“After this, he showed himself under another form
to two of them as they were on their way into the country”
As I write I’m nearing the end of retreat days with a group of fifty priests from across the USA. As I mentioned a couple of days ago the diversity and youth of the group is remarkable with the majority aged under 40 and a good number ordained for fewer than five years.
Through the week we have kept silence each morning, listened to prepared reflections from the retreat leader and had plenty of time for personal and communal prayer and shared food and drink together with much conversation and laughter.
A highlight of each day was a time of ‘assembly’ when each of us had an opportunity to share our experience of Christ in the reality of our lives.
I could listen to these guys share all day and every day since their honesty, raw reality, struggle and joy of their lives was explicit and shared openly in our environment of trust and love.
In the conversation after each sharing we helped each other to stay with reality confident that Christ is present and active in our present whatever these days and weeks and months are dealing to us.
This method for faith is verified in so many of the gospel post-resurrection experiences of Jesus. In those days disciples were simply living their lives, fishing, eating, talking, even walking away from the Jerusalem centre-of-action “into the country” when in their ordinary reality they experienced Jesus risen, alive and present.
This is the method: Jesus Christ comes to us wherever we are.
The warning to us is to make sure we’re not off on some well-intentioned but mismotivated project or programme when Jesus arrives to meet us in our own home.
I have been fortunate through much of my ministry to serve as a spiritual director with a privileged insight into the presence and action of Jesus emerging whenever people face reality.
Yes a discipline is required, but the discipline is that of a disciple of Jesus and not an Old Testament adoption of penances from a smorgasbord of ascetic possibilities.
This is where too many Christians get stuck in Lent since it’s often easier to take on challenging penances and hold ourselves to them instead of accepting the difficulties of the life that is already ours and seeking Christ in this often painful, unwanted and even unwarranted reality.
Recent popes have warned against the temptation to reduce faith in Jesus Christ to well-intentioned practices and programmes and for this reason the Christian tradition is as careful cautioning against excessive fasting and penitential practices as it is in encouraging it.
Perhaps the saddest Easter greeting I received in my inbox this week was from one of these populist programmes with the opening blurb: The Easter season [for us] includes ascetic disciplines cold showers abstaining from meat on Fridays and a warning against Easter “bingeing” posing as feasting.
This and other emails from the same source use Old Testament scripture passages to promote their programme (and franchise – “After your free trial, it’s $10 / month ongoing or $90 annually”) as if the ministry of Jesus and the resurrection had not happened.
The subtle message conveyed in such programmes is that rather than encountering the God who in Christ comes to us we need to please and appease a distant God in the hope of a reward us for our efforts.
For the Christian such a misunderstanding is often subtle and deceptive and always serious and harmful.
One of the many memorable moments of my week was walking into a room where half a dozen of the youngest of our group were chatting. I entered just as one of the group exclaimed Jesus is really alive!
And this is the greatest fact of our faith.
The risen life of Jesus is not a human achievement, or a programme of exercises with a long-term goal and reward.
Yes the life of a disciple requires discipline not in the sense of military training but of faith-filled formation: “from Latin disciplina “instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge,” also “object of instruction, knowledge, from discipulus “pupil, student, follower”
Jesus is out teacher, and the classroom of higher-learning in faith is the events and encounters of daily life whatever form these joys, hopes, griefs and anxieties take.
FFF IN THE CAFE… Send your name and the name of a cafe or bar to firstname.lastname@example.org Scribble FFF on a table napkin, take a seat and wait.
DROP IN FOR A CHAT:
Monday 17 April 2023
11.00am at The Cafe at Harrisons, 23 Peka Peka Rd. Waikanae Beach. Catherine.
Sunday 23 April 2023
11.00am at The Bakehouse 74 Main Street, Fairlie. (Directions) Fr. Tien Cao.
Thursday 27 April 2023
10.30am at Zest Cafe Greeton 187 Chadwick Rd, Tauranga. (Directions) Frances
Monday 4 May 2023 (and every Monday)
10.00am at Moko (Kudos) in the Bush Inn Centre Christchurch (Directions) Trish
Tuesday 12 May 2023 (and second Tuesday of every month)
10.30am at Zenders 44 Hopkins Road, Newstead, Hamilton (Directions). Christina
Thank you John. What a faith filled, joyful Easter season you are enjoying. Uplifting to hear of the number of young priests there. Thank you for the reminder that the Risen Jesus is present in all the mundane minutes of our lives.
I know the programme you’re talking about, though I’ll follow you and not mention it. I’m disappointed to hear what you think of it, though. I’ve used it for three years and found it utterly transformative. Every year, for 90 days before Lent, groups of Christian men voluntarily come together to share penitential activities taken on voluntarily, and choose to dedicate themselves more to God and neighbour. It successfully broke me from an addiction to my phone and all of the men in my group have spent considerable more time with their wives and children. It emphasies the Easter season as a time of proper Christian feasting, but takes pains to ensure that we don’t slip back into former habits, or “fall back into Egyptian slavery” as the programme might put it. I firmly believe that it should be promoted in churches throughout NZ. As a 30-something man, it must be noted that I’m rather in a minority when I come to Mass, and something has to be done about it.