The simple audacity of faith : three reflections for Easter Friday


Fire with grilled fish Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

Held within the octave

Today still stands within the Easter octave. The Church marks its most important feasts and seasons this way. I think it is also doing something more.
There is something about the strange liturgical stretching of time, beyond the normal measuring and the pressure of the immediate, into the prolongation of the now: this moment, this place, which has no boundaries.

Through we can count and distinguish the appearances, there is really only one resurrection moment. They are all part of the one and indivisible event which can never really be past. The resurrection is the moment through which all time must pass. If it cannot be past, we cannot translate it to some simple future that is yet to be. It inhabits our time as a now in which there is memory and something still to come: not so much a future but an everunfolding now. Something present and greater than a Kairos time.

And so, we, like these disciples, find ourselves in this strange space, this uncanny moment - an ‘in-between time’ - waiting to be remade and sent.

These days we have been living in this 'in-between' - a transition, uncomfortable interstices, not a hiatus but a moment that is caught in the tentative not even transitive tense. We experience our confusion even though things by and large continue in their familiar way.  Are we living in between grief and hope, an ambiguous light: dawn or twilight? Not really wanting to be here, but knowing that we can't really go back. Not clear if we can go forward or if we want to.

In such moments, Christ the consoler, invites us into this liturgical time of the Octave. It is the time in which we are held.

Wait, don't rush; it is the time of gift. Not the gift we can conjure by some effort of thought or action or some process of discernment.

The first act of discernment to wait because it is God who will act.

The first act of discernment, is to put away the science of discernment and allow God to come; to un-teach us, that we may learn again what we have been given, learn first how to receive the gift.

In these in-between times, we learn our own poverty. Not just our material poverty, but the more painful poverty of our own powerlessness - our flawed, fractured and compromised freedom, our diminishment.

But if we look with un-anxious eyes we may catch glimpses of the promise:

In the jubilees of faithfulness; the grace of constant ordinary service which we have celebrated. In the routines of parish; in the lonely disciplines of writing and research;  in the hard work of teaching or tutoring where faith struggles to claim its small victory over indifferent reality; in the relentless grind of administration; in the unspoken courage of facing daily the pain of others; in the quiet passion for justice and mercy that sustains a battle fought in emails, and questionnaires and legislation with a bureaucracy that erases the human face.   Or in the hidden presence of direction and accompaniment.  In all of these moments, the glory of the now of this time is sometimes glimpsed.

And we wait, companions with and for the One who comes; who is already labouring and working in all these things for us. In the octave, it is Christ the Consoler in his Church gives us the grace of time, all the time in the world and all the world in time, the grace to renew our senses, to readjust our eyes and our understanding, to be renewed.

The simple audacity of faith

Each day of the octave we are given a new resurrection appearance, and so today.

At first, like all these brief moments, we are burdened with complexity and a new familiar but dislocated reality. If, like the Sadducees and the Jerusalem hierarchy, we interrogate these moments, demanding that they translate themselves into our categories of sense and reason, so that we can again be masters of the narrative, rulers of the divine, keepers of the temple, then these moments will disappear. If we insist that the resurrection will be on our terms, we have only an incoherent, irrational, illusion. The stone will have been put back in its place.

The appearances of the resurrected Christ are their own category. They refuse interrogation. We can only enter these moments not as some puzzle to be solved, but as a place, a person, to be inhabited.

To do this we have to step in to them: a new dimension in which nothing is lost or rejected but all is re-perceived. Reality is more real not less, for it has depths and capacities and potentials which we could not have imagined. Those wonderful speculations of the scholastics on the qualities of the resurrected and glorified body, its agilitas (agility), its form not conditioned by the normal laws of causality, a sort of new freedom, a joyous and unrestricted playfulness. That was their exploration of a graced subatomic or super atomic world, not opened up by speculative or empirical science but by faith in the absolute reality of the Risen Christ.

And so, for us in these days, and in this moment, we come face to face with God's most audacious act.

The word audacity has somehow crept into our prosaic documents and we have heard it spoken in talks and reflections even in these days.

Audacity is not a recklessness, nor is it a false consolation of simply abandoning the burdens and choosing a way that is light.

Audacity is knowing who we are, our limitations and our history, but saying yes in faith.

The greatest audacity is faith itself. Faith in Him, faith in the Society that it is called, and continues to be called to the service of God and the Church, faith in the Province, in all our members, now, today.

The John O'Sullivans and the Archbishop Chichesters are not just heroes of the past, they are our companions today. They sit amongst us.

Audacity is to trust the Spirit at work in us, that moves always over our emptiness and presides over our desolations, inviting us into the audacity of trusting each other. Stepping into that strange space that echoes with the call of the eternal king.

And so, the Risen Lord calls us to trust him, even though in this in-between time. A time when it is easy to feel that we have worked hard and caught nothing, and simply on His word to cast out the net. Foolish? Of course! But look how it is He who gives the harvest when all our best efforts have failed. 

What is the grace we need and ask for today, every day? The audacity to confess him before a world that has learned to be skeptical but longs, not for more ideologies - religious or political - but simply to hear His name, above every name, spoken with mercy and with faith.

Without question

For me, one of the most extraordinary features of all these resurrection appearances, is the absence of judgement. There is no score to be settled or betrayal to be appeased.
There is only Christ's question ‘Do you love me?' - no looking back - 'Do you love me?' For love, no matter how it stumbles - is the condition of mission.  As so to us, the Risen Christ comes, ‘Do you love me?’

And then there is that breakfast, served and cooked. With such delicacy and care the Risen Christ prepares our food; not just the proof of his bodily resurrection, but the meal that gathers us as his friends. There is something here, too, that we recognize: the disciples bring the fish they have caught, but only after He told them where to look. Christ has provided everything - that divine delicacy which allows us to play our part, does not reduce us to instruments or passive onlookers, but makes us real friends. The audacity of the Risen Lord who knowing us chooses makes us all His collaborators.

And the meal on the shore with, all its practical ordinariness, is not just an understated proof that He is no illusion. It is the promise that He will always give his disciples the food that they need for the journeys on which He will them - on which He will send us. Whatever the risks, the mistakes, the challenges, there will always be enough to sustain us no matter how far we have to travel.

And, like the disciples, we do not need to ask who are you? We know it is the Lord.

Homily preached by James Hanvey SJ at the close of the province meeting Easter Friday 2017

Texts: Acts 4:1-12; Ps. 117(118); Jn.21:1-14