Life after Epiphany


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After Epiphany…? Baptism!!

Isn’t it funny how, as we keep unfolding our own lives through the normal course of the passage of time, we chance across considerations that – as obvious as they seem right now – never occurred to us before? I feel like a mighty great “DUH!!!!” is echoing down the ages!

Almost two years ago, I started this blog to be my outlet as I muddled through what life after epiphany should look like.

The answer was there all along, of course. Right there in the Liturgical Calendar!! The Sunday that follows Epiphany is the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, and this is RICH in significance… so much so that I daresay that I will continue to be unfolding this for many years to come. Some initial thoughts do occur to me now, though.

1. Mission
Our Lord’s Baptism was the beginning of His public ministry. It seems fitting that a ritual associated with conversion (even though we know Our Lord was sinless and had no personal need for conversion) leads into a life that takes on a new, higher purpose. We see the same most clearly in the conversion of St Paul and his subsequent life as a missionary. I can’t help but think that it is of crucial importance that I should be considering at this time, after my own special epiphany experience, the meaning of my own Baptism some 33 years ago, and the fact that I am called by virtue of that Baptism to be a worker in the Lord’s vineyard (c.f. Christifideles Laici). My experiences in my former religious community were fitting me for a special task in His service.

2. Suffering
In Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI highlights that the premise of Baptism is the admission of sinfulness. In the Sinless One receiving Baptism, He “loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross” (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, p18). My time in formation gave me a clearer insight into what some of my personal weaknesses and tendencies towards sinfulness are. I know specifically much of what it was that Our Lord bore particularly for me down into the Jordan riverbed of Rita Simmond’s poem (c.f. Magnificat, January edition 2015, p150). I also know that to be Baptised and to share in His Sonship is to share in all aspects of His life – including His suffering and His death. Has my time in religious life, my unique experience of His love, changed the way I can follow Him on that path? One thing is for sure – if this is the path that I’m walking, I want it to bear fruit, and abundantly! Fruit that I can offer back to Him as a gift of thanksgiving.

3. Fulfillment
Sharing in His death, we know, entails sharing then in His Resurrection afterward!! Pope Benedict reminds us that Luke, in his Gospel, located the Baptism of Our Lord at the conclusion of his presentation of the Genealogy of Christ (p 10). Christ is the anointed one, the Messiah, the fulfilment of all the great prophecies. Christ is likewise the fulfilment of my deepest desires. He gives me glimpses of the future from time to time, to help support me in my own weakness. Being weaker than most, I also needed a special, prolonged time of intimacy with Him in the cloister. But that is just the promise. Christ Himself is the fulfillment. And so I need to stop looking back over my shoulder at what has been, except to remember His goodness to me and give thanks. I need to keep forging on ahead, following Him every step of the way, to that ultimate fulfilment, that eternity with Him.

Deo gratias!!

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Don’t let academic hubris hijack theology…

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I discovered something very ugly in myself today, as I reflected upon an event in my past.

As a novice, I was writing a paper that involved some exegetical work with the Psalms. During my private prayer and study, I encountered a fairly involved connection between one of the Psalms and the Gospel of Matthew that excited me greatly! I added it to my paper as part of the case I was trying to build to support the central thesis of the paper and thought little more of it until the following day.

At the evening meal the following day, I was sitting at table with my sisters in the refectory, and listening to the spiritual reading selection of the evening as is monastic custom. Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was hot off the presses and we were hearing it for the first time the very week it was released.

That evening at table, I heard THE VERY SAME EXEGESIS that I had prepared on the day prior, read from the work of the then Holy Father. Exegetical method AND conclusion were almost identical. And here it was, published by the Holy Father! But when I had typed it the day prior, that very same argument had been my own original work. Supposedly original.

So here is where my ugliness crept in.

I started getting all upset about INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY of all things. Can you think of anything more ridiculous than wanting to compete with the Pope over the intellectual property?

An account of my folly: I went to see my superior first thing the following morning. I wanted to know what to do from an academic honesty perspective. I didn’t want to cite the Holy Father. I felt I was justified in claiming the work as my own, given that I HAD arrived at the conclusions before encountering them elsewhere, even though they had existed elsewhere prior to my discovery of them. I wanted to use the electronic timestamp on the document in which I had written my paper to demonstrate that my conclusion was written prior to the night that it had been read to us at table.

PRIDE. How it corrupts the beauty that God created in me.

