Lenten Reflections with Sheila O’Handley, diocesan hermit
This year during Lent I extend an invitation to you to join me for reflective presentations: A Church on a Synodal Journey. Hopefully these reflections will not only be a way of focusing our Lenten preparation, but that they will also be an openness to accept the Holy Father’s invitation. It is an invitation to be an active participant in the two-year process of preparation for a Synodal Church, whose objective is Communion, Participation, Mission.
Pope Francis inaugurated the Synod October 10th, 2021 and will terminate the Synodal process in October 2023. A nice span of time to get our homework done which is: Revisioning the Church in a post-modern world.
Revisioning the Church in a post-modern world will indeed be a challenge. A few of the challenges are:
– The advancements in science and technology mystify and expand the human imagination. They both have implications for re-visioning a partnership between science and religion, and for a renewed Church Community in today’s world
– A world family trying to live with a pandemic
– Mother Earth actually shouting out at us, “Care for Me. I am You.”
– We continue to prepare for and make weapons of war
– We remain divided, anxious, fatigued and stretched to the max, collectively, personally, politically, psychologically and economically
– The social and economic injustice that plague our times the rich get richer, and the poor continue to remain poor and reduced to the margins of society
– Spiritually, the human family is searching for and questioning the assurance that the Sacred Presence continues to journey with us, as we respond to the many challenges
The challenges before us may feel massive. However, believe it or not, the Spirit of the living God has entrusted us with these times, so in that trust let us begin.
In the Synodal preparatory document, there is such emphasis placed upon hearing and listening to the voice of the people of God in and for the world, that I personally would like to refer to the Synod as: the People’s Synod in and for the World.
The mystic Hildegard of Bingen comes to mind where she referred to herself as “God’s Mouthpiece”. Listening to the voice of the people as “God’s Mouthpiece” kindles Hope – Hope that the prophetic voice of the Spirit of the Living God abiding in the hearts of all people will be listened to. Therein rests my hope.
The Lenten reflections will focus on The Christian Story, which is fundamentally a Love Story, and we are both beneficiaries and participants in that Love Story.
Story lines change or the Story dies. Change is not easy: it is slow, at times both complicated and tension provoking. Nevertheless, change is not only constant, but also how we grow, or else we remain stunted. If we as church will not engage honestly and creatively with the present-day crisis and embrace change, we as Church will die. It is as simple as that.
Rollin Mc Craty, scientist, and director of research at the HeartMath Institute in California, and who has also done research work at Dalhousie University, Halifax, commented in an article I read recently “that the metaphor for the Divine – God is Light, and that maybe light is the oldest and the most universal of all metaphors for God.”
What is even more interesting is what Jesus said about Light.
John 1:9 The Word was the true light that came into the world and enlightened all.
John 8:12 I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark; they will have the light of life.
Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on a lamp stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the world, so that, seeing your good works, praise is given to God.
The words of Jesus affirm that he himself was, and that we are, the continued Presence of Light in and for the world.
Until next week then, may Lent 2022 grace us with a renewed understanding and an ongoing commitment to be the Light of Christ in the world.
Suggested Readings for Lent and Synodal Preparations
John 1:9, John 8:12, and Matt 5:14-16
Vatican Council Two: The Dogmatic Constitution: Lumen Gentium, Chapter Five: The Universal Call to Holiness.
Vatican Council Two: The Pastoral Constitution in the Modern World: Gaudium et Spes
Wounded Shepherd Pope Francis and His Struggle to Convert the Catholic Church by Austen Ivereigh
Lent Week One: The Listening Heart
To accomplish the change of heart needed to give creditability to the Church fully engaged in today’s world – facing today’ realities, Pope Francis encourages us to enter the Synodal process with “the listening ears of the heart”. It is as if he is asking us to dream the future church from our hearts.
It is interesting to note that research conducted at The HeartMath Institute in California, USA, highlighted in a publication by neuroradiologist Dr. J. Andrew Armour, “that the heart basically has its own intrinsic brain. We now know that the heart is sending more information to the brain than the other way around”.
