Reflection upon Readings of the Vigil Mass of Pentecost

PENITENTIAL READING: Genesis 11: 1-9

The early chapters of the Book of Genesis speak both of the beauty and goodness of creation and how our sin disfigures that creation. They also trace how sin begins with the small act of self-will by Adam and Eve but grows to a level of destructiveness that engulfs all in the Flood. The story of Babel and its tower, which follows the end of the Flood, shows well how humanity has not learnt, and our continued self-will and rebelliousness leads even to the divine gift of language becoming a source of division rather than unity. On Pentecost Day, the nations are reunited in the Market Place by the Universal Tongue of faith … the Holy Spirit heals Babel’s babble of division into a new unity.

FIRST VIGIL READING: Exodus 19: 3-8. 16-20

Our God is the God of Covenant Love. From Noah and Abraham to Moses and Joshua,  God is binding the Divine Presence and Plan to the story of a People journeying in Faith. At Sinai the Covenant is witnessed in cloud, fire and storm. But this Covenant reaches its most intense expression as the the apostles, disciples and Mary experience the fullest outpouring of Love in the form of the Mighty Wind of Divine Energy and God’s Love being burned into the hearts and melting them into Unity in Pentecost’s Upper Room.  

SECOND VIGIL READING: Isaiah 61: 1-3, 6, 8-9

Jesus was to quote this wonderful Prophecy of Isaiah when he describes his own ministry in the Synagogue of Nazareth. It expresses not only his work in the world – raising up the poor, enlightening rich and poor alike when we are blind to each other plight, serving freedom and human rights everywhere – but also the work of every Christian, and every Christian community anointed by the Spirit. The Spirit seeks to renew and heal the face of the wounded earth and all its peoples – to bring about the endless Jubilee of justice, mercy and joy, the ‘Year of Favour’.

THIRD VIGIL READING: Ezechiel 37: 1-14

The first name for the Spirit in the Bible is the ‘Ruah’, or breath or wind of God. The Upper Room of Pentecost morning was filled with the same mighty wind as that described by Ezechiel in this prophetic vision. The Wind of the Spirit breathes New Life, brings us fully alive in Christ, and enables us to be an ‘army for the Lord’ – an army of peace and healing and life-giving. Let us allow the Spirit to blow through our lives and our community.

FOURTH VIGIL READING: Joel 3: 1-5

Peter quotes from this passage when trying to explain the extraordinary event of God that is Pentecost’s outpouring of life and joy. Even the excluded ones – the slaves, the women – now receive the boundless generosity of God, as all are welcomed to share the dream of God, the Vision of the Kingdom – a world renewed in the Holy Spirit. As we dream and share the vision, so we are empowered to work in the power of the Spirit to make a new world … a world of true Jubilee!

EPISTLE READING: Romans 8: 22-27

The Gift of Tongues is one expression of the groaning of the Spirit deep within us … and deep within creation itself, as Paul tells us. Creation’s freedom and our own are bound together in the Spirit who comes to us in our weakness to be the flame of salvation and hope. In the Spirit we yearn for a freedom that is total.

NEW FEAST DAYS TO CELEBRATE

The Church has instituted two new Feasts for the Universal Church – 

[1] the Feast of Jesus Christ the High Priest, expressing that Jesus is the the Eternal Priest who offers the sacrifice of himself. This is a feast of the Priesthood of all Believers, the profound priesthood that we all share by Baptism and confirmation. It does NOT celebrate ordained priesthood. Ordained ministry serves the Priesthood of every Christian – so this Feast of Christ the Priest challenges us all to offer the sacrifice of our own lives in service of our sisters and brothers, in the service of the whole world and all creation. We are priests of Creation – giving voice to creations praise of God as the psalms so often express.

