Be an angel

18 Oct

People used to use the word angel more often than they do nowadays. I can even remember as a child being told after a meal, “be an angel and help me clear the table.” Religious people thought there were angels living in another world that we couldn’t see, but that they would appear sometimes in our world. They were a bit like the fairies in fairytales which we had as children, and which we still tell our children to this day; though some stories nowadays are more about aliens that inhabit other planets – some good but many quite aggressive or dangerous.

At the time of Jesus many people believed in angels and had lots of stories about angels in their Bible (our Old Testament). After Jesus, people still believed in angels and good things that happen through them – there are some stories about them in our Christian literature. In the Roman Empire in which Jesus and the first Christians lived, there were people who believed there were these spiritual helpers many of whom they called gods. A lot of people nowadays like to think that all these beliefs about supernatural beings are poppy cop. However they usually like people to help them and can often help others themselves – they are “being an angel” to them. Whether we believe in them or not I think we should, as good human beings, be helpful to others and sometimes surprise others by how kind and caring we are – lets all try to be angels!

THE WALTZ OF FAITH

11 Oct

It seems to me that there are different ways  of expressing our faith in practice. I want to illustrate what I mean by three different expressions of faith of which I am aware – I shall refer to them as devoted, practical and reflective.  I can be very devout towards God, Jesus and saints that I particularly fancy.  I can develop a piety in relation to the saints, the ceremonies and what we call the devotions that we Christians, and especially Catholics sometimes take on.  But my devotions mustn’t lead me to disdain others (who are not so devoted) nor especially those who reject any idea of God.  Or if I am not particularly devout I can express my beliefs in deeds – what I call practical faith.   I do plenty of things that would be classed as helpful in practice to others and to the world in general.  You will be aware of people who do good both for others and for the world in which we live.  But this can secular in the sense of disdaining what others think and feeling oneself to be superior to others who ‘do’ less.  But sometimes faith is reflective and somewhat cerebral.  I can have a good understanding of the teachings of religion and admire the formula of beliefs and their reasonableness in the world in which I live. Yet I should not be too confident about my understanding of anything in creation – in the universe.  After all the history of science and human comprehension is one of change – rejection (or at least development) of human understanding of reality.  Finally I must tress that I want this to be a three step dance of faith in which each of these faith attitudes has a part to play and in which none by itself is satisfactory for a competent human being.  Pray, act and think!

Bible truth?

3 Oct

I don’t think many take the bible as literally true in all it records.  No one I know would take the 7 day creation account at the beginning of Genesis – the 1st book of the bible – as literally the way creation happened.  Most would accept God as the creator but assume that it was so expressed in order to stress the importance for the Jews (and now for Christians too) of keeping one day a week as special.  Not to take this account of creation literally is made clear by the quite different second account of God creating in the very next chapter.  In the original Hebrew the differences between the two accounts also shows itself in the word for God – Elohim in Genesis 1, Yahweh (sometimes expressed in English as Jehovah) in the second account of creation.  In addition to this there are  different words for creating: in the first creation account the word means an instant transformation from nothing , but in the second account the word used  is of an activity more like the moulding of a pot on a rotating base – a difficult and ongoing process. The other differences between the 1st and the 2nd creation accounts you can read for yourself.  I prefer the creating process because it corresponds to how we experience creation and even play a part in it.  In addition to varieties like this in the O.T. there is variety also in our New Testament – for example in the different gospels there are different attitudes to divorce.  This was different even among Jews but also in Christianity, especially in the Roman empire where divorce was more common.  Even across the denominations that emerged later there were different attitudes to divorce and remarriage and still are.  The Catholic  Church is trying to maintain a strict view against divorce whatever, but I think Catholics’ experience and knowledge reflects a more caring and careful point of view for broken-down relationships.  We should be humble when interpreting the will of God for us in all matters, knowing that even the bible’s word of God is not necessarily to be taken as always true.

