Learning about New Things


Recently, I travelled overseas to Europe.  A scripture verse that I try to abide by when I travel is Psalm 119.19

“I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me!”

Which I interpret as embrace and learn as many different things about the countries you visit and be respectful of the people and their cultural differences.

Firstly, I went to France. I learnt at the top of the Eiffel Tower every evening they have a beacon from which a light show is projected for five minutes every hour from sunset to 1am.

Next, Barcelona, Spain, La Sagrada Familia, in English translates to Holy Family is a church that began construction 137 years ago and is still being completed today. Amongst ongoing plans is a plan for the building of 12 Bell Towers one for each disciple however not all those towers may be built.

Following that was Monaco, that has no airports and that the only air travel available is by helicopter landing at a nearby Heliport.  Also, the crime rate in Monaco is low because they have more policeman per person than any other country in the world.

While in Italy, I visited the Pantheon in Rome which was formerly a Roman Temple that was turned into a Church in 609 AD. The most fascinating feature I found was its dome which was the largest till 1909 and still remains the greatest unsupported dome in the world today.

Subsequently, I visited Austria and the amazing Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna not only known for its decorative furnishings and paintings but its magnificent gardens. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

One of the most interesting places I went to on my trip was Liechtenstein, the fourth smallest country in Europe. It was an incredibly beautiful country with its high mountains and green valleys. A remarkable fact is that it has a high usage of Solar Power.

Whilst in Switzerland, I went to Lucerne which is surrounded by the Alps and beautiful Lake Lucerne. I was lucky enough to take a cable car to the top of Mount Stanserhorn and admire the views.

After that we were in Heidelberg, Germany where I was fortunate enough to go on a riverboat down the Neckar River and I saw the Church of the Holy Spirit prominent by its high steeple and the Heidelberg Castle built in the 13th Century.

Finally, my trip concluded in the Netherlands. I visited a Cheese and Clog (wooden shoe) Factory where I got to taste eight different types of cheese and see clogs being made. I found the Clogs too heavy to wear when I tried to walk in them surmising, they were not a practical footwear for me to purchase.

In conclusion, the highlight was going to Lourdes in France where Saint Bernadette had nine apparitions of Mary, Jesus’ Mother. On the ninth apparition she was asked by Mary to go and drink and wash in a Spring but when she got there all she found was muddy water. However, after she washed and drank from the water many times it turned into a flowing spring. That water over the years has demonstrated miraculous healing powers with sixty-nine documented miracles to date and many more undocumented. For me the experience of visiting Lourdes was a peaceful faith-filled experience where people processed towards the grotto and filled their containers of spring water hoping the healing powers of the water will touch them.

I feel extremely blessed to have the opportunities to travel and meet new people and learn about new places. Furthermore, it is so great to see God’s work through the uniquely designed buildings, beautiful contrasting landscapes and the amazing characters I engaged with on this trip.

Being Present

The story of Abraham and the three visitors/angels is a great example of Being Present.The scripture verse that stands out to me was Genesis 18:2,

“Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.”

I believe this verse captures the essence of Being Present through welcoming by providing the three men with food and drink. Contrastingly, I wonder how often I extend this act of Being Presentoutside of my family and close circle of friends. The challenge for me is get to know people in my local and parish community. Sadly, I don’t know the neighbours who live next door or more than five or six names of the congregation at Saturday night mass. The onus is on me to go beyond the quick hello and make an effort to chat with these people.

Additionally,I was taken with Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity which depicts this scripture  of the three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre.  What really stands out for me is howthe Father, Son and Holy Spirit complete the circle of the trinity in communion with one another. It caused me to reflect on how many times I go out to dinner with family and friends and they choose just to talk only to certain people or are on their mobile phones. Once again, I am confronted with ensuring I am part of the whole group by listening to others, including everyone in my conversation and putting away my mobile phone. Then I have tried to achieve metanoia an openness of heart expressed through Being Presentand to see everyone in that group as being in the presence of God.

Finally, I would like to conclude with Pope Francis extolling us to embrace Being Present.“I urge you to help transform your communities into places of welcome where all God’s children have the opportunity not simply to survive, but to grow, flourish and bear fruit.”

