Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The secret of prayer…

This is the secret of prayer: to allow oneself to be led by the Spirit. Prayer must not be cast as a struggle to think only of God or to create void and discard distractions. In the poverty of dryness and distraction one must remain before the divine Friend with all one's life exposed, all the whirling thoughts and images that are there. Prayer must be truthful corresponding to the reality one carries within oneself, however miserable. If we satisfy ourselves with nice thoughts about God and believe that we are achieving something, we may be deceiving ourselves. Our concerns and concrete life are not what sets us apart from God, but our not knowing how to place our lives in God's hands and behold them with God's eyes. This is not just another method of concentration, but something necessary for prayer to be Christian. Anyone who reaches total interior silence knows that it is but the consequence of an effort to live only for God and to place all one's life in God's hands.

Kieran Cavanaugh: John of the Cross: Doctor of Light and Love, with thanks to Barbara

Painful experience has shown me that this is true. How often I used to put off prayer till I was "in the right frame of mind", or until I had "some quality time to spend with God". All that happened, of course, was that I put off praying, and when I felt really bad, say if Jan and I had had a row, or I had received some bad news, then I had nowhere to turn except the self-referential spiral of my own inner bitterness.

For me, this brings one of the enormous benefits of praying the hours. No matter how I am feeling, I pray when (or approximately when!) I have scheduled time for the next Office. Four times a day, I come to God in the silence, in the wonderful words of the Daily Office, in the Jesus Prayer, no matter how I am feeling, no matter what has been happening. There isn't really time for prevarication, for generating "nice thoughts about God", and the me God gets is the me that happens to be around at the time. This he can deal with – he is the God of love, and truth, not the God of the brave face, or the God of the pious attitude.

The times when I have most truly encountered God, when I really have met Christ in his mercy and his grace and his indefatigable love, have most often been the times when I have had least to give, when I was dry, and empty of everything but lust and grief, and so so tired. Then I knew it was him – there was nothing left of my pretend piety with which to generate illusions.

I often think we only know our Lord when we are at the end of ourselves. It's not an easy way to have to find him; but he did say himself that "the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life" (Matthew 7.14) so I suppose it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise…


The resurrection of Jesus was a hidden event. Jesus didn't rise from the grave to baffle his opponents, to make a victory statement, or to prove to those who crucified him that he was right after all. Jesus rose as a sign to those who had loved him and followed him that God's divine love is stronger than death. To the women and men who had committed themselves to him, he revealed that his mission had been fulfilled. To those who shared in his ministry, he gave the sacred task to call all people into the new life with him.

The world didn't take notice. Only those whom he called by name, with whom he broke bread, and to whom he spoke words of peace were aware of what happened. Still, it was this hidden event that freed humanity from the shackles of death.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Sometimes it's we Christians who are baffled. Baffled that the world goes on as always, broken and compromised; that it didn't listen, didn't change forever, at the resurrection. We are hurt and confused that our prayers, and the prayers of all those who went before us, haven't already produced a glorious vindication of Christ, and the confounding of all those who spoke against him, who have spoken against us.

But we are in the Kingdom, and the Kingdom is among us, invisible from outside, and yet gloriously alive within the communion of those who have been saved by that resurrection(Luke 17.20-21), lifted up with Jesus from the darkness of the grave (Romans 8.11).

I love this hiddenness, actually. I know it somehow fits with the way I am, so you might say I was bound to like it, and yet there is more to it than that. No-one can enter the Kingdom by being impressed, by taking the side of the playground bully, as might be the case if the Kingdom were to come in power as we wish it would, like the Jews hoping to see the Romans' backsides well and truly kicked. We only enter the Kingdom, which is "a Kingdom of truth and life, a Kingdom of holiness and grace, a Kingdom of justice, love, and peace" (Preface for the Feast of Christ the King) through love, through loving the Christ who was raised in glory, yes, but in hiddenness and gentleness, whose first contact with humanity was with a frightened girl in the early morning mist, in a quiet garden, calling her name softly into her panic and her tears (John 20.14-18). That is the King of this strange Kingdom, that is the nature of the event whose power changed everything, forever. That is what the gate looks like (John 10.9) that leads into the Kingdom. That is the Christ I love.


Willingness and wilfulness*

To enable God we must become willing: that is all we have to do. God will do the rest. In fact, it is very important that we do nothing but become willing. And this willingness is not quietism. It requires every effort; it costs not less than everything. Willingness is not passivity: it is readiness.

