8 DECEMBER 2019: THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

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St. John the Baptist Baptizes the People, Poussin 1635, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”                       Matthew 3:1.

The figure of St. John the Baptist towers over the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He was, apparently, hugely popular with the people, who came out from the civilized suburbs of Jerusalem to hear him in the wilds of the desert just outside. He baptized them in the waters of the Jordan, he proclaimed the coming of the Lord, stating that he was not worthy to carry his sandals. John 3:30 even records John as saying, “He must become greater; I must become less.” So it would seem that John’s role was to prepare the way of the Lord, as Isaiah 40:43 had proclaimed. He was, in other words, the fulfillment the prophecy of Isaiah.

Let us take a look at this strange man who dressed strangely and ate weirdly. Although very successful at what he did, he said he was doing it for another, one who was greater than he. He was not at all tempted to put himself first, even stating when people asked who he was, by answering (rather oddly) “I am not the Messiah” (John 1:20). Indeed, he was fulfilling his vocation to the utmost, to be that voice proclaiming in the wilderness the coming of the Lord.

In 1984 a very grand movie called Amadeus appeared. It charted the career of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart whom many would proclaim the greatest composer ever. He was, however, a kind of nobody at the start of his career, running away from his employer, the very powerful Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg in Austria for the bright lights of the imperial capital of Vienna. Now the movie plays tricks with the actual history of Mozart in Vienna, but the “amended” version serves the point I will attempt to make. Mozart is brought to the attention of the Holy Roman Emperor of the time, Joseph II who considered himself to be an enlightened ruler, and consequently supported the arts. In the movie, almost everyone at the imperial court considered Mozart an arrogant and annoying upstart with little talent. The imperial court composer, Antonio Salieri, was the exception and immediately recognized the young man’s genius and was overcome with jealousy, so much so that he plotted Mozart’s destruction. Although this was not historically true, it makes for great drama. Playing on Mozart’s ambition and arrogance, he slowly drives the younger man to despair and ruin leading to his premature death at age 35. The film opens with Salieri attempting suicide and ending up in a madhouse, where he is attended by a young priest, who offers to hear his confession. The body of the film is the flashback based on this premise. At the end of the film, we return to the non-repentant Salieri and the young priest, devastated by what he has just heard, who says nothing. And here lies my message for today’s readings.

John the Baptist is the living incarnation of the 10th commandment, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods. I understand goods to include our neighbor’s success in the world, both in terms of material possessions and personal talent and growth and professional greatness. John was the very first to recognize Jesus as The One, the Messiah. He proclaimed him as such, said now Jesus had appeared, he, John, must grow less; Jesus was to take over, as it were, from him. That is what the priest should have told Salieri. It was Salieri’s Christian duty to support Mozart, to encourage him, to guide him, because he was the only one who understood the greatness of the younger man, and the prodigious talent granted him by God. But he did the opposite. He destroyed him.

So my message is, each of us is called to be a type of John the Baptist. If ever we encounter another person in need, and we are in a position to help, then it is our Christian duty to do so, even if we might recognize in the other greater talent and promise. As a teacher for years, it was my duty whenever I discovered a student way more intelligent than me, to ensure that that person was given full opportunity to grow and develop as far as I could assist. It was my job to do that for all my students, but I tried not to become a Salieri, (who was not like that in real life) if I encountered a super-intelligent pupil. One should rejoice in the gifts that God has blessed that person with and encourage, assist and guide him or her. And so, echoing the first reading today, we should try to the best of our ability to encourage peace, progress and support to all we encounter, ensuring that all swords are turned into plowshares. Amen, amen.

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The Peaceable Kingdom, Hicks 1834, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA.

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

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Roger

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SUNDAY 1 DECEMBER 2019: THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT

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“We Shall Beat Our Swords Into Plowshares”, Gift of the USSR to the United Nations 1959, UN Building, New York, USA.

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They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another….          Isaiah 2:4

Well if only it were so! Today’s readings amount to a clarion call to complete change in expectation and attitude both in the individual and between nations. It is in expectation of the arrival of the Prince of Peace among us, and the consequent changes in us resulting from such an event. Or rather, the consequent changes we (and all nations) should demonstrate from such an event. So now it is Advent, a word from Latin meaning “arrival”. Preparations begin for Christmas, the arrival of the Prince of Peace in our midst, seen in a million ways, from supermarket carols and street decorations to Christmas cards being sent all over the world to where it really counts, in the heart and soul of each one of us. What does the expected event mean?

