SUNDAY 14 AUGUST 2022: THE TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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No Cross No Crown, Roman Catholic Man.

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Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division. Luke 12:51.

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This is one of those Sundays when the Christian scratches his/her head and wonders what the Prince of Peace actually means when he says things like the quotation above, taken from today’s gospel. There’s more:

From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three… a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother…

You will recall the rule that polite dinner conversation absolutely forbids any talk about two topics: politics and…. religion. Every individual has a set of opinions, convictions and rock solid beliefs that might well be triggered into action by wandering into either of these two topics and the dinner table might well become a battleground. What it shows, of course, is just how important religion and politics are, even in this age where organized religion seems to be collapsing, and politics seems to be wandering into Wonderland where we are all mad, according to the Cheshire Cat. The fact that Jesus expressed these sentiments 2000 years ago suggests that nothing has changed, in that regard at least, in all that time. And it was true even earlier as we see from the first reading. The prophet Jeremiah lived more than a half-millennium before Jesus, and he proclaimed a message which was unwelcome, that the people were turning away from God, and he warned that trouble would follow. For that he was thrown into a deep well, traditionally called the “miry cistern” from the Douay (and the King James) Bible: “And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire…” with the intention that he would die of starvation, the punishment for demoralizing society. People do not want to hear that which they do not want to hear! And let us not forget today’s second reading: “Consider how [Jesus] endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” The author of the Letter to the Hebrews means that, so far, his readers have not been put to the ultimate test, where they might face martyrdom rather than abandon their faith in Jesus. It seems that all three readings today point to one thing: which belief each one of us cherishes would we be prepared to die for?

That is a question that is probably impossible to answer. Only an actual test of faith can provide the answer. Luckily, at least in parliamentary democracies today, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion, so martyrdom there is not an option for believers, though there are still some other countries where that might not be the case. But on many other levels our faith in God can be tested to the core. For example, it can be tested in our pocket, with a call to help others who have nothing, such as these people:

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English Channel Migrants, BBC News, 12 August 2020.

Arriving illegally from France on the southern coast of England, very lucky to have escaped drowning, despite life jackets, these refugees are utterly destitute, friendless and facing a hostile, unknown future in a country whose language is probably but one of the many enormous challenges they will face. Now Jesus could be talking about them, or about us who have the uncomfortable question before us: What am I going to do about it?

So the lessons for today seem to be:

  1. If I know something is wrong with my family or at work, what will I do about it? Silence is not an option. Indeed, in the legal maxim, qui tacet consentire videtur, if you are silent in a bad situation, then you are deemed to have agreed with the situation. If you say nothing about the situation, then you do not have a problem with it. So you have to speak up!
  2. Jesus proved beyond doubt that he believed in his mission totally, and was prepared to die for it, and did die for it. What in my belief system is so precious that I will go to the wall for it, and defend it completely, to my last breath?
  3. There will be opposition from someone who does not accept my set of beliefs and might act accordingly. Will I defend my central beliefs against against that person? Am I so certain of them that I will defend them to the bitter end? Am I prepared to run the race, with its pitfalls, chasms, dangers and gale force winds right to the end no matter how bitter the opposition to all that might be? It is not easy to do the right thing; no cross, they say, no crown. Or, put another way, no pain, no gain. Unhappily not one of us can avoid pain in this life, from the Queen of England to the poorest beggar. It is what we do when afflicted with bad fortune is what counts, and there can be gold in such moments. Or, as St. Peter says in his second letter, “It is a blessing for you when they insult you for bearing the name of Christ, because it means that you have the Spirit of glory, the Spirit of God resting on you”  (1 Peter 4:14).

in 1977 I was assisting in a parish for the summer in Manchester in England. I was asked to take communion to those who could not make it to church. I remember two such occasions vividly. One was an old lady being taken care of by her daughter and son-in-law. I was welcomed most warmly. You can always tell what sort of atmosphere a house has in the first moments, and this house was very welcoming. I was taken upstairs, and found their mother in an immaculate bedroom, and she was clearly in good, capable hands. She received communion, and then asked me if there was anyone I would like her to pray for. Well who doesn’t? I told her and she promised to do that. Bed-ridden and essentially a burden and useless in the eyes of the cold world outside, in the eyes of God she was acting as God’s true child. I was also asked to take communion to a middle-aged lady, unmarried and in the last stages of terminal cancer, yet still at home. She had a grey pallor and was clearly very ill. Yet her spirit was vibrant, her attitude positive, her faith in God rock solid. These two people were undergoing their own crucifixions “with their eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” as today’s second reading says. No cross, no crown and did they ever have a cross. They were the living embodiment of what today’s readings talk about. They had nothing, but everything.

everything-he-who-has-everything-but-god-has-nothing-saint-augustine-129-4-0413.

