Fr John Horgan is leading the annual SMA Retreat in Dromantine. Over the coming days brief summaries (written by the SMA Communications Director) will be given here, day by day.
First reflection: the Centre of our Faith
Last October Pope Benedict proclaimed a Year of Faith to mark two important anniversaries in the Church: the 50th anniversary of the opening of the 2nd Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the publishing of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict reminded us that the door of faith is always open to us. We are invited to cross this threshold and allow our hearts and lives to be shaped and moulded by God’s transforming grace. By so doing we encounter afresh communion with God and communion and fellowship with each other.
Pope Francis, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, wrote to his flock: ‘crossing the threshold of faith means to be active, trusting the Spirit present in the Church and also in the signs of the times. It is to join in constant movement of life and history without falling into the paralysing defeatism that everything was better in the past. There is an urgency to think new ways, to offer new suggestions and a new creativity ‘kneading life with the new leaven of justice and holiness’.”
Pope Benedict said: ‘Many people perceive Christianity as something institutional, rather than an encounter with Christ which explains why they don’t see it as a source of joy.’
The heart of the Christian faith is an encounter with a Person, Jesus. It is not scriptures, or the dogmas and doctrines, or the commandments, or the sacraments or the Church or any other thing. It is a person, the Person of Jesus Christ – this is what Pope Francis reminded the journalists when he met them last March, echoing the teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC #426).
The first part of the process of Faith is God’s grace inviting us; the second part is our response to God’s grace. It is a lifelong journey, begun at Baptism.
Second reflection: How I understand God, who is God for me
From the earliest times God has never wavered in trying to persuade us that He is loving, vulnerable, compassionate and that He has an unbelieveable obsession with us that He will never give up that we will love Him also.
The difficulty is that we have a misconception of God. From the Scriptures we have an image of a judgemental, fiery, monarchial… type of God.
The image I have of God will determine the way I relate to God, to his creation, to others and to myself.
After all the many efforts God made to show Himself to us, He finally sent his Son, Jesus, who is the human face of God.
And Jesus tries to get across to us who Go dis and how wonderful is his desire for us. He uses different parables in this regard. One of them – Luke 15 :11-32 (Prodigal Son) – is worth meditating on, not from the side of the two sons but from the side of the Father (who acts as God acts).
– The son wants his inheritance now – as if to say his father was dead;
The father doesn’t condemn his son for that, nor when he returns;
The son knew his father loved him and so he could come back even after he had treated this father in such a terrible way;
But he didn’t trust his father as much as the father trusted him and so the son made up a story to ‘get back into his father’s care’. Sometimes we do the same, not wanting to face up to our responsibilities;
Luke 15 :11-32 gives us a lot of food for thought.
A secondary point that Jesus seeks to teach concerns the Trinity : a relationship of co-equal fellowship (koinonia) and communion (communio). We are the adopted children of God. But we find this so difficult to take in.
1 John 3:2 says ‘we declare to you what we have seen and heard that you also may have fellowship with us ; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ’.
Read also John 15, particularly verses 9 and 15 as well as Galatians 2 :20.
The Father suffers in the Son’s passion. The Son suffers when we suffer because we are His body. And when we do not respond to the call to love we grieve the Holy Spirit – read Ephesians 4 :30.
We are called into a fivefold relationship : with God the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, others and ourselves.
At 12 noon, Fr John led the concelebrated Mass for the Feast of the Birth of St John the Baptist.
Third reflection: Creation, God prepares a home for humanity
Genesis gives us two accounts of creation.
The first account makes creation look easy (God says the word and it happens; 7 day period).
The second account (Gen 2:4b – 3:24) introduces the earth as a dry wilderness. God forms the first human beings. This account only concerns itself with the earth and the living things on it. God solves the different problems: man is alone, so God makes him a helpmate; earth is dry, so God makes water…. Overall, the message we get in this account is that God is the author of all creation. He begins with the human being and then provides all that they need to live. The ‘fall’ is a result of human pride and disobedience. But God allows us to disobey, but we must then bear the consequences of our choices. Our most important choice is between obeying God or following the promptings of evil.
Creation, according to the scientific evidence, was a complex process. Like the Bible, modern science tells us that creation had a beginning in time.
There is a difference between the human being and all the other creatures in creation. There are seven unique gifts which we humans have:
- We share the genetic similarities of a family;
- The human brain is made for the coordination of speech and hearing;
- Infancy and ageing are longer in the human than in the rest of the animal kingdom;
- Symbolisation – we can express what is in our consciousness in art etc while there is a complete absence of symbolic activity in animals;
- Human knowledge involves three levels: sense experience, understanding, judgement;
- Language as an expression of the meaning of our existence;
- Human freedom of choice.
Read Psalm 8 – a psalm which praises the power of God, especially as seen in creation. God is omnipotent but this omnipotence should not threaten us. Because God is pure love He can never act against the good, truth, love or freedom.
