Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Channel 4 has a daily 90-second programme in which individuals are invited to contribute their “take” on various religious and moral questions. This week’s theme is Why give it all up for God?, and Br Nicholas Crowe, one of the Godzdogz team, is among the contributors:
Click on the picture to watch the video.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Pentecost Vigil and Doorkeepers' Dinner
Pentecost, the titular feast of our Priory of the Holy Spirit, always promises a great celebration at Blackfriars, Oxford. On Saturday evening we held an extended Pentecost Vigil Mass, with readings from Scripture reminding us of the intimate connection of the Holy Spirit's action throughout history with our own Christian lives today. The choir sang Palestrina's setting of Loquebantur variis linguis and Tallis's If ye love me. Fr Richard Ounsworth OP preached about giving birth and the 'unutterable groanings' ('stenagmois alaletois, since you ask') of the Spirit (Rom. 8:26). As usual, the sacristans ensured the church was looking splendidly illuminated, as captured perfectly in the following two photos by Fr James Claffey OP.
Then on Pentecost Sunday, we held our prioral feast, known familiarly as the Doorkeepers' Dinner. This is an occasion for our community to express our gratitude to all those who give their time in the doorkeepers' lodge, by serving them at table. Good food, good drink, and good company: what better way to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? (Photos by Br Laurent Mathelot OP)
'These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the evening' (cf. Acts 2:15).
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Pentecost 2013 - The Witness of the Spirit
Readings: Acts 2: 1-11; Psalm 104; Romans 8: 8-17; John 14: 15-16, 23-26
The Dominican Priory in Oxford – Blackfriars – is dedicated to the Holy Spirit, which means that we keep today – the feast of Pentecost – as our titular feast. It’s no coincidence, of course, that it was decided, when the friars returned to Oxford in the 1920s, to dedicate this community of the Order of Preachers to the Holy Spirit. As we read in the account of the first Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles, when the apostles received the Holy Spirit, the connection with preaching was clear. The gift of the Spirit is symbolised by the appearance of tongues descending on each of them – tongues, of course, being the organ of speech – and tongues of fire, at that: now fire, of course, is the kind of thing that spreads, and sets light to other things around it, so these tongues of fire represent the Holy Spirit giving the apostles the power not just to speak but to speak effectively about God’s saving plan.
And that, of course, is exactly what they do: this previously confused and timid bunch suddenly get it. They head out on to the streets of Jerusalem, and tell the crowds gathered for the Jewish feast the good news about Jesus – about his incarnation, death and resurrection as the fulfilment of God’s plan for the salvation of his people, salvation which is available to anyone who will repent and be baptised, and so receive for themselves the gift of the Spirit.
But it’s not only us Dominicans who need to be reminded of the Spirit-filled preaching of the Apostles at the first Pentecost: for the Holy Spirit is given to every Christian at their Baptism, when, fulfilling Jesus’s promise that we read in St John’s Gospel, Father, Son and Spirit come to dwell in the hearts of those who love him (cf. Jn 14: 23). And the invitation – the great adventure – of the Christian life is to allow ourselves to become ever more attuned to God, who has given himself to us in his Spirit, so that not only the words, but the lives of each one of us, can convey to those around us the saving truth of God’s love.
Saturday, May 11, 2013
Resurrection Appearences: Peter and John (John 21: 15-25)
In this last resurrection appearance of Christ in John’s Gospel we find an exploration of the vocations of Peter and John: the pastor and the contemplative. The pastoral office is laid upon Peter with three instructions: ‘feed my lambs… tend my sheep… and feed my sheep’ (John 21: 15-17). Preceding each of these instructions is a question: ‘Simon, Son of John, do you love me more than these?’ Whereas on the night Jesus died, Peter, out of fear, denied Jesus three times, now Peter is given the opportunity to undo this betrayal and affirm his love. Indeed, as John reminds us in his first letter, ‘it is perfect love that casts out fear’ (1 John 4:18).
This love that casts out fear is itself dependent on humility, and acknowledging of one's limitations, of what one's true identity before God. For Aquinas, Peter’s humility is manifested in his despairing cry, ‘You know everything, you know I love you’ (John 21: 17). The true pastor, if he is to serve his flock lovingly, must be humble. This humility will be fully manifested in Peter’s martyrdom, when ‘Another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go’ (John 21: 18).
Peter, then, will serve Christ in an active life of service through leadership. John, in contrast, is usually associated in the tradition with the contemplative life. Aquinas emphasizes that both these forms of life have Christ as their end and object, yet interestingly Aquinas associates the active life with greater devotion. He writes:
‘The active life, which Peter signifies, loves God more than the contemplative life (which is signified by John) because it feels more keenly the difficulties of this present life, and more intensely desires to be free from them and to go to God. But God loves the contemplative life more, because he preserves it longer: it does not come to an end with death, as does the active life: “The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob” (Ps. 86:2). (Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John 21: 19-23).
