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Monthly Archives: April 2017

THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER

1-10On most Sundays during the Easter season in Cycle A, our Gospel is taken from the Gospel of John. This week’s Gospel, however, is taken from the Gospel of Luke. As in last week’s Gospel, today’s Gospel shows us how the first community of disciples came to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. In these stories, we gain insight into how the community of the Church came to be formed.

The evening of the first day of the week two disciples set out on a journey, in Jerusalem, women have been coming and going, some exclaiming that they have seen the Lord, others recounting the words of angels. John and Peter run to the tomb only to find it empty. Confusion comes in and out of the house during the morning hours. Is it possible? Can we believe what these emotional women are telling us?

Cleopas and his companion confused and heavy-hearted, start on the trip down from Jerusalem. Luke tells us that Emmaus was about 10-12 kilometres from Jerusalem. As they continue the walk, someone else appears next to them, and they wonder why they had not heard or seen him before. He says to them, “What have you been discussing?”

It’s their turn to be astounded. The greatest and saddest event of their lives had occurred in the last three days. How was it possible that there were people left in their world who didn’t know? In our own experience when a beloved person dies, it is difficult to understand how the earth still spins and the sun still rises and life goes on.

Their reaction is perfectly natural. Cleopas asks the stranger: “Where have you been? Are you the only one who hasn’t heard what happened in the past three days? The best of men, a great prophet, one who did nothing but good, was killed. We had hoped he was our liberator.” The stranger is quiet, listening. The other jumps in. “But something else happened earlier this morning. Friends of ours went to his tomb and found it empty.” She hesitates, both excited and doubtful. “The women saw a vision of angels. And the angels told them—he’s alive.” His voice moves from excitement to bewilderment.

The stranger doesn’t pause but keeps walking and they follow, mystified. And then they hear his words: “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow your hearts are to believe all that the prophets have told you!” And now they listen as the stranger tells them stories from their long history and tradition, from the Exodus to the prophets to their own time. They hear the references to God’s anointed and, little by little, they understand that he is talking about their friend and teacher, and now everything falls into place: Jesus’ words about himself as he taught them and as he healed so many; Jesus’ continued references to his Father; Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion. They understand that all this, even Jesus’ death, had been God’s plan from the beginning, and now hope fills them that not all is lost.

But time passes so quickly as they listen to his words! They are almost at their village. The stranger offers his farewell and makes as if to continue but they don’t want him to go. They say “Look, sir, it will soon be night. Please, come and stay with us.” And the stranger does not refuse. In the manner of Middle Eastern people through the ages, they invite him to eat with them, and he agrees. There is a loaf of bread next to the water and wine. He reaches for the bread and, they watch as he prays, breaks the bread and offers it to them. They cry out, “it is the Lord!” Recognition now fills them because of the familiar gesture of the Beloved, but now he is gone from their presence. His work is done but they are bereft. How is it that they had not recognized him all those hours he walked with them? They are ashamed. But that doesn’t last long. They have seen the Lord. They must share it with the others. Despite their tired legs, they return to Jerusalem.

They go to the same house where earlier they had left their fear-filled friends. But now they are all awake, rejoicing and sharing the good news with one another. “We have seen the Lord!” It becomes the most joyful refrain, whispered in amazement and then proclaimed in loud conviction. “We have seen the Lord!” Cleopas and his wife add to the chorus: “Yes, he was known to us in the breaking of the bread.”

As was the case for Cleopas and the other disciple that first Eastertide, the way to Jesus may not be obvious or simple.

Because of their example, however, we have been taught to keep looking, ever alert to the possibility of his surprising, entirely unexpected appearance in our midst.

