SUNDAY 26TH SEPTEMBER 2021: THE TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY N ORDINARY TIME.

 

Disciples1Sosthenes, Apollo, Cephas, Tychicus, Epaphroditus, Ceasar, and Onesiphorus, Codices vaticani graeci 1613, Menalogion of Basil II, Vatican Library, Vatican City State.

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There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.   Mark 9:39-40

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The icon above has been deliberately selected to baffle you. Who on earth are these men? They have haloes, so they are probably holy. If you are very familiar with the New Testament, you may recognize Onesiphorus, mentioned twice by St. Paul in his Second Letter to Timothy for his hospitality at a time many had deserted Paul. The others are also mentioned briefly in the Epistles, but basically they can be considered unknown compared to the apostles themselves. But clearly even a brief mention can be construed as being a great model of discipleship, courage and devotion. So what is all this about? Today’s gospel has the followers of Jesus in a big flap as they found an unknown man “driving out demons” in Jesus’ name. They tried to stop him, only to be told plainly by Jesus, “Do not stop him”. So, using the logic here, it could have been one of the men in the icon above, unknown to them but known to Paul who probably taught them and brought them to faith in Jesus. And Jesus is quite clear and straight about it, that people such as these should be left alone. If they are not against us, they are for us!

Now, looking down the centuries of religious history, you could make a good case for wars between Christians being much more common than co-operation between Christians. Indeed, you might say that only in the last 50-100 years has there been anything like amity and understanding between us all who call ourselves Christian. Yet even now there are moments of, shall we say, extreme dislike between some of us. Couldn’t you make a case that such ferocity between Christians flies in the face of Jesus’ teaching today? Jesus, if he was clear about anything, was crystal clear on one thing, we must love one another! Indeed he ordered it! (John 13:34-35). For example, let us take a case of pure Christianity from the 19th century. Catherine Booth was an Englishwoman, born in 1829, died in 1890. If you were counted among the working poor, which almost everyone was during her lifetime, life would have been a daily challenge, with work hours typically over 12 a day, education for children almost unknown, wages a pittance and illness a daily dread. Catherine Booth and her husband William devoted their lives to making this terrible situation better for as many as possible. Their message was that of Jesus, their actions that of Jesus. They were the founders of the Salvation Army, sometimes called the “keeper of the conscience” of England. They sought to rid the poor of alcoholism, provide cheap food for the poorest, and convince their followers, among whom were some wealthy people, by preaching why they should take the teachings of Jesus seriously. Indeed, Catherine broke a sacred taboo and she herself preached, apparently to great effect, stating that St. Paul’s instruction that women should keep silent in church had resulted in “more loss to the Church, evil to the world, and dishonor to God, than any of [its] errors”. It would take a brave woman to say that today in some Christian traditions, let alone 150 years ago! Was she teaching Christian truths? Yes. What would Jesus say according to today’s gospel? Do not stop her! 

So today’s teaching requires us to be pretty broad-minded when it comes to those teaching and trying to live Christian ideals. There is nothing in such teaching which warrants hatred of any kind at all, and if such is present, surely there is doubt if such teaching is Christian at all. Looking back over the doleful history of inter-Christian hatred and warfare, Jesus must have wept to see us behaving in such a way. There is no way that could have represented his teaching, especially as seen in today’s gospel. Love has been his order of the day over the last 2000 years! Yet so any times this has been ignored, forgotten, trampled. It seems so strange that when the Christian church was being persecuted in its first 300 years of life, Terullian, one of the church’s first theologians, wrote, “Look . . . how [Christians] love one another (for [pagans] hate one another); and how they are ready to die for each other (for they themselves are readier to kill each other)”. That is what the Lord must have had in mind in today’s gospel. Christians have no room for hatred of any kind in their makeup. If such is there, it destroys love and enthrones discord, and like destructive weeds, it must be uprooted and thrown aside. “We are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness”, as St. Paul said (1 Thessalonians 5:5). That is the keystone of our faith, as found in our Lord and Savior.

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Catherine Booth, Geo. Wade, sculptor: “Here, in East London, Catherine Booth, together with her husband, William, commenced the work of the Salvation Army, July 1865.” This statue was dedicated by Commissioner Silvia Cox and Commissioner Nancy Roberts on 2nd July 2015, the 150th Anniversary of the Salvation Army.

