27 NOVEMBER 2022: THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT.

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Advent, Oriental Trading Company, Omaha, Nebraska, USA

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Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.   Matthew 24:42.

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Curious that today’s gospel, at the beginning of the Church’s new year, would say that we do not know on which day the Lord will come when we all know exactly when he will come! This is the time when children start counting the days down to the wondrous 25th. I remember as a child that those days seemed endless, that the wondrous 25th would never arrive. And then the actual, wonderful day, dawned… So we do know when the Lord will come! Yes, but… The Lord’s birth, his life and mission were to let us know God’s life pattern for us all, what God expects of each one of us, so that when the Lord does, indeed, come to every one of us, when we are called from this life, we know what to expect. No surprises, no protestations, no false claims, no fake news, for all will be revealed in all truth. We will not be able to hide anything! So Advent is the prequel, as it were, of all that is to come. Yes it is a season of expectation and promise, as we make ourselves ready for the anniversary of the Lord’s arrival in our midst, but it is also a reveille, as it were, to alert us to everything Jesus came for. So today’s gospel begins at the end! 

All of which got me thinking about arrivals, about upcoming events, about advents, a word which comes directly from Latin, adventus or arrival. A pregnancy culminates in a grand and festive arrival; three or four years of hard study arrives in a festive graduation; working well in a job which provides satisfaction might arrive in a promotion; skilled soccer playing might arrive in a goal. And so on. Our lives are punctuated with various advents, and I can think of unwelcome advents also. So they are part of normal life. And our present liturgical advent is four weeks before the ultimate arrival of the Lord himself, so it is the supreme advent of all. In all of these examples there is a necessary preparation; advents don’t just “happen”. So our whole life is an advent which, for each of us, should culminate in our welcoming into life with God for ever. So these next few weeks should, perhaps, be a rehearsal for both welcoming the Lord once again, but also making ourselves worthy to greet him, a foretaste of that final moment here on earth for each of us. So Advent can be a time for spiritual preparation for us, greeting the arrival of the Lord, plus a spiritual preparation for that moment when the Lord will greet us! So as the house becomes decked with boughs of holly, so should our souls become spotless in order to greet the Lord of Hosts, a happy two-way spiritual street, which is the message, I believe, of today’s gospel. It rightly says that we not know on which day our Lord will come for us, but we do know that it will come, sometime, and we should always be ready for it. And, as a final note for this Advent, remember that the Christian life message is one of happiness. Fulfilling God’s plan for each of us, perfecting the skills each one of us was given at birth, using them for the betterment of others throughout our lives, thanking God for such perfect guidance and help, as seen in prayer and the sacraments, is the way to our arrival in heaven. So let our advent, long or short as it may be, be truly directed to that moment of glory and happiness when the Lord welcomes us. Now we, in our own way, can use this Advent as proper to the feast on the 25th and to ensure that that other date, whenever it may be, will be as equally joyous.

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Dream of Heaven, MillersGuild.

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SUNDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2022: THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE.

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Christ Pantocrator (Χριστὸς Παντοκράτωρ), Christ Ruler of All, Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, Monreale, Sicily, Italy.

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The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”   Luke 23:35.

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The church’s year concludes with the grandest possible appellation of the Lord, but with a gospel placing us at the scene of his greatest ignominy, crucified as if a common criminal, with taunts and insults being thrown at him. An extreme, the extreme, paradox in the life and mission of Jesus. In 2018 I wrote a reflection on this day which applies to this feast in a way I don’t think I can better, (but with a few extra thoughts). Forgive me if this disappoints:

Today concludes the Church’s year with the bold statement that Jesus is the sovereign king of everything that exists. Established by Pope Pius XI in 1925, and long celebrated on the last Sunday in October, it was moved to its present date in 1970 and as such represents the culmination of Christian belief in Jesus the Christ, the Anointed of God, as the one, true Lord of All. Please note also that many non-Catholic Christian churches have also adopted and celebrate this modern feast on this day. Now the idea of kingship might be considered a little anachronistic today. In the USA it might even been seen as destructive to the idea of equality under the law; wasn’t King George unceremoniously banished by the American colonists in 1776? So the idea of Christ the King has to be separated from traditional ideas of crown and monarch. In other words we are not talking about some lucky soul who, simply by right of birth, becomes the head of state for no other reason. Jesus was indeed Son, but here we have a king born into poverty and a family of modest means, expected to earn his keep as a carpenter, but who acknowledged his divine vocation as Messiah, for which he was eventually brutally executed. Hardly a regal existence! Here we have a kingship radically different from any other, certainly not of this world.

