Father John Jennings
posted July 11, 2020
I’m not a farmer. In fact, I would not even call myself a gardener. However, by the kindness of others and good fortune, I find myself growing two tomato plants as well as about 20 basil plants. The first were given to me already rooted and growing, the second are a result of seeds I planted. Both “crops” are doing quite well.
I am sure that neither of the two crops knows quite whether they live in a desert or in a swamp. My care is rather unreliable, but perhaps that is an indication of how anything grows. Its good growth is from the soil and the environment in which it is planted. Put another way, it results from God’s care and nurturing. It’s God’s gift. The farmer or the gardener is only a very secondary factor.
Jesus often used farming as one of the settings for his parables. These were stories aimed at teaching his disciples the message of the Good News, God’s Reign is all around us and in us. Jesus used many settings for this purpose, fishing, household experiences, shepherding and farming to name a few.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus used a story of a farmer who sowed seed in his field. (Matt.13:4-9). He did this by broadcasting the seed, i.e. by throwing it about by hand. As the parable unfolds we see that the scattered seed fell on a variety of types of soil, some good, some not so good, some very poor. The result was as varied as the types of soil. The ground on which the seed falls might be varied, but it is still soil receiving the seed.
Part of our very nature is that we are seekers. In common we have some basic needs – air, water, food among others. We also have a basic need for seeking contentment and fulfillment. Human beings seem to quest or search constantly. One of our sources of meaning and fulfillment rests in what we Christians (and Jews and Moslems and so many others) call our relationship with God – our spirituality.
We crave spirituality, even when we do not use the term. We crave a relationship with God, even when we do not call it “belief in God”. We are seekers by nature. We are so like that soil, unique and different but each awaiting the seed in our own way.
In our Christian faith, we hold that God loves us and seeks a loving relationship with us, all of us. The very person of Jesus, human and divine, is God’s way of reaching out to our deep longing, our search or quest to make sense of life. What does it all mean? The beginnings of a response to this basic human question lie for us in the person of Jesus and more fully in the Reign of God that comes close as Jesus proclaims it in word and action.
A world in which the Reign of God is planted is a world in which there is life more than death, healing more than hurting, harmony more than division, peace more than war. Ultimately the Reign of God is the grail or the goal of the quest on which every human being embarks in life. This quest is to grow a spirituality that feeds this loving relationship with God and all that surrounds us.
Q/ What do I seek in life? What are some of the challenges I face? Who assists me in my quest?
posted July 4, 2020
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)
We all bear burdens - challenges and responsibilities that our lives bring us. Over the past months our whole world has been facing Covid-19, on top of whatever other issues occupy us. Our lives have been disrupted by the threat of the virus and we are forced to live in isolation. What we have come to expect as normal life-patterns have been interrupted or broken. For some there are threats to health, for many, our employment is precarious and for all, life is no longer what we have come to expect. Contacts with loved ones, family, friends and community have been limited or none at all.
It is hard to let such burdens go and be at peace, at rest. To do so might well mean recovering something of what we had as children, the capacity to “take delight”. Children seem to show “delight” with such ease and enthusiasm, even in simple things.
In the face of Covid-19 it may be possible to recognize or discover the blessings that mark our lives. More than once we realize how significant are the people that are part of our lives. Family relationships have taken on new importance for us. The moments of gathering as community and friends bear a significance that we may have taken for granted. The natural settings of a creation that surrounds us have become more apparent to us.
In some ways, Covid-19 has brought an increased awareness of our blessings. It has been a burden, but perhaps it has also blessed us.
Even in the midst of our burdens, we come to see that there is much that brings “delight”. Often in challenging times we discover the blessings of kindness and caring that come our way. Simple things touch us – the smile of the stranger we pass on the street, 2 meters apart, the kind and thoughtful neighbour who reaches out when someone is in need, the friend who calls or emails to see how we are. Simple “delights” have been many over the past three months. They help us to recognize that even in the darkest of time, God continues to bless us with “delights”.
In the account of creation found in the Book of Genesis, this is how God sees the world and all that is in it – “God saw everything that was made, and indeed it was very good.”(Gen.1:31) To recognize the good in our world, to see the good in others is to see as God sees. It is to delight as God delights and with the same enthusiasm that the small child can exhibit.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus repeatedly shows his mission to be the revelation of God’s delight in us. At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.5:1-12), Jesus proclaims those famous blessings, the beatitudes. It sets the tone for the whole mission of Jesus. In the midst of the burdens and challenges of life, Jesus issues an invitation to rest, to peace. We are reminded that God takes delight in our world and in each of us. God blesses us continually as a God of love and compassion.
Despite the burdens and judgements we make on ourselves, Jesus’s mission is to bless and take delight in the world and persons that God has seen as “indeed... very good.” The experiences of kindness and care over the last months are indeed blessings. As we enter the summer season, perhaps it is our opportunity to pause and count our blessings in the midst of those burdens and challenges that we face. Like Jesus, our mission is to bring recognition of the blessings of all creation.
“The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Ps.145)
ARE WE READY TO ACCEPT THAT GOD TAKES DELIGHT IN US? HOW ARE WE A BLESSING TO OTHERS?
posted June 28, 2020
Yogi Berra, was a long-time star catcher for the New York Yankees (apologies to those who don’t like the Yankees). After his playing career, he was also manager of both the New York Mets and the Yankees. Over the years he became notable for his quirky and memorable quotations. One of these was his comment: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
We all encounter many “forks” in our road of life. These are times when we find ourselves faced with choices as to what we are going to do. I’m afraid we all realize that Yogi’s advice on these occasions is neither helpful nor realistic. All the “forks”, the choices we have to make over a lifetime involve taking one road and,… not taking the others that might be options for us. Such encounters with choice are sometimes quite easy, not crucial. But we also face many that are tough choices.