Their research has demonstrated clinically that coherent heart rhythms improve cognitive functioning, decision making, and emotional stability, and that the heart responds to things even before the brain does. The Holy Father no doubt is onto something in his request to approach the Synodal process with “the listening ears of the heart.”
A listening heart is by no means an easy task to accomplish. Our hearts are so cluttered with our own ego fears, opinions and ideas, so comfortable with the status quo, that we don’t question our sense of entitlement. We negate our responsibility by transferring our authority to others, the others whom we think are better than and brighter than we are, who have the right ideas; and therefore, we cannot hear the wisdom of the other, nor even the surprise of the Spirit surfacing in our own hearts.
However, if we really want to hear what is in our own hearts, and the hearts of the other, if we want the other to hear what is in our hearts, and if we really want a future Church – Christian Community in and for the world – we will have to find ways and means that will enable our hearts to be receptive and open. This will require us to change from bottom to top and from top to bottom, from inside out to outside in.
As humans we have two creative resources to assist us with heart listening; one is adaptability, and the other is storytelling.
Adaptability is not restoration – a returning to the past – nor is it identifying with the status quo. At its best, adaptability is the ability to sustain the present in an openness to discern and create the future, not the past. One might say it is the nudging of the Holy Spirit moving us to conversion – a new mind-set, a new world order which holds the potential for adapting and expressing the Mission of the Church in new ways.
One of the primary goals of the Synod is to focus and to engage the Mission of the Church in addressing the needs of the world. The Mission of the Church is the telling of the Christian Story – the Christic Story. This Story has been entrusted to the whole Church.
The Second Vatican Council underscored that the Church is the people of God, therefore, we are responsible for narrating the Christian Story in partnership with the hierarchy and ordained ministry. Narrating the Christian Story will of necessity have to be supported by a deepening understanding of a new worldview. A world view based on the emerging realization of the interconnectedness between women, men, and all of creation if the Christian Story is to have meaning for the world of tomorrow.
We must tell this Story together, it cannot be left to the hierarchy alone, if so, the Story will be incomplete, an essential chapter missing, and therefore the story will remain truncated, even betrayed.
Pope Francis intuited the importance of the essential chapter of hearing the voice of the people, so he has extended the Synod invitation to all peoples of the world to let their voices be heard.
At heart we are a Storytelling people. We make meaning for our lives through stories and storytelling. We create stories that are triumphant and tragic – both break open the heart, one time with joy and another time with sorrow. Creative stories that honor the truth, while other stories betray the truth. There are Crisis stories that tear open the heart, and in so doing, bring us to our knees.
In a sense one could say that we as Church have been brought to our knees. At least that is the sense that is vocalized among both, those who have remained faithful in their practice of Church going and those who now practice Christianity outside Church going.
Without numerating the issues circulating at the threshold of the heart that have brought us to this reality, our heart simply knows the issues. (In his book Wounded Shepherd Pope Francis and His Struggle to Convert the Catholic Church, Austen Ivereigh highlights the successful efforts, struggles and defeats in addressing the issues that have brought us to our knees.)
The journey to human/spiritual maturity often brings us to our knees, where we enter into and navigate the purification of the Dark Night of the Soul. The Dark Night is a grace, initially of darkness and eventually of enlightenment, where we encounter and acknowledge our shadowy depths. This grace of darkness and light makes possible a clearing house for the birthing of a unified heart – an openness to the Spirit’s new possibilities.
And as with all crises, and Dark Nights, opportunity looms large. The question remains: will we, can we as Church encountering one of its’ Dark Nights and come to a deeper maturity of Self-understanding, of Faith and of Mission, and make good the opportunities before us?
We can if we accept the invitation to participate, be active participants, to be “God’s Mouthpiece” in our Diocese and our Parishes. We will be “God’s Mouthpiece” if we believe and trust in the words of Jesus in John 14: 16-17, 26, John 15: 26 and John 16: 13-15 where he made it clear that we will do greater works then he because of the Holy Spirit‘s active presence in our hearts, and therefore in the Church for the world.
Let us then take this first week of Lent to simply listen to the voice of the Spirit gently recalling for us once again, the Christic Story. And to also listen to which stories of triumph, tragedy, truth, or betrayal of truth, or crisis we might be moved to share with one another. We cannot move forward until our stories are not only told but also acknowledged and responded to.
