2020. november 30., hétfő

Depth to Things (Isaiah 11:1-10)

It would be worth having a closer look at the surface of the pieces of furniture and the decorations with which we are surrounded. It seems that there is 'a uniform' our rooms are wearing. The surfaces are nice to the eye. 'Clear' lines, white, almost sterile surfaces. Laminated floors, shiny, nice, but thin, without any depth. Plastic-varnish. A bit like our recent cars. Shiny, metallic imitations these modern car interiors are almost vulgar. These surfaces, if we are critical, only imitate quality. Easily disposable. Light-weight. If they suffer a surface injury that's the end.  

I had a purpose with the above (perhaps exaggerating) description. The modern aesthetics that surround us have another, far more significant, implicit meaning. Their 'sterility' is also a denial. A denial of human vulnerability. They (on our behalf) try to suppress our very nature, that we are vulnerable by time. Mortality and sufferance need to be hidden from our eyes. They would cause anxiety.  

Isaiah's portrait of the Messiah cut through these denials. The 'surface of the Gospel' feels differently. It is time worn, our vulnerability, and weariness is reflected in it. But they reward us with depth. They invite us to accept the depths of our lives. The words of the Gospel want us to be brave, and also proud of, when facing who we really are. Children of time, marked by the scars of our personal and collective history. They are imperatives to see beyond our present, its siren surfaces. 

All what Isaiah says of Him an invitation to genuine depths. For there is authentic power, love, attention and compassion which chooses us. 'A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse… on him the spirit of the Lord rests, a spirit of wisdom and insight, a spirit of counsel and power… He does not judge by appearances, he gives no verdict on hearsay, but judges the wretched with integrity, and with equity gives a verdict t for the poor of the land.'  

In this new light, suddenly, all what surrounds starts regaining their in-depth beauty. Somehow our tings start to last, and lose their 'empty sterility', and more and more reflect us. Our own transformation, when 'our home will be glorious'. 




2020. november 29., vasárnap

His Coming as Real


The Advent season, what happens in it, can be viewed from two aspects. What we do, in terms of our preparation, and what God does. This is a season when we remember Christ's first coming, his birth at Christmas. But with an equal emphasis, we remind ourselves for his second coming as a Judge. 

What God's role in Advent is, is well illustrated, as an analogy, by the contemplative poet, Janos Pilinszky. In a conversation, entitled 'On the Margins of the World', he says about the very ground of his poetry: 'From the beginning in my life I was instinctively interested in things in the world which 'fell outside' from the world. Strictly speaking, my imagination was caught by beings that were exiled to the margins of the world. I felt that if I help them to get back to the heart of the heart of the world, I did something more important than praising those things which enjoyed already attention and had a proven status.' ('On the Margins of the World' in: Beszélgetések Pilinszky Jánossal, Magvető Kiadó, Budapest 1983, p.150) 

What God does, what Jesus does in Advent and on the final Judgement day is captured very well in the role of the poetic attention. God is interested in the ignored details of life. He pays particular attention to those who suffer anonymously, the forgotten, the ignored, what is incomplete in one's life, those situations that can be mended, or when there is no human remedy for a situation. In Advent, he 'wants to take them back to the heart of the world'. To live a life of dignity, attention, being loved and fulfilled, and functional again. And all this is done to enable them for thanksgiving, and to search Him without any handicap. 

So, our task seems straightforward. First, we need to contemplate God in this work, and then, try to imitate Him. By reconnecting what is 'dead', ignored, unexamined, uncorrected in us to 'heart' of payer, the miracle of Advent will happen. Namely, both our lives and the world become real, more real, step by step. 

 The second inspiration for our Advent preparation I am drawing on is a historical homily by John Henry Newman. Already its title is inspiring: 'Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off' (Isaiah 37:17) This homily was written in an age a good hundred years before the internet. When we read it, it is striking how real this Second Doming is! And how compelling is the task to prepare ourselves for this life-defining personal encounter. It is not a poetic imagination to say with Newman: Christ second coming is taking place in our life. It is going to happen soon, in our lives. It is a real event. We are going to see our Lord soon. It is a real return; it is going to happen in this advent season. Let us savour the weight of this statement. 

If this return is real, Newman suggests that we should take very seriously the means of preparation which God offers to us. This is worship. 'This indeed is the most momentous reason for religious worship. [People] sometimes ask, Why need they profess religion? Why need they go to church? Why need they observe certain rites and ceremonies? Why need they watch, pray, fast, and meditate? Why is it not enough to be just, honest, sober, benevolent, and otherwise virtuous?...Why must they be partakers in what the Church calls Sacraments?' Newman in answering this says that all this is for a simple reason. We are 'one day to change our state of being. We are not to be here for ever. Direct intercourse with God on our part now, prayer and the like, may be necessary to our meeting Him suitably hereafter.  And direct intercourse on His part with us, or what we call sacramental communion, bay be necessary in some incomprehensible way, even for preparing our very nature to bear the sight of Him.' He asks, 'what it would be to meet Christ at once, without preparation?' When his glory was suddenly manifested to the Apostles, they could not stay in his presence. 'Depart from me, form I am a sinful man, O Lord' said Saint Peter. And St John, 'when he saw Him, fell at His feet as dead.' 

