The Holy Kiss: Latter-day Insights On Love

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It is the same for the followers of Jesus today. The Holy Spirit is poured out on us at our Baptism and the fullness of the Holy Spirit given to us in Confirmation, which also changes us completely. We call Pentecost the birth of the Church and the Holy Spirit has called each successive generation of Christians to the community of faith in a manner similar to that recounted by the evangelist Luke after the story of Pentecost: And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers… And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need.

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And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2: 42, In the Church the mission of Jesus is brought to completion.

This early community gathered for the breaking of bread, they held everything in common, and they gave generously to the poor. It may seem like a long way off from the Church of today, but evidence of that early Church is still in the Church today. Even in the early Church, Christians were people who attempted to live a message in the world, which was out of this world.

While going about their daily lives in the present world they were anchored in the hope of the world to come. Through the centuries the Church has been affected by the world around it, sometimes to the good, sometimes not. The Church has been influenced by social doctrine, new philosophies, the sciences, by art and by literature. It has led to the rise of people of great courage; witnesses to the power of the Holy Spirit. The Church in its members and collectively has been capable of great acts of courage, dignity, creativity, generosity, and all that the Spirit can do to prompt the hearts and souls of its members.

It has also seen the visible signs of its humanity and ability to sin, in the actions of the Church as an institution and by individual members. Much has been done in its name, which has been a source of shame and sorrow. The Holy Spirit constantly calls the Church to renewal and to a new Pentecost, to become rededicated to the preaching of the gospel, and to the breaking of bread.

A flag is not just the symbol of a country. When speaking about the Holy Spirit, the Church offers a number of symbols. In relation to Confirmation, reference is usually made to three: Wind, Breath and Fire. Wind: On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit first seemed to appear as a mighty wind. The wind is a powerful symbol of what was to happen next. The power of the Spirit gave the followers of Jesus the strength to preach the Good News of Christ risen. Long before that, God had created Adam out of clay and breathed life into him.

Let the splendour of holiness shine on the world from every place and thing signed with this oil. Fire: We speak of the tongues of fire that descended on the Apostles at Pentecost, which reminds us of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and Fire promised by John the Baptist. Fire signifies the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit; it burns and purifies. As the prayer says:. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. Enkindle in them the fire of your love.

Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth. The Gift of the Holy Spirit Any parent knows that children love to receive gifts. Children rip. The anticipation with which they expect a gift at Christmas or for birthdays and the excitement that they have in receiving a gift is one of the delights of childhood. This is how it could be with the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a gift to be used, not stored away. This is not the type of treasure that Jesus told us to store up Matt.

We see the gift of the Holy Spirit as the power and possibility of action in the life of the young person being confirmed and by extension the possibility of action in the life of the community of the people of God, the Church. Send the Holy Spirit to be their helper and guide. Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgement and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.

Many of you will remember learning the seven gifts or the seven-fold gift of the Holy Spirit off by heart before your own Confirmation. He chose wisdom. The gift is about the possibility of seeing things as God sees them. It is the gift to look at life with a different perspective — the perspective of faith. It is the possibility of knowing how to live a good life and striving to do that. It is about listening to the voice of the spirit in our heart and acting on those promptings. Understanding It is easy to learn facts and figures, dates and places. The gift of understanding is the possibility to give meaning to what we learn through wisdom.

On the road to Emmaus, the disciples met the Risen Jesus. Having explained everything that had happened in Jerusalem and why they were downcast, Jesus set out to explain everything in the scriptures about himself. The disciples knew the facts, Jesus helped them understand and make sense of those facts. Right Judgement The world which young people inhabit today calls for this part of the gift of the Holy Spirit more than anything else. They are bombarded with a myriad of choices and tempting alternatives. The gift of right judgement is the possibility of making the right choices in life, according to Christian values, and sometimes despite what our friends, society, or culture would have them believe is the right choice.

Courage Coming closely on the previous part of the gift of the Holy Spirit is the courage to handle the consequences of Right Judgement. The gift of courage is the possibility to make the right choice even though we would rather go with the crowd, or follow the latest trends, the current fashions, and the will of the peer group. Young people today are not likely to be called to the courage of martyrdom as in the early Christian Community, but it can be inordinately difficult to stand up for your beliefs, or to take a stand against something you feel is wrong.

Knowledge While not dissimilar to Wisdom and Understanding, the gift of Knowledge helps us to know about our faith and about the world. We often talk about making an informed decision about something and the Holy Spirit helps in the gaining of that knowledge. The gift requires a contribution on our part — we cannot know about the world just by divine inspiration.

It requires effort on our part, but we have the possibility of the help of the Holy Spirit. Reverence Traditionally this part of the gift of the Holy Spirit is about how we act religiously; blessing ourselves passing a Church, genuflecting, a sense of reverence when going to receive Holy Communion. It is still all these things, but it can mean much more. It is the gift that helps us to see the work of God in the ordinary and extraordinary ways.

