SUNDAY 19 JANUARY 2020: SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, Van Eyck brothers 1432, St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium.

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

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world…”   John 1:29.

A question occurred to me preparing this Sunday’s reflection concerned John’s choice of the word “Lamb”. Why not “fawn” or “calf” or “foal” or some other word applied to the young of animals? If we started to use any of those terms today and apply it to Jesus, it would sound very strange as we are so used to “lamb”. But surely John’s followers, who heard his description of Jesus, a grown man, for the first time, might well have reacted in the same way: “lamb”? It must have been strange. Or perhaps not, considering the highly significant role that the figure of a lamb had played in Jewish history:

[God said to Moses] Tell Israel they shall take a lamb without blemish, a male one year old, kill the lamb and take some of the blood and put it on the the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat the flesh with unleavened bread…. when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will fall on you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. Exodus 12, abridged.

Following that night of the 10th plague, when the first-born of Egypt were slain, the Hebrew people were released from slavery and began their 40-year journey to the Promised Land. Hence the blood of the sacrificed lamb represented life (including consuming the lamb in haste at mealtime, strength to begin their journey) over death of the first-born, and freedom over slavery. Transferred to Jesus’ mission, it meant freedom over slavery to sin, eternal life and happiness, our Promised Land (with his body and blood at communion as an anticipation of the eternal banquet, and as food for the journey towards that time) as opposed to eternal hell and suffering. And that symbolism has remained with us down to the present: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world…” said prior to consuming that sacred Lamb in the form of consecrated bread and wine at Mass. That also helps us understand the painting above, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. A non-Christian would have a very hard time understanding what it was all about.

So, following on John’s recognition and identity of Jesus as the Lamb of God, it follows that Jesus is the sacrificial victim who will deliver us all from slavery and death. Jesus has the power to give us freedom and life, the essentials of a good and fulfilling life here on earth followed by the absolute freedom and life in heaven, always provided that that is what we truly want and are willing to do what is necessary to deserve them. Remember the ancient Jews had to believe in the power of the lamb’s blood on the doorposts to save them from death, and had to endure 40 years in the wilderness before arriving at the freedom of their Promised Land. Christians have to accept that the Lamb’s blood received in communion has the power to give us eternal life, and that our pilgrimage here on earth, obeying God’s will, anticipates the absolute freedom of eternity in God’s presence. If you read today’s first reading with that in mind, it becomes clear that we, as God’s children here on earth, are to be lights of life and freedom to all around us, that others too might enjoy and model their lives to God’s will in anticipation of such a wonderful consequence. The fact that if we do actually model our lives in such a way here and now, we have heaven here and now! Remember Jesus often said “Heaven is like…..” when he was teaching. Follow that teaching therefore, and we experience heaven in the here and now! In other words, we can experience profound happiness and satisfaction springing from obeying God’s will today. It may not be easy, it may incur suffering, but if God is with us and we with God, what can prevail against us?

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Ancient design for the Christian cross: 𝚭ΩΗ (ZŌĒ -“zoey”- LIFE) and ΘΩΣ (PHŌS – LIGHT).

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

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Roger

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12 JANUARY 2020: THE FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD.

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The Baptism of the Lord, Perugino, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City State.

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Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.  Matthew 3:13.

As explained in last Sunday’s SundayMassReadings, this event is another Epiphany. Perugino displays this loudly and clearly in the picture above. You have God in heaven, whose voice was heard at Jesus’ baptism, and you have God’s Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus, thus anointing him. Such divine intervention is called an epiphany. It inaugurated Jesus’ vocation to be the Messiah, the Christ, (meaning the Anointed One), and gave him his identity, as the heavenly voice declared Jesus to be “my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The gospel of Mark actually begins with this event, which shows how important it was. Jesus was probably about the age of 30 and presumably by then a jobbing carpenter as Joseph, his stepfather, was. And so he was certainly thrown into a turbulent state of mind and with much confusion at the double revelation, hence his rapid departure into the desert to try and figure it all out: What and who am I? Note that these two questions apply to all the baptized down to today. The second reading shows how baptism, the spiritual circumcision for all Christians, was clearly opened up to all Gentiles very early on. A very confused St. Peter witnessed the Holy Spirit anointing the pagan Roman soldier Cornelius and his household even before they were baptized. This was the absolute sign that the potential chosen people of God could now be anyone, anywhere. It was clear and absolute, and was to precipitate the first major crisis in the new Christian community. All the Christians up to that Cornelius moment were converted Jews, and so it was understandable that they assumed you would have to become Jewish if you wanted to be Christian; this event in the household of the Roman soldier Cornelius stated absolutely that this was not to be the case. Eventually that was accepted, and so anyone could become a follower of Jesus.

