Monthly Archives: June 2015
“Whoever knows the feebleness of human nature
has acquired an experience of the strength of God”.
There is a paradox at the heart of Christian spirituality: to grow strong we need to be weak! Like all paradoxes, out of two seemingly contradictory propositions, comes a new insight. St Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 12: 8-10), has something to say about this. He speaks about boasting of his weaknesses rather than of his spiritual strength, but before he surrendered to that he begged God to take away the ‘thorn in his flesh’, to allow him to be strong. Paul, like most people, wanted to move beyond weakness and affliction in order to manifest the strength of God in his life, but the path he was led along was that of learning that God’s strength is seen and known precisely because of his own weakness. The ability to look into our hearts and lives, see our weaknesses and not want to flee from them, requires both humility and courage. Refusing to acknowledge this can lead to defensiveness and hardening. It can lead to stagnation. When we are so busy defending ourselves and can never admit to any imperfection, there is no way we can be open to the promptings of God’s Spirit leading us into what is life-giving and loving. On the contrary, a healthy sense of self opens the door to God’s grace – that gift of God’s love and empowering in our lives. And this is what Paul knew too. It is the recognition of our limits that may bring us to our knees and thereby open up a new world of possibility for life and love.
“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace”
These months of short days and long nights, remind us of our need for hope and trust. The light and warmth will return. The days will grow longer. We have to wait for it. In a world without electricity our ancestors had to wait in the darkness for the unfolding of the year as the earth made its slow journey around the sun. We can only imagine the impact of these words on those waiting in actual darkness, unsure of their survival through those bitterly cold months. Proclaiming these words at the darkest time of the year teaches us something truly beautiful and we are able to ‘feel’ the impact of it. This dawn, Zechariah is saying, this light given to those who sit in darkness – Jesus – comes to us from God’s tender mercy, and it will break upon us in God’s time. As Christians, we are part of a great two thousand year old story of light, the dawn that has broken upon us, the story of the tender mercy of God reaching out to us and drawing us into its mystery: “Light from light, true God from true God”. And beyond that, in the Jewish origins of our story, we are part of that great story of waiting, expecting, trusting that God would reach out to us: “The people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shone” (Isaiah 9:2). And even beyond that story, we are the latest ‘moment’ in the great and holy reality of God’s creative power. But to allow this truth to truly find a home in us we have to trust it. The people of the ancient world had no quick fix for the long dark days of winter. They could not flood their homes with artificial light as we do or simulate daylight – they had to wait, be patient, befriend the darkness, trusting that it would pass. They had to trust in a greater reality of which they were a part, but which they themselves could not control. And so the winter darkness may be our spiritual teacher. It invites us to trust and to be patient.
“I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always, I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
At the heart of our spiritual life is prayer. Prayer is simply a waiting for God. It is about opening ourselves to God’s initiative. In prayer we relinquish control. We wait upon the Divine action. We listen rather than speak. All these things – waiting, relinquishing control, listening – are active things. These are the things we can do. These are the choices we can make. And then we wait. Merton’s prayer is a far cry from the immediate gratification which is entrenched in twenty-first century expectations. The God in whose hands Merton places himself entirely is not a God to be moulded to our needs, not a God who fits into our time frame. Today, simply make a space to wait for God. Notice how you feel, the deep relief and surrender as you let go of expectations and the need to direct and control.
Just be there.
Do not hurry.
Do not be impatient.
Just confidently obey the eternal rhythm.
But Peter said: “Man, I do not know what you are talking about”. At that moment while he was still speaking, a cock crew, and the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter … and Peter went outside and wept bitterly.
I had a fairly good relationship with the Lord. I would ask him for things, converse with him, praise him, thank him …
But always I had this uncomfortable feeling that he wanted me to look at him. And I would not. I would talk, but look away when I sensed he was looking at me. I was afraid I should find an accusation there of some unrepented sin. I thought I should find a demand there; there would be something he wanted from me. One day I finally summoned up courage and looked! There was no accusation. There was no demand. The eyes just said: I love you.
And I walked out and, like Peter, I wept.
Anthony De Mello sj
The Gospels tell a story of a man who loved … who loved in its deepest meaning of bringing life. We learn of a man who welcomed sinners. He did not play down their wrongdoing or dismiss it. He saw it for what it was but looked beyond the action to the person … and he welcomed that person. We see a man who was not afraid to reach out to those marginalised and rejected by society, rejected by the powerful, the trendsetters, the ‘righteous’ and the decision makers. Yes, he was criticised, ridiculed and caused scandal because of this, but he continued to do it. And so he brought life to the desperate, to those who had no hope of anything else. We see a man who dearly longed for all people to know what he knew … the profound love of God. He longed for all to be in relationship with God as he was, he longed for all to know the intimacy of God’s love for them, just as he did. And so he went to great lengths to enable this. And we know that because he loved passionately and intimately, he did not run away from all he proclaimed and lived, even when it became dangerous for him to continue, even when it took him into death … into the heart of God. So the Church offers us a special day to look into the face of Jesus. We are invited into his way of love. We are invited to know it, taste it ourselves. The sacred heart of Jesus: a way of love, a way to each other, a way to God.
“Finest bread I will provide
Till their hearts be satisfied.
I will give my life to them.
Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord,
Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night,
I will go, Lord,
If you lead me,
I will hold your people in my heart.”
Hymn by Daniel L. Schutte
At each celebration of the Eucharist, as we come to the altar, as we take the bread, blessed and broken, and say ‘amen’ to what is offered to us, the ‘body of Christ’, we are entering into more than intimacy with Christ, more than a communion in love, although it is this, and most beautifully and profoundly so. It is there that we are fed, nourished with the finest bread possible, but it is also there that we are asked to become that bread ourselves. When the bread is offered and placed on the altar, that bread symbolises us too. We bring ourselves. And we place ourselves on the altar. When the priest calls upon the Spirit of God to come upon this bread it is we who are to be transformed too. The bread that is placed on the altar is made of wheat, grains of wheat, pounded, ground, crushed. That bread is then blessed, broken and shared out. And in that breaking and sharing, it becomes life for us, life for all who eat it. In the same way we, as we offer ourselves and place our lives on the altar, are to be broken, become the bread which is to be shared out to bring life to the world. This is what is asked of us today.