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!
Jesus has taught us that there’s a definitive standard – love defined as love of God and love of neighbour – by which we will all be judged.
But don’t be complacent about God’s love… and be careful of presumption…
Because this love is of a much higher standard than most people realize. Remember Jesus’ teaching that his new standard is higher than the old; love your enemies.
Or the widow who put in one small coin. She put in more than all the others although the others put in much bigger amounts… because she gave everything she had.
He’s indicating different levels of love… which correspond to different levels in the next life, in the kingdom of God.
When Jesus speaks about love he really means all-consuming charity, charity that no longer experiences even a hint of self denial. He’s not really thinking about romantic love.
So be careful… sometimes people use Jesus emphasis on love to include stuff that may be contrary to Jesus intentions; may be contrary. Some TV personalities are quite adept at this!
Here’s a good illustration of the inner dynamics of judgement; suppose I’m buying a car. For many it’s an ordinary enough event and few would even relate it to God. But for others it’s far from an everyday event. I could splash out 20,000 or 50,000 or even 80,000. What we do not suspect is that we’ll relive that choice – and every other choice – from within the standard of God’s love at the moment of our judgement; how did I love God and how did I love my neighbour in these choices?
In our judgment we’ll see what we actually did with what we had, and what we could have done – and much of it will be stuff that we don’t even connect with God, stuff that we might call “business” or “the market” or some other name whereby we remove whole areas of our lives from God, as if God could be excluded, but seeing what we could have done, but didn’t do, at this level – in the presence of God – is actually pure punishment.
So while we might think that a man or woman has been successful, that same success may prove their downfall at the moment of their judgement.
The criteria of judgment will always be; how did I love God and love my neighbour in my everyday choices and no area of human life, endeavour or enterprise escapes God’s attention.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus taught that the poor are blessed? Partly, because they avoid this responsibility and thus they avoid this kind of judgement. But that’s only part of the reason.
The bigger part is how success, more often than not, deceives and empowers our small ego lives into choking our need for big life, for God.
Try to receive your suffering as a privilege, or as the Medugorje visionary Vicka who suffers so much herself has said, as a gift from God.
Try. It’s easer said than done! But it doesn’t have to be something big, it might be nothing more than having to endure several failed attempts to insert a cannula. Or an everyday difficulty.
Don’t waste your suffering as Pope St. John Paul once said.
We struggle to understand this because we do not have a deep connection with the person of Jesus, his life and teaching, and with the true meaning of Christmas and Easter.
We pay more attention now to mindfulness and various other spiritual practices – good in themselves… as far as they go – but we do not have a deep connection with Jesus born of Mary, the son of the living God.
Jesus born of Mary is Heaven torn open, exposed… the mystery revealed, waiting for us to jump in, he is God who came down, lived among us, attempting – and still attempting – to reach us, leaving us a rather detailed understanding of eternity, how it works, what it’s like, what to expect…
We have been formed by divine teaching… but you’d hardly know it. He has revealed so much of the mystery.
He taught us there’s a definitive standard – love – by which we will be judged.
He taught us that within this love there is ultimate justice and judgement.
He taught us that what we do to others we do to him… ouch 😣. Imagine the joy and the sorrow of that! Everything that happens on earth arrives into the heart of God.
He taught us that mercy costs, that forgiving an offense and embracing an offender is painful 😓. On a universal scale he illustrated this on the Cross.
Every time God forgives, the struggle and the suffering of the Cross continues… until the end of time.
Every sin creates a piece of hell on earth.
Every time there’s love – true love – the resurrection continues to happen on earth.
How much sin – offensive hurt – can a person endure before he turns? How much could you endure? Now apply the question to God.
For example, abortion alone – executed as a human right and which the majority have now decided is our choice – is horrendous suffering in the heart of God, beyond all human imagining.
Still, God remains gracious. It is grace beyond all human comprehension – a love so merciful that it astonishes even the angels – that prevents God turning, that prevents the partial and even the complete destruction of the earth 🌍.
At times it is Our Lady who is holding the line which is why she’s repeatedly asking for prayer and sacrifice – help me here! Sacrifice has a similar value to suffering in Heaven – provided each is freely offered.
