Fr Jack McArdle offers his pastoral thoughts and insights on different aspects of Christian living. He looks at different signposts and gifts we may have. Always easy to read, this book will be helpful to many.
Jack McArdle is a priest of our Sacred Hearts Community in Dublin. He is the author of numerous beat-selling books of spirituality including Ã¢â‚¬ËœJesus said It and I Believe ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and Ã¢â‚¬ËœItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Really Very SimpleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. A popular speaker and retreat-leader, he has also presented a series of Spirit Level on RTE.1.Introduction
2.The First Joyful Mystery THE ANNUNCIATION
3.The Second Joyful Mystery THE VISITATION
4.The Third Joyful Mystery THE NATIVITY
5.The Fourth Joyful Mystery THE PRESENTATION
6.The Fifth Joyful Mystery THE FINDING OF JESUS IN THE TEMPLE
7.The First Sorrow Mystery THE AGONY IN THE GARDEN
8.The Second Sorrow Mystery THE SCOURING AT THE PILAR
9.The Third Sorrow Mystery THE CROWNING WITH THORNS
10.The Fourth Sorrow Mystery THE CARRYING OF THE CROSS
11.The Fifth Sorrow Mystery THE CRUCIFIXION
12.The First Glorious Mystery THE RESURECTION
13.The Second Glorious Mystery THE ASCENSION
14.The Third Glorious Mystery THE DESCENT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
15.The Fourth Glorious Mystery THE ASSUMPTION
16.The Fifth Glorious Mystery THE CORONATION
- Chapter One: Back to the Garden
Gods plan of creation began in perfect harmony, and he saw that everything he created was good. As far as God is concerned that plan is still on offer, and what he creates and ordains continues to be good. The problem is not on Gods side. Does God seem far away at times? Guess who moved?! Without going into detail about the nature of sin, and original sin in particular, suffice it to say that our human nature had to be brought back to the Maker, who alone could restore it to its original innocence. The computer I now use has had to be taken back to the factory on a few occasions, because there certainly was no way that I could or would attempt to repair it. On one occasion, the factory sent a technician to my home, and he did the repair work right here on the premises. I am bordering on the irreverent when I think of Jesus as being the technician sent by the Father to take on our human condition, set right all that had gone wrong, and then restore it to us in perfect working order. The problem is, of course, that the computer is basically still the same - keyboard, hard drive, software, etc. No matter what the technician did, if I dont have an anti-virus, or I insist on trying to make it do something for which it was never intended, then of course all the good work is wasted and I find myself in trouble again. I know my analogy limps a lot when I compare the redemption of human nature to the repair work of a computer technician, but it may help to grasp the core of what Jesus actually did.
Another way of looking at it is to think of Jesus undoing the damage, sorting out the mess we had got ourselves into, and inviting us to return to the Garden and begin all over again. In Gen 3:8, we are told that God walked in the Garden in the cool of the day. Jesus invites us to return to God, and walk with him. In Lk 15:12, Jesus speaks of the Prodigal Son returning to the embrace of the Father, and recovering his inheritance. Come back to me with all your heart. Dont let fear keep us apart are words we use in a song often used in Services of Reconciliation. Not only does Jesus invite us back to the Garden, but he himself offers to lead us there. In fact, he tells us that this is the only way we can get back. Nobody comes to the Father except through me (In 14:6).
Lets look at this from another angle. I have just bought a new car, and Im still enjoying the novelty! Supposing the car was stolen (perish the thought!). The car is recovered, and the person responsible for stealing it is brought into my presence. I just dont know how I would react, although Im fairly sure I would not become violent or abusive, which would solve nothing. Let me switch back to the Garden again. What would / did God do when Adam and Eve rejected what he gave them, and opted for doing things their way? They wanted to assume Gods power and position, something for which they had no right whatever, no more than the guy had who stole my car. God was prepared to forgive them. In fact, he offered them the very thing they had tried to assume to themselves. Still using the analogy of the car, he forgave them, offered them the car to keep, and included all the petrol they needed for the rest of their lives! He devised a plan, in Jesus, that would enable them to share fully in the life of the Divinity, and he also offered the Spirit (petrol?) that would enable them live with that Divinity for all eternity. No, indeed, that would not be our way of doing things!
It is important to remember that there is nothing automatic about God, either as Father, Jesus, or Spirit. Yes, indeed, Jesus did all that is needed for us to return to the Garden, and the onus is on us to accept the invitation, and to avail of the offer. God does not give me anything; he offers me everything. If Adam and Eve rejected Gods plan, then of course we have to make a personal decision to accept it, and to go along with it. Remember, I speak of absolute pure free gift here. I cannot earn it, or merit it in any way, but I do have to accept it. Accepting the gift implies a whole new way of living, and a whole new way of seeing and thinking. Even that is pure gift. Every time I switch on the computer, my e-mail box is cluttered with junk mail, all offering me something that someone tells me I need. Many of these offers are free, in an effort to entice me into their web, and then the offers of items for sale come flooding in, if I accept the free gift. It is easy to fall for these offers, and forget that theres a price tag lurking somewhere down the road. The only condition attaching to all and every offer from God is willingness on our part. Peace on earth to those of goodwill(Lk 2:14).
