Saturday, 27 June 2009

Two different ways of approaching Jesus (Mk 5:21-43)

The gospel this week is again from Mark (5:21-43). Fr. John Harris wrote a reflection earlier in the week and pointed out the difference  how the two people make the approach to Jesus. Fr. John is dwelling on the different ways in which people approach Jesus, while having the same aim of meeting Him and receiving His healing, He also dwells on the two aspect of our own relation with Jesus and I will try and dwell a bit on this to continue the theme of previous weeks.

Our life as Christians has different aspects. We have the public aspect, the communal aspect, but also the private aspect. The synagogue official, Jarius, comes openly to Jesus, he throws himself at His feet and asked Him publicly to come and heal his daughter, while the woman comes up behind him to secretly touch His garment.

First we will look at the public aspect as the synagogue official ask Jesus to heal his daughter. What exactly the reaction of the crowed at that time is we do not know, although later it become clear, but we do know that there was a large following. This in a way can be seen as our communal aspect of our lives. There is the large group gathering together around Jesus, and this is what we do for example when we gather for mass on Sunday.

However, just this is not enough. What is the reason the large crowd gathers around Jesus? Earlier in the chapter we read that the people on the other shore, although pagans,  asked him to leave. They saw he had curred the demoniac, but because it resulted in a big economic loss they did not want to have anything to do with Jesus. Having Him so near did not suit them.

What is the reason for the crowd here to follow him? We do know that "the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes." (Mat 7:28-29 RSV) in other accounts, but we also hear Jesus say "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves." (Joh 6:26 RSV)

When Jesus comes to the house in spite of the news that the little girl has died, the people laugh at Him when He says "Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." (Mar 5:39 RSV) They do not belief or trust in His power to do something supernatural, they might like His teaching possibly as it suits, them being the lower classes of society and possible the "buzz" of all that is happening, but they do not perceive or belief in the "mystery" that He really is.

This is where it becomes important to realize that there is the need for the second aspects of our Christian lives, which is the reality of our inward dispositions towards Jesus. The woman, anonymous, only wants to touch the fringe of Jesus' garment. That only is enough she beliefs to heal her of the illness which has tormented her for twelve years. She does not dare to approach Him publicly, but approaches Him in secrety and in trust.

And Jesus knows it: "and Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd" (Mar 5:30 RSV) and "he looked around to see who had done it" (Mar 5:32 RSV) Subsequent she comes forward, trembling in fear, but Jesus says to her: "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace" (Mar 5:34 RSV), go in the peace of God.

Our relation with God is not either public or private, but both. We come to Him in our public worship, we go to Mass, we substantially receive Him in our lives through the Eucharist and we invite Him to be with us and to heal us. But there is also the private part, "when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret" (Mat 6:6 RSV) This, possibly the more intimate part, is where we put our full trust in God as did the woman who touched Jesus' garment. We notice the peace and healing that flows forth from this relation with Him, as He gives it to us as He did with the woman (cf. Mk 5:34).

Maybe one aspect is the expression of our faith, the other a silent disposition. It is in the lifting up of our hearts to God continually during our day, to continually pray as we need to do: "And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray"  (Luk 18:1 RSV) and as St. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to "pray constantly" (1Th 5:17 RSV). With practice, our disposition can always be towards God, our hearts constantly lifted up in a search for His love. Our private disposition will then flows into the more public action, and will make it come further to live....

On a practical level everybody has His own ways of praying, but an example of trying to always pray is for example to make a habit of saying the Rosary, even if it is just unconscious. There are very small rosary beads to help in this...

Friday, 19 June 2009

Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him? (Mk 4:33-41)

Who then is this? The disciples seem to be filled with awe every time when Jesus performs something miraculous. They see all the miracles He does, but maybe can more connect with the Jesus who is sleeping in the front of the boat with His head on the cushion. Still, they wake Him up when the sea becomes very rough, they seek Him when it seems that the situation is beyond their power, when everything seems lost from their human point of view but then they take refuge in Him.

First of all, I think we can reflect a little while by the fact that the disciples might have associated easier with the human Jesus sleeping on the cushion then with the divine Jesus. Is it not so with most people? Maybe especially in our times, are we not quick to dismiss the extraordinary, the supernatural?

Off course, there are many ways to interpret "supernatural", but I like to propose it mainly in a reference to God as being "above natural". If we lose the sight of Gods divinity, and particular Jesus His divinity, we very quickly also lose the mystery and the otherness of God. Our beliefs are brought down to our human level, and before we know we lose all sense of a real and living God. This could possibly turn into pantheism, God is everywhere and in everything, or result in a meritocracy because God does not seem to have a real impact in our lives.

This leads me again back to the topic of God's impact in our lives. Without this religion seems empty to me. But again, what impact, what relation between God and a person? It seems unreal, and often it might seem that God has no care for us at all, the disciples ask "Teacher, do you not care if we perish?" (Mar 4:38 RSV).

