5 DECEMBER 2019: THE SEcOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT.

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St. John the Baptist Preaching, Preti c.1665, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, USA.

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A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”   Luke 3:4.  

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If you are a church-going Christian, you might well feel like a voice crying in the wilderness these days. The research and management consulting company Gallup has reported on church membership for many years, and has noted that church/synagogue/mosque membership has fallen significantly in the new century from 71% to 47% in 2020. Their report notes that the decline in Catholic membership has been greater than Protestant decline, 76% to 58% compared to 73% – 64%. That is not too surprising seeing the scandalous and shocking revelations within the Catholic community over the last 30-odd years. But is does seem to call those of us remaining in the church, and determined to eliminate the evil which seems to have been rampant up to now, to stand up and proclaim our belief in the Lord and all he stands for. In other words, to be John the Baptist today! The first reading today, from Baruch, hints at the Jewish people exiled in Babylon “Led away on foot by their enemies they left you”, “you” in our case today being the true church of Christ. We remaining church-goers might well be them today, left in the ruins inflicted by evil priests who have wounded the church so significantly. So our voices must be raised to restate the message of Christ, so utterly the opposite of what has happened in our community. So it is up to us to be “A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths”, except it is us who have to make straight those paths turned crooked by the devil’s disciples. And what better season to do this than Advent! The goal is nicely stated in today’s second reading, that our love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value,  so that we may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness…. 

It is part of our vocation as Christians to live a life which stands as a model for those around, to behave in ways which are friendly and attractive, to be as generous as possible with our resources, our skills and our time. Remember we are here for our neighbors as well as for God and for ourselves. That is the way to attract Catholics who have given up on the Church back into its life, and indeed for others to become intrigued about the power which drives us to do the right thing. Advent means approach or coming, in our case, the arrival of the Lord of Life.  Proper recognition of that is beyond buying presents and sending Christmas cards. It is also a time to prepare inwardly for Jesus’ arrival. Just as if a relative is about to arrive for the first time in ages (quite possible in these quarantine days) we would clean the house from top to toe, the same is called for spiritually with the traditional arrival of the Lord on the 25th. And that might well call us to be John the Baptist, who prepared the way of the Lord for others. 

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His Name is John, Bonnell 2020.

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

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SUNDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2021: THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT.

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The Last Judgment, Michelangelo 1541, the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City State.

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Jesus said to his disciples…. “People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”   Luke 21:26-27.

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One imagines that Michelangelo’s masterwork, shown here, is a pretty accurate depiction of the popular idea of The Last Judgment. Compare this picture to the passage above, taken from today’s gospel, and the parallel seems to be clear. One thing it clearly is not, and that is, it is not a presentation of the cool, calm and collected picture of a stable in Bethlehem with ox and ass in the background, shepherds and kings in the foreground gathered around a gentle mother nursing her newborn baby! So we have two pictures then, one showing the First Coming of the Lord, and then the scary Second Coming amid clouds and thunder. And this is the beginning of Advent, the run up to Christmas! The First Coming was the culmination of the centuries of waiting for the Messiah to arrive, popularly thought at the time to be more like the Michelangelo picture above, and our own centuries of waiting for Jesus’ apocalyptic words to become reality. I’m sure we would prefer it to be more like the First Coming, completing the reversal of popular imagination and the realities envisioned by God, one peaceful and dignified, and the other, calamitous and terrifying, instead of the other way round. 

