Seeds of Faith

Monkeys and Metaphors

Reflection for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

When we think about the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, it is only somewhat helpful to think of St. Patrick’s example of the clover with its three lobes. And it is even less helpful to think of the Trinity in terms of a mathematical conundrum that needs to be solved (“How do three persons square with one God?).

What is more helpful is to think (but not over-think) of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in their relatedness to one another. Think of the flow between and among them. God is much more a verb than a noun looking for a definition. We flow, similarly, into one another’s lives.

Thinking of God as more of a verb than as a noun is not easy. We may first have to let go, in order to expand, our notions of God. Why? So that our limited ideas about God can give way to the True God, the revealed God. Our Catholic faith is a revealed faith. The truest revelation, of course, is Jesus Christ.

Here is a story about letting go. Monkeys, being so frenetic, are difficult to catch without harming them. Some people have devised a way. They empty out gourds, fill them with peanuts, and then patch up the gourds so only a small opening remains in each one. Then they attach the gourds to trees and leave the area. After a while, when the monkeys feel safe and all is quiet, they come down from the trees, stick their hands in the gourds and grab a handful of peanuts. However, once they do this, they cannot get their hands out of the gourds. To escape, all they need to do is let go of the peanuts. But they hold on, screaming with fear and frustration. Finally the trappers come back and catch them.

Monkeys may offer us clues to the first, the most necessary, and the most difficult step in our spiritual growth….that of letting go. Without letting go we remain, like the monkeys, trapped. Can we let go of our little kingdom, so that God’s great kingdom may come (…thy Kingdom come…)? Can we let go of trying to form others into what we would like them to be? Can we let go our way, so that Jesus who is the Way can redeem us? Can we see every little letting go as preparation of the big letting go, the letting go of our very own lives into the hands of God? Can we let go of our very notion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so that a deeper truth of God can be revealed?

Fr. Phil, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity Parish

Pentecost

As I was preparing to write this reflection, something jumped out at me that I had not noticed before.  The psalm that we sing this week is the same one that we sing after we hear the “Creation Story” at the Easter Vigil.  “Lord, send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”  Coincidence, I wondered?  Probably not.

For as long as there have been people, there has been a need for the Holy Spirit; a need that God has met throughout our history.  In the Old Testament we hear stories of the Spirit at work in the life of Joseph in the book of Genesis, the lives of Moses, David, Solomon and many others.  These prominent people in the story of our salvation were all connected to God in a way that allowed their greatest gifts to be used in the carrying out of God’s plan.  Does that mean that these people were perfect in how they lived and how they treated others and thus worthy to be used by God?  Quite the contrary; they were a lot like the apostles of Jesus’ time and a lot like you and I.  They struggled with life at times and didn’tnolde_pentecost always get it right with God or with community.  Yet God saw in them something he could use; through all their weakness and human frailty, God looked at them and said: “I can work with that.”  God says the same thing to us today.  All we are asked to do is be open to where God is calling us.

In the Second Reading Saint Paul tells us that “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” and, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  We may not be aware of it, but God can use us wherever we are in life to bring renewal to something or someone.  For proof of this, just look to how our church began on that first Pentecost.  God took those first disciples, who were not well educated; not well travelled; had a history of bailing out when times got tough and were now cowering in fear in a locked upper room, and used them to be the foundation of the world wide Christian church.  God took all their fears and their past failings and transformed them into something positive and good through the Holy Spirit.  What fears or past failings may be stopping us from leaving our rooms and bringing God’s message to the world?  Do we trust God enough to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open to the criticism or judgment we may encounter if we accept this mission?

We are the means by which God will “renew the face of the earth”.  We need to have faith in the fact that God will continue to send the Holy Spirit, as promised, to be with us in our work to make disciples of all whom we meet.  Easy? No.  Doable? Absolutely.  Oh, almost forgot.  Happy Birthday, Church!

