The images and concepts of Eastertide often seem more difficult for us to grasp than those of Lent. Christ’s victory over death can elude us, while the stark horror of the cross demands attention. Ashes as Lent begins, fasting during Lent and the disaster of Good Friday we can cope with, yet what resurrection offers can seem nebulous. Likewise glorification, ascension into heaven and eternal life. These are difficult ideas.
The Church often refers to what we do in the mass as the “mysteries”. Before the Eucharistic prayer, we pray today that we will always find “delight in these Paschal and Easter mysteries”; “so that the renewal constantly at work within us may be the cause of unending joy”. That phrase “renewal constantly at work within us” refers to what the word of God has done within us in the scripture readings and to what the Holy Spirit of Jesus is doing within us during the Eucharistic prayer and Holy Communion – a work which continues after we leave the church.
A most important part of the mass comes when, after the words of consecration, the priest announces “the mystery of faith”. Your response signifies that you believe what the words of consecration signify (“this is my body”and “this is my blood”). The mystery of faith and the mysteries of our faith (the sacraments) are not puzzles to be solved. They express what we believe; what we hold to be true; what we live by.
In this time of resurrection Saint John’s gospel offers us images which are simple to understand and which deepen our faith. “I am the bread of life”: bread that strengthens our faith. ”I am the light of the world”: we will not stumble in the dark; we will find the way to eternal life. “I am the gate of the sheepfold”: if you enter through the gate, through Christ, the door of mercy, you will be safe. “I am the good shepherd”: “I know (love) my own and my own know me”. The good shepherd does everything for our good; even giving his life that we might have life; to the full, eternal life; and that we might offer this life to others.
Yesterday I said a jubilee Mass for Loreto sisters, the nuns who are responsible for the Loreto colleges in Hulme and Altrincham. Sister Therese was celebrating 60 years as a nun. She used to be a university chaplain here in Manchester – three years at The University of Manchester and six at Manchester Metropolitan University. She still lives in Hulme. At the service an extract from Mary Ward, the Loreto sisters’ foundress, was read.
Mary Ward, a 17th century Englishwoman, had taken a vow to enter a strict Poor Clare’s convent, should her spiritual director continue to advise this. One morning she had a two-hour vision, apparently while she was doing up her hair. God insisted she should do something different or more; something which would give greater glory to God. This “something more” was not disclosed at this time. Eventually she became one of the first women to found an order which worked outside of enclosed convent structures. Her nuns taught in schools, worked in parishes and gave retreats.
What interested me was this “something more that would give greater glory to God”. Foremost now in her discernment was not “what does God want me to do?” but “how can greater glory be given to God”; less focus on self; more on God.
God is wonderfully glorified in today’s Acts of the Apostles. The Apostles have filled Jerusalem with their teaching. Peter proclaims “The crucified Jesus has now been raised up: he is our leader; our saviour. Obedience to God comes before obedience to men”. Yet this is the same Peter who in today’s Gospel appears unfocussed (“I’m going fishing” – why wasn’t he thinking about preaching the Good News in Jerusalem?). However, in Acts Peter has clearly found a new ally: the Holy Spirit; “we and the Holy Spirit”. Not the words now of a disorientated man. The miracle of the 153 fish, a clincher for fishermen, the magic of breakfast on the beach and a charcoal fire, the kind and consoling best of hosts – the risen Lord – turn fickle disciples into powerful apostles. The Acts of the Apostles is a wonderful witness to the mighty deeds done to glorify God. Glorifying God need not be difficult. It means doing what we do daily as best we can, whatever our work or study is, always recognising that the gift of life, like all good gifts, come from the Creator.