Chapel of Justice and Peace, the Emmerson Memorial Window, Ripon Anglican Cathedral, Ripon, UK.

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Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.     Luke 12:51

At face value, today’s gospel seems to be an anti-gospel. The Prince of Peace announces he is bringing division, that he has come to set the world on fire and wishes it had already begun! But just glance at the magnificent stained-glass window above; here is that same Prince, with all five wounds clearly visible, carrying a sword of fire and surrounded by flames. In the eyes of faith, something else is seen. It is Jesus surrounded and supported by the fire-image of God’s Holy Spirit, the same fire as appeared in the pivotal event of Pentecost, without which there would be no church at all. There are multiple images and realities for fire. Simply taming it and using it in primitive societies was a major advance. Fire became central and essential to the Industrial Revolution (think blast furnaces, steam power), and powers the internal combustion engine and the jet engine (at least for now). Then also there is the fire inferno of Hiroshima; the destructive power of fire is as immense as its constructive power. So which fire is Jesus talking about? Pretty clear, one would think. But then there is the “division” idea of today’s gospel. That’s the opposite of unity, which is normally considered to be a good thing; division, not. This one is trickier.

Looking through other people’s ideas concerning this gospel’s idea of division, there is quite a broad spectrum of opinion, some of it extremely controversial. God wants us all to be good people so that we can simply be happy with our lives, following God’s rules which are the template for true happiness. At root, as Jesus said, it means service. We are all here to serve each other. Jesus himself called himself a servant, and even washed his friends’ feet to prove the point. That very simple, profound, teaching can cause division. If I am in the world to see what I can get out of it for myself, there is the division between me and God. It condemns me to a life of selfish acquisition, envy of those who have more, greed beyond telling and a life of emptiness and loneliness surrounded by people after my wealth. That sort of life is what the fire of the Holy Spirit should transform. That is, I believe, what lies behind Jesus’ inflammatory teaching today. His own life was the source of jealousy among the leaders of his own people, jealous of his success, jealous of his powers, angry at their own inability to counteract it or parallel it. His wounds are the result of that hatred. How divisive is that? I have seen in my now-long life, that goodness sometimes inspires suspicion, even hate. It is weird. Why would good actions result in such evil? I can only imagine that those who react negatively to others’ good deeds are, perhaps unconsciously, comparing it to the selfishness in their own life, and in some strange way blaming that on the good in others. It doesn’t make sense, but we are not dealing with reason here. As Jesus says, this kind of reaction can even occur in those closest to us. Hence Jesus’ idea of division. It is only by establishing a community of trust and love that the division appears between good and bad, and hence the opportunity for the bad to recognize their state and do something about it. In other words, there is more in this life than me.

Remember that fire is used in the refining of metals, even gold. It makes the metal pure, cleansed of impurities that almost no other technique can achieve. But the first step of such cleansing in us must come from us. We are free agents, one of God’s greatest gifts. So look around, and if we find any of the nonsense I’ve talked about above can apply to any of us, including me, then we can open up to God’s cleansing fire to rid ourselves of that which makes us unhappy, impure. That’s why Jesus says he wishes the fire was burning (in us) already. So today is a clarion call for action, Jesus using some of the strongest language in the gospels. That invites us to the same strength to examine ourselves, and we know how to deal with whatever division we might find that is against God, then to open ourselves up to God’s unifying, purifying and recreating fire of holiness and true happiness.


Holy Spirit Fire in Red, gerardnatal.com.


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Medieval Gilded Cross, National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark.

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[Jesus said], “You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”     Luke 12:40.

Today’s readings seem to suggest that we should expect the unexpected as best we can. Poor old Abram in today’s first reading was certainly not ready for the unexpected when an unknown voice (God’s first direct intervention in human history) told the 75-year old to up and leave his home for a distant unknown country (see Genesis 12). But apparently there was enough authority in that voice to convince Abram – later Abraham – to do exactly that and thus salvation history began. The second reading assures us that decisions and actions based on trust in God and faith in God’s love will result in great benefit to us. Then today’s gospel. Jesus tells us that each of us must be like a servant of God, doing God’s will rather than our own, as that is what a servant must do. Doing that we will never have to look over our shoulder to see if the Master is returning or not. We don’t know when that magic moment will be, but, says Jesus, we must be ready for it at all times. Indeed, the Lord goes much further than that. The Master, finding his servants doing what is right, and what he wants each of them to be doing, will now proceed to serve them!  This carries over the thoughts from the first two readings, where the promised benefits actually materialized. But Jesus was talking, it seems, both about this life (the servants doing the work required of them by the Master) and the next, where the Master has at long last appeared and has rewarded their loyalty and trust.