Looking at all three readings today might provide some balance however. Jeremiah’s words provide a peaceful and secure setting, a prophesy that the One who will come will provide safety and justice in the land. That is more like a Christmas setting! The Christians in Thessaloniki, to whom Paul was writing in today’s second reading, were urged to love one another and, indeed, love all, which will strengthen their hearts in holiness, befitting the moment when the Lord Jesus will return. Then Jesus gives us the daunting image of the Final Judgment, but it is tied to the preparation we can make before it comes upon us. There is, he is saying, a clear way we can confront this finality with success. No “carousing and drunkenness” for one thing (another Christmas image?), and we must not wrap ourselves up in daily anxieties which blind up to a greater, and more important reality. We each of us have to find a way to be ready for this promised event at all times, to have a kind of fire alarm in our hearts whose battery is never dead. We are always encouraged to check our house fire alarms each time the clocks change; perhaps we Christians could do the same each Christmas and Easter with our own spiritual alarm. Are we ready for that daunting event? If not, if we have not been loving and active in our Christian vocation, then it is time to change, while we have the time! 

Of course it is easy to say nothing has happened in 2000 years, so why bother? The chances of this thing happening in our lifetimes is, to say the least, remote. That is almost certainly true, but there is one reality which is 100% certain: our own death. There will come a moment when each one of us will be called, ripped perhaps, from this life. Sometimes it is known when this will happen, quite often not. In either case we have to be prepared, and today’s readings suddenly spring into vivid life, calling for real action on our part. Jesus could well be preparing us for that individual moment when he comes to take us from this life to another more glorious – or not. How about that for a Christmas message? St. Paul writes to tell us that he has done his best to let us know what should be done in preparation. And this is by no means all doom and gloom. To love God, one’s neighbor and oneself is hardly a recipe for gloom; rather it is a recipe for a full and happy life, a “feel good” life if you like, which calls for sacrifice of course, but which makes us truly God-like, generous, active, spiritually healthy, content and, when Christ comes, arms will be open and welcoming on both sides. How about that as a picture for the start of the Christmas season?

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Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem, Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Yamoussoukro,Côte d’Ivoire.

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

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SUNDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2021: THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE.

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 Te Deum, James Powell & Sons 1895, St. Nicholas Anglican Church, Blakeney, Norfolk, UK.

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Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. John 18:36a.

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Today marks the end of the liturgical year, and next Sunday, the first of Advent, inaugurates a new year in the church’s long life. So today is like a summary of the central message of Christianity, that the Lord of Life and Light is our support, our life and our destiny. He must be the center of our life, the focus of our thoughts and actions, and the very foundation of our existence. The church’s role is to remind us that we are not alone in that journey; we are part of a community all intent on living up to that high goal, to live by his teachings, the only way to ensure true happiness and direction in our life. He is, after all, the only person who has conquered the ultimate enemy of us all, death itself. and he invites each of us, individually and collectively, to follow him in defying death by leading a virtuous, happy and fulfilling life here on earth. The Old Testament reading is a pre-echo, if you like, a promise that this king will appear in due time, and that we can trust completely in his reign and dominion. Unlike any of earth’s rulers, we can have complete confidence in this king as he will never fail, never lie, never retreat and will always be there for us. The second reading from the Book of Revelation, states this clearly and definitively: “I Am the Alpha and the Omega”, the beginning and the end. Put your complete trust in me and you will prevail against the world and live forever.

This feast was created by Pope Pius XI in 1925 with a deliberate goal in mind. The increasing secularization of society all over the world and, at that time especially, the increasing pattern of focussing all power on one political figure, seemed to be minimizing the reality of Christ as ultimate ruler. It was to be a reminder that Jesus must be the principal focus of our thoughts and words, not some earthly, time-constrained political principle or person. We are all here to serve God by serving our neighbor, Jesus’ clear message. Anything less than that was simply not Christian. Pope Paul VI moved this feast day to the last Sunday of the church’s year in 1970 to act as a summary of all our belief and hope, centered on the figure of Our Lord. It is interesting to note that this liturgical festivity has been adopted by many non-Catholic churches, recognizing the universality of the kingship of Christ. So here we have a truly universal king, worshipped by millions of people world-wide, one who will not fail us, but who will be there for us whatever the reason or situation. No human ruler can do that. As Jesus says today, “But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

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Christ the King, Patecki 2010, Świebodzin, Poland. 