The active life, then, has the greater ardor yet the contemplative life is objectively higher because it continues even in heaven when we shall contemplate God as he really is. Clearly the Church desperately needs both vocations to fulfill its mission. Indeed, in the Summa Theologiae Aquinas argues that the very best religious orders will be both Active and Contemplative work. He goes on to conclude, unsurprisingly, that the Dominicans are the very best religious order!
Thursday, May 09, 2013
This passage is St Luke’s only account of a resurrection appearance to all the apostles. It brings them to faith and culminates in them being commissioned to preach the Gospel. We too are called to believe and preach the Gospel. We can learn from the difficulties of the apostles. We can also learn a lot from Jesus in this account and how he addresses the problems of the apostles. In effect he is the proto-apostle.
It is interesting how much his risen presence unsettled them (v. 37) It is instructive to look at the set of steps Jesus took in order to bring them to a faith that will lead them to be apostles in their own turn. On first seeing him they thought they were seeing a ghost. This was despite his greeting of peace and the account of the disciples at Emmaus and of the appearance to Peter that they themselves have just narrated (vv. 33-35). He showed them his hands and feet and spoke, identifying himself. Now they are filled with so much joy that they could not believe, Luke adding that this was because they were dumbfounded (v. 41). Although he had invited them to touch him, he then demonstrated his physicality by eating cooked fish. Luke records no further reaction on their part at this point. Jesus then went on to remind them that he had predicted that he would suffer before it happened. He had done so three times: 9:22, 9:44 and 18:33. He now explicitly explained this in terms of the fulfillment of the Scriptures. It would seem that it was absolutely crucial that ‘he opened their minds to understand the scriptures’ (v 45). He was now able to explain that repentance for the forgiveness of sins is to be preached in his name – and that they are witnesses to it. They have now come to informed faith, a fuller faith than before. He now makes clear they will soon receive the Holy Spirit, ‘power from on high’.
This takes us back to the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. Jesus was filled with the Spirit at his baptism (4:1) and in Nazareth claiming that ‘the Spirit of the Lord is upon me’, and sent by God, he proclaimed the good news of salvation (4:18). The apostles now receive the same Spirit, sent by the Father, and so are sent by God on mission.
This pattern used by Jesus is the one the apostles will follow, as described in the Acts, Luke’s second volume. They witness to the resurrection, and explain Jesus in terms of the Jewish Scriptures and as their fulfillment. They call people to repentance in order to receive forgiveness, and promise them the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are called to do the same, no more and no less.
Our role, clothed in the Spirit, clothed with power from on high, is to witness to our faith, to the impact of Jesus and the Spirit upon us and to explain how Jesus fulfills the scriptures. We may also have to help them deal with a range of emotions and spiritual experiences. The Risen Lord and the Holy Spirit are with us, working through us, for it is really their own work, their own mission from the Father, and we are taken up into it as instruments. The same Risen Jesus is still present now, present to our audience. It is the same Holy Spirit who today opens people’s eyes to be aware of the Risen Lord, and to open their minds to what we say, and so bring them to faith.
Sunday, May 05, 2013
Resurrection Appearances - Come and have breakfast
|'Come and have breakfast' (Jn 21:12)|
'My favourite words in the whole Gospel!' This is how one of my Dominican brothers referred in a recent homily to Jesus's frankly irresistible invitation: 'Come and have breakfast.'
'In fact,' he continued, 'if I'm ever made a bishop – God forbid – I would take that as my episcopal motto.' Well, here's what it might look like, with apologies to St John Fisher, whose coat of arms seems most apt...
This miraculous catch of fish at the end of the Fourth Gospel is explicitly a resurrection appearance – the third, to be precise (v. 14). A shared meal is typical of the apostolic community formed in the wake of the Resurrection, with strong Eucharistic overtones (v. 13): in this episode, Jesus is on the beach and provides his disciples with his own food, bread and fish (v. 9). This recalls the bread and fish blessed and personally distributed by Jesus at the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Jn 6:9), which incidentally contains the only other Johannine reference to the Sea of Tiberias (6:1, 21:1). Also interesting is the fact that, in Luke 24:43, Jesus eats fish to prove the physicality of his risen body.
Admittedly, this episode in John's Gospel is oddly positioned. John 20:30-1 appeared to finish the Gospel with a flourish after Thomas's strong confession of faith. But, like a Schubert symphony or the Lord of the Rings films, John goes on again. Why?