As the text in the Book of Revelation has it “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with you, and you with me” (Rev. 3:20). In this Eucharist, he is with us as host and as food, as guest and as servant. Let us then open the door of our hearts to receive him, here, now, alive in our midst.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER

1-1The Gospels tell us that Jesus appeared to the disciples on several occasions after they discovered that his tomb was empty. The resurrected Jesus had a physical presence, but the disciples couldn’t recognize Jesus unless he allowed them to. His resurrected body, nonetheless, showed the marks of his crucifixion.

One of the greatest blessings we encounter as Christians is the freedom to admit when we have doubts. According to Paul Tillich, doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. In our Gospel reading today, Thomas asked for proof, and we also want proof as well that our faith is not in vain.

Thomas often gets a bad rap for doubting the resurrection of Jesus; however, he was no more doubtful than the other disciples and apostles.

The other disciples didn’t believe that Jesus had risen until he appeared to them, so why should we expect Thomas to be any different?

After all, Thomas was well aware that Jesus wasn’t the first messianic figure on the scene to be crucified by the Roman occupiers. Thomas showed great religious restraint and demonstrated the proper amount of rational doubt. But when Jesus appeared to him, Thomas proclaimed without reservation, “My Lord, and my God.”

Doubt can be a tool that propels us into deeper learning, soul searching, and spiritual revelation. Faith based on absolute certainty leads to fanaticism, but faith tempered with doubt is mature and stable.

Many believers struggle with their own doubts brought about by life’s unpredictability and tempestuous nature. We have very real struggles in our lives that generate an uncertainty about where God is to be found in all the turmoil.

Sometimes we look to spiritual giants, the superstars of Christianity, and feel inferior in our own personal walk in comparison. However, the greatest in the Kingdom sometimes deal with the greatest doubt.
Mother Teresa’s diary reveals a saintly person who struggled with a type of doubt that would crush the faint of heart. She wrote to her spiritual confidant, Fr. Michael Van Der Peet SCJ, in 1979, “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.”

For the last nearly half-century of her life Mother Teresa felt no presence of God whatsoever — neither in her heart or in the Eucharist. That absence seems to have started at almost precisely the time she began tending the poor and dying in Calcutta and— except for a five-week break in 1959 — never abated.

Although perpetually cheery in public, Mother Teresa lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain. She bemoans the “dryness,” “darkness,” “loneliness” and “torture” she was undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. Nevertheless, she continued to love the least in God’s creation and dedicate her life to Christ to the very end.
Mother Teresa isn’t alone in her struggle with doubt. The art critic Robert Hughes said, “The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.”

Catholic priest Henri Nouwen despite his own struggle with doubt, was able to mentor and encourage countless thousands through his writings, lectures, and sermons. One particular quote from his book Here and Now: Living in the Spirit has been a lifeboat for many who find themselves overcome with the waves of life’s stormy doubts: “Have the courage to trust that you will not fall into an abyss of nothingness, but into the embrace of a God whose love can heal all your wounds.”

Faith is a daily, ongoing exercise. It is a risk. Doubts arise. We struggle with God. And hopefully, faith grounded in the goodness of God triumphs — even when we do not have all the answers and life doesn’t make sense.

Will we believe in a God of love who wants to be near us and has our best interest at heart? Or will we believe in a God who plays games with us, and is ultimately cruel and uncaring? Will we believe in a God who stands beside us in our troubles, or one who is distant and difficult?

The author of Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is not void of doubt, but requires a daily commitment to developing our spiritual walk despite life’s uncertainties and sometimes cruelties.

Our faith is based on the witness of the Church that has preceded us, beginning with Thomas and the first disciples. Through Baptism we receive the same Holy Spirit that Jesus brought to the first disciples. We are among those who are “blessed” because we believe without having seen.

May his resurrection power be at work in our lives as we learn to allow our doubts to strengthen our faith.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Easter Day

1-13Today we begin the Easter Season, our 50-day meditation on the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection. And so, gather this morning, not just with friends and families, but also with Christians around the world and across time, proclaiming what is perhaps the most ancient creed in Christendom: Christ is risen!

