Category: Easter


Ascension

AMDG  

As the church enters an intense time of prayer for nine days between Ascension and Pentecost (the original novena) …. I thought I’d share this beautiful reflection from Romano Guardini in his masterpiece ‘The Lord’. This book has been a delightful discovery for me recently …. it just keeps on giving beautiful insights from the soon-to-be beatified Guardini.  Although its 86 bite-size chapters cover the whole of Jesus Christ’s life – I have just noticed the picture on the English Translations is taken from El Greco’s Ressurection and Ascension.

 

 

Now the Evangelists’ manner of writing changes… we feel in the lines how He pauses on the sill between time and eternity …. He is in eternity yet in time, though differently than before, in the intimacy of becoming….  at that extreme edge of Christian history stands the ultimate event in which all that has been will be finished and fulfilled: Christs return for judgement.

What is the heaven into which Jesus was accepted on that first Ascension Day? The heaven that will once be all? In the Biblical account an upward movement is unmistakable; according to the Gospels,  Christ seems to mount upwards from the Earth. Is then heaven the summit of space? Certainly not.  The spatial ‘up’ is only a figurative expression for something spiritual. In the sense of the New Testament, though we were to fly to Sirius we should be no closer to heaven than we are on earth. Heaven is no more in the infinity of the cosmos as it is within earthly limits…. “Heaven” is also not what is meant by celestial beauty or peace ….. the Bible’s Heaven is something else.

Want to find out how Guardini describes heaven?  You’ll have to buy the book ….   🙂

 

AMDG

Pedro-Arrupe-at-prayer11

Fr Pedro Arrupe

I have been enjoying a few days in Valladolid with a group of Jesuit theologians who are preparing for ordination. They are taking part in what is called the ‘Arrupe Month’. Fr Pedro Arrupe,  the general of the Jesuits,  noticed that in the 1970’s there was a pattern of men leaving the order soon after they had been ordained.  It was almost as though, even after the long period of formation, they were expecting something magical to happen at ordination and were disappointed when it didn’t.  Maybe they had a rather superficial understanding of the ‘ontological change’ that the sacrament of ordination conferred.   So Fr Arrupe’s letter issued in 1979 addressed this and now there is a period set aside for a deepening of self-knowledge and Jesuit identity to help prepare the Jesuit Scholastic for ordination to the priesthood. I have joined them for a couple of days to give some input on thriving in (not just surviving) the first years of priesthood.

PictureWe are staying at a fascinating and beautiful College – the Royal English College ‘St Albans’ in Vallodalid.  It was founded by the English Jesuit Robert Persons in 1589, during the English Reformation, as a seminary to train Catholic Priest for the English and Welsh Mission, at a time when it was illegal to do so in the UK.  It has an impressive legacy of alumni who are saints – many Jesuits,  although not all – who would eventually be executed on their return to Britain.   Their portraits line the corridors.  Fr Persons was agitating the Spanish King to invade,  so that England could return to becoming a Catholic country. This  resulted firstly in the famous failure of the Armada.  A second attempt was foiled in Cadiz by Walter Raleigh ….  but we will come to that in a minute.  The College, well endowed and beautifully kept, still has the patronage of the Spanish Royal Family.  When you enter the college you are greeted with a picture of the King & Queen of Spain with an affectionate and personal message to the College. This Royal patronage is important when you think of how the Jesuits were expelled from Europe, from different countries on numerous occasions so you can see how it can be helpful to have powerful allies.

44423190For me the jewel in the crown in Valladolid is ‘La Vulnerata’ or the Wounded One  – a disfigured statue of Mary in the chapel.  After Sir Walter Raleigh defeated the Spanish Fleet in Cadiz and took control of the city in 1596,  some of the English troops started a riot (like the football ‘fans’ in Marseille). The soldiers dragged the statue to the market square where they desecrated it.  The priests and seminarians of the English College in Valladolid brought it to Valladolid and installed with great solemnity in the College Chapel in 1600.  They wished to make reparation for the desecration of their fellow countrymen.  Every year during Holy Week the statue is processed along the street, where it is met by a huge paso or float, which has a large depiction of the Crucified Christ resting on top of it. The two images meet, and dance to each other for a brief period—then the Vulnerata comes back to the College

There seems to be a curious collection of images of Mary that have been maliciously attacked at the height of anti-Catholic tensions.  The famous Image of the Icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa was similarly damaged by Hussite raiders in 1430 and has now become the most visited shrine in Poland, and revered by Catholics and Orthodox alike.  The potential power of our vulnerability is a spiritual paradox.  Christ glorious risen body still carried his wounds as St Thomas can testify. The popular devotion to these disfigured images of Our Lady are striking – they seem to unlock a mysterious power in peoples hearts. Many people point to John Paul II visits to Czestochowa as the start of the fall of communism, how this had become an icon of a suffering Poland and the first Polish Pope drew millions together in defiance of the authorities.  Pope Francis will be visiting next week during the World Youth Day celebrations,  I hope the Queen of Poland draws the 2 million young people expected to attend, to her heart.

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