The best answer, I suspect, is that the Evangelist wants to give a strong account of the early Church's missionary faith, going beyond the personal confession of Thomas just mentioned. The rich symbolism of this final chapter constantly and subtly reminds us that the apostles are called to be fishers of men. When Peter, aimless with apparent boredom, says, 'I'm going fishing...' (v. 3), we're being prepared to see how Jesus's resurrection is a point-of-no-return, entailing a radical conversion of life. It is simply futile for the apostles to return to being ordinary fishermen after having encountered the Risen Lord.
There are suggestive parallels with the other miraculous catch of fish described in Luke 5:1-11, when the disciples are first called by Jesus: the all-night fishing without success, the miraculous catch in obedience to Our Lord's instruction, Peter's spontaneous reaction, and so on. But here we have an unmistakable resurrection appearance. As usual, the disciples fail to recognise the Risen Jesus (v. 4), until the miracle happens; then the Eucharistic meal puts his identity beyond doubt.
The interesting interplay between Peter and the Beloved Disciple will be considered in the next post in this Godzdogz series. Here it will suffice to point out that the belief of the Beloved Disciple ('it is the Lord!' v.7) and the action of Peter ('threw himself into the sea', v. 7; 'drew the net to land', v. 11) are entirely in character, following the pattern of their response to the empty tomb (Jn 20:1-8).
And what about the 153 large fish? At one level, such an exact count could be a natural response to such an amazing catch. As fishermen are wont to say, 'it was this big...' or 'there were this many...' But there is also a possible symbolic meaning. Some have suggested, not without controversy, that 153 signifies wholeness or totality. As St Augustine noted, 153 is the 17th triangular number; 17= 10 (Commandments) + 7 (sevenfold Spirit of God, Rev 3:1, or seven Gifts, 1 Cor 12:9-11); and both 10 and 7 signify wholeness. In addition, there was a view, cited by St Jerome, that 153 was the total number of species of fish. These are problematic, if convenient, interpretations. But, considering that 'the net was not torn' (v. 11), it may be reasonable to suppose that the Evangelist wants to signify the universal mission of the Church, united under Peter (v. 11).
The Church's fidelity to that mission enables us to hear and respond to the divine invitation to come and have breakfast. In the eternal banquet of Heaven, I hope it will not be bread and grilled fish, but a proper, full English breakfast.
Friday, May 03, 2013
Resurrection Appearances – Commissioning of Disciples – Mt 28:16-20
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Jesus, Thomas and Us: Touching, Seeing, Believing and Proclaiming.
Did Thomas put his finger(s) into the wounds of Jesus or not? I sometimes ask this question of people who would think they know this text well. Most people say ‘Yes!’ Certainly a lot of Christian art over the centuries supports this view, as well as many meditations upon the text. The line generally taken is that Thomas doubted so much that while the other apostles believed upon seeing the Lord, he required to touch before he believed. Hence he tends to be called ‘Doubting Thomas’.
But close examination of the text opens up other interpretations and emphases. Jesus appeared, and clearly knew what Thomas had said. That might have made a strong impression on Thomas by itself. Although Thomas was invited to touch Jesus, no record is made of him actually doing so. The narrative moves directly to Thomas’s confession of faith in which, combining the Greek equivalents of two Hebrew names for God (YHWH and Elohim), he gave a very succinct but very strong act of faith in the divinity of Jesus. This Gospel has not yet had the other apostles articulate their faith in the Risen Lord so directly or so boldly or fully. We are told only that they are filled with joy and accept they have seen the Lord. Therefore this Gospel narrative makes Thomas a privileged articulator of full and authentic faith in Jesus. Further, Jesus says he believed because of what he saw, not because he touched. This put him in the same position as the other apostles, and also in the same position as Mary Magdalene who believed though she was specifically told not to touch Jesus (20:17).
All these resurrection appearances address the issue of the relationship between the desire for evidence, the willingness to accept the carrier of it, and the call to belief. The former two lead us further into the material world searching for more data, and data that is more tangible, visible and rational. But the latter calls us to see the presence and action of God pervading this data, within it but beyond it, calling us to believe that in Jesus we meet God and through Jesus we receive eternal divine life. Evidence is important and Jesus supplies it. All the incidents in this chapter of John call people not to despise evidence but importantly to be wary of desiring too much evidence. Rather, they encourage people to be open to the belief to which the existing evidence already points. But belief involves other factors, including moral factors and our will, and is not merely the conclusion of an evidentially based argument.
The Resurrection enables us to know Jesus (who is now typically not accessible to our external senses) through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our hearts and in this way we know him as divine, something which mere material evidence alone cannot adequately prove. Through these episodes in John 20, first Jesus, and then the evangelist in his turn, point people towards these divine realities, these supernatural ways of knowing and so of living, even on earth. The material signs point towards this but one must then go beyond them.