We can have people who go out of their way to welcome others or create the most beautiful environment but the emphasis needs to be on engaging all people who are members of our school and parish community in wanting to be active participants in our community. I have to be mindful not to make hasty decisions but take the time to consult and listen to others and without judgement which leads to a positive resolution. I believe at the heart of human relationship is being welcomed. When we encounter and trust another it is an encounter with God. Furthermore, I think that starts when each member feels a sense of belonging. This occurs when the school and parish community give them a voice that they believe is listened to and acknowledged. Moreover, they are given opportunities to contribute both outside or inside their environment, through their cultural background which is recognised either through dance or song at assemblies, special celebrations or shared meals at school or choirs and morning teas at Mass Centres. I would argue that when people are appreciated and supported for their contributions it is not only the gateway to building relationships but community.

However, as a school and parish community we still need to reach out to those people at the margins or slipping through the cracks by offering them openings to participate.  Hence, we need to continue to be invitational by ensuring the opportunities are accessible to everyone. Nevertheless, I believe the best way to Be Present to people is through personal contact and witnessing the Gospel values and the virtues of Grace, Compassion, Justice, Wonder, Hope, Hospitality and Courage that Jesus modelled throughout his life.

 

 

 

Hospitality

Our spirit of hospitality shapes who we are and how we relate to others.

In Luke 9:10-17, Jesus despite the scepticism of the disciples feeds five loaves and two fish. The scripture tells us, “Theyall ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.” Luke 9:17. Now Jesus could have said this is all too hard and told the disciples to send the crowd away. However, knowing that that he had the gift through the power of the Holy Spirit to multiply the loaves and fishes he chose to enact that to feed the people.  I believe Jesus did that not only to the nourish the five thousand but  lay the ground work to provide them with spiritual sustenance that would invigorate them for the rest of our lives.

Grace is the experience of God at the heart of life and our relationship with God and others. 

Grace enacts Virtues i.e. actions of God, which engages us to act with Compassion, Justice, Wonder, Hope, Hospitality and Courage. For example, in Luke 15:22-24 we read about the Parable of the Lost Son that extols these virtues evident in the actions of the Father and the Son.

 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So, they began to celebrate.

Thus, we have the Father demonstrating compassion and justice when he embraces the son and offering him hospitality with a welcome home party.  Additionally, the Son displays courage by choosing to come home and is prepared to work as one of his Father’s servants. Consequently, he does not have to wonder or hope about his future secure in the knowledge that his Father has forgiven him. When I encounter such virtues through my interaction with other people it illustrates a mutual respect of appreciating and acknowledging each other and the value we can bring to each other’s lives. Hence, I would argue those virtues call me to soften my heart and enable me to connect with the sacred.

 

We can do simple acts of hospitality that can make people feel worth something, i.e.dignity and humanity.

A fantastic illustration of these qualities being modelled is the story of Zacchaeus, Luke 19:1-10. What really stands out to me in this story is that Jesus knows that Zacchaeus if given encouragement will want to play a part in continuing proclaiming the Gospel. This is evident when Jesus asks Zacchaeus to come down from the tree because Jesus asks to eat with him and Zacchaeus welcomes this proposal gladly. Furthermore, Jesus also recognises there is opposition to his invitation by the people who have been wronged by Zacchaeus but is rewarded when Zacchaeus says that anybody, he as cheated he will pay back four times the amount. Sometimes when we reserve judgement and instead invest time in people that challenge us, we can be paid back in kindness. I believe this is what Jesus calls us to do daily that is get out of our comfort zone and reach out to those people struggling in their lives. Maybe like Zacchaeus they will pay us back in more ways than we can ever know.

 

 

 

 

 

What Defines my Narrative.

I often think when I ponder about important decisions in my life how can I influence the outcome and how much is impacted by other people? When I reflect on this question, I believe there are a variety of reasons of what determines my narrative.

In Matthew, 16:25-26, Jesus says, “Anyone who will lose their life for my sake will find It.”So, where do we find a life that enhances not only our well-being but the well -being of others? I would argue that if I have positive relationships with my family, friends and with those people I encounter within my local community then the expectations I have to suit my own narrative become less demanding. Therefore, there is an opening for these connections to evolve rather than focussing on my own self- interest.