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

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SUNDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2021: THE THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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All the Times the World Didn’t End: A History, USA Today NEWS, September 2021.

Jesus said to his disciples: “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.   Mark 13:24-25.

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Well, reading that passage above from today’s gospel, you might be forgiven for thinking it is one of the wilder conspiracy theories so common on the Internet. Wrong: it is the Lord himself speaking, so this time we have to figure out what on earth he was talking about. It does sound strange and prone to whipping up a frenzy of panic and confusion everywhere. Yet it is today’s Scripture reading! I imagine Jesus wasn’t out to panic all of us in saying this, but what was he trying to do? In his day, there was excited and breathless anticipation that the Messiah was about to appear. This would be the One who would deliver the Jewish people from the rule of the Gentile pagan Roman occupation forces and re-establish the kingdom of David. Trouble with that is that Jesus’ language is not the language of victory and jubilation, but of destruction and perhaps damnation. Not what was wanted. Of course, in Jesus’ thought, that popular idea of the Messiah was completely wrong, that this man (as it was always thought to be a man) would have to suffer and die, as well as be the one who would triumph, with kings bowing down to him (which of course happened in the centuries that were to follow). But those first followers would know nothing about that, and so would have to work out for themselves what, exactly, he was talking about. And as we know, even they got it wrong, spectacularly demonstrated by Peter in the garden of the high priest where Jesus was being questioned and condemned, and Peter disowned him. Jesus was clearly not Peter’s idea of the Messiah. Those grim words from today’s gospel quoted above would surely describe Jesus’ thoughts and feelings at a moment like that, alone and betrayed. Indeed for him the sun was darkened, and the powers in the heavens were shaken. Jesus was abandoned, friendless and utterly alone.

But then Jesus’ words change. He talked of better times, when we must learn a lesson from the fig tree, when its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, as if coming back from the dead, for then we know that summer is near. So there is a great contrast in today’s gospel. There is something approaching despair followed by a spark of hope. Hope is usually not an element found in Internet conspiracy rants. But our gospel is not a conspiracy rant; it is a recipe for salvation. There is hope buried amid the warning of catastrophe and perhaps that is the message for today’s believers. It also occurs to me that perhaps Jesus’ words can be applied to our own last moments in this world when we are radically alone, facing eternity. But with a little confidence, our own fig tree can provide us with support, strength and above all, faith in what is about to happen. So for each of us there will be a time when all will end and each of us will face we know not what. We know what faith says, what the Lord says, what St. Paul says and the rest of it, but what, exactly, will happen? Ah, that’s the question, when our whole life might well flash in front of us, assuring us of eternal happiness as one of the “elect” as today’s gospel says, or not, when it is too late to do anything more about it. But right now, we do have time and opportunity to act, either to maintain a life in accordance with the will of God, or to change it now to align it with God’s will and thereby save ourselves. We have been given clear and direct guidance on what to do, and will have no-one but ourselves to blame or congratulate. So ends the church’s year with clear language and some strong encouragement as to what we should do with our lives to ensure happiness both here and beyond.

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Happiness Beyond Paradise 2020, Zerbini.

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

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SUNDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2021: THE THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

Jesus and His disciples watch a widow put coins into the treasury offering box.

The Widow’s Mite, Seeds of Faith, 2016, Concordia Publishing House.

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A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, [Jesus] said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.  Mark 12:42-43.

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“Giving” is a byword for any Christian Church, Jewish Synagogue and Muslim Mosque in the world. It is a central tenet of religion, an awareness that there will always be people whose basic needs are not being met because they don’t have the money to do so. Additionally, those churches, synagogues and mosques cannot continue without the support of their members; God’s house requires human support. It is said that the 19th century immigrant churches of New York, Chicago, Atlanta and many other places were built with the pennies of the nearly destitute believers. God’s house was so central to their understanding of what life is about that they were prepared to give of their necessity rather than their surplus (of which there was none). Such was the faith and strength of belief of the widow spotted by Jesus. And, of course, thereby is the lesson for us today. I don’t know about you, but I get bombarded by begging letters every day in the mail. Various religious orders, charities doing good work, international appeals for disaster relief, on and on. Yes, I say to myself, if I supported all of these I would be bankrupted, and if so, then how could I support any? But isn’t that what the poor widow did? I am on the horns of a dilemma here, damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Help us Lord!