The difficult thing about opting for one of the “forks” is that when we choose one, we are also choosing not to take the other. We normally do not struggle with choosing between a good and a bad, or an acceptable versus an unacceptable option. The struggle comes when we find ourselves having to choose between one of several goods, or between two options, neither of which is entirely good.
These “forks” in our road require careful thought and discernment. They also require a willingness to be honest in what is best and a readiness to carry out the choice. This demands commitment and courage, a willingness to step out in uncertainty and risk. Little choices like what to have for supper or what to wear today, they are easy, not significant. But we are called upon to make many more crucial one, choices that will affect our whole life and the lives of others – life choices.
Those disciples who decided to follow Jesus had to make many such choices. As we find in the Gospels the beginning of these choices came with their initial interest in what they heard and saw of Jesus. This led them to a step into what we might call a conversion. While the Gospels present this step as a sudden change in their lives, it was much more tentative. First, they became curious about Jesus. From there the route would be long, with many steps and stages as they journeyed with him. Through word and action, the disciples came to view Jesus as their master, teacher and mentor.
As their faith in him grew, their commitment to him as the example and exemplar for life grew. Sometimes, it flagged and they turned away, only to return. Often their relationship was marked by doubts and resistance. They turned their backs on it all, only to return with new trust and commitment.
The life journey of the disciples is neither smooth nor straight. It is filled with uncertainties and risks. All the stages of their growth as disciples and friends of Jesus demand choices. And each choice has a cost. They had to give up something of themselves to become someone different as their relationship deepened and they became more like their master and mentor. As they hear the message and see it lived out in action, the disciples become new persons.
Every “fork” in their journey will see the disciples making choices by which they become increasingly identified with Jesus. In their own words and actions, Jesus will show forth as filling them with his Spirit. In the end, the changing, choosing disciple will become a master and mentor for others. This is how, down through the ages, our faith is passed on as a living and loving faith.
Real faith in Jesus is a relationship. It is marked by constant growth. It is never the same, day to day and it repeatedly demands choices, “forks” in the road along the way. Perhaps surprisingly for us we discover that faith, our faith is “caught” from others not so much “taught” by others, for it is a faith grounded on a person and that person is Jesus, the Christ. We live in relationship with him.
posted June 20, 2020
Most of us have found our experience of Covid-19 disruptive and confusing. The time has been filled with uncertainty and a sense that we could be in this state for a very long time. At this point, there is no one who can suggest a clear path to follow or a definitive response to the threat. All of this has had many impacts on all aspects of our lives from the household to the school to the work setting. Such disruption and confusion cause fear and anxiety.
Fear can be debilitating. It can enchain us in a way that we lose our freedom and capacity to act. It freezes us. Many years ago, while cycling with a friend, he remarked that he did not like snakes and he hoped we would not see any along the way. Well, we did. My friend literally froze, could not move at all. The snake in fact was not a threat. It would not harm us. But that is not the point. Snakes were feared by my friend, harmless or not. And that is the point, fear takes away our freedom and restricts us.
The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah found himself threatened as he sought to speak God’s message to Israel. (Jer.20:10-13) Even his close friends were rejecting the message he bore and in doing so, they were rejecting him. He cried out: “Terror is all around.” In the midst of this “terror”, however the prophet recognized that he did not stand alone. With him stood the Lord, the God whose message he was proclaiming. In the midst of his rejection and fear, Jeremiah knew he could rely on the Lord, who was a God of “steadfast love”. (Ps.69)
For more than three months now we have found ourselves facing Covid-19. The threat of the contagion has generated fear around the world and in each of us. In response, we have placed ourselves in restrictions and isolation from one another. Fear and anxiety have disrupted our communities and our world. The fact that there were very limited options as to how we might respond to the pandemic made this loss of freedom acceptable, but it has been difficult.
At this point we seem to be making some advance in dealing with the disease, though we still have a long way to go. The experience has not been without hope and without a better recognition of who we are and who we are called to be in God’s plan.
The threat of Covid-19 has generally been faced with an awareness that “we are in this together”, as a world, a country and as local communities. Being restricted in our social contacts and forced to live with physical distancing may have left us with a better awareness of how important our relationships are to us.
God holds us in “steadfast love”, even when we are locked in fear. To discover this as revealed in the relationships that we value, even in the midst of our separateness and isolation is to see that God remains our constant and steadfast companion. All our relationships reflect our relationship with God. We are not the center of our universe and we cannot control everything. When we think we can and try to do so, that is a recipe for fear and anxiety. Liberation comes when we see that “we are in this together”, and the recognition of this and the relationships on which it is built stands as a revelation of God’s love, alive in our real world. Jeremiah hints at this when he tells us: “The Lord is with me, to you I have committed my cause.” (Jer.20:11, 12)
posted June 13, 2020
Our faith tradition as Christians holds that God has a dream. The Gospel of John expresses this dream in its prologue. It proclaims the Incarnation: “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (Jn. 1:14) At least one translation of this has appeared as “The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.” What a great image – God’s lives with us.
Our faith tells us that God may well be beyond us, but at the same time there is a closeness of our God which is touches all of creation. One of the ways in which we speak of this closeness of God is by way of the idea of sacrament. It is basic to the Christian understanding of our relationship with God. The idea and the word capture what we mean by God living among. Sacrament offers God’s way of reaching out in the life of creation, all of creation.