To continue the parallel, consider Jesus’ passion and death: 1: He was accused of being a king and denounced by a mob which cried “Crucify him” (Matthew 27:22). (In the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, she was presented to the congregation assembled as their queen, to which the crowd responded “God save Queen Elizabeth”). 2: The Roman soldiers placed a reed in Jesus’ right hand, representing a sceptre, a symbol of kingly power (Mt. 27:29). (In the coronation, the Archbishop of Canterbury presented the Queen with the Sceptre with the Cross, saying “Receive the Royal Sceptre, the ensign of kingly power and justice”). 3: The Roman soldiers also placed a scarlet robe on him in mockery, that being close to the imperial purple worn by the Roman emperor (Mt. 27:28). (In the coronation after her anointing, the Queen was clothed in “the Colobium Sindonis and the Robe Royal or Close Pall of cloth of gold prior to her crowning, the Archbishop saying “Receive this Imperial Robe, and the Lord your God endue you with knowledge and wisdom, with majesty and with power from on high…”. 4: Mt. 27:29 states the Roman soldiers made “a crown of thorns and they put it on his head…” Then they mocked him saying “Hail King of the Jews!”. (In the coronation, the Archbishop took St. Edward’s Crown and reverently placed it upon the Queen’s head, at the sight whereof the people, with loud and repeated shouts cried: “God Save the Queen”). 5: At that point, the Roman soldiers stripped Jesus of the robe and led him away to crucify him. The cross then became his throne, as the people mocked him with “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself”, today’s gospel. (In the coronation, the Queen, wearing her crown, stood and walked to her Throne, and the spiritual and temporal nobles paid homage and expressed loyalty to her). So we can see that Jesus’ passion was, indeed, his coronation as King. The parallelism with the ancient coronation service is just about perfect, almost as if the Passion of Our Lord was taken as the mirror opposite model for the occasion. But this king was as utterly different from the regal pomp and majesty of an earthly king as it is possible to be. Here was a king who washed the feet of this friends, forgave his murderers, tended to the poor and powerless and preached a kingdom of love and eternal happiness.

So today sees the culmination of the church year, focusing on the central figure of Jesus at his most vulnerable yet most powerful. This king knows suffering, failure, bitter disappointment and persecution to the moment of agonizing and brutal  death. This king was crowned with pain and degradation. His triumphant throne was the wood onto which he was nailed. His coronation was a scene of squalor and humiliation. And yet, three days later, his true kingdom and crown were revealed in triumph, when death, pain and inhumanity became life, happiness and grace, the presence of God. So whatever our own circumstances, clearly this whole event gives us hope and an assurance that, as true followers of this truest of all kings, we his faithful servants, will in the end assuredly stand with him in eternal happiness no matter our own pain and distress.

And so ends our liturgical year. Next Sunday begins Advent, and the whole mystical, life-saving, uplifting and inspiring story begins once again. Amen, Alleluia!

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Ecce Homo (Behold the Man), Jose Luis Castrillo n.d.

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SUNDAY 13 NOVEMBER 2022: THE THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

Jesus Christ on throne in his glory

Adobe Stock, The Lord of Hosts says, But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays (Malachi, 3:20A); Today’s First Reading.

