Thursday, 21 June 2012

The Church: Called to Mediate Grace

 Ours is a searching God. St Catherine of Siena spoke of God being pazzo d’amore and ebro d’amore – crazed with love for us, drunk with love for us. She was right. How far has the Lord’s foolish love compelled Him to come in search of us. And at what a cost to Himself does He carry us home.

Look at the Gospels. The worse a person felt about himself or herself, the more likely they saw Jesus as a refuge. In His loving companionship lost souls knew themselves to be more than they had dared to imagine. Jesus brought these people, trapped in their tortured lives, a message of hope – anyone, anyone at any moment can start a new future by the sheer goodness of God.  

In God’s grace we grow to love ourselves as He wants – all of ourselves, even the parts we wish were not there, the parts of us we wish God hadn’t made, the parts of us we lament.

“Zacchaeus, come down, I am staying with you today!”

The Church exists to mediate that free, transforming love we call grace. The Church’s primary role is to share the Gospel of God’s grace – that unrestricted gracious love that, when it is accepted with joy, lifts up and changes lives. Such grace comes from beyond, as a gift not an achievement.

Gordon MacDonald wrote: “The world can do almost anything as well or better than the Church. You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or care for the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace.”

Philip Yancey, reflecting on his own spiritual journey, said: “I rejected the Church for a time because I found so little grace there. I returned because I found grace nowhere else.”

Francis lived in a time when the Church was shaken by scandals and tensions - far worst than in our own time. However, he was clear that his calling meant remaining firmly within the family of the Church, staying open and available to God's graious action himself, and working to make the Church more clearly, more effectively a sacred space where the grace of God's goodness can be experienced by a seeking world. 

It is a faith persepective that enables us to stand steadfast.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

St Francis and the Eucharist

 As the Church in Ireland celebrates the International Eucharistic Congress (10-17 June), we see how for St Francis the Eucharist was at the heart of the Gospel way of life.

For Francis the Eucharist is the major way in which he sees Christ in this world. He had an intense reverence and love for the Lord "hidden" in the sacrament of his body and blood.

For Francis this sacrament was a sign of the complete self-emptying of Christ. In the first of his Admonitions, which is about the Eucharist, Francis stresses that the sacrament is a symbol of the poverty and humility of Christ. He writes: “Behold, each day he humbles Himself as when he came from the royal throne into the Virgin’s womb; each day He himself comes down to us, appearing humbly; each day He comes down from the bosom of the Father upon the altar in the hands of the priest. As he revealed himself to the holy apostles in true flesh, so He reveals himself to us now in sacred bread.”

And in the Letter to the Entire Order Francis writes in poetic vein: “Let everyone be struck with fear, let the whole world tremble, and let the heavens exult when Christ, the Son of the living God, is present on the altar in the hands of a priest! O wonderful loftiness and stupendous dignity! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! The lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles himself that for our salvation he hides himself under an ordinary piece of bread! Brothers, look at the humility of God, and pour out your hearts before him! Humble yourselves that you may be exalted by him! Hold nothing back of yourselves for yourselves, that he who gives himself totally to you may receive you totally!”

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Forgiving others - being good to ourselves.

Some days after I had given a talk on forgiveness recently, a man told me that he had being putting into practice what we had shared on Christian forgiveness. He had realised that he was carrying hurts and anger about people in the past. The talk had uncovered hidden resentments, and he had begun to pray for those people. And as he continued to do so he said he felt emotional and the tears came - a frequent sign of grace working deep within - and he experienced great peace. To be able to put down the burdens of the past is always a precious gift.

God does not ask the impossible from us. Jesus tells us: "Pray for those who treat you badly; bless and do not curse them."   So taking the Lord at His word and trusting in His grace we do just that. We don't have to like someone before we pray for them. Nor do we have to wait till our emotions are no longer raw before doing so.  We can simply say: "Lord bless him/her and grant me peace!"  It is very hard to hate someone y0u are praying for. Such a choosing of forgiveness opens a space for the Spirit of the Lord to bring us healing and peace.

Feelings follow the action. Forgiveness is not firstly about our emotions; it is a choice, a decision, an act of the will. If the wound is deep we may need to make that choice again and again until the heart is free.

Resentment keeps the hurt alive in our hearts, controls our moods and extends our pain. We are being very good to ourselves when we make the decision to let go of any bitterness we are nursing. Resentment is an acid that destroys its container. The container is our own heart!