An Easter reflection

The story of Easter is that having been crucified, Jesus rises again. Yet, it’s one that is difficult to take in and to accept. To many, it does not sound scientifically sensible. That’s if we take the message literally, never good when we delve into the spiritual realm.

In secondary school, one day I noticed that a younger year had written about people who had been in their lives, who they viewed as Saints, for a school display.  I looked more closely at the neatly inked and carefully coloured in work, and I noticed that one girl had written about the former Priest at my own church, Father Jan, who had died of a brain tumour, but radiated joy up until his very last days.

At that moment, it occurred to me that people really do live on through their legacy. Father Jan through his warm smile, touching sermons, and fervent belief in equality.

To me that is the eternal life granted by the resurrection, we live through those who we deeply touch, through those we help, through those we listen attentively to.

When we do as Jesus would have us do, and we are reminded of Him, Jesus is resurrected in us. To say someone has gone to heaven is to say they have finished in communion with God, sharing Jesus’ mission. A beautiful legacy is left, for they have truly made the world a better place, one step closer to the creation of ‘heaven on earth’, and as we must follow in Jesus’ footsteps, we must follow in their footsteps also.

The message of Universal Salvation is that we are saved through Jesus. Indeed we are, for Jesus is God made Man, Jesus showed us how we must act, with kindness, forgiveness and respect. When we do that, He is resurrected through the continuation of his mission.

If a physical resurrection does not make sense, a spiritual one most certainly does in the extending of a caring hand, in the strong desire to share and to fight for those who are oppressed.

Before dismissing resurrection as like believing in fairies, consider that although resurrection is a complicated notion, the idea of continuing a legacy and having a positive impact is not.

We have a positive effect on the world when we raise money for charity, help in an old people’s home and share kind words with someone lonely.

These are actions that Jesus would have us do, and when we do them, Christ is truly risen.

 

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God doesn’t care if you miss Mass

Let’s be clear, most Catholics feel guilty when they don’t go to Mass. It’s a classic trait, the Catholic Guilt that seeps in when you neglect your religious duties.

Yet , following the rules and regulation of the Catholic Church is by no means God’s most important calling. Jesus certainly didn’t believe in orders and restriction when he spoke against the Pharisees. The Pharisees, who would condemn the poorest in their society, whilst considering themselves the highest religious authority because they prayed at the correct times.

So, no, I don’t feel particularly guilty that I missed Palm Sunday Mass, because I slept in.

I feel guilty when I shout at my sister though, and bark orders at her because I’m  too lazy to deal with the shit I am incapable at (a whole other post altogether). I also feel guilty on a daily basis, when I moan about my life, indeed when I moan about my very privileged existence.

These are things we should be worried about. The New Testament teaches us that we should not feel entitled, that we shouldn’t be judgemental and that we should  be patient, fair and accepting.

If the ritual of Mass grounds you, then so be it. I go to Mass because I find it calming, and it helps me focus, it’s like a form of meditation.

But don’t make it your biggest religious obligation because when you are rude to those closest to you, when you walk past and ignore a homeless person, and  you complain that your shower was unpleasant because it was too cold- there are plenty more things you need to check.

You can’t just go to Mass, and claim your faith is perfect because of it.

As my favourite Archbishop Oscar Romero said:

‘The Word of God is like the light of the sun, it illuminates beautiful things, but also things which we would rather not see’

We need to deal with the things inside us which we would rather not see. The bitterness, the cruelness and the judgemental sense of superiority- and that requires far more than going to Mass.

We’re obliged to fight for a stop to the annihilation of life in Syria.

According to the Catholic Herald Pope Francis has called the chemical attack that has left dozens, including children, struggling to breathe and foaming at the mouth ‘an unacceptable massacre’.

This is welcome politics from the current head of the Vatican and a contrast to the indifference we see by many Western politicians who are more interested in oil gains than resolving the situation.

Yet, Donald Trump’s quick choice to launch a military attack in response is questionable. It’s not bombs that will create peace, bombs only add fuel to a deadly flame and create a space for the exploitation of a country.

If we care about life, we should care to avoid its brutal annihilation. It’s sincere condemnation and genuine humanitarian assistance that are needed.

An awareness of injustice even where we don’t see it is an intrinsic part of what it means to be a Catholic. Jesus did, after all say:


Matthew 25:40  ‘Whatever you did unto the least of these brothers of Mine you did unto Me ‘

It is our duty therefore to take notice of the plight of our fellow humankind even when we are not present, for even when our lives are completely different, we are connected by the simple fact that we are all people who cry, laugh and dream.

To quote Shylock from Shakespeare’s the Merchant of Venice:

‘If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
us, do we not die? 

By definition then, it is our obligation to campaign , write to our MP’s, sign petitions and vote accordingly- taking note of foreign policy.

http://players.brightcove.net/665003303001/4k5gFJHRe_default/index.html?videoId=5385891854001“>Link to AlJazeera’s report on the massacre

Hearing testimonies at a recent Médecins Sans Frontières panel event at my university made it all the more clear that governments, that the powers that be, have no interest in dealing with the humanitarian crisis that plague our world.