In particular, sacrament allows us to see that God is experienced in the “stuff” of our human lives. In fact, we human beings most often experience God in our created experience. Think of a time when you sensed the presence of God. It was probably a moment when some place, or some experience so moved you that you became aware that there was something beyond, some divine presence that you were encountering. What happened was that you were sensing God in the midst of human experience and created reality. It is with wonder that we recognize God in our human, created experiences. Indeed, God does pitch his tent among us.
In Christian Tradition, there are three principal expressions of this experience of God among us. We use the idea of sacrament to speak of these expressions of God`s presence. The fundamental sacrament or expression of God`s presence is the person of Jesus. In the Incarnation, Jesus becomes the tangible and visible presence of God with us. In Jesus, God takes on our humanity. He reveals the loving and liberating God and shows forth God’s dream in his message and mission.
This Jesus who is the first and fundamental sacrament of God, shared this role with his friends and disciples. In the Resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, his disciples were drawn into this role of sacrament. The followers of Jesus become members of the Body of Christ, called to be, themselves the embodiment of the presence of God. In short, the church, the followers of Jesus, is the second level of sacrament, in our Christian Tradition.
We embody the presence of God, when we like Jesus, live the love and freedom to which we are called as images of God. When we live as that community of disciples, with a love that is life-giving to all, then we are the sacrament we are called to be as church.
The sacraments which this community of disciples share are the third level of sacrament in our Tradition. They are, and must always be, an expression of a community of disciples who live for God and others. Sacraments as we celebrate them with the ordinary elements of creation and life (water, bread, oil, wine) are to be further expressions of the presence of God active among us. In this they reveal to our world, our whole world, the dream of God to share love among us.
In sign and sacrament, God does indeed “pitch his tent among us”. On this Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord may we be a sacramental people manifesting God’s loving presence in our world.
posted June 5, 2020
“I miss the opportunity to hug my grandchildren.” During our experience of Covid-19 these words have been a common refrain from grandparents. The closeness that we all long for in families and in friends has gone as we move into enforced distancing. This has been one of the losses in the course of the last several months. It is a necessary response to the virus, but still a loss.
We humans are social by nature. This is the way God made us and whether we are always aware of it or not, we seek to be with others. We strive to live in community. Rare is the person who can live life in full solitude. We need each other and we crave the relationships which come to us over our lifetime. In this we reflect the image of God.
As Christians, we describe our God as Trinity. This is one of the great “mysteries” of our faith. In faith, a mystery is more than just something we cannot explain. It is something the meaning of which we can never exhaust. Such a mystery takes us on a journey of discovery that will never end. In fact, we encounter such mystery in our own lives. Think of any of our loving relationships from marriage, parent, to close friend. The closer the friendship, the more the mystery. We never fully know our partner. We struggle to describe or capture fully the meaning of such love. It is always beyond us. So, often we express in sign and action. In love, it is often in the hug or the kiss that we do this. But our love remains a mystery, always more to discover.
Our God is Trinity – Father, Son, Spirit. This is one of the deepest and the earliest beliefs of the Christian Tradition. It is also most expressive of our image of God. To have faith in God who expresses love and harmony, compassion and care, healing and comfort, is to have faith in the Trinity, a God who hugs us constantly to God’s own self, always and forever. To see God as Mother or Father, a loving, life-giving parent is to see our God as the creative one, giving life to all that is. This is our God who gives and sustains life in all the universe. More than this, this is the God, who like a parent loves life into existence and supports it with this same inexhaustible love.
This loving, creating God has come among us in Jesus, the incarnation of God. So great is the love held in the heart of our God that it spills out in an overflowing flood as God takes on our humanity in the person of Jesus. God is ever with us, Emmanuel.
Such love cannot be just for a moment or a time. It is constant and forever. In the Spirit we are given the continuous hug of our God. We cannot win or lose it. God’s hug is ever with us, in our joys and sorrows, our good times and our bad. Like the hug of the mother, the embrace of the father, the love of our God, expressed in the Trinity has a warmth and comfort that draws us together. We are held in the heart of God. What an overflowing mystery! Truly, God’s hug.
posted May 30, 2020
After two months of separation and isolation, finally came a taste of liberation. It is not total, nor is it completely free. There remain many restrictions. However, the barriers constructed to help address the threat of the spreading pandemic are finally coming down. Communities, from families to church are beginning to come together again. There are limits, but we are moving from separation and restrictions to a sense that we are together and free again. It is a taste of liberation.
What we have experienced over the past months is in some ways what our world expresses globally. We are often defined by our borders, that is by what separates us – Canada, US, China, Europe. So often we wrap ourselves in our borders, our differences, our self-interest. Protecting ourselves is most significant. With what result? Often it creates separation, isolation, hostility, negative rivalry and even conflict, among countries, communities and regions. We are bound by borders.
This is not God’s plan, God’s dream for us. Humanity is one and has been created as one. God’s dream is that we come back to unity as one human community. Such a community overcomes our separation, our borders and our divisions. It brings compassion and healing for all, mutual concern and care, a sense that we are indeed one world. It offers reconciliation and peace. It is a taste of liberation.
Pentecost is about the creation of this world, marked by liberation and peace. We see this, in the reading we encounter for this time. These readings focus on the way the Spirit came into the life of the disciples and into the lives of our ancestors in the faith, those earliest communities. The readings present us with clear and eloquent images of the impact of Spirit.
