Listening to Jesus

Recollection on Matt 13:1-03, could ask, “Do you hear Jesus talking to you”? An incredulous look may question the questioner’s state of mind. In Christ’s own time people failed to understand his teachings because he spoke in parables. It would be natural, among the distractions and scientific learning, if one’s first response is that of denial. But, to his believers Christ still speaks through scriptures, the cosmos and all it contains. One needs the grace granted to the apostles to understand the master’s words.  

It is not surprising that the uninitiated fail to see the signs of seasons, skies and nature. In a superficial Life we  take “messages” at face value. Pop culture germinated in this existence  for the moment. it’s a mentality that stretches into every aspect of modern life. Fearfully, I remember the children’s story, where a grasshopper frolicked in the sun, while an ant laboured through the good times to lay by stores for darker times. We overlook consequences. Lifetimes and resources are being spent rueing  past actions and lost opportunities. Decisions that were based on choices. Can we hear a gentle voice of caution and guidance during our decision making? If so, I believe that it is Jesus speaking to us.

How scrupulously correct we seek to be in our interactions. How scrupulously  we watch our own and other people’s behaviour. Appearance and perceptions are important. Yet, we are also prepared to let “unscrupulous” behaviour slide by in the interests of social unity and “ political correctness”. Our current norms tend to be relative (one might say ambivalent ) to the priorities dictated by perceptions of Freedom. Secular society’s great gift to the world is the feeling of liberation from the yokes of religion, morality and orthodoxy. One is free to act as one pleases so long as the majority in government feels comfortable about it.

Many psychiatrists’ couches have given relief to burdened consciences by differentiating between scruple and conscience. In associating scruples with social behaviour they neutralise the fears of damnation and consequences of sin- which would be borne by an individual conscience. Reparation is offered by way of changing habits, commonsense rational solutions and monetary compensation. Once done it is hoped there will be no lasting scars or damages. Figuratively, an eye is offered for an eye –  the court allows it, justice allows it. If unresolved flash backs begin to haunt, the pain can be eased by clinical intervention. It is to be resolved, or, treated in the here and now.

But, not all rely on terra firma solutions. There are transcendental extensions for those who believe that we are more than just mind and body. To them actions and consequences must be resolved not only in the body and mind, but in the spirit too. They are intertwined influencing and directing each other.  The ancients understood this and devised systems and traditions for dealing with human conditions in an ever changing and evolving universe. Social changes have been some times too strong for traditions tarnished and diminished by human misadventures and the sands of time. To those grounded in the traditions of the elders there are insights and revelations not granted to the intelligent and worldly learned. For them there is no bad conscience: it’s a gift of discernment keeping the wayfarer on the straight and narrow. Believers are able to distinguish between an earthly “scruple” and the grace of a conscience. Scruples may tell us when we are wrong, wrong, wrong, but do not offer healing or ways of redemption. Conscience indicates when we are off the track, where, why, and how to mend a relationship that may have been put to risk.

Signs of Our Times

When I was young I used to enjoy a good “Western” yarn. The gunslinging heroes, saloon scraps, and endless cattle herds filled the imagination. A scene often repeated, with variations, was that of a protagonist locked up in a cell, with a baying Lynch mob outside demanding summary execution. Often, the local sheriff would round up a posse to chase down a bad guy. The outlaw, brought to heal, was dealt short justice; timing was determined by the proximity of a suitable tree. The posse would return to town, and head for the saloon to wash the blood down. In the outside scene tumble weed blow across the town, and dust settles on all that hive of activity.

What has not changed? We still go crazy in a herd situation. The mob may not string up poets of bad verses, but they easily overlook niceties when properly warmed up for the occasion. I sit at Liberty’s feet and ponder: “ Lady, your lamp is lamp no longer; it’s a torch in the hands of anarchists.” Simple, good, well-intended people may set out on intended peaceful expressions civic rights. But, their aspirations and motives can be overwhelmed when sympathetic groups join their number. The voice and placards is amplified, raising passions and bravado. Simple words turn to missiles: property becomes the object of vented fury. When Law enforcements try to push the people back in line, violence erupts, amid accusations and counter accusation. In the chaos, it becomes a free for all – all grievances smothering  intent for reform.