Suggested Readings for Prayer and Reflection
Pray: Psalm 85
John 14: 16-17 “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever, that Spirit of truth.”
John 14:26 “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you.”
John 15:26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father, he will be my witness.
John 16:13 “But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you to complete truth.”
Let Us Dream: The Path to A Better Future by Pope Francis
Lent Week Two: A Discerning Heart
The Institutional Church is not perfect – a brief survey throughout history tells us so – nor are we a perfect people… our inhumanities to our sisters and brothers are legendary. And we need not go into the past to know.
Presently, we are witnessing the inhumanity of Putin’s Russian invasion of Ukraine, afflicting massive suffering upon the Ukrainian people, and imprisonment for the people of Russia who demonstrate that they do not support Putin’s war invasion. We are also witnessing a common global heart of concern, support, and prayer for the courageous resistance of the Ukrainian people and the Ukraine president’s leadership.
The Institutional church, we as the people of God, and the global community must do better. We must try to assist one another personally and collectively to find and affirm our common humanity and our common spiritual roots. What is needed is a collective compassionate heart – a unified global heart. How do we get there? Pope Francis reminds us: “we get there through an engagement with a discerning process”. A discerning heart is our way forward into the Church of tomorrow.
Throughout centuries the heart has been considered the source of emotions, intuitions, courage, wisdom, and love. All religious traditions of the world identify and accept the heart as an organ of spiritual perception – and of wisdom. Also, centuries of spiritual practice have underscored the importance of the heart’s wisdom-way of knowing through the discernment of spirits.
The symbol that best describes a listening discerning heart is the circle.
The circle also holds universal meaning both in religious traditions, and in various cultures throughout the world. For example, a few of the meanings given to the symbol of the circle are: it is a symbol of original perfection, life as cyclical motion; it is without beginning, without end; it is eternity, union, cosmic life, and the Divine Life Source.
Pope Francis fundamentally believes that Synodal listening is orientated towards and implies a discerning Church which could achieve his hoped-for objective, “that as Church, we can become something new together”. The Pope is no fool, he is a man of wisdom who is very much aware of the challenges that a discerning process which advocates a consensus model of decision making could propose for a Church culture steeped in hierarchical and patriarchal mind-sets. Changing institutional cultures is not an easy task, regardless of the institution.
Let us briefly explore the implications of the circle as a metaphor for a discerning process, both for the Synodal preparations in our local parishes and Diocese, and for the Bishops’ Synod in Rome, October 2023.
1. The circle implies no one has the edge on knowing, no one has the right answer. The answers, solutions, and informed knowledge are reached through a consensus model of decision making, not top down, and not the agenda of a few. Rather a consensus of voices that become one voice in unison. However, given Church history, and Church structure, and the way that power has been canonically exercised may create issues of conflict.
2. If a Synodal Church means walking together, listening together, a discerning synodal Church means being with one another, thinking with one another, dialoguing with one another respectfully and with love.
This collective environment of love and respect is conducive to creating the possibilities of what The HeartMath Institution of California Research refers to as the ability and benefits that come from connecting with the heart during communication.
“Whether people mention speaking from the heart, listening to the voice in their heart, or following their heart’s intuitive guidance, there is increased collective awareness of the importance of our spiritual heart in life’s decisions.“ Dr. Childre
The HeartMath Institute, over the last three decades of research of the heart’s intelligence, has found answers related to heart connection and communication. They discovered that some individuals and groups, small and large, prove more capable than others in creating harmony and other benefits; this harmony is created through practicing qualities of the heart such as love, care, gratitude, kindness, compassion, latitude, forgiveness, resilience, patience, and more towards self and to the other.
The practicing of heart qualities toward self and others is the welcoming environment homing the Holy Spirit’s presence – the grounding foundation and corner-stone of discernment.
3. The circle symbolizing the Divine Life Source – primal wisdom source – is that which guides the participants to the Will of the Spirit.
4. The consensus model of decision making is a process. It is not linear. It is more like a continuous circular movement of prayer, silence, solitude, and lectio divina ( scripture), and synod material. Synod material is the ‘sensus fidelium’, the voice of the people which the Bishops will be bringing to the Synod.
