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All Souls Day.

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A reflection from our archives for the feast of All Souls. Every year I’m struck by the mood shift between the feast of All Saints to that of All Souls. All Saints is full of light and joy as we celebrate those who carried the bright light of Christs’ love into the lives of those around them.

As we move into All Souls the mood becomes more sombre. This is a day for allowing ourselves time to grieve and to mourn for all our losses and all that we lack.

Taken together these feasts speak of the intimate connection between life and death, sadness and joy, telling us that both are part of life and that we can’t have one without the other. I’m struck by how the readings for All Souls offer hope in the promise of new life and resurrection. I’m reflecting on these words from St Paul:

“Hope is not deceptive because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”

Hope seems easy when life is going well. When life is challenging or we are grieving hope becomes much harder and we’re more likely to mistrust it. It’s in these times that St Paul reminds us that Christ’s hope does not deceive. Whatever griefs we carry on this All Souls Day, the love of Christ that we hope in will sustain, console and lead us into the new life Christ promises.

As we celebrate All Souls what hope is sustaining you?

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Hospitality of the heart.

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Today we are celebrating Martha, Mary and Lazarus, friends of the Lord, an important feast for Benedictines because of of its link to hospitality. Luke tells us that Martha:

“Welcomed Jesus into her home.”

She offered him hospitality, a safe place to relax and have a meal with his friends in dangerous and uncertain times. However, in today’s gospel John takes the hospitality she offers to a different level. He shows us a woman of faith, used to the theological reflection and conversation, and already a follower of Jesus.

Even as she grieves for her brother she is capable of questioning Jesus and of allowing his response to transform her whole life It is through their hard, challenging conversation that Jesus is both revealed and recognised as Christ:

“I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though they die they will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Central as this revelation is it is not enough by itself, and he requires a response from Martha, asking her:

“Do you believe this?”

The recognition of her response completes the revelation as she proclaims:

“Yes Lord… I believe that you are the Christ, the son of God, the one who was to come into this world.”

I don’t think it would have been possible for Martha reach this recognition if she had only welcomed Jesus into her home. To recognise him as the Christ she must also have opened her heart to him. By welcoming him into the very centre of her being she was able to allow him to transform her whole life. We too are called to offer the risen Christ hospitality in the depths of our heart, allowing him to enter and transform our lives with light, love and hope

What would help you to invite Christ into your heart today?

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St Mary Magdalene, Witness to the Resurrection

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Today we are celebrating the feast of St Mary Magdalene, one of the first witnesses to the resurrection, who was sent to tell the disciples that Christ had risen. It’s sometimes easier to say who she wasn’t than who she actually was. Despite being portrayed through the centuries as the archetypal penitent woman, she’s not the woman taken in adultery. Nor is she the woman who poured oil on the feet of Jesus, anointing him for his burial.

Jesus cast out seven devils from her. So she is a woman marked by the pain of severe mental anguish. It may have been crushing anxiety, debilitating fear, depression or a myriad of other conditions that sap the joy and hope out of life.

Freed of her demons she follows Jesus, supporting him and the other disciples from her own resources. She stayed with him until the very end, standing at the cross with the other women when the rest of the disciples fled. She follows him, even after death, to see where his body has been laid.

Even when he is laid in the tomb her desire to be close to him draws her back to his tomb in the dark of the early morning. It is there, as she stands weeping, that the risen Christ appears to her, and commissions her to proclaim the good news of his resurrection to the other disciples, telling them:

“I have seen the Lord…”

Where is Christ inviting you to seek and proclaim his presence in your life?

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Finding faith, discovering peace.

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Today were celebrating the feast of St Thomas. He is one of my favourite disciples because he is so direct and has the courage to ask awkward questions. I often think that he asked the questions that other people don’t quite have the nerve for. I always feel sorry for him at the beginning of today’s gospel. There is nothing more isolating than having missed a life changing experience that everyone else in your group is talking about.

I imagine that the eight days between the two resurrection appearances must have been extremely uncomfortable for Thomas. As he heard the other disciples discussing their experience he must have wondered why he was left out. I can sense both sadness and disappointment in his response to their enthusiasm.

Yet, all that changes when Jesus appeared to them again. He doesn’t criticise or blame Thomas for his response, instead he offers him exactly what he needs to be able to believe in the resurrection:

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

His words break down any barriers of doubt that Thomas still harboured. His acceptance of Thomas’ position enables Thomas to open his heart to believe in the reality of the risen Christ. Jesus accepts our questions and uncertainties in exactly the same way, coming to each of us in the way that is most likely to open our heart to to accept his peace and love in our lives.

Where is the risen Christ offering you peace and love 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?