European Meeting in Taizé and online

Meditations and Bible reflections


Thursday 30 December | Bible introduction of Brother John on Psalm 96

All of us ask ourselves, at one time or another, what is the use of praying?

Jesus tells us that God knows what we need, even before we ask. And yet at the same time, he says to us, “Ask and you will receive.”

And what about prayers of praise and thanksgiving: what can the hymns we sing possibly add to God? Does God need our appreciation?

To answer these questions, we need to understand more deeply who God is and in what God’s love consists.

The Bible reveals to us a God who is caring and compassionate, full of faithful love for his creation. And the Gospel even goes a step further: in it, we learn that God IS love.
But what is love? True love certainly means giving of ourselves, taking care of others and responding to their needs. Yes, all that is important, but it does not go far enough.
Divine love goes even further: it wishes to make the loved one into a true partner, so that an authentic relationship becomes possible. It does not want to keep the other in a state of passivity, or immaturity, by simply doing things for us. It wants to raise the beloved to a state in which they can truly respond to the love they have been given, by loving in return.

We can see something of this in our own lives. Parents who simply give their children everything they need or want may keep them in a state of immaturity and dependency
Parents who truly love their children want them to grow, so that they may be able to make their own decisions and be able to pass on the love they have received to others in their turn, perhaps one day to their own children.

In his first letter, Saint John speaks twice of a love which has “reached perfection” (1 John 25; 4:17). By this he means a love which makes the loved one into a being capable of responding with love in his or her turn. The goal of God’s love, incredible as it may seem, is to transform us into beings who are on the same level, beings able to love as God loves. That is why John always speaks of “loving one another”; for him, perfect love can never be a one-way street.

That is the meaning of Christian prayer: to close the circle, to give back to God what God has given us. We can do this by asking actively for what we need, in that way we use our intelligence to collaborate with God. Or—even more importantly—we close the circle by thanking and praising God for what we have received. It that way our gifts do not remain sterile, but bear fruit in our lives.

In the reading we read this morning, we see this kind of prayer in Jesus’s own life. Jesus blesses (in other words praises, thanks) his Abba for the blessing received. And this blessing is essentially that the Father has granted a relationship with himself not to those who are extraordinary in human terms but to the “little ones,” those who are “gentle and humble of heart” like Jesus, those who are able to receive.

From the very depths of the human condition, then, Jesus allows a prayer to rise up to God, creating a communion between God and God’s creation. This is what the psalm we sang today, Psalm 96, calls the “new song”: “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!”

This song is new not because the words are different, but because it arises out of the new thing God does in Jesus, sending his Holy Spirit to bring everything to life once again. The Bible sometimes calls this a “new creation.”

The psalm invites not just human beings, but the sky, the earth and the sea and all that is in them to praise God for what God has done. It depicts a world where heaven and earth are joined together in an unbreakable bond. This bond was already proclaimed by the angels at the birth of Jesus: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, shalom, to all the objects of God’s love” (Luke 2:14).

But in order for this current of praise to link heaven and earth, it is up to us to take care of creation. As Brother Alois’ letter for 2021 says, “We do not only want to protect creation because we need it so we can exist, but because we are a part of it and because God’s beautiful designs extend to all that lives.”

Here we can glimpse the unity between our prayer and our activity in the world. When we pray, we return to God what God has given us. When we help and serve others, we allow their lives to magnify the Lord. When we act to make the world a better place, taking care of creation, we enable it to give glory to God.

Through our prayer and our action, we help the universe fulfill its vocation, the reason for which it exists: to mirror the unimaginable goodness of God.

Wednesday 30 December | Bible introduction of Brother Richard on John 14:15-24

Jesus knew that his violent death would be a terrible shock for his friends. His words and deeds had strengthened their hope in a tangible presence of God, a God who cares, who brings justice and peace, who protects.

But God did not protect Jesus from death. Those who had followed him were left alone as orphans. Jesus isn’t there any more to care for them. And where is God, if he didn’t help even Jesus?

Today, we may feel lost even more. For Jesus’ companions, heaven was still God’s dwelling. For us, the universe is a cold, anonymous infinity. They trusted that God is keeping the creation in order. We must manage ourselves to save the planet.

And yet, we are invited to trust, to trust “in a presence which is elusive and yet so real”, as the message “Hoping in Season and out of Season” says. In order to prepare his friends for a yet unknown presence of God, Jesus made them three promises.

First, he promised that God will give the Holy Spirit, “an other Helper”, as he said, “to be with you forever”. An “other Helper” means: an other like Jesus. But the Spirit is also different. Everybody could see Jesus, listen to him and touch him. The Spirit is invisible. Jesus compared it to the wind: “it blows where it pleases”. And yet, it is Jesus of Nazareth the Holy Spirit makes present.

Second, Jesus promised his own coming: “I will not leave you orphans, I am coming to you.” Note the present tense: “I am coming”. His coming is identical with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Alive in God, Jesus is not bound to space and time any more. He is coming every day, every hour, with every breath we breathe.

