Jesus shows power by throwing power aside

Frances writes on next Sunday’s Readings :-  It can be no coincidence that Mark (8:27-35) places Jesus’ first prediction of his passion and death at Caesarea Philippi. Built by Herod the Great in honour of Augustus, the self-styled ‘saviour’ of the known world, and seat of power of his son Philip Herod, this city reeked of power and world-wide influence. It is there that Jesus questioned his disciples about his identity, making clear that his power was not like that of worldly rulers. His style clearly shows that he wanted to demonstrate his continuity with the story of God and Israel, his ‘chosen people’, and to insist that he is God’s final word on that long journey of redemption. The upshot of his questioning is that Peter acclaims Jesus as the Christ, the one Israel was awaiting; but it immediately becomes clear that Peter, like so many in Israel, was thinking in worldly terms. This Christ or Messiah should be a warrior leader, strong and backed by a powerful army, powerful enough to throw the Romans out of Palestine. Jesus’ prediction of his terrible and ignominious death smashed through all their worldly fantasies, deliberately setting a completely different pattern of kingship, messiahship, based in the relationship of utter self-giving and impotence which is God’s way of being human in Jesus. God, who is always and entirely creator of the world and its continual sustainer, does not show his authority by throwing his weight around in the manner of earthly rulers, but acts precisely by throwing power aside. God who can truly compel offers humanity the ultimate gift – absolute freedom in which to choose to accept him or reject the gifts he offers. Perhaps only one truly so divine, so other, so powerful could act with such folly. Redemption is God’s great throw of the dice for a creation he ultimately trusts to recognise the truth.

Our Reading from Second Isaiah (50:5-9) indicates that this has always been God’s way. Written during the 6th century BC and the Babylonian captivity, it is part of that great collection of Suffering Servant Songs for which this writer is duly famed. In its original meaning, the Servant represented the nation, personified as it suffered for the failings and exile of its wayward people. Christian generations have naturally related these pieces of heartrending prose-poetry to the sufferings of Christ in redemption for the world. The best known is of course Isaiah Chapters 52-53 which we always read on Good Friday; but the dignity and humility of our passage also stands out as a vivid reminder of that long journey to God which will reach its culmination on Calvary with the crucified Christ; the story of God’s revelation to his people, the story of humanity which finds it near impossible to believe that God could do this for us, and in consequence remains so much in need of Christ’s redemptive action. Our poem wonderfully captures the persistence of the servant with face set like flint, and the need for continual review of the evidence amidst the certainty of God’s vindication of his Beloved.

This I think is the message we can find in James today.(2:14-18) What becomes clear here is that there is no room for armchair Christianity or perhaps put more prosaically Sunday only Christianity. It simply will not do to turn up on Sunday for the show, the Mass, swallow the sacrament, and then leg it until the next time. James is insistent that faith in Jesus is to be made visible and active where the believers’ everyday behaviour shows forth the Christian message by some works of mercy or by actions on behalf of others. Recent actions of the people of Germany towards refugees has amply demonstrated that their faith or at least Christian heritage has borne fruit; and perhaps the support offered by many British people in strong condemnation of our government’s refusal of asylum cases is even now demonstrating that a people largely indifferent to ‘politics’ has the capacity to be moved to respond when needs be. We carry within us daily the utter scandal of the cross, and celebrate it daily in our Mass; and it must be this that we live by, this that penetrates our souls daily. We cannot afford ever to be comfortable with our faith, for it was forged in the foolishness of God, in the scandal of the cross for a people he loved way beyond our deserving. If our actions in his name do not grate with the powers that be, then we will have failed to live as his beloved and redeemed children.

