9 AUGUST 2020: NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Jesus Walks on the Water, Aivazovsky, 1888, State Museum of Religious History, St Petersburg, Russian Federation.

Click here to see the (revised USCCB) webpage for today’s Sunday Mass Readings. 

[Jesus] said to [Peter], “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”   Matthew 14:31b.

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Last week I mentioned the scholarly aversion to miracles, and offered their interpretation of the loaves and fishes miracle. Today, however, we have something entirely different. Remember a miracle is a work of God which confounds the natural laws under which we all live. One is that if you try to walk on water, you will sink! Well scholars are in a pickle when it comes to today’s gospel story of Jesus and, to some extent, Peter, walking on the water. One “explanation” is that Jesus projected a self-image of himself walking on the water (but no suggestion on how this could have been done)….. Another is that the disciples in the boat saw Jesus on the shore but with the tempest and mist and wind and darkness around them, they confused the shore with the water….. Another is that this began as a simple reunion story embellished with an Old Testament theme of God taming the waters in the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis. Other scholars, probably in the majority, say that Jesus, Son of God, was above such laws of nature, and hence did, indeed, walk on the water. Well, the choice is yours. Remember that the Catholic Church still accepts miracles as divine intervention even today, but they have to be 1) instantaneous, 2) inexplicable, and 3) permanent. For example, the 2012 miraculous cure in France of Sister Marie-Simon Pierre of the French order of the Little Sisters of Catholic Maternity. Remember also that Catholic believers are not required to accept them as miracles, but it is hoped that they do strengthen our faith and hope in God. Well, given all that, what is today’s gospel message?

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Sea of Galilee looking west to the hills where Jesus went to pray.

But today’s gospel is indeed heavy with symbolism and meaning. The parallel with the book of Genesis is one such example. The waters of creation are in the very first words, verse 2: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.” It is the ancients’ idea of total chaos. Their control over such waters was basically zero when at sea, and in storms they would be almost always begging God for delivery from imminent death. Now look at today’s gospel. The boat was being “tossed about by the waves” and the “Wind was against it”. They were way out at sea, by about a “few miles”, which is a long way. This event is recorded in two other gospels, one of which describes them as rowing (John 6:19), which is what you have to do if the wind is dead set against you. In other words, they were in a perilous situation presumably blown by the wind in the wrong direction as they were rowing, the situation where you start crying to God for help. And Jesus appears, walking over the very waves threatening them with death. When he gets into the boat, the “wind died down”. Anyone who has been through a life situation which was desperate and with little hope, and has appealed for God’s help, it comes. Now that not might be the help which is obvious – Jesus walking on the waves was not an obvious remedy – but the simple presence of the Lord, afforded by faith, makes any situation tolerable, for it carries the promise of eternal life and happiness, greater than any human crisis. All this is mirrored in the gospel; the wind died down as soon as Jesus got into the boat, prompting the confession of faith from his disciples: “Truly you are the Son of God”, the first time they had declared this. Note that they originally thought he was a ghost, not real. In other words, their fear of their perilous situation blinded them to God’s presence, another dynamic in the story. It seems that overwhelming fear might well crush any thought of God’s presence, another lesson from this story. Look at the first reading and see the clear parallel from the first reading, taken from the First Book of Kings. The second reading is connected also. St. Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome, laments that his fellow Israelites had the Lord in their midst but did not recognize him even after he had performed miracles before their very eyes, something only God can do. Paul seems to offer himself and even his faith for the sake of their conversion.

So we have a remarkable gospel message today, one that should occupy a special place in our Christian identity. Whenever things seems utterly overwhelming, desperate and hopeless, we should always be aware of the Lord walking clearly above such a turbulent maelstrom which no earthly power can control, but which he can, for he carries with him the ultimate hope and refuge for all who believe.

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Slide Player.