And third, Jesus promised God’s presence, God is coming along with him. He said: “we will come to the believers and make our home with them.” Heaven above and the temple in Jerusalem on earth were considered to be God’s homes. Now God and Jesus dwell also in fragile human lives.

“On that day”, said Jesus, “you shall know that I am in the Father, and you in me and I in you.” He used exactly the same phrase to express his unity with God and our unity with him: “I am in the Father” – “you are in me”.

Even though he has lived on earth as one of us, we cannot know Jesus as one among others, since he is our life: “we are in him”. And we cannot know him from without, since he lives within: “I am in you.”

So often, we are not aware of God’s presence because it is too real, too evident. We live in God as fish swim in the ocean and birds are carried by the air.

One of Jesus’ companions asked him why his presence would be so elusive that many people would not be able to perceive it. Jesus answered: “those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them”. God is not a fact, God is love. Without love, there can be no knowledge of Jesus alive in God.

God’s elusive presence becomes certain when we love, when we keep the words of Jesus: “Love each other as I have loved you.” On that last evening when he said all these things and introduced his friends into the mystery of God, the first thing Jesus did was to bend down and wash their feet.

Tuesday 29 December | Meditation by Br. Alois during evening prayer from Taizé

This time last year, we received a warm welcome in Wrocław in Poland; and we had planned to meet for the 43rd European meeting in Turin, Italy. But because of the Covid-19 pandemic it soon became clear that we had to postpone this meeting for a year.

However, modern means of communication have made it possible for us to have the experience of an online meeting. There are groups meeting in more than 150 places around the world, thanks to both very small initiatives and some much larger ones, for example in Bolivia, Cambodia, Chad, Lithuania and other countries.

So we are in communion with people all over the world, who are listening to us and watching us at the moment – I greet all of you very warmly.

For this online meeting, I published a text before Christmas that you will no doubt be able to read these days. It is entitled "Hoping in Season and Out of Season – A Message for 2021".

At the beginning of the text, I mention the great uncertainties that so many people, especially in your generation, are going through, in the face of a future that seems so unstable and sometimes very bleak.

This pandemic has revealed some of the weak spots deep in our humanity. Many people have been affected by illness, by the ordeal of the death of a loved one, by loneliness too. And, for many, perhaps including some of you, the lockdown measures have been difficult to live with.

At the same time, we have also had the experience of so many gestures of solidarity and generosity. Perhaps we could be even more attentive to them: even in the trials we have gone through, it is sometimes possible to discern reasons for hope, which are like a strength that is given to us in the midst of fragility.

There are a large number of witnesses to solidarity. They help us to believe that God is not forsaking us in the present trials. With all my heart, I hope that our meeting will strengthen this trust in us. In Jesus, the Word of God took flesh; he shared our life. God knows our sufferings.

Hope according to the Gospel, far from being a naïve trust, is an invitation to change our outlook, to revive the trust that comes to us from Christ: he shared our human condition to point of the extreme suffering of the cross, and in this way he opened a path of life.

Through his resurrection, Christ opens up for us a new horizon, on the other side of the disasters in the realms of health and of the environment that weigh so heavily on our humanity. Will we be able to discern this new horizon?

Over the coming days, let us pray for one another. On the threshold of the New Year, let us give a special place in our prayer to those who suffer from Covid and from other illnesses, to those who are in financial difficulty or who are lonely, to children who are suffering, to all those who are victims of violence or war, to people in exile and to refugees.

With his encyclical letter “Fratelli tutti”, Pope Francis has given us great encouragement. And if I could express one wish for this meeting that we are joining in this week, it would be this: that this experience of communion and sharing, in the midst of the heavy challenges of the moment, may make us aware that we are one human family, that we need each other.

Two children

  • We thank those who have made this meeting possible, especially the speakers at the afternoon workshops.
  • Thank you to the young volunteers who prepared the meeting.
  • : We warmly greet the leaders of the Churches and the President of the European Commission who have sent messages of greeting and friendship.
  • Good evening to all those who are following us in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Oceania and Europe.

Tuesday 29 December | Bible introduction of Sister Sietske, Sister of St Andrew, on Luke 10:25-37

The story we just read is a dialogue between Jesus and a lawyer. This lawyer is a wise and intelligent man. He studied the Law and knows how to be a good Jew. I wonder what he thought about the words of Jesus just before, where he says that “certain things”, a certain knowledge of God is hidden from the wise and the intelligent... (Luke 10: 21).

The question from the lawyer “who is my neighbour?” gives the impression that for him, humanity is divided into neighbours and non-neighbours. There are “us” and “them”. Does the lawyer ask Jesus for a rule in order to know who he should love and who not? You might have noticed that Jesus does not enter into this discussion. His parable does not answer the question directly, because it is not a good question. So, what then does Jesus try to tell the lawyer? Let’s have a closer look at the different people in the parable.

The priest and Levite are religious Jews who serve God in the Temple. They know the Law and their religion. Samaritans are considered as heretics and enemies because they don’t observe the Law. All three meet the same injured man. The priest and the Levite see him, but choose to ignore him. Their intellectual approach of religion and the Law makes them see the victim only as a risk of them becoming impure in the eyes of the Law. Their eyes and their hearts are blind to his suffering.

