This is a story about the Transfiguration of Jesus. More than that it is a story about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. An event unfolds on top of a mountain, but what is at stake is what is unfolding on the ground below. The disciples hear the voice of God asking them to Listen to the words of His Beloved Son. His word, is to become their only treasure. What must be heard is the sound of Love. Because when Moses and Elijah disappear only Jesus is left to teach us what we must know. He is the one who will guide us away from fear and into love.
But for now, seasoned beginners are called to silence. They are not to share yet what they have experienced when they were touched by God. What He has to tell them can be difficult to understand, and when understood, even more difficult to follow. This is especially true of His impending suffering, death and resurrection. They are granted this vision so that they will begin to dismantle their inner resistance to the vulnerability of God.
Which brings us to the question of our own vulnerability. Life is tough. It isn't that we do not have great moments of love and joy and laughter in our lives. But the hurt can often hit us from the inside. The demands of Love, pulling us out of our favourite chair seem endless. We seem to be continually having to face mental, emotional, physical and spiritual challenges.
When this happens we need to make a special effort to stay on top of things. Gearing up for the challenge is needed because we know that what is not faced up to falls apart. Without the energy to renew the law of 'winddown' takes over. Relationships become dull and predictable, goals remain unmet, weeds grow in the garden and sagebrush rolls through ghost towns. Even more, when we are committed to Compassion and to easing the suffering of others we have to struggle not to give up or ignore them. When we are committed to Peace and meet division and hostility we must find way to engage that doesn't make things worse. When we value honesty
and integrity and face situations of corruption, it isn't easy to walk the pathways of truth. Life is difficult when we try to bring to it all that is best in us. It takes continual blood, sweat and tears to infuse the world with Love and Mercy. Virtue is hard work!
This is why we need to ponder the Transfiguration every day. This moment of illumination which will continue to light the way before us. When we sink our hearts deep into the contemplative well, it is easier to rise without fear and listen to Him, the wind suddenly shifts direction - it is no longer in our face but at our back.
The Litmus test of course is not to try and stay on top of the mountain but to check that we are headed in the direction of Jerusalem with Him. I believe it was William Vanstone who wrote,
"Therefore, He who Thee reveals, hangs O Father on that tree
helpless, and the nails and thorns tell of what Thy Love must be.
Thou art God, no monarch thou, enthroned in easy state to reign.
Thou art God, whose arms of Love, aching, spent the world sustain."
Solomon has it all! He even has God talking to him in his dreams! His dreaming self hears the question
God is always asking, "What is it that you want?" When we wake up, of course, the question is harder
than it looks. Why? Because it can only be answered with great care. The word we speak coming
straight from our heart.
I know a lot of jokes about genies wriggling out of bottles or fairies swooshing their wands, who ask the
lucky finder the same question. Usually the answer is a request for endless wealth. Solomon does not
need to ask for what he already has, so he asks God for the gift of 'Wisdom'. A Wisdom that supports a
community to grow. A Wisdom for relating! Notice how this stirs surprise and delight in Gods' own
heart. And God is delighted to answer this prayer. The Psalmist must have had a similar
experience. You can hear it as she sings, "The law from your mouth means more to me than silver or
gold." Or in the words and experience of Saint Paul, God adorns us in Glory. What are they all telling
us? What lesson can be learned here?
First of all, something happens. A baby looks at you and smiles and, no matter what you're feeling, you
just have to smile back. Because, first of all, something happens. You're standing at a graveside, tears
your only prayer, as the storm of grief rages from your heart to your eyes. Someone takes your hand
and joins you in that lonely place which is now less lonely. First of all, something happens. A secret
weakness is exposed, but the support of a good friend is stronger than the shame that threatens to
engulf us. First of all, something happens. We are unexpectedly kissed, we see an old person refusing
to be old. First of all, something happens.
These are the 'moments' that throw us into the Mystery
we share with each other. We are suddenly face to
face with the Presence within which we live our
lives. God does not wait for a suitable moment or for a
polite introduction. His presence breaks through our
routines, demanding our attention, insisting that we
talk. When God speaks, we may laugh or cry, we might
sing or fall silent. But whatever we do we are praying
at our best. The 'moment' the 'encounter' has changed
We pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom. But when
it arrives it is always a surprise! In farming a field, a
treasure is stumbled upon. A door opens and the
perfect pearl is for sale. Out of nowhere there is a gold
embossed invitation to the Kings' Banquet! Every
genuine encounter with Jesus is always a surprise. Lawyers who expected justification are
challenged. A rich young man asks for advice and is offered a vocation. Zacchaeus, hoping for a glimpse
of a prophet, dines with his Saviour. A woman at a well leaves with a bucket full of self-revelation. All
of them got more than they asked for. Their emptiness suddenly brimming over, their ravaged lives
called to greatness.