Furthermore, I believe when my expectations of others is not fixed, I open myself to greater possibilities of being pleasantly surprised in contrast to being disappointed and angry due to the actions of others. Additionally, it creates opportunities to build a support network which can help you overcome the challenges you face in life but also share in the celebrations. Thus, my narrative becomes one of a variety characters that continue to bring richness to my life.

“For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life.” Matthew 16:26. I think the narrative I aspire to live is one of developing efficacy and having people around me to comfort me in my setbacks and embrace me in my triumphs then I have gained the whole world.  A world of compassion and empathy where everyone is valued and appreciated. Hence, the Kingdom of God on earth.

 

Interpreting the Times

In Luke 12 :54-55, Jesus said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Sometimes, I think I would like everything to be predictable no unpleasant surprises everything to stay the same. However, in life we all inevitably face challenges that require us to embrace change.

So, what are some of these trials that test our capabilities? We all have situations that we need to tackle during certain periods in our life. From someone close to us being ill to people coming and going from our lives. Pope Francis gives the best explanation, “It impels us to reflect on how we evaluate the things that happen around us”. Thus, beseeching us to listen, to watch and observe so that we can discern the way forward.

Hence, what is the way forward? Jesus states, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?” (Luke 12:56) Thus, I believe Jesus is asserting the way forward is for all Christians to adapt and continually change while living according to the Gospel values. That means being courageous and not living with fear but trusting that with God’s grace the decisions we make will create change bringing positivity and joy to the people in our lives.

 

Looking Deeper

In Luke 10: 23 Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!” This would have to be one of my favourite scripture verses because to me it implies that you go beyond looking at how life is but what it could be.  So, when I unpack this statement my initial thought is that you have the ability to see possibilities. Therefore, to be able to do that I would argue this requires a faith component.

 The question I now ask is why is this an essential factor?  I believe that through my faith I have a sense of optimism in my life. No matter the daily challenges I face I know when I pray or read scripture I am inspired and a positive outcome is achievable not only for now but for the future.

 Through deeper reflection I reaIise my journey of faith is a strong influence for who I am today and in the future.  I think about the different challenges I have faced throughout my life and how it has shaped my decision-making learning both from my successes and my triumphs. Moreover, understanding and acknowledging that God was a major presence in my life along the way.

 My final thoughts are that I need to peel off the layers and go straight to the heart of the matter seeing people and situations for what they really are and not what I perceive them to be. What that demands of me is allowing myself to be vulnerable and placing my trust in God.

 

Sustaining the Faith Journey

In Matthew 10:5, Jesus tells the disciples to go out and proclaim his message for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. He gives them the authority to drive out impure spirits and heal every disease and sickness with clear instructions of where to go and what to do.

Thus, we have the disciples armed with the necessary requirements to witness the presence of God on Earth. The question is how do modern believers engage in this process of continuing Christ’s mission?

 There our three essential factors that guide me in being a disciple of Jesus and sustain my faith journey. They are prayer, the scriptures and being and active member of the Eucharistic community. For me prayer is more than reciting a prayer or asking for God’s help. Don’t get me wrong, I still do both however, I get more from continuing to talk to God throughout the day any place and anytime. It assists me in reflecting on my relationships with others, making decisions on how I should tackle different issues and driving towards outcomes that are successful for others and myself. Most importantly prayer provides me with the hope and optimism I need to continue what I am doing.

 The next crucial factor is scripture. I read the Gospel and am inspired by the risks Jesus took to teach all people about who God was and how it is possible for all of us to experience eternal life. The message Jesus delivers for me is one about love and forgiveness. His teachings are inclusive and he invites us all to his Father’s heavenly banquet. However, to gain an invitation I am required to welcome all people and challenge them through my own personal witness, to live the Gospel values and to enable others to achieve their own personal goals.  Additionally, I need to demonstrate that I am living the Gospel through my own words and deeds otherwise my witness lacks credibility. Furthermore, it demands that like Jesus who made the ultimate sacrifice, I to must put others before myself to ensure my relationships are positive and rewarding.