It is an acknowledgement of the power of God working through our lives, through the lives of others around us, through the Church and through creation. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the roots of the tree, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit are, the fruits of the tree. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is mentioned by St Paul in his letter to the Galatians as the virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Paul sees the fruit of the Holy Spirit as the counterbalance for the various vices. The gifts and fruits of the Spirit are also alluded to in the second letter to the Corinthians , in the letter to the Colossians 3: and in the letter to the Ephesians , Love — the Spirit lives! Joy — the Spirit dances! Peace — the Spirit rests! Patience — the Spirit waits! Kindness — the Spirit gives! Goodness — the Spirit moves! Gentleness — the Spirit acts! Faithfulness — the Spirit dwells! Self-Control — the Spirit smiles! Here are some of the many scripture references that can be linked to the Fruit of the Holy Spirit:.

Love does not come to an end. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear, and do not refuse to help your own relatives. Then my favour will shine on you like the morning sun. May they all be one Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and 1 am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. Nigel Polland, Mrs. Angela Kennedy and Dr.

Ron Mulroy for their willingness to analyse the fayre, to all the team who helped prepare sandwiches and teas and to all our contributors and those who supported the event, raising funds to help families in the area make ends meet. If you didn't get chance to come along or to bake, there's always next year! Please pray for all our young people from the parish who are on pilgrimage to Lourdes just now and for Diocesan pilgrimage as a whole. May it be a time of renewal and discovery for all visiting the shrine of Our Lady. The youth will gather again on Sunday evening from 5.

Later in the year, an evening of 'Last Night of the Proms' will take place in the parish centre on Saturday 14th September, so a few dates for your social diary there. A further two dates for that diary are Saturday 7th December when we will hold the parish Christmas Fair and Friday 13th December - the date of the annual parish Christmas dinner. Such social events are not just 'nice to have'.

They help build a real sense of community amongst the people of God and I would encourage you to get involved where you can and enjoy the friendship and support of your fellow Catholic Christians. One other initiative it is worth putting into your diary for later in the year is a Guided Prayer Week from 6th to 11th October. Many people might wish to take a retreat but we all know how difficult it is to find time in busy diaries and, besides, the cost of going away on retreat can be prohibitive. So during that week in October, prayer guides will be available who, along with daily Mass and prayer services will give the opportunity to take a retreat in the midst of a working week and so help improve our interior lives.

Keep a look out for more information on this for all the other events and happenings in the parish during the coming weeks. Catholic teachers working in Catholic education today face significant challenges. There is the demand to deliver high quality teaching and lead the children in the search for truth. Fr Bollan leads the reader to the deep insights of the Christian faith and the Catholic tradition. He uses scripture passages and the liturgy to develop awareness in the reader of their vocation as teacher and leader of children into the mysteries of love and life.

He does this in clear, simple language that communicates his own enthusiasm for the task. Part II is a tool-kit of resources to be used throughout the school year to help the teacher and their students develop a sense of who they are as growing Christians and leaders. I suppose in our increasingly secular and materialistic world we should be grateful even for that. To my mind, the best visual expression of this is a scene in the film American Beauty. Although some might raise their eyebrows at a movie which takes a subversive approach to domestic propriety, it is actually quite a moral story.

One day the boy shows the girl a film of the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. While we might expect footage of a sunset or a mountain panorama, what he gives us is a silent movie of a white grocery bag blown about by the wind. The word he uses to describe its motion is dancing. This discarded bit of plastic is dancing with him and in doing so it makes him aware of an unseen force behind things, a reassuring and consoling presence.

Those teenagers speak for a whole generation — indeed more than one generation — who want to rebel against the suffocation of their spirits. What sets the twenty-first century apart is the way most of us are happy to leave that force without a name and our relationship with it free of the constraints of words and images. It just is. Since this a book about spirituality and the spiritual lives of educators, it might be worthwhile clarifying what is meant by this increasingly vague word. To borrow the imagery of the film for a little longer, we are indeed moved and guided by this force.

Beyond the apparent randomness and occasional solitude of our existence, there is the intimacy and rhythm of something very like a dance. This is God moving with us, through us, in us. Spirituality is, first and foremost, the awareness of this energy we call grace. It is grace which takes us as it finds us and moves us closer to God. Or rather, since God is everywhere, it simply makes us more conscious of that loving presence.

Although we respond to God in ways which are uniquely personal, we do not do so in isolation. We are enriched by the insight and experience of those who have surrendered to the motions of grace. By reflecting on their accounts of darkness and light, agony and ecstasy, we get a sense of our bearings. For Christians there is a treasury of accumulated wisdom stretching back thousands of years to the pages of the Old Testament.

In Jesus we have someone to get to grips with in making sense of our spiritual lives. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. John We are not blowing aimlessly through life. No matter how absurd and circuitous our route may seem, grace moves us in the right path. The Holy Spirit knows where it is going.

This same Spirit breathes through the diaries and stories of the Saints in which their own spiritualities are preserved or, better still, alive and accessible to us. While their writings are sometimes regarded as brands or schools of spirituality, they are all expressions of a desire to live ever more fully the life of Christ. As teachers we certainly have something to learn from them. At the same time, we are also moved by grace and we should be attentive to what the Spirit is saying to us. Do not be afraid to sketch out your spiritual vision because that is something Christ is doing in you.

