Sunday, April 23, 2023

Clearing the Fog, Connecting the Dots, Calling to Faith

3rd Sunday of Easter (A)

Readings: Acts 2: 14, 22-33; Psalm 15 (16): 1-2, 5, 7-11; 1 Peter 1: 17-21; Luke 24: 13-35

Picture: Romain Vignes on Unsplash

My dear friends, have you ever experienced a brain fog? Say you’re reading a book or an email, and you find yourself going over the same line again and again, without catching its meaning. You know all the words, but can’t quite connect them. And it’s not because the sentence is too hard. It may be very simple. But for some reason you just can’t focus your thoughts. It’s as if a fog has descended upon your brain, slowing it down, preventing you from grasping what you see.

In today’s gospel, the disciples experience something similar. They can plainly see Jesus, but they can’t recognise him. They can readily recount all the recent events that have transpired concerning him, but they cannot grasp their meaning. It’s as if a fog has descended, keeping them from connecting the dots. Except that, in their case, the fog is not in the brain, but somewhere else. Jesus indicates just where when, after patiently listening to what they have to say, he calls them foolish and slow to believe. In another translation (NRSV), the Lord says, Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!

What the two disciples are suffering is not a fog of the brain, but of the heart. A thick cloud of unbelief keeps them from recalling what the prophets had long foretold. That it was necessary the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory. By helping them to connect the dots, the Lord dispels the fog. Causing their hearts to burn with renewed faith and hope. Opening the way for them to recognise him. And it’s no coincidence that the recognition happens at the breaking of bread. For what the Lord does at this meal doesn’t just recall his actions at the miraculous feeding of the multitudes, and the Last Supper. It also points to what we do at the Eucharist.

Here the Crucified and Risen One helps us connect the dots of our lives. Here he clears away the fog of our unbelief. Here he helps us recognise him, even amid troubling events and painful experiences. Renewing our faith and hope in God, and showing us how we can do what Peter does in the first reading. Enabling us to help others connect their dots, and come to faith in God. Isn’t this why the second reading tells us to take care to remember? To remember, as we do at every Eucharist we celebrate. To remember that the ransom to free us from a useless way of life was paid neither in silver nor gold, but in the precious blood of a lamb… namely Christ.

My dear friends, as you know, in recent days, important people have been considering the likely impact of grave global events on our life as a nation, and how we might best respond. Added to this, it’s likely that we all have our own personal challenges to face. And, amid it all, we believe that Jesus continues to draw close and walk with us. Consoling and encouraging us. Helping us to recognise him.

Sisters and brothers, whether we realise it or not, a cloud of unbelief is no less debilitating than a brain fog. What must we do to let the crucified and risen Lamb of God renew our faith and hope in him this Easter!

Sunday, April 16, 2023

From Liturgy to Life

2nd Sunday of Easter

(Sunday of Divine Mercy)

Readings: Acts 2: 42-47; Psalm 117 (118): 2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 Peter 1: 3-9; John 20: 19-31

Picture: By Brandon on Unsplash

My dear friends, do you eat salmon? Do you recall how they reproduce? As you know, they undertake something called a salmon run. An annual migration, in which the salmon make an arduous journey upstream, from the deep oceans where they live back to the shallow creeks in which they were born. Although the vast majority do not survive the trip, it results in new life for the species. Perhaps we don’t think of it this way but, at this time each year, don’t we Christians undergo sort of a liturgical salmon run? By enduring the rigours of forty days of Lent, we return to the spiritual birthplaces of our faith, where we spend a further fifty days of Easter joyfully savouring the mysteries through which we receive new life.

Returning liturgically to the birthplaces of our faith. Isn’t this what each of our readings help us to do today? In the gospel, after having been scattered when Jesus was arrested, the disciples fearfully huddle together behind closed doors. The trauma of their Lord’s Passion has not only dashed their dreams and broken their hearts, it has also severely shaken their faith. Indeed, scholars say they remain in the darkness of unfaith. It is into this gloomy, anxious, confining space, that the Crucified and Risen One appears. By offering a greeting, he restores peace. By baring his scars, he ignites joy. By sharing his mission and Spirit, he bestows fresh purpose, along with the power needed to fulfil it. By making his presence keenly felt, the Lord rekindles faith. Even returning a week later, to do the same for the one who was absent.

In the second reading, St Peter reminds the early Christian communities that what was done for the first disciples has also been done for them. Through the great mercy of the Father, they too have been given new birth as God’s sons and daughters. They too have received a sure hope in future glory. They too experience great joy despite having to endure all sorts of trials for their faith. They too firmly believe that Jesus is Lord. Except that, unlike the first disciples, their faith doesn’t come from actually having seen Jesus in person. Rather, their encounter with the Crucified and Risen One is through the life of his Body, the Church.

A Body that expresses its faith not just liturgically, but also in actuality. Not just in prayer, but also in life. A Church that doesn’t just enjoy and hoard the many gifts it has received, but also courageously and generously lays down its own life, so that others too might live. Isn’t this the experience of the Jerusalem community in the first reading? Through its brave witness of life, day by day, the Lord added to their community the number of those destined to be saved. And shouldn’t the same be said of us as well? Aren’t we part of Christ’s Body? Gathered not just to keep swimming complacently in the vast ocean of God’s mercy, but also to somehow lay down our own lives, so that others too might live.

Sisters and brothers, as we celebrate another Sunday of Divine Mercy, how might the Crucified and Risen One be drawing and empowering us to make a salmon run not just liturgically, but also in actuality today?