Grace

27 Sep

In the context of religion – my religion – I’m pretty sure that I was taught that grace was a special gift from God for us Catholics (and perhaps for other Christians too).  I would say that it was what today I know as a club card, something worth having to get other benefits and sometimes special offers or ‘freebees.’  I got forgiveness from confession, the privilege of communion, strength from confirmation and other benefits from prayers and pilgrimages etc.  Having grace made me feel good and happy and sure of God’s love (and forgiveness of my many sins) and membership of that great community the church.  But now I am grown up, indeed grown old, I think that this ‘gift’ of God’s love and care is not limited to certain chosen people or groups.  I believe that God loves everyone and indeed all of His creation (which is still ongoing), the only exception being sin.  Yes I really believe that the there is love and blessing for all positive reality.  Yes it is very special, but not a limited edition.  God’s love extends to the entirety of the universe – i.e. all creation excepting only for failings and faults that we humans produce.

Of course the secular meaning refers to beauty – especially of graceful movements and various actions of humans and even in the rest of creation.  We don’t need to say “the grace of the Lord be with you” but we do need to try to recognise it in everything and everyone! I’ll try! 

Following Jesus

20 Sep

The 1st companions of Jesus as well as those who listened to His words, retold their experiences to others usually to impress them with the love and compassion of this unusual man.  They would hope that those they spoke to would become ‘followers’ like them of His way of life – of His care and concern for others, perhaps especially those in need in one way or another.  There were also folk whom He wanted to question, perhaps to invite them to think anew, and to change their lives for the better.  The evangelists who wrote the gospels that we now read or hear read to us also wanted to support and improve their readers or those who listened to the reading.  We, who receive these gospels now, should try to live as Jesus did- or rather would – adapting this good news to our present age and location.  We should try to live how He would have. In a way He is here even now, in those who live His way – hopefully in us at least some of the time. We don’t have to preach or teach this way to others as though we are specially called as Christians, but we must try to live the way He would if He were in our situation – which of course He is – living in us!  So our way of life in our modern situations and among so many  different folk, we should express the good, the advantage and even the beauty of the ‘new’ way of life that is possible for all.

Nine Eleven

12 Sep

I was unexpectedly expected to ‘preach’ on Sunday – there being no priest available.  My daughter suggested it should be about the tragedy of 9-11 remembering the deliberate destruction of the twin towers in America.  

All we do should be because we think it’s the right thing to do – otherwise it’s a sin!

It helps if others agree with what we plan even if many think it quite wrong. 

Sometimes if others think differently it does the opposite of deterring us.

 Like the forbidden apples in the garden of Eden – so tempting.

Our choices turn out good sometimes but sometimes bad.  And sometimes different people have different views of what we have chosen to do – like a just war and a conscientious objector! Have you noticed different peoples’ behaviours during lock down?

For serious decisions we should think carefully when acting – there also may be unforeseen consequences. When some men were about to stone a prostitute – “Let the one who has no sin throw the 1st stone!”  said Jesus. 

The first use of an atomic bomb might be another example.  And yesterday we recalled the destruction of the twin towers in America 20 years ago.

Obviously most think this was wrong, but we must look carefully at what our nations and our groups as well as we as individuals choose to do with regard to other people and other nations – and I must ask myself if my life style is harming others?

Companions

6 Sep

Having learnt Latin at school I know that ‘com’ means with and ‘panis’ is bread.  So my companions are those eat with me and have discussions too.  There’s no doubt that Jesus’ companions would have watched, heard and questioned Him.  We read of male disciples but there were also females.  So after the dramatic end of Jesus’ life these people would have spoken enthusiastically about Him and retold Jesus’ ideas expressed and lived out in memorable activities.  There were plenty who wanted to hear all this because of the newsworthy events of His life, increased especially by His arrest and execution at the time of their great feast day. The purpose when these memories were related to others was to impress and enthuse them with the attitudes He had in His life and talked about time and again.  Folk must have been impressed and some would have firsthand experience of Him and be pleased to meet up again and again to encourage each other to live the way He inspired.  It was from these groups and the activities and accounts of all this were first recorded in writing and eventually led to what we call the gospels – Mark’s being the earliest surviving.  Many mature people like things to focus on – to represent the beauty and goodness they see in creation and in their lives.  For Catholics these might be the rituals of the Mass, statues or holy pictures, sometimes other practices like the rosary or stations of the cross, some may even be attracted to the structure of their organisation with its hierarchy of Pope, bishops and priests.  But for nearly all humans it is the company  of others, especially with shared attitudes and opinions that can give them support in the good that they enjoy for themselves and can do for others.  Even children at school or younger ones at nursery benefit from being with others – likeminded and in similar situations. So it all comes down again to companionship and of course this also implies meeting up and helping each other as the etymology of the word reminds us. 

