24 OCTOBER 2021: THE THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Christ Healing the Blind, El Greco, c.1570, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA. 

To access today’s Sunday Mass Readings, click here.

[Jesus said to him]….“What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.”   Mark 10:51.

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This is one of the most dramatic, no, human, scenes in the gospels. A blind man begging at the roadside. Clearly penniless, desperate, probably looked on as a wretched sinner (see last week’s reflections), hears a commotion going on. It was the miracle worker Jesus, so the blind man saw his chance and yelled at the top of his voice for Jesus to help him. Told to be quiet, he yelled all the harder, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me”. Interesting you might think. This was Jesus son of Joseph (foster son as we would say), not David. Why? The Messiah, the Anointed of God, was traditionally thought of as the son of David. Bartimaeus, even though blind, clearly saw Jesus as the One who was to come… And Jesus hears him, calls him over, finds out what he wants, and cures his blindness, and the now-seeing man follows him. In fact, that is probably why we know his name. Many of Jesus’ miraculous cures were on people who were not named in the gospels, but Bartimaeus was named, probably because he became a devoted follower.

This all took place in Jericho which many experts say is the oldest inhabited settlement on earth, with evidence of human occupation going back, some say, perhaps 11,000 years! It was also the first city which fell to the Israelites entering their Promised Land under Joshua, where the walls came a-tumbling down, allowing a Hebrew victory. Note also that Jesus does not demand that no mention of this miracle be made, as he had on many previous occasions. So just as the dramatic conquest of Jericho was a divine indication of the fulfillment of the promise of land to the Hebrews, so here we have the fulfillment of God’s long-promised arrival of the Messiah to the Hebrews, seen in Bartimaeus’ cry to the Son of David. Jesus was at that time on the road to Jerusalem where he was to undergo his passion and death, as he came to be seen as the anti-David, not the conquering Messiah everyone was waiting for, a disappointment so great for the people, a betrayal even, that he was crucified. But then…….

And so the first reading is to be fulfilled, where the suffering will be consoled, will be led to community and peace, where, as the second reading says, the Lord will be glorified having triumphed over weakness, ignorance and sin. But this was far from the all-conquering new David the Jews were looking for. Jesus was not the one who would restore them to political independence and freedom. He was the one who would heal the lame, give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. And today’s gospel has one of his last signs of this identity, of a Messiah who would fulfill all the messianic prophecies, good and bad. It was with supreme courage that our Savior set out from Jericho to tread the uphill road to Jerusalem and his death.

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The Ascension of the Lord, St. Peter the Apostle Antiochian Orthodox Church, Fort Myers, FL, USA.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

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17 OCTOBER 2021: THE TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

christ-washing-the-feetPope Francis washes the feet of inmates at Rome’s Rebibbia prison for Holy Thursday on April 2, 2015, The American Prospect.

Click here to read this Sunday’s Mass Readings.

[Jesus said]: For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”   Mark 10:45.

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“Servant leaders are a revolutionary bunch—they take the traditional power leadership model and turn it completely upside down. This new hierarchy puts the people…….at the very top and the leader at the bottom, charged with serving the employees above them. And that’s just the way servant leaders like it” (Mark Tarallo, 2018). That was taken from a webpage sponsored by the New York Institute of Technology School of Management, specifically concerning Human Resources. It claims that servant leaders are marked by a clear vision that their employees are co-workers, whose talents and skills are to be fostered and encouraged, and that the whole organization will benefit therefrom, even to the extent that the leader will identify and develop leadership qualities among them, thus ensuring the organization will survive and grow. Now take that quoted passage and apply it to Jesus’ radical and shocking demonstration of service leadership at the Last Supper when he took on a slave’s activity and insisted on washing the feet of all this disciples, to their horror and shock. Here was, after all, the Christ, the Anointed Son of God, as revealed by his apostle Peter, abasing himself to a degree unheard of. And it was Peter who protested the strongest: “No, you shall never wash my feet!” (John 13:8). One might think that this scene was somewhat enhanced in the photo above, with the pope washing the feet of teenage felons in a prison in Rome, among whom were non-Christians… Shocking! (But remember that one of the Pope’s titles is Servus Servorum Dei, or Servant of the Servants of God). Also note that the School of Management’s SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) claims that servant leaders “possess a serve-first mindset, and they are focused on empowering and uplifting those who work for them. They are serving instead of commanding, showing humility instead of brandishing authority, and always looking to enhance the development of their staff members in ways that unlock potential, creativity and sense of purpose” (ibid). 

