As I raise the bread and wine I’m staring at the figure of Christ hanging on the Cross that stands on the Altar.
And suddenly it’s not just the body and blood of Jesus in my hands but also the body and blood of Ciara.
There’s a oneness… I’m offering two bodies and bloods and they’ve become one… his body and blood so bruised and battered even before he’s raised on the Cross and her body and blood already marked and scarred – bruised and battered – by surgery and years of cancer treatment.
I can’t hold these bodies and bloods tenderly enough in my hands. I’m in awe… almost overcome by a mixture of reverence, respect, wonder and fear as I stare at a deep spiritual truth. I can’t move from the sight.
I have to work hard to stay present to the people in front of me.
I think of the generations who’ve embarked on this very path, the way of the Cross, especially the generations who gathered in this Shannon Chapel… one great procession through history making their way to the Cross… and resurrection.
For a moment I asked that He take my body instead of hers… and then I think how difficult that would be for all to whom I mean so much…
And instantly I think of all to whom she means so much and how difficult it is for them…
The best way to understand God is using the qualities of personhood.
We get God’s creation or God as a distant possibility but as for the person and the personhood of God, that goes over our head!
But in our deepest and truest personhood we are most like God.
We begin every Mass by apologizing to the Almighty for any offense we’ve caused.
Offense and apology – and ultimately forgiveness – belong properly to personhood and they don’t need an explanation because they’re such an important part of our lived experience.
But why are we like this?
Because we’re made in the image and likeness of God.
God then is the original person or personhood, the template of all personhood, and in our human experience of offense and apology we’re simply reflecting eternity and our eternal origins.
Justice and the human desire for justice are other such qualities… as are love and mercy. Indeed, all the important personhood stuff is reflecting eternity.
You’ll often hear people express the view that they’re more spiritual than religious and at the heart of this dichotomy – which I consider to be a false dichotomy – lies the personhood of God.
At any moment we can have a deeply spiritual experience… more often than not it’ll happen while we’re in the midst of creation.
These are undoubtedly moments of spiritual awareness, even of oneness, but they’re not an experience of the very person of God.
I’ve had many such moments… standing on the bridge at Edermine – always looking downstream by the way! – and while walking the N11 from Oylgate towards Enniscorthy and experiencing the breathtaking view of the distant mountains.
Granted, in so far as the water and the mountains are God’s creation they are experiences of God but they’re experiences of God in much the same way as a piece of art is an experience of the artist… meeting the artist in person is quiet a different matter altogether.
God is like that too. It’s one thing to experience God’s creation and to be drawn into an awareness of the Creator-God, it’s quite another to actually encounter the person of God!
One belongs to spirituality, the other belongs to spirituality given direction by the Christmas and Easter events and religion.
We rarely pass into this realm, into an encounter with the very personhood of God, yet this is the very purpose of Christian religion. This – the very person of God – is what distinguishes the Christian religion from spirituality.
Religion, true religion, moves the practitioner through spirituality to an encounter with the very person and personhood of God.
So, make no mistake, lots of us have experience of God through oneness with his creation but there are few people who know what it is to encounter God in his very person.
This encounter requires both spirituality and the committed practice of religion.
Mark 10:35-45 “You do not know what you are asking… Can you drink the cup that I must drink…”
I can almost hear Jesus: Omg 😱 look at these two. They haven’t a clue what they’re asking.
Jesus could be alluding to the cost to himself of opening Heaven to us.
Remember if you ask God to hug sinful humanity it’s similar to you or I hugging the person who has offended or hurt us. For God it’s a similar emotional, psychological and spiritual experience.
But Jesus could also be alluding to how much it’ll cost James and John themselves.
Remember too that you and I share in the cup that Jesus “must drink” through the Eucharist and we share in the baptism that he is “baptized with” through our baptism.
Sometimes though it’s all just words! But the really chosen souls don’t just share in this cup and baptism sacramentally, at a distance so to speak; they share it in their flesh. It becomes their flesh.
Suffering is never a punishment. Never.
Sometimes suffering is intended to get us off the wrong road.
Sometimes suffering is intended to bring those on the right road even closer to Jesus.
But both have the one aim; to bring us to Heaven.
One point is very clear; entry into eternal life is costly!
There is always some level of suffering.
The suffering that’s part of life, aging, serious illness, bereavement – there’s no need to go looking for it because it’s just part of living – shatters our illusions and breaks down the ego. It puts jealousy, envy, indignation, the need to make our authority felt, all that stuff, the stuff that’s not fit for Heaven in perspective. Remember, envy and all that stuff, so much that’s part of our lives, can’t enter Heaven because it’ll turn Heaven into hell. Suffering breaks all that stuff down. It makes all that stuff irrelevant, unimportant, trivial.
As the years take their toll you’ll often hear it said: It’s easy talk to him or her now!
Life has built-in levelers that conspire to make us fit for Heaven.
