Thought for the Week – Hope is the most essential quality for our future as a species

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The message of Easter is one of hope
and not just hope in some distant utopia or fulfilment in an after- life.
It is the conviction that our world and my life
has meaning and is guided
and not simply at the mercy of chance
or the invisible hand of crude economics.
Hope leavens the life of a believer – and permeates every aspect
of  our life as planetary, cosmic creatures.
It acts as an antidote to desperation and helps us to keep our feet moving forward facing the future with courage.
We are not talking about optimism.
Optimism is about  the future- how we would
like things to turn out – how we would like to win the lotto.
It is a desire for things to be different.
Hope is about now, this present moment -it is the conviction
that there is meaning now despite what it might look like – that
something is worth doing however it turns out.
It allows us to give up trying to control everything in our lives
which can so inhibit our vision of a larger possibility and
it means we don’t have to exhaust ourselves trying to mint significance
every moment of  every day.
Hope is the most essential quality for our future as a species
because without hope none of us would
even believe in the possibility of a different world,
let alone work towards it…
St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians says, “My death defying ‘no’ to despair and my life affirming ‘yes’ to seemingly insurmountable problems in the midst of my life are both animated by hope in the invincible might of the risen Jesus and in the immeasurable scope of his power in us who believe”. (Eph 1:19) 
A friend once said to me, “of all my possessions be that material, spiritual or relational, the only one I pray I never lose is hope”.
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Thought for the Week – St Thomas Christians

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There are religious communities called St Thomas Christians. They claim to be founded by St Thomas in the first century and live in Southern India, on the Malabar Coast. That country was once under the sea. Following the Hindu tradition, Parasarama, sixth Avatar of Vishnu, threw his axe across the ocean, and the waters receded as far as his axe was thrown. The land which then rose from the water was fertile and lush. There was a community of Jews in that part of India in the first century, so it is possible that an Aramaic speaking Jew called Thomas might have visited.

Whether it is true or not, many of us could call ourselves ‘St Thomas Christians’ also, not because of the place we live, but because of the times we live in. We share his doubts and admire his cheekiness. ‘Unless I see the nail marks, and put my hand into His side, I will never believe’ [John 20: 28]. Many of us today would say, ‘Good on you, Thomas, I couldn’t have put it better myself.’

And there is another moment in the Gospels where Thomas stands up for us, and forces an answer from the Almighty which could have been left unsaid if it wasn’t for his impertinence. At the Last Supper Jesus is doing his best to console his followers who are apprehensive about his leaving them:  ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, he says, you believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many mansions; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.’ And then the bold Thomas chirps up : ‘we haven’t the faintest notion where you’re going, so how on earth could we know the way?’ And so we get one of the most important answers ever given to human beings: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and you have seen him’[John 14]. In other words, don’t listen to a single word you hear about God. Most of what you hear are fearful rumours, or libellous accusations, from people who must never have read the Bible. The only truth about God which we can rely on is what Jesus Christ said and did when he came here on earth. He did everything in his power, even giving up his own life, to let us know that God is love, that God loves each and every one of us.

As St Thomas Christians, it is not enough to hear this and say ‘My Lord  and my God;’ it is not enough to believe in the resurrection for someone else. We have to feel it, touch it, believe it for ourselves, at this moment in our lives, and not at some moment in the distant future. We have to throw our axe as far as we can and drag the world around us into blossoming fertility. That is what baptism and resurrection are all about: crawling out of the water and standing up tall on dry land. We have to live as people of the resurrection, as people who source their lives from the energy of Divine love; energy which we receive daily from an ever-loving God, and most especially through the Eucharist, this blood-transfusion which are now celebrating. We are a resurrected people and Alleluia is our song.  ‘Blessed are you, Thomas, because you saw and you believed: thanks to you, we are even more blessed who have, because of your dogged determination, also believed.’ We now live, in the light of your message, which is the Gospel  –  the best of all possible news: Christ is alive, Christ is risen from the dead, and so are we. Alleluia.

From a Homily by Mark Patrick Hederman for Low Sunday 2017.

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Thought for the Week – the changing flash of the kingfisher’s wing

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The Gospel of Mark portrays the disciples as unaware, failing to pick up the clues and nudges they were given: they don’t get it – and fail to recognise Him.

The kingfisher flashes past them and Peter or someone  (usually Peter) turns round and says, ‘Oh, I missed that!’.

