Our Biblical Blog /'Examined Life'
Our Biblical Blog /'Examined Life'
Jesus our Sabbath (our optional world)
Jesus' 'I am sayings' in John's Gospel seem to be overtly repetitive. One can be really puzzled, why does he repeats the same thing, or similar thoughts so many times? And it is in the present time: 'I am saying this to you', I am the vine and you are the branches...
One of the answers is that it wants to emphasise something crucial. Life with Him is different that life without Him.Or, in other words, this world, what we see, what we suffer from so much, which causes so much anxiety and uncertainty, including wars, is not the only world. Actually, the world we see, should not be as it is. There are many painful alternatives, but the Kingdom of God should be the true face of the world in which we live.
It is our choice, it is the fruit of our commitment and conversion. This is the fruit of being loved by God, and loving god.'' 'This [optional, fulfilled world] is a community that continually loves and learns, and the learning includes hearing, searching, questioning, seeing, believing, understanding, remembering, and knowing. "I have said these things to you while I am still with you." "But th Advocat4 the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you." This is a community of continuous learning, a community that continuously loves and learns' (David Ford)
It is also, not accidental, that the them of Judgement is recurring. The Kingdom of God, in particular, when it is not brought to realisation, is a our judgement. In other words, the present world, if it lacks the Kingdom of God, judges us. We can imagine that this judgement is not too favourable when we see the war in Ukraine among us. Helping hands, food, hospitality if offered, will go in our favour. For we can speak of the 'crisis-face' of the Kingdom of God... The nations, and their silent citizens, who are pumping weapons into this war, will be judged unfavourably. The common good of the people, the right of citizens to have a decent living is just being sacrificed when our politics knowingly-unknowingly gives in the interests of the arm industry.
A third recurring theme at the end of John's Gospel is the lots of 'I'-s, the words of mutual indwelling. 'I am in the Father', 'you are in me'.
In facing our judgement, we understand, why it is so important. In order to live the depth of peace, joy and Trust in Jesus, we need a special sense. We need an eye for being with our Lord. This special ability is our desire and commitment to celebrate the Lord's day.
We draw strength and commitment from the Lord's Day, when we celebrate the Resurrection. Meeting our Lord in our worship, drawing on the Jewish appreciation of the Sabbath, we might say, that when we rest on this day, it brings 'a delight and a joy so great and so wonderful that to enjoy them one is endowed with a enshah yeterah, an extra soul.' This extra soul is a 'new access to the powers of appreciation.'
We Christians, we have this extra soul, or extra eye to see the Lord's day. We need this experience, as our 'daily-weekly bread'. This will nourish us to work on making our world a better place.... our life to be visible part of the Kingdom of God.
Let us celebrate the healing power of the Lord's day. Let us draw on this experience of the celebration of the Eucharist, that this day will be 'an experience of freedom', from the illnesses of the world, 'a day of detachment from the vulgar, a day of independence of external obligations, a day on which we stop worshiping the idols of technical civilisation, a day on which we use no money.' We should make this day so much dedicated to the Lord, and ways of resting with God and one another, to the extent that the external world should see it as 'Christian laziness'. When we witness to that God, our Loving Lord, with his day of the Resurrection, is all in all.
Today, as we embark on the Lenten season, the Lord says to us: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Mt 6:1). It may be surprising, but in today’s Gospel, the word we hear most frequently is reward (cf. vv 188.8.131.52). Usually, on Ash Wednesday, we think more of the commitment demanded by the journey of faith, rather than the prize that is its goal. Yet today Jesus keeps returning to that word, reward, which can appear to be the reason for our actions. Yet within our hearts, in fact, there is a thirst, a desire for a reward, which attracts and motivates us.