I write of it now because I refuse to let shame take a hold. Shame is a lie. Of COURSE I’m weak – why be scandalised by that?  Here is an opportunity. Out of the depths I can call upon the Lord. Out of my weakness, I can still witness to the Truth.

What is Truth, here?

I call upon ALL who read, study and pray with Scripture to recall that ANY time we are able to draw something from the Sacred Text, it is RECEIVED. It is a GIFT. It is the Word, GIVEN to us.

The conclusion I reached when working with the Psalms and the Gospel of Matthew? It wasn’t mine. It was given to me, by the very same God who gave it to the Holy Father. Instead of resenting that he got there first, what on EARTH am I doing not giving thanks that such a thing was revealed to me, a mere child? (And a spoiled child at that!!) I give thanks now, and offer my very failure to do so earlier to the Lord that He may bring good out of it.

Curious to know what the exegetical conclusion was? Go read Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives by Benedict XVI. In the meantime, I pray for humility, and I return to my study of the Scriptures… on my knees.


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Benedict XVI: For the record

This post, on a blog I stumbled across this morning for the first time, is a wonderful tribute to the Pope Emeritus. None of this detracts from Pope Francis, whom I believe may just prove to be as saintly a Pope as his more recent predecessors. But the media ought to be ashamed of themselves for failing to report the real story. The real story here is the CONTINUITY of humility, the CONTINUITY of holiness in the Papacy. Slightly different styles, slightly different emphases… but CONTINUITY where it counts. Fidelity to Truth. Fidelity to Love. Fidelity to God.

I believe that all of the media circus about Pope Francis is an attempt by the media to gain some kind of leverage in shaping the direction of the messages that come out from Rome. I kind of almost get the feel that, due to Pope Francis’ country of origin being in Latin America, they are trying put an insidiously subtle liberation theology spin on everything he does…


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charity begins at home… Pope encouraging grassroots change

We saw major steps in ecumenism and cultural interchange with Pope Benedict XVI. This movement on the “big picture” was truly beautiful and enriching for the Church.

It certainly seems as though we are now receiving enrichment of a different kind; Pope Francis in his preaching and in his public messages to date seems to be honing in on the individual and his/her relationship with God.

Pope Francis’ recent Twitter feed is my case in point:

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And most recently: “Never speak poorly of others.”

These tweets are all short extracts taken from recent homilies and addresses. Each speaks to an aspect of one’s personal relationship with Christ and the nature of how that relationship expresses itself in relationship with others. It is the encounter with Christ that is important! Pope Francis is inviting each one of us to take a good look at ourselves, to stand as we are before the Lord and to receive His love and mercy and seek to live out the love we have received. His messages are simple but important…  and potentially very powerful in their effect, if we take them to heart.

Its almost like Pope Francis is acting as a personal spiritual director to every single individual in the Church throughout the world! How amazing that such a thing is even possible! Changing hearts. This can only be done by the Holy Spirit. It seems that He is working through our Holy Father in this way… we need to open ourselves up to these graces!

Both the “big picture” and the “grassroots growth” need attention. Each of us needs a shepherd to help lead us to Christ as individuals, and we also as the People of God, as a Church, need a shepherd. Both men are different, and the Holy Spirit has given each individual holding the Office of Pope a different task. Isn’t encouraging to see that all of us are being well tended?


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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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an historic day: my solidarity with his holiness, Benedict XVI, as the Church approaches interregnum

Arriving home from an evening out with friends to be told by my father that the Holy Father had resigned was a shock to say the very least… so much so that I haven’t been able to put my thoughts and emotions in order until now.

Two experiences can have a world of difference between them, and yet there can be but a single commonality between them that engenders a spirit of solidarity… I feel this way about the experience of my following God’s call not to make the vows of a religious when I consider it in the light of Benedict XVI’s decision to follow God’s call to step down from the Papacy.

A decision not to proceed with making vows, but rather to leave religious life, can be rash, or it can be prayerfully discerned after a great deal of deliberation on one’s knees. Thanks be to God, mine was the latter.  I feel convinced that in my case, my leaving was a lovingly compliant response to the direction of the Holy Spirit. In the announcement that the Holy Father made on 11 February, he indicated that much careful discernment had gone into his decision to renounce the chair and retire to a life of prayer. Certainly in the case of the Holy Father, one whom we have known to be a man of deep prayer, I cannot believe that his decision could have been anything other than a similarly loving act of obedience to the direction of the Spirit.