Today’s gospel could well have been the inspiration of the philosophy espoused by the Institute! Jesus is very clear on the role of disciple, be she or he boss or employee, that we must respect the dignity, the skills and the potential of others, do our best to encourage and foster them and show by those means that they are valued children of God, as are we. Do you remember that semi-biographical movie of Mozart called “Amadeus”? It concerned the scheme of Antonio Salieri, Imperial Court Composer and later kapellmeister to the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, to destroy the young upstart composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salieri, in this movie (which was far from the truth, but was glorious drama) was the only person who recognized Mozart’s prodigious talent, way beyond his own, and therefore plotted to silence him. Mozart died at the age of 35. In Jesus’ model, Salieri should have fostered, encouraged and opened as many doors for the young man as possible, he whom the Lord had clearly gifted enormously. In our own worlds, we too must have an open mind with those around us, seeking ways to enhance their gifts, showing generosity and kindness, and encouraging their growth and development, no matter their circumstances. 

And all this, Scripture adds today, no matter how we might be repaid and in what way. Today’s first reading is taken from the classical “Suffering Servant” passages in Isaiah. It could have been written by a witness to Jesus’ passion! And our second reading is an exhortation to all of us not to give up in any of this, but to persevere and so “approach the throne of grace” where we will receive due recognition. It is tricky to embark on Jesus’ model of leadership. Others might wonder what we are getting out of developing their talents. They might question our motives for being so supportive and encouraging. They might throw our good intentions back in our face with insult and rejection, just as happened to the Lord. As today’s second reading says, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way yet without sin”. We stand with the Lord throughout all this, resolute in our identity as a servant of all, no matter what. It is with such a conscience that we will be able to stand before the Judge of all, and anticipate a welcome and a greeting as described in one of Jesus’ parables, “Well done, good and faithful servant….. come and share your master’s happiness” (Matthew 25:23). 

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Welcome Home, Danny Hahlbohm Art.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

10 OCTOBER 2021: THE TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Sapientia (Wisdom), c.1170s, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, USA.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.  All things are possible for God.”   Mark 10:26-27.

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In today’s gospel, Jesus announces that it is “…easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” His apostles were astonished at this, wondering in that case who can be saved? That is remarkable, because there could not have been too many who were rich in those days, yet they wondered who, in that case, could be saved? That seems to suggest that there was a significant number of rich people at that time, numerous enough for them to question Jesus’ words. In fact, their words seem to suggest that everyone was rich enough to be excluded from God’s kingdom! Remember that wealth was considered to be a sign of God’s favor back then. Poverty and illness were signs of God’s displeasure, all of which probably sprang from the near universal belief in Sheol, the place everyone went to after death, good and bad alike, a place of half-life where nothing happened, forever. So goodness and badness were confined to life here on earth. God’s favor resulted in wealth and health for the pious, poverty and illness for the impious. It was logical, but clearly Jesus did not accept that interpretation. In fact, he upended it completely, stating that those clinging to money were not destined for heaven, a comparatively new concept at that time.

There was a huge contemporary disputation raging in Jesus’ time about the afterlife, that the good in this life would be admitted to the presence of God, the bad to the fires of hell. Today’s gospel clearly and unmistakably shows Jesus’ position in that argument. Hence the amazement with his disciples. Everyone was out to make a fortune for themselves in their day, as this would show God’s blessing – or not. If that were not the case, then who could be saved?