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

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Roger

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SUNDAY 19TH SEPTEMBER 2021: THE TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Christ Blessing the Children, Uncut Mountain Supply.

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Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”   Mark 9:35-37.

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You must have heard that “Never a good deed goes unpunished” or “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”, and so on. Which of us has thought of one of these – or both – at certain times? I certainly have, and wondered sometimes why things must be so. Today’s gospel has Jesus giving another indication that the result of his mission would be disaster and death. In fact, at one point during his mission he actually asked “which of these [good] actions are you punishing me for?” (John 10:32). He had aligned himself with the Father, which people took as blasphemy, but Jesus pointed out that all he said and did was in the name of the Father, including his miraculous actions, hence “which of these actions are you stoning me for?” And today, he prophesies that his mission of love and mercy will end in disaster. Perhaps that thought lies behind some advice, also in Scripture: That when we do something good, it should be that only God knows it, (1 Peter 4:10) and that all the glory will go to God, hence what we did accrues to us in heaven (not here on earth), where moth and rust cannot destroy it. If we have done something worthy we are simply doing what we are required to do as God’s good servants, something specifically mentioned in today’s gospel (“If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all”).  Jesus indicates that receiving children, helping them, protecting them, the lowest members of society (or even any grown up in a lowly position) is the same as receiving him, and hence through him, the Father. The first reading from the Book of Wisdom, tells of the perils of doing the good and right thing, perhaps the ultimate source of being punished for doing the right thing. It seems to indicate that this is part of the human condition! It certainly applied to Jesus and his mission, almost perfectly. The second reading from James expands that to the extent of making war based on nothing more than envy, passions, unnecessary conflict. All of history certainly supports that (look at Nazi Germany’s mania for “lebensraum”, stealing others’ land simply because they wanted it). Evil has abounded throughout human history, as today’s readings testify.

But here we all are, trying to live as God’s good children. Well today we have a clarion call back to basics. Evil has always been with us. Even if we try to do the good thing, it might well rebound and hit us in the face. Well, then we are faced with a choice, give up or, as the song says, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGUsRGuZb6k). In sacramental terms, you offer all to God, reinvigorate yourself with the Eucharist, and perhaps Reconciliation if we have been tempted to abandon everything, or even consider the Sacrament of the Sick, and start all over again! Our strength does not come for any earthly source, but from the ultimate source, whence the Lord himself drew his strength. It is always there for us, like seeds or saplings, ready to grow and bloom and give us the strength to continue. Today’s readings are not indications of despair, but rather guide as to what to do in challenging circumstances, all of which are almost certainly familiar to us. They are the traps and pitfalls that life somehow or other puts in our way, a reminder of evil in the world. But we have the power to overcome evil; we are children of the light, and have the power of God around us and within us. Nothing can prevail against that.

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Children of the Light, Biblepic.com.

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

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Roger

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SUNDAY 12 SEPTEMBER 2021: THE TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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The First Prediction of the Passion and the Resurrection, Bertrand Bahuet 1995, Chapel of St. Peter, Curbans, Provence, France.

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Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Mark 8:33.

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Today’s gospel contains possibly the most remarkable scene in all scripture. Jesus had just stated that he will go to Jerusalem where total disaster, pain, torture and death await him. Peter is flabbergasted. Impossible! Here is the Savior, the long-awaited Messiah! This cannot be. And he lets rip on the Lord, only be to compared to Satan! And Peter, only a few breaths before, had recognized him as the Messiah in their midst. This did NOT fit into Peter’s idea of the Messiah, the Anointed of God, for whom the Jewish people had been waiting for, literally, centuries. No, something was not right. Peter expected Jesus to be acclaimed as the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, in Jerusalem, and the whole nation would rise to welcome him and the new Kingdom of David would rise to world dominance…. And Peter was not alone in this expectation. Over the centuries, the Jewish people had developed their idea of what kind of person the Messiah would be, and almost universally it was a picture of a conquering hero, expelling the pagan Roman occupation forces, re-establishing the Kingdom of David, and creating an Israel of God worthy of the name.

