Reflections

Father John Jennings

Our Sacred Stories: God and Us
Living in the Kingdom of God

posted October 25, 2020

Covid-19 – this has been our world for the past 7 months. It may be our plight for months to come. No one knows when we might come out of the pandemic. When we do, there will be many things that we will recall about the experience – the community restrictions, the closing of borders, the self-isolation, the masks we wear to protect others. The virus will leave its mark deeply in our experience of this time. This is world in which we live at this time. But our world is larger than this.


We live in Canada. To be a citizen of this country and to live here presents us with expectations. We have a loyalty to this nation and are proud to call ourselves Canadians. It demands that we respect our fellow Canadians and care for the land in which we live. Our citizenship demands that we do what we can for the good of our country, but also that we work to better our world. Our country was founded in 1867 to provide “peace, order and good government” (BNA 1867), but not just for us.


We live in a wider world. The vision is directed beyond our borders, for the common good of all peoples. The peace and well-being of all must be our concern, especially the peace and well-being of the most vulnerable of our world. To have this concern is to express what is found in Pope Francis’s latest encyclical letter, Fratelli tutti (3 Oct 2020). For Francis, we are all sisters and brothers. Everyone is our neighbour. Since we all share a common humanity. We are “Neighbours without borders”.


This can be a stretch for us. But in fact, we are called even further. In another of Pope Francis’s encyclicals, Laudato si (24 May 2015), we are challenged to take up our responsibility for all creation with care for all creatures. The earth, all creation is “Our common home”.


The fundamental message and mission of Jesus and the Gospels is to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is among us. What does it mean? The Good News of Jesus Christ may be stated in this way. As a people of the Kingdom, we see ourselves as living in a loving relationship with God as the community of God’s People, and in love and respect for one another and for all creation. Such loving a relationship with all creation is the fullness of living faith.


It is summarized by the Gospel writer Matthew in two commandments – loving God and loving our neighbour (Matt 22:34-40).


We are a community of disciples, a sign and sacrament of God and God’s Kingdom in the midst of our world. How we live makes the Reign of God come alive. Together, in every Eucharistic gathering, we pray the Our Father and we hear ourselves ask of God “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” To do so is to pray for the fullness of the Kingdom, among us. Let us pray for our “common home”.

God of love, show us our place in this world as channels of your love

For all the creatures of this earth, for not one of them is forgotten in your sight. 

Enlighten those who possess power and resources that they may avoid the sin of indifference, 

That they may love the common good, advance the weak, 

And care for this world in which we live. The poor and the earth are crying out. 

O Lord, seize us width your power and light, help us to protect all life, 

To prepare for a better future, for the coming of your Kingdom 

Of justice, peace, love and beauty. (Laudato si 246) 

Our Sacred Stories: God & Us
God’s Broad and Open View

posted October 18, 2020

Covid-19 affects everyone. We may or may not catch the virus, or have a loved one who does. But we are all affected. We find ourselves isolated and having to distance ourselves from others. Barriers have been erected between communities and regions. Borders are closed between countries. The virus has divided our world. Until we have more effective treatments and we are able to be protected with vaccines this will be our world. Does God really care? Does God enter our human story?


The readings of this Sunday help us to see that God speaks to us in human terms. In our scriptures, both the Old and New Testament we hear of God using human instruments to enter our story. In the 1st reading, the prophet Isaiah, speaks of the Persian King, Cyrus. As Isaiah describes it, a pagan king becomes the instrument by which God saves the People of Israel from exile and returns them to their land. Through Cyrus, God intervenes in the history of God’s People. (Is.45:1, 4-6)


In Matthew’s Gospel, we hear one of the stories of Jesus’ discussing with the Pharisees. (Matt.22:15-21) They try to trap him into denying his Judaism or into speaking against Roman authority. Jesus response to them is to do neither. The story draws us into a recognition that faith and our relationship with God is lived out in the midst of the secular world. Jesus points out to the Pharisees that they are to give to God what belongs to God and to the Emperor what belongs to him.


