Sunday 29 May 2016

I'M HUNGRY - An Encounter With Jesus

'...the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”'

It's as if God has been placing young people with autism in my path for a purpose in recent times. I admire their direct honesty, saying exactly what they think, expressing the exact truth of a situation in which they find themselves.

Jesus has the same direct, simple truthfulness in Him. He says it as it is, saying exactly what He means. And this is what is offered by Him on this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. In the above quote from the first Eucharist, Jesus takes the bread and says, "this is my body." Plain and simple. Holy Communion is the Body of Christ.

We cannot understand or explain how but, because He is God, Jesus can do all things including turning bread into His body, giving Himself to us in the form of bread. The child in me trusts Him and accepts what He says and does.

It's a beautiful feast, evoking memories of former times - first Holy Communion, Corpus Christi processions, childhood innocence. It is a day for loving adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, a loving that is expressed well in the prayer of Thomas the doubting disciple - "My Lord and my God" - a prayer that echoes in the history of Irish Catholicism for centuries. It comes instinctively to the heart, mind and lips of people of my generation and older. It has been embroidered on altar cloths right across the country.

A moment of silence after holy Communion is precious to me - no matter how tired, weary, bored I may be - because it puts me directly in touch with the miracle of Jesus, the real presence within me. It stirs love and adoration.

And then we go out from the experience of receiving Holy Communion to have communion in our encounters with those we meet in the course of a day. We are asked to find Jesus in those encounters, to see Him in those people.

Eucharist happens when the need and hunger is met by the welcome of Jesus. He welcomed them, talked to them and healed those who were sick. And then, with the help of his disciples, he fed them.

Welcome, talking, listening and feeding are part of the ordinary eucharists of everyday life. Jesus present to us in a different way when we are present to each other.

On Friday last I went to see my niece on her eighth birthday. When I pull up outside the gate, Tom, a boy with autism is standing there looking wistfully into the garden. He is very direct in his questions to me, direct in his comments about what I'm doing. Nothing is filtered. Everything is simple, direct - as he sees it, as he feels it. 

He thinks Katie is having a party but I tell him the party will be on Sunday. Still he wonders where are the balloons and the banners. Still he wants to go in.

Following me into the house he announces, "I'm hungry. Can I have some cake?" There's a small cake for the day and when the candles are blown out Tom gets his share. It's not long before he announces his hunger again - more cake, an apple, grapes. The demands are clear and they succeed in drawing deeper levels of kindness from all of us. He is welcome into the family and he is fed.

At one stage he sits at the table opposite me and - to my pleasure - he announces to me, "I like you! Are you my friend?" And there in that moment he is Jesus for me. Sitting there at the table I encounter Jesus without the name of Jesus being spoken, without Tom even being aware of the sacredness of what is taking place.

An aspect of Tom's personality that attracts me is his simple awareness of his physical hunger and his expression of it. I wonder if we are as keenly aware of our spiritual hunger; do we have the skills for announcing that hunger or knowing what to do with it or where to go with it.

A comment made by Jesus has been going round in my mind and heart for the past while, "if you only knew what God is offering you..." I think we haven't even begun to appreciate the amazing gift that is given to us by Jesus in the Eucharist, in holy communion.

It's something I want now - to be as straightforwardly honest as Tom and to be as keenly aware of my spiritual hunger as he is of his physical hunger, to find a better way of expressing that hunger.

Sunday 15 May 2016

I REMEMBER YOU - Peter Pan & Pentecost

It's Pentecost Sunday morning and I feel like I'm a defeated, deflated cartoon character being dragged along by life, despite the fact that I have had a fantastic week in Disneyland Paris. An uncertain sadness has held me in its grip for many weeks now. It refuses to release me and I seem to be powerless to shake it off and, with the best of intentions, no one can take it from me. It holds me in resolute solitude and my heart utters the sentiments of Psalm 13, "How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart day and night?"

