The readings are from the Catholic lectionary for daily mass, while the headlines arre chosen to keep my thinking real:
PROTESTERS SET FIRE TO TOWN HALL IN IGUAL, MEXICO
This is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, from whom every family, whether spiritual or natural, takes its name:
Out of his infinite glory, may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Messiah may live in your hearts through faith, and then, rooted and grounded in love, you will with all the saints have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.
Glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine; glory be to him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.
Paul’s prayer is to the Father of all families, whose love is for all. The holy Spirit is the capacity for sharing life, openness to to receive and to give. The Buddhist teacher Tich Nhat Hanh defines this as “inter-being”: the protective shell of the ego has been removed. Paul prays that through this Spirit their inner persons may be strengthened by the trust that allows Jesus to dwell in their hearts. Their lives are not separate from his. Their growth will come from being rooted in a love which fills all the dimensions of the universe- broad and long enough to encompass all nations, high enough to rule the evil powers of the sky, low enough to rule the world of the dead. This is the love Messiah Jesus has shown in life and death and resurrection. It cannot be fully comprehended but it can be “known” in the Hebrew sense of an intimate relationship.
Paul concludes by asking that the believers should be filled with the fullness of God. The Greek for fullness, pleroma, may have been a term used in popular religion to describe the supernatural dimensions of a God. Paul’s prayer twice asks God to “strengthen” his readers so that their frail humanity can contain the power of God’s presence, which doesn’t diminish but rather enhances their lives. “The glory of God is the living person” (St. Irenaeus 2nd century CE).
The universal love by which Paul wants his communities to live, is not merely an ethical requirement. It is an experience of personal and communal growth which takes place when people trust God’s love and are open to its gifts and demands. Genuine spirituality will encourage this experience. The Christian answer to the multitude of shallow spiritualities on offer in developed cultures is to offer a practice which is deeper and more robust, the practice of the presence of God, which keeps peoples’ feet where God’s are: on the ground.
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already! There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over!
‘Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three; the father divided against the son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’
The fire that Jesus casts on to the earth is the flame of love which burns up all falsehood, hypocrisy and pretence. The baptism that awaits him is his death by crucifixion. Representing the goodness of God is not a comfortable mission. Nor has it much to do with “family values” as they are usually understood. “Blood is thicker than water”, “Family unity before individual needs” “Your first loyalty is to your own people”. Jesus himself, his disciples and many of the first believers found their families oppoosed to their allegiance to God. Jesus’ words are a warning that families can become tyrannies when they imagine they should be the most important commitment of a person’s life.
When Jesus Messiah comes to dwell in your heart you find he’s not cuddly.