Sun 19 May Pentecost
9am Fr Dushan Croos SJ
11am Fr Dushan Croos SJ
5.45pm Fr Simon Bishop SJ
9pm Fr Simon Bishop SJ
Tue 21 May 8am CAFOD Morning Prayer in the Meadow
6pm Oriel College Mass
8pm Film Night: Dead Man Walking
Thu 23 May 5pm Vat2 & Cake4you
6pm Holy Hour 7pm Newman Nosh
8pm Sabina Alkire, Oxford Poverty and Human
Development Initiative: How Christianity can help
form a framework to measure poverty
Fri 24 May 2-4pm Follow the Hat: A Mystery Chaplain will be
available for Tea, Cake and Conversation in News
Café, Ship Street
7.30pm Taizé Prayer
Sat 25 May St Thomas More Lecture
5pm Sr Helen Prejean
And just to get us inspired for Sr Helen’s visit:
IN HIS novel ‘The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne’, Brian Moore tells this story. Judith Hearne is a gifted woman, healthy, attractive, competent, comfortable financially, in good relationships with her family and friends. She is loved and respected
There is one problem. She is approaching midlife, is unmarried and without children. She is conscious that her biological clock is running down. Hence, without fully grasping the situation, Judith becomes desperate. Everything in her life – her health, her job, her family and friends – begin to count for nothing in face of the fact that what she really wants, a husband and children, is denied her.
She becomes restless and in that unconsciously desperate state, she meets someone with whom she falls in love. However, he is not interested in her romantically and is only pursuing her because he thinks she has money and that they might open a restaurant together.
One night, after a date, Judith takes the initiative. She proposes marriage. But he rejects her, telling her the truth of his intention. That rejection is the final straw. Judith hits the bottle, has a nervous breakdown and ends up in a church cursing God and becoming hysterical. She is taken away to a hospital where she receives good care and eventually recovers.
The story has a redemptive ending. Shortly before she is to be discharged from hospital, she receives a visit from the man who had previously rejected her. He arrives with a dozen roses, telling her he has been wrong and proposing marriage. Her response lays out what it means to have Pentecost happen to one’s life. She hands back the roses with words to this effect: ‘Thanks, but no thanks. I am not interested in marrying you, and this is why.
‘When you are a little girl you imagine the perfect life you will have. You will grow up to have a beautiful body, meet the
perfect man, marry him, have wonderful children, live in a wonderful neighbour-
hood, and have wonderful friends.
‘But as you get older and that dream remains a dream you begin to revise it. You scale down your expectations and begin to look for someone to marry who doesn’t have to be so perfect, until you get to be like I was, unconsciously so desperate you would marry anyone.
Well, I learned something by losing myself and finding myself again. I learned that if I receive the Spirit, it doesn’t matter whether I am married or unmarried, I can be happy either way. My happiness doesn’t depend upon somebody outside of me, but upon being at peace with what’s inside of me.’
As her cab drives away from the hospital Judith makes an ‘aeroplane’ out of the card that came with the roses, and floats it out of the car window.
Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is given to each of us in a particular way for our own unique situation. Pentecost is not just an event to set up the Church, nor a general outpouring of the Spirit given to everyone in exactly the same way. Rather it is an event that is deeply personal for each of us. For Judith Hearne this meant receiving the Spirit for someone who is approaching midlife without a husband and children – and this is a different spirit from that given to those who have a spouse and children.
The same is true for each of us. We are meant to receive God’s spirit so as to walk in charity, joy, peace, patience, goodness, fidelity, faith and self-control within the concrete life we are actually living. Gal 5.22
Thus, God’s spirit is given to us in one way when we are lonely, rejected by a loved one, dissatisfied with our bodies, ashamed of some failure, inadequate before some task, dissatisfied with our marriage, or single and unable to find the right partner; just as it is given in another way when we are young, healthy, satisfied with our bodies, happy with our marriages and friendships, and successful in our projects.
Pentecost means receiving God’s spirit for the life we are actually living. Our peace and happiness do not depend on always getting what we want or getting rid of what can’t be got rid of, but on that personal Pentecost.
Peter Knott SJ
JESUS’ PRAYER in Gethsemane can serve as a model for how we might pray in a crisis: ‘As he prayed a third time, an angel came and strengthened him, and he rose to face with courage what lay before him.’ Looking at the prayer, we can highlight seven elements, each of which has something to teach us in terms of how to pray in our darkest times.
