Launch of ‘Enlightenment and Tantra, Hindus and Christians in Dialogue’, 6 May 2019, at the Gregorian University, Rome

On 6 May 2019 at the Gregorian University, Rome, I launchd the book Enlightenment and Tantra, Hindus and Christians in Dialogue.             (Bryan Lobo SJ ed.) Documenta Missionalia 39.                                                Rome: Pontificia Università Gregoriana, 2018.

Here is my speech (English version)

The very existence of this book is remarkable. It could very easily never have seen the light of day. Let me explain.

The two Johns

First of all, concerning the two ‘Johns’. Padre Virgilio Agostinelli was inspired by the founder of ‘Ricostruttori nella preghiera’ Padre Gian Vittorio Cappelletto, often called Padre John,aJesuit who became involved in Ananda-marga, one of the manty tantric traditions of India. Another Father John, in Australia, had also developed his interest in the field of tantra, more precisely in the tantra of Kashmir Shaivism. Virgilio, inspired by Padre John contacted the other Padre John which led eventually to the publication of this book we are launching this evening.

My journey

Over many years I had explored the tantra and, despite its many deviations, seemed to hold a great treasure. During that time, Dom Thomas Matus, a Benedictine monk of Camaldoli, had written his doctoral work linking Abhinavagupta, the great teacher of Kashmir Shaivism, with his contemporary, St Symeon the New Theologian, both of whom were contemporaries of St Romuald, the founder of the Camaldolese.

In the process of trying to find reliable tantric sources, I wrote to  Dom Bede Griffiths OSB who recommended I get in touch with Thomas Matus who in turn introduced me to the best studies available,  namely those of Lilian Silburn and André Padoux. On reading the texts, a deep resonance rose up in me. I can vividly remember sitting on a bed in a hotel in Ravenna asking myself if I was following a false path. Yet, the discovery of Kashmir Shaivism was joyful and liberating. Therefore, it could not be altogether false. The Ignatian process of discerning the spirits was immensely useful here.

 Value of tantra

What was so fascinating about the tantra of Kashmir? On the one hand, it involves overcoming the divisions between heaven and hearth, between the divine and human, between sin and grace, between created and uncreated. This overcoming of dualism resonated powerfully in me. The tantra of Kashmir rejects monism and proposes a non-dualism that enhances the teaching of Christianity where Christ Jesus in his own person breaks down all barriers so that ‘God becomes man and man becomes divine’, as St Athanasius famously said. This highly significant issue  of non-dualism is broached by Bettina Bäumer in article 3 of the book and by Gioia Lussana in article 10, both of whom draw on the Greek and Latin Christian mystical traditions respectively to develop their theme. The tantra of Kashmir also promotes the paths of freedom and joy, a topic that thrilled me greatly and which I handle in article 8 of the book. It proposes the sublime transcendence of those who have the acquired the divine mind, a topic discussed by Ramaraghaviah Sathyanarayana in the article 4,  who presents it from the Śaivasiddhānta tradition. In article 2, Maria Cantoni presents an overview of the cosmic process of emanation and reabsorption in the Hindu tradition and how this is achieved and experienced in the liberated human being. I felt freed by its teaching on the liberating empowerment of the Word, a topic taken up by Colette Poggi in article 7. I rejoiced to see the value attached to the complementarity of male and female, seeing them as embodying the universe and as describing even the highest Reality, a point discussed by Thomas Matus  in article 6. Kashmir Shaivism emphasises the prime importance of the body in the spiritual path, and proposes a spirituality of pleasure, themes that Virgilio Agostinelli develops in article 9. Indeed, Brother Michael Davide Semeraro, a Benedictine monk from Rhêmes Notre-Dame,states that there is a need to move from “a theology of mortification to a theology of pleasure …which will enable us to continue to live as we did in the past. … but with a new freedom and responsibility …” All these tantric themes filled me with wonder and excitement. Indeed, I see them encapsulated in the celebration of the Eucharist. My article, number 1 in the book, shows in what way the Eucharist is profoundly tantric.

The participants in the Eucharist enter into the paradox of Calvary, into the paradox of beauty and horror, purity and impurity, life and death, and so transcend the mind. By words of power, the celebrant transubstantiates the gifts and in a shocking act, the participants consume the very flesh and blood of their master. Overcoming the divisive nature of dualism, they can worship God fully, for only God can know God fully; only God is the offering fully worthy of being offered to God.  They feed on the Body of their Lord; they also commune with each other. They experience each other’s bliss in all their diversity. It is a love feast.

When, as a priest, I celebrate the Mass, I am engaged in a sublime tantric act. In fact, Jesus, it seems to me, can be understood as the greatest of the tantrics.  Jesus the Christ is also Jesus the Tantrika.

Since I felt that I was part of two worlds, the Christian and the Tantric, I wrote in 2009, at the suggestion of Fabrice Blée, of the University of St Paul in Ottawa, the book Vers un Tantra Chrétien, later translated into English as Towards a Christian Tantra. Virgilio discovered this book and contacted me for advice while doing his thesis on Ananda-marga. But why go to Rome?

 Preparation of the conference

In 2016 I went to Oxford to  deliver a paper at a conference, but only because just before the closing date for submitting proposals,  I was contacted by Père Jean-Marie Gueullette OP from the Catholic University of Lyon and informed about it. He later invited me to write a book on the Christian interpretation of the chakras, which I have done. Without this surprise information I would not have gone to Oxford and would not have made a special trip to Rome.

Earlier, in 2010 at Shantivanam, in Tamil Nadu, at the celebration organised by Professor Doctor Bettina Bäumer for the 100th  anniversary of Abhishiktananda’s birth, I had suggested to Dr Paolo Trianni that a conference on Tantra should be held in Europe. Paolo’s article, number 5 in the book, explores the tantric dimension of he calls the ‘theological school of Śāntivanam’, showing its seminal influence.   Some years later when I again made the suggestion,  Paolo proposed a conference first at Camaldoli in Tuscany, then at the monastery of San Gregorio Magno al Celio in Rome. When, in 2016,  I went to Rome to meet Virgilio, and when at his suggestion I met with Fr Bryan Lobo SJ, who had read my book, Bryan proposed that the conference be held at the Gregorian.  This, a whole series of unconnected events lead to this unexpected outcome. It was a case of serendipity.

A few days later, Bryan Lobo, Paolo Trianni, Virgilio Agostinelli, Fr George Nelliyanil OSB Cam, the Rector of San Gregorio, and I met to discuss the details of the conference. We had originally thought of two days but later, on further reflection, it seemed more practical to have just the one day. Virgilio graciously accepted not to deliver the paper he had prepared, but which has been published as item 9 in this book. The title ‘Enlightenment and Tantra’ was chosen because it gives the correct emphasis. We know that the word ‘tantra’ is sometimes associated with what seems just the opposite of enlightenment.

I suggested the themes and speakers and eventually contacted Bettina Bäumer from India, Collette Poggi from Paris, and Thomas Matus from California. Bryan Lobo, for his part, arranged for speakers from the Hindu tradition among many other presenters and moderators. It was indeed an international conference.

The ‘tasters’

We decided to conduct two smaller events, before the conference in October,  in order to test the waters, and to gauge the level of interest. On Saturday 13 May 2017, at San Gregorio Magno al Celio, two papers were presented: my paper entitled ‘Tantra: a path to freedom and the fullness of joy’ which is item 10 in the book we are launching this evening; and the paper by Dr Gioia Lussana: ‘Tantra: una via di conoscenza nell’esperienza non duale dell’essere’ which is item 10 in the book. On Monday 15 May 2017, at the Gregorian University, I delivered a paper entitled ‘The dialogue between Tantra and Christianity: Possibilities and challenges’  which the Gregorian University  published this year in Le sfide delle religioni oggi 2018.

 The Conference

The Conference in October was conducted jointly by the Gregorian Centre for Interreligious Studies, the Italian Hindu Union and the Italian Bishops Conference. Many other groups were also involved as collaborators.

At the opening of the Conference, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, first extended his greetings to the Hindu Community who would be celebrating Diwali the following day; he then congratulated the many collaborators that had made this conference possible; he spoke of its innovative character and how well it fulfilled the desire of Pope Francis for openness and appreciation between different traditions.

It was a full day, with eight papers in total. They were grouped in pairs, with time for comments and questions. Some 300 participants filled the Aula Magna. The book we are launching includes the developed versions of some of the papers.

Concluding remark

This book, Enlightenment and Tantra, begins to answer the many issues that confront people at this time of seismic shift in attitudes and outlooks. This book, indeed, this evening’s launch, represents a watershed, it seems to me, in the history of spirituality and even of theology.

 

 

Posted in Abhinavagupta, Christian tantra, Dual belonging, Hinduism, John Dupuche, Kashmir Shaivism, Tantrāloka | 2 Comments

‘Do not be afraid’, Commentary on some verses from Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy

‘DO NOT BE AFRAID’

Commentary on some verses from Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy

Year 1, Week 17, Friday                                Glenroy 1975

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: These are the appointed festivals of the Lord that you shall proclaim as holy convocations, my appointed festivals.        Leviticus, 23:1-2

The most important feast of the year was celebrated in first month of the year; the second most important feast was celebrated at the beginning of the second half of the year. In this way, ordinary life was placed within a religious context. Food and time were sanctified by the recollection of the great acts of God.

Life today is frantic. How are we to live continuously in the presence of God?

This is done by continually listening to the voice of God speaking in the heart. He is always active, in and around all. His voice can be heard in every circumstance. When the surrounding noise fades away, when the ear becomes attentive to a softer voice, God can be heard.

This done with passion and insistence, for the kingdom of heaven is taken by storm. The result is to live in joy, with continual thanks to God for his actions in past history and in the future establishment of his kingdom. The happy life is in God and with God. The Holy Spirit fulfills the dispensation of the old Testament and perfects the work of Christ in the New.

Year 1, Week 18, Monday                                       Glenroy 1977

“The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”        Numbers 11:4-6

Moses feels the burden of office, for the people complain at the monotony of their food. Even though it is bread from heaven, they tire of it and long for the leeks and onions of Egypt. They grumble and ask for meat, at which Moses feels lost, for they are a multitude. Yet meat they will have. If manna fell with dew from heaven, quails will be brought in by a strong wind. They will have enough to eat and more than enough.

Humans are demanding. They have received great gifts and yet tire of them. Christians receive bread form heaven, the true Bread, yet they tire of it. They are tired of the Gospel and even tired of Christ. There is a danger, therefore, of looking back to the lesser goods. A choice is there, either to return to the paganism of the past or to look to better food, for as meat is more nourishing than manna and the wind is stronger than dew, so the food to come is great than the food already given. A new and better food is at hand. And it is this: that each is Christ, each is temple, because is redeemed

Year 1, Week 18, Wednesday                                Glenroy 1977

“Yes, and we saw giants there. We felt like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”Numbers 13:33

The People had seen the victory of God over Pharaoh and his army. They had seen his power in providing manna and quails in the desert. They had sent his majesty on Sinai and the heard the marvels of his Law. But at the moment of entry into the Promised Land, they lose heart.

Their disbelief implies the the God who showed signs and wonders is incapable of more, that the God who promised them a land is false to his word. It is disbelief that God is God. Therefore, the are condemned to stay in the desert and die there, to lose a whole generation.

The lesson is clear. All is possible for those with faith; but those without faith are doomed to stay in their own particular desert.

Those who have progressed on the path of holiness, being buoyed up by the enthusiasm of youth and the energy of a new revelation, progress quickly at first but then stop. Consciously or sub-consciously they hesitate to take the final step. Fear holds back, fear of imaginary giants. “We felt like grasshoppers”.

Only faith can save from fear. Otherwise we are condemned to remain in our desert

Year 1, Week 18, Thursday                                     Glenroy 1975

“Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and against Aaron. The people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had died when our kindred died before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to bring us to this wretched place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting; they fell on their faces, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them.”        Numbers 20:2-6

When faced with the difficulties of their desert wanderings, the People of Israel looked back to the pleasant life of Egypt. They complain and offend against the Lord, for complaint is a denial, a doubting of his sovereignty.

Moses and Aaron, however, pray to the Lord who provides the solution.

Complaint is doubt, but prayer is made in faith, and makes the seemingly impossible come into being. The prayer of faith is the greatest human act, for in it we are one with God, sharing his power, that miraculous creativity which transforms things utterly. It is not a prayer of disunion, a pleading to some uncaring deity. It is a sharing God’s effectiveness; and by it we make the mountains move and the rocks provide water. It is our joy and our peace. We do not challenge God but unite with him, making his will ours. We become holy as he is holy, determined with his determination to overcome very obstacle to our purpose, his purpose. And thus, through the prayer of faith, spoken or unspoken, we bring about the Kingdom of God on earth, the Promised Land destined for us.

Year 1, Week 18, Friday                                          Glenroy 1977

“Understand this today, therefore, and take it to heart: the Lord is God indeed …. He and no other.”         Deuteronomy 4:39

The writer, reflecting on the course of Jewish history, is amazed at the stories, the laws, the wonders and signs, and exclaims “Understand this today, therefore, and take it to heart: the Lord is God indeed …. He and no other.”

As we look at 2000 years of the Church’s history, indeed, as we look at the marvels of human ingenuity, the beauty of human creativity, at all that is good and true, we proclaim that Principle, that Force, that Cause which engendered all these things, and him we adore.

Not less human than we but more human, not less personal but more, not less powerful or less beautiful than his works but more so; more true, more majestic, more glorious than man is the Man, the Christ, and him we adore. That future Man who is the source of everything: him we adore, in him we have faith, in him we are.

And as we worship him we know him to whom Man is subject, the One dwelling in light inaccessible and him we worship silence, the Principle of Principle, God beyond God. ‘He alone is God, the and no other’.

Year 1, Week 19, Tuesday                                       Burwood 1983

“Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. …. Do not fear or be dismayed.”        Deuteronomy 31:6, 8

Those who wish to be with God must enter into situations that will at first terrify. There is no escape because it is the necessary step towards finding the true nature of things. Only when faced with conflict can they learn to be resolute; only if they carry burdens can they become strong. Only if they face hell can they be with God.