I think the Lord deliberately sets the stage in lessons like this for us to look deeply into our hearts and see what on earth is lurking there. Are we concerned about those who cannot take care of their own needs, or worse, those of their children? Do we care about the state of the church in which we worship the God of generosity towards us, who proved it by dying for us? Are our needs greater than the starving victims of a natural disaster? In such a direction, perhaps, our thoughts should go when examining the bank balance; we should become the poor widow on such occasions, swallow any miserliness we might have, and be generous. Another thing occurs to me comes from a coffee mug I have, which shows a middle-aged lady in thoughtful mode over the caption “I gave at the office years ago, and I wish I hadn’t”. But giving just one time is not enough. Jesus actually stated that we will always have the poor with us (Matthew 26:11). Their needs will always be a reality for many reasons. As long as we can, we have to keep giving. It might not be pleasant; it might go against the grain, but it must be done. I grew up in impoverished conditions: no hot water, no central heating (we had only one coal-fired stove in the front room), no proper bathroom (a porcelain hip bath was in the kitchen, the hot water for which had to be boiled on the gas stove and carried over in a large tin bath with two handles…. I shudder to think about that now). So now, in much more comfortable circumstances, I find it difficult for some reason to give to those who still suffer under such conditions. But I must. It wasn’t my fault or the family’s fault I grew up like that, it was the terrible time (the 1940s and 50s London) over which we had little control. Now it is, thankfully, different, and I am now in a position to help those who remain in such straightened circumstances. And help I must.

So perhaps the Lord is pushing us today, approaching the end of the church’s year, to consider some basics, such as the above. We are getting close to Christmas, a time of agony for some parents whose means forbid a great children’s feast. What can be done for them? And, while we are at it, what can be done for the widow, generous beyond her means, but beloved of God?

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Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, Apple Valley, MN, USA.

Today is special for aother reason. It is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, asking us all to remember those Christians in lands where they are persecuted for their faith. There are more than you might think. Please remember them in your prayers and help them as best you can in whatever ways are open to you.

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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31 OCTOBER 2021: THE THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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The Holy Trinity, Max Švabinský 1930, St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic.

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Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Mark 12:29-30.

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Today’s readings are a clarion call back to absolute basics, a declaration in our belief in God, first, last and always. Here is the God who made us, who sustains us and who calls us to a greater reality, one of eternal happiness and joy. To believe this, and to act and conduct ourselves in response to the teachings we have received from the hand of God, is to prepare ourselves to enter upon that glorious full life which is our destiny and fulfillment. Perhaps today’s readings invite us to step back a moment from the trials and tribulations of daily life, with all its challenges and pitfalls, and gaze upon our destination, the heavenly Jerusalem. It’s a bit like looking at brochures showing a spectacular holiday destination which may or may not be as gorgeous as the pictures. The heavenly Jerusalem, however, will not disappoint, and will be our home for eternity! It is our duty to make sure that we keep to that yellow brick road leading us directly to that glorious place and we don’t go wandering down some dirt track, probably with glittering empty promises of a wondrous alternative destination, but which leads to a grim, desolate and bleak nowhere. Zion.med-3x2

The New Jerusalem.

