Friday, 26 February 2010

This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him! (Luk 9:35)

The Gospel this week is from the Gospel of Luke 9:28-36. It is the Gospel of the Transfiguration. I would like to give a reflection on this Gospel in view of our Christian lives. During the Lenten period we can reflect on how our lives are going, and in what direction. The Gospel of the Transfiguration gives a lot of material of for reflection on the practical journey as a Christian, but also on our inward journey.

The Gospel starts with Jesus inviting Peter, John and James up a mountain to pray. Jesus is here inviting the three apostles to come with Him, to spend time alone. He is inviting them to deepen their relationship with Him. But in the same way Jesus invites us all to come to Him and deepen our relationship with Him. He is calling us all to a private communion and deeper communion and it is in prayer that we specifically meet Him.

He takes them up the mountain, not down to the beach... When Jesus invites us we still have to follow Him, and it will take time and effort. It is not necessarily in the way of  a struggle or an exhausting journey. It can be when in trying to follow God we start struggling with Him, this sometimes can be a side effect in our way of purification which can be quite heavy. But I think it always takes a bit of effort to follow God in the form of our Will. For most people, starting to follow Jesus, or following Him in general, always has a draw to the more, draw to the something deeper, and in order to continue this journey we often have to make little changes to our lives.

When they arrived up the mountain "as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white" (Luk 9:29 RSV). This is an experience which, some more than others, experience. Especially when we decide to start to follow God. If we decide to just give it a go and see where it would lead us. If we feel that there might be something in this whole message, if we are curious to examine it, God often gives little hints to show us the way. Later in the Christian life, as will become a bit clearer below, these occasions are less frequent, or seem to stop altogether. But in the beginning God often, but not always, gives us little invitations to seek His Face; God wants us to find Him, He is not trying to hide!

"Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him" (Luk 9:32 RSV) Maybe it is something like this to first encounter the full glory of God. I lived for twenty-one years without really realising that God existed, and when I woke from my slumbers and saw His radiance and His glory, I was dazzled... discovering what it really means can have this effect on anyone...

"Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah" (Luk 9:33 RSV) Peter said this while Moses and Elijah were leaving. He did not want them to leave, but wanted them to stay where they were, so the moment would last. Jesus, Moses and Elijah had been speaking "of [Jesus] departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem" (Luk 9:31 RSV). Peter did not want to leave the mountain and go back down  into the valley. Going down into the valley would not only lead back to the normal life but also meant to embark the way to Jerusalem and ultimately to the cross.

And this is often the case with ourselves as well, as well in our 'internal' lives as our 'external' lives. We like to stay on the mountain, stay on the 'high'. Once we profoundly encounter God, we like to keep this closeness with us, and linger on in it. When things are going well, we don't want to move on.

Finally with a lot of hard work we reached the top of the mountain and don't want to leave! But here we get the real message of Christianity, we are on a journey. It is not about being in an ecstasy, but it is a path to something deeper. If Jesus would have stayed on the mountain He would never have  been crucified, and He would never have redeemed us. The Christian message is a message of Hope, not a message of an easy life. However, the Gospel explains life and gives it meaning and reason. The reason is our eternal redemption which was exactly achieved by Jesus coming down from the mountain and going to the valley to go up to Jerusalem, and finally mounting the wood of the cross.

So in our spiritual lives good times come, when we are close to God, but also go and there are times when God does not seem as close, He 'feels' far away. But this is because this 'feeling' is often associated with a sensation. Our relationship is much deeper than sensations as we daily experience them. A married couple would vouch for after many living together for many years, the mutual attraction is not just a feeling. And it is the same with God, but with God it is even deeper than with human relations.

God's love moulds and forms us on a much deeper level, on a much deeper level which is beyond our direct perception. We are pilgrims on our way. We have a desire for God, and through Grace and Virtue we slowly grow closer and closer to God, and we notice over times that there is a deeper happiness and peace which is settling in the inmost secret place of our soul, something that cannot be shaken or changed by sensations and emotions.

There are also times when we think we are all lost, and these times can come very suddenly. The apostles with Jesus "were afraid as they entered the cloud" (Luk 9:34 RSV). But we have to remind ourselves that God is always there with us, whether we feel it or not. A close relation is not usually killed or destroyed in a short time. In these times, we should think of the voice saying "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" (Luk 9:35 RSV) and we should trust Him. Eventually we experience that  "Jesus was found alone" (Luk 9:36 RSV). At the end of all our bliss and turmoil He has always been there, and will always be.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Series of Lenten Talk on the: Dominican Spirituality

For the readers in Ireland, this Tuesday we will start the series of Lenten Talk on the: Dominican Spirituality aimed at for Young Adults (20-40 yr.).

The idea is to inform young people who are interested in the specific aspects of the Dominican Spirituality, and to explain why it is so relevant to the world. After Easter there will be a follow up for people interested in the shape of a prayer meeting to continue to walk on the path of St. Dominic.