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

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

Roger

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2 AUGUST 2020: EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, Tintoretto 1581, Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice, Italy.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

[Jesus] ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.  Matthew 14:19.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

There is a strange dichotomy in today’s gospel. It begins with a report of the death of John the Baptist, the man who had heralded the arrival of the Messiah at Jesus’ baptism, had recognized him as the Lamb of God and had declared that he, John,  was not worthy enough even to unbuckle this man’s shoes. Clearly John was a herald of the good news that Israel had been waiting for for centuries. It was no wonder Jesus wanted to withdraw from everything and everyone and simply grieve. It was not to be. He had entranced the crowds with his teachings which had authority, the gospels tell us, such had never been heard before. Perhaps they wanted to hear about what God wants of us when someone close to us dies. Anyway, they would not leave him alone. Typically Jesus responds with generosity and understanding. Instead of telling them to leave him alone, he performs an action which seems to be an anticipation of the heavenly banquet, the famous multiplication of the five loaves and two fishes to feed a crowd of thousands. Everyone benefits. Tying this in with today’s second reading, not even the death of a dedicated friend and supporter can create a chasm between the Lord and us. If we are prepared to stand with the Lord, no matter what, the Lord will stand with us.

Most of us, very likely, wish never to upset any of our friends and neighbors. The Lord tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and as we love God. Pretty clear. If we do in fact sinfully create dissention, the road to recovery can be long and tiring. But when we die, whether we like it or not, wounds and pain and weeping and grief might well result among those we leave behind. It probably cannot be avoided. In my own will, I have instructed my executor make sure my favorite hymns are sung at the Requiem Mass of the Resurrection (many of them almost unknown to Catholics in the States, but huge favorites of mine from growing up in England; Christ is Made the Sure Foundation to the tune Westminster Abbey, for example: see below), all verses to be sung so that everyone gets to know them at least by the last verse and hopefully fall in love with them, encouraged by a  professional tenor to join in. Afterwards there is to be a party, a sort of parallel to today’s gospel, I hope (though miracles are not guaranteed). In fact, it all seems to be so much fun (to me) that I’m tempted to have a dry run! As the Requiem Mass says, in death, life is changed, not ended. If we can embrace that, accept it and live this life with it, there should be great comfort when the time comes. Should… Today’s gospel does not tell us about Jesus’ demeanor but I suspect it was not in any way happy; he might have thought that as John’s death was political in origin (it was ordered by King Herod), perhaps his would be too. That is a sobering thought, quite different from the peaceful death I am imagining here.

One final note. Many theologians are very uncomfortable with the notions of Jesus’ miracles. Anything which smacks of direct divine intervention in the normal world invites their skepticism and discomfort. Today’s miracle of the loaves and fishes, for example, is explained away by saying, well, these people would not have gone out into the country without some preparation, such as a picnic basket. In the presence of Jesus, it is said, they are so overcome with feelings of generosity and good will, or at least not willing to munch away surrounded by hungry looks from the others who had not brought anything, that they all shared what they had with everyone. But, you might think, if that were true, wouldn’t even that have been a miracle? Either way, it shows what the presence of the Lord can generate within us and around us. Hence all three readings today hold together very well. Surely a testament of life over death, of hope over despair.

Stretching things a bit, and expanding on that thought a little, and reflecting on the divisions in the Christian family, the light of hope, the presence of the Holy Spirit, even shines there occasionally. On 17 September 2010, Pope Benedict XVI, visiting the United Kingdom, was invited to a prayer service in Westminster Abbey, one of the central shrines of the Church of England. Together with Dr. Rowan Williams, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England, the service began with my favorite hymn mentioned above….. (words to be found in the prayer service you can access here). This strikes me as a hopeful sign of Christian unity, just as the crowd in today’s gospel was unified in seeking the Lord out and hearing his message and acting accordingly.

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Church of the Feeding of the Multitude, Galilee, Palestinian Authority.

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

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

Roger

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26 JULY 2020: SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Holy Wisdom, 1170s Hildesheim, Germany, artist unknown, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field…..”  Matthew 13:44.

