Category: Christianity


AMDG

One of the great treasures of our faith are Christs’ Glorious Wounds.  The Counter intuitive Jesus’s risen Glorified Body still bears his wounds.   These glorious wounds of Jesus – divinely resurrected – humanly wounded….  Are a mystery that is worth pondering and praying over.  This is the same man who hung on the cross – yet now he is different.  Why keep his wounds? If he has defeated death – why still carry the holes in hands and his feet – the terriWounded-Handsble wound in his side….

Of all the post-resurrection narratives this encounter with doubting Thomas is one that we can especially sympathise with –  Thomas has been devastated by Jesus’ death – he loved him – he left all he had to follow him…  his sense of loss is bewildering.  As they say, once bitten twice shy, he doesn’t want to get his hopes up just because the others are talking about ‘seeing’ him, he isn’t going to be taken on that emotional roller-coaster again.   We have all been their – we have been hurt, let down, sometimes it is hard to trust again. Thomas’s reaction is beautiful in its humanity – the struggles with faith, the dark clouds of doubt that can sometimes seem to accompany us,  all of this is so real to us.

Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_ThomasBut note Jesus’s reaction – his gentleness – the intimacy – he doesn’t scold Thomas – no impatience with him – no wagging his finger at him.  Jesus knows that he is upset because he loves him. ‘ Here are my hands – Touch my side’. If we think of the wounds of his passions – the holes in his hands and feet were he was nailed to the cross – it is perhaps the wound in his side that is most significant.  The Romans wanted to see if he was dead – they broke the legs of the two thieves crucified with Jesus  – but with Jesus – so as not to break his bones as Isaiah had prophesied – the centurions lance had opened his side and pierced his heart – and blood and water had flown out from his side, baptising the Centurion.

This encounter with Thomas shows forth the power of Jesus’s mercy – ‘Doubt no longer but believe’ …..  and that this wound, particularly on the side of Christ – which Thomas was invited to inspect with his fingers ….  This wound became very important in the development of Christian devotion. In the first millennia of the church the devotion to the Holy Wounds grew – but it wasn’t until the twelfth century that that grew into a devotion to the Sacred Heart in the Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries.  The wound on the side of Christ – gave us access to the heart of Christ  – it revealed to us his sacred heart, full of Love for mankind.

faustine2At the beginning of the twentieth century – The Polish mystic Sister Faustina reportedly had a series of visions &  inner locutions (conversations with Jesus) . She was declared a Saint of the new millennium when her compatriot, John Paul II canonised her in the year 2000, thus showing official church approval for her claims of mystical experiences. Perhaps the most important of those was in 1931 – in the short lived peace between the devastation of the Two World Wars. Faustina wrote that Jesus appeared to her as the “King of Divine Mercy” wearing a white garment with red and pale rays emanating from his heart and was asked to paint this image. Further instructions to venerate the image came including the desire to mark the first Sunday after Easter as ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’. Which the Pope also officially declared at the start of this millennium.Vilnius Original.Nancy'sMain Image

Perhaps what is most instructive an entry in Faustina’s diary – where she was told that –  Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to the Divine Mercy.  In these times of terror and widespread fear, particularly for many Christians around the world – we feel the need for peace.  In the Extraordinary Year of mercy – we are asked like Thomas and Faustina to find peace and healing in the wounds of the risen Christ.  That our own wounds and our woundedness does not make us bitter, angry, isolated but that they too can be transformed into channels of God’s grace.

As Simon touched Jesus’s wounds – we are invited in this Holy Year of Mercy to invite the Lord to touch our wounds…. Instead of finding more and more inventive ways to hide our wounds from him, to pretend everything is fine – that we can cope – let’s remember those who couldn’t hide from Jesus or society and their encounter with him.  The lepers whose wounds were so obvious – no makeup could disguise their rotting bodies. As they presented their disfigured flesh for Christ to touch and cure, we can present our disfigured souls, asking him to touch and to cure. St. Faustina would say that all that is necessary is for us to leave the door of our heart ajar and God will do the rest.  Then in astonishment and joy we can reply as Simon did, ‘My Lord and my God!’

This is the transforming power of Easter – this is our hope in the resurrection – represented by the beauty of the light of the Paschal Candle here amongst us.

