Friday, 31 May 2013

Feast of the Visitation

1) Opening prayer

Lord our God, loving Father,
Mary went with haste to visit
her cousin Elizabeth in her hour of need.
May we too rejoice in the Lord
when we can hurry to see people
to bring them the Lord
as we to share in their needs and their joys.
With Mary, may we become
a blessing to them.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

2) Gospel Reading - Luke 1,39-56

Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah. She went into Zechariah's house and greeted Elizabeth.

Now it happened that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, 'Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? Look, the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.'

And Mary said:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour; because he has looked upon the humiliation of his servant. Yes, from now onwards all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name, and his faithful love extends age after age to those who fear him.

He has used the power of his arm, he has routed the arrogant of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and raised high the lowly.
He has filled the starving with good things, sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his faithful love
-according to the promise he made to our ancestors -- of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.

Mary stayed with her some three months and then went home.

3.) Reflection

• Today is the Feast of the Visitation of the Virgin, and the Gospel narrates the visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. When Luke speaks of Mary, he thinks of the communities of his time which lived dispersed in the cities of the Roman Empire and offers to them, Mary as a model of how they should relate to the Word of God. Once, hearing Jesus speak about God, a woman in the crowd exclaimed: “Blessed the womb that bore you and the breasts that fed you”, praising the mother of Jesus. Immediately Jesus answered: “More blessed still are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Lk 11, 27-28). Mary is the model of the faithful community which knows how to live and practice the Word of God. In describing the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, he teaches how the communities should act in order to transform the visit of God into service of the brother and sisters.

• The episode of the visit of Mary to Elizabeth also shows another typical aspect of Luke. All the words and the attitudes, especially the Canticle of Mary, form a great celebration of praise. It seems to be a description of a solemn Liturgy. Thus, Luke evokes the liturgical and celebrative environment, in which Jesus was formed and in which the communities should live their own faith.

• Luke 1, 39-40: Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Luke stresses the haste with which Mary responds to the demands of the Word of God. The Angel spoke to her about the pregnancy of Elizabeth and Mary, immediately, rises in order to verify what the Angel had announced, she goes out of the house to help a person in need. From Nazareth to the mountain of Judah there are about 100 kilometres! There were no buses or trains!

• Luke 1, 41-44: The greeting of Elizabeth. Elizabeth represents the Old Testament which ends. Mary, the New One which is beginning. The Old Testament welcomes, accepts the New One with gratitude and trust, recognizing in it the gratuitous gift of God which comes to realize and to complete whatever expectation people had. In the encounter of the two women, is manifested the gift of the Spirit which makes the child jump with joy in Elizabeth’s womb. The Good News of God reveals his presence in one of the most common things of human life: two housewives who exchange the visit to help one another. A visit, joy, pregnancy, children, reciprocal help, house, family: Luke wants to make the communities (and all of us) understand and discover the presence of the Kingdom. The words of Elizabeth, up until now, form part of the best known and most recited Psalm in the world, which is the Hail Mary.

• Luke 1, 45: The praise which Elizabeth makes of Mary. “Blessed is she who believed that the promise made by the Lord would be fulfilled”. This is Luke’s advice to the communities: to believe in the Word of God, because it has the force to realize what it says. It is a creative Word. It generates a new life in the womb of a virgin, in the womb of the poor and abandoned people who accept it with faith.

• Luke 1, 46-56: The canticle of Mary. Most probably, this canticle was already known and sung in the Communities. It teaches how it should be prayed and sung. Luke 1, 46-56: Mary begins proclaiming the change which has come about in her life under the loving look of God, full of mercy. This is why she sings joyfully: “My spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour”. Luke 1, 51-53: she sings the fidelity of God toward his people and proclaims the change which the arm of Yahweh is bringing about in behalf of the poor and the hungry. The expression “arm of God” recalls the liberation of the Exodus. It is this saving force of God which gives life to the change: he has routed the arrogant of heart (1, 51), he has pulled down princes from their thrones and raised high the lowly (1, 52), he has sent the rich away empty, and has filled the starving with good things (1, 53). Luke 1, 54-55: at the end, she recalls that all that is the expression of God’s mercy toward his people and an expression of his fidelity to the promises made to Abraham. The Good News is not a response to the observance of the Law, but the expression of the goodness and the fidelity of God to the promises made. That is what Paul taught in the letters to the Galatians and to the Romans.