Jesus, in the days after his baptism, where it was revealed that this was the Messiah, and the Son of God, contemplated in the wilderness what exactly that all meant. The picture revealed to him at that time was of a Messiah who would suffer and be killed, based on Holy Scripture itself. The first reading today was clearly part of this formulation. This Messiah would give his back to those who beat him, his cheeks to those who plucked his beard, his face he did not shield from buffets and spitting… That did not fit into the popular view of the Messiah, but Jesus clearly thought that such passages were prophecies of what this man had to expect, and anyone who thought otherwise, including Peter, was of the enemy.  It is THE reason Jesus insisted on as much secrecy as possible during his ministry, as he did not want to be carried into Jerusalem as the conquering hero until he was ready. In other words, until he had completed his mission, trained his followers, and prepared them as much as possible as to what was going to happen (seen in today’s gospel). Only then would all the prophecies found in Scripture, including the negative, be fulfilled. It would be safe to say that only Jesus himself held the notion of a Suffering Servant Messiah, a picture it seems no-one else had at that time. 

That might be the reason the passage from the Epistle of James is read today. He asks what good is faith without the accompanying actions which put it into play? Jesus applied that expectation to such passages as today’s first reading. Isaiah prophesied a Suffering Servant, which Jesus took as a model for the Messiah, one who accepted both the good and the bad. So here was the One who made the blind see and the lame walk, but who would also endure insults and abuse. Here was the One who took all the prophesies of the Messiah, positive and negative, actually lived them, and who was killed as a consequence. Only after the ultimate divine blessing, when Jesus conquered even death, the ultimate enemy, was it clear that he had been right; his broad interpretation of the Messiah found in Scripture, was in fact the Messiah of God. In that way he gave us the perfect model of how to deal with life’s ups and downs, not to give up hope, but to strengthen hope, not to despair but to do as Jesus did, and put one’s entire trust in God who alone understands how good can come from evil, and even life from death. In that way we can be true followers of the Lord, unlike poor Peter who thought he knew better, but ultimately followed in the Lord’s footsteps to the bitter end, and entered upon eternal happiness and peace. We are invited to do the same, whatever might happen to us, so that we are prepared to be true apostles in good times and in bad.

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Saints Peter and John Healing the Lame Man, Poussin 1655, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA

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

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Roger

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SUNDAY 5 SEPTEMBER 2021: THE TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Jesus Cures the Deaf-Mute, Breenburgh, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

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  Jesus said, “Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” — And immediately the man’s ears were opened,
his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.    Mark 7:34-35.

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This section of Mark’s gospel has Jesus traveling through Gentile country (the previous episode here was the famous confrontation with the Syro-Phoenician woman who stated even the Gentiles could claim the same right as the family dogs, and pick up the crumbs falling from the table of the children of God, the Jews). He encountered a man who was deaf and who could not speak clearly. The local people had brought him to Jesus, which appears to be a sign of their confidence in this holy man, or perhaps a test to prove if he was genuine or not. If you have ever met someone afflicted with this disability, you know how challenging it is to understand what they are saying. They are trying to speak as clearly as those with perfect hearing, but as they are unable to hear anything, they have to hope that what they say is close to what they intend. Often it is not, leading to confusion and perhaps irritation. Deafness is a terrible affliction, worse than blindness in my opinion, as it is a huge obstacle in communicating with the world. It is even thought to be a pathway to dementia with those who are trapped in deafness, and who are are unwilling or unable to meet the challenge.

This man, clearly, had made the attempt to confront his disability by speaking as best he could. Then there is the extraordinary way Jesus dealt with him. Jesus placed his fingers into the man’s ears, and touched his tongue with his own saliva. These actions can be considered “sacramental” in that they actually bring about what they symbolize, with the man’s ears being opened, and his tongue loosened (just as the words of consecration at Mass not only symbolize the bread becoming the body of Christ, but also actually change the bread into his body). Note the absence here of any mention of the devil, or even of faith, which accords with the situation, Jesus dealing with pagans in a pagan land. Jesus spoke no words here, just sighed, perhaps a recognition of the extreme disability of this man, and looked to his Father in heaven, the source of his power. Then there is the word, “Ephphatha!”. It is an Aramaic word, the language that Jesus spoke, and is generally translated as “Be opened!” Instantly the man was cured and he spoke plainly, perhaps for the first time in his life. The crowd’s positive reaction to the miracle is the strongest reaction to any of Jesus’ actions as recorded in Mark’s gospel. They proclaimed the event everywhere they could. Here, it would seem, was the dawning reality of the presence of the Messiah, as prophesied by Isaiah in today’s first reading, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf be cleared” (Isaiah 35:5-6). But must have been somewhat muted, as this was Gentile territory. 