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Next Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King, is the finale of the church’s liturgical year with its theme of the return of Jesus at the end of time. Today’s readings seem to be a foretaste of those things to come with writing called apocalyptic by the scholars. If you look at today’s gospel, Jesus is described as talking about all sorts of challenges and disasters if we accept him as our leader and guide. We will be thrown into prisons, led before governors, some put to death, betrayed by members of our own families, and so on. Well, taken literally, much of that is unlikely to happen today. The early Christians did indeed have to face terrifying times, including martyrdom, and, paradoxically, the church began to attract more and more converts at the same time. But each age has its challenges and threats. Looking at today, with a Covid pandemic, a financial meltdown, an unprovoked war against a peaceful country with nuclear threats raging, with climate change speeding up, with the consequent increases in stronger and more frequent hurricanes, biblical floods and droughts, the depletion of rainforests, and on and on, perhaps Jesus’ words are not so remote and confusing. Indeed, if you can substitute “society” for “you” in today’s gospel, it becomes almost prophetic! Each age throughout history is familiar with overwhelming threats to peace and prosperity, and ours is no exception. Approaching the Lord with humility and an open mind might well help us all live more securely and happily, even if painful remedies are required. Being Christian in the old days was very dangerous, but they did it. Facing the Christian future today requires monumental financial commitment, unblinking and accurate focus, and a total determination to see everything through to a better future, saving our God-given planet in all its beauty and wonder for the generations to come.

Looking at today’s second reading, St. Paul is dealing with local troubles, a reminder to us all that the global problems may require our more remote support, but our local problems require our direct support. We should all stick to what we do best, for the good of society, he says, and not to interfere and make life difficult for those around us: “We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others”. To solve our problems, we should be putting all our talents to the absolute best use, serving local and universal society in the best ways possible for each of us. All this is quite a message for the approaching end to the liturgical year, paralleling the challenging nature of what is happening everywhere today. As always, Jesus’ message can be applied directly to today, requiring courage, commitment, faith and hope in conducting ourselves in a Christian, loving, way, to serve God in serving others, in serving our world society.

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Christian World ViewStephen Thompson 2018.

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6 NOVEMBER 2022: THE THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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The Resurrection of Christ, Emma Syniuk, Saatchi Art.

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[Jesus said], “that the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out ‘Lord’, The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

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Today’s readings offer a glimpse into the Jewish mind at the time of Jesus. There was a huge controversy going on about life after death – if any. Today’s first reading, from the Second Book of Maccabees, talks about this freely by saying, “it is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.” Well, Maccabees is not present in the Jewish Bible, meaning it is not believed to be inspired by God. The Catholic and Orthodox traditions, on the other hand, do accept this as inspired by God, hence worthy of belief (and such texts are called “deuterocanonical”, meaning “belonging to the second canon”, a canon being a text worthy of acceptance and belief). Some Protestant traditions also do not include this book in their Bibles. So references to a life following death tend to be rare in the Jewish Bible, hence the trick question presented to Jesus by the Sadducees. They did not accept the concept of any meaningful life following death. They probably accepted the concept of Sheol, a place of darkness where everyone, good or bad, went after death, hence such prayers as “For Sheol cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You; Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness” (Isaiah 38:18). The line “He (Jesus) descended into hell” in the Apostles Creed refers to Jesus entering Sheol and redeeming all the just spirits who had waited for that moment.

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Jesus’ Descent into Limbo, di Vanni c.1380s, National Museum of Art, Washington DC, USA.

So the Sadducees thought they had trapped Jesus with their question about the seven brothers all marrying the same woman; (which tells us that there was a marriage tradition of one man/one woman by the time of Jesus. Recall that Solomon “had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines” (1 Kings 11:3)). So this whole event allows us, for a moment, to experience the world Jesus was born into and the great controversy of the time.

So, given all that, we can understand the glee of the Sadducees asking Jesus this question. It is a silly question though, because it transfers our earthly experience to the level of God’s presence, namely, heaven. It would be the same as asking what’s going to be on the menu at the heavenly banquet for the next million years! Reality will be perfect in the presence of God, no more concerns, pain, embarrassment, deals, money and so on and on. It is simply the perfect reality of each one of us with God, perfect creature with Perfect Creator, love with Love. Forever. And the supreme reality was Jesus conquering death itself at his Resurrection. That event puts everything else in the shade. He invites all of us to follow him, through life with all its ups and downs, as even he experienced, making everything worthwhile by emerging from death with the promise of eternal love and peace. That is what the seven brothers in the first reading believed, even before they had Jesus to follow. And that is what Paul is talking about in the second reading, where, with the Lord beside us, we can conquer anything that this life throws at us. All we have to do is believe and follow the Lord, who will give us the strength needed to overcome everything.