About 2000 years before the blessed birth of the Savior, God entered history for the first time by approaching Abram/Abraham in a city in the north of Mesopotamia. In the following centuries, those who accepted this still small voice, a people called the Jews or Hebrews, learned what sort of God this was compared to the contemporary versions seen in the area.  By the time Jesus arrived, God’s self-revelation had demonstrated a God of power, loyalty, mercy, forgiveness, one who listens, who loves freedom and one who is open to relationship with us. That made God distinctly different from all other gods. These qualities were slowly revealed through the ages in the interactions between the prophets and people and God (the Father, as we learned to say). But with the birth of the Son of God, these characteristics were actually demonstrated in real life by Jesus, putting flesh, as it were, on the barebones revelation of the Divine One. Thereafter, down through the ages, those same qualities have been demonstrated by the people we call the saints, under the inspiration of the third person of the Trinity, God’s Holy Spirit, giving example of the kind of life God expects of all of us. Hence there is an exercise all of us can undertake as an Advent preparation for Christmas. How do we demonstrate the divine qualities in our life, in imitation of God’s?

SO:

  1. Power. We all have power. In class I would clearly demonstrate this by asking students, “Do you have the power to make your mother’s life a misery – or to make her day?”…….. So how do we use our power?
  2. Loyalty. Sometimes called trustworthiness or honesty. Are we people who can be depended on to do the right thing? Is our word as good as gold? Do we carry through on stated intentions?
  3. Mercy. I prefer to define this as “compassion on someone who does not deserve it”. Are we able to act that way with everyone we know? And I mean everyone.
  4. Forgiveness. Jesus forgave those who murdered him. Could we do the same for the wrongs done to us?
  5. Listening. Can we actually hear what people say to us? Can we take in their meaning, hopes, fears, anything that concerns them that they share with us?
  6. Freedom. Are we true to our own self? Do we allow others to be themselves? Are we open to rejoicing in the gifts of others, delighting in their worthy triumphs and right demonstrations of skill? Do we help in their development in some way? Are we free enough within ourselves to be able to do all that? (Note that possessiveness or envy is the opposite of freedom).
  7. Relationship. Are we open to others, or not? Do we welcome others into our life in an appropriate and good way? Do we welcome new friends or acquaintances?

So there is an Advent calendar of a different ilk for all of us. Look at those qualities and see how they show themselves into Jesus’ ministry and become shining examples of an honorable life. Think of your favorite saint, and apply the same test to that person. Think of your own life and apply them there. With such an armory, if it can be called that, a person is good in the eyes of God. Such a person is ready to receive the Prince of Peace on the 25th, for Jesus will recognize one of his own immediately. In that way, Christmas will become what it was meant to be, the festival of peace among all people.

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The Prince of Peace, Cathédrale de Notre-Dame de Chartres 13thCentury, Chartres, France.

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

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24 NOVEMBER 2019: SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE.

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Ave Christus Rex (Hail Christ the King), Baritus Catholic.

To read this Sunday’s Mass Readings click here.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”   Luke 23:42-43.

Today’s solemnity marks the end of the church’s year. Next Sunday we start to prepare for the Christmas event, the start of a new cycle. That being so, the readings last week gazed upon the end time, the Last Judgement and the goal towards which all good Christians strive. Today we have an image of kingship as the focus of all that is: “For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell.” But the gospel has what we might all consider to be the absolute polar opposite of kingship, with Jesus crucified before a braying crowd. Yet is it the opposite, or is it the ultimate statement of kingship as servant? Consider the ancient ceremony of coronation, or crowning of a sovereign.  At the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London in 1953, the following took place, with the polar opposite juxtaposed here. The first event was the formal recognition of this woman as “your undoubted Queen” to which the gathering respond “God save the Queen”. [On the cross was the statement “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews” Mark says the crowd taunted “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from that cross”]. The most sacred part of the coronation service was the anointing of the Queen. [Jesus was anointed at his baptism by the Holy Spirit, at which moment he became the Anointed One, Messiah in Hebrew, Christ in Greek]. The Queen was clothed in cloth of gold, “Receive this Imperial Robe and the Lord your God endue you with knowledge and wisdom”. [Mark says Jesus was clothed “in a purple cloak’ by Roman soldiers who mocked him]. The Queen received a spectacular gold and diamond-encrusted scepter “the ensign of kingly power and justice”. [Matthew says the Roman soldiers “put a reed in his right hand”]. Then the Queen was crowned, “God crown you with a crown of glory and righteousness” and the gathering in the Abbey shouted “God save Queen Elizabeth”. [Matthew and Mark both state that the Roman soldiers “plaited a crown of thorns and put it on his head” and then kneeled in front of him and mocked him as the King of the Jews, and spat on him and took the reed and hit him with it]. The crowned queen was then enthroned. [Jesus was nailed to a wooden cross, the throne of Christ the King]. It is almost as if the coronation ceremony had been modeled on the crucifixion itself