Willing for what? Willing to be powerless, willing to limit our seeming power so that God's real power can become active in us, most especially in relation to those things we would like to do for God. Because, as André Louf has pointed out, frequently echoing ancient desert wisdom, the works of asceticism we do by our own effort are entirely pagan: it is only when we run up against the wall of despair at the failure of our efforts, only when we are willing to acknowledge our powerlessness and thus enable God's power to be active in us that our service becomes Christian.

Powerlessness, willing or unwilling, and its associated sense of loss, has long been recognised by modern psychologists as being related to tears of every variety. Perhaps if we had not lost the insight bestowed in the Christian tradition of tears, we might not have needed to invent modern psychology to help us recover it.

Psychology helps us to distinguish between kinds of tears: holy tears are not the same as tears of bereavement, whether this bereavement is for the loss of a person or some other option or thing, although holy tears may permeate other kinds of tears. The grief of bereavement is a response to a more or less unwilling loss; whereas the grief of the way of tears, of repentance, is related to willing loss. The grief of bereavement has a beginning, a middle, and what currently is known as 'closure', a time when the active passage of bereavement ends.

The grief associated with penitence, with the metanoia of being turned inside out is continuous because, as the trust towards God continues and becomes more powerful, the process of being organically transformed, the process of divinisation, also continues. More and more illusion is lost. More and more sense of counterfeit power and control is lost, and tears are an appropriate accompaniment. These tears are the sign both of the Holy Spirit at work in a willing person, and of the willingness itself. They signify a kenotic exchange of love between God and the person. They have nothing to do with melancholy or masochism.

Maggie Ross, Tears and Fire: Recovering a Neglected Tradition VIII 

*see Gerald May, Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology, (San Francisco 1982)

Monday, November 24, 2008

The heart of prayer…

The great commandment is not "thou shalt be right." The great commandment is to be "in love." Be inside the great compassion, the great stream, the great river. As others have rightly said, all that is needed is surrender and gratitude. Our job is simply to thank God for being part of it all. All the burdens we carry are not just ours. The sin that comes up in us is not just our sin; it is the sin of the world. The joy that comes up in us is not just our personal joy; it is the joy of all creation. All we can do is accept and give thanks.

Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs, p. 89

For me, this is the very heart of prayer. If we prayed just as ourselves, however much we thought of ourselves as praying for others, we would still only be like pagans making supplication to their deities. But we are in Christ. We do not pray as isolated individuals sending in applications to head office. We pray in the Name of Jesus – as Henri Nouwen said, "To act in the Name of Jesus, however, doesn't mean to act as a representative of Jesus or his spokesperson. It means to act in an intimate communion with him. The Name is like a house, a tent, a dwelling. To act in the Name of Jesus, therefore, means to act from the place where we are united with Jesus in love."

Not only are we in Jesus, but if we are in him, then like him, all of creation is in some sense in us. We are stardust, finding our way back to the Garden, taking all that is with us in our hearts. Compassion, suffering-with, is not just some soppy sympathy: it is a literal identification. We do carry the burdens of others, just as Christ did on the Cross; we are tempted with the sin of the world, just as Christ was in the wilderness, but in our little way, under the great cloak of his mercy and grace, and in the power of the Spirit, who prays in us as we cannot ourselves pray, being little, and weak (Romans 8.26-27). We do this spiritually, of course. I am not suggesting we attempt to physically suffer the injuries or sickness of others: that would be sympathetic magic, not prayer.

This is what Jesus meant when he said, "I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it." (John 14.13-14) It is this vast and terrifying identification that is involved, that we can only bear because it is done in his strength, his Spirit. As Br. Ramon SSF once said, "We can say that such prayer contains within itself a new theology of intercession. It is not that we are continually naming names before God, and repeating stories of pain, suffering and bereavement on an individual and corporate level, but rather that we are able to carry the sorrows and pains of the world with us into [prayer]."

We carry all creation's joys and beauties, too, in thanksgiving and in joy! Praying like this, with our hearts lost in Christ's heart (Colossians 3) we live in a joy and a strength that is not our own. The Principles TSSF state (28, 29): "We as Tertiaries, rejoicing in the Lord always, show in our lives the grace and beauty of divine joy… We carry within us an inner peace and happiness which others may perceive, even if they do not know its source. This joy is a divine gift, coming from union with God in Christ. It is still there even in times of darkness and difficulty, giving cheerful courage in the face of disappointment, and an inward serenity and confidence through sickness and suffering. Those who possess it can rejoice in weakness, insults, hardships, and persecutions for Christ’s sake; for when they are weak, then they are strong."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

In my deepest wound…

Give me your failure; he says I will make life out of it. Give me your broken, disfigured, rejected, betrayed body, like the body you see hanging on the cross, and I will make life out of it. It is the divine pattern of transformation, and it never seems to change.