Homily Given in Holy Name Manchester – 2nd Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday –  April 2nd 2016

Mercy & the Adulteress

Now I have decided to revive my blog – I’ve been asked by the students here in Manchester to put some of my homilies online – This was one from 5th week of Lent 

mercifulTodays Gospel is a gem that is given to us to as something to savour in Lent.  The woman caught in adultery is a masterpiece in Johns Gospel that displays mystery of God’s mercy against the backdrop of the corruption of the temple.  Mercy is the most amazing attribute of God – Mercy is the name of God himself – it is the face by which God reveals himself in the Old Testament and it is at the core of the Gospel message. Pope Francis believes we are in a special time – a Kairos – of God’s mercy – and so has dedicated this as a special year. So in this extraordinary year of mercy its worth meditating this week on this key story of Jesus’s Mercy –  Jesus who is the incarnation of God’s redemptive and creative love .

Today’s Gospel is about the women who is caught in adultery but really about  the scribes and the Pharisees who are caught in hypocrisy…..  The women has been caught in the act of adultery – lets pause for a moment and think about what that actually means – this must have been a trap – they have been waiting and carefully looking – they have suspected this is going to happen and rather than trying to stop it they have allowed it to happen so that they could ‘catch her’ – what about the man involved?  Why is he not pulled out to be judged too? It all seems a bit one-sided.   This is being done to attack and humiliate the woman … notice how they drag her out make her stand in the middle of the crowd – this is humiliating.

Using Moses law in this way –  to humiliate her and judge her – is already an abuse of God’s Law – which is meant to free us not trap us.    However the scribes and the Pharisees here are trying to use the law to hurt her and also to trap Jesus … They realise that when they ask him what to do they are boxing him in  –  if Jesus says ‘let her go’ then they can criticise him saying  ‘ he doesn’t love the law’ if he says  stone her – they can say look how cruel and rigid he is….    It seems that Jesus can’t win.

However this allows Jesus to show the wisdom of Solomon – to demonstrate to the people that he hwoman_9as the wisdom    and compassion of a Just King – that he is fulfilling the messianic longing and expectation that they have.  Look at what he does – crouching and writing in the dust – we don’t know what he is writing…  but it may be significant that he is writing in the dust.  We remember that tradition has is that the Law of Moses was written in stone – but the Psalmists and the Prophets talk about writing the law of God on our hearts – We remember Jesus words at another point in the Gospels : The law was made man not man for the Law – so that his desire is that we embody the law through how we live – how we love and most importantly how we forgive…. Not using its rigidity to hurt and stone each other with.  Also lets remember we are in Lent and cast our minds back to how we began  – on Ash Weds – from dust you came and to dust you will return…..  so by writing in the dust Jesus is reminding us that our life is temporary, but how we act now is what will be looked at in the final reckoning – and our judgments always need to be  made in that context.

Notice that Jesus is not relativising adultery – it is a sin that has grave consequences – it can rip families apart, betraying the ones we love the most – causing generations of pain and hurt.  However Jesus is displaying great wisdom here – not being trapped – but reflecting God’s infinite mercy.

The desire to humiliate dressed up as a desire for justice – in the Pharisees and the Scribes is all too human – and do we know it.  Just look at the re-emergence of the phenomenon of public shaming on the internet …..  but in the face of this human small mindedness  – the mercy that Jesus shows is divine…. And we are called to share in the work of God and become more merciful.

What stops us from being merciful is when we refuse to be honest about our own sinfulness, we don’t encounter the mercy of God anymore, our hearts become hard and we become corrupt.  It is when we are aware of our own sinfulness – and even more that God loves us – that we can become merciful to others.  It’s something we need to practice – the more we face up to our sinfulness and brokenness, the more we can experience Gods loving mercy, especially in confession and the more we can forgive and be merciful – it is a virtuous circle.  But as we know it so easy to focus on other people’s sins – it’s a form of displacement – so that we feel better about ourselves – especially when we gossip – and we become desensitized and forgot that experience of Gods mercy and that’s when we become corrupt