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The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, Westminster Abbey 1953, London, UK.

So in every respect, Jesus’ “coronation” concluded his mission on earth when he became the King of the Universe, as the church states today, and died enthroned and crowned, to reign forever. It was the final example of his role as servant, demonstrating to us the ultimate and sacred duty we all have to be loyal and true to God and God’s divine teaching. In forgiving those who had done that to him, Jesus became our numinous model of perfect duty to the end, with his total belief in God’s goodness and loyalty, despite every indication to the contrary. So too with us; through whatever adversity we may encounter, our trust and reliance on God must remain imperishable in the sure knowledge that as God’s true children, at the end we will be received into eternity as God’s faithful servants.

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Christ the King, Monastery Icons.

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

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17 NOVEMBER 2019: THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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The Horseman of the Apocalypse, Dali 1970, private collection.

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

[Jesus said] “You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.”       Luke 21:17-18.

Today is the penultimate Sunday of the church’s year, next Sunday being the solemnity of Christ the King, with the first Sunday of Advent following. So the church turns to ultimate thoughts and events. From the earliest days we have been taught that this whole world and all its glory will end in an apocalypse of destruction. Many times in the last 2000 years some have declared they know when that will be. Yet we are still here, waiting. There have been occasions, however, when it seemed that this end time was, indeed, upon us. A few years after the death and resurrection of the Lord for example, the Jews revolted against the Roman occupation of the Holy Land, only to be defeated and the holy temple torched. A second revolt some years after that resulted in the total destruction of the temple and all the Jews expelled from Jerusalem, whose name was even changed. Those occasions must have seemed to them to herald the end time. But they didn’t. I can imagine that the eastern front in the second world war, with Germany invading Russia and the resulting monumental death toll, and the revenge and destruction wreaked against the German population when Russia defeated Germany must have seemed to those involved that this was the apocalypse. But no, it wasn’t, though it certainly seems to have been a ghastly preview of it. So we have experienced events in history which seemed very like the picture painted in Scripture about the end of the ages. Today Jesus teaches how we should confront such events with a Christian eye and behavior: “You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” I imagine Jesus was talking about our inner strength and conviction, with him standing beside us, able to withstand anything.

Even though this apocalyptic end time has not actually happened yet, there will come a time for all of us when a personal end time will approach, our own death. All of the above may, indeed, seem to fall upon us in some way or another. There will be a terrible realization that this present life is ending, the prospect of complete annihilation is inevitable, and we can do nothing to prevent it. That will be our personal and individual apocalypse. That’s when today’s gospel should be remembered and taken to heart, and strength and conviction take over from terror and fear. And today’s first reading reminds us that if there are obstacles which might prevent us from allowing the Lord to stand next to us at that time, we have the opportunity now to do something about it and prepare for it. It will be the ultimate trial each of us must go through, the ultimate test of our belief. Jesus will be standing next to us, as he says; do we believe that he will, in fact, be there? 

So as the church’s year comes to an end, we faithful are invited to consider our own inevitable finale to a life of faith and love. We believe in a God of love, of compassion, of forgiveness. One who listens and hears us. One who gives divinity to us at communion. We are asked to respond in kind, both to ourselves and to those around us, to all humanity. We are still in the here and now. A little reminder of why we are here, and what is to eventually come, should focus us on God’s expectations for each of us and invite us to ensure we act, think and behave as a child of God.

