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Stepping Out

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Today we’re celebrating the feast of St Augustine of Canterbury who, somewhat reluctantly, was sent by St Gregory the Great to bring the Gospel to the English. I’ve been reflecting on this from today’s gospel:

“I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals.”

It makes me realise just how vulnerable we become when we respond to Christ’s call to follow him. I imagine that St Augustine felt the full weight of that vulnerability when he accepted the task Gregory set him. Travelling to a foreign land, which in itself was risky, dealing with unknown customs and practices and uncertain of his reception I wonder if he felt a bit like those lambs surrounded by wolves that Jesus talks about.

Following Christ means that we, like St Augustine, are called to step out into the unknown. We too live in increasingly challenging, dangerous and uncertain times. Hardships such as war, hunger, homelessness and climate change are now affecting daily life for many people.

So we have to face our vulnerability again in a new way, accepting that much of what happens in our lives is beyond our control. It can very easily leave us feeling like “lambs among wolves”.

We can find props to help us avoid that vulnerability, but that is not the call of Christ. Instead, Christ calls us to leave behind those props that would distract us and to follow him once more into unknown territory with “no purse, no haversack, no sandals.”

Where is Christ calling you out into the unknown today?

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People of Hope

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As we begin our celebration of Trinity Sunday I’m drawn to this from St Paul’s letter to the Romans:

“Our sufferings bring patience, as we know, and patience brings perseverance, and perseverance brings hope, and this hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”

I’m touched by his realism as he openly acknowledges that suffering is part of life. He makes no attempt to run away from it, to disguise or numb it as we are so often tempted to do. He doesn’t expect, or even seem to want, a trouble-free life. Instead, in accepting the inevitability of suffering he discovers the transforming power of hope.

Like St Paul, we all know suffering is part of life, and hope is often its first victim. When life gets challenging or painful we tend to fall into a hopelessness that tells us that all is lost. The voice of hopelessness can be both persuasive and beguiling, it’s one we are all too willing to listen to.

St Paul, writing from his own experience of suffering, to others who were also suffering, draws us away from that voice of hopelessness. He tells us that, however painful or challenging our lives, the hope Christ offers us can never be undermined or destroyed. It’s not a hope based on empty promises or dreams that deceive or mislead. Instead, it’s a hope firmly grounded in the love of God which has existed since the beginning and which will always hold us in being.

This Trinity Sunday how is the hope the Spirit brings transforming your daily life?

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The Treasure of the Kingdom

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Today, as we celebrate the feast of St Bede I’m reflecting on this from today’s gospel:

“Let the little children come to me, do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

It always takes me back to my days as a primary school teacher, looking for the qualities that Jesus might be talking about. I was often struck by the insight and perception the children I taught. It seemed to me to come from their openness and attentiveness.

 St Bede, a monk from the north-east of England, who lived a monastic life from childhood managed somehow to hold on to and develop these qualities through his long life. This is not something that would have come easily. Bede lived in challenging and dark times. From childhood he knew danger, uncertainty, suffering and the fragility of life.

Yet through all this he was able to keep the openness and attentiveness to God that seems so natural to children. Throughout all his challenges and hardships seeking the presence of God was the heart of his life as a monk. It enabled him to retain the openness and attentiveness of a child, and to discover the wisdom that can only come from an awareness of God’s presence

Through a simple life dedicated to study, writing, teaching and prayer he was able to discover and share some of the treasures of the kingdom with countless generations of Christians. It seems to me that his life embodies the qualities Jesus calls us to in this gospel.

Where are you being called to be open and attentive to the presence of Christ in your life today?

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Come Holy Spirit

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Our celebration of Pentecost has begun with Vespers. It’s is full of passion and drama. There’s the Apostles transformed and inspired by the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel in new ways and new languages. There’s Jesus’ appearance to the disciples offering peace and sending them out to take the Good News to the whole world. There’s Paul’s beautiful image of unity and diversity. Out of this rich tapestry of inspiration it’s these words from St Paul’s letter to the Romans that have stayed with me:

“Since in our weakness we do not know how to pray as we ought, the Spirit comes to help us and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”

They’re words I return to regularly because they describe so clearly a reality that I often experience. There are many times in life when we need to pray and want to pray, and simply don’t have the words to express our need. I find that especially true in times of hardship and suffering. In these times when hardship and suffering seem to be multiplying in every direction there are many times when prayer is needed and we feel too overwhelmed by the circumstances to articulate our need.

In those situations, I find St Paul’s words full of consolation and hope. It is a great comfort to know that when we are unable to pray the Spirit is there to speak for us, to bring our prayers into the presence of the God who understands even the wordless sighs that come from the very depths of our hearts.

As we celebrate the joy and hope of Pentecost what does the Spirit carry from the depths of your heart to the presence of God?

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Inspired by love.

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Today we’re celebrating 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 in these times when our world seems so consumed by war 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?

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Singing a new song.

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Today, I’m reflecting on yesterday’s second reading from the writing of St Augustine:

“We are told to sing to the Lord a new song. A song is a thing of joy and, if we think carefully about it, a thing of love. So those who have learned to love a new life have learned to sing a new song.”

Every Eastertide I’m touched by its tone of joy, hope and new life. In the midst of war and uncertainty across the world, it has an added poignancy. So much suffering and harshness don’t incline us to think about singing any sort of song, much less one that’s full of joy and hope. It’s tempting to brush it aside as too hard, too challenging for these dark times.

St Augustine wasn’t calling us to cover our pain with a sticking plaster, or to put on a brave face. He lived through times that were at least as challenging and as painful as ours. It’s from the midst of that suffering that he finds the courage to call us to sing this new song of joy and hope.

