It’s the last week of term in all three university settings – UoM, RNCM, & MMU – the last Sunday before the Easter break. It’s also the Sunday when the men and women who are preparing to become full members of the Church after Easter are presented to our worshipping congregation at this Mass. And we welcome as a visitor Nigel Parker to talk with anyone interested after Mass about the Catholic Union of Great Britain, a group of catholic laity which has as one of its straplines “Public Engagement for the Common Good.”
So it’s a particular time, a special time – particularly for those on the way to becoming full members of the catholic community. Much of the time we spend feels like ordinary, matter-of-fact time, but it is always God’s time, it is always graced time, even we don’t always think of it as such. A lot of the time we relate to those who are most important in our lives in a pretty matter-of-fact way, and then for some reason or another, the depth of our relationship breaks through, and time stands still.
Something similar happens in our relationship with God. Into the midst of “ordinary time”, matter-of-fact time breaks in something very different. One way of describing this is to call such a moment a “kairos” – a moment of “God-time – a moment of truth and grace where we find that we see ourselves very clearly as ultimately in relation to God and the true values of the Gospel.
Perhaps – you will have to ask someone wiser and holier than I am – perhaps the more that we pray, the more that we hold ourselves in that awareness of the presence and action of God that we call contemplation, then the more we sense these moments when God’s loving presence becomes a tangible dimension of our “everyday” and always graced lives.
For our catechumens, on their way to being baptised or received into the church, on their way to confirmation and joining fully in the celebration of the eucharist, this is a moment of God-time, when we mark in a solemn ritual their choosing – their electing – to become members of the catholic church, and our choosing – our electing – of them as soon-to-be-fellow-catholics.
The Gospel reading today belongs at such a kairos time in the life of Jesus. We hear it out of sequence, because it follows directly on from the passage we will hear at the start of next week’s Palm Sunday service – the account of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. As we listen to Jesus today we are for a moment in the last few days before the Passion – the great kairos, the great moment of God-time of the life of Jesus.
Jesus spells out the truth of how God’s love works, transforming our lives, and he does so with the image of the grain of wheat. But it is an image: the reality of today’s gospel event in the life of Jesus is that of a young man walking down into death. The reality is a man, equipped with no more than we have, but with none of the denials and half-truths with which we protect ourselves, looking clearly at what is going to happen to him, in all its horror, acknowledging his fear, and saying “It is for this reason I have come to this hour.”
So John sees this as a kairos, a moment of God-time, a moment of glory. We can see in this moment the power of God that enables Jesus to overcome his fears, and to do this without bringing violence to those who threaten him.
For us there is a risk: the risk of seeing this Gospel moment simply as belonging to the life of Jesus. But we can and should also see in this moment the power of God to transform our humanity so that it shows God’s incalculable love for each one of us. For “God-time” runs in our lives also: we too run into these moments of kairos: we receive a challenging medical diagnosis; a spouse or partner or child falls acutely ill; a loved person dies; a true moral decision is suddenly present and demanding in our life; a Gospel passage speaks to us at a depth we had not imagined possible; for our catechumens, the Spirit calls us into membership of the catholic church; for any of us, someone speaks a word of love and compassion that truly pierces to the heart – and that might be someone speaking to us, or it might be we ourselves speaking to another.
They are moments that cost, because we have to set aside all our props and defences and our false reliance on our own omni-competence. They are moments that repay the cost tenfold, a hundredfold, because they open us to the transforming love of God. Jesus knew moments like these – the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us as much. Jesus knew moments like these, and knew them to be moments when the promise was fulfilled of the words of God through the prophet Isaiah: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people … for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
So we prepare to head off for the break (or at least to change the pattern of our living and studying, since postgrads get no breaks…). We can ask to be aware over this Easter time of the moments that can open us up to God’s transforming love – the moments of kairos in our own lives.
And we pray with and for our soon-to-be-Catholics, preparing to commit themselves and to be welcomed into our community of faith and service. They have been studying and reflecting and praying together over the months of the academic year so far, and at the end of April Bishop John will come here to join us, to baptise, receive and confirm our new brothers and sisters, and to preside at the eucharist at which they first participate fully in communion with Jesus and with this eucharist-centred community.
And Nigel Parker, speaking about the Catholic Union, points us towards one way we can live out the purpose of that community – to proclaim the Gospel in the world, to be the sacrament of Jesus among all people – and towards how that task must be lived out in the public square for the common good.
For kairos moments are not just for us, but to liberate us and empower us in the building of the kingdom in the world of today.
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Fr Brendan Callaghan SJ