We live in a complex world of the secular and the spiritual. Neither denies or excludes the other. The story of Christian faith is founded on what we refer to as the Incarnation. It is one of the foundations of our faith that God enters our human condition in the person of Jesus Christ, God and human. This basic belief is the fullest expression that God speaks to us in human terms. This is a proclamation that all humanity, all human life, all human history is touched by the presence of God. 

God truly does speak to us in human terms, in every time and place. God really does stand with us.


Over the centuries, our Catholic faith and tradition has often expressed this incarnational vision of God-with-us. We are a faith that sees God speaking and acting in the context of our human story, i.e. in the times in which we live. Our Church’s 2000year history shows many occasions when we failed to be God’s voice in a way that could be heard by people of particular cultures and times. But it is also replete with a host of times when it reached out to the context, time and cultures in which it lived. As Church and as the presence of God’s People in our own time, this is the gift we can bring to our world.


The Second Vatican Council expressed this vision repeatedly. It spoke explicitly of this vision in the last of its great documents, The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes). This document takes its title from its beginning words: “The joy and the hope, the grief and the anguish of the people of our time… are the joy and the hope, the grief and the anguish of the followers of Christ as well.”(GS 1) With these words, Vatican II expressed its solidarity with the world and context of its time. It understood that our God speaks and acts in the present world in which we live. In every era, the life and faith of our Church is intended to hear and speak to the culture and people of our time.


How do we as Church listen to our time and culture? How do we reach out with the Good News?


Our Sacred Stories: God & Us
Gathering Around the Table

posted October 9, 2020

Thanksgiving! The leaves are changing. The air is growing colder and crisper. The sun sets earlier. It seems like we are finally saying goodbye to our summer. It is a difficult goodbye. Yet it is also a moment to celebrate. In an earlier, more agriculture-centred age, this was the time to offer thanks to God for all the gifts of the earth. We may not be so centred now, but we continue to rely on those who produce our food. Thus, we thank them for their efforts. We continue to thank God for nurturing the soil which produces the harvest.


At the centre of Thanksgiving is a meal. We dine with family and friends. We express our gratitude to God and to others in a gathering around the table. Many of our human celebrations centre on a meal. Dining seems to be a common gathering point for us as human beings. From birthdays to Christmas to a simple visit of friends, our human tendency seems to be to gather for a meal. Around the table we become relaxed, we come to know one another better. Foods are part of our culture and to share our food with others is to share something of ourselves with others. Perhaps that is why in formal and informal gatherings there is invariably a meal in which the participants sit down at the same table.


The Old Testament prophet, Isaiah uses the image of a rich and abundant banquet to describe the fullness of God’s goodness poured out for all the peoples of the earth (Isaiah 25:6-10). Looking to the age of the messiah, the prophet uses a meal, shared by all peoples, as the great sign and symbol that the messiah has come. The reign of God is among us, and all creation is blessed by the presence of God.


Matthew’s Gospel uses the same image for the same reign of God, with twist. He shares one of Jesus’ stories, a parable of the Kingdom about a wedding feast, another banquet (Matt.22:1-10). The parable focuses on the invitation to a meal. The key here is that when the first invited guests refused the invitation, the doors of the banquet were thrown wide open. Servants were sent “into the streets and gathered all whom they found.” Both Isaiah and Matthew proclaim the fullness of God’s goodness for all creation. The table is large and the table is full.


This image is repeated, with the same message every time we gather around our Table for Eucharist. Theologian Eugene LaVerdiere focuses on the Eucharist as it is presented in the Gospel of Luke. The title of his book is Dining in the Kingdom of God. We may seldom think in this way, but that is in fact what we do when we gather around our Eucharistic table. We dine in the Kingdom of God. And we dine with a meal of thanksgiving.


Eucharist, literally, means thanksgiving. Whether it is around this Table of Eucharist or at the tables at which we gather with family and friends, we proclaim our gratitude – to God and to one another for the presence of goodness with which we are blessed in God and in one another. St. Paul, writing to the Philippians gives us a wonderful prayer to acknowledge both God and one another in this way – seeing both our lacks and our gifts. (Phil.4:12-14, 19-20).


