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Pentecost, Empowerment & Surrender

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Pentecost is full of contrasts. The fearfulness of the disciples in the upper room contrasting with the serenity of Jesus as he stands among them offering peace. The disciples, gathered in one place, yet each grappling alone with their doubts and fears. The multitude of voices clamouring for attention in the crowd and the unity when the Spirit enables the disciples to proclaim the Good News in a voice that everyone can understand. It all feels a bit chaotic and I sympathise with the disciples huddled safely in that upper room.

Yet Jesus, even as he promises them his peace, will not allow them to stay there. He recognises, if they don’t, that it’s not a life giving choice. So he sends them the Spirit, the gift they need to make, a choice that is truly life giving. It’s a gift designed to stir them up, coming in two uncontrollable elements, wind and fire:

“Suddenly they heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven, the noise of which filled the entire house in which they were sitting; and something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them.”

I’m struck by how these powerful signs of the Spirit both encourages the disciples to make a life giving choice and takes them into the unknown. Maybe the most striking contrast of Pentecost is that the Spirit both empowers the disciples and compels them to go in directions where they have to surrender all semblance of control.

As we invite the Spirit into our lives this Pentecost, we are called to embrace the same contrast of empowerment and surrender in the midst of our lives.

Where is the Spirit empowering you to surrender control this Pentecost?

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A life shaped by love

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Today we’re celebrating the feast of St Bede, monk, historian, scripture scholar, theologian and one of my favourite saints. I’m always touched by the simplicity of his life. His reputation could have opened many doors for him, allowing him access to the rich and powerful in both Church and State.

He could have been one of the “celebrities” of his day, seem to be making his mark and making a difference. Instead he chose to stay in his monastery, remaining faithful to the daily round of the monastic day with its mixture of prayer, study and manual work.

We might have expected that his impact, while important to those who knew him, would not have reached very far beyond his immediate circle. Yet, centuries later, he is still a source of inspiration for us long after many more “important” people of his time have been forgotten. Reflecting on why this might be these words from today’s gospel came to mind:

“I have made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them.”

Without a doubt Bede was a fine scholar and teacher, but valuable as these are I don’t think they are the source of his lasting influence. What touches us today is his faithfulness to his calling stay close to Christ, living in his love and allowing that love to shape every aspect of his life.

Where is Christ calling you to allow his love to shape your life today?

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Discovering God’s glory

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Beginning with Jesus’ prayer for his disciples the word “glorify” repeat again and again throughout this Sunday’s gospel:

“Jesus said: ‘Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son so that your son may glorify you; and, through the power over all humankind that you have given him, let him give eternal life to all those you have entrusted to him.’”

In an age that sees itself as egalitarian his words seem baffling or even downright uncomfortable. We’ve seen too many misinterpretations of glorification to be comfortable with it. But John’s Gospel is not speaking of the human glory that we’ve seen misused and abused in so many areas.

The glory of the gospel is discovering the reality of divine presence in the midst of ordinary life. We’ve seen that unfold in Jesus’ in miracles and life transforming encounters. Now Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure and the coming of the Spirit. His prayer for them is that the presence of God will continue to break through into their lives.

That presence won’t remove the challenges, difficulties and dangers they face. Instead the presence of God with them will transform them, giving them courage to move forward in hope and trust. In our own challenging and uncertain times that presence still has the power to break through and transform our lives.

It is unlikely (though not impossible) that we will see it in grand gestures and actions. It’s more likely to be apparent in glimpses and glimmers in the midst of the most ordinary and mundane activities of life. If we are attentive and alert it will come to us in the most unlikely of circumstances.

Where is God calling you to be attentive to the presence of God’s glory in your life?

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Ascension Day

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Ascension is one of the feasts I find most difficult for a variety of reasons. It’s very easy to see it as otherworldly, focussed more on eternity than on the nitty-gritty of human life. It also has an element of letting go. Once again, we see Jesus leaving the disciples to face an unknown and uncertain future. This compels us to recognise the reality of our own uncertain and unknown future.