We are all still writing. As soon as I had typed the above sentence I was overcome with a strong urge to change it. That said, I decided to keep the title as it is, for the simple reason that the terminology of the classroom should not be kept separate trom the language of faith: grace can seep into the cracks and wrinkles of human experience and education is no exception.

In this chapter I would like to explore the Transfiguration of Jesus, both as it is recounted in the Gospel and depicted in sacred art. Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini penned a brilliant pastoral letter on this very subject which has been translated as Saving Beauty. I recommend it to anyone who wants to approach this key episode from an aesthetic angle. Background to the lesson It is important for us to consider the disciples as learners. The real thrust of his mission is the culmination of what we call the Paschal Mystery, the events surrounding his suffering, death and resurrection.

The full horror of the impending crucifixion is hard for us to grasp, accustomed as we are to the happy ending of the story. For the disciples, however, the idea that their friend and teacher could be exposed to the most accursed of deaths was so extreme as to be inconceivable. So the events on the mountain are designed to help the disciples, especially the privileged inner circle of Peter, James and John, to jump the gap between the abject awfulness of the cross and the hidden workings of providence.

The lesson itself The Gospels all agree that the Transfiguration takes place on a high mountain, with Mark and Matthew adding a note of privacy: although this is to be an elevated experience, there is also an element of intimacy to the gathering. Perhaps to this note of privacy should be added a hint of individuality. Although the disciples are there as a little group, Jesus intends each one of them to take something unique from the encounter.

The physical location of the Transfiguration is important not just in providing a setting the higher we go, the more our perspectives are altered but also for the effort which is required to get there. Luke adds a little detail which is also significant: the ostensible purpose of their hike is to pray and it is against the backdrop of prayer that the transformation occurs.

Suddenly, without warning, Jesus changes. The light comes from within him, like the sun. This transformation is not brought out about by any outside agency. Then the next element of the lesson unfolds: Moses and Elijah appear on either side of Jesus and speak with him although only Luke ventures to suggest what their conversation was about.

It is traditionally considered that these figures represent the two great streams of religious inspiration — law and prophecy. His passing is going to be accomplished through rejection, suffering and death. Christ is leading his disciples to an awareness of what his words about the cross actually mean for them all; not some metaphorical surrender of life but a nasty and brutal seizing of it. What is really happening in this privileged moment? The disciples are offered, albeit for a fleeting instant, a chance to see Jesus as his Father sees him.

This is a moment of true insight. Not all insights can be clearly articulated. Peter clutches at words to convey something of the depth of their wonder only Mark refers to it as fear. He is taking a transcendent experience and trying to fit it into the framework of his understanding of the world and its workings. This is not to be scoffed at: Peter is attempting what any intelligent person would do.

Although this is the intended outcome of this particular episode, it would be fair to say that the disciples are on a fairly steep learning curve and do not immediately grasp what Jesus has been trying to get across. It is only much further down the road that these three disciples are able to reflect back on their experience and the connection is successfully made.

Virtually all the artistic imaginings of this Gospel episode show the disciples shielding their eyes against the glare of glory. Teachers are only too aware of the value of illustration: a well-used image can be twice as effective as words.


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Not only are they seeing Jesus as the Father sees him; they are also seeing themselves as Jesus sees them. Eye contact often features in the arsenal of classroom management: a quelling look can put down a potential mutiny.

I have seen teachers who would have made Genghis Khan turn-tail with a raised eyebrow. To counter this Jesus says quite clearly that the Father sees all that is done in secret. Teachers, in turn, are called to look at others in the same way, especially those poorest of children who are starved of love and frequently ignored. Disruptive behaviour may be a form of attention seeking, but there are times when it is simply a byproduct of feeling insignificant. It does not matter what you do because you do not matter either. What I am trying to say might be better served by an illustration. As a young girl, especially with her poor, unlettered background, Bernadette would frequently be addressed in the curtest of terms.

Those words are certainly full of grace, and brought about an equally gracious response: grace invites graciousness. Beauty in a world of ugliness The Transfiguration affirms beauty, especially that extraordinary beauty which shows itself in unexpected places. There is a real need for beauty in our world. The explosion of the Internet means that these distressing images are only ever a mouse-click away.

I am very concerned about the potential after-effects of exposing children to such images of real-life horror. There is, I think, a kind of stealth trauma which creeps up on children and adults when they are subjected to a drip-feed of such images. Not that long ago I was observing a student teach a very impressive lesson to a Primary One class. She had her little charges sitting around her chair, legs in a basket, gazing up at her as she showed them some pictures of autumn. The world is only too full of yuckiness.

What the Transfiguration offers is an antidote to all that conspires against beauty. The three figures on the mountaintop also mirror a triptych of Gospel scenes, with the Passion and the Resurrection completing this story arc or rainbow of theological colour. Although brutality and disfigurement dominate the central scene, these give way to the beauty which precedes and follows. It is worth remembering that this pattern is also played out in life in general. We may be overshadowed for a time, but only for a time.