It is a moral and a religious obligation to campaign for more aid to be provided to our fellow humankind. Faith is not a badge to be worn just when it suits us, we are obliged not to cut ourselves off from knowledge of these events.

It is not enough to be momentarily shocked, we have to make sure that we vote for socially just foreign policy

We are obliged to call our politicians not to be greedy, just as, in person, we should show our support to those more vulnerable than us.

We should look to increase humanitarian assistance. Non-governmental organisations like MSF should be listened to, their pleas for governments to end the destruction heard.

Even more than that, it is our duty to actively look up information to find the truth. Nowadays, most people have access to a computer. Journalists die risking their lives to broadcast to us the real story of what is happening and it is imperative that we look at a variety of different sources.

Even where journalists can’t access the situation, locals post videos of the destruction in real time, in order that the world might learn and help.

So, Pope Francis is right to speak out publicly on this issue. We should all be doing so. Right now if we care about the sanctity of life, this is what we should be campaigning on.

The image of Christians is too often, anti-liberals under pro-life banners standing outside abortion clinics harassing young and distressed women.

What the true Catholic who views life as sacred should be doing, is campaigning against the bombing to death of civilians in Syria, where young lives, hopes and aspirations  are cut short, far, far earlier than they should be.

For more information on organisations that are working on resolving humanitarian crisis look at these sites:

https://www.msf.org.uk, https://www.amnesty.org.uk, https://www.whitehelmets.org/en

Here are some news sites that I personally find useful to look at:
http://www.aljazeera.com, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world, http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/news-stories, http://www.un.org/news/

(note that it is also worth following the twitters of individual journalists working in Syria as they can say what they really think there)

Why Catholicism for a modern, liberal 20 year old?

The Roman Catholic Church is old fashioned, backward, and restrictively conservative, however  the religion as portrayed in the New Testament- not so much.

I went to a Catholic girl’s school. I know all about the endless rules, regulations and hypocrisy of traditionally Roman Catholic ideology.

We weren’t taught sex education properly for starters, instead of teaching us how to use condoms they taught us about natural family planning.

Rest assured, as teenage girls in 21st century London, most of us were certain that we didn’t think natural family planning worked, and we were also sure that even though a lot of us hadn’t had sex, we didn’t want to wait until after marriage- lest we discover that we didn’t enjoy sex with our husband, or in fact that we weren’t attracted to our husband at all!

Some were considering whether or not they might be gay- and this talk of natural family planning and ‘husbands’ seemed offensive and definitely wasn’t inclusive to those exploring their sexual identity.

Some were certain they were gay and were bored stiff, and enraged by these lessons.

Some, like myself, knew that they were unlikely to be able to have children because we were infertile and didn’t see how this ideal of  a ‘natural’, nuclear family could possibly fit into how our lives would pan out.

Equally though, in Religious Studies much of what we read in Luke’s Gospel seemed to counter all of this doctrine.

Luke’s Gospel told a story of Universal Salvation, and said that all could be saved- the sinner could be saved if they truly repented, the marginalised would be saved. According to the Gospel those who are kind, generous and forgiving on earth will be rewarded in heaven.

I began to listen  in Mass a little more, intrigued by the messages different Priest’s gave in their sermons and I also took notice of the words of the Lord’s Prayer which are muttered in Catholic Church’s the world over every Sunday:

‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as it is heaven’.

What do we mean by heaven? I asked myself. Isn’t it just an equal society, where we are close to God, who is the force of love and goodness.

That resonated. Let’s strive for an ideal society in which we all treat one another equally and in which there is social justice, surely that is positive!

Clearly, the Catholic Church which is said to value the Gospel, and to value the teachings of Jesus is hypocritical to insist on a world where those who do not live conservative traditional lives are marginalised.

A world where homosexuals are shunned, where abortion is banned and women must suffer, where contraception is not allowed and as a result unwanted pregnancies occur, and sexually transmitted diseases spread, is not ‘On earth as it is in heaven’.

It’s not therefore, Catholic.

To be Catholic is to fight for the poor and the oppressed. To be Catholic is to be a liberator, even when the status quo is one of exclusion. To be Catholic is to be accepting, even when you are used to being laughed away and cast aside. To be Catholic is to be generous, even when others are not.

I leave you with a quote from Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador– who was shot for speaking out against the government, and against violence in the country :

‘When the Church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises’.

If it doesn’t do that, it’s not Catholic. It is a false and hypocritical Church, not true to the Gospel. Words spoken by a Catholic Archbishop.

The notion of fighting for justice, the notion of speaking out should surely be relevant for our generation, who live in a time of political turmoil, in a time where we see humanitarian crisis unfolding before our eyes in Syria, in Somalia and in northern Nigeria, to name but a few.

With that I hope my blog both raises and answers a few questions about what it means to be Catholic in the 21st Century.