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Jesus often begins a lesson on holiness with the words “The kingdom of heaven is like….” as he does in today’s gospel. We are so used to hearing that, that it might simply pass over our heads as a simple intro. But look at the words. It answers the question “what is the kingdom of heaven like?” And here is the answer. If we find a treasure, we should do all we can to possess it. Now we are not talking about detectorists here, the new name for those people who scan fields with metal detectors hoping to find, literally, buried treasure. There are thousands of them in Great Britain, and indeed occasionally they do unearth fantastic treasures. No, Jesus I think, has other endeavors in mind. He is, I believe, talking about the divine treasures given to each of us, the gifts given to every one of us by God. Some of us have more, some less; some are very rare, some not, but they are all the means by which God wishes us to navigate through life in obedience to his will. If we are doing that, according to Jesus’ words today, in some sense we have the kingdom of God with us here and now. No wonder, in the parable, the one who discovers such a treasure does everything possible to gain ownership; translation: develop this treasure into a skill which will power you through life in obedience to God’s will. To each of us, legitimate pride in such a gift of God developed into a splendid skill is a very satisfying navigator through life. I am reminded of the superintendent in my apartment building. If I have a plumbing problem which to me seems an insuperable challenge almost to the level of panic, he comes by and fixes it as if he has a magic wand! In his turn, he looks at me doing something like this webpage, and is in awe. Such are God’s wonderful gifts as they play out in life, and we all have gifts. In the longer gospel today, they are a treasure buried in a field, a pearl of great price, a great catch of fish, all meaning, I believe, the discovery of our own talents and the inherent joy of developing them and using them as God wishes of us is the true recipe for a happy life leading to eternal bliss. Solomon in the first reading asks for wisdom, but taking Jesus’ words today, I suspect he already has that talent, and God gently reveals the truth him as good news! The result is to be found in the second reading. Doing what is required of us justifies us in our proper and good use of our skills. Paul tells us we will be judged on what we have done to please the Lord, a message Jesus spells out in the gospel, referring to the Last Judgement.

So today’s readings are a call back to basics. Are we using our skills in an appropriate and acceptable way? If we are called from this life today, could we humbly offer our life history to God in the knowledge we have done our best to obey the call to be our best in this life? If so, wonderful. If not…. well, use the time left to do something about it!

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The Last Judgement, Pacheco, Goya Museum, Castres, France.

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

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

Roger

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19 JULY 2020: THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIMES.

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Buckwheat Harvest: Summer, Millet, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.          Matthew 13:25.

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If you have ever tasted a Breton buckwheat pancake (or galette), you know how delicious it is, and here is a Millet painting of its harvest, with the crop being cut, then threshed to remove all the inedible parts, and, for our purposes today, the weeds harvested with it as mentioned in today’s gospel, being burned with the chaff in the background. Jesus of course lived in a world entirely dominated by basic agriculture. A very small percentage of the people lived in towns and cities; almost everyone was needed in the fields to grow enough food and raise cattle for themselves, their families and, with the tiny surplus they could manage to produce, to sell to the people who were not farmers – and to pay their taxes! Hence the abundance of farming imagery in his parables; everyone would immediately know what he meant. So today’s story of “the enemy” deliberately sowing weeds among the anticipated crop would be scandalous, criminal even. The Master’s instruction to let both types of plant grow was practical. It would be easier and possibly safer to wait for the harvest so that it was evident which was the weed and which the precious crop. But, as ever, Jesus was making a very important point, which has nothing to do with agriculture and everything to do with being a child of God.

Weeds destroy crops as they compete with the water and nutrients needed for the crops. Now translate that into possible human experience. For example, let’s say you are starting out in life, finishing up high school, but are unable to get a place in any of the universities of your choice. So you find a job, and start night school to improve your academic credentials. You are full of hope and your expectations are high that a good future, although challenging so far, is attainable. Mid-year you get another trove of rejections from good schools, but an acceptance to a community college. So you take it; after all, this one is a college with a link to a university and with extra work, you may be eligible for a university degree. A colleague at work learns about this as you so excited you tell everyone your plan to start the new program in the fall. He points out that a community college is a pretty poor substitute for a university; that you will probably still be rejected if you fail in your night school, and is there any point in really trying that hard especially after a year of trying and likely to fail again? You are disheartened, dismayed, crushed as this person is an older man who has been through the early adulthood struggle and emerged with an attitude which is poisonous but seems horribly realistic. He is a weed among the potential harvest. I think that is the kind of person Jesus is talking about today. Instead of congratulating you for trying your best to optimize your talents and creating a program to cultivate them so that they become skills, with which you can serve God and others, that you would not have otherwise, he is doing the opposite. He is tearing your enthusiasm down and crushing it, and that’s where the angels weep. Enthusiasm is special. At its root, it includes the Greek word for God, θεός, or Theos. It is God-given and God-directed. So our duty is to encourage such a spirit in others, foster it, help it grow in ways God would wish. That is, I believe, what is at the heart of today’s parable.