We need to be able to trust life, especially all that comes uninvited, knowing that it’s Heaven breaking into our small lives and preparing us for big life, for Heaven, nothing more, nothing less.
Bear in mind that it comes on the back of: “And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell…” (last Sunday’s Gospel, Twenty Sixth Sunday).
Divorce and remarriage are an accepted part of life. To suggest otherwise is to be considered outdated and backward.
Yet here in the proclamation of this Sunday’s Gospel reading we are once again confronted by the teaching of Jesus which says that divorce and remarriage are not, and never were, a part of God’s plan.
Jesus turns to the teaching of Moses and in doing so he must have known that Moses allowed divorce and remarriage.
In keeping Moses in the conversation Jesus is firstly putting the Ten Commandments centre stage; and secondly, he’s taking the opportunity to correct the teaching of Moses which allowed for divorce and remarriage.
Interestingly, he doesn’t blame Moses. Rather, he blames Moses generation, the masses, from Moses right up to his day, about 1600 years of people divorcing and remarrying: “It was because you were so unteachable” that Moses allowed you to divorce and remarry. There’s no reason to believe that Heaven views us any differently!
Just about everybody seems to have expected Jesus to go with Moses teaching allowing divorce and remarriage – as most people do today – as evidenced by the disciples bringing the matter up again in the privacy of the house.
That Jesus turns to the Ten Commandments should not be a surprise.
He guarded the commandments carefully saying that Heaven and earth would disappear before the Ten Commandments. That’s a huge statement. But there’s more: “Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of Heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of Heaven.” Matt 5:17
In placing divorce and remarriage in the context of breaching the sixth commandment (he actually uses the word “guilty” of adultery), in binding divorce and remarriage to adultery so tightly, and given his understanding of the place of the Ten Commandments in the working out of our salvation, Jesus is raising a red flag 🚩 here about divorce, remarriage and our eternal welfare.
It’s a tough one indeed.
What I haven’t dealt with here is Heaven’s understanding of the purposes of marriage and our everyday understanding – they’re very different and it will go some way to explain our difficulty with Jesus teaching.
Speaking about human suffering Pio said: “Jesus does not ask us to carry the heavy cross, but a piece of his cross, the piece that consists of human suffering.”
Suffering has shaken the faith of many.
When good people suffer we question, we’re puzzled.
Yet Jesus always taught his followers to expect it, not to run from it, but to pick it up, carry it and follow after him.
It’s very clear that Jesus believed suffering to be an essential element on the path to salvation.
He even goes as far as calling Peter’s objections the work of Satan!
Jesus teaches that if you try to avoid suffering – the stuff that just comes your way, uninvited – which he calls wanting to “save your life” you will actually lose your life; losing your life here (in this context) means losing salvation.
Catch a hold of that! The refusal to carry the suffering you can do nothing about means the loss of salvation, the loss of the next life!
It’s a teaching that couldn’t be more opposed to the whole euthanasia and assisted suicide movement.
It’s a teaching that couldn’t be more opposed to the often voiced preference for a bullet rather than a care home.
It’s a teaching that puts most people offside!
Jesus goes on; if you embrace your suffering, seek to carry it for the sake of Jesus and the gospel (in the worldly sense “losing your life”) you’ll save it, you’ll merit salvation – heaven.
There is no resurrection for Jesus without the passion.
There will be no share in that same resurrection for you and for me unless we also share in that same passion, in whatever format it comes to each one of us.
In 1947 forty five people, most of them war orphans between the ages of four and thirteen lost their lives at sea, shipwrecked less than 100 metres from shore off the coast of Italy.
When Padre Pio was asked about the tragedy he replied:
“It would do you well to listen. There is a mother embroidering. Her son, sitting on a low stool, watches her work, but he sees everything backwards. He sees the knots of the embroidery, the confused threads. So he says: ‘Mother, what are you doing? Why is your work so unclear?’ Then his mother lowers the frame and shows the other side of her work, the fine part. Each colour is in place and the variety of threads is composed neatly and harmoniously.” Padre Pio concluded, “Down here we see only the reverse of the embroidery. We are sitting on the low stool.”
Things kick off over ritual washing before eating, and there’s mention of the tradition of washing after returning from the shops because they’d been “contaminated” by the people they’d mixed with.
There are some interesting lessons to be learned from Jesus response.
He doesn’t dispute their distinction between clean and unclean. In fact he accepts it.
Clean and unclean stand for Heaven and hell, being fit for Heaven or fit for hell, creating Heaven or creating hell.
But Jesus has a very different understanding about what makes a person clean or unclean, fit for Heaven or fit for hell.
It’s what’s in your heart that decides whether you’re fit for Heaven or hell and he lists the way-markers on the road to hell which are actually qualities that abound, and apart from the obvious like murder, he includes fornication, adultery, theft, avarice, malice, deceit, envy, indecency, slander, pride, folly.