So let us appreciate the time of preparation which we have been given. And let us be challenged and inspired by these words of Newman's sermon: 'Christ does not visibly show Himself. He has put a veil on, and He sits among us silently and secretly.' How does this poetic line influence your preparation? How can it alter the course of your actions? How will you act differently, and respond to this real presence? 


John Henry Newman: Sermon 1. Worship, a Preparation for Christ's Coming


"Thine eyes shall see the King in his beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off." Isaiah xxxiii. 17. 

[Note] {1} YEAR after year, as it passes, brings us the same warnings again and again, and none perhaps more impressive than those with which it comes to us at this season. The very frost and cold, rain and gloom, which now befall us, forebode the last dreary days of the world, and in religious hearts raise the thought of them. The year is worn out: spring, summer, autumn, each in turn, have brought their gifts and done their utmost; but they are over, and the end is come. All is past and gone, all has failed, all has sated; we are tired of the past; we would not have the seasons longer; and the austere weather which succeeds, though ungrateful to the body, is in tone with our feelings, and acceptable. Such is the frame of mind which befits the end of the year; and such the frame of mind which comes alike on good and bad at the end of life. The days have {2} come in which they have no pleasure; yet they would hardly be young again, could they be so by wishing it. Life is well enough in its way; but it does not satisfy. Thus the soul is cast forward upon the future, and in proportion as its conscience is clear and its perception keen and true, does it rejoice solemnly that "the night is far spent, the day is at hand," that there are "new heavens and a new earth" to come, though the former are failing; nay, rather that, because they are failing, it will "soon see the King in His beauty," and "behold the land which is very far off." These are feelings for holy men in winter and in age, waiting, in some dejection perhaps, but with comfort on the whole, and calmly though earnestly, for the Advent of Christ. 

And such, too, are the feelings with which we now come before Him in prayer day by day. The season is chill and dark, and the breath of the morning is damp, and worshippers are few, but all this befits those who are by profession penitents and mourners, watchers and pilgrims. More dear to them that loneliness, more cheerful that severity, and more bright that gloom, than all those aids and appliances of luxury by which men nowadays attempt to make prayer less disagreeable to them. True faith does not covet comforts. It only complains when it is forbidden to kneel, when it reclines upon cushions, is protected by curtains, and encompassed by warmth. Its only hardship is to be hindered, or to be ridiculed, when it would place itself as a sinner before its Judge. They who realize that awful Day when they shall see Him face to face, whose {3} eyes are as a flame of fire, will as little bargain to pray pleasantly now, as they will think of doing so then. 

One year goes and then another, but the same warnings recur. The frost or the rain comes again; the earth is stripped of its brightness; there is nothing to rejoice in. And then, amid this unprofitableness of earth and sky, the well-known words return; the Prophet Isaiah is read; the same Epistle and Gospel, bidding us "awake out of sleep," and welcome Him "that cometh in the Name of the Lord;" the same Collects, beseeching Him to prepare us for judgment. O blessed they who obey these warning voices, and look out for Him whom they have not seen, because they "love His appearing!" 

We cannot have fitter reflections at this Season than those which I have entered upon. What may be the destiny of other orders of beings we know not;—but this we know to be our own fearful lot, that before us lies a time when we must have the sight of our Maker and Lord face to face. We know not what is reserved for other beings; there may be some, which, knowing nothing of their Maker, are never to be brought before Him. For what we can tell, this may be the case with the brute creation. It may be the law of their nature that they should live and die, or live on an indefinite period, upon the very outskirts of His government, sustained by Him, but never permitted to know or approach Him. But this is not our case. We are destined to come before Him; nay, and to come before Him in judgment; and that on our first meeting; and that suddenly. We are not merely to be rewarded or {4} punished, we are to be judged. Recompense is to come upon our actions, not by a mere general provision or course of nature, as it does at present, but from the Lawgiver Himself in person. We have to stand before His righteous Presence, and that one by one. One by one we shall have to endure His holy and searching eye. At present we are in a world of shadows. What we see is not substantial. Suddenly it will be rent in twain and vanish away, and our Maker will appear. And then, I say, that first appearance will be nothing less than a personal intercourse between the Creator and every creature. He will look on us, while we look on Him. 