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Biblical commentaries, John Dupuche | Leave a comment

Exodus, ‘The great liberation’, Commentaries on verses from the Book of Exodus

Exodus, ‘The great liberation’,

Commentaries on verses from the Book of Exodus

Year 1, Week 15, Monday                                                   Glenroy 1977

But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labour. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them. Exodus 1:12-14

The success of the Hebrews leads to their misfortune. The Egyptians are jealous. They first try to weary the Jews with hard labour and, when this makes them even more fruitful, to liquidate them.

This is an excellent image of our human condition. For we are born into sin not of our doing. We are oppressed and weakened by virtue of some mysterious power that exceeds our understanding. How much of life is labour, slavery to the elements, slavery to ignorance! Human life is prevented from flowering: The capacities of the human heart are wasted! And to all this there is bad-conscience, for in our plight we make wrong choices. to ills physical and mental we add ills spiritual.

Even if we make some progress, the oppression becomes worse. Good seems to breed its opposite. Yet evil in turn sharpens good and heightens it. So that there is a constant dialectic of good and evil. How shall we find peace, freedom, fullness?

 

                                                                                       Burwood 1983

“But the more they were crushed the more they increased and men came to dread the sons of Israel.”       Exodus 1:12

The Egyptians had hoped to destroy the Israelites by imposing heavy burdens. But the Israelites thrived under this hardship.

In these few words, the Sacred Text has shown one of the essential laws of nature and grace. Just as the body will grow in strength by the burdens put upon it, so too the mind and the will are developed by what seems to defy them. Indeed, the human spirit is brought to its flowering by the experience of evil.

The Israelites increase in numbers because they are children of the promise. They are in good health with a vigour that is from above. A healthy body thrives on hard work. The tribes, healthy with grace, cannot but increase when tested.

Those who wish to increase in grace must face evil, just as those who wish to develop a faculty must sharpen it by its contrary. While evil cannot be justified it can be put to good purpose. Indeed, the Son of God, wishing to achieve the sanctification of the human race had to experience evil even at the centre of his spirit. The Son descended to earth, voluntarily, to take on the burden of the cross.

The vigorous person seeks challenges; the Israelites are given burdens; the Man of Strength chooses them.

 

Year 1, Week 15, Tuesday                                                  Glenroy 1977

When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh.  Exodus 2:15

Moses flees. Though the circumstances of his birth are remarkable and his upbringing was excellent, yet he flees. He has sympathy for his countrymen and a sense of justice, but he has no strength. When danger is upon him he flees, abandons his people and makes a new life for himself in Midian.

The workings of grace are never far. The image of God is not destroyed in our hearts, but it is weak and its promptings are a velleity.

Like Moses we see injustice and are moved with pity, but we are ineffective. We flee and eke out an existence elsewhere, away from the problem, away from our fellows, alone, in the desert of existence.

We are powerless to help and our lives, so full of promise, pursue their empty course.

Who shall free us?

At this point, in this pain and poverty of soul, the Word of God bursts in.

 

Year 1, Week 15, Wednesday                                              Glenroy 1977

He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. … So, come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”       Exodus 3:6, 10-12

God had appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God speaks to Moses from the heart of the burning bush, at which he is struck with fear, with awe and trembling. He cannot bear the sight; he hides from God, he hides God, with a veil.

God appears in the present day but always in continuity with the past. his appearing to us is new but his appearing to mankind is constant. What I knew from hearsay I know

now from experience. They knew God, I know what they knew, and I become equal in dignity to them. I am honoured.

Yet I fear. The experience of God is wonderful and frightening. His presence overwhelms my self-awareness, and I am reduced to an object. In self-protection I blot

out my mind, and withdraw. Yet, weakened, reduced, brought to naught in my spirit, I am touched to the depths of my spirit.

If the first effect of the presence of God is to destroy, the second is to empower, to raise. I receive a task, a commission.

For Moses it was to face Pharaoh. He to whom God has appeared can easily face Pharaoh. He who fled in fear of Pharaoh and was pursued by God, now returns to organize the flight of the people.

Moses pleads his weakness, but God declares the ultimate source of his strength: – not his intelligence or standing, but ‘I shall be with you’.

And for each of us, the task is alike: to free the people. Those whom God touches are free and can continue to live only by freeing others. We are weak, but no matter, God is strong and the power of God is with us.

 

Year 1, Week 15, Thursday                                                  Glenroy 1975

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”           Exodus 3.13-14.

Moses was concerned about the fate of his people even before God appeared to him. He had killed an Egyptian so concerned was he about his countrymen. But he was unable to act in any effective way by this method. He had to flee Egypt and escape into the wastes of Midian.

Only after God had revealed himself in the burning bush as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as ‘I am who I am’ – only then could Moses find in himself the strength and the freedom to embark on his mission.

We go out into our own desert of Midian and there we surrender to God and all that he is. And then we become free. And, made free, we free. When God has made us free, we make others free.

 

                                                          Glenroy 1977

“God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”      Exodus 3:14

Moses has asked for the name of God. Is he ‘God’, ‘Lord’, ‘Father’, ‘El Shaddai’, ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’, ‘Adonai’? In whose name, by whose authority will Moses speak to the people.

The answer comes back resoundingly: the one who speaks to Moses cannot be limited by any name, any concept, any category. He is beyond all names, the Reality greater than all reality, the most personal of all persons. If a title must be given, let it be ‘I am’. And the reply comes to Moses: ‘I am ‘I am’”; “Sum ‘Qui sum’”.

The creator gods of the ancient world, with all their ways and means of creating, give way to the Creator God of the Jews who simply says “Let it be”. So too the different appellations and descriptions of the gods, their animal forms and their theophanies pale before the One who simply says ‘I am’.

All others beside him are unreal. All with him become real.

Here we pierce through to the deepest insights. As Moses was the greatest prophet, the greatest leader, the greatest law-giver of the Old Testament, so too the name he hears from the One is the greatest. And as Jesus supersedes Moses in every respect, so too the names he hears from God are greater. If God is ‘I am’, so too Jesus is ‘I am’ because he has heard most perfectly that divine title ‘I am’. And we who hear the word of Jesus, also say ‘I am’, ‘We are’. And our statement resounds throughout the universe: ‘Come

to us, because we are; come to us and you will be’. ‘We are’ and therefore ‘You are’. The final word that comes into the world is ‘be’; because the first word that ever was is ‘I am’.

‘I am’. ‘Be!’

 

                                                             Burwood 1983

“‘I am’ has sent me to you.”   Exodus 3:14

God cannot be named because he exceeds every title and description. Yet, of all the titles none exceeds the sentence-name ‘I am’. Nothing better describes his essence, unless it be the acclamation ‘Father’!

In the garden Jesus uses this name of himself. When he declares ‘I am’, the soldiers fall to the ground, unable to look of God. Jesus can say ‘I am’ because he is of one nature with the Father.

We can make the next step. For we are, by baptism, united with Jesus. What he is, by possessing the divine nature, that we become, by sharing Jesus’ nature.

Yet we become eternal. We too become “I am’. We are called by God’s name for God has called us to himself. Therefore ‘We are’. To the same extent, though by a different title, ‘We are’. We are now eternal and the events of life are a passing parade. Death cannot touch us for we are. Permanent, solid, able to endure all things, constant, faithful, committed, we are and we make to be. Our being is not for ourselves only but is for the becoming of those who are destined to be. We are must fully when we make others to be. Then we deserve that other title – but which we can never fully share – of ‘Father’.

 

Year 1, Week 15, Friday                                                      Glenroy 1975

The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.”Exodus 12:13

We stand amazed when someone sacrifices themselves in love for us. It seems beyond human comprehension that someone should die for us. We are struck in wonder and at once we know that God is present. For such love is possible only when possessed of the divine. Human love is capable of so much generosity because God is there, and we know God in it as the One who loves.

That is why children are always so struck by a mother’s love. They know their mother’s and, however obscurely, know God in it. They retain the fondest memory of their mothers as that first time when human love revealed the face of God.

Today’s reading recounts the saving of the People by blood. The story, with all its imperfections, finds its fulfilment in the self-sacrifice of Christ and finds its re-enactment in the acts of self-sacrifice of men and women throughout the ages.

Words are weak. Actions speak louder, so that all who, despite the obscurity of their lives, sacrifice themselves proclaim God more powerfully than the most gifted preacher. The man of character, the woman of devotion, the old person with wisdom and the young with generosity of heart – these, without speaking, show God to the world and save the world. The revelation of God shields from danger and opens the door onto eternal life.

Therefore, let us rejoice and proclaim high festival whenever we see the self-sacrifice and generosity of others. Let us rejoice and be glad, eternally.

 

                                                          Glenroy 1977

They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. … The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.”            Exodus 12:7, 13.

The Lord, in all his mystery and namelessness, has appeared to Moses. The People, therefore, must slaughter the spotless lamb, putting its blood on the door-posts of their homes, cooking its flesh, eating every part of it, leaving nothing unconsumed.

This is because the appearance of the Nameless reduces us to nothing. When the Nameless appears, we lose our name. When the Mighty appears, we lose our strength. When the Glory comes, we are slaughtered: every part of us is taken, consumed in the fire of his power, eaten up.

What joy, to be undone, reduced, possessed, taken over by the One who exceeds all! What love is lavished, that He should be concerned about us! What glory is given, for we are transformed. Everyone who is touched by God becomes godly.

 

                                                                                    Burwood 1983

“It must be an animal without blemish, a male, one year old.”         Exodus 12:5

Details are given about the animal. It must be perfect in every way, tender in flesh for eating, without blemish and delighting the eye with its freshness of youth. The very physicality of the animal is to be the means of salvation.

So too with the body of Christ. He is perfect in every way, and all the perfections of humanity are to be found in him who elevates the physicality of flesh to its highest state by the power of his divinity.

So too for the Body of Christ. It must be without fault. Indeed, even the physicality of the Church will become perfect under the influence of grace, healed of every blemish.  When resurrected, it will be perfect in physic and perfect in grace, a spiritual body for the salvation of the world.

 

Year 1, Week 15, Saturday                                                   Glenroy 1975

“The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years. At the end of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. That was for the Lord a night of vigil, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. That same night is a vigil to be kept for the Lord by all the Israelites throughout their generations.”           Exodus 12:40-42

There are privileged moments in the life of nations and individuals, when the actions of God are apparent. A seemingly fortuitous set of circumstances combine together, like the notes in music, and the One becomes manifestly, blindingly present.

Such a moment in Israel, the greatest such moment in the history of the Jews, is the escape from Egypt.

These moments are treasured, reflected upon and relived. Liturgies and rituals are composed, to recreate in the present the sublime moment of the past.

We try to rediscover that privileged moment. This is the human quest. Where shall it be found? It can be found in Christ’s death, but his glorious death is a type of that final moment of transition between time and eternity, from bound existence to utter freedom, disregarding death, we penetrate beyond the veil, out of time into eternity. Such is the human quest, the religious quest.

 

Year 1, Week 16, Monday                                                   Glenroy 1975

“Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so, I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”          Exodus 14:17

God is the chief agent. He makes Pharaoh stubborn just as he gives victory to his People.

God is the source of all, both success and suffering.  He imposes suffering so that, from it, he can achieve greater good: “I will win glory.” Suffering becomes intolerable if it is not understood. The good result lessens the sharpness of the surgeon’s knife. The pains of childbirth are made more bearable by the knowledge that a child is being born. The agony of the crucifixion is taken on when the hope of glory is in sight.

Thus, God is the cause of suffering. We can accept this if in this way he brings about good. Of only one thing God is not the cause: sin and all that derives from it.

If we allow God as the source only of what we call good, then we reduce him to our level. Only after allowing him as the source of all except sin can we see him as he really is, as the powerful one, the source of our hope, the ruler who brings all things to the conclusion which he desires: he will win glory for himself and for us too.

 

                                                             Glenroy 1977

“The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”          Exodus 14:14

The Israelites have escaped from Egypt. They have left the advantages of Egypt for an uncertain future. However, the Egyptians give chase and are ready to destroy the little band. At this Moses cries out: “The Lord will do the fighting for you, you have only to keep still.”

What a demand this is: to keep calm in the face of death! To trust in someone as unknown as the Promised Land, more uncertain than the future.

Yet it all lies there. For when we have made a break with old habits and old concepts, when we chase the future dimly seen – that land of one body and one spirit – when we follow the silent calling out of our Egypt into our promised reality, then all the past comes in chase of us. Departure is easy at first; escape is difficult, for our past seeks to destroy us.

Then we doubt: is this the right thing to do? Am I following truth or illusion; is it the Creator or the spirit of self-destruction that is calling me? And to us the word of Moses comes: ‘be still, God will do the fighting for you’. Then we can pursue our journey, into the desert.

 

Year 1, Week 16, Tuesday                                                   Glenroy 1977

“Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord”.Exodus 15:1

The Lord has conquered the Egyptians. The very waters that saved the Israelites have overwhelmed the Egyptians, and the former brutal masters lie dead on the shore.

Those who are free from past methods and forms, wishes and desires, from things that dominated and gave fleeting pleasures cannot but sing a new song.

This song is the Spirit: for freedom is an unleashing. In place of old masters, a new impetus is given; in place of old pleasures a new joy is felt. The Spirit manifests in breath, in a song resounding throughout creation, transforming it, redefining it. The Spirit is a song made to God, given to him, so that God is revealed in song, is made into song.

 

Year 1, Week 16, Wednesday                                            Glenroy 1977

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger. … “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”      Exodus 16:2-3, 12.

The Israelites are fed in the desert. The flesh-pots of Egypt give way to the delicacy of quail and manna. These are a gift from God, more truly gift than the food of Egypt because more of God.

Yet they have had to suffer hardship. They have wandered in the desert, they have been without food. Only when they are totally bereft and ready to die, does this delicate food come to them.

