Meditations for Lent 2018
Theme of this 2018 Lent retreat : “Seeking Peace in Prayer”
"In humility and charity, by fasting and giving, by restraining ourselves and pardoning, by paying out good deeds and not paying back bad ones, by turning away from evil and doing good, our prayer seeks peace and obtains it."
- St. Augustine, Sermon 206, 3
“IT IS FINISHED.”
AND BOWING HIS HEAD, HE HANDED OVER THE SPIRIT." JOHN 19, 30
March 30, 2018
New sculpture by artist Antony Gormley, entitled Transport, made from nails taken from Canterbury Cathedral’s repaired roof
At this point in Lent we might feel like a child on a long journey asking, “are we there yet?” The Church today answers with a resounding no. Instead it invites us to stay in front of the cross. However gloomy, uncomfortable or even painful we might find it, Good Friday is all about the cross.
In our society we often try to gloss over issues about death; we have replaced a minutes silence with a minutes applause and the emphasis at funerals is to celebrate the person’s life, rather than mourn their passing.
However much we try to run away from death we end up bumping into it elsewhere. Worse than physical death is spiritual death. The side effects are many: we still live in a world where greed overcomes generosity, violence overcomes peace, division overcomes unity, anger overcomes forgiveness and hate overcomes love.
Simon and Garfunkel’s Silent Night, sung over a recording of the 7 O’Clock News, highlights the tension between God’s presence in our world and ongoing suffering caused by us humans. The extract below carries stories that could be happening today:
“ “This is the early evening edition of the news.
(…) In Los Angeles today comedian Lenny Bruce died of what was believed to be an overdose of narcotics.
Bruce was 42 years old.
Dr. Martin Luther King says he does not intend to cancel plans for an open housing march Sunday into the Chicago suburb of Cicero.
Cook County Sheriff Richard Ogleby asked King to call off the march and the police in Cicero said they would ask the National Guard to be called out if it is held.
In Chicago Richard Speck, accused murderer of nine student nurses, was brought before a grand jury today for indictment.
The nurses were found stabbed an strangled in their Chicago apartment.
InWashington the atmosphere was tense today as a special subcommittee of the
House Committee on Un-American activities continued its probe into anti-Vietnam war protests.
Demonstrators were forcibly evicted from the hearings when they began chanting anti-war slogans.”
Don’t rush on to the resurrection of Easter Sunday.
Are we there yet? No. No yet.
“I HAVE GIVEN YOU A MODEL TO FOLLOW,
SO THAT AS I HAVE DONE FOR YOU, YOU SHOULD ALSO DO.” JOHN 13,15
March 29, 2018
When I was growing up my family was opposite the church in our village. We had a restaurant there too and after mass my parents would invite the parishioners over for refreshments. Sometime I would get annoyed that we had to share our home every Sunday with them. Looking back now though I realise how much my parents taught me about the Church as a community and a place of service.
In John’s Gospel today Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. By this act of service - usually associated with a servant - he was teaching them about the meaning of what was about to take place on the cross. Jesus instructs the disciples, “that as I have done for you, you should also do.” The other moment when Jesus tells them to do the same as him was when he was distributing bread and wine that had become his Body and Blood (1 Corinthians 11:24,25).
Christians therefore “must remember” their Teacher in the Eucharist and in service to others. So strong is the connection between the Eucharist and service to our sisters and brothers that Pope Benedict often stressed the idea that acts of charity are an extension of the liturgy - the mass; he referred to the mass as the sacrament of charity. When my parents left the church and went across the road to offer hospitality at our restaurant I hadn't realised the mass was not yet finished.
"NOT I, RABBI, SURELY?" MATTHEW 26, 25
March 28, 2018
Today is traditionally known as ‘Spy Wednesday’, because of the actions of Judas Iscariot. He was given thirty pieces of silver by the chief priests and “from that moment he looked for an opportunity to betray him.”
When Jesus tells the disciples that someone is going to betray him, Judas replies, “Not I Rabbi, surely?” How often are we surprised by our own capacity to sin? Isn’t it our pride that makes us think we are better than we are? Perhaps it was pride too that closed Judas off to God’s forgiveness after the event? Judas betrayed Jesus and Peter denied he knew him. The fundamental difference between the two was that Judas was unable to receive God’s forgiveness afterwards, whereas Peter was able to. Judas despaired; he gave up on the possibility that he might still be loved by God. Pride, the root of all our sins, can ruin our fundamental disposition towards God: that we rely on him for everything and that without him we can do nothing. We rely on God’s unconditional love no matter what we do - he will still love us. He saves us. We can’t save ourselves.
