Wayne Rooney – on fire with the Holy Spirit?
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We’re used to seeing phrases like “live like today’s your last”, “you only live once” and bucket lists of 101 things to do before you die.
The idea is that the fragility of life means we ought to inject some urgency into it. But as far as I see it, if something is fragile, then you ought to take your time with it and handle it with care.
While it is true that I could die tomorrow – and I’ve known too many young people die in recent years to understand how true this is – in all likelihood I’m going to (please God) live to a ripe old age: I’m a reasonably healthy non-smoker who drinks only a limited amount of alcohol (these days) and gets the odd bit of exercise, working a job that doesn’t put my life in any particular danger. I also live in a country with a fantastic healthcare system, free access to which means I’m more likely to pick up any problems at an early stage than in a system where I’m charged to visit the doctors.
In all likelihood I’ll live to my eighties, and, especially with continuing advances in healthcare, possibly even 100.
I’m currently reading Jonas Jonasson’s hilarious novel The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, which simultaneously tells of centenarian Allan Karlsson’s flight from his nursing home and the events of his incredible life, which finds him at the centre of many of the twentieth century’s historic events (think of it like a Swedish Forrest Gump).
Karlsson’s capers as a centenarian are every bit as exciting as the other adventures in his life, and while obviously everything is exaggerated to hilarious effect, the novel makes the serious point that life doesn’t end at 30, or 40, 50, 65…whatever ceiling it is that we set ourselves – and we all do it; we all make date-specific plans (“I’m going to be married by 30”, “I’m going to be a millionaire by 40”).
This can lead us to rush things, to look for quick fixes and easy solutions, when actually taking a longer-term view might be of greater benefit – what sort of world would we live in now if, for example, bankers in the last decade hadn’t been so focused on short-term gain?
Indeed, the “live like today’s your last” attitude can create an impatience that can be deeply destructive to yourself and those around you, as author David Foster Wallace illustrates in the “This is Water” video, which I blogged on yesterday.
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, A little Patience won’t hurt you. In fact, in life in general and faith in particular, patience is an essential part of what it means to grow.
For Christians like myself, there is the particular trap of seeing this life as somehow irrelevant – that we are just passing through and what matters is what comes next. This view also tends to have a reductionist view of Jesus Christ, reducing what matters about him to simply just his death and resurrection, ignoring the many lessons he offers in his life as told in the Gospels.
As far as I can tell, Jesus embraced his humanity. The Gospels show us that, despite this world’s many flaws, the creator of all reality found delight in the small everyday details of human life. And the Psalms tells us that each of us was created for a purpose. These two truths alone should tell us that this life matters, and not just as means to getting to heaven, but as an end in itself.
Some of us may only have, like Jesus, 33 years or so in which to make our mark on this world. However, most of us are far more likely to become a centenarian like Allan Karlsson or, indeed, Moses. Moses didn’t receive his calling until he was in his eighties and yet still went on to achieve more than any of us could hope to do in our lifetimes.
Was what Moses did between being a baby in a basket and being an octogenarian irrelevant, just because little of it is mentioned in Exodus? I doubt it. Life is a journey, the most important journey you will make. And just like any pilgrimage, the journey matters just as much as the destination. It matters because it forms us so that we’re ready for our destination when we reach it.
Being ready means allowing ourselves to be spiritually moulded and transformed, and that can take a lifetime.
By living like I’m going to live to 100, I can perhaps have a bit more patience and, instead of rushing over important lessons, I can allow those lessons to take a deeper, more lasting effect. I can also build things in my life that are a bit more meaningful and lasting: if I accept I’ll live to 100, then I could apply myself to one goal over the next 18 years and still have half of my life left to live after (hopefully) achieving that goal.
I can allow myself the time to build my life into an epic movie or novel, rather than a rushed reality tv show or trashy magazine article.
Happy May Day to you. I took a self-imposed break from this blog for the whole of April and over the past month I have, among other things, attended the Celebrate conference in Ilfracombe, read Rob Bell’s What we talk about when we talk about God, and turned 32…all of which I can highly recommend!