This passage refers to the blessedness that comes to those who have left all and followed the obscure paths of God. They will journey for a while in the desert, but once they have reached the depths of despair, then the quails and the manna appear. A new spirit, a new body are given. Feeding on spirit and body they become spirit/body. With that success they come to know God: ‘for in our flesh we shall see God’. Joy fills the heart, strength comes, an energy, an exhilaration, a determination which knows no limits.

 

Year 1, Week 16, Thursday                                                  Glenroy 1977

“On the third day, when morning came, there were peals of thunder and flashes of lightning and a dense cloud upon the mountain and a very long blast of the horn and all the people who were in the camp trembled.” Exodus 19:16

God appears in thunder and earthquake, in lightning and in cloud. The people who had to leave the land of Egypt before they could be fed with quails and manna must now be struck in soul and psyche before they can receive the truth. The phenomena on Sinai overwhelm the people and they tremble, for it is the end of things and the beginning of things.

On Mount Calvary there is the cloud and the darkening, the earthquake and the death. Jesus is struck in the heart, in his spirit and body too. For it is the end of things and the beginning of grace.

Each of us has our Sinai, our Calvary; each of us has our third day. The coming of God so different from our ordinary lives must mean the bewilderment of our lives.

‘Come Lord, break in, break up my life, surround me with thunder and trembling, so that we may be one, I like unto you.’

Then it will be the end of passing things and the beginning of eternal things. How I long for those eternal things, how I long for the lightning and the cloud, for then I shall be.

 

Year 1, Week 16, Friday                                                       Glenroy 1975

“You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth.”Exodus 20:4

Nothing can fully express God, no name describe him, even the most august. When we call him ‘great’ and ‘majestic’, we have only touched the seam of his robe. When we call him ‘love’, we only approximate. The final word we can say about God is silence.

And yet we know him. His mystery is revealed not in words or images, not only by his Son, but also by the Spirit who prays in groans beyond understanding. We know him but cannot conceive him. We are aware of him but cannot express him. The sigh, lastly the silence, is the closest we can come to his name, for he is ineffable. Yet we know him. This is the greatness of our religion: its essential mystery.

 

Year 1, Week 17, Tuesday                                                   Glenroy 1975

If I have indeed won your favor, Lord, let my Lord come with us, I beg. True, they are a headstrong people, but forgive us our faults and our sins, and adopt us as your heritage.” Exodus 34:9

The Spirit of God comes upon people for a variety of reasons that escape our understanding.  Eventually a partial reason will be found in the juncture of circumstances, but in every case the Spirit is a gift freely given, whatever the imperfection and sin.

Thus, humans are caught between an awareness of the drive of the Spirit and the awareness of sin. To the extent that they follow purely the movements inspired by the Spirit, to that extent they are sinless. The one who finds every part moved by the Spirit, even from conception, is in every part sinless. This is the case of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

Those who are inspired by God are bold indeed. They propose themselves. Thy do not propose themselves apart from the Spirit, but they propose that part which is moved by the Spirit. They do not propose just the Spirit but ‘the self-moved-by-the-Spirit’.

Thus, Moses prays that God will accept the people, headstrong though they are, accept them as himself. For they are one with God in those parts of them that are moved by the Spirit.

 

                                                                                       Burwood 1983

“He stayed there with Yahweh for forty days and forty nights, eating and drinking nothing.”         Exodus 34:28

Moses stays for the sacred period of time. Indeed, every forty days and forty nights in the Biblical narrative signifies a manifestation of the Timeless One. Thus, all time is present to his Presence. All the delights of heaven and earth are found where he is found.

For that reason, Moses need not eat or drink. All is given to him by the presence of the One who holds all things in his hands.

So it will be at the resurrection. Being in the presence of God, indeed being in the presence of the Risen Incarnate, all goods are there. There is no need to eat and drink, because the Body and Blood of Christ is there; the Body and Blood not only of the individual Christ Jesus but also of the Whole Christ, the Church. We will be sustained in our spiritual bodies by the spiritual food we are to each other. The food of lovers is love. The food of the risen Church is the Risen Body.

So, we proclaim ourselves. Despite our reluctance, we proclaim ‘ourselves-moved by-the-Spirit’ as the object of faith. Thus, as Christ is the full object of faith in every part, we, in our purest part, are the objects of faith. And as Christ was put to death because of his proclamation, so too we will be refused for this proclamation. Yet we cannot shirk it at the risk of subtracting our entire selves from the Spirit and ceasing to be one with God, ceasing to be his heritage.

This complete obedience to the Spirit is required.

 

Year 1, Week 17, Wednesday                                                 Burwood 1983

“The sons of Israel would see the face of Moses radiant.”    Exodus 34:35

Moses’ face is radiant, for he has been in the presence of the One who is light. He is transformed by what he sees. He is changed in mind and body. The radiance of the body is proof of the radiance of the mind. Because God has spoken Moses’ face shines.

The transformation of matter is from mass to light, from mass to purest energy. Yet even light is not the perfection of matter, although it is its highest form. The perfection of matter is the spirit, where the light of earth is one with the Light from Light, when light is inhabited by Light so that we have light from Light from Light. That is the perfection of matter.

For that reason, Moses’ face begins to be transformed into light. The transformation is complete when the Light of the World transforms our bodies into copies of his own glorious Light.

 

Year 1, Week 17, Thursday                                                  Glenroy 1975

“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Whenever the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on each stage of their journey; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey.            Exodus 40:34-38

The presence of God is expressed in terms of a cloud, for no image of God existed in Israel. And again, when Moses asks God for his name, the request is refused. Thus, there is ignorance surrounding the person and nature of God.

This very obscurity, however, reveals something about God, namely, that he transcends all that is human. He cannot be comprehended, and if he does reveal himself, the effect is blinding. He lives in light inaccessible.

And yet this mysterious One leads us, for when the cloud rises and moves from the tabernacle, the people follow it until they reach the Promised Land.

The lesson is clear. We are most powerfully and most accurately led by Someone we do not understand. Science makes us follow what we know, but such a bias is backward looking, for knowledge is always of things past. What is truly inventive is the pursuit, with uncertain halterings, of what is unknown. We are led by the Spirit – for the glory of God is the Spirit – through uncertain ways to the Promised Land.

Therefore, we follow the instinctual Spirit, the leading strings of faith. When things are darkest, the cloud will appear as fire, to guide us. When we are in death, the Spirit will lead us, by crooked lines, to that Promised Land which science can never give – to that presence

 

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‘From glory to glory’, 2 Corinthians, commentary on select verses

‘From glory to glory’, 2 Corinthians, commentary on select verses

Year 1, Week 10, Monday                                       Glenroy 1977

“the sufferings of Christ abound in us”         2 Corinthians 1:5

The suffering of Christ is not locked up and individualistic. It is a suffering of all mankind for all mankind.

So that when I endure some hardship – as long as it is due to good, not sin – the suffering I experience is at one with Jesus’ suffering. Just as we are one in our humanity, so too we are one in our suffering; his suffering is for all mankind and my suffering is for all mankind and for Christ. By undergoing the same experience, I become one with the person who has that experience. My suffering is his and his suffering is mine. We are one body in our suffering. As man and woman become one body by their pleasure, so all who suffer become one body with each other.

Therefore, we are not alone. We are not separate ‘cells’, each enduring our private agony. All suffering is a public event with a social dimension, a suffering of all mankind for all mankind. We form the community of those marked out. And above all we are not separate from Christ. He heads the community of those who suffer. But if we can turn to him to remove the bitterest aspects of suffering, he had no one, for no one could equal his suffering, just as no one could equal his greatness. He who had the fullness of talent suffered the fullness of loss when he saw that talent rejected and destroyed. He who had the most to offer suffered most in the failure of his project. He who had the deepest appreciation of humans and God felt with utter keenness the cutting off from mankind and God.

Therefore, he suffered alone. There was none to comfort him. Therefore, no person can be alone in suffering again.

There had to be one who would suffer alone, so that mankind could solve the loneliness of suffering. There could only be one man who would suffer entirely alone. There had to be one, so that all suffering could be linked and the human race preserved: for solitary pain fragments our race as does solitary joy.

Therefore, if we suffer, it is the suffering of Christ and ours – all one thing – that we experience.

Burwood 1983

“As you are partakers in the sufferings, so too you partake in the consolation.” 2 Corinthians 1.7

Paul adduces at this point in his argument a catch-phrase which sums up the essentials of Christian spirituality. Only by sharing in the sufferings of Christ can one receive the consolation of the Holy Spirit. It is the spirituality of the cross.

Not all who are afflicted suffer. Suffering requires a certain attitude of mind, a certain receptivity, a certain humility. Suffering means allowing the affliction to enter the spirit, to fashion and change. The damned are afflicted but they reject their affliction. It does not touch them and therefore cannot be turned to good. The rejection of the suffering only adds to their suffering.

Whenever a person suffers, they suffer with Christ. Those who truly suffer do not suffer alone. It is not possible to be alone in one’s suffering because Christ has preceded us. One can only be partaker in suffering. Only one has fully suffered as only one has fully died. Since the death of Christ no one can die alone therefore no one can suffer alone. Suffering has done its worst and been found wanting. Death and suffering are overcome. They are shown to be powerless.

To the one who allows suffering, the eyes of God are drawn. The one who trembles at his word and who shakes in suffering cannot but bend God to his need. If the sufferings are many, the consolation is one. The myriad forms of evil which try to dismember are replaced by the one Spirit who unites. This consolation of the Consoler does not turn back the clock. We are not deprived of our history because the tide has been reversed. The consolation makes the wounds glorious. Rays shine from the pierced hands and side. What was evil is now good. It does not cease to be terrible: it becomes honourable.

The consolation that comes to Christ, so that he is raised in the Spirit, also comes to the sharer of his sufferings. The same Spirit raises the like victim. We share in the consolation of Christ. His history is ours, if we allow it.

East Doncaster, 1989

“Indeed, as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so, through Christ, does our consolation overflow.”   2 Corinthians 1.5

The Second Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians is in fact a collection of excerpts from other letters. It speaks powerfully of the contrasts of light and dark, of suffering and joy: the paschal mystery.

Therefore, the letter opens with Paul exulting in his experience of the paschal mystery.

His life as a Christian and especially as a missionary has made him experience something of the sufferings of Christ. In the tribulations of his own life, he has known the trial of Christ. The similarity of the experience has opened him to the sufferings of Christ. These he now knows from within. He has entered into the passion of Christ.

At the same time, Paul also knows the consolation that Christ experienced in the resurrection. This consolation has overflowed into him and through him to others. Paul is thus the bearer of the Spirit and the communicator of the Spirit, from his own self. He is in himself the place where the paschal mystery has become real.

We ourselves undertake our Christin faith with the knowledge that it will lead us to experience the sufferings and the resurrection of Christ from within. It is in our own bodies that these things will be known. Therefore, already, in this life, we share the condition of eternity, of the eternally crucified and risen One and therein find the consolation of Spirit.

 

Year 1, Week 10, Tuesday                                                    Burwood 1981

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not “Yes and No”; but in him it is always “Yes.” For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.” For this reason, it is through him that we say the “Amen,” to the glory of God.”2 Cor 1:19-20

Inconsistency is part of our human predicament. We are a mixture of yes and no. Our choices are partial and lacking in wholeheartedness. Our resolutions are broken, we are unfaithful to the most solemn vows. We cannot choose good without also partially rejecting it. Our choice of the good is partial. So too is our choice of evil – fortunately. It gives us hope of being freed from our sins. Our choice of evil is not final; our choice of good is not complete.

But with Christ there is consistency. His choice for good is a simple ‘yes’, with the simplicity of divinity. He is human, but he does not share our inconsistency. He is simply ‘yes’. He is God’s ‘yes’ to mankind, God’s choice of those that in Christ. He is also mankind’s ‘yes’ to God. Where Adam said no, and mankind is forever saying ‘yes and no’, Christ says ‘yes’, on his behalf and ours. Christ is ‘yes’. Through him at last we can say ‘yes’, ‘Amen’ to all that is born in God.

Our blessedness will be to put off our inconsistency and to become capable of the truth, saying yes and meaning yes, being yes, clear, without fear, without shadow, straightforward and calm, direct and sharp as a sword, united, faithful, holy as God is holy.

Burwood 1983

“He has assured us all …. He has anointed us marking us with his seal, giving us the pledge, the Spirit that we carry in our hearts.”        2 Corinthians 1:22

With this series of phrases, Paul is attempting to explain the effect of ‘standing in Christ’. The Spirit is an anointing, a seal, a pledge. From faith in Christ comes an experience that is confirming in every sense.

It is the work of God in the first place. The imparting of the Spirit is the act of the Father upon those who are in the Son. The Christian is in a Trinitarian relationship.

The Spirit is an anointing. The oil poured on the heads of kings and prophets of old is replaced by the far greater empowering: the Spirit of God. Not something of earth, symbolic though it may be, like oil. It is from above, entirely, from the eternal God, eternal and God. The Christian is Christ because anointed. He occupies the same function as the Christ. He moves with the same power and authority.

The Holy Spirit is the seal of God. It is the firm ratification of what has occurred in Christ. The act completed in Christ is confirmed in the Holy Spirit. What we are, our basic character and nature, is established. As human beings, as divine beings, we are.

The Holy Spirit is the pledge. The future is assured. We know that the kingdom is ours. The culmination of all things is definite, since God is definite. His plan will be fulfilled and we have a definite part in that. We are already citizens of heaven because we have the firm pledge.

The future is already in us. What we are to be, we are already. The seed contains the tree and ‘the child is father to the man’. With the gift of the Spirit from the Father to those who are with the Son, the future of mankind is assured. We have our pledge, our token, our ticket. We have won. The prize will be given.

East Doncaster, 1989

“I swear by God’s truth, there is no Yes and No about what we say to you.”     2 Corinthians 1.18

The experience of the paschal mystery is total. The endurance of humiliation and death is total; the resurrection is complete. Death and Life have been experienced to the full. The pascal mystery cannot be undone.