~Mark Mahoney, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity Parish 

Exploring our Faith

Seventh Sunday of Easter (Ascension Sunday)

THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD

Today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, a special day in the Church. When I was young, the Ascension, forty days after Easter, was Ascension Thursday, a holy day of obligation. Because I attended a Catholic elementary school, I had the privilege of having the day off school. After I attended early morning Mass with my family, I had the day ‘free’ unlike my non-Catholic friends. Often it would mean riding my bike as a new spring activity and preparing said bike for the priest’s blessing of the bikes during our Mary, Queen of the May parade later in the month. I recall also my concept of the Ascension : I pictured Jesus rising in a cloud, then sitting at the right hand of God the Father, ready to help me if I needed Him or be my ‘advocate,’ ever- present as I prayed to Him. It was a picture symbolizing the love of the Father and the Son, a gift to all. To me, the Ascension has always been a ‘positive’ aspect of my religious formation.

The Apostles returned “with great joy”. With the gaze of faith, they understood that, even if they were gone from view, Jesus remained always with them. They were to continue His work, make disciples of all nations, teaching others to obey what Jesus had represented. This solicitude passed from generation to generation down to our own day. Now, we don’t have to go around preaching the Good News to all around us, pontificating about Christ’s teachings; rather we continue this by living as examples and models of our Catholic beliefs. I learned at an early age that even if you don’t have much materially, you can still give to others. My quarter in the mission box at school every week was helping some other girl or boy providing food or warm clothing. Today there are numerous ways people exemplify the ideals Jesus instilled so many years ago. Think of those who give others strength and consolation in times of despair; those who can sit in silence with their fellow man not knowing what to say but knowing that they should be there (which can bring new life to a dying heart); the parents who not only nurture  their family with food but with their companionship; the retired couple who take their neighbour to doctor’s appointments, weekly Mass; those who give – be it a smile, a handshake, a word of thanks, a word of love, a part of their life. All these continue the works of the disciples after the Ascension so long ago.

Pope Francis reiterates my early concept of the Ascension – “we are never alone; the Crucified and Risen Lord guides us and there are many brothers and sisters with us. They live their faith every day, and bring to the world the lordship of God’s love, in their family life and work, in their problems and difficulties, in their joys and hopes. If we entrust our lives to Him we are sure to be in safe hands, in the hands of our Saviour, our Advocate.”

Take heart in the words of John Paul II who said “Let us renew our faith today in the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has gone to prepare a place for us, so that He can come back again and take us to Himself.”

Cathy Keirstead, St.  Elizabeth of the Trinity

Exploring our Faith

Scripture Reflection for the 6th Sunday of Easter
(Year A)

Saint Augustine in one of his best known sermons said, “love, and do what you will.” He was reiterating the essential message of today’s Gospel. If we truly love Jesus, then our hearts will be aligned with him and our desires will be aligned with his desires.  Sin, or rejection of Jesus’ commandments is not so much a lack of obedience as it is a lack of love. When we open our hearts to Jesus, he sends the Holy Spirit to live within us; we are welcomed into the heart of the Trinity. “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” There will be no part of us that is in conflict with God because the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of right seeing and right understanding, will live in us. We will not need to ask “where is God?” or “how can God allow this?” because we will be able to feel God’s love even in the most painful circumstances.

