Sunday, 31 May 2009

Pentecost Sunday: receive the Holy Spirit! (John 20:22)

We are now at the end of the Easter Season, it is Pentecost Sunday, and the Gospel is taken form John 20:19-23.

As I mentioned in my post two weeks ago , I will try and engage on a journey of deeping the relation with our Lord. Since Easter I have been reflecting on the disciples and talked about the time it might take to get used to the idea that Jesus is Truly risen, the shock, and the question what it means in our lives.

Then as the Easter season went on I have tried to share a bit of the deepening of our relation with God as we were reading the 15th chapter of John. To "abide with him ", to really start to come close to Jesus. Finally, two weeks ago I decided to reflect on the basis of our relationship, in following the commandments, in order that we can build our relation on a firm belief in Gods love.

Now we are at Pentecost Sunday, and a good day to reflect on what to do next and what we expect... as Jesus was taken up into the cloud the disciples rejoice, and went back to the upper room to pray... but what will be next... it can be a long nine days if you do not know what to do or to expect.
This time of prayer might feel lonely in a way, as we don't know what to expect. And what do we expect? What do we expect when the Holy Spirit comes? Do we even know what it exactly means? In acts it is obvious that it was quite a manifestation: "suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind" (Act 2:2 RSV), "there appeared to them tongues as of fire" (Act 2:3 RSV) and in later parts of acts we read of similar manifestations (e.g. Acts 19:6). 
But maybe we can also derive that this is not always the case "[Apollos] had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John" (Act 18:25 RSV)
We read in the gospel the account where "[Jesus] breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" (Joh 20:22 RSV). There does not seem to be a great manifestation at that time, no great outburst of missionary activity as yet. And so I belief it is normally, the spirit works quietly in us, Jesus is always quietly present to us (hence the need to be silent). 
Even the Lord himself says "yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me" (Joh 16:32 RSV) just before the time He went into the garden of Gethsemane, when He cried on the cross "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mar 15:34 RSV) 
God's presence, Jesus' abiding with us, the guidance of the Holy Spirit is most of the time silent, and something we don't notice. Even though God is as close as ever, it might feel that He has forsaken us... But Jesus says "Peace be with you" (Joh 20:21 RSV) and so His peace is with us.
I am a firm believer of Gods perpetual presence with us, giving us a deep sense of peace, of belonging. We might not notice this when we have it, but we do notice when we lose it. God's presence is beyond what we can sense, it is beyond our comprehension. It is a deeper experience than anything else in this world, and it will take time to understand this. Through grace however we do get glimpses of Gods presence in our lives, and through enlightenment we start to more and more understand how this deep relationship is real, more real than anything else in this world can be real...
We have to, kind of coming back to the point of two weeks ago, make a decision to follow Jesus. This deep relation is available to everybody who wants to engage in it. It is a deep desire in our heart for love, and God does not put desires in our heart that He cannot be fulfill. It means however that we might have to change our lives a small bit and this sometimes can be a bit of a painful experience. However, it is worth every bit of hardship we might endure. Once we realize the true reality of what it means to be alive and to be a child of God nothing in the world can satisfy us except becoming part of this reality! I will try to develop this more in the coming weeks...

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Foto's of the Youth Conference

I quickly wanted to post some photo's to give an impression of the Legion of Mary Youth Conference 2 weeks ago. As mentioned, it was a great weekend, and there was a very good atmosphere. 
It was also great to be able to meet a lot of people I hadn't seen for good some time, and it was great to catch up!

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Our Lady of Sorrows

This week I have to apology for not continuing the last weeks thread and not having a reflection on todays Gospel, even though it is the great feast of the Ascension. I have had a bad dose of the flu in the last few days, and have been confined to my room. Our exams start tomorrow (Monday), so preparation are way behind schedule (as in, hardly existing).
So any prayers for my exams are really appreciated!

Anyway, to keep some activity on the blog, I just past in a draft of a talk I wrote a week ago for a class during the week on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows:

AN initially reaction when we hear the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows been mentioned, can result in a feeling of inner contradiction. It would indeed be if we would focus on the sorrowful aspect of the feast, but I think there is much more to be gained from a reflection on this feast than that there is a loss.

It is because the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows helps to make the life of our Lady more real, it puts realism into a possible idealistic image we have of Our Lady. Often when we think about Her we think of beautiful pictures or statues, in which she holds the child Jesus, or in which she is seated as the Queen of Heaven while being surrounded by all the angels and saints.

It is possible that the devotion to Mary can get a very unreal aspect in many ways, and it might result in throwing up a separation between Her and ourselves, as she seems to be to distant from us, to disconnected from our daily experience of life, to much maybe as a Queen in a palace who does not know what it is to be among the common folk.

However, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows shows us that Mary's life on earth was not different from our own, and realising that she is close to our experiences is nothing but an enrichment in our relation with her. She too lived in a fallen world, she too had the difficulties we have.

We can imagine the anxiety the prophecy of Simeon would have caused, and the feeling of isolation when the Holy Family had to flee into Egypt. Also, we might be able to recognise the anguish and stress the loss of the child Jesus in Jerusalem must have resulted in, and off course the pain Holy Week would have caused while she knew her Son was going to die and she cold do nothing but support him in prayer while Jesus was accused, condemned, carried His cross and was crucified and died.

The sorrow of Our Lady when she held the death body of her Son in her arms must have been unequaled with the pain of loss in any relation just on the strength of intimacy and purity of her relationship with Jesus in which was no sin. Reflecting on the sorrows in Our Lady's life encourages us to think of here as somebody who understands us, who has lived through the same difficulties, has suffered incomprehensible losses but at the end of the day completely trusted on God: "Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum", "Let it be done to me according to your word".

With Mary we can walk the way of life and with her we can contemplate the life of her Son. Nobody can better give us an understanding of Him than she, as no human being has been as close to Him as she is. Mary can bring us too Jesus through her understanding of our situations, and asking her to walk with us, teach us the true way of holiness, to ask her to bring us to her son, and to trust her to be our guide on the road to heaven.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. (Joh 15:9)

This Sunday's gospel is the continuation of the narrative of the 15th chapter of the Gospel of St. John (Jn 15:9-17). These passages are becoming very familiar to us now, or at least for daily mass goers, as this year we have been reading the same passage in the last few days in the weekly cycle.

I will try and take a small bit a different approach to continuation of the theme this week: "Abide in me, and I in you" (Joh 15:4 RSV). Last week I tried to talk about the importance of having Jesus "abide" in our lives, and gave a reflection on God's ocean of love on Good Shepherd Sunday, this week I will look if there are any clues on how to do this... The whole topic of love, the realization that "God is love" (1Jo 4:8 RSV), has maybe the risk that it overdoses us, in a certain sense, and that it becomes superficial, that it becomes unreal. Instead of leading us deeper in a relation with God it becomes maybe even almost laughable, an unattainable ideal... but it is not!

A reltation does not some that grown quickly, and we need to give it time, and also, we should start at the beginning. Even when trying to advance in our relation with God for a long time, there is no harm to go back to the beginning, to start over again and rediscover the freshness: the Word is always fresh, always new!

So we have to start simple, and we will see what Jesus tells us to do in the gospel of today: "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love" (Joh 15:10 RSV). This is a start, something concrete we can do. Jesus specifically says "you are my friends if you do what I command you" (Joh 15:14 RSV).

But is this easy... in first sight it might be, but maybe it is not. We can look at what Jesus says in the gospel, we can look at the ten commandments, and try to interpret it and live accordingly. However, I like to put out the idea that is maybe only part, our own view of the teachings, but that in following Jesus the consequence is to have to follow the Church as well... "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mat 16:19 RSV).

So why suddenly throw that in?
"You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mat 5:48 RSV). We are called to be saints, we are called to perfection, and God does not call us to something that is not attainable for us. God is the Truth, only in God is found the fullness of the Truth. To live a life as close to God as possible we need to follow Jesus, who is the ultimate example (being God and all).
However, we cannot just interpretations ourselves what Jesus meant in His teaching, what he is calling us to do. This will end up in all kinds of different opinions, and will make Truth subjective, which it is not. Therefore, Jesus instituted the Church to guide us (quote above) on our way to the kingdom. The Church has the authority to interpret Divine Revelation, it has the duty to safeguard the teaching of Jesus so that it is understood in the right way and not just according to ones own preference.

Sometimes Jesus His commandments maybe difficult, maybe the Church teachings annoying, but we have an obligation to inquire and understand why the teachings are what they are (and please leave a comment below if you would like an explanation of some). Rules and regulations can be annoying, but they are not the end, they are only a help and that is important to realize. An understanding of the teachings are the way to the fullness of joy: "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." (Joh 15:11 RSV) The teachings help us to attain the fullness of life, even though in the beginning it might be hard. To learn to play the piano it takes hard and disciplined practice before one can really start to enjoy it while playing Beethoven!

So where does this lead us?
It leads us into a closer relation to God, to the point where Jesus makes his next request: "this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (Joh 15:12 RSV) It leads us to love... by growing in virtue we become closer and closer to God, to the point of the challenge to love as God loves... "he who loves is born of God and knows God" (1Jo 4:7 RSV)

Did I manage to give some kind of an idea on how to start to deepen our relation with Jesus? Maybe not, but I am convinced that the start of a virtues life is to start by having a good look on how we live, and see why the Church teaching might indicate that we should make some changes. I will try again next week to talk about the deepening of our relation with Jesus...