But the Samaritan is ‘moved with pity’. The word used in Greek indicates that he is not just ‘feeling sorry’. It is more: something is moving inside him, the pain of the other does not leave him cold as stone. It is a strong feeling of compassion. Literally, “com-passion” means taking part in the suffering of someone else. Compassion is not something of the mind, but comes from the deepest centre of our being. It makes the Samaritan see with the eyes of his heart. He sees a human being like himself, not just someone half dead, but first and most of all still alive! Compassion makes him see also the needs of the injured man. And what is more, he feels responsible for the well-being of the other, and this responsibility makes him do something. He spontaneously responds to what he sees by doing what he thinks is necessary. He gives his time and does what he can, without bothering about the consequences for himself. And, we discover that he does not do it alone. He asks the innkeeper for help. Together they give the injured man the care he needs. In short, compassion is this: to see, to be moved, to get moving. To move literally closer towards the other. Yes, compassion makes all the difference.

Probably it sounds very disturbing to Jewish ears that it is a Samaritan who showed compassion and who made himself close to the injured man. But by calling the Samaritan “the one who has showed pity”, the lawyer shows that he has understood that becoming a neighbour does not depend on who you are. From Jesus’ question that concludes this parable, we understand that what matters is how we become a neighbour to others and how we love.

But there is more. Something that, I think, does come back to the original question of the lawyer: ‘who is my neighbour’: the injured man is perfectly anonymous. We don’t know who he is or where he comes from. It could be another priest, another Samaritan, it could be another bandit, a friend or an enemy, it could be anyone. For the Samaritan his identity is not important, he recognizes him simply as his brother. Compassion does not care about differences between people and is therefore able to build bridges. The invitation of Jesus in this text for us is double: we are to become neighbours ourselves. And, secondly, are to become a neighbour to anyone.

We have discovered in this parable that being a priest or Levite or knowing a lot about faith and theology, does not mean that we know automatically how to love others! All the way through his dialogue with Jesus, we see the intelligent lawyer discover how compassion is the key to a good understanding of the commandment to “love God and your neighbour as yourself”. Without compassion, receiving eternal life is going to be difficult… Perhaps it is compassion, this seeing with the heart, that enables little children and the poor in spirit, to understand things that the wise and learned do not understand…?

Monday 28 December | Bible introduction of Brother Kombo on Matthew 2:1-12

In the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we have the genealogy of Jesus’ family. Matthew already wants to show us that Jesus is of the royal line, of King David.

In chapter 2 we have the account of the wise men coming from the East. Matthew does not give any details about these people. They were probably astrologers or learned men who tried to understand events by looking at the stars. These wise men, not Jews themselves, saw a particular star rising in the East and considering it of special significance, set out for the land where the king was to be born.

In the book of Revelation, we read this: “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star" (Rev. 22:16). This spiritual light which rises to enlighten the hearts of human beings is highlighted too in the second letter of Saint Peter: “We have then the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 P 1, 19). In these troubled times of ours, these words are like an invitation not to be overcome by discouragement. There is a saying that goes: "No matter how long the night, the sun always rises.” The same sun that brings light to other places and people, even if some still face hardship, will eventually bring light to us as well.

Let’s go back to the story of the wise men. They come to Jerusalem to tell the people the news about a new king’s birth and to worship him. By this we understand that the salvation of God extends to all people. God can choose whomever he wants to send on a mission. As the prophet Isaiah says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (Is. 52:7).

Once the wise men have arrived in Jerusalem, after their long journey, how great was their surprise, I imagine, to see that many people did not know the king was coming. The wise men’s message created a stir. King Herod sees in this child already a potential rival, and the people, who should in principle be delighted about the new king’s coming, are plunged into doubt. Do they all fear the consequences of this revelation?

In order to locate the newborn King of the Jews, the wise men are sent to Bethlehem and on finding him there, they worship him and offer him presents. Their mission is accomplished.

Br. Alois writes in his message for 2021: “In the current situation marked by the pandemic, we are witnessing a growing precariousness in vast regions of the world. Bold political decisions are needed, but the solidarity and social friendship we can all undertake are just as indispensable. Many people are ready and willing to serve others. Their generosity reminds us that mutual aid opens a road for the future.”
In this excerpt, there are two important words: solidarity and social friendship.

Solidarity with others consists in discovering together signs of hope, personal and community initiatives that can help others. May our own personal and community initiatives help others to move forward. Even if we think our actions and resources are very limited, let us persevere because the important thing is not to stop along the way. If God gives someone a mission, God is powerful enough to accomplish it.

In the prophet Isaiah it is written: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them a light has shined” (Is. 9:1). The pandemic has caused great suffering in the world. It is as if our world were going through a dark tunnel, but at the end of the tunnel there is light as Isaiah says. What a joy it will be on the day when we can thank God that the darkness is behind us. So let us be courageous.

“May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).

Last updated: 29 December 2020