The second Book of Samuel tells the story of the Ark of the Covenant. David wants to put in his own house, but he is frightened and says: “How can the Ark of Yahweh come to be with me?” (2 S 6, 9). Then David ordered that the Ark be placed in the house of Obed-Edom. And the Ark of Yahweh remained three months in the house of Obed-Edom, and the Lord blessed Obed-Edom and his whole family” (2 S 6, 11). Mary, waiting for Jesus, is like the Ark of the Covenant which, in the Old Testament, visited the houses of the persons granting benefits. She goes to Elizabeth’s house and remained there three months. And while she is in Elizabeth’s house, the whole family is blessed by God. The community should be like the New Ark of the Covenant. Visiting the house of the persons, it should take benefits and the grace of God to the people.

4) Personal questions

• What prevents us from discovering and living the joy of God’s presence in our life?

• Where and how does the joy of the presence of God take place today in my life and in that of the community?

5) Concluding Prayer

Bless the Lord, my soul, from the depths of my being,
his holy name;
bless Yahweh, my soul,
never forget all his acts of kindness. (Ps 103,1-2)

Source: Order of Carmelites

Friday, 24 May 2013

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity

Our blogger is away this weekend for a wedding. Thus we have a reflection for Sunday’s feat a wee bit early.

Please pray for Toby and Jenni who will celebrate the Sacrament of Marriage with each other on this splendid feast.

A topic that will strike fear in the heart of preachers is the Trinity. We experience a real poverty of language when we come to trying to give insights into mystery. Maybe we try too hard. Maybe we try to explain mystery and then get frustrated when words aren’t enough. But we know something of this mystery because we experience something of it. Let me try and explain

The Trinity is not some kind of intellectual speculation by scholars. It is the way we experience God in this world. To “go to church and be good to each other” is the Trinity in action!

First, long ago, human beings learned that there is only one God, and that he “takes delight in the human race.” Think of the many, many stories in the Old Testament about God’s pursuit of us, his labouring to make a loving and holy covenant with us: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Like a marriage agreement.

Well, God became, by turns, angry, hurt, delighted, spurned, glorified, ignored, praised and rejected. Yet he kept coming back and back to renew the covenant. God's love remained steadfast.

Then we found out that God’s nature had always had another component. God had not been alone or lonely, like a rock in the desert. His very nature has always been to relate to others, to “pour himself forth,” as the First Reading puts it, and to receive back. The “Second Person” has been at one with the “First Person” for all eternity.

This Second Person, the Word, was made flesh. We saw him. Jesus laughed and cried and preached and turned over tables and cured people, and was loyal to his friends even to the end. “Everything that the Father has is mine,” he said (Gospel). That’s how we knew he was The Word and the Word was God.

Then came a third revelation about the Trinity. Jesus hints about it in the Gospel: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” In other words, our small souls would burst with the greatness of God—unless part of God ‘gentled’ himself down and began to dwell within us, to guide our understanding. So Jesus promised to pour out the Holy Spirit into us.

Jesus tells us that the Spirit is God. “Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he [God the Spirit] will take from what is mine and declare it to you.”

Do you get the logic? Everything the Father has belongs to the Word. Everything that Jesus the Word has belongs to the Spirit. Thus, the Spirit is the third part of God, and that Spirit bestows us and the whole earth back upon the Father, thus closing the circle.

What aliveness, what movement there is in God: speaking, reaching out, flowing forth, receiving back. God is liquid motion, a dynamism in which everything is changing always, yet remains always secure because it is rooted in love—because it is love. We are invited into that circle of love.

