Life after Epiphany

An unexpected encounter

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the harrowing of hell

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An empty tabernacle

In churches around the world today, the Tabernacles are empty. The Lord Jesus, who makes Himself truly present to us in the form of bread and wine and dwells Sacramentally among us in our churches, cannot be found where He usually resides.

The empty tabernacle calls to mind the Lord’s lifeless Body in the tomb. Jesus, who is God, truly died on that First Century Passover. What transpired between His Death and Resurrection? We profess in the Apostles Creed to believe that He descended into Hell, and on the third day rose from the dead.

The following is an “ancient homily on Holy Saturday” – a moving, powerful piece that dares to imagine the Majesty of the Lord enacting His victory over death:

The Lord descends into hell

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and rasied him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I the Lord, took the form of a slave; I whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol o life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by the cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

— Taken from the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday


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subverting shame – a symbol of love

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Crucifix laid out for Good Friday veneration.

 Shame is a lie.

Likewise, discouragement is a device of the evil one and must be seen for the deception it is.

Shame is our instinctive response to an internal acknowledgement of inadequacy or wrongdoing. Discouragement is a response to an awareness of shame. A spiral of lies.

Before Jesus shouldered our sin upon Himself and died to reconcile the world to Himself, the cross was the instrument of the most shameful death in society. Crucifixion was the execution of choice for criminals and agitators; there was nothing dignified nor heroic about it.

Setting humanity straight in more ways than one, Jesus subverts everything we think we know about the world. The Cross had no power over the Creator of its makers, nor the nails over the Lord of the man who hammered them into place.

A friend of mine wrote a wonderful song, a reflection on this very point. Her song was called “Not by Nails” and it speaks of the Love which held Our Saviour to the Cross. God is love, and Jesus is God. Jesus was physically nailed to the Cross but it was Jesus’ own choice to be bound by that physical reality. Love and obedience carried the day. Jesus did the Will of His Father out of such a pure, personal, particular and preferential love for you, for me, for each individual that ever has or ever will live that we can’t even begin to fathom it.

Horror is juxtaposed with beauty. That Holy Face which was Transfigured has, for a time, become disfigured. (Pope John Paul II writes eloquently on this reality in Vita Consecrata.)

As a child, I understood on some level my complicity in Christ’s death, but rather than solemnly contemplate in silent gratitude the gift of our salvation and the means by which it was wrought, I used to get very upset about the brutal way in which Jesus was executed. It took some time before I started to learn that love was more than a feeling. Love is a choice. Love is the choice symbolized by the Cross.

Before Jesus died for us, shame was the only appropriate response to sinfulness and inadequacy. In dying, Christ won for us the freedom to choose between  continuing to dwell in that shame, or a radically different response: love… and the trust and the gratitude that go along with it. I no longer look to myself and my weakness. Yes – my weakness is there… but I’m not scandalized, I’m not ashamed. No… I no longer look to myself. I have Christ ahead of me and I choose to look to Him, to He who is Love.


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Gethsemane

Your human nature gripped by fear
Though union’d with Divinity
You grasp at root, at dust, at stone
Lord Jesus, on Your knees, alone.

The night so still, an eerie glow
interrupts shadows cast by the moon
No wind to sift through leaves below
Stark silence since the upper room.

As moments pass, chest heaves in pain
You see the wrong that I will do
Yet endure gladly for my stain
To draw my heart nearer to You.

Allow me, Lord, to come and help
You get up off Your knees
To wipe the blood-sweat off Your face
Your agony appease.

Not e’en one hour I wait with You
Now on Your knees again
I drift to sleep whilst You pour out
Your heartfelt plea for men.

Though spirit willing, flesh is weak
And my will, weaker still
You make me know its You I seek
that You alone fulfil

The night wears on and You, O Lord,
begin to tire from grief
Tormented by our hardened hearts
our sins, our unbelief.

I would not dare to interfere
with Your foretold redemptive act
But let me walk the way with You
At least in prayer if not in fact.

Now others to the garden come
Your victory will soon be won.
You freely choose the bitter cup
To torture and death You give Yourself up

Taken by thugs, betrayed by a friend
Your death: our bond with Father, mend.