Yesterday journalist and author Carl Honoré, who I follow on twitter, tweeted the above London Underground safety poster, saying that its sentiment – A little patience won’t hurt you – was:
— carlhonore (@carlhonore) April 30, 2013
Honoré is best known for his excellent book In Praise of Slow, which challenges high-speed modern life and champions the idea of living at a more natural pace. The Slow Movement, which Honoré’s book details, was born in Italy out of protests against a McDonald’s outlet opening up in one town, spawning a movement supportive of local produce and traditional cooking. The movement has now spread beyond food to many elements of modern life, including Slow Church.
Looking at the tube poster, it struck me how much of a virtue patience is in our faith, both at a personal and church-wide level.
Sometimes, when we’re “on fire” for Jesus, we can rush from one prayer group-church service-outreach programme to the next without ever actually making personal dedicated time for the Lord. In other words, we can be so busy telling others and serving the church that we neglect the importance of quiet, meditative prayer. This discipline, along with the contemplative reading of scripture, is what sustains us. If we do so much running around for the Lord that we start to neglect this vital part of our faith, then we start to run on empty.
An impatience to be Kingdom builders can sometimes be a good thing – I know that my own impatience and outrageous enthusiasm for the Lord following my Baptism in the Holy Spirit certainly encouraged and invigorated the faith of many around me.
However, I also realise now that to be an effective follower of Christ, I need to allow time for him to minister to me before I run off ministering to others. Also, if I’m impatient in my faith, it means I tend to be always focussing on the next thing.
This shift of focus to the future can lead us to neglect the present moment and miss the opportunities for Kingdom building that the Lord is laying before us right now. This missing of what’s right under our noses for the sake of the next thing also ignores Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself”.
Far from hurting or inhibiting our faith, a little patience is an essential part of what it means to grow as a Christian.
To me, it is always heartbreaking to hear a small child say that they “aren’t good” at something. Children are naturally inquisitive, soaking up experiences and information like sponges. To start speaking about their limitations at a young age is unnatural, and it shows that they have already been subjected to the lies of the world and the restrictions that we place on each other, the boxes that we put each other in.
We all carry these boxes into our adult lives, allowing our pasts to shrink the boxes further and further, restricting the possibilities of what our lives could be.
Jesus in his life challenged all kinds of social restrictions – speaking to a Samaritan woman, eating with tax collectors and prostitutes, working on the Sabbath. His message was God’s unlimited love to us, which brings life in all its abundance and limitless possibilities.
On Easter Sunday we celebrate that even those wooden boxes that will carry us into the earth cannot restrict us. All the sin, pain and hurt that we allow to limit us was nailed to the Cross with Jesus. In rising from the dead on Easter Sunday, Jesus gives us a hope not only that there is life after death, but that we also no longer have to accept these little deaths of hurt and shame that restrict the possibilities of who we could be. The chains of sin and hurt that can weigh us down in our lives can be broken by turning to the risen Christ.
Jesus Christ is risen today. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!
Reflection: Watch this short video by Rob Bell, which explains the Easter message better than I ever could:
I hope you have enjoyed these Lenten and Easter blogs, and taken something from them. I will now be taking a bit of a break from writing here. Until then, love ’til it hurts and break open the boxes caging the lives of those around you.
*This blog posted at 4:29am GMT, the time at which the sun rises over Jerusalem on Easter Sunday morning (6:29am local time).
“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus’ cry on the cross on Good Friday rings out across Holy Saturday. His cry came from experiencing the effect of our sin, which is his separation from his Father in Heaven. He experienced the absence of His Father’s Love in his agony on the cross, and on Holy Saturday his disciples also experienced a painful absence: the absence of their friend and teacher; the absence of their Lord and Master; the absence of hope; and ultimately, the absence of God.
They too would no doubt have cried “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” This place of desperate pain and despair, a place where prayers go unanswered, is a place we all experience in our lives. As Pete Greig puts it in his book God on Mute:
“Holy Saturday seems to me to describe the place in which many of us live our lives: waiting for God to speak. We know that Jesus died for us yesterday. We trust that there may be miracles tomorrow. But what of today – this eternal Sabbath when heaven is silent? Where, we wonder, is God now?”
“Holy Saturday is the no-man’s land between questions and answers, prayers and miracles. It’s where we wait with a peculiar mixture of faith and despair-whenever God is silent or life doesn’t make sense.”
With hindsight, some unanswered prayer can be good for us, forming and strengthening our character. But there are many prayers where the situation is so painful that it seems there can be no good in it. How could a caring God let us suffer this, and seemingly suffer alone?