The Lord, however, speaks of two kinds of reward to which our lives can tend: a reward from the Father and, on the other hand, a reward from others. The first is eternal, the true and ultimate reward, the purpose of our lives. The second is ephemeral, a spotlight we seek whenever the admiration of others and worldly success become the most important thing for us, our greatest gratification. Yet the latter is merely an illusion. It is like a mirage that, once we get there, proves illusory; it leaves us unfulfilled. Restlessness and discontent are always around the corner for those who look to a worldliness that attracts but then disappoints. Those who seek worldly rewards never find peace or contribute to peace. They lose sight of the Father and their brothers and sisters. This is a risk we all face, and so Jesus tells us to “beware”. As if to say: “You have a chance to enjoy an infinite reward, an incomparable reward. Beware, then, and do not let yourself be dazzled by appearances, pursuing cheap rewards that disappoint as soon as you touch them”.
The rite of receiving ashesbon our heads is meant to protect us from the error of putting the reward received from others ahead of the reward we receive from the Father. This austere sign, which leads us to reflect on the transience of our human condition, is like a medicine that has a bitter taste and yet is effective for curing the illness of appearances, a spiritual illness that enslaves us and makes us dependent on the admiration of others. It is a true “slavery” of the eyes and the mind (cf. Eph 6:6, Col 3:22). A slavery that makes us live our lives for vainglory, where what counts is not our purity of heart but the admiration of others. Not how God sees us, but how others see us. We cannot live well if we are willing to be content with that reward.
The problem is that this “illness of appearances” threatens even the most sacred of precincts. That is what Jesus’ tells us today: that even prayer, charity and fasting can become self-referential. In every act, even the most noble, there can hide the worm of self-complacency. Then our heart is not completely free, for it seeks, not the love of the Father and of our brothers and sisters, but human approval, people’s applause, our own glory. Everything can then become a kind of pretense before God, before oneself and before others. That is why the word of God urges us to look within and to recognize our own hypocrisies. Let us make a diagnosis of the appearances that we seek, and let us try to unmask them. It will do us good.
The ashes bespeak the emptiness hiding behind the frenetic quest for worldly rewards. They remind us that worldliness is like the dust that is carried away by a slight gust of wind. Sisters and brothers, we are not in this world to chase the wind; our hearts thirst for eternity. Lent is the time granted us by the Lord to be renewed, to nurture our interior life and to journey towards Easter, towards the things that do not pass away, towards the reward we are to receive from the Father. Lent is also a journey of healing. Not to be changed overnight, but to live each day with a renewed spirit, a different “style”. Prayer, charity and fasting are aids to this. Purified by the Lenten ashes, purified of the hypocrisy of appearances, they become even more powerful and restore us to a living relationship with God, our brothers and sisters, and ourselves.
Prayer, humble prayer, prayer “in secret” (Mt 6:6), in the hiddenness of our rooms, becomes the secret to making our lives flourish everywhere else. Prayer is a dialogue, warm in affection and trust, which consoles and expands our hearts. During this Lenten season, let us pray above all by looking at the Crucified Lord. Let us open our hearts to the touching tenderness of God, and in his wounds place our own wounds and those of our world. Let us not be always in a rush, but find the time to stand in silence before him. Let us rediscover the fruitfulness and simplicity of a heartfelt dialogue with the Lord. For God is not interested in appearances. Instead, he loves to be found in secret, “the secrecy of love”, far from all ostentation and clamour.
If prayer is real, it necessarily bears fruit in charity. And charity sets us free from the worst form of enslavement, which is slavery to self. Lenten charity, purified by these ashes, brings us back to what is essential, to the deep joy to be found in giving. Almsgiving, practised far from the spotlights, fills the heart with peace and hope. It reveals to us the beauty of giving, which then becomes receiving, and thus enables us to discover a precious secret: our hearts rejoice more at giving than at receiving (cf. Acts 20:35).