– – – – –
(A dusty sketch from 16 October, 2011)


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avoiding accountability, refusing responsibility

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The events of Holy Week present us with one of the most universal weaknesses to result from The Fall – the tendency to point the finger.

The similarities between The Fall and the Passion and Death of Our Lord can be summarised into four elements:

A – Desire to be without God

B – Enactment of selected means to be without God

C – Attempt to hide from consequences of act

D – Attempt to shift responsibility to another

The Fall

        Element A:

In the Garden, a crime occurred that amounted to deicide. The first
parents wished to be like God, but without God and not in accord with
God.

Element B:

The enactment of this desire was one of proud disobedience in eating the
fruit that God had forbidden them. This was essentially a severance of
their relationship with God and for all intents and purposes was for them,
within their scope of being, attempted deicide.

Element C:

After their act, when they hear God walking through the Garden, the first
parents attempted to hide from Him.

Element D:

In the interrogation/trial that follows, the man blamed the woman who in
turn blamed the serpent. When Adam blames Eve, it is interesting to note
that He also blames God – “the woman YOU put with me.”

The Passion & Death of Our Lord:

Element A:

Judas, the chief priests and eventually Pilate each wanted to be without
Jesus Christ, each for their own motive. In the case of Judas and the
chief priests, this was manifested by a conspiracy to kill Him. In the
case of Pilate, this was less of a pre-meditated reality and more akin to
looking for what he considered to be the “path of least resistance” from
the standpoint of maintaining control of the people under his governance.
Nevertheless, in all cases the desire to be no longer “inconvenienced”
by Christ is present and only differs in its degree.

Element B:

Fast-forward to another Garden.

Judas consummates his betrayal of the Lord with a kiss, having already
accepted money for his crime. The chief priests enact their part in the
conspiracy by giving over to Judas the promised 30 pieces of silver.
Pontius Pilate is a little more complicated – for him, Elements B, C and
D are all encapsulated in a single act – the ritual act of washing his
hands. The decision to permit the chief priests to have their way was the
internal enactment of Pilate’s desire to be rid of the inconvenience
Christ posed to him, and this was manifested in the external act of
washing his hands.

        Elements C & D:

The elements are a little less easily divisible in Judas’ case. Confronted
with the horror of what he had done, having now fled the garden, Judas
attempts to return the earnings for his treacherous deed to chief priests.
In desperation as a result of his inability to shoulder responsibility for
what he had done and seek forgiveness, Judas takes his own life. The
chief priests, concerned with the ritual uncleanliness of the money with
which an execution had been purchased, refused to take the money back.
In this case, the 30 pieces of silver are symbolic of responsibility.
Acceptance of the money is acceptance of culpability for deicide. Pilate
hides behind his office and his responsibility to the Emperor and washes
his hands of the whole affair, explicitly stating his desire to be
disassociated from the act and specifically casting responsibility for the
execution back onto the Jews.

I too

I too, am culpable of deicide. If evil, by definition, is the privation of a due good, then it stands to reason that to choose evil is to choose for the absence of God who is the embodiment of ALL good. I too attempt to hide from my wrongdoing and through each little self-lie I try to convince myself that I haven’t done anything wrong. I too look to blame my wrongdoing on others, or on circumstances, or on anything I can think of to shift the blame from myself.

Reparation & Reconciliation

In my fallen state, I sever my tie with God, I alienate myself from Him through sin. The best act of love that I can think of to offer my God in reparation for my sinfulness is to solemnly examine my conscience, admit my guilt and, realizing that I cannot undo the damage that I have done, turn back to Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the gift by which the fruits of His Sacrifice, that is, reconciliation with the Father and a healed and renewed relationship with Him, is made legitimately mine. No longer do I feel the need to reach out and take for myself a forbidden fruit. The Lord Himself, who makes all things new, is OFFERING legitimate fruit to me, fruit that is wholesome and good. All I need do is have the honesty and humility to receive it.


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turn on the ignition!

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A lot of us are sitting in the driveway in beautiful cars, tanks full of gas, oil in the crankshaft, fluid in the radiator… and we’re sitting there saying “I wish I could go places!”

Turn on the ignition!

Listening to a talk on “Fanning the Flame of Faith” by Alex Jones, I was struck by this remark that he made. How impotent we make ourselves!!