What happens if you put theft in Heaven? What happens if you put envy in Heaven? Avarice? Malice? Deceit? That’s not Heaven, that’s hell.
You can’t put theft in Heaven because it’ll create hell, no more than you can put envy or avarice, or malice, or any of the qualities listed by Jesus.
Can you see why these qualities are way-markers on the road to hell?
And can you see that it’s what’s in our hearts that determines how God receives us?
We want God to do it all for us but it’s not like that. It’s what’s inside us that determines our future.
Do not pay lip service to God. When you pray 🙏, pray from your heart. When you worship, worship from your heart. Otherwise it’s worthless.
Which begs the question: Mass and your heart; what’s the story there? If the worship of God is boring it’s because your heart is not in it!
He further advises:
The commandments and the law of God are more important than human tradition; more important than any human law.
Overall, he’s saying; if you truly loved God, if your heart was really in it, you’d know all this!
The peoples response to Jesus teaching is: “This is intolerable language.” But what provoked such a strong reaction?
Whatever way Jesus delivered this teaching – which is obviously about the Eucharist – he left the people in no doubt that he wasn’t speaking symbolically, and he wasn’t speaking about signs.
When he’d finished his teaching they clearly understood he meant actually eating his flesh and drinking his blood and they found it “intolerable language” and concluded, “How could anyone accept it?”
Remember the reaction wasn’t just words, they didn’t just talk the talk, they walked away. They were clearly shocked, possibly even disgusted!
And Jesus didn’t even try to stop 🛑 them!
He didn’t try to stop ✋ them because the teaching he’d shared was the truth. He was saying “this is how it is in Heaven and I can’t change it.”
This is my Fathers will, that you eat my flesh and drink my blood; that you celebrate Eucharist. But we must celebrate it in such a way that we’re actually eating and drinking him – and the bread and wine are not signs or symbols but his actual body and blood, his very self.
Jesus makes no effort to soften his teaching: “Does this upset you?” he says, and pushes on trying to open up the huge expanse that exists behind his earthly body, the spirit that’s behind the flesh. “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer” he says. Yet we spend so much time focused on the flesh – and money too.
Then Jesus states that we cannot come to him unless the Father allows it. Once again we’re told that there’s order to all this, that not all are admitted to the kingdom of God – qualifications are required – that there are some who will always be outside it because they remain “lost” in their own flesh which Jesus says “has nothing to offer” – it ends in dust! This is Peter’s point at the end: “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life.” Without you, we’re just dust!
In the end, having lost large numbers, Jesus turns to the twelve; “What about you, do you want to go away too?”
Jesus offers the twelve something beautiful, their freedom, their freedom to walk away from him and his teaching about the Eucharist. Is it a reflection of how Jesus offers people today the same freedom to walk away from Mass? Are the people who walk away from Mass today using their freedom in much the same way as the people who walked away from this teaching about the Eucharist?
What always strikes me about Mary is the hidden-ness, the anonymity of all that’s happening; the unseen but nonetheless huge activity of God. Get that; on the one hand God is hugely active in human affairs, on the other it’s unseen. That’s something of the power of God, the genius of God.
Unseen and unrecognized for 9 months within the womb of Mary apart from the few, the hidden-ness of his birth apart from the few, thereafter the years of hidden-ness from new born infant to toddler, from early to middle to late childhood, from adolescence to early adulthood, completely hidden apart from the few, right up to his public ministry when he just launched into public life out of what seemed to most to be out of nowhere.
But it wasn’t out of nowhere, was it? The people were just in a different living space!
Then when he launches himself publicly – apparently “out of nowhere” – he is met by the twin responses of unbelief and belief, unbelief that varied from indifference to incredulity to outright and open hostility; and belief that was so slow to grasp the full implications of Jesus life and teaching. We still struggle to grasp it because it’s just so big.
But none of this was out of nowhere because for several decades God had been hugely active under the radar. That hasn’t changed!
Furthermore, it wasn’t out of the blue for some; some were close enough to God to have been allowed to glimpse at least something of the magnitude of what was happening. Nonetheless, such was the magnitude of all that Jesus was claiming – about himself and the “next” world – that the people struggled to grasp it. It was just too big for their little minds. This too hasn’t changed!
This is familiar ground because Mary has been hugely active in recent centuries just as she was in the beginning, and we’re every bit as unsuspecting. She’s been so – so – active but you’d never know!
Lourdes in and for the 19th century.
Fatima in and for the 20th century.
Medugorje in and for the 21st century.
Remember, these are not just places of pilgrimage – each was given for it’s time.
When all that Medugorje is prophesying begins to unfold in world history it’ll seem to many to have been as equally hidden in its preparation and as unexpected and dramatic in its arrival. It will seem to have come out of nowhere and the responses of unbelief and belief will be largely the same.
But nothing of all this will be out of the blue because it’s right here, right now, under our noses.
The only thing that’s out of the blue, out of synch so to speak, is the human ego!