We'll still be handicapped and terribly aware of our wound, but as St. Augustine says, "In my deepest wound I see your glory and it dazzles me." Our wound is our way through. Or as Julian (of Norwich) also put it, at the risk of shocking us, "God sees the wounds, and sees them not as scars but as honours… For he holds sin as a sorrow and pain to his lovers. He does not blame us for them." (Chapter 39, Showing 13, Revelations of Divine Love) We might eventually thank God for our wounds, but usually not until the second half of life.

Richard Rohr, from Everything Belongs

Somehow for me this meditation of Rohr's does fit in with today, with the celebration of Christ the King. As Rhona pointed out in her sermon today, Christ enthroned in glory still bears on his hands and feet, and in his side, the wounds of crucifixion. When we are welcomed ourselves into his Kingdom, we will be glorified, for sure, and our entire beings will be remade imperishable; but we will still bear the wounds of our sins, and the sins done to us. But glorified! If we were to catch a glimpse of those wounds now, with out mortal eyes, they would indeed dazzle us.

Rhona recounted this morning, too, an old story of two monks, one young, a novice maybe, and the other perhaps his Prior, or certainly a monk with years of prayer and thought behind him.

The younger says, one summer morning, "When I think of Christ's wonderful mercy, I cannot imagine that he would willingly consign anyone to an eternity outside his glorious Kingdom."

The elder replies, "Why do you keep turning your head aside from the sunlight, and screwing up your eyes?"

"The light is too bright - it hurts my eyes."

"And so it is with Christ, brother. Christ does not turn anyone away; but unless we repent, and receive his forgiveness, we sinners cannot bear his light."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In the Name of Jesus…

Ministry is acting in the Name of Jesus. When all our actions are in the Name, they will bear fruit for eternal life. To act in the Name of Jesus, however, doesn't mean to act as a representative of Jesus or his spokesperson. It means to act in an intimate communion with him. The Name is like a house, a tent, a dwelling. To act in the Name of Jesus, therefore, means to act from the place where we are united with Jesus in love. To the question "Where are you?" we should be able to answer, "I am in the Name." Then, whatever we do cannot be other than ministry because it will always be Jesus himself who acts in and through us. The final question for all who minister is "Are you in the Name of Jesus?" When we can say yes to that, all of our lives will be ministry.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I've been a bit remiss with the blog this past week – been busy with things here – but this I thought I ought to pass on whole, as it were. Nouwen pulls together in these few words so much that we need to know when we are sent, as we are at the end of every Mass, into the world as bits of the Body, to carry his life and his power into all we do and everywhere we go. It is in a sense the outer side of our prayer, where all we ask is in the Name of Jesus, and all our prayer is for the mercy that is his Name.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Our littleness…

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice: they shall have their fill” (Matthew 5:6)

The concept of justice is exactly halfway through the Beatitudes and at the very end again. It’s a couplet saying, This is the point: To live a just life in this world is to have identified with the longing and hungers of the poor, the meek and those who weep.

This identification and solidarity is already a profound form of social justice. This Beatitude is surely both spiritual and social.

Richard Rohr, from Jesus’ Plan for the New World

This is so much what I was saying yesterday: our “identification and solidarity”—our being present to, or refusing to be absent to, the longings and hungers of the created, all the created, human and otherwise—is prayer. I’d go so far as to say that it is our most powerful prayer, since in it we are making ourselves open, submitted, available, to the love and mercy of God in Christ. In this we take our little share in our Lady’s submission, that small and immense “yes” by which our Saviour came into the world. As Rohr says elsewhere:

Mary tells us about the difference between attainment and grace. Grace is everything and everywhere, as she proclaims in the Magnificat.

Because God is everything to Mary, she is not afraid to boast of her own beauty and greatness.

Humanity is God’s miracle by God’s grace, not by our merit.

Mary is the perfect yes to Jesus.

Therefore she is totally fruitful and victorious, and bears Jesus to the world. Mary will always be the most orthodox image of how holiness works in humanity.

This changes everything for me, and brings what I am sure is the point of all this discussion on my part: We must not be mislead by the littleness of our act of surrender. It is through such tiny acts that God redeems the world.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The weeping class…

“Blessed are those who mourn: they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:5)

In this Beatitude, Jesus praises the weeping class, those who can enter into solidarity with the pain of the world and not try to extract themselves from it.

The weeping mode, if I can call it that, allows one to carry the dark side, to bear the pain of the world without looking for perpetrators or victims, but instead recognizing the tragic reality that both sides are caught up in. Tears from God are always for everybody, for our universal exile from home.