Jesus knew only a few people would see him in his resurrected flesh. Jesus established the apostles as witnesses to his life, its teaching and his resurrection. He expected others to come to believe because of their teaching – see Jn17:20. This appearance to Thomas fully established him as an apostle, a calling he may have feared he had lost by his absence from the earlier appearance. But the final words of Jesus to Thomas (v 29) suggest an implied but gentle rebuke of Thomas who had been unwilling to believe the testimony of the other apostles. This may have helped him pastorally as a future preacher of the Gospel.
These final words of Jesus to Thomas also draw attention to those who are called to believe through the testimony and teaching of the apostles and will not have the opportunity for actually seeing Jesus. They do have evidence, just different evidence. Jesus’ words to Thomas indicated that by grace, by the Holy Spirit, it is enough evidence to bring belief and make them blessed.
It seems to me that at least some in the audiences to whom the apostles, including Thomas and John, preached sometimes raised the same objection. They wanted more evidence, more stories about Jesus, if they were to believe. The evangelist feared people would raise this objection of the gospel he has just written. Will what he has written down, by God’s grace, be enough to elicit faith? Does it say enough? The evangelist addresses this concern in his next two verses. He says that Jesus did many other signs but he has put a selection in writing that people may believe and so have eternal life. He says this is enough evidence. As Thomas had to be corrected for not accepting the word of the other apostles but then also came to believe without additional information or experience, so let his story stand as an example that the hearers and readers of John’s Gospel are being offered enough evidence to lead them to believe.
And what of us, and our generation? Can we legitimately ask for more evidence than we have been given? Taking problems of unbelief seriously and sensitively is important but there is more to coming to faith than mere accumulation of hard evidence. We may have to delve more deeply into the evidence we have been given, but we are also called to believe, to trust, to commit to the God who is behind, in, and beyond the evidence. Detailed attention to material evidence is not everything.
If we identify with doubting Thomas we are also to identify with believing Thomas and with preaching Thomas. Let us read the gospel, let us hear the gospel (see Romans 10:17) and God who speaks through it. |Let us ask God to grace us with belief, and so confess Jesus as our Lord and God, and so enter into eternal life. Let us also believe we have enough evidence in the Gospels to proclaim it to others in order to invite them to faith. In this way, like Thomas, let us become effective heralds of the Gospel.
Monday, April 29, 2013
Resurrection Appearances - The Disciples in the Upper Room - John 20:19-23
In our Gospel passage from John we are presented with a scene of fearful tension. The disciples are gathered together in a room, the doors are bolted shut; they have turned in on themselves. They are frightened and perplexed at the death of Jesus, the disappearance of His body and the extraordinary witness of Mary Magdalene to His resurrection. They are in ‘fear of the Jews’ and at a loss to explain all that has happened and what they will do as a result. This sense of fear and alienation is then shattered, as only Christ can shatter the longing and fear in our hearts.
Jesus appears in their midst and without any preamble gives them what they most earnestly desire; He says, “Peace be with you.” Such a simple greeting, and yet within His peace, within Him, is to be found the souls greatest and fullest consummation. He shows them His hands and side, reassures them that He has indeed risen and then says to them again; “Peace be with you.” His peace given, Jesus can now begin to empower the disciples, and give them the sense of purpose and direction that they have lost. A soul which is not at peace is ill-disposed to spread the joy and peace of Christ.
Having given His peace, Jesus can now reveal to the disciples their purpose. This purpose is Christ’s purpose also: they will be His representatives on earth; “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” The disciples are charged with the task of spreading the Gospel of Christ, to Jew and Gentile alike. Their place is not behind the locked and bolted doors of a house in Jerusalem, but in the world and among its peoples. Their place is not to hide in fear, but to go in peace and spread the Word. Having given them His peace, and His purpose, He now gives them the power which they will need to carry out His divine will.
It is by the gift of the Holy Spirit that the disciples will be given the power to do God’s will. Without the Spirit to strengthen and guide them they would flounder in a hostile world; “he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” The Spirit is a gift, something to be received. The Holy Spirit cannot be taken, only received; the gift must be accepted or else rejected. In receiving this gift the disciples can; “go and make disciples of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19) They have His peace, His purpose, and His power, in the measure they need to fulfil his commands.