[2] the Feast of Mary, the Mother of the Church celebrates that Mary, filled with the Spirit at the Annunciation and once again at Pentecost is the model for all discipleship. God teaches us through her how to be authentic Church, how to give flesh to the Word in our present world, how to lay our lives open to the overshadowing Spirit of God, how to risk everything (as she did) for the love of God and the salvation of our world. She is out mother, our sister, the first and greatest of the disciples – may she guide us to ‘treasure the Word in our hearts’, utter our ‘Yes’ to God’s call in our lives, give Christ to our waiting world, throw wide open our lives to empowering Holy Spirit and how to walk lovingly and gently alongside our sisters and brothers in the Church and indeed all humanity.

Climate Change action – a Christian imperative!

CALL TO ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE    The  greatest threat to humanity in the 21st Century is Global Warming and Climate Change. It is a Christian ethical imperative to act now in our generation for the sake of future generations. The teenager Greta Thunberg said: 

“It is still not too late to act. It will take a far-reaching vision, it will take courage, it will take fierce, fierce determination to act now, to lay the foundations where we may not know all the details about how to shape the ceiling. In other words, it will take cathedral thinking. I ask you to please wake up and make change possible.”

David Attenborough said “ We need to fall in love again with the earth”

Pope Francis said “ God of Love, show us our place in this world as channels of your love for all the creatures of this earth” and “teach us to care for our common home.”

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

JUNE, THE MONTH OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS    A Heart broken for love of all humanity, pierced through with the lance of unconditional love and compassion. A Heart brimming over with a Universal love, an endless Mercy withheld from absolutely no-one. Behold the Man who loves us beyond the breaking of His Heart! The Divine Humanity of God, vulnerable to us, weeping for us, on fire for us. O Sacred Heart of Jesus make our hearts like unto Thine! May our Hearts be on fire for love of the world You so love!

Waiting in the Upper Room – the Great Novena

NOVENA TO THE HOLY SPIRIT This is the first and greatest Novena of Prayer in the Church’s tradition, opening ourselves and the Church to the mighty wind of the Spirit – the energy for Mission; opening to the Living Water of the Spirit welling up to Life in all its fulness; opening to the Flam and Fire of God’s Spirit that transforms us into flames of Divine Love in the heart of the world. Without the Spirit of God in us we can do nothing for God, without the Spirit of God we have no real life, without the Spirit of God we have no vision for our mission, no energy to serve the Gospel and the Kingdom. COME HOLY SPIRIT!

Ascension

WHO IS THIS WHO ASCENDS INTO GLORY?   Ascension? Some kind of medieval throw-back – a myth that belongs to a ‘flat earth’ past? As if Heaven was up there somewhere! Can we believe in the Ascension in our modern world of Hubble telescopes and deep space exploration?

Yet this is our brother, our flesh, our humanity, gathered up into the Divine, carrying us and all that is human into the very inner life of God, of the Trinity. His ascension is ours, for He carries us with Him, in Him. Ascension is not some weird and divine form of space travel, but rather the wonder of our transformation into a divine humanity. This is the Feast of our human dignity, for we are being ‘divinised’ as the great saints and mystics have dared to say, following the teaching of St John and St Paul. 

Forever our flesh is now ‘seated at the right hand of the Father’, sharing the throne of God, utterly caught up in infinite and eternal loving that creates the Universe! No wonder He sends us out with this Good News to tell all the world, all creation!

EXTRACT FROM POPE FRANCIS’S SERMON ON MIGRATION

Even if Christians struggle to recognise him with his “torn clothes (and) dirty feet,” Jesus is present in the migrants and refugees who seek safety and a dignified life in a new land, Pope Francis said.

If Jesus’ words, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me,” are true, the pope said, then “we must begin to thank those who give us the opportunity for this encounter, namely, the ‘others’ who knock on our doors, giving us the possibility to overcome our fears in order to encounter, welcome and assist Jesus in person.”