At 8pm we gather in the Main Chapel for Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, a time of silent intercessory prayer for others, particularly all SMA missionaries in Africa, our families and supporters here at home.
Fourth reflection: Jesus of Nazareth (1)
Jesus sent his disciples out (Mk 6:7ff) and after they rejoined him (Mk 6:30) Jesus took them aside as if to ‘debrief’ them. Having heard from them what they people were saying about him, Jesus posed the question to them: ‘but who do you say I am?’ Peter was the only one to speak up: ‘you are the Christ’.
This raises the question for me: did Jesus know pre-Resurrection that he was also God, as well as man? I think not, and Scripture seems to support this: Acts 13:32-33; Psalm 2:7; Romans 1:3-4.
In Mark 13:32 Jesus admits he does not know when the end of the world would happen. It is also in Matthew 24:36. If he knew that he would rise from the dead that would have made the crucifixion ‘easier’ but yet in Mark 14:32-42 (Gethsemane) we hear his anxiety, fear…
If he did know he was God while on earth there would be little merit in what he did on earth. Jesus was truly man and suffered all the slings and arrows of human life. With one great exception: he did not give in to temptation. He was like us in all things, but sin.
During his earthly life, Jesus saw and tried to change those things in Judaism which he saw to be wrong. He invited his hearers to change, to prepare for and live the values of the kingdom (Mark 1:15). Despite the witness he gave – by word and action – it became clear that most of his hearers were not going to follow him with such a change.
So Jesus decides to do things in a new way:
- He’ll establish a community of his believers, with Peter as head, though he does not organise it in any real way;
- Give his life as a ransom for all, though not all will accept his ransom. He did this through his passion, death and resurrection and he left a memorial of this action: the Eucharist (and particularly his instruction: ‘do this in memory of me.’
And this new way included his injunctions in John 13:34 (a new commandment….) and John 13:15 (wash feet…).
Jesus wanted his community to have his attitudes – Matthew 5:3-12. To be a disciple of Jesus demands personal commitment and self-sacrifice. Among his committed followers were many women (Luke 8:2 and Mark 15:40-41).
Jesus began to place greater emphasis on how we relate to and treat each other rather than how we observed the Mosaic Law (e.g. his question in Luke 6:9 and his words in Luke 3:10-14).
The experience of his baptism by John made him conscious of his own blessedness by God. But he was conscious that others too were blessed by God. As a result of this, Jesus’ whole orientation was towards doing the Father’s will in all things and all ways. He spent nights in prayer with the Father; his heart was centred on God ‘where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’.
Every leaders needs to have a vision of what he intends to do. Luke 4:18-19 could be considered Jesus’ Mission Statement, to use modern parlance! It refers back to Isaiah 61:1-3 – ‘the spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…’. And his followers would also achieve this if they followed his injunctions in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-48). Jesus also encouraged them to have the correct attitude in regard to fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
In so doing, they would fulfil his words in John 13:34.
Fifth reflection: Jesus of Nazareth (2)
The reign of God was the focus of Jesus’ ministry. However his understanding of the ‘reign of God’ was different from that of the people. Jesus’ ‘reign of God’ would come about as the people changed their lives and followed His way. Jesus invited all to a lived faith and not just a professed one.
Today many people reduce faith to belief. For Jesus it was more. It also meant a loving trusting relationship with God coupled with the morals and values by which we will live. In other words Jesus preached a wholistic faith.
Living the Gospel command of love is the way we will profess our faith, by word and action.
The law of love is based on Deuteronomy 6:5 (love God) and Leviticus 19:18 (your neighbour).
In the New Testament read Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34 and Luke 10:25-38 to know about the law of love.
Mark’s is the earliest Gospel so it may be the closest to what Jesus said. Love is based on the first of the 10 Commandments: to make God the God of our lives and have no other god apart from Him. Putting the God of love at the centre of our life requires a radical act to commit ourselves to a triune relationship: with God, neighbour and self.
To love demands that we make a personal commitment and be ready to make self-sacrifice (Mark 8:34). Taking up my cross is the other side of the love coin. Keeping the double commandment of Love and carrying our cross is the essence of Christian discipleship and spirituality.
Carrying our daily cross as Jesus wants us to demands an examination of the following:
Relationships – keeping proper boundaries in the different situations in which we find ourselves: personal and ministerial.
We must also examine our life of celibacy; our life in common with all Christians; striving to grow in the virtues we are weak in or lack. To achieve victory over our weaknesses and grow in virtue it is necessary to be healed of the emotional wounds we have, particularly from our early years, which are often the root of sinful habits and tendencies in later life.
We must cope with the trials and tribulations of life, e.g. illness, advancing years, failure, bereavement, misunderstanding… To cope with even one of our tribulations is not easy and can involve asceticism of heroic proportions. Responding well to it will be part of what being a strong human being and mature Christian requires.