 

 

 

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Prayer can be just sitting in the sun

Our 1st Reading and our Gospel today (Isaiah 35:4-7 and Mark 7:31-37) are all about the way God can open the ears of the deaf, but this is not just about those who are physically deaf. You see most of us are more than a bit deaf when it comes to communicating with God, and so the first thing we need to do when we pray is to ask God to do just that, to open our ears, our spiritual ears, to what he is saying to us. Then we need to avoid a hasty response, to be prepared instead to sit and listen and ponder, rather like Our Lady, who having heard from God that she was to bear Jesus in her womb “pondered these things in her heart”(Luke 2:19)

The problem is that we tend to think that prayer is talking to God, even talking at God, as if God were someone we want to complain to on the phone, only it takes ages to get through and then we are not sure that the person at the other end is really listening. But, of course, prayer is not like that at all. Prayer is much more like being with a very good friend. We don’t need to talk much, because  our friend – God – knows what we need before we ask; but we do need to listen, or we’re like a bad friend going on and on about ourselves, and not being prepared to listen to what our friend wants to share with us.

I would however go further than this, because although thinking of God as a friend is very important – Jesus said “I have called you friends”.(John 15:15) – it still leaves us thinking about God simply as a person, and nothing more. It’s because of this that I get people asking me, “How can God possibly listen to the millions of people who are praying to him at the same time?” The answer is that God is not like us, even though we are in some ways like him. He allows us, indeed wants us, to call him Father, to think of him as someone who cares, rather than some thing; but if we leave our thinking about God at that point, we are stuck when it comes to prayer, and particularly silent prayer – what we call meditation or meditative prayer.

This is why so many people find the idea of spending half an hour in silent prayer so hard. Let me put it this way. If I asked you if you found it hard on a sunny day to sit looking out at the sea for half an hour, or to sit in a beautiful garden for half an hour, or to go for a walk for half an hour, you would think me crazy. You might even exaggerate and say “I could spend all day sitting on a beach, looking at the sea”  – meaning that this kind of relaxation is something that you look forward to as a holiday treat, rather than as a burden. You might even say, especially if you have a busy life, that it gives you time to think through things.

Perhaps some of you who are nearer my age will remember the song from the musical “Salad Days”. They came to me the other day so maybe God was speaking to me through these words? The phrase I want to share goes like this (SINGS) “I sit in the sun, and one by one, I collect my thoughts and I think them over…” That, I thought to myself, is what prayer is like. So, as I said at the beginning, prayer isn’t thinking of endless words to say to God, but nor is it trying desperately to hear words from God. It is simply being with God, as one might sit in the sun and think things over. But what then should we do with these thoughts? How can we hear God speaking in the great mixture of thoughts that you and I have spinning around in our heads?

We need to be careful here not to turn prayer into a sort of terribly serious self-examination. Sometimes, just to sit and think and know that God is with me can be enough. Sometimes just letting my mind wander is the thing to do. I call it waiting on God, but waiting without desperately straining for some answer. The answer, the thought from God in the midst of all my thoughts, is probably much more likely to come when I am not desperately trying to hear it. But what do we do when that thought from God doesn’t seem to help. when we really need a clearer answer? What do we do then? How do we hear then what God might be saying to us?

Well If I am having a walk in the sun and see someone fall over, that’s easy. I might have two thoughts. One might be “I am too busy I will just walk on” and the other would be simply to run across to see if I can help.  We all know which one is from God, don’t we? On the other hand, If I am annoyed with someone and feel like really being rude to them next time I see them – and that happens doesn’t it – then I know that thought is not from God. But now it begins to get difficult, doesn’t it. I may know what God does NOT want me to do, but what does God want me to do in this or any other similar situation? How can I hear what he wants?  Should I just be meek and mild and put up with their stupid behaviour and say nothing? Sometimes that might be best. Or should I challenge their behaviour but just with a joke or some light remark? Maybe. Or should I actually show how angry or upset they are making me, without actually losing my temper? That can be a hard choice to make, but sometimes might be the right one – the one from God.