Then, of course, there is also the possibility that the servants do the opposite, and indulge in illegal, self-focussed, feasting and merriment in contradiction to the Master’s wishes. Well, he’s not around, they probably think, and so who would know? Today Jesus allows us to ponder the fate of those who were not obeying the Master (but tells us abundantly in other passages). So what service are we required to give? Well, that’s not the focus of today’s scriptures, but it never hurts to be reminded. We are all called to service of each other. We are to do that utilizing the gifts each of us was given by God at birth. Some of us have more, some less, in God’s mysterious plan for us all. But we must develop those gifts into skills (which is what education is all about), and with those, serve those around us. Doing that is what we servants are called to do until the Master returns. Remember the focus here is to serve others, not ourselves. We rightfully expect a just wage for all that, but it must be clearly earned in that specific other-oriented fashion. That, almost accidentally, is also the recipe for a happy life. Jesus would not call us to a life of misery and squalor. If we are condemned to that, then we must be helped out of it by those who are able to help, and enable those unhappy souls to achieve dignity and self-respect, as they can then encounter the fulfillment of helping other people and become good servants themselves.

So today’s message simply reminds us of our greatest obligation in this life, to respect  the dignity of others, to help them (as we ourselves accept help) and to fulfill God’s individual plan for each one of us. Therein lies our happiness and the satisfaction of a life well lived obeying God’s law.




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Alone on the Shore, Pixabay

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[Jesus said] “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”   Luke 12:15

It is often said that Christianity is counter-cultural. Today’s readings certainly support that idea. Jesus tells the tale of a man who works hard to build up his fortune, his belongings, only to have God call him from this life before he can enjoy it all. Pitch that against an average night’s ads on TV. They all state quite clearly that we are what we own, because “I’m so beautiful” or because “I’m worth it”. In its way, maybe today’s gospel message is all about the 10th Commandment: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods”. Put in a more positive light, God instructs us to be happy for our neighbor’s success, not resentful or envious. The one is positive, the other destructively negative. 

When I was teaching, I would give my students an exercise each year to bring all this to light. They were instructed to ask their parents, and their parents’ friends a simple question: “Are you happy in your work?” If the answer was in the affirmative, they were to ask why. If in the negative, they were told that they should be most careful with their questions, because they were dealing with someone in pain. But they were to ask as discretely as possible why they were unhappy. Over the years, I heard that the overwhelming majority of people were, indeed, happy. And the overwhelming reason was very simple, because they were helping people. One negative response I clearly remember to this day fits, I think, perfectly into today’s message. This student interviewed her uncle. He was the wealthiest member of the family. He was a merchant banker on Wall Street. He had the biggest and best house in the family. His children had all the latest gadgets, and so on and on. She asked him was he happy in his work? Answer: No. She was astonished, and had no idea that this was the case. He stated clearly that he did not want to get out of bed each Monday morning to go to work. She delicately asked him the reason why. He stated clearly that he had always wanted to be a chef! The offer of a Wall Street job came along unexpectedly, and everyone in and out of the family told him to take it, that it was the opportunity of a lifetime, he would be an idiot not to take it, and so on. So he did, and regretted it ever after. And now he was trapped; a chef would never make as much money as a Wall Street banker, and his family would suffer if he changed. And I’ll never forget her final sentence, that she now understood why, at family cookouts, she would see him in his chef’s hat, creating and serving their food with the broadest smile on his face. It was heartbreaking. No doubt he was helping others in his Wall Street job, but that was not the way he (and I might add, possibly God) wanted it. The objective of this school exercise was to bring home to my students that one’s life work was not to earn as much money as possible, but to find a job providing as much personal satisfaction as possible, and this always seems to mean helping others; to be, in fact, the servant of others, just as Jesus described himself. In that way, happiness is to be found, and God’s will for us, obeyed. Monetary reward must always be secondary. It is certainly important, but should not be predominant. In another passage Jesus summed this up concisely. Matthew 16:26 says this: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” This has also been taken as the touchstone in the trial of Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s superb drama Man for All Seasons. Sir Richard Rich perjures himself in the treason trial of More and effectively condemns him to death. As Rich walks out of the court, More notices he is wearing a Red Dragon chain of office (the red dragon is a symbol of the Principality of Wales). He asks, and is told the Rich has been made Attorney General for Wales, clearly the price for his perjury. More says in the play, “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Wales?” 