. The prayer comes from his loneliness. The Gospels highlight this, both in terms of telling us that the prayer takes place in a garden (the archetypal place for love) and in that Jesus is ‘a stone’s throw away’ from his loved ones who cannot be present to what he is undergoing. In our deepest crises, we are always painfully alone, a stone’s throw away from others. Deep prayer should issue from that place.
. The prayer is one of great familiarity. He begins the prayer by calling his father ‘Abba’, the most familiar term possible, the phrase that a young child would use sitting on his or her father’s lap. In our darkest hours, we must be most familiar with God.
. The prayer is one of complete honesty. Classically, prayer is defined as raising mind and heart to God. Jesus does this here. He asks God to take the suffering away. His humanity cringes before duty and he asks for escape. That’s honest prayer, true prayer.
. The prayer is one of utter helplessness. He falls to the ground, prostrate, with no illusions about his own strength. His prayer contains the petition that if God is to do this through him, God needs to provide the strength for it.
The prayer is one of openness,
despite personal resistance. Even as he
cringes before what he is being asked to undergo and asks for escape, he still gives God the radical permission to enter his freedom. His prayer opens him to God’s will, if that is what’s ultimately being asked of him.
. The prayer is one of repetition. He repeats the prayer several times, each time more earnestly, sweating blood, not just once, but several times over.
. The prayer is one of transformation. Eventually an angel (divine strength) comes and fortifies him and he gives himself over to what he is being asked to undergo on the basis of a new strength that comes from beyond him. But that strength can only flow into him after he has, through helplessness, let go of his own strength.
In a crisis we may find ourselves panicking and, not unlike Jesus in Gethsemane, on our knees in fear, loneliness, helplessness – and prayer.
Our prayer could be mostly a plea to God to let us find an honourable means of escape. But God may be asking something else of us. Others may be looking to us for an example, and if we show no strength or courage, they too will falter. When we pray honestly, whatever our pain, an angel of God will always find us, giving us strength beyond our own. And our example will help others
‘Lord, when all is darkness and we feel our weakness, give us the sense of your presence Help us to trust in your love and strength. So that nothing may worry us, or frighten us. For living close to you, we shall see your loving purpose, your will through all things.’
Peter Knott SJ
CHRISTIANITY is often thought of as, ‘God’ is in heaven and sends his divine second self, his ‘Son’, to ‘demonstrate his divinity’, so that people would worship him, be saved by his cross, and return with him to heaven. But in early Christianity, what mattered was not people going from earth into God’s kingdom in heaven. What mattered, and what Jesus taught his followers to pray, was that God’s kingdom would come on earth as in heaven.
Jesus’ powerful acts of healing, then, together with all the other extraordinary things the gospels credit him with, are not done in order to ‘prove’ his ‘divinity’. If you see them like that, they prove too much and too little.
Too much: other people had, and still have, remarkable gifts of healing. That’s always been a feature on the edge of religious movements, and sometimes in the centre of them. But it doesn’t mean that the person doing the healing is ‘God’, just like that. Were that to be the case, there would be quite a lot of gods.
Equally, too little: those who have seen Jesus’ powerful acts as ‘proofs of divinity’ have often just stopped there, as though that was the main thing one was supposed to conclude from a reading of the gospels. They have then allowed the ‘right’ answer to the question about ‘divinity’ to shut down the question the gospels are urgently pressing upon us – is God becoming king?
A considerable amount of ‘apologetics’ to this day, in fact, has consisted of arguing for the ‘right answers’ to two questions. First, asks the apologist, did Jesus do these things? Yes! Second, what does it prove? That he was God! Q.E.D! And off goes the apologist in triumph, a day’s work done.
And Matthew, Mark, Luke and John would call the apologist back. Sorry, but you’ve hit a six when you should have kicked a goal. You’re playing the wrong game. The gospels are not about ‘how Jesus turned out to be God’. They are about how God became king on earth as in heaven.
The good is the enemy of the best. From one point of view it’s good to see the intimate connection, throughout the gospels, of Jesus with Israel’s God. If you’re trying to score a point against a Deist opponent who sniffily suggests that Jesus couldn’t possibly have been ‘divine’, because no sane human being could imagine that he was God incarnate, you may end up winning that game. But you may then lose the real one.
Plenty of Christians, alas, have imagined that a ‘divine Jesus’ had come to earth simply to reveal his divinity and save people away from earth for a distant ‘heaven’. Some have even imagined, absurdly, that the point of ‘proving that Jesus really did all those things’ is to show that the Bible is true – as though Jesus came to witness to the Bible rather than the other way round.