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A Child of God, Poetry About Heavenly God

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

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

Roger

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10 NOVEMBER 2019: THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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The New Jerusalem, The Apocalypse Tapestry 1380, Château d’Angers, Angers, France.

To access this Sunday’s Mass readings, click here.

Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection,
came forward and put this question to Jesus…..     Luke 20:27.

A strange gospel today, posing a weird question to Jesus about the afterlife. The first reading also alludes to the afterlife, “the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying……” and again there is an allusion to the afterlife in the second reading, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself……..encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.” when it is clear that Jesus had been crucified and had died, yet lives to enable us to be encouraged and strengthened. And so what is the Sadducees’ question about, with multiple marriages in heaven and who would that woman actually be married to? So perhaps a little sitz im leben, as the scripture scholars say, would be useful (meaning what was this all about back then in that time and place?). First, it is important to know that the concept of afterlife was a major controversy at the time of Jesus. The prevailing wisdom for centuries had been that after death all life went to Sheol. All good people, all bad people, all animals, everything that had died, ended up in that silent, grey semi-existence from which there was no escape. That accounts, among other things, for the ancient Jewish belief that success and wealth in this life was the reward for goodness, and sickness or poverty, for example, the punishment. It is also the explanation of the Apostles’ Creed statement that Jesus “descended into hell”; it was to Sheol he went, to break down its walls and release the righteous. The gradual dawning of a new concept, heaven and hell, took a very long time to establish itself. Our first reading, from the second Book of Maccabees (a terrible time in Jewish history when the Jews fought for independence), describes events which took place over 100 years before the birth of Jesus, and which contains the afterlife hope expressed in today’s reading. So the Sadducees clearly represented the conservative point of view, defending the Sheol concept against the new teaching. Jesus was clearly a radical, therefore, dismissing such a concept as antithetical to his teaching. Hence his dismissal of their question as irrelevant to the joy of heaven which surpasses even the joy and happiness of the best marriage union imaginable. After all (though he does not say this) procreation in heaven is redundant! 

Christianity, therefore, clearly began with the new teaching, that life here on earth would foreshadow life after death, be it good (heaven) or bad (hell). All of Jesus’ teachings focus on that hope of heaven, and how to attain it. Indeed, without that belief, everything he taught could be dismissed as nonsense, as we were all doomed to Sheol no matter what, so make the most of life here and now to attain wealth and happiness. Jesus’ teachings are so much broader than that, where a righteous life, even if poor and seemingly useless (witness the story of the widow’s mite) could easily foreshadow the reward and the eternal bliss of heaven, as it now depends on our own will to live as a righteous child of God. Or not.

Having said that, it seems that the concept of Sheol, or more likely death being final and absolute, is not exactly unknown today. A film such as Wolf of Wall Street shows that life lived for success, wealth, power in the here and now, no matter what, and damn the consequences, is still very much with us. The TV show The Night Manager has an even more chilling example of a man on the make, prepared even to sacrifice human life in the pursuit of money. Life lived without the goal of goodness and right behavior can degenerate into the most devastatingly evil depths of depravity as there is no fear of the consequences. Of course, if you get caught, then there are, but one does wonder how many do not get caught. However we, who try to be good, trust  in a God of justice, in front of whom these evil people will stand, for whom even Sheol would not be a punishment fitting for such behavior. That’s why there is a hell for such behavior. And each of us can create our own idea of that. 

So today’s readings are a call back to basics. We are invited to refocus our own goals in light of heaven and hell, to evaluate our own behavior in that light and consider the consequences towards which we are heading. One final word about a very Catholic belief, that of Purgatory (coming from the idea of purgation). That concept in not to be found in Scripture, and is therefore dismissed by Protestant teaching. But it came as the result of thinking of the pure goodness and perfection of heaven and the pure evil of hell. What if we die in between them – not good enough for heaven and not bad enough for hell? Well, the best defense of the teaching I’ve heard came from a Jesuit priest who had converted from a strict Protestant upbringing. He had to reconcile his Protestant rejection of Purgatory and the Catholic belief in it. He said this. At the moment of our death, God shows us our own life from birth. It is mapped out, with the road showing right-living from birth to death as a straight line through it all leading directly to heaven. Every evil act we have committed deviates from that path. The further the deviation, the further away we went from the road to heaven, and consequently the greater remorse we suffer. Those who have deviated far enough and lost the way and have done nothing to regain the right path, they go to the other place towards which they have been deliberately walking. Those who have not suffer a greater or lesser pain of remorse, depending on the extent of the  deviation, but at least have tried to regain the right path. Remorse is the pain of Purgatory, cleansing us of the filth and stain of evil committed, and enabling us at last to attain heaven itself. That makes a great deal of sense to me. Remorse can be a terrible thing, and the thought of being overwhelmed by it is awful. It is a suitable purgatorial punishment however. Let us all try and minimize that possibility by right-living in the here and now, with the goal, the destination, always being heaven and the glory of God. 

