One small piece of wisdom that has come down from the ages (it was first stated in Greek philosophy, and then offered into the Christian tradition through the writings of the Eastern fathers, St Augustine, and then codified in scholastic philosophy through the writings of St Thomas Aquinas) is the Latin phrase: omne/omnia ens est unum, bonum, verum et pulchrum. Literally translated this means: All being is one, good, true and beautiful. Since I first discovered this teaching, it has deeply impacted my life. So as we begin this new season of Advent and this new liturgical year (in fact as we restart the six-year Sunday and weekday cycle from the beginning*) it seemed to be an appropriate time to begin with the very fundamental teachings that an understanding of the transcendentals provides.
The transcendentals remind us that God leaves traces of Godself in everything that has been created – that is everything. We may have learnt in our childhood through the old Baltimore Catechism that the answer to the question “Where is God” with the answer “God is everywhere.” Yet, although we have taught this, we have often minimised this belief, saying rather that God, although everywhere, is really only truly present in much more limited ways – like in our church, or our sacraments, or in the people who are part of our group (and then probably only when we really like them!). The transcendentals can help us to break out of this stingy and narrow understanding of God.
This week we begin with the concept of God as one. ‘One’ is a very common word in our scriptures – used 2,222 times in the Hebrew scriptures (most in the book of Numbers), and 1,569 times in the New Testament (most often in the Gospel of John). Most of the time the word one just highlights that something is in the singular, rather than the plural. But at times it points to something deeper, emphasising the very nature of Gd, such as in Deuteronomy 6:4, which is the Shema prayer recited each day by Jewish people: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The word ‘one’ here is the word ‘ehad and is the basis of the Judeo-Christian belief in monotheism. But this belief began to become more nuanced with the claim made by Jesus (for example, in John 10:30) that “the Father and I are one” which would become part of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
All of this is pointing to the dynamic nature of God. Too often we have limited God to a very static and boring understanding, when there can be nothing that is more dynamic. The only way to know God is through relationship as a subject, not an object. If we begin to grasp this, then we can begin to live in an elevated sense of freedom, goodness, truth and beauty.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am Mass. (14mins)
* The Sundays are arranged in a three-year cycle, starting in Year A with the Gospel of Matthew; Year B with the Gospel of Mark; and Year C with the Gospel of Luke. The weekdays are arranged in a two-year cycle, with the same Gospel readings, but different first readings (drawn from both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures). Over the six years the cycle runs: Year A/I; Year B/II; Year C/I; Year A/II; Year B/I; Year C/II.
If you want some background reading, the following articles may be of interest:
Many of the parishes around our Diocese celebrate First Holy Communion on this day – which seems like a lovely idea, given the name of the Solemnity with which we conclude the liturgical year. But I am intrigued about the disjuncture between the apparent theme of the liturgy and the strong and provocative images that are always presented by the liturgy. Today is no exception. Although Paul begins his prayer reflection in our second reading with the high and exalted language that describes Jesus as “the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation…” Yet Paul knows that the only way that Jesus was able to reconcile all things through him and for him – everything in heaven and everything on earth – is through the peace that he brought about through his death of the cross.
And this is the heart of our faith. It is only in and through the cross of Jesus that anything that we profess or believe begins to make sense. It is what we have been celebrating all year with the Year of Mercy that Pope Francis inaugurated and which has challenged us to continue to be caught up in the flow of forgiveness and mercy. We considered this in more depth during the season of Lent as we reflected in the series on Moving Mercy. Today we are invited to move deeper into the experience and reality of mercy that is still available for each of our lives.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 7.30am (11mins 20)
Sunday 34, Year C: Christ, the universal king
Luke 23:35-43; Col 1:12-20.
As we come to the end of the liturgical year, the darker tone of the readings this week match well the international mood after the results of the presidential election in the US. The images are rich and evocative, and require us to unpack them a little. We begin with the image of the sun – both as instrument of punishment and source of healing at the day of the Lord. This should remind us that images will always limp somewhat – and we have to always use a range of images to get anywhere closer to the richness of our God.
Turning to the Gospel, once we begin to realise the shear scale and enormity of the temple compound in Jerusalem, we can begin to realise why the disciples from the Galilee country in the north of Israel were so overwhelmed by this beautiful wonder of the ancient world. Yet, even after predicting the destruction of the city and temple – an event that would unfold around 40 years later with the fall of Jerusalem by the Romans at the end of the first Jewish war of 67-70 CE – Jesus calls not just his disciples but all the people to keep trust and to not be afraid. He says that it is in these dark days of persecution and uncertainty when the church must step up and take the opportunity to bear witness to the power of God.
It is in this spirit that our parish will be embracing the Alpha program across 2017. I have spoken about Alpha a few times now, but let us spend a few minutes finding out more about what an amazing opportunity lies before us for the new year.
Recorded at St Paul’s (13mins 30)
Sunday 33, Year C. Luke 21:5-19; Malachi 3:19-20 / 4:1-2
In the Gospel today (Luke 20:27-38), a group of Sadducees (the only mention in the Gospel of Luke) come to Jesus with a question, involving a bizarre scenario about seven unfortunate brothers and their common childless wife. Although the context of the resurrection of the dead is presumed, Jesus doesn’t complete the argument, leaving it hanging with his declaration that ‘God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.’
It is for this reason that we have been pondering together over the last month (with the interruption last weekend for the National Church Life Survey) concerning this question of how we can live Simply – and learn to practice the art of living with a focus on the essentials. It is because of God’s call to us within creation to embrace the fullness of life with him now – as God of the living – that we can make the focus on the simple and essential.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 7.30am (12 mins 45)
Sunday 32, Year C.