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This Sunday's Programme

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Pentecost Sunday A

Sunday 28th May 2023

The Gospel Paraphrased

There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.

This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased

Jn 20: 19-23

On the evening of that first day, the disciples had locked themselves away in fear of the Jews.  Then Jesus just came and stood in their midst saying: ‘Peace to you!’ As he said this he stretched out both his hands to show his wounds and he also showed them his side.  The disciples were overwhelmed with joy on seeing the Lord.  Again he said to them: ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent me, I send you.’  Then he breathed on them saying: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit! If you forgive someone’s sins, they are forgiven, if you do not forgive, they are unforgiven.’

 

Psalm

The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.

This Sunday's Psalm

Ps 103: 1,24,29-31,35.

My soul, praise God.
God you are great beyond our imaginings,
-your many works fashioned with wisdom,
the earth teeming with creatures!

When you hide your face,
your creatures are terrified.
When you take away their breath,
they die – returning to dust.

But when you send your Spirit,
they are created,
the face of the earth is renewed.

Let your glory last forever.
your works give you joy.
Let my thoughts please you,
as I find my joy in God.

 

Prayers

Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.

This Sunday's Prayer

Loving God, the power of your Spirit has hovered over creation since at the dawning of time. Open our minds and hearts to that creative love that we may embrace each new day, each new event, filled, sustained and strengthened in your love and life. We ask this in Jesus’ name, confident that you will hear us.

The Commentaries Summarised

As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.

This Sunday's Commentary

This appearance of Jesus to his disciples after the resurrection is called the Johannine Pentecost. The risen Jesus comes into the midst of the disciples who are effectively paralysed by fear. His greeting of ‘Shalom’ has a greater richness than our English word ‘Peace’. Some of that richness can be seen in what follows – the disciples are filled with joy and Jesus shows them his hands and his sides. The reality of what humanity did to him and the reality of what God can do with human sinfulness are both shown in those living wounds. In them we see a summation of Jesus’ mission – the mission into which the disciples are now commissioned.

Now Jesus breathes on them, effectively giving them the power by which he lived, suffered and died. This breath – the Holy Spirit – gives them the power to deal with sin. Curiously, Jesus words relate to both forgiving and retaining sin. The strange use of the word “kratein” for the retention of sins is not completely clear. Here the different commentators struggle to explain its meaning and we see that this is one of those texts, which while not having a straightforward meaning, is still important. Dealing with sin is often not straightforward. It is messy – it can entail the weighing of different goods, the weakness and/or the deceptiveness of the human heart. When we are called upon to deal with sin – whether our own or that of other people – we are confronted with a situation beyond our own powers. Only with the gift of the Holy Spirit will we be able to deal with it in the wisdom and love of God.

Exposition

Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.

This Sunday's Exposition

Jesus offered two things to his disciples with the giving of the Holy Spirit, the first was peace, the second was the capacity to deal with sin. If one went by the way advertising presents sin, we could well believe that most sin is ‘naughty but nice’ – a trivial occurrence about which Christians, but especially Catholics, have a guilt complex and, rather than being polite and keeping their morality to themselves, actually think that sin should be taken seriously. Well, I do think that. Not just because a realistic look at human lives recognises the depth of suffering and grief caused by sin but also because God takes sin so seriously. God does this because sin undermines our capacity to be fully human, glorying in the divine image in which we are made.

When Jesus gives us the Spirit’s power to deal with sin, he offers us two powers: to forgive sin and to retain sin. This should make us pause about the way we often consider ‘forgiveness’. Too often, we assume that a wronged person is expected to say about the wrong, ‘Oh, it’s alright.’ No amount of saying ‘Oh, it’s alright’ makes a wrong, right. Forgiveness rather is about the heart of the person who has been wronged. When we forgive, we allow our heart not only not to be injured by the evil that has been done to us but also we remain open to the possibility for change in the wrongdoer – even when they show no remorse. That type of forgiveness is usually beyond human capacity. When we forgive in this manner we allow the Spirit the freedom to work all things together for our good. Yes, this is extraordinary. If you want to see what it looks like in a life I recommend the book by Debbie Morris, Forgiving the Dead Man Walking.

