getting real

a warning…

This post is not for everyone and some people might find the thoughts I’m about to offer difficult. So if you’d rather not be challenged in the midst of the COVID-19 threat and its consequences it might be a good idea if you read no further.

But for those who are prepared to face a challenging reality as an opportunity for greater maturity of faith, read on.

is positive thinking the best way forward?

In recent days a number of well-intentioned social media users have encouraged people to look on the positive side of the Coronavirus emergency. I read one comment today “We will get through this, we always do, think positive, look on the bright side.”

That approach contrasts with last night’s news headline as Aotearoa New Zealand moves towards lock-down with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern giving a message entitled  “A blunt message. The facts laid bare”.

Thanks be to God for a challenging and necessary message, even if it’s laid-bare-blunt and unwelcome.

face the fact – all humans die

We are not helped by taking on board the word of those who may be masking their own fears with a Pollyannaish power of positive thinking. The fact is that we do not know how this COVID-19 crisis is going to turn out.

It’s difficult to live with uncertainty. But uncertainty is often our human reality and the mature person of faith will seek Christ in the reality of the uncertainty rather than grasping at artificial hope.

Christian faith is not a method of looking on the bright side. Christian faith is life with Christ who has shown us that death and the things that feel like death, are not the end for the one who lives with Jesus Christ.

Christianity enables us to confront reality however unwanted and unwarranted that reality is.

In the threat of these days we are having to face our fear of death. Every person who has ever lived has died or will die. But Jesus Christ has shown us that death is a transition not an end. Therefore the daily circumstances in which we taste death are not to be feared but to be lived with a confidence that death (and experiences like grief, anxiety and loss of security in which we taste death) are the pathway to the life we have been created for. The one who has not lived through suffering, loss and death cannot experience resurrection.

In a dozen decades (even without a virus) every person who is reading this FFF post will have died. This might be an unwelcome reminder and it is certainly a blunt statement, but you can’t deny that I am stating a fact.

Remember the quotation I used yesterday from a friend:

“This health emergency is screaming that I’m not in control. Today, I cannot go where I want, I’m told to change my work routine without end in sight. A few days ago it dawned on me that my health, and the health of those I love, can be at risk at any moment. Suddenly, I realised that my health, my life is not in my hands.”

now real hope can begin

I’m not sure how you are feeling at this point, but whenever I face facts I feel a bit of relief since it takes a lot of energy to keep ignoring reality.

This happens for me because the facts I’m facing usually come out in my prayer. If I am feeling angry I pray angry. If I feel despairing I pray despairingly. If I feel lonely I pray like a lonely person calling on Jesus as a beggar desperate for everything.

And it works since Jesus never misses the chance to respond to my honesty and humbly expressed need. This is the reason for my hope. The fact that I am facing reality gives me direction, and my knowledge that I am not alone gives me confident and well-founded hope.

Prayers from almost 3000 years ago

Every day I pray the in the Prayer of the Church (the Breviary or Office), but also the psalm response to the first reading at Mass. The writers of these from-the-heart ancient prayers (which were prayed by heart by Jesus) were not afraid to express the breadth and depth of their human reality.  They poured it all out without holding back. Take for example the opening of a psalm from today’s Office of Readings:

Lord, listen to my prayer
and let my cry come to you.
Do not hide your face from me:
whenever I am troubled,
turn to me and hear me.
Whenever I call on you,
hurry to answer me.
For my days vanish like smoke,
and my bones are dry as tinder.
My heart is cut down like grass, it is dry –
I cannot remember to eat.
The sound of my groaning
makes my bones stick to my flesh.
I am lonely as a pelican in the wilderness,
as an owl in the ruins,
as a sparrow alone on a rooftop:
I do not sleep.
All day long my enemies taunt me,
they burn with anger and use my name as a curse.
I make ashes my bread,
I mix tears with my drink,
My days fade away like a shadow:
I wither like grass.

And then notice the conclusion of the prayer which shows that, now that the complaint and pain is expressed, the Lord is responding and giving hope:

But you, Lord, remain for ever
and your name lasts from generation to generation.

Now notice the same pattern in the psalm of today’s Mass:

God is for us a refuge and strength,
a helper close at hand, in time of distress,
so we shall not fear though the earth should rock,
though the mountains fall into the depths of the sea.
The waters of a river give joy to God’s city,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within, it cannot be shaken;
God will help it at the dawning of the day.
The Lord of hosts is with us:
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Come, consider the works of the Lord,
the redoubtable deeds he has done on the earth.

Mature faith

To quote from yesterday’s post “when we turn to Jesus with the humble desperation of a beggar, then we are inviting Jesus to work miracles of healing. growth and renewal in us.”  This is mature faith, not us having made ourselves successful and presentable and ready, but a disposition of humble acknowledgement that without Jesus we are robots in existence rather than humans living abundant and heart-felt life.

An Invitation.