These readings come to us as the church’s year moves to its close. It is a reminder of what life is all about, where we are going, what our life should be. We are here for a good reason, that we can achieve a spectacular conclusion to this life by entering the gates of another. And on the way, if we accept the Lord’s teachings and emulate his example, we will enjoy a pre-heaven as it were, a happiness which is a pre-echo of what is to come, even here, in ordinary life. And that is possible even when things do not go our way, and even then we stick to our values and remain focussed on the pathway which leads to the New Jerusalem. No-one ever said the road would be clear, smooth and level, because it isn’t. But it does tell us the direction we have to go in, even if at times we cannot see it too clearly, like Bartimaeus last Sunday. He couldn’t see the Lord, as he was blind, but he knew Jesus was the Messiah, the one who could give him his sight and, more important, the one who could show him what he should do with his life. We know this because he followed Jesus thereafter, just as we all should. In many ways we are crippled too, slaves to things we should not be slaves to, acting in ways that lead us away from the way we should be following. That’s when the Lord appears, if we let him to, heals us, re-directs us, gives us a push in the right direction, and stays with us on the journey. Let us give thanks for such a guide! And remember, eucharist is the Greek word for thanks. 

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A man healed at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:8), Sim 2020.

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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24 OCTOBER 2021: THE THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Christ Healing the Blind, El Greco, c.1570, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA. 

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[Jesus said to him]….“What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.”   Mark 10:51.

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This is one of the most dramatic, no, human, scenes in the gospels. A blind man begging at the roadside. Clearly penniless, desperate, probably looked on as a wretched sinner (see last week’s reflections), hears a commotion going on. It was the miracle worker Jesus, so the blind man saw his chance and yelled at the top of his voice for Jesus to help him. Told to be quiet, he yelled all the harder, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me”. Interesting you might think. This was Jesus son of Joseph (foster son as we would say), not David. Why? The Messiah, the Anointed of God, was traditionally thought of as the son of David. Bartimaeus, even though blind, clearly saw Jesus as the One who was to come… And Jesus heard him, called him over, found out what he wanted, and cured his blindness, and the now-seeing man followed him. In fact, that is probably why we know his name. Many of Jesus’ miraculous cures were on people who were not named in the gospels, but Bartimaeus was named, probably because he became a devoted follower.

This all took place in Jericho which many experts say is the oldest inhabited settlement on earth, with evidence of human occupation going back, some say, perhaps 11,000 years! It was also the first city which fell to the Israelites entering their Promised Land under Joshua, where the walls came a-tumbling down, allowing a Hebrew victory. Note also that Jesus does not demand that no mention of this miracle be made, as he had on many previous occasions. So just as the dramatic conquest of Jericho was a divine indication of the fulfillment of the promise of land to the Hebrews, so here we have the fulfillment of God’s long-promised arrival of the Messiah to the Hebrews, seen in Bartimaeus’ cry to the Son of David. Jesus was at that time on the road to Jerusalem where he was to undergo his passion and death, as he came to be seen as the anti-David, not the conquering Messiah everyone was waiting for, a disappointment so great for the people, a betrayal even, that he was crucified. But then…….

And so the first reading is to be fulfilled, where the suffering will be consoled, will be led to community and peace, where, as the second reading says, the Lord will be glorified having triumphed over weakness, ignorance and sin. But this was far from the all-conquering new David the Jews were looking for. Jesus was not the one who would restore them to political independence and freedom. He was the one who would heal the lame, give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. And today’s gospel has one of his last signs of this identity, of a Messiah who would fulfill all the messianic prophecies, good and bad. It was with supreme courage that our Savior set out from Jericho to tread the uphill road to Jerusalem and his death.

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The Ascension of the Lord, St. Peter the Apostle Antiochian Orthodox Church, Fort Myers, FL, USA.

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

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Roger

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17 OCTOBER 2021: THE TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

christ-washing-the-feetPope Francis washes the feet of inmates at Rome’s Rebibbia prison for Holy Thursday on April 2, 2015, The American Prospect.

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[Jesus said]: For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”   Mark 10:45.