St. Augustine, AZ Quotes.

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

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SUNDAY 7 AUGUST 2022: THE NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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The Operations Room at RAF Fighter Command’s No. 10 Group Headquarters, Rudloe Manor  1943, Wiltshire, UK. The north coast of France is at the top of the map, the south coast of England and Wales at the bottom, the reverse of what we normally see.

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[Jesus said to his disciples], Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.    Luke 12:39.

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Trying to put a modern twist on today’s gospel, I thought of a time of great peril in the history of the world, and the thought of a possible Nazi victory in World War II came to mind. The USA and UK were linked together at that time to defeat a monstrous enemy which was inflicting immense suffering on innocent people all over Europe. The Battle of Britain, where the Nazi air force was intent on destroying the significantly smaller Royal Air Force in order to prepare for an invasion, meant that it was critical to defeat the Luftwaffe. One weapon in the fight which experts say really swung the outcome in favor of the RAF, was radar. Although both sides had radar, the British had developed it much further than the Germans, who thought it was not a significant weapon and chose to downplay it. It is said that without radar, Germany might well have been able to crush the RAF, invade Britain and possibly, even probably, win the war. Why do I mention all this? Because of Jesus’ warning about being alert to danger in today’s gospel. The difference is that the UK did know the hour when the thief was coming, and so the house – the nation – was not broken into and defeated.

But do we have radar locked into our personal defense systems? Are we always scanning the horizon looking for events/people/opportunities which we can recognize as dangerous and might spell disaster? And know for sure that evil is always lurking out there. The devil never misses an opportunity to wreak havoc and pain and suffering wherever it is possible. And know also that we are never alone in confronting such a threat (unless we consciously choose to ignore the strength that God offers to us). God is our sacred, rather than secret, weapon. It is through God’s presence, God’s eyes, that we can identify evil and fight or, better still, avoid it. It was through God’s power and friendship that the Hebrews were released from slavery, seen in today’s first reading. And it was through trust in God that Abraham, in obedience to God’s will, did truly have descendants as many as the stars of the heavens, today’s second reading. So, one might ask, what is there to lose if we seek God’s help, trust in God’s help and follow God’s teaching through everything? The alternative surely leads to suffering or even death. Aren’t we much better off with God as our divine radar, giving us the early warning and advice on what to do? We do of course have the power, freedom, to do whatever we will. The Luftwaffe chose not to destroy the radar antennas which provided the crucial information to the Operations Room in the war. How strange if we on our own, choose to destroy or ignore the teaching, the example or advice which power God’s radar which would silence the warnings coming our way.RadarWWII2

Chain Home radar installation at Poling, Sussex, 1945.

What would be the sacred equivalent of this picture? Surely Sacred Scripture, the acts and events of Jesus’ life, the heroism of the saints, the deep-rooted knowledge of what is right and what is wrong embedded in our souls are the answers. Ignoring all that would be the equivalent of destroying the means whereby our knowledge of right and wrong comes to us. And we can destroy all that; human weakness or foolishness knows no bounds. We are free as God’s children to do whatever we wish. But if we wish fulfillment, happiness and satisfaction, there is only one way, the way which overcomes evil and admits grace.

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Saint Michael Overthrowing the Demon, Raphael 1518, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

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

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SUNDAY 31 july 2022: the eighteenth sunday in ordinary time.

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Vanitas Still Life, Claesz 1625, Frans Halls Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands.

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Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities!  All things are vanity!   Ecclesiastes 1:2.

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Today’s first reading opens with the quote above. It is strange that some biblical passages stick in the memory forever, and I believe this to be one of them. We are liable to come out with it when a friend is spending too much time getting ready to go out, or we might even spring it on ourselves after spending too much time on our hair or nails or choice of clothes. But to counter that, here is a line from today’s gospel: “Eat, drink and be merry”,  a second equally popular quotation!