Perhaps it is not my own personal sorrow and maybe it's vicarious. It roughly dates back to the death of two year old Heidi, to the fact that she is the second child to be taken from her parents in the space of two months - they now have one child left.

I feel something of their desolation,  their fear - and I have no answer for the questions that people are asking about God in all of this. The priest in confession a couple of weeks ago said I should thank God that I don't have the answers because, in truth, the only thing I can offer is presence - my own presence and the presence of God within me. Maybe I can be a reminder to them that God is still with them despite all the evidence to the contrary.

I feel like I don't know God anymore. Not that I  don't believe in Him - I believe very strongly - but it is faith in darkness, the faith of one who has become "a worm and no man" - from Psalm 22, some of which Jesus prayed on the cross. 

In this state I am fully ripe for Pentecost! It is to such situations that Jesus comes. He enters again through the locked doors of my heart, through my resistence, my confusion and my fear.

I have to make deliberate efforts to dispose myself to the approach of Jesus and the breath of the Spirit that He brings. I have to counter the darkness with light - positive thought and positive action.

So I have come out into the back garden where the sun shines brightly, a gentle breeze blows around me and a lone robin sings to the silence.

Here I am reminded! The promise of Jesus is that the Holy Spirit "will remind you of all that I have said to you" (John 14:26)

What the Holy Spirit reminds us of on this day of  Pentecost is that we are children of God, praying the prayer of the children of the Kingdom in our hearts, crying out "Abba Father!" (Romans 8) And for Pentecost to happen again, to receive new life in the Spirit I must turn to the child within me, the child that I am! All of us need to become little children in order to receive what God is offering. "If only you knew what God is offering you and who it is that is speaking to you!" (John 4:10)

Childhood came to me in Disneyland and suspended my sorrow - especially observing and sharing the experiences of my two young nieces - Katie and Laura, through whom God has been teaching me for the past eight years!

They were queueing to meet and get the autographs of two Disney characters but just when the girls got to the head of the queue the two characters went off for their lunch. We were so disappointed until we saw the head of Peter Pan peeping over the rocks. Then out he came with captain Hook and Katie and Laura were the first to meet them. Captain Hook  took a shine to Laura who later said that she likes the baddies while Katie likes the nice ones!!! This was borne out a while later when Jafar beckoned to Laura with his index finger!

Peter Pan was wonderful with both girls and gave them plenty of time. He sensed a certain shyness in Katie and so he took her by the hand while they posed for photos. I think Katie was smitten!

In the evening we watched the  parade, wonderful in its colour, beauty and happiness. As Peter Pan's float was passing he looked down to where we were standing, pointed his finger at the girls and said "I remember you!" and he blew them a kiss! I was overcome with emotional joy!

So now Peter Pan has become a reminder! A reminder of what God is doing and saying in our time. It is God who points to us saying "I remember you! I see you and take notice of you!" It is God in Jesus who blows to us the kiss of the Holy Spirit, breathing the breath of new life into us, taking the hand of our timidity into His own hand. "I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you." (Isaiah 41:13)

On the first Pentecost the Holy Spirit gave each person the power to speak (Acts 2), the power to express themselves; transforming their timidity into courage; giving them a new and powerful way of expressing themselves, expressing the Good News of Jesus.

It is the same Holy Spirit today who gives expression to the reality that we are right now. Every flame that is brought to the altar is an expression of the community that we belong to - an expresson of who we are as gifted individuals and as part of our particular group or community.

The Holy Spirit also seeks to lead us to new and more powerful ways of expressing who we are and who God is among us; how we can best serve each other as we move forward. It means we need to have the willingness to let go of our resistence and allow the Spirit to do what is necessary in us. In the words of the Sequence, "Heal our wounds, our strength renew, On our dryness pour thy dew, Wash the stains of guilt away: Bend the stubborn heart and will Melt the frozen, warm the chill Guide the steps that go astray."

"Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us!"