There is so much more I could say on how we can be helped to work out which answer is right, and some of this I will share next week, for this has only just touched the surface of how we may more easily listen to God ad hear what God is saying to us. There are ways to help us be more relaxed in the presence of God – from saying the Rosary to using practices that are now called “mindfulness”, as well as many other different recommended processes in which we practise the presence of God. The Church does not have one model of how to pray, for many Christians have prayed in different ways down through the Centuries and shared their ways with others. Above all, I would say, “Just sit in the sun with God.” That is a good place to start.

 

 

 

 

God responds when we reach out in faith

Frances writes on next Sunday’s Readings :- The question our Readings for today raises is ‘What does God want of us?’

In our Gospel, (Mark 7:31-37) we have previously seen Jesus perform miracles and debate with the scribes and Pharisees. We have watched the hostility between him and them grow over different interpretations of the Jewish law. Scribes and Pharisees tended to adopt a rigorist approach to the exercise of the law, insisting that it be fulfilled in all its detail if one were to be considered righteous or right with God; in contradiction to Jesus’ teaching and practice in which he was prepared to sit light on the law in relation to the needs of the sick, dead, outcast and unacceptable. Jesus performed great miracles which astounded the ordinary people and attracted them to his ministry, yet increased the hostility of the watchers from Jerusalem.

By the time of our Gospel passage, we see that Jesus has demonstrated his increasing break with hard-line Judaism by reaching out to foreigners, considered so contaminating that one should avoid all unnecessary contact. He heals the daughter of a pagan Syrophoenician woman, and then quite deliberately traverses a large tract of pagan territory, Tyre, Sidon and then the Decapolis – the area of 10 Greco-Roman cities on the right bank of the Jordan – before returning to Galilee. Indeed the healing of the deaf-mute is itself ambiguous; is he a Galilean or a pagan? What is clearly recorded however is the enthusiasm of the crowd. ‘He has done all things well, he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak’. But Jesus had just previously quoted from Isaiah 29 in bitter condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees, who ‘Honour me with their lips but whose hearts are far from me’, and accused them of preferring human traditions to God-given commandments, so that we can appreciate that the gulf between him and his enemies was growing ever wider. It appears that the most important thing is that people, any people, reach out to Jesus in need and faith, and when such circumstances arise he acts with his God-given power and authority to respond. Jesus does not force himself upon people, especially those of his own race, but waits for them to reach out as he is continually stretching out his hands to others.

This surely is what our first Reading from First Isaiah is about (Isa 35:4-7). Written during the Assyrian exile in the 8th century BC, this passage is redolent with the needs of the exiles. Large parts of this work (Isaiah Chapters 1-39) are the prophet’s haranguing of a faithless Israel, one who in his words played the whore, rejecting the God of Israel for pagan gods. The invasion and exile were therefore to be seen in Isaiah’s time as God’s just punishment of his wayward people; and in our passage we see that despite all that has gone wrong, in the end the nation is to be rescued by God. Significantly, the wrong-doers, the faithless of Israel, those who rejected Yahweh in favour of foreign gods, are spoken of as ill, infirm. Israel’s God is always forgiving and generous and responds to needs as his people in their distress call upon him. So the exiles are spoken of as blind, deaf, lame and dumb, all those awaiting rejuvenation, new birth in a land where ‘Water gushes in the desert and the scorched earth becomes a lake’. The impression given is of a completely new life granted to the healed/exiled in a newly restored and fertile land. It is a picture of the relationship between God and humanity, one of harmony and hope, of God and mankind in true relationship, recognising each other and calling upon each other. God as he is all powerful chooses to relate to us when we invite him into our lives. He will not come in hostility or uninvited, but as welcomed, needed and wanted.

This was a message the writer of James (2:1-5) was at pains to get over to the Christians he was addressing. We know nothing about this author, and scholars think the work is late, possibly even third century; but what is clear is his concern for the good and Christian functioning of the community. He is aware of the tendency of Christians to act just like their pagan colleagues and friends, judging fellow Christians in terms of their portable wealth, expressed in jewellery and fine clothes, and rejecting the poor and badly dressed and treating them according to the world’s standards and not those of Christ Jesus. The fact that we are all equally valued and precious to God quite regardless of who we are and how we appear outwardly, significant or not, is something we must all be alert to. I once recall a friend who answered the door at a monastery to a very shabbily dressed man and was very sharp with him. But the man persisted, ‘I am expected’, he said. ‘Well, who are you?’  ‘I am the Prior of Bec’ came the response.

