Our Biblical Blog /'Examined Life'
Our Biblical Blog /'Examined Life'
Today’s readings are interesting in terms of God’s interest in us. In brief, God is interested in our story. He never becomes indifferent to what is happening to us. So our special focus today is God’s leaning towards us; towards you. And this is at the heart of Christian witness: God’s divine Love is interested in us! When we pray in the words of the Psalmist, it is only seemingly a one-way communication: ‘O God, you are my God, for you I long.’ But this is not so. Our Gospel acclamation, the prayer with which we welcomed the Gospel, already shifted the emphasis: ‘May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our mind, so that we can see what hope his call holds for us.’
God’s being interested in us lies at the heart of Christian witness. Whatever happens in the world, we are to live as sign posts to the truth that God has never lost interest in our story. In a world of religious indifferentism people are entrapped in their narcissistic ego. Without this witness we are creating an ego (‘me’) centered world.
That’s the value of the ‘Christian personalism’. First, we witness to that God is always interested in our personal stories. God is listening to Isaiah’s personal ordeals. For God, Isaiah’s vocation is precious, just as our personal vocations where we live. ‘You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced; you have overpowered me: you were the stronger.’ And then God listens to Isaiah’s need to be rescued: ‘Then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me, I could not bear it.’
Then, our second witness is that God never loses interest in us a praying community: ‘Think of God’s mercy, my brothers, and worship him, I beg you, in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God.’ God is tireless in forgiving and mercy.
The Gospel fulfils God’s witness to his faithful interest in our lives. Jesus is sent to take upon himself all the sins of the world. His Cross is the sign that, that, literally, for God all lives matter. ‘Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day. ’ (Mat 16:21-22)
So let us be challenged by the ending of the Gospel. How would you read Peter’s ‘protest’ to see the Son of God in sufferance for us? How would you read Jesus’ response in terms of our witness? ’If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.’
As followers of Christ, let us join him, and show through our lives and thinking that God, through his Love, is interested in the lives of our neighbours and communities. What forms of witness do you have in mind?
Mary's Assumption as Ours
The feast of the Assumption remembers how Mary, at the moment of her death, immediately was taken up to Heaven. The feast celebrates the fulfilment of her complete co-operation with God’s plan for our salvation. All this started with her first Fiat, (let it be according to your will, and continued via her many ‘yes-es’ in support of her son’s redemptive work.)
However, we also celebrate in her our own hoped arrival to the House of Love. She was ‘the first citizen’ of Heaven, who entered it from among us. ‘Let us pray that we will join Mary, the mother of the Lord, in the glory of heaven.’ (Opening Prayer)
These are those aspects of the feast, which our believing intellect can grasp and understand through faith. The human person (‘the speaking being’) starts its journey into language when listening and looking up our mother’s words and face. Similarly, today’s feast is about contemplating Our Mother in order to ‘imitate’ her, and learn the language of our coming life. One of the first 'words' we learn is Mary’s yes to God’s will. ‘Let it be according to Thy word!’ Like the repeating heartbeats of our faith.
But there is a second ‘region’ of meaning of the Assumption. In the coming week, let us meditate on it, all of us, individually… Let us ask ourselves, why is the celebration of the Mother of God is so important, nay, timely today? What is the message of Mary’s divine motherhood? Why is she such an important ‘blueprint’ of our human love? For that human love, which, as she has shown, can intermingle with divine Love itself? In answering this question, I mention two reasons here.
Julia Kristeva observes, as a criticism, that Christianity’s is the last discourse on motherhood, and Life itself, we could add. Our secular culture, which is so clever in many ways, gives zero instruction and support to what it means to be a mother. Our Christian faith, unfalteringly, keeps us evaluating and appreciating the unique role of mothers, and fathers.
Two third of today’s children grow up without the experience of a father’s love. Perhaps the same can be said, in a symbolic way, that two third of people grow up without ‘the Father’s love’, the most precious experience of being brought up in the family of the Church.