The Jewish people had waited a very long time for the Anointed of God (the Messiah) to arrive. Ever since the conquest of the Holy Land by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in about 590 BCE, save for a short period of independence, foreign, pagan, forces had occupied the Holy Land. They were aching for a Messiah who would end this national disgrace and restore the kingdom of David. That hope was to result in the death of Jesus as he was such a colossal disappointment to them. In their eyes, he betrayed the greatest hope they had in the Messiah – political independence. Yes they were delighted at Jesus’ miracles but they wanted much more, concentrating on the more overt prophecies concerning the messiah, for example, that kings would bow before him (Psalm 72). Jesus must have been aware of these strong expectations, but they meant nothing to him, he who said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52). In fact, the Jewish people, despite many attempts to attain this treasured independence, had to wait until 1949 to achieve it, with the foundation of the state of Israel. Those other messianic prophecies which talked about a suffering servant (Isaiah 53), always accepted as such by Christians were not – and are not – accepted as such in Jewish thought. So Jesus almost certainly took on this role of Messiah knowing the perils it most certainly would bring. But obedience to the will of God was first and foremost in his thinking; after that was a total trust in God’s protection and loyalty, no matter what happened to him. He put God first, and personal fears and reluctance behind him. And that is the eternal model for all of us. Doing the will of God is never easy, yet if we trust God, have perfect faith in God, know that all will be well in the end, then we too become truly obedient children of God, giving us both our God-given identity and, based on our God-given gifts, our vocation. These we received at our baptism too. Let us ask clarity and strength from God to accept these and act accordingly following his will for each of us. That is the pathway to perfection, happiness and eternal life.

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AZ Quotes.

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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5 JANUARY 2020: THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD.

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Magi from the East, Catholic Culture.

….behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?      Matthew 2:1-2.

For today’s Sunday Mass Readings, click here.

First, let us take at that word “Magi”. It does not come from Latin or Greek, which makes the term unusual in Christian Scripture. It is thought to come from an ancient eastern religion called Zoroastrianism. This religion survives to this day, and what is remarkable about it is that it is monotheistic, predating Christianity. Zoroaster, the founder, lived in what is now Iran perhaps 700 years before Christ (there is a lot of discussion on this point). Magi were possibly priests of that religion. In any case, they were not kings! Note that today’s gospel does not tell us how many arrived at the stable. From the number of gifts and their quality, especially gold, popular tradition assumed they were kings, even naming them Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. These Magi, however, from the only other society who worshipped one God, witnessed a revelation – or epiphany – of the One True God by means of a star guided by God’s hand. They represented the world’s nations. (Note that the shepherds, who also arrived at the stable, had witnessed a chorus of angels as their epiphany. They also represented the lowest end of the social scale compared to the Magi who were probably at the highest end). So epiphany means an intervention and revelation of the divine in human society. Next week we will celebrate the baptism of Jesus, where a voice came from heaven, and the Holy Spirit “as of a dove” descended on him. That event, therefore, was also an epiphany, a representation of the presence of God. The same goes for the event known as the Transfiguration, where Jesus appeared with two of the greatest figures of the Old Testament, plus also the voice of God was heard. But today’s event of the three wise men arriving from the east is probably the most familiar of these epiphanies.

The three gifts have their own significance also. Gold, frankincense and myrrh each has a specific implication. Gold clearly represents wealth and power; this is Jesus seen as an all-powerful King. The Sunday before the beginning of Advent, you will recall, was celebrated as the feast of Christ the King of the Universe. Incense for a Catholic or Orthodox Christian instantly recalls celebrations in church; there is even a psalm which says that our prayers to God should “rise like incense” (Psalm 141). So this gift identifies Jesus as High Priest. (Frankincense specifically identifies a type of incense made from the sap of a certain tree). Then there’s myrrh, the most mysterious of the gifts. Like frankincense, it comes from the sap of a certain tree, and it is still used today in cosmetics and health care. That seems unlikely to apply to today’s feast. Very likely it was in reference to embalming a dead body, for which it was once used. If so, this can be taken as a reference to Jesus’ death. So the gifts represent Jesus as King, Priest and Victim, which encapsulate his life, his vocation, on earth. 