Of course, proclaiming that joyful phrase today amidst the beautiful flowers, the music, and in the company of fellow parishioners and visitors. And yet, for as much as we enjoy these aspects of Easter, the truth is that these things, by themselves, don’t tell the whole story.

Along with praise-filled shouts of “Alleluia,” the whole story of Easter also includes shouts of war and hate; of fear and pain; of confusion and misunderstanding. In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom, and the deadly Coptic bombings in Egypt and in the shadow of war on the Korean Peninsula, these emotions are viscerally familiar to all of us. And these emotions also filled the hearts of the faithful on that first Easter morning.

The Gospel of John sets the scene: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed.” Then, John tells us, she ran to share the news with the others. And while John doesn’t tell us this part himself, when people get news, they don’t typically run unless it’s good news or really bad news!

Mary, it seems fair to say, is distraught—shocked that the body of her beloved Lord isn’t in the tomb where he had been laid just three days ago. When she reaches the other disciples with the news, they take off running as well, reaching the tomb only to confirm what Mary had told them. They depart, their hopes dashed; their Easter alleluias muted.

This is where Easter ended: The disciples returned home—confused, saddened, and unsure of what would happen next. John tells us that they “as yet…did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
And who could blame them really? They had put so much trust in Jesus, only to have it squashed by powers and principalities. What were they to do now? Where would they go? Who would they believe in next? These were the questions that raced through the disciples’ minds as they came to grips with their grief and disappointment.

But if we’re not careful, we’ll close the book as if the story ends right here.
But we have gathered here this morning to remember Jesus’ resurrection.

Our memory fails us firstly, if we think of Jesus’ resurrection only as a past event that we are celebrating this morning. The church has this turn of phrase: “resurrection power.” There is power in Jesus’ resurrection only if it has a quality of “now” and not just “then.” For this memory to be real, and not just archival, Jesus’ resurrection must show its presence and power today. Many will sing the great Easter hymn, “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today…” How do you know that Jesus Christ is risen today? Our memory fails us if we think of Jesus’ resurrection only in terms of “then” and not also in terms of “now.” We are not re-enacting Jesus’ resurrection; we are reappropriating Jesus’ resurrection power.

And secondly, our memory of Jesus’ resurrection fails us if we think of Jesus’ resurrection only in terms of “them” and not also in terms of “us.” If there is “resurrection power,” we need to know this power not just behind us (in the past), or around us (in others), but within us, in our own lives, now. We all that resurrection power, and we need to claim it and unleash it as clearly as Jesus’ followers in first-century Palestine.

And thirdly, our memory of Jesus’ resurrection fails us if we only understand his resurrection as a miracle. Jesus’ resurrection was indeed a miracle; however, Jesus’ resurrection needs to be more than a miracle. It’s needs to be normal… every day… how we live and breathe: with resurrection power.

And so, in this Eastertide, may we proclaim that Christ is risen, not simply in church, but also in the world around us, not simply with our lips, but also with our hands and hearts. We search for Christ amidst those who are cast down and rejected; among those who have nobody to care for them; and in the company of those who have never known the loving embrace of friendship. The world needs this now, perhaps more than ever before. But most of all, may we not simply proclaim the Good News, may we also believe it so that the whole world may see Christ in their midst and proclaim, “The Lord is risen indeed!”

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Easter Vigil

1-10This Easter Vigil we celebrate the most important thing we believe as Christian people. Jesus Christ is risen today!