Too theoretical? Allow me to put it more simply. Do you suffer? God invites you meld that pain into the Trinity’s unending love. Do you lack hope? The Christ who rose from death is within you. Are you abandoned? Remember that the one God in three persons embraces you with tender affection and asks you to melt into his arms.

Happy Feast! 


Thursday, 23 May 2013

A letter from the General Councils of the Order of Carmelites and the Order of Discalced Carmelites

In this Year of Faith, we, the members of the two General Councils OCarm. and OCD, came on pilgrimage to Aylesford, England. This is a significant place for the entire Carmelite Family. In fact, in this place, where we are writing this message to you on the feast of St. Simon Stock, are the remains of the ancient Carmelite house which was founded in 1242 by some of the pilgrim-hermits from Mount Carmel. Their return to Europe from the Holy Land, their gradual move from an eremitical life to a mendicant one, their experience of God and above all, their humble and fraternal trust in Mary in a period of cultural crisis, were for us all a source of inspiration. They also gave us pause for thought in rethinking our mission for today’s world – the topic to which we devoted most of our working sessions. In these we were guided by Father Benito De Marchi, a Comboni Missionary.

At Aylesford we were the guests of the local community of OCarm. friars, to whom we wish to express our heartfelt thanks for their warm and attentive welcome. This was a time of prayer, of brotherhood, of meditation, during which we also experienced two significant ecumenical events. We celebrated First Vespers of Sunday with our Anglican brothers in the ancient cathedral of Rochester (founded in 604 ad). The second event was a meeting in Cambridge with Lord Rowan Williams, emeritus archbishop of Canterbury, a subtle theologian and very considerable expert in Carmelite spirituality and saints. These two meetings in prayer and theological reflection helped us to understand that mission today has to be carried out in close co-operation with other Christian groups, in a spirit of ecumenical openness.

From our pilgrimmage to the origins of Carmel in Europe has emerged the humble conviction that this epoch, characterised by globalisation, by mobility in all directions, by the eruption in our lives of the “other”, by the affirmation of the value of the “subject”and by the loss of a sense of God, requires a new missionary spirit. That is, it needs a heart which is more evangelical and less sure of itself. In fact what we wish to share with others is not the world views nor the attitudes of our old self, but a new humanity which the Father has given to us as a gift, through his Son who died and rose and which is constantly shaped by the Holy Spirit. In his much appreciated address to the Synod of Bishops in October 2012, Rowan Williams referring to Saint Edith Stein, called this new humanity “contemplative”.

Taking up this expression, with its typically Carmelite flavour, we tried to describe in our reflections a humanity which forgets itself, in silence and is free from the tiring search for personal satisfaction and from the claim to make others happy by imposing our ideas and projects on them. This new humanity, turned towards the Father, can see all people, and especially the poor, the marginalised and the suffering, with eyes full of compassion. This is a welcoming humanity, ready to undertake a continual pilgrimage together with women and men of our time in order to find the way that brings us more deeply into the heart of Trinitarian life.

It is impossible for us to imagine this new humanity without “freeing the charism for a new lease of life” (Benito De Marchi). That is, without freeing its contemplative and missionary potential from all shallowness, hubris and selfishness, which prevent it from seeing Trinitarian love and close inside a self-referential cycle.

On a more positive note, freeing the charism means experiencing the Trinitarian relations of the fraternal and community life more vividly. It means rediscovering evangelical joy and enjoying the taste of unity and simplicity which exist between the Father, the Son and the Spirit. In this way we can bear witness to them in every time and place, in every context where we are sent.