If they are in any doubt as to this power, or indeed one of the central purposes of their mission, Jesus makes the mandate clear. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Just as His peace is given now to us, just as our mission to spread His Word exists now as it did for the disciples then, so the power of the Holy Spirit rests with us in the Church today. We all have different roles and functions within the Body of Christ, as both Scripture and Tradition make clear, but that we all have our part to play is certain. Just as Jesus lead the fearful and perplexed disciples into His peace, gave them a divine purpose here on earth, and granted them the power by which they could accomplish His will; so too does He grant us this life-giving privilege today. We can bolt the doors to our rooms and our hearts, or we can receive His gifts and spread the Truth of Him that stands among us.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Resurrection Appearances – Road to Emmaus
St Luke deals with the post-Resurrection appearances of Christ in chapter 24 of his Gospel. The longest section in this chapter is given over to a journey made by two of Jesus’ disciples along the Road to Emmaus. On the way, although they do not immediately realize it, the two disciples encounter the Risen Christ. Interestingly, what follows from this meeting as Luke describes it reads very much like a commentary on the Mass.
Jesus begins with a kind of liturgy of the word. We read that beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:27). Using the scriptures of ancient Israel, Jesus explains the significance of his life, death, and resurrection: he teaches these two disciples that the promises God made
to Israel through the prophets have been fulfilled in him. Later in the story the two disciples will remember how their hearts burned within them as the scriptures were opened to them: faith and love are ignited by preachers of truth.
Yet strangely, despite being offered an interpretation of scripture by the author of scripture himself, the disciples still did not recognize Jesus. They have not yet grasped what resurrection means, that the risen Christ will go on dwelling in the midst of his Church. Indeed, their eyes are only opened at the breaking of bread. As evening draws near, Jesus makes as if to carry on walking, but the two disciples invite him to stay. At table Jesus blesses the bread, breaks it, and gives it to them. Only then do they recognize who this mysterious stranger is: and at this moment Jesus vanishes.
This meal on the road to Emmaus serves as a bridge between the meals that the earthly Jesus shared with his friends during his life on earth, and the Eucharist of the early Church described in Acts. Luke is pointing us to that moment when the Church understood that when we offer bread and wine in Christ’s memory, as Jesus himself commanded, then by the power of the Spirit Christ will become really present to us under the sacramental sign.
It is important to note how the two disciples responded to this encounter with Christ at the breaking of bread. We read: ‘and they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem’. We often refer to the Eucharist as ‘the Mass’, which derives from the dismissal in Latin: ‘ite Missa est’ or ‘Go forth, the Mass is ended’. We gather around the altar with Christ to be nourished, to be fed. Then we are sent out to draw others to this banquet.
Saturday, April 27, 2013
Resurrection Appearances - St Mark's Gospel
As we continue our series of reflections of the resurrection appearances of Our Lord Jesus Christ to the disciples, this post is probably going to be a bit of an odd one out: the original conclusion to the Gospel according to St Mark contained no references to appearances of the risen Christ, dramatically concluding with the incomplete and unresolved tension of the empty tomb (16:8). Within a few years of its first completion, for reasons about which we can only speculate, somebody added verses 9-20, depicting in laconic prose the numerous appearances of Christ and His ascension to the right hand of the Father.
It would be wrong, however, to say that this earliest ending of the earliest canonical gospel contains no reference to the resurrection. Not only does the short ending contain a reference to the empty tomb, but the entire gospel presupposes the resurrection: it is the person of the risen Christ around which this earliest Christian community, to whom the Gospel is addressed, are gathered. By finishing on the tantalising note of the empty tomb, seeming to leave off a story as abruptly as the Gospel first picked it up, the original audience (for it seems possible that this was a gospel written for performance, rather than for written distribution) are left with the question ‘...and then what?!’
To answer that question takes much more than words: the answer is found within the life of the community, and particularly with the apostles around whom it was formed (in which St Peter, of whom St Mark was a disciple, occupies pride of place). It was they to whom Christ appeared, they who could recount the stories of their first-hand knowledge of Jesus, and their lives that were eloquent testimony to his rising power; this was a Church in which the Acts of the Apostles was still being written!
As time elapsed and the first hand witnesses to Christ’s resurrection became fewer, the community distilled the bare bones of their anecdotes into the longer conclusion that is now customarily attached to the original. But this is little more than an outline, and certainly no replacement for the living tradition of the Church in which we, who witness Christ - and witness to Him - in today’s world, are heirs. Although we have a completed text of the Acts of the Apostles, there is a sense in which the full history of the acts of Jesus’ apostolic community is still being written in the history of His Church, and will not be completed until we too return with Christ to be with the Father, and join the angelic hosts in the singing of Holy! Holy! Holy!