Francis spoke about overcoming fear and welcoming others during a Mass he celebrated that was part of a conference titled, “Welcoming Communities: Free of Fear,” 

In his homily, Francis noted how the ancient Israelites had to overcome their fear of crossing the Red Sea and trust God in order to make it to the promised land. And, when the disciples were on the lake in a storm, Jesus told them to not be afraid and assured them he was there with them.

“The Lord speaks to us today and asks us to allow him to free us of our fear,” the pope said. “Fear is the origin of slavery,” just as it was for the ancient Israelites, he said, “and it is also the origin of every dictatorship because, on the fear of the people, the violence of the dictator grows.”

Of course, the pope said, people naturally are afraid of what they don’t understand and of strangers who speak another language and have another culture. The Christian response is not to play on those fears, but to educate people and help them turn strangers into friends.

“We are called to overcome fear and open ourselves to encounter,” he said. “The encounter with the ‘other,’ then, is also an encounter with Christ. He himself told us this. It is he who knocks on our door hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned, asking to be met and assisted.”

Francis asked Catholics who have had “the joy” of assisting migrants and refugees to “proclaim it from the rooftops, openly, to help others do the same, preparing themselves to encounter Christ and his salvation.”

SEEING CHRIST CRUCIFIED TODAY

At our Good Friday Liturgy twelve small crosses were brought up and placed in the sanctuary alongside the large Cross that we reverenced. These words accompanied each of the small crosses:

1.   Jesus is being crucified today when families and communities are victims of barrel bombs and gas and chemical attacks; when barbaric war is waged in Afghanistan, in Syria and Yemen; when in the land of His birth Palestinian rights to freedom and a homeland are violently repressed and walls of division are built between between Palestinian and Israeli; when Rohingya Muslims are massacred and ethnically cleansed from Myanmar.

2.   Jesus is being crucified today when we refuse to change our life-style but continue to abuse our beautiful planet, exploiting the earth rather than living in joyful communion with creation; when 20 million people are on the verge of famine because of climate change, war and corruption and 66 million sisters and brothers are forced to flee their homeland and live as refugees

3.   Jesus is being crucified today when our young people have no hope, no jobs and turn to drugs and alcohol; when addiction drives young and old into the dark world of crime and violence; when the poor of our nation have to pay for the excesses of the rich, as benefits are cut for the poorest and most vulnerable, essential social services are reduced, and health care diminished, while we spend £100 billion on nuclear weapons. 

4.   Jesus is being crucified today when, like Jesus, women and men are wrongfully imprisoned; when others are tortured for their religious beliefs or political aspirations; and when developed nations like the United States and China keep thousands on death-row awaiting execution, and when our own nation imprisons in our Detention Centres the innocent and vulnerable who seek safe asylum among us.

5.  Jesus is being crucified today whenever survivors are haunted by memories of Genocide and massacre in Rwanda, the Darfur, Serbia, the Congo, Cambodia or Myanmar, knowing this evil continues today; and minds and hearts are scarred as well as their bodies; when millions die unnoticed in the Congo because we want their minerals for our computers, when both Moslems and Christians live in fear of muder and abduction by extremist groups.

6.   Jesus is being crucified today when children and the vulnerable are hurt or abused, especially by members of the Church; when children are deprived of the love they need to grow whole and happy; when adults do not act to protect them from all harm; when people live for decades with inner pain because of past abuse.

7.  Jesus is being crucified today when children are raised in a culture of violence, learning to be violent and aggressive to each other; when children and young people are perpetrators and victims of knife crime on our streets; when they are used in ‘County Lines’ or as cheap labour or child soldiers, or for sexual exploitation; when the rights of child refugees are not recognised and respected.

8.   Jesus is being crucified today when LGBT+ people are not embraced with love by the Church or are discriminated against and their lives threatened around the world – and blasphemously in the name of God!

9.   Jesus is being crucified today when women and men are abused, trafficked and used for sex or slave labour; when women are refused equality and dignity,  whether in marriage,  in society or in the Church.