So too in the Christian, such as Paul, who has experienced the paschal mystery, there is a simplicity and directness. The sharing in Christ’s death is complete so that there is no vacillation before threats and dangers. The experience of resurrection is complete so that there is no life to be sought apart from the life of Christ risen.

This is because the gift of Spirit is complete. The Father expresses himself completely in the proceeding of Spirit. Person is communicated in Person without any shadow of portion. It is a total giving of self in the fine point of the soul. Likewise, the emission by the Son is complete, there being no disobedience to the inspiration of the Father.

The Christian shares this same simplicity and directness.

There, there is in us no ‘yes and no’, but only Yes! The Spirit is the Yes of the Father towards the Son and the Yes of the Son towards the Father. This Yes is said to us too and so we share in that Spirit, the mutual Yes of Father and Son, who is Person of the Person, their mutual Yes.

 

Year 1, Week 10, Wednesday                                              Glenroy 1977

Jeremiah had prophesied the future gift of the Spirit. Paul and his fellows oppose the primacy of the Law and argue in favour of the new covenant written on the heart, the Spirit poured out. ‘You can point, if you like,’ Paul effectively says to those beloved of signs and wonders, ‘to the theophanies of Sinai, but the theophanies of the future will be more startling’.

If the giving of death was accompanied by thunder and lightning, the giving of the Spirit will be accompanied by the moon turning to blood and the sun going black. If death produced such a glow on the face of Moses, the Spirit will transfigure our whole bodies.

For there can be no divine event which does not have deep consequences on the whole fabric of creation.

And we look forward to this coming fullness of Spirit. Let earth fall away and the weakness of our bodies. Let all that is to pass disappear and let that Spirit come which preserves what is good and eternal. The judging Spirit will seize upon what is useful to his task, and omit the useless. The creating Spirit will make a new world. Of the countless multitudes he will make one body. Of the countless dead he will make useful lives. Of the grime and chaos, he will make order and beauty. Of the weak he will make the strong. These are his signs, this is the glory that will follow upon his coming.

                                                                        Burwood 1983

“Now if the ministry of death, chiselled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory?”2 Corinthians 3:7-8

The account of Moses receiving the Tables of the Law describes the splendour and the darkness of the scene, the lightning and the clouds. But it was a Law which could not be observed, for it did not have the Spirit of life in it. It held up the ideal but did not give the means to achieve it. The place was shown but not the way to it. The Promised Land was pointed out but the courage to enter it was absent.

Therefore, it could not but be a Law that condemned. It doomed to frustration. It showed the goal but, tantalisingly, held it out of human reach.

Nevertheless, it was good that such be the case. How could people desire the means if they did not see the beauty of the goal? How could they desire the original if they did not see the model? How could they hope for heavenly things if they did not see earthly things? The Law is a training for true justification. Therefore, its granting occurs rightfully in splendour.

But all that was a preparation for the event on the mount. The disciples Peter, James and John receive a greater law in a greater splendour. They receive not tables of stone but the living Christ. The will of God is engraved in him, no! lived in him, no! he is himself the new law, yet a person; an ideal, yet a friend; the place where God dwells with humans, a place which is a person, a freedom, a love, a fidelity, a source of life. The future body is shown and the courage to be part of him is given.

On the mount of the transfiguration, what was foreshadowed on Sinai is accomplished. The new law is given and with it the ability to observe it, because the new law is not words but the Word, not stone but a heart, not man but God-man, not a command but a communication of the Spirit. Not a communication of Spirit without the new law, for the Spirit comes from Christ and leads to him. It is the communication of Word and Spirit which replaces Law and death – on the mount of the Transfiguration.

 

Year 1, Week 10,  Thursday                                     Glenroy 1977

… not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. … And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”      2 Corinthians 3:13,18

Moses saw the glory of God on the holy mountain, and his face radiated this glory before the people of Israel. Yet this glory faded with the passage of time so that Moses, in shame, placed a veil on his face.

Jesus, on the mount of transfiguration, was overshadowed by the glory of God; his whole person and his clothes gleamed with light as they were changed in glory. Moses and Elijah spoke with him and the whole scene took place before the three main apostles who were overjoyed to be there.

Or again: we ourselves have seen the glory of the Lord. We are like Moses, yet greater than Moses.

For we have not a Law bound to time and place, and outgrown like the experiences of youth. We have the Perfect Man, the Future Man, the fullness of humanity made divine. This is the glory before us. This is what we glimpse on our mountain, our peak experience.

Already we reflect the brightness of the Lord in the whiteness of our baptismal robe, in the glistening of oil on our foreheads, in the peace of our spirit and the joy in our hearts.

This does not fade, as did the effect of glory in Moses. It can only increase – so long as we continue to gaze on the brightness of the Future Man – until we are changed, metamorphosed, transfigured and become the Future Man.

For it is the glory of God that each should be transfigured in every way: in body, yes, in mind and spirit, yes, but in essential nature too: for we begin as human, of human origin; but by the overriding work of the Spirit we become divine, of divine origin, so that we too become Light from Light and God from God.

To him who has headship in all belongs the quality of only-begotten. To us who are second-born belongs the quality of begotten of God, not of the will of man or urge of flesh.

That will be our final glory: to be seen as of divine origin, chosen before the foundation of the world, transfigured even in our source.

 

Year 1, Week 10, Friday                                         Glenroy 1977

Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”   2 Corinthians 4.15

Upon Jesus, at the moment of baptism, the voice of God came saying “you are my beloved Son’; at the moment of death, the Spirit of God came upon Jesus making him Lord and Christ; at the moment of preaching, the good news is given to the people, making of them children of God.

To the more and more faithful, this word of favour is said; to all who receive it and allow it, this word of favour is spreading, this grace, this gift of reconciliation, God’s initiative.

And as we see this sheer goodness and experience its encouragement, as we see the expansion and joy of our being as we see the resolution of all complexities and the breaking of sin – we cry out in praise and thanksgiving, blessing the one who blessed us.

For it is the dialogue of the Spirit. God speaks to us his Spirit, speaks to us in the Spirit, and we in return praise him in the Spirit, returning him his Spirit. What he has given us is his, but he gives it as ours and we give it as ours to him. He blesses us, we bless him for blessing us. He recognises us, we acknowledge him. He calls us ‘Son’ and we call him Father. He makes us real and we make his reality real in our world.

For it is a contract, a covenant, not as between equals, but as between individuals; not that we are par but that we are persons, free, conscious, willing.

Thus, it is a liturgy of the Spirit: grace multiplied and thanksgiving abounding; it is a blessing all about: God blessing man and man blessing God for his blessing.

 

Year 1, Week 11, Monday                                       East Doncaster, 1989

“We beg you once again not to neglect the grace of God that you have received.” 2 Corinthians 6.10

Last week’s readings from 2 Corinthians were a commentary on the feast of Pentecost. They spoke of the contrast between Law and Spirit, of the experience of Moses on Sinai and of Christian destiny. This week’s readings are a commentary on the form of life that results from the Spirit.

For that reason, Paul begins this section with an earnest request not to neglect the grace of God which leads the Christian into a life which is essentially dramatic: the conflict of inner and outer, of present and future, of good and evil, of appearance and reality. Paul describes it in resounding phrases: ‘taken for impostors while we are genuine; obscure yet famous; taken for paupers though we make others rich, for people having nothing though we have everything’.

This dramatic quality comes from the very presence of Spirit who leads us, as he chooses, along paths we do not know. His freedom upturns our customs and ideas. From security, he takes us into puzzlement, to be in the One who is beyond all knowledge, to be with him who is purest Presence.

 

Year 1, Week 11, Tuesday                                       East Doncaster, 1989

“Here, brothers, is the news of the grace of God which was given in the churches in Macedonia.”             2 Corinthians 8.1

Paul attaches great importance to the collection made among the Gentile Churches for the Mother Church in Jerusalem. which, it seems, was experiencing the effects of the famine known to have occurred under the Emperor Claudius.

The Spirit is essentially the mark of the generosity of God. The magnanimity of Father and Son is communicated and expressed in the proceeding of the Spirit. The Spirit draws on the magnanimity of Father and Son in his drawing of himself from them. The breath makes the Father and Son breathe. The end causes the beginning.

The Spirit is given to the Christian out of magnanimity, given without any search for advantage.

The divine generosity that the Christians have experienced leads them naturally to be generous to others with whatever wealth they have. Thus, the collection of money, which seems so opposite to the values of Spirit, becomes, in this case, an indication of the Spirit’s power.

 

Year 1, Week 11, Wednesday                                            Glenroy 1977

You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us;”       2 Corinthians 9.11

God is generous by nature. For that reason, we call God ‘Father’, for he who generates is generous.

God rejoices to be generous. It is his pleasure to communicate; he loves to give. For that reason, he creates and redeems. The very foundation of the world is generosity. He fashions the man from the earth and regenerates with his Spirit. From what is born of time he fashions gods, born of eternity. And his delight is for his children to be with him.

God is generous because he is God and depends on nothing. Humans are ungenerous when they are not of God. Those who feel they have little will experience every giving as loss. But those who know God and share God’s nature cannot but be like God, generous in every circumstance, creating and confirming, encouraging and forgiving, absorbing every aggression of evil and responding with an outpouring of good.

We give the higher gifts: our being and our spirit. Of these, the material gifts are but a sign, for to give money – and nothing more – is to insult the receiver; it is effectively saying  that there is no higher quality in them, no divinity. But to give money as a sign – as Jesus gave a sign by restoring health- is to honour the receiver, saying that they are of God, for God. To give is to offer tribute. To give money is a prayer, making the money acceptable. The gift is an acknowledgement that  we are of like destiny, of one origin, that we are companions bound by a link greater than money, a link which makes us equal. Giving is the sharing of food at the eternal banquet.

                                                                        Burwood 1983

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully….He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.”            2 Corinthians 9:6, 10.

Paul is not only the preacher to the Gentiles. In the Churches that he founded he is also a fundraiser.

The Church in Jerusalem has fallen upon bad times. The community which began in generosity finds itself in penury, for the easy sharing of goods could last only if Jesus returned soon. With his delay and with the added problem of famine at the time of the Emperor Claudius, the Mother Church is bankrupt.

The collection is not only an act of charity. It is also an act of homage. The daughter Churches must look after their aged Mother. It is a recognition of Jerusalem as the fountainhead of Christianity. If the labourer deserves his wages, the Mother Church can command support. It is also a fulfilment of prophecy for the Old Testament had foretold that the Gentiles would bring their riches to Jerusalem.

The collection is, therefore, not a mere financial transaction. It is a religious act. The same is true of the financial activity of today’s Church. It too can be an act of worship and homage.

 

Year 1, Week 11, Thursday                                      Glenroy 1977

“I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough.”           2 Corinthians 11.2-4

The Book of Genesis teaches that God, the matchmaker, had brought the Woman to the Man and had betrothed them. In today’s reading, Paul presents himself as the matchmaker. He has betrothed the Corinthian Church to Christ and looks forward to the nuptials when Christ will return in glory.

Satan, however, seduced Eve, Adam sinned, and their sin entered the world. Paul is afraid lest his Corinthians be seduced by false teachers bringing a false Gospel and a false spirit.

Every Christian is a matchmaker. Every Christian is like God, rescuing from sin and restoring the innocence, the original betrothal. All this so that the intended unity may be realised, at the end of time.

Our faith is the betrothal and a return to innocence. Yet our faith also looks forward to the nuptials, the fullness of union at every level.

Burwood 1981

God was the matchmaker bringing the Woman to the Man; Paul is the matchmaker bringing the Corinthians to union with Christ.

Yet a serpent is at work. The so-called ‘arch-apostles’ have come to divide what God and Paul have put together. It is to a false Christ that they try to prostitute the Corinthians. Or again, if the union in faith leads to the joy of the Holy Spirit, these serpents try to arouse an evil spirit.

The Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is reflected in Paul the God-like matchmaker, in Christ the bridegroom of the Corinthians and in the outcome of this union: the Spirit of God. Paul hints at a parody: the father of lies preaching a false Jesus and evoking a false spirit.

Thus, in this text we find, marvellously combined, Paul’s teaching of the Trinity and its parody.

 

Year 1, Week 11, Friday                                         East Doncaster, 1989

“The servants of Christ? I must be mad to say this, but so am I, and more than they.”  2 Corinthians 11:23

Paul has experienced, from his own friends in Corinth, the accusations that were made against him by his enemies: he is a false Jew, he is a false apostle.

He counters these charges by referring to his background: he is a Hebrew, an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham. His pedigree is impeccable. To the far more telling charge – that is he is a false apostle – he replies by showing that he is has experienced the Easter mystery. True, he has not known the earthly Christ but he has known the paschal Christ.

In today’s reading, Paul explains his experience of the passion of Christ. He even gives an itemised list of the sufferings he has endured for the sake of the Gospel. In tomorrow’s reading he will show how he has known the resurrection of Christ. He is therefore qualified as an apostle, more so than they.

All this has implications. The more we have experienced the paschal mystery, the more we are authorised in the Church. Authority in the Church comes not only from the historical line of the apostles. Authority in the Church comes also from those who experience Christ’s passion and resurrection in their lives.

 

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The Patriarchal History, commentary on select verses from Genesis 12-46

Genesis 12-46: commentary on select verses.

Salvation history: the Patriarchs

 

Year 1, Week 12, Monday                              Glenroy 1975

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”Genesis 12:1-3

Salvation history begins with the promise made to Abraham. The Jews of today, buoyed up by the promise made to Abraham, wish to become ‘a great nation’, living ‘in the land promised to Abraham’s descendants’.

We, the new Israel, look for no ‘city here below’. A promise has indeed been made to us, not in terms of acreage or population. Our promise is in spiritual terms, in the realm of the Spirit which is far more real than any country or nation. A promise has been made to us. When was this promise made? When we received the gift of the Holy Spirit we were filled with power and longing and hope. We received the first fruits of the Spirit and we are charged with power from on high. We are a pilgrim people, leaving our earthly country, our family, our earthbound home and we seek a city that is to come. We are not looking for a few hectares of earth but the infinite reaches of the Spirit ‘who fills the whole world’. We are not looking for a great nation but for the communion of saints.

