Onward To The Kingdom

Considering a “reflection for the day”, I am directed to sync my devotions and spirituality with my chronological age. I admit there has been a lag since  being an  altar boy, learning catechism verbatim, habitual morning and evening prayers etc, and the emergence of “Doubting Thomas”. There has been a misfit that I was not aware of. How can a menacing devil sit on one shoulder,  while a gentle angel prompts tenderly through the other ear? The juvenile symbols can no longer satisfy or be wished away as “mysteries”. One needs more fodder for a mature intellect  that questions as it digests. It must implicitly comply with visible and empirical laws.

This papacy heralded the Church to be outward looking; echoing Christ’s instruction for the disciples to go out into the world preaching the kingdom of God. The ship of the Church navigates new, uncharted waters. Within a few decades a world order has changed, yielding place to new. Recognised logic and eloquence have been shaded by laws of physics and technology. In the new environment secularism morphs in new trajectories; creating and dismantling ground and structures with transient and soluble foundations. Everything’s relative; today’s reality becomes a myth tomorrow. Everyone has a right to be right; a right proven right by the right methodology ( in some cases created by the decibels of the announcement). Within this mayhem, how does a believer preach, or look outwardly?

Notable saints would advise the need to first recognise the problem. Then name it. With discernment and prayer one can proceed with the logical process of solving the problem. Despite eloquence from the pulpit, people are attracted away by the commonsense and science of modernism. While, in our churches pews go empty. I think loss of God is the main problem – no matter how we dress it. Secularism is the organic growth from an amalgam of scientific enlightenment and cultural diversities. On the one hand we seek empirically based answers, on the other we are confronted by new cultures pushing for validity, confusing traditional thinking born of faith, hope and charity.  The problem becomes one of identity – the image we want others to see us by. The disciples must decide how to assert themselves while accepting the complexities of the macrocosm. To successfully accomplish the given mission one needs “to read the signs effectively”. This is possible when one matures in understanding with wisdom. One does not need to quibble for words; the words will be given at the appointed time. 

When Anarchy Usurps Liberty

There are daily crusades in the media over some cause or other against autocratic authoritarianism. The catch cry is “Freedom”. Some right minded individuals, unknowingly, get corralled into a wider web of indiscriminate negativity and seditions. Freedom is an innate aspiration of the human spirit. We start early as rebellious kids, flaunting rules and wishes of the family. We naturally side with the underdog against unequal odds. Each aspires to be a Prometheus, bringing enlightenment and freedom to an oppressed humanity. This “spirit” is also exploited to seduce for ulterior motives and agenda. But. We are also gifted with a faculty of intelligence that offers checks and balances in a wobbly world. It’s warning: “thou shalt not be brain washed”- a process for depriving the mind of the ability to think for itself.
A situation arises, where, the call for liberation from a tyranny, leads to enslavement to another. Revolution itself, personal or political is a form of purgation that shows a willingness to change, which is always good. But, like all things natural, it leads to a paradox. As the yin and yang day and night co-exist as two sides of the same coin. The difference is in what we willingly see. Governments and social attitudes change, but the change is not viewed in the same way universally. Changes brought about by social action cause more pain and tyranny when change agents become the controllers. How often loud voices of the minority have led to legislated changes that prove oppressive for the rest? They become a nightmare for government agencies and the community at large.
Moral of the story to me is that reason and common sense must not be forsaken when considering innovations that involve two or more individuals.

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.

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? 

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.