(If anybody who reads this reflection has questions, request or suggestion regarding these writings, please leave a comment or email me using the form on the right... and please sue the star rating below)

Monday, 11 May 2009

Friday, 8 May 2009

Abide in me, and I in you (Jn 15:1-8)

The Gospel for this Sunday, a reflection on the 5th Sunday of Easter, is taken from John 15:1-8, with the central theme "Abide in me, and I in you" (Joh 15:4 RSV), and a passage very close to the heart of Dominicans I feel...

As so many texts in the Gospel of St. John, there are many many layers of depth to be found. This gospel sums up, in a way I think, the calling of us into a deep relation with Jesus with as result action, fruit. "Contemplata aliis Tradare", the moto of the Dominican order, to share with others the fruit of our contemplation.

Jesus uses the illustration of the vine to show the relation between Himself and us, or maybe even better, you and me, as the call is personal. The vine is a sign of communion, as is very clear in the fruit of the vine, wine, at the last supper, but also at the wedding feast of Cana (Jn 2:1). St. Paul gift a good reflection on the vine, which is Jesus, and the branches who are in relation to Him in the letter to the Romans (Rom 11:16ff).

"He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit" (Joh 15:5 RSV). This passage is beautiful from the point of view that it shows us the way to do the Lords work, the work which will bear fruit if we "abide" in Jesus. Once we discover God's love, when our hearts burn within us, we want to share this with others. Sometimes the urge to share this can be very strong, but we have to always keep in mind that we keep grounded in the source of this love, so the fire keeps getting its fuel and does not burn out. Everything comes from Jesus, and it is only with Him that we can bear real lasting fruits. Even if we are eager to share the Gospel, we have to be careful that we don't leave God behind and make it our own effort instead of trusting on God, the very source from which the gift came.

With apostolic work there is always the risk that we forget about this, that we need to have to have a deep relation with Jesus. This is fundamental, "as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me" (Joh 15:4 RSV). An example of this can be read in the first reading (Act 4:8-12). St. Paul, after being converted comes to Jerusalem full of zeal, and starts to preach and argued with the Hellenists, and soon they were fit to kill him. The brethren then moved him out of Jerusalem and sent him home to Tarsus. We learn that he is there for some time, probably a few years, before Barnabas went to get him (cf. Act 11:25) and initiated his fruitful preaching mission.

Paul went head first into the preaching, full of zeal, but might not have a strong enough relation with Jesus, not abide in Him to the extend that it would make him the fruitful apostle that he was to be... there is a balance needed between action and contemplation... a fact very close to the heart of St. Dominic and thus to the Dominican vocation as preachers!

"If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you." (Joh 15:7 RSV) The closer we get to God, the more our will is conformed to His, and the more our will is conformed to the divine will the more of our prayers are answered, as St. John tells us: " if we ask anything according to his will he hears us" (1Jo 5:14 RSV). The deeper our relation with Jesus becomes, a relation which can develop over time if we want to, the more our hearts are changed and the better our vision becomes on what is really important. Because we are starting to see what is really good and beautiful, our desires become the will of God and so God answers our prayers... we can see this in the lives of the Saints.

So, that might all sounds good... but how to go about it again...

In the first reading we read in the same letter St. John (1 Jn 3:18-24) that if our hearts are pure, if we keep Gods commandment to believe in the name of Jesus and to love on another, He will abide in Him, and we will see the fruits of that in our work. So we have to belief and love...

... and as God is love, perfect love, we should go to Him in prayer, so that though a relation with Him we might grow in love ourselves as it flows over from Him into us. By a better knowledge or God, by meditating the divine Word, by being silent and listening to His Spirit who dwells in our hearts, we become more like Him, and we become closer to the image we are made in.

We are back at the beginning... if you abide in me, I abide in you! If we make time for God, if we open the door (cf. Rev 3:20), Jesus will abide in us, and our hearts will become afire with His love... and we will go out to the whole world to proclaim the Good News, and to bear fruit!

(If anybody reads this reflection and has questions, request or suggestion regarding these writings, please leave a comment or email me using the form on the right)


I participate in the Sunday Snippets–A Catholic Carnival , a weekly opportunity to share our best posts with the wider Catholic blogging community. Please visit the host blog for the other posts.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Youth Conference 2009

Just a small plug (for readers in Ireland) for the Legion of Mary Youth Conference, which is going to be held in All Hollows College, Drumcondra, Dublin 9, on the 9th - 10th of May.

"The Harvest is ready for the Reaping"

I would anybody who is free the weekend, and be able to make it up to Dublin, encourage to come!

