Tom’s notes for a CAFOD talk explore how we as individuals and as a parish interact with the world. This is a beautiful reflection for the Third Week of Lent in the Lectionary following the readings of each day. There is a simple formula for every day and then a fuller reflection which is wide-ranging and yet full of depth and integrity to be read on each day of the week. We meet Moses, Jesus, Jeremiah as well as an Anglican priest from Jerusalem, a Desert Father and an Irish missionary in Rome! There is so much depth here that these reflections could last the whole of Lent and are perfect for any time of the year.
Notes for CAFOD talk – (Based on Scripture readings for Lent week 3)
Tom’s notes for a CAFOD talk explore how we as individuals and as a parish interact with the world. This is a beautiful reflection for the Third Week of Lent in the Lectionary following the readings of each day. There is a simple formula for every day and then a fuller reflection which is wide-ranging and yet full of depth and integrity to be read on each day of the week. We meet Moses, Jesus, Jeremiah as well as an Anglican priest from Jerusalem, a Desert Father and an Irish missionary in Rome! There is so much depth here that these reflections could last the whole of Lent and are perfect for any time of the year. 3362 Words
Scripture: God said to Moses “I am aware of my people’s sufferings. Go
and tell them: I AM has sent me to you” (Exod 3)
Thought for the day:
What steps are we taking to make sure that we engage and withdraw and re-engage
Prayer: Holy Spirit, awaken us to know the compassion of God, and that he is always present to people’s suffering before we are.
Scripture: O send forth your light and your truth; let these be my guide.
Thought for the day:
How does our local parish carry, in its life and its liturgy, the joys and hopes, the griefs and anguish of people at large?
Prayer: Holy Spirit, free us from all our vested interests, even our mental and emotional ones, which stop us hearing the prophets of our day.
Scripture: Lord, do not disappoint us; treat us gently, as you yourself are gentle (Daniel 3)
Thought for the day:
To whom, or on what occasions, are we most likely to react defensively rather than act creatively?
Prayer: Holy Spirit, you brought Jesus to the ultimate act of unilateral disarmament on the Cross. Teach us to follow him.
Scripture: Do not forget what your eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your heart. (Deut 4)
Thought for the day:
In what ways do we expect too much, or fear too much, of institutions or laws?
Prayer: Spirit of our living God, give us a cheerful, adult, and free love. May we love your law without being legalistic, and run freely in your ways without being childish.
Scripture: If it is by the finger of God that I cast out devils, know that the kingdom of God has overtaken you. (Luke 11)
Thought for the day:
In what ways do we fail to reshape our lives when prophets confront us – as regards widening gaps between rich and poor – as regards time running for environmental issues?
Prayer: Holy Spirit, may we love truth in whatever way and through whomsoever you speak it to us. And may we ever respond within the realities of our own callings.
Scripture: We will not say ‘Our God’ to what our own hands have made. (Hosea 14)
Thought for the day:
Lent is a time for naming our idols and addictions. Close little domestic ones to big national ones. Crosswords, my car, my salary, my workaholism, he market, National Security…
Prayer: Holy Spirit, fill us with your love that we may come to know and love God in all things, and to know and love all things in God.
Scripture: God’s judgement will rise like the light. What I want is love, not sacrifices, knowledge of God, not offerings. (Hosea 5)
Thought for the day:
Is our main agenda to preserve a self-image of purity and virtue, or is it to abandon ourselves, with dirty hands and hearts, to the creative mercy of God?
Prayer: Lord, we pray for ourselves who live in security that we may not regard our good fortune as proof of our virtue, nor rest content to have our ease at the price of other people’s tribulation.
(from Reinhold Niebuhr)
SUNDAY Week 3
Moses had grown up in the security of the royal household with all the blessings of a good education. He did not share the plight of his own people, his kith and kin.
But he awoke to their condition and, perhaps conscious of his own compromised life within the oppressive structures of sin, he over reacted in his indignation and had to flee from Egypt.