That is why it is so important to hold in our hands the ‘hologram’ of the completeness of Love. This unbroken and wholeness of Love is there; is always offered to us to be healed by, to be nourished by, to be guided by, to be brought up by.
If broken families, broken individuals, broken societies -broken neighbourhoods -could contemplate this Emmanuel, this Love-with-us, through our Lady as the mother of all, it would make the missing difference in our lives. It would not sort out our problems, yet, it would be a beginning, a beginning anew with God. Just as the Mary and Joseph had to undertake a challenging, many times a seemingly impossible journey, full of dangers. The Assumption assures us that our paths can be ‘taken up’, and we can continue our journey closer to God, closer to the life and happiness God has envisioned for us, from our mother’s womb.
Finally, the Feast of the Assumption also wants us to be realistic. It is not about an idealising of our coming state. The Assumption is not an escapism into an ideal world vs. the confines of our daily life. Mary's return from earth to Heaven embraces all aspects of our lives. It is a celebration of our daily toiling, the banalities of existence. Not simply that our coming 'assumption' will sanctify it. Today's feast is the celebration of the value of the present moment, that of our present day. For they ground our coming life. They create opportunities to get closer to God. Every single day is part of our soul's ascension. Let us celebrate this mystery today with the Mother of God.
Our Vision of God
All of our readings in today’s mass can be summed up in a single theme. Namely, how we genuine faith connects us with God. What is the nature of this connection? Why and how is it different from any other power of attachment? Elija finds God not in powerful voices and external spectacles but in ‘the sound of a gentle breeze’. Apostle Paul describes the soul’s union with Christ when our ‘conscience is in union with the Holy Spirit.’ In the Gospel, we saw Peter and Jesus walking on the water, amidst the waves of a heavy sea. The apostle is hold above the water by his faith in Jesus, when his soul is peaceful and doubtless, and rescued by him, when that faith wavers. Inner peace connects him to his Master.
What is your Isaiah-moment of faith? What are your moments of ‘the gentle breath’, what makes you aware of God’s presence? Or, what are those moments, when you are seeking him in the wrong place, in ‘noisy power’, ‘earthquake’ and ‘fire’? What is the strategy, we all have to develop individually, to feel God’s invisible love?
Just after the horrors of the Second World War, the Hungarian writer (silenced by the communists) focused on this hidden presence of God. Despite the different context, it is the same problem: how and where can we perceice God in a world which does not want to seek him? In his book, The Philosophy of Wine, he writes: ‘I decided to write a prayer book for the atheists… I am aware of the difficulty of my task… I know that I cannot utter the word “God”. I must speak of him by using all sorts of other names such as kiss, or intoxication, or cooked ham. I chose wine as the most important name.’ Hence the title of his book, of which opening motto is ‘after all, too will remain, God and the wine.’
What do you choose, from among the variety of your experiences ‘as the most important name’ for God?
Because we must choose a name. Everybody does. And the options are either to find God in the wrong or the right place. To illustrate the point, I have found another quote, this time from a political activist. (You know my opinion about them, they are grave-diggers of truth and peace in society, which peace and social cohesion is the precondition for seeking truth.) ‘When we need to roll out we are uniformed and we can take that energy to our communities. The reason why a lot of youths get into the gangs is because they see the strongest thing is the gangs – they look up to the power…We don’t want to negotiate, we don’t want to sing songs, we don’t bring signs to a gunfight. We are an eye-for-an-eye organisation… We are preparing the community to be able to defend itself from any attack.’
We Christians have a great responsibility and a call for discernment. Is God in the voice of power and aggression? This is not a poetical question for which the answer we can take to be granted. Peter’s sinking when losing Jesus out of focus shows this. Our disappearing in the ‘raging sea’ of our age is a real danger. Our times is buzzing with the fake messiahs. Their tempting voice is followed by aggression, violence and destruction. That’s the nature of evil; devil’s pottery with fragile lives.