The good news

30 Aug

The good news (or gospel) of John that we have recently been reading is that God, in Jesus, wants people to be happy (content, blest).  Think what He Jesus did at the marriage feast at Cana to combat the shortage of wine.  Shortly after that a nobleman (not the best loved by Jewish people then) asked His help and He pronounced his son healed ( and later got thanked for it).  By the pool of Siloam Jesus helped a crippled man to get to the pool to be cured (and later got thanked for that).  Later Jesus spoke to a whole crowd of people about what to do to be happy (to feel blest) – telling them what we call the beatitudes: happy are the poor in spirit etc..  And towards the expected end of his life Jesus had a meal with his close friends during which He expressed His joy at being with them, saying this is my thing, you are my friends – words later expressed as ‘this is my body.’  So Jesus definitely wants us to be happy and the best way to be that is for us to copy Him by trying always to make other people happy, and sometimes to celebrate happiness with our friends. May be over a coffee or even at Mass – when we can encourage each other in this. Be cheerful – think of something you did in the past (recent or ages ago) of which you can be proud.  Think of something in the past that happened too you, that made you cheerful and glad.  Feel confident to talk about these moments with each other, thus reminding them of some of their past moments of happiness (blessedness).  All this can lift  your spirit and that of others.  Jesus gives us the Spirit.  If you know of someone with some cause for sadness, talk with them – it can’t be the end of everything, and this grief is often because of the love that she or he had for another.  Even as Jesus knew He would be arrested and executed, He tried to bring blessed happiness to His friends.  So who could you help in this way – it will make you happy to help them – even if it’s only a donation to a charity.

Being Human

23 Aug

In Jesus we have an example of what it is to be human – indeed He  was (is still) the ideal human.   It was, according to John’s gospel (chapter 19), that Pilate, after he had somewhat reluctantly had Jesus scourged to try to appease the crowd, presented the ‘beaten’ Jesus to them pronouncing “Behold the man!”  How right this was, for Jesus even in this ‘sorry’ state was the ideal human.  For being human doesn’t rely on looks, though we do tend to naturally relate to a ‘good-looker.’  Being human is not being nice or successful by our normal standards.  Being a good human requires living for the good of others, seeing the good in all others and even in nature itself.  We are surrounded by imperfection both in nature, in the natural world and especially noticeable in the news we hear about.   The good person- as Jesus was – will see the good in others and will forgive and help to overcome any deficiency we encounter in others.   We must live out, as best we can, our own good life of love and forgiveness for all and not striving to be successful by commonly accepted measures of success.  We see in Jesus just two governing factors: live ideally whatever the cost to your own life and way of life – He was executed as a criminal and appeared to die a total failure; the other is speak and live out confidently what you believe to be true.  This way of life makes you a great benefit but also a perfect nuisance to society – depending on how you view this society, either as the marginalised and needy or as authoritarian and doing quite well thank you.  We see this in Jesus’ relationship with others – let’s try it for ourselves, as Peter says in Luke’s gospel “change your whole way of life for the better, so that your sins may be wiped out!””

Holy Mary

16 Aug

We, especially we Catholics, have a devotion to Mary that developed from early beginnings.  It was a good thing from the start because it emphasised the role of the female in what was recorded as and developed as, a mostly male dominated Christianity.

The earliest ‘belief,’ recorded in the  gospels of Matthew and Luke are of  the annunciation of her pregnancy.  They clearly had in mind the account in Isaiah of a lady becoming pregnant as a sign of a better future (Isaiah 7 :11ff)  “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.  And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” And this passage was applied to Mary at her conception of Jesus – the virgin birth.  This was believed also because Jesus was the Son of God.  At the end of her life it was thought that she would go straight to heaven and hence the belief in the assumption (sometimes like a deathless transition but mostly as a resurrection after death.  She was naturally regarded as sinless so that when the idea that all humans inherited the sin of Adam in the story of creation  Mary was seen as an exception to this too.

Though many Christians like to focus on these exceptional beliefs about Mary’s life and death, we don’t always see how it should affect the way that we live or try to live – a challenge that devotion to Mary does not naturally pose to us – as it should.  Let’s try to change that!