We discover that the Spirit is given broadly, not to a few. It comes to all and marks all. In the Book of the Act (2:1-11) we hear that the Spirit descended on all the disciples and all were filled. More than this, not only did they all speak with the Spirit, but all who heard them heard and understood. Language was no longer a barrier among the many. Pentecost is a reversal of the Old Testament story of Babel when humanity in self-importance and pride sought to build a tower “with its top in the heavens” (Gen.11:1-9).
The result was the confusion and separation that came from differences in language. The Spirit overcomes our separateness and division, for we are one human family.
In the First Letter to the Corinthian Community, the writer seems to have grasped this. For the letter proclaims that there are indeed many gifts and many services in the community. But this variety is actually in all of the community, for all of them are gifts and service of the Spirit “for the common good” of all (1 Cor.12:3-7). Despite our differences we are, one humanity.
John describes the disciples on the evening when they became aware that Jesus had risen (John 20:19-23). In fear, they had locked themselves in the house. Separation was their response to their fears. Jesus then came upon them and he greeted them in a significant way: “Peace be with you.” The great gift of the Spirit of Jesus among them was to be peace. Fear causes us to flee, to imprison ourselves to be safe. That is not what the Spirit brings, it brings healing and unity.
With the gift of the Spirit, the disciples were to become healers and reconcilers. We might be tempted to read the word “sin” too narrowly as our individual failings. In the Spirit it is much more. “Sin” refers to all that separates and divides humanity. It is seen when our pride and self-importance lead us to think we dominate and control our world.
The Spirit creates a world that is God’s dream, world of our true hopes. This is really our common dream. A world of liberation and peace for all. May we be one world, one humanity, living and caring for all creation as God cares for us.
posted May 23, 2020
One of the surprising and common experiences that has come from the current corona virus experience has been what it has done to our relationships. On the one hand, it has placed us in isolation from one another and we lament the lack of socialization. There is also another unexpected result. For many of us there has been a realization of the significance of our relationships with others. Sometimes this has meant the reconnection of relationships that had long been forgotten.
In the last month, I have found myself in renewed contact with persons and families from across North America and beyond. Some of them are relationships that date back 50 years but with which there has been little or no contact in the last 20 or 30. It is a discovery that is a true blessing. One might say that we have been apart, yet somehow still present to each other’s lives.
This virus and its lockdown, isolation and physical distancing appear to have resurrected relationships and friendships even over the barriers of distance and time. It would seem that this is one of the results of this experience and in fact a very positive one. As the spiritual writer Richard Rohr framed it in several of his online meditations, we are in a “liminal space” a kind of border in life. “This global pandemic we now face is an example of an immense, collective liminal space.” He also described it as a “graced time”. It is a time and space of passage.
We are passing in so many ways from one normal to a new normal in our lives. In the new normal our relationships appear to be taking on increased importance for us. Even friendships from long ago and far away have loomed larger. In the midst of this border experience, we probably do not feel “graced”. But what we are discovering really is a blessing. The Ascension was just such an experience for the disciples of Jesus.
When the Scriptures speak of the Ascension, it may seem that Jesus is somehow leaving his disciples. But when we look more closely at the Gospel accounts it is evident that they speak of leaving and at the time staying. There is a sense of Jesus leaving and yet remaining with his disciples.
The classic image of the ascension of Jesus is captured in the story that we find in the Acts of the Apostles. The writer of the Acts tells the story of the earliest Christian communities after the resurrection of Jesus.
Acts begins the story with the account of Jesus leaving the disciples and ascending to heaven, or put another way with the return of Jesus to the Father. But it is a story of “leaving yet remaining.” (Acts 1:1-11)
Acts shows the disciples in a “liminal space”. The physical Jesus with whom they walked and talked is gone. They are confused and uncertain. Some even doubt. But their emerging faith in the resurrection reveals a new relationship with the Spirit of the Risen One. The Gospel writer, Matthew reveals the impact of this new relationship. (Matt.28:16-20)
The Spirit of Jesus leads the disciples to discover their role – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Filled with that Spirit, they are to share it, to proclaim as Jesus did, in word and action the Good News for all humanity, all Creation. And as they move through that “liminal space” into a new world, Jesus offers them reassurance: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Q/ How has this time of Covid-19 been a “graced” or blessed time for you?
posted May 16, 2020
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the
Father and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever...
I will not leave you orphaned; ... because I live, you also will live.
On that day, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and
I in you. (John 14:15-21)
Here we are, for almost 9 weeks we have been isolating and physically distancing ourselves from others. In the last week we have been given some relenting from the restrictions. There are some few occasions and settings where we can break through the isolation. Why are we doing this? The simple answer is the Covid-19 virus is among us and the health authorities have called us to do so as a means of slowing or preventing its spread.
But is that the only reason for our isolation? Why have we followed the call from health authorities? Is it just our fear of the contagion? Perhaps, but there is, in fact greater reason for our willingness to isolate so strictly. We are a community and we have a sense of the common good for all. At some level, we follow the guidelines of the authorities because we know it is best for all, for the common good of the whole community.
Over these many weeks, when you walk around, there are not many people to be seen. The streets are deserted. But when you do see someone, they speak, they smile and often they generously find a way to pass two meters apart. We have come to realize that doing this will help others to avoid being infected. It is for the common good of all. We are in this together
We have seen this before – in times of flood or a fire in the neighbourhood. We get a sense of it when a community reaches out to someone who is facing a loss or a tragedy. Or when we mobilize to ease the hardships of those facing homelessness or poverty or struggle with the challenges of life. This is movement for the common good.