Some would resolutely call this an expression of a “healthy democracy”. People have become desensitised enough to label disrespectful verbal abuse as “robust debate”. We are all beneficiaries ( hence also defenders ) of our fragile democratic principles. Some are chosen for greater responsibility – hence with authority to bring about greater good. Unfortunately, spoilt by privilege, they prefer to sit in comfort. It turns farce when some join the protesters outside, effectively protesting their own impotences. In every structure people would rather point fingers rather than exert themselves to act as change agents. Every day, across the country, hosts of investigations and enquiries are being funded by the innocent citizens. Unabashedly, politicians, and even administrators, entrusted with governance, call for Royal Commissions or Inquiry of some name – the accused turned accuser!

Tennyson said, a good custom can corrupt the world. So it is with Democracy. We may have over-indulged on Freedom. Little acts of social action and broadsheets, conscientiously printed off letterpress machines, have been devoured by insatiable monsters that are getting hard to handle. Our temple to Liberty is tottering, toxins corroding its foundations and the structures. Like arrant kids we frolic ignoring the shaky walls. 

JUDGE NOT MY ACTIONS ,BUT THE BEHAVIOUR

  Actions are hollow movements; having neither senses nor directions – a dynamism shared by living creatures. In humans it transforms as “behaviour”. Actions are automatic and “motor-driven”: behaviour develops as a conditioned response, involving some intellectual overlay. The action, of itself remains neutral – free of conscious, or, unconscious drivers. How can it be judged?

Behaviour manifests who we are – the sum of our inherited traits and subsequent learning. Learning results from many influences. One may say it’s the sedimentation of learning through our human timeline. Lessons passed down the generations become common to the species. Actual learning (within a person’s lifetime) adds to determine the individual’s propensities in behaviour.

From birth, experiences channel our behaviour. Family, community and cultural value systems lead to character forming. Our adaption of these vital influences is subject to the supreme gift of free will. We are judged by alignment to the ruling norms and expectations. We may be good, better, or, best in the eyes of our peers and dominant groups. Behaviour, judged subjectively within the group, may be viewed entirely differently by others that have grown up with different experiences, and cultural outlooks. The dilemma is that we cannot have a universally acceptable ethos. Superficially, we may all agree on things like “Thou shalt not Kill”. But, in reality is that so? Opinions will differ when we consider the long list of “Ifs” and “Buts” and justifications based on cultural bias. Essentially, who are we to judge? 

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Honouring Liberty

        The catch cry is “Freedom”. Yet. How is it conceived ; how practised; how delivered? Is it just a populist posture? How deeply is it pondered upon by its proponents? How often do they question the agenda that puts forward new propositions? How does it propose to “liberate” followers? In other words, what effort is put in by way of discernment? Every decision has consequences. The gifts and the price of embracing  liberty need to be properly appreciated.

   The incessant demands for freedom cloud judgement. Like blind followers, some continue to embrace the increasingly dramatic positions and opinions. High minded aspirations, in many cases, have degenerated into lists of “rights”. There are no counter lists of responsibilities to provide balance and accountability. Fools rushed in to Capitol Hill while angels counted the cost to the fabric of society. Drinking and frolicking may be great for a night out, but morning must bring the sobering headache. At a stage the very freedom sought becomes the controlling manacle.

We are a strange mixture of elements, compounds and a spark that combines intellect and intangibles feelings. The spark is the seat of our desires – the distinguishing intangible of our species. Desires that motivate higher aspirations can paradoxically lead to sub-human acts of savagery. Prominent is the desire for freedom and liberty. Human need for freedom is as strong as the need for bread and water. It arouses a restlessness to shake off the narrow confines of personal and environmental limitations. However, Freedom needs to be properly managed and disciplined for right results. Failure to do so can lead to digressions – even anarchy.