I need hardly quote any of the numerous passages of Scripture which tell us this, by way of proof; but it may impress the truth of it upon our hearts to do so. We are told then expressly, that good and bad shall see God. On the one hand holy Job says, "Though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another." On the other hand unrighteous Balaam says, "I shall see Him, but not now; I shall behold Him, but not nigh; there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel." Christ says to His disciples, "Look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh;" and to His enemies, "Hereafter ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." And it is said generally of all men, on the one hand, "Behold He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall {5} see Him, and they also which pierced Him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him." And on the other, "When He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is." Again, "Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:" and again, "They shall see His face; and His Name shall be in their foreheads." [Job xix. 26, 27. Numb. xxiv. 17. Luke xxi. 28. Matt. xxvi. 64. Rev. i. 7. 1 John iii. 2. 1 Cor. xiii. 12. Rev. xxii. 4.] 

And, as they see Him, so will He see them, for His coming will be to judge them. "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ," says St. Paul. Again, "We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God." And again, "When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy Angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory. And before Him shall be gathered all nations; and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats." [2 Cor. v. 10. Rom. xiv. 10-12. Matt. xxv. 31, 32.] 

Such is our first meeting with our God; and, I say, it will be as sudden as it is intimate. "Yourselves know perfectly," says St. Paul, "that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them." This is said of the wicked,—elsewhere He is said to surprise good as well as bad. "While the Bridegroom tarried," the wise and foolish {6} virgins "all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet Him." [1 Thess. v. 2, 3. Matt. xxv. 5, 6.] 

Now, when this state of the case, the prospect which lies before us, is brought home to our thoughts, surely it is one which will lead us anxiously to ask, Is this all that we are told, all that is allowed to us, or done for us? Do we know only this, that all is dark now, and all will be light then; that now God is hidden, and one day will be revealed? that we are in a world of sense, and are to be in a world of spirits? For surely it is our plain wisdom, our bounden duty, to prepare for this great change;—and if so, are any directions, hints, or rules given us how we are to prepare? "Prepare to meet thy God," "Go ye out to meet Him," is the dictate of natural reason, as well as of inspiration. But how is this to be? 

Now observe, that it is scarcely a sufficient answer to this question to say that we must strive to obey Him, and so to approve ourselves to Him. This indeed might be enough, were reward and punishment to follow in the mere way of nature, as they do in this world. But, when we come steadily to consider the matter, appearing before God, and dwelling in His presence, is a very different thing from being merely subjected to a system of moral laws, and would seem to require another preparation, a special preparation of thought and affection, such as will enable us to endure His countenance, and to hold communion with Him as we ought. Nay, and, it may be, a preparation of {7} the soul itself for His presence, just as the bodily eye must be exercised in order to bear the full light of day, or the bodily frame in order to bear exposure to the air. 

But, whether or not this be safe reasoning, Scripture precludes the necessity of it, by telling us that the Gospel Covenant is intended, among its other purposes, to prepare us for this future glorious and wonderful destiny, the sight of God,—a destiny which, if not most glorious, will be most terrible. And in the worship and service of Almighty God, which Christ and His Apostles have left to us, we are vouchsafed means, both moral and mystical, of approaching God, and gradually learning to bear the sight of Him. 

This indeed is the most momentous reason for religious worship, as far as we have grounds for considering it a true one. Men sometimes ask, Why need they profess religion? Why need they go to church? Why need they observe certain rites and ceremonies? Why need they watch, pray, fast, and meditate? Why is it not enough to be just, honest, sober, benevolent, and otherwise virtuous? Is not this the true and real worship of God? Is not activity in mind and conduct the most acceptable way of approaching Him? How can they please Him by submitting to certain religious forms, and taking part in certain religious acts? Or if they must do so, why may they not choose their own? Why must they come to church for them? Why must they be partakers in what the Church calls Sacraments? I answer, they must do so, first of all and especially, because God tells them so to do. But besides this, I observe that we see this plain reason {8} why, that they are one day to change their state of being. They are not to be here for ever. Direct intercourse with God on their part now, prayer and the like, may be necessary to their meeting Him suitably hereafter: and direct intercourse on His part with them, or what we call sacramental communion, may be necessary in some incomprehensible way, even for preparing their very nature to bear the sight of Him. 

Let us then take this view of religious service; it is "going out to meet the Bridegroom," who, if not seen "in His beauty," will appear in consuming fire. Besides its other momentous reasons, it is a preparation for an awful event, which shall one day be. What it would be to meet Christ at once without preparation, we may learn from what happened even to the Apostles when His glory was suddenly manifested to them. St. Peter said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." And St. John, "when he saw Him, fell at His feet as dead." [Luke v. 8. Rev. i. 17.] 

This being the case, it is certainly most merciful in God to vouchsafe to us the means of preparation, and such means as He has actually appointed. When Moses came down from the Mount, and the people were dazzled at his countenance, he put a veil over it. That veil is so far removed in the Gospel, that we are in a state of preparation for its being altogether removed. We are with Moses in the Mount so far, that we have a sight of God; we are with the people beneath it so far, that Christ does not visibly show Himself. He has put a veil on, and He sits among us silently and secretly. {9} When we approach Him, we know it only by faith; and when He manifests Himself to us, it is without our being able to realize to ourselves that manifestation. 

