Another powerful commentary today. This time from Fr Kevin Murphy which follows beautifully from the discussion yesterday sparked by Emmy Silvius's commentary on Catholica [LINK]. Christians and Catholics protest that we "love Jesus", or want to "follow Jesus", but how to we integrate that into our lives in practical ways?
The transforming effectiveness of a meal – communion...
Over the years and in many places the message of the active presence of Jesus Christ in our world has not been communicated well.
Whatever about the past, now is the time to open our minds and hearts to a new awareness, and to spread the Good News.
The gospels lead us to understand that Jesus enjoyed his meals with others. Often it was at a meal that the transforming effectiveness of his presence was revealed.
In a way, the New Testament scriptures also invite us to believe that the transformed and transforming Jesus Christ continues to be ready to join us at any meal we have. The Book of Revelation in the New Testament states:
Listen, I (Jesus) am standing at the door knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. Just as I, who in being completely faithful, even unto death, took my place fully in the realm of my Father, those who welcome me I will involve in my transformation. [Rev. 3:20-21 v 21 paraphrase]
Jesus is prepared to be in communion with us so that we can be in communion with him.
From our side, of course, we must be willing to choose to be aware, by faith, of the presence of the risen Jesus with us.
The predominate experience that Jesus identifies with is the meal – any and every meal, whether alone or with others, whatever it is that we eat or drink, even a cuppa or a beer can remind us that the risen Jesus is actively with us, involving us in his transformation!
For example, we can say that the New Testament scriptures invite us to develop the habit of choosing to be aware, in faith, of the presence of Jesus Christ in the experience of the meal. We can choose to use particular signs and experiences to help us in this regard. The predominate experience that Jesus identifies with is the meal – any and every meal, whether alone or with others, whatever it is that we eat or drink, even a cuppa or a beer can remind us that the risen Jesus is actively with us, involving us in his transformation.
But we have to consciously cooperate in the process by choosing, through faith, to be aware of what is being offered to us.
That awareness does not spoil our eating and drinking by making it all some kind of pious devotion. The gospel accounts of Jesus at meals does not present him as a mawkish, pious way – Jesus was not/is not, that kind of pious person. He was/is down-to-earth, identified with creation, bringing all created things and people into the transformation of God. As people with free will we are invited to share deliberately in that process.
In practice this is not happening for many Catholics who have stopped coming regularly to Sunday Mass because they find it boring, even strange. If they had experienced the Eucharist as a life-giving mystery which was enabling them to become healthier, happier and more positive in their life with others, the situation could well be different.
Even when I am having a meal by myself it only depends of my own openness in faith to benefit from the communion with Jesus. Sometimes it is easier, sometimes it is more difficult, for a group consciously to be open to the presence of Jesus and to welcome him as an active part of the dynamic of the group. Any such eating and drinking that happens in faith group can have special significance, of course.
Even when, or if, one's main spiritual connections with other believers is in small Church communities it is important to keep a connection with the big Church, the universal, Catholic Church.
Small Church Communities – Big Church Community
Especially in places where the official Sunday Eucharistic Liturgy has been discontinued, at least on some Sundays of the month, it is good that relatively small groups, allowing interactivity in the sharing, continue with regular Sunday gatherings to talk about their lives with reference to the proclaimed scriptures, to pray with and for each other, and to share a significant cuppa.
This move to small Church gatherings might also happen because some might feel that the big gatherings have become seriously ineffective. Others might be so dismayed by the current organisation of the big Church that they can only gather in a smaller, but more open and responsible setting. In any case it is important to be a constant member of a regular gathering.
Some basic rituals...
The resurrection of the incarnated Son of God implies that the transforming power in him extends to the whole of creation in some mysterious way – including, therefore, even to all we eat or drink. Our eating and drinking can connect us with the transforming Spirit of Jesus. By faith we can become more aware of this and consequently benefit more from it. We can make this faith dimension explicit in prayers and rituals – very simple or elaborate, according to the circumstances.
However, there is a danger that such prayers and rituals can become ends in themselves, ceasing to mediate the vital Spirit of Jesus Christ. Even the formal Liturgy of the Church can become such an empty ritual. Have you ever observed any dead liturgies of boring, empty ritual? Or even rituals that express something other than the vision of Jesus Christ!? Has attendance often been a matter of mere habit or something done with a sense of fearful obligation to avoid feelings of guilt?
To what extent do people show signs of on-going personal transformation for the better, even after many years of a ritual practice of Sunday Mass attendance?
The "ritual" of breathing and other simple aids to ritual...
Another basic ritual is the process of breathing and being aware of one's breath.
Breathing as a metaphor for the Spirit of God is often referred to in the Scriptures. In a Genesis story, the breath of God moved over the waters and life emerged [Genesis 1.2]. In gospel resurrection stories, Jesus breathed on the disciples to communicate his Spirit of peace, forgiveness and new life [See John 20:22]. In faith, attentiveness to our breathing can lead us to an awareness of the Spirit of God in our lives. Attentiveness to breathing can be an integral part of prayer ritual. Many people find a breathing ritual to be very helpful in prayer.
Ordinary water can also be appreciated as something signifying divine life and its attributes [John 4:10].
The Spirit of God is like air: it is everywhere, for everyone, totally free and absolutely necessary.
People, especially those in need of life-support and healing, be it physical, spiritual, emotional or mental healing can remind us of Jesus Christ's personal connection with all members of the human race. "When you do good to the least of my brothers and sisters you do it to me". [See Matthew 25:35-40]
Even our walking can remind us of how much Jesus walked by himself and with his disciples.