We are not only called to offer this forgiveness to others – we need to forgive ourselves. No matter how many times we give way to anger, lust, violence, deception, meanness etc., with the Spirit’s power, we can believe that God is waiting for us, ready to help us try again. God’s heart is open wide waiting for our return. All God asks of us is that we become a conduit of the Spirit’s forgiveness to others.

 

Reflection

Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.

This Sunday's Reflection

When one hears the word “peace” what often comes to mind is the cessation of some negative experience – the end of war, quiet after a hard day’s work, the sleep of fractious children. But when Jesus comes to his small group of terrified disciples, and offers peace with the gift of the Holy Spirit, he wishes upon them something quite different. This is not a peace in which something has been switched off, rather it is a power that is switched on in a person’s life. The terrified disciples are transformed into a community of believers who go forth from that locked room to preach to the world the very mission that had led to the crucifixion of their Master!

Electricity is a very good simile for the presence of the Holy Spirit. Both are known by us in their effects. Both take something that is inert and transforms it into active. With the power of the Holy Spirit, we are given the opportunity to live fully human lives. We need no longer be dominated by sub-human forces, compulsions or selfishness. We need no longer be discouraged by obstacles that ‘the world’ puts before us. The presence of the Holy Spirit is not to make us sweet and benign, with a faith that anesthetises our human capacities, but rather the Spirit is to be a booster and a guide to all that is best in us.

In allowing this presence of the Spirit to take over our lives, we need to start imagining the ways in which this could happen. What gifts and talents do we have that we feel lie dormant? What dreams do we have for revealing God’s love in the world? What passion for life is there that could we foster within ourselves, and amongst our families and friends? Pentecost is a good time to stop, take stock and imagine what your community of faith would look like if it was electrified.

 

Visual Meditation

Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.

This Sunday's Visual Meditation

– Duccio di Buoninsegna’s fresco Jesus taking Leave of the Disciples  has a magisterial Jesus.
– William Blake’s watercolour and ink (1795), Christ Appearing to His Disciples After the Resurrection shows the disciples falling in worship.

– This painting by Erwin Kűsthardt (1867-1901), Peace be unto you (scroll down for a larger picture) is an extraordinary study of the emotions in this Gospel text. We see Jesus, brimming life and light, reaching over to the terrified and confused disciples. Here one can see the profound transformation in the Holy Spirit that is being offered.
He Qi’s painting is a colourful modern presentation of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

 

Mulling Meditation

The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.

Exercising
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"

Driving
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.

This Sunday's Mulling Meditation

While the Spirit has been given to us and works for good it our lives, it is the desire of God that we actively accept the Spirit’s power for good in our lives.

– Over this coming week, mull on how you can embrace the Spirit in the situations of your life.

– As each day begins ask the Spirit to be with you that you might live in the power and glory of God.

– As you go about your daily task, recognise that the Spirit is even closer to you than the very breath that you take.

– Before a difficult or challenging situation, ask the Spirit to truly guide you with wisdom.

Mirror Meditation

In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.

This Sunday's Mirror Meditation

We have been given the power to forgive sin and the power to retain sin – a power that Jesus has said belonged only to God.

Rest quietly in the love of your God.

When you are resting quietly in God’s love, consider some situation in your life that you find difficult or painful – some situation where you have been hurt, or where you have hurt someone. While remaining in God’s love, hold that situation in your hands and ask the power of the Spirit to come upon you. Asking the Spirit to enter your mind, your heart and your imagination, think about, imagine ways in which the Spirit could heal the situation. Try not to limit your imagination by your past hurts and prejudices.

Once you have imagined the creative power of the Spirit at work in the situation, think hard about what is realistic. For example, we cannot be naïve if we are dealing with a situation involving addiction or violence. Resting in God’s love, ask the Spirit to guide you in your thoughts, words and actions. Then go forth boldly knowing that the love and power of God have been given to you to transform our world.

Rest quietly in the love of your God.