In due course he comes to Mount Sinai/Horeb. It is the place of encounter with God. And God reveals himself as the one who has heard the cry of the poor. Not the one who has to be persuaded to listen but the one who heard the cry long before Moses even knew of it.
He is the God who will deliver his people in the face of all the sovereignty and power which Pharaoh will muster. He is the God who will bring his people through painful liberation into the land of promise and blessing.
Moses realises he is in the presence of his living God who is far more determined than anything he can cope with. And he can see that his own people are not going to take it seriously. (Perhaps the jibe that sent him fleeing still rings in his ears: who made you prince and judge over us?)
God finds Moses’ misgivings a reason for pressing on not holding back. He gives him the assurance that I AM will be with them as I AM was with them in the past. And he implies that God whose name cannot be known will be ‘known’ in the course of their obedience and all that will be demanded of them.
Moses has engaged, withdrawn, encountered God, and now re-engages. It is the pattern in the lives of all whom God uses to generate new life and new possibilities. Certainly in the life of Jesus himself.
In the alternative gospel for today (a better pair for the first reading than the one given?) the Samaritan woman meets the one whose thirst precedes hers and indeed reveals to her the true nature of her own thirst. The dialogue that follows reaches its supreme point when she is able to hear Jesus say “I AM is the one who is speaking to you”.
Lent is our (modest) time of withdrawal to let us encounter I AM – who heard the cry of the poor, who is speaking to us, and who sends us back to re-engage. The initiative is his, the obedience is ours.
MONDAY Week 3
A few years ago Naim Ateek, an Anglican priest from Jerusalem, came to Liverpool to speak about Israel and Palestine. During question time I said that one could really sympathise with the hard-line Israelis if their actions were based on the biblical emphasis of being a chosen people given a promised land. How could they avoid being an elite?
Naim explained that that is a wrong understanding of God’s purpose in scripture. God does not call his people to be a chosen, virtuous, elite but to be a people who will live his justice and be an instrument of his compassion. And that the real test of that is how the people treat the vulnerable and strangers. To be a chosen people is to be more, not less, under the judgement of God, in working for God’s justice and peace.
In Luke’s gospel today it is worth remembering that Nazareth was a small place where everyone knew each other, many were related, and Jesus, after thirty years, was still only known as the carpenter’s son. Extraordinary! He has been away, following the Baptist and then his own ministry. He returns, local boy made good? Fame for the place at last?
But he goes to the synagogue and produces his jubilee manifesto. Good news for the poor. A time of God’s justice and compassion which would do nothing to boost the chosen people’s sense of being a virtuous elite but everything to call them to share in God’s wider purposes.
It was the sort of prophetic word of truth which made and makes crucifying demands on people’s self-esteem. And especially when it comes from within their own ranks.
I wonder how many of us have really made our own those words from the Second Vatican Council:- The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts.
TUESDAY Week 3
Why does Jesus so often return to the importance of learning the art of forgiveness? Have we trivialised what he really meant - as when we say ‘it’s ok, it didn’t really matter’ or ‘let’s forgive and forget?’
There is a story from the Desert Fathers which I have long cherished.
Abba Anastasius had what we would call a complete bible, for use in the community. One day a young man came to visit and when he left took the book with him. When the community assembled for evening prayer they found the book missing and realised what had happened. But Anastasius would not send after the young man ‘lest he be tempted to add the sin of perjury to that of theft’.
The young man went to the local book dealer and said: I have this fine book, will you give me forty pounds for it? Leave it with me, said the dealer, it is a fine book but I must find out if it is worth that much. So he took the book to Anastasius and asked if it was really worth forty pounds. Anastasius looked at the book and verified that it was worth a good deal more.