Remember Tevye’s song in that most Jewish of all musicals, “Fiddler on the Roof”:

Lord, who made the lion and the lamb
You decreed I should be what I am
Would it spoil some vast eternal plan
If I were a wealthy man?

Today’s gospel story of the young man Jesus invites to become his follower provided he relinquishes his wealth, which he is unwilling to do, shows the strength of this conviction. In the mind of most people at that time, to give up your wealth would mean you are rejecting God’s blessing on you. Jesus was therefore asking for the well nigh impossible! He then equates such a mind set as an almost total barrier to eternal happiness in God’s presence. It’s easier to pull a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God! Jesus’ disciples had probably never heard the like before, hence their consternation. This was an entirely new teaching, revolutionary even. Then who, indeed, could be saved?

Jesus, seen from today’s reading, was quite a revolutionary figure. He was upending a very old tradition and belief, but one which was not really based on Scripture but rather life experience and the need to make sense of one’s life here and now. Lacking the new revelation in today’s gospel, it does make sense that success in this world suggests you are in God’s good graces. Jesus it would seem, is enlarging that thought to align it with his own thought: it’s what you do with wealth that is important. Today’s first reading declares the importance of wisdom over wealth,“all gold, in view of her, is a little sand…”, over “health and comeliness”, over power “scepter and throne” and so on. With wisdom comes something much more, “all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands”. And this wisdom is the knowledge of God, of goodness, of right living. And now the Son of God is declaring what exactly that all means.

Our second reading reminds us that nothing is concealed from the eye of God. Our motives, our inner truths, what we hold most dear, all utterly clear to God who knows all, whose wisdom pervades everything. Remember the Old Testament concept of wisdom is, I believe, a prefiguration of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, God’s Holy Spirit, and encapsulates the feminine aspect of the Divine. In Aramaic, Jesus’ language, God’s Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh) is feminine, and by rights we should say “she” whenever speaking of the Holy Spirit. It is only through the quirks of linguistic gender that, in English, we say “he” for the Holy Spirit, from the Latin word Spiritus, which is masculine or, worse, the Greek πνεύμα (pneuma) which is neutral.  That denies an entire ethos of divinity, and renders our understanding of God diminished. I contend that thinking of God in this expanded fashion makes it easier for us to grasp Jesus’ words in today’s gospel. Looking at the popular understanding of wealth, which Jesus is challenging today, and then meditating on the first reading which contemplates divine wisdom, it is easier to understand Jesus’ position. He is bringing the two visions together, and thereby changes our notion of wealth as power, superiority, worldly success. It is, rather, one further aspect of how we are to act as children of God: an aspect, not a be all and end all. That presumably was a revolutionary concept to his followers, whose bewilderment shows up clearly in the gospel: “Then who can be saved?” Ah, now comes the answer. For you? Impossible. For God? Well, that’s another matter. Stay tuned, Jesus seems to be saying.

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The Holy Trinity, Demetz Art Studio, Urtijëi, Italy.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

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3RD OCTOBER 2021: THE TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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The Jewish Bride, Rembrandt c.1667, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

To read today’s Sunday Mass Readings, click here.

[Jesus said] “…Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”  Matthew 10:9.

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Here we have a linkage between one of Jesus’ most famous teachings, and one of Rembrandt’s most famous paintings, both with the same perfect theme, pure love. Jesus is giving us what could be called a counsel of perfection, a statement of affairs which reflect the best possible situation, and Rembrandt’s image of the same condition. Who could possibly object to such a state of affairs? Love is the reflection of God; it is the closest we can ally ourselves with God, and, as the saying goes, and later the song, to love another person is to see the face of God (Victor Hugo, Les Miserables). In other words, pure love between two people is tantamount to the presence of God in our lives. Nothing closer is possible in this life. That, I believe, is what Jesus meant. It is so sacred that it cannot and should not be broken. It is human perfection. To shatter it is to reject the divine. Look at his words: “What God has joined together…..” True love comes from the hand of God; it is something that is greater than any of us. It is to be welcomed, nourished, allowed to grow and consume both lovers so that they become one. I believe it to be the closest reflection we have in this life to the Holy Trinity, the perfect image of love that we have. Hence it is a blessed state of affairs, and remember that the root meaning of blessed is happiness. People truly in love are genuinely happy. 