Richard Rohr, from Jesus’ Plan for the New World


It is difficult to speak of the aim or goal of [contemplative] prayer, for there is a sense in which it is a process of union which is as infinite as it is intimate... The meaning and design of the Jesus Prayer is an ever deepening union with God, within the communion of saints. It is personal, corporate and eternal, and the great mystics, in the Biblical tradition, come to an end of words. They say that "eye has not seen nor ear heard", they speak of “joy unspeakable” and “groanings unutterable” and “peace that passes understanding”.

But there are some things which we can say, which are derivative of that central core of ineffable experience. We can say that such prayer contains within itself a new theology of intercession. It is not that we are continually naming names before God, and repeating stories of pain, suffering and bereavement on an individual and corporate level, but rather that we are able to carry the sorrows and pains of the world with us into such contemplative prayer as opens before us in the use of the Jesus Prayer. God knows, loves and understands more than we do, and he carries us into the dimension of contemplative prayer and love, and effects salvation, reconciliation and healing in his own way, using us as the instruments of his peace, pity and compassion.

Thus we can say that the “prayer of the heart” unites us with the whole order of creation, and imparts to us a cosmic awareness of the glory of God in both the beauty and the sadness of the world. The process of transfiguration for the whole world has begun in the Gospel, but it will not be completed until the coming of Christ in glory. And until that time we are invited, through prayer, to participate in the healing of the world's ills by the love of God. And if we participate at such a level, then we shall know both pain and glory. The life and ministry of Jesus in the gospels reveal this dimension, for Jesus was at one and the same time the “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”, and the transfigured healer, manifesting the glory of the Father upon the holy mountain.

Brother Ramon SSF Praying the Jesus Prayer Marshall Pickering 1988 (now unfortunately out of print)

As intercessors, all God asks of us is broken hearts—we do not need to find solutions to the prayers we pray, nor just the right words to frame them. God knows what is on our hearts (Romans 8:26-27)—we need only be honest and courageous enough to feel: feel the pain and the grief and the confusion and betrayal and despair the world feels, and to come before our Lord and Saviour with them on our hearts, and ask for God's mercy in the holy name of Jesus.

I suppose this more or less sums up all that God has shown me about prayer over the years. There really aren’t words for anything else I might want, or be able, to say about it. These few will have to do for the moment…

Monday, November 10, 2008

Only the poor are free…

"How blessed are the poor in spirit: the kingdom of Heaven is theirs." (Matthew 5:3)

What an opening line! I always say it's the opener of Jesus' inaugural address. "How happy are the poor in spirit." It's crucial, a key to everything Jesus is teaching.

Poor in spirit means to live without a need for your own righteousness. It's inner emptiness; no outer need for your own reputation. If you're poor in spirit it won't be long before you're poor. In other words, you won't waste the rest of your life trying to get rich because you'll know better.

Richard Rohr, from Jesus' Plan for the New World

I think this openness to poverty is surprisingly crucial to being a Christian in a world concerned, now as in the New Testament era, with getting and spending. As Wordsworth said, in those pursuits we lay waste our time.

St. Francis was right when he took Lady Poverty for his bride. Only in her arms will we find solace for the hunger of the world, and only when we are free from that hunger will we be free to follow Jesus wherever he may be leading us (Matthew 19.16ff). We'll never know (John 1:37-39) until we are free, and are prepared to get up, leave everything, and go with our Lord.

Only the poor are free to know the truth.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

This is true… (for Remembrance Day)

This is entitled Advent Credo, but it makes a perfect affirmation for Remembrance Day, as Kathryn at Good in Parts has noted.

Advent Credo

It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss -
This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction -
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever -
This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful counsellor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world -
This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world.

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers -
This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.

It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history -
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.

So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ - the life of the world.


From Testimony: The Word Made Flesh, by Daniel Berrigan, S.J. Orbis Books, 2004.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A witness to Christ in the world...

Kathryn, at Good in Parts, calls this "a mission statement to follow to the ends of the earth." I can quite see what she's getting at:

How does the Church witness to Christ in the world? First and foremost by giving visibility to Jesus' love for the poor and the weak. In a world so hungry for healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and most of all unconditional love, the Church must alleviate that hunger through its ministry. Wherever we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely, listen to those who are rejected, and bring unity and peace to
those who are divided, we proclaim the living Christ, whether we speak about him or not.

It is important that whatever we do and wherever we go, we remain in the Name of Jesus, who sent us. Outside his Name our ministry will lose its divine energy.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Our witness to Christ cannot be other than this, to follow in his footsteps, to take, like him (see Luke 4.18) Isaiah 61 as our job description:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Can I get a witness?