The dates and topics are:

23 February:
- St. Dominic a man for today - Fr. John Harris OP
2 March:
- “To praise. To Bless.” Dominican Prayer - Fr. John Walsh OP
9 March:
- Intelligent faith, our faith deserves to be understood - Fr. Ciaran Dougherty
16 March:
- Sacra Predicanda (Holy Preaching): giving to others the fruits of our contemplation - Br. Luuk Jansen OP
23 March: 
- Living Dominican Spirituality as a lay person in the modern world - Geraldine Flanagan (Lay Dominicans)

The talks will be held @ 8:00 pm in: 
St. Catherine’s Chapel (entrance on Upper Dorset Street)
St. Saviour’s Dominican Priory
9-11 Upper Dorset Street
Dublin 1

See also the Event on Facebook for more information for those of you who are signed up to that.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Man shall not live by bread alone (Lk 4:4)

It is the first Sunday of Lent, and as such we read the Gospel passage in which Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, taken from the Gospel of Luke 4:1-13. "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit" (Luk 4:1 RSV). The Spirit leads Him into the wilderness and He remained "for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil" (Luk 4:2 RSV).

I think the first question we can as ourselves is why the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness?
I don't know if I can give the answer to the question, but I think we can learn something from the fact that the Spirit did. It shows that even being perfect here on earth, as God is perfect, does not mean that we do not have temptations or difficulties. Last Wednesday I wrote a small bit about the growing in virtue, and this Gospel passage shows that it is normal to have to work on ones dispositions in life, even if we could be as perfect as God.

The three temptations which the Devil brought forward, can be seen as very ordinary in ones life, and I will try in this reflection to highlight some small aspects of that and to give some material for further reflection.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Growing in Virtue

For a while now I am thinking about throwing something out regarding freedom and virtue. Then as it is Ash Wednesday today, and a suitable day to write something, I decided to finish this article with a twist towards the Gospel of Ash Wednesday.

Jesus in the Gospel is pointing out to us that we should not "sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites" (Mat 6:2 RSV) when we give alms, or when we fast or do acts of penance. The reason for fasting is not supposed to "be praised by men" (Mat 6:2 RSV). Instead the reason for fasting is to please God, and "your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Mat 6:4 RSV)

But this reason for fasting and pleasing God thing is something I would like to look at. Lent is a time to grow in holiness, a time to grow in closeness to God. A time in the desert, a time of searching, sometimes a time of loneliness. But in this time we can find God. But how does this work? I would like to give my view on how St. Thomas, building on Aristotle, sees it. It is something close to my heart, this positive way we see our assent to God. St. Dominic was not called "Preacher of Grace" for nothing; he preached the beauty of encountering God.

St. Thomas Aquinas is very strong on the point of growing in virtue.Our journey on earth is not just a painful experience in which we have to obey rules and regulations in order to go to Heaven. That view would rather paint a loving God in a very negative picture. Instead, our time here on earth is time in which we can freely choose to do good, and every time when we do good, with the help of Gods grace, we grow in virtue.

A virtue is the habitual, lasting, disposition towards the good (as a vice is a habitual disposition towards evil). The important thing about a habit is that it is a lasting disposition. Once we make a habit out of something, it is not easy, although not impossible, to break this habit. If we make a habit out of doing something good, this become part of what we do and who we are, and so we become good (or better). The more we grow in virtue, a habit towards something good, the more automatically we do the right things. And the more we do the right things, the closer we are to God, who is the ultimate good, and the closer to the real person we are meant to be. This subsequently results is being in a "habitual" way happier as well, a deeper happiness (or maybe some describe as peace), which is not tied up with our emotions but a steady disposition in life.

With the help of God, when we grow in virtue, our nature is changed to conform more closely to the nature of God. We are created in the image and likeness of God, but through our sins (and original sin), our natures become, in a sense, disfigured. We are not the people we are meant to be, which we could be depending on our decisions. So through life we have a chance to grow in virtue, and to make our natures closer again to what we are meant to be. Then at the end of our lives, our nature is closer to the nature of God, and it will be possible for us to (much easily) enter Heaven.

Does the above (although very brief) not make sense in a way? Compare it to Plato's idea that once we attain knowledge of 'the Good', we don't really do evil any more, only the good. Or Aristotle's teaching on the ethics from which Aquinas draws a lot.Virtue sets you free and moves you towards God by free choice. The more you ascent to God, to the Good, the more you grow in virtue, the more you want to do good. Once participated in the Good (or God) you don't want anything else.

In The Republic, Plato initially proposes the reign of a philosopher king. The philosopher king would be a philosopher who has ascended to the knowledge of the forms, and of the ultimate form the Good, and can then perfectly rule the world as he has knowledge of the full truth. The philosopher kings would have no properties or money so they could not be tempted by those things and would not hunger for power.