Then there is the reality of broken marriage, divorce, annulment, separation, all words implying the opposite of true love, which brings together and unites. Jesus was fully aware of such a reality. Indeed, his disciples pointed it out to him! But he defended his position strongly, without any room for doubt: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her…” and vice versa. For Jesus, to divorce was to deny the reality of God’s love. It was unthinkable. So what must one do?

I contend that becoming permanently joined to another must be done carefully, with patience and understanding. As love is a reflection of God, it must be like God. My thesis is that God’s qualities (which should be present in human love) are Power, Loyalty, Forgiveness, Ability to Listen, Love of Freedom, Mercy, and Being open to Relationship. We all have power, from childhood onwards. Can’t children make their mothers happy or sad or angry? Can’t any of us say something uplifting to another, or a crushing put down? We all have power; it is how we use it that counts. True humanity requires loyalty, the ability to stand by another through thick and thin, to convince another that we can be counted on. We can all fail from time to time, and forgiveness is very welcome, so we should be able to forgive also. Listening carefully to others, and especially to the other, is essential to get an idea of what the other is concerned about, what is important in another’s life. We enjoy our freedom to be able to do and say what is necessary and helpful. So we must allow others that same freedom, so that they can grow and blossom in their own way, to allow the other to become their full self. Mercy is a demanding quality. It is to extend compassion on someone who does not deserve it. It could be a kind of preparation for eventual forgiveness; it is a realization, in a way, that there but for the grace of God, go I. And finally, we should all be open to allowing others into our world, above all that special other. God did this when the divine name, YHWH, was revealed to Moses for the first time, and even more so, when Jesus gave himself to us in the Eucharist. Relationship is the beginning of a special alliance or bond with someone else, the opening of a doorway, if you like, where you are allowing another to share yourself and the other with you.

Put all these qualities together, in the widest, fullest sense, and there is the groundwork, the possibility, of true love. They were all revealed by God through the centuries of the Old Testament, and then Jesus demonstrated them fully in his ministry, a guiding light for us all to follow. As you might imagine, demonstrating these characteristics takes time (loyalty can only be built up slowly, for example) so love gradually reveals itself in this way. A courtship of a few weeks can hardly be expected to satisfy fully the presence of every quality. Only patience and time can do that. After all, isn’t it worth it to try and establish a foundation which will last forever? 

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The Farewell Discourse, Duccio, the Maestà in the Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady, Siena, Italy.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

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Roger

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SUNDAY 26TH SEPTEMBER 2021: THE TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

Disciples1Sosthenes, Apollo, Cephas, Tychicus, Epaphroditus, Ceasar, and Onesiphorus, Codices vaticani graeci 1613, Menalogion of Basil II, Vatican Library, Vatican City State.

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There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.   Mark 9:39-40

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The icon above has been deliberately selected to baffle you. Who on earth are these men? They have haloes, so they are probably holy. If you are very familiar with the New Testament, you may recognize Onesiphorus, mentioned twice by St. Paul in his Second Letter to Timothy for his hospitality at a time many had deserted Paul. The others are also mentioned briefly in the Epistles, but basically they can be considered unknown compared to the apostles themselves. But clearly even a brief mention can be construed as being a great model of discipleship, courage and devotion. So what is all this about? Today’s gospel has the followers of Jesus in a big flap as they found an unknown man “driving out demons” in Jesus’ name. They tried to stop him, only to be told plainly by Jesus, “Do not stop him”. So, using the logic here, it could have been one of the men in the icon above, unknown to them but known to Paul who probably taught them and brought them to faith in Jesus. And Jesus is quite clear and straight about it, that people such as these should be left alone. If they are not against us, they are for us!