Finally, fasting. Fasting is not a diet. Indeed, it sets us free from the self-centred and obsessive quest of physical fitness, in order to help us to keep in shape not only our bodies but our spirit as well. Fasting makes us appreciate things for their true worth. It reminds us in a concrete way that life must not be made dependent upon the fleeting landscape of the present world. Nor should fasting be restricted to food alone. Especially in Lent, we should fast from anything that can create in us any kind of addiction. This is something each of us should reflect on, so as to fast in a way that will have an effect on our actual lives.
Prayer, charity and fasting need to grow “in secret”, but that is not true of their effects. Prayer, charity and fasting are not medicines meant only for ourselves but for everyone: they can change history. First, because those who experience their effects almost unconsciously pass them on to others; but above all, because prayer, charity and fasting are the principal ways for God to intervene in our lives and in the world. They are weapons of the spirit and, with them, on this day of prayer and fasting for Ukraine, we implore from God that peace which men and women are incapable of building by themselves.
O Lord, you see in secret and you reward us beyond our every expectation. Hear the prayers of those who trust in you, especially the lowly, those sorely tried, and those who suffer and flee before the roar of weapons. Restore peace to our hearts; once again, grant your peace to our days. Amen.
The school of attention
God's way of starting a day
This is how usually a ‘bad day’ of mine begins. I have some ill-feeling because of a disagreement over something, which has managed to slip over from yesterday into this morning. It was traveling with me through the night. Then, something at the beginning of the new day, let’s say, a minor mistake by others, triggers out this resentment. It becomes like ‘spectacles’ though which I see the upcoming events of the day. It is, however, like tinted diving googles. I see everything what happens through these hijacked colours. Then, small conflicts trigger out over-sensitivity, and, this, prompts over-reactions. Like a domino-effect, the whole day can end up in ruins.
This morning, at the beginning of the Morning Prayer, I was aware of my googles. I felt, I could not remove it just by a thought. Something else was needed. Then the idea occurred that yep, we are praying, right now, the morning prayer to God, and, together with God. This is not only us, who are starting this day, but God, too. So, I continued this quiet unexpected inner conversation. Well, this is how I am starting my day. But what about God? He also has to start this very day, as this is his Creation. He can’t afford the human luxury of having the day with grudges. He simply cannot get out of the bed on the wrong side (his Creation, sic!). That thought has instantaneously removed my tinted googles. God starts the day in peace and mercy, and with a positive curiosity. So why not imitate Him?
While singing the psalms set for the morning prayer, I managed to look at the icon of the full-figured Christ Pantocrator. The icon itself, as one can see it in our chapel, is just a cheap copy. No particular artistic value. But the icon works as it should. Jesus is sitting on his throne. In the background, intense gold. This golden background, with the Judging God, journeying with us into this new day, summed up the moral of what I understood of how God was starting the day. No remorse, no complaints, no fights and inner-courts over events from yesterday. Only free-flowing pure positivity. The magma of divine nature, which is capable of melting everything into herself…and transforming them. Giving things, thoughts and events the shape, they should have.
If we let our hearts be transformed and directed by these positive energies - the whole day will be, literally, different. You become master of the moment: you can start an encounter with a smile, with a positive twist to the moment. Let us see, how the day, when we begin it as God does, is unfolding. I am sure there are many surprises - just by following the threads, hidden in the day, of His positivity. So, my fallen dominoes, are now being played backwards, the fallen pieces of a ruined day are being set up, one by one. Waiting for God’s touch, not of mine.
Sensitivity to Dream (Daniel 2:31-45)
In the Bible, these are often those who are in exile, or on the move, who have dreams. When there is an existential crisis, there is an eruption of dreams. No wonder that Jewish people (Abraham, Joseph in Egypt, prophet Daniel, Saint Joseph, the three Kings, etc.) became ‘experts’ of dream interpretation. Culture itself can go through cataclysmic changes, like Europe did at the time when Freud and Jung laid the foundations for interpreting dreams.