The earth survives through the pure graciousness of God – but do not underestimate the cost.
When suffering comes our way we are given the opportunity to work intimately with God in the work of salvation, in sharing the burden of saving humankind.
When that suffering is borne or carried out of love for the Saviour – I want to help you Lord because I love you – we’re already well advanced in the communion of saints.
Sadly, for many it’s the deep connection with Jesus that’s missing when suffering comes our way and we’re left “like sheep without a shepherd…”
I couldn’t help but notice that they laughed at Jesus.
That hasn’t changed, they laugh at us too because we have faith. We’re ridiculed often.
And when Jesus had made his point no doubt they said, “she wasn’t really dead, we made a mistake!”
These things don’t change.
In last Sunday’s Gospel the disciples fear death by drowning Mk 4:35-41
So Jesus calms the storm, the disciples fear of death disappears to be replaced by “even the wind and the sea obey him”
They’re awestruck – their focus changes from the fear of death to his power over the the storm, over wind and rain…
So what happens next? Where does Jesus lead them?
To the encounter recorded in this Sunday’s Gospel… where Jesus leads his disciples back to confront death in the death of a little girl 👧
The loss of someone close to us always plunges us into grief, dark and heavy grief, horrible.
But who told us that death is the worse possible scenario for the deceased?
Jesus doesn’t fear death, he doesn’t consider it as the worse possible event – in last Sunday’s Gospel he’s asleep, in this Sunday’s Gospel he demonstrates his absolute authority even over death – on the contrary he fears sin, he fears offending his Father. According to Jesus there’s something much worse than death – offending God unto hell.
But for those who die in Christ death is the best possible scenario and anyone who dies in Christ is consumed by love; of which even the greatest human love is a dim – very dim – reflection. They have only one all consuming desire; to stay with God, and the desire to return is non-existent. They’re being totally consumed by loving fulfillment.
The best contemporary example I can give is Mirjana’s experience of Our Lady in Medugorje. It is important to grasp that when Mirjana sees Our Lady it’s not just a visionary experience, rather, Our Lady brings Heaven with her – after all she is of Heaven – and Mirjana is caught up in Heaven. The consequences are illuminating; Mirjana has only one desire, to stay with Our Lady which means to go with Our Lady (death). Mirjana says that when she’s with Our Lady not even the love she has for her daughters would bring her back, and when the experience ends Mirjana collapses into a deep darkness. It takes her weeks to recover… and she really struggles to go back to ordinary life, to ordinary love, to love that’s a very dim reflection of divine love.
It’s all consuming nature is like having a son or daughter in love with someone of whom you do not approve – try getting your point of view through to him or her! It’s all-consuming.
On the other hand those who do not die in Christ long to come back and un-do and re-do so much. This desire at that level, a burning desire incapable of being fulfilled, is more than enough punishment!
Firstly, I want you to understand that the decline of the church is itself an example of Jesus own teaching, eg, Matt 5:13, “…if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.”
This is what has happened to the Catholic Church in our time. The fall of the Catholic Church in Ireland is this teaching of Jesus – and many similar teachings – made flesh in our time. This is intended to teach us, all of us, people inside and outside the church about the consequences of ignoring the teaching of Jesus.
I want you to grasp this – the teaching of Jesus is always made flesh, it becomes our lived experience.
This is not just true in the church but also in the world; any decline in the human-divine relationship – unchecked – will always result in a time of decline which in turn leads to a time of suffering for humanity through real historical events. This is the reason Jesus begins his ministry; repent! For example, according to the message of Fatima, World War II was one such event. Bear in mind the message of Fatima was saying this twenty years before the actual event. In our time Medugorje is flagging similar warnings concerning our future.
Secondly, I want you to understand that there will also be gracious acts of God that will reverse the decline.
I don’t know how far the decline will go before this begins to happen. For example, I do not know how many parishes will close, how many congregations will die out before it happens. But when it does happen, it’ll be dramatic and rapid, in a matter of days… quite suddenly there’ll be queues for Baptism and Confession.