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Romans 8:31, Andrew Wommack Ministries

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SUNDAY 30 OCTOBER 2022: THE THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Calling Zacchaeus, The Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, Mass, USA.

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[Jesus said] “….the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”    Luke 19:10.

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Today’s gospel scene is one of the most human and detailed events depicted in Scripture. Look at the details. First, the man is named, Zacchaeus, the ultimate meaning of which is pure or innocent. That is unusual, as single events like this almost always have just an unnamed man or woman present. Then there is his actual physical description, “he was short in stature” or vertically challenged in modern parlance…. He had climbed up a tree in order to be able to spot this holy man who was passing through the town. Note that this was not any old tree, it was a sycamore, another unusual point to make.

Sycomore_in_EthiopiaFicus sycomorus, the sycamore variant found in the Middle East and Africa, Wikipedia.

As you can see, a good tree for climbing, big and wide, to get to a preferred spot above everyone. The event was also placed in Jericho, as Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the dread final events of his life. Jericho is considered by many experts to be the oldest continuous settlement in the world. In a sense, then, it can be thought of as the ultimate human geographical township, whereas Jesus’ destination, Jerusalem, could be called the ultimate divine settlement, where God’s temple was located, the holiest place on earth for Jews, and still is. Jericho is also below sea level whereas Jerusalem is several hundred feet above, another intriguing detail. It is almost as if Jesus was deliberately using geographical place to make several points. 

So Zacchaeus had simply heard about this holy man who was passing through his town, and only wanted to get a good look at him, climbed up the local sycamore tree and was, presumably, perfectly happy with all that. Unlike several other similar events in Jesus’ ministry, he did not call out to Jesus, asked nothing of him. He just wanted to see what was going on. It was Jesus who took the initiative in this case, and Jesus called on Zacchaeus, not the other way round. How did he know his name? Scholars say that Zacchaeus probably became one of Jesus’ followers, hence he became well known to them, and was identified in this story that way. We’ll never know, but that explanation is quite possible. Certainly the encounter with the holy man seemed to have transformed him. Remember as a tax collector, hence a collaborator with the occupying pagan Roman forces, he would have been despised by the locals, even perhaps even shunned. Not so with the Lord of course. He even wanted to stay with him, actually enter his house, an action which would make Jesus ritually unclean in the eyes of everyone there. No matter, as this was Jesus fulfilling his vocation “to seek and save what was lost” as the gospel says today. Zacchaeus’ salvation was more important than the laws of ritual uncleanliness. Today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom says the Lord has mercy on all, mercy being compassion on those who do not deserve it. Jesus fulfilled that description of God in his compassion on Zacchaeus. It also delivers a glowing example for us, as exhorted in today’s second reading, Paul’s prayer for us, that we may be worthy of God’s call, and that we might be the fulfillment of every good cause so that God may be glorified in us and us in God. The transformation in Zacchaeus was certainly a glowing example of what the goodness of God can achieve if we allow it to penetrate our inmost being, our soul.

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Psalm 103:2-5, Godly Woman Daily.

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SUNDAY 23 OCTOBER 2022: THE THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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The Resurrection, Kruiskerk, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.

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But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’   Luke 18:13.

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There is a very old prayer which originated with the Egyptian desert fathers and mothers in the sixth century. It is called the Jesus Prayer:

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

As you can see, it is in two parts. You begin by breathing in the first half, and breathing out the second half. In that way you allow the Lord to take possession of you as you inhale, and expel the evil within on exhaling. Eventually, after a length of time, this should become habitual, done throughout the day. You first start verbally, then once that is set, it slowly becomes a mental exercise and, eventually, it culminates in the heart as a continuous prayer, lifelong. Our Orthodox Christian teachers consider this prayer to be essential to our spiritual growth. One of its origins is thought to be today’s gospel passage, which contrasts humility with pride. The Pharisee says “I” five times; the tax collector simply asks for pity “on me”. Note the huge difference. Also remember that the tax collectors in Jesus’ day were Jews, appointed by the Roman forces occupying Palestine, who were seen as betraying their homeland, and so were despised by all the other Jews. They associated with the unclean Romans, who were uncircumcised, who ate forbidden foods and believed in a pantheon of gods and goddesses. And so our tax collector would be considered to be as bad as the pagan Romans, even though he was apparently allowed into the Temple. But looking at the picture Jesus paints, it is clearly the inner thoughts and bearing which God sees above all. In one person, there is the deadly sin of pride, in the other the saving grace of sorrow before God for sins committed; perhaps pride is the deadliest sin of all. 