So I’m reflecting on what kind of new song we can sing in the midst of these troubled times. It seems to me that our new song has to have an element of lament. It has to allow us to grieve for all who are suffering in the world. It has to allow us to express the uncertainty of these times and the fear that engenders.

St Augustine points out that the reason for the joy and hope is love. So alongside our lament and uncertainty our new song has to carry something of joy and hope because it is based on love. Even in these hard and challenging times love still has the power to comfort, console and strengthen.

It can help us to bear what we thought would be unbearable and lead us through situations that seemed impossible. Whatever we have to face love, and the new life it offers, will sustain and support us, enabling us to find ways to heal our broken world with love’s new song.

What is the new song the Lord is calling you to sing this Eastertide?

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Recognising the risen Christ.

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A post from the archives for Low Sunday…

All week we’ve seen the risen Christ appear to the disciples in slightly different way. Each appearance is tailored in some way to touch the heart of a particular disciple, and this gives them their deeply personal and intimate quality. Today’s appearance to Thomas follows the same pattern.

He comes to his encounter with the risen Christ after what I imagine was a hard week. There’s nothing worse than being the one person in a group who missed a significant event. It must have left Thomas feeling isolated and on the fringes. His directness and honesty prevent him from taking their account on trust. He knows himself well enough to know that he needs to see this for himself, saying to the disciples:

“Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.”

I’m touched by how open and vulnerable Thomas is prepared to be about this need. Jesus’ response when he appears to Thomas is focussed on giving Thomas what he needs. He doesn’t judge or criticise, instead he invites Thomas to reach out and touch him in exactly the way Thomas said he needed:

“Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer, but believe.”

Jesus’ acceptance of Thomas with all his doubts and uncertainties leads him to the light of truth, freeing him to make his profession of faith, acknowledging Jesus as the Christ:

“My Lord and my God!”

What would help you to recognise the presence of the risen Christ in your life today?

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On the beach

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There’s a lot to ponder on in today’s gospel. Peter’s decision to go fishing, returning to the safe and familiar in times that are disturbing and unsettling. Or the lack of a catch as they fish through the night. Or Jesus’ calling to them from the shore, telling them to try another direction, and the amazing catch that results from that. The dawning recognition of the who the stranger on the shore is. Or Peter’s impulsive dive into the sea in his eagerness to get to Jesus.

The image that most draws me is of Jesus preparing breakfast for them. I imagine him gathering driftwood, lighting the fire, preparing the bread, and then calling out his invitation to the cold, tired disciples:

“Come and have breakfast…”

Cooking them breakfast won’t remove the hardships and anxieties of their lives. Yet this action of Christ, the servant king, tells them they are loved and valued by the simple act of meeting these most basic needs. It grounds me in the messy and material reality of human life, the only place where we can encounter the risen Christ. They are an invitation to a new life of loving service where everyone is welcomed and valued.

 In times full of injustice and misery we often wonder how we can help. Today’s gospel gives us a simple answer. We can imitate the simple and straightforward service of the risen Christ helping those around us in small ways that can lighten burdens, bring hope and open hearts and minds.

What is the Risen Christ inviting you to this Eastertide?

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Pondering the resurrection.

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A post from the archives for Easter Tuesday…

By Easter Tuesday the mixture of adrenalin and energy that carried me through the Easter Vigil is waning, and I start to feel the need to slow things down. It’s rightly an energetic season, full of rejoicing, celebration and proclamation. While that delights me, I’m also aware that I need space in the midst of it all to pause and reflect.

In Christmastide we have the example of Virgin Mary taking space to ponder the events in her heart. She reminds us that we too need time to reflect on our encounters with God. We need a similar model in Eastertide, someone who will remind us to slow down, to allow the momentous event that is resurrection to really sink in.

Listening to today’s gospel, the appearance to Mary Magdalene, I noticed a stillness in the account that I’ve missed on other occasions. After her journey through the dark and the rush to find the disciples Mary is left alone. She stops and is still, waiting in her grief for something she can’t possibly understand. It is in this moment of stillness that she encounters the risen Christ. It brings to mind part of my favourite hymn:

“She awaits a new creation in the shadow of the tomb.
Hope and trust and expectation, from it will a vision come.”

Pondering this I realise that I too need a still, quiet moment to encounter the risen Christ as she did in the garden, remaining alone and quiet in his presence, allowing the new creation to take root in my heart.

Where are you finding space to encounter the risen Christ in the depth of your heart?

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Held by the Risen Christ.

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The liturgy for the Easter Octave is so full and rich that it can be hard to know where to focus. It can easily feel a bit overwhelming. That first Easter must have felt even more overwhelming for the first disciples. Today, I’m reflecting on Matthew’s account of the women going to the the tomb.

They set out laden down with grief, fear, uncertainty. They’d lost someone they loved to a brutal and shameful death. They’d also lost the hopes and dreams he’d inspired. They’d possibly also lost their livelihoods and reputations by following and supporting him. When they set out they could not have imagined how theirs lives were about to be changed, how they would be moved from grief to joy. Matthew writes:

“Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.”

It’s understandable that the first thing Jesus tells them is not to be afraid. Such a huge upheaval would inevitably stir up fear and uncertainty before joy. Jesus acknowledges this and maybe the instruction to return to Galilee gives them and the disciples some space to adjust to the new reality.

We also come to the resurrection weighed down with our own griefs and uncertainties. These can make it hard to feel the joy we think we should feel in these day. In those times the Risen Christ waits for us, holding us in his loving presence until our hearts are able to glimpse his joy in the midst all we carry.

Where is the Risen Christ holding you in his love today?