As I reflected on this passage I was reminded of a hospital experience that I had some time ago. I was privileged to spend time with a husband whose wife was dying in the hospital. Over the course of many weeks her ability to communicate clearly gradually decreased, and she was able to find fewer and fewer words even though her desire to have a conversation with the people around her remained strong. Whenever she could not find a word she would look to her husband to supply it. As the weeks passed she was counting on him to fill in almost all of the words in all of her sentences and expressing frustration if he did not choose the correct ones.  Day after day, he carefully selected the words that expressed the things that she cared about, and each time that he chose the wrong word and she scowled at him, he would gently apologize, speak words of love and comfort to her and try again. She would look at him and her annoyance would fade away into a look of trust  and the sense of anxiety and tension that surfaced when she could not express herself would slip away as she felt “heard” by him.  For his part, her husband relied on the love of God to sustain him. He stated that he would never have imagined that he could spend day after day in the hospital, because he was someone who was always on the go, but now there was nowhere he would rather be. Every time that I entered her hospital room, I could sense the presence of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. Truly these two people were one with each other and one with God. Love bound them so closely that I could not see one without seeing the other – not the wife without the husband, not the husband without the wife, not the two without God … The words of today’s Gospel came alive for me in that hospital room in a way that they never have before.  The Holy Spirit, the One sent by God to help us, is as close as our willingness to choose love and has the power to transform even the deepest suffering into something incredibly beautiful!

Pam Driedger, St. Jude’s Church

 

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly

Scripture Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A)

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Scripture contains many stories that use the analogy of sheep and shepherds to teach us about our relationship with God, and the qualities of good leadership. Yet few of us today have much direct experience with either sheep or sheep farming. In many cases, our only knowledge of sheep herding comes from “You Tube” videos or the movie “Babe” and in these examples a shepherd uses hand or voice signals to direct sheepdogs to herd skittish sheep from behind in the direction indicated by the farmer.

In the time of Jesus, and in many areas of the Middle East today, several shepherds may graze their sheep in common pastures. At the end of each day, each shepherd calls to separate his own sheep from the many, and they confidently follow him to smaller enclosures of stone or briar walls for the night. Each shepherd is familiar with their own sheep, and the sheep have been raised to recognize, trust and follow the unique call of their own master. After leading his sheep in to the protective enclosure, the shepherd will place himself in the narrow opening all night, to keep any hapless sheep from wandering away and to ward off any thief or predator who wishes to steal or harm the vulnerable sheep.

sheepOnce we understand this style of sheep herding its easier to recognize ourselves as the sheep in Jesus’ parables and Jesus as both the shepherd and the gate; the one who leads us to “rich pastures,” guides us to shelter and who laid down his won life to save us from the destructiveness of sin. As in Jesus’ time, we are surrounded by many voices that care little about our well being, that make false promises of a better life or may even wish us harm. So how are we to discern the voice of Jesus amongst the many other voices competing for our attention?

Saint Peter, in the second reading, tells us that we need to be like apprentices learning a craft, by modeling and practicing the actions and attitudes of our Master, Jesus Christ, until they become so familiar they become habit. Only then will it be easier to discern the voice of Jesus amid the noise of the world. Even when our choice to follow Jesus is met with confrontation or leads to suffering, Peter tells us we are to emulate Christ in truthfulness, refrain from retaliation or threats and to place our fears, doubts and anger into God’s hands. Like a good shepherd, Christ will comfort us and lead us to pastures of abundant life.

Mary Joshi, St. Augustine’s Parish

A Church Unafraid

Reflection on the Word – 3rd Sunday of Easter (Year A)

Hospitality is a fundamental cornerstone of Christian faith, arguably the most important ministry of the Church.  This Sunday’s Gospel, the story of the journey to Emmaus, is, among other things, a story of hospitality: hospitality extended to a stranger – “stay with us, because it is almost evening” – well understood and lived in Atlantic Canada; and hospitality extended by ‘the stranger’ – meeting these disillusioned and disheartened disciples of Jesus where they are and listening to their stories.  We need to share our stories, and listen to one another’s stories.

The disciples are discouraged – “we had hoped” … what do we hope for?  What hopes do Emmaus Artwe have for ourselves, for our children, for our country, for our Church, for our world? To live in hope, to be people of hope is another key aspect of Christianity.   How awful it is for us when hopes are dashed, which is what these two are living as they leave Jerusalem – they have lost their hope in Jesus.  According to the Jewish teaching of the time, it is impossible for Jesus to have been the Messiah if he was crucified and died.  Yet, Jesus presents a new interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”  This is a fresh concept for them to absorb.  Through their conversation with Jesus, they are transformed, even before they know it is him.

