Fr Chris Thomas, a priest of the Liverpool Archdiocese, shares his reflections on what the transformed heart looks like.
By Fr Chris Thomas
When I was a child my nana lived with us. She was bedridden and my mum looked after her. My dad was an alcoholic and when I could not cope with his moods I would run and hide in my nana’s bed and she would read bible stories to me. It was very unusual for a woman born in the 1890’s to read the Bible but Nana did. Even when I lost faith, I would still read the Scriptures because I loved the stories that I found there, and they reminded me of times when I found a little bit of peace in what was sometimes a traumatic childhood. The Scripture stories and nana’s calm presence were pools of light for me in the darkness. There was somewhere I felt safe and stories that comforted me. When God found me, I was fifteen and one of the first things that happened to me was that the Scriptures came alive. The stories that I had read to me for so many years took on new meaning as I discovered the presence of God in and through the Word. I am convinced that through reading and praying the Scriptures we will encounter God in a new way.
The Christian Church believes the Scriptures are the word of God, inspired by the spirit, written by communities of faith to help others on their faith journey; that God speaks to us through them. Every time we read them, God will speak, both challenging us and comforting us. The Scriptures draw us into an encounter with God where we know that God is alive and with us.
For most of us who are Catholic when we think of the presence of God, we think about the Eucharist. We talk of the real presence, but you know the truth is that God is as really present in the Scriptures and in people as God is present in the Eucharist. Every time we read the Word we enter into the presence of God. What do I mean by presence? Well I guess it is that indescribable sense of relationship, where we know by faith that another is walking with us, and addressing us and entering into the reality of our lives.
The Scriptures tell our story, our faith story, the difficulties we have in life, the challenges we have to face, the big questions that we wrestle with. Why am I here? Why do I exist? What’s suffering all about? They reveal the universal patterns of human experience. You know the questions that my mum asked when she was dying in a hospice in 1993 are the same questions that someone dying in first century Palestine would have asked. The Scriptures invite us to reflect on the way in which we love one another, the way we relate to one another and see one another. The Scriptures say to us that loving one another is not about coming to church services; it is about justice, mercy and truth. So pray the Scriptures of the day, the ones usually read at Mass and see what it does for you.
In these days, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on Matthew’s Gospel and particularly the challenge of the beatitudes. Bro Denis was a De La Salle brother in his eighties when I was a youth chaplain in St Helens in the 1980’s. Every week he would say, ‘You know Chris when we get to heaven the only question we will be asked is did you love’, just did you love?
Paul VI in closing the Holy Year of 1975 said that ‘the work of the Church is to create a society of sharing solidarity and love.’ Jesus called this new way of living, the Kingdom of God and it is the heart of his teaching in Matthew’s Gospel. We are invited to allow the Kingdom of God to happen within us and then amongst us so that the world can recognise through our love and service that there is another way of living, which brings life and peace. The beatitudes invite us to know that the Kingdom is proclaimed in the lives of those who know their need of God and who allow gentleness and mercy and forgiveness to touch the lives of others. The Kingdom is proclaimed in the lives of those who hunger and thirst for justice, those who are willing to give their lives away for the sake of others, are single minded about the kingdom and who are fearless in the cause of right. Somehow, we have to allow ourselves to be transformed within so that we can transform the society we live in.
That is what I have wrestled with over these last weeks. What does the transformed heart look like? It looks like the beatitudes! Deep within ourselves we have to know our need of God more than anything else. We are to weep for the world, which is the victim of greed and oppression. I wonder how many of us ignore the structures of injustice and intolerance that are around. We are to hunger and thirst for justice. Gentleness, mercy, forgiveness, love are to flow out of us into the lives around of us. Can we honestly say they do?
If the Church is not radically different from the rest of the world, then we have lost our way and whatever we might be proclaiming it is not the Kingdom of God. If we have sold out to consumerism and power, and the value systems of society, we might satisfy those around us, but we are not proclaiming the Kingdom. If we proclaim a pie in the sky religion, which is just about the next world and has us only involved in the saving of our souls then we might feel good about ourselves, but we are not proclaiming the Kingdom. So, my reflection has made me feel uncomfortable because it will cost us to allow the kingdom to be born within us. It will mean a letting go of what we thought life was about. It can lead us into conflict with those who cling to the ways of the world. We can be ridiculed and persecuted but more than that, it will bring us life, purpose and fulfilment, and it will bring the hope of new life to those around us. Please God it will happen in me and in all of us.
Fr Chris Thomas is a priest of the Liverpool Archdiocese. He has been a full-time youth chaplain, a University chaplain, a Parish Priest and is now the director of the Irenaeus Project. The Project is an attempt to promote the whole area of spirituality for everyone. He is part of the committee for the Catholic network for spirituality and of the Harvesters Men’s steering group as well as representing the diocese at meetings led by the Bishops Conference spirituality group. He has spoken all over the British Isles as well as Ireland and mainland Europe. He is the author of nine books including ‘Love is the Key’, ‘When did we stop skipping?’ and ‘Meta What? He writes regularly for periodicals and magazines. More than anything else Chris loves working with the scriptures and encouraging people to see them in a different way. Chris’s hobbies include reading, music, football and filling his house with so called antiques…others may well say junk!