For many years, the feast of the Epiphany was celebrated on January 6, and is sometimes called “Little Christmas”. If so, it is on the 12th day after Christmas (the source of that famous song) and is often the day Christmas decorations are taken down; for many of our Orthodox brothers and sisters that day is celebrated as Jesus’ birthday, using the old Julian calendar instead of our Gregorian calendar. So this feast has many and varied dimensions and can be quite confusing. But at root it indicates the universal nature of Jesus’ vocation. The three Magi represent the nations of the world in their wisdom, power and faith. The birth of the Son of God was not a local Jewish event meant for one people. It was meant for everybody, everywhere. In this understanding, all of us, every race, nation, city, village, family and individual, are called by God to recognize Jesus as sent by God to each of us. Hence any prejudice, any racist thought or word is to be absolutely and totally rejected. Such thinking has no place in the Christian world. Contemporary examples of anti-semitism, white supremacy and so on are the opposite of what today’s feast represents. Today demonstrates the Christian acceptance of all people as children of God, all of us equal in God’s eyes, each individual beautiful in the sight of God who created us all. I believe that to be the precious message of today’s feast. And Amen to that!

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Diversity, Evangelicals for Social Action.

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

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29 DECEMBER 2019: FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH.

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The Holy Family, Ethiopian Arts.

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

…..the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel…..     Matthew 2:19-20.

To see a young Jesus, with Mary and Joseph (or, more likely, Y’shua, Miriam and Yosef), walking down the street of a Jewish Saturday afternoon coming back from temple, nothing would have seemed remarkable. The youngster would perhaps have been jumping about, his apparent father maybe playing with him, Mary perhaps smiling at the loving relationship between the two. Perfect. Life I’m sure would not have been easy for them; they were not wealthy, they depended on Joseph’s skills as a carpenter, and I’m sure there was a struggle to put food on the table day after day. Almost all families face such challenges; I know mine did just after the war in the 1940s and 50s. Millions still do in the poorer countries of the world. But life goes on. Today’s feast therefore is a celebration of the completely normal and ordinary. Almost all of us can identify with that scene. So what is it doing here today? Well, I’m proposing something rather unusual, and that is, that such a family is a reflection of the Blessed Trinity itself. God the Father was the first Person to enter human history in Genesis 12, approaching Abram and offering friendship and promising that which Abram would have thought impossible – ancestors and land. From the heights of heaven, this covenant was fulfilled slowly and surely through the centuries. Once the foundation was laid, God’s Son appeared, one who could and would demonstrate in purely human terms, how God the Father would like to see us behave with each other and God. Once that example had been done, and Jesus, God the Son, was condemned for so doing, God’s Holy Spirit was sent to us to enable us to live that perfect life Jesus had shown us. So the Holy Family could be a living example of the Trinity in human terms. Joseph taking on the role of Father, the one who sustains his family, guides them. Jesus as the life force, moving into adulthood with the solid foundation and experience of a loving family from which he drew stability and confidence. And Mary as the binding force, the strength keeping everything together and in harmony (and remember that the Jewish understanding of God’s Wisdom was feminine). And there you have it, the perfect unit. Today, of course, we have many different manifestations of that family unit. Rather than condemning them, perhaps it would be better to hope and pray that each of them can offer the same strong ideal foundations that their children can rely on as they grow. Love is the binding force in all such relationships. And so we need to consider the nature of love itself.

There are two popular songs from Broadway/West End musicals which seem to capture the nature of love. One is from the Sound of Music, but much more elaborated by its lyricist, Oscar Hammerstein II, in his song, “Love isn’t love till you give it away”  The other is from Les Miserables, the finale of which states, “Take my love, For love is everlasting; And remember, The truth that once was spoken: To love another person is to see the face of God” And from that comes another amazing “proof” if you like, of the nature of the Blessed Trinity. The other two great monotheistic religions cannot begin to comprehend what the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is. But if you accept the definition that God is love (1 John 4:8), then there has to be a community of persons, at least two, for love to be present. Anything less than that means there cannot be true love. To whom do you give love if you are alone, such as one solitary God prior to the creation of the universe? There is no such conundrum with the Holy Trinity, who loved all of us into existence. That is why I claim that today’s feast is a clear reflection of God, the Christian belief in a divine community, love generating life (which can be seen in the Person of God the Son, eternally generated from love) for all eternity, and we are fortunate enough to benefit from such care and solace.

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The Holy Family, Catholics Striving for Holiness.

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

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Roger

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25 DECEMBER 2019: CHRISTMAS – THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD

LEONARDO

Adoration of the Magi, Leonardo da Vinci, Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

Select the Readings for today based on the Mass you attend. Click here.

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us….     John 1:14.