I am a Catholic because of Jesus

Some of you will know that I didn’t join the Catholic Church until I was an adult. This means that I joined with my eyes wide open to all its faults and imperfections. So the present news about wicked priests, doesn’t come as a great surprise to me, even though it saddens and sickens me. I think it’s very important to think of the Church in two ways. In one sense, the Church is an imperfect human organisation. So like the BBC or the Houses of Parliament, or a Business organisation, it is a body of imperfect human beings, and sadly some of them are not just imperfect but downright wicked. But in another sense the Church, is the Church of God, the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, and when we stand up and say “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church”, we are basically affirming our loyalty to that, the perfect Church of God, even though we belong to it in and through the imperfect human organisation.

One of the problems here is that many 21st Century people wrongly think of “belief” as a feeling, and they think that if they don’t feel right  about God and his Church then they should stop belonging to it. But “belief”, and even more “love”, are not about what we feel, but about what we choose to do. In our 1st Reading today (Joshua 24:1-2.15-18) Joshua says to the people “Choose today whom you wish to serve.”. He even offers them alternatives that might well have been very tempting, and then with their eyes wide open they have to choose.

Love is the same. Let me give you an example. When I prepare couples for marriage, one of the things I stress is that if their loving for one another is just a good feeling now, then it won’t last when they face babies screaming in the middle of the night or the yuckiness of dirty nappies! Nor will it last when there are conflicts and troubles that will make their relationship difficult. Then, love has to be not a feeling, but an act of will, choosing to love even when things are tough. The high standard Paul sets for husbands in our 2nd Reading, (Eph 5:21-32) that they must love their wives, “As Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her”, just shows how hard marriage can be. Jesus chose to die on the cross; and we choose to follow that way in every aspect of our lives.

 Someone posted on Facebook the other day

“I’m not a Catholic because of priests.

 I’m not a Catholic because of Bishops.

 I’m not a Catholic because of the Pope.

 I am a Catholic because of God’s love.

 I am a Catholic because of Jesus.

 I am a Catholic because of the Mass.”

 It’s there in today’s Gospel isn’t it? (John 6:60-69) Most of Jesus’ disciples are shocked by what he is saying – that to be close to him is to be close to God the Father, and that we can be as close to him as he is to the Father when we receive him in Holy Communion. We may take this for granted, but it’s actually something almost too wonderful for words, and it is this that we choose to put our faith, in, despite the terrible failings of some priests.

 Notice too, the response of the few faithful disciples who are left. Jesus challenges them as he challenges us to make a decision, and they reply Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.’ That’s a question for us too. Some people foolishly say that they can be loyal to Jesus without being part of the Church. I know one man who gave up on the Church and went to a Prayer Group, but then he found some people in the Prayer Group were imperfect, so he joined a smaller Prayer Group, but eventually he gave up on them too and decided to be a Christian all by himself. It’s nonsense isn’t it? Jesus didn’t say to his disciples “I cannot celebrate this Last Supper with you because the evil Judas Iscariot is present”, and even when Judas left, Jesus didn’t refuse them this great link with him because he knew they were all going to let him down and run away. No! God chooses to give himself to us in the full knowledge that all of us will fail him in some way or another. That’s the glory of our faith, that it doesn’t depend on us, but on God’s love.

 Someone said to me the other day that he had been doing various good things, and hoped that would get him to heaven. I replied “The only way we get to heaven is by honestly admitting our failings, and relying on God and his love and mercy.” As we face the terrible news about these terribly sinful priests, we all need to turn to God more fervently than ever, and let his love and mercy flow in us and through us to others.

