Unbind him and set him free

If you ever find yourself in Oxford make your way to the chapel of New College. There you will find a truly remarkable statue of Lazarus by Jacob Epstein. It is in white marble. As you look you will see the bands of death being stretched round the body of Lazarus almost to breaking point. He is being dragged reluctantly from the grave. This reluctance to come forth from the place of safety and death is further emphasised by the fact that his head is turned backwards as he is being pulled back to life. That beautiful piece of sculpture offers a profound insight into the story of Lazarus found in John’s Gospel:- Resistance to true freedom.

To get inside the story we need to identify our own resistance to removing the stone covering the cave where the body lay buried along with our resistance to believing the word of Jesus that endlessly gives life.

Having taken the stone away listen to the word spoken in a loud voice “Lazarus come out”. A loud voice reaching down into the very depths of all that is life taking: That echoes through the ages and that cannot be resisted. The command “Unbind him and let him go” reflect the word spoken to Moses from the Burning Bush:- “I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt” – the house of slavery.

These images form the basis of the Third Scrutiny as the Elect prepare themselves within their parish communities for the Easter Vigil. In fact for both the individual and the community the questions raised are demanding indeed and reach into the psyche of both:

  • What am I reluctant to reveal about myself or my community?
  • What in my life am I reluctant to change?
  • What do I or we want to keep hidden away?
  • What do I or we need to do to set others free?
  • What word or command of Jesus do I most resist?
  • What word or command of Jesus echoes deep within me?
  • From what do I or my community need to be unbound and set free?

The prayer prayed over the Elect and on behalf of the community has much to offer to these reflections. The prayer is geared towards those who are preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil but can easily be adapted for those already one with us through baptism or for the community as a whole. The lines or words in italics are offered as a possible adaptation.

“Father of life and God not of the dead but of the living,

you sent your Son to proclaim life,

to snatch us from the realm of death,

and to lead us to the resurrection.

Free these elect (us)

from the death-dealing power of the spirit of evil,

so that they (we) may witness

to their (our) new life in the risen Christ,

for he lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

(Then with hands outstretched)

Lord Jesus,

by raising Lazarus from the dead

you showed that you came that we might have life

and have it more abundantly.

Free (us) from the grasp of death

those who await your life-giving sacraments

(as we celebrate your life-giving sacraments)

and deliver them from the spirit of corruption.

(and continue to deliver us from the spirit of corruption)

Through your Spirit, who gives life,

fill them (us) with faith, hope and charity,

that they (we) may live with you always

in the glory of your resurrection

for you are Lord for ever and ever. Amen”

A thought!

“Sickness struggles to own the world. I want you to live.

Live, do you hear me? Half-living is a safe hell.

The house I build is for souls who would be well.”

‘The house I build’ by Brendan Kennelly

Ken O

03/03/08

The Word of God – blessing and task

A little late this week 3 members write from an international conference in Chile.

Martin writes

The International Forum on Adult Religious Education holds a consultation every two years. The theme of this year’s consultation is The Word of God: blessing and task for catechesis todayand it is being held in Santiago, Chile over this last week. The invitation to attends goes to Bishops’ Conferences around the world and It is a privilege to be part of a small group from England and Wales.

The Forum is 20 years old this year and it began as an initiative from England and Wales. The first meeting was organised by Paddy Purnell, Anne McDowell and Margaret Foley and held at St Mary’s College, Strawberry Hill. Each meeting takes a similar format: reflection and discussion on a theme, generally inspired by a Church document or initiative, and country sharing. What can be fascinating is the interplay between the familiar and the unknown — the similarities and difficulties we hold in common and differences that can be beyond our experience.

Two highlights for me have hearing about the meeting of Latin American bishops – CELAM – at Aparaceido in Brazil last year. Their reflections on catechesis, the need for bishops and their agencies to have an examination of conscience as to where they have failed to be the Church and the importance of the catechumenal model for all catechesis.

On Sunday morning we visited local parishes to look at family catechesis. We met families from the parish who spoke to us about their involvement. What was moving was the sense that the parish and the catechesis was responsibility of the community and that the involvement in family catechesis had strengthened relationships.

Paula writes

It has been a real privilege to take part in this international consultation. Throughout the process there have been opportunities to hear from countries around the world about the joys and challenges of adult religious education and also our hopes for this ministry in the future.

For me the most striking experience was the visit to a local parish for Sunday Eucharist and sharing with parish catechists. The welcome and hospitality was overwhelming and humbling at the same time. We were welcomed into two local parishes and met those involved in family catechesis. The parish and community structures are very different to those in the UK and the numbers of catechists quite astonishing. Catechists undertake formation provided by the archdiocese, and this is a serious undertaking for the catechists and the whole family of the catechist. Married couples are catechists together and as one man commented, although this interfered with his football team it was important for him and his wife to undertake this ministry together. The ministry of catechesis is described with great enthusiasm and commitment as a lifelong ministry in the parish community, catechists are called to live their lives as witnesses to the Word of God that they share. This was not undertaken lightly, and in the people we met, it was clear that their lives, in mind heart and action was shot through with the Word of God.