Such then is the spirit in which we should come to all His ordinances, considering them as anticipations and first-fruits of that sight of Him which one day must be. When we kneel down in prayer in private, let us think to ourselves, Thus shall I one day kneel down before His very footstool, in this flesh and this blood of mine; and He will be seated over against me, in flesh and blood also, though divine. I come, with the thought of that awful hour before me, I come to confess my sin to Him now, that He may pardon it then, and I say, "O Lord, Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, in the hour of death and in the day of judgment, deliver us, O Lord!" 

Again, when we come to church, then let us say:—The day will be when I shall see Christ surrounded by His Holy Angels. I shall be brought into that blessed company, in which all will be pure, all bright. I come then to learn to endure the sight of the Holy One and His Servants; to nerve myself for a vision which is fearful before it is ecstatic, and which they only enjoy whom it does not consume. When men in this world have to undergo any great thing, they prepare themselves beforehand, by thinking often of it, and they call this making up their mind. Any unusual trial they thus make familiar to them. Courage is a necessary step in gaining certain goods, and courage is gained by steady thought. Children are scared, and close their eyes, at the vision of some mighty warrior {10} or glorious king. And when Daniel saw the Angel, like St. John, "his comeliness was turned in him into corruption, and he retained no strength." [Dan. x. 8.] I come then to church, because I am an heir of heaven. It is my desire and hope one day to take possession of my inheritance: and I come to make myself ready for it, and I would not see heaven yet, for I could not bear to see it. I am allowed to be in it without seeing it, that I may learn to see it. And by psalm and sacred song, by confession and by praise, I learn my part. 

And what is true of the ordinary services of religion, public and private, holds in a still higher or rather in a special way, as regards the sacramental ordinances of the Church. In these is manifested in greater or less degree, according to the measure of each, that Incarnate Saviour, who is one day to be our Judge, and who is enabling us to bear His presence then, by imparting it to us in measure now. A thick black veil is spread between this world and the next. We mortal men range up and down it, to and fro, and see nothing. There is no access through it into the next world. In the Gospel this veil is not removed; it remains, but every now and then marvellous disclosures are made to us of what is behind it. At times we seem to catch a glimpse of a Form which we shall hereafter see face to face. We approach, and in spite of the darkness, our hands, or our head, or our brow, or our lips become, as it were, sensible of the contact of something more than earthly. We know not where we are, but we have been bathing in water, and a voice tells us that it is blood. {11} Or we have a mark signed upon our foreheads, and it spake of Calvary. Or we recollect a hand laid upon our heads, and surely it had the print of nails in it, and resembled His who with a touch gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. Or we have been eating and drinking; and it was not a dream surely, that One fed us from His wounded side, and renewed our nature by the heavenly meat He gave. Thus in many ways He, who is Judge to us, prepares us to be judged,—He, who is to glorify us, prepares us to be glorified, that He may not take us unawares; but that when the voice of the Archangel sounds, and we are called to meet the Bridegroom, we may be ready. 

Now consider what light these reflections throw upon some remarkable texts in the Epistle to the Hebrews. If we have in the Gospel this supernatural approach to God and to the next world, no wonder that St. Paul calls it an "enlightening," "a tasting of the heavenly gift," a being "made partaker of the Holy Ghost," a "tasting of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come." No wonder, too, that utter apostasy after receiving it should be so utterly hopeless; and that in consequence, any profanation of it, any sinning against it, should be so perilous in proportion to its degree. If He, who is to be our Judge, condescend here to manifest Himself to us, surely if that privilege does not fit us for His future glory, it does but prepare us for His wrath. 

And what I have said concerning Ordinances, applies still more fully to Holy Seasons, which include in them the celebration of many Ordinances. They are times {12} when we may humbly expect a larger grace, because they invite us especially to the means of grace. This in particular is a time for purification of every kind. When Almighty God was to descend upon Mount Sinai, Moses was told to "sanctify the people," and bid them "wash their clothes," and to "set bounds to them round about:" much more is this a season for "cleansing ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God;" [Exod. xix. 10-12. 2 Cor. xii. 1.] a season for chastened hearts and religious eyes; for severe thoughts, and austere resolves, and charitable deeds; a season for remembering what we are and what we shall be. Let us go out to meet Him with contrite and expectant hearts; and though He delays His coming, let us watch for Him in the cold and dreariness which must one day have an end. Attend His summons we must, at any rate, when He strips us of the body; let us anticipate, by a voluntary act, what will one day come on us of necessity. Let us wait for Him solemnly, fearfully, hopefully, patiently, obediently; let us be resigned to His will, while active in good works. Let us pray Him ever, to "remember us when He cometh in His kingdom;" to remember all our friends; to remember our enemies; and to visit us according to His mercy here, that He may reward us according to His righteousness hereafter. 