May God have mercy on us all! 

 

Called to enter into God’s very nature

Frances writes on next Sunday’s Readings :-  During the period of the Greek (Hellenistic) rule of Egypt and Syria, from the time of Alexander the Great, his heirs in that region, the Ptolemies of the 3rd Century BCE, encouraged Jewish writers to develop their thought about God along the lines of Greek philosophy. Our passage from Proverbs (9:1-6) encourages not merely the sacrifice of animals and the ritual banquets that followed, with their rigidly prescribed rites and rules, but suggest something more, introspection: ‘Walk in the ways of perception.’ Both Judaism and pagan worship used animal sacrifice as ways of making offerings to God or the gods, and adherents of some forms of paganism were even encouraged to meet the deities in their dreams, as temples of Apollo and Asclepius provided ‘dream chambers’ for these carefully supervised encounters. On the whole though, both forms of worship seem to have been fairly ‘surface’ thing. Both Jews and pagans fulfilled what the laws required of them and went on their way. Clearly the suggestion of Proverbs that some deeper exploration might be undertaken was not widely followed up, indeed it is not in the Hebrew canon.

We have to remember that throughout his letter such as Ephesians (5:15-20) Paul was always writing to Eucharistic communities of Christians, tiny groups who followed Christ, having rejected paganism and the time-hallowed paths of their ancestors and friends and families. We also have to remember that the earliest Eucharists were always celebrated within the context of a large meal, one laid on by the patron, most likely the owner of a house/church large enough and wealthy enough to entertain the whole Christian community, probably of about 20-40 people. As the majority of free people lived in small apartments, cheek by jowl with their pagan neighbours, or even fully Jewish ones in cramped conditions in which each family possibly only occupied one or at best two rooms, the provision by one’s all essential patron was vital. Dining at banquets laid on by patrons was quite a difficult issue, as Juvenal the poet pointed out. The wealthier could get better food and wine and the more lowly poor fare. Under the Christian thinking, new and more egalitarian values were hopefully coming into being. Is this why Paul encourages the Christians ‘Not to drug yourselves with wine?’ Were these Eucharistic meals opportunities for members simply to overindulge? What Paul urges upon the Ephesian Christians is that they discern the presence of the Holy Spirit in these events, that Spirit by which the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. I suggest this because he speaks so clearly of the psalm and hymn filled structure of their meetings, in which what he envisages is, following Proverbs, some ‘perception’ of what they are doing and receiving, as they met in Ephesus in the mid 50’s CE. Clearly for Paul and his communities, the effects of their Eucharistic participation was meant to remain in their bodies, hearts and minds, ‘So that always and everywhere you are giving thanks to God who is our Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ The forging of the new Christian perspective by their continual re-entry into the redeeming sacrifice of Christ was meant to reach out into their daily behaviour, not be put aside at the end of the service.

For St John, (6:51-58) Jesus’ exploration of the meaning of the Eucharist, the entry into his saving death and resurrection for humanity, and the culmination of Judaism’s long journey with and to God, was the most significant and startling of the Lord’s teaching. Where Jews looked to the final vindication of Judaism in the coming of a great warrior Messiah who would finally establish an all powerful Judaism, restoring its land, law and temple forever, Jesus spoke instead of something utterly different, of God’s invitation that we share his life. This means eternal life, that every human being who embraces the faith can enter into God’s life, the shared solicitude of the Trinity.