In my struggles to ground the feast in the reality of daily life I looked at the Scripture readings. I found two things that helped me. The first was from Matthew’s Gospel. He tells us that when the disciples saw Jesus:

“They fell down before him, though some hesitated.”

So it seems like some of those first disciples were were ambivalent about what was going on. I find consolation in that, and in Jesus’ response to it. He doesn’t criticise them or turn them away. Instead he sends them out with their and benevolence and uncertainty to spread the Good News of salvation.

The second helpful thing was in last night’s vigil reading from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

“Be humble, gentle and patient always. Show your love by being helpful to one another. Do your best to preserve the unity which the Spirit gives, by the peace that binds you together.”

His words call us to strive to live up to the standard God sets not in terms of a future heavenly kingdom, but in very practical ways that we can all practice. If we can find ways of being kind and helpful to those around us we will be able to make the Good News of the kingdom a reality in our lives and the lives of those we encounter.

Where is Christ calling you to live up to his standards in your daily life?

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The Spirit of Truth

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In the lead up to Ascension Jesus is preparing his disciples for change. Once again they face a departure that will require them to let go of everything they thought they understood. Jesus says to them:

“I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes you will be led to the complete truth…”

His words touch on something that we both desire and fear, the complete truth. We are surrounded by voices telling us they have the truth that we need. In today’s “post-truth” world it can be especially challenging to discern the truth. We know our need for truth in order to be able to live well and with integrity, yet we struggle to know where we should turn to find it.

Jesus answers that for us, telling us he will send the Spirit of truth who will lead us this truth that we can rely on and trust. But to discover it we need to be open to and prepared. The truth that the Spirit brings us will not necessarily appear obviously and easily. It will require us to be attentive to all that is going on in our lives and our times. We need to be prepared to do the hard work of listening and discerning its presence in the midst of the myriad of voices that make up our daily lives. To do that we have to be prepared to let go of everything we thought we understood in order to be open to the new possibilities the Spirit brings.

As we move towards Ascension what opens your heart to the coming of the Spirit of truth into your life?

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Hope in the Spirit

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Hope is surely one of the most precious gifts we can have. Like so many other gifts it’s easily taken for granted when times are easy. When life is going smoothly hope comes naturally to us. It’s easy to be hopeful when we feel secure and are sure of the direction our lives are taking. It becomes a much more challenging prospect when we live with the anxiety of caused by uncertain times. Yet it is precisely in the most challenging times in life that we most need hope.

As I listened Jesus preparing his disciples for his departure in today’s Gospel I’m struck by he recognises their need for hope, promising that he will not leave them to face the trials of life alone. He tells them:

“I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth…”

He knows that they will face trials, uncertainty and persecution. They will face situations that they will not be able to cope with alone, ones that take them beyond the limits of their human resources. It’s in those circumstances that the Spirit comes to sustain them. The Spirit can offer a solid basis for their hope, even when all around them seems hopeless.

As we face a myriad of challenges, uncertainties and struggles the Spirit dwells in us, promising us that our hopes will not be disappointed, offering us a certainty we can rely on whatever storms life throws in our direction.

Where do you need to discover the hope the Spirit promises this Eastertide?

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Love and Joy.

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Today I’m reflecting on this from St John’s gospel:

“Remain in my love… I have told you this so that so that my own joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”

It touches on the deepest desires of our hearts, to know ourselves loved. We can easily finish the concept of love. We can use it lightly to talk about favourite foods or activities. Or we can sentimentalise it, focussing only on the positive feelings that feeling loved arouses. Those feelings are important and essential for all of us, but the love Jesus offers is something much deeper than that.

His love offers us the deep assurance we seek, promising to accept us as we are, with all our faults and failings. Yet, Jesus offers an invitation and challenge beyond that. This love is willing to put itself aside. Jesus illustrates that in his total self giving, putting himself aside for love of us.