These experiences bring us to prayer. Our own story now made more by our encounter with Jesus. We
begin to make links with the Prophets and disciples who have gone before us. In their company, old
worlds are subverted, new worlds rise from the ruins. We are blessed by a Love stronger than
death. We are suddenly filled with a new confidence. We have become the prayer.
A handful of wheat, a fistful of mustard seeds, a pinch of yeast. Jesus uses these beautiful things to say something amazing about the Kingdom of God. He begins with the great reassurance that love is invincible. No matter how small the beginning, no matter how vulnerable or threatened the middle, the end is never in doubt. In life and in death, the Kingdom will come and Gods' will, will be done.
Next. He will not allow us to take a simplistic, no grey in the middle, view of the world. We are all complicated. There is no neat division of people into the 'good' and the 'bad'. We are all a strange mixture of both. Take the first disciples as an example. One moment they are all over Jesus like a rash, then they are following at a distance or not following Him at all. And if we are honest, we don't always go along with Holy things. We drift from time to time. The Great Reassurance of God walks with the Great Not-So-Sureness of the human heart.
And so the struggle goes on. Or the struggle goes well. It is a struggle for bread, for shelter and for Compassion. Only the Wisdom which allows the wheat and darnell to remain intertwined can make this happen. This Wisdom puts us in a place of unending repentance as we await the time of harvest.
This invitation to unending repentance is one of the big themes of Saint Matthews Gospel. It is an invitation to shake ourselves free of anything in us which causes hunger, homelessness and despair. And when we have completed this work, we start all over again. This labour goes on and on throughout our lives. This is why, when we leave the retreat centre, full of good intentions and two minutes into the journey home we are screaming at someone who cut us up on the road, we smile. Or we leave Holy Mass full of love, kindness and consideration which evaporates the minute someone presses the wrong buttons. We smile! How many times have we witnessed Saint Peter proclaim his love unto death for Jesus being chastened and illuminated by his own betrayal. Perhaps we dream more than we can do. Perhaps not.
In the teaching of Jesus weeds and wheat grow together. Small seeds become huge trees. Leaven raises dead dough into bread. All are given the gift of time. Time to try again. Time to become repeat repenters and not just repeat offenders. But one day the time will run out and the urgency of the struggle is clear. We all fail and we are all ashamed of the failing within us. But we must not give up on ourselves. Out of our errors and frailty come some of life's most important lessons. There is a freedom that awaits us. It can only be found by those who carry the light, of a certain kind of love, into darkened places.
Jesus leaves the house (church) where the converted are gathered, and goes to sea. He is looking for fish, and they arrive in large numbers. So, Jesus, who likes to fish for people, begins to teach from a boat.
Jesus teaches many things using Parables, which are a soup mix of conventional knowledge and spiritual wisdom. He draws on what is already familiar, what people know best. But Parables are not just stories. They make demands on those who listen to them. They might draw on farming, legal situations, family conflicts and weather etc, but there is always something about them which is a little strange. Today’s Gospel Reading is a great example of this strangeness. It's a farming Parable, but it's not about a careful farmer. This one is wild and reckless and yet, the yield abundant. This is a clue that the listener is being invited to go deeper. The invitation, 'Let anyone with ears listen!' means the Parable is over and the struggle to understand it has begun.
For many reasons, some people get the Parables and some don't. The spiritual teacher helps the disciple to move towards a deeper understanding and a new awareness. But not everyone wants to be helped. Some harden their hearts against the deeper meanings in the Parable for fear that a new and higher consciousness might demand a change in lifestyle. Against such as these, even the Divine Teacher is powerless.
It has been said that there are basically two kinds of teachers; those who love teaching and those who love their students. Those who love teaching are never short of words, details and explanations. They make objections with one breath and answer them in the next. They can often be funny and charming individuals who really like the sound of their own voice. They will take questions but only because it gives them a chance to talk more!
Those who love the students talk less and listen more. They are too busy feeling for the student’s level of understanding, for blocks to their advancement, for paths that may be taken and paths that may be avoided. They are experts is knowing the person who sits beside them. They see what is needed but they do not say it out loud. What they say is said only to support the student to discover the next step. The teacher who loves the student provides the right conditions for an inner revelation. If they can follow the clues, they will come to know for themselves and not be overly dependent on the insights of others. Good Parents are especially good at this.