 The final factor, is to be nourished by a Eucharistic Community. A community where I can contribute to developing people’s faith and in turn together strive to continue Christ’s mission. I am great believer that I can achieve more when I play a role within a community. Nevertheless, it is vital that the Eucharistic Community creates sense of belonging and gives everyone the opportunity to express their faith generating engagement and building community. Moreover, this is only sustainable when everyone is appreciated and acknowledged and valued as a member of the Eucharistic Community.

Hopefully, I continue to cultivate prayer, scripture and being an active member of a Eucharistic Community that enable me to overcome my daily life challenges and inspire me to sustain my faith journey.

Seeking Clarity

On the day of Pentecost, “all of them were filled with Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. “Acts, 1: 4. Sometimes, we need a catalyst to prompt us into action and for the Apostles that gave them the courage and the gift of languages to boldly proclaim Christ’s mission. Pope Francis declares, the spirit frees hearts chained by fear and opens hearts that are closed. How often do I hold back from the challenges that arise daily in my relationships with others because I am uncertain of how people may react.? If the apostles held back because they felt they weren’t ready maybe 2000 years later we wouldn’t have known about Jesus. For me I wonder what other reasons suppress my desire to act freely in how I live my life?

So, the first obstacle I face is determining when to listen and when to speak. The lack of clarity that goes through my head leads me to be unsure of how I want to express myself in certain situations. However, Pope Francis,” impels us not to be comfortable but to drive to new directions making the lukewarm thrill to new dreams. That is what it means to change hearts.” (Crux taking the Catholic Pulse) In other words never die wondering about what is possible.

The second barrier is busyness. How often do I hide behind I have a lot on, to I just need to finish this off, that prevents me from taking the opportunities that may be available to me? Perhaps I am resistant to change and I like to be surrounded by circumstances that I at least I have some power in directing the outcome. I feel it is when I lose control of the situation and am reliant on other factors that doubt creeps in. Thus, my reluctance to make a decision results in me making no decision on all.

The final hurdle is having a decision thrust upon you.  In other words, having to make an assessment with no time to think it through. In these cases, I have to trust my own judgement hoping that the course of action I have taken achieves a positive outcome.  At least I see the results of my determination evolving in front of me.

Jesus has demonstrated that through his death and resurrection we don’t always have to benefit from the choices we make however, it is not inconceivable that other people might be the beneficiaries. So, when seeking clarity, possibly the answer is just make a decision no matter the cost.

The Game

*GOT Spoiler Alert

Luke 22:47-48 Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him,but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?

In the series Game of Thrones, Ned Stark, like Jesus sacrifices his life while trying to achieve the greater good for the people of the seven kingdoms.  What instigated the demise of Ned was that he had too much faith in the people he trusted, Lord Varys and Lord Baelish which contributed to his downfall. Similarly, for Jesus it was one of the chosen twelve, Judas that assisted in the Pharisees quest to have Jesus sentenced to death. So, what were the motives that led to the betrayal?

I would argue in Varys and Lord Baelish’s case it was to strengthen their own power so their influence on the decision-making process of the political and economic policies in the seven kingdoms would lead to their preferred outcome. Contrastingly, for Judas he perceived that the goal of Jesus’s mission conflicted with his own purposes which led to his betrayal. The question is did Judas, Varys and Lord Baelish’s actions enable them to achieve their own objectives? However, ultimately, they were destroyed by the leaders who they went to for their betrayals.

For wicked men are found among My people, They, watch like hunters lying in wait; They set a trap, They, catch men.  Jeremiah 5:26

I sometimes wonder if people walk into a situation that may contain many pitfalls, i.e. high risk, high rewards. For Jesus it was going to Jerusalem knowing that the hierarchy of the Jewish faith and the Roman rulers perceived that he was threat to their own power, while the crowd saw Jesus as the one who could overthrow the power base. However, in this instance, Jesus was writing his own narrative where he would challenge the Jewish and Roman Leaders on how their rule differed from his own mission which was to proclaim God’s Kingdom. Additionally, the crowd turned on him when it became abundantly clear that his life’s end goal was not to overthrow the Jewish and Roman rulers but to sacrifice his life so that everyone would have the opportunity to gain eternal life.