It has been all too possible to use the doctrine of the incarnation or even the doctrine of the inspiration of scripture as a way of protecting oneself and one’s worldview and political agenda against having to face the far greater challenge of God taking charge, of God becoming king of earth as in heaven
But that is what the Bible is all about. That’s what Jesus was, and is all about. That is the real challenge, and sceptics aren’t the only ones who find clever ways to avoid it. Peter Knott SJ
MANY young people today feel themselves deprived of community supports. They may admit to a sense of self-emptiness and life-without-goals, but they often despise what seem to them the over-easy answers of religion. What they say goes something like this:
‘In this society it’s impossible to be oneself. superficiality reigns. Appearance is everything. I’m sure there are people out there who are as unhappy with these trivial games as I am but how can I find them? Anything serious is laughed at. Interest in religion is viewed as ‘weird’. If I express anything that goes beyond the usual agenda of pleasure, pastimes, success, career, money, sex, holidays I’m looked on as strange, even as threatening. The result is that I lose trust in my own hopes.
It’s easier to throw in the sponge and settle for ‘the way things are.’ But that is self-betrayal. So I’m caught between two worlds. Some of my hopes have been dented. I wonder how I’ll find a marriage partner who is not infected with this falsity. I live with dull disappointment all the time. It’s a lonely road. But there must be more than this.’
Someone like this might be called a spiritual or cultural catechumen of today. Today many of the baptised, through no fault of their own, are still catechumens. They have never arrived at a decision of faith; often they have never been invited in a way that made sense to them. They swim in today’s culture, burdened by sheer complexity and wounded by a lopsided way of imagining our humanity.. We often need to get in touch with ourselves before we can be ready to hear the surprise of God.
To the person described above we could say: ‘If God or religion seems in a fog for you, try another route towards the threshold of faith. You need time to listen to your own human depths, with imagination and quiet. Yes, the superficial culture can block what your heart desires. A choice is required to resist the pressures and find space. If you create a more personal space, what major concerns will surface for you? Relationships and the path of love. Some sense of self-disappointment and guilt. A feeling of impotence because of the tragedies of our divided planet. A longing for stillness where some spiritual awareness could be nourished. A search for anchors within the scattered life of everyday.’
The real battles of life take place within the human imagination, as Cardinal Newman argued. How do
we see ourselves? What do we hope for? What is it all about? The deeper answers, whether positive or negative, are found in how we imagine our lives, not just in how we think about them. It is on that level that we find either anchors of wisdom or else suffer from dispersion and emptiness. Faith is a form of imagination (which is not to say that it is imaginary).
Faith takes many forms, not just the official religious ones. It is a language of trust and of meaning. It seeks to express itself in some belonging and commitment. But most of, all, it shapes and is shaped by our imagination.
A kind of deadness marks much ‘religious’ language. Many of our sermons are couched in predictable words, sadly lacking in imagination. Much well intentioned religious discourse remains lazy and listless. ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’
The failure of much conventional religion is that it does not evoke the spiritual roots of our journeying. It assumes that everyone can hear the scriptures ‘neat’, or enter the wavelength of the liturgy without difficulty. Instead many people are nowhere near the threshold of such readiness. They are untouched by ceremonies that were forged for another culture. They are in need of a more sensitive initiation to their own spiritual drama. As St Paul might say, they need milk before meat.
A more positive starting point is the desire to do justice to our human hungers. We have a natural desire for God. Which means that our hearts are always on the watch for vision, love, fullness, surprise – if only we can emerge from the prisons of our smaller concerns. There is a readiness for the real God within us, not fulfilled by the god of complacent religion.
‘There must be more than this.’ There is, and it’s within our grasp. Within ordinary human experience are untapped sources of wonder. Within reach of anyone is a different way of seeing things. We can open doors of new imagination for people. It is as if many of us are simply waiting for someone to come along with a key in order to open a door, a mirror to see one’s depth
Jesus delighted in offering people freedom from their many prisons. Imagination is the key to hope. The poetry of God is calling for new expressions; because God does not speak in boring prose, moralistic messages, routine rituals, but in soaring imaginative love, in events of liberating surprise from exodus to resurrection. To renew the freshness we need to dive deeper. 26/4/13
Adapted from ‘Dive Deeper’ Michael Paul Gallagher SJ
FAITH IN JESUS and the resurrection won’t save us from humiliation, pain, and death in this life. Faith isn’t meant to do that. Jesus doesn’t grant special exemptions to his friends, any more than God granted special exemptions to Jesus.
We see this everywhere in the Gospels, though most clearly in Jesus’ resurrection. To understand this, we might compare Jesus’ resurrection to what Jesus himself does in raising Lazarus from the dead.