As I wrote yesterday, God did not desire for Jesus to die, but he desires to be close to us, so he sent his son into the world. God saw that by sending his pure son into this sinful world the inevitable consequence would be the world seeking to destroy him. Jesus explains this in the Parable of the Tenants of the Vineyard, who seek to kill the Vineyard owner’s son (Matthew 21:33-46).
However, out of the situation of despair at humanity’s desire to destroy what is beautiful and pure, God, instead of washing his hands of us, washes us in Christ’s blood. He takes the worst event in history on Good Friday and turns into the greatest on Easter Sunday.
This is the hope we must cling to in the desperate No-Man’s lands of our own Holy Saturdays. God never wants any of us to suffer – our suffering is not part of his “plan”. But when we do, he is always there, working “all things for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
In our darkest hours it may seem like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no Easter Sunday to come. But it is precisely at those moments when all seems lost that hope becomes the only thing we have to cling to. The pain and suffering may never completely leave us, as the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby showed on last week’s Songs of Praise when speaking about his daughter’s death. However, having experienced Good Friday we know that Jesus is with us in our pain on Holy Saturday – Welby says there was a tangible presence of Christ in his daughter Joanna’s hospital room.
We also know that Jesus ultimately overcomes his suffering on Good Friday, and this is the hope we cling to during Holy Saturday.
Reflection: Never be afraid to shout out in anger and despair at God, just as Jesus did. The Lord seeks an honest open relationship with us. Shouting out in anger is the first step on the road to healing.
TV washing powder adverts, like the above piece of nineties nostalgia featuring a young Shane Richie, love to tell us how they have miracle cures for all our stains: Shane’s advert closes with the tag line “Daz Ultra – more of your whites, spotlessly white first time”.
In other words, there’s no need for loads of scrubbing and hard work – just let Daz Ultra do the work for you and make it clean first time.
When we think about the events of Good Friday, Christ’s pain is always the first thing we see when we look at him crucified. But what else do we see? Some Christians think they see the act of a wrathful God, pouring out his punishment on his son.
However, this idea of a vengeful God is the polar opposite of the loving Father in Heaven that Jesus preached, and it is one that the Catholic Church rejects.
Instead, what we see is an act of supreme love. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says the cross is “the expression of the radical nature of the love that gives itself completely, of the process in which one is what one does and does what one is; it is the expression of a life that is completely being for others”.
All through his public ministry Jesus preached a radical love for others that gives and gives and gives again without expecting anything in return. Last night I sat in Mass and watched our parish priest re-enact one of Jesus’ final acts of giving himself for others with the washing of feet.
As I sat there watching my fellow parishioners’ feet being washed, I began thinking about these verses from the Book of Revelation: “Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.”
“And he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence”.” (Rev 7:13-15)
All of us carry the stains of sin on us, but God is perfect; he is spotless. To be in His loving presence we must be spotless too – if you rub dirty clothes against clean clothes, they become dirty too, and this cannot happen to God. Our sins keep us from intermingling and being intimate with God, even though he achingly longs to be intimate with us.
Trying to scrub away the stain of sin by ourselves will never work, because we all add new stains every day. God has to step into the situation in order to miraculously turn us “whiter than white”.
He does this through Jesus. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, John the Baptist sees Jesus and says “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Calling Jesus the Lamb of God refers to the Jewish Passover feast, but it is not simply that Jesus was an unwitting lamb led to the slaughter so that God’s wrath might pass over our sin.
As with everything in his life, Jesus uses gratuitous love to transform our way of thinking – in this case the idea of Law where justice requires punishment. At the Last Supper he tells his disciples that his blood is “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28).
Jesus is spotless, without sin for all eternity. He pours out his Holy and perfect blood so that we can wash ourselves clean and become spotlessly white for all time. He is Love Ultra. In this way we can be reunited with a perfectly Holy and spotless God. Or as St. Paul puts it:
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
This is the Good News of Good Friday: that whatever you have done in your life, however many mistakes you have made or bad things you have done, the love of God the Father and God the Son is greater than those things. God’s love for you, and his desire for you to know His love, overpowers your sin. Jesus goes to his death on the Cross so that the stain of your sins can be washed away forever in the blood of Christ.
