Sunday Reflection with Fr Robin Gibbons - 17 May 2020

Exodus - Chagall

Exodus - Chagall

Sixth Sunday after Easter

There is a lot of muddled thinking going on at the moment, for depending on how you view things Covid-19 has made an impact in a number of ways, some reject the medical and scientific viewpoints, preferring their own self analysis, some want opening up to occur come what may, so that the economy may reopen, and a number of religious voices cry out for churches to open, making (it seems to me) an excessively aggressive point about freedom of religion for Christianity.

'm all for places of worship to be open again, as no doubt you are, Cardinal Nicols in a BBC interview said about opening up Catholic Churches for private prayer: "So a personal, individual prayer in a Catholic church is not something that is much done in Pentecostal churches, which tend to concentrate on big gatherings, and it's not what's done in mosques where people pray side by side. So we need a bit of differentiated thinking."

All of this debate is fine, but something isn't quite right about it somehow we need more thought, more exploration, more prophets to speak. Public safety, care of our neighbour, concern that we contain the virus, means we must take note of all the consequences! In the matter of religion, I dislike anything that starts to make special claims for one group over another, why? I think this period of being in the wilderness is perhaps far more important for us than we realise, far more of a cleansing than we know, far more of a call to return to the sources of our faith. Here is Jesus in Johns Gospel on this sixth Sunday of Easter:

'"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you'.(Jn 14: 15-17)

Isn't what we are going through the real Easter experience? The piecing together of lives suddenly stopped in their tracks by a Virus which even now we do not properly understand, but which, we now realise, is far more life changing then we ever thought? It too is going to be with us, but if left unchecked means, in a reversal of what Jesus has just said, we neither see it, not know it, but it leaves us orphans. All of us, every single one of us is affected by this even if we have not been infected. It has pulled the rug of normality from underneath us and has shifted our inner magnetic pole, we are quite literally in a different place. This is why the nostalgia for what was, for Mass, Liturgy, Church buildings is so strong, we want our markers back, the compass of our lives has been spinning and we yearn for our North Pole. But, and I don't want to be negative, the signs are that what has been can no longer be, but it is not about negativity, Easter was about resurrection!

This is now the time of the Spirit, of our Pentecost, calling us to a greater and longer renewal than we ever thought possible, a renewal in which we are to rediscover old and new ways of prayer, find our nourishment not just in the Eucharist but in the scriptures, in rituals and festivals of our homes, in that part of the commandment that equates love of God with others, because alas, we have loved ourselves far too well and far too selfishly, now we are to let go! As the letter of Peter tells us, now is the time for a different approach, not the arrogant, 'my church is better argument' that militancy of fortress Church against all. It certainly isn't found in great legal disputes about what is or isn't right. Now is a new time, a new Pentecost, for 'Covid' is that angel of the Lord passing over us seeking to find if we have the true mark of Christ in our lives, not to punish us by death or make us ill, but to demand that we renew our faith, renew our commitment to be good stewards of life on earth, to live simply, to be generous, to renew that basic human need for relationship and love with each other, and with our world.

Christ is with you always, in your homes and friendships, in your world, in life as it is now, this is what we are being reminded of very forcibly. Here is the voice of the writer of I Peter; '… but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.'( I Pt 3:15-17)

Can you see what I see? Suffer for doing good, but with gentleness and reverence. This then it somehow the core of the Spirit's call this week, return to true reverence of life, of others, of our world, of God. Reverence means respect for others, the humility of heart to stand in 'awe' (even adoration) of them and of the world that is God's gift. But pray too for those who lives have been changed by death and bereavement at this time, that they may find peace! May the Spirit blow in our lives and hearts. Amen


St John Henry Newman

Development of Christian Doctrine

Chapter 1: 7

But whatever be the risk of corruption from intercourse with the world around, such a risk must be encountered {40} if a great idea is duly to be understood, and much more if it is to be fully exhibited. It is elicited and expanded by trial, and battles into perfection and supremacy. Nor does it escape the collision of opinion even in its earlier years, nor does it remain truer to itself, and with a better claim to be considered one and the same, though externally protected from vicissitude and change.

It is indeed sometimes said that the stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of a philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full. It necessarily rises out of an existing state of things, and for a time savours of the soil. Its vital element needs disengaging from what is foreign and temporary, and is employed in efforts after freedom which become wore vigorous and hopeful as its years increase. Its beginnings are no measure of its capabilities, nor of its scope. At first no one knows what it is, or what it is worth. It remains perhaps for a time quiescent; it tries, as it were, its limbs, and proves the ground under it, and feels its way. From time to time it makes essays which fail, and are in consequence abandoned. It seems in suspense which way to go; it wavers, and at length strikes out in one definite direction. In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearing; parties rise and around it; dangers and hopes appear in new relations; and old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.

Karl Barth

"That the zeal for God's honour is also a dangerous passion, that the Christian must bring with him the courage to swim against the tide instead of with it... accept a good deal of loneliness, will perhaps be nowhere so clear and palpable as in the church, where he would so much like things to be different. Yet he cannot and he will not refuse to take this risk and pay this price... he belongs where the reformation of the church is underway or will again be underway."

Karl Rahner

Foundations of a Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity.

"For a Catholic understanding of the faith there is no reason why the basic concern of Evangelical Christianity as it comes to expression in the three "only's" should have no place in the Catholic Church. Accepted as basic and ultimate formulas of Christianity, they do not have to lead a person out of the Catholic Church. . . . They can call the attention of the Catholic church again and again to the fact that grace alone and faith alone really are what saves, and that with all our manoeuvring through the history of dogma and the teaching office, we Catholic Christians must find our way back to the sources again and again, back to the primary origins of Holy Scripture and all the more so of the Holy Spirit."

Tags: Sunday Reflection with Fr Robin Gibbons, Newman, Karl Rahner, Karl Barth

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