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Between Celebrity & Art

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

Readings: Acts 10: 34, 37-43; Psalm 117 (118): 1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Colossians 3: 1-4; John 20: 1-9

Picture: Amber Kipp on Unsplash

My dear friends, if given a choice, which would you rather be, a celebrity or an artist? Celebrity is just another word for fame. Which is why today, through the power of social media, even a cute cat can quickly become a celebrity. On the other hand, although some artists may be famous, it is said that what makes a work of art is not so much its popularity, as its ability to mediate encounters with truth. For instance, we may think of how a piece of music, or a good movie can move us. Whereas celebrity is defined by fame, art is related to truth.

I mention this because, judging from the first reading, already in New Testament times, Jesus was actually quite famous. Such that, even when speaking to a Roman centurion, in the coastal town of Caesarea, Peter can confidently assume that he must have heard… about Jesus. And yet, on its own, the Lord’s celebrity isn’t enough to satisfy the hungry heart. If it were, Cornelius wouldn’t need to send messengers to fetch Peter from Joppa, a journey taking four days, round trip.

Nor would the disciples in the gospel be running around so frantically. Of course, grief is probably what drives Mary, and Peter, and the disciple Jesus loved. But we need to consider the nature of their loss. To remember that, for them, the crucifixion of Jesus didn’t just occasion the death of a loved one. They were his closest followers. They had staked their whole lives on what he taught. And he had claimed equality with God. Yet the scriptures call accursed anyone who hangs on a tree (cf Dt 21:23). More than any ordinary grief, what the disciples are experiencing is a profound crisis of truth and meaning. The kind of thing that drives some people to suicide, or to addictions and obsessions that are simply more prolonged forms of suicide.

Which is why the gospel account is so significant. Although the Risen Christ still hasn’t shown himself, already at his empty tomb the disciples encounter Truth with a capital T. Truth found in the divine work of art that is the life of Christ. Who, despite facing stiff opposition, had shown the depth of his love by going about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil. And even after they had killed him, the Lord’s love proved stronger than death. Truth more enduring than propaganda. Such that even for the disciples to linger at the painful place where his body had been laid is enough to restore in them the light of faith. And to bestow on them power to become what Peter becomes for Cornelius and his household: courageous witnesses to Truth.

A people whose very life becomes God’s work of art. The kind of life described in the second reading. Not the attention-craving existence of the rich and famous. But the self-emptying life hidden with Christ in God. A life that often seems foolish by worldly standards. Yet its wisdom will be made manifest when Christ is revealed in all his glory.

Sisters and brothers, our world has no shortage of celebrities. What it needs are more witnesses to Truth. How might we allow God to mould us into better artists this Easter?

Sunday, April 02, 2023

Stirred & Shaken

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord (A)

Readings: Matthew 21: 1-11; Isaiah 50: 4-7; Psalm 21 (22): 8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Philippians 2: 6-11; Matthew 26: 14-27: 66

Pictures: By Alex Boyd & Kike Salazar N on Unsplash

[At the Entrance:] My dear friends, did you use a teaspoon this morning? We often use one to mix ourselves a drink, to stir a liquid into which we wish to add something else. As we begin this most holy week of the Church’s year, the gospel offers us a similar image. It tells us that upon the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred. Somehow the sight of the Lord, coming as a triumphant king, yet riding on a lowly donkey, agitates everyone. Prompting them to ponder the question, who is this? Inviting them to let the answer penetrate and transform the busy beverage of their daily lives. As we raise our palms, ponder our scriptures, and perform the prescribed rituals at this Mass, let us also allow ourselves to be stirred by these questions: Who really is Jesus… to me? Where is he going, and what is he suffering… for me? What difference does he actually make… in my life?

[After the Passion:] As any avid fan of James Bond can tell us, the fictional British spy prefers his martinis shaken, not stirred. A helpful reminder that there’s more than one way to mix a drink. Helpful, because the gospel tells us that, just as the whole city was stirred at Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem,  so too is the very earth shaken, when the Lord finally dies on the Cross. From a tiny spoon sleepily stirring a breakfast beverage, to a pair of giant hands vigorously shaking an adult cocktail. The change in imagery is striking, isn’t it?

Indicating that, as the Lord’s Passion progresses, there is a corresponding increase in the power of the question, who is this? Power to uncover disordered attachments, and resistance to the truth. Such as the stubborn refusal of some to accept Jesus, and the anxious request to secure his grave. Power to change hearts. Such as how, at the sight of Jesus breathing his last, even the soldiers who crucified him – likely the same ones who had tormented and mocked him just hours before – even they, are moved to acknowledge him as son of God. And power to deepen discipleship. Evidenced by how some of Jesus’ followers, especially the women, are able to accompany him, albeit from afar, all the way to the end.

And what about us? We who conscientiously observe Holy Week every year, and who publicly profess our faith in the Lord every week. To what extent do we make his attitudes our own? The countercultural attitudes of downward mobility, of him who did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave… even to accepting death… on a cross… If you’re like me, the answer is likely mixed. Which is why, in addition to pondering his Passion in the liturgy, we also need to cultivate his habits in daily life. Taking care to awaken each day to listen like a disciple, to speak to the wearied with a disciple’s tongue, and to courageously follow the Lord to Calvary and beyond.

Sisters and brothers, there really is more than one way to mix a drink. As we accompany the Lord to his Passion, how might he be stirring and shaking us, helping us to better absorb his attitudes into our hearts, our lives, and our world today?