Earlier this week we celebrated the feast of St Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church. A third order Dominican she was a woman of both action and prayer. She took a public role in the life of the church, speaking out against schism, promoting unity and advocating for clerical reform. These words from her dialogue on Divine Revelation touched me:
“By your light you enlighten our minds… In this light I know you and I picture you to myself as the supreme good, the good beyond all good… Beauty beyond all beauty, wisdom beyond all wisdom. You are the food of angels, who gave yourself to us in the fire of your love.”
Her public activity was nourished and sustained by the prayer that kept her connected to the God who is the supreme good. It was because she drew her strength from the fire of God’s love that she gained the courage to speak truth to those in authority.
She speaks to me especially powerfully this year when our world seems so consumed by cruelty and suffering. In such times it can be hard to see the goodness, beauty and wisdom of God in our lives. It’s easy to get discouraged, to feel swamped by sufferings we can’t alleviate. We can be drawn to despair which stops us from acting at all or we can rush in, attempting to fix everything, ending up burnt out and exhausted.
St Catherine’s example suggests an alternative. We could begin by building up a prayer life that connects us to the fire of God’s love in a way that nourishes and sustains us in all of our actions and all that we are called to face.
How does the fire of God’s love nourish you in all that you face in life?
I still have the words that Jesus spoke to Thomas in Sunday’s Gospel running through my head:
“Doubt no longer, but believe.”
Looking back at the Easter Gospels I’m especially aware of how in each encounter there was a barrier that had to be overcome before the risen Christ could be recognised. The barriers were different and personal to each disciples’ temperament and circumstances. Marys’ grief, Thomas’ doubt, the disappointment of the disciples returning to Emmaus, Peters’ guilt all prevented them from recognising the risen Christ. In each encounter Christ reaches out across the particular barrier to touch their hearts with the truth of his resurrection.
Each disciple needed to hear that truth in a different way and Jesus engages with them in the way that will most speak to them. He speaks Mary’s name, inflames the hearts of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, gives Thomas the opportunity to see and feel for himself, and allows Peter to assuage his guilt by his profession of love. In one sense the words he spoke to Thomas are being spoken to each of the disciples in the way they most need so that they can move from doubt to belief.
In our own hard and challenging times we also need to hear those words in the way that most touch our hearts to flame. Christ reaches out to each of us, just as he did to the disciples, breaching the barriers of doubt that surround us in the way that we most need to bring us to recognise the risen Christ in our lives.
How do you need the risen Christ to break down the barriers in your life?
As it’s the feast of St Mark I decided to look at Mark’s account of the resurrection. It’s the most disturbing, and it’s one I’ve tended to avoid. I’ve always been uncomfortable with his description of the women’s initial response to the news of the resurrection:
“And the women came out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and amazement had gripped them. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
I’ve always been puzzled by how Mary of Magdala, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, who felt no fear, or who overcame their fear to stay with Jesus through his passion and death seem to run out of courage when they are faced with the good news of resurrection.
It’s left me thinking about the link between amazement and fear. Both of them can turn our worlds upside down, challenging everything we thought we could rely on, everything that is certain, sure and trustworthy. That is never something that we face willingly or comfortably, but it rings very true just now. Our world is very full of such situations just now as people face the effects war, the aftermath of a pandemic that has not quite gone away and of increasing economic hardships.
I find myself more understanding of the women in Mark’s gospel who had to take time and space to calm their trembling and fear before they rediscovered the courage to go out and share the amazing news of the resurrection.
As we move through a challenging Eastertide where are balancing amazement and fear in your life?
One of the things that strikes me every year is how much darkness there is in the Easter gospels. It’s there in all the gospel accounts. I’m always struck by it in the beginning of John’s account as we hear it sung in a still dark chapel at the Easter vigil:
“It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb.”
