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.

Play MP3

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

Good goats did it for me

shutterstock_1516589

Bad sheep and good goats

Justice is something that we learn very early as children. We have this strong instinct for when something doesn’t just seem to be fair. Perhaps as a result, justice is one of the most profound longings of the human race. When there is no justice, then we know that something is wrong from deep within ourselves. Justice is both hard to define and hard to enact. This has never stopped humans from seeking it, praying for it, and working hard to find better ways of doing it. Justice means bringing the world back into balance.

The scene of the last judgement that is presented in the Gospel of Matthew in chapter 25 has burned itself deeply into our consciousness – not least because of its depiction in many paintings. The Son of Man is identified as the king who sits on his glorious throne admitting on one side the righteous to the final kingdom of God – prepared from the foundation of the world. In contrast is the other side with the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. The common image of a shepherd separating the sheep from the similarly coloured goats is used.

In this present moment, these two kingdoms are interwoven and confused through the ambiguities of history. But the kingdom of God is the only true kingdom. What appears to be the present struggle between the two kingdoms will not last forever, because ultimately only God is King!

Part of what is proclaimed in this gospel is that in the coming of the son of man, justice will at last be done. This passage comes as the climax of a whole series where Jesus has denounced his own people and especially the leaders for their failure to live as God’s people should.

What Jesus wants the church to know is that he is already ruling the whole world as its rightful Lord. This is especially true where the kingdoms of this world treat many of our brothers and sisters with contempt, torture, abuse and too often with death. Then, and now, this passage provides great encouragement for all who work for justice in the name of the kingdom of God.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8min 47sec)
Solemnity of Christ the King (Sunday 34, Year A)

We celebrated the reception of Holy Communion for the first time for 305 Year 3 and older children over 6 special Masses this weekend, when the temperature rose to over 42 degrees (hence the reference to cold weather.)

Sharing Talents

A GiftThe parable of the talents has a number of unusual qualities. Unlike most of the parables, which seem to be aimed at farmers and fishers and other country folk, this parable is aimed at people who are familiar with the workings of a market economy. So while it was good, prudent and standard Jewish practice to bury treasure in a field to safeguard it, within the market-based understanding that operates in this parable’s worldview, all that results in this practice is the diminution of the market value of the item – in this case a single measure of money called a talent, equivalent to 15 years of wages of a labourer (4500 denarii). This is a rare parable because it praises the risk-taking activities of the first two traders who both manage to double their master’s investment. The problem is that this pro-capitalist reading also tends to leave us wondering if the Christian life is simply going to culminate in a great test that will measure how great a return on the Lord’s investment we have managed to make as the basis of our salvation. Such a reading tends to move in the direction of a heresy called Pelagianism that imagines that we are essentially responsible for our own salvation. As a more careful reading of this parable demonstrates – which is confirmed by the rest of the gospels and the Christian scriptures – the God that we worship is a generous and gracious God who freely offers us all that we need and more. We cannot claim to truly possess anything that we can offer – since all is based on what we have received directly from the Lord. (All that we can claim any credit for is our own sin!) What we can offer in return are acts of thanksgiving and service that flow out of our experience of salvation.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (11min 5sec)

Blinded by disturbed shalom

blinded_fotolia_341939The magnificent story of the healing of the man born blind occupies the whole of chapter 9 of St John’s gospel – although the miracle itself only takes two verses to tell; the controversy around the healing takes the other 39 verses. The first question that arises and which continues through the drama as it unfolds is – who is to blame for this? Who sinned? There was a very clear teaching in the Torah about sin and its consequences and so there must obviously be someone to blame for this man’s affliction. The must have realised that it was a bit rich to blame the poor man, since this is the way he was born – so did his parents sin? Where does the buck stop? If only the church and the christian community had taken on board the teaching of Jesus here: “Neither he nor his parents sinned.” How much grief would be avoided if we stopped looking for causes and blame for so many things in our world, and just got on with fixing them instead? But the discussion about sin is not yet finished, because we soon discover that this sixth sign in the Gospel of John happens on a Sabbath day, so that gives cause to the Pharisees accusing Jesus as a sinner for working on the holy day (creating the paste with the dirt and spittle). But what really is sin? Is it just breaking random commandments – or is it something deeper? Perhaps a definition that I read this week might shed more light on this area of darkness: the culpable disturbance of shalom. The Lord intends that we experience a world that is based in Shalom – peace, wholeness, blessing. We know that so many things disturb this shalom, and the blindness of this man is an example of this. The wonderful thing is that after the healing, the man begins to journey from physical sight to spiritual sight as he slowly ponders about who this man Jesus is that he brings such restoration.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (9’39”)
Sunday 4, Lent, Year A. John 9:1-41.

