It can’t be Holy Week next week?!

And if it is – how on earth did we get here?

There are advantages to an early Lent – for many people this year, Lent will almost be over before they really get to grips with the fact that it started – far too soon after Christmas. Only two weeks now and we can get back to the chocolate – the alcohol – the things we have denied ourselves and life can get back to normal! But for our Elect and Candidates, two weeks time brings them to one of the most important events in their lives. There will be a certain amount of making their new status as a Catholic Christian part of normal life but just at present, we hope they are living with a heightened awareness of the call to which they are responding – looking back on the Rite of Election with joy and ahead to the Easter Vigil with eager anticipation (albeit tinged with a bit of 
anxiety).

This last week of Lent might be a good time to offer them the opportunity to look back on how they got to this point.

This week’s blog could be used as a guided reflection inspired by the Year A Gospels – as part of an RCIA session or individually over a coffee – or both!

Brew up – settle back – and relive the journey to this last week of Lent… it really IS Holy Week next week – how on earth did we get here!

It started somewhere… Jesus’ public ministry started with his baptism in the Jordan – spend a few moments building up the scene in your mind’s eye. Jesus emerging from a crowd … John’s reluctance … Jesus’ immersion in the river and the dove coming upon him… and the words from God: This is my beloved Son – listen to him.  When have I felt that love of God for me – sensing that I am God’s beloved son – beloved daughter?

Almost immediately, Jesus is sent into the wilderness – to be tempted – challenged? Where have my wildernesses been? … When have I faced challenges which have helped me to find God and God’s will for me?

And Jesus took three close friends to the top of a mountain and became transfigured – their friend but not their friend… divinity shining from him – majestic divinity in the air all around them … and that voice again: My Son – the Beloved – listen to him. What words of Jesus have spoken most powerfully to me over the last few months?

It hasn’t always been plain sailing – there have been times of weariness and uncertainty – when I’ve needed time and the faith of others to recharge my batteries. When have I come to the “well” – come to listen to Jesus and to other people – and found myself refreshed? When have people come to the “well” – and I have found myself like the Samaritan Woman – engaging in conversation and listening and helping myself and my companions to go deeper into the mystery of God? When have I taken my experience of encountering Jesus back to others?

….

And the Gospel of last week – the story of the person born blind … whose soul saw things hidden from the sight of others … who stuck to his story no matter what pressure he was put under ….  When have I had a sudden insight – a kind of dawning understanding of something that had been hidden from me before? Have there been things during my RCIA sessions that have been like a bolt from the blue – or shaft of lightning? When have others not seen the truth as I have… and how did I feel?

….

And what of Martha or Mary in the Gospel story of the raising of Lazarus? When have I been like Martha – heading down the road to meet Jesus … and telling him like it is: If you had been here this wouldn’t have happened. Where were you when ……..(name something that stretched your faith)? Or, when like Mary – overcome with sorrow and just unable to make the first move – but sensing the Lord somewhere out there … And how do I feel when I recall the shortest verse in Scripture: Jesus wept. Jesus’ own grief coming through … his own tears shed with those of Martha and Mary… his own tears shed with my own – his tears for my sorrow … His compassion which does not deny sadness but shares it – and seeks to transform it. When have I sensed the healing love of my Lord?

And here we are – months – years – into our Journey of Faith … And along the way – the company of Jesus – whether we recognised him at the time or not …

Next week, we will accompany him on the last fateful journey from the entry into Jerusalem – from euphoria to agony … from praise to condemnation … from hope to despair … from death to resurrection …

And I will respond to his invitation – for the first time as I enter the waters of baptism and die with him and rise to new life … or the fiftieth … I will respond to the invitation to be part of this story – of a death that changed the world because it did not end there …

It really IS Holy Week next week! How did I get here? And more importantly – where is the Lord leading me from here – from the waters of Baptism to….? from anointing and gifting with the Spirit to …? to the Lord’s Table … and from there…?

Kathryn T

09/03/08

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

Taking God’s love seriously

Yesterday in our parish Sunday Mass many will have experienced the first scrutiny – and allowed that gospel encounter of the woman with Jesus at the well to interpret our own lives and inner longings.  As we walk with Christ, our way, our truth, our life, along the lenten pathway towards Easter, we too meet the people he meets –  through wilderness, up and down mountains, thirsty woman, blind man, dead man, welcoming crowd, angry mob – we too enter into that sense of being ‘handed over’, and having to trust God that this is the right path.   And the scrutinies are moments of  self-searching, repentance, enlightenment.  They are described in RCIA 141 as having a spiritual purpose – to uncover and heal all that is weak, and to bring out and strengthen all that is good and strong.  Their aim is to ‘complete’ conversion and deepen our resolve to hold on to Christ.  Their focus is towards salvation and the resulting new life and freedom that brings.   As individuals and community, in reflecting on the experience of the scrutinies, may we become more and more consciously aware of being filled with Christ –  living water, light of the world, resurrection and life.  We are not diminished by the experience.. we are set free.

So, what was the experience like for you?  In what ways are you ‘thirsty’?    What does the encounter tell you about Christ?

Caroline D

25/02/08

Praying with Paint For Purification & Enlightenment?

One of the biggest challenges I found when working with my parish RCIA group was how to effectively shift the emphasis of the weekly session from the kind of intense catechetical activity of the catechumenate to the more reflective period of ‘intense spiritual preparation’ that this firmly time bound stage demands. In reality, the pressure builds at this time because of all the practical details in preparing for and reflecting afterwards on the Rite of Election and then preparing for and reflecting afterwards on the Scrutinies and then preparing for the Presentations and the Preparation Rites and …! If we’re not careful, the practicalities of so much to be dealt with in such a relatively short period can actually deflect our focus. As JD Crichton in his commentary on these period states:

“Lent has often been called a spiritual retreat and it is to this that both the elect and the local community are called during this period. For this reason it is to be marked by ‘interior reflection’ rather than ‘catechetical instruction’.”

[i]

So how, in an ordinary parish context might we attempt a slowing down and give space for the Spirit to both purify and enlighten. Well one way that we discovered not only worked but was really appreciated by all who shared the journey was a ‘Praying with Paint’ session during the first or second week of Lent.

It requires some advance organisation to ensure that there is sufficient space for all to be able to ‘paint’ and that there are sufficient supplies of poster paint or crayons or watercolours (the parish toddler group or primary school can often be most helpful if approached in good time). Otherwise it’s just a question of creating a reflective atmosphere with quiet music playing and perhaps dimmed lighting (but not too dimmed so that people can’t see their own creations). Obviously the basic principles of adult formation apply and people are free not to take part, but in over ten years of offering this I only ever encountered one person who chose not to participate. So:

  • Stress the reflective nature of the task, reassuring all those who had bad experiences of art at school that it’s not about creating works of art but rather allowing the Spirit of God to move within us in response to the gospel in a different way from those we may otherwise have experienced.
  • Proclaim the gospel and allow a period of silence
  • Proclaim it again but with a different voice
  • Invite people to respond using the materials provided, as they feel appropriate.
  • Quiet, reflective music will help and as people finish there should be no pressure to show the paintings, although most people will happily want to do so.
  • There should however be a time to come together and say a word or two about how the experience was received and an opportunity to end with shared prayer, perhaps hearing the gospel one more time

In this Year of Matthew (Cycle A) the story of the Transfiguration  affords a wonderful opportunity for a creative reflection. Happy painting!

Veronica M

04/02/08


[i]Rite of Christian Initiation of AdultsThe final Texts with CommentariesThe Columba Press 1986