Christians think of this day as of light breaking through the darkness of the ages. It is the culmination of all the prophecies in the Old Testament and, in a way, beyond even them. This child, born in a lowly hut to two poor people who probably had little idea of the momentous event involving them, was both God and totally human. Joseph, whose incredible dream was reported in last Sunday’s gospel, might have had a clue about the uniqueness of his wife’s pregnancy, and Mary, of course, in the middle of this unique event, must first have been relieved it was over, and then perhaps began to reflect on its meaning as best she could. What on earth would happen to this helpless babe? Having begun human life in such an impoverished way, what could he possibly accomplish? Then, visited almost immediately by representatives the poorest and richest in society, Joseph and Mary possibly might have had an inkling of what was to come. This was the beginning of what would surely be an extraordinary life with an equally extraordinary beginning.

On a broader scale, Jesus appeared after centuries of slow divine self-revelation. Abram/Abraham’s still small voice in Genesis 12 had over the centuries become the powerhouse whose name was I AM WHO AM (see Exodus 3). But all these revelations were filtered through Moses and the prophets. The commandments and the right life in the eyes of God were well known to the Jewish people by the time Jesus was born. But what was not known was how to live those commands in a way that was possible for everyone. Hundreds of human rules and regulations had been piled on top of the original divine plan for the righteous life, 613 in fact. Then there was the controversy about the afterlife, whether you had been good or bad, when everyone went to Sheol, a strange half-life of gloom, or was there a more heavenly expectation for the good, and an alternative for the evil? Clearly a rationalization was needed. The perfect life, according to all those rules, was, to say the least, just about unapproachable. It offered the perfect opportunity for the apparently  righteous (the pharisees, for example) to gaze down on those unable to aspire to their heights (which was not God’s idea of being good). At that moment, God entered into human history for the second time; first being Genesis 12, the second was today’s feast, when God physically entered our history. Jesus was here to show how everybody could aspire to be good by obeying the simplest of rules requiring absolute dedication and purpose. (The third was the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost when the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity entered human history, and remains with us to this day)From this first Christmas, therefore, God manifested divinity in two ways; the still voice of Genesis 12, with instructions and revelations filtered through the prophets, and now the physical appearance of God’s Son among us. Here was a human being, one like us in all things but sin. The thing is, as he was completely human, we can try be as good as he was! 

So today’s feast commemorates God physically entering our world, our experience, our hopes and fears in a way the God of the prophets seemingly could not. Until now. So this tiny babe in swaddling clothes in a manger (which is to say, tightly wrapped with bands of cloth, lying in a cattle feeding trough) becomes the perfect example of human life, happiness and fulfillment. So the great liturgical year takes off, following the life of the Savior from this moment to the last, providing us with the perfect model, year after year. It is the time to rejoice, be thankful and resolve to be Jesus’ good companion as he guides us through another year.

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Il ragazzo, Cathopic.

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

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22 DECEMBER 2019: THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT

de Champaigne, Philippe, 1602-1674; The Dream of Saint Joseph

The Dream of St. Joseph, de Champaigne 1643, The National Gallery, London, UK.

Read today’s Sunday Mass Readings, click here.

[The angel said] “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”                 Matthew 1:20.

The events which followed the Annunciation, the conception of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, were fast and furious. Mary was unmarried, so that would have been as serious a blow to her chances of a normal life as it would have been up to, say, the 1950s. Today not so much, but we now live in a completely different world. Her intended husband Joseph on learning that she was pregnant immediately decided to end the marriage, which was quite acceptable in his Jewish society. He was going to do this “quietly”, as the gospel says, to avoid as much pain and disgrace as possible, until today’s dramatic event took place, the first of two dreams. The other was the instruction to move to Egypt after Jesus’ birth to avoid the slaughter of the innocents at the command of King Herod. The unique truth the angel revealed to him today was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah in today’s first reading, that a virgin shall conceive and bear a son (though the word “virgin” has been a point of contention among theologians; the original Hebrew text can be translated as “young woman” whereas the Septuagint, or Greek translation of the Old Testament, has “virgin”. For a fuller explanation of that, click here). For us Christians, this is a crucial point. If we believe Jesus was totally human and also Son of God, then conception through the power of the Holy Spirit in a young virgin woman makes perfect sense and unique in history and had to take place before any marriage consummation. Poor Joseph, on the other hand, had to figure out the revelation which came in a dream; more power to him that he accepted that revelation and acted on it. One final note. The angel told Joseph to call the child Jesus. There is no such name in Hebrew. It is all but certain that the intended name was Joshua, Y’shua, (ג’ושוע in Hebrew). There is no “j” or “sh” sound in Greek, the language of the New Testament, and the closest Greek could get to that sound is Ιησούς, or “Yaysous”, close to the present Spanish pronunciation. So had you shouted out “Jesus” or “Ιησούς” to the Lord, he would not have turned round.  Shout “Y’shua” and he would!