Where Jews had for centuries used a system of animal sacrifice to placate a seemingly irascible deity, Jesus did away with all that, insisting on the unthinkable, that God himself had become human and been the final, the definitive sacrificial act which ended all sacrifice, and that only by reiterating the saving story of God the Son’s death could believers be assured of his promises and become partakers of the life they were promised. In eating the consecrated bread and drinking the consecrated wine, the Christian takes the risen and glorified and all powerful Christ into his/her body, and Christ takes us into his eternal life. Quite clearly all this was a million miles away from both Jewish and pagan thought about sacrifice to any god, and of its implications for those who joined in the sacrificial act. Jesus in John’s Gospel was requiring his followers to do some very radical rethinking of their understanding of God and of his relationship to us. What previously had been a fairly flat one way thing, what Jews and pagans gave to God was now utterly transformed, as we meet Almighty God in the person of Jesus the Son throwing away his immortal being in the flesh – for us! God now invites each believer to enter into himself, into God’s life, so that all our notions of divinity are blown out of the water. If God is the great sharer, the giver of self for others, what are we meant to be? Things so ordinary, so profane, like common daily bread and the coarse wine drunk by millions now in the Eucharist, by word and by actions can become the very being of God. God himself takes those elements and us into a quite different understanding of things. We are meant to be among the community of ‘perceivers’ those who are willing to enter into God’s very nature and it must leave us profoundly changed.

God is with us even in our darkest times

I think most of us can identify with Elijah in today’s 1st Reading (1 Kings 19:4-8) when he says he “has had enough”, sometimes translated “I am fed up”  There are times for all of us when we’ve had enough, when despite our faith in God, everything seems to be going wrong for us. We wonder then what is the point of putting ourselves to all the trouble of following the ways of God, and we feel like giving up altogether, on God, on life, on everything.  But note how gentle God is with Elijah in the midst of his depression? He just encourages him to eat something, and then lets him sleep some more, before offering him more food, and gently suggesting that he needs strength for the journey : in other words that he moves on.

 It reminds me of how St Paul tells us in his Letter to the Philippians, (3:13-15) that he “forgets what lies behind, and strains forward to what lies ahead.” Yes, it is easy to spend our time thinking about the past, how things could have been different, “if only”, instead of getting on with the future, whatever that may be.  This moaning about the past can often include complaining to ourselves, and perhaps to God, about people or organisations that have wronged us in one way or another. St Paul tells us in our 2nd Reading (Eph 4:30-5:2) that the better way is to “forgive each other as readily as God forgave us in Christ.”  Yes, God sees all the many stupid even evil things we humans do, and yet he still loves us, and encourages us to look forward and not back. He forgives us endlessly, provided we let him.

This sense that life is a journey, even an adventure, is absolutely central to our Christian faith, isn’t it? Jesus does not just call himself “The Truth”, he calls himself “The Way.” (John 14:6) Jesus is a path to walk along, not simply a far-off perfection; and as we heard in today’s Gospel, (John 6:41-51) Jesus not only is the way, but he also offers himself as the food to sustain us on the way. Comparing himself to the manna, the food that supported the people on their journey through the desert to the promised land, he calls himself : “The living bread” and he then says ‘The bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

This reminds us that the bread at Mass in which we receive him into our very being, is his way of linking us, not just to his presence with God in all his glory – though it is that of course – but also his way of linking us to his loving actions two thousand years ago in which he entered into the darkest moments of depression and pain and death, and by doing so took us through them into the fullness of life with and in God for ever.

When Jesus says “Do this in memory of me”, the words we hear the Priest say at every Mass, the word for “memory” in Greek is anamnesis, which does not just mean remembering the past, but bringing the past into the present, so that his action of dying on the cross is no longer just a past event in history, but an ever-present event, an ever present power with us now to support us through whatever troubles life throws at us. He gives us the life which he calls eternal life, which is not just life after death in the future, but life with God now. This means that God says to us at every Mass “Receive me, so that you may have strength for whatever journey you are on now or will find yourself on in the future.” We may well have little idea what our future may be, but what we are assured of is that God will be with us whatever our future holds, for being a Christian must always be an adventure into the unknown.

One amazing example of this is surely Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose special day we celebrate this coming Wednesday. Mary was always going on journeys with God. Remember how she set out to visit Elizabeth once she knew that she was expecting a baby that she would call Jesus. Then later she had the journey to Bethlehem, and then as a refugee fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod, and then learning more about her son on the journey to and from Jerusalem when Jesus was a boy, and then finally following him as he carried his cross. We praise God for Mary because she is such a great example of someone who did God’s will and followed his way, which included many troubles and worries, without knowing where it might take her. In the end, we affirm that her faithfulness despite all she had to face, brought her into the glory of being one with God for ever.