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Eat, Drink, & Be Merry Beer Bucket, GourmetGiftBaskets.com

And these two expressions might seem to be diametrically opposed, but of course the second quote is taken out of context, whereas the first is not. You might say to yourself “spoilsport” at this moment. But today’s readings are not super wordplays, but lead us to a very sober conclusion which I believe to be the point of today’s teaching. Remember that Jesus was not opposed to a good party; his first miracle, you recall, was to replenish the wine which had run out at a wedding reception (John 2:1-12). He essentially invited himself over to Matthew’s house for a dinner party too, admittedly with a motive… (Matthew 9:10-17). So the image of a good time, with which he was familiar, was being used deliberately to make a serious point in this parable, and the first reading is, I believe, the key to the readings.

But first, the parable talks of a very successful, rich, farmer. He is so skilled, successful and no doubt lucky (with the weather) that he cannot house all the produce of his fields. So he plans to store as much as possible so that it is available in the future, which, for him, there is none, as God will call him from this life that very night. He will enjoy none of it. It was all in vain, as it were. All is vanity. So what is the point? Look at the gospel carefully, and you will see this: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God”. It was all focused on himself. There was no mention of sharing or providing for others, very similar to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). There is also a similar scene from Dickens Christmas Carol. Scrooge, led by the Spirit of Christmas Past, is reminded of the annual Christmas party old Fezziwig, his first employer, gave to his employees and how much goodwill was gained from it.

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Ghost of Christmas Parties Past – Mr Fezziwig’s Ball, John Leech, from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” (1843).

Isn’t that the way to handle one’s bounty? If old Fezziwig had been called from this life that night, he would have been sincerely mourned and missed, because he had shared the fruits of his labors, exactly what God is looking for. Clearly there was no vanity here at all. Old Fezziwig was what you could call, without blushing, a Child of God from such simple, joyful acts of charity and goodwill. As we can see from today’s second reading, there was none of this world’s evil in that old gentleman, something which Scrooge glimpsed and then compared it to his own behavior, which Dickens describes as a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!” One who, it might be said, did not have one joyous bone in his body. All was vanity with him, and no happiness whatever. What a way to live! The painting of Vanitas (Vanity in Latin) at the top seems to show a life apparently better than Scrooge’s bleak life, but still empty: the anemone flower is very short lived, also indicated by the timepiece whose wind-up key is dangling and liable to vanish below. The walnut is split, its fruit soon to wither, the candle is burned down to the base and will soon flicker and die. And the letter, unsealed which means it has been read, together with the quill pen, suggests a reply has been thought of, but has not been written. It all points to the shortness of life here on earth and offers comparison with the life to come, eternal and full of life. 

So all the readings put together warn us of the frivolity of grasping as much as we can for ourselves in this life, because this life is not permanent and it is not intended to circle around the individual. God requires, orders us to consider others and their good. One way leads to nothing, the other to life eternal. Vanity, therefore, is an example of pride, one of the seven deadly sins. As with any mortal sin, it can start with tiny little selfish imperfections, but can build into a catastrophic disaster capable of leading us to hell. As ever, the Lord is calling us to self-examination, identity of that which is wrong, eliminating it and substituting it with life-giving, other-oriented life goals which, though challenging, lead us on a much happier road to heaven.

 

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Reaching for the Sky, April 2014.

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SUNDAY 24 JULY 2022: THE SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Church of the Pater Noster, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Israel.

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[Jesus] said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name….”   Luke 11:2.

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The Our Father is the central prayer of the Christian community, from the lips of the Savior himself. It is the summation of all our hopes, our trust, our belief, our devotion to God. Wherever and whenever Christians gather, this is the prayer you will hear. At the Church of the Pater Noster (Our Father in Latin), you will see this prayer in 140 languages!

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One of the 140 Languages Displayed in the Church of the Pater Noster.