  • Become aware of how the current crisis is making you more aware of your dependance on Jesus.
  • If you were to write your own psalm today, how would you begin to passionately express your need for Jesus. Be specific…what is your concern: health, financial, ageing, family…
  • Today’s Mass readings at this link.
23 Responses to "getting real"
  1. Thank you Fr John for speaking the reality. Faith is such a powerful gift, a gift that needs feeding through prayer, reading, truth and reality. A prayer goes well with the constant hand washing!

  2. Absolutely spot on thank you Father John, my heart breaks for those who cannot understand God’s immense capacity to love us through these times.

  3. Praying regardless of how you are feeling and also praying in that emotion, angry, tired, sad but still praying. I like that. Also Fr you have some younger readers. I plan on still being here in three decades. Fact.

    • My mistake – I meant to type “in a dozen decades…” and realised that i had accidentally typed “in a few decades” only when I read your email. Me too – I hope to still be going in three decades!

  4. What a positive idea! Write your own psalm! That will be my mission today in the quietness of my home! My first words will be “here I am Lord “…………….
    Your words are very challenging a real wake up message for me! Thankyou, stay safe !

  5. This just popped into my head:
    “O rest in the Lord
    Wait patiently for him
    And he shall give thee
    Thy heart’s desires”
    and I know he will!

    • That’s good. Thanks.
      You started by saying”this just popped into my head.”
      We do find Jesus in our hearts desire. From our head to our heart.

  6. To any of you who have been to Kopua their chant at the end of the Psalm, sung slowly is just about 20 secs. ‘Give thanks to the Father almighty, to his Son, Jesus Christ the Lord, to the Spirit who dwells in our
    hearts, now and forever.
    Amen’ I often sing this to myself, so now it will get sung as I wash.

  7. I welcomed todays comment and found it calming in uncertain times. Being reminded of reality worked well for me . It is indeed a relief to face facts.

  8. Thanks for this father a timely reminder of mento mori. And a real real hope is so important not just positive thinking. I often speak of this to my students.

  9. Reality + Reflection…
    ‘Wherever the water flows, it will bring life and health…’
    …a perfect start to the day!
    E te Atua e manaaki ✝️
    Thanks Fr John

  10. Human-beings experience the state of being fully developed at different stages of life.

    Different frameworks of thought have shaped our lives and values. The Poet,
    Alfred Tennyson, once said, “Humility is the highest virtue, the mother of them all”. Humility helps us build trust and to cope with anxiety about our mortality.

    All blessings originate from the LOVE of God. The ‘Beatitudes’ list the values in life which will lead humanity to maturity – to happiness and redemption. Humility brings authenticity and inner peace … those who are humble can admit our fragility, to say ‘sorry’, to forgive, to allow the LOVE of God to transform us.

    My prayer this morning is that humanity recognizes the very heart of our interdependence at this time of marked uncertainty in the world. +
    Virginia

  11. Brilliant!
    Observation. 14 responses before 10.00 am (more than usual by this time I would venture to say).
    This points to the healthy appetite for truth.
    Jesus got real all the time…….. remember he once said to his disciples “How much longer do I have to be with you?

  12. John, a good reality check. There’s no need for panic. But also we need to face the reality that here we have no abiding city and that medicine will always only go so far. On a deeper level, coronavirus and climate change remind us that our way of living cannot continue as it is, hugely weighted towards the rich and an ever-increasing tail of poor and homeless. This pause in ordinary life might be the opportunity of reflecting on how humanity’s way of living has to change. The Dow-Jones is not the arbiter of how we people, children of God, are meant to live and share out the earth.

  13. John, thanks for your sobering, down-to-earth reflection. At 78 I have a limited number of decades left! This prayer of Teilhard de Chardin SJ is one I use often.

    Bear Me Away
    Prayer of Teilhard de Chardin SJ, paleontologist and theologian.

    When the signs of age begin to mark my body
    (and still more when they touch my mind);
    when the ill that is to diminish me or carry me off
    strikes me from without or is born within me;
    when the painful moment comes in which I suddenly awaken
    to the fact that I am ill or growing old;
    and above all at that last moment
    when I feel I am losing hold of myself
    and I am absolutely passive within the hands
    of the great unknown forces that have formed me,
    in all those dark moments, O God,
    grant that I may understand that it is you
    (provided only that my faith is strong enough)
    who are painfully parting the fibres of my being
    in order to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance
    and bear me away within yourself.

  14. Hi john. Your message has as always prompted many thoughts. As I watched and talked to staff packing up laptops books and plants to take home for 4 weeks I watched the often emotional goodbyes; not full of tears but of deep sincerity and kindness, the sort that often gets missed in the daily casual contact we experience. Today reminded me that we are beings who long to be connected and who do when pushed hard enough do care for others; it was a very encouraging sight. As a modern society we have sanitised both life and death removing them from our midst to the outer edges. We push them away. The psalmist didn’t. The struggles of life and death were daily and real and so therefore was their awareness of God. Perhaps covid 19 confronts is with death and loss and separation in ways that we westerners rarely see or feel or fear. Bringing us to the fragility of our existence and our apparent helplessness in the face on an invisible virus might truely prompt a new maturity in our walk with the sacred and the Devine.

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