looking up

Mar 31, 2020

A bit of background will help a deeper appreciation of today’s readings.

We know the story of creation well: Adam and Eve, created by God and given everything they need that they might be fully happy and fully human. God also gives them the freedom to accept or to reject this paradise of love and life.

After the creation of the heavens and the earth (Genesis Ch 1) and the creation of humans (Ch 2), the account continues with the voice of evil through the serpent:  “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

This temptation presented by the serpent does not make the serpent a bad creature – just an early ancestor of the many people and advertising blurbs promising the world: you will be fully happy, successful, powerful and popular as a god if you eat this, do this, buy this, wear this, shop here etc.

But we are not created to be God. We are created to be human and our deepest desire in life is to be human in relationship with others, looking up to Jesus Christ without whom we cannot live.

The idea of being like a god is the temptation.

The one who is fully human does not settle for false and tempting promises happiness (success, power, possessions, fame and fortune). Sin is a reminder that we are not yet fully ourselves. In other words we are not yet fully human. That common old saying “Of course I sin, I’m only human” is not only not true, it’s heresy! The reality is that if I was human I would not sin!

There are some things we cannot change. We are not God, we are human. There are some things we can change: we are free to sin or to not sin. A wise person will not only appreciate the difference, but will face these facts and passionately seek the life that is consistent with being fully human.

That’s a bit of a longer intro than I intended, but it readies us to appreciate today’s two readings. In one of the mobile apps I use for the daily scriptures each reading has a brief header. Here are the two for today:

The account of sin entering the world tells of the serpent as the tempter. The Israelites in their forty years in the desert were journeying from captivity to freedom, but the struggle of their desert-lockdown made them vulnerable to attack from every temptation (as today’s first reading continues):

“There were fiery serpents among the people; their bite brought death to many in Israel. The people came and said to Moses, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede for us with the Lord to save us from these serpents.”…  So Moses fashioned a bronze serpent which he put on a standard, and if anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived.”

Note that the people had to look up to confront the very thing that they feared face-to-face in order to be saved. It was serpents that they feared, but they were able to live only when they faced the serpent that had been lifted up on the standard.

In these days of lockdown we are having to face many of our fears without our usual securities and escapes of power, success projects and certainties. Remember that great reflection from Pope Francis last weekend: “The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits, and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives …”

This is not a comfortable place for us to be and the challenge before us in lockdown is the choice between (1.) surviving and (2.) embracing these lockdown days as an opportunity for growth. This is our current lock-down reality, sometiong we are powerless to change, and therefore the confines of our homes become a place of opportunity if we are willing to confront our fears.

We don’t have to do this alone. An honest and open phone conversation with a friend can help. But most of all let’s turn to Jesus honestly expressing our fears to him in the confidence that he is waiting for us to invite him to heal, forgive, strengthen and transform us into people who are able to live abundantly.

An Invitation:

  • Have a conversation with Jesus about your fears. We no longer look at the serpent, we look to Jesus who was crucified  and lifted up on the standard of the cross. When we face Jesus crucified, our own fears and anxieties come to our consciousness. While execution as a criminal looked like the end of Jesus for his followers, the resurrection of Jesus transforms what looks like death on earth into the pathway to life. If we turn to Jesus in our fears, and walk with him even to death, we are able to experience resurrection now and for eternity.
  • Thank you to the two children who sent in their art below. It’s great to receive these. The humour is great too. (look at the last supper scene closely).


  • You might pray The Serenity Prayer as a prayer from your own reality, and also in solidarity with all those who pray this prayer daily expressing their dependance looking up to Jesus as their “higher power.”


  1. At the onset of each school year, I am invited to introduce myself to the C31ommunity at the College Assembly and to give a brief overview of my Counsellor’s purpose and role.

    An aspect of my recent address included the following:

    “There is no time in the past, nor will there be any time in the future more important than now to enjoy your life.
    My role as a Counsellor is to help you enjoy your life. To do this I will teach you how to relax and become centred so that you will be able to see more clearly those things that you can change and those things that you cannot change.”

    The SERENITY PRAYER etched an indelible mark in my mind from a young age whilst a student of the Sisters of St Joseph in Whanganui.

    As a young adult, I learned that it was Reinhold Niebuhr, Theologian, (1892-1971) who wrote the prayer and prayed it with his congregation an ocean away from the Cataclysm of World War II.

    The highly infectious Coronavirus has caused a phenomenal upheaval in our world today. Pope Francis encourages us daily to ‘protect each other’ by raising our hearts and minds in prayer and asking our Creator God for the courage and wisdom to unite positively and lovingly with the Holy Spirit of life and love – humanity. +


  2. Thank you John for an enriching and challenging reflection.

    I’m not sure but I think health professionals and centres have the symbol of a serpent on a staff for their crest. Today’s healing scripture provides the origin of that symbol.

    It reminds me to ‘protect’ with my prayer today all medical workers, care-givers and all front line persons serving us at this time.

  3. Thank you Fr John. As a health professional I found today’s reflection very helpful.

  4. I had often wondered about a brass serpent on a pole -it seemed like it was contravening “Thou shalt not have strange gods before me” if the Israelites were worshipping it. I had it all wrong didn’t I? Thank you John for so clearly connecting the two Scripture readings for today. The lesson for us all in this time of difficulty is pretty clear! Look upwards!

  5. Very nourished by your reflection today and the beautiful “serenity prayer”. We have much to be truly great full for . This can be such a positive enriching time in our lives…. Thank you children for the lovely Lego art work.

  6. Thank you John for all your Reflections- very nourishing of heart and mind.
    Yesterday I felt I was in the boat with Jesus being overwhelmed by the wind and waves, and I was. Today as I look at the serpent on the cross and gaze at Jesus on the Cross I am aware my fears are waves of anxiety about being overwhelmed and out of control during COVID19. So helpful to name our fears, face them and befriend them with Jesus. There will be more fears yet Jesus reminds me they are OK. as He has been there too.

  7. I love the serenity prayer. Which is perfect for this time God bless us with your graces through your son Jesus Christ. I can do all things through him and with him. Amen

    • Yes, thanks to the children for taking the time to make their lovely LEGO work, and it gives us a message about Christ and his followers, through the eyes of children. God bless all our children.

  8. The serenity prayer was my mother’s favourite. It brought her much peace in times of struggle. She taught all five of her children this prayer and it became our Go To prayer whenever we found the going tough. Still a compass point in our storms. Thank you.


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