That’s why it is so important to live consciously with Jesus, and spend our best hours of the day with him. We need to cry daily with Peter, ‘Lord, save me!’ And to this request, Jesus always says: ‘Come!’ Let us go, and seek Him in the right place, where he is. Let us be different, as we ought to be, in our response to the question, ‘where God can be found?’ In the sound of a gentle breeze, in the conscience in union with the Holy Spirit, in our courage to cling to Christ. So, in other words, what are the deeds which reveal God’s presence most? In our coming week.
August 02nd, 2020
Being Embraced by God (18 OT A)
Last week, we could observe something very interesting in our readings of the Lectio Divina. We found it difficult to relate to the ongoing plots and wars of the kings of Israel. We particularly found it with unease to relate to wars and cruelty. We grasped that at the heart of these events was the betrayal of the God of the Covenant.
This Sunday (just as the past few ones) the contrast is enormous with these ‘week-day wrestling’ with our heavy texts. All of our readings can be summed up in terms of ‘being embraced by God’. ‘O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me!’ (entrance antihpon). ‘Draw near to your servants, and answer their prayers with unceasing kindness’ (Collect). ‘Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money, come! Buy corn without money, and eat, and at no cost, wine and milk.’ (Isaiah 55:1-3)
So let us focus on this contrast between the ‘real world of pain’ of our week-day readings (1, 2 Chronicles) and the joy of being embraced by God, and our clinging to this embracing God.
During the unfolding of the struggles of the prophets, gradually a conclusion, a kind of summary occurred to me. Actually, there is a profound connection with our age. The historical dramas are always there in the life of the faithful. History always comes upon us as crisis. The people suffer, things happen to families and individuals which they can’t prevent. And all in the midst of it God, before he comes to rescue us, asks us to return to him. That we listen to him, that we first embrace his saving words. We could see in those readings that the stake is high. If the people don’t listen, their faith, then their historical existence will be dispersed. They will disappear in the senseless karma of history.
Our age, today with the global epidemic of Covid 19 is exactly the same historical situation. It raises the same challenges to faith. First, we should repent and return to God. First, we should listen to his life-giving words. And it is these challenging moment of crisis when we should prove the most faithful. Our observance, our moral and financial support to our community is more timing than ever before.
Today’s Gospel give us a vital support. Saint Paul tells us, as an encouragement, that ‘nothing can come between us and the love of Christ. Even if we are troubled or worried, or being persecuted.’ Nothing can prevent us to live daily in the love of Christ. In his joy. Via his tenderness. Jesus shows us that sad news don’t turn off God’s loving embrace and sustenance. ‘When Jesus received the news of John the Baptist’s death he withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves.’ Yet, he continually shares that embrace of love which his Father offers him. So the next moment he shares with them his food. ‘And breaking the loaves handed them to his disciples who gave them to to crowds. They all eat as much they wanted.’
Pope Francis sums up this Biblical dynamic of suffering and being lifted up as God’s response to our turn to him in faithfulness. ‘Friendship with Jesus cannot be broken. He never leaves us, even though at times it appears that eh keeps silent. When we need him, he makes himself known to us (Jer 29:14); he remains at our side wherever we go (Jos 1:9). He never breaks his covenant. He simply asks that we not abandon him: “Abide in me” (Jn 15:4). But even if we stray from him, “he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim:13).’
Finally, as a visual illustration, let us contemplate our points about ‘pain in history’ and God’s never-ending embrace in the icon of the Loving Tenderness. The mystery of tenderness is beyond words. The shadow on the face of Mary is the shadow of his son’s coming suffering. Symbolically, the Mother of All is worried about our present sufferings. Yet, we can see God’s loving, over-arching embrace to console His mother, and us. When human and divine love are united (our turn to God in faith and love), it is a powerful defence against all the odds of history and personal life. God’s joy, God’s loving embrace to be extended to others by us can never be broken. In our Eucharist, let us rejoice over this fact.
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..