When Jesus tells Parables, He is clearly a spiritual teacher who loves His disciples. The Parables do not give up their secrets too easily. They invite a wrestling match. They are not just information. They require engagement. But for Saint Matthew there is a third Person in the ring. The Holy Spirit is working from the inside out to 'reveal these things to us?' And the reason we know that Jesus is the kind of Teacher who loves his disciples is that He powerfully introduces them to the presence of God in the depth of their own being.
When Saint Augustine spoke his well known, "Thou hast made us for Thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee." - it sounded like he was saying that the human person is, in modern speak, 'hardwired for God'. It sounds great to say that humanity cannot be reduced to physical, social or psychological models. We are much, much more. We are made in the image of God. It is good to say and believe these things, but we have to be able to say something about the other drives that are in us and how they work together or not.
Sacred Scripture speaks of the human face bearing the Sacred Imprint and that the God Drive in each person demands that we give them endless respect. And while this is true, it is also true that there are other 'drives' in us. We have physical drives for food, air, water, and sex. We have strong social drives to be liked and respected, to wear decent clothes, and live in decent houses. To be in control of our own lives, rather than being controlled by another. Our physical and social drives move in unique ways in each of us. Our minds, sift through these drives, trying to put them in order and lining up the ones that are most important. So we are hard wired for God, and we are hard wired everywhere else. How do we hold these different drives in such a way that we are real?
Well, it isn't easy! There is a real temptation to get into worshipping idols. This isn't fanciful Old Testament theatrics. When we do not reserve our God drive for God but attach it to money, family, power, food or sex, we ask these social realities to do for us what only God can do for us. We ask that they give ultimate meaning and worth to our lives. But they cannot. The invitation of Jesus to 'store up treasure for ourselves in Heaven '. (Mta 6,19) is a call to see through the temptation to give our wealth, our position or even our family too much importance. On their own they are fine. But they must take second place to what comes first.
This is no put down. When families, communities and nations are not distorted by giving them undue importance they can be what they are. They are the relational field where our deeper spiritual identity acts with love and justice. We do not pull our father, mother, daughter, son, or spouse into an ultimate void and ask them to fill it. Just a little bit too much pressure there! Rather, they are the relationships where the one loved by God loves in turn. We do not ask any created thing to grant us eternal worth. Rather, the places where we meet as communities and
nations are places where, the one rooted and grounded in God, expresses their sacred self in compassionate and just behaviour. Things fall into their right place, and life, and the life of God in us, flows freely.
This life flows in us and through us. We join the transparent Prophets, the Just and the little ones. People welcome us, not because we have blood ties, or power. They welcome us because the Prophets, the Just and the little ones come from God, - the first in our hearts. This is what they seek, and this is their reward - the right ordering of spiritual, physical, psychological, social and moral life.
After so many Feasts, we return to Ordinary Time. The first words of the Gospel for this Sunday are an Instruction from the Teacher to His disciples. 'Do not be afraid'. Funnily enough, this instruction is to be found in Sacred Scripture, exactly 365 times! One for every day of the year! (Except a leap year lol)
We must choose to be intentional disciples of Jesus or not. Do you know if you have done this yet? Check to make sure that you have really chosen to follow Him.
If our answer is yes, we must take into account that He does not offer a soft option. Persecution and suffering are as sure to follow the disciple as it did the Master. But, as St Paul reminded Timothy, the Word of the Lord cannot be sent to prison! (2 Tim 2,9). There will always be some who want to silence true disciples. 'They' want the words and deeds of Jesus to be stopped. But this will never happen. Sin may slow down Gods activity but it can never crush it.
Intentional disciples must carry this reassurance with them and deepen it in their hearts. We will have to face those who want to silence us. We might become objects of scorn, or gossip. We may lose our status, we might be laughed at or taken for fools. We might risk losing everything. All these things might make us afraid, but, as we overcome our fear, we will transform darkness into light, silence into sound, death into life.
But here's the thing. When Our Lord instructed his disciples to move without fear into the open with what they knew, he wasn't sending them out with information, facts and figures. He gave them a new identity as daughters and sons of their Father in Heaven. Children of God with hearts on Fire. What they have received, they must share with others. The future of humanity and of the earth depend on their passion and faithfulness.
Every intentional disciple of Jesus is blessed with and burdened with the truth He has revealed. If we choose Jesus, he unseats our souls, and makes us stand on housetops to share what we have received. The fire in our hearts will warm people in different ways. Intentional disciples love God more than the suffering they fear. We finally understand Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He wants the cup to pass. He has no love affair with suffering. But his desire to unleash the power of love and reconciliation in the world means He has to go on. The Beloved Son of God cannot be silent in the face of persecution. What He has heard as Beloved Son of God must be told to every daughter and son. The more He prays, the more he realises what must be done, the more fear falls from Him, like drops of blood, watering the earth.