But the relation is unreal in a way, as it is not a relation as we would come across in reality, in our reality here on earth. But this is where we should not lose the sense of the divine, of the mystery. The relation with God is different, it is not sensual as are in a way most of our relations with other people.

Even though it seems that God might be afar off, if it seems that there is no reality to our lives it might be because we expect it to be like other human relations. But I think our relation with God is different, it is a relation that might be exactly routed in a feeling of desolation, of otherness. We feel our heart cry out "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?" (Psa 22:1 RSV) We groan inwardly, we long for God, and this is exactly when we lift up our hearts.This might be of what St. Paul describes as "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words." (Rom 8:26 RSV).

There is a depth in this longing which in itself is the gift of God, and I belief that it is there that we get close to God. It is not despair, but a deep routed awareness of something, but something we cannot understand or comprehend, something we cannot just grasp. But that is it exactly, as we can never comprehend God, but we need to have faith, and this is what we are given, faith hope and love! It gives us a deep peace, it grounds us in a way that cannot be described with words...

"O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no rest." (Psa 22:2 RSV)
We are constantly seeking, and it seems on the surface that God is not there, but He is. It is just that we have to be silent and listen, as He speaks His loving words in the depth of our soul... a place beyond our sensual experiences, deeper than the deepest feelings of our heart.

It is really God who is calling us all the time, but we have to allow Him in, we have to take this step of faith and encounter the face of God. In the beginning "the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, 'Where are you?'" (Gen 3:9 RSV) So God is calling us... "And [Adam] said, 'I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.'"  (Gen 3:10 RSV). It is very easy to hide, to keep yourself occupied, to fill our lives up to the brim... much harder however it is to find the balance and to make the step towards God, to start to listen, to not be afraid of the silence, to not be afraid of His loving voice...

God will never forget us, and is always near: "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you." (Isa 49:15 RSV) Jesus said to the disciples "Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?" (Mar 4:40 RSV), be not afraid...

Monday, 15 June 2009

Prayer for Vocations

Just a quick post, in which I would like to ask special prayers for Vocation to the Dominican Order.

Each year around this time applicants for next year present themselves for the interviews to be admitted to the Irish Province of the Dominican Order as novices next year. So prayers regards this intention are really appreciated, as it is a very exciting, but sometime nervebreaking time, for the Order, but especially for the applicants as the result of the interview can completely change the course of the rest of their life!

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Corpus Chirsti - What does it mean in your life?

This Sunday we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ, and the gospel is taken from Mark (14:12-16,22-26). I will try and give a reflection on this feast and continue the thread I have been trying to start over the last month...

Earlier in the week I visited the Dominican Priory in Zwolle (Netherlands) and after visiting the friars had dinner with the sisters (in a different part of th cloister) and two young women who life with them.We had a very interesting and long talk about prayer, and what prayer really is. I usually stress the importance of "the personal relationship" with Jesus as a fundamental element in our belief, but I learned that that phrase sometimes calls on the wrong idea... I guess the phrase is often used in maybe a different context, as was pointed out, with a touch of superiority and maybe too unreal. I will maybe see if I can find a better way of expressing the relation I mean, and maybe the Gospel of today can help, as this relation is with Jesus, truly present to us. I think this relation can be very real and very personal, but not in a public way but private, and not in an "exciting" way but secret and silent.

To set the tone, In the gospel we read that Jesus is saying that he wants "to eat the passover with [his] disciples" (Mar 14:14 RSV). This is not a public occasion, but something together with His friends. Also, it is not something we have to do that much for, as the man "will show you a large upper room furnished and ready;"  (Mar 14:16 RSV), all is prepared, it is an invitation...

This is something I am thinking of more and more, and it makes me sometimes feel uncomfortable. God has placed the disire to know Him in every human being. We will only find the fullness of our being in Him. But so many people do not seem to be too interested. This contrast strikes me especially when I am away from Ireland and am home... when I look around town, watch a bit of television en take the in the general atmosphere. There is no mention of God at all, and there seems to be no obvious interest... Was this different in the past, were people more open to the reality of God? Is this normal how human beings are, (outwardly) seemingly disinterested in God? And what is it that they see as believing? What is the value of people who do go to a church?

As I write probably too often, for me it was, and is, really discovering the living God, and to know God, to have Him central in my life. Not something just for a Sunday, but the real exciting prospect of having God as a friend... who want to eat the passover with His friends. This is a real intimacy, a union which we cannot comprehend, but it is a reality as when during the supper Jesus takes the bread and says "Take; this is my body." (Mar 14:22 RSV) and "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."  (Mar 14:24-25 RSV)

Jesus invites us, and comes to us, he abides with us: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him." (Joh 6:56 RSV) A mystery indeed, but a very joyful one! He does not only invites us for a meal, but makes himself the meal... he gives himself fully to us, into a union which is closer than any union between humans can ever be. I find it sometimes difficult that there seems to be so little interest in this central point of our life. God comes to us, we only have to come forward and receive Him!