In all this Mary the Mother of God, and our Mother, accompanies us. For Carmelites she is a sublime model of humanity listening to the Word and of contemplating the living God. She is the supreme contemplative, who nonetheless approaches each one of us to be a pilgrim with us. She embraces us with her maternal and fraternal love and lights in our hearts the flame of love. Poor and humble, with the simple sign of the scapular she protects this flame in our fragile human bodies and changes it into burning passion for evangelisation and mission. Her discreet but eloquent presence in our life means that those who wear the scapular are called to commit themselves to loving their neighbour. In this sense the Virgin of Carmel has been called “Missionary to the people”. (Oscar Romero)

Dear brothers and sisters, we leave Aylesford with a renewed awareness of the gift of our vocation and of the mission that is connected to it. The Risen Lord invites us not to be afraid of the difficulties we will meet and not to be discouraged when faced with the inevitable trials and possible failures. There is in all of us, insignificant and poor as we are a stronger force which has conquered the world. It is the force of the Father’s love for us, the force of his Word and his Spirit which drives us towards the world and opens us to all those that the Lord puts in our path. Many women and men are waiting for us, expecting that the family of Carmel will show our God’s tenderness to them. May the Lord help us not to dash their hopes!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

May, the Rosary and Discernment

Discernment isn’t easy. In my own experience discerning my call to the Carmelites, there were many emotions and unconscious attachments that came up for me over the years and threatened to derail my vocation—including my feelings of obligation to my family, my feelings of self-worth, and my fear of being judged and mis-understood. During the process of letting go of the old plan for my life and considering the new life of a religious, I experienced all the stages of grief and loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, while at the same time feeling a inexorable drive to keep pursuing the call, hoping one day it would lead to someplace after all. 

Looking back over my discernment, I wished there was something to help me walk through some of that confusion. On one of my hour-long walks home from work, it came to me. I was praying the rosary and in an instant of clarity I could see that Mary had already walked this vocation path better than anyone. As I prayed the Joyous Mysteries that night, swerving around blind corners through the park to get back home, it became clear that in her hidden life with Jesus, Mary left us a sort of model of the process of discernment, with Jesus being the personification of her vocation. I hope this Discernment Survival Guide will help others who are discerning the big “V” vocational call to a particular state of life in the Church or the small “v” call to make a decision that will change the course of their life.

First Joyous Mystery: “The Annunciation” aka “Just Say Yes, Let God Do the Rest”

Any spiritual calling is unsettling. It is invariably a call to change, to move out of one’s comfort zone. For me, this was the worst part. I felt like I had to respond, that this call was from God and that it was the most important thing in my life and yet, I didn’t know exactly what God was calling me to do. I spent a lot of time agonizing over what the call meant, what I was supposed to do, and how and when I was supposed to do it once I figured it all out. It took me a long time to discover that my role in the discernment process is just to say yes, to be willing to take the next step in humility and joy, just as Mary did when she proclaims her beautiful Fiat, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38). Just like Mary at the Annunciation, I am not meant to see the whole picture. I am only asked to be willing to put myself at the service of God’s call as it presents itself to me in that moment. Any vocation from God is a cause for celebration. No matter how large or small the issue being discerned, the fact that God has moved us is a powerful sign of His presence and love and, above all, His sense of humour.

Second Joyous Mystery: “The Visitation” aka “Don’t Go It Alone”

Mary sharing her vocation with Elizabeth

What is the first action Mary takes after she learns she is to be the Mother of God? She takes to the road, to visit her cousin Elizabeth (Lk 1:39). At their meeting, Mary again expresses her humility and joy at God’s gift of vocation in her Magnificat, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my saviour. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Lk 1:46-49). Most important for my discernment was the confirmation she receives from Elizabeth in the leaping of John the Baptist in Elizabeth’s womb and her exclamation, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk 1:45) . I found out by trial and error that a huge part of the discernment process is talking to others about it and sharing it with a variety of people with different vantage points: friends, family, my parish priest, other priests and religious, Vocation Directors, co-workers, unbelievers, whoever will listen. My first instinct was to keep my vocation call to myself, to protect it, afraid that others would not understand it or would reject it. Of course, all that happened and it was all good for me to hear. It forced me to constantly remind myself to let go. God is in control, and He will speak to me through both positive and negative feedback, but I have to be willing to share my call in humility and see it as a gift from God that must be given away order to be truly received.