If you spend a lot of time in a travelling in a car, it's reasonable enough to imagine Jesus being with you. He was often a travelling man – if only by foot, though there are gospel reports of his travelling by boat and riding a donkey.
What can we do?
Seek to become more aware of the spiritual dimension to life and in particular of the presence of the Spirit of the transformed and transforming Jesus Christ in our lives.
Develop a range of reminders of the divine presence: meals, attentiveness to breathing, our use of water, walking, travelling, personal contacts.
Seek the company of people who have a vital faith in the divine presence and who are open to the action of the Spirit of Jesus in groups who gather in his name. Where two or three are gathered in my name I am there in the midst of them. [Matthew 18:20]
Unfortunately, at first, many Catholics find it difficult to talk about their faith and spirituality and are reluctant to do so. Sometimes, especially at the beginning, it might be easier to start talking about the comparison between our old understanding of the Catholic faith and of the Church, and the new understanding that is suggested by the Second Vatican Council and by writings and other presentations inspired by the Council.
Be open to receive healing. According to the gospels, Jesus put a lot of emphasis on healing. It was an integral part of his message. It was linked to his proclamation of "the Kingdom of God" and to his missionary mandate. It is an essential part of his vision. [See Lk 9:2, Lk 10:9, Mt 10: 6-7]
Jesus indicated that when people become more aware, through faith, of living in harmony with "the Kingdom of God", which is all pervasive, their lives will become more influenced by the life-giving and life-healing Spirit, enabling healing to happen more effectively – whether it be spiritual healing, emotional healing, mental healing, physical healing.
This openness to healing should not be understood in terms of miraculous cures – though we know extraordinary healings do happen. Our yearning for "the Kingdom of God" should motivate us to work for healthier and happier individuals, healthier and happier families and a healthier and happier society.
Interpreting that positive development, we can say that many people in the world, certainly not only Christians, must in fact be cooperating with the Spirit of God to bring about a better world with healthier people.
Much can be done. Much progress has been achieved in the area of physical health during the past century, as indicated by increasing life expectancy in most countries. Interpreting that positive development, we can say that many people in the world, certainly not only Christians, must in fact be cooperating with the Spirit of God to bring about a better world with healthier people. In many instances, this cooperation with the divine Spirit may not happen consciously but it is real, nevertheless.
Transformation and healing and growth happen when one gives attention to the loving presence of the divine. Healing happens more easily when one puts oneself into the healing matrix of the loving God.
When we open our minds and hearts to cooperate with this gift of the divine Spirit, then there is a much better chance of healing happening, as well as many other good things. This process, on our part, can be called prayer. It should be an integral and persistent part of our living.
Spiritual and moral healing, made necessary as a result of deliberate and destructive negativity towards oneself and/or others, can come about through the Spirit of God when we receive and offer forgiveness and seek restorative justice with compassion and love. The sacraments of the Church developed as formal and regulated ways of doing this.
But many of the official sacraments, including the Eucharist, often become lifeless rituals. For example, many people have gone regularly to Mass for years but there is minimal external, distinctive evidence of out-of-the-ordinary healing or growth or joy, or of a conscious and enthusiastic sharing in the vision and mission of Jesus Christ.
Most people do not experience the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation (Confession) as a healing experience, so they have no interest in it.
Still, reconciliation and healing and restorative justice happen. We believe that Jesus is happily involved in such processes. Again, it is even more beneficial for us if we are aware, in faith, of the active presence of the transformed and transforming Jesus in such processes.
Caring for the earth...
In caring for the earth we are also cooperating with the creating and healing Spirit of God.
In the basic realities of life we can see indications that the transforming Spirit of Jesus Christ is present in our world. It is for us to accept and expand "the Kingdom of God".
Like Jesus, we can keep our eyes and ears and minds open to the calls from people for respect and compassion, love and justice.
From whom and where do we hear such calls? In workplaces, in local communities, in places for education, in families, in sports groups, in church groups?
Report on the calls we hear and on the active response offered – by myself, by a group of similarly motivated people.
Continue the process – Action—Reflection—Action – enlightened and inspired by the example and teaching of Jesus, especially as given in the gospels, and with the continuing awareness that Jesus, with his transforming Spirit, is working with us.
Working with a group of like-minded people...
As well as reading and reflecting on this article, it can be used a conversation starter in a group: Select an item or two for initial quiet reading and reflection, then move on to the sharing of impressions and further ideas and decisions about action.
When a group (or even an individual) decides to spend some time reflecting on the ideas presented here, if you end (or begin) with a cuppa, call to mind Rev. 3:20:Listen, I (Jesus) am standing at the door knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. Deliberately welcome Jesus into the process – his process, or at the end thank him for being present and involved – or for allowing us to be involved with him in his transformed and transforming process.
The header and footer graphics have been sourced from one of those powerpoint presentations that circulate on the net anonymously.
Kevin Murphy, Ballarat.
Kevin Murphy is a priest working in the Diocese of Ballarat. Readers of Catholica might be interested in a web-based service he provides which produces weekly liturgies for small lay-led communities which are without a priest. His website can be accessed at: www.giant.net.au/users/murphy/. You can also contact Kevin via email through the address he gives on that website.
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Copyright note: Fr Kevin has specifically not claimed copyright in this article. It may be copied and distributed freely.
[Index of Commentaries by Fr Kevin Murphy]