Reflection: The washing of feet at last night’s Mass was a little awkward for some people – a kind of intimacy they weren’t used to. We can also feel awkward about the kind of gratuitous love displayed by Jesus on Good Friday. Accept it. Accept that despite all your flaws and faults, because of what Jesus did on the cross you are perfect in God’s eyes and he loves you dearly, just the way you are.
Tonight’s headlines will no doubt be full of Pope Francis’ visit to a young offenders’ institute to say the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, with photos (no TV crews allowed) of him washing the feet of young criminals.
Walk into your local Catholic church tonight (or indeed those of most other Christian denominations) and you will see the same thing – okay, maybe the guys having their feet washed won’t be criminals (though they’ll definitely be sinners!) – but there will be a parish priest on his knees bathing the feet of twelve parishioners.
This re-enactment of Christ’s washing of the twelve apostles’ feet at the Last Supper is a reminder that we are all called to serve the Lord by serving each other. The original meaning of the traditional English name for today – Maundy Thursday – is thought to come from the Middle English and Old French word mandé, which itself derives from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos”, the Latin translation of John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Mandatum literally translates today as mandate…a word politicians today are very keen on using whenever they want to do something and claim it is in the public’s interest. It represents an empowering. And that’s exactly what Jesus’ mandate today is. Jesus on two separate occasions in both Matthew and Luke’s Gospels tells his disciples that “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”. If you lose yourself in love for others, you will discover who you really are and the real value of life. If you do that, then the example of service that Jesus just gave in the washing of feet isn’t a chore, but a joy.
This is beautifully illustrated by Philip Yancey in his book The Jesus I Never Knew, where he describes meeting up with Catholic priest and author Henri Nouwen, who had given up academic posts and his illustrious career as a writer to care for a severely disabled boy called Adam. Yancey, like Nouwen’s other writer friends, tries to persuade him to return to writing, describing it as a “waste”. Yancey writes:
“When I cautiously broached the subject with Nouwen himself, he informed me that I had completely misinterpreted what was going on. “I am not giving up anything,” he insisted. “It is I, not Adam, who gets the main benefit from our friendship.”
“Then Nouwen began listing for me all the benefits he has gained. The hours spent with Adam, he said, have given him an inner peace so fulfilling that it makes most of his other, more high-minded tasks seem boring and superficial by contrast. Early on, as he sat beside that helpless child-man, he realized how marked with rivalry and competition, how obsessive, was his drive for success in academia and Christian ministry. Adam taught him that “what makes us human is not our mind but our heart, not our ability to think but our ability to love”.”
Our ability to love is challenged to rise to the supernatural level in the other key element of tonight’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which is the remembrance of the institution of the Eucharist:
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
“Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”.” Matthew 26:26-28
A favourite image of mine of Jesus is him as Jacob’s Ladder: a link between heaven and earth down which angels descend and humans rise; a bridge between the natural and supernatural. In the Eucharist Jesus, who took on our human nature, invites us to share in his divinity.
Ultimately, if we take up the invitation to enter into the mystery of the Eucharist, then we are signing up for taking on Jesus’ nature. And this means following him to the Cross and pouring ourselves out for many. But as we continually pour our hearts out in love and compassion for others, Jesus’ promise is that we will be constantly refilled and renewed by a greater love from above.
Reflection: Lord give me the strength to let go of those things holding me back from a fuller experience of your love for me and for others.
Yesterday in John’s Gospel we saw Peter voice the frustration that many of us feel when we seek follow Jesus, but things seems to get in the way or hold us back:
“Simon Peter said, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now; you will follow me later.’ Peter said to him, ‘Why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ ‘Lay down your life for me?’ answered Jesus. ‘I tell you most solemnly, before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.’” (John 13:36-38)
As I wrote yesterday, the realisation of our true calling in life may take a long time to come, and all the while God is forming us so that we are ready for our moment, just as he did with Peter. Our moment is not yet.
However, there are also those moments on our path to true discipleship where, just like Peter, we sabotage our own journey by denying Christ. We deny him in everything we think, say and do that is not born out of love for God and each other.