The Beloved Son of God makes His decision and asks us to do the same. What will we do?
Many are called, but most are frozen in corporate or collective cold.
These are the stalled who choose not to be chosen,
Except to be bought,
Except to be sold
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. Our celebration will never get off the ground if we only try to work out in our heads what it means. Some things can only be understood when we experience them for ourselves. Perhaps our hearts will take us there more quickly than our heads.
In the Creation story in Genesis, God speaks the amazing words, 'Let us make humanity in our own image!' This is strange language for a One God culture. But it doesn't take long for that image to be tarnished and shattered, bringing punishment on the guilty.
In St. John’s Gospel, even though he agrees that the world and the human face have somehow become alienated from the one who created them. Even though he can see that something is happening which is separating creation and the human family from the Love which brought them to be. Even though he acknowledges that darkness and hostility cloud the faces of those born for better, he sees more .......
God continues to love His creation even when it is broken. This love flows into the world through the Beloved Son who came to renew the communion that was lost, and bring life where death reigns. St. John cannot stress enough that God is never motivated by the need for revenge or condemnation. There is no desire to punish the unjust. Yet, each of us has to choose whether to open or close ourselves to the offer of love that is on the table. And this isn't any old table. It is the table at which the Beloved Son of God celebrated the last Supper. Where new words of life and love were to be found hidden in the bread that was broken and in the chalice of forgiveness. Every word, every gesture at this table is an invitation to see into this Love. If we get it, it becomes more fun trying to figure out ways to remain steadfast in love, even with those who have separated themselves from us.
So for me it unfolds like this. The whole creation bears the imprint of the Creator and the human face is the Icon of the Creator. Since we are made in the image of the Trinity, who we are is much more than we ever imagined we could be. Just as the Trinity are so in Love that they are One, it means that we are not alone inside our own skin.
Perhaps our biggest mistake is to think of ourselves as self-sufficient, self-enclosed people who have an individual destiny. When we do this we will always be in competition with others. Our personal dignity will always be undermined by comparing ourselves to others, and by negative experiences which may invade our lives.
Jesus speaks often about the infinite preciousness of every person. Perhaps we only grow in our understanding of what this means when we engage in the struggle to build communities of belonging. But we do not belong to each other in our solitude. Our belonging is created by the loving activity that defines our lives as people. Can you begin to feel the exhilaration which comes from escaping the prison of individualism and stepping into the far horizons of community?
It is evening on the first day of the week. Remember that St. Johns Gospel is rewriting the creation story in Genesis. Earlier, the Beloved Disciple and Mary of Magdala realise that Jesus is with God. Now, they discover that He is also in their midst. Jesus is with God (ascension) and with them (resurrection) at the same time. He is the bridge connecting us with God. The Mediator between the Sacred and the Creation. He is as He has always been. 'And there was evening and there was morning, the first day'. (Genesis 1:5)
Notice how the first words He speaks are words of Peace! These words are spoken with the gesture of opening His hands and showing His side. He shows them what Love has done to Him. How the waters of new birth now flow from His Heart, to them and through them. They are being sent as He was sent. Staying in His Peace, and being faithful to the Love that has no end, will be their guide and their strength.
And then, when all has been said and done, there is really only one message that the new community has to bring. It is a message of forgiveness. This is the word that will make or break the new creation, just as it makes or breaks us.
I turn once again to John O'Donoghue, who puts this call to lead in the work of reconciliation more beautifully than I could. It is his 'Blessing for Love in Time of Conflict'.
When the gentleness between you hardens,
And you fall out of your belonging to each other.
May the depths you have reached hold you still.
When no true word can be said, or heard,
and you mirror each other in the script of hurt.
When even the silence has become raw and torn,
may you hear again the echo of your first music.
When the weave of affection starts to unravel,
and anger begins to sear the ground between you.
Before the weather of grief invites the dark seed of bitterness to find root may your souls come to kiss.
Now is the time for one of you to be gracious,
to allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt.
Reach out with sure hands to take the chalice of your love
and carry it carefully through this echoless waste.
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you towards the gateway to spring.
As we listen to Jesus making His last will and testament, it is clear that He does not see His upcoming death as a disaster. Notice how His words, far from being fearful or desperate, deepen His relationship with His 'Abba'. His prayer, includes all those who share His light. To them He bequeaths eternal bliss.