How do they finally recognize Jesus?  In the ritual action of the breaking of the bread.  Rituals are a vital component of our faith; our Roman Catholic tradition has many vibrant rituals, which speak to us in ways that words cannot.  Powerful rituals which generate immediate response.  As soon as they recognize Jesus, the gospel tells us “that same hour,” they return to Jerusalem – a place they had left in despair only hours before.  With no regard to the danger they may be facing in Jerusalem if recognized as one of Jesus’ disciples, or even danger they may encounter when travelling on the road at night, they return to share what was “made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”  Jesus Christ has restored their belief and sent them back on the journey.

In a 2013 address to the bishops of Brazil, Pope Francis, acknowledging that today we see many like the discouraged and disheartened disciples of Emmaus, said: “We need a Church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a Church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a Church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a Church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning. …  We need a Church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a Church which accompanies them on their journey; a Church able to make sense of the ‘night’ … a Church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return.  But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture. Jesus warmed the hearts of the disciples of Emmaus. … Are we still a Church capable of warming hearts? A Church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home?”  We are the Church.  What is our response?

 

Ellen Bennett, Office of Faith Development
Archdiocese of Moncton

Essential Doubt

Scripture Reflection for the Second Sunday of Easter (Year A)

What are you most certain of?  Have you ever had a firmly-held belief shaken, or challenged?  When I was 19 years old, I attended a faith development workshop where I was introduced to the idea that our creation stories from scripture should not be understood literally; they were instead used metaphorically by our early ancestors to describe how our universe and humanity came into existence.   At one point in our workshop, the facilitator of the workshop posed the question to one participant: “You do not actually believe we are all descended from the same two people, do you?”  I struggled to conceal my own shock, because yes, up to that point, I did believe that, and from the look on her face, so did the young woman receiving the question.  As I lookDoubted around the table, I could see 15 other young men and women, jaws on the floor, every one of us just having had a fundamental component of our belief system challenged.  At the time, I remember I did not like what I was feeling because I felt as though someone had pulled the rug from beneath my feet, and I no longer felt certain of anything.  Liars, those catechistsHad I always been this easy to fool?  Later, I realized that if someone had tried to explain to me in fifth grade catechism that our creation stories are metaphorical, I would have been confused beyond reparation.  The good news which arose from this shocking Creation Story Incident started me on a path of questioning my faith when I saw contradictions that did not make sense to me, or that were inconsistent with my experience of the world.

I tell this story to: 1) illustrate the real discomfort I felt in connection with having my certainty challenged, and 2) show that in doubt can, for some people at least, yield spiritual fruit.

Doubt is an unwelcome word for some people of faith, particularly if you are 100% certain of everything you believe, but my experience has been different.  My own spiritual struggles have deepened my faith in ways I would never have expected.  In fact, it has been precisely doubt that has helped my faith to develop in the way it has.  Some even suggest doubt is an essential part of faith, because the absence of doubt suggests not faith but certainty.  According to English novelist Graham Greene, if you were to abolish doubt, you would not be left with faith, but with “heartless conviction,” and from there, a slippery slope to fundamentalism.

I have an ongoing circular conversation with an atheist friend who routinely tries to bait me into a theological debate about the existence of God.  He says he does not believe in God, and does not understand how anyone could believe in something they cannot see, or something that is not proven by science.  Because it is not my job to debate the existence of God, my usual response is to remind him that whether you believe in God or not, either position is still a belief.

It has been several years since the creation story incident, and during the years between then and now, I have become less worried by doubts when they arise.  This is because I have learned that no one person has all the answers and also that, even amid doubt, it is possible to keep the faith.  In today’s gospel, even though Thomas expressed doubt over Jesus’ resurrection, “After eight days…Thomas was with them.”  He remained faithful amid his doubt.

