A very interesting piece from Shaun Carney, Adjunct Associate Professor from Monash University’s School of Political and Social Inquiry, who suggests that the current dramas of the Federal Government are a direct result of the way in which they acted when in Opposition, i.e. focussed on slogans, and on defeating the Labor Party. The roosters are coming home to roost…
In his book Notes from the Underground, Donald Cozzens speaks in the second major chapter about Communion, and as part of that chapter speaks about intimacy, and the absolute need of all human beings, regardless of the state of life, for true intimacy. Cozzens is quick to point out that when he speaks of intimacy he is not speaking of sexual intimacy (except within the context of a married couple) but rather the complete honesty of knowing and being known by someone else at a very profound level. This basic human need is the only way, Cozzens (and no doubt others) argues, that we can truly become the human being that God truly intended us to be.
Like faith, there is no possibility of true human intimacy without trust. For intimacy requires that we stand before another without our usual defenses and masks, vulnerable yet unafraid. In this graced space we not only find the freedom to reveal our deepest fears and anxieties, but rather what is even more personal, our deepest ideals and dreams, the noblest thoughts of our souls. This trust to stand before another without the armor of our defenses is itself a mystery. For many it’s sheer foolishness. But if it is sheer foolishness, then love itself is sheer foolishness. To the contrary, I insist that married or single, young or old, we humans need a few people in our lives, perhaps only one, with whom we are or might become soulmates. I write this with the suspicion that the tears of the lonely can easily dampen the laughter of the merry. While the intimacy of the married can be exquisite, the loneliness of the married can be unspeakably cruel. The Beatles told us to “look at all the lonely people.” We can hardly miss them. They live alone. They live on the streets. They live in houses that are prisons where family members live in “solitary confinement.” So, maybe it’s the capacity for intimacy that is critical. At the heart of the Gospel is a subtext that whispers we are not alone, that our creator has planted in our true selves a capacity for intimacy with God, creation, others – and ourselves. Though we ordinarily discover the blessing of intimacy in and through human relationships, I’m convinced there are countless souls that have been touched by God’s affection, God’s grace, in such a manner that they have experienced the intimacy their souls desire. (pp 66-67)
This radical and transforming intimacy is not something we can force. It truly is, as Cozzens recognises, a gift that we can only receive if we are prepared to open ourselves to receiving it.
If transcendence transforms, so does intimacy. I need to repeat that I’m referring to experiences of graced intimacy, authentic intimacy that is always, at bottom, a gift. The kind that takes us by surprise, that silently converts our anxious vulnerability into a deep sense of bless where self-doubt disappears, giving way to a blessed communion. When lovers experience this, they instinctively know their lovemaking is holy. For those who live alone, there are occasions when the power of soulmate friendship, even when great distances intervene, transforms their separateness into blessed communion. And they instinctively understand their friendship to be holy. Transformation, after all, is what Jesus preached and taught. The Reign of God is within. Turn away from our vain self-seeking, from what we call sin, and trust that Jesus is the Christ in whose love we find healing and wholeness and communion – salvation. (p 71)
The absence of healthy intimacy from an individual’s life means that individual will never truly become the person God intended them to be…and that surely must be something to lament.
The grace of salvation carries with it the capacity for regular experiences of intimacy and transcendence. And this capacity is a capacity for both. An individual incapable of human intimacy has a soul too small for the ecstasy of transcendence. For those incapable of awe and wonder at the glory of a sunset at sea, the spark of soul needed for intimacy remains too feeble to erupt into flame. (p 72)
As a celibate male this need for intimacy, the need to be vulnerable and open to another human being, is just as real a need as for any other human being. To be vulnerable to another person, to drop all the masks, all the pretence, and truly be honest with another human being, will, I hope, enable me to be a better human being, a better man, a better believer, a better Christian, and, hopefully, a better priest. I am truly blessed to have someone with whom I can be that honest, that vulnerable, and for that I thank God each and every day.
Donald Cozzens, Notes from the Underground: The Spiritual Journal of a Secular Priest (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013). ISBN: 978-1-62698-006-8.