In contrast, John’s Gospel presents a steady accumulation of moments of recognition and realisation from the moment ( right after the first sign in Cana)  when the disciples see his glory’ (John 2:11) and begin to understand.

In the Gospel of Luke we have the growing recognition of Jesus after the resurrection but it takes time. We have the two disciples on the road to Emmaus gradually understanding the new form of presence they encountered, recognising him at the breaking of bread.

Jesus clearly wants us to be alert, full of expectation and wonder – listening  to the words, watching with a degree of inner stillness that allows the unexpected world- the changing flash of the kingfisher’s wing to occur and startle us.

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Thought for the Week – Be kind, for everyone is carrying a heavy burden

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One of the characteristics of holy people, according to Rowan Williams, ‘is that they make you feel better than you are’. A holy person enlarges your world, shines a light on your world and changes the landscape of your life  – they help you to open up.
Saint Benedict had a similar intuition when he condemned murmuring – negativity. In chapter 34  of his rule he states,  ‘Above all let not the evil of murmuring appear for any reason whatsoever in the least word or sign. If anyone is caught at it, let him be placed under very severe discipline’.  I find it fascinating that in 480 he identified this as the ‘most serious sin in community’
When we speak, Benedict wants us to speak words that give life, that are creative of the other. For Benedict, this is the heart of the moral life.  I read somewhere the simple thought, ’Be kind, for everyone is carrying a heavy burden’.
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Thought for the Week – Control must always be partial and temporary

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Giving up control, even just a tiny bit, would still be an admirable gesture even in this late stage of Lent. I use control to order and structure my life. I like to be in control of my life and feel more comfortable when this is the case.

But too much control is unhelpful as I become trapped in the protective program that I build around myself.  As John O’Donohue suggests, “this can put you outside many of the blessings destined for you. Control must always be partial and temporary.”

When I am in pain or at the time of death, I will have to relinquish control so it is best to start practicing now. When you do begin to let go, even just a little, it is amazing how enriched your life becomes.

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Thought for the Week – Birdwatching

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Prayer as birdwatching.

I love the image of prayer used by Rowan Williams – prayer as birdwatching. Anyone who has spent time trying to watch birds knows how patient you have to be – but you also need to be still and alert, ready for the unexpected – not too tense but on your toes, poised and ready to receive the extra- ordinary.

And you may have to wait for hours and see nothing at all and then suddenly you may be surprised. But you must be attentive and full of expectancy. Prayer is living with this sort of intensity and  also nurturing that delicate instinct that responds to the slightest movement of God’s love in our lives –  to the nudge from the spirit.

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Thought for the Week – Can we recover this vision?

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What outstanding characteristics would a person require to become the new Saint Patrick?
First – he will have to be a person of deep prayer. Karl Rahner has repeatedly warned , “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.”  People don’t want to know more about God – they want an experience of God.  He will need to understand that the churches emphasis on the world and social needs must  be complemented by the cultivation of the inner mystical life.
Patrick was a mystic – a man of profound prayer – he knew his God.  He prayed about anything and everything . He prayed everywhere and nowhere and no activity was devoid of the sacred.   “In a single day I prayed as often as a hundred times and by night almost as frequently, even while I was in the woods or on the mountain.”
Second – he would need to have courage, persistence and be a good listener  -courage because the problem he faces is not the ferocity of the pagan Druids of Patrick’s day but the apathy of a people whose spiritual faculties have been dulled by the false gods of consumerism and technology.
Persistent because he will be dealing with the disillusioned – those who struggle to locate spiritual feelings in the rituals and theological forms on offer.  Many of these have already headed East, or committed themselves to environmental and social concerns because they feel that the living spirit is not present in established churches.
But the good news for our new recruit is that the spirit hasn’t gone away, and is present in our world  – something new is emerging from the chaos. He will need to be a good listener to hear what the spirit and indeed what Patrick is saying to the churches.
Third his theology, if it is to have an impact, will have to be embodied, physical and centred on creation.
For Patrick “the universe was ablaze with God’s glory, suffused with his presence that calls, nods and beckons us – a creation personally united with its Creator in every atom and fibre.”
There’s no plant in the ground
But is full of his blessing.
There’s no thing in the sea
But is full of his life…
There is nought in the sky
But proclaims his goodness.
Jesu! O Jesu! it’s good to praise thee! – (Carmina Gadelica)
Can we recover this vision? This is a big challenge for any new recruit as we are the first generation to have forgotten that we live on a planet – forgotten that we are creatures, part of creation and ‘every bush a burning bush’ – nature our teacher and all times and places are potentially sacred and not just church designated times and spaces.
We live beneath a sacred canopy and there are sparks of  holiness in everything and everywhere and the old heroic manner of pitting ourselves against nature must give way to one which fosters receptivity, care and openness to the mystery of creation.