At this point – on this July day 2021 – the Divine correction of the church is well advanced but the correction of the world is only in its very early stages. The church first because in the mind of God the church – the gathering of his disciples – should be the yeast in the dough that is the world, but when the yeast is off, well, then it has to be fixed – and fixed first. Then the dough. Again, the teaching of Jesus is being made flesh, it is becoming our lived experience.
The more shocking the crime the more it will help us to grasp the full force of God’s love and the true meaning of mercy.
The hired man on hearing sentence pronounced is likely to add; “and I hope they throw away the key!”
The good shepherd on the other hand stands before the judge and doesn’t plead for leniency or mitigation but rather offers himself – his life – to take the place of the guilty prisoner and serve the time on his behalf.
The hired man simply runs away. The good shepherd lays down his life.
This image also helps to explain the difference between our understanding of mercy and God’s understanding.
Our understanding is little more than mitigation, leniency, a lighter sentence whereas Gods understanding is paying the full price on behalf of another.
The pain and the price of injustice, of mercy, do not disappear magically, rather it is always being absorbed in human flesh and ultimately in the Godhead – there are no short-cuts.
So what do you think; are you more hired man or good shepherd? I think I’m more hired man!
Finally, the image helps to explain the difference between a job and a vocation.
It was a toxic mix of unbelief and sin that killed Jesus and it is another toxic mix of unbelief and sin that has killed the Catholic church in our time.
But where was Jesus between his death and resurrection, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday? What’s that space like? Can you enter it? Cardinal Ratzinger described this space in terms of solitude – fascinating – because I’m now linking the fear of solitude and the fear of death, but that’s for another day. This time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is a gestation space… and I believe the Catholic church and most if not all denominations right now, can be likened to that space between dying and rising, and we’re waiting, watching patiently at the tomb. It will come… as sure as dawn follows night. Besides, you can only truly kill what’s not of God.
Secondly, the creed tells us that He descended to hell during the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday meaning there is nobody beyond his reach – at a price, of course.
Thirdly, morbid applies only to hell, and those who describe even the slightest mention of death as morbid have yet to experience even the tiniest glimpse of Heaven. In fact, when they speak in this way, they unwittingly speak from hell’s perspective!
The debate about keeping our churches open for public worship continues to rage in circles, minority circles it must be said. When I tune into the debate there are several scripture passages that spring to mind.
Like so many others I think of Jesus reminder: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matt 4:4. Taking this verse it seems safe to suggest that in the mind of Jesus, his person and his teaching are essential, at least of equal value to the food that we purchase from essential retail. The fundamental problem for Heaven therefore – brought into sharper focus by this pandemic – is that so many people do not consider the person of Jesus and his teaching to be as essential as their visit to the supermarket.
Of course, this is a faith position flowing from my relationship with Jesus Christ and his teaching. Realistically, at this point in salvation history I do not expect Government and its agencies to get this – and I certainly do not expect it to apply to all the people of Ireland. Faith in Jesus Christ and all that flows from faith, that which is often disparagingly referred to as dogma must be found within or it is not found at all. For every piece of dogma there must be a corresponding interior recognition in the depths of human freedom, a moment of transforming spiritual insight. I cannot stress this enough; dogma is found within, and insisting that people abide by a dogma that they have not found within will almost always result in rejection, even hatred. This has been the particular error of Irish Catholicism. A foundational tenet of the Christian faith is that God always respects human freedom. In the realm of God, respect for human freedom – even unto hell – is non-negotiable. As St. Augustine said: “He who created us without our help will not save us without our consent.”
Obviously, my freedom is convinced that Jesus and his teaching are essential. Indeed, I believe that humankind rises and falls according to our relationship with Jesus and his teaching. As Simeon said of the child Jesus: “you see this child, he is destined for the fall and the rising of many in Israel…” Lk 2:34. There is nothing as essential as Jesus Christ and his Gospel and since the Mass is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, his very person, I believe that Mass is therefore essential. As Padre Pio once said; “the earth could exist more easily without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”
Nonetheless on balance I am inclined to support the moving of worship to online forums in accordance with NEPHET advice. It is important to stress that worship has not been banned and comparisons with penal times do not stand up to critique, no more than the idea that this is persecution; this is so far removed from persecution that it belittles the meaning of the word and the reality of true religious persecution in many parts of the world. Furthermore, for people prohibited from attending Mass all the effects of Holy Communion can be received through spiritual Communion. I do believe that we can gather safely in our Churches – I do not doubt it at all – but by remaining open for worship we might unwittingly facilitate after-worship gatherings that have potential to become super-spreader events. For me, the moral weight drops on the side of caution and online worship until NEPHET advises otherwise.
