes, and then passed on to the apostolic fathers, and through them into the living tradition of the Church today. We are a Resurrection people: ‘Alleluia, Christ is Risen!’ is our hymn of praise. But do you really believe this? Do you really believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Has this profound mystery of our faith taken root in you? Do you cry out, as Paul cried out, ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection’?
Today of all days presents us with a God-given opportunity to reflect on what we understand by the statement that ‘Jesus Christ is risen today’. The following words from Pope Benedict provide us with food for thought: ‘We could regard the resurrection as something akin to a radical evolutionary leap, in which a new dimension of life emerges, a new dimension of human existence. Indeed, matter itself is remoulded into a new type of reality. The man Jesus, complete with his body, now belongs totally to the sphere of the divine and eternal.’ In Jesus of Nazareth, God-made-man, the God-man, a new humanity was revealed, a new creation. This message turned the world of the first century upside down, and it can do so again in the twenty-first century if we will take courage and proclaim it.