Saturday 26 March 2016

THE PRESENCE OF GOD: I see His Face in every flower

I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies. 

I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds are but his voice—
and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words. 

All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.

‘The Presence Of God’ by Joseph Mary Plunkett, one of the martyrs of the 1916 Rising whose marriage to Grace Gifford took place in prison hours before his execution. I was in that prison chapel, looked into their cells, read his beautiful letter of proposal to her, saw the lovely Madonna and Child which she painted on her cell wall and her wedding ring.

The Presence of God is so palpable in the reality and complexities of the human experience, the human struggle for liberation, even in situations where He seems to be absent, as seemed to Jesus on Calvary.

The presence of God in the Eucharist – this we celebrate today as the summit of all our prayer. The Mass is the prayer of all prayer which brings us directly into contact with God in a way different to all others.

In John 6 Jesus presents himself as the new Passover, bread for the hunger of humanity. The miracle of the loaves and fish, the rejection of earthly power, the escape to the solitude of the hills, the walking on water are all part of the mystery of Eucharist. The teaching that follows these events is provocative, calling an unambiguous response, pushes us to a moment of decision. We cannot be indifferent.

"The bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world...I AM the bread of life..." The response of many was to say that this is intolerable language, who could ever accept it? An most of the disciples left him at that stage. "What about you" he asked the twelve "will you go away too?" Where do I stand, with whom do I stand?

But before the time of decision there is the attentiveness of Jesus to the approaching crowd. He is immediately aware of their hunger, ready to do something about it. He is alert, aware, listening. He who dwells in the deep silence of the Father listens as the Father listens, is attentive as the Father is attentive.

Through the immediate physical hunger, He intends to feed the deeper hunger of the human heart.

A lovely line, an encouraging thought is that Jesus himself knew exactly what He was going to do about this great hunger. But He also wants us, the disciples to participate in His response. He draws Philip out, makes him think about what can be done.

We as Church, as individuals are called to enter with Him into the profound silence of the Father, to hear the hunger of the people as God hears it. To listen to the cry of others, to listen without prejudice and without any agenda of our own. It is a call to universal listening, to be universal as He is universal and that includes listening to what and I do not want to hear. It is an attentive listening that does not exclude.

On a personal level Jesus is alert to the hunger that is in me, in each of us. The question is - am I alert to the hunger that is in me? What is the hunger that is masked by my addictions - the obvious addictions and the more subtle ones.

I am called to allow myself to taste and feel my deepest desires, to acknowledge them to God and to myself as a first step towards dealing with them in a life-giving way. It means I have to live in the depths of my own being and not simply continue drifting along the surface of my own reality. To live a real life that is offered to God in the Eucharist, to live a life that is capable of being disturbed, unsettled and ultimately transformed.

There's a small boy with five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus and Andrew have two different responses to this. Andrew says what is humanly obvious - "but what is that among so many". We ourselves may think that we do not have what is necessary to deal with our life's hunger, that what we have is clearly not enough. But the response of Jesus is to take these little, inadequate offerings and to find in them reasons for gratitude. He gives thanks and somehow the power of gratitude makes the miracle happen. There is enough, even more than enough.

An aspect of our Eucharist is to allow the inadequacy of our lives to be taken by Jesus, to be held by Him, to be empowered by His gratitude. We need to surrender our lives into His hands. This is not a lifeless, timid surrender, a simple giving up or resignation. It is a surrender born out of struggle, it is the fruit of an honest wrestling with God and myself, wrestling with my deepest desire. And out of all this comes the abundance that is more than enough. Jesus himself is the food for my desire, the abundance for which I yearn.

In the Last Supper He gives us bread become His body, wine become His blood - “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person…as I myself draw life from the Father so whoever eats me will draw life from me.”

Like so many divine mysteries this is one that the human mind cannot comprehend – how can He give us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink? – we can only understand it with the spiritual instinct of faith, a faith that trusts Him completely. Job says of God that “what He conceives He can perform” – It is in the nature of God to be able to do all things, the God of the impossible. And because He is God then I trust Jesus to be able to give us His body and blood in the Eucharist. I take His word as He spoke them “this is my body…this is the cup of my blood”

Some years ago the Irish Times has ran a series on the healing and renewal of the Catholic Church. Two pieces caught my attention. One was the testimony of an 11 year old Lorcan who made his Confirmation this year. He says, "On Sundays I go to Mass with my family. I like going up to Communion. The priest says we all have to look out for each other. I don’t find it hard to understand how the wine becomes blood, because Jesus did that at the Last Supper."