The Lazarus story begs a lot of questions. Martha asks him, “Why?” Why, since you loved this man, did you not come to save him from death? Mary’s question implies even more: Why is it that God invariably seems absent when bad things happen to good people? Why doesn’t God rescue his loved ones and save them from pain and death?
Jesus doesn’t offer any explanation. Instead he asks where they have laid the body, lets them take him there, sees the burial site, weeps in sorrow, and then raises his dead friend back to life.
So why did he let him die in the first place? Why didn’t Jesus rush to save Lazarus since he loved him?
The answer to that question teaches us that God is not a God who ordinarily rescues us, but is rather a God who redeems us. God doesn’t ordinarily intervene to save us from humiliation, pain, and death: he redeems humiliation, pain, and death after the fact.
Jesus treats Lazarus the same way as God, the Father, treats Jesus. Jesus is deeply and intimately loved by his Father and yet his Father doesn’t rescue him from humiliation, pain, and death. In his lowest hour, when he is suffering, and dying on the cross, Jesus is jeered at by the crowd with the challenge: “If God is your father, let him rescue you!” But there’s no rescue. We have a redeeming, not a rescuing, God.
It took the early Christians some time to grasp that Jesus doesn’t ordinarily give special exemptions to his friends, any more than God gave special exemptions to Jesus. So, like us, they struggled with the fact that someone can have a deep, genuine faith, be deeply loved by God, and still have to suffer humiliation, pain, and death like everyone else. God didn’t spare Jesus from suffering and death, and Jesus doesn’t spare us from them.
Jesus never promised us rescue, exemptions, immunity from cancer, or escape from death. He promised rather that, in the end, there will be redemption, vindication, no more suffering, and eternal life.
But that’s in the end. Meantime, in the early and intermediate chapters of our lives, there will be the same kinds of humiliation, pain, and death that everyone else suffers.
The death and resurrection of Jesus reveal a redeeming, not a rescuing God.
Peter Knott SJ
IT WAS Sunday evening .Jesus had been dead since Friday. But his disciples were still in .Jerusalem. John 20:19-31
They were frightened. “They had locked the doors of the place where they were for fear of the .Jews.” For all they knew, what had happened to .Jesus could happen to them. So why did they stay and not try to escape from Jerusalem?
Probably because they simply couldn’t think which way to turn. Most of us can understand that: we’ve been there. Life pulls the rug from under us, and leaves us stunned, wondering what to do. We are hurt, frightened, angry – where do we go from here?
Most of life is guided by a logical sequence. We get up, get dressed and go to work. We come home, have our. evening meal, watch the evening news and go to bed. But when life blows up in our face then we are not sure of anything.
The crucifixion did not simply take away their personal hopes, it left the disciples sad and lonely. They had counted on Jesus as the one who would usher in the kingdom of God in a way they expected But now he was gone. They were locked in with grief.
Looking back on that time in the light of history, two things became clear. Firstly, it was not as hopeless as it seemed. What looked to them like total ruin had another dimension, which eventually they would come to see. That dreadful Cross would redeem the world. They came to recognise it, not as the defeat of Christ, but as his crowning victory. Luke 24.13-25
Secondly, the reason why the disciples had lost their hope. and were paralysed by fear was because they had forgotten about God. If we leave God out of the equation, the only thing we have left is human strength, wisdom and integrity.
If that is all we have, Hope is an illusion. It really doesn’t matter much where we go from here, because every road leads to a dead end. But add God to the mix, and all of that changes. Crucifixions become resurrections. Defeats become victories. Death becomes life and every dead end becomes an open door.
Finding ourselves in a corner, not knowing where to turn, hold on to faith. It may not make life work out in the way we imagined, but it’s the only thing that makes life work.
Peter Knott SJ
IN HIS last Lenten letter Benedict XVI calls us to reflect on the relationship between faith and charity: between believing in God – the God of Jesus Christ – and love, which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and which guides us on the path of devotion to God and others.
Faith is a response to the love of God – “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us” l Jn 4:16, Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction Since God has first loved us, love is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.
Faith is this personal adherence to the revelation of God’s love for us, fully revealed in Christ Jesus. The encounter with God (who is Love) engages not only the heart but also the intellect. the ‘yes’ of our will to God’s will unites our intellect, will and sentiments in the all-embracing act of love.
But this process is always open-ended; love is never finished and complete. Hence, for all Christians, and especially for ‘charity workers’, there is a need for faith, for that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirit to others. As a result, love of neighbour will no longer be for us a commandment imposed from without, but a consequence deriving from our faith, a faith which becomes active through love.