The other readings today echo this thought. Today’s reading from Ecclesiastes says, “Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities!  All things are vanity!” Meaning to labor for a lifetime we still have to leave it all after death. Colossians tells us to “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” It seems that all this is an appeal to basics. Is life to be acquisitive, reaching always for more, getting richer and richer as the goal? Some would say this is the reigning ideal today, that young people look and hope only for the best paying job, no matter what. Jesus’ teachings and my own little bit of research suggest strongly that this is not the way to personal satisfaction and happiness. A life of service, based of God’s gifts, and talents, which might or might not lead to riches, should be the goal, as it will bring the happiness and fulfillment which comes from obeying the Lord instead of our own desires. 

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Man for All Seasons, Highland Films 1966, 7 BAFTAs, 6 Oscars.


The Red Dragon of Wales.


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The Pater Noster Church, Jerusalem, Israel, https://www.go-telaviv.com/monastery-jerusalem.html

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[Jesus] said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name….”

Today’s Mass has the other version of the Lord’s Prayer. The better known one is to be found in Matthew 6:9–13, which is the traditional version familiar to everyone, though with many variations in the translation from the original Greek. It is the central Christian prayer, given to us by Jesus himself, and in its way sums up the whole Christian message. That is why the Pater Noster (Our Father in Latin) Church in Jerusalem has the prayer displayed in dozens of languages, as seen above. It is located where tradition has it Jesus first proclaimed the prayer. Luke’s version goes this way:

Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread;

and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us;

and lead us not into temptation.

It is tempting to suggest that these verses are the essence of the prayer. In some way they echo the 10 Commandments. First allegiance is to God in both versions; there is a petition for sustenance, then a plea for forgiveness, suggesting breaches of one or more of the commandments, then the enigmaticlead us not into temptation” which Pope Francis has talked about, suggesting that it means a plea for protection against evil. Note that Jesus tells us it is fine to ask God for essentials such as daily bread and forgiveness, but that praise and thanksgiving come first. But the readings expand on the petitionary nature of prayer, and what one should do in asking God for blessing.  Which inevitably leads us to the challenge of unanswered prayer. Who has not experienced that? Jesus is definite in today’s gospel that prayer is answered, “ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” So what is the response to that? Are all our prayers answered? In my experience, and almost certainly yours, the answer is no, they are not. Firstly, of course, certain prayers are unacceptable. Prayers to win the lottery, for example, are not appropriate. Any prayer which is not God-related cannot expect an answer. But what of prayers for a child who is dying, or a prayer to end persecution or war? In some cases, the cause is human, and so the solution will be human also, as in the case of war. But a completely innocent child dying is something else. That is where challenge to faith comes in, as we are asking for something utterly removed from any human cause or cure; such suffering is hard to understand or accept and being helpless in the face of it is well nigh impossible to accept. God is the only recourse, and if nothing happens, and the child dies, there lies the deep challenge to faith. Why didn’t God use divine power to save the child? It is just about the deepest mystery we experience, because there is no readily acceptable explanation.

One “explanation” is the appeal to the freedom God has given us, and to all creation. God established our universe in all its diversity and grandeur, set it in motion, and, it seems, basically stood back. Hence we are able to define ourselves and our lives, decide and choose in complete freedom, unlike the rest of creation, governed by absolute laws of physics. Hence non-human mammals must nourish their offspring, nothing is faster than light, microscopic life takes advantage in whatever environment it finds itself, and so on. Hence we see disease and suffering in our human bodies when invaded by such destructive viruses obeying the inexorable law of freedom within those laws. So we pray in that circumstance for God to suspend the very divine laws initiated at creation. Sometimes, very rarely, that has happened, something we call a miracle. On the other hand, our own unique human freedom can – and has – tackled such destructive threats to our health and has made progress in many areas. In other words, we are using our own God-given powers to deal with the sometime unhappy consequences of the same divine laws under which we all live. There are still many problems, but progress continues to be made. In the meantime, we must live with our failures to solve all these problems, bearing in mind our rock solid belief in life conquering death.