How to express it... it is the yearning for God which is constantly in my heart, which becomes satisfied in the meeting of Him in the Eucharist: Corpus Christi. It makes me sad to think that so many of our fellow Christians who have lost this great gift, either by separation or by disbelief, the gift of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist... "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you;"  (Joh 6:53 RSV)

Whatever about theological views regards this line in relation to the afterlife, I am as sad from the point that here and now in this live this gift of life is rejected... the offering of Jesus, the offering of himself to us, in the Eucharist, to give us life, to give us the fullness of joy in His presence, not only in the future but here and now...

So finally, as usual I am jumping from one thing to the next, did I explain any more of what this personal relation is? Again, I have to confess that I probably didn't, but it seems to me that it is something that cannot really be related that easy. I throw out some random ideas that come into my head hoping that one of them might, through the grace of God, help somebody to have a little glimpse of the reality. When I receive the Blessed Eucharist during mass I always look forward to it, but I never get any sensual satisfaction out of it... This is where this deep personal relationship becomes a mystery, as it is not something sensual, but as I see it much deeper down in our soul. Something we just know it is there, but most of the time do not experience (although sometimes when we fall away from God we notice the absence).

A final illustration I might give is the following...
One time last year we were away for a few days from the priory. I have the habit of spending at least a solid hour in the church or chapel in the presence of the blessed sacrament, being it in the tabernacle or exposed in Eucharistic adoration (which is my favorite way of praying).
When on our way back I really got this deep desire of going to the chapel, of just saying hello, of spending some time there after being away for so long. It was in a way really like the feeling one might have when going to the airport to collect a family member who has been away for a long time, or like a boy/girl friend which might even give a stronger desire. I think that our relation with Jesus can be like that, and sometimes, like that time for me, it can really manifest itself like that.

It reveals a small bit of the mystery in such an experience, it makes it more real, but those moments of grace are often far en between. Also, when being back home I went to the chapel, and when finally there, being tired from the journey, the experience was again like receiving Communion during mass... nothing happened... but I knew He was there, and I watched with Him for some time, trusting on His love for me, and trying to give Him my love for Him....

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Trinity Sunday (Mt 28:16-20)

All the exams are over, and in an hours time we have the mass to celebrate the closing of the study year... then in the afternoon I have to get everything ready in order to be able to fly home tomorrow morning and have a break for two weeks... the reflection this week is by necessity brief again!

This Sunday is called Trinity Sunday, and the Gospel is off course the gospel where Jesus instructs the eleven: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Mat 28:17-20 RSV).

However, I won't talk about the Trinity in this post as that would take a bit too much, even though it is very interesting to ponder this mystery. Saint Augustine tells us that "he was walking on the beach, deep in thought, trying to unravel the mystery of the trinity. He saw a small boy using a seashell to carry water from the sea to pour it into a hole he had made on the beach. When Augustine asked what up to the boy said that he was going to empty the ocean into that hole. When Augustine pointed out the futility of the attempt the boy told him that the attempt of Augustine to unravel the mystery of the trinity – his attempt to understand the nature of God – was even more futile. Then the boy disappeared, meaning that he was an angel."

Instead I just want to bring your attention to the line "And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted" (Mat 28:16 RSV). I don't feel necessarily the need to go back and repeat one of my previous posts about the difficulty to sometimes accept that Jesus is truly risen, but find this phrase particular striking...

However, I like to mention the fact that our faith is credible. One of the exams last week was "Fundamental Theology" and part of the exam was the "credibility" of our faith. It means it is "worthy of belief", it is not required to have a blind faith... We are made in the image and likeness of God, we are reasonable being, we can think, and God reveals himself to us in ordinary ways.

I like what St. Thomas Aquinas says about the need for God revealing things to us: "Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors."

St. Thomas is saying that it is possible to know about the existence of God even by reason alone, without God specifically revealing himself to us. This means that our intellect can help us to find God if there are times when that is needed. Most of the time it is not needed, in my experience. Initially I came to belief through looking at the credibility, but once a relationship with Jesus forms and we start to know him we don't doubt his existence anymore most of the time. Also, as St. Thomas points out, through revelation we deepen our relation with God to depths which would just by natural reason not be possible, take a long time and be mixed with errors.

Maybe I am trying to do too much in the little time I have of writing this article, but I just want to make the point that our faith is not blind. It is supported by everything we see around us, creation cries out that God exists. Some of the 11 apostles might have doubted if it was really Jesus standing in front of them, but eventually they understood, as can be seen by the testimony of their lives as all but one gave their life for the belief in Jesus. It might take a bit of time, but we should not worry that much about it. And sometimes it is helpful to look back at the credibility of our faith, and think about it so we draw closer again to the mystery that is God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

(I have another site called Christian Evidence on which am trying to put a few articles regarding the position of science and Christianity for anybody who is interested in those topics.)


The Irish Dominicans have a website called Dominicans Interactive with online resources. We also have an iPhone/iPad App, which can be found in the iTunes App Store.


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