By tradition, this church, and the cave beneath, is where Jesus prayed, and where he taught his followers the most important prayer in Christianity. Matthew’s version of the prayer is more familiar to us so this is perhaps an opportunity to  consider the essential meaning of Jesus’ prayer as we look at Luke’s version. So, for example, “forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us” . I recall reading Matthew’s version out on the school intercom in Brooklyn, where I was a teacher, shortly after 9/11/2001 attack. Several of my students lost their first responder fathers on that day. It means we say to God that we forgive those who sin against us in the same breath as we ask God to forgive our own sins.  Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us….” Looking at Luke’s terminology in today’s gospel, we are saying that those who have run up an enormous indebtedness to us are to be forgiven that debt. Do we, can we, really forgive those responsible for 9/11? But Jesus’ words are pretty much definitive. Yes we must – yes we do. Lack of forgiveness means carrying a grudge, a hatred, which can fester within us for a long time, and can metastasize into something uncontrollable and evil. Hatred is a breeding ground which can even develop into something worse than the original evil act. If we use today’s gospel word “debt”, we know that in the real world, a debt such at 9/11 can never be repaid. Knowledge of that can become overwhelming for us to whom it is due. Only we, to whom it is owed, can forgive it. And that can even be more challenging if those who owe it show no remorse, no sorrow for what they did, as in the case of 9/11 where the guilty even thought they were doing God’s will. Even in the face of such frustration, anger, even hatred, the Lord is clear – forgive them their debt!

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The Our Father Updated, Timothy R. Botts, Calligrapher.

Today’s gospel concludes with Jesus encouraging us to ask God for our needs, and even to persist if we do not get what we are asking for, even if we are convinced that our request is good and proper, not, for example, asking for the name of the winner of the Kentucky Derby! I’m sure that you, like me, have asked for what seemed to be absolutely right but did not receive it, perhaps even after years of asking. I don’t have the answer, save to hope that my request is locked in the heart of the Lord for a better reason that I can imagine. Jesus must have felt that in his last moments on the cross. So we are in the best company when seemingly God has, for some good reason, chosen to turn away from our petitions. It is indeed that at such time our faith is tested. In fact it has been said that we only know if we have such faith in times of great challenge. Jesus did not lose hope, even then. We are never to lose hope, no matter what, following in Jesus’ faith-filled footsteps. Just as he found, ultimately, a God of love and hope, so shall we.

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Christ at the PilloryBartolomeo Montagna 1500, Gemaldegalerie, Berlin, Germany.

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Today’s readings are very challenging. You might like to go a little deeper by looking at the SundayMassReadings for this 17th Sunday three years ago:

sundaymassreadings.com/2019/07/25/28-july-2018-seventeenth-sunday-in-ordinary-time/

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

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SUNDAY 17 JULY 2022: THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

 
Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, Velázquez, National Gallery, London, UK.

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[Jesus said], “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”   Luke 10:41-42.

This scene is so utterly domestic that it is very easy for all of us to identify with poor old Martha and understand her frustration, even anger, at her sister not helping her out in the kitchen. There she is, sweating away, making sure everyone is satisfied (except herself of course), the perfect hostess, but with an overwhelming sense of unfairness. And then to be put down by Jesus himself after she had complained to him about it all. Poor Martha: she can’t win! Velázquez seems to have captured all that feeling in his picture above, don’t you think, especially in the way she is grasping her pestle! And on top of it all, she probably wanted to sit at Jesus’ feet herself to hear the voice of happiness and salvation coming from the Savior’s lips. But there she is, grumbling, gutting fish, crushing garlic, cracking eggs, life as we all know it. Today’s gospel.

Today’s first reading should ring a bell, as it was examined on Trinity Sunday last. The three men are visiting the very old Abraham, who addresses all three as “Sir”, which some people say was a foreshadowing of the revelation of the Blessed Trinity. The three announce that his wife Sarah, aged 90, will bear a child. Now, the ancients wanted basically one thing from their gods – power. They themselves had little to no power over the elements which controlled their lives – weather, invasions, earthquakes, famine and so on. So they looked to their gods to show their godlike power and prevent such disasters. Consider, for example, the dreadful bloodthirsty local Canaanite gods such as Molech. He was pretty  typical of the local pantheon. But the Abrahamic God chose to reveal his power for the first time by enabling Sarah to conceive a child and bear her baby one year later, the boy Isaac. So listening to the three visitors was life-giving for the old couple, even though the barren Sarah laughed at the incredible prediction. Now take a look at today’s second reading. It is summed up in Paul’s simple line to the Christians in Colossae“it is Christ in you, the hope for glory”.