Expanding on that last thought I move to a quote from Christian literature, namely The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. This is the passage, spoken by a senior devil to his apprentice: “Be not deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.” It refers to Jesus on the cross having begged God to have removed this dreadful death from him, the agony in the garden, but the prayer was not granted. He was utterly innocent, had done no wrong, yet was condemned to a monstrous and unwarranted punishment. That can be transferred to an innocent young child too, equally completely undeserving of a terrible fate. In Jesus’ case, he conquered death itself by succumbing to death, the Christian answer to mortality in all its manifestations. Death is not the end, this says. It is rather, a change. Life conquering death is at the heart of the Christian message, the reason we persist even in the face of terrible suffering. In the Christian tradition we have a solid belief that life can conquer all, hence we can face the worst that can be thrown at us. Ultimately we will survive all the evil that may come our way. Hope and faith, consequently, are the weapons in our armory, with love as the driving force. Is it possible that the human Jesus was surprised when he awoke from death on that first Easter Sunday? All evil was passed and irrelevant; life was supreme for all time. This is from the Preface for Christian Death from the Mass of the Resurrection: “In him, who rose from the dead, our hope of resurrection dawned. The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality. Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.” This, then, is the meaning behind the final line of the Our Father: “…and lead us not into temptation.”  – where we might be protected from the temptation to abandon faith in God when some terrible situation comes upon us. It is there that our Christian faith and hope will triumph.


The Hope of Resurrection, Murrumbeena Uniting Church.


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Christ in the Home of Martha and Mary, Vermeer, National Galleries of Scotland, UK.

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Martha…. said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?”      Luke 10:40.

Quite often it is difficult or challenging to link together Sunday’s three readings in any convincing way, but for today’s readings one link seems to me to be the presence of women in Scripture. The main focus in the first reading is Sarah, as it is because of her that the “three men” appeared at Abraham’s camp to announce that the 90-year old woman would have a son within a year. This reading appeared several Sundays ago where Sarah, on hearing what the men had to say, laughed (understandably), then argued with God about it. The gospel is dominated by Martha and Mary, and the roles each had in the household when Jesus appeared. The second reading is the one which might prove a tad controversial. 

Whenever change in the church is discussed, it is critical to know that such change can only come about by proving that the desired change can be supported by appealing to “Scripture and Tradition”, and not from arguments such as human rights or gender equality. That is to say, you have to prove that the desired change is present in Scripture, and that it was practiced in at least the early church. For example, the change from Latin to English in the Mass, mandated by the Second Vatical Council in the 1960s, was based solidly from arguments in Scripture and tradition. As Jesus spoke no Latin, the universal language at that time was Greek, not Latin, that the earliest Masses must have been in Aramaic, the vernacular language of the apostles, later in Greek and then in Latin. In other words, insisting on the Mass in Latin was a weak argument from both Scripture and Tradition, and so it changed. The current huge demand in today’s church is for strengthening the power of women in what is thought to be a male-dominated church. Well, can this be challenged by appeal to Scripture and tradition? That is the only way to effect change. 

So let’s take a look at today’s readings. The gospel has women playing two roles, one as cook and servant, the other listening at the feet of the Lord. Martha becomes very upset at the imbalance; Jesus says that Mary “has chosen the better part”. If you look at the roles displayed here, without placing gender on it, one role is diaconal, meaning servant, and the other is priestly, listening to the Lord, presumably in preparation for spreading it. Hence Martha is acting as a deacon, from the Greek word διάκονος, meaning servant, and Mary as πρεσβύτερος, presbuteros, or elder, senior. Today, the Church’s priests are technically called presbyters, not priests. Although far from sufficient for making a case for such a radical change, it is part of the evidence. Now look at today’s second reading. Paul talks of the church “of which I am a minister“. The word in the original Greek is διάκονος once more, another step in the direction (take a look at Romans 16:1, where Paul clearly refers to a woman called Phoebe as διάκονος, a stronger argument still). Now Pope Francis called for a commission to examine evidence such as this to examine the proposition of women being ordained to the diaconate. The Study Commission on the Women’s Diaconate was created in 2016 and completed that work in 2019. It has not as yet been published. Rumors suggest that it was still not convinced that the evidence, from both Scripture and tradition, is sufficient to recommend change. But just look at today’s gospel. Jesus’ simple words that Mary had “chosen the better part” without mentioning a single word of criticism or opposition, might also be taken as evidence. But as ever, is it sufficient? The Church moves very slowly. The movement to change to the vernacular of the Mass began in the 19th century! This latest movement, even more radical, will certainly take time before a definitive change such as women’s ordination to the deaconate becomes a possibility. The fact that a commision was appointed to just look at the evidence is to be considered progress. 