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Purgatory, Carracci 1610, Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican City State. 

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

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

Roger

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3 NOVEMBER 2019: THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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Christ Calling Zacchaeus, Palma 1575, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK.

To access today’s Sunday readings, Click Here.

Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”            Luke 19:5.

Have you noticed that wherever Pope Francis goes, there is a forest of cell (mobile) phones recording the magic moment, perhaps even the ultimate honor of a selfie with him? Well the people furthest away from the pope might well be tempted to climb a convenient sycamore tree, if available, to assure themselves of getting some sort of look at him. That’s what poor pint-sized (“he was short in stature” we are assured) Zacchaeus thought and up he went. Well he got more than he bargained for, even more than whatever the ancient equivalent of a selfie was; here Jesus not only noticed him, not only called him by name but announced he would be glad to go to dinner with him! Imagine Pope Francis saying that to you! Yet today’s gospel assures us that that is exactly what happened. The story is so sharp, surprising, with details such as the exact tree climbed and by a man who was not tall, that I think it must assuredly have come from a real life event in Jesus’ ministry. And another thought. Remember last week’s gospel of the Pharisee who was so full of his own goodness compared to everyone else? Well today here is Zacchaeus, somewhat shady in his dealings apparently, an outcast as he was a tax collector and therefore a collaborator with the hated pagan Roman occupying force, wealthy as a consequence and therefore hated by everybody. Yet he wanted to see who this traveling holy man was…. Why? Perhaps that’s what Jesus thought, and hence his surprising and controversial statement that he would eat with this man, thereby shocking the local Jewish community. And sure enough, Zacchaeus, clearly moved by the presence of goodness and grace, the presence of God, declares his reformation in the presence of everyone. No more swindling or pressure and much help to those who have nothing. The exact type of person that Jesus came to call to goodness. 

Comparing last week’s Pharisee and today’s tax collector is interesting. Last week we heard about a man who was utterly assured of his own goodness, so assured that he seemed to be praying about and to himself! There did not seem to be too much room for God in his thinking. We all have some form of weakness, sinfulness, bad attitude or whatever which flies in the face of the God of love. Some are better than others at dealing with such evil, and some deny they have any weakness at all. Truly good people constantly check themselves to make sure they have not been guilty of such sin, and will readily confess it and try to make amends. They are open to improvement, fully aware they are not perfect. Zacchaeus seems to have been such a one as that. It needed a shove from Jesus, as it were, for him to become aware of his failings, and the presence and strength of God to help him make amends. He was lucky that the Lord passed by; but we have the Lord with us always, and especially when we are at his table, at his feast. In our case, Jesus invites us to dine with him! What a glorious reversal of today’s gospel story. We are so privileged and fortunate to have the Lord wait for us, to be with us especially on Sunday, that we have no excuse for straying from his presence, from his message. And we are able to go way beyond a selfie with the Lord; we actually incorporate the Lord into ourselves and become Christ to the world by virtue of our communion with him. No sycamore trees are necessary, no cell phones or mobile devices needed; we have it all because, being Christian, the Lord dwells within us, and is seen by all in the way we interact with others, how we deal with others, especially those who have little or nothing, how we act and talk says it all. Thank you Lord.

ARTWORK WITH BIBLE BY HOSBACH

The Last Supper, Tintoretto 1566, Church of San Trovaso, Venice, Italy.

Remember that Friday, November 1st, is All Saints Day, a Holyday of Obligation.

Roger

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

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27 OCTOBER 2019: THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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The Pharisee and the Tax Collector, von Carolsfeld, Die Bibel in Bildern, Plate 200, 1860.

For today’s Sunday Mass Readings, click here.