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Table of the Seven Deadly Sins, attrib. Bosch, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

With the exception of the pride-filled Pharisee, the readings today focus on righteousness, how God will respond to the prayers of those who recognize their proper place before the Almighty, as seen in today’s tax collector, and how God responds to them. St. Paul, clearly facing death for his beliefs, is rock solid in his conviction that God is with him in his terrible situation, and will be with him throughout. Only that Pharisee in the gospel sees himself above all others, essentially with no need of God! He is quite good enough on his own! I refer you to my reflection on hell mentioned in the contemplation for the 27th Sunday three weeks ago. This man would seem to be quite a good candidate for such. He is so full of himself that there seems to be no room for God in his mind or heart. And note, the absence of God is a definition of sin (the opposite of grace, which is the presence of God). 

When we stand in prayer before the Almighty, not one of us is sinless, yet God loves each one of us, warts and all. The wonder of that truth should hit us each time we talk to the Lord. Why on earth are we, fallen creatures and prone to all those sins listed above, still welcomed into God’s presence? Let us be utterly grateful that our God is such and not an avenging angel just waiting for us breathe our last and be cast into everlasting darkness but rather a hovering presence just waiting for us to turn towards the light and be saved. Does this picture below echo God’s power, presence and hope, ever looking for us, ever ready to save us, like the Windhover, zooming down to eviscerate any evil within us, saving us from sin and death?

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I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,The Windhover…..

The Windhover, Hopkin’s Poetry.

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SUNDAY OCTOBER 16 2022: THE TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Spes (Hope), Caritas (Charity or Love), Fides (Faith), Burne-Jones, Oxford Cathedral, UK.

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{Jesus said], Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?  Will he be slow to answer them?  Luke 18:7-8A.

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Back in the day, this example being in the mid-60s when I was in studies for my science degree in economics (oh if only it was a science), we were given many theories and examples pertaining to macro- and micro-economics, fluctuations in currencies, supply and demand, etc. Intrigued by supply and demand where a rise in demand is echoed by a rise in prices, I asked the professor what would be the term for a situation where a consumer has everything s/he wants in this life, and needs only the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter and nothing else, hence no demand. The professor announced at once that this would be the state of “hither bliss”. Now I have searched that term for years, and never found it in any economics textbook anywhere. Perhaps you have – let me know. But brooding on this term has been interesting. “Hither bliss” suggests happiness in the here and now, so supposedly “thither bliss” would be in the beyond, perhaps heaven. So does one even consider thither bliss if you already have hither bliss? Wouldn’t it be redundant? Maybe, until you come across a situation where the here and now gets knocked for six, and you have nowhere to turn, save, perhaps, God. For example, a discovery that you have an incurable disease. Or your bank account has been hacked and all is lost and the bank claims it can do nothing. Or a car accident which leaves you crippled for life. Hither bliss can be dented or even destroyed. It is in such circumstances that many might turn to God for the first time; the true faithful will certainly do the same. But does God answer? That seems to be the theme in today’s gospel, so how does Jesus handle such a question? The quotation above, from today’s gospel,  suggests strongly that God will, indeed, respond to our “rights” and will not be slow to do so. But much of our experience suggests that we might, indeed, be in for the long haul waiting for our prayers to be answered.