Trevor Droesbeck, Office of Youth Faith Development
Archdiocese of Moncton

A Rich Place

Reflection for Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord (Year A)

If you are reading this, it means you have just come through the holiest week of your life.  I hope the symbols and rituals of the Triduum have left a claim on your soul, a claim that was so rich you still need some time to process it.  Don’t fret; we all have 50 days of Easter to allow the Mystery to sink in.

Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychoanalyst, said that we are transformed at the deeper levels in the presence of images much more than concepts.  Theology, thoughts, ideas, and homilies have little power to convert anyone; they never have and nevHoly-weeker will.  But, as Fr. Richard Rohr says, “The lives of the saints, meeting the right person, great biographies, and heroism, can turn us around in one minute–and forever.”

The washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, if we dare to surrender to it, is one such ritual that turns me around every year.  Rituals, done well, need few words.  Ritual elders say only a few words like, “sit, stand, be silent, etc.”  Think of the last mass or service that you participated in where each symbol was accompanied with a running commentary or explanation.

It was because the rituals and symbols were not done well and so could not speak to you on their own terms.  Some middle-man, usually the priest, felt the need to translate for you, forgetting we are not only homo sapiens but also homo ritualis.  We have ritual in our DNA.

Rituals well done, however, bypass the mind and force us to let go of our insistence to understand.  We have to suspend our need to understand everything now and trust we will get it later.  Think of how we began the Triduum.  Before he washed Peter’s feet, Jesus said, “Peter, you do not know now what I am doing, but  you will understand” (Jn. 13:7).  When it comes to rituals, you don’t have to “get it” now.  What is required, though, is for us to remain open to deeper and deeper meanings that will come to us in time.

Equally powerful, but for a different reason, the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday is another ritual that uses no words but has the power to convert me.  Each year, as presider, after venerating the cross myself, I sit in a privileged position near the Cross and watch as each person, young and old, healthy and sick, happily married or recently separated, peaceful or perplexed place their hand on the cross and pause for brief moment.  In that moment, time stands still, and the soul does not know the difference between ritual and reality.  When your soul cannot distinguish ritual from reality, savor it, for you are in a rich place.

Fr. Phil Mulligan
Priest Moderator, Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity Parish Unit

And Now — Our Feature Presentation

Palm Sunday and Holy Week
Scripture Reflection for Palm Sunday, Year A

In today’s world of Netflix, PVRs and DVDs we are able to watch our favorite television show or movie whenever we want.  Both my son and my daughter will watch the same movie several times, even though they know the outcome.  As a matter of fact, they know these movies so well, I will hear them quoting the dialogue of some of the funnier scenes to each other in a conversation that only makes sense to them.  I have never been able to do this.  Once I have seen a movie, I don’t see the point in watching it again since the ending is probably not going to change.  This same line of thinking can be a challenge for us during this, the most holy week of the year.  Over the next 8 days or so, we are going to hear readings we have heard before about events that took place a long time ago with endings that we are all familiar with.  The challenge; how do we let God continue to surprise us each and every time we hear these stories of our salvation?

Last week, in an R.C.I.A. meeting, we were breaking open the gospel reading of the “raising of Lazarus” and it struck me that we were listening to the story with the ending in mind, as opposed to just being present to the events as they unfolded.  When Jesus heard that Lazarus was ill, and that he was needed, he waited two full days before starting out on his journey.  This should have made us all just a little uncomfortable, wondering why Jesus would not drop everything he was doing to attend to a sick friend whom he loved.  Instead, we hardly noticed it because we knew that Lazarus was going to be just fine in the end.  I think part of the reason we do this is that we don’t see ourselves in these stories; they don’t seem to be speaking to us or about us.  So as long as we remain detached we can never fully appreciate their redeeming power.   With this in mind, let’s try something different this week.

