I have been asked to give retreat talks at three different schools in the past four months on Journeying with God. Whilst I thought initially that COVID was the reason for the topic, upon further inquiry I realized that the teachers and student leadership had found that they have been absent from God and wanted a little taster of what God has to offer before they make any commitment to faith. The notion of ‘I am spiritual but not religious,’ perhaps has changed to ‘Maybe I want to be spiritual and maybe religious’.
So how and where does one start when one gives a talk to a group of people who are on different stages of their faith journey? Easter! Easter gives meaning to everything about our relationship with God. Jesus’ resurrection gives meaning to his life and death. Jesus’ resurrection sets us apart from Jesus but at the same time it binds us together. The resurrection sets us apart because we have not experienced an earthly death, but it binds because the God that can conquer everything including death lives amongst us and holds the keys to every aspect of life. It is for this reason we sing in jubilation at the Easter Vigil, ‘Alleluia! Praise the Lord’, because the Lord has redeemed the world and continues to do so. We celebrate God’s redeeming power.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” [Rev 1:17-18]
We often imagine God, or Jesus for that matter, operating from a distance, listening to our prayers and acting on them accordingly. The essence of Ignatian spirituality is that Jesus is alive and is operating here and now with us. St. Ignatius would put it as, ‘God acts in the manner of one who is labouring.’ (SpEx 236).
Jesus is not foreign to our life experiences – not because he physically lived on earth or is now risen and sits at the Father’s right hand, but because Jesus walks with us our journey. Jesus Christ is a fellow pilgrim. Jesus feels our joys and pains, knows why we want to at times fight or at times take flight. Jesus, who walks beside us in our humanity, has power beyond our temporal understanding.
Jesus’ life, death and resurrection allow for the land that we walk on to be a foretaste of the Kingdom of God. It all begins with loving the risen Lord in the homeless person asking for spare change, the differently abled person applying for a job, the student with learning disabilities disrupting my class, the trans person asking for understanding, and even the foetus that is unable to defend itself. If I love the least of my brothers and sisters, I am building the Kingdom of God in the here and now. I become the hope that Christ offers us.
Easter tasks us to be the hands, feet, ears, mouths and hearts of Jesus in the world regardless of our human story. This Easter, let us ponder – Do I believe that I am made in the image and likeness of God and I am good to be God’s instrument in the world today? Ultimately, do I want to accept the invitation from Jesus to labour with him, to be spiritual and religious?
Fr Ramesh Richards SJ