A last thing that struck me was the role of the godparent. In family catechesis, all families need a father in those instances where a woman may be widowed or divorced and Godfather becomes the father in the family. In our own situation in the RCIA and RCIC in England and Wales, maybe there is something to be learned from this idea.

Linda writes

A key moving experience for the group was the visit to the Sanctuary of Fr Alberto Hurtado.

Fr Hurtado was canonized by Pope Benedict in 2005 and is the third saint for Chile. Born in 1901 he died of cancer at the age of 51 in 1952.

His ministry as a priest focussed much on the young and the poor. The dvd clip we saw showed a warm and ever-present smile.

The Sanctuary includes a museum reflecting his life and work, a beautiful garden including a wall where people’s prayer petitions and thanksgiving for prayer are placed and a chapel where the saint’s tomb forms the altar. It is a place of grate peace which celebrates the life Fr Hurtado and which offers the opportunity for reflection and prayer.

15/01/08

When our Saviour appeared

Originally there was going to be a week’s break on Walking the Rite waybut when I was preparing the next 3 Year of St Paul leafletsI was struck by how in the middle of Christmas — at the Dawn Mass — there is baptism.

Here is the passage and the prayer from the leaflet (adapted from RCIA) for reflection.

When the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:4-7

All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit you freed your sons and daughters from sin and gave them new life.

Send your Holy Spirit upon us to be our helper and guide.

Give us the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill us with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Martin F

31/12/07

What’s in a Family Tree?

Monday the 17th December marks a change in the journey towards Christmas or perhaps more correctly it marks a moment when the birth of Jesus comes to meet and remind us that we are all part of his family tree.

Matthew’s Gospel begins with the family tree of Jesus the Christ, son of David, son of Abraham. It is beautifully put together, neatly divided and very often missed out as the list of names has a tendency to confuse rather than inform. Yet it is worth looking at and reflecting on. Genealogies tell us where and who we come from, they give us a sense of identity and point us in a direction. Really good genealogies include even the skeletons we would like to keep in the cupboards of our lives. A bit like Harry Potter hidden away under the stairs.

The genealogy of Jesus goes a long way to telling us who he is, where he comes from and where he’s going. He is a carries in his genes the blood of Abraham and the blood of David. It is important to remember that when Abraham began his journey from the ancient city of Ur, near modern Basra, he was a gentile. As King Hussein of Jordan reminded us when he spoke at the funeral of his friend Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral “we are all the children of Abraham”. If only we could take on board the implications of that word. The radicalness of us all being children of Abraham is found in the words of John the Baptist when he says “God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones”. See the world through inclusive rather than exclusive eyes.

Jesus also carries the blood of David, the great King,who reigned over the Israel at a time when they were at their most powerful, a kingdom that stretched from Dan to Beersheba. A Kingdom which didn’t last long, became divided and eventually became totally destroyed resulting in the deportation of the people to Babylon. The exile in Babylon makes a key moment in the history of Jesus’ people. When all is lost and there appears to be no future, how can we and even God stay faithful to us?

A truly terrible time. Akin in the gospel story to the disciples facing the crucifixion of Jesus. All is lost, there is no future. How can we go on? Should we give up?

The Exile and the Crucifixion of Jesus amazingly become the great moments of Hope rather than despair. A miracle indeed!

The family tree of Jesus tells us that he carries the whole story of his people and not just his people in a narrow way but the story of all of us. The skeletons in the cupboard come in the names of the women mentioned in the otherwise more normal list of men. They are to say the least foreign and to a greater or lesser extent involved in rather dubious behavior even though they are undoubtedly very strong women who despite the unquestioned difficulties which face them come out with great integrity and wholeness.

Tamar: Who uses all of her cunning and skill to get her rights: Genesis 38 Rahab:of the scarlet cord hanging from the window: Joshua 2 Ruth:The Moabitess who becomes the Great Grandmother of King David: Book of Ruth Uriah’s wife:The unnamed Bathsheba who is simply taken by David and whose husband, the honourable Uriah the Hittite is murdered on David’s orders. 2 Samuel 11 And finallyMarywho is found to be with child by the Holy Spirit and whom Joseph takes home as his wife and who is named Jesus but will be called “Emmanuel” a name which means ‘God is with us’.

The family tree of Jesus is definitely worth more than a glance or two. Also of course our own family tree whether that tree be biological or of our faith journey carries much that can enlighten, enrich and even challenge our lives. It is always good to remember that we are all in one way or another members of the family tree of Jesus.

Ken O

17/12/07