[Jesus said] “…whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”   Luke 18:14.

Today’s gospel seems to point to the heart of the entire gospel message. It focusses on one crucial question: God or me? or, put another way, others or me? It comes up throughout Scripture; Psalm 15, for example, praises the one who does no wrong to his brother, or casts no slur on his neighbor. Today’s first reading talks of the prayer of the lowly which reaches the Most High, and St. Paul talks of winning the race, keeping his faith in Christ no matter what. So Jesus challenges us quite clearly and directly: who is more important to each of us, God or self? Today’s parable could hardly be more clear about the answer: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector” says the Pharisee in the form of what he would regard as a prayer, though it is clearly a prayer to and about himself! When we pray to God, we address the ultimate purity, the source of all goodness and love, the ultimate Other to whom all praise belongs and who waits to return it. Who are we in comparison with such spotless perfection? Love, however, only requires one thing, to be given away and that is what our perfect God wishes to do, to love us and be loved in return. The Pharisee, unhappily,  is in love with himself! God wishes that we love God always and everywhere. St. Paul, under judicial sentence of death for his belief in such a God, loves God throughout, no matter the consequences, because the returned love of God for him will strengthen him through anything, just as it had done for Jesus himself. In the parable, the person whom God finds justified is the humble tax collector, a person who would be hated by everyone around him, but not by God. This man knows his limits and what has to be done to tear them down and allow God to enter. With the other, there is no room for God, only himself.

So today we are asked to look within ourselves honestly and as clearly without obfuscation as possible. Upon whom do we focus our life, our hope, our ambition, our actions, our trust, our very self? Is it on ourselves or is it to reflect the glory of God? Is it seeing God in others and in what we do, or is it in pride of our own achievement as if such talent producing it were our own creation? There is a hymn which attempts to sum up this ultimate commitment to stand with God, to have God within and allow God to take us over, as it were, written by none other than St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland:

Roger

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

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20 OCTOBER 2019: TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Parable of the Unjust Judge, Nicola Sarić

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

[Jesus said] “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?”    Luke 18:7.

In Scripture there is a significant challenge when it comes to time. There seems to be a regular time, familiar to us all, and then there is a special, or God’s, time. In Greek there are, in fact, two different words for them, χρόνος (chronos), from which we get chronological, etc., meaning regular time with which we are all familiar. That is the word used in verse 8 of the gospel: “..for a long time the judge was unwilling…” The other word for time in ancient Greek is καιρός (kairos), meaning the opportune moment, originally taken from such practical situations such as the moment when an arrow can be released with correct force so that it will enter the target successfully, or the moment in weaving when the shuttle can be passed through the threads of the loom. I think that is a valuable distinction which helps us understand a challenging parable such as we have today. In English I think this sense of the word should be used, with the idea of picking the right, exact moment, kairos, to do something, to understand Jesus’ words.

So in today’s gospel we have a tough judge being henpecked by a widow for a judgment in her case, whatever it was. Eventually, over time, he is sick of it, saying that he had better settle it, as it says in today’s gospel, “lest she finally come and strike me.”  Interestingly, this is apparently taken from boxing terminology, and could also be translated as “lest she give me a black eye!” So this widow is not the shy, retiring supplicant we might suppose. And she gets her way. But Jesus says quite definitely that with God you can expect a “speedy” answer. But for those of us who have not, in our opinion, received such an answer, what can be said? Well the only thing I can think of is the distinction between those two understandings of time, God’s and ours.  If we have been begging for something for a long time, how does that fit with today’s gospel? Scripture says of God’s time that “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2nd Peter 3:8) and A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4). That would seem to be a definition of God’s time, God’s kairos. Definitely not our idea! But I’m sure many of us have experiences of God’s intervention as requested. Now miraculous interventions for very grave situations are extremely rare, but there are more regular requests which when granted might have the finger of God there. For example asking St. Anthony of Padua for help in finding something lost. I’ve experienced that and have been baffled how finding it happened (…but I looked there a 1000 times and it wasn’t there – but there it is!). And also remember St. Anthony has to ask God to intervene and being such a close friend, it has happened! Have you had such an experience?  Take a look at this. In my opinion, that is the Communion of Saints at work: God’s kairos is present and we have friends above! And if we are really serious, asking a group of contemplatives, such as the Carmelites, to pray for our intention cannot hurt. And ultimately, if our request is not granted, somewhere there will be a reason even if locked away in heaven. 