Even now, in the midst of a pandemic, our Eucharist remains a celebration of God’s goodness and the openness of God’s reign to all. We may find ourselves with some limits in how we gather around The Table, but The Table must still be a celebration of God’s openness to all peoples. Somehow, with all our current limitations, we must express a welcome to all, for we are “dining in the Kingdom of God.”

Sacred Spaces: Finding Our Spiritual Centre

posted October 2, 2020

Took a hike, recently through some of the trails of Mactaquac Provincial Park. The trails wind through forests and around beaver ponds. The forests in the fall are a collage of green, and yellow and red. The ponds are places showing the work of the beavers, the energy of the squirrels and presence of deer and moose. The ponds and the forests are filled with a host of different birds. Over it all there is a wonderful sense of calm and peace. This is, indeed, a sacred space. Walking through it one can sense the presence of the Spirit.


We have a long history of finding such sites as places where we experience the presence of God among us. The Ancients, Celts found this in springs, wells and other water sources. These were the places where life was supported for them, signs of the divine presence for them. Here they knew that God touches their human experience in real ways.


In our Scriptures the image of sacred spaces appears frequently. In the New Testament we see it in Matthew’s Gospel, 21:33-46, where Jesus employs the image of a vineyard for his message of God’s reign among us. This image is an echo of what we can find in the Old Testament. In Psalm 80, it represents the whole People of God. In the Prophet Isaiah (5:1-7), God’s People are the object of a love song. For Isaiah, for the psalm and for Matthew, “the vineyard” is the place where we center on God.

               

Wade Davis is a Canadian anthropologist. He holds the position of Explorer-in-Residence for National Geographic. In November 2009, he delivered the CBC Massey Lectures as part of the Ideas programs on CBC. The series was entitled The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. One of the lectures was “Sacred Geography.”


Davis’ lecture focused on a number of places around the world, northern B.C., the Andes in for usSouth America and the desert of central Australia. There he found places which over the centuries have been deemed sacred by the indigenous peoples who live there. They are places which long have been seen as sources of life for them.


We still need these spaces to bring meaning to our own lives. We have many personal ones.


They may include a room in our home where we tend to go to be at peace. The site may be our local church or a community gathering place. Sometimes there is a particular place or path in the woods where we enjoy a sense of “getting it all together”. Whether we realize it or not, we all have our sacred spaces. And we need them.


Often, we do not recognize that everyone of us has a “natural spirituality”. Whoever we are and wherever we are we have a spiritual centre. There we discover something that offers peace and brings meaning to our lives. Such spirituality is life-giving to every human being on earth. Fr. Richard Rohr noticed this in the writings of an English Benedictine monk, Bede Griffith.


Rohr quotes Bede’s insight: “According to the Letter to the Colossians, in Christ ‘all things were created, in heaven and on earth… all were created through him and for him’ [Col. 1:16]. This is truly a cosmic vision embracing the whole created world, which we now know to be an integrated whole,… which is capable of embracing all humanity.”(from: Rohr. Reflections 25 Sept 2020)


Where do I find my sacred spaces? How do I nurture my own spiritual life?

Our Sacred Stories: God & Us

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5)
posted September 27, 2020

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we all want peace. We want it for our world, we want it for our communities, for our families and we even desire an interior peace for ourselves. To live in peace with one another is a key to healthy relationships. If we look around us and even within ourselves we can see we are often without peace.


Our world and is divided in so many ways, nations, political views, races and religious beliefs, cultural variations and linguistic divisions. How often these divides and differences imperil our relationships and the peace for which we long. They often lead to violence and war, domination and exploitation. They threaten life and well-being for us all.


This is not what God’s dream is for our creation and life. God’s Reign is not intended to be this way. The Reign of God is to be marked by peace and reconciliation, by mercy, love and compassion for all. We are one humanity under God’s heaven and we share a creation that is entirely a gift of God’s love. That this Reign of God is among is central to Jesus’s mission and message. As disciples of Jesus our call is to hold this message and share it as our mission as well.


The message and mission are not always held firmly in our hearts and actions. We know what we want and hope, but our actions reveal our inabilities and lack of will. The Gospel writer, Matthew relates a story, a parable of Jesus. It tells of a man who had two sons. One he asked to go work in the vineyard. This son said he would go, but did not. A second son, when told to go, said he would not, but he had a change of heart and in fact did go. (Matt 21:28-32) This is a story of discipleship and commitment, of willingness to accept the call and carry it into action.