Now, as I mentioned last week, what if we can identify with the destructive older man in my story today? Can we come to a realization that we are a destructive weed, squeezing the life out of others and not giving a damn? The parable says we are destined to be thrown onto the fire and destroyed, an action presumably for all eternity. Is it too late? In another place remember the words Jesus uttered from the cross itself to the crucified criminal next to him, who had ruined his own life: “Today you will be with me in paradise”  (Luke 23:43). It is never too late to turn to God for forgiveness and redemption. The staggering depth of remorse that will fall on us will be enormous, but deserved. But we will be surrounded with God’s overwhelming love and welcome. But we do have to come to that self-deprecating realization on our own and make that move away from self towards the light, towards The Other. That is what the angels will be praying for! I wonder if that man in my story came to that self-knowledge and apologized for his insensitivity and brutality. Let’s hope so.

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More, Not Less, Forgiveness, Florida Counseling Centers.

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

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

Roger

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12 JULY 2020: THE FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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The Sower, Jean-François Millet c.1865, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Today’s Sunday Mass Readings can be seen by clicking here.

[Jesus said] “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up….”   Matthew 13:3-4.

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It is hard to imagine that only 150 years ago, fields were being sowed with seed in the manner shown above. Of course, that is the way it had been done forever, but 1865 is hardly pre-industrial revolution, with agricultural machines among the first to be invented, but there it was, as Millet recorded it. The loss of seed must have been enormous, but it served Jesus’ purposes very well. The seed was God’s Word, and we, the receivers (or not) of the Word must place ourselves in one of the various situations Jesus describes: easy prey for those who snatch it away before anything can germinate within us, or where it does germinate but in such shallow minds and hearts that it stands little chance of bearing fruit, and so on. But, unlike the scene in the parable, we can do something about it if we realize our own failings. Take, for example, the life of St. Francis. He grew up in a Catholic household, but in his youth he was given over to having a good time, to charging off to battle, and generally not being a good soul. Or St. Augustine of Hippo who famously prayed to God to “Make me chaste, but not yet…”   or again St. Ignatius of Loyola, he who founded the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, whose youth was consumed by the quest for fame and glory. Well, somehow they each overcame that, and God’s Word took root in them with a vengeance! So, in some way, the seed which landed in shallow ground for each of them somehow found rich soil in which they became God’s great champions. It almost seems like God’s Word is more than a seed, and can find its way, if necessary,  to deeper, richer ground in which to take root. So what is Jesus’ point in his parable if all that can happen?

Let’s look at the basic structure of this parable, which is found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the “synoptic” gospels, called such because they have many parallels concerning the teachings of Jesus. First, the Sower. That is God, freely giving His Word, represented by the seeds, to all the earth in hope of they will take root. The hard pathway, with birds gobbling up the seeds, are people fully preoccupied with the demands of this world with no room for God, as if Satan grabs the seed even before there is any chance of growth. The rocky ground stands for those people who seem to receive God’s word willingly, but as soon as the first challenge comes along, they’re gone. The thorn bushes describe those people who are fully preoccupied with getting rich or famous or powerful, no matter what, interested only in themselves and what they must do for self-preferment. Then the good soil is the person who willingly receives God’s word, understands it and what its challenges and promises are, and gladly try to fulfill God’s will as a consequence.