So, we have the hope of new life for Abraham and Sarah, the eternal hope for the Christians in Colossae, and Jesus presumably delivering the same hope to Mary, which Martha knows she is missing, in today’s gospel – and she does not like it! But the remedy is clear- listen to the Lord later that day, or, more likely, have Mary tell her, teach her, what Jesus had said. And as any teacher knows, there is nothing like teaching something to make you understand it more deeply, love it more clearly and incorporate it more fully. One final thought: the Martha and Mary occasion can be taken as a model for the diaconate and the priesthood. Martha is serving (the word deacon, διάκονος (diakonos), means servant in Greek), perfectly proper, essential and acceptable, whereas Mary listens at the feet of Jesus, teachings which she will use to inspire her life, her belief and her attitude and which she will proclaim thereafter to her sister and friends: a priestly vocation!  And here we have two women! And of course, once more, all three readings today call us to accept, believe and live the life of hope and love of God, the message that remains eternal, inviting us all to accept it and live it fully.

Matthijs_musson-cristo_en_casa_de_marta_y_maria-1_edited-1Jesus in the (more upscale) House of Martha and Mary, Musson c.1650, BBVA Collection.

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SUNDAY 10 JULY 2022: THE FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Almost 40 years ago, when I was an assistant principal in a Catholic high school, a strange incident happened. Being British and working in an American school, I had two small flags standing together on my desk, the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack. One morning arriving at work, I noticed the Union Jack had vanished. I asked the Dean of Discipline to find out who and why… And he did. So I asked to talk to the culprit who had apparently been put up to it by his mother. The family refused to speak to me about it. “Why?” I asked. “Because you’re British”. It turned out they were a heavily IRA family (Irish Republican Army which at that time, prior to the Good Friday agreement, was supportive of violent action in Northern Ireland to expel the British). “But I’m a Catholic priest” I said. “You’re British” came the answer back via my Dean of Discipline. “My father was Irish – I have an Irish passport” I protested. “You’re British”. It was a brick wall; I could do nothing. I eventually got the offending article back, but was never able even to talk to the family. It was the one time I have confronted blind prejudice, and it was terrifying, because I could do nothing about it. I couldn’t go back and be reborn somewhere else! In its way it was also a godsend, because it gave me an insight on what so many people may have to go through daily, be they Muslim, or black, or gay or even being a woman!

I say all this to illuminate today’s gospel parable. Jesus quite deliberately labelled the person who helped the man beaten half to death a Samaritan, and this is why. Just like the IRA and the British, the Jews and Samaritans basically hated each other. There is no feud like a family feud, and this was one. Samaritans were Jewish, but… They accepted only the first five books of the Bible as inspired by God. The rest was simply pius writing. They intermarried with non-Jews. They rejected the sanctity of the Temple in Jerusalem in favor of their own on Mount Gerizim. And still do! There is a small Samaritan community in the Holy Land to this day. So no love was lost between the two (which explains several confrontations between Jesus and his followers throughout the gospels – even last week’s gospel where Jesus and his followers were not welcome in a Samaritan village). Meanwhile, back in the parable, it should be noted that two others had chanced upon the suffering man, and walked on, one a priest and the other a Levite, an assistant in the Temple in Jerusalem, two who you would think would have stopped and offered assistance. But did not. You can almost hear the gasp from Jesus’ listeners when he said that then a Samaritan walked by, and stopped…

samaritansSamaritans on Mount Gerizim, 2019.

Now presumably the wounded traveler who was coming from Jerusalem was Jewish, and the Samaritan passer-by probably shared the mutual distrust between the two, but he overcame that on seeing the Jewish man suffering and near death. As for the stricken man, he would be desperate for any help from anybody at that moment with no judgement anywhere. And, note, looking at the quote above from today’s gospel, when Jesus asked his questioner which of the passers-by helped the stricken man, he answered “the one who treated him with mercy”. He can’t even say the despised word “Samaritan”, which anyone else would say automatically in answer to the question. So our modern idea of the “good” Samaritan would conflict mightily with the ancient Jewish idea of those people. So, as I used to do regularly with my students in school, I challenge you to rewrite this parable by updating it: what person would you substitute for the Samaritan who would unexpectedly step up and help? Remember, it has to be a  person with no control over the reason s/he is despised, just like me being born British. And, of course, that is the reason Jesus quite deliberately chose the Samaritan as his hero in the story. We are all children of God, including the Samaritan who certainly acted that way; and we must all act that way,  no matter what. And that can sometimes be a gigantic challenge, but Jesus’ teaching and expectation are utterly clear.