Don't be misled by the phrase, 'He looked up to Heaven'. Heaven is neither up nor down, what matters is that He opens Himself to the Sacred Presence who is present everywhere. For Jesus, praying is a relational response, not an attempt to make contact. Jesus reveals Gods' name and through this revelation allows Divine Life to flow into the world. All who are already responding to God, hear Jesus and gravitate towards Him. As they listen also to Him, He energises them to share His teaching with others. Now their Mission is clear. A new community is coming to birth. His disciples will witness to this most clearly when they are One, as the Father and the Son are One.
I wonder if it is important that we think about our own ending in the world. None of us are here for a long time and embracing this truth can be very liberating. The problem seems to be that in most instances, death chooses us. Even if we have all our 'affairs' in order, death interrupts us. Think of all the things that tie us to this life! Will we ever be ready to let go? But it does not matter. Even if we tell ourselves that the world couldn't possibly go on without us in it, or that it will be too difficult and we won't be able to do it, it happens anyway. Walking around Easthampstead Cemetery provides a great lesson on how easy it is to die. Will we be able to say that we accomplished what we were sent to do?
It might help us to remember that from every social point of view Jesus was a failure. The so called religious authorities did not accept Him, or His message. He was betrayed, denied and abandoned by those who should have known better. He was executed with terrorists and mocked by soldiers, priests and his own community. If we look at His death in this way, how can He claim that He accomplished anything?
Perhaps, from a social point of view, everyone's death is a failure. Even if we are propped up, pain free, surrounded by our trophies, applauded for our successes, with loved ones around us and leaving an abundant inheritance, we still die incomplete. Why? because who we really are cannot be found here. On a social level, there is no good, never mind a perfect death.
However, if we look through the Sacred Lens and do some radical reworking of how we see life and what counts as success, we might see more clearly. From Jesus we hear that the whole point of you and me is to release Sacred Love into the world. Every person is a beloved child of God. We cannot believe that God is our Father and not believe we are all sisters and brothers. When we activate and begin to frame ourselves in this spiritual identity, the hour of death starts to look very different.
This prayer of Jesus is astonishing because it evaluates life from a consistent Godly perspective. He steadfastly upholds the infinite preciousness of every person. He speaks of a spiritual reality that lies hidden within us but which is harder to see when we are busy playing the game of life. We are not on a mission, we are a mission of Love, meant to stir love in others. When this happens, God is glorified, our work is accomplished, our life complete. Could this possibly be true?
Whenever someone is chosen for the office of Bishop, they usually create a coat of arms which is filled with the signs and symbols of their heart. Our own Bishop has the star of the sea, indicating his devotion to the blessed mother, the hart that yearns for and finds living water, and the cross of Jesus. Beside these symbols, there is usually a declaration of the Bishops' understanding of himself, and of the way he intends to move. Bishop Philip, has the motto, 'In Corde Jesu' - 'In the heart of Jesus'. He hopes that this is where we will find him. But we can only find him if we are there too.
So here's a little game. Imagine you have been chosen to be a Bishop and now you have to create your own coat of arms and define the motto of your life. What would it look like I wonder?
In the Gospel for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Jesus is talking to His disciples about what happens when we enter His Sacred Heart. Our ability to love one another depends on us entering and staying there. It is when we leave that things go wrong. So loving Jesus and staying in communion with Him is the key to Faithful Discipleship.
You might ask, “how can we do this since He is no longer with us in the same way?” It's a good question! The Saviour would answer that, like all who have gone before us into heaven, He is with us in a different way. Departure through death is not a total loss. It provides for a different way of being present. What is more, the shatterer of death also brings an unbreakable communion with Himself and His Father into the hearts of all who believe. The point seems to be that the more we act out of love for Him, the more deeply we experience that Love through the Spirit, the more intensely we experience the Love of the Father.
For Jesus, there is no doubt that the quality of our mission depends completely on the quality of our relationships. The way that we make or break affectional bonds takes on a new seriousness. Now that we are moved by the Spirit of God we are in for a wild ride. A ride that does not allow us to sin. In The Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot put it beautifully.
"We must be still and still moving - into another intensity - for a further and deeper communion...".
The reality of this relationship is eternal and is not subject to loss or time. It is a dance that survives death.
Perhaps this is why the Holy Trinity is best described as dancing. But more than that, we are being asked to join in the dance. To enter the flow of life that goes round and round without beginning or end. This is the Love I am talking about when I talk about Love. The dance is going on right now beneath our feet. The music is playing, and as we listen to
Jesus we sense our feet beginning to tap to His music