All Gospels have an account of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, and all four Gospels mention: 1) The tomb of Jesus was found empty and 2) The risen Christ appeared to certain persons. Matthew tells us that, as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary approached the tomb, there was a great earthquake, and “an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat on it.” The guards stationed at the tomb were terrified and “became like dead men.” The angel then assured the women that Jesus “has been raised from the dead as he said he would” The women, “filled with awe and great joy,” left the tomb as the angel instructed to tell the disciples. On their way, Jesus met and greeted the women who “falling before him, clasped his feet.” Jesus himself then sends the women to “tell my brothers they must leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”

The mention of a great earthquake is peculiar to Matthew’s account of the Resurrection, it indicates the coming of a new and final age brought about through the life, teaching, ministry, and particularly through the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Notable also is the fact that Jesus’ first appearance is to women, the women who came to minister to him. Finally, not to be overlooked, is Jesus’ use of the word “brothers” to refer to his disciples. It seems to be indicative of a new and different relationship that Jesus has with them. The disciples are now entrusted with the message and mission of the risen Jesus Christ.

It took the people of Jesus day some time to realize what “to rise from the dead” meant. On the first Easter, they didn’t receive baskets of eggs and jelly beans, or eat chocolate rabbits. It was a day when at first their hopes were dashed. We can only imagine their confusion when Jesus body was missing. They may have imagined that it had been stolen. That would have been even another insult and indignity. Just when their hearts had sunk to the lowest point, they were faced with another possibility. Could he have risen?

The joy of this day is a sure sign that this is exactly what happened. The faith that was enkindled in the hearts of so many has survived, been passed on and has grown over 2,000 years. This weekend thousands of people will be Baptized, Confirmed and welcomed into Full Communion with the Church all over the world. So, it’s a celebration for all of us! It was impossible to crush the message Jesus came to live. It was impossible for sin and darkness to win out over goodness and light. It was impossible for death to conquer life. The message of Easter is a message of God’s triumph over all those things.

1-12So, we light our candles and we renew our Baptismal Promises. We welcome new members and are strengthened by their faith. And we glory in all that has happened. It takes a lifetime for us to realize what happened that day more than 2,000 years ago. The resurrection of Jesus colours every facet of our lives, but, we need to live it. We need to pass it on to more people every day of our lives.

Light has overcome darkness and life has won out over death. Jesus is risen from the dead! So, we take the message to the streets. We live as people filled with hope. We share that hope with those around us. We work against selfishness, evil, sin, darkness and death knowing that the power of the resurrection is infinitely stronger. That power grows stronger still as we share it and strengthen the faith of others. It was impossible to extinguish the message. Jesus lives. Jesus lives in us. Christ has died. Christ is risen! Christ will come again! ALLELUIA!”

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

HOLY SATURDAY

1-28“Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep…”

So begins an ancient homily for Holy Saturday. The text dates to the 4th century and was written in Greek; the author is unknown. In it he describes Christ’s descent to the dead, where he grasps Adam and Eve and frees them from sorrow:
“He (Christ) took [Adam] by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light… I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in my and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.’”

We stand in the middle of the great Triduum, the three great days of our Lord’s work. These three days are the holiest of days.

What happened on these days long ago are the only events that ever truly changed the world. And today we find ourselves living once again in the Day of Silence.

Living on the boundary between Good Friday and Holy Easter, we find ourselves stopped for a moment, to tread water with Christ in his being-dead for us. Today we are stopped in our tracks by the narrative of death and burial. On Holy Saturday, God proves that there is no abyss of sin and godlessness that he cannot descend into. The depths of God’s love run every bit as deep as the depths of sin and death which we unleash upon the world. And tomorrow we will learn that the depths of God’s love run infinitely deeper than the abyss of sin…but we’re not there yet.

When we look at the God of Holy Saturday, the Trinitarian, cruciform God and ask ourselves how we might possibly image this kind of love, we find ourselves drawn into God’s loving descent into the depths of our sin for our salvation.

When we say that we, as the church are the image of the Trinity, we are making the daring statement that we are joining in the pattern of Christ, in giving ourselves away, in expending ourselves for other, in putting others before ourselves, in loving others even to the point of death for their sake. This is what the life of the Trinity looks like when translated into the life of the sinful world.