Now, looking down the centuries of religious history, you could make a good case for wars between Christians being much more common than co-operation between Christians. Indeed, you might say that only in the last 50-100 years has there been anything like amity and understanding between us all who call ourselves Christian. Yet even now there are moments of, shall we say, extreme dislike between some of us. Couldn’t you make a case that such ferocity between Christians flies in the face of Jesus’ teaching today? Jesus, if he was clear about anything, was crystal clear on one thing, we must love one another! Indeed he ordered it! (John 13:34-35). For example, let us take a case of pure Christianity from the 19th century. Catherine Booth was an Englishwoman, born in 1829, died in 1890. If you were counted among the working poor, which almost everyone was during her lifetime, life would have been a daily challenge, with work hours typically over 12 a day, education for children almost unknown, wages a pittance and illness a daily dread. Catherine Booth and her husband William devoted their lives to making this terrible situation better for as many as possible. Their message was that of Jesus, their actions that of Jesus. They were the founders of the Salvation Army, sometimes called the “keeper of the conscience” of England. They sought to rid the poor of alcoholism, provide cheap food for the poorest, and convince their followers, among whom were some wealthy people, by preaching why they should take the teachings of Jesus seriously. Indeed, Catherine broke a sacred taboo and she herself preached, apparently to great effect, stating that St. Paul’s instruction that women should keep silent in church had resulted in “more loss to the Church, evil to the world, and dishonor to God, than any of [its] errors”. It would take a brave woman to say that today in some Christian traditions, let alone 150 years ago! Was she teaching Christian truths? Yes. What would Jesus say according to today’s gospel? Do not stop her! 

So today’s teaching requires us to be pretty broad-minded when it comes to those teaching and trying to live Christian ideals. There is nothing in such teaching which warrants hatred of any kind at all, and if such is present, surely there is doubt if such teaching is Christian at all. Looking back over the doleful history of inter-Christian hatred and warfare, Jesus must have wept to see us behaving in such a way. There is no way that could have represented his teaching, especially as seen in today’s gospel. Love has been his order of the day over the last 2000 years! Yet so any times this has been ignored, forgotten, trampled. It seems so strange that when the Christian church was being persecuted in its first 300 years of life, Terullian, one of the church’s first theologians, wrote, “Look . . . how [Christians] love one another (for [pagans] hate one another); and how they are ready to die for each other (for they themselves are readier to kill each other)”. That is what the Lord must have had in mind in today’s gospel. Christians have no room for hatred of any kind in their makeup. If such is there, it destroys love and enthrones discord, and like destructive weeds, it must be uprooted and thrown aside. “We are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness”, as St. Paul said (1 Thessalonians 5:5). That is the keystone of our faith, as found in our Lord and Savior.

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Catherine Booth, Geo. Wade, sculptor: “Here, in East London, Catherine Booth, together with her husband, William, commenced the work of the Salvation Army, July 1865.” This statue was dedicated by Commissioner Silvia Cox and Commissioner Nancy Roberts on 2nd July 2015, the 150th Anniversary of the Salvation Army.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

 

SUNDAY 19TH SEPTEMBER 2021: THE TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Christ Blessing the Children, Uncut Mountain Supply.

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Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”   Mark 9:35-37.