Let us then be filled with the power of the Spirit, the determination, the vigour, the impatience of God. Let us, with boldness, take possession of our kingdom. God is waiting, is delaying until we with full determination, the full ‘yes’ without admixture of ‘no’, take the kingdom of heaven by storm and establish it now in our time. Let us with the strength of God carve out a kingdom for ourselves and for him from the wide expanses of creation. Then will the promise be fulfilled and the vocation of Abraham be fulfilled in the eternal kingdom above.

                                                               Glenroy 1977

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”        Genesis 12:1-3

In ignorance of the full consequences of his action, but dimly aware of the greatness of his future, Abraham leaves all. He has strength to depart because of the promise. The promise can be fulfilled only if he leaves all. He is to obtain a land, an offspring, a nation. He is to be a blessing for the ends of the earth and a judgment on all mankind.

All this applies to Abraham. It applies to all of us. It applied to Christ. He left all. More than any man he left all in his death which separated him from earth, race and God. No man can leave more than he. No man could leave more than he because he had most to leave. He did this in hope of the promise made to him. And so, he became the kingdom of God; all men are his body; the nations of the earth are his; he is a blessing that confirms the whole universe; he is the final judge.

We leave, for what destination we know not, but the Spirit of God, the promise, guides us through strange paths. We leave what we know and are refashioned by what we do not know. We leave completely and become completely new, else. We become the future. Body, we become Body. Body we become Spirit. Man, we become the Future Man. Man, we become God. Earth, we become heavenly. Time, we become eternity. Constricted, we become infinite. Poor, the earth is ours. The Spirit of God draws us on, and we leave.

                                                                     East Doncaster, 1989

Today we begin the long cycle of readings that stretch from the figure of Abraham to the person of David. It is the story of promise and its fulfilment in the person of David, the anointed one, the chosen of the Lord, the prefigurement of Jesus the Christ.

According to the Jewish mind, the son was already existing in the father. From the father’s body came all the subsequent heirs. In the body of Abraham, the person of David exists already, hidden yet real. Already in Abraham the chosen people exist. His character is their outline.

In the episodes which we read over the next two weeks, the character of Abraham is shown. Whatever about the historical accuracy of this portrait, it is expresses what the Jews thought of their ancestor. It represents the ideal man of God.

Today’s reading recounts the first words spoken in history to a human being. The first command is ‘leave’. Three times this command is made, in ever sharper focus: he must leave country, then family, and finally even his house. He is to leave for a land which is uncertain, known only in the future.

This command to Abraham is made constantly throughout his life. He must leave all he knows and listen only to what he is inspired to know.

The first characteristic, therefore, of the person who will be the source of all is to leave all. We are called to be completely free of all attachment, to be obedient only to the command of God, to the inner nature given to us. That total dedication alone is satisfying. It alone is the source of all fruitfulness.

From the person who, at the Transcendent One’s impetus leaves all in the prospect of what only the God knows, from him in time will come an immense fruitfulness. All blessing will spring from him, a whole people, even the world to come.

                                                                           East Doncaster, 1995

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.             Genesis 12:1

To Abram Yahweh says: Leave all for a land I will show you.

To his disciples Jesus says: Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.

To all the Spirit says: Come to me and enjoy the wide expanse within.

 

Year 1, Week 12, Tuesday                              Glenroy 1977

“Is not the whole land open before you? Part company with me;

if you take the left, 1 will go right; if you take the right, I will go left.”

Genesis 13:9

Abraham is a man of wealth, but first he is a man of peace. He allows Lot, his nephew, his junior, to have first choice. He accedes to Lot’s choice of the fertile portion and his own unfertile portion. Despite the risk involved and the seeming folly of such generosity, although he puts his own future at risk, he will not allow his ambition to take the place of the promise. If God is to give him a great future it will have to be within the context of peace.

Lot, in his cupidity, has made the wrong choice. He chose the plain and the encampment near Sodom. He will be driven from there by the destruction of Sodom and will take the even drier hills of Moab and Ammon as his pasture land. His cupidity redounds on his own head.

Abraham now hears a promise made to him. He, the man of generosity, the man of peace, willing to sacrifice his own future rather than go against what he knows is of God, is blessed: the dust of the arid hills now becomes a gauge of future blessing; the infertile land is a sign of his own fertility.

A promise is made to us. Folly if we follow our pre-conception of how this promise is to be fulfilled. Rather, we follow the guiding light of the Holy Spirit. At times it will seem madness to follow the Spirit. It will seem to jeopardise the very promise, even to fight against it. Yet we take the risk, because we follow the Spirit whose fruit is peace and harmony, generosity, readiness to sacrifice, who leads us, by masterly strokes, to the goal.

                                                               East Doncaster, 1989

“Is not the whole land open before you? Part company with me;

if you take the left, 1 will go right; if you take the right, I will go left.”

Genesis 13:9

Abraham is a man of wealth. His ownership is not only in camels and servants. He is wealthy in his very self, in his self-concept, his self-assurance, his ability to cope. Above all he is wealthy in his generosity. He will let Lot decide their future. He knows that, whatever the situation, he will prosper and that he will be the source of blessing.

His detachment is thus the source of his magnanimity. He can be detached because God has spoken to him and he has obeyed completely, and has hearkened to the word entirely.

Lot sought the fertile fields and thus, by contrast, shows himself to be a poor man. His attachment has brought about his destruction. The fair fields of Jericho destroy him.

Abraham is free because he is bonded to the One who is beyond this world and who governs all. Thus, Abraham is the source of all.

So, for ourselves, the freedom we acquire by faith in Jesus who is beyond all in his resurrection – this freedom gives us a greatness of heart, a magnanimity which will allow us to be the source of blessing. We allow the events of life to shape us because we know that, being with the transcendent God, we are free in every circumstance and bring blessing to every moment. The circumstances may determine the different ways in which we are a blessing, but blessing we shall always be.

 

Year 1, Week 12, Wednesday                          Glenroy 1977

Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.”       Genesis 15:7-15

The promise is made to Abraham. Yet how improbable is its fulfilment. He has been promised a nation of descendants, a land for his domain: yet he is old, he is one household within a powerful nation.

The promise is made. Yet how doubtful its source. God has spoken, yet dreams speak. God has vowed, yet humans are prone to illusion.

What a man is Abraham. How strong, how convinced in his future. How sure, how determined. No weak promise; no weak Giver of promises, for Abraham is no weak man.  He knows and he believes.

Hope against hope, this is our quality, we ‘sons’ of Abraham. A promise is the heart of a man, as much as any will or reason. A sense of promise is the beginning of a man. And this promise is that we should have the earth for our domain, and humankind for our body.

For at the heart of aIl existence lies a promise and One who promises – that is our God. And we are convinced, for we cannot be human unless convinced of it. A promise is made: this we know and we believe.

Yet Abraham is weak too: “How shall l know l am to possess it’. Therefore, God gives him a sign of fire and cloud, light and darkness, the extremes of reality, as a sign of the determination of Him who exceeds reality.

We are weak too. How shall we know? Therefore, God gives us the sign of the cross: the one who knows life and death, the extremes of our human reality, as a sign of the fidelity of Him who is beyond all human reality. Christ dead and risen: our hope of future glory.

                                                                     East Doncaster, 1989

“Now as the sun was setting Abram fell into a deep sleep.”              Genesis 15:12

Abraham has heard the word of God and has placed his faith in him who is beyond all things. He alone will bless Abraham.

This is expressed experientially in the act of Abraham falling asleep.

He sleeps to all that is not of God. He falls asleep in God who is to be the source of all his knowledge and his living. He is as dead. He has finished with this world and lives alone in God and the promise.

This is his sacrifice.

Therefore, it is from him that blessing will come. From his own body, already dead through age, an heir will come. To him all this land is given. By his union with God all fruitfulness comes from him.

For us too, in our prayer we die to all else. We are alive only in the One who is beyond all. Therefore, although we seem to sleep and to be unknowing, we are the ones from whom all fruitfulness comes. To us the whole world is given as our possession, our responsibility. We are in covenant with the One. United with him, he is the subject of all our being, and he blesses us. We do not seek blessing. We seek only to be in him. Yet to be in him who is all good, there cannot but be blessing.

 

Year 1, Week 12, Thursday                                      East Doncaster, 1989

 “The angel of Yahweh said to her, ‘I will make your descendants too numerous to be counted.’” Genesis 16:10

Three times the promise has been made to Abraham that he would be blessed with land and offspring. It is clear what the land is to be. It is not clear who is the heir.

Yesterday’s reading proposed that one of Abraham’s servants should be his heir. Such a possibility is rejected by God. In today’s reading, we hear of Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, born through the slave-girl, Hagar, becoming heir. Sarah rejects this possibility. The problem of the rightful son still remains a problem.

Ishmael, nevertheless, is to be blessed. Though he is a ‘wild-ass’ of a man, he will be numerous too, for all the offspring of Abraham, in whatever way conceived, will be blessed precisely because they are of Abraham.

The Christian is a child of Abraham, conceived and given birth by the Holy Spirit through faith.

 

Year 1, Week 12, Friday                                           East Doncaster, 1989

“No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.

God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.”            Genesis 17:5, 9-10

The promise is made once again to Abraham that he will have a child. This will be fulfilled, however, only after two other events have occurred: Abraham’s change of name and his circumcision.

Once he has acquired his new name, that is his vocation, and once he has received the public mark of the covenant, only then is he able to have the son who represents immortality, blessing and fruitfulness.

For Saint Paul, vocation and covenant are given by the reception of Spirit.

This involves interior transformation, above all, yet it is perceived in the manifest quality of the Christian. Thus, the interior transformation is made evident in the body. These two are not opposed but form one whole.

The body is the revelation of Spirit coming from above. The transformation of the body shows the power of the One from whom all proceeds. The body is the image of God himself.

                                                                        Glenroy, 1999

At the outset the Word came to Abraham that he should leave his father’s house and his country for an unknown land and there to be the father of a nation. On the strength of this Word, Abraham leaves all and sees the land he has received.

But how will he be the father of a nation? Will he accept some man of his household to be his heir? No! God tells him; his heir will be of his own flesh and blood. Will it be the son born to him by his wife’s servant girl, Hagar? No! God tells him; his heir will be born to him by his wife Sarah. The Word has come personally to Abraham and the blessing will come from Abraham himself. He himself will be the source of his own salvation. His own flesh will provide the fullness of happiness. This produces a reaction in Abraham. He laughs. It is the reaction of mingled belief and disbelief. Can such happiness really come his way? Abraham calls his son ‘Isaac’ which means ‘laughter’.

To the Christian also the Word has come, in God’s own time and his choosing. The Word contains within itself every blessing and the Word works itself out in the life of the Church. When Christians at last understand how their life has been fruitful, their reaction is amazement. “In our mouths there was laughter, on our lips there was song.” Christians see that their salvation springs from their own self, that they are their own salvation and they stand amazed that such a thing is possible, and their face is covered in smiles. Laughter, not mockery or derision, but the laughter of delight is the natural condition of the Christian, the sign of salvation. Sadness and gloom, the downcast and solemn look do not suit those who are seated at the banquet of life.

 

Year 1, Week 12, Saturday                                    East Doncaster, 1989

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2He looked up and saw three men standing near him.” 

Genesis 18:1

The mysteriousness of this episode is well known. It is the first manifestation of the Trinity in the life of Abraham. It is directly connected with the fulfilment of the promise, namely the birth of Isaac. The three ‘men’ who speak as one, who at times appear as one and yet are three: this has classically been taken to represent in an obscure way the revelation of the Trinity which is fully revealed in Christ.

Our knowledge of the Trinity and our deepening relationship with them in their diversity is the cause of all our fruitfulness. They, of their own free choice, come to visit us and their visit is always productive. Without them there is no fruitfulness.

Our task, therefore, is to allow them to come to us and to welcome them, placing all our wealth at their disposal. Then, in the impossibility of our mortality, we shall produce all the blessings imaginable.

 

Year 1, Week 13, Monday                                    Glenroy 1975

All of scripture, all the great books of religion are trying to describe that final state to which all are called, the state of Man.

In the present text we have the presentation of the effect of the Man upon humans. For humans, by their condition of temporality, of ignorance, are trapped in limitation, and are even more trapped when they give vent to the untamed or even the perverted in them. Being in a state of sin, they are liable to destruction, for their condition is purely time-bound.

The Man, on the other hand, is beyond time, in the sphere of the eternal, confidently conversing with God. And yet his roots are with other humans, for their nature is one. In virtue of their solidarity, the Man, who is eternal, penetrates with eternality the world of time and so saves it from destruction. His justice, his conformity with the eternal, casts a light over the gloom of the temporal, and so sinners are saved by the just

This the individual who seeks holiness seeks conformity with the Man is not engaged on a selfish quest but on the most fruitful quest possible: that of saving sinners.

It is essential to understand this solidarity. It is not just a likeness: it is a real identity. Yet, identity does not eliminate difference. Individuality and identity are not opposed.

This helps to elucidate the most refined mystery of the human race and the Church who are the counterpart of the mystery of the Trinity. For humans come to identity while retaining their individuality. It is by his identity with sinners that the just man saves them.

                                                                        Glenroy 1977

Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

Genesis 18:24-25

Noah prevented the extermination of the human race. The ten just men could have prevented the destruction of the cities. Moses’ prayer for his people withheld the Lord’s wrath. Jesus, the one Just Man, redeems all mankind.

The just man does not live in isolation. Nor does the unjust sin alone. Every person is inextricably linked up with every other person so that to pull up the ‘tares’ is to uproot the ‘wheat’.

This fact lies at the heart of Abraham’s argument: The Lord cannot destroy the guilty without destroying the innocent.