One final thought, from today’s second reading. Jesus dealt with the downtrodden, the rejected, the disabled, the lowest, as it were, of society. Today’s disabled man, deaf and scarcely able to speak, was almost certainly not among the elite of their society. But they clearly knew him, and thought positively enough of him to bring him to the Jewish holy man in the hope something could be done for him. That says a great deal about them, and is a lesson to us, emphasized in the second reading, “to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him”. We are to follow in their footsteps, sharing our good fortune with those who are not so fortunate. It could be said that is why we have such good fortune, isn’t it?

appalachia

Hillbilly Heroin, Honey, Magnum Photography Award, 2016. 

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

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Roger

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SUNDAY 29 AUGUST 2021: THE TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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Catholics Striving for Holiness

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(Jesus said to the crowd), “Hear me, all of you, and understand.  Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile…”   Mark 7:14-15.

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How many times, I wonder, have we heard someone say “Do what I say, not what I do”? All of us must have a pretty good, basic idea of how we are to act in daily life to embody what we believe to be right and true. This could go from holding the door open for another person to assisting someone being assaulted verbally or even physically for no good apparent reason. We all of us know in our heart of hearts what each situation calls for in Christian terms, but the question, as always, is, do we? Cowardice, fear, reluctance, any number of reasons could stop us from doing what is right. Yet it is in just such situations that the Christian lion is separated from the Christian lamb. I suspect saintly courage and strength are quite rare in real life and perhaps that is what the Lord is highlighting today. The world needs strong saints! 

The actual situation which prompted today’s words from the Savior needs a little explaining. Much attention is paid to cleanliness here, that hands are to be washed, pots and pans to be scrubbed, and so on. Nothing new there; this is done on a daily basis in just about every household in the land! So isn’t that why those not doing that are being condemned in today’s gospel? The answer is no, but that needs some explanation. We clean everything today because we know if we do not, sickness might be the result. The ancient Jews had ritual cleaning because it was part of the Law, part of Scripture. There was no concept back then of removal of germs and infections from hands and things we touch to render them sterile. So those not cleaning their hands were condemned for not following the Law, not for endangering themselves and others by not washing. We know now there is a second reason to clean things. They did not. It explains Jesus’ frustration that people were being judged just and true because they fulfilled all the external commands of the law, yet inside, who knows? It could all be a giant cover-up for evil. It is what happens within our hearts and minds that Jesus was concerned with: that’s where the truth lay. The first reading from Deuteronomy, namely, the Law, lays down the understanding necessary to  be righteous in the eyes of God. From it one can draw wisdom and intelligence. The Law is, as it were, a gift from God, an outside reality to be accepted by the individual and incorporated into daily living. James’ letter, on the other hand, mentions that we are each born into the word of truth, that God’s will is, as it were, within us already at birth (this might be part of the origin of the Catholic belief that we are born oriented to the good, not to evil). So there is a natural receptor deep within each of us which can recognize the truth of God’s Law from without, accept it and incorporate it into daily living. In other words, we should lead the righteous and true life of God’s adopted child. “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only” James says. In that way we know, deep inside, what we must do, for example, when confronted with the reality of widows and orphans, and avoid what the world might say, contradicting God’s Law or which, contrary to  our own inclination, is evil and wrong. We all know, deep inside, what must be done in almost all situations calling for a moral judgment. That is where we face a stark choice of good or bad. At such times we beg God’s strength and guidance, and the courage to act as God’s good child.

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Catholic Care for Children International, Nairobi, Kenya, February 2021.

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

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Roger

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SUNDAY 22 AUGUST 2021: THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

TURIN, ITALY - MARCH 15, 2017: The symbolic fresco of Twelve apo
The Twelve Apostles (including St. Paul), Reffo 1914, Church of St. Dalmazzo, Turin, Italy.