Now there are several other points about this parable which might be of interest. First, Jericho is considered by many archeologists to be the oldest inhabited town or city in the world, perhaps 11,000 years old! Our traveler was journeying from Jerusalem which, though not the oldest city in the world, certainly has claim to being perhaps the holiest city, sacred to Jewish, Christian and Muslim believers. So, in a sense, the traveler was symbolically going the wrong way, from God’s eternal city to the oldest human city! And, as if to rub in that thought a little harder, Jerusalem stands 2,472 feet above sea level. Jericho is 850 feet below sea level, the lowest such inhabited place on earth. Indeed, much of the Jordan Valley is below sea level, as is the Dead Sea. Clearly this has no outlet to the sea, hence it retains all the salts eroded and dissolved by rainfall and carried down to it by the Jordan over the millennia, making it one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world. Nothing living can tolerate that, hence it is truly dead. Finally, the road between these two cities is desolate, bleak, treeless and somewhat forbidding, a prime area for brigands. So there is a strange juxtaposition between life and death in this whole area, perfect for a parable! 

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Site of Jericho, Palestinian Authority.

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On the road between Jerusalem and Jericho.

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SUNDAY 3RD JULY 2022: THE FOURTEENTH SUNDAY ON ORDINARY TIME.

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Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, Haydon c.1820; Athenaeum of Ohio, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

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(Jesus said to them), Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.  Luke 10:2.

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Jesus’ words above from today’s gospel are as if he were talking to each one of us today in the 21st century. And I think this painting by Benjamin Robert Haydon, an artist previously unknown to me, seems to capture the essence of Jesus’ words. Haydon was a British painter active in the first half of the 19th century. Incredibly, he painted works such as this Entry Into Jerusalem without a commission, in the hope of selling it after completion. The results were mixed, ultimately ending up in poverty and suicide. But this painting could almost be autobiographical, if unintended. If you look closely on the right hand side, there is a familiar face from history, François-Marie Arouet, better known by his nom de plume, Voltaire:

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Voltaire, Vintage Design Pics.

Though a baptized Catholic and educated by the Jesuits, Voltaire was a scourge to the Catholic Church throughout his life and even worse against Islam. The point is, Jesus is entering Jerusalem in the picture above, being greeted by an adoring crowd, but which crowd, within only one week, will be baying for his blood. So when Jesus says to his followers that they will be like lambs among wolves, he could well have been talking also about himself! And so there is Voltaire, ready to condemn and criticize the organization which based, and bases, itself on Jesus’ teachings, skeptically watching Jesus enter into his Passion. It is said that Voltaire is between Keats and Wordsworth, two Romanic poets, friends of Haydon, who had also turned away from established religion in favor of their own ideas of the transcendent. Take this thought up to today where we find Christians beset with indifference, temptations, ridicule, even hostility. So, as ever, Jesus’ words apply to us also, today, in the 21st century, as they did 200  years ago, as they did 2000 years ago. Plus ça change.

But there is more than gloom in today’s readings. True, established religion in the more advanced countries is in troublebut for those who do accept a reality beyond our own senses (and perhaps even within them), there can be joy in life and fulfillment, as witnessed in the first reading today. And look at the conclusion of the longer version of today’s gospel: “The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said,”Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.”Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky”. It seems that even the lambs amid a gang of wolves can find fulfillment and even happiness. That is the power of the Lamb – the Lamb of God. Remember it is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. With sin taken away, grace is left; remember that sin is the absence of God. With no sin, we are in the presence of God – the state of grace. That could be taken as the definition of true happiness. And that brings us to the heart of today’s gospel. It is the obligation of every believer to demonstrate in his or her life the fundamental joy of life in God. That can be seen in quiet acceptance and response to challenges, treating everybody with care and dignity, even if they do not deserve it, displaying trust in God even when there seems to be no God present, and, fundamentally, a rock solid certainly that God is on our side, encouraging us, supporting us and guiding us to the ultimate goal of eternal peace and happiness, some of which we will have already tasted in this life. And in achieving all that, we should share as much of all that as possible with those around us, believers or not.

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Lamb Among Wolves, Universal Peace Window, Washington National Cathedral, Washington DC.

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SUNDAY 25 JUNE 2022: THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

Heart

Sacred Heart of Jesus, Chapel of Mercy Convent, Albany, NY, USA.

Link the image above with this song: “Time After Time”. You can find the lyrics at the foot of this posting. 

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For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Galatians 5:14.

Click on words highlighted in red for further information.