5. Regarding any discernment process, it is always possible for those involved to experience a negative, a rejecting and or an unwelcoming response to the idea, decision, or any anticipated direction being proposed. It is important in such a moment, and there will be those moments, to stop and pause. It just might be, with further discerning, that these ideas etc., may well be the still small voice of the Holy Spirit.
6. Also very interesting in a discerning process is a situation when ‘that which is quite evident’ is not given notice. This kind of situation just may be the Holy Spirit dangling something right before our eyes or embedded in our hearts that we often bypass or dismiss. Caution is called for; listen carefully and oversee with precision.
Let us take this second week of Lent to discern what the Spirit is saying to the Churches today for tomorrow.
Pray: Proverbs 14
Lent Week Three: Desires of the Heart
Jesus simply tells us, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field”, Matt 13:14. And in Luke 12.34, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. If we put this statement of Jesus into question format it becomes a simple question, “What is it that you treasure?”. The ultimate goal of the Synod is to offer a fresh perspective: What it is that we treasure, and that we desire the Church as Mission to be in the future?
The French philosopher and theologian Blaise Pascal was insightful when he said, “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing”. Anyone who has been in love can attest to the heart’s reasons, and they also know that being in love is far more than just being head over heels in love.
An air pilot turned author, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, in his book The Little Prince, leads us into both delightful and painful exploration into the reasons of the heart, which are: learning how to love, and the responsibilities of love.
One of the story’s informative encounters between the Prince and the fox goes like this: as the fox and the Prince prepared to say good-bye, the fox says to the Prince, “Here is my secret. It’s quite simple, one sees clearly with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eye”.
Pope Francis believes “that as a Church we can become something new” through the clarifying guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s guidance will clarify – what it is that we treasure as the people of God and as Church. He acknowledges that the Church as institution has shifted from its original center, which is Christ, and its purpose – Mission to and in the world.
This shift over time eroded Christic values of the heart, resulting in the Church becoming turned in upon itself, and overprotective of itself as institution.
Therefore, the Synod is a call to conversion – a new moral imagination, a thinking outside the box of conditioned mind sets that have obstructed and betrayed the values of Christic love. The Church through the process of conversion is being called to learn again how to love and to accept the responsibilities of love. (We are all in this learning process of love – no one as it altogether.)
We would be naive to deny the cynicism that is circulating re the possible success of the Synod; even the fact of convoking a Synod raised eyebrows. If we are not careful, it would be easy enough for us to become victims of cynicism, instead of a people of Spirit filled hope – a listening people discerning what the Spirit is presently asking of the Church.
Pope Francis has identified a number of sensitive issues such as: accountability, clericalism, revisioning of Church structures, patriarchy, the marginalization of the poor and women, and eco-political justice, to mention a few. These issues have raised eyebrows. They are rise or fall issues – issues of the heart that must be addressed in order for the Church to move forward with credibility, or else become extinct. Scary thought indeed.
A cautionary reflection of Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision the people perish” might instill within us a commitment to actively participate in the Synodal process, to awaken our religious imagination, and to give birth to a Church invested in the future. What we are participating in is Mystery, and the Church is Christ’s Mystery.
Ponder: During this third week of Lent let us give some time to the important issues that Pope Francis holds before us and ask for the grace to be open to the conversion now needed as the people of God and the Church as institution.
Question: What is it that you desire the Church to be?
Relax: Read the book The Little Prince and discover the lessons of love, and the responsibilities of love.
Lent Week Four: Love Is The New Creation
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
The phrase in Jesus’ New Commandment of Love that has always brought me to a deep pause of awe and reflection is – “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another”. Sometimes we are so preoccupied with doing the loving thing that we miss the full content – the full reality of Jesus’ words – “just as I have loved you”.
The “just as I have loved you” is reflected and rooted in Genesis 1:26 – “Let us make humankind in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves…”. If you wish, you could put it this way: image to image, mirror to mirror, community to community, “made in the likeness of ourselves”. Love is the New Commandment.