I often have those words in my mind as we wait by the fire for the Paschal candle to be blest and lit. It’s such a tiny light glimmering in the deep dark before dawn, yet it allows us to proclaim “Christ our light”. It’s always a poignant and moving part of our Easter liturgy.
It was particularly so this year as the suffering of war added to the aftermath of pandemic makes the darkness seem very real and very deep. I keep finding myself thinking back to Mary setting out, grieving and afraid, on that dark early morning, thinking she had lost everything and having no idea how her life was about to be changed.
We are also living through dark, frightening and uncertain times that increase our sense of vulnerability in a way that echoes Mary’s dark and lonely walk. Yet, however deep the darkness the light of Risen Christ still shines and cannot be overpowered. However small that light might seem it accompanies us as we walk through these challenging and dark times, offering us new life and hope.
Where is the risen Christ bringing light into your darkness this Easter morning?
All through the Triduum I’ve been struck by how relevant the ancient wisdom of our faith is to the times we are living in. Today was no exception to that and so I’m reflecting on some words that struck me from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday:
“Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoners Adam and Eve from their pain, he who is God, and Adam’s son.”
They describe the ancient tradition, the harrowing of Hell, when the newly risen Christ descend to hell to free those held by death, starting with the first humans Adam and Eve. Today the reading speaks to me of the darkness of our suffering world that seems overshadowed by death wherever we look. In those circumstances it can be very tempting to sink into an abyss of hopelessness and despair, but that’s not what the stillness and emptiness of Holy Saturday is about.
The sermon reminds me that Holy Saturday is a time of waiting in hope. The risen Christ, who sought out Adam and Eve to wake n them to new life and light will also seek us out. However dark our lives, the risen Christ will find us and awaken us with his offer of a new life and light.
As we wait through the emptiness of Holy Saturday in these challenging times where do you hear the voice of Christ calling you to awaken to new life?
At Office of Readings on Good Friday we sing the Lamentations of the Jeremiah. This morning I was struck by their opening lines:
“All of you who pass this way, look and see,
is any sorrow like the sorrow that afflicts me?”
It seems the perfect verse for this Good Friday that we come to bearing the overwhelming sufferings of the pandemic and of the war in Ukraine. It’s a suffering that desperately needs acknowledging, and the cross is the only place that can hold it.
Yet, in Lauds I found the Lamentations were given a new and broader perspective by these verses from the Byzantine liturgy:
“How can you die, Christ our Life?
How can you lie in the tomb?
By your death you will destroy the power of death,
And you will raise the dead from their tombs.”
They Echo the heart breaking sorrow of Jeremiah, giving us a place to acknowledge our own heartbreak and suffering. Yet, they also carry us beyond that. They point out that our faith doesn’t stop at the cross. The cruel suffering that the cross represents is a staging post on our journey to new life in the resurrection. They remind us that the Christ who lay in the tomb is already risen. He is with us in the sufferings and uncertainties of our times and will lead us through that to the new life that his resurrection promises.
As we bring our sorrows before the cross this Good Friday where are you inspired by the hope of the new life Christ promises?
Today, listening to Paula Gooder’s reflection on the women of Holy Week I was touched Susanna’s words to the other women after Jesus and the disciples head to Gethsemane, leaving a sense of dread behind them:
“That’s the problem with extravagant love, it brings with it extravagant heartbreak.”
Her words seem sum up all everything this Holy Week journey, and indeed the whole gospel is about, the call to love with all its delights and costliness.
This love is symbolised on Maundy Thursday by Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. It’s an act of love, service and fellowship that touches my heart every year. It recalls the thousands of services we are called to perform for each other every day. Its simplicity and practicality encapsulates everything from loading the dishwasher to listening to and supporting the broken hearted.
As we carry out the action in our liturgy we hear these words from John’s Gospel:
“I give you a new commandment: that you love one another just as I have loved you.”