However, Plato probably realised towards the end of his life that this is not attainable and too idealistic. Even the best philosopher can only in this world progress so far, and as he has not fully seen the Good will be tempted by power and money etc. Therefore he started to write a work called The Laws to give a more ordered structure to reality which is lacking by the failure of a philosopher king.

But this is the point I wanted to apply to our modern world. The Truth sets you free, and the closer you are to the Truth, the closer you are to God. The more virtuous life you live, the more inclined you are to live a good life, and subsequently the happier you are. But the farther away we fall from the Truth, from God, the less inclined we are to do good. Therefore, if society morally falls away from virtue, it seems a logical reflection on the above that we need more and more laws in order to regulate society. And I think we can see this around us, definitely in the Netherlands, where more and more things are regulated. I find it sometimes comical that a lot of things are done in the name of freedom, but that because of it so many laws need to be created to make sure society keeps running smoothly...

So now try to get back to Lent. When we live a virtuous life we more or less turn water into wine, our nature is transformed from ordinary to extraordinary, and our life is enhanced. This is the way towards true happiness. During this time of Lent, by evaluating in which ways we could improve ourselves, and maybe making some sacrifices in order to help to strengthen our will and determination, it can be a good idea to reflect on this idea of growing in virtue (and to try and do it). An example sometimes given is the playing of the piano (although not everybody agrees it is a good example). When we try to create a virtue it can be hard work, and can be difficult. It will involve sacrifices, but this is where learning to play the piano comes in. You need hours and hours and hours to practice before you can play any decent piece of music, and that maybe even without really being able to enjoy it. It is only after a very long time that you master the art enough so you can really enjoy playing the most complicated pieces of music. The same with the virtuous life, it can take a lot of sacrifices and endurance, but it is worth it in the end!

I really think this is the Good News. God has come down and visited us; He has shown us the way. God is actively involved in our lives and gives us grace so that our natures can become more like Him, so that we can become more and more again the image and likeness in which we are created....

So finally, "your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Mat 6:4 RSV) The reason for us to undertake penance and self-sacrifice during Lent is not meant to show others how good we are, or to just do it of a habit or a feeling of obligation; The reason is to grow in virtue, and to grow closer to God. God is our final end, our aim for eternity, and all our action should in some way be directed towards Him.

Friday, 12 February 2010

You shall be satisfied. (Luk 6:21)

This weeks Gospel is taken from Luke 6:17,20-26. Jesus is standing at a plane and the crowds of people are gathering around Him. What struck me in the first line is that the people did not only come to be healed, but actually "came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases" (Luk 6:17 RSV).

I think both aspects are interesting in some way. In one way I have often thought that the people were following Jesus because he healed them. He gave them some instant fix and it was worth to travel the whole way as He "healed them all" (Luk 6:19 RSV)

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch (Luk 5:4 RSV)

The Gospel this week is taken from chapter 5 of St. Luke's Gospel (Lk 5:1-11). Jesus is at the lake of Gennesaret and speaking to the people. A large crowd has gathered around Him: "[the] people pressed upon him to hear the word of God" (Lk 5:1).

There is a general line we can find in the Gospels - generally when a crowd is mentioned we find the people pressing around Jesus, eager to hear the Word of God. I think the interesting thing is that I think nothing really changed... I was at a talk given by Fr. Paul Murray OP last Thursday, an excellent talk on St. Thomas Aquinas and his contemplative life. At the end of the talk there was a bit of time for questions and one comment made was that "we should hear this stuff more often" and "that we usually don't hear this". From that point of view nothing has changed over the centuries, we are eager to hear the truth and it is hard to get to hear it, but we as humans are always yearning for the true Word of God.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Youth 2000 Christmas Retreat 2009

Below is a video which gives an impression of the Youth 2000 Christmas Retreat which was held last December in Newbridge College. Youth 2000 organises regional retreats for young people on a regular basis, as well as the Christmas retreat just before Christmas and the Youth Festival in August. Please visit the website of Youth 2000 for more information!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Series of Lenten Talks: Dominican Spirituality for Young Adults

During lent there will be a series of Lenten Talk on the: Dominican Spirituality aimed at for Young Adults (20-40 yr.).

The idea is to inform young people who are interested in the specific aspects of the Dominican Spirituality, and to explain why it is so relevant to the world. After the series of talks are finished there will be a follow up for people interested in the shape of a prayer meeting to continue to walk on the path of St. Dominic.


The dates and topics are:

23 February - St. Dominic a man for today
2 March -“To praise. To Bless.” Dominican Prayer
9 March - Intelligent faith, our faith deserves to be understood
16 March - Sacra Predicanda (Holy Preaching): giving to others the fruits of our contemplation
23 March - Living Dominican Spirituality as a lay person in the modern world

The talks will be held @ 8:00 pm in: 
St. Catherine’s Chapel (entrance on Upper Dorset Street)
St. Saviour’s Dominican Priory
9-11 Upper Dorset Street
Dublin 1

Articles

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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