“Made in the likeness of ourselves” is actually our birthing from within the Mystery of the Divine – God’s Life. God’s life is a community of love – a tapestry of relationships of self-giving love which we name the Trinity. Love is the New Commandment
“Just as I have loved you”… is the eternal now of Trinitarian lovemaking, confirming that we are created in Love, we are created out of Love, and we are created for Love, all of us, no exceptions. And that this love also includes all of creation. The self-giving love of God as Trinity manifested in creation, and creation’s continuous unfolding knows no bounds. Love is the New Commandment.
As a point of interest, in the world of science the non-materialist scientists are discovering that there is more to life than mathematical precision and experimental certitude. They attest that there is a spiritual-mystical-love dimension to life, which is the energy – source of all life and which resides within the heart.
The research conducted at The HeartMath Institute in California of bringing heart and brain into synchrony confirmed that love is the core energy-frequency of the heart. This core energy-frequency of love draws together, unifies and generates hope. This love generating hope holds the possibility that we can become the architects of our future, which is founded upon our deepest human-spiritual values. Love is the New Commandment.
It is love and hope that motivated Pope Francis to convene the Synod. He is convinced that if we begin this time with a returning to the Christic values of the heart we will create something new. The something new will not only be a new re-ordering, a re-structuring of the Church as the People of God, it will be founded upon the New Commandment of Love. When both the Church as the People of God, together with Church leadership, have experienced the Synodal grace of the Spirit they will arrive together at a new understanding of Jesus’ New Commandment of Love. And this new self-understanding will generate energy-frequencies of Christic values which will reach out in MISSION, embracing the whole world and all of creation as well.
Pope Francis prays that this wished-for dream of a renewed Church as the People of God, which was envisioned at Vatican Two almost some forty years now, will finally become a living reality. As the old saying goes, “The ball is now in our court”… it is up to us to make the dream happen – The New Commandment of Love.
Ponder: During the Fourth Week of Lent let us ponder Jesus’ New Commandment of Love:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I loved you, you are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John: 13:34-35
Linger with the poem by the Spanish mystic, Ramon Lull
The lover was asked to whom he belonged.
He answered, ‘To love.’
‘What are you made of?’ ‘Of love.’
Who gave birth to you?’ ‘Love.’
‘Where were you born?’ ‘In love.’
‘How do you live?’ ‘By love.’
‘What is your name?’ ‘Love.’
‘Where do you come from?’ ‘From love.’
‘Where are you going?’ ‘To love.’
‘Where are you now?’ ‘In love.’
‘Have you anything other than love?’
‘Yes, I have faults and wrongs against my beloved.’
‘Is there pardon in your beloved?’
The lover said that in his beloved were mercy and justice,
And that he therefore lived between fear and hope.’
Read: The Source of All Love: Catholicity and the Trinity, author Heidi Russell
(This book offers a fresh new understanding of the Trinity)
Lent Week Five: “Nothing Will Be Impossible With God.”
In the Gospel of Luke, 1:26 – 38 – for the Feast of The Annunciation – the mystery of God’s plan for both women, Elizabeth and Mary, is clothed in mystery. From the perspective of the rational mind, what transpired within Mary and Elizabeth, the biological process of conception and childbearing are impossible, but not for God – “for nothing will be impossible with God”- Luke 1:37. Mary and Elizabeth, co-creators with the Spirit of God, became icons of faith that proclaimed: “nothing is impossible with God”. Nothing is impossible within the Mystery that God is.
Pope Francis is an icon of such faith today. He is infused with the faith – “that nothing is impossible with God”, in his hope for Synodal vision of the Church as the People of God – the Mystical Body of Christ.
Just as recently as March 19th, 2022, he has announced The New Apostolic Constitution: Praedicate Evangelium – Preach the Gospel. It is as if he has released the homework agenda of the Synod’s objectives. The three major objectives are:
– Reform of the Roman Curia
– Leadership within Vatican offices – dicastery – are to be available to any baptized Catholic, male and female, ordained and nonordained
– Evangelization – the preaching of the Gospel – is the essential Mission of the Church
So we, like Mary and Elizabeth, are icons of faith in our time, and are invited by Pope Francis to become once again co-creators with the living Spirit of God. If we become once again co-creators, we will conceive and birth a renewed Church as the People of God – the Body of Christ, an inclusive functioning Church as Institution committed to Mission.