There is a cost of €50 (non-residential) and €75 (residential) to cover the cost of meals etc. It is defiantly worth attending though, as the talks are always brilliant, there is mass, a guided holy hour and off course a lot of people to talk with about our faith!

For more information please contact Ciara (086 0609126), Liam (086 8888918) or Louise (087 6928420)

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Vocations Sunday (Jn 10:11-18)

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, a day for prayer for Vocations. We read in the gospel about the Good Shepherd, how he lies down his life for His sheep. It is very easy to read over it without stopping and pondering what it actually means. Jesus for sure does not take it lightly: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Joh 15:13 RSV) In the short passage he mentions four times that He lays down his life... and he so it is worth thinking about that.

The call to religious life or the priesthood is a call to service: "the Son of man came not to be served but to serve" (Mat 20:28 RSV). We give ourself fully to Christ in His service, we give ourselves completely to Him. But for what?

I guess I can only try and answer that for myself, but I think it is out of complete love. Through my conversion, while I discovered that God is alive and loves us, I found a fountain of life. Not that I became more lively, but I found the fullness of life. Suddenly everything started to make sense. From quite early on I wanted to share this treasure with others, so others would also find this joy in their life...

However, I think this is before I fully started to understand that I only dipped my little toe in the ocean which is God... Even then my heart was on fire with zeal to spread the news, but only over time I discovered there is so much more! |Even more! It is a journey on which God will guide us if we let him. For me that meant that through the experience of love in a relation, God helped me to more and more understand Him. Through this relation I can to a deeper appreciation of what God is: "God is love" (1 Jn 4:8), but especially, what this means.

To start to know God is a process, a journey, as it is as in a relation between a man and a woman. It is a journey into the deep. We start to dip our toe in the ocean first, and then gradually, step by step, walk into the water. We gradually emerge deeper and deeper, sometimes shivering because of either fear or the different temperature, it takes a bit of time to get used to.
Eventually, if we persist, it reaches our neck and we are completely surrounded by the water. It is a process of deepening, slowly discovering what it is, having our being getting adjusted to the new temperature.
Now we are at the point in which we have to make a decisions, are we content with our bath, the joyful experience of the water around us, or do we want to even get deeper into it.
To only way to progress now is to start to swim and leave the firm ground behind us...

Through my relation I discovered what love is, I slowly walked into the water. I discovered the fullness of life by starting to know God, and my understanding deepened in a way through the experience of love. But then there was the point in which one has to start swimming, that there is a call to leave all behind and to put out into the deep. When God is perfect love, then only in God can the fullness of love been found!

I discovered that the reality of the relation with God can become that real that it is even surpassing the experience one can have in earthly relations. From them on I wanted that, I wanted to give myself completely to this, I wanted to give myself completely to Him. It was a moments realization, that this is what I am called for... to lay down my life for my Friend... to leave the firm ground behind, to sell everything and follow Him!

This is not something everybody experiences in this way or is called to off course. Jesus said to the man of whom he cast out the "legion" of demons "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." (Mar 5:19 RSV). It is a specific calling, not the ordinary, but the extra-ordinary.

However if one is called, it is an call we should answer. It is the call of love, to "sell all that you have [...] and come, follow me" (Lk 18:22 RSV). It is important that we listen to God in order to hear this call. However scary it might be, we should listen to His voice and trust Him. We have to let go and "Put out into the deep" (Lk 5:4 RSV). Whenever we do it, He will guide us, we can be convinced of that, and especially when we misunderstood Him...

This reflection, off course, might not mean anything to you. I guess the point I try to bring across is that in God is found the fullness of love. Everybody is called to this, but some are called in a more direct way. Don't get me wrong, if somebody is called and answers the call it is not suddenly an easy road. All vocations have their difficulties, and possibly one of the difficulties of the religious vocation is that the experience of this love is absent most of the time, but still it is there, and deep down we know that I think... it makes us breath, is makes us sigh, and it makes us want to spread the news... as love diffuses, it wants to share its love...

Total we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, a day dedicated to promotion of vocations. This day marks the end of the year dedicated to prayer for Vocations, in Ireland. The Dominicans have organized different events during the year to support this, being one of the them a day on which Fr. John Harris gave a talk on the Dominican Vocation which can be viewed by following this link . At the mass at 11:30am we will conclude the year... we give thanks to God for the year, and for his blessings.

I guess that the fruits of a year like this will only become apparent over time, as St. Paul tells us "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth" (1Co 3:6 RSV). I think, however, that we can be confident that God notices our labors, hears our prayer and will not disappoints us with the harvest. Regarding the Irish Dominicans, we will see in September... as the traditional day for the reception of the habit of the new Novices is the 14th of September...

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