Now, God cannot destroy the innocent. He who is Just cannot but love the just. He can no more harm the innocent than hate himself. Therefore, God’s hand is forced: he is caught in the trap of his own nature. He is ‘forced’ to spare the guilty because they live with the innocent.

This is true of Christ and the human race. God cannot bring the human race to nought because Christ is human. No matter how great the sin of mankind – as long as it remains human – God cannot destroy it, because of Christ. Thus, Christ is the Just Man, the saviour. Whoever is with Christ is saved from the devouring fire.

What does all this mean in terms unaffected by ancient stories. It is the just person who makes humanity worthwhile. If the masterpiece of art gives credibility to artistic activity; if the discoveries of science warrant public expenditure on research; if success in a match gives spirit to a team at all matches; if some good moments keep a marriage together:  if we understand this then we understand how the just can make the human race viable. Without them we would fall apart, lose heart, consistency and value.

In the face of the fragile reality, it is the just who preserve it.

                                                                     Burwood 1983

“Approaching him he said: ‘Are you really going to destroy the just man with the sinner?’ ”         Genesis 18:23

Abraham intercedes for the city of Sodom. His appeal on behalf of the just is also an appeal for the sinner. Abraham pleads with typical oriental circumlocution, but he also shows a familiarity and a boldness that belongs to the friend of Yahweh. He does so, even though he is not one of the men of Sodom. He pleads for them but is not with them.

Abraham is mediator and to an extent he is distinct from both parties, since the perfection of intercession comes when the intercessor does not take sides, and at the same time is not separate either from the one to whom he pleads and the ones for whom he pleads.

Abraham is the father of the people of God, but Christ is the Lord. Jesus, the perfectly incarnate, is both the just man and the sinner. He bears in himself both the sin and the justice of the world.

Jesus pleads for the world, but he also does what he asks for. He does not cease to ask, for he is Son. He acts because he is God. His asking and his initiative, his dependence and his authority are one because he is God from God. His intercession also involves the transformation of the self. He is what he asks for. He brings about changes in himself. It is his own body that he changes because he is man among men. He is the forgiveness of God.

 

Year, 1, Week 13, Tuesday                                Glenroy 1977

“‘Look, that city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!’”            Genesis 19:20

Our existence is precarious, the complexity of our body is fragile. Our world, our society are

so remarkable, so defiant of what seems the universal law of nature.

Is it a wonder that any attack on this fragility should open the flood gates and allow the sweep of the universal law to blot us out? Our defiance of these laws makes them more ready to reduce us to their pattern. And this reduction is the work of the One who made the laws. Our conscience tells us that the reduction is punishment.

All who are bound to that society perish with the fools who open the flood gates.

Yet, in today’s reading, some escape. Those who follow the angels are saved. Even more, those who follow the Man and leave the follies of mankind are saved. They lose their possessions even as they lose their outward form, but they escape to another city and acquire another fortune. They are saved from the destruction that falls on Sodom and Gomorrah.

For with the Just Man we find our other self, our second self, our truer self, our self beyond ourselves, intimated by the present but not contained by it. He saves us. We live in another city, with the Just Man, with another self, our self beyond ourselves, our spirit.

                                                                        Burwood 1983

“I grant you this favour too, and will not destroy the town you speak of.”

Genesis 19:21

The contrast between Abraham and Lot is clearly made. Abraham has pleaded for the great cities of the plain although he is not their citizen. He has secured the promise of God not to destroy them because of the ten just men that might live there. Lot, on the other hand is pleading for the little town of Zoar. He pleads for it because he has not the energy, so he says, to go into the abode of Abraham in the hills. He shows concern only for his lack of concern.

Abraham is the father of a nation and father of all that have faith because he is the man of faith. Lot is the man of doubt, the man of little faith. Because there is a grandeur of conception in Abraham’s whole outlook he cannot but be ‘father’ the world’s monotheistic religions.

Prayer cannot be small. The work of intercession is a grand task. We pray, not for our own comforts but for the salvation of the world. Christ, the one just man, saves the world by his prayer. In our justice and faith, we too have great designs and with the faith that moves mountains we decide on them.

 

Year 1, Week 13, Wednesday                                   Glenroy 1977

But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you.’Genesis 21:12

God is endlessly fruitful. Of the billions of suns, he has chosen one to shine on an earth capable of supporting man. Of the millions of men, he had chosen Abraham to bear his promise. Of the sons of Abraham, God chose Isaac to succeed him.

Why Isaac? But if Ishmael, why? God must choose. There is a reason for the choice, but the reason is of little importance compared with the choice. There is some advantage in Sarah’s son – he is a freedman – but this advantage is slight and must be slight: for it is God’s freedom which makes the choice, not the advantage which forces the choice.

God must choose, for someone must bear the promise. There cannot be two bearers or the inheritance is divided and mankind is divided.

If he chooses Isaac it is only for the good of all, including Ishmael. To Isaac the glory, to Ishmael the blessing. To Isaac the inheritance, to us the usufruct. To Isaac the authority, to us the joy.

So too in all of God’s works: he chooses one or other to bear a role: but all benefit from it. His choice of one man is so that he be man for others.

And so, with Christ: if he has the role, all benefit from it; all are saved by his being raised. If he is chosen, we too are chosen. No gift is given which is not a public gift.

Thus, everybody is for everybody. Each body is “given up for you”. Each body is a fountain from which one drinks. And everybody achieves the perfection of the Body only when they have become one for all.

All other roles will vanish and one role will remain: to be a body for everybody. To give body to everyone. All roles are directed to that one role: to be a body.

Being body for all, one’s body will be transmuted into spirit as waters flow endlessly from one’s side. And as they flow, this other body from the body, this water from the side, this spirit taken out of flesh, will give substance to all bodies.

So that from one’s chosen body flow blessings for all, from all for all.

The body does not depart, for there is no other source. The water does not cease to flow for the supply is endless. The waters flow to others and they receive body from which other waters and the same waters flow.

                                                                     Burwood 1983

“So, she sat at a distance; and the child wailed and wept~.

But God heard the boy wailing

and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven. ‘What is wrong, Hagar?’ he asked.

Do not be afraid, for God has heard the boy’s cry where he lies’.”  

Genesis 21:16-17

The boy lies under the bush and cries. His mother sits and awaits the end. The course of nature will put an end to the boy. The waterless land will claim another victim.

Although the child is not of the promise but of nature, not of grace but of necessity; although the child is dying because of the incapacity of nature, finally, to sustain him, God hears the cry. Nature, which proceeds from his hands, can draw down his compassion. The child expresses his distress, the child who lies and waits, and calls upon God unknowingly.

Where Abraham, the man of faith, can approach God and obtain his request; where Lot, the man of little faith, can plead with the angel and find security; the child who cries naturally, draws the pity of God. God comes to redeem the nature which he created good but not immortal.

So it is that those countless generations of children, beaten, exposed, aborted, who cry or cannot cry, who weep with their blood if not with their tears: they will draw down the mercy of God and the wrath of the Just One.

 

Year 1, Week 13, Thursday                                   Glenroy 1977

So, Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.””                    Genesis 22:14

God called to Abraham in the land of Haran to leave his father’s house for a land mysterious and uncertain. At long length the child is born to Abraham and all his hopes are pinned on that one boy.

And again, God calls to Abraham, this time to sacrifice his son: in other words, to place his future and all his hopes in jeopardy: for how could he become a great nation, how could he possess a land except through a son and heir.

God had called on Abraham to leave father and land for an unknown future; now he calls on Abraham to sacrifice son and all hope, with nothing ahead of him.

What greater test can be given a person? Only one more: one’s own death. Jesus sees the crumbling of all his plans. A monumental failure among his people, he sees even his teaching brought to nought, as his disciples abandon him. Rejected by all, with no future of any sort ahead of him, with no hope, feeling abandoned by God and man, and crushed in mind, body and spirit, he faces the ultimate darkness. He is truly brought low as hell. No one had gone so low before; no one can go lower. Nor can anyone go as low again: for in their abasedness they will find the companionship of the one who preceded them.

And as Abraham, without a murmur, sets on his way, his one answer, his one reaction “the Lord will provide” is our only answer to evil. For he does not know the mysterious workings of God and his thoughts are not God’s thoughts. But one thing he knows is that his God is of good-will. He places no hope in anything else but that.

For this reason, Abraham, the man of faith, the man who knows that God is good and that all else is uncertain, is the first of every man of faith. All others are his children, his followers, his inheritors. And so, with Isaac’s effectual death, Abraham becomes the father of a multitude far in excess of all those whom Isaac could have engendered. All men of times past and future, of continents and planets unknown, who are of faith, are his heirs.

But more than that, of Christ, the utmost man of faith, all are heirs, co-heirs and even Abraham gives way to Christ, for before Abraham Jesus is.

And so, to all of us: men of faith solely in our God of good-will, leaving all else, we become infused with a Spirit beyond all else, the Spirit of promise, the one who makes us heirs of all, rulers of all: for if we have left all, we gain all.

                                                               Burwood 1983

“Then he bound his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood.’

Genesis 22:9

Hagar sits a distance away, not wishing to see her son die, while Abraham prepares his son for sacrifice. Ishmael is the son of nature; Isaac is the son of the promise. The cries of the future bowman turn God’s heart to compassion. The silence of Isaac resounds from end to end.

While the cry of Ishmael is a prayer that wins his salvation, the silence of Isaac is the perfection of prayer. It is the silent acceptance of the unknown mysteries. It is the obedience of one who trusts completely. Isaac allows himself to be bound and placed on the altar. He makes no sound. He trusts in his father, Abraham, who trusts in God. Isaac, the child, shows the qualities that make the kingdom of heaven belong to him. Therefore, he cannot but be saved. If the cry of Ishmael wins the compassion of Gad, the silent assent of Isaac makes the renewal of the promise imperative.

The perfection of prayer is obedience, comprehending or uncomprehending.

 

Year 1, Week 13, Friday                                Burwood, 1983

“After this, Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave of the field of Machpelah, opposite Mamre in the country of Canaan.” Genesis 24:19

Abraham left his country because of the promise that he would inherit the land of Canaan. The moment that sees the beginnings of mortality – the death of his wife – is the moment which sees the beginnings of fulfilment. The purchase of the cave is the first step in the possession of the Promised Land. In the first portion of land is buried she who alone could provide the son of the promise. The last glimmer coincides with the first light of dawn.

This plot, like the child in the womb, will grow into a land. Isaac too, the child of the womb, will have grown into twelve tribes. The cave will have become a Temple. The land will be the holy centre of the earth. And on it will take place the great drama of salvation. David and the Son of David will walk it. Good and evil will be locked in struggle and from another cave, a tomb hewn in rock, from which the Son of Man will emerge.

Yet we do not have concern for cave or land, not even for the rock of the tomb. Our land is beyond land. Our earth is heavenly. Time has become non-time. What is flesh, taken from earth, is now spirit. The first purchase of land at Machpelah, opposite Mamre where the Three Angels appeared, has become the incarnate and risen Lord, seated at the right. There too for us is all land found.

The promise that germinates in the form of a cave-tomb is fulfilled in a land, but is complete in the Risen Body of the Lord. Land becomes Spirit. The promised is fulfilled; the transformation is complete.

 

Year 1, Week 14, Monday                                    Glenroy 1975

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 

So, Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one tenth to you.”

Genesis 28:10-12, 18, 20-22

We are surrounded by the presence and the activity of God.

This passage fills me with joy, always, as it teaches that, though we are unaware of the fact, the activity of God about us is continuous. It is an activity of blessing, of promise, of purpose: for God is blessing Jacob; it is supportive and encouraging: for God is protecting Jacob; it is powerful and eternal: for it is angels who ascend and descend; it is mysterious and marvellous.

Yet we do not know it. In our waking hours our minds are filled with the cares and interests of daily life. It is when we take leave of these things and allow the hidden awareness to flow into our consciousness, as in sleep, that the truth dawns on us. It is a privileged moment.

Once this truth has penetrated into our consciousness, then we marvel and are amazed; we have fear, not in the sense of the fear of evil, but in the sense of realizing our true position under God. We are amazed and delighted and we stand in wonder at this benevolent power which we can respect. We come to know the true dimensions of history and reality.

And so, we pledge ourselves; we take on and commit ourselves to this truth we have come to know, not by raising pillars of stone to God but by other acts which give expression to our new-found knowledge.

                                                               Glenroy 1975

“And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”       Genesis 28:13,16

The revelation of God is always accompanied by a promise, for God is dynamic and we know him as one who has a will in our regard. When we know him, we become like him and we have a new will, united with his – and we look forward to the promised land which we seek as he seeks to give it to us.

                                                               Glenroy 1977

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran.”       Genesis 28:10

The future of a person is seen in his distant past. But only the future reveals the past. From the very beginning Jacob has been ambitious. He has come second from the womb but still grasping the foot of the brother that preceded him.

A person with determination sees every moment as an opportunity. Jacob’s whole character was in search of blessing, so that the fortuitous event of Esau’s hunger was seen by Jacob’s restless eye as an opportunity to advance: he buys the birth-right for a bowl of lentils.

The man of determination – like our determined God – changes, by every ruse, the purposes of others. Jacob deceived Esau and wrung from him the blessing meant for Esau.

Every person of single-mindedness brings persecution upon himself, as the rock creates waves, or the arrow causes turbulence. Jacob is determined upon the promised. His very determination brings him trouble: he must flee a bitter Esau.

Yet even as he flees, even in the moment of fatigue and perhaps of doubt, at the very moment when the elucubrations of ambition recede into the background then the true cause of Jacob’s determination appear clear to him: it is God who has promised him the inheritance. All his own plotting, from the womb onwards, has been due, in final analysis, to the fact God is promising him the inheritance. If he had not known, deeply, interiorly, that the inheritance was his, he could not have struggled so hard to obtain it. His basic character was determined by a future event.

But now God appears to him and reveals the promise. Jacob can now leave the Promised Land certain of his future.

And so, for all of us: our origin and basic character is decided by our future state. With determination we seek that future already present. While determination brings us trouble, it is at the depth of confusion that we see the essence of our character: God promising us.