“Supper was special that night. There was both a heaviness and a holiness hanging in the air. We couldn't explain the mood, It was sacred, yet sorrowful. Gathered around the table eating that solemn, holy meal seemed to us the most important meal we had ever sat down to eat. We were dwelling in the heart of mystery. Though dark the night, hope felt right as though something evil was about to be conquered. And then suddenly the One we loved startled us. He got up from the table and put on an apron. Can you imagine how we felt? God in an apron! Tenderness encircled us as He bowed before us. He knelt and said, ''I choose to wash your feet because I love you.'' God in an apron, kneeling. I couldn't believe my eyes. I was embarrassed until his eyes met mine. I sensed my value then. He touched my feet. He held them in his strong, brown hands. He washed them. I can still feel the water. I can still feel the touch of his hands. I can still see the look in his eyes. Then he handed me a towel and said, ''As I have done, so must you do.'' Learn how to bow. Learn how to kneel. Let your tenderness encircle everyone you meet. Wash their feet not because you have to, because you want to. It seems I've stood two thousands years holding the towel in my hands, ''As I have done so must you do, '' keeps echoing in my heart. ''There are so many feet to wash,'' I keep saying ''No,'' I hear God's voice resounding through the years. ''There are only my feet. What you do for them you do for me.'' (Macrina Wiederkehr, Seasons of your Heart.)

Friday 18 March 2016

VULNERABILITY - The Place Which No One Occupies Willingly

New Evangelization is all the talk in the Church now and I’m a bit tired of it, somewhat suffocated by its relentless demand for new ways of doing things. I’ve tried many things and none of them seem to work in the sense that none of them endure or last for long enough.
We evangelize by the essence of who and how we are. We evangelize by presence, a presence that is a living, personal experience of Jesus Christ. Sometimes who and how we are is not pleasant at all and would not seem to be very valuable in the work of evangelization. Sometimes even our experience of God is very unpleasant and all the joy of the gospel that is being demanded of us is utterly impossible.
In a reflection on the authority of Peter, Hans Urs von Balthasar speaks about the position one must occupy in leadership. “The lowest place, which is where the servus servorum (servant of the servants) must stand, the place of final contempt and insult, the rubbish-heap on which one is ‘a worm and not a man’, this place which no man occupies willingly, is precisely the place where the office which he exercises may regain the greatest possible respect and credibility.”
The leader, the person in authority somehow embodies the whole reality of the community. The leader experiences how the community is and vice versa. We are one body, one spirit in Christ. What is asked of the person in authority is asked of us all.
How many of us aspire to occupy the place of final contempt, to be on the rubbish-heap of life, to be a worm and no man? Probably no one! Yet it is the place which we are called to occupy because it is the place Jesus occupied.
I was invited a few years ago to give a talk on ‘The Relevance Of The Church’ and, as I prepared this talk, I fantasized about large numbers of highly energized Catholics gathered in prayer and going out from prayer to enthusiastically transform society in very meaningful ways.
We have memories of Saint John Paul II filling a stadium; there are smaller but meaningful memories of Spirit-filled prayer meetings that set on fire the hearts of those involved and we thought we could take on the world; many of us come from a past in which Catholicism made a real difference. We desire to make a difference, a difference which we ourselves control.
Control! To be in control is at the heart of a lot of human desire; we naturally fear losing control, being out of control. So we try to control life – ours and that of others – and sometimes our genuine aspiration to serve gets swallowed up in controlling.
I look at Jesus in Gethsemane, on Calvary and I see One who occupies the place of final contempt, who has surrendered control, who is a worm and no man. “Not my will but yours be done!” I look at Jesus and I realize again that where He is where I am called to be, where we His Church are called to be.
Passion Composition_1a
In the West it has been done to us. We have been stripped of all glory and power; we are derided and mocked; we are irrelevant. But I suspect that we have not yet understood that this is where we are meant to be. We are still hoping that we will be restored.
Even those who seek genuine reform in the Church cannot envisage it being irrelevant, on the rubbish heap because we are trying to get ourselves out of the rubbish heap as fast as possible. Yet here we must abide until we have learned to become anawim, truly lowly, until the hour of our deliverance arrives.
There is a true sense that we have come close to lowliness in Pope Francis. He is pointing us in the direction of a more authentic way of being Christian but what he is offering, what God is offering in him has to become the personal reality of every single one of us.
The reform and renewal of the Church begins in the interior life of each one of us and it depends on how each of us responds to the reality of being the least of all and the last of all.
A Pallottine priest died recently. He was 83 years old and had Alzheimer’s or dementia for the past few years. We know that this is a very common reality in these times and it is something many of us fear. The gospel reading at his funeral Mass was from John 21 where Jesus said to Peter, “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."
End of life experiences have a lot to teach us about surrendering to the mystery of God’s action in our lives when we are most vulnerable and when we lose control over every detail of our lives. It strikes me that in the course of all of life we are being given opportunities, through “rubbish-heap” experiences, to become the little poor who learn to depend on God for everything. As we journey through life we can engage in an ongoing lesson of surrendering and letting go so that when the final surrender comes we are prepared for it.
An inspiring aspect that I have witnessed in many people with dementia is that, when they have forgotten everything else, they retain a memory of prayer and a lifelong spirituality is somehow carved into the core of their being. Celebrating Mass in a Retirement Home, where most residents have dementia, the vast majority of them pray the Mass out loud with the priest; at the elevation of the sacred host and chalice they whisper “My Lord and my God” which has a particular significance in the history of Christian spirituality in Ireland.
We have just celebrated the funeral of a former Prime Minister who was a devoted Catholic. He too experienced dementia and one of the memories spoken of at his funeral was of him and his wife sitting on their bed praying the Hail Mary.
The eyes of the world look on at the reality of dementia and they see a disaster; the eyes of faith perceive the mystery of God’s action and communion with the soul of the faithful that is now in a state of near perfect surrender, one from who all freedom and control has been taken away.
Theirs is the hand stretched out to take the Hand of the Other who leads them where they do not want but need to go. It isn’t always pleasant or pretty, sometimes it is funny and joyful, but always it is their testament of faith, their act of evangelization in this present age.
Part of our evangelization is to witness to and honour the loving, awesome presence of God in our present personal moments of brokenness, vulnerability, darkness. Part of our evangelization is to recognize and point to the presence of God in the lives of those who are experiencing dementia and to offer meaning to those who bear the burden of care for them.
For prayer:
Take a moment of stillness. Be attentive to your breathing. Breathe God in and out. Be attentive to what you are feeling as a result of reading or listening to the above reflection. Express your thoughts and feelings privately to God. Share them together in your group. Leave space for spontaneous prayer.
The following poem might be an appropriate conclusion:
Do not ask me to remember.
Don’t try to make me understand.
Let me rest and know you’re with me.
Kiss my cheek and hold my hand.
I’m confused beyond your concept.
I am sad and sick and lost.
All I know is that I need you
To be with me at all costs.
Do not lose your patience with me.
Do not scold or curse or cry.
I can’t help the way I’m acting.
Can’t be different though I try.
Just remember that I need you,
That the best of me is gone.
Please don’t fail to stand beside me.
Love me ‘til my life is done.