We are so blessed in the Catholic Church to have all we need. We have the Truth, revealed to us in the twofold deposit of faith in both Scripture and Tradition. We have the Sacraments. We have the Saints to show us how the Lord can be followed in every circumstance. We have the Blessed Mother to intercede for us to her Son. We have the Blessed Trinity dwelling within us by virtue of our Baptism… but none of us can benefit from these things or help others to benefit from them if we don’t turn on the ignition!

What is the ignition?

Well.. next time you hear one of our Protestant brothers or sisters talking about a personal relationship with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, DO NOT ROLL YOUR EYES and assume that this is buzz-word rhetoric. Our brothers and sisters in other denominations of Christianity differ with us in some very crucial ways, but on this point they are 100% correct.

You and I – each one of us – needs a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The ENCOUNTER with Christ is the spark that is ignited when the starter engine turns. The starter engine is the movement of Actual Grace – the Holy Spirit at work. Turning on the ignition, then, is surely represented in the action of begging the Lord for receptivity to grace.

The Mother General of the Community to which I used to belong once said to me that the first task of the New Evangelization is RECEPTIVITY TO GRACE. As a religious Novice, cloistered away from what one would generally consider the “mission field” of the New Evangelization, this made a profound impact on me. We need to RECEIVE from the Lord so that we can give to others. We have nothing, NOTHING, without Him. He asks us to give generously, but He first gives that we may then give to others! The life of a Novice is prayer, domestic work and prayer, study and prayer, more prayer. That prayer is less a talkative prayer and more a listening prayer. That prayer is receptivity in action. As a Novice, I was uniquely placed in the privileged position of being able to contribute authentically to the apostolate of my Community by being receptive to grace.

I often think of St. Paul, and the years that passed between his conversion and the beginning of his missionary journeys. Paul needed to be formed and strengthened in the Lord. He needed to receive before He could give.

Now, the Lord has called me away from religious life, but not before teaching me why He called me to that life in the first place. He wanted to give me something precious. The cloistered environment on the other side of the world were precisely the lengths to which He went to enable me to receive the gift He wanted to give to me. Here, out in the world again, I need to concern myself with sharing this with others. Giving myself to others is limited in its usefulness, for I am nothing and He is all. No – I want to give CHRIST to others! Paul tells us “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”

Crucial lesson from this: the receptivity cannot stop! My time in cloister is behind me now. But to live a life of effective, authentic service to His People out of love for Him, even as a lay person, requires fidelity to prayer in that inner cell that my patroness, St. Catherine of Siena, teaches us all about. Every day I need to turn on that ignition again, I need to beg the Lord for receptivity to grace and then I need to spend time in prayer with Him, receiving Him that I may share Him with others.

We can really go places. The Lord wants to take us there! So turn on the ignition and see what wonders He works in you!


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attributing motives to others: just another way we fool ourselves

imageI was reading a blog that I follow (and generally enjoy) and the blogger was speaking about trolling, and how anytime a particular angle was used with respect to the topic in which he was interested, it must surely be a troll post. As someone who, once upon a time when I had much less life experience, held the very position to which he objected, I know that the expression of this (however misguided I now know it to have been) was never intended as trolling. Perhaps it LOOKED that way, but it was not.

This got me to thinking about how easy it is to fall into the trap of assuming we know another’s purpose for a given word or deed. Happens all the time… In business (e.g. “He can’t change that term in the contract at the 11th hour, he’s dragged his feet up until now… He’s trying to sabotage this deal!!”) or in personal life (e.g. “She said that after all I’ve done for her? She must still be after revenge for xyz..”)

When I was a Novice, my Novice Mistress quoted an older Sister in the Community with the following wisdom:

Always give others the benefit of the doubt in assuming good intentions… if not good judgement!

It is so easy to get worked up on an interior level about a fabricated imitation of reality that reflects to us our fears in a situation far more than it reflects the objective reality. Psychologists such as Reeder have done studies that show how the tendency to do this arises with bias because of opposing views… His research is interesting and HE is an expert whereas I am not, but I’d hazard the suggestion that fear is truly what causes this behaviour. Fear would be the substance to which the opposing view was an accident, or at least, a trigger.