Finally, we are called to love our enemies, never easy. People who get on our nerves, always say the wrong thing that irks us, those we’ve fallen out with… No mean achievement to love such people but it is essential to discipleship.
Sports commentators often refer to a sportsperson as having a ‘great engine’! Our great engine is the Holy Spirit, alive, active, creating and prompting us always to God’s special presence in the world. Just as a yacht needs to unfurl its sails to get the wind to propel it along the sea, so we must unfurl our sails to get the breath of the Spirit to help us through the sea of life, with purpose, energy and delight (Romans 5:5 and John 14:18)
May the energy of the Holy Spirit inflate and inflame you.
Sixth reflection: The Risen Christ
St Paul reminds us (1 Corinthians 5:12-19) that the basis for believing in our mission is the reality of the Resurrection of Christ. The Creed states baldly: ‘on the third day he rose again’.
Is it true? And if it is, how can the resurrection give hope that we too will be freed from death?
The challenge facing God after the Passion and death of Jesus was to convince everyone that divine love is eternal and conquers even death itself. Against all human reasoning the Resurrection is our entry into eternal life and joy.
In his earthly life, Jesus showed that he had some mastery over death – he raised Lazarus, the daughter of Jairus and the widow’s son at Nain. Yet the disciples were utterly shocked when Jesus himself died on the Cross. To convince them that he still had mastery over death demanded a major event: the Resurrection.
It began with the empty tomb but that wouldn’t prove resurrection. So God’s plan was that Jesus would again meet the disciples in their ordinary lives:
– they’d gone back fishing and he meets them at the shore;
– two were on their way to Emmaus and he accompanies them;
– in the Upper room.
These and other encounters with the Risen Lord impacted on them to such an extent that they no longer feared anything and went out to proclaim boldly that He was Risen. Jesus used no earth-shattering miracle to convince them; no, he met them where they were at.
He wished them peace and promised them the Holy Spirit. Then fired up with the energy of the Holy Spirit they would carry His message to the ends of the earth. The Holy Spirit would be the fire that would bring warmth and light to people’s lives.
At the Ascension they were asked why they were staring up into heaven? It was as if to say: get on with it, stop staring into heaven and get about the work that you’ve been commissioned to do and you’ve seen Jesus do. 2 Corinthians 5:20 and John 21:15-17 are some of the things they (and we) must do.
The Resurrection is our guarantee of eternal life. Death still remains but it is the door through which we pass in order to receive the fullness of life. There we will be our full selves, our true selves. Like Christ, we will be transformed but yet we will be the same.
Another lesson the Resurrection teaches is that unavoidable suffering if patiently endured is not wasted but is redemptive and rich with eternal meaning.
Fr John then gave a meditation on Luke 24:13-35 (the two disciples on the road to Emmaus). We will present it separately at a future date.
Seventh reflection: The Eucharist
We would like to be remembered for something worthwhile. For that reason we celebrate birthdays anniversaries etc. Jesus gave us the Eucharist in the contect of the Passover meal, a ritual with which his disciples would be very familiar.
But when Jesus used the words ‘do this in remembrance of me’ he did not mean it in a nostalgic kind of way as we would e.g. remember a wedding on an anniversary. Jesus is speaking of his entire life and telling those gathered with him ‘do (all of) this.
In celebrating the Eucharist we bring to mindf a host of memories about Jesus, who he was, what he did… The word sacrifice of the Mass has a double meaning: to make (something) holy or to do (something) holy. And using the second meaning we can see how the Eucharist is the summary of Jesus’ life, doing everything that was holy. St Paul tells us that our entire life should be a following of Jesus (Ephesians 5:2).
In Matthew 4 we read how Jesus was tempted to do unholy things. He did not. When we receive Him in Holy Communion we are graced to do holy things and resist evil. The Eucharist not only feeds and nurtures us but it also whets our appetite to do even more, to work for God’s justice on earth.
The main features of Jesus’ plan were proclamation, witness, dialogue and liberation. What God asks us to do in life is tailor-made to fit us in the situation in which we find ourselves. For those who are advancing in years it may not be possible to fulfil the above features of God’s plan as much as they did in the past. But they too still have a role to play:
see the way Jesus related to people – in an inclusive way. “You only love God as much as you love the person you love least.” (Dorothy Day);
his table-fellowship – it was the sick not the healthy who need the physician.
foot washing – the central act of the Last Supper in John is the washing by Jesus (the Master) of the feet of the disciples (the subjects). To what extent does humble service form part of my life?
boundary crossing – Matthew 8:20. Jesus was always on the lookout for people with troubled lives and troubled bodies in order to bring them into contact with the Good News of God’s love for them. What boundaries have I set up to protect my ‘comfort zone’? We are invited to make a conscious commitment to move out of a comfort zone and into the zone of God’s people in need.
Eight reflection: Ageing