Fr. Eamonn Monson SAC,

Dublin, Ireland

Segretariato Generale, Unione dell’Apostolato Cattolico
Piazza San Vincenzo Pallotti 204, Roma, Italia

Sunday 13 March 2016


There are many passages in the Bible that resonate within me, words that express the meaning of life as I experience it. One is the from chapter 3 of St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians in which he speaks of the "supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord"

I have known that supreme advantage in my own life. Knowing Jesus personally is a singular blessing; it is a relationship which gives meaning to everything, the relationship in which I am truly and most fully myself. It is He who makes the struggles of life bearable. It is in Him that my problems find resolution.

In particular I find the freedom to stand in His presence as a sinner in need of mercy; it is in Him that I experience the forgiveness that I need. To be in need of forgiveness is a holy and healthy position to be in.

The Pharisees in John chapter 8 reveal a common human tendency to focus on the sins or faults of another, to hide behind the sins of another, presenting ourselves as being without fault. It happens occasionally in preparing for a funeral that a family say they want no mention of sin. But if we have no sin then we have no need of Jesus and no need of heaven.

To be a christian is to be a sinner in need of mercy; the journey to heaven is the journey of a sinner in need of mercy, a sinner receiving mercy. Jesus and Mary are the only two sinless ones.

What the Pharisees do to the woman in John 8 is a far too common aspect of our modern culture - the humiliation and shaming of the one who has done wrong, getting satisfaction out of judging and condemning the other, consigning them to a perpetual state of unforgiveness, shame and guilt.

Jesus on the otherhand doesn't do shame, humiliation or condemnation. He forgives and sets free the one who comes to Him with the acknowledgement of their sin. He says two things to the woman and says them to us - "neither do I condemn you. God and don't sin any more."

His forgiveness is to free us from condemnation and it is also an invitation to move on from our sins, to give up our sins in so far as we can. He doesn't want us to remain in our sins but He is not crippling us with guilt or shame.

We, as people of conscience, often cripple ourselves with guilt and shame, especially guilt in relation to our past, a problem that besets us as we get older. Memories come back to haunt us and we can be paralyzed by them.

Both the Prophet Isaiah and St. Paul offer us the way out of this experience, a way forward. "No need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before." (Isaiah 43) and "All I can say is that I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come; I am racing for the finish, for the prize to which God calls us upwards to receive in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3)

Christian life is a forward moving pilgrimage that has learned the lessons of the past but is not held captive by past failures. When God forgives the sins that we have acknowledged or confess, they are forgiven and even forgotten by Him - "see I have cast all your sins behind my back" and "I no longer call  your sins to mind"

It's important for older people when beset by guilt of the past to simply say, "I am forgiven" and let it go.

Thankfully, the young don't usually have this difficulty and hopefully they will be protected from making the same mistakes in life that we adults have. But if they do, then it's important that they come to experience the "supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus" and find in the Sacrament of Reconciliation the assurance of the forgiveness that He offers.

Finally, my prayer is that, in our personal relationship with Jeus, we will learn to seek the perfection that comes from Him rather than the perfection that comes from our own efforts. It is a simpler and more effective way of living.

Saturday 12 March 2016


I fear
My love
Is a morning

In arid land
A vapour 

Were my body

I fear
My love
For You
Would fail

As in the face
Of lesser pain

I have 
Denied You 
And betrayed