He invites us into this love, calling us to live as he does. He challenges us to live in a way that calls us to put ourselves aside for the Good of others. It’s a call St Benedict echoes, telling the community to choose what is better for others rather than ourselves.

It’s a call we can live in both big and small ways. It can mean anything from supporting someone through a crisis to greeting a passer by with a smile when we don’t feel like it. It is in practising this self giving love where we can that we will discover the joy Jesus promises.

Where are you called to abide in the love of Christ today?

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Trust in troubled times

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Today’s gospel is part of John’s farewell discourses. We read it during the foot washing on Maundy Thursday. Every time I hear it it takes me back to the Triduum with its mixture of love and betrayal, light and darkness. In the midst of all that Jesus says to his disciples:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still and trust in me.”

His words always strike me as particularly appropriate at that time as he prepares his disciples for his passion and the cross. Post resurrection they have a slightly different resonance. They acknowledge that, joyful as the the resurrection appearances are, they are also disturbing and disruptive.

The resurrection turns all our expectations on their heads, causing us to revaluate everything we thought we knew. We see each of the disciples struggle to come to terms with what that means for them. In our lives we face the same struggle to understand the significance of the risen Christ for us as we face the many uncertainties and anxieties we are living with.

In the midst of this Christ tells us that there is one thing we can be completely certain of. In our need we can turn to him, knowing that we can trust him. Whatever challenges we face in these uncertain times we can turn to Jesus, sure that he will bring healing, consolation and hope to our bruised hearts.

As we move through Eastertide where does the risen Christ offer you hope and consolation?

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Called and Led

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Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and the worldwide day of prayer for Vocations. With that in mind I’m reflecting on these words from Today’s Gospel:

“One by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out. When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice.”

These words go to the heart of the gospel and of Christian vocation. They take me back to the Rule of St Benedict which begins with the call to “listen…with the ear of your heart.” However our vocation is lived out, it’s this listening with the ear of our hearts that enables us to recognise the voice of Christ calling each one of us, and gives us the courage to follow where he leads us.

The more challenging life becomes the more voices seem to demand our attention. It’s easy to feel distracted and overwhelmed, to surrender to the loudest or the most frightening. This makes it even harder than usual to hear and recognise the gentle, persistent, truthful and hopeful voice of Christ calling us to follow him.

It seems to me that as we negotiate the many challenges we today face it’s essential that we give our attention to the voice of Christ, the Good Shepherd calling us to follow him. As we move forward it will be the voices that we listen to that will shape our lives.

As we move through Eastertide what helps you to hear the voice of Christ, the Good Shepherd, calling you to follow him?

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Believing in Christ

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Reflecting on today’s gospel I’m struck by these words:

“Jesus said to the crowd: ‘I Am the bread of life. Those who come to me will never be hungry; those who believes in me will never thirst.’”

His words resonate because they take me back to our most basic needs, the things we need to to sustain life. Without the basic necessities of food and water we cannot live. Jesus is not speaking of our physical needs in this case. Instead, he reminds us that that our spiritual needs are as basic and as intrinsic to human flourishing as our physical needs are. To be full alive we need to have both spiritual and physical needs met. We cannot live well if one or the other is not lacking.

Living through a cost-of-living crisis that leaves so many people unable to feed their families adequately or to heat their homes only increases the impact of his words. It’s impossible to hear Jesus speak of hunger and thirst without thinking of those in our society who don’t have enough to eat. In those circumstances I can’t help but feel that his words should cause us some discomfort.

The new life the risen Christ offers us necessarily turns us back towards those who have less than we do. In inviting us to come to him Jesus also challenges us us to do everything in our power to ensure that we strive for more equitable society where everyone can have their basic needs met with dignity and respect.

Where is the risen Christ challenging you to do everything you can to meet the needs of others today?