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You must have heard that “Never a good deed goes unpunished” or “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”, and so on. Which of us has thought of one of these – or both – at certain times? I certainly have, and wondered sometimes why things must be so. Today’s gospel has Jesus giving another indication that the result of his mission would be disaster and death. In fact, at one point during his mission he actually asked “which of these [good] actions are you punishing me for?” (John 10:32). He had aligned himself with the Father, which people took as blasphemy, but Jesus pointed out that all he said and did was in the name of the Father, including his miraculous actions, hence “which of these actions are you stoning me for?” And today, he prophesies that his mission of love and mercy will end in disaster. Perhaps that thought lies behind some advice, also in Scripture: That when we do something good, it should be that only God knows it, (1 Peter 4:10) and that all the glory will go to God, hence what we did accrues to us in heaven (not here on earth), where moth and rust cannot destroy it. If we have done something worthy we are simply doing what we are required to do as God’s good servants, something specifically mentioned in today’s gospel (“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all”).  Jesus indicates that receiving children, helping them, protecting them, the lowest members of society (or even any grown up in a lowly position) is the same as receiving him, and hence through him, the Father. The first reading from the Book of Wisdom, tells of the perils of doing the good and right thing, perhaps the ultimate source of being punished for doing the right thing. It seems to indicate that this is part of the human condition! It certainly applied to Jesus and his mission, almost perfectly. The second reading from James expands that to the extent of making war based on nothing more than envy, passions, unnecessary conflict. All of history certainly supports that (look at Nazi Germany’s mania for “lebensraum”, stealing others’ land simply because they wanted it). Evil has abounded throughout human history, as today’s readings testify.

But here we all are, trying to live as God’s good children. Well today we have a clarion call back to basics. Evil has always been with us. Even if we try to do the good thing, it might well rebound and hit us in the face. Well, then we are faced with a choice, give up or, as the song says, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGUsRGuZb6k). In sacramental terms, you offer all to God, reinvigorate yourself with the Eucharist, and perhaps Reconciliation if we have been tempted to abandon everything, or even consider the Sacrament of the Sick, and start all over again! Our strength does not come for any earthly source, but from the ultimate source, whence the Lord himself drew his strength. It is always there for us, like seeds or saplings, ready to grow and bloom and give us the strength to continue. Today’s readings are not indications of despair, but rather guide as to what to do in challenging circumstances, all of which are almost certainly familiar to us. They are the traps and pitfalls that life somehow or other puts in our way, a reminder of evil in the world. But we have the power to overcome evil; we are children of the light, and have the power of God around us and within us. Nothing can prevail against that.

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Children of the Light, Biblepic.com.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

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SUNDAY 12 SEPTEMBER 2021: THE TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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The First Prediction of the Passion and the Resurrection, Bertrand Bahuet 1995, Chapel of St. Peter, Curbans, Provence, France.

To read today’s Sunday Mass Readings, click here. 

Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Mark 8:33.

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Today’s gospel contains possibly the most remarkable scene in all scripture. Jesus had just stated that he will go to Jerusalem where total disaster, pain, torture and death await him. Peter is flabbergasted. Impossible! Here is the Savior, the long-awaited Messiah! This cannot be. And he lets rip on the Lord, only be to compared to Satan! And Peter, only a few breaths before, had recognized him as the Messiah in their midst. This did NOT fit into Peter’s idea of the Messiah, the Anointed of God, for whom the Jewish people had been waiting for, literally, centuries. No, something was not right. Peter expected Jesus to be acclaimed as the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, in Jerusalem, and the whole nation would rise to welcome him and the new Kingdom of David would rise to world dominance…. And Peter was not alone in this expectation. Over the centuries, the Jewish people had developed their idea of what kind of person the Messiah would be, and almost universally it was a picture of a conquering hero, expelling the pagan Roman occupation forces, re-establishing the Kingdom of David, and creating an Israel of God worthy of the name.