2020. november 26., csütörtök



'….It is he that deadeth unto me wisdom, and directeth the wise. For in his hand are both we and our words; all wisdom also, and knowdedge of workmanship…For wisdom is more moving than any notion: she passeth and goeth through all things by reason of her pureness' (Wisdom 7,15-8,4) 

Religion is easily bypassed by our ultra-smart world, the 'know-how' of a modern society which has complex organisational skills. As if in a harbour, many flagships of this complex fleet (let's call it today's culture) are parading proudly under their flags. What is ignored is the 'letter' of the Sacred Scriptures, religious wisdom.  

However, if one leans over these sacred pages (visible and invisible, as verbal tradition, and the practical life style, the morality of the faithful are also included) we can clearly detect the origin of all what we know and deploy. Our 'science and technology based' culture is coming from these deep-roots. I am time and again spellbound by the analytical skills of these sacred authors. There is such an in-depth, multi-faceted assessment of human history, which contains, in an embryonic form, the later analytical mindset of sciences. The key is: bravely facing reality as it is. We can observe the same 'reality probing' in the secondary texts of Judaeo-Christian religious literature. The minute-detail discussions of issues of life in rabbinic literature, or, the doctors of the church when x-raying the 'moral lung' of the present times. 'And in all ages entering into holy souls, she maketh them friends of God, and prophets.' Friends of reality.  

On the threshold of closing the church year, when our focus is Christ the King of the Universe, it is worth re-anchoring ourselves in the bottom-rock of all reality, God's Wisdom. It will - surely - fertilise what we know about the world, and how our knowledge should be deployed. Not only in the service of our own interests, but in the interest of all. Animals, humans, and the created world – the whole life of planet Earth. Thus, let us be rooted. 



2020. november 24., kedd

Being Made Whole















'And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and read the book, neither to look thereon. And one of he elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.' (Rev 5:3-5) 

Let us imagine our life centered on this promise of salvation. The centrifugal forces of life are carrying us away from this centre, time and again. When one is young, nothing is observed from this. Reaching middle age, and further, we share John's sentiment. We are weeping much over what was wasted in our life. There is so much time, indeed, which we could have used much better. There is so much lost for ever, and those days, weeks, months, years, and decades will never come back. This is our existential weeping on the threshold of (our) final Judgement. 

Who can give us back this lost integrity? 'Weep not: behold the Lion of the tribe of Juda!' He alone can open us again into that lost parallel life of Love. Not that we can live anew, and take those paths which we should have taken. But there will be, let's hope, a vision of that life, for which it is worth undergoing purification and repentance. Let this cinema of our 'second life' bring about a reawakening. Still there is time to recuperate our strength - and live a fuller life till Judgement comes. 



2020. november 23., hétfő

Pain and Consolation
















The book of Revelation contains an experience that resonates with all ages of intense suffering, or with ones that felt under tremendous pressure. What consolations can the book of the Apocalypse offer to our present anxieties, in the time of Covid 19?  

What strikes us is that John's are not feverish visions. The dynamic images of a world, shaken to its core, feel amazingly objective. They are indeed accounts and sensitive observations of thereal from within the imaginary. So, they send us the consoling message that there is an order, sustained by God, even in the midst of the most chaotic free fall ('history's falling apart'). I would like to read this as a consoling message for our age. Covid-19, with all the pain it has created, is only the surface. It is a genuine wound, but this wound should not be totalised. Underneath this exterior there is our world, which wishes to continue. 

Let us note, however, that it is not a naïve continuation. There is no way of return to a happy life that would never know about the global pandemic that stuck us. The continuation is in Revelations' terms. 'I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it; for thou hast a little strength, and has kept my word, and hast not denied my name.'  

It is a consolation for Christians. There is recovery and healing from where we are now; but only if we kept our faith. However week we have become, does not matter, even if our faith exists only as a thin pilot light. The effort to cling to our hope will allow us to rebuild the wings of our souls. Pain in our present history is always underpinned by divine consolation. We will go through this apocalyptic storm under one condition. If we repent. 'Is many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore and repent. I stand at the door, and knock.' 




2020. november 19., csütörtök



'Is there anyone worthy to open the scroll and break the seals of it?' But there was no one, in heaven or on the earth or under the earth, who was able to open the scroll and read it. I wept bitterly because there was nobody fit to open the scroll and read it, but one of the elders said to me, 'There is no need to cry: the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed, and he will open the scroll and the seven seals of it.' (Apocalypse 5:1-10) 

Wonderful and consoling words. They speak with relevance about mission. Often, when we feel inadequate to produce visible growth, this vision comes to our help. When 'nobody is able to open the scroll', when we cannot find answers, have no resources, or the right action - no worries. We need to step back, and recognise who is the source of our efforts.  

Amidst our present ordeals 'there is no need to cry'. Our failure is transient in the light of Christ. 'He will open the scroll and the seven seals of it.' It is a powerful reminder: the ultimate source of our actions is the coming, fulfilled life of the Church. Failure and success, stagnation and growth both teach us that the Christian mission is rooted in the life of Heaven. This is the 'time', for which we have no tense and grammatical construct. The book of the Apocalypse presents us with it, demonstrates its existence. Let us be challenged by this experience, which is beyond words, but never out of reach. 