This is more than simple kindness. It is a revelation of the Spirit working in us and through us. It might appear to be natural and easy, but it demands commitment and attentiveness from a whole community.
When it is present, we see the presence of the Spirit that John’s Gospel speaks of today. When it is present, we can recognize the wondrous relationship in to which God invites us. To love one another, to live this love in relationships with one another is to recognize the Spirit of the
risen Jesus among us.
Jesus reassured his disciples that he would not leave them orphaned. Indeed, he did not, for his Spirit remains with us, only waiting to find expression in the practical love that moves and enlivens any community – family, friends, parish community, even a nation. To be open, welcoming, inclusive is to reveal the Advocate, the Spirit among us.
Q/ In our experience of Covid-19, can we see Jesus’ Spirit acting among us?
posted May 9, 2020
Being lost is a common experience. We have all been there many times, and in fact in many ways. Occasionally we can be lost while walking or driving but more commonly, we find ourselves lost in our life journeys and choices.
To be lost is frequently an experience of being overwhelmed in a task or job we have undertaken or some life situation in which we have found ourselves. This can be the result of some decision or choice we have made and now lament as circumstances change. Or it can be simply the way things are working out for us and is beyond our control. There is no one to blame and no clear or certain way out of it.
The result of such an experience is a great sense of isolation and of being alone in it. Often it comes with discouragement and disappointment. We might blame others or we might blame ourselves. No matter, we are lost – and hope evaporates. We can find ourselves in a time of darkness of soul, a lack of joy and a loss of vision for the future. Life’s disappointments can place us in such darkness. Where to now?
In John’s Gospel, the last section is often called “The Book of Glory”. It relates the final steps of Jesus’ path to crucifixion and then resurrection. Before the glory or new life, there will be a dying and darkness. Jesus will challenge his disciples as they enter into this dark experience. He will also encourage and support them.
The writers of all the Gospels wrote to pass on the memory of Jesus, his mission and his message. A core of that story was his passion, death and resurrection and of how he continues among us through the Spirit. John 14:1-12 shows Jesus as he prepares his disciples for the darkness of his crucifixion. He reassures them he will return to be with them as the way to the kingdom. They need not be troubled or fearful. They are called to trust in God and trust in Jesus himself who showed them the way.
John’s Gospel is the latest of the four gospels. The first level of meaning tells of the darkness and anxiety among the disciples who had walked with Jesus. But the Gospel was written more than a generation after Jesus death and resurrection for the new disciples of the writer’s on time. This offers a second level of meaning.
John wrote for these later disciples of the writers’ own age who faced the darkness and rejection of their own communities. He called for them to have faith and to live in hope. But there is a third level, our own present experience.
Today, in the midst of the darkness of Covid-19 with its challenges of uncertainty and isolation for us, the words of Jesus which the Gospel presents are a reassurance for disciples of our own day. Ultimately, darkness gives way to light. Where to now? To light, to love and to hope – the way, the truth and the life.
It is no small thing that this Gospel also reveals a call to action, the result of such trust, hope and love: “I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do.” Truly, Good News in this time.
Q/ What Good News of faith, hope and love is revealed in my actions at this time?
posted May 2, 2020
Stained glass windows are common in churches. They can be moving images. Sometimes they even serve as instruments of teaching. Frequently they present images drawn from the Scriptures, stories of God’s relationship with God’s People. Most often these images are drawn from past eras. They speak in a language of another time.
Not far from Canada’s Wonderland northwest of Toronto is the church of St. David. It is a relatively new building. Like many of our churches it has some stained glass. One of these is quite striking. Its center point is as one would expect the good news of God’s presence among us. What is unusual is how this is expressed. The images used to show the message are contemporary. The Sky Dome, the CN Tower, a baseball player, a hockey player, a soccer player, scenes of Toronto life are used to express the message of Jesus. There is a recognition that Jesus is among us, now, in the midst of our many relationships.
Recently Fr. Richard Rohr has focused his daily online reflections on our current experience of Covid-19. He sees this experience as a transitional time. One of the ways he expresses this is as “liminal space”, a kind of border land where we are leaving one state and moving on to a new one. Together, we are passing through a borderland in which we will be changed. As Rohr puts it: “We are betwixt and between, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next.” (Rohr ‘Between Two Worlds’, Sun, April 26, 2020)
As our world moves through the experience of this virus, there is hope. Like all such challenges, we will pass through it to a new reality. But in the process of this passage, we will be changed. The world will be different from what we have been used to be. In the current “liminal space” we cannot know exactly all that is involved in this new reality.
Some of what might be the new reality may already be seen. The experience has revealed a sense of sacrifice for the common good of all. A growing use of social media for good purpose has surfaced. For some at least the isolation has called for much inner reflection on our relationships with God, with Jesus the Christ…. and with one another. In some ways, life may be different as we pass through this experience of “liminal” or border space in our lives. Covid-19 may well be a life-changing experience for some of us.
The Easter experience of the disciples was just such a passage through a “liminal space”. They remembered Jesus as he walked with them. Now they came to realize that like the shepherd with his flock, he continues to be with them, even though in different new way. They will live a new reality.
As God has traveled with us in the past, so the risen Jesus journeys with us now. Jesus is the gate through our current “liminal space”. He continues with us in a new reality. We may look and act in different ways on the other side, but that is as it has always been. The Spirit of Jesus has been with us and in a new post-Covid time, Jesus will continue to be with us, even or perhaps especially, in a new reality, for we are disciples of Jesus. Now that is something to trust in, with hope.