Jesus, in the days after his baptism, where it was revealed that this was the Messiah, and the Son of God, contemplated in the wilderness what exactly that all meant. The picture revealed to him at that time was of a Messiah who would suffer and be killed, based on Holy Scripture itself. The first reading today was clearly part of this formulation. This Messiah would give his back to those who beat him, his cheeks to those who plucked his beard, his face he did not shield from buffets and spitting… That did not fit into the popular view of the Messiah, but Jesus clearly thought that such passages were prophecies of what this man had to expect, and anyone who thought otherwise, including Peter, was of the enemy.  It is THE reason Jesus insisted on as much secrecy as possible during his ministry, as he did not want to be carried into Jerusalem as the conquering hero until he was ready. In other words, until he had completed his mission, trained his followers, and prepared them as much as possible as to what was going to happen (seen in today’s gospel). Only then would all the prophecies found in Scripture, including the negative, be fulfilled. It would be safe to say that only Jesus himself held the notion of a Suffering Servant Messiah, a picture it seems no-one else had at that time. 

That might be the reason the passage from the Epistle of James is read today. He asks what good is faith without the accompanying actions which put it into play? Jesus applied that expectation to such passages as today’s first reading. Isaiah prophesied a Suffering Servant, which Jesus took as a model for the Messiah, one who accepted both the good and the bad. So here was the One who made the blind see and the lame walk, but who would also endure insults and abuse. Here was the One who took all the prophesies of the Messiah, positive and negative, actually lived them, and who was killed as a consequence. Only after the ultimate divine blessing, when Jesus conquered even death, the ultimate enemy, was it clear that he had been right; his broad interpretation of the Messiah found in Scripture, was in fact the Messiah of God. In that way he gave us the perfect model of how to deal with life’s ups and downs, not to give up hope, but to strengthen hope, not to despair but to do as Jesus did, and put one’s entire trust in God who alone understands how good can come from evil, and even life from death. In that way we can be true followers of the Lord, unlike poor Peter who thought he knew better, but ultimately followed in the Lord’s footsteps to the bitter end, and entered upon eternal happiness and peace. We are invited to do the same, whatever might happen to us, so that we are prepared to be true apostles in good times and in bad.

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Saints Peter and John Healing the Lame Man, Poussin 1655, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

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Roger

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SUNDAY 5 SEPTEMBER 2021: THE TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Jesus Cures the Deaf-Mute, Breenburgh, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

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  Jesus said, “Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” — And immediately the man’s ears were opened,
his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.    Mark 7:34-35.

Words highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

This section of Mark’s gospel has Jesus traveling through Gentile country (the previous episode here was the famous confrontation with the Syro-Phoenician woman who stated even the Gentiles could claim the same right as the family dogs, and pick up the crumbs falling from the table of the children of God, the Jews). He encountered a man who was deaf and who could not speak clearly. The local people had brought him to Jesus, which appears to be a sign of their confidence in this holy man, or perhaps a test to prove if he was genuine or not. If you have ever met someone afflicted with this disability, you know how challenging it is to understand what they are saying. They are trying to speak as clearly as those with perfect hearing, but as they are unable to hear anything, they have to hope that what they say is close to what they intend. Often it is not, leading to confusion and perhaps irritation. Deafness is a terrible affliction, worse than blindness in my opinion, as it is a huge obstacle in communicating with the world. It is even thought to be a pathway to dementia with those who are trapped in deafness, and who are are unwilling or unable to meet the challenge.

This man, clearly, had made the attempt to confront his disability by speaking as best he could. Then there is the extraordinary way Jesus dealt with him. Jesus placed his fingers into the man’s ears, and touched his tongue with his own saliva. These actions can be considered “sacramental” in that they actually bring about what they symbolize, with the man’s ears being opened, and his tongue loosened (just as the words of consecration at Mass not only symbolize the bread becoming the body of Christ, but also actually change the bread into his body). Note the absence here of any mention of the devil, or even of faith, which accords with the situation, Jesus dealing with pagans in a pagan land. Jesus spoke no words here, just sighed, perhaps a recognition of the extreme disability of this man, and looked to his Father in heaven, the source of his power. Then there is the word, “Ephphatha!”. It is an Aramaic word, the language that Jesus spoke, and is generally translated as “Be opened!” Instantly the man was cured and he spoke plainly, perhaps for the first time in his life. The crowd’s positive reaction to the miracle is the strongest reaction to any of Jesus’ actions as recorded in Mark’s gospel. They proclaimed the event everywhere they could. Here, it would seem, was the dawning reality of the presence of the Messiah, as prophesied by Isaiah in today’s first reading, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf be cleared” (Isaiah 35:5-6). But must have been somewhat muted, as this was Gentile territory. 