2020. november 17., kedd

Two Films (Apocalypse 1:1-4,2:1-5)


Reading the book of the Apocalypse in these last weeks of the church year, an image comes to mind. This is machine in the engine room of an old-fashioned cinema. From the good old days, we can recall the sound of the old celluloid film. So reading the Apocalypse is like playing two celluloid films on the same machine. The two tapes are inserted into the machine at the same time. 'This is the revelation given by God to Jesus Christ so that he could tell his servants about the things which are now to take place very soon…' (Apocalypse 1:1) Powerful images from this 'last tape'. They give hope and encouragement amidst persecutions. They assure us that the final victory is that of the Lamb. 

While this powerful film of our faith is running, I would like us to see what is on the second tape, that of our lives. The Apocalypse shows the big picture. Our ultimate battle from a bird's eye view, from above. However, for God, the parallel film is equally important. Our banal going and coming. Let us try to relate to the powerful symbols of the Apocalypse the week-days of ours. What are doing right now - attending our children, watching telly at the end of a tiring day is part of that big picture. The more powerful and dramatic these images are, the more our God is interested in our present. How our present life unfolds. How our particular life is becoming one with these ultimate events at the End of Times. 'I know all about you… Know too, that you have patience, and have suffered for my name without growing tired.' This conversation between Heaven and Earth is about us. It is about our present journey, about the state of love in us. 'I have this complaint to make; you have less love now than you used to. Think where you were before you fell; repent, and do as you used to at first.' It is so wonderful to realise that actually, in this very request, there are indeed two films being played. Where we are now; and where we can be taken by the Spirit. 




2020. november 15., vasárnap












How could we sum up the good news of salvation in one sentence? Just imagine Jesus visiting each one of us and saying: 'You are extraordinarily talented!' Let us imagine, how this would change for good the life of a kid, a teenager, or an adult with low self-esteem. Think of a low achieving child in the classroom; or someone ignored in the workplace. 'You are extraordinarily talented!' This positive encouragement would bring to fruition all our gifts, of which we are even not aware of.  

Actually, Jesus tells each of us, 'you are extraordinarily talented', in a different sense. The parable of the talents draws our attention to this very fact. We are given the extraordinary gift of being a Christian! God, as we read in Matthew's Gospel, 'summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them.' (Matthew 25:14) Each one of us are given talents, according to our ability. This is such good news. There is a part of the Kingdom of God, which can flourish only through your work. We are needed, individually, to bring its life to fruition, where we are, right now.  

Let us think about this chance. With these tasks we are given a ray of God's inner, eternal life. Without this Christian task we would be lacking in spiritual power. We would be left to ourselves; we would know nothing of the unseen world. Marked by 'God's talents', however, our soul has a talent to heavenly things, an inclination to love. 'Sir, you entrusted me with five talents; here are five more that I have made.' See, we are never lost in life, we are never lost in the Kingdom of Heaven if our source is our Lord's love for us: 'you are extraordinarily talented!'  

The destiny of the lazy servant is heartbreaking. He buried his gifts for the sake of something else. He thinks that he lives, but in God's sight he is dead. There is no life in his response either. It is only a cheap self-excuse, not even worth considering. He refused to be the partner and the image of God. And his punishment is deeply symbolic. If people forget that they are talented (tasked by God, employed by God), as a corporate act, it has fatal consequences. John Henry Newman's inviting his listeners at the time to opt for the life of the soul is equally timing today. He called for facing the opposite alternative when he said: 'Now reflect on the terrible state of the world in detail.' 

But today, let us reflect on the beauty and goodness, which we can bring about. I have a photo in front of me, as an illustration. This is the decoration of the wall in Rugrat's Nursery on 'Graduation Day', when the 5 year old leave. On that day, the little ones, are told the same Gospel-sentence, in their own language: 'go, you are extraordinarily talented!' And they leave, for year one, and embark on life's journey to prove their talents. 

Let us think and pray about the situations, places, persons, those particular parts of the Kingdom of God, which are waiting for our talents to be acted out. Remember, what he said? 'You are extraordinarily talented.' And now in the words of the Gospel he repeats it in these words: 'Well done, god and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master's happiness.' 



2020. november 14., szombat


There is a sudden constellation of themes, which connects, in a surprising way Leviticus with today's Gospel. 'Carrying' surfaces in three different meanings. The Leviticus with all its gloom can be summed up in terms of 'carrying the inevitable weights of live.' Here, life itself appears as an unbearable burden. There is no one to give support, there is none to carry our burdens.  