Our hope comes from the fact that even though we are deniers of Christ by nature, we are by God’s grace the rocks on which He builds His church.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI illustrates this fact beautifully in the reflection below on Saint Peter’s dual nature, written in 1969 in the book God’s New People: Concepts for Ecclesiology:
“The fact that it is Peter who is called the “rock” is not due to any achievement on his part or anything exceptional in his character; it is simply a nomen officii, a title that designates, not a service rendered, but a ministry conferred, a divine election and commission to which no one is entitled solely by virtue of his own character – least of all Simon, who, if we are to judge by his natural character was anything but a rock. By nature he is that Peter who sinks into the waves when his faith fails; it is by the Lord and through the grace of the Lord that he is the rock on which the church stands
“We have grown accustomed to make a clear distinction between Peter the rock and Peter the denier of Christ – the denier of Christ: that is Peter as he was before Easter; the rock: that is Peter as he was after Pentecost, the Peter of whom we have constructed a singularly idealistic image. But, in reality, he was at both times both of these. The Pre-Easter Peter is already the Peter who, when many of the disciples were abandoning Jesus, spoke for those who remained faithful; who walked on the water to meet his Lord; who uttered the inexpressibly beautiful words: “Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). The post-Pentecost Peter, on the other hand, is that same Peter who, for fear of the Jews, belied his Christian freedom (Gal 2:11-14); he is at once rock and stumbling block.
“And has it not been thus throughout the history of the Church that the Pope, the successor of Peter, has been at once Petra and Skandalon – both the rock of God and a stumbling block? In fact, the faithful will always have to reckon with this paradox of the divine dispensation that shames their pride again and again – this tension between the Rock and Satan, in which the most extreme opposites are so strangely interwoven.”
Reflection: Lord I thank you that despite all my flaws, by your Grace I can be a rock on which you build your church.
Sometimes it is difficult to make sense of our lives. There can be times where everything we do can somehow seem to go wrong.
This can be especially frustrating when, as a Christian, your attempts at sharing your faith in various ways seem to fail. I and my friends have run courses and other events in our church where far fewer people than expected have turned up, or where the impact of the Gospel message on people’s lives appears to be minimal.
Why does this happen? Surely our efforts should be blessed by God and therefore always be fruitful?
In today’s first reading at Mass on this Tuesday of Holy Week, the prophet Isaiah admits to having felt similar frustrations in his own ministry:
“While I was thinking, ‘I have toiled in vain,
I have exhausted myself for nothing’;
and all the while my cause was with the Lord,
my reward with my God.
I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord,
my God was my strength.” (Isaiah 49:4)
Elsewhere in this reading Isaiah has explained how the Lord “hid him away” until the right time came for him to begin his true calling of preaching to Israel. Isaiah was human, and he felt frustrated at not knowing what his mission in life should be.
However, all these frustrations give way to utter joy when the Lord does call him, and he realises that God – rather than abandoning him as it seemed – had been preparing him for his calling the whole time: “all the while my cause was with the Lord”.
This is a huge comfort for me personally. I have always been envious of those people who have had a definite sense of what they wanted to do from a young age. My wife, for example, wanted to teach ever since she was a young girl, when she used to play “school” with her two younger brothers, and she would be the teacher.
I’ve never had such a clear sense of vocation, but following my Baptism in the Holy Spirit I have felt God is preparing me for something. In a bid to find out what exactly this calling is, I have sought many ways of sharing my faith with others – including this blog – and some things work out, others don’t. But there has yet to be for others in my life any of the big fireworks that I experienced.
It leaves me asking “Why do I bother”? Nothing, neither action or prayer seems to work terribly well. The comfort from Isaiah is that in those testing times, the lean times where success is absent, God is still at work forming us for his mission. We like Israel must spend time in the wilderness before we come to the promised land of vocation.
This sense of God’s patience in his purpose is especially important in Holy Week. In today’s Gospel at Mass (John 13) Jesus tells his followers that one of them will betray him, and that he will not be with them much longer. The suffering that Jesus will endure seems senseless until Easter Sunday. It is then the disciples are able to fully realise what Jesus’ mission is.
Similarly, he tells them that there will be a time for them to follow in his footsteps, but it is not yet. Peter speaks for all of us struggling to work out our calling in life when he voices his impatience to follow Jesus.
We must trust that God knows us far better than we know ourselves, and that He knows the time at which we will be best equipped to answer his call and carry out his mission.
Reflection: If things aren’t working out for you in your life, persevere. The moment of glory when everything falls into place will be all the more sweeter.
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