For Reflection: What is one of my hopes for this time? How might Jesus be “the gate” for the days ahead?
posted April 26, 2020
One of the lasting memories of the current corona virus, I am sure will be our experience of being isolated at home, separated from friends and even family, as well as the wider community. We will recall the fact that our life has been disrupted. Much of our community has closed down. Churches, schools, stores, places where we normally gathered are shut and deserted.
We have made many efforts to ease the loss that we feel and we certainly have found new ways to connect, by social media, streaming, YouTube and even the good old telephone. But they are not the same as face to face encounters. We are still isolated and separated. We have lost a lot.
Despite the hardships and losses however, there are some gains, some opportunities that have come our way as well. One of these is that we may have discovered how much we need each other. What we have long taken for granted is suddenly recognized for the importance it has in our lives. We all need others in our lives. Whether family or friends, community or colleagues we need them for a healthy, happy human life.
Can we live faith or our spiritual life in isolation? Are we able to have a live and dynamic faith without a community? Christian faith and spirituality however, is more than personal. It is very much a community experience. The disciple follow Jesus in group. Crowds often surround Jesus.
The Gospels express this community aspect in so many ways, none more significant than in the accounts of the Risen Jesus appearing to the disciples. In many of these instances, the appearances occur as the disciples are gathered together. Not only are they together, theyare together around a table, sharing a meal. In this, Christian spirituality is strongly human.
Did you ever think how our conversations often take place over a coffee or a beer or at a meal? It seems that the connections we make with others often involve sharing food and drink. Thus, it should come as little surprise that the encounters his disciples had with Jesus after his resurrection frequently involved a meal. In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 24:13-35) we see this kind of encounter.
Luke’s account tells of just such an encounter. Two disciples were on the road to Emmaus. On the way, they met a person. The stranger seemed interested in what they were discussing. They were surprised that he seemed to know nothing about what had happen to Jesus. He related what the prophets had said about the Christ. Still the disciples did not recognize who this person was.
What is striking is that the two disciples only recognized Jesus when they broke bread together. When they shared a meal together. They rushed back and joined the other disciples in Jerusalem. They excitedly reported: “[Jesus] had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
At this time, we cannot share the table of the Eucharist fully. Our communal connection is incomplete. Maybe this is an opportunity to recognize something significant. That same faith bond, that same lived spirituality is among us always. Our table at home, with our family can be Eucharistic. Like the disciples we can recognize the Spirit of the risen Jesus among us as we break bread and share our family meal at home. Even in isolation, our meal is a time for prayer, of gratitude to God.
Q/ Can we recognize the risen Jesus among us, at table? Can we introduce gratitude to God in our family meal?
posted April 19, 2020
Sometimes it is hard to hope. The conflicts around the world seem endless, as one winds down another erupts. Political extremes seem increasingly sharp and any idea of compromise or mutual respect for difference appears impossible. Global warming has raised issues of human survival that are new to our horizon. Many face the specter of serious and debilitating illness. Others struggle with relationships that are wounded and limping. There is so much of our lives that is beyond our control, so much to challenge us as we look to the future. Indeed, often it is hard to hope.
Then we come to the Easter season and we hear the stories of the resurrection. We see how this risen Jesus changed the vision of his disciples. The resurrection was not just about Jesus himself. It was an earth-shaking event which changed the whole story of humanity. With the raising of Jesus there was a new creation. The vision of the disciples sees a world made new.
In the reading of this Sunday (John 20:19-31) the risen Jesus appears to his disciples, locked in a room, cowering in fear after the crucifixion. He greets them with “Peace be with you.” In fact, this is more than a simple greeting. It is a call given to them. For immediately, Jesus tells them that his mission is now their mission and he breathes on them the Spirit. This is the Spirit of God that the creation story in the Book of Genesis points to as the origin of life. Now there will be a new creation and the disciples of Jesus are sent to bring it into existence down to our own day.
How are we to bring a new creation into existence? The Spirit the first disciples received is the Spirit of the risen Jesus and it is this same Spirit that is given to the generations of disciples even to our day. This new creation is to be marked by peace and by the unity of humanity. This was Jesus’ mission. It is now our mission. We are called to heal the wounded, reconcile the divided and mend the broken of our world. To do so is the path to the peace that is God’s dream for creation. Easter and the resurrection of Jesus is not the end of a story. Rather it is a beginning, a new beginning. It is truly the advent of a new creation. The mission given us is to bring this new creation to its completion, its fulfillment.
Sometimes it is hard to hope. But Easter allows hope to spring into our world. May the Spirit of the risen Jesus move us all to be the voice of such hope to all humanity. May we accept our mission as healers, reconcilers and peace-makers for a new creation. Easter is indeed a touch of hope for our world.
posted April 12, 2020
“He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended Into hell; on the third day he rose from the dead.” (Apostles Creed)
Easter takes us through an entire season of rebirth and new life. Beginning with Good Friday and lasting until the Feast of Pentecost our Christian community celebrates the core of our faith, the Paschal Mystery. It is the feast expressing the passing of Jesus from death to new life. The words of our Apostles Creed express our faith in this part of the Christian story. What we might miss is that it is also the passing of ourselves from death to new life.
The resurrection stories in the Gospel present the disciples and friends of Jesus, the crucified one seeking him at the tomb, among the dead. They do not find him there. Nor would they find him in any place that represents domination, death, violence, greed, oppression and bondage. They would find him in the places of life and light, liberation and peace. This is where the risen one is to be found.