One final thought, from today’s second reading. Jesus dealt with the downtrodden, the rejected, the disabled, the lowest, as it were, of society. Today’s disabled man, deaf and scarcely able to speak, was almost certainly not among the elite of their society. But they clearly knew him, and thought positively enough of him to bring him to the Jewish holy man in the hope something could be done for him. That says a great deal about them, and is a lesson to us, emphasized in the second reading, “to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him”. We are to follow in their footsteps, sharing our good fortune with those who are not so fortunate. It could be said that is why we have such good fortune, isn’t it?

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Hillbilly Heroin, Honey, Magnum Photography Award, 2016. 

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

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Roger

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SUNDAY 29 AUGUST 2021: THE TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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Catholics Striving for Holiness

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(Jesus said to the crowd), “Hear me, all of you, and understand.  Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile…”   Mark 7:14-15.

Words highlighted in red are links to supporting material.

How many times, I wonder, have we heard someone say “Do what I say, not what I do”? All of us must have a pretty good, basic idea of how we are to act in daily life to embody what we believe to be right and true. This could go from holding the door open for another person to assisting someone being assaulted verbally or even physically for no good apparent reason. We all of us know in our heart of hearts what each situation calls for in Christian terms, but the question, as always, is, do we? Cowardice, fear, reluctance, any number of reasons could stop us from doing what is right. Yet it is in just such situations that the Christian lion is separated from the Christian lamb. I suspect saintly courage and strength are quite rare in real life and perhaps that is what the Lord is highlighting today. The world needs strong saints! 

The actual situation which prompted today’s words from the Savior needs a little explaining. Much attention is paid to cleanliness here, that hands are to be washed, pots and pans to be scrubbed, and so on. Nothing new there; this is done on a daily basis in just about every household in the land! So isn’t that why those not doing that are being condemned in today’s gospel? The answer is no, but that needs some explanation. We clean everything today because we know if we do not, sickness might be the result. The ancient Jews had ritual cleaning because it was part of the Law, part of Scripture. There was no concept back then of removal of germs and infections from hands and things we touch to render them sterile. So those not cleaning their hands were condemned for not following the Law, not for endangering themselves and others by not washing. We know now there is a second reason to clean things. They did not. It explains Jesus’ frustration that people were being judged just and true because they fulfilled all the external commands of the law, yet inside, who knows? It could all be a giant cover-up for evil. It is what happens within our hearts and minds that Jesus was concerned with: that’s where the truth lay. The first reading from Deuteronomy, namely, the Law, lays down the understanding necessary to  be righteous in the eyes of God. From it one can draw wisdom and intelligence. The Law is, as it were, a gift from God, an outside reality to be accepted by the individual and incorporated into daily living. James’ letter, on the other hand, mentions that we are each born into the word of truth, that God’s will is, as it were, within us already at birth (this might be part of the origin of the Catholic belief that we are born oriented to the good, not to evil). So there is a natural receptor deep within each of us which can recognize the truth of God’s Law from without, accept it and incorporate it into daily living. In other words, we should lead the righteous and true life of God’s adopted child. “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only” James says. In that way we know, deep inside, what we must do, for example, when confronted with the reality of widows and orphans, and avoid what the world might say, contradicting God’s Law or which, contrary to  our own inclination, is evil and wrong. We all know, deep inside, what must be done in almost all situations calling for a moral judgment. That is where we face a stark choice of good or bad. At such times we beg God’s strength and guidance, and the courage to act as God’s good child.

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Catholic Care for Children International, Nairobi, Kenya, February 2021.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

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Roger

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