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Resurrection Appearances – Mary Magdalene
Readings: Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:9-11; John 20:11-18
The Christian faith is not predicated on an empty tomb. That alone would be insufficient to rule out the various conspiracy theories which began to circulate immediately (e.g. Mt. 28:11-15). The natural response to the empty tomb was puzzlement, perturbation, and even tears. There seems to be only one exception: 'the disciple whom Jesus loved', upon entering the empty tomb, 'saw and believed' (Jn. 20:8). Indeed, blessed are those who have not seen Jesus and yet have believed! (cf. Jn. 20:29) But if this disciple believed so readily, it is not because he was quicker at reading the signs or understanding the Scriptures; it can only be that his intimate love for Jesus enabled him to see the truth at a deeper and more personal level.
So the empty tomb – an external shell – is no guarantee of the Resurrection. No, it is only a personal encounter with the Risen Christ, recognised in love, that convinces us of the news that seems too good to be true: that Christ has conquered death. Thus it is appropriate, as we begin our series on the Resurrection appearances, to look first at Mary Magdalene, the first person to behold the Risen Lord, to touch him, and to tell the other disciples the good news (hence her traditional appellation as the Apostle of the Apostles).
As usual, the Gospels select and highlight different details of the historical events, whether it is the names of other women accompanying her to the tomb (Mary, the mother of James; Joanna; Salome), or various supernatural occurrences. But it is John's account that is particularly rich regarding Mary Magdalene. Three times she bewails the absence of Jesus' body: 'they have taken my Lord away'. After alerting the disciples to the empty tomb, she stands outside, weeping.
Into her distress, loneliness and fearfulness, the Risen Jesus gently comes to bring light. It is dawn on Sunday, the first day of the New Creation. She confuses him for the 'gardener', which recalls God walking in Eden; and he is probably naked, like a second Adam (cf. 1 Cor.15:22, 45). This non-recognition of the Risen Jesus by his disciples is a recurring theme: there is something about his risen body that is different. It is foolish to speculate on what exactly he looks like (cf. 1 Cor. 15:35-6); but we know he has a transfigured, glorious, imperishable body (1 Cor. 15:42-4).
Simply by calling her name, 'Mary', Jesus now communicates his loving presence. No wonder Mary embraces him (or just his feet: Mt 28:9), no doubt still weeping as she struggles to contain her joy. But this is not a moment to savour: it is just the beginning. 'Don't be clinging onto me', Jesus (literally) tells her. Although diverse interpretations have been given of this, the most convincing is that John the Evangelist is keen to emphasise that every Christian has equal access to the Risen Christ. Jesus and the Father make their home in every Christian (Jn 14:22-3). If Mary (and the other disciples) were physically close to Jesus, this was no special privilege, no more direct access, than what we today enjoy. We can all see Jesus, touch Jesus, taste Jesus – above all in the Eucharist (cf. 1 Jn. 1:1; Jn. 6:56-7). John seems to present the death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus as a single great event, completing his elevation to the Father (cf. Jn. 12:32-3). So Jesus points Mary ahead to the Ascension (Jn. 20:17), because only when he is glorified will he send the Holy Spirit (Jn. 7:39; 16:7).
The final element of this encounter is the most resonant for Dominican spirituality. Instead of clinging alone to the Risen Jesus, we (like Mary) are told: Go and tell my brothers! (Jn. 20:17) The news of the Resurrection is so good, so necessary for others to hear, that we cannot possibly keep it to ourselves. The Dominican image of the water pipe – which freely dispenses goodness, rather than storing it like a bowl – is highly relevant here. As St Dominic himself told the brethren, 'hoarded grain goes bad'. How wonderful and appropriate, then, that Mary Magdalene – the first to encounter the Risen Lord – is a patroness of the Order of Preachers.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Resurrection Appearances - Introduction
Godzdogz has been rather quiet over the last couple of weeks: the time after Easter and before the new university term is an occasion for the friars to visit their families, and also gives an opportunity to visit and get to know the other Dominican communities around the Province. Several of the students have been staying at the London priory, getting to know the parish in anticipation of a parish mission which will be taking place in September, and which they will help prepare over the summer.
Now, though, with lectures less than a week away, the community in Oxford is back up to strength, and we turn our attention here on Godzdogz to the season we are celebrating at the moment. For the rest of Eastertide, we will be exploring the Scriptural accounts of the various appearances of Jesus after the Resurrection, seeing how they relate and what we can learn from them about Jesus himself, about the meaning of his Resurrection. In particular, we find in these passages of the Bible words of Jesus preparing his followers for the situation they would find themselves in after his Ascension, the situation in which the Church – recognising her continuity with the Apostles – understands herself to be in to this day.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
A new prayer for Dominican vocations
A new prayer card for Dominican vocations has been created at Blackfriars, Oxford and is right now being distributed to our communities around the country.