If our lives have been curtailed, they have been curtailed to teach us, and to prepare us for the future. These are not random meaningless events – these are soul teaching moments – another step toward our common future that is being determined one step at a time by our relationship with Jesus Christ and his teaching. These events might look like obstacles but in truth are stepping stones toward a time when humankind will fully understand that “the lamb will conquer and the woman clothed in the sun will shine her light on everyone.” Seriously do we really think that God is going to be defeated, removed from the face of the earth? The same God who standing before Pilate said: “You would have no power over me… if it had not been given you from above…” Jn 19:11. Why can’t we view the current restrictions in this way? The same God of whom John reminded the people coming for baptism: “God can raise children for Abraham from these stones.” Lk 3:8.
Similarly, those believing we are now seeing the end of the Catholic church in Ireland, or anywhere for that matter – the comment sections on social media are full of such remarks – are a version of those who observing the destruction of Jesus believed they were seeing the end of Him and his movement. It was a toxic mix of unbelief and sin that caused the destruction of Jesus, and it is another toxic mix of unbelief and sin that is causing the destruction of the church in our time, but the destruction of Jesus gave way to the risen Christ and the destruction of the church – or more accurately the destruction of all that is not of God in the church in our time – will give way to a risen Church.
So much about this debate reminds me of Peter who drew his sword to defend Jesus and his belief in Jesus because he could not see the bigger picture. Jn 18:20. There is a question here about the proper recognition of these events in salvation history, about our recognition that the civil power always functions unwittingly in the plan of salvation. Peter has an excuse for not seeing the bigger picture because the seminal action of God that we call the resurrection had not yet happened, but what is our excuse? That, as Ronald Rolheiser observed, our awareness of God and God’s plan borders on agnosticism?
God is almighty, totally in control, suffering, enduring, correcting, leading, even allowing restrictions on the public celebration of Mass, bringing human freedom to value Jesus and his teaching as much as the food purchased from essential retail, or he is not God at all. God’s victory is certain, but the victory is nothing more than the turning of hearts and minds to God. Even allowing for an act of God – an act that must respect human freedom – this is not likely to be an easy journey!
This journey is as certain as Jesus’ declaration that “till heaven and earth disappear not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the law until it’s purpose is achieved.” Matt:5:18. The only real unknowns are the exact contours of our journey toward valuing Jesus and his teaching. Make no mistake, this is our common future. This is a journey that will slowly – and somewhat painfully – shatter humankind’s propensity toward unbelief. Of course, some will always resist. It is going to be a seismic struggle between Heaven and hell, belief and unbelief, incarnate in history, possibly involving the persecution of religious practice for a time – are we not currently being prepared? – and undoubtedly paschal in nature. As it unfolds the proper role of the church will become evident; our primary role is not about putting the kingdom here and there – remember the lamb will conquer and is conquering – but to act as a bridge, for sure a compromised bridge, but a risen bridge capable of providing difficult passage for human freedom to reach the place where Jesus and his teaching is valued as much as the food purchased from supermarkets. Can we imagine a struggling and bewildered humanity in the future, including future Irish leaders, looking to the Catholic church – albeit a risen Church – for help and direction? No? Like Peter we are in for an unforeseen and unexpected fulfillment. We must let humanity walk this walk, we must respect our place in salvation history knowing that God is far from finished with us.
“Your kingdom come” we say in prayer – even as I write, even as you read, it is happening, right now, right here. Let us not seek however creatively or ingeniously, but very naively, to find ways around the soul lessons that this pandemic is intended to teach.
In my next blog I will try to tease out the soul lessons that come packed inside the current pandemic.