Third Joyous Mystery: “The Nativity” aka “In God’s Time, Not Yours”

I can imagine the anxiety Mary and Joseph must have felt as Mary approached her labour with no lodging (Lk 2:7). After the announcement that Mary would give birth to the Son of God, it must have seemed to both of them like they had taken a wrong turn somewhere, that maybe Mary had misunderstood the call. At many points in my discernment and even now, it often looks as if my life is headed in the opposite direction from what I am discerning to be God’s intention for me. Rather than second guess my discernment, I have learned to assume that the call is correct and that the circumstances of my life just haven’t caught up to it yet. Mary’s vocation to be the Mother of God started in the unlikeliest of places: a manger in Bethlehem. This was God’s intent all along, not an oversight but a fulfilment, a part of a larger providential plan that is difficult to see when you are living it out on the ground. I have to constantly try to step away from my circumstances to see as God sees, not from my blind-corner perspective in space and time, but in the grand trajectory of God’s love and mercy that unfolds gradually over a lifetime of saying yes to his invitations.

Fourth Joyous Mystery: “The Presentation” aka “Don’t Get Cold Feet”

Mary offering her vocation to God

Mary has given birth to Jesus, the personification of her vocation as the Mother of God. She has nurtured Jesus, protected Him, spoke to Him, and watched Him grow in her arms. The message of an angel becomes the reality of a baby and the time has come in a wonderfully numinous moment to formally present the Son of God to God the Father (Lk 2:22). A similar moment occurred in my vocation. In each conversation with a Vocation Director, every email and lunch meeting, and every visit to a community to “come and see”, my vocation gradually stopped being an idea and started to take shape as a way of life, a decision and action I could take that would shape the course of my life and my growth as a person. Finally, with the Carmelites, that action became concrete, an invitation to submit my application to the Order. That moment is exciting and terrifying at the same time. Discernment tells me what I am called to do, but only I can agree to do it. God will not force me to answer His call; such is his love and respect for my dignity as His child that He will never give me “an offer I can’t refuse”. He only invites and waits for me to respond. It is up to me to decide if it will be love or fear that will drive my response.

Fifth Joyous Mystery: “Finding in the Temple” aka “Leave the Results to God”

When Mary and Joseph “lose” Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem, it is easy to imagine how frantic they would be and how powerless they must have felt (Lk 2: 43-45). How will they ever find a little boy amidst the thousands that have come to worship and trade throughout the city? It is reasonable to assume that they might even have blamed themselves for losing the Son of God, their vocation, who was entrusted to them to protect. I see this mystery as a warning for me to remember that even when I say yes to my vocation; it does not mean that everything that follows will necessarily be a happy ending. There will be countless times when I “lose” my vocation; it may seem that I have made the wrong decision because things are not going as I thought they would or because things don’t seem to be going at all. I have to remember that because my vocation comes from God it will always return to God, just as Jesus, Mary’s vocation, did in returning to the Temple (Lk 2:49). Regardless of how my vocation plays out in the end, once I say yes to it, the living out of my decision is always I gift that I am giving back to God, for His own purposes, according to His own design.
Happy praying!

Sunday, 19 May 2013


For Fifty Days we have lived and breathed the miracle of Easter/Pentecost. Hopefully we have understood better than ever before that this is not just a spectacular episode of Salvation History that happened a long time ago but that it still touches us all with its reverberations. Throughout the Easter Season, we have listened to John's account of Jesus' final discourse to his apostles at the Last Supper - reminding them: "I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you." For John the connection between the Resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit was so intimately connected that his account of Pentecost occurs on Easter Sunday night:

"Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." (Jn 20:19-23)
The first Pentecost brought excitement, passion, and courage to the Christian community. It completed their sense of identity and clarified their mission. Most importantly, it filled them with power, assured them of the strength they would need to witness to the Gospel, to overcome the spirit of the world, to drive away the darkness of sin and evil.