To the rational mind, the conceiving and birthing of a renewed Church rings loudly with criticism, and clearly sounds as an irrational possibility – but the Church is God’s Mystery – therefore “nothing is impossible with God.”
The Mystery of God’s Plan for the Church is not without the Paschal Mystery: life-death-new life. The old, often the familiar and comfortable, must die for new life to be born.
Nature is explicit in the narrative of change, of letting go, even of dying, to nurture the miracle of new life, and we are part of nature – we are nature. We cannot remain in former worlds views of ancient cosmologies, theologies, doctrines, rituals of sacramental celebration, and rules and regulations of policy manuals that no longer speak to or address today’s people and world.
As the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed to the people of Israel, (Isaiah 43:18-19), “No need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before. See, I am doing a new deed, even now it comes to light; can you not see it?” is also being proclaimed and asked of us today. Can we see the new that is being born? Do we have the vision to make it happen?
God’s absolute fidelity to the Divine Love Energy encoded in the New Commandment of Love, and in the Mystery of God’s plan for the Church, is born from three movements:
– the suffering of letting go of ancient cosmologies, theologies etc., of stepping outside the comfort zone of our own private bubbles, outside our narcissistic slumber
– surrendering to the death of the ego’s agenda hidden within Church bureaucracy
– the giving of ourselves, pouring ourselves out in self-giving love personally, collectively, and institutionally into the “new deed” that is now coming to light? Can we see it? Will we will it?
Ponder: During the fifth week of Lent let us ponder: What comfort zones do we have to step aside from? What private bubbles do we have to break out from? What ancient cosmologies must we let go of, thus giving us the insight to see the new?
Read: The Holy Thursday Revolution, author Beatrice Bruteau
Lent Week Six: Holy Week
“He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would” Matt 28:6
Jesus’ life journey does not end in death but in the Mystery of the Resurrection. In the raising up of Jesus, something new happened – a new consciousness – he became Cosmic Love. With Jesus we too become Comic Love, which will be completed when we also pass-through death. God’s Fidelity – Love – is now cosmic and universal in Jesus the Christ.
Divine Love is poured into the now of making new possibilities possible, and impossibilities possible. The Resurrection is a much deeper mystery than the body surviving death. It is the kenosis of God’s self-pouring out of Divine Love, affirming that Love is stronger than death. It is also affirming that Divine Love is at the heart of the Mystery of Life and is one with the Universe. Here I cannot resist quoting Jesuit scientist, priest and mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “the physical structure of the universe is love”.
The Synod may be the graced moment of kenosis – of self-emptying for the Church as the People of God and the Church as Institution. A new reality of cosmic proportions can be born if we do the homework of self-emptying, and journey into the Paschal Mystery: life-death-new life.
The process of Paschal suffering is not pretty nor accommodating from a human perspective. We don’t like change, suffering, letting go, nor the reality of disintegration and death; we view it as weakness, hopelessness and uselessness. The Christian Story – God’s fidelity to Life – is we do not end with death. We like Jesus will be transformed by death into the fullness of the Mystery of Divine Love.
Nevertheless, there will always be our Good Fridays – suffering is the place of transformation, both psychological and spiritual. We cannot remain in Good Fridays. The Resurrected Cosmic Christ calls us forward into a new consciousness that Love is not only the New Commandment, but it is also the New Creation that moves us forward into new possibilities.
The questions that now arise from within our hearts are: Where is Resurrected life experienced? How is it experienced? What does it look like? How does it feel? And what might the Resurrection offer us as insight as we prepare for the Synod? Let us journey with Jesus and the Resurrection narratives in the canonical Gospels for this insight.
The following two instances are pre-Resurrection events central to the message of Jesus.
Matthew 18:20 … Promise made promise kept… “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I among them”, said Jesus. What is implied here is: it is in the community gathered that the Presence of the Cosmic Christ is experienced; and it is the gathering, not the building that is made sacred. Resurrection looks like a gathered community.