Now, as to the actual teaching of today’s readings, it would seem pretty clear from the gospel story. Martha is bustling about getting dinner ready, seeing that everyone is settled and content. In other words, she is obsessing over the minutiae of the gathering. In doing so, she was missing the words that pertain to eternal life, and concentrating instead on tonight’s washing up.  That must surely have been the reason Jesus defended Mary’s behavior, that it must be better to understand life’s meaning, God’s love and our response to it than housework. All the household fuss is of course necessary, but there are things in life which are more important, to which time and attention must be given. After all, why go to church at all when there is cleaning and clothes washing and shopping to do? Why? Because Jesus’ words, Jesus’ life, holy communion with God, is infinitely more important. That behavior is the foundation of all we do, and gives meaning to our very lives. Without that, life becomes a meaningless drudgery. So Jesus points out that time given to understanding and accepting our relationship with God, acknowledging that we are children of God, and hence all that follows from that truth, allows us to understand all that we do in a daily basis. Mary, indeed, had chosen the better part. So should all of us.


Martha and Mary, https://www.pinterest.com/mccrimmonsuk/


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The Good Samaritan , Provenance Unknown.

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Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho….”      Luke 10:30.

We have today possibly the most famous parable of all, the Good Samaritan. It is one of those stories that homilists love to get their teeth into. You have one in me! But behind the most famous elements in the story, there is a wealth of hidden symbolic language just below the surface. For starters, the man is going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Literally true. Jerusalem is 2472 feet (754m) above sea level. Jericho on the other hand is 846 feet (258m) below sea level. It is on the River Jordan, which flows into the Dead Sea, the lowest level on the earth’s surface. Then there is the symbolism of each city. Jerusalem is a city holy to the three great monotheistic faiths. For Jews, it is the site of the Temple built by Solomon and the holiest place on earth. For Christians there is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally the location of Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection. For Muslims, it is the location from which the Prophet Mohammed rose into heaven. So for millions of people it is the holiest place on earth, (for Muslims the third holiest). Jericho, on the other hand, is thought to be the oldest human settlement on earth, going back perhaps 11,000 years. So if there ever was a City of God, it has to be Jerusalem; and if there is a City of Mankind, without divinity, Jericho has a good claim. So, symbolically, the man was going in the wrong direction – away from God and descending to the level of mere humanity, a path leading to death, symbolized in the Dead Sea. And all this before the story has begun! 


The Desert and the Dead Sea South-East of Jerusalem, Musement.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is mostly desert and completely barren (as you can see above), hence mostly unihabited, a typical place for villains to hang out. So you can expect the people hearing this story would not have been surprised at the fate of the man. He was beaten up, robbed and left to die. Two Jewish travelers passed by, ignoring him, a priest and a Levite, an officer of the Temple in Jerusalem. Naturally the listeners to the story would have been surprised at such indifference, and then bewildered that a Samaritan came to the man’s rescue instead. But Jesus is making a point: the Samaritan belonged to a people utterly despised by the Jews. There was a hatred between the two communities dating back centuries. I made this point two weeks ago where we had Jesus passing through Samaria itself, with a link explaining the antagonism between the two closely-related peoples. So the bewilderment among Jesus’ listeners would have changed to astonishment and possibly even anger at this turn of events. A Samaritan helping a Jew?? But remember what started this story: A man asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered this with a question at the end of the story: “Who was neighbor to the man left for dead? Note that the questioner could not even speak the word Samaritan: “The one who helped him.” When we are desperate, we will gratefully accept any help offered; any help from anyone. So you can be sure the questioner remembered ever after the Lord’s final question. The lesson is that every person we ever meet in our life is our neighbor; no exceptions, whether they are in need or not. Jesus pushed this even later in his ministry by insisting all people are our brothers and sisters throughout the whole world! We should be enemies to no-one. 