In the experience of this indwelling Spirit, the first Christians discovered joy and peace. The Spirit provided for all of their needs. It satisfied their deepest hungers and longings. It gave them a reason to live and a reason to die. It filled them with abiding hope, and assured them of final victory and fullness of life with the Risen Lord. But the passionate enthusiasm brought about by the Spirit did not remove human frailty or prejudice. Discerning where the Spirit leads us has always been a difficult task - from our Church's earliest beginnings right up to the present time - especially for a pilgrim people in a pilgrim Church. For so long we have been content with viewing our faith as a kind of spectator sport; it has now become a contact sport, and we find ourselves right in the middle of things.
The Christian community has always been seen as the Spirit-guided bearer of the Word of Salvation. We must know that for us as a people of faith, Easter/Pentecost is now. It is the continuing invitation from our God for an ongoing, ever new encounter with Him and with others. Like the first disciples, we have seen the marks of the nails in the hands and feet of Jesus - in the suffering of those who live their lives in oppression, through the trial and pain of those around us, and through the insult and prejudice that we sometimes feel in our own lives because of our faith. And like the first disciples, we hear the voice of Jesus offering us peace. We, too, are sent by the Spirit to bring forgiveness, to bring comfort and joy, and to proclaim that peace, which we, ourselves, have so graciously been given. 

So Pentecost is not just a feast - it is the "soul" of Christianity. It is the unending miracle of God's love poured out in the hearts of believers. It is the abiding power source of Gospel living. In the face of a Church in transition we might be tempted to sit back passively and let this feast go unnoticed. But we cannot and must not be passive. We cannot resist change, but welcome it, foster it. Above all, we must not fear the movements of the Spirit, but embrace them with trust, with generosity and with courage. It is only by becoming fully a part of the Easter/Pentecost miracle that we will overcome our own personal prejudices and become instruments of the Spirit, to create a new community and a new world of unity and peace, and happiness and holiness.  

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Feast of St. Simon Stock.

The Scapulare Apparition
Chapel of the Carmelite Saints
Aylesford Priory

Flower of Carmel
tall vine, blossom laden.
Splendour of heaven,
child bearing yet maiden.
None equals thee.

Mother so tender,
whom no man didst know,
on Carmels children
thy favours bestow.
Star of the Sea
The Relic's of St. Simon Stock, The Relic Chapel
Aylesford Priory

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Preparing for Pentecost

I would like to give you some “points,” just as a retreat director would do during a retreat. You see, Sunday is the feast, at last, of the Holy Spirit that we have heard Jesus promise for weeks.

If you would like to, pray from the following points, asking to be introduced to the Holy Spirit. Use as much as you want for prayer and disregard the rest.



To start, remember you will be praying in the presence of God, the one who watches over you and loves you by name. So sit quietly, with as much patience as you have available.

Ask yourself, “What does the Holy Spirit mean to me?” To some people it is the one who causes them to be “slain in the Spirit.” Others know it as somehow connected with the Trinity. Many have no idea.

—p a u s e   h e r e—

Point One:

In the Gospel [the “B” selection*], Jesus says that the Father is going to send “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit” to us, in his name. The English word advocate is derived from the Latin ad plus voco, and it means “to speak for.” The Holy Spirit speaks for us, on our behalf. This is only one translation of the Greek word, which is also rendered as “Paraclete,” “intercessor,” “teacher,” “helper,” and “comforter.” All these English words refer to someone who is called upon to aid another person and to defend them.

So begin your prayer knowing that the Holy Spirit does this. This scripture quote says so:

  “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.” (Romans 8:26).

Ponder what it is like for the Holy Spirit of God to pray within you. Consider what it is like for the Spirit to comfort you and help you when you call out.

—p a u s e   a n d   p r a y—

Point Two:

Imagine being part of the story in the First Reading. You are gathered with the disciples in a house. Suddenly a huge noise “like a strong driving wind” drowns everything out. Something like a flame appears and hovers in the air. It splits into many flame-like presences, which hover over each person in the room.

Then picture yourself preaching to the people, who have 15 different languages represented among them. But they all understand. Pray about it.

—p r a y   q u i e t l y—

Point Three:

There is an immensely comforting statement by Jesus in the Gospel [B].

Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him
and make our dwelling with him.
(Women, please substitute “her.”)

 Take time with each line. (Remember that “keeping Jesus’ word” means loving one another, not just keeping the law.) Consider the Father’s love for you. Let down your guard for a moment or two in order to be a home for Jesus and his Father. Let the Holy Spirit pray inside you.

—p a u s e—

Go as long as you want. Then call out to God to say where your heart is. Maybe God will give you a sense of who the Holy Spirit is in your personal daily life, in your progress from day to day!

John Foley, S. J.


*Note: we are given two texts to choose from for the Second Reading, and two for the Gospel. Since, together with the one First Reading, this makes five possibilities, I cannot know which ones your parish will choose. So I will take my references from any of the five, and designate the readings with the letters A and B in each case.


Saturday, 11 May 2013

Homily for the Solemnity of the Ascenion of the Lord

The women were standing there gazing into the empty tomb. While they were perplexed about this. Suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed there faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’    
 Luke 24:4
While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?’                       
Acts 1:10-11a
Where’s a person supposed to look? If not down, and not up, then where?
Forty days after the Resurrection He left them in the flesh. I wonder if they felt what we feel when a loved one moves away or dies. Alone? Abandoned? Desolate? Or did they recall His promise, one that would be fulfilled in ten days? On Pentecost He would return to them pouring out His spirit. What a moment in time, between Ascension and Pentecost, between loss and promise. He does promise that we will see Him again, as we will one day see our loved ones. But what should we do in the meantime?
The forty days between resurrection and ascension represents a serious number: fullness of time, plenty of time for the men and women who were his disciples to probe the mystery. Jewish students study with a Rabbi for forty days, a symbolic number meaning the amount of time it would take to learn the master’s teaching well enough to repeat it.
The ascension event is told in a way that is full of allusions to biblical precedents. Being lifted up before their eyes into the cloud refers to the cloud of God’s presence, which went before the people of Israel leading them through the wilderness to freedom. By being gathered into the cloud, Jesus is not so much going up as he is going ahead of his apostles into glory.
On Easter morning the women were told not to look down into the tomb; now the apostles are told not to look into the heavens. ‘beginning from Jerusalem you are witnesses,’ Jesus said. ‘I am sending upon you what my Father promised … you will be clothed with power from on high.’ The issue is not where Jesus was, or even where he is, but where he is sending them, clothed with power from on high. The direction is not down or up but out. They are no longer hearers of the word, but its heralds.
Do you remember another mountain, the mount of the transfiguration? ‘While he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they {Peter, James and John} saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to Jesus. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem.’
I have yet to find connections made about the transfiguration – resurrection ascension event made in any biblical commentaries, or between Moses and Elijah, the two men at the tomb, and the two men at Bethany, but I have a funny feeling that there may be such a connection.
Both Moses and Elijah know what passing the torch is all about. When Moses died and was buried (although no one could ever find his grave), Joshua took over. The staff of God, which opened the way of promise was now in his hands. Before Elijah was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire, his successor, Elisha, asked for a double share of his spirit. Clothed with Elijah’s mantle, he continued his mission mightily.
The ascension also stands as a pathway between the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the apostles. As we move through the ascension experience, Luke’s point of view changes. The issues change. We move, as it were from the story of Jesus to the story of the Church, from then to now. In the ascension story, the staff of Jesus is passed. ‘Clothed with power from on high,; clothed with his mantle, the disciples are charged with the continuation of his mission.
The gospel of Luke tells of the disciples’ journey towards faith in Jesus. The ascension, a crucial moment, reflects something new, which the Acts of the Apostles will carry forward even to our own time and beyond.
The issue in the moment is not so much our faith in Jesus as his faith in us. The issue is not our giving his resurrection a certificate of authenticity, but his decision to pour out his spirit upon struggling believers. The issue is not for us to prove that Jesus is alive but for him to prove that we are not dead. The issue is no longer his identity with God, but our identity with him.
I stumbled upon a text from Hans Urs von Balthasar about the ascension, which helps bring this together, as he always does, really penetrates deeply into the mystery. He says, “In the ascension, God’s earthly image”—that is, Jesus—“is seized and drawn up definitively to the Father, and the disciples stand, blessed and full of longing, staring after the one who has disappeared into God. The Transfigured One took their hearts with Him up to God and they will never again feel altogether at home in this temporal world. For that part of the world they most loved is now with God. And this is why everything that they see on earth becomes transparent to heaven. The Holy Spirit, which the Son sends to them from heaven, kindles in them the fire of longing in which every image on earth becomes radiant for heaven, for the everlasting life which springs up from triune love.”
Now the disciples, as it says here, stood staring after the one who disappeared into God. So the angels had to come down and wake them up and say, what are you doing, staring up into heaven? He’s going to come back the same way that He left! And so they went back to the temple and worshipped Him and praised Him with joy.
That’s what we’re doing here, too. We are gathering at the temple, worshipping and praising Christ who has ascended to heaven, and at the same time we hear that voice of the angel that says, He’s going to come back. Every time we come to church to worship, part of what we’re doing is waiting, looking for Him to come back, and worshipping Him who has gone and has promised to come back. We stand both in body and in spirit, longing for the return of the Son of Man.
Do you feel a shaky at times as you face your own life with all its ambiguities? The mystery of the ascension invites us, even in our shakiness, not so much to believe in God, but to believe that God believes in us. In other words, don’t get stuck looking down in discouragement, or looking up in bewilderment. Staff in hand, mantle around your shoulders, look out and step out with grace, longing and courage