And so, as we seek to live and be the body of Christ, the one who descended into hell for us, his body lying cold in the grave, let us with humility and sobriety remember the horrifically great cost of love. God’s love for us cost him what was most precious to him, his own Son. If we would follow God, if we would be the ikon of his love in the world, the same pattern of self-giving must be true of us. We must, if we seek to follow God, descend into the world of sin and suffering and expend our love on all the unlovely people that we meet. And, as with Christ it may mean our death. But here is the miracle of Holy Saturday: Because Christ has died our death for us, we are never alone in death. “For this reason, Christ died and lived again, that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.”

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

GOOD FRIDAY

1-10According to an ancient Roman tradition, while fleeing the city during the {persecutions of Nero, Saint Peter saw Jesus, who was travelling in the opposite direction that is, toward the city, and asked him in amazement, “Lord, are you going?” Jesus’ response was, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” At that moment, Peter understood that he had to follow the Lord with courage, to the very end. But he also realized that he would never be alone on the journey; Jesus, who had loved him even unto death, would always be with him. Jesus, with his Cross, walks with us and takes upon himself our fears, our problems, and our sufferings.

To those who, today too, wish to see Jesus, to those who are searching for the face of God, to those who received catechesis when they were little and then developed it no further and perhaps have lost their faith, to so many who have not yet encountered Jesus personally … to all these people we can offer three things: The Gospel, the crucifix, and the witness of our faith, poor but sincere. The Gospel: there we can encounter Jesus, listen to him, know him. The Crucifix: the sign of the love of Jesus, who gave himself for us. And then a faith that is expressed in simple gestures of fraternal charity. But mainly in the coherence of life, between what we say and what we do. Coherence between our faith and our life, between our words and our actions: Gospel, crucifix, witness.

God placed on Jesus’ Cross all the weight of our sins, all the injustices perpetrated by every Cain against his brother, all the bitterness of the betrayal by Judas and by Peter, all the vanity of tyrants, all the arrogance of false friends. It was a heavy Cross, like night experienced by abandoned people, heavy like the death of loved ones, heavy because it carries all the ugliness of evil. However, the Cross is also glorious like the dawn after a long night, for it represents all the love of God, which is greater than our iniquities and our betrayals. In the Cross, we see the monstrosity of man, when he allows evil to guide him; but we also see the immensity of the mercy of God, who does not treat us according to our sins but according to his mercy.

Jesus is united with every person who suffers from hunger in a world that … permits itself the luxury of throwing away tons of food every day. On the Cross, Jesus is united to the many mothers and fathers who suffer as they see their children become victims of drugs. On the Cross, Jesus is united with those who are persecuted for their religion, for their beliefs, or simply for the colour of their skin. On the Cross, Jesus is united with so many young people who have lost faith in political institutions because they see in them only selfishness and corruption; he unites himself with those young people who have lost faith in the Church or even in God because of the counter-witness of Christians and ministers of the Gospel

Jesus accepts all this with open arms, and saying to us, “Have courage! You do not carry your cross alone! I carry it with you. I have overcome death, and I have come to give you hope, to give you life”

Do you want to be like Pilate, who did not have the courage to go against the tide to save Jesus’ life, and instead washed his hands, are you one of those who wash their hands, who feign ignorance and look the other way? Or are you like Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus carry that heavy wood, or like Mary and the other women, who were not afraid to accompany Jesus all the way to the end, with love and tenderness? Jesus is looking at you now and is asking you: do you want to help me carry the Cross?  How will you respond to him?

Again, the Gospel offers us the words that Jesus addressed to Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” John 3:16). In hearing these words, we feel within us that’ God loves us, truly loves us, and loves us so much! This is the simplest expression that epitomizes all the Gospel, all the faith, all theology: God loves us with a free and boundless love.

The Cross of Jesus expresses all the negative forces of evil but, also, the gentleness of God’s mercy. The Cross would seem to decree Christ’s failure, but in reality, it signals his victory. On Calvary, those who mocked him said to him, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matt. 27:40). But the opposite was true: it was precisely because Jesus was the Son of God that he was there, on the Cross, faithful to the end to the loving plan of the Father.