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“Servant leaders are a revolutionary bunch—they take the traditional power leadership model and turn it completely upside down. This new hierarchy puts the people…….at the very top and the leader at the bottom, charged with serving the employees above them. And that’s just the way servant leaders like it” (Mark Tarallo, 2018). That was taken from a webpage sponsored by the New York Institute of Technology School of Management, specifically concerning Human Resources. It claims that servant leaders are marked by a clear vision that their employees are co-workers, whose talents and skills are to be fostered and encouraged, and that the whole organization will benefit therefrom, even to the extent that the leader will identify and develop leadership qualities among them, thus ensuring the organization will survive and grow. Now take that quoted passage and apply it to Jesus’ radical and shocking demonstration of service leadership at the Last Supper when he took on a slave’s activity and insisted on washing the feet of all this disciples, to their horror and shock. Here was, after all, the Christ, the Anointed Son of God, as revealed by his apostle Peter, abasing himself to a degree unheard of. And it was Peter who protested the strongest: “No, you shall never wash my feet!” (John 13:8). One might think that this scene was somewhat enhanced in the photo above, with the pope washing the feet of teenage felons in a prison in Rome, among whom were non-Christians… Shocking! (But remember that one of the Pope’s titles is Servus Servorum Dei, or Servant of the Servants of God). Also note that the School of Management’s SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) claims that servant leaders “possess a serve-first mindset, and they are focused on empowering and uplifting those who work for them. They are serving instead of commanding, showing humility instead of brandishing authority, and always looking to enhance the development of their staff members in ways that unlock potential, creativity and sense of purpose” (ibid). 

Today’s gospel could well have been the inspiration of the philosophy espoused by the Institute! Jesus is very clear on the role of disciple, be she or he boss or employee, that we must respect the dignity, the skills and the potential of others, do our best to encourage and foster them and show by those means that they are valued children of God, as are we. Do you remember that semi-biographical movie of Mozart called “Amadeus”? It concerned the scheme of Antonio Salieri, Imperial Court Composer and later kapellmeister to the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, to destroy the young upstart composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salieri, in this movie (which was far from the truth, but was glorious drama) was the only person who recognized Mozart’s prodigious talent, way beyond his own, and therefore plotted to silence him. Mozart died at the age of 35. In Jesus’ model, Salieri should have fostered, encouraged and opened as many doors for the young man as possible, he whom the Lord had clearly gifted enormously. In our own worlds, we too must have an open mind with those around us, seeking ways to enhance their gifts, showing generosity and kindness, and encouraging their growth and development, no matter their circumstances. 

And all this, Scripture adds today, no matter how we might be repaid and in what way. Today’s first reading is taken from the classical “Suffering Servant” passages in Isaiah. It could have been written by a witness to Jesus’ passion! And our second reading is an exhortation to all of us not to give up in any of this, but to persevere and so “approach the throne of grace” where we will receive due recognition. It is tricky to embark on Jesus’ model of leadership. Others might wonder what we are getting out of developing their talents. They might question our motives for being so supportive and encouraging. They might throw our good intentions back in our face with insult and rejection, just as happened to the Lord. As today’s second reading says, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way yet without sin”. We stand with the Lord throughout all this, resolute in our identity as a servant of all, no matter what. It is with such a conscience that we will be able to stand before the Judge of all, and anticipate a welcome and a greeting as described in one of Jesus’ parables, “Well done, good and faithful servant….. come and share your master’s happiness” (Matthew 25:23). 

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Welcome Home, Danny Hahlbohm Art.

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

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Roger

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10 OCTOBER 2021: THE TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Sapientia (Wisdom), c.1170s, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, USA.

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They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.  All things are possible for God.”   Mark 10:26-27.