At first sight this may sound slightly odd. Surely they would have been bursting to tell the others what they had seen. My handle on this apparent conundrum is that Jesus is using a layered teaching approach: the full impact of the experience will only become clear later. What they are being offered by their teachers sometimes appears of dubious relevance in the short-term.

You might receive positive feedback from students on an enjoyable lecture presentation but still hear niggling doubts about its practical value. Students often voice a desire simply to be taught what to teach, as if being a page ahead of the class were enough. As I have suggested above, the disciples are only to grasp the depth of this encounter in the light of Easter. It is then that they can begin to witness to the whole mystery of Christ.

His teaching is not just about telling, but showing as well. This sets out the pattern which his disciples are to follow as they extend the Gospel message to the ends of the earth. Their witness is not just a matter of words. The Word became flesh and so their words must also take solid form in their lives and actions. To a generation brought up on a diet of science-fiction imagery, they look like alien abductees with the spaceship just out of the frame. The icons of Eastern Christianity seem more faithful to the Gospel account: Jesus, Moses and Elijah are standing on solid ground.

For all the transcendent power of this event, at no point does anyone involved lose touch with the earth. No matter how heavenly it may be, the message of the Gospel needs to be grounded in reality. It is far too easy to take the Word made flesh and turn it back into words again. The key challenge for the Catholic teacher is to witness to the whole package of the faith and to ensure that their words are confirmed by their actions.

What our children and young people need are real people engaged in living the faith in the often messy circumstances of the twenty-first century. Here was one who taught with authority and not like the scribes. His witness was genuine and compelling because he was being true to himself.

Spirit-caused laughter

Their witness took on a new shape when they were asked to embrace suffering. This they were able to do because the light of Tabor was never fully extinguished in their hearts and minds. The next time you stand in front of a class and find the words are dying on your lips, and your heart is overshadowed, look at your feet: they are planted on the same earth that witnessed the awesome transformation of Jesus and the inner illumination of his friends.

Then look at the class: if the eyes looking back at you are filled with boredom, indifference or incomprehension, do not despair. This is just one moment in the unfolding of understanding which started before you and does not end with you. All that you have to give in that moment, in that place, is yourself. Offer that, and the circuit between you and that high mountain-top will be complete. The class may not be dazzled, but you should become more aware of your own light.

The top tier of the painting shows Christ caught up in shining splendour while, at the foot of the mountain, the boy possessed by an unclean spirit is being brought along by his anguished parents. Here it is Raphael who is offering us a lesson through art: here he shows us what such moments of clarity and insight are actually for.

What we experience on the high places is always in the service of what we are asked to do in the plain, ordinary moments of life. We should not be altogether caught out by the rapid alteration between triumph and challenge, between the sublime and the mundane. There is one song that any mouth can say, A song that lingers when all singing dies. Joyce Kilmer, The Rosary. By now I am well prepared for the blank expression on the faces of my students when I begin to talk about the Rosary.

For most young ish people, if the Rosary had ever been a feature of their prayer repertoire by the time they hit their teens it has undergone something of an eclipse. This happens for a variety of reasons. Many people are rightly turned off by the unthinking, unfeeling monotone in which most public recitations of the Rosary are conducted. It is sometimes hard to see how hearts and minds could be raised by a prayer which seldom seems to lift its landing-gear.

There is a reason, however, that the Church continues to hold this particular form of prayer in such high esteem. It has taken me a while to appreciate this. If I had to put my finger on the moment when I began to understand the Rosary it would be during the last hours of a saintly little woman in Paisley. I used to visit this woman each month to bring her Holy Communion and over the years I got to know her quite well.

I enjoyed her sprightly banter with the eldest daughter who shared her house and provided constant care for her mother. A fall during the night led to the diagnosis of an untreatable tumour and the mother was moved to the local hospice, where she spent the little time remaining to her. I was aware that she had three other children I had seen their photographs on the mantle-piece but I only got to meet them the day before she died. Although she was no longer able to receive the Eucharist, I took the chance to pop in and see her as I was passing.

I knew she was very poorly and, as I was going to be away from the parish for a couple of days, I was concerned that I might not get to see her again. As soon as I walked into her room I sensed that all was not well.


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  • This was the first time that all four children had been together in the same room for a good number of years and it was a difficult reunion. My opening gambit — that their Mum was not dead yet and could hear them bickering — at least gave them the opportunity to direct their pent-up feelings at me instead of each other. By now I am used to this kind of reaction: as a freshly ordained priest it was sometimes hard not to take this personally but now I am a little wiser. Thankfully it was their mother who came to my rescue: just as they were about to really turn on me she managed to work her right hand out from underneath the bedcover.

    Perhaps because it was so unexpected, it was as if this merest of movements had become amplified, as though she were shouting for everyone to be quiet. I noticed that she was holding her Rosary and, albeit almost imperceptibly, she was. What possessed me then I do not know but I suggested that we join with her in saying the Rosary. I experienced a little panic as I realised that I did not have any beads but managed to make a weak little joke about having ten fingers so it would be alright.