“THE HOUSE WAS FILLED WITH THE FRAGRANCE OF THE OIL.” JOHN 12, 3
March 26, 2018
National Library of Wales - Painter Unknown
Today’s Gospel reading and the painting above both highlight a difference between Mary of Bethany and Judas Iscariot in their attitude towards God and money. Notice how Judas stands in the painting: he closes his arms and clings to the bag of money while turning his back to Jesus. Mary, on the other hand, faces Jesus and kneels in front of him with open arms.
One would think that the opposite to God in scripture would be the Devil - Satan. Yet on this point Jesus is very clear: it is money - wealth. Jesus warns us that “we cannot serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 6,13; Matthew 6,24).
No one serves the Devil purely out of a desire to serve him alone; Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, not to serve the Devil. We inadvertently serve the Devil when we look for some kind of selfish advantage. What tempts us is the something promised by the devil; those empty promises and works of the devil that parents and adults are asked to reject in the rite of baptism. However, when we serve God we forget ourselves and become selfless; Mary’s act of anointing Jesus’s feet with perfume demonstrates this; she gives something up - an expensive aromatic oil - in order to love and worship Jesus.
If we aim for pleasure and wealth we end up miserable. If we aim for love, we find happiness.
"WHERE I AM GOING YOU CANNOT FOLLOW ME NOW; YOU WILL FOLLOW ME LATER." JOHN 13, 36
March 27, 2018
Through the conversation between Simon Peter and Jesus today, we are shown how easy it is to be pulled in two directions at the same time: towards Christ and away from him. One moment Peter is saying that he will die for Jesus, while in the next Jesus is warning him that he is about to deny he even knows him.
When Anthony Bloom - a Metropolitan bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church - was a teenager, he went on holiday with a friend for a few days. During this time he was out of contact with his parents. When he returned his father, looking somewhat relieved, said to him: “I was worried something had happened to you, son.” Anthony asked, “Oh, did you think I’d had an accident?” His father replied, “No, worse. I thought you’d lost your integrity.”
Bloom explains that our moral lives are based on integrity. In other words when we live well we have an integrated life; everything we do helps us to be whole and move in one direction. When we live badly we disintegrate; we become divided within ourselves and get pulled in many different directions. St Augustine said, “When I followed a multiplicity of things I became divided within myself and fell apart. When I returned to the one God I was made whole again”.
When Jesus died on the cross God disintegrated. The Father abandoned the Son. This was done so as to meet us in our disintegration. In rising again, Jesus can help us to be at one with God and with ourselves.
"MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?" - MARK 15, 34
March 25, 2018
© Anselm Kiefer, Palmsonntag [Palm Sunday]
Anselm Kiefer’s artwork, Palmsonntag (Palm Sunday), symbolises the final moments in Jesus’ life between triumph and destruction. Laid on the gallery floor, the fallen tree echoes the body of Christ, suggesting both mortality and eventual renewal.
This destruction, this suffering and death, happened “once for all” (Romans 6:10). However, looking at it from another perspective, Christ continues to suffer. The philosopher Pascal said that "Christ is in agony on the Mount of Olives until the end of the world.” As long as human beings suffer, then Jesus continues to suffer; there are many Garden of Gethsemanes in the world today.
If Christ has an intimate bond with all those who suffer then we can say that with Christians this bond takes on a new dimension. In the conversion of St Paul, Jesus asks him “why are you persecuting me?”, not, “why are you persecuting Christians?” From this St Augustine gave us the image of the Totus Christus - the whole Christ, head and body. Christ is the head and Christians are his body. Therefore Christ is us and we are Christ; the Church is one with Christ. When his body - the Church, or even an individual Christian - suffers, then it is Christ himself who suffers.
Christ suffers especially when our suffering is at its greatest; when we feel totally abandoned by God and when we hit rock bottom. I will repeat a ‘blasphemy’ of Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the pope, no less! He said that on the cross Jesus became an atheist. This needs explaining. He says that there are two types of atheism: the active or voluntary atheism of those who reject God, and the passive or suffered atheism of those who are rejected (or feel rejected) by God. In both forms, there are those who are "without God." The former is an atheism of fault, and the latter is an atheism of suffering and expiation.
On the cross, Jesus made amends for all the anticipated atheism that exists in the world. For all those who live “as if God did not exist”, relegating him to the last place on their life. God abandoned himself and continues to abandon himself in order to meet us in that same place when we do the same. “If I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 139:8).