When we look to the Cross where Jesus was nailed, we contemplate the sign of love, of the infinite love of God for each of us and the source of our salvation. The mercy of God, which embraces the whole world, comes from Cross.

The Cross of Christ contains all the love of God; there we find his immeasurable mercy. This is a love in which we can place all our trust, in which we can believe …. Let us entrust ourselves to Jesus, let us give ourselves over to him, because he never disappoints anyone! Only in Christ crucified and risen can we find salvation and redemption. With him, evil, suffering, and death do not have the last word, because he gives us hope and life: he has transformed the Cross from being an instrument of hate, defeat, and death to being a sign of love, victory, triumph, and life.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

HOLY THURSDAY

1-13Tonight, we enter the holiest time of the holiest week of the Christian year: The Triduum. The Triduum, meaning “Three Days” of our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection is the central focus of the Christian faith. The Triduum is one extended liturgy in three distinct parts beginning with Maundy Thursday and ending at the Easter Vigil.

Through this liturgy, we embody the great beauty, vulnerability and tragedy of Christ’s great act and commandment of love.

As Jesus faces his final hours, knowing what was coming, he begins by taking the place of a servant in an act of intimacy. Isn’t it interesting how Jesus has no trouble at all with washing the disciples’ feet? He quite naturally takes the role of the servant and just begins to wash the feet of each disciple. There is no self-consciousness about him, no discomfort.

The disquietude comes from Peter who, steeped in the honour/shame social systems of first century Palestine, cannot fathom a teacher doing the work of a slave. This just isn’t right!

But Jesus is clear: “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” In Peter’s inimitable and impetuous style, he leaps beyond just feet and asks for his hands and head to be washed too. At this point, at least, he’s all in!
As you consider this scene, let’s ponder a question. Which role would you be most comfortable playing: Jesus, the one who is active and giving, or Peter, the one who is receiving? We live in a culture which values doing over being and is deeply rooted in both a utilitarian ethic and a mythology of independence.

Our Australian culture is prone to measuring personal worth based upon what we can do or contribute to society. Take our ability to “contribute” away, and our culture’s message is that you have no worth, no value.
This culture forms and shapes us into people who spend the bulk of our lives wanting to be the active agents, the ones who do, while we often either ignore or shun receptivity both in ourselves and in others. Being a “receiver” is often negatively viewed as being a “taker,” a “slacker,” a “bludger” or “burden on society.” Being dependent on others is the dread of many, especially as we age.

This passage from John’s Gospel has much to say in the face of our culture’s idolatry of utilitarianism and independence; for our worth is not measured in what we do, it is measured by who we are … and whose we are. The world’s great lie is that doing is the be all and end all – and this is a lie! We are beloved of God because we are God’s very own.

As God’s beloved child, you are enough just because you are. As such, the ability to be a gracious receiver is as important as being a generous giver. There is a season for both and both are necessary to have a share in Christ. For if you cannot receive the ministrations of the people who love you the most on this earth, how will you ever know how to receive the glory of God in this life or the next?

This mutuality of love, both in giving and receiving, is at the heart of Eucharistic spirituality. The Eucharist is the incarnation of Christ’s self-giving and receiving Christ in the sacrament prepares us to go out and share that love with others.

The new commandment to love one another requires both giving and receiving. We cannot attend to just one part of this and rightly call it love. If one only gives, it places the receiver of our giving at a safe distance and denies both intimacy and vulnerability. If one only receives, it reduces us to spiritual infants and fosters emotional dependency.

Attending to merely one aspect of expressing love is a distortion. To love well is to be able to give and receive.

As St. John of the Cross once noted, when we die God will only ask one question of us: “How well did you love?” How well did you give? How well did you receive?

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2017 in Uncategorized