Scripture says of God, A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night” (2Peter 3-8). God clearly has a perspective that we lack. What we want right here and now might well be placed in a divine timescale way beyond our own experience. Yes, God will answer our prayers, but in God’s good time. So what must we do as faithful children of God in the meantime? So we come to the three figures in today’s illustration above, of Faith, Hope and Charity. Our prayers are clearly made in strong hope of God’s response. Should that response not come in our good time, then where do we go? It challenges our faith. We might start questioning the very existence of God if we get no acceptable response. But in that case, where do we go, what alternative is there? We can bewail the apparent darkness, be tempted to despair, turn to “cures” such as alcohol, drugs or the like, in fact, turn in any way which is not of God. And that is where love comes in. Remember that St. Paul said now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1Corinthians 13:13). We turn to love for strength, refreshment, courage. It alone continues through all stress and strain. Where our faith and hope may begin to totter, love, the foundation of all, will stabilize us, keep us steady and see us through. Perhaps our faith, hope and love are our “rights” as stated in today’s gospel. We have a “right” as it were, to God’s love for us, always present, always active, because God is love (1John 4:8). It was that which enabled Jesus to survive his passion and death, convinced he was fulfilling his vocation from God, no matter what, and commending his very soul into God’s hands with his last breath. So our impatience with God not answering our prayers in the way we would like must be overwhelmed by our love of God and God’s love of us. We must  trust that God is aware of our needs but will respond to them in ways which are sometimes unknown to us, just as they were unknown to the Lord on the cross. Faith and hope may be in tatters at such moments, but love remains. Always and everywhere, therefore, there is God’s boundless, eternal, limitless love. There lies our strength, hope and faith.

Just one last thought from my own experience. I began teaching high school in Manchester in England in 1970. I had taught undergraduates at McGill University in Montréal in Canada, but this was a very different kettle of fish. I remember coming home one day in my second year despondent. I had had a terrible day, shouting at the kids, being disobeyed, the whole thing. So I questioned my whole decision to become a teacher. If it was going to be like this every day, forget it. As I brooded on this, I glanced out of my kitchen window. I had a clear view over the neighboring roofs to the distant hills of the Pennines. And there, outlined perfectly, was a beautiful, complete double rainbow. I was transfixed, never having seen anything like it before or since. It was as if God had indeed intervened to tell me to quieten down, all would be fine. And it was. Perhaps too many times we look for God in the wrong places when God is right in front of you.

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Double Rainbow in Massachusetts, 22WWLP.com, 2022.

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sunday 9 october 2022: the twenty-eighth sunday in ordinary time.

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Christ Healing the Ten Lepers, Visoki Dečani Monastery, Ruga sali ceku, Dečani, Kosovo.

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[Jesus said], “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”  Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”    Luke 17:17-19.

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In any doctor’s diagnosis there is one word which is dreaded above all others: incurable. Despite all the spectacular advances made in medicine over the last 150 years, that word can still be heard in surgeries everywhere. More and more often, perhaps, it is spoken in relation to a rare disease which research laboratories are reluctant to commit their resources into investigating. The pool of such stubborn maladies might be narrowing, but we still have the likes of Parkinson’s in our midst, incurable and relentless. At the time of Jesus, almost any disease could be considered incurable, and some were dreaded above others, leprosy being one. That word was probably applied to a variety of awful skin conditions, and as there was no way to help those who suffered from any of them, harsh rules were applied in an effort to stop them spreading:

“Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean! He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.”  Leviticus 13:45-46.

The word for outside the camp is excommunicated. The dark days of the AIDS outbreak in the early 1980s might have been the closest we have come to a time similar to that, when such a diagnosis was tantamount to a death sentence; or maybe the earliest days of the COVID virus, when little was known or understood about it. But with leprosy the pace of the disease is slow, eventually culminating in death. And remember, there was a very old belief in Jesus’ day that such a disease was the consequence of sin either of the person with the leprosy or his/her parents, the greater the sin, the worse the affliction. Hence little pity, care or concern for those afflicted. Except from Jesus. No words of condemnation or fear from him, just a message of hope. But he did have an expectation of gratitude from those he had helped. Well, he did get that, but only from the last person he would have expected it. We have often seen the hostility between the Samaritan version of Judaism and Jerusalem orthodoxy at that time. Jesus even called the Samaritan a “foreigner” which underscores the prevailing religious division. But, again, there was no condemnation from the Lord, only an approving word that the man had thanked God, and a recognition of the man’s faith. Is there an echo here of the prevailing sense of co-operation between most of the Christian churches today, compared to the barely concealed loathing of my own youth?