Then, we can see Joseph of Arimathea, who 'went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus.' (Luke 23:52) He takes, and carries the body of Jesus to the tomb. Previously, we already saw him at the scene of the Pieta. There, when Jesus was taken from the cross, the body of Christ was supported by Mary, and Joseph of Arimathea. We can attach to this theme of 'carrying' Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus to carry his cross. 

Finally, in throughout the scenes of the Passion in Luke's account, we saw the Son of Man, carrying our sins. The full weight of humankind. 

What a profound theme, how these forms of 'carrying', their meanings, intersect. Leviticus sheds light on how futile it is to hope in our own 'gods' that they might carry us when life becomes tough. His pessimistic view of life is a judgement on the power of our 'idol-gods'. His realism repeats the profound theological insight of the Old Testament. When people were taken to exile, and had to flee, they carried them with themselves. They hoped for their help. But actually, these heavy idols, literally, became a burden to their worshipers. Carrying these false gods (false hopes) became pain and vexation. Instead of removing weariness from the people, they became the very source of weariness. Instead of rescuing their worshipers from exile, they are carried off into an existential exile. The Leviticus shows the nature and the futility of this overburdened journey.  

Simon of Cyrene, and Joseph of Arimathea start carrying the true God. The spell that paralysed Leviticus is immediately over; they will feel it soon. However, the real focus is how we are being carried, with all our weight, by the Loving God. In the Passion, the theological genius of the Old Testament culminates. In the person of Jesus, we are carried back, where we should be. Into God's outpouring life; where there are no false gods which could weight us down. 



2020. november 12., csütörtök

Passion and Freedom


'Man makes his own life complex.' This sentence echoes in me from yesterday's Lectio Divina. I could not remember it exactly, so I looked it up: 'Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.' (Eccl 7:29) We indeed have the ability to create diversity, and multiple choices. The question, however, remains. Do our inventions, in the end, create more options, and enhance our freedom? Or, as Ecclesiastes reached the conclusion, just the opposite. We only get entangled in our cleverness. Our magnificent technical inventions, the book warns, only create the illusion of freedom. Well, we should not forget that Ecclesiastes is a 'closed system'. Liberation remains out of reach. Redemption is only hoped for, it is unimaginably distant.  

Today's Gospel, the passion of Christ, gives us a not easy answer. Yes, regaining our freedom is possible. We don't have to deny our ability to create. Regaining control over the milliard fragments of life, can be achieved. However, this re-focusing is possible only through our compassionate turn to Christ's Passion. Jesus' trial and redeeming death gives back all our lost freedoms. This freedom is not salvation. The misunderstanding that we can redeem ourselves is our fatal delusion. We need our freedom - our 'inventions' - in order to respond to what Jesus did for us with our whole being. With our total history. This Passion alone can counteract the centrifugal forces, upon which forces' cross, our 'cleverness' put us. Without the Passion, we remain perpetuated in endless suffering. Or, if the horizon of Ecclesiastes is made whole again, in endless joy. Perhaps, this is expressed so mysteriously, in Lajos Vajda's enigmatic painting from 1942, 'Moon in Sunshine'. 



2020. november 11., szerda

An Angel to Encourage


'And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him' (Luke 22:43) 

We are always in a situation when we need the support of that angel. Whether we are aware of it or not, that very angel is continuously on our side. We humans just don't have the nerve to face the shivering fact: without that angel, we could easily disappear into nothingness. The world, as it is, without that Angel, should not be here. When disaster strikes, in that moment we start appreciating that mysterious presence.  

This presence, however, is tremendously positive. If we exhaust this positive energy - grace - we can build and make our world grow. Where love is cultivated, this world is put into a better place, by us. Its chances for the above-mentioned survival will increase. So, this is a positive reading of the angelic presence that Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane. Actually, on the Mount of Olives, in those moment of consolation, it was the angel of Love, with all its positivity to lead Jesus. Let us be led by this supportive Sun. 



2020. november 10., kedd

Good News that Breaks the Cycle

 The pessimism of Ecclasiastes keeps haunting us. It is amazing how one can be engulfed by the lack of hope. Repetition of misfortune, like a Beckettian endgame is around the corner. Yet, there is a tremendous value in these observations. A generation can be marked by history's coercion. There are times when history makes feel its full weights. The danger is if these scars go too deep, and become a trans-generational trauma.  

In this time of Covid 19, we have experienced something similar. The intensity of this experience is striking. Only within couple of months we experience losses and anxieties of long years, like in the case of a world war.  

That's why it was so so beautiful to hear that the redeeming vaccine is working, and is close at hand. This breaking of news changed the whole closed horizon around us. Colours have changed, emotions got reverted. Light is felt, hope, like morning has broken!  

As Christians, our call is to trace the root of this and similar game-changer good news. If the vaccine indeed arrives, and healing comes, if we recognize how it is part of God's providence, our joy will be doubled. We shall be able to look back to what had happened, to our present ordeals, as something already under the pressure of grace. 'But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not by and by.' (Luke 21:9) For God's love, human history, is never an impenetrable wall. Never an endless cycle of pain and lost orientation. Let us contemplate, in the announced good news about the medication, the widening circles of our coming Redemption. Beyond its contours, let us see our joyful encounter with the returning Christ. 