In these ‘exile situations’, identity becomes fluid. The old belonging is lost, the present is unsettled, the future is yet out of grasp. Undefined. We Christians, today (again!) live with the sense of Biblical exile. It is part of scrutinising the signs of the times. The apocalyptic mood of the readings before advent highlights this instability around, but also in, us. And just like our Old Testament predecessors, we can attain the ability to decipher dreams, and understand the meaning of the signs surrounding us. Like Proust in Search of Lost Times, we can tell a very different story from that of our age. However, instead of a psychological past, we can ‘arrive at a separate world, a descent into the abyss of the self, in which the ego’s boundaries dissolve and are lost. Like a hallucination empty of objects and people, enveloping the sleeper as he floats in a state of phychic quasi-death.’ Here we arrive to ‘the edge of the unsayable.’ (The Philosophy of Julia Kristeva, Open Court Puplishing Company, Chicago, Illinois 2020, p.99)
As mentioned, for the members of the Covenant (old and new), it is not a retreat into the past, but an insight into the Kingdom of God, the World to come. Our dream eruptions - reveal a depth. Though things are fragmentary and can fall apart, as ‘the centers no longer hold’, but not in this under-surface realm. Our church buildings, icons, and doctrine, the Creed - with their order, and contra-movement to the ephemeral nature of the age - have never spoken so eloquently of the firm roots which we have or can develop. These roots are the guarantees that we can become interpreters of dreams instead of being entrapped in a dream-like state, without a real voice to awaken ourselves.
So, this ability to ‘root’, to understand, and interpret is the moment equal to the Catholic sacrament of transubstantiation of the Eucharist. When we celebrate the mass and receive in the communion Christ himself and his story, we can freely access the Kingdom of God, its life-giving depths. The sings of the bread and wine, which belong to this world, as the Body and Blood of Christ, also belong to the world to come! (The world, in, and beyond our world.) In the communion, we understand that our age, with its powers, is not rock-solid at all. Actually, it is in a fluid state, regardless of the empires that are being built at the moment. The transubstantiation, the miracle of change and the manifestation of divine Presence, is our hidden and joyful ability to break free from the constraints (the mindset) of this world. Christians are free; our daily transubstantiation makes us free. The ability to read all the changes around us en Christo, in the freedom of the risen Lord. So, dear king Nebuchadnezzar (Zuckenberg-Musk), it is not the Lord, which is a dream like message. On the contrary, his resurrection is the real. And compared with him, everything what we judge to be real and rock-solid, your ‘meta-verses’ and extra-terrestrial expeditions, are put into question.
As silence and careful listening disappear, replaced by a frenzy of texting, this basic structure of sage human communication is at risk. A new lifestyle is emerging, where we create only what we want and exclude all that we cannot control or know instantly and superficially. This process, by its intrinsic logic, blocks the kind of serene reflection that could lead us to a shared wisdom.
Together, we can seek the truth in dialogue, in relaxed conversation or in passionate debate. To do so calls for perseverance; it entails moments of silence and suffering, yet it can patiently embrace the broader experience of individuals and peoples. The flood of information at our fingertips does not make for greater wisdom. Wisdom is not born of quick searches on the internet nor is it a mass of unverified data. That is not the way to mature in the encounter with truth. Conversations revolve only around the latest data; they become merely horizontal and cumulative. We fail to keep our attention focused, to penetrate to the heart of matters, and to recognize what is essential to give meaning to our lives. Freedom thus becomes an illusion that we are peddled, easily confused with the ability to navigate the internet. The process of building fraternity, be it local or universal, can only be undertaken by spirits that are free and open to authentic encounters.