So too, with Christ: his future resurrection describes even his conception in Mary; he seeks his future with determination, even bringing opposition upon himself. But as he hangs upon the cross, at the depth of his abandonment, God makes his promise in its highest pitch and keeps it: ‘You are Lord of all the earth’.

 

Year 1, Week 14, Tuesday                              Glenroy 1975

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.”          

Genesis 32:24

Like Jacob who has seen the promised land and who comes to take possession of it, we too have been gifted, in the Holy Spirit, with a knowledge of the truth. However obscurely, we have seen the hope God sets before us and our hearts reach out to it.

The kingdom of heaven will never come to us if we wait on the farther side of the stream. No, by a new movement of the Spirit we claim this kingdom. Empowered by the Spirit, as champions running our race, we let strength fill our muscles and steady our will. We claim it.

We fight with God. Not because God is unwilling but because we are determined. We anticipate the hour and demand it now. We spare no effort but claim it now in the vigour of our will.

Then God will grant our desire and will bless us. By this third outpouring of the Spirit we are new beings and receive a new name as Israel did. We merit the kingdom and make it ours: not because we have only desired it but because we have willed to have it. It is ours, ours.

Glenroy 1975

All this has a mystical meaning.

The person who succeeds in entering the promised land must first fight. He must therefore be alone. There can be no one to help him. But if he separates himself from all who is dear to him, it is because he wins a land for them. They, without fighting, profit from his fight. He, alone, must fight with God. God will oppose him, but he is determined and will not let go. The fight is alone and lasts the long night, the dark night of the soul, in silence.

Finally, he succeeds. God gives him a blessing. He acquires a new name and becomes a new person, with a vastly new dimension and purpose. He acquires a people who will be named after him: not only his wife and children and possessions, but a whole nation will bear his name. He has wrested a blessing from God; he will win mankind and the universe too.

But not without a penalty. As Christ still bears the mark of the passion, so Jacob bears the mark of the wrestle – a permanent physical disability. The one who fights with God will suffer and retain, though glorified, the marks of that struggle.

Though he has wrestled closely with God and wrested the greatest blessing, God remains forever mysterious. No matter how close he may come, the human can never understand God. Indeed, he wants to know, just as he has wanted to struggle, but he can only obtain so much. God, finally, is beyond man’s comprehension. He sees God face to face, but in darkness, without understanding. He attains the greatest closeness possible. To go further would be to burst the limits of man’s nature and not to survive.

The struggle over, the blessing obtained, the sun rises, never to set again, a permanent day, the darkness gone – yet the struggle is preserved, for he limps.

                                                               Burwood 1983

“That same night he rose, and taking his two wives and his two slave girls and his eleven children he crossed the ford of the Jabbok.”            Genesis 32:23

Jacob was a wealthy man, in cattle and in family. The cattle he has given to Esau. His family he now sends on ahead of him. They have moved on to the land of the promise. As the Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds, so the wives and concubines and children of Jacob cross the Jabbok. They are safe because of his prevision. Jacob now has nothing.

Yet all of this is done because Jacob is to wrestle with God. Jacob provides for them and is free of them so that he can grapple with God and free them even more truly. He is free of them so that he can free them. He will cross the Jabbok because his future lies across it. But he will not cross it until he has struggled with the mysterious One.

So, it is with Christ who decides to wrestle with God. He separates himself from people, but it is for their sake that he does so. He cannot struggle unless he has already, in intention, won. Already he has achieved his purpose. Struggling with God he is victorious against men. His struggle is the entry into the truest holy land. His family are his prize: the wider family of the human race which becomes his by virtue of conquest. The greatest of battles occurs alone. Already, as he decides to do battle, he is victorious.

All is in the intent. How pure and strong is the intent?

 

Year 1, Week 14, Wednesday                                   East Doncaster, 1989

Genesis 41:55-57, 42:5-7, 17-24

This episode given over two days foreshadows, most clearly among all the patriarchal narratives, the passion of the Christ.

Today’s reading condenses the lengthy story of Joseph who has been betrayed into the hands of the Egyptians out of jealousy. He has been sold, but by his wisdom he has risen to power.

The details are given now. Tomorrow the justification is provided. Joseph, the man of dreams, will explain the great puzzle: the meaning of his life and of his brothers’ actions.

So too, Jesus knows the mind of God, which is his own mind. His own life is a sign which must be explained. Jesus will explain it and will also reveal the meaning of our life and death.

 

Year 1, Week 14, Thursday                                Burwood 1981

“And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”             Genesis 45:5

It was an injustice for his brothers to sell Joseph into Egypt. Yet the power of God is greater than their sin. The sin was a sin, yet now it is redeemed. If it had not been a sin it would not need to be redeemed. Human act has contributed to evil; divine agency has drawn good out of it. As God drew creation out of nothing and we marvel at his power, so God draws good out of evil and demonstrates his graciousness.

This is not excuse for sin. While God draws good out of evil, to presume that he will redeem all actions would be to tempt him. Whereas their deed offends against their brother, presumption is against God. Where their action is an offense of man to man and therefore to God, presumption is blasphemy. God’s redeeming mercy is not an invitation to irresponsibility but is a call to a comparable generosity.

The proof of God’s redemptive power, far from being an excuse for sin, has made our future sins more blasphemous. Redemption increases our risk of condemnation.

                                                                        East Doncaster, 1989

Joseph now reveals who he is and the whole purpose of the extraordinary tale. The sorry story of betrayal is God’s work. God has used the jealousy of the brothers to engineer the saving of the whole family. Although the brothers are indeed guilty of sin, they are not to reproach themselves. Good has been brought out of their action. Their sin is redeemed.

In a similar way good will be made of the hardness of pharaoh’s heart when the Israelites are brought out of slavery in Egypt.

Above all, good will be made of this world’s sin when the carpenter of Nazareth, the one who knows, is put to death at the hands of the Romans and is raised so that he might go before us to save our lives.

Thus, the episode points mysteriously to the hand of God at work in the turmoil of this world. At the extremities of good and evil, the One beyond good and evil is at work, making his presence known in that all is good.

 

Year 1, Week 14, Friday                                Burwood 1983

“Israel said to Joseph: ‘Now I can die, now that I have seen you again, and seen you still alive’.” Genesis 46:30

This is a touching scene when Israel, the old man, sees his favourite son, his son of the cloak of many colours, the long-lost son whom he thought killed. The old man cries out “Now I can die”. His heart has been filled. The pain of the past has been overcome by the splendour of his son’s destiny. Jacob will die happy because all things have turned out well, in the eyes of man and of God. Indeed, his death will not be death, for a happy death is an experience of immortality. Death cannot touch those without sin. Death has no meaning except in the context of disaster.

So too with Simeon. That old man, who sums up in himself the best of Israel, has longed for the coming of Israel’s favourite son. With equal surprise and unexpectedness, the child Jesus is brought to him in the Temple. The old man takes Jesus in his arms and reiterates what Jacob said: ‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace’. Simeon is happy to die because he has seen the saviour. Joseph saved his brothers who had condemned him. Jesus is a Joseph and more than Joseph because his saving is of the world and his condemnation was far graver. As Simeon takes the child in his arms he knows that all things will be well. One far more majestic than Joseph is here, more powerful than any chamberlain of Egypt. Death, therefore, is no more. It has become irrelevant in the context of the joy that is experienced. Sin is removed in the presence of the child so that death cannot touch the old man.

The aged Simeon fulfils the aged Israel because the new Joseph is here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Jewish Family in 3rd cent. BCE,  Reflections on verses from the Book of Tobit

A Jewish Family in 3rdcent. BCE,  Reflections on verses from the Book of Tobit

 Year 1, Week 9, Monday                                                                  Glenroy 1977

Tobit 1.1; 2.1-8

What is good grows. What is good wishes to excel itself. But the only way to excel is to exceed. Therefore, good seeks out evil to overcome it, be changed through it and through God’s excellence.

The story of Tobit is a case in point. Tobit is admirable as father, a Jew, a householder. His generosity and his knowledge of the Law are exemplary.

Yet he is struck down, being blinded and impoverished, – all to a purpose: “So that his faith, as Raphael tells him, may be tested.”

I do not of myself seek out difficulties and trials. I may even flee them, as did Tobit. But the inherent nature of things is that the good man will meet with adversity, as the rock creates spray.

For God’s will it is that the good can become itself by conflict with evil. The Spirit of God in a man will drive him to choose situations of risk, so that his inner nature may become realised. After all, God creates order out of chaos and transforms evil into good. Note how that evil is overcome, not by being eliminated but by being shown to be good. Good transforms evil into good. Good, obviously so, becomes good in a way unimagined by using evil to the good.

Thus, we see the man of Spirit, Jesus, taking the risk, provoking the result, so that through the cross he learns obedience and redeems all mankind. And again, the evil of Adam’s fault now becomes ‘felix culpa‘, a happy fault.

For evil is overcome by being transformed into good by the power of the Holy Spirit who uses all things to profit, by raising the Man above all evil, beyond all we know as good.

Jesus is beyond good and evil, with God who is above good and evil as we know it, the Ruler of all, who takes us through good and evil to light inaccessible.

 

ditto                                                                                                    East Doncaster, 1989

The dating of the Book of Tobit is unsure. Its particular value is the presentation of Jewish family life during the obscure period between the retum from exile and the revolt of the Maccabees.

Its particular religious value is the statement that the hand of God is at work in the ordinary family, in its trials and happiness. It is the movement of focus away from the grand scenario of Exodus and Exile to the domestic scene. It is the history of salvation seen in the family.

This first excerpt from the Book of Tobit shows the character of the old man: he is just in the way Job was just or Noah was just. He buries the dead even at the risk of his own life. He celebrates the feasts of the Torah. He is “wise, merciful and just”.

 

Year 1, Week 9, Tuesday                                                                 East Doncaster, 1989

Tobit 2:9-14

It is in the context of Tobit’s goodness and justice that the blinding takes on its dramatic quality. The wife puts the problem well: what is the point of all his goodness if it leads only to his blindness. That is the problem treated in the Book of Job.

 

Year 1, Week 9, Wednesday                                              Glenroy 1977

Tobit 3:1-11, 16-17

Tobit has been blinded and reduced to poverty. He will not, however, curse God, as his wife suggests. No, his opening words are: ‘You are just O Lord’ and he praises God. In his wretchedness he prays for the deliverance of death.

Sarah’s shame is beyond all bounds. When a woman’s duty was above all to care for her husband, no less than seven have died; when a woman’s glory was to bear children, she has never even been freed of her virginity. Though despairing, she will not do harm to her father by hanging herself as her wretchedness suggests. She prays for the deliverance of death.

Separated by thousands of miles, separated by age and unconnected in their problems, Tobit and Sarah pray for a like solution and will be delivered in reference to each other. Their prayer is answered: Raphael is sent to bring remedy to them both. He is unexpected means of answering their disconnected problems.

God will always answer prayer. His answer is always unexpected. That is why it seems to us, sometimes, that our prayers are not heard. For God’s thoughts are above our thoughts, his love greater than our love, his power beyond ours. When we open ourselves to his effectiveness, the answer cannot but be unexpected, perhaps uncomprehend, unseen, unknown.

As Raphael accompanies the young Tobias and advises him, who could know that God was already composing his solution. And as he answers our prayer, it is in a process: how can we understand the meaning of the process, until the end. Only at the end of the story does Raphael explain all. Only at the end of history will we know that God has answered the prayer of every person who turned to Him, but unexpectedly, beyond expectation. For he is God.

 

ditto                                                                                                    East Doncaster, 1989

Tobit realises the point of his wife’s comment, which leads him to the same mind as Job: it is better to die. He asks for release.

The scene shifts to Sarah who is distressed because of the all-true comments of her maid. The jibes have shown her the despair of her situation. She in her own way is just: she refuses to harm her father’s name. She is the innocent victim – like Job – of the demon. She asks for release.

When the person is brought to the end of their tether, the testing is complete.

The angel Raphael is sent to their help.

 

Year 1, Week 9, Thursday                                                 Glenroy 1977

Tobit 6:11, 7:1,9-14, 8:4-8

Young Tobias shows the ardour of youth and a good conscience. For he has scarcely arrived in Ecbatana before he is washed, seated and wedded. He is not put off by the hesitation of Raguel or the fate of the previous seven husbands, but insists on claiming Sarah as his wife.

As he prays, it is with nature and faith; there are no plaguing doubts or religious fearfulness. It is a return to Edenic innocence and primitive justice.

For that reason, his prayer is heard and the demon Asmodeus is confounded. Tobias and Sarah – strengthened by their concordance with nature, by unity with their people, through obedience to the Law of Moses, by the ardour of youthful bodies in their prime, by confidence in a compassionate God – enjoy a humanism which is divine. The truth they enjoy and live cannot but be successful over Asmodeus, for evil gains entry only when there is fault. The restoration of all things means the irrelevance and impotence of Asmodeus.

All this is achieved through the ministration of Raphael; the work of a messenger, an adviser, an angel, has restored them to innocence.

It is the re-integration of the human race, its return to the original innocence. It is the innocence of nature which precedes any historical deformation. It is the conquest of sin and evil.

The balanced person and the balanced society that conform to nature, that give place to religion and dwell in the presence of God: all this overcomes evil and fulfils the purposes of creation.

Prayer is successful when justice is restored.

 

ditto                                                                                                    East Doncaster, 1989

Along with the scenes of sadness, the Book of Tobit gives this delightful scene of the marriage of Tobias and Sarah. Comedy is not absent: entering the city, acquaintance and marriage occur all in the course of one day; during the wedding feast the father of the bride gives the most surprising speech, warning the bridegroom that seven others have died in his daughters’ arms.

And within this humour, which is delightfully Jewish, there is a touch of romance and affection between the two young people. There is a sense that this wedding will bring happiness and solution to Tobit’s blindness and to the precarious state of the Jewish people in their dispersion.