There are more people on this planet outside the Church than inside it. Millions have been baptised, millions have not. Millions participate in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, but millions do not.

The Church as the body of Christ, as Christ living in the world, has a larger task than to support, nurture, and guide its own members. It is also called to be a witness for the love of God made visible in Jesus. Before his death Jesus prayed for his followers, "As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world" (John 17:18). Part of the essence of being the Church is being a living witness for Christ in the world.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

We are all witnesses - it's just a matter of to what, or to whom, our lives bear witness.

Holy God,
Holy and mighty,
Holy and immortal,
Have mercy on us…

Yes, you did!

Congratulations, America!

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voices could be that difference.

It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It's the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.

It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America...

What a man!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Who are the poor?

The poor are the centre of the Church. But who are the poor? At first we might think of people who are not like us: people who live in slums, people who go to soup kitchens, people who sleep on the streets, people in prisons, mental hospitals, and nursing homes. But the poor can be very close. They can be in our own families, churches or workplaces. Even closer, the poor can be ourselves, who feel unloved, rejected, ignored, or abused.

It is precisely when we see and experience poverty - whether far away, close by, or in our own hearts - that we need to become the Church; that is hold hands as brothers and sisters, confess our own brokenness and need, forgive one another, heal one another's wounds, and gather around the table of Jesus for the breaking of the bread. Thus, as the poor we recognise Jesus, who became poor for us…

When we claim our own poverty and connect our poverty with the poverty of our brothers and sisters, we become the Church of the poor, which is the Church of Jesus. Solidarity is essential for the Church of the poor . Both pain and joy must be shared. As one body we will experience deeply one another's agonies as well as one another's ecstasies. As Paul says: "If one part is hurt, all the parts share its pain. And if one part is honoured, all the parts share its joy" (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Often we might prefer not to be part of the body because it makes us feel the pain of others so intensely. Every time we love others deeply we feel their pain deeply. However, joy is hidden in the pain. When we share the pain we also will share the joy.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

This point about preferring to remain aloof from the body lies at the heart of my concern for those who choose to remain outside the church. I know that in most cases they are not doing so in order to escape their obligations to the poor: far from it, in so many cases they are the poor, according to Nouwen's definition here. But holding ourselves back from the daily, often far from inspiring, life of the church represents to some extent a withholding of surrender, a withholding of some part of ourselves from our sisters and brothers, or so it seems to me.

There is a tendency to think about poverty, suffering, and pain as realities that happen primarily or even exclusively at the bottom of our Church. We seldom think of our leaders as poor. Still, there is great poverty, deep loneliness, painful isolation, real depression, and much emotional suffering at the top of our Church.

We need the courage to acknowledge the suffering of the leaders of our Church - its ministers, priests, bishops, and popes - and include them in this fellowship of the weak. When we are not distracted by the power, wealth, and success of those who offer leadership, we will soon discover their powerlessness, poverty, and failures and feel free to reach out to them with the same compassion we want to give to those at the bottom. In God's eyes there is no distance between bottom and top. There shouldn't be in our eyes either.

Nouwen, ibid.

Many of those outside the church, those who yet know themselves as Christians, are there outside the doors precisely because of the weakness of leaders within the church. I wonder if they, the hurt and the dispossessed, have a vocation special to themselves? I wonder if God is not calling those who know the problems and the dangers most intimately, to pray for those whom they have all too often come to know as their enemies?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The marginal are the centre of the Church...

Those who are marginal in the world are central in the Church, and that is how it is supposed to be! Thus we are called as members of the Church to keep going to the margins of our society. The homeless, the starving, parentless children, people with AIDS, our emotionally disturbed brothers and sisters - they require our first attention.

We can trust that when we reach out with all our energy to the margins of our society we will discover that petty disagreements, fruitless debates, and paralysing rivalries will recede and gradually vanish. The Church will always be renewed when our attention shifts from ourselves to those who need our care. The blessing of Jesus always comes to us through the poor. The most remarkable experience of those who work with the poor is that, in the end, the poor give more than they receive. They give food to us.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey
Following on from yesterday's post, Nouwen underlines what seems to me to lie at the heart of being church, in the sense of being the body of Christ in the world. It seems to me that there are two sides to this, but they are two sides of the one thing. There is the mystical side, the unity of the Church in the Eucharist - "though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in the one bread..." - and there is the unity of the Church in mercy, in being Christ to the world, and that brings us straight to the poor. As St. Teresa of Avila said:
Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ looks compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet
with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands
with which Christ blesses the world.
Jesus' own job description from Isaiah 61, quoted in Luke 4.18, leaves us in no doubt:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free...