Today’s first reading is a kind of exhortation which can be linked to the parable. Catholics believe that we are hard-wired to the good; it is in our nature to be good people, but we have the freedom to ignore that and mess it up, and we do. Hence it can be said that we all have inside us the drive, no matter how weak, to help each other. So many negative forces, such as prejudice (as we see here in today’s gospel) can get in the way of that. But hearing today’s words of life, of support, of good neighborliness, we can begin to correct any negative forces which work against that ideal. And we are not – ever – alone in that. Standing with us is the most powerful force of good that exists, as stated in today’s second reading. We can trust in the person of the Lord, trust that he will stand by us, help us and, like the good Samaritan, pick up up when we fall or get beaten by the forces of evil around us. In doing that, in restoring us to our good nature, we too are then able to be the good Samaritan, and love and respect and, if necessary, help our neighbor, whoever or wherever he or she may be. We have the same strength because we take that same Lord into ourselves at Communion, becoming one with God. Nothing can beat such strength and with that strength we are Good Samaritans.


Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.


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Peasant Woman Binding Sheaves, van Gogh 1889, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

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“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.     Luke 10:2.

Well I think you’d agree with the Lord when he says that; (the quote above). That is as true today as, apparently, it was 2000 years ago. In my parish each Sunday’s Prayer of the Faithful contains a petition to God to help each one of us approach someone who used to attend Mass but does not anymore, and invite them to return to the table of the Lord. I’ve no idea if that has indeed happened, but I know from trying this exact approach with a friend of mine, it is not easy. It is so much easier to lie in bed on a Sunday morning than drag yourself off to church; even more difficult if you have kids (the reason I never get upset if there is crying or excited squeals from the very young at my Masses; I am simply amazed they are there at all; it is an example of heroic virtue). So what is the solution offered by Jesus? He sent off 72 “others” ahead of him to prepare the people there for his arrival. I wonder who they were. The Lord must have assembled quite a few followers to be able to do that. One homilist suggests they were ordinary people, and, unlike the apostles, not “ordained” in our present sense of the world. They were not at the Last Supper where the apostles were instructed to “do this in memory of me”, hence becoming what we would eventually understand as ordained priests. No, they seemed to be “ordinary” people. They were told to expect success and failure, to dust themselves down if they had not been received well, and move on. When greeted well, they should accept the hospitality offered them and rejoice. Well, how about that today?

In the usual understanding, missionary holy people, priests and nuns are often, perhaps always, thought of as types of Audrey Hepburn as Sister Luke in “The Nun’s Story”, or Graham Faulkner at St. Francis in “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”. Meanwhile Mr. and Mrs. Jones next door would probably never be thought of as such. Yet today’s gospel does seem to call them – and all of us – to such a state. When I was a Jesuit novice in Pennsylvania, one of the exercises we were required to do was conduct a sort of census of the Catholics at a local community college. We had to knock on the doors of the local college dorm and ask if the people there were Catholic or not. As this was deep in Pennsylvania Dutch territory, you can imagine the result. It was agonizing, and not simply the abuse we sometimes received. To put it mildly, we did not return to base rejoicing in the successes and the conquests we had made. I, at least, was glad it was over. Direct missionary zeal is a gift from God, which I had not received. I don’t know how those 7th Day Adventists or Jehovah’s Witnesses do it! On the other hand, the way one lives one’s life can really be seen as a missionary act. Simply being a good person, itself not an easy accomplishment, is to be a missionary. Being perhaps a little more vocal about the foundation on which we stand which gives life to that behavior is what Jesus is calling us to in today’s gospel. Simply being happy with being a good Catholic or whatever your Christian identity is, and perhaps every now and then mentioning or just alluding to the reasons which nourish that, is all it takes. Why keep the secret of that contentment secret? The first reading describes a picture of rejoicing and nourishment which supports us and which can easily be transcribed to today’s world. For Jerusalem, read Sunday’s Eucharist, a word which means Thanksgiving. Being renewed in the faith, which the Sunday Mass is supposed to achieve, will give the peace and mercy St. Paul talks of in the second reading.

So, like the old lady harvesting the wheat in van Gogh’s picture above, we are all called to the harvest in one way or another. Some of us will find that easier than others, but all of us should be content in what we believe in to be true and life-giving, just as the wheat of the harvest. Hence we should be open to inviting others into that source of happiness in a gentle and welcoming way, so that they might also find the meaning of life and love in God.



The Lay Ministry in the Church.


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The Light of the World, Holman-Hunt 1852, Keble College, Oxford, UK.

Click here for the Readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

“Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests,
but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”     Luke 9:58.

Today’s gospel is set in Samaria, a small nation between