Scriptures: Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12.
Last week I mentioned that during Advent, and indeed during the whole year, Christians are called to that active waiting for God that is the attitude not only of Advent, but of every aspect of our Christian lives. Our task is to recognise the presence of God wherever God chooses to make himself known. God’s presence may be made known in the most unexpected and strange ways…and nothing says ‘strange’ like John the Baptist. Dressed in camel hair and a leather belt, eating locusts and wild honey, John was not what the establishment of the day was expecting for the herald of the Messiah – most of them thought he was a little….touched by the sun, shall we say. Yet having gone into the desert, that dry, dusty and desolate place, into silence and solitude, John found the eloquence to proclaim the message that had been entrusted to him, a call to repentance because the Kingdom was near.
And the repentance that John preached was not a simple acknowledgement of our sins and failures, a simple saying sorry for wrongs, but a wholesale change of attitude that effects every aspect of our lives. We are called by John to be different than we used to be, better and renewed because we have embraced a new way of living, a way of living that brings us into the ambit of God’s plan for humanity. This clarion call to repentance, proclaimed by the outwardly strange John the Baptist, is the means by which we are prepared to encounter the Christ when at last he comes among us.
Matthew doesn’t have a long infancy narrative concerning the birth of Jesus. There’s very little focus on the infant Jesus in the manger, no emphasis on the Baby Jesus so meek and mild that we do oh so well, an image of that is safe and makes no great demands on us. Instead, in order to meet the Christ, we must first make our way through ‘Checkpoint John’, we must first embrace the call to repentance, to that change of attitude and behaviour that means we are prepared for what Jesus will ask of us. Then, and only then, do we encounter the adult Christ, who proceeds to challenge us, teach us, and call us to a way of life that is marked by a concern for the fringe dwellers of society, by a concern for justice in the face of injustice, by a concern for those things that Jesus himself was concerned with.
On this second Sunday of Advent, as we continue our meandering through this season of active waiting and preparation, we are called to heed the call of John the Baptist to repentance, in order that we can be prepared for the coming of Christ among us – both at Christmas and at the end of time – and prepared to live as Christ calls us to live. If we do, then Christ will find us ready and waiting for him, active in proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
But today the church’s sanctuary curtain of secrecy and clerical privilege has been raised just high enough for all to see that underneath the veneer of its passion for orthodoxy lies a subconscious passion for power and control. Inevitably, faith, understood here as asset to church teachings, becomes a tight-fisted command for doctrinal uniformity rather than an open-handed invitation to trust in the divine mystery that, like a magnet, spontaneously draws us, and others, to join in the “serious conversation leading to blessed communion.”
Donald Cozzens, Notes from the Underground: The Spiritual Journal of a Secular Priest (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013), 54. ISBN: 978-1-62698-006-8.
Of these three virtues, perhaps only hope isn’t dangerous. Yet hope, too, is dangerous because it sustains faith and encourages love. And where there’s faith, that is trust, in the loving plan of God and where there is love, that is, wanting what is best for others, there we find the whispers of Gospel revolution leading to the Reign of God. It seems to me, though, that we want the Reign of God on our own terms. We want the Reign of God that will go easy on our racism, classism, sexism, and compulsive consumerism. We want a Reign of God that will understand that our real trust, more often than not, is in our military and political and economic might. No major changes, please. Just minor tinkering, some fine tuning that might inch us along to God’s Reign.
Donald Cozzens, Notes from the Underground: The Spiritual Journal of a Secular Priest (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013), 52. ISBN: 978-1-62698-006-8.
Hope, grounded in the Paschal Mystery, allows us to get the joke – that we are saved in Christ and that no earthly calamity can do us in, in any ultimate sense, for “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Hilaire Belloc’s familiar lines – “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, there’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so, Benedicamus Domino” – captures an expression of Christian hope. We can cast our terrible solemnity aside, as Thomas Merton urges, and join in the “general dance.”
Donald Cozzens, Notes from the Underground: The Spiritual Journal of a Secular Priest (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013), 41. ISBN: 978-1-62698-006-8.