So, the question occurs to me is, is that all? If I represent rocky ground, am I doomed? If I am interested only in getting as much for myself in this life, then is all, in fact, lost? To agree with that is to deny that we have free will; we are in charge of our own destiny, perhaps the greatest of God’s gifts to each and every human being, even those who have never heard of Jesus. In other words, to use a phrase from the Prodigal Son parable, can we “come to our senses” and recognize the pure, priceless value of accepting God’s word and changing our lives for the better? Clearly, if we believe in free will, the answer must be “yes”. The parable seems to demonstrate several life-situations which are ruinous to our health and happiness. If we believe we are children of God, which we became at our baptism, then we all have an obligation to behave as such. We all have talents, skills, gifts of God, which are the engine driving us through life. Putting them to full use, for the benefit of others as well as ourselves and hence obeying God’s will for us, would seem to be the road to genuine success and fulfillment. Take a look at this: Wanderlust WorkerThat might be a positive first step if you feel that you fit into one of the negative situations in Jesus’ parable story today. This corona virus scourge might well be the catalyst for such self-reflection. What a remarkable thing it would be to emerge from our collective self-isolation, getting on for more than three months, as a newly-minted person, aware of what is needed to become an even better person, and hence an even more loyal child of God. What benefits would accrue, to ourselves, to those around us, to those we serve, and the delight it would cause in heaven itself!

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Which Parable of the Sower category are you? Perhaps the Lefkoe Institute can help.

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

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

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

5 JULY 2020: FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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The Salve Regina (“Hail Holy Queen”) prayer to Our Lady, possibly 10th century.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

[Jesus said] Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.      Matthew 11:28.

There is a tiny cemetery in Paris near the Place de la Nation in north-east of the city called the Cimetière de Picpus (taken from the name of a local street). It is difficult to find, which is odd as it contains the grave of the Marquis de Lafayette, hero of the American Revolution. But that is not the reason this place has been mentioned here. Earlier, this land had been owned by an order of nuns, but was confiscated during the French Revolution. The nearby Place de la Nation had another name at that time, Place du Trône-Renversé or “Overturned Throne Place” mocking its original Place du Trône royal title; there were more changes later. In about 1794, revolutionary extremists, led by Maximilien Robespierre, instituted what became known as the Reign of Terror. This meant that anyone considered to be an enemy of the state was summarily condemned to the guillotine with no appeal. One such was erected in the Place du Trône-Renversé, and 1,306 of its victims were buried in the Picpus. In that now quiet place you will find this:

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16 Carmelite sisters, whose convent had been in Compiègne, a city to the north of Paris, had been arrested by revolutionaries, ordered to dress as peasant girls rather than in their habits, and sent to Paris. As happened to many priests and sisters at that time, they were condemned to death as enemies of the state and sent to the guillotine. Their headless bodies were then dumped in the cemetery. In 1906, Pope Pius X beatified the 16 martyrs. In 1957, the Catholic French composer Francis Poulenc wrote an opera, The Dialogues of the Carmelites, based on this history, and it is performed throughout the operatic world to this day. The conclusion of this opera is one of the most profound, agonizing, shattering scenes you could ever imagine, but is based on what actually happened as the sisters sang the Salve Regina in their last moments. Rather than showing the squalor of death, it reveals the overwhelming strength of faith even in the face of terror. With these thoughts, today’s gospel shows us the root of this strength, sufficient to empower them and us through whatever might confront us.

Almost certainly no-one is spared at some point, desperately difficult moments in life, calling for choices which are all terrible in one way or another. Although probably not as bad as for the Carmelites in the Revolution, but in their own way awful for each of us, the situation can seem overwhelming. What does one do in such a situation? The answer? Today’s gospel: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Jesus was a man who went through the same excruciating situation where, to be true to himself, to his mission and to God, he had no choice, exactly the same situation as the Carmelites faced. Confronted by the impossible, we must move away from the hurly-burly, settle down and talk with God as the first step. To arrange priorities together is another. To decide where your heart lies, where the truth is found, where strength is present, that’s where the yoke and burden become understandable and tolerable, even if desperate. And that’s where God’s will and presence become your driving force, for you are not alone. Jesus was not alone, though appearances seemed that way; for him there was no apparent sign of a loving and supporting Father as he endured his Passion. But at the deepest level there was certainty: his last words were “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46); he was certain that he was returning to the place he had come from, a place of light, love and home, the opposite where he was at that moment.

