Month: May 2018

Prophets of Pentecost

M04.jpg

We were each of us, at our baptism, anointed with Christ as priests, prophets, and kings. Luke’s account of Pentecost, read alongside the Hebrew Bible, encourages us to reassess the extent to which we are living out the call to be prophets.

Elijah, so we are told in the second book of Kings, ascended into heaven. His spirit rested on Elisha, who went on to work miracles and continue the great prophet’s work. For Luke, Jesus is a great prophet (of course, he is not only that, but he certainly is that) whose teaching and works of power echo those of Elijah. It is little wonder then that Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, begins with the Spirit of this great prophet, the Spirit which had come upon Mary at the annunciation and Jesus himself at his baptism, resting on Jesus’ followers. They too go on to do what he had done before: proclaim God’s Kingdom (which is now seen as breaking through in the death and resurrection of Jesus) and proclaim mighty works.

The apostles continue Jesus’ work, and they do so by his Spirit. The point of the apostolic church is not simply to tell people about Jesus, or to remember him, or to do social outreach in his name. It is to be him to the world, to make him and the Kingdom he brings present, in its Spirit-inspired actions and proclamation. And that remains what the Church is for.

In some ways, the Catholic tradition has been particularly good at understanding this. Our sacramental life, and our doctrinal understanding of it, follows directly from an appreciation that the Church is a people amongst whom the Spirit is active. As does our belief in the Church’s teaching authority.

That is as it should be. But if we are to make present Christ’s prophetic ministry, that cannot just be a matter of celebrating the sacraments, or unpacking scripture. The challenges of reaching out to the margins, of prophetically confronting injustice: these too are ways in which we work with the Spirit to make present Christ and the Kingdom, and we need, I think, to be more open to the Spirit working with us in these ways.

Elijah_HME1

 

Advertisements

Mark and Mary?

We’re nearly back into ordinary time, so I’m nearly back into blogging about Mark’s gospel. Yet there’s a Marian feel to the present time: it’s the month of May and we’re in the novena between Ascension and Pentecost, liturgically at prayer with Mary and the apostles in the cenacle. This has made me think about a potential awkwardness in reading Mark’s gospel with a Catholic devotion to Mary in mind. Not only is the earliest  gospel  near silent on the topic of Jesus’ mother, but in as much as she is mentioned she is, on the face of it, hardly presented in a good light:

 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”  And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

There’s lots to be said here but two things occur to me. First, here as in many other places, we read about Jesus’ relativising ties of familial belonging: something that the puff-cheeked advocates of ‘Christian family values’ have not taken on board. The Kingdom of God demands our all, before it all else takes second place, even the bonds of kinship. But second, if Jesus here calls certain ways of belonging into question, he points to new ones – those that go with participating in the Kingdom of God, doing the will of God.

And it is here, of course, that this passage can be reconciled to Catholic mariology, but not without challenging us. As believers we read Mark’s gospel, not simply as a stand-alone text, but as part of the canon of scripture and in the light of the Church’s faith. So we can see Mary as foremost amongst those who do the will of God. She is, so to speak, Christ’s mother within the new family of God not in virtue of biology but of discipleship (reflection on the Annunciation can help here, I think; and the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception reminds us that, as with everything belonging to the Kingdom, Mary’s discipleship itself is a gift).

It is not clear that the emphasis has always fallen on Mary as a disciple (Christ’s mother in a Marcan sense) rather than on Mary as biological mother, and this has sometimes been tied up with more generally limiting or unhelpful ideas about women. Without for one moment wanting to devalue the biological or bodily (in fact, I think that we can only understand what it is to be bodily in a distinctively human way if we recognise the role of human agency), I think a redressing of the balance is more than overdue. Mary deserves to be given her place at the heart of the community of disciples, as one who shows us what it is to do the will of God and so usher in his Kingdom.