The Epiphany

Joan and I shared a historic moment on this great feast in 1968. A “star” led from our homes, to a humble chapel in Jabalpur, India. There were no glorious streams from heaven; no Magi, nor startling bolt as dropped St Paul from his mount. We couldn’t honour the King of King with frankincense, gold or myrrh. Yet our hearts beat joyously as we received Him in the Blessed Sacrament. Then, solemnly we sealed the covenant of our love before His altar. We came from our different ways. Now, united we stepped out by another way, on this journey, that’s both natural and spiritual. 

What changed in the lives of those shepherds in Bethlehem, or of the wise men, we can only wonder. The moment revisits in many ways on the journey. Most of the time we are too taken up with busyness to listen. But, the moments that take us unawares are moments we treasure and like Mary and Joseph “pondering the event in our hearts”.

The Role of Property

“ A global ethic of solidarity and cooperation in the service of a future (will be ) shaped by interdependence and shared responsibility in the whole human family.”  Fratelli Tutti (Para 127).

In a nutshell, it is the thesis of the exhortation – and the Pope’s belief that “all of us are born with the same dignity”. Privilege cannot be use to suppress the rights of the less privileged. What we have is a gift in common to all. Possessions, cannot be considered the cardinal right of individuals. As a community, we are obliged to ensure that everyone lives in dignity with opportunity for integral development. To be perfect is not an easy choice!

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Credo 1 The Eucharistic Prayer

“When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.”

When I repeat these words at the Eucharist I try to pray them meaningfully. That’s against earlier years, when the words just rolled off in anticipation of the next response. Since the First Holy Communion, I felt that I had been dutifully attending mass, and apart from frequent distractions, prayed sincerely ( as I had been taught). But, at some stage, an emptiness appeared. Was I addressing the priest? My missal, or some vacant space that would not respond? I felt I needed to have a more intimate connection with the object, the people and celebration. The conversion took time over a meandering progress in my own spiritual awareness.

Essentially, it came down to mulling over the elements in the prayer: bread, drink the Passion and the Second Coming. Smugly people who can deny what I consider to be hard facts. Cliches and Catechism lessons, slided, were revisited, and persevered with, till they made sense and echoed responses in a restless heart.

Bread nourishes and provides viaticum through the journey of life. The Lord provided manna in the desert to the people in their wanderings to the Promised Land. The Lord tested and reconfirmed the covenant He had made with them. The Exodus defined their complete dependence on God. By the time Jesus came, sacrifices and celebrations had dulled memories to the extent that form and ceremony became paramount. Despite continual reminders from the prophets to the people that God will be satisfied by change and contrition, they vied with pretentious offerings of beasts and grain. It was, therefore, a stumbling block when Jesus offered His body as the viaticum. But, when Jesus said, “This is my body”, there is no record of doubts among the disciples; just immediate and complete acceptance. 

“Take this all of you, and drink from it: this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.” One could visualise a high priest splashing blood on offerings of atonement. A vanity for some, but, a deeply moving ritual to those of the Jewish faith. Jesus supplanted the ancient ritual, by offering his own body and blood for the atonement of the sins of world. For this he came, for this he suffered and died. It is a covenant like no other, sealed by the master’s own blood. 

The Passion conjures the sweats of blood at Gethsemane; public shaming and scourging at the pillar; the burden and struggles on the way to Calvary; the indignity and pain at the despoiling of his robes; the final agony of the crucifixion itself. Meditation evokes culpa and contrition in those that believe it was the once-off sacrifice made for the forgiveness of the sins of the world.

But, Jesus did not to leave the world grieving in despair. Sin brought death into the world (an absence of God); through His resurrection we are given hope. His Second Coming will be the final reconciliation; dividing those who choose to follow from those who choose their own way.

Those talented and of the world may see this as marching through the eye of a needle; an irrational aberration. With their chosen priorities and attachments they cannot reconcile worldiness with a transcendental existence. We have been admonished to live in this world, without being of this world. Therefore, we believe that faith can move mountains, quieten storms, even reverse the laws of nature in small and great things. When the Master blesses a loaf of bread and turns it into His body, we believe. Just as He turned water into wine, His words change sacramental wine into His blood. He has said that unless we eat His body and drink His blood, we cannot have life hereafter. Those with ears listen: those who wish it are free to believe. Lord. I believe; bless my unbelief.