Christians are people who have been conquered by Christ’s love and accordingly, under the influence of that love: we are open to loving our neighbour in concrete ways. This attitude arises primarily from the consciousness of being loved, forgiven, and even served by the Lord, who bends down to wash the feet of the Apostles and offers himself on the Cross to draw humanity into God’s love.
Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the certainty that it is really true. Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in Jesus, gives rise to love. Love is the light – and in the end, the only light – that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. All this helps us to understand that the principal distinguishing mark of Christians is precisely love grounded in and shaped by faith.
The entire Christian life is a response to God’s love. And the “yes” of faith marks the beginning of a friendship with the Lord, which fills and gives full meaning to our whole life.
But it is not enough for God that we simply accept his gratuitous love. Not only does he love us, but he wants to draw us to himself, to transform us in such a profound way as to bring us to say with Saint Paul; ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’ When we make room for the love of God, then we become like him, sharing in his own charity.
If we open ourselves to his love, we allow him to live in us and to bring us to love with him, in him and like him; only then does our faith become truly active through love; only then does he abide in us.
Faith is knowing the truth and adhering to it; charity is ‘walking’ in the truth. Through faith we enter into friendship with the Lord, through charity this friendship is lived and cultivated.
Faith causes us to embrace God’s commandment; charity gives us the happiness of putting it into practice. In faith we are begotten as children of God; charity causes us to persevere concretely in our divine relationship, bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Faith enables us to recognise the gifts God has entrusted to us; charity makes them fruitful. 5/4/13
From Benedict XVI Lenten letter 2013, edited.
SUFFERING is an inescapable part of the human condition. For all the advances that science has brought, life is often still framed by pain. Birth itself involves physical distress for the mother. Death, for many, comes after much pain, and leaves a pain in the hearts of the bereaved.
Alleviating suffering, and minimising pain, has been mankind’s goal throughout time. But since suffering cannot be eliminated, it must be faced, and used to come to a fuller understanding of what it is to be human. Good Friday offers an opportunity for that contemplation: the Easter story offers the meaning of suffering.
The Crucifixion is, first, a reminder that to be alive is to be a prisoner of pain. The concept of incarnation, the idea that God becomes human in the person of Jesus, should be seen as a sign of the Creator’s willingness to share the ups and downs of existence.
Chief among them is the subjection of our God-given freedom and autonomy to forces, often political, beyond our control. Jesus, although divine, was as much a victim of manoeuvring and calculation as any other human being.
Temporal power, in the form of Caiphas and Pilate, condemned the innocent Jesus to death. His fate was sealed by displays of human weakness, whether the mixture of misplaced motives that drove Judas, or the mob that chose Jesus over Barrabas for the Cross. Jesus, as a character in history, was a victim, a willing victim, of the forces that drive history.
Although conflicts may be fought to pre-empt greater suffering and prosecuted in a way that seeks to minimise casualties, no humane observer can reflect on the carnage war brings without a profound sense of loss. We can feel relief when war ends a tyranny. That feeling, however, must be complemented by sorrow that
innocents who had no part
in political calculations were victims. In
contemplating the fate of Jesus, himself made victim of power-politics, we can, however, begin to grapple with the significance of suffering.
Christ’s outstretched arms are a symbol of the cruel and lingering pain of his death. But they also convey another message. They are the open arms of a compassionate figure extending an embrace to all who suffer.
The corollary of all suffering is the compassion it inspires. The capacity for our deepest human feelings inevitably, and intimately, co-exists with the reality of suffering. It is through pain that human beings are tested, and in the knowledge of suffering that we grow, in wisdom and compassion. ‘Some things can only be seen by eyes filled with tears.’
The challenge of dealing with our world’s suffering brings out the most inspirational qualities in humankind. Human ingenuity can repair, reconstruct and heal. Compassion has inspired not just medical advances but countless individual acts of kindness. Charitable appeals to help the victims of world conflicts touch hearts, awakening human consciences.
The example of the ultimate sacrifice, Christ’s willing surrender of his own life on the Cross, is an eternal inspiration to show compassion for others. But the connection between love and suffering, though profound, will never be easy to grasp. Christ himself cried out to ask why he had been forsaken.
As the Easter story reminds us, it is the acceptance of suffering in the spirit of compassion that can inspire the greatest love of all, the willingness to give everything, even our life for others. We are humble before mysteries whose meaning defies easy understanding. But on Good Friday our consciousness of suffering in the world is a prompt to reflect on who we are and how we can give ourselves in response.
Peter Knott SJ