The story expresses the reality of our life as disciples. Often, we commit, but do not carry it further. We need to know that even if we reject the call or fail in the commitment, we can have a change of heart. God’s Reign is never beyond our reach, for God is a God of love, compassion and mercy. God never gives up on us, nor should we. Hope is eternal, in God’s Reign.


If there is a contribution we as a Christian community can bring to our world, it is the gift of peace for all. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be this gift for one another, for our communities and for our world. The earliest Christian communities were recognized by some for how they lived with one another. Almost 2000 years ago, a Christian writer, Tertulian (c.160-220), noted the way non-Christians around his community regarded the Christians. As he wrote, they said: “See . . . how they love one another and how they are ready to die for each other.” It is how we live that speaks to our world.


During the Jubilee Year called by Pope Francis in 2015-16, he highlighted a single virtue, MERCY. This virtue forms the basis of peace and reconciliation in all relationships. It must mark us as a Church and individually as disciples of Jesus. Mercy allows us to be open to people where they are. It helps us to be non-judgemental as Church and as persons. It calls us to be ready to heal the wounds and hurts of our world. Mercy is to be the face that every community of Christians presents.


Mercy is the key to living like Jesus whose disciples we are. Above all, it leads us to a living faith that brings compassion and peace for all of humanity. This is the message and the mission of Jesus.


“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 2:5)

Our God: A Generous Loving Parent

posted Septembet 17, 2020

Visiting a new mom as she cradles her new-born in the maternity ward. Watching the eyes of new parents as they gaze on their new child. On the street, hearing a mom speak to her 10-month old in a stroller. Seeing parents in a park as they see their 3-year old running in a circle. Observing a dad as he listens to the many “what is…; why are… and how does…” questions from his 5-year old. Later, experiencing the patience of a parent as they watch what their 13-year old does. Parents at their daughter’s wedding. Grandparents as they first hold their grandchild. Wonderful images of real love, in life-changing ways. Reflections of God’s generous love for us.


God is hard to describe in human language. The efforts we make to do so always fall short. About the best we can do is to describe God with the human qualities we have, just more of them. None of this, however, is satisfying. God is not us, not human. God does not judge, like we do. God does not demand our attention, like we do. God does not wait until we ask, like we do. God does not limit love, like we do, and so on, and so on.


God does, however, speak to us. The language of God is often best seen in what we experience, in the images that are all around us. The wonder of the universe, the amazing harmony that we sometimes see in Creation these are expressions of God’s loving presence among us. The same we can notice in something so close to us as our own humanity. The evolution of humanity and the other creatures that surround us speak to us of the life-giving love of our God.


As well, God has spoken to us in the person of Jesus. This is one of the principal lessons from what we call the Incarnation. Our Scriptures repeatedly point out the significance of this wonderous act of God, as a sign of generous love. The Gospel of John has Jesus expressing this to Nicodemus, a leader of the community: “God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)


At the center of Jesus message is the image of our God whose love is abundant, who gives generously. Take a careful look at the parable of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel.(Matt.20:1-16) Jesus relates the story of a landowner who goes out at various times throughout the day in order to hire workers. At the end of the day, no matter what time they started work, all of them receive the same daily wage. It comes as a surprise to all and those who worked from the very start of the day complain that it was unjust. The response of the landowner is to point out his generosity.


This is a parable about the Kingdom of God. There is no limit or demand that God sets to enter the reign of God. It is all generosity and gift. This is our God. Any Christian community is called to reflect this reign of God. All are invited, all are to be welcomed with the same warmth into the Kingdom and into the community, even those who have drifted or turned away. Such a reign of God is a revelation of God’s unconditional love.


There is no limit or restriction on God’s love. There are no locked gates for the Kingdom of God. It is always a gift, given out of love. A Christian community is called to reflect and express this open and inclusive love. As communities of Christians, this is who we are – reflections of our God, a loving parent.

 - As a member of this Christian community do I express open and inclusive love to all?