On Palm Sunday, instead of just remembering the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, let’s be one of the crowd waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna”, fully aware that this same crowd, of which I am a part, would be shouting “Crucify him” just a few short days later.  It makes me wonder if I truly am ‘just one of the crowd’ or am I willing to stand up for Jesus no matter the cost.  On Holy Thursday, can I let myself be shocked by this gesture of washing feet and submit to the fact that if I want to truly follow Jesus then I must be willing to serve all who God has put in my life; especially the Peter’s and Judas’.  On Good Friday, can I be truly shocked at the horrific events of this day, and yet moved to tears that Jesus loved me so much that he did this willingly for me?   On Holy Saturday night, can I be in total awe as I enter into the story of God’s incredible love for us?   In how that love was manifested in creation; in His promise to Abraham; in the guiding hand provided to Moses and the Israelites; the promise to Isaiah that He would always look out for us and the invitation to those who may have drifted that they are always welcome back home?  And, best of all, that He will always be our God and we will always be His people.  And on Easter Sunday, can I be as wide eyed as a child as I see the fulfillment of God’s love in the resurrection.

Yes, these stories might sound familiar; like maybe I have heard them before; but I haven’t.  The person I am now is not the same person I was the last time they were proclaimed.  Events in my life, good and bad, have changed me and left me with the realization that I may not have all the answers when it comes to what God’s plan is for me.  So come on Holy Week, because after this great journey of Lent, I can hardly wait to see where the story goes from here.

Mark Mahoney
Pastoral Associate for Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity Parish Grouping
Riverview, NB

 

Exploring Our Faith – 1st Sunday of Lent Year A

Get them when they are down.

Every year on this First Sunday of Lent, we hear of Christ being tempted with food, honour and pride by ‘the tempter’ after spending 40 days and nights fasting in the desert.  In Year A, the present liturgical year, the Gospel offers Matthew’s version of this event in the life of Jesus and, in the first reading from Genesis, the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Anyone who has ever dieted knows what a temptation food is.  Jesus has been fasting for 40 days! I daresay it is almost impossible for us to even comprehend a 40 day fast.You are extraordinary

In his homily for this Sunday three years ago, Pope Francis calls to our attention that, unlike Eve, Jesus does not engage in conversation with Satan.  He is “aware that there can be no dialogue with Satan, for he is cunning.”  Instead, Jesus “takes refuge in the Word of God, and responds with the power of this Word.”  That, Pope Francis suggests, is to be our defence against temptation: don’t argue with Satan, turn to the Word of God.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray: ‘give us this day our daily bread.’ THIS day.  Not this year; this month; this week.  Simply THIS day.  In our excessive North American culture that is difficult for us to grasp – we are a culture of two fridges, four televisions, three cars…  Instead of THIS day, let’s look after the whole year, heck, our entire lives.  Let the prayer read: ‘give us forever, our daily bread.’ We know the bread referred to in the Lord’s Prayer, and the bread offered to Jesus by the tempter, is not only the bread that nourishes our bodies, but also the bread which feeds our souls.  Jesus says THIS day we go to God for what we need THIS day, and each day we return to God for what we need.  And we will receive what we need for only THIS day, because that is all we need right now. The temptation is to grab what we need for every day.  Why I wonder?

Maybe the answer lies in what the other temptations are about: honour and pride.  I well understand the temptation of pride, of keeping up appearances, of being concerned with what people think.  We want to measure up, even exceed expectations.  We want to feel important, valued.  We want to feel special, and we strive to do that which we think makes us special, or seen as special.  Yet what makes us special has nothing to do with what we do or don’t do; what we have or don’t have.  We are special … because we are made in the image and likeness of the One who created us.  The temptation, is not to believe that.  Yet, if we can accept the special creation we are to the God who created us, regardless of what we may be experiencing in any given moment of our lives, we begin to see all that is extraordinary in the ordinary living of these lives.

Maybe then, it will be easier to respond to the tempter as Jesus did: “Away with you Satan!” And the angels will come and wait on us also.

Ellen Bennett, Office of Faith Development
Archdiocese of Moncton