Jónás jele (’túlizgatottság’)


'A ininvei férfiak feltámadnak az ítéletkor ezzel a nezedékkel, és elítélik, mert ők megtértek Jónás prédikálására: de íme, itt nagyobb van Jónásnál' (Luke 11:32) 

Sok időt töltöttünk a szavak keresésével, mint 'posztmodern', 'késő-modernitás', és így tovább. S mind több új név kínálja magát, hogy leírjuk világunk változását, ami mindennapi tapasztalatunk. Egészen találó például 'Covid-19 előtti' és 'Covid-19 utáni' világról beszélni. 

A Szentírás e választékossággal szemben jóval koncentráltabb. A biblia tapasztalatában nincsenek cezúrák vagy hirtelen újrakezdések. Horizontja egyetlen, folytonos kibontakozás. A mai szakasz világossá teszi: Jónás után csak 'megtérő' vagy a megtérést visszautasító kultúráról beszélhetünk. Eredetünk, bukásra való hajlamunk miatt, Ninive. Ninive tökéletesen modellezi, az előttünk álló út vagy megtérés vagy elítéltetés. E tapasztalat nem enged okoskodó önfelmentést, vagy bújócskát a szavakban. Hacsak, eze az új nevek, mellyel megpróbáljuk leírni a kort, közelebb nem visznek a megtéréshez. 

Ha valaki mégis találni akar egy alkalmas kifejezést, van egy egészen pontos megoldás. Miért ne neveznénk korunkat így: 'izgatottság után.' S ennek valóban köze van a megtéréshez, nem is kicsit. Mert a megtérés alapfeltétele a vágyakozás képessége. A vágy valamire, valamit tenni, valamit élvezni, hogy valakivel együtt legyünk, aki számunkra a komplementer 'Másik.' Egyszóval, szükségünk van vágyni a Szentre. 

Korunk maga épp ezt veszítette el, az 'izgalmat' magát. Az elmúlt néhány évtizedben, mint kultúra, végletesen túl-izgattuk magunkat. Mint a késő-római orgiák résztvevői. Számukra már nem volt semmi motiváló, senki követendő, semmi, ami ébredést adott volna. 'Jónás szavára megtértek.' Igen, Ninivében még meg volt a vágy éljen. De a fordulópont után, a vágy elvesztése, hogy jobb önmagunkká váljunk, arányos az Ítélettel.  

Mégis, épp mai idézetünk mutatja, van egy utolsó reménysugár. Ez képes újraindítani szívünk fotoszintézisét, ha élünk ösztönzésével. Nem, ez nem 'csali'. Jézus sem annak szánta hallgatóságához szólva. Megváltást és gyógyulást hordoznak záró szavai. Mint egy a kimerült ('túl-izgatott') szívnek küldött végső mentő-jel. Ízleljük, hogy telünk meg reménnyel, miközben befogadjuk e bátorítást: 'De íme, itt nagyobb van Jónásná.l' 



2020. november 9., hétfő

Eyes That Have Seen Too Much


Gábor Bálint 'Médiumkísérlet/ Mítoszteremtés' (1986)

All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.' (Ecclesiastes 1:8)  

Another way of describing our age is through the human eye. Recently, we speak of the 'ecological footprint' which denotes the overconsumption of Earth's resources. A kind of mirror image to this is 'the over-consuming eye.' The powerful king in Ecclesiastes is profoundly unhappy, because he had seen too much. All possible richness, physical and spiritual, has overflown through his eyes. Through that eye which is regarded as the organ of 'possession'. For we own the world through vision. The most powerful organ of manipulation and source of insatiable desire.  

'I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine… and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life…I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces… So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem.' (Ecclesiastes 2:3-9) 

Ours is an age of the tired eye. The problem is not simply that it is exhausted, but the exhaustion of our imagination, and the visions of hope. We no longer have a hopeful eye, a humble eye, a searching eye. Instead, our eye has become that of a colonist. In the end, we ourselves became colonised by what we amassed and possessed.  

In the end, it is true that unexamined life leads to depression. Un-processed visions, the eye over-flooded with images and information, lead to the melancholy to which the unhappy king of Ecclesiastes gives voice. 'And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind.' (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11) 

Mihail Bulgakov said somewhere that there are no longer angels, only demons have been trumpeting. Actually, it was his diagnosis of how state atheism transformed Russia in the aftermath of the Soviet Revolution. But in our own age, is it voice of the demons of acedia, which has the final word? We Christians are always in protest against this. Yes, we can recognise the pain of Ecclesiastes in us. We must be honest that our vision is wounded. Yet, is not this malady of our eye, is the birth of a new monastic focusing? Is not it a turn to not what we have seen, but to what we have ignored to see?