10.  Jesus is being crucified today when parents grieve the loss of their child, when children die in the womb for whatever reason, when hopes for the future lie shattered through separation or bereavement.

11.  Jesus is being crucified today when in a wealthy country like ours we cannot value and care adequately for our elderly, and the homeless are given no hope of proper shelter and housing in which to build their lives and raise their families with dignity.

12.    Jesus is crucified today when peaceful change is violently repressed by brutal regimes using terror and massacre, and when refugees and asylum-seekers are harshly treated by host countries like our own, detained without trial while innocent of any crime,  or perish in the waters of the Mediterranean and crossing mountain ranges or locked out of freedom by razor-wire border fences; when nations build walls of hostility rather than bridges of welcome; when racism goes unchallenged and the victims of racial violence go unheeded.

AN EASTER REFLECTION

Each Sunday, indeed at each Mass we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. We celebrate the New Life, the Hope and Inspiration that the Easter Christ is for us. If we are looking only to remember some strange event 2000 years ago – well it might appeal to historians but it couldn’t change lives. But emphatically NO! We believe we are celebrating to power of the Crucified and Risen Christ Jesus Who is alive among us now in 2018 to change lives – our lives today. So I am going to share the story of someones who has long inspired me in my ministry! 

WHO INSPIRES ME? In 1978 I was still a young priest. I had been working living and working in Taunton in Somerset – a reasonably well-off county town. Then unexpectedly my bishop asked me to move to Knowle West here in Bristol, a very run-down impoverished community with very high inter-generational unemployment and over-crowded housing – a community with no hope! As I was struggling to adapt to an utterly different kind of environment to one I had been serving, I heard of this courageous bishop in a tiny far-off country in Central America – his name was Oscar Romero and his country, the size of Wales was called El Salvador (name after ‘the Saviour’).

He had been a very tame, timid man, with his own inner psychological problems.  He had been promoted to be the country’s Archbishop and had been immediately confronted with the realities of poverty for the vast majority of his people. Worse than simply the poverty, was the repression by the dictatorship that ruled the country for the benefit of 14 fabulously wealthy families. He had not even been installed as Archbishop when his close friend, a Jesuit priest, Fr Rutilio Grande, was murdered on Government orders – because he spoke up for and organised the poor that he served.

As Romero encountered the reality of oppression, squalor, and government brutality, the poor literally converted him to a life of Christ-like courage. He became their voice – their only voice in that repressed land. He would not be silenced, even though they threatened his own life and blew up the Church’s radio station that broadcast his sermons every Sunday. The cries of the poor and his alignment with them also healed him – he no longer needed regular visits to his psychiatrist friend and far from being timid he was a strong prophet crying out for justice, crying out for peace in his land. Indeed the British Parliament nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Finally on Sunday 23rd March 1980, preaching in his Cathedral he ordered ‘in the name of God’ the soldiers to disobey orders and refuse to kill their own people. He knew he was signing his own death warrant but felt ‘in the name of God and humanity’ he had to speak out in this way. Next day while celebrating Mass in a convent chapel, a government assassin shot him dead.

I was in the kitchen of the presbytery in Knowle West having breakfast and getting ready to celebrate Mass when I heard the news on the radio. At that moment, I knew God was calling me to spend my life sharing with and living for the poor – of my city, my country and my world. As a priest, a shepherd of God’s people, Oscar Romero has inspired me and changed the course of my life and my understanding of the message of Jesus. I see in him, this Shepherd of the poor and Prophet of Justice, this Voice of the voiceless, the person of Jesus, risen and alive today – and a model for me and I hope many others of how to be a priest in today’s world. 

On October 14th 2018, Pope Francis formally declared him a Saint of the Church – a model pastor to follow – I was there in Rome when Oscar Romero was at last recognised as one of the great inspirations not  only for the modern Church but also for our modern world.