Jesus’ love is complete and wholehearted. It takes a clear-sighted view of his disciples, seeing all their faults and still loving them. It’s extravagant and generous. It calls us to love in the same way, both accepting and giving love wholeheartedly and extravagantly. It seems to me that those are equally challenging. As we begin to celebrate the Triduum I am aware of how much our broken hearted world world needs that transforming, extravagant love.
Where are you called to accept the extravagant, heart breaking love of Christ this Holy Week?
Today I found myself reflecting on the person of Peter, I’ve always loved the outspokenness which leads him to say things that other people might think twice about. This week I’ve been using a series of Holy Week monologues from a Scottish theatre group. I’ve been very touched by the portrayal of Peter as a man who is all too painfully aware of his sinfulness. He says:
“I tried to warn him from the start, ‘Lord’ I said ‘go away from me, I’m a sinful man… Such a sinful, sinful man.”
We can all identify with his awareness of his sin, with the sense of failure and “uselessness” that overwhelms him. Like Peter we can feel tempted to give up when faced with our sin.
But Jesus refused let Peter stay in that dark place. From the beginning Jesus saw something more in Peter, something that he couldn’t see in himself:
“You could only see the good in me…”
It struck me that Peter struggled as much to accept the goodness Jesus saw in him as he did to accept his sinfulness. It reminded me of something Nelson Mandela once said, that it is as hard for us to accept our intrinsic goodness as it is for us to accept our sinfulness. This struggle to accept Jesus’ loving gaze in the midst of our sinfulness is one that we, like Peter, are called to face.
Where are you struggling to accept the loving gaze of Christ in your life today?
You can find the monologues here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tg4JCIk-iM&t=444s
I’m still reflecting on yesterday’s gospel, the anointing at Bethany. It’s one of the Gospels that touches me most deeply. Every year I moved by its passion, its radical yet simple act of love, and its kindness. In fear and uncertainty, the disciples gather at Martha’s house which offers them an oasis of hospitality and safety in the increasingly dangerous times.
In such circumstances it is easy to understand Judas’ distrust and questioning. In times of great danger questions and doubts that we thought we’d put to rest often resurface. It’s easy to imagine that Judas was not the only disciple facing such doubts.
In the midst of the tension Mary’s action provides a fresh focus. She doesn’t deny or banish the fear or the danger, instead her action points out that those are not the whole story:
“Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it and anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was full of the scent of the ointment.”
Jesus tells his disciples that she has anointed him for his burial, acknowledging that he is facing death, and preparing his disciples for that. As the scent of her ointment fills the house her simple action is a sign that love is stronger even than death. As she anoints Jesus she reminds us that our Holy Week journey ultimately leads us through death to the new life of resurrection.
As we move through Holy Week where are you aware of the strength of love sustaining you?
Palm Sunday always raises a mixture of emotions. There’s the joy of the hosannas that ring out as Jesus entered Jerusalem, fulfilling the ancient hopes that have sustained the people through the generations.
Alongside that there’s a dark undercurrent of fear and uncertainty. With hindsight we know how quickly those hosannas turn to the jeers that lead to crucifixion and death. This journey that starts out so joyfully soon brings us face-to-face with the worst that we are capable of.
This Palm Sunday I’m reflecting on Jesus’ words to the Pharisee who demands that he rebuke his disciples. He says:
“I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
His words bring to mind the shattered buildings of bombed Ukrainian cities, piles of stone that cry out the suffering of broken lives and dreams. They show a very current example of the worst we are capable of, one that I thought we had moved beyond.
Yet, with the Palm Sunday hosannas still ringing in my ears I have to acknowledge that that is not the whole of their story. They also cry out of the countless acts of love and self-sacrifice that people make to help others in those intolerable circumstances.
Just as the very stones of Jerusalem recognise Jesus as Messiah, each of those acts of love, however small and unnoticed, testify to the presence of the Messiah in the midst of the darkest of circumstances today.
As we enter Holy Week where are you discovering the presence of the Messiah in the dark places of your life?