If you look at the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, you will see in annotation 22 an exhortation to extend the benefit of the doubt to others as a benchmark of basic civility. That this is included in this work, however, demonstrates that it is about more than playing nice with others… It is a crucial part of spiritual theology and has a direct bearing on our interior peace and the quality of our relationship with God.

Imagine a tightly wound ball made from rubber bands… when we get caught up in others’ motives and what they might think of us, something inside of us gets wound up just like that ball… But instead of rubber bands, it’s a complicated entanglement of pride and fear. This image is another piece of wisdom I owe to my old Novice Mistress.

Truth needs to enter in. Really, if we allow ourselves to get worked up about imagined motives on the part of another, well, we’re fooling ourselves. We allow our reasoning to become compromised by the fallacy “ad hominem” and as such allow our view of the other to become poisoned. This is how relationships degenerate toward discord. Surely if we are going to hold an unfavorable opinion of someone we want it to be informed by truth, by what can be apprehended from objective reality, as opposed to emotional supposition, self-lie and the tangled mess of pride and fear?

If there is not enough fact to go upon then integrity is required to be able to admit to ourselves that we just don’t know why that person did or said what she did. And from there? Trust. We need to trust in the good intentions of others until their intentions are proven to be otherwise. The jaded person who employs cynicism about others as a defense mechanism doesn’t protect himself from deceit.

Perhaps he won’t be fooled by others. But he’ll be fooled by himself and he’ll have cheated himself of happiness.


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Aussie representation at Pope Francis’ Inaugural Mass

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Credit: Marta Jiménez Ibáñez/Catholic News Agency

Among the 200,000 pilgrims that attended the Inaugural Mass of Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square on the Feast of St. Joseph were a small group of Australians who attended as representatives of the young adult community. One of them was my brother, a recent law graduate from the University of Notre Dame, Sydney. lawGrad had the distinguished privilege of carrying the Australian flag at the Mass, and it turns out that this flag was the biggest flag from any nation to appear in St. Peter’s Square that day! This was not a deliberate thing, but it turned out to be a fortunate thing for me, for it obviously attracted a great deal of media attention and as such I was able to watch my brother on news broadcasts even though he was half a world away!

Australian Catholics had more representation at the Mass than was perhaps widely known. The Deacon who retrieved the Fisherman’s ring from the tomb of St. Peter and presented it to the Holy Father is a seminarian of the Archdiocese of Sydney. In fine voice, the Deacon also sang the liturgical instructions and the general intercessions. Striking in his humility, the Deacon later insisted on social media that the highlight of the Mass was receiving the Eucharist from the hands of the Vicar of Christ.

Proud to be Aussie, proud to be Catholic… yet humble in Christ. This is the picture that our Australian representatives in Rome have painted.

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Demonstrates comparative size of the Australian flag with those others surrounding it. Credit: ABC News 24

 

A similarly strong sense of identity, side by side with humility, shines forth from the Holy Father’s papal motto, “Lowly, yet chosen.” Building upon this theme in the homily of his Inaugural Mass, Pope Francis called upon those who hold positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life to exercise an authentic leadership that is tempered with the humility, the goodness and the tenderness so crucial to the vocation of ‘Protector’ as exemplified by St. Joseph.

The words of Pope Francis should give great hope to Catholics in Australia. We are not wrong in looking to our bishops and priests to be protectors. Further, we are called to join them in protecting the elderly, children and the weak in our community, along with the environment in which we live.


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vatican web has a new look…

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The site has changed several times now, to reflect the transition from Pope Benedict to Sede Vacante and now to Pope Francis. For anyone interested in a tiny tidbit of history, you can see what it used to look like here.


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Pope Francis I already has a Wikipedia page…

Can you believe it!?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_francis

Here is the coverage from white smoke through to the end of the Pope’s address. The white smoke is in the first minute. Once you have seen some of the coverage of the crowds, you may wish to skip through to the Habemus Papam announcement at 1 hour and 7 minutes. Pope Francis’ first appearance and address starts at 1 hour and 16 minutes.

Blessed be God for the gift of this humble, prayerful shepherd. The world is grateful for his generous “yes”, that he would wear the shoes of the Fisherman, that he would serve the Lord by becoming father of the faithful. Pope Francis, we pray for you as you have asked us to do. May you always cling to the Cross of our Saviour. May He be with you always.