So perhaps today’s gospel invites us to take a theological look at our situations when we ask God (or the saints) for something. Yes our requests are heard; yes sometimes they are answered, even immediately, and sometimes in ways we do not expect, and sometimes they are not answered. The point is that we always have someone on high who listens to us, who knows us and who knows best. We might have to resign ourselves to acceptance of a bad situation and work our way through it, also with God’s help. In all cases, then, we are never alone, wherever we may be. Ultimately that should be a comfort, trusting that God has done the right thing. Jesus must have trusted that when he breathed his last. And he was right.

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Shrine of St. Anthony, Padua, Italy.

Roger

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

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13 OCTOBER 2019: TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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The Samaritan Leper, Codex Aureus of Echternach c.1030Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany.

For this Sunday’s Mass Readings, click here.

[Jesus said] “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?  Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”      Luke 17:17-18.

At the very heart of Christianity there is gratitude. The very word eucharist (from the Greek ευχαριστω, eucharistō, or thank you) means thanksgiving. It is the reason we go to Mass on Sunday, to give God thanks for the blessings we have received, beginning with life itself. A life of gratitude is a life which is based in reality. All we have, inside and out, is a gift, and for gifts we say “thank you”. The true prayer after receiving the Lord in communion is a simple “thank you”. In today’s gospel, only one of the ten lepers cured of perhaps the most dreaded disease of that time, returned to Jesus to say thank you. His life, and those of the other nine, had been completely changed when they developed leprosy. There was no cure of course. It was contagious and disfiguring, and so those who had it were excommunicated, in the true sense of the word: they were cast out of the community, forbidden to come near anyone else, ever. Hence the gospel description of them standing at a distance, and having to shout to the Lord for help. There is an additional twist in this story, as the only one who returned to Jesus was a Samaritan. The introduction to today’s gospel says Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem. He was traveling from his homeland of Galilee and to get to Jerusalem he had to go through Samaria. As I have mentioned many times before, there was no love lost between the Jews and the Samaritans, even though both were Jewish. The Samaritans denied that the Temple in Jerusalem was the true temple; that was to be found in Samaria. Samaritans claimed that the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, were alone the Word of God; all the other books, including the prophets, the psalms and of course today’s reading from the Second Book of Kings, were simply pious writings. There is nothing to compare to the hatred to be found sometimes in families, and here in the Holy Land itself it was to be found in spades between these two groups. Hence the astonishment that the Samaritan leper alone returned to give thanks to the Jew from Galilee. Even Jesus called him a “foreigner”. But the final twist is this: this man is the only one in all the gospels who thanked Jesus for what he had done!

One can find gratitude in St. Paul writing from prison where, as he says, he sits in chains “like a criminal”. He was under sentence of death for his beliefs; he had sent away Onesimus, the man who had done his best to help him, but whose conversion to Christianity meant he was more valuable as a missionary than as a servant to Paul, who writes: “But the word of God is not chained. Therefore, I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus…” Paul is grateful that as a servant of God, he has been able to bring others to the freedom of the love of God in Jesus. He is thankful that God has called him to such a life, and he rejoices in their happiness. I guess it is like seeing the silver lining around the darkest of dark clouds. The darker the cloud, the brighter the silver lining! Paul compounds this with his famous declaration of the faithfulness of Jesus, no matter what. In all and every circumstance, in the bleakest of bleak situations when all seems to be lost, Jesus is faithful to us “for he cannot deny himself”. In other words, we are never alone, never. Jesus, our faithful companion and leader is with us always when we let him. We might not have leprosy (which can still be found however), but we might have cancer, we might be in terrible situations, we might on the other hand be very comfortable; whatever our situations might be, we have a faithful leader directing our actions in the way of truth and righteousness. And we should never forget to say thank you for the peace and confidence he gives us no matter what. So however negatively we might consider ourselves, perhaps unable to forgive ourselves, remember that Jesus actually cleansed a leper whom most Jews would have considered an enemy of the people twice over, as he was also a Samaritan. But he was the only one who returned and thanked the Lord, who accepted his thanks and who was the one who stood by him. And so it is and should be for all of us.

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ThankYouDiva.com

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

© SundayMassReadings.com

Roger