So now, with shards of light beginning to show through the dark mists of corona virus night, Jesus beckons us back to the communal strength of the Eucharist and the Word which give us light and life. That heralds the return of spiritual strength, food and company. Let us cry Alleluia for such great gifts!

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Eucharist, St. Jane Frances de Chantal Parish, Riviera Beach, Maryland, USA.

Reflections on next 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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28 JUNE 2020: THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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“When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands….” Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt, Columbia Pictures 1966.

Today’s Sunday Mass Readings can be read by clicking here.

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me….”     Matthew 10:37.

The picture above, taken from the movie Man for All Seasons, shows Thomas More and his family in 1535 in the Tower of London where he was being held prisoner. His wife, daughter and son-in-law have been allowed to visit him on condition they try to get him to sign the Act of Supremacy which declared King Henry VIII to be head of the Church in England, thus deposing the Pope. More could not agree with that, and refused to sign, for which he had been imprisoned. They failed. More was eventually tried, perjured evidence was given against him, he was convicted and sentenced to death and was beheaded in that same year. He was declared a saint in 1935. His statement to his daughter Margaret, quoted under the picture above, is another way of saying that taking an oath before God is a declaration of who I am. It is a direct statement to God as witness. Should you say something under oath you do not accept, know is wrong or sinful, then you have denied who you are before God. In that case, who are you? As he says to his daughter, “Some men aren’t capable of this [stating the truth], but I’d be loath to think your father one of them”. In other words, he would not be that man his daughter thinks is her father, or Lady Alice thinks of as her husband. He would be a pathetic shadow of a once-honorable Christian man. That’s what the Lord is saying today in the gospel. Loyalty to him must be  absolute and unquestioning. In that way you can be the best you can possibly be to all those around you. So it is not to deny those closest to you, but to become even closer, loyal, loving and true to them, and set an example of how totally good you can be as a true disciple of Jesus. Remember that Jesus’ whole life was dedicated to the well-being of others at every stage and in every situation. He was so completely true to himself that he, as with More, refused to deny who he was in the eyes of God and suffered accordingly.

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More before the Special Commission in Westminster Hall to be tried for high treason. Columbia Pictures 1966.

More was a lawyer by trade. In that capacity he had become Lord Chancellor of England, the most powerful man in the kingdom after the king himself. When he was asked to do something against his conscience, he resigned his office to retire to what he hoped would be a peaceful existence, but is was not to be. He had a a reputation for excellence across the continent. He book Utopia was renowned. It was he who established the immunity from prosecution for members of the House of Commons so that they could say whatever they wished in Parliament, a tradition which has lasted down to today on both sides of the Atlantic. The man was brilliant. He refused to sign on to an Act of Parliament making the king supreme head of the Church in England, and thereby deposing the Pope in Rome. More thought that wrong (though he did not say that; he remained silent on the matter), and resigned his office. His silence resounded throughout Europe as all waited to see what would happen next. Refusal to subscribe to the Act was punished by imprisonment; More was sent to the Tower of London – his cell is still there today. That was when his family was allowed to visit him on condition they would persuade him to agree to the Act. They failed, not understanding his determination not to yield even to them. They were asking, of course, for him to betray who he was. The situation was very similar to Jesus before the high priest who demanded to know if he believed he was the Christ, the Son of the living God, to which Jesus, fully believing he was, said “I am” (Mark 14:62) for which he was crucified. Had he denied it, it would have meant his whole life was meaningless and a total failure. Had More agreed with his family, he would have considered himself a traitor to God, his life a fraud and his life meaningless. He knew to his bones he could not live like that.

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“Friend, be not afraid of your office. You send me to God” Columbia Pictures 1966.