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Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  John 6:68.

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Today’s three readings seems to refer to different situations. Joshua, talking to the tribal leaders of the Hebrews, seems to challenge them by asking who they will serve in their newly-conquered Promised Land, the God of the Hebrews, or the local gods of the conquered peoples. Then the second reading seems to be talking about marriage and its implications for a married couple. Then the gospel talks about the aftermath of Jesus’ stunning claim that his followers must eat his flesh and drink his blood to remain his followers. Some who heard that had heard enough, and went their way, leaving him.

There does, however, seem to be a theme running through all three readings today, one of unity. There seems to be agreement throughout that we humans are naturally disposed to uniting ourselves to others rather than choosing solitude. That being the case, all three readings seem to suggest what kind of union, in total freedom, we should accept. The ancient Hebrews, having achieved their Promised Land did, indeed, see the attractions of the local gods of the people they had conquered. Even though the reading has them state they will not forsake the God of Abraham, we know from historians, and Scripture itself, that that was not completely true. The attractions of fertility gods, gods of power and even gods who demanded child sacrifice, were not completely rejected. It was a problem that played constantly with the prophets right down to the conquest of the Hebrews by the Babylonians centuries later. Only that disaster managed to convince them where their true loyalties lay (When the Jews Believed in Other Gods).

The marriage teachings talk of the unity of two people and the respect and sanctity each must have for the other, paralleling the love Christ has for his Church and the care he bestows on her. And then the gospel itself. Jesus, with a directness that even today sounds overwhelming, spelt out the conditions necessary to be his follower. Today’s gospel deals with the after effects of that teaching. It is not too surprising to see that some of his followers could not accept the implications of his demand. His disciples, however, though perhaps knocked for six over his words, still trusted him to the extent of accepting him for who he was, the one who had the words of eternal life, the Holy One of God. They had no idea that the full revelation of his teaching would take place at the Last Supper, where the new and eternal covenant he made with them was to be sealed in his blood, the consecrated wine of the Passover Dinner, celebrated by eating his flesh, the consecrated Passover bread.

Each of these readings speaks of unity, but where do our loyalties lie? Do they lie with the popular values of the day, money, power, sex, drugs, etc., or with the One True God of Love? Do they lie with total loving commitment to another, rather than in domination or possession of another? Do they lie in acting and believing in oneself as god almighty, to be served and worshipped exclusively in utter selfishness, or acknowledging that One greater than us, who loves and cares for us to the extent of dying for love of us, is the true choice? Only each of us can answer those questions and respond appropriately. And note that they correspond to the prime teaching of the Lord, to love God as seen in the gospel passage, to love your neighbor, especially to the one you have vowed to love, and then yourself, as seen in the first reading, where clear choices of what that means in action. God waits for our response…..

Crucifixion-St-Johns-BibleThe Crucifixion, Jackson 2011, The Saint John’s Bible, St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN. USA.

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

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

Roger

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SUNDAY 15 AUGUST 2021: THE SOLEMNITY OF THE ASSUMPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY: MASS DURING THE DAY.

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Revelation 12:1-5, The Apocalypse Tapestry 14th century, Château d’Angers, Loire Valley, France.

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Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  Luke 1:42.

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St. John, the traditional author of the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament from which today’s first reading is taken, must certainly be awarded for the strangest, most challenging, violent, and shocking book in the entire canon. Remember also that his gospel begins before time itself: “In the beginning was the Word….” and ends with this book, the apocalyptic battle between good and evil, the conclusion of all things. The modern mind must find it hard to grasp what on earth the whole thing is about, with demons and monsters. Today’s first reading has a lady giving birth in the most alarming situation imaginable, being threatened by a seven-headed fearsome dragon sweeping the stars of the heavens away with its tail!  It reads more like a Hollywood script for superheroes and villains than sacred Scripture! The medieval Apocalypse tapestry preserved in the Château of Angers in France, pictures this scene literally (see above). Making sense of it all is not easy. Certainly the focus this Sunday is the Blessed Mother whose feast of the Assumption we celebrate today. That is to say, the church remembers that, uniquely among all mortals, Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven, sinless and incorruptible. Recall that the wages of sin is death; many believe that Mary, the sinless one, could therefore not suffer death, the reason why this feast is sometimes referred to as the Dormition of the Virgin, or “falling asleep” of the Virgin. This is the message of today’s second reading. Mary, the new Eve, accepted God’s will for her, no matter the consequences, and cooperated fully with the challenging plan God had made for her and her child. Today’s first reading attempts to portray the challenge that this presented to the Evil One, and the effort to destroy God’s plan. This was utterly unlike the first Eve, who disobeyed God and brought evil crashing down upon herself and each of us; and remember we are all Eve in that we have all disobeyed God in one way or another.