 

Year 1, Week 9, Friday                                                                    East Doncaster, 1989

Tobit 11:5-15

This scene is most touching. Typical of the anxious mother, Anna is waiting at the door of the house, watching for her son’s retum. Young Tobias comes with blessing for his aged parents. He brings his young wife to enrich the home and to ensure the succession. He brings medicine to heal the blindness of bis father. Tobit exclaims: “I can see, my son, the light of my eyes”.

This is a touching moment. It is perhaps a moment we have all experienced. Homecoming is one of the most powerful experiences we know.

To live in family, to know the delight of finding each other again; the reconciliation, the homecoming, the solution of problems that seem to overwhelm: family life is one of the greatest gifts of God to mankind.

The happiness of the family makes life worth living. It is a taste of heaven itself. For that reason, the Jewish and Christian traditions have always placed great emphasis on the family. The family is where the greatest sorrows are known and also the greatest pleasures. It is, for most of us, where salvation is found.

 

Year 1, Week 9, Saturday                                                               East Doncaster, 1989

Tobit 12:1, 5-15, 20.

The events of the Book of Tobit are now explained. What might have seemed to Tobit and his family as just a mixture of bad and good luck is now revealed to be the work of God and of the angel Raphael. “It is right to reveal the works of God”.

The kindness and mercy of Tobit were noted. This meant his testing, as it did of Job. The severity of the testing brought Tobit to the limits of prayer which was indeed heard though seemingly ignored. Raphael both tests and heals, brings to death and back. God is at work in the events of life, through the ministry of his angel. There is the hidden realm of grace at work in the lives of ordinary people.

We need to understand our lives. It is the joyful task of old age to understand the hand of God in our lives, the work of the angels.

This late Jewish work shows how God acts in the lives of ordinary people. Now that the Jewish people, as a nation, is no longer functioning, the family has become the place where God is at work, bringing salvation.

 

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Good and evil, grace and sin: commentary on select verses from Genesis 1-11

Good and evil, grace and sin: commentary on select verses from Genesis 1-11

Year 1, Week 5, Monday                                                     Glenroy 1977

“God said: ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.”   Genesis 1:3

God does not engage in some complex process to create light. The power of his will is sufficient: his fiatis enough.

The power of God is evident to us who have free will. We know that the act of creation is done out of love, gratuitously and generously. Creation is the natural outcome of his own completeness and energy. To say that it is necessary implies a lack of preceding fullness: that God would be less than God without it. To fear that the gratuitousness of creation would make us irrelevant is to misunderstand the act of generosity: the creator loves himself and his work, and wishes to draw his work to himself.

Neither is creation a mere product of technology: God does not create a machine that runs by itself. He establishes a world which he maintains; he continues to direct the world that he maintains and directs it for the sake of humans who are free. Furthermore, he endows humans with every capacity that he, God, possesses, so that humans become creators of the world. God has the initiative, but humans second the creator, having come to share his power. They become their own creators, so to speak, by sharing in the wisdom which was present at start of creation.

In this way we come to know the mind and the purpose of God and why he creates.

 

Year 1, Week 5, Tuesday                                                      Glenroy 1977

“God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” Genesis 1:28

God creates the different levels of creation and eventually creates humans, the final, the highest and the greatest work of creation, the only work made in the image of God.

The relationship between humans and creation is described in a blessing: “be masters of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth”. All three levels of living things are subject to humans because these are most alive. They are, however, created along with them, beings of flesh and blood. Thus, two things are required: mankind is livelier, mankind is of the same substance: humans are both like and unlike creation.

These two elements must stay in balance if humans are to remain master. If they fail to feel their unity with creation, if they treat creation as something foreign, if they subject creation and exploit it, treating flesh as rock and stones as money, they will become mere slave-masters, and creation will rebel against them and kill them. If, on the other hand, they fail to be livelier, if they give up the process of mastering creation, creation will turn elsewhere.

Humans are both like and unlike creation. They feel the all-encompassing unity, they are aware of every aspect of nature, of their situation and environment. They walk among the trees as among a palace full of persons, they walk in the fields as across coloured carpets. All creation is their body, which they feel and grasp and cherish. They do not have the strength of creation nor its extent in time and space, but they are more quick and their emotions more intense. Therefore, they can take it all as their body.

The purpose is this: to take the essence of all creation and to turn it into the new heaven and the new earth, the new Jerusalem, the liberated creation, wherein all the just with their glorified bodies will walk, in all things spiritualised. For if there exists a spiritual body there exists a spiritual creation. And if humankind is resurrected on the last day, creation too – in its essence – will be resurrected. Then it will have the freedom of the children of God who have mastered it.

 

Year 1, Week 5, Thursday                                                    Glenroy 1977

“So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” Genesis 2.21-23

The man was made from the soil of the earth and given the breath of God. The beasts were likewise made from the earth, but without the breath of God. Woman, so delicately, is not taken from the earth, but from the body of the man. She is an altogether special creation. This is done so surprisingly, so gently, so human: her origin is human, the part of another body, but with flesh given from elsewhere, we know not whence.

All the beasts were useful. They were certainly a help, but no helpmate. Their usefulness did not remove the man’s loneliness. God is forced, so to speak, to try another tack: he takes the rib, that is, he takes the rod, the ‘bone’, the stiffened flesh of the man, shaped like a rib and encloses it in flesh. The concern is now no longer for the garden but for another sort of tree. She, the woman, is flesh for the man’s bone. She is the crown, the robe, the justification of that tree. She is the one who encloses, captures, tends that tree, and makes it bear a ‘seed’.

The man realises this radical change upon seeing her. He had been asleep – for most great changes in our character and personality occur unconsciously. The man ceases to be a lone labourer, hardly different from the beast, a rude and rough fellow. In his sleep he is changed in his body, as it stiffens; his body helps change the world around him, as it takes on a new character. All gifts are given to us ‘while we sleep’ – ‘the Lord showers gifts on his beloved while they sleep’. It is not our effort that makes the great changes in life. The world changes while we are asleep. The man cannot cope consciously with the change and so withdraws. Every great event is the action of God, and God is seen through them. Man cannot survive the sight of God and so retreats into unconscious.

God brings the woman. The man recognises her: their bodies are perfectly related to one another and so there is a basis, now, not of similarity – for he had that with the beasts, but of relationship: they are made for each other; one is modelled with regard to the other. There is difference, yet the difference is for the sake of a greater unity. On the basis of difference and relation he can recognise that he and the woman are made for each other. Being related in their bodies, they can relate in their persons. And so, he welcomes her; he rejoices at this gift from God; he sees the unity of their bodies. And his loneliness is gone.

 

Year 1, Week 5, Friday                                                      Glenroy 1977

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ … So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.”  Genesis 3:6

The tree is referred to as “the tree in the middle of the garden”. There was nothing special about it except that it was forbidden. This fact was temptation enough. The man is drawn to the forbidden and nameless. He forgets his purpose which is to cultivate the other trees and goes after something that is not for him.

The trees permitted and the tree forbidden stand for the order established by God. Order means ‘yes and no’, ‘this and not that’. Every sin is an attack against this order, an attempt to set up a new order; every sin is a doubt about God’s good intentions and a setting oneself up as God. The fall in Genesis is an account of everyman’s fall.

Conscience reveals the law of God; it perceives the purpose without knowing why it is so. In the immediate a forbidden thing can appear good and a commanded thing appear bad. Therefore, there is a conflict between what is known immediately and what is known from the mysterious future. Everyman at some stage chooses the immediate bad instead of the future good.

The result is the loss of the future good and the choice of future evil. Yet God will subvert his own order and not allow man the full price of his folly: he will send one who is without sin and who saves man from the consequences of his unhappy choice. The new Adam will save unhappy Man.

 

Year 1, Week 5, Wednesday                                                Glenroy 1977

when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up  …And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed…. 15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” Genesis 2:5, 8, 15.

In the desert where there is no rain, no vegetation, no husbandry, God creates his first work: the human being. At the head of creation stands the purpose of all creation: the human, whom God fashions from the clods of earth like a child playing with the sand. Into this shape, so marvellously contrived, God breathes his own breath. The man is alive with the life of God.

God then establishes an oasis for the man, an oasis in this desert of barrenness, with every variety of tree. It is a paradise, a garden, with all that he needs for his sustenance.

From the beginning the man must work: the garden is for his pleasure, to feed his eye; for his sustenance, to feed his body. Yet the man is also for the garden: to cultivate it and care for it. From the beginning work is a part of human existence. Work is not the result of sin and the fall. Creation supports man: man cultivates creation. He looks after it, in a mutual relationship.

That relationship is quite opposite to the attitude of exploitation-idleness. Creation is not an abode to be plundered. The trees do not simply bear fruit. The world is not a breast with unending supplies of milk. This would force man into a perpetual childhood, bad-tempered at that.

Creation, by the structure God has given it, forces man into an attitude of maturity: a contractual arrangement. Creation will support humans if humans cultivate it. The support is free and the cultivation will be free. If either fails, both fail – the contract is broken. If man exploits creation, the trees will fail to produce their fruit and to attract the eye. If creation fails, man will be absorbed by the desert.

The trees are many: we have not even begun to see them all. The riches of creation, the depths of relationships, the powers of the human person: these are available for cultivation. We are given these things. We do not make them, but we cultivate them and allows them to develop.

When human beings have cultivated the ‘garden’ to its utmost, they will find that their work has made them immortal; their effort and the resultant fruit have made them deathless. And for all eternity they live and work. For work is natural. Jesus says ‘God keeps on working and so do I’.

 

Year 1, Week 6, Monday                                                      East Doncaster, 1989

“Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him.”     Genesis 4:25

During week 5 of Ordinary Time, we saw the introduction of sin into a creation that was originally good. During this week, 6, we see its progress.

The first sin was the offense of man against God. The second sin is the offense of man against man. The original sin derived from the wish to be like God. The second sin derives from the wish to be pleasing to God above one’s fellow. The ground which produced brambles as a result of the first sin now produces offerings unacceptable to God in the second sin. The serpent that tempted from the tree is now a beast crouching at the door. The sin of the children follows on the sin of the parents. Sin against God leads to sin against man.

The garments of skin protect man and woman from their vulnerability but do not remove their guilt. The mark will protect Cain but only by the threat of bloodshed.

Adam has set a trail of blood that will be reversed through ‘the sacrifice more pleasing than Abel’s’, that of the Second Adam.

 

Year 1, Week 6, Tuesday                                                      East Doncaster, 1989

“So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favour in the sight of the Lord.”  Genesis 6:7-8

After the sin of man against man, there is the continued growth of violence until the point when God undoes his work of the sixth day. He brings a flood upon the earth to wipe away every living creature. God – in the laws of nature – will imitate man’s violence to its ultimate degree.

Thus, the sin of man against God has bred the violence of man against man which in tum brings about the destruction of all living creatures.

Except that Noah saves a remnant of his family and of the work of the sixth day. In this way a new beginning might begin. The one just man saves a remnant and the remnant repopulates the earth.

 

 Year 1, Week 6, Wednesday                                                 East Doncaster, 1989

Genesis 8:6-13, 20-22

With a word God had created the architecture of creation and its furnishing. However, man’s violence had brought God to loosen the joints of the world and to destroy all living creatures.

But things are now restored. The flood subsides. The dove announces the end of the disaster. Noah opens the hatch of the ark to find that the world is once again habitable, for it is through Noah that the world is renewed. His justice has saved a remnant. It is through a man that God restores. With Noah all is remade.

This scene provides the backdrop for Jesus’ work. He will enter the waters of the flood at his baptism. As he rises from the river, the Holy Spirit comes bearing peace and the sign of anointing. In Jesus a new humanity is formed. More than Noah, he, Jesus, himself the remnant, repopulates the earth. Thus, all things are restored in him. In his body a new race is formed, the community of his disciples.

 

Year 1, Week 6, Thursday                                       East Doncaster, 1989

“God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered.”Genesis 9:1-2

Although all things are restored in Noah, traces of violence remain. There was originally no shedding of blood; mankind’s food was only vegetable. But now, after the flood, there is the command to be the terror of all that lives, for mankind will eat flesh.

This violence will not be removed until it too is made fruitful. It needs to be redeemed. Only when Christ shows the traces of the nails and the lance will violence be made useful and glorious.

The restoring work of Christ not only restores mankind in its flesh. It also allows the wounds to be beautiful. It allows violence to be valuable. The sin of mankind is taken away by being transformed into grace.

This is the complete restoration after the flood

 

Year 1, Week 6, Friday                                           East Doncaster, 1989

“Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, …  the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.”           Genesis 11:4, 9

We come now to the fourth fall. After man’s disobedience to God, after the crime of man against man, after the human destructiveness of creation, there is now the conflict of nation with nation.

Just as the first sin was the human attempt to be like God, so this fourth sin is the human ambition to reach the throne of God. By not observing their proper place, the people of Babel bring about their own destruction. The attempt to be God prevents one man from allowing his brother to be like God. Civil strife begins.

The mark of this disunity is the inability to communicate. Only on the day of Pentecost will this punishment be undone. The various languages are preserved; the one Gospel is communicated in all of them. Humanity has received the Spirit of God and has become like God, not on some mountain but where God truly dwells, namely in the community gathered in prayer.

 

Year 1, Week 6, Saturday                                                     East Doncaster

By faith Abel …. By faith Enoch … By faith Noah, …By faith Abraham” Hebrews 11:4, 5, 7, 8,

The episodes of the Book of Genesis we have been reading this week have shown the progressive corruption of mankind until the appearance of Abraham, the father of faith. Hebrews 11:1-7 points out that the gloom of sin is shot through with rays of light.

Creation is the work of God. Abel’s offering is pleasing to God, an offering that forecasts the passion of Christ. Enoch who is assumed into heaven prefigures the resurrection of Christ. Noah, the just man, prefigures the Christ who saves the Church, the bark of Peter floating on the waters of baptism.

Thus, sin is contrasted with faith. Faith proves victorious in the end. The sad story of corruption is outshone by the greater story of faith.

 

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