Conversely, with Rob Stark who hears of death of his father, Ned and immediately assembles the Northern armies to oppose the rulers and the armies who ordered Ned’s death.  Instantaneously, Rob Stark is enacting force creating a conflict between selfish ambition and what he perceives to be for the Greater Good.  The Northern Armies massage his ego with cries of “King of North”, and encourage his actions to achieve their goals. Nevertheless, one of the Commanders of the army, Rob Bolton, defected to the enemy and was promised the position of Warden of the North. It culminated in what the Stark’s believed to be a Wedding Celebration that would result in a strong alliance with the Frey’s instead it was a trap that resulted in the death of Rob Stark and his mother. Hence, Rob Stark’s narrative of becoming King of North was reliant on the allegiance of the Commanders of the North endorsing him as leader and in Rob Bolton’s case that loyalty could be brought for him to defect to the enemy to enhance his own power and position. Thus, Rob Bolton by setting the trap demonstrated his lust for power hardly a template for future job security.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

 Jesus’ unconditional love for the marginalised sets him apart from other leaders as he was all about inspiring them to change their lives which in turn saw them in many cases go on to change other peoples’ lives, e.g. Zacchaeus who vowed to give half his possessions to the poor and pay back 4 times the amount to those who he cheated in tax payments. Therefore, for Jesus it was about empowering people to change through his teachings, miracles and his ability to exhibit his love for people that he hoped would inspire them not only to change heir own circumstances but for others as well. Hence, creating a better world.

Contrastingly, with Jon Snow, who has the story reaches its conclusion wants what is best for the Seven Kingdoms not what is best for Jon Snow. He is a person who is loved by the people and his peers but is reluctant to be King not because of the responsibility but it is role that others would not stop at any lengths to dethrone him. I believe that Jon doesn’t want to be preoccupied with making decisions about maintaining his own power but rather how can we best feed and clothe the people of the Seven Kingdoms just not for the present but for the future.

Hence, Jon Snow wants to leave a legacy that can be read about in books for thousands of years to come. Just like Jesus whose gospel teachings have continued throughout Christian Churches. However, for Jon the question is what sacrifices will he have to make for this to happen?

My Mum

 

 In Proverbs 31:10 “A Mother of noble character who is worth far more than rubies.”When I reflect about who my mother is, I think this verse about my mum is very apt. She would always put others before herself both at home and in her workplace. Her behaviour was always beyond reproach never ever getting flustered by any challenges she faced but always patient and tolerant in how she dealt with the issue. Furthermore, was how she was held in such high esteem by her work colleagues who always praised her work ethic as well as positive relationships with all members of staff.

 “She provides for her family from her earnings she considers what she buys.” 7 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. Proverbs 31:16 & 17.My mum always spent on my sisters and I before she spent money on herself. We were fashionably clothed and went to private schools which gave us the best opportunity for our future careers. Her meals were appetising and when she didn’t cook, we were lucky enough to enjoy takeaway. She always amazed me how she could work full time, cook a meal, nurse us when we were sick and get all the housework done. What it showed to me was her great discipline and selflessness as she had very little time to pursue her interests.

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.Proverbs 31:16 & 17. My mum has a quiet but strong nature, where nothing ever phases her which meant when she speaks, I listen. Her favourite sayings are “a still tongue is a wise ahead” and “don’t walk into situations like a bull at a gate.” They have been two edicts that I have I have tried to live by throughout my life. She introduced me to British comedy and her laughter would echo around the lounge room when she was watching one of her favourite shows. It was so infectious that I would sit down and watch them with her. Occasionally, I reminisce and view the odd episode or two of her favourite series.

 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Proverbs 31:30 The most striking feature about my Mum today is her unwavering faith. She prays and reads her bible everyday with the knowledge that she is loved by God, her family and friends. Always fairly reluctant to talk about herself I love how she is now sharing stories with me about growing up in the South Australian Country town of Jamestown, riding a horse called Jack and playing with a black Kelpie called Nigel. Later on, when she met Dad, she would ride on the back of his motor bike I would have liked to have seen that. I really look forward to reading her memoirs and finding out things that I didn’t know about her before. To me mum will always be a miracle in her lifetime.