This being Advent, the time of waiting for the arrival of the Lord, perhaps all this theological chatter might be a point of reflection. I was once at a 4-day retreat with schoolboys many years ago. Parents were asked to write a love letter to their son. One such read “When I was carrying you, I couldn’t wait to meet you and get to know you and love you…” Perhaps it would be an idea for each of us to think that of the impending arrival of the Lord. If you did not know his name was Y’shua, then that sentiment expressed to that woman’s son (who was overwhelmed by it) could easily be applied to the Christmas event and to the arrival of the new baby. How can each of us meet him, welcome him and love him as a new arrival in our hearts as if for the first time?

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The Newborn Babe.

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

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Roger

(Apologies for the late posting due to circumstances….)

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15 DECEMBER 2019: THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT: GAUDETE SUNDAY.

 

 

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John the Baptist Baptizes Jesus, Saint John The Baptist Coptic Orthodox Church, Vaudreuil-Dorion, Québec, Canada.

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

[Jesus said] “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk….”                 Matthew 11:4-5

As with the readings last week, the figure of John the Baptist dominates today’s Scripture passages. But today’s nickname, if you like, is “Gaudete Sunday” rendered as “Rejoice Sunday”. It means that a moment of optimism and joy breaks out into the world of purple anticipation that is the season of Advent. Today the liturgical color is the brighter rose (hence the rose candle in the Advent wreath). John had asked whether Jesus is The One, heralded for centuries by the prophets.  Jesus recites his works of mercy, which we would call miracles, which John would instantly recognize as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies. These are listed in today’s first reading. That must have produced joy in John’s heart. Jesus then magnifies John’s ministry as a further example of prophetic fulfillment, again from Isaiah but also from Malachi. So those who heard him would also be filled with joy. The second reading, from the letter of James, is also encouraging, that we should not lose patience, that we should “make our hearts firm”

John the Baptist is a very interesting character in Scripture. Note that Jesus says today, “….there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” This seems contradictory, and there have been many attempts at explaining it. The only one that seems plausible to me is the traditional understanding as John being the last prophet of the Old Testament. He clearly echoes Isaiah and Malachi, yet he actually initiates the Messiah’s calling at Jesus’ baptism. At that moment Jesus received his identity (the Son of God) and his vocation (on being anointed by the Holy Spirit, he becomes the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ). At that moment John’s life’s work is complete. He dies before Christ’s mission is complete, hence cannot be called a witness to the entire New Testament, therefore “least in the kingdom of heaven”. Nevertheless he is a towering figure in Scripture, consequently “none greater than he”.

The impact John had in his time was immense. There is even a group of believers in him called the Mandaeans. For them, Jesus is not the Messiah, but John is their chief and last prophet. Among other things, they must marry within their own circle, and never admit converts. Because of a great deal of persecution in their native Iraq, many have been dispersed throughout the world, with their total number declining, currently about 70,000 worldwide. They date right back to at least the time of John.

So is there a message for us after this complicated, even agonized, explication? I said last week that each of us should be aware of John’s attitude and self-awareness. He considered his mission to wait for the arrival of the Messiah, recognize him, and then allow him to take center stage, and for him, John, to step back. So today I say the same thing; we should be prepared to accept others into our lives, accept their strengths, allow them to grow, even with our encouragement, so that they are free, confident and growth-filled. In that way, I think Christ and John should coalesce within us as we accept others as God’s children, allowing their strengths and talents to grow and blossom, as we too fulfill our own vocation, to be Christ to the world. In that way we have two great models to emulate, and hence be all the stronger. That seems to be a good Advent lesson!

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Preaching of John the Baptist, Ghirlandaio 1488, Church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence Italy.

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

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Roger

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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.

Consider the words of the ancient prayer called the Benedictus:

As for you, little child, you shall be called a prophet of God the most high, you shall go ahead of the Lord to prepare his ways before him, to make known to his people their salvation through forgiveness of all their sins, the loving-kindness of the heart of our God, who visits us like the dawn from on high….

I believe that these words, said of the newly-born John the Baptist by his father Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79), apply equally to all of us.

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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.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

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.

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

desert

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