Father Laurence's Lent Reflections, year 2012
The angel said to the women he was not there, where they were looking for him, because he was risen. After death we know him no longer after the manner of the flesh – which includes the manner of the imagination. Like meditation, he is not what we think. Like the kingdom , not here, not there.
Then the angel told them that he was going before them to Galilee where they would see him. “Now I have told you”, he concludes matter-of-factly. There is no explanation, simply the proclamation. Job done. How could this be made readily understood or explained satisfactorily?
An early Christian writer whose name is lost to us wrote these words in a homily to describe the meaning of this silent day of transition:
Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.
After the drama of trauma there is the long aftermath of ordinariness.
What’s ‘good’ about a day when an innocent and good man is convicted of a trumped up charge, betrayed and deserted by his friends, rejected by the people he spoke the truth to, physically and mentally tortured, crucified and killed?
The first vein of goodness is in his way of acceptance. When bad things happen we can try to deny them or they can turn us into bitter and hateful people seeking revenge.
Do this in remembrance of me.
We feel offended or diminished if we meet someone we know and they don’t remember who we are. To have significant days or events in our lives remembered by those whose affection or opinion we value means a lot to the sense of our own worth.
Yet remembering in a positive way – affirming we are still there and that the important things in life have not finally sunk out of remembrance under the waves of time – requires effort.
Toothache is bad enough. While it lasts, extreme physical pain blocks out the other stimuli of the world, good and bad. It becomes the centre of our field of perception. We can be annoyed that our minds are so absorbed by something so accidental; and also that it makes us so self-centred. We may say to ourselves that it won’t last forever but while we are going through it is like a demanding animal that expects all our attention.
‘Now has the Son of Man been glorified.’ This is his response to the moment when his fate is sealed and one of his close disciples, ‘filled with Satan’, leaves the common table to betray him.
The act of personal treachery hangs strangely loose in the story without explanation. No one is convinced he did it just for money. Inexplicably it seems necessary because it brings the main player to his supreme moment.
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We began the Holy Week retreat on Bere Island yesterday. Between the liturgies, the meditation times, the times of reflection and sharing on the elusive and unforgettable symbols of the Passion, we will try with all of you who have been reading these reflections to prepare for the three great days.
Each of these spiritual practices – meditation, liturgy, lectio – reinforces the others. Like a dance they swirl together without competing or clashing, like the divine communion itself.
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The curtain lifts again and we begin to recount ritually and relive interiorly the great events that took place over a few days a long time ago. The world did not stop when they happened. Only symbolically did the sun darken and the veil of temple split. Peoples’ commercial and emotional lives carried on as usual through the short tragic drama of the humiliation and extinction of a powerless pawn in the politics of the world. A short show-trial, public torture to keep the crowds satisfied, another execution of a religious (or political) activist who flared briefly in popular imagination and then lost their favour and sunk between the bigger waves of public affairs and personal concerns.
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Generally speaking, experience comes first. First-hand experience always has something unpredictable about it even if we knew it was coming, like a long awaited birth or death. We can consciously wait for an experience that we know is in the pipeline but when it actually happens an unpredictable change has occurred.
Experience then presents us with a challenge and often a conundrum. How does it fit in to the bigger pattern of our story? Is it really as significant as it looks?
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Man has always seen the world in terms of great natural cycles. Everything that was will be again, says one of the Wisdom books of the Bible. The seasons revolve like the constellations, predictable and reassuring to those below who experience change and mortality. Repetition however has a double edge: comforting in its predictability, tedious in its sameness. So we try to have the best of both worlds, seeking change as it might better fulfill our wishes yet clinging to the status quo because, however incomplete, it’s what we know best.
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