The resurrection sends Jesus back into the world. His resurrection proclaims that there is life after death, there is hope and promise and that the power of evil, oppression and bondage is broken. The world and humanity are given new life.
What we may not realize is that like the risen Jesus, we too are sent back into the world and that we bring the risen one with us. We carry Jesus into our world of families and friends, of commerce, economics and politics. We carry him into the places of oppression, bondage and poverty, of violence and suffering. As Jesus, we carry the resurrection and its hope. We bring what the risen one brings –PEACE. This is the Good News –we believe in the possibility of new life for all.
The spiritual writer, Carlo Carretto in “Blessed Are You Who Believed” describes the presence and power of the risen Jesus that we welcome into our lives and that we bear into our world. It is lived faith for us.
When you forgive your enemy
When you feed the hungry
When you defend the weak
you believe in the resurrection.
When you have the courage to marry
When you welcome a new-born child
When you make a home together
you believe in the resurrection.
When you wake at peace in the morning
When you sing to the rising sun
When you go to work with joy
you believe in the resurrection.
The resurrection is for all. The promise of new life, of hope and healing, of peace and liberation is for all. The risen life of Jesus takes flesh and comes alive in us
posted April 5, 2020
Holy Week: A Pilgrimage through Death to Life(Fr. John Jennings)
This Sunday we begin what we call Holy Week, that sacred season from Passion Sunday to Easter. As we bless the palms and listen to the Passion story once more, we enter upon a pilgrimage, a journey of faith which calls us to reflect on the suffering and death of Jesus. Our trek will take us to Easter when we will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
We take this pilgrimage personally and alone –as we look inwardly at our own life. In another way, we embark on this pilgrimage with the whole Christian community and indeed with our world, as we look outwardly at the world of our experience. In both cases, we are called to reflection, prayer and a movement of heart, mind and action through the experience of evil and death, to new and transformed life.
We begin our journey at a high point, on a mountain of acclamation and celebration –as we hear the story of Jesus` entry into Jerusalem to the cheers and accolades of the crowd.(Matt.21:1-9)We will end our pilgrimage on another high point –as we acclaim and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with Easter. From one mountain to another, this will be our pilgrimage through this sacred week.
As we journey from one high point to the next, however, we must descend into the valley, a valley of challenge, of struggle, of suffering, of pain. It is a valley where we journey with Jesus through his Passion and ultimately his death. It is a valley of evil and the reality of our human experience with evil. This experience of evil is something we all face in life. We encounter it in ourselves and we encounter it in our world.
Where have we encountered evil in our world? In our own experience? Facing evil is a common challenge to all humanity. It is a question that has challenged reason and religious faith down through the centuries. Despite all efforts to ``explain`` evil in our human experience, it defies rational explanation. No one has identified the ultimate cause of evil. The principal religious traditions of the world: Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have all noted some reasons for evil, but no clear ultimate cause.
Although, these religious traditions can identify no ultimate cause, they do aid us with the challenge. What helps us is how these traditions present the divine –i.e. the God of faith. In particular, Christianity, Judaism and Islam present us with an image of God who is above all else, compassionate. That is, we do not know why there is evil in our world.
It is a question no one can answer. Our faith tradition, however, does offer us a response to evil. It is the response of Jesus –to be compassionate as our God is compassionate. In other words, the challenge of evil is not addressed by discovering who caused it or why it is in our experience. It is addressed by how we respond to the experience –by compassion and care, for one another and for our world.
This Holy Week is an opportunity to reflect on our encounters with evil in our own personal lives and in the world in which we live. As we walk through the stories of our faith in the next week, we discover the compassionate love of God expressed in the person of Jesus. His suffering, death and resurrection reveal this compassionate love. This pilgrimage helps us to see the response we can make in the face of evil in our world and in ourselves –compassionate love and with it, constant hope.
posted March 29, 2020
Death is a reality of our life. Often it is a time of both pain and confusion. It comes as such a shock. With it come waves of questions. Why is it happening to me, to us? To whom shall I turn? Grief and loss hurts. We feel so alone and isolated. It carries a pain and confusion that strikes at the very core of our lives. It is part of our lives. Whether the experience is physical death and the loss of a loved one or an experience of another form of death, deep loss –of home, of country or freedom we face it. Whatever its form, death brings the pain, confusion and dislocation of grief.
Death, however can also bring forth great love. The love expressed among family, the love revealed in friends and the community that can surround and support us is huge. So too is the support and love expressed across borders of race and colour, faith and culture. Many tears are shed. But at the same time, many stories are told and much gratitude expressed. The experience of death draws us into grief. But it also draws us into the power of healing and life-giving love.
John’s gospel offers us a story of death, grief, pain and tears (John 11:1-45). But it is also a story of life-giving love. Lazarus and his two sisters, Martha and Mary are friends of Jesus. The two sisters send word that their brother is sick and call on Jesus to come. By the time he arrives, Lazarus has died. The sisters are grieving. It is a painful time for them and for many others, including Jesus. But it is also a time of healing and love. Martha, Mary and Jesus all loved Lazarus. Their tears of grief were also tears of love for someone they had lost. Grief is always an expression of love and love is life-giving.
For three Sunday’s now we have heard stories of people who encounter Jesus. First, the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, then the encounter of the blind man with Jesus, this weekend it’s the story of the raising of Lazarus. All three of the stories are about someone who faces a barrier or border, a kind of death that puts those who are excluded from the fullness of life-giving relationship. Their encounters with Jesus are expressions of God’s love that brings life and full communion.