The main problem, as I see it, is that my own brokenness is so close to me, is part of me, that I cannot see the wood for the trees. Faith is a response to love. I can accept in my head that Jesus did all he did for me, but my own personal experience of my human weakness prevents me from stepping out in faith, to do things, to see things, to believe things that I know are beyond my own personal ability. The fact of the matter is that they are beyond my ability. There is no way that Peter, of himself, could walk on water (Mt 14:29). However, when Jesus invited him to have a go, he stepped over the side of the boat! He managed very well until awareness of his own limitations hit him, and he took his eyes and his attention off Jesus. From that moment, he was in trouble. He became more aware of his own weakness, and lost sight of the power and strength of Jesus. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2).
There is one point that must be emphasised here. With the gifts comes the Giver. In other words, I must totally accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour, and then, and only then, am I able to receive all he has to give. Jesus himself is very much part of the package; indeed, he is the package, and all the graces of heavens treasuries come with him. Having given us Christ Jesus, will the Father not surely give us everything else? (Rom 8:17). I said earlier that Jesus invites us back to the Garden, but he insists that we follow him there. We could never get there on our own. The problem referred to in this paragraph is that I may be convinced about being saved, redeemed, freed from bondage, etc., and yet experience myself as very weak, broken, and sinful. That is the miracle of redemption. Grace builds on nature; it doesnt replace it. In actual practice, I still have my weaknesses to deal with, but I now have what I need to do so. While I live in the body, Ill have to struggle with the burdens and limitations that this places on me. If you ever waken up some morning, and discover that your life is exactly the way it should be, dont move; just wait for the undertaker! St Paul discovered something very important about his weaknesses. I was given a thorn in the flesh, a true messenger of Satan, to slap me in the face. Three times I prayed to the Lord that it leave me, but he answered "My grace is enough for you; my great strength is revealed in weakness"(2 Cor 12:7-9). Paul goes on to say Gladly, then, will I boast of my weakness, that the strength of Christ may be mine... For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:9-10).
Elsewhere we read Paul speaking about his personal experience of his weakness and brokenness. This is worth quoting in full, because it really gets to the core of the issue under reflection:
We know that the Law is spiritual, but I am full of human weakness, sold as a slave to sin. I cannot explain what is happening to me, because I do not do what I want, but, on the contrary, the very things I hate. Well then, if I do the evil I do not want to do, I agree that the Law is good; but, in this case, I am not the one striving towards evil, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, I mean, in my flesh. I can want to do what is right, but I cannot do it. In fact I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I hate. Therefore, if I do what I do not want to do, I am not the one striving towards evil, but sin which is in me. I discover, then, this reality: though I wish to do something good, the evil within me asserts itself first. My inmost self agrees and rejoices with the law of God, but I notice in my body another law challenging the law of the spirit, and delivering me as a slave to the law of sin written within my members. Alas for me! Who will free me from this condition linked to death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free(Rom 7:18-25).
I have quoted from Paul at some length, because he explains our predicament very well. At the end of the day, we are still weak human beings but, because of Jesus, we can come back to the Garden. St John tells us that there is a Spirit within us that is stronger than any evil spirit we may meet along the road of life (1 Jn 4:4). A wise old man was explaining to a group of young people about human nature. He told them that there are two large dogs within each human being, one is good, and the other is bad; and they are always fighting, and each is determined to win. One of his pupils asked him which of them normally wins the battle, and the old man replied, Always the one you feed the most. If I make myself the beginning, or the centre of my attention and reflection, I am doomed to failure. EGO may point to making myself the centre of my universe, but the letters could also stand for Edging God Out. In simple language, we do not have what it takes to make our way back to the Garden. The whole journey of redemption is, from beginning to end, the work of Jesus, a work that is brought to completion through the actions of the Spirit. Despite my weakness, my brokenness, and my sinful humanity, I keep throwing in my willingness; I keep repeating my Yes, and I know that the Spirit will do the rest. As I travel this road with Jesus, the Spirit, and Mary my mother, I actually become aware of some change happening within. Nothing very dramatic, but a deeper sense of peace, of sincerity, and of conviction that the process is working. While awareness of brokenness will always be there, I become aware of an ability to accept that shadow self, and know that Jesus is concentrating on all of me. As my conviction of his love becomes more real and evident, I begin to realise that, warts and all, I can actually come back to the Garden. The Garden becomes that place of reconciliation between the Prodigal and the self-righteous brother; Martha and Mary, and the apostles who argued about who among themselves as to who was the greatest. The road back to the Garden is a way of forgiveness; it involves forgiving myself, those who have hurt me along the way; and it ends up with a full and eternal hug of forgiveness from the Father who is watching the horizon awaiting my return. There is a legend about the Day of Judgement. As the crowds flock in the gates of heaven, Jesus is seen standing outside, with his hand shading his eyes from the sun, as he stares off into the distance. Someone asks him what he is doing, and he replies, Im waiting for Judas. I know that Ill have to pick up on this theme of forgiveness in a later chapter, because it is central to becoming fully immersed in the Christian message.