    You could have heard a pin drop for all the wrong reasons. Still, undeterred, I began the recitation of the glorious mysteries. To my relief and I would have to say surprise one by one the family fell in line. The mother continued to tell her beads, wordlessly but effectively leading us in the rhythms of this prayer. As we reached the end she attempted to bless herself but could no longer raise her hand.

    I recalled her telling me of the times she would bless them with Holy Water before they headed out the door and suggested that this would be a good time for them to return the favour. All but one of them did the daughter who lived with her found it too upsetting and the matriarch settled back into a contented sleep which more or less continued until her death the next day.

    I thanked the family for sharing that time with their mother. In that time their relationship with the Church had more or less fallen apart and they had followed paths which led away from the faith of their childhood. Some may argue that the constant repetition of the words forms a barrier to truly getting inside the prayer. I would suggest that it is precisely this mantra-like quality which allows people to be carried along by it.

    The issue for that emotionally exhausted family was that they did not really know how to be together and what to say to each other. In the absence of positive words and feelings, negative sentiments often come more easily to hand. What the Rosary achieved in that fraught moment was little short of miraculous: it took the heat out of that situation and gave them words they could say together. And not just any words. They were able to say words expressive of faith, hope and love. In that moment they were able to reconnect with something that had deeper roots in their memories and lives than the gaps which had opened up between them as a family.

    It was, in other words, an occasion of grace. They were happy to talk about what they felt happening to them in that room and they are happy for me to talk about it as well. The Rosary is a prayer which can be as sophisticated or as simple as you like. When it is built into a programme of Lectio Divina , its identity as a deeply scriptural prayer becomes apparent. Even more pertinent to Catholic Teacher Formation, the late Pope was keen to emphasise what the Rosary had to offer children and young people.

    It could be objected that the Rosary seems hardly suited to the taste of children and young people of today. However, perhaps the objection is directed to an impoverished method of praying it. Why not try it? If the Rosary is well presented, I am sure that young people will once more surprise adults by the way they make this prayer their own and recite it with the enthusiasm typical of their age group. The Holy Father encouraged us to be creative in presenting the Rosary to children.

    This is particularly true in considering the visual aids which children and young people often require to get a hold on the mystery. A class of younger children might be enthusiastic about making pictures which relate to each of the mysteries, while an older class might benefit from searching for contemporary images which illustrate the events brought to life by the Rosary. Clearly the goal for everyone, however, is that we are able to visualise the mysteries in our own minds.

    Hopefully it will forge a chain of new ideas in your imagination and enable you to find something fresh growing in this neglected garden. Although the Rosary is easily dismissed as an outmoded form of prayer, it can, as I hope I have described earlier, offer a way of reflecting upon those bits of our human experience which we share with the protagonists of the Gospel. When other words fail us, the Rosary can offer a framework for our thoughts or perhaps even a sort of scaffolding to which we can tie our thoughts when everything else seems to be coming adrift.

    For example, some of these reflections could form part of an exercise in Lectio Divina. The Annunciation: On courtesy The angel and the woman engage in a gracious conversation. Is it delivered as an ultimatum or an invitation? Am I aware of the power of words and my ability to build up or knock down by what I say and how I say it? The Visitation: On cooperation The helping hand extended to Elizabeth is itself a lesson in cooperation.

    Mary was not sent for but took the initiative; she comes not so much as a helper but as a sharer in joy since Elizabeth had also been touched by the grace of God who had taken away her shame. Both women are cooperators with God and each other. In a very real sense what Mary does for Elizabeth is not as important as what Elizabeth does for Mary: her greeting confirms what the angel had spoken — she had indeed become the Mother of the Lord.

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    How ready am I to help others, especially if it makes demands which are beyond the call of duty or contract? Do I take the initiative in offering help to someone who might be slow to ask? By the same token, do I graciously accept support when it is offered to me? Remember that faith is confirmed or strengthened in charity. The Nativity: On difficult births Beneath the sentimentality which so often attends our recreations of the Nativity story lies a deeply unsentimental truth: God is born into a world of shadows in which shepherds and kings offer us glimpses into the lives of the poor and unregarded or the rich and insecure.

    In the midst sits Mary who contemplates the raising of the lowly and the fall of the mighty. There too lies the child who is the cause of all this: a new life already overshadowed by the threat of death. It is important to acknowledge that all births and beginnings carry an element of risk.

    The risk may lie in our hopes being too fragile or our designs too rigid. Sometimes the struggle comes from the opposition of others who, Herod-like, feel threatened by change or any initiative which is not their own. Yet here too Mary shows herself to be a woman of reflection, pondering these words and feeling their weight. The advice of our elders is often a mixed blessing. But there are times when we should listen to the wisdom of experience, that sense of proportion one acquires simply by being around long enough.

