Living with a great soul – making sense of repentance

breaking_bread“In the name of Jesus, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations.”

The readings this week again invite us to reflect on sin and repentance so that our hearts may burn with love. Jesus the just one, is the sacrifice that takes our sins away – not only ours, but the whole world’s. (I Jn 2:2) Peter in his declaration to the people says that we must now repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out. (Acts 3:19) But both sin and this act of repentance are very often misunderstood. We might imagine that to repent is to acknowledge that we have already done something wrong, which we regret, and so we now commit ourselves to living in a new way. We probably know that the word that is used in the Gospels for repentance is the word metanoia which means to change our minds and literally to do an about face and turn around, facing an entirely new direction. But what is perhaps not necessarily very clear is what the new direction should be!

The Gospel story of the two disciples walking away from Jerusalem and being joined by the (unknown) Jesus on the road who shared and taught from the scriptures about the suffering Messiah provides us some insights. We note that as they walk along, their hearts begin to burn within them as Jesus shares from the scriptures, but it is only when he begins to share a meal with them that their eyes are opened and they finally recognise him. It seems that a lot of what is going on in this passage is the true sense of repentance. Indeed as a result of this encounter the disciples literally do an about face and run back towards Jerusalem to share their story with the other disciples.

What Jesus was able to open up to them is the truth that needs to also be opened up to us. Last week I spoke about the truth that a better way to understand sin is as a theological problem more than a moral problem. Sure we experience sin morally – in the many ways that we fail to live in the fulness of God’s new life. But the more that I experience my own sin and that of others in the confessional, the more I realise that the sins that we know and are ashamed about in our lives are essentially the symptoms of something deeper. The moral failures in our lives are a pointer to a failure to truly repent. But what does this mean?

Perhaps the best way of appreciating this is to recall that within the Thomistic tradition, there is an understanding that within us there are two souls, often referred to as the little soul and the great soul. At any given moment in our lives we are either identifying with one or the other. If I identify with my little soul, I will feel bitter and angry. I know that I am living from my little soul when I am petty, afraid, aware of my hurts and being abused. If I relate to life from my little soul, then I will be impatient, short-sighted, despairing and constantly looking to feed my addictions.

But on the other hand, every one of us has a great soul. If I allow my great soul to reign within me, then I will be a different person altogether. As Fr Ron Rolheiser puts it: “I am relating out of my great soul at those moments when I am overwhelmed by compassion, when everyone is brother or sister to me, when I want to give of myself without concern of cost, when I am able to carry the tensions of life without a breakdown in my chastity, when I would willingly die for others, and when my arms and my heart would want nothing other than to embrace the whole world and everyone in it.”

Every day we are given the choice: will I live under the influence of my small petty soul; or will I choose to allow the grace and mercy of the Lord wash over me and call me to respond to him from the fullness of his creation in my great soul.

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Easter, Sunday 3, Year B. Recorded at St Col’s Parish (9am).
Acts 3:13-15; I John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48

Beginning of good news in the desert

baptistAs we enter the second Sunday in the season of Advent, we come to the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. The opening line of his Gospel is somewhat curious – it isn’t immediately obvious if it is meant to be a heading or simply the first line. It richly evokes a number of scripture passages – including the opening line of Genesis (also evoked more clearly in the prologue to the Gospel of John). It declares very strongly and clearly who Jesus is – using and adapting the common political language of the day. Jesus is the Messiah which is good news – he is bringing about a true victory for all who believe in him. Many manuscripts add the additional descriptor that he is the Son of God – although some believe that this is a later scribal addition.

Rather than telling us any of the details about the birth of Jesus, Mark launches straight into the public ministry of Jesus, taking us out into the wilderness (midvar in Hebrew) to be with John the Immerser or John the Baptiser. It is only here, away from the distractions of the big city, that the Word of God (davar in Hebrew) can truly be heard and encountered.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden, 8am (10 min, 37 sec)

Second Sunday in Advent, Year B
Mark 1:1-8

Stumbling discipleship

rock-texturesYou have seduced me O Lord, and I have allowed myself to be seduced. Perhaps Simon, the hero of the Gospel last Sunday, took these words of Jeremiah to heart when after one of his rare triumphs, he so quickly falls from grace. It must have really been something – after being praised so highly and then renamed and commissioned to be the rock upon which this new community of God’s people would find their identity – and then to be told to get back into your place behind Jesus, because the suggestions that you thought were so good and logical and sensible are apparently enough to be rebuked as ‘satan’! After all, since Simon loves the Lord so much, it is only natural that the Messiah should now make his way down through the region of Galilee where Jesus has done so much good – teaching, healing, feeding thousands of people – people who would readily support Jesus as the true Messiah and rightful king. They could easily have organised a sizeable force which could easily have overthrown the small Roman garrison in Jerusalem and established Jesus there. Instead, when Jesus declares that the only way forward for him was the way of suffering, defeat and death – it must have seemed madness.