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The Assumption of the Virgin, Francesco Botticini c.1475-6. The National Gallery, London, UK.

Then there is today’s gospel. Mary had agreed to God’s plan for her, even though it must have seemed to the unmarried young woman that it left her open to disgrace, ridicule and being shunned by her community. Yet she agreed, to be protected by her new husband Joseph, who must have been equally overwhelmed by God’s plans when they were revealed to him. Despite all that, the gospel goes on to tell us that, hearing that her cousin Elizabeth was with child (“she who was thought to be barren” Luke 1:36), Mary dropped everything to visit her relative to support and help her, despite the challenging time that God had wished upon Mary herself.  Yet this young Jewish girl was putting first things first; Elizabeth was older than she, and Mary guessed Elizabeth’s need was the greater. Once she had been assured that Elizabeth appeared to be in good spirits and health, Mary rejoiced in the words of the Magnificat, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…” and declaring that  “…from this day all generations will call me blessed…” which might seem strange to the modern eye, until you recall that “blessed” at root meaning means happy. Mary was rejoicing in the happiness that closeness to God brings to all of us. Nothing can be greater! And the second reading states the reality that there is no death in the reality of life with the Lord: So too in Christ shall all be brought to life... And even the first, scary, reading ends with the assurance that Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed One. All this is open to us if we but trust in the Lord, the goodness of God and the strength of our conviction that only in God are happiness, security and fulfillment to be found. Just as Mary was the first to tread this pathway of trust and love, so we too are invited to do the same. And as today’s readings show with unmatched clarity, despite every temptation, threat or  evil, good prevails through all if we but let it and cooperate with it.

God

Revelation 8:1, the Lamb Breaks the Seventh Seal. The Apocalypse Tapestry 14th century, Château d’Angers, Loire Valley, France.

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

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

Roger

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SUNDAY 8 AUGUST 2021: THE NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.


steam  diesel  der-ice-2-triebzug-303671

1940s London; 1960s London, 2020s Cologne, Germany…

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After [Elijah] ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the LORD came back a second time,
touched him, and ordered, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!”  He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.  
 
1 Kings 19:5-8.

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Strange choice of images today, I know, but wait. It struck me that all three readings today talk, in one way or another, of a journey. Elijah had to be strengthened for a long walk to Mount Horeb. The second reading states we are “sealed for the day of redemption”, the journey to which, the reading says, must have no hint of bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling. And the gospel states Jesus as saying, No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. Another journey, it seems. So all of us, of all ages, experiences, skills and willpower, are called to journey forth. The images are designed to cover all of us. I can remember steam train journeys when young, just like the picture above, the excitement, the clouds of steam, the smuts in your eye, hanging out the open windows, all of it. Then, when all the steam trains had been banished to legacy lines, the smooth, swift electric and diesel trains which took over with more comfortable seats and reliability, followed by today’s high speed trains, especially in Europe and Asia. The train above is an ICE German train (Inter-City Express), capable of speeds up to 180 miles per hour… in luxury… And now, take a look at the rails upon which they all travel… Choices, decisions, directions. That’s what today’s readings are all about…  Only here, we are in the driver’s seat, no matter the age and condition the engine is in, or, indeed, we are in, and furthermore, we have the power to change the rail points we are approaching, unlike the drivers up there. Our journeys began long ago, but we continue to this day, the decisions, the directions and the destinations we choose. Today’s readings, then, offer a possible course correction, perhaps minor, perhaps not.