Discernment leads to action!

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Closer than ever - Sixth Sunday of Easter

Your best friend is leaving town. There is no way to change things, it is certain. What do you do with your sorrow?

Jesus was leaving the earth, going to the Father, dying. He was to plunge into death and somehow swim to shore. The crucifixion, the ascension. He could not stay on in this world. Mary Magdalene, his mother, and the disciples grieved.

But this Sunday he says, “If you loved me you would rejoice.”


Sounds like what we experience at a funeral. We are truly glad that our beloved no longer has the pains and shortages of this life, but what about us? We do not get our burden lifted, we get more added to it. We live in sorrow for the loved one(s)!

And what if the deceased had said something like this before dying: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. I am going away and I will come back to you.”

Going away and coming back? What kind of sense does that make?

The answer is hard to express in a few words, but of course the present writer will rush in. It may seem abstract, but let's give it a try.

(1) Start with the pre-Jesus world. God the Father had been with the people for all ages. The First Testament tells about this repeatedly.

But God remained unknowable in very important ways. Moses was not allowed to look directly at God. “I will set you in the hollow of the rock,” God says, “and will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand, so that you may see my back [really it says ‘so that you may look upon my hindermost quarters’]; but my face is not to be seen.” To see God directly would destroy a human being (see Exodus 33:18-23).

(2) To close this gap, God decided to show us everything about himself in a way we could withstand. He spoke out his very self using a Word that left nothing unsaid. Jesus was the Word he spoke, and humanity was the language he used. Now God could be known because we could hear, see and follow Jesus.

(3) Jesus dies, is raised from death and ascends to the Father from whom he came. But just like the Father had, Jesus speaks out his own very self in a statement that leaves nothing of Jesus unsaid. That Word is the Holy Spirit.

This Spirit is the full reality of the divine/human being called Jesus, who is already the very interior Spirit of God. The Spirit makes us closer to Jesus and to the Father than the apostles were (see also Romans 8:11)!

If you and I say yes to this Spirit, we will know Jesus in just the way sheep knew the voice of their shepherd. We will find Jesus in the Mass, in the Great Eucharistic Sacrament, in prayer, in the people around us. We will be side by side with each other, in the closest possible presence to the God of love.

(4) Was this too abstract? Well, it is the story of our very fleshly life with God on this earth. Let us put it into action.

John Foley, S. J.