If we are honest – a lot of us can become like the elder son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son –  who complains in the face of the fathers joy and generosity.  The elder son is human – but the mercy of the Father is divine. God goes beyond justice to a higher event which leads to a healing encounter with his love and mercy.  Let us be honest this lent about our need for God’s mercy – remember we have confessions every day from 12- 1.00….

salvador-dali-christ-of-st-john-of-the-crossSalvador Dali believed that Christ of St John of the Cross was his religious masterpiece. It is influenced by a sketch found in the spiritual diaries of the Spanish Mystic and Carmelite, Juan de Yepes y Álvarez who became known as John of the Cross.  A sketch in his spiritual John_of_the_Cross_crucifixion_sketchdiaries of a vision he had received, made a great impression on Dali – he described the image as being ‘like a Crucifix presented to the lips of a dying man’ .  When Dali came to paint the image he used a Hollywood Stuntman, Russel Saunders as the model for Christ – and actually strapped his body to a gantry to help Dali envisage the pull of gravity on the Human Body.

Historical Context

In 1948 Dali had returned to Spain after the war, he had rediscovered his Catholic Faith and visited Pope Pius XII in Rome where he sought and was given approval for his new religious themes.  He had studied Nuclear Physics and felt that the discovery of the atomic nature of the universe was proof of the existence of God. This mix of science and religion 2would lead to a new Nuclear Mysticism according to Dali and in 1951 he published his Mystical Manifesto stating his ambition to paint a new type of Crucifixion.  Paintings of the crucified Christ had focused on the pain and humiliation of the Crucifixion- however Dali said in his manifesto ‘ I want my next Christ to be the painting containing the most beauty and joy, more than anything that will have been painted up to the present.’  It is worth noting that unusually for paintings of Christ on the Cross – it is devoid of pain, blood and the crown of thorns.  Dali associated the nucleus of the atom with Christ and was influenced by the ideas of the mathematician Luca Pacioli – paying attention to the triangle formed by Christs arms and the cross.

Theology

The background to the Painting is Port Lligat – the area of the Catalonian coast were Dali lived for most of the latter part of his life.  This is a reference to the universal relevance the Crucifixion, its historical significance and supra-historical effects.  When we celebrate the mass we believe that we cut through time and space as we are united with the one eternal sacrifice of Christ on Golgotha, we are not just remembering or ‘re-enacting’ his last supper.  So by placing Christ against the background of his home, Dali is performing what would be called in Jesuit spirituality a Composition of Place.  The crucifixion of Christ is as relevant here and now, in 1950’s Spain or in 21st Century Manchester as it was 2 millenia ago in Palestine.

It is also worth reflecting on the beauty of the male image. In Dali’s own words – The metaphysical Beauty of the Christ-God and make his Christ ‘as beautiful as the God that he is’.   Christian Theology has often been interested in the tension between the  ‘Theology of the Cross’ and the ‘Theology of Glory’ .  Christ on the Cross is one of the most powerful images in human culture, but for Christians it represents the wisdom of God and the self-abandoning love of Christ.  Seen through the eyes of faith the cross presents unique insight into who God is and how he chooses to save.  Seen through the eyes of the world the cross is a brutal, humiliating public form of torture or capital punishment.  Because of this St Paul talks of ‘the scandal of the cross’ – a stumbling block to the wise.  Usually Christian iconography – especially in Spain – focuses on Christs suffering in order to elicit feelings of devotion in the believer.  A danger of an exaggerated Theology of the Cross is to see creation as irrevocably fallen, The Theology of Glory on the other hand would see creation as essentially good and have an eschatological focus on the resurrection and ultimate victory of good.  Perhaps Dalis – new type of Crucifixion is an attempt to marry the two.

Paintings Reception & Impact

dali_and_honeymanWhen a Scottish Art Historian, Dr Honeyman, acquired the painting for the Glasgow Art Gallery – students at the Glasgow School of Art and members of the Church of Scotland vehemently protested its purchase.  For some it was a waste of money and should have been spent on contemporary Scottish painters, for others it was blasphemous and encouraged idol worship.  The public however flocked to it and it was observed how men would instinctively take their hats of viewing it and boisterous school groups fall silent in its presence.  It has recently been voted Scotland’s favourite painting and is now by far the most valuable painting in the collection – a wise investment!

There is a fascinating 28min documentary about in on the Radio  4 Website 

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