Tag Archives: James and John

Trust life knowing that it’s Heaven breaking into our small lives.

Twenty Ninth Sunday.

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.

Hey Stephen Fry! I’ll stick with hanging on to Jesus Christ.

Second Sunday of Lent, Year B, Mark 9:2-10, The Transfiguration.

Abraham is prepared to give his own child (First Reading Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18). It’s one of the most savage scenes in the bible. The only redeeming factor being that it’s a test and God is not going to allow it to happen.

Stephen Fry tells Gay Byrne what he thinks of God!

Stephen Fry tells Gay Byrne what he thinks of God!

But for some parents, tragically, it’s happened, not that they were given a choice, rather it was forced on them, and is being forced on them, day after day, as they struggle to reach some kind of acceptance.

From the First Reading we move to the figure of Jesus, taking Peter, James and John with him, climbing a high mountain where they could be alone.

The revelation that occurs on the mountain will not be given to the other nine. Jesus takes Peter, James and John – not the others. We need to accept that God doesn’t give the same spiritual experiences to us all – for whatever reason.

Neither is the revelation given to the crowds taking an interest in Jesus of Nazareth. The vast majority among the crowds are not so much interested in discipleship – in giving up their lives for Christ – as in being cured of some difficulty so that they can get on with their lives.

Revelation always happens when we withdraw from the world, it happens away from the crowd. The world listens to talk, debate, voice after voice, but the follower of Christ listens to a single voice that’s heard only in silence.

Revelation happens when we’re in the company of Jesus. In the company of Jesus the disciples glimpse something much greater, something much more beautiful than ordinary experience.

Revelation happens after the effort of climbing the mountain. Climbing a mountain is always symbolic of the journey to God which brings “heightened consciousness” and “heightened awareness” (Fr. Robert Barron) and unrestricted vision.

Climbing a mountain is a difficult task, full of danger. Some of us will crawl on our hands and knees as we near the top, breathless, exhausted, perhaps bruised, cut and bleeding because we’ve fallen on the way up, because the ascent has been brutal and it’s taken a toll. Some of us may conclude that the ascent is too high a price, not worth it, because we can’t see beyond the immediacy of the suffering involved. There’s nothing like suffering to restrict our vision. Think Stephen Fry!

It requires self-sacrifice to climb the mountain of life and reach our true destination. It’ll cost us. On the way there may be unthinkable losses. Such is life anyway. But the teaching of Christ leaves no room for doubt – I’m worth the loss of everything! The spiritual experience is far more beautiful than anything in ordinary everyday experience.

Revelation doesn’t happen antiseptically, in a make believe world, it happens in this world, this real world, with Christ.

On the mountain top revelation happens – the earthly human Jesus is transfigured, significantly Mark makes the point of telling us that “his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them.” It was a glimpse of the other world; “dazzingly white” – transcendent illumination! People long dead, Moses and Elijah could be seen again. Peter wanted to stay. That’s us! That’s what we’ve done with Lourdes. We build tents (hotels). We crave this beauty. This is what we’re all looking for if we could only dare to believe, if we could only get past human suffering.

We might think that for Peter, James and John, the memory of this event would be enough to carry them through the passion and death of Jesus. But it wasn’t – at least initially – and that’s significant. In the immediacy of Jesus suffering and death even this memory fades, at least for a time. That’s how it is for us too, that’s how it is for Stephen Fry.

There is no way around or past human suffering. There’s only a way through it – by hanging on to Jesus Christ come what may!

If radical discipleship is not found in the priesthood today, then where will it be found?

Mark 1:14-20, Third Sunday, Ordinary Time, Year B.

James and John leave everything. For a moment let’s picture their father Zebedee left in the boat with the men he employed. No doubt the father had built up the business with a view to his sons future. Now they’re gone. They’ll never really return.

It’s said that the departure of his sons caused Zebedee to go ‘ballistic’. He lost the head so to speak. That’s understandable. It’s said that in turn Jesus gave the name ‘sons of thunder’ to James and John, Mark 3:17.

At any rate, this following Jesus is portrayed as decisive, radical, life changing. The priesthood is modeled on these guys, downing tools, taking off after Jesus, staying with him, not returning. Whatever the historical roots of priestly celibacy even if several of the apostles were married, it’s not without considerable foundation in the teaching of Christ. It’s there, if we can hear it.

So when we start thinking about abolishing celibacy or making it optional – or countless other issues in the Church – we need to think about it from Christ’s perspective and those closest to him, rather than our own, because our understanding of these matters, indeed life itself, is very often a little out of sync – and that’s being generous – with the understanding that flows from the teaching of Christ.

"I had never believed. I had always known that the interest all around me in security, money, power and status was greater than any love of God or belief in his mercy" Colm Toibin, The Sign of the Cross

“I had never believed. I had always known that the interest all around me in security, money, power and status was greater than any love of God or belief in his mercy” Colm Toibin, The Sign of the Cross

Colm Toibin captures this ‘out of sync-ness’ perfectly in his book “The Sign of the Cross”. Writing about his experience as a child growing to adulthood here in the Cathedral in Enniscorthy he says – and this is both harsh judgement and profound observation – “I had never believed. I had always known that the interest all around me in security, money, power and status was greater than any love of God or belief in his mercy.” I’m afraid too often that’s us.

This is the reason we need to really listen to God’s Word, to the Gospels in particular, because only when we really listen can we begin to ‘sync’ with the message and the teaching of Christ. Often our treatment of the Word is like meeting a person and asking ‘how are you?’ when we really haven’t time for the answer, or worse, we really don’t care! Instead, take the time to look into the other persons eyes asking ‘how are you?’ and wait for the answer. We need to listen to the Word like that. Only then can we begin to move from Toibin’s “security, money, power and status” and into the “love of God” and “belief in his mercy”. This is particularly true of the priesthood.

When we think of the priesthood we need to remember Zebedee left behind in his boat, the family business and his life’s effort for his sons welfare discarded, thrown aside, abandoned. We need to wonder – and wonder is all we can do because the sources are so scant and often contradictory – about the wives of these men, if any. What happened to them?

My sense in all this is that through the apostles, married and unmarried, Christ was calling those around him and future generations to a radical discipleship, to leave everything, even marriage, Mark 19:12, 19:29 and so many other passages throughout the Gospels. It’s my sense but it’s not without foundation in the teaching of Christ. In fact, I suspect the more we ‘sync’ with the teaching of Jesus found in the Gospels the more we’ll see this possibility.

Let me put it this way: Why can’t James and John keep the family business and follow Jesus, as well? That’s what we’d do. It’s a bit like asking: Why can’t a man be a priest and marry, as well? That’s what we’d do. My sense is that Christ is calling some to a much more radical discipleship, to leave absolutely everything, to rely on him alone, and if this radical discipleship is not found in the priesthood today, then where will it be found?