'Easter is our ability to listen to others', on art.47-48 from Pope Francis' Fratelli Tutti
Easter Is Our Ability to Listen to Others', A homily on articles 47-48, 'Information Without Wisdom' from Pope Francis's Fratelli Tutti, his letter on fraternity and social friendship
True wisdom demands an encounter with reality. Today, however, everything can be created, disguised and altered. A direct encounter even with the fringes of reality can thus prove intolerable. A mechanism of selection then comes into play, whereby I can immediately separate likes from dislikes, what I consider attractive from what I deem distasteful. In the same way, we can choose the people with whom we wish to share our world. Persons or situations we find unpleasant or disagreeable are simply deleted in today’s virtual networks; a virtual circle is then created, isolating us from the real world in which we are living.
The ability to sit down and listen to others, typical of interpersonal encounters, is paradigmatic of the welcoming attitude shown by those who transcend narcissism and accept others, caring for them and welcoming them into their lives. Yet “today’s world is largely a deaf world… At times, the frantic pace of the modern world prevents us from listening attentively to what another person is saying. Halfway through, we interrupt him and want to contradict what he has not even finished saying. We must not lose our ability to listen”. Saint Francis “heard the voice of God, he heard the voice of the poor, he heard the voice of the infirm and he heard the voice of nature. He made of them a way of life. My desire is that the seed that Saint Francis planted may grow in the hearts of many”.
Even as individuals maintain their comfortable consumerist isolation, they can choose a form of constant and febrile bonding that encourages remarkable hostility, insults, abuse, defamation and verbal violence destructive of others, and this with a lack of restraint that could not exist in physical contact without tearing us all apart. Social aggression has found unparalleled room for expansion through computers and mobile devices.
This has now given free rein to ideologies. Things that until a few years ago could not be said by anyone without risking the loss of universal respect can now be said with impunity, and in the crudest of terms, even by some political figures. Nor should we forget that “there are huge economic interests operating in the digital world, capable of exercising forms of control as subtle as they are invasive, creating mechanisms for the manipulation of consciences and of the democratic process. The way many platforms work often ends up favouring encounter between persons who think alike, shielding them from debate. These closed circuits facilitate the spread of fake news and false information, fomenting prejudice and hate”.
We should also recognize that destructive forms of fanaticism are at times found among religious believers, including Christians; they too “can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication. Even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned”. How can this contribute to the fraternity that our common Father asks of us?
True, a worldwide tragedy like the Covid-19 pandemic momentarily revived the sense that we are a global community, all in the same boat, where one person’s problems are the problems of all. Once more we realized that no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together. As I said in those days, “the storm has exposed our vulnerability and uncovered those false and superfluous certainties around which we constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities… Amid this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about appearances, has fallen away, revealing once more the ineluctable and blessed awareness that we are part of one another, that we are brothers and sisters of one another”.
The world was relentlessly moving towards an economy that, thanks to technological progress, sought to reduce “human costs”; there were those who would have had us believe that freedom of the market was sufficient to keep everything secure. Yet the brutal and unforeseen blow of this uncontrolled pandemic forced us to recover our concern for human beings, for everyone, rather than for the benefit of a few. Today we can recognize that “we fed ourselves on dreams of splendour and grandeur, and ended up consuming distraction, insularity and solitude. We gorged ourselves on networking, and lost the taste of fraternity. We looked for quick and safe results, only to find ourselves overwhelmed by impatience and anxiety. Prisoners of a virtual reality, we lost the taste and flavour of the truly real”. The pain, uncertainty and fear, and the realization of our own limitations, brought on by the pandemic have only made it all the more urgent that we rethink our styles of life, our relationships, the organization of our societies and, above all, the meaning of our existence.
In this world that races ahead, yet lacks a shared roadmap, we increasingly sense that “the gap between concern for one’s personal well-being and the prosperity of the larger human family seems to be stretching to the point of complete division between individuals and human community… It is one thing to feel forced to live together, but something entirely different to value the richness and beauty of those seeds of common life that need to be sought out and cultivated”. Technology is constantly advancing, yet “how wonderful it would be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation could come with more equality and social inclusion. How wonderful would it be, even as we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters who orbit around us”.
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..