The young man returned and the dealer said: yes you can have forty pounds; I took it for Abba Anastasius and he said it is worth at least that. Is that all he said? asked the young man. Yes, that was all. Well, said the young man, I don’t want to sell it after all. And he hastened back to the Abba and begged him to take the book back. My son, replied Anastasius, I make you a present of it, go in peace. Peace? Cried the young man, I’ll never have peace on those terms. So he became a novice and stayed for the rest of his life.
Creative non-violence is the art of refusing to compound violence with violence, refusing to allow our injured self-image to pretend that our enemies are God’s enemies. It will not prop up our own sense of virtue (as individuals, as communities, as nations) by demeaning others. It is not a programme for wimpishness, nor for pretending injustice does not exist. But it knows that God’s sun and rain and mercy are essential for all of us alike. In the end it would rather die for truth than kill for truth. Jesus died praying for those who had contrived his death.
WEDNESDAY Week 3
An Irish missionary priest was driving me through the streets of Rome, weaving our way through the hectic anarchy, when he suddenly said: No one in our countries back home should try to understand Canon Law until they have driven a small car through the streets of Rome. We think rules are for keeping, Italians ignore them unless they help life.
A year later I was being driven by a sister out of Liverpool one Sunday afternoon. I told her that story. And at that moment we were stationary at red lights. There was not a car in sight in any direction. And a look of great liberation came over her face as she engaged gear and we drove through the red lights!
Different nationalities have different approaches to the relation between law and freedom. They vary from Italian anarchy to Anglo Saxon straight-laced obedience. (Maybe the source of many problems in the European Community). It was a problem from the earliest Christian period, with such as Paul urging people to grow up into the freedom of the spirit and not cling to the security of law keeping. And others saying that Jesus came to fulfil and complete the law, not to do away with it.
Jesus himself seems to have been insistent that in calling people away from mere rule keeping and towards a rediscovery of the heart of God’s will and of Torah, he was in fact calling them to a greater and deeper fidelity. He was not letting them off the hook.
In his Rule for Monks St Benedict has a chapter on various ways in which they can pursue to a true and wholesome humility. At the end he comments that such discipline will in due course bring one to a natural and easy freedom, so that one acts out of love and not of fear, or duty, or guilt, or trying to prove oneself. And this is the work of God’s spirit in us, who sets us free from fear and ‘oughteries’.
In trying to shape our lives in communion with the poor, the homeless, the dispossessed, it is easy to do so out of guilt or justification-by-good-works. But perseverance and trust in God’s initiative in our lives sets us free to respond out of love. Where the Spirit is, there is freedom. (2 Cor 3)
THURSDAY Week 3
In the course of his lifetime Jesus passed through a series of thresholds. Each was prepared for by his life beforehand. But each was also a break with what went before.
The first was his move from thirty stable years at Nazareth, through baptism and desert, into an unstable life of preaching and healing.
The second was his decision to head for Jerusalem. His evangelical and demanding preaching of the good news had led to increased contestations and his own perception of the real issues at stake had become more radical. Intimacy with his Father and his passionate love of people made it necessary to present himself at the heart of the nation, knowing full well that it would result in his being ‘handed over’ by, and to, the powers.
His third threshold, prepared for by those first two, was his climactic journey through death into resurrection life.
Jesus, and Jeremiah before him, both lived at times when their people felt deeply threatened by a foreign power. Some hoped to survive by compromise and deals, some by resistance, some by leaving the big issues aside and focussing nit-picking attention to personal and domestic virtue. What nobody wanted was a prophet suggesting that God was giving them an opportunity to rediscover the wider issues of social justice and solidarity, to rediscover God as the giver of new life and alternatives (not simply one is there to secure their vested interests) and to discover themselves, through repentance, to be the bearers of God’s newness (rather than being the fearful and innocent victims of alien forces). Jesus and Jeremiah both read the signs of their times quite differently from their contemporaries, and both were bound to be misunderstood. The enemy within. The prophet of doom. The disturber of the peace. And each carried in himself the prophet’s longing for his people: if only they could take hold of this moment of peace, but they cannot.
As Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem he had a profound sense of time running out. No sitting on the fence. No standing aside. It was a time for decision. If you are not for me you are against me.
Where are the prophetic voices God is giving us today – as regards the power of God over the powers, as regards the cry of the poor, as regards planet earth?
FRIDAY Week 3
The panel of Any Questions is sometimes asked: which of the ten commandments do you find most difficult? And I always hear myself think: they really mean the last seven, not the first three.
It is sad how the popular mind has reduced religion to do’s and don’ts of moral behaviour. Because the heart of religion, as of the ten commandments, is those first three – to love God with all our faculties, to reject god–substitutes (idols) in all their forms, and not to do in God’s name what is not truly of God (the tendency in all religion to make God justify our pursuits).
In today’s gospel Jesus replies to the scribe’s question by bringing together two commandments familiar to them both: to love God and to love our neighbour as ourself. It is the only time in the gospels where Jesus speaks of a commandment to love God. That is not, as many claim, that for Jesus the two loves are so merged that the only way we can love God is in our neighbour. It is rather because Jesus hated the idea of God as a distant spectator waiting for us to start by keeping commandments. For him it is all the other way round. Love springs from the heart of God, and as God has taken the initiative our response is that of wonder and gratitude. ‘As the Father has loved me, and I have loved you, so you love one another’. A cascade down a hillside spreading out in a pool.
All our human loves are in need of redemption if they are to mature as sacraments of God’s love and be truly life giving. This is so of erotic love, of the ongoing love of friends, of the universal love focussed on those whom the world deems worthless, and of that love we are called to by allegiance in a family, a community or the Church (a call to be adult enough to journey with sin as well as sanctity). All these forms of love are precarious, able to trap themselves in feel-good narcissism, incestuous chuminess or forms of idolatry. Without a context beyond and greater than themselves they are liable to any amount of self-justifying kidology!
In the end the question is not about keeping commandments or not. Jesus got on quite well with naughty people. In the end the question is whether we give our ‘selves’ to God or to substitutes for God.
SATURDAY Week 3
It is easy for us to misunderstand Jesus’ story of the pharisee and the tax collector. In English the word pharisee has taken on a pejorative meaning, that of hypocrisy. But in Jesus’ day it still simply meant a member of a strict religious group and in this story Jesus is not pointing at hypocrisy. He is not accusing him of saying one thing and doing another. After all the pharisee in the Temple was only claiming to do what all of us are called to do in Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Any of us who is fasting twice a week and giving a tenth of our income this Lent is in a position to cast the first stone.
And perhaps we also misunderstand the other man thinking that his confession and hunger for God’s mercy was about the sort of personal or domestic sins we would mention in confession. It is more likely that what he was bringing to God was a terrible realisation that his entire livelihood, and that of his family, was based on collaborating with the occupying powers in collecting taxes with his own mark up added on. It is the sort of realisation that can hit people today, perhaps quite suddenly, that almost everything they buy or take for granted involves them in unjust structures of sin. The sandals I wear cost £10 and began life in a poor Spanish household where they were paid 20 pence an hour for the labour. The car I drive is part of the ever-increasing violation of our environment. The radio I listen to began life in a sweatshop. My entire well-being is not the virtuous deserts of honest living I thought it was, but involves me up to the neck in structures of injustice.
St Luke places this story a page or two before his account of the tax collector Zacchaeus and his remarkable determination to take what action he could in the face of his own injustice. Perhaps Luke knew that between our awakening realisation and our decisions to act (more or less) justly there is a terrible gap, a space for humble acknowledgement that we are in sin, we do not know what to do about it, and rest upon the mercy of God.
One of the most efficient ways of avoiding that conversion journey is to go on repeating (to God and to ourselves) the list of our own virtues, religious practice and moral superiority to others. The pharisee in us does not really need God at all but is sure that God needs us.