We celebrated the feast of the Sacred Heart last Friday, and perhaps we can link the message of that image to today’s gospel, which contains something of a challenge. The Sacred Heart is one of the strongest symbols of Christ’s love for his Father and for us. His entire life and mission were based on that simple truth: God first, last and always. Anything which detracts from that reality is to be treated as temptation away from the truth, even the burial of your own father as we hear in today’s gospel. These words from today’s gospel are almost always used as an example of Jesus’ “hard sayings” and it is immediately followed by another, similar instruction: Another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” In other words, once your eyes are set on God, there is no looking back. Jesus is talking about total commitment, utter devotion, fixed focus. It is the first step in walking with the Lord, as he exemplified in all of the above. In everything he did, it was for the Father he did it. The ultimate example, of course, was his acceptance of the dreadful fate which awaited him beginning in the Garden of Gethsemane, which put his devotion to God to the ultimate test. But clearly that is not the end of the story – it is the beginning!

At the beginning of every journey, an itinerary has to be created, beginning with the destination from your starting point. Then you figure out the best possible route between the start and the finish, and then what to expect between those two points. For Jesus, the objective of his entire ministry was to obey the will of his Father. That began at his baptism, when he discovered his identity (Son of God) and his vocation (to fulfill all the prophecies concerning the Messiah of God). We were given the exact same identity and vocation at our baptism. As children of God, our objective must be union with God at the end of our time on earth, and to achieve that we must follow the vocation God has given us to the letter! And that’s where today’s gospel takes its place. No looking back, no other obligations other than those to God. That sounds hard, of course: not go to my father’s funeral? Not to say goodbye to my parents? But wait (as they say in commercials), that is by no means the end of the story. Once our allegiance to God has been established, then God’s will takes over, overriding our own, and then the law of love floods in, overwhelming all other considerations. As St. Augustine said, using the quote from last week, love and do anything you want, because everything will be done out of love and no harm or sin can ever come of that. So, then, yes, go to the funeral, go say goodbye, and do all with the love of God flowing through you, making everything you do an expression of what Jesus would do, as you too are a child of God. And with that comes total freedom. It might not be easy, but it will be God’s will and we will be free agents doing it, relying on the power of God within us which can never fail. Even after Jesus died, he triumphed through God’s love and power.

So it is appropriate that, as “Ordinary Time” begins once more, we have the starting point of our Christian existence underlined for us again in today’s gospel: all we say, do and think must be set on God, our acceptance of God’s will, and what then we must do as a consequence. In that way we are truly being and acting as children of God.

TIME AFTER TIME

Lying in my bed, I hear the clock tick and think of you
Caught up in circles
Confusion is nothing new
Flashback, warm nights
Almost left behind
Suitcase of memories
Time after
Sometimes you picture me
I’m walking too far ahead
You’re calling to me, I can’t hear
What you’ve said
You say, “go slow”
I fall behind
The second hand unwinds
If you’re lost you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall, I will catch you, I’ll be waiting
Time after time
If you’re lost, you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall, I will catch you, I will be waiting
Time after time
After my picture fades and darkness has
Turned to gray
Watching through windows
You’re wondering if I’m okay
Secrets stolen from deep inside
The drum beats out of time

If you’re lost you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you, I’ll be waiting
Time after time
You saId go slow I fall behind
The second hand unwinds
If you’re lost you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you, I’ll be waiting
Time after time after time 
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Cyndi Lauper / Robert Hyman
Time After Time lyrics © Concord Music Publishing LLC, Warner Chappell Music, Inc.
Heart

Sacred Heart Church, Suffern, NY, USA.

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SUNDAY 19 JUNE 2022: THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST: THE FEAST OF CORPUS CHRISTI.

COMMUNION

Whoever Eats My Flesh…, One Walk, April 2021.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

…..the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”    1 Corinthians 11:23-25.

For further information, click on the words highlighted in red.

This feast rejoices in the central, most profound truth in the Catholic Christian teaching that exists. For once, the Church becomes literalist, even fundarmentalist, taking those words above at their literal meaning. The words of consecration, the same words Jesus used at the Last Supper over the elements of bread and wine, said by a priest in the liturgy of the Eucharist, mean they actually become the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus. Hence the extreme veneration of the consecrated elements of bread and wine: the priest genuflects in front of them; sometimes the consecrated bread is “enthroned” in the center of a monstrance for adoration and blessing, or even processed in the street in some parishes on this day:

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Pray Tell, Corpus Christi Procession April 2018, Rome, Italy.