The front image shows the statue of St Dominic, by Eric Gill, located in our priory church. It reflects the fact that St Dominic is called the ‘Light of the Church’ (Lumen Ecclesiae), though of course he points to and proclaims Christ who is the Light of the World (Jn 8:12, 9:5) and its saving truth.
The new prayer was composed to express some key features of the Dominican charism and calling, and to be appropriate for all the different types of vocation found within the Dominican family.
We invite you to join us in using the prayer, or to pray in other ways, to ask God to bless us with vocations, and deepen existing vocations, that the Order may in turn bless the Church and the world through our Dominican lives.
You are welcome to download and print copies of the prayer and the image of St Dominic.
Tuesday, April 09, 2013
The New York Times notices Dominican growth
A few days ago, the front page of the International Herald Tribune (owned by the New York Times) carried an article about the recent growth in Dominican vocations.
The spectacular increase in young vocations in Ireland and the northeastern USA (Province of St Joseph), seen as an 'improbable revival', is largely explained in the article by the return to the 'fundamentals' of the Dominican tradition.
The journalist naturally focuses on the most visual aspect – our Dominican habit – since that has an immediate purchase on the imagination of wider society. But this should not eclipse the concrete aspects of our traditional religious life, of which the habit is but the outward sign and symbol. That's why the article rightly refers to 'the spiritual benefits of shared prayer and a communal lifestyle'; as well as the Dominican presence on the blogosphere!
Though we Dominicans are all very different as individuals, we obviously have a lot in common, too. We might express it in different ways, but we all share an attraction to the Dominican Order and its mission to give authentic witness to Jesus Christ. Our religious life is built upon four traditional pillars – namely, prayer, study, community and mission – as expressed in our vocations video of 2011.
Our English Province has also seen considerable numbers of men entering in recent years, representing steady growth and a lowering of the average age. Roughly one eighth of the brethren are in initial formation, including four novices.
We pray that God will continue to call men and women to share in the Dominican way of life, to join our mission to bring the Gospel to those who need to hear it, and those who need to hear it again...
Tuesday, April 02, 2013
In the spirit of Easter joy, we hope this video might lift your hearts. The Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, were fortunate to have cameras running while they recorded their upcoming album with De Montfort Music, as this coincided with the election of Pope Francis. The video below can bring us to relive the excitement of that moment.
On 13 March 2013, right after Vespers, most of the Oxford brethren were huddled round a little laptop in the JCR (student common room of Blackfriars Hall), straining to hear the quiet commentary. Rather uncharacteristically, we were even willing to delay our dinner! By the time Pope Francis appeared on the balcony of St Peter's, we had transferred to the Aula (lecture room) with its big screen, to watch, listen and pray with him and millions around the world.
Where were you...?
Labels: Pope Francis
Sunday, March 31, 2013
EASTER SUNDAY – Making Known the Victory of God
Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Ps 118:1-2, 15-17, 22-24; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9.
Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God in a unique way and to be God’s special instrument for fulfilling God’s plans for Israel and for the world. Jesus had made clear that not even his death, and a shameful death at that, could stand in the way of these claims. The Jewish leadership had rejected these claims, and Jesus had been executed.
But Jesus had predicted his resurrection. Foes as well as friends knew this. The Jewish authorities requested a guard be mounted at the tomb to prevent the disciples of Jesus stealing the body and then putting about fabricated claims about such a resurrection (Mt 27:62-66).
Such is the situation on that first Holy Saturday. Jesus appeared publicly discredited and his apostles had buckled under the pressure of the situation.
Only the resurrection could possibly turn this situation round. And it did – but it was unusual in a number of ways – or seemed so.
If Jesus is God’s most important instrument ever, and if his work is so important for all of history, then one might have expected a very public vindication – a very public resurrection, one beyond all ambiguity and doubt and objection, indeed one leading all to bend the knee and confess him as Lord (cf Phil 2:10-11). One might well expect this even more after such a shameful and very public death, one that, if anything, stirred up even more controversy about him.
Political leaders and entire regimes, in order to survive in such situations, typically try to demonstrate strongly and publicly their power over their enemies. Should not God do this?
The resurrection did come. It did demonstrate the power of Jesus over death and with that over sin and Satan, the ultimate enemies of humanity. It did validate his claims and expose the false accusations and misunderstandings of the Jewish authorities. But it came in a very quiet way, away from the public eye.
The beloved disciple came to belief, entering a quiet tomb and seeing a carefully folded head cloth. Surely grave robbers and body stealers would not take the time to fold a cloth wrapped around the corpse’s head! The apparitions when they came were to the friends of Jesus, not to his enemies – with the later single exception of Paul. Why not appear publicly to all? This will happen – it is called the Second Coming.