So our new Patrick has much to do. He or maybe she, will recognise that the changes needed require a conversion of Pauline dimensions  and much prayer and patience.

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Thought for the Week – A New Saint Pat

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At one time our major export  in Ireland was people –  today our primary export is computer software. In the past, we exported spirituality, particularly Celtic Spirituality much of it inspired by Patrick. We all know how in the Dark Ages, Irish Missionaries left Ireland, spread through Europe  and ‘saved civilisation.’

 

We seem to be back in those Dark Ages -lost and in need of a new Patrick but not the Patrick I grew up with – that bearded patriarch standing on a bed of shamrock and wearing a huge mitre and wielding a crosier – a full Tridentine bishop, busy driving out snakes and annihilating pagans. He represented the church of that day…..

Today he is viewed more as a commercial opportunity  – Tourism Ireland tells us that ‘St Patrick’s Day is a unique and unrivalled opportunity to promote Ireland worldwide.’
And the Taj Mahal, Niagara Falls, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the EmpireStateBuilding, will all go green. In Chicago the river will be turned green. Dyeing the river green, came about by accident when plumbers used green dye to trace illegal substances polluting the river – it killed the fish too.  Today, you will be glad to hear, a vegetable dye is used to protect the gold fish that live in the river.
Maybe we should admit that we are in trouble, back in the Dark Ages and use this world wide day of publicity to advertise for a new Saint Pat – after all the original was a migrant from England.
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Thought for the Week – Our major false God – technology.

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Fasting is not just abstaining from food – it could be abstaining from bitching, bullying, name calling – it could be fasting from our most common addiction – our major false God – technology.

And we are all addicts – How hard is it for  you to resist the tug of the ping when the email or text lands in your inbox?

No one is saying we have to give up technology or go and live in a cave, free of wifi – technology is not the problem – it is our relationship with it that is the problem – how we use it – we have to find freedom in technology not from technology.

Lent is an opportunity to do something about our addictions – a ‘tech detox’ or even some more disciplined approach to technology and thereby create some space for the other – and begin again to experience life first hand.

This would create some down time, some silence, quieten our restless monkey minds, provide space and time to catch up with ourselves – to catch up with our spirits…..

A man set out to explore Africa and he was in a hurry so he hired four Africans to help him.

They set off at speed and raced on for three days.

The third day, the Africans sat down and refused to move.

He told them to get going as he had only two days left finish his journey.

They refused to move.

He couldn’t understand them.

He offered them more money but no good.

Finally he asked them what was going on?

The senior among spoke up,  ‘We have moved too quickly

– we have to sit down and give our spirits time to catch up with us.’

It was Blaise Pascal who said that:

“All of humanity’s problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” 

If he were writing today, he might have added, ‘and with all technology turned off!

 

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Thought for the Week – The number forty is symbolic

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The number 40 occurs something like 146 times in the Bible.  Moses and the Israelites spent 40 years in the desert preparing to enter the promised land. Elijah went without food or water for 40 days at Mount Horeb. And Jesus spent 40 days and nights fasting in the desert.  And from Wednesday we are invited to spend 40 days preparing for Easter.
When we come across a recurring number like this, we do well to remember something a friend of mine told me, ‘the point is not that the ancient authors gave us literal texts or numbers that we were intelligent enough to interpret symbolically but rather they gave us symbolic stories that we are often stupid enough to interpret literally .
The number forty is symbolic – it indicates a time of testing, of training. The training we need is to help us to escape from our own slavery in Egypt  or where ever our Egypt happens to be  – the discipline we need to help us break free of our addictions.
Addictions mean we live by proxy- they are the false gods we worship and they drain our energy. And we have an ever increasing number of them – nicotine, drugs, work, even exercise can become an addiction.  Lent is a time when we can try to confront our addictions.
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