Whenever we face loss, it is in some way a taste of death, and so we grieve. When we lose a family member or a friend, we grieve. When our freedom is eroded by oppression, injustice, economic exploitation or poverty we grieve in isolation. All of these are loss for us, a taste of death. And so we grieve, personally and as a world community.
Such grief is a sign of love, of connection, of relationship. To stand with someone in grief is to express great love for them. The experience may be physical death and the loss of a loved one or another form of death, deep loss –of home, of country or freedom.
To stand with them in grief is to honour the loving relationship among us even in the confusion and dislocation of death.
This Sunday our church marks what we call “Solidarity Sunday”. We are asked to recognize that all around our world there are many who stand in the grief of poverty, injustice, oppression, violence and economic exploitation. As Jesus stood with Mary, Martha and Lazarus in their experience of loss, so we stand, sharing our love with all humanity in its experiences of death and loss.
We are a human community of many races, colours, cultures and creeds. We are a wounded world. We suffer from war, hardship, poverty, injustice and oppression. The deaths that we experience are our common burden. May our sharing of gifts, talents and resources to ease the suffering be a sign that we are one human community and that we stand in solidarity with all.
posted March 22, 2020
As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world (John 9:5)
Winter in the north, it is often a challenge to our perseverance and our endurance. About this time of year, one wonders if it is ever going to give up on us. It always seems to go on for so long, lots of cold, lots of snow, lots of ice and lots of darkness. This Sunday we are presented with the contrast of the darkness and light in the story of the blind man found in John’s Gospel (John 9:1-41).
Jesus encounters a man who has been blind from birth. He reaches out to the man and heals his blindness, restoring his sight. This is a wondrous act, a miracle. Suddenly, a person who could not see regains sight. But there is a bigger wonder, a greater miracle that is found in this story. The blind man gained his physical sight, but then gradually he came to a new kind of sight as well. He came to see with spiritual vision.
The spiritual sight gained by the blind man in John’s Gospel is not easy. The blind man healed by Jesus found himself drawn into the realm of the spiritual. He got his physical sight quickly. But he did not quickly come to see the spiritual impact of what had happened. This came only gradually. First, he found himself being questioned by his neighbours about how he had been healed. His response was to describe what had taken place. Put simply “the man called Jesus” gave him his sight.
Next, the neighbours took the man to the Pharisees and again he simply described what had taken place. When the Pharisees asked him who Jesus was, the man’s response revealed a growth in his awareness: “He is a Prophet. The Pharisees then indicated that they regarded the man as a disciple of Jesus. To their resistance, the man expressed his belief that Jesus came from God. With this, the Pharisees drove him out of the synagogue.
Jesus found the man and the two spoke. The man began to express his faith that Jesus is the Son of Man, the active presence of God among us. For John such an assertion was an expression of the man coming to new sight, spiritual sight. It had been a difficult process and one that involved energy, time and a willingness to trust for the man. Spiritual sight was an awareness of God with him in the person of Jesus and a world that had changed with that presence.
How do we repeat the blind man’s experience of faith moving to awareness? Perhaps it is a bit like our experience of spring. Sometimes spring comes for us only very gradually, after long days of warming, brightening and melting. Other times it seems to come upon us suddenly. We wake up to the sounds of birds and the appearance of leaves on the trees. And spring is here.
A disciple’s faith is like that. Sometimes we are working away on faith that seeks to bring us to an awareness of God, ever-present in our world and our lives, and the gap seems so great. God seems so far from us. At other times, we have those occasions of awareness of this God among us and so close. The blind man’s journey is one that took him to physical sight, from darkness to light. But it was also a journey that took him to a second vision of the ever-present God, touching our world. His faith had led him to awareness. How often we are this blind person. How often we are given this second vision. Do we pay attention to such a gift of new sight and the light that floods into our world?
By Father John Jenning posted April 5, 2020
Here in the middle of Holy Week 2020, we find ourselves in a very different world. It seems to be a world with many losses. We have lost close contact with our families and friends, lost our freedom of movement in our neighbourhood and beyond, lost our ability to travel or visit events that have been cancelled, lost in some degree, our capacity to plan and expect our future. We may even have lost a loved one. Our world has been turned upside down. In a moment, Covid-19 has been a taste death in the radical change that it forces upon us. It is important that we lament our losses.
Two weeks ago, on 21 March, Father Richard Rohr in his daily online meditation called on our need to lament our losses, our deaths at this time. He referred to the tradition that comes from our Jewish roots and is espoused by our Christian tradition – Lamentations. Many of the Psalms are in fact lamentations. As Christians they are also for us. They begin with a focus on our loss, our experience of a death. Then comes a calling on God to act for us. In the end, these lamentations bring us to an expression of our faith that God who loves us, will not desert us. God is with us in this time.
In his reflection, Rohr directs us to Psalm 22, to use in prayer this Holy Week and beyond. In Matthew’s Gospel read last Sunday, Jesus utters the opening words of this Psalm as he hangs on the cross. Perhaps it is our lamentation too. Here is his paraphrase of the first 5 verses of this Psalm:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me,
from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried
and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. (Ps. 22:1-5)
Something in our lives has died and is dying and so we lament. But we need to know that in our faith, after death comes new life. We celebrate this new life at Easter as we enter into the Resurrection of Jesus. The disciples discovered that they had new life when they discovered that the risen Jesus remained among them, in them. After the death, the loss, came the promise of new life..
In this Holy Week, while I lament my present losses, how am I able to live with faith and hope for new life, for me, for my family and for my world? May we know – God is with us on every step, in every moment.