So what is the lesson from Jesus’ uncompromising words today? Well the one writing this  webpage and those reading it would probably say they are followers of the Lord Jesus. That means that what he said, what he did and what he believed to be the truth have been accepted, incorporated, and have become the foundation of our lives. We strive to be his authentic followers; in fact, as best we can, to be Christ to the world. In that way we try to embody Shakespeare’s timeless exhortation, “To Thine Own Self Be True” (spoken by Polonius, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3. Sadly, Polonius was not the shining example of the advice he gives to his son Laertes in that scene, but the meaning is timeless and true). That might go for us too when we fail to live up to Jesus’ command in today’s gospel, but we also believe in a God of forgiveness and love. And so we must be forgiving and loving also, both to ourselves and to others. So if on face value Jesus seems to be demanding something wild, extraordinary and impossibly cruel, he is, in fact, demanding that we be perfect, be true Christ to the world so that we can model his universal love and openness to all, to family, friends, everyone and above all to him. In that way we can be true to ourselves no matter what, with Jesus himself beside us fulfilling his promise to be with us always. Hence More believed utterly in his last words: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first”. 

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Thomas More as Lord Chancellor of England, Holbein the Younger 1527, The Frick Collection, New York City, USA.

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

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

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

21 JUNE 2020: THE TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter, Perugino, 1481, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City State.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

[Jesus said] “Everyone who acknowledges me before others
I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father”.          Matthew 10:32.

In a sense, at our baptism, we too were given the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Our baptism claims us for God, makes us God’s children and hence we can expect to be heiresses and heirs to the kingdom. And so we each have a responsibility to behave as God’s children and inheritors of the kingdom which one day we hope to enter. Such an awareness and its logical demands might well come upon us slowly as we grow older. Indeed this thought has only revealed itself to me at age 75! The younger we are, I suppose, the less likely are we to notice the progress, or not, we make towards that day when, hopefully, we will enter the kingdom of heaven. Yet each minute brings us closer, if, of course, we remember the responsibility we have to act as God wants us to. Hence today’s stark message, printed above. But Jesus goes on to say, logically, that “…whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father”. And that surely would mean we have lost any right to enter that kingdom. And I’m sure each of us is familiar with the concept of “wriggle room” in our behavior, that mental space where we can contort thought and history to make something we are ashamed seem better than it really is. So today’s gospel is a bit of a wake-up call: “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known”. Jesus says this loud and clear, but I think he’s referring here in today’s gospel to something good, namely the things he has taught his followers in private, but which they are to proclaim to the world. However, the same dynamic can be applied to secret actions which are contrary to God’s wishes, that they are known to God, from whom nothing is hidden. Hence the choice which confronts us daily, which pathway do we take, towards the kingdom, or not?

Now in our particular day and age, where “social distancing” is a new norm, face masks a must, solitude an inevitability, there must be plenty of thoughts of all colors crowding upon us. How are we responding to this crisis? Do we brood on the bad or hope for the good? Do we look out for opportunities to help those in greater need, or fret all the time over our own distress? Remember Jesus from the very cross voiced concern for his mother and asked John to take her into his care. Today’s gospel teaches us to consider carefully the needs of God’s church today and the calamity this pandemic has brought upon it, upon us, where it has a much greater challenge to do the works of charity that God calls it – us – to do. And remember that strange, wonderful paradox, that in helping others, you help yourself. Trust God to put padding on the pathway towards helping others! So our covid-19 bunker existence could produce good in all of us if we but trust in the Lord and fulfill his wishes rather than our own. As Paul says in his letter to the Christians in Rome in today’s second reading, the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ
overflow[s] for the many….. and we are the many.

This Friday we celebrate the feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the burning center of God’s love for us.

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Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. George Educational Trust.

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

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

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

14 JUNE 2020: SOLEMNITY OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST, CORPUS CHRISTI.

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Corpus Christi Procession, F.M.S., Provenance Unknown.

Click here for today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

Jesus said to them,”Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”    John 6:53.