This insight on sin is contained in a blog series by Rob Bell called ‘What is the Bible?’, which I have published in book form on my website.

Worship and Temptation

GrainOn the first Sunday of Lent each year, we remember why we journey through the wilderness for forty days when we hear about the journey of Jesus – driven by the holy Spirit into the desert – for forty days of prayer and encounter with God. We must first note that temptation should not only be thought of as the desire to break rules, just as sin is so much more than being naughty. When we sin, we fall short of God’s original plan for our lives – which is to know, love, worship and serve him as his image bearers and sharers in the world. At some level, to sin is to fail to truly worship and to miss the mark and settle on something so much less.

To understand the power of what Jesus experienced and overcame in the wilderness, we need to journey back into the wilderness with the people of God as they prepare to enter into the promised land – recounted today in the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 26. Although the Lectionary gives us verses 4-10, to understand this passage more fully, we need to read a little more – chapter 26, verses 1 to 11, which happens to be the reading from the Common Lectionary. I will read and comment today from the TNIV version.

Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (12’55”)
Sunday, Lent 1C

Grace and weakness

The disciples in the gospel of Mark are at times amazed and astonished by the work and ministry of Jesus. Here, when Jesus makes his way back home to Nazareth, there is more amazement and astonishment – but not in the good way. The people think they know Jesus – they grew up with him and know his large extended family. How can he be one who brings in the kingdom of God?
In second Corinthians, St Paul has been defending his ministry against a range of people who are called false apostles who describe in great detail their powerful and incredible spiritual experiences.  (more…)

Centre of history

One of the deepest deficiencies of our current age is that our religious education presents the person of Jesus and the teaching of Christianity as if they existed in splendid historical isolation. You experience this in part with the tendency to focus only on the stories of Jesus – the parables and the mighty deed narratives drawn from the gospels, and perhaps a few lines from the writings of St Paul – and little more. Although formally most Catholics would acknowledge that the rest of the scriptures, including the writings of the Old Testament were equally part of divine revelation, in practice they are regularly ignored.
As we celebrate the nativity of St John the Precursor, we have to take account of the fact that both the Gospels and the writings of St Paul place the life and example of St John as central to the ministry of Jesus. So we must begin by taking time to remember what it was that provided the context of John’s life and what he can continue to offer for us today.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s, Vigil Mass (6pm, 8’27”)

Seated at the right hand of the Father

The Feast of the Ascension can strike us a quite bizarre affair – especially to one who grew up on a diet of science-fiction and imagined that Jesus somehow managed to add flying and living outside of the atmosphere to his walking-on-water and multiplying food – as well as raising the dead and getting through locked doors (after being resurrected from the dead). So today I want to allow St Paul’s powerful prayer in Ephesians to inspire us to look deeper into the truth behind the feast, and particularly to consider what it meant for Jesus to be seated at the right hand of God. We begin with the description of the burnt offering in Leviticus 1.

Play MP3

Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (12’29”)

Beginnings

Literature in the classical world was often concerned to set the scene and provide an overview of the whole text from the very first line of the text. When we come to a text like the Gospel of Mark, we may be tempted to pass over the opening line of the Gospel – which we are presented with in our liturgy today for the Second Sunday of Advent – but that would be a mistake. When Mark sits down to compose his Gospel – more than likely the very first gospel to be written – he was very aware of his context. (more…)

Images of sin in Isaiah

As we begin the new liturgical year and this new season of Advent, it is fruitful to consider the readings that the Church presents to us on this first Sunday, because it sets the agenda for the whole of the season and the year. It has been said that if Christmas were removed from the bible, all that would be lost would be about a chapter and a half from the beginning of both Matthew and Luke; but if the sense of preparation, expectancy, hope and longing that lies at the heart of the season of Advent were removed from the scriptures, you would have to delete about half of the Old Testament and most of the New. (more…)