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In today’s gospel, Jesus announces that it is “…easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” His apostles were astonished at this, wondering in that case who can be saved? That is remarkable, because there could not have been too many who were rich in those days, yet they wondered who, in that case, could be saved? That seems to suggest that there was a significant number of rich people at that time, numerous enough for them to question Jesus’ words. In fact, their words seem to suggest that everyone was rich enough to be excluded from God’s kingdom! Remember that wealth was considered to be a sign of God’s favor back then. Poverty and illness were signs of God’s displeasure, all of which probably sprang from the near universal belief in Sheol, the place everyone went to after death, good and bad alike, a place of half-life where nothing happened, forever. So goodness and badness were confined to life here on earth. God’s favor resulted in wealth and health for the pious, poverty and illness for the impious. It was logical, but clearly Jesus did not accept that interpretation. In fact, he upended it completely, stating that those clinging to money were not destined for heaven, a comparatively new concept at that time.

There was a huge contemporary disputation raging in Jesus’ time about the afterlife, that the good in this life would be admitted to the presence of God, the bad to the fires of hell. Today’s gospel clearly and unmistakably shows Jesus’ position in that argument. Hence the amazement with his disciples. Everyone was out to make a fortune for themselves in their day, as this would show God’s blessing – or not. If that were not the case, then who could be saved?

Remember Tevye’s song in that most Jewish of all musicals, “Fiddler on the Roof”:

Lord, who made the lion and the lamb
You decreed I should be what I am
Would it spoil some vast eternal plan
If I were a wealthy man?

Today’s gospel story of the young man Jesus invites to become his follower provided he relinquishes his wealth, which he is unwilling to do, shows the strength of this conviction. In the mind of most people at that time, to give up your wealth would mean you are rejecting God’s blessing on you. Jesus was therefore asking for the well nigh impossible! He then equates such a mind set as an almost total barrier to eternal happiness in God’s presence. It’s easier to pull a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God! Jesus’ disciples had probably never heard the like before, hence their consternation. This was an entirely new teaching, revolutionary even. Then who, indeed, could be saved?

Jesus, seen from today’s reading, was quite a revolutionary figure. He was upending a very old tradition and belief, but one which was not really based on Scripture but rather life experience and the need to make sense of one’s life here and now. Lacking the new revelation in today’s gospel, it does make sense that success in this world suggests you are in God’s good graces. Jesus it would seem, is enlarging that thought to align it with his own thought: it’s what you do with wealth that is important. Today’s first reading declares the importance of wisdom over wealth,“all gold, in view of her, is a little sand…”, over “health and comeliness”, over power “scepter and throne” and so on. With wisdom comes something much more, “all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands”. And this wisdom is the knowledge of God, of goodness, of right living. And now the Son of God is declaring what exactly that all means.

Our second reading reminds us that nothing is concealed from the eye of God. Our motives, our inner truths, what we hold most dear, all utterly clear to God who knows all, whose wisdom pervades everything. Remember the Old Testament concept of wisdom is, I believe, a prefiguration of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, God’s Holy Spirit, and encapsulates the feminine aspect of the Divine. In Aramaic, Jesus’ language, God’s Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh) is feminine, and by rights we should say “she” whenever speaking of the Holy Spirit. It is only through the quirks of linguistic gender that, in English, we say “he” for the Holy Spirit, from the Latin word Spiritus, which is masculine or, worse, the Greek πνεύμα (pneuma) which is neutral.  That denies an entire ethos of divinity, and renders our understanding of God diminished. I contend that thinking of God in this expanded fashion makes it easier for us to grasp Jesus’ words in today’s gospel. Looking at the popular understanding of wealth, which Jesus is challenging today, and then meditating on the first reading which contemplates divine wisdom, it is easier to understand Jesus’ position. He is bringing the two visions together, and thereby changes our notion of wealth as power, superiority, worldly success. It is, rather, one further aspect of how we are to act as children of God: an aspect, not a be all and end all. That presumably was a revolutionary concept to his followers, whose bewilderment shows up clearly in the gospel: “Then who can be saved?” Ah, now comes the answer. For you? Impossible. For God? Well, that’s another matter. Stay tuned, Jesus seems to be saying.

Trinity

The Holy Trinity, Demetz Art Studio, Urtijëi, Italy.

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

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Roger

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