Yet what Jesus was so very clear about – was what the will of the Father was for him. His prayer was never attempting to cajole the Father into letting Jesus have his own way – and the way of discipleship that Jesus is giving to his followers then and now is the same. The way of the kingdom of God can never begin with my plans and my desires. As the old joke goes – how do we make God laugh? Answer: tell him your plans. Or in Simon’s case: how do you provoke a rebuke from God? Tell him that the true way of life does not involve denial, suffering, death and the cross.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (6’59”)
Sunday 22, Year A.
Jeremiah 20:7-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

Love beyond walls

In the first century, the standard expression of the Jewish faiths was strongly influenced by the Pharisees, the most populous of the many forms of Jewish sects that were active at the time. Unlike other groups which were often on the fringes of Jewish society or groups such as the Sadducees which were deeply embedded in the very narrow world of the Jerusalem temple and its rituals, the Pharisees were widespread and mainstream, and consequentially able to influence most pious followers of the kingdom of God.

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Strange ashes

A lot of the things that we do as a Christian church are kind of strange. If you had never been into a Christian church before, and you happened to wander into this church today – particularly at the end of Mass – and saw several hundred, otherwise ordinary people, who have freely submitted themselves to have their otherwise beautiful and clean faces marked by a mixture of muddy ash. Odd, hey what?

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Recorded at St Paul’s with St Paul’s Primary children (8’05”)
Ash Wednesday.

Come to the wedding

In this final parable in the trilogy of parables that Jesus addresses to the scribes and elders of the people after his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus draws on the image of the wedding banquet that Isaiah uses as a reminder that God has been inviting his people to share in the fullness of life with him as his Son and the bride (the Church) are united in the covenant of marriage. Just as many ignored or refused the invitation in the time of Jesus, so also many still refuse to come to the feast, or if they come, they fail to allow the hospitality of the Lord to impact upon them to change into the new life garments of justice, grace, mercy, love and peace.

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Recorded at St Paul’s Camden, 10am (6’50”)
Isaiah 25:6-14; Matthew 22:1-14

The road from Emmaus

This powerful resurrection story is well known and often repeated. It shows the creative power of Luke’s narrative and has intrigued saints and scholars over the centuries. One saint who has a wonderful commentary on the story is St Bede the Venerable, the famous 8th century English historian and doctor of the Church. He brings his analytical insights to the narrative to provide us with the power of this story for our own lives.

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Easter Sunday 3A. Luke 24. 9’36”

Goat or Calf?

During this Mass for the Anointing of the Sick, the Gospel of Lent week 2 Saturday was from Luke 15 – the parable of the Prodigal Son. We often focus on the younger son, but this brief reflection looks at the older son and compares the two by way of the two animals that the guests gather around in the party that is held to honour the return of the younger son – the fattened calf and the scrawny goat.

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Recorded at Mater Dolorosa, 9am Mass (4’45”)
Note, the first word of the recording was cut-off: it should be ‘To…”

The recording was made with the iPhone sitting on the pulpit, so the quality is not as good – but not bad.
Thanks also go to Rob Bell for the insights about the goat and calf in his new book, ‘Love Wins.’

Washed in the desert

As we continue our journey through this sacred season of Advent, we are again given the majestic vision of the glory of the Lord bringing peace and unity to all creation – all as the fruit of a small shoot that grows from the root of Jesse. As Christians, we profess that this shoot is the Messiah that we worship every time we gather for the Eucharist, our Lord Jesus. Before we can understand the place of the Messiah, first we need to reflect on the ministry of John, as he calls the people to join him out in the desert to confess our sins and be washed in the waters of the Jordan.

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Advent 2A. Recorded at SJV 6pm (8’50”)

Freedom and the iPhone 4

13th Sunday in the Season of the Year (C) – Setting our face toward the Lord.

In the first reading from I Kings, we meet Elijah at the end of his ministry, when his service begins to be more about Elijah than the Lord, so the Lord essentially tells him that his services are no longer required: go and anoint Elisha to succeed you as prophet. To his credit Elijah is faithful to the Lord, and finds Elisha ploughing – not by himself but behind 12 yoke of oxen (a sign of hid great wealth) and places his mantle over him. Immediately Elisha leaves behind the oxen and follows after Elijah – requesting only that he can kiss his parents goodbye. Although Elijah gives him leave to do so, it is not clear whether Elisha does – but what is clear is that he makes a decisive break with his current way of life when he kills the oxen and uses the yoke and the plough to prepare a meal for his men – and then follows Elijah.

This becomes for us a sign and example of freedom – what it means to live in liberty. To have the freedom that St Paul speaks about in Galatians 5:1 doesn’t mean being hard pressed to make the right decision – it means being so focussed on what is true, good and beautiful that we know when and where to do the right thing. The Gospel provides a powerful example of this in the ministry of Jesus – when he ‘sets his face resolutely towards Jerusalem.’ (Luke 9:51) The remainder of Luke’s gospel will now be about this journey – and we are reminded of this decision and movement towards Jerusalem again in Luke 13, 17, 18 and 19 (when Jesus finally arrives in triumph in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday).

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Recorded at Sacred Heart, Bomaderry, 9.30am (8’04”)