There are a few other points of interest in today’s readings. What do you make of Naaman the (pagan) Syrian’s request to take “two mule-loads of earth” with him on returning to his homeland so he could worship God rather than his own gods? It comes from another ancient belief that all gods were gods of place. If Naaman could take some Palestinian earth with him, he would pray while standing or kneeling on it to pray to the God of Palestine as if he were in Palestine! The Jews, during their exile in Babylon, slowly realized that you could pray to God anywhere, a radical new idea. Then there are the ten lepers “standing at a distance” from Jesus. Why? Because they were forbidden to approach anyone not afflicted with the disease. Indeed, they were to call out “unclean” as they walked along, so that everyone could avoid them (Leviticus 13:45). It was believed that being near such a person was dangerous and the disease contagious. In this, they were actually correct. Finally, Jesus praised the cleansed leper for giving thanks to God for his cure. Saying ‘Thank You” is extremely important. Remember that the word Eucharist, ευχαριστώ in Greek, simply means “thank you”. The most important sacred action we Christians can perform is to proclaim a profound “thank you” to God for sending his Son to us, remaining with us, and becoming present among us at every, well, eucharist. And that might well be the point of all of today’s readings.

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SUNDAY 2 OCTOBER 2022: THE TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Roy Lessin, Thoughts About God.

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[Jesus said], “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.”    Luke 17:10.

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There are moments in life which are unforgettable. A birth, a marriage, a death, almost certainly. Getting a job, or the opposite. They are all there at the top of our life experiences. There was one moment in my life which was unforgettable which was also unique and strange. I had joined the Society of Jesus in their novitiate which was then in Wernersville, Pennsylvania (now sold). Like all Jesuit novices, I embarked on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, otherwise known as the Long Retreat, 30 days in silence. There was a moment in that experience which was unique in my life. One morning, I was overcome with a cold, empty feeling which told me instantly there is no God. I knew instantly that God did not exist. The very first thought which occurred to me was “what am I doing here?” All around me was alien, the novitiate, the chapel, the novices, the priests, everything. My retreat director (and novice master), Fr. George Aschenbrenner, took this all very calmly. I was not to panic, just take everything as it comes, to wait. The coldness vanished after a short time, and what I considered normal life resumed. God returned!

This memory returned to me looking at today’s gospel. That bleak moment was as if I had been dismissed from my job. Job? Yes, being God’s good servant! Today’s readings are about service, to be God’s good servant, as Thomas More said moments before his execution: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first”. And it would be very easy to hear him agreeing to the last words of today’s gospel, quoted above. I have another servant story, which might or might not be applicable here. In my teens growing up in London, I wrote to Buckingham Palace for a job, and got a reply! I was told my application would be considered, but did I accept that I would have to spend summers at Balmoral (where the Queen died this month).  Well that did it – no thank you, in the middle of nowhere in the Scottish highlands with little to do and nowhere to go after daily chores. I had my standards! Now, compare that to being God’s servant. Are there barren moments in that job? Yes. Will I have to look at misery (from today’s first reading)? Yes. Will I have to bear my share of hardship for the gospel (from today’s gospel)? Yes (if I am being a true servant of God). It is not easy to be God’s servant, to be true to Jesus’s command to love my neighbor always, everywhere, no matter what. And if I manage to do that, I would simply be doing what any good servant of the Lord was required to do. And how? Because, to quote today’s second reading, God did not give us (me) a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So there!

But is there happiness in trying to be such a good servant? Can one be content in such a role? Is any rest allowed? Yes, yes and yes. Today’s gospel says clearly, “You may eat and drink when I am finished”. So God does the divine work, sowing the Good Word, and it is up to us to water the saplings, foster the growth and reap the harvest, all for the Lord, with the strength he gives us, each of us with our unique gifts and talents. To be Christ to the world in every way in every moment, because Jesus himself said that he had come to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20:28). Not easy, but a servant’s job includes all that. Hence we – I – must suppress all that is wrong in myself which would damage my job – vocation – as God’s servant. And so, each day, we begin again.

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St. Thomas More, St. Paul’s Anglican (Episcopal) Church, Brighton, UK.

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