On a mountain side Jesus announced The Beatitudes as blessed (Matthew 5:3-12, and Luke 6:20-23). The Beatitudes are the Christian blueprint offering a way of life, and a way of doing Mission. They are the qualities – the values of the heart.
The Beatitudes and the Corporal and Spiritual works of Mercy are fused with Resurrected Life – the dream of Jesus – waiting for the human engagement of faith and conversion to bring about the new possibilities of a new world order socially, economically, ecologically and politically.
Now for the Post-Resurrection moments:
The breaking of bread on the road to Emmaus, their eyes were opened”. ( Luke 24:30-31). In many of Jesus’ inclusive meals shared with tax collectors, women, friends and others, he foreshadowed the Eucharist.
We need to attend to our Eucharistic hospitality. Is it lacking in a welcoming spirit? Is it inclusive of all? Yes, to the first and no to the second . We need our eyes opened to the vision inspirited by Resurrected Life where no one is left behind, all are welcomed regardless of failed marriages, sexual orientation or gender. Resurrected life feels like inclusion – the welcoming of all.
The meeting between Jesus and Mary Magdalene following the Resurrection (John 20:16) is probably one of the most touching scenes in all of the four canonical Gospels… The announcing of a name – “Jesus said, ‘Mary!’ – She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni’.” Resurrection creates intimacy of union.
This relationship of friendship and discipleship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, so overshadowed with patriarchy for years, has yet to be fully appreciated. We are missing the fullness of this Resurrection encounter. Resurrection hope holds the miracle that one day we will be released from the bondage of patriarchy, from within society and from within the Church.
Following the intimacy of being called by name, the Resurrected Jesus commissioned Mary Magdalene as apostle, “go find the brothers and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”. It is interesting that Jesus did not say go and tell the Priests, the Bishops, the Cardinals, nor the Pope; instead, he said “ the brothers”, brothers – companions on the journey. The Resurrection invites and initiates all of us as brothers and sisters into becoming the Mystical Body of Christ and to Mission in the world.
In the sensitivity of human touch, Resurrection is experienced. Jesus appears to apostles and extends an invitation to touch: “Touch me and see for yourselves”. (Luke 24:39) It was as if Jesus was implying that in the act of touching, we would recognize him and thus know him.
The human deprived of touch will suffer deep human, spiritual, and psychological trauma, even death. The human touch of Resurrected caring, such as a smile, a visit, a welcoming hand, the sound of a friend’s voice, the gesture of forgiveness, and the words of encouragement, praise, affirmation and congratulations are powerful expressions of Resurrected compassionate healing and bonding. Both compassionate healing and bonding are necessary for personal and communal well-being, and the recognition of the Resurrected Christ among us.
“You must be the only person in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days. ‘What things?’ Jesus asked.” (Luke 24: 18 -19).
Really, when we reflect on ‘the things that have been happening here these last few days’ – those events changed the course of recorded history and continue to transform history today. These events change hearts. And these converted hearts and events become the foundation upon which the Christian story was and is narrated.
Resurrection is present in storytelling. Who among us does not enjoy a good storyteller and a good story? Storytelling is one of the most basic human and spiritual activities that gather us together and create an atmosphere of attention and of interest.
The Synod is not only an opportunity for us to engage in the art of storytelling, but it also is our opportunity to tell the Christian story, and to renew our commitment to be the Christian story in the world today. Let us make the Christian story interesting and attractive.
The Resurrection was not a private event that happened to Jesus. It is not a private event that happens to us. It was a Cosmic and Universal event for the whole of creation and is happening now. The resurrected Jesus made it quite clear in Mark 16 :16 – ”Go out into the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all of creation”.
This is our Easter commissioning – to go to the whole world and tell the good news that Resurrected Life – the Cosmic Christ – is alive among us… alive among us making new possibilities possible and impossibilities possible.
This commissioning is also the Synodal dream of Pope Francis. Let us see if we can make this new dream of possibilities and of impossibilities possible.
During Holy Week let us contemplate the Passion Narratives and also ponder the Resurrection stories as our commissioning to revision the Church as the People of God.
Blessings of the Cosmic Christ to all this Easter time, especially to Ukraine and Russia at this moment in time.