    Those words of Simeon in particular prove to be a mystery to Mary but she resists the temptation to ignore a message that is hard to bear or grasp. Do I jettison what I find it hard to understand or accept? Perhaps for the first time, Jesus is behaving in a way that is marking him out as an individual in his own right. This is a tentative step on the journey towards selfhood and a rehearsal for the Gospel.

    The sword mentioned by Simeon makes a brief appearance in this passage. Difficult, apparently thoughtless behaviour is not the end of the world and more often than not the beginning of a new one. Knowing when and how to create respectful spaces for this growth is a grace. So how are we to account for his appearance at the Jordan? On the one hand, his immersion in the waters of the river is a sanctifying gesture, one echoed in the celebrant lowering the Paschal candle into the font at the Easter Vigil.

    Jesus waits his turn among sinful humanity and allows himself to be ministered to by John. What defines a really good teacher is not only the ability to stand before a class and teach but also the courage to stand among them and share something of their lives. This is exactly what we observe in Christ our Teacher. What looks at first like reluctance becomes an action of superabundant generosity.

    Sometimes we know what we need but cannot quite find the words to ask for it, whether it be pride or awkwardness which hampers us. If we know someone else is in need, do we know how to intervene discreetly? If we are in a position to help, can we do that without drawing attention to ourselves or the need itself? He, in fact, embodied this Kingdom he was proclaiming. What the crowds heard from the lips of Jesus and the disciples is essentially what we proclaim to our children.

    This proclamation kerygma is the key truth at the heart of all Christian education, namely that the Christ-event changes the way we understand our world and ourselves. Far from being a marginal extra in a busy curriculum, it is the law which underpins all our reasoning and creativity.

    Jesus is shown in context, between the Law and the Prophets, for that privileged audience of apostles. In this mystery, however, we are shown that Grace lends a real depth to our perception. In a world where judgements both snap and superficial tend to predominate, the Transfiguration challenges us to see into the heart of people and situations. The Church reads the Passion narrative in the light of the Eucharist and understands the Mass as the death and resurrection of Jesus made real and present once again. The Eucharist not only makes the Church, it makes the Christian too.

    This is no mean feat: while we might find it easy to accept a blessing, the inevitable demands of being shared among the many can be such that we wish the cup to pass us by. Both are times of trial when, explicitly or implicitly, the temptation to be someone else is set before Jesus.

    In order to truly be himself, Jesus must see things through to the end. Although we can be guided or tempted by the advice of others, most of the crucial decisions we must make in life are ours and ours alone. Before all his significant choices Jesus spends time in intense prayer and, in the examples we have just mentioned, the struggle of decision is followed by an experience of consolation.

    A sense of peace accompanies all genuine discernment. The Scourging at the Pillar: On humiliation The Roman custom of flogging condemned criminals was the overture to an appalling spectacle of torture. Whoever devised the stages of a crucifixion clearly had an understanding of how the mind works as well as the body. For not only was it a particularly cruel form of physical torment, but it was also calculated to shame the dying man by exposing his crime and his nakedness.

    To be humiliated, either by another person or simply by circumstances, is a deeply wounding experience. While a physical injury may heal and fade, a mark of shame can linger on. Whenever our shortcomings or inconsistencies are exposed to the scrutiny of others, we are often surprised at how vulnerable we really are. The eyes of faith, however, are invited to see this as the soldiers prophesying in spite of themselves: Jesus really is a King, really is their King. This surrender to death is the crowning achievement of his life. The cross does not look like success.

    What we now regard as the defining symbol of the Christian faith was, for hundreds of years, a concept which caused awkwardness and apologetic stammering. At its heart, the cross is a sign of ambiguity and revolution. It is ambiguous because it makes us reassess what we understand by failure and victory.

    A reluctant and potentially anonymous figure is changed by this encounter into someone whose name and family would be familiar to the young Church. A strategy for survival and even success is to keep your head down, to say nothing and stand well back trom the action. This was certainly not the case for Simon: although the choice was made for him by the guards he still had the option of sinking back into the crowd once he had served his purpose.

    Jesus was a dangerous man to know, even in death. The Crucifixion: On confronting death Any death is an absurdity: to see any person in death whom we have known in life is a shock to the system. We are less and less accustomed to being around the dead. A little of that discomfort can even extend to those who mourn — we struggle to find ways of being with them and often feel tempted to absent ourselves from their presence until we can safely join the company of others.

    Death raises questions for us all and we should not downplay how much havoc it causes in our lives. Of course it is not only Christ who is raised: the shock of Easter brings life to the flat-lining Apostles. Hope defines the Christian experience and gives it a shape when the other theological virtues seem to be but words. In the bleakest, sealed-tomb moments in life, the Paschal Mystery must refresh those corners of our hearts which despair of the sun rising and a new day. The Ascension: On moving on The forty days after Easter must surely be the most emotionally turbulent in human history — from the abject despair of the cross to the joy of Easter to the strange parting on the hillside outside Jerusalem — all human life is here.

    The apostles are jolted from their open-mouthed staring into space to the real task in hand: why are the men of Galilee looking into the clouds when there is work to be done beyond the confines of the immediate neighbourhood? There is a real grace, both required and shown, in moving on in life.