 We too are called to trust in God, and so when we do not feel God with us we need to pray “Lord you are with me, even though I cannot feel your presence.” For despite all the troubles we may face, God will support us on our way whatever it may be, just as he supported Mary, and thus lead us, as he led her, into the mystery of being one with him in eternal love.  

Christians must know what we do

When Jesus names himself as “The Bread of Life” in Todays Gospel  (John 6:24-35) and then later at the Last Supper takes the Passover Bread and says “This is my Body”, (Mark 14:22) it is clear that he is saying something very significant about his continuing presence with us in this way. Of course, the bread that the priest blesses is not the only way Jesus is present with us ; for he also tells us that he will be present in the sick and the poor when we help them. We know too that God is present everywhere; so that all of creation from the stars in the Universe to the tiniest flower proclaims God’s power and glory. So why then does Jesus pick out this bread in a special way?

I think that part of the answer is that God knows well what we humans are like. We are physical beings, and so we express ourselves in physical ways. We do not just say ‘Hello’ to someone we love, we give them a hug or kiss. We do not just say “Happy Birthday” to someone, we give them a Card, and maybe a Present too. We may know that these people love and care about us without these outward signs, but the outward signs, the hug or the Card, somehow express something that isn’t there in just words.

This is surely why God comes to us as the man who we know is Our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, God is always invisibly with us in any number of ways, but God knows our need for outward signs; and so deliberately chooses to make himself visible for us as a fellow human being. Jesus then takes this one step further; for when his human life with us is finished, he gives us an outward sign, the bread and wine at the Last Supper, that will always affirm what we hear him say at the end of the Gospel of Matthew. “Remember I am with you always, to the end of time.” (Matt 28:20) This marvellous gift of his special presence is something that those of us who go to Mass regularly get so used to, that if we are not careful, we begin to forget how wonderful this gift is.

What can we do then to wake ourselves up to the wonder of this gift? Last week I mentioned rather forcefully the need for the priest to help all of us with this, by the way he celebrates the Mass; but in the end we have to remember that Christ is present for us whatever the priest is like, and so it is up to each one of you to realise this wonderful presence for yourself in one way or another.

In the old days, as many of you know, Catholics were taught that we had to do certain things to indicate God’s presence in this way. We were taught to genuflect, to go down on one knee, as we came to receive, to make the sign of the cross after we received, and to go back to our seat and kneel in silent prayer when that was over. I’m always glad to see that even if people do not kneel before they come up,  worried perhaps that the person behind might fall over them, many bow just before they receive Communion, and many still make the sign of the cross afterwards. These are things that I wish all of us would do, rather than coming up as if we were queuing for a bus, and showing no outward sign that what we are doing is far more important than that.

Note, that doing such things is not just a way for us to more fully realise what we are doing and who we are meeting; we are also doing it for others. People new to churchgoing, as well as children who come to church with us, will only know how important this Presence is if we show it by some outward signs. But beware! If such outward signs become just a habit – something we do without thinking about it – then although it might help visitors, it won’t help us. Unless we accompany our outward actions by inner prayer, unless we admit that sometimes we fail to concentrate as much as we should, much of the point of these outward actions is lost.

Did you notice what St Paul said in our 2nd Reading? He was talking to fresh new enthusiastic Christians, and yet he has to say “Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth.” We too must ask God to help us with this regular renewal of the mind. We may be distracted at Mass, especially if we have little children to look after, (and being distracted happens to the Priest and not just to you) but even then deep down, we have to really KNOW what we are doing. We need to know this even in the midst of distractions, for otherwise we are in danger of becoming hypocrites, saying things with our lips whilst our hearts are somewhere else. And you know what Jesus thought of people like that, don’t you!