At the consecration of every Mass, the priest says over the chalice of wine that it is the blood of “the new and eternal covenant”. One might wonder, therefore, what was the old and transient covenant? And also, what makes this new covenant any way better than the old? First, what is a covenant? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “A compact, bargain, contract under seal, compact between God and the Israelites, as Ark of the Covenant…” So it is more important than a regular agreement or shaking hands in a deal. It is more solemn; in fact, in the Book of Exodus, it is accompanied with “thunder and lightning, and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast…” (Exodus 19:16), and then the 10 Commandments, sealing the link, the covenant, between humanity and God was sealed in the blood of sacrificed animals (Exodus 24:3-8). And this is the covenant Jesus refers to at the Last Supper. The old covenant linked God and humanity in the life-blood of sacrificed  animals. What makes the new and eternal covenant so different is that humanity and God are linked through the blood of God’s Only Son. Not only that; in the old covenant, that link was symbolized when the sacrificed animals’ blood was sprinkled over the altar, symbolizing God, and then over the people. In the new covenant God the Son’s blood is actually consumed by the people, who now become most intimately linked to God. And today’s feast remembers and celebrates that greatest mystery. Jesus actually states in today’s gospel that by doing so he remains in us and we remain in him. I cannot imagine a closer link than that. No wonder it is the new and eternal covenant! And this is not to ignore the consecrated bread, becoming God the Son’s flesh, Jesus taking perhaps the most basic foodstuff, at least in ancient Palestine, and identifying it with his body. Truly food for the soul.

In the old days, as I recall in London, there was always a large public procession in the neighboring streets on this day, with the consecrated host, unleavened bread, carried in the elaborate gilded monstrance, underneath a canopy, with banners flapping, incense pouring out all round. Hymns would be sung as non-Catholics would look on wondering what it all meant, but perhaps being somewhat overawed by the whole thing and who knows? I guess the idea was to bring the Lord to the masses and invite everyone to the feast!

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Corpus Christi Procession, Gniezno, Poland, June 2019.

And I’ve read that this old tradition is becoming popular in more diverse religious countries once more, though not perhaps in this unhappy year. So the Corpus Christi Mass and perhaps procession is an expansion of the Last Supper. That was in a small upper room, and regular Mass today is in larger space, but still indoors. Then in the 13th century St. Juliana of Liège, which is now in Belgium, had a dream of the church under a full moon with a black spot on its face. In the Augustinian nun’s dream, Christ explained that the spot was to indicate a lack of any festival to celebrate the most holy mystery in Christian belief, the Eucharist. She reported this to her local bishop, and the result in 1246 was the creation of just such a celebration. It was the first festival in the church to acclaim publicly the greatest of Christianity’s truths. By 1264 the pope, Urban IV, had instituted it throughout the church. In the Reformation, the doctrine of the Real Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist was one of the most bitter points of contention (after all, he did say “This is my body….” and that we were to do that in memory of him). So in 1551 the Council of Trent confirmed this doctrine and its tradition of a grand procession, to display this belief to everyone in the most public way, and described it as a triumph over those who doubt it. I rather think St. Juliana smiles as she looks down on what happens today in her home town of Liège, so many years after her struggle to institute exactly what is celebrated now.

So a contemplation of the meaning of the Eucharist is in order today. When you think about it, it is so strange that strict fundamentalist Christians more often than not reject the claim that after consecration, the bread is the true body, and the wine the true blood, the Real Presence, of the Lord. Why strange? Well, on this particular occasion we Catholics become fundamentalist, accepting Jesus’ words literally, “This is my body, this is my blood” for what they are, when many fundamentalists do not! And here at Mass, we actually consume those sacred elements, and they become part of our make-up, part of us! No wonder at the end of Mass the priest exhorts us to “Go in peace glorifying the Lord by your life!”

This Friday we celebrate the feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the burning center of God’s love for us.

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Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. George Educational Trust.

Also:

We have heard quite a lot about the “Upper Room” recently. It was, by tradition, where the Last Supper was held, where the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples, and where those cowering disciples hid in terror until Pentecost when everything changed. There is a room in present-day Jerusalem claiming to be that Upper Room, also known as the Cenacle. Regard:

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The Upper Room, Summer 2018.

Although no-one can be really certain that this is the actual room where those crucially important  events took place, it is nice to think it could be so.

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Pope Francis celebrates Mass in the Upper Room, 26 May 2014, Catholic Online.

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

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

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com