So, in a way, this is the living heart of the Church teaching, and the source of major controversy down through the centuries. Even in the Roman Catholic Church one survey stated that today only one third of Catholics accepted this central, most important teaching! The rest considered the consecrated bread and wine were “symbols” of the presence of Jesus at Mass or are simply not sure about the teaching itself. And this teaching was one of the most important controversies in the Reformation in the 16th century, with the church battling vigorously to defend this very teaching! Even Martin Luther defended this teaching, famously writing the words hoc est corpus meum  (Jesus’ words at the Last Supper “this is my body”) on the table top around which a team of reformers sat (not Catholics) several of whom denied that teaching. But the graphic words of Jesus are strikingly clear: “Take, eat, this is my body; take, drink, this is my blood” (Matthew 26:26-30; similar to the other gospel writings on the Last Supper). Then there are the shocking words from St. John’s gospel, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:54). Well these words are absolute, and they order us to do what the words say! In fact, these teachings were totally misunderstood by the pagan Roman authorities in the early church, and Christians were accused of cannibalism (along with atheism and incest)! Indeed looked at from a totally pagan point of view, they had a point. But when the full teaching is known, then we are challenged: do you believe and accept that fully or not? Surely Jesus knew that what he was talking about had massive implications and a strong potential for rejection and misunderstanding, yet he persisted. This is what Jesus wanted us to accept, clearly for our own good. But if we place ourselves into the sandals of those who heard this teaching for the first time, what on earth would have been our reaction? It was only at the Last Supper that, as they say, all was revealed. That is what the Lord meant! Common, simple bread and a glass of vin ordinaire. Held by Jesus and with his words clearly spoken over them, this  became the central teaching of Christians forever more.

Now consider the implications of this extraordinary teaching. The Lord’s whole message can be summed up into one word, love. St. Augustine summed it up rather strongly in his words “Love and do whatever you will”, or , more fully “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved”. If you think and act out of love at all time, there can be no hurt but only grace. But how is this true, intimate love to be expressed? Surely by ensuring we do not hurt anyone; love expressed in intimacy between those joined together by God, speaking and acting with such care that we only act for the good of others. And so on. And how does Jesus express his love for us? At Holy Communion… We actually take him into ourselves! We are invited to consume that which he declared categorically to be his body and blood! The Lord and each of us become utterly intimately one. We are physically, intellectually and emotionally one with Jesus at Holy Communion. That is the profound and ineffable truth and reality of Communion, and is the meaning of today’s feast. It is the foundation of our faith, the proof of Jesus’ last words, that he will be with us until the end of time as reported at the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel. Saints have been martyred over that most profound of all teachings down the centuries. Take a look at St. Nicholas Pieck, a Dutchman who died during the Reformation defending the truth of the Real Presence of Christ on the altar, or the 19-year old Spaniard who died defending the Blessed Sacrament (the consecrated hosts) during the Spanish Civil War. That is what belief in and defence of the Blessed Sacrament should be for all Catholics. It is Christ actually and really present among us at every Mass.

Celebrating the Mass is the supreme privilege of any priest or bishop and even the Pope. There is nothing greater than welcoming the Lord himself into our midst as we say thank you (which is what the word eucharist means) to Jesus for being with us as he promised. To say that the consecrated bread and wine is merely a “symbol” such as the flag of the country, reduces it immeasurably and denies what the Lord actually promised. That is how we walk with him and he us. That is what makes the teaching on the Real Presence real! Have no doubts; do not make this teaching and reality complicated. Accept it for what it is, the profound reality of Jesus’ love for each individual human being, high, low, rich poor, black, white, crippled, healthy, ignorant, educated: everyone with not one exception. The real Jesus wishes us to take him totally into ourselves so that we too can become truly Christ to the world, our true vocation and identity. And with Christ at our side – indeed, within us – we really can be that strong and convincing.

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Christ to the World (“Jesus in Outer Space”), 2013, Zack Hunt.

On Friday, 24th June, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

You can discover the roots of this special feast day here, and a great story it is. Although not a holyday of obligation, the Sacred Heart does call us to meditate on the burning heart of love God has for us, and the example of total love Jesus had – and has – for us as seen in his actions while here on earth. The modern aspect of this devotion springs from the divine revelations granted to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun in the Visitation Convent in Paray-le-Monial in the south-east of France:

Parey

Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Paray-le-Monial, France.

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

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