In the meantime God has chosen another way of making his victory public. It is through the witness of those who did see him, as Peter makes clear in our reading from Acts. It is through their faith, and that of those who believe because of them. Which today means us.
So it is not that Jesus is not made manifest in public. He is made manifest through the Church, through us, who together are his body. We may feel this to be a fragile way for God to work, to make clear his decisive victory.
But – interestingly – it is rather similar to the way God achieved that victory in the first place. This happened through the words and works, through the holiness, and the witness to truth unto death of someone who was seemingly only a carpenter from Nazareth. God was uniquely present in Jesus and that made the difference. But what God has done for us, he now wishes to do in us, and through us. That is perhaps why he has chosen that until he comes in full public glory we, fragile humans, earthenware vessels, are to manifest his resurrection life to the world and call its people to believe in his claims and so receive eternal life.
Jesus brought in the Kingdom of God through sharing our human life. We are to announce it through letting him reproduce the pattern of that life in us here and now. St Paul says in today’s epistle that our true life is hidden with Christ in God. This means that its power and wisdom come from a source beyond this world, indeed from a source that this world crucified, but that God raised up. That divine life is real, present, and effective in changing us here and now even if we do have to wait until the Second Coming for that life in us to be made fully clear.
However, it is already at work and is also partially manifest to others here and now. Jesus Christ is present in each and every believer, and makes the victory, life and power of his Resurrection evident through our lives of faith, hope and charity, through our holiness, through our verbal testimony to the Gospel, through any signs and wonders he may choose to work through us, but often and perhaps especially through our share in the cross of Christ. That is how the victory of the Resurrection is made public. It may seem strange – but it is no stranger than the manner in which the victory was first won.
Let each of us take our part, sharing in, and testifying to, his life, death and resurrection: sharing in the very life of God that knows no end.
Friday, March 29, 2013
The Paschal Triduum – Celebration of the Lord's Passion
On the afternoon of Good Friday, recalling the time of day when, so the Scriptures tell us, Jesus died on the Cross, the Church gathers to commemorate that climactic moment in the history of our salvation. As we heard in the homily this afternoon at Blackfriars (a recording of which you can hear below) we are confronted with the shocking truth that God has died for us. We venerate the Cross as a sign that we recognise, in this instrument of humiliating suffering, Jesus' triumph - quite literally, his exaltation, as he had hinted several times in the course of his ministry (cf. John 8:28, 12:32).
Good Friday is also a day when the Church makes solemn intercession for the whole world: we see in Jesus' death that event which puts the whole of human history - indeed, the whole history of creation - in its true perspective, and so we pray on this day for all people, and especially those in need, that they too may come to see the transformation which Christ wrought upon the Cross.
With this in mind, our "highlights" from today's liturgy include the veneration of the Cross, when the deacon, in three stages, unveils the crucifix he carries into the church and invites the congregation to worship the Saviour of the world who hung upon it, but also a recording of the praying of the Our Father, in which we hope our readers and listeners will be able to join us in our prayer for the Church and the world.
In addition, the celebrant of today's liturgy, Fr Simon Gaine OP, has agreed to let us publish a recording of the sermon he preached this afternoon, which says much better than has been possible in a few words here something of the huge significance of what we celebrate today:
The Paschal Triduum – Tenebrae
As well as its three liturgical high points - the Mass of the Lord's Supper, the Liturgy of the Passion, and the Easter Vigil - these three days of the Triduum building up to Easter also see the continuation of the regular round of daily prayers which we call the Divine Office (or Liturgy of the Hours). The public celebration of the Office punctuates the days of monastic and religious communities such as Blackfriars, and during the Triduum it takes a special form - stark, austere, capturing something of the horror of Christ's suffering, and our response to it. During these days, the morning offices of Matins and Lauds are celebrated together and called Tenebrae (which means 'darkness' in Latin): no lights are used other than the altar candles and a special candlestick, on which the candles are gradually extinguished as the office progresses (though for the sake of those who wish to join us for its celebration, it's not as dark outside as it could be!).
This office gives us a chance to explore, especially in the psalms which form the heart of the Divine Office, but also in the readings and the meditative responsories sung after them, the truths of a Passion not so much in the dramatic form of the chief liturgies, but in a more reflective way. Below is a recording of one of the responsories sung in Blackfriars this morning, accompanied by images of the celebration of Tenebrae, as well as illustrations of the themes of the text:
In English translation, the text being sung, based on Matthew 26: 57-58, is as follows:
The wicked man handed Jesus over to the chief priests and elders of the people: Peter, for his part, followed from a distance to see how this would end. And Peter entered the courtyard of the high priest: to see how this would end.