The Holy Father’s decision has been subject to a great deal of public scrutiny and criticism, on a massive scale. For me, the scale is very different, but within my own sphere of family, friends and acquaintances, I have likewise been subject to scrutiny and criticism. In both cases, the criticism is coming from people who don’t understand, who have no concept of the conversation with God that has transpired and led to the decision, and certainly no concept of the weight of responsibility that the decision involves, nor the emotional impact of such a decision and its aftermath.

I know what a difficult thing my own decision was. I feel blessed and supported by my Saviour and know that I could not have had the strength to follow through were it not for the grace that came with the prompting. Inspired by St. Augustine, I had long been praying “accomplish in me what You command!” Even with grace and the knowledge that I am infinitely loved by Him, this decision and the monumental changes it has involved have been the most difficult time of my life. Amidst it all has come both joy and peace… and yet at the same time it has involved much trial and suffering, and what feels like God’s absence, even though I know that is only a feeling, and that He is there with me all the time. This is a challenging time, and yet it is a time of hope and of growth. I feel quite certain that the Lord is drawing me closer to Himself… on the Cross.

Knowing what I now know through this experience, I am in AWE of the soon-to-be Emeritus Bishop of Rome, His Holiness Benedict XVI.

My decision was small potatoes by comparison. The enormity of what he has done, and the courage, obedience and love that it must have taken, along with the humility that has been exhibited in the manner of its execution… I just can’t get my head around it! We are witnessing history, and we are witnessing authentic greatness.

Many scare-mongerers have speculated in the news frenzy and on the blogosphere about potential conspiracy theories and power-plays that could be going on behind the scenes, motivating this unexpected move from the Holy Father. I guess this is to be expected, particularly from non-believers and from cynics. This act is outside the norm, even if both precedent and canonical provision exist for it. Without an understanding of, an experience of or a belief in the workings of grace, who wouldn’t think that there was more afoot than meets the eye?

Then there is the bookmaking circus – the bets on the outcome of the upcoming Conclave. Lucky for those involved that Canon Law is more lenient than it used to be!

Despite all of this, I really do believe sincerely that this is exactly what the Holy Father says it is. And I believe that, rather than interpreting these reasons that he has given us as a retreat from responsibility, what we are really witnessing is a call to deeper sacrifice, a yet weightier role. Benedict XVI is being invited up to the mountain, as the Peter of our time, to contemplate the transfigured Face of Christ, and in so doing, is interceding ceaselessly for the needs of a suffering Church as it seeks to more deeply understand the disfigured Face of Christ on the Cross. In a way perhaps chiastically, the Face of Christ does not remain disfigured, but again becomes radiant in the glorified, Resurrected Body.

If anyone feels the need to look for a deeper significance to the Holy Father’s act than that which he has explained to us himself, I would suggest that one need look no farther than the reality that the Holy Father is both a theologian and a teacher. I think it is fair to say that this is the deliberate act of an intelligent man, an act designed to have a teaching significance that will form a significant part of the Holy Father’s legacy to the faithful. His renunciation of the Chair, rather than standing in contradiction to the witness of John Paul the Great’s heroic teaching on the dignity of the elderly and the sick, rather complements it beautifully.

John Paul the Great taught us that a person’s dignity resides in the reality of who they are, not in any utilitarian value that can be placed on their capacity for output or productivity. He taught us that the sick and the elderly are people to be loved, and that loving is never a burden. These facts should be self-evident, yet our society has become blind, unable to apprehend this objective reality without guidance from one who can see. And boy, could John Paul the Great see!!

Now, Benedict XVI teaches us that humility, obedience, love and trust are necessary in the encounter with the person of Christ, and that our responsibility to live in a way that reflects these virtues extends into our senior years. Benedict XVI doesn’t get off the hook just because he’s living the last years of his life – no, massive life changes and suprising commands from God happen even when one is an octagenarian! It is still our duty, in justice to our Creator, to freely choose to obey in love. Benedict teaches us about the freedom there is in obedience. He teaches us that life is a struggle, right up until we breathe our last, but that continuing to struggle is possible, even when one is old and tired! He teaches us that courage is not simply a virtue of the young and the strong.

Most of all, the contrast between these two holy servants of God show us that holiness looks different on different people. No one person’s path to heaven is the same as that of any other.

Thanks be to God! We are living in a time of great saints!

In approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes, the Chair of St. Peter will be vacant. (To correspond with 8pm 28 Feb ROME time). Mary, Mediatrix of Graces and Mother of the Church – pray for us.