The second reading seems to be, as it were, the most practical, with specific do’s and don’ts. It seems to contain a ground plan for everyday living, treating each other courteously, without rancor or anger or swearing. Forgiveness and compassion are the Christian pattern of behavior, not the opposite. Then, in the extract from 2nd Kings, God confirms Elijah’s worth in God’s eyes, no matter what Elijah might think. The poor man seems to think he is basically worthless and the world would be better off without him. God rejects that instantly, “Get up and eat” being the divine response! God’s plan for Elijah has hardly begun! And that, too, would apply to each of us. We have to figure what the plan is, based on our gifts and skills, but that’s where the floorplan will be, and it is up to us to go figure. Then of course, there is today’s gospel, reaching out way beyond the other readings. Here is God’s plan for us – to be called by God, to be fed by God with food for eternal life, guided by One whom God the almighty sent to us for exactly that purpose. With such a guide, we can select the track we wish to follow, have help with the fuel and the direction at all times, for this “fuel”, as Jesus tells us, is the bread that I will give [which] is my flesh for the life of the world. 

And of course it matters not what engine of choice we direct to get from here, today, to there, tomorrow. What we do need is a plan, as it is up to use to choose the way we travel. That is a heavy responsibility, a necessary one. But Elijah was not alone, and neither are we. Yes we choose the way, but we do that in the full knowledge of which way is right, and which wrong, We know what should be done, we have the fuel to do it, and the track is clearly laid out before us. So all we need is the same conviction, trust and confidence that the drivers of each of those engines above had in their signal personnel who would direct them to their goal. That’s the trust we are called to this day and every day.

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Terminus ad Quem, from Reformation to World Renunciation, Bosch 1560, Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain.

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

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

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

SUNDAY 1ST AUGUST 2021: THE EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Supper at Emmaus, Cosway, undated,Yale Center for British Art, Yale University, New Haven Ct. USA

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Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”    John 6:35.

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Growing up in London, even in the years after the war, it did not take much saving up to cobble together a trip to France, especially if you were a student or had friends there. I did, and I stayed with Françoise and her husband in the 1970s. It was the perfect arrangement: breakfast together; they went off to work, I did the tourist thing, and we got together at the end of the day. Well, I mention this because it was my introduction to French bread, specifically the baguette, that classic long, thin loaf with crackles when you break is and tastes like, well, heaven, arriving fresh each morning. But there were drawbacks, as I quickly found. Too much of it and you get indigestion (guilty). Impossible to save, as it is hard as a rock the next day. So it was, as it were, a temporal taste of heaven, not the real thing. One (irrelevant) point more. Baguette, pronounced bagett with a hard g, carries several meanings in French. There is the bread of course, but when I heard an introduction to a concert on French radio and “à la baguette…” was announced with the conductor’s name, my imagination took hold. The French version of Harry Potter’s world is full of baguettes magiques, and so on. I encourage you to take a look here if you are intrigued. So here we have a loaf of bread which is wildly flexible. And the Lord today is saying he is the Bread of Life… Could one quietly say here we have the Baguette of Life, eternally crusty, delicious, nourishing and healthy… 

So bread is what you might see as an essential element in Scripture and life, across the centuries and places, not to mention its importance in daily living from ages immemorial. It is at the foundation of just about every western and middle eastern society. Bread even appears in the Magna Carta inasmuch as the measure of grain, its raw material, was fixed throughout England to allow fair measure. For Jesus to say that he is the Bread of Life, then, was to place himself squarely at the root of normal life, indeed, its life source. Today’s first reading supports this. The Hebrews’ 40 years of wandering in the wilderness was only possible with the daily supply of manna from the Hand of God, a bread substitute if you like, even though it is thought to have been sweet, but, without which, disaster. 

One final thought. Jesus was very strong on this identification of himself and food. His shocking language in John’s gospel about having to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life is pretty clear. To declare himself the Bread of Life is another instance, even if the language is more muted. But his utterances, it seems to me, are pretty clear: Take and eat my body; take and drink my blood; I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me will never hunger. It seems they all point to a literal, fundamental interpretation, that that is what we have to believe, accept and do, just as he has told us, all pointing to the Eucharist. It is that moment when Catholics and Orthodox become the fundamentalists, and accept these words at literal face value, and many fundamentalist Protestants do not, claiming they are “symbolic” rather than real. Oh strange topsy turvy world. 

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The Holy Eucharist, Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Manchester, NH USA.

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

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

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com