    We truly need help to leave a place we have known and loved and in which we have been known and loved. The Ascension invites us to adopt the perspective both of the one departing and of those watching the departure: being either side of an airport departure gate is a familiar enough one for most people. The temptation is to wait until the last possible moment, until our loved ones disappear from sight or until we head out of view. Of course departures extend to every sphere of life: the moment comes when we must take a decisive step on our onward journeys or allow others to continue on theirs.

    Sometimes we need a little shove to get us started. Pentecost: On the Holy Spirit as teacher Given their destructive power, the key symbols of the Spirit — wind and flame — are often rendered remarkably tame. In the midst of imparting new knowledge, a fundamental element of education is reminding learners of what they know already.

    In a world tainted with cynicism, we tend to despair of anything being quite as it seems or purports to be. In Mary crowned Queen of Heaven we have a gesture which transcends time and challenges the temptation to saccharine scepticism. Anything which is predicated of the Blessed Virgin is, by extension, applied to us. The crowning of the girl who features in the very first mystery of the Rosary is in fact an endorsement of our whole mixed-up race.

    We should all rejoice in being so highly favoured since the woman who stands at the end of our race is, quite emphatically, intervening in our lives for the good. The Communion of Saints is a somewhat whispered presence in the Rosary and yet it is fitting that this great prayer should dovetail neatly with the closing line of the Creed.

    Every time this statement of faith is professed, we subscribe to a belief that, beyond our sight, there is a vast company of people who care about us. In a passionate negation of the anti-creed which claims that nothing matters, such articles of faith draw our attention to a basic Christian attitude which sees the blessedness of others as intrinsically bound up with our own. On the ground, this mystery invites us to share wholeheartedly in the joys and successes of others.

    By the same token, our achievements reflect upon others: we are all enriched in the economy of Grace. Here and now, however, how graciously do we deal with praise and commendation heaped upon a colleague? Jesus took a big gamble when he spoke of our Father in heaven. God is beyond gender, beyond our imagination.

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    He is a spirit, with no body, so in calling him male or female, we are projecting our own mortal notions on to the immortal and invisible. Moreover, if we have bad associations or memories of either father or mother, we risk contaminating our idea of God with them. Emotional overtones That is where Jesus took the gamble. Those who have known a father as a tyrant or drunk will bring strange overtones to Our Father in heaven.

    If Jesus had spoken of our Mother in heaven, he would have run a similar risk. It is only when we move away from home, and reflect on our history, that we begin to see after many years what mother and father did to us, for better or worse. And when we do, some of our religious attitudes and feelings start to make sense. Merciful father All through our life, we are trying to sort out our sense of our heavenly Father and Mother.

    Jesus always speaks of his Father. We see what he meant in the parable of the prodigal son, in which the central figure is the merciful father. In that extraordinary and moving story, Jesus comes nearest to giving us a picture of God. For some of us, the memory of father may be of an absentee, as happens more and more often today: the father who begets a child and then disappears, not even giving his name to the child. Of all the revelations from our Central Statistics Office, many of them bringing us good cheer about productivity and economic growth, that figure is the one that should most give us pause.

    Absent role model About one in three of the eldest children in new families knows father only as an absentee, someone who had his fun and vanished. He remains a role model — especially for his sons whether he wants to or not. The other one, the missing one, remains as a shadowy icon. St Augustine, in a memorable Latin phrase, insists that God is not like that. God works with us and for us, and we see his hand not just in the sunshine and obvious blessings, but even in the dark times, in our sorrowful mysteries.

    He is always present to us. For some of us, father may have been someone we could not talk to. It was the best family evening for years. He can be part of our breathing in and breathing out. He is happy when we turn to him, no matter how we are dressed, or how we are behaving, or what we have done in the past week.

    When we turn to God in prayer, he is there waiting, happy to see us. The point of the parable For some of us, father was someone you could not mess with, maybe a perfectionist, who got uptight about any failing in his children: somebody who was slow to bless, but easily disappointed or annoyed. Turn again to the parable: the prodigal son messed up his father in a way anyone could have warned him about.

    In those days, sons normally worked for their father till he died. Then the estate was divided. Anyone could have told him it would be squandered — and so it was. He allowed the son to make his mistakes, but kept a place for him in his heart. This is a picture not so much of a foolish old man, as of the one who knows what is in our hearts and is unsurprisable. Children of God God sees us as his children. It is unthinkable for a mother not to love her baby, or for God not to love us. He delights in us as his children, no matter what our age, no matter what mistakes we have made.

    The parable of the prodigal ends with a party. The older brother was upset — this was making too much fuss of the young rascal. He missed the point. The father threw it to express his own joy at having his son back again. Tonight, in front of a mirror, light a candle and look at yourself. Who is that? Do you like the person you see? Then see Jesus at your side, also looking at you in the mirror. How does he see you? His eyes are tender, happy in your company. Not because of your looks or poverty or power or friends, but because you are his sister, brother, child of God.

    At the end, thank God for his love, not because of anything we do, but because he is our Father and we are his children. Do not forget to thank God for His forgiveness, and ask Him to help you as you try to do better. For any penitent: Have I ignored God or excluded Him from my life? Have I neglected my daily prayers or said them badly?

    Is my daily prayer a real conversation with God in mind and heart? Have I used the name of God, or of Our Lady, in anger or carelessly? Did I receive Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin? Do I observe the one hour fast before receiving Holy Communion? Do I abstain from meat or perform some other act of penance on Fridays? For spouses: Do I pray for my husband or wife? Am I critical of my spouse, putting them down in public or in private?

    What efforts have I made to demonstrate and foster the warmth of my love and affection for my spouse? Do I try to make up whenever there has been a disagreement or do I allow things to fester beneath the surface? Do I mistreat my spouse verbally, emotionally or physically? Have we used artificial means of birth control in order to prevent having children? For parents: Have I neglected to teach my children their prayers and give them a Christian education? Have I set my children a bad example by not bringing them to Holy Mass, or being careless about my religious duties?

    Do I take care to ensure that my children do not witness arguments at home? Do I watch over the books they read and the television and videos they watch? Am I over strict or over lax with them? Do I explain decisions to them and so help them grow to maturity? For children: Have I been disobedient or rude to my parents or teachers? Do I treat my parents with affection and respect? Do I pray for them?

    If I live away from home, do I write to my parents and other members of my family in order to keep in touch? Do I quarrel with my brothers or sisters or other members of my family? Do I study hard at school or college? Am I grateful for the sacrifices my parents have made for me? Do I show my gratitude? For any penitent: Am I careful to set my friends a good example, especially in matters of behaviour, attendance at Holy Mass and moral issues? Do I realise that my support might help them live up to their Christian calling? Have I been impatient, angry or jealous? Have I taken part in, or encouraged, an abortion or any other means of taking human life?

    Did I get drunk, use drugs, or give bad example to others? Have I placed myself in danger of sin by reading or looking at what was indecent or pornographic? Have I sinned against the virtue of purity by myself or with others? Have I been dishonest by stealing or cheating? Have I been lazy at my work or at home? In its pure form, our natural yearning for everlasting romantic love calls forth and satisfies our highest instincts. But in its adulterated forms, it allures and dazzles, but finally, it only betrays.

    As part of that acceptance, our self-denial in the short run makes possible our self-fulfillment in the long run. What a moment it was! After Mrs. Monster furrowed their furry brows and carefully weighed the pros and cons. As the timer buzzed, a big smile broke across Mr. Now, there is nothing wrong with a good cookie.

    The problem is not that the cookie is bad, but that its satisfaction cannot last. Not should not, or might not, but cannot last. Nonetheless, it can be hard to think wisely about the future. So kiss me and hold me tight. But because we have the restored gospel, we know there is a tomorrow.

    Thank God there is a tomorrow. Tomorrow, like today, is everlastingly part of life. And because there is tomorrow, all our yesterdays have meaning and purpose. If we hold someone tight whom we really love, the last thing we want is no tomorrow. A shallow, impulsive infatuation that wants to shut out tomorrow is but a tiny flicker compared to the roaring blaze of genuine belonging in a commitment built to last literally forever.

    Once more: the truth is not that worldly gratifications are too satisfying, but that they are not satisfying enough. It is Satan, not God, who seeks to numb our sensibilities until we are eternally miserable. First, physical intimacy grows from and reflects an unlimited commitment. It cannot be detached from its intricate context, and it cannot flourish outside of a complete, healthy relationship. As Jeffrey R. They work together, they cry together, they enjoy Brahms and Beethoven and breakfast together, they sacrifice and save and live together for all the abundance that such a totally intimate life provides.

    And the physical manifestation [only symbolizes] a far deeper spiritual and metaphysical bonding of eternal purposes and promise. Second, loving intimacy grows naturally from its bonds of interdependence and cannot be coerced. President Joseph F. Either a man or a woman may try to coerce a partner. A man may be tempted to treat a woman as his subordinate or even as his inferior, thereby subtly commanding her loyalty. If the couple are married, she may be under covenant to honor him, just as he is under covenant to honor her.

    But if manipulated, those covenants can be forms of coercion. As Doctrine and Covenants makes clear, where there is unrighteous dominion, the priesthood cannot be operative. A woman may be tempted to flirt or fascinate for the purpose of manipulating a man to give her something she wants. When men or women are true to their deepest natures, they will nurture sensitivity and kindness as part of their dating habits and, after marriage, as part of their marital fidelity.

    It is even more difficult to imagine Romeo and Juliet keeping their passion alive in the midst of household clutter, unpaid bills, the crying of children, and the sheer battle fatigue that often concludes our every day. But if two married lovers simply understand how natural is the untidiness of their lives, that understanding can nurture rather than smother the sparks of passion.

    They described how the sterile loneliness of an urban hospital somehow had the effect of refining their love for one another. In a multitude of such moments, the roots of their love, including their affection, stretched ever deeper.


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