Sunday Reflection with Fr Robin Gibbons - 8 September 2019

Mena and Christ

Mena and Christ

Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

There comes a time in most people's lives when they begin to understand in real terms, not simply in intellectual appreciation, the following words of Jesus. "If any one comes to me without hating his father* and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple". (Lk 14:26,27). It's easy to be pious about this; I certainly remember many wise religious men and women giving conferences on this theme of renunciation of family. Perhaps to those of us well within the structures of the Institutional Church, it made some sense, religious and ministerial life is certainly one in which we have to 'give up' things, but does Jesus really enjoin such radical cutting off? I don't think so, but I do appreciate that what he is pushing us towards is an adult understanding of the greater family to which we all belong!

As the years grew in my own ministry, my own sense that this was a simple task has been tested, there can be hypocrisy in it too, I look around and realise that many religious have far more comfort, support and care than a lot of people do, more support and perhaps so important in this day and age, the luxury of knowing that they will be cared for at the end of life. Having moved out of community and earning my own bread and butter, I am more than well placed to know that material poverty is not the same as vowed poverty. I know too well that poverty can be a trap with little escape or that gnawing uncertainty of ever being able to change things. As for relationships, I have a huge admiration for anybody who can remain in a committed relationship, that sticking together, 'for better, for worse' is a real cross at times, something many in community can escape from ! I can understand how the call to take up one's own cross, may mean the turning upside down of all our cherished values, to replace all of them with God at the centre and heart of things. In that way, because God loves us, as ` Mark puts it, Jesus also says we shall receive all these things back a hundredfold, and with them eternal life, an real spiritual inversion in which 'the first will be last and the last first'.(Mk 10: 30,31)

But is this true? What can it mean? Can we do it? If love of neighbour is part and parcel of the Great Commandment, and if one of the abiding presences of Christ is to be found in our neighbour, how then can we 'hate' in the sense of renunciation of family and life? What is the cross we take up?

For me it came in the wilful destruction, by another relative, of key relationships within my own family, the deliberate splitting apart of people in the course of which event, people did actually 'hate' others for what was being said and done. At the worst point of this painful period, I suddenly realised that I had to take up the real inner challenge and simply let go of all family relationships, and yes let go of my own life within that setting. That was the unseen cross and it was painful, searing even, and still has not been resolved, but `I began to see something of what my Mother hinted at before she died, that families are not bounded by blood, important as that may seem, they are those people who you have made your own, no matter how fleeting, and they include that greater and foundational family to which we all belong, that of God, both here and in the Kingdom! This is the cross of love!

As the book of Wisdom puts it succinctly:

'For who knows God's counsel,or who can conceive what the Lord intends?'(Ws 9:13)

I have to acknowledge that I don't, and as time goes on I would not presume to say that I ever have, but what I can acknowledge is those three gifts that abide: Hope, that I can trust in that abiding gift of the Holy Spirit. Faith that this Spirit will reveal what is needed and bend my stubborn heart and will, and Love, that the losing of our lives is only turning them upside down to discover just how much we are loved! As my friend Julian of Norwich wrote: "He willeth we know that not only He taketh heed to noble things and to great, but also to little and to small, to low and to simple, to one and to other. And so meaneth He in that He saith: ALL MANNER OF THINGS shall be well. For He willeth we know that the least thing shall not be forgotten."

And that, as they say, is the true gaining of our lives! Amen

Lectio Divina

Julian of Norwich

Revelations of Divine Love

"And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, 'What may this be?' And it was answered generally thus, 'It is all that is made.' I marvelled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.

In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it."

John Henry Newman

Plain and Parochial Sermons

Sermon 26. Christian Manhood

Be not afraid,-it is but a pang now and then, and a struggle; a covenant with your eyes, and a fasting in the wilderness, some calm habitual watchfulness, and the hearty effort to obey, and all will be well. Be not afraid. He is most gracious, and will bring you on by little and little. He does not show you whither He is leading you; you might be frightened did you see the whole prospect at once. Sufficient for the day is its own evil. Follow His plan; look not on anxiously; look down at your present footing "lest it be turned out of the way," but speculate not about the future. {349} I can well believe that you have hopes now, which you cannot give up, and even which support you in your present course. Be it so; whether they will be fulfilled, or not, is in His hand. He may be pleased to grant the desires of your heart; if so, thank Him for His mercy; only be sure, that all will be for your highest good, and "as thy days, so shall thy strength be. There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in His excellency on the sky. The Eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." [Deut. xxxiii. 25-27.] He knows no variableness, neither shadow of turning; and when we outgrow our childhood, we but approach, however feebly, to His likeness, who has no youth nor age, who has no passions, no hopes, nor fears, but who loves truth, purity, and mercy, and who is supremely blessed, because He is supremely holy.

Lastly, while we thus think of Him, let us not forget to be up and doing. Let us beware of indulging a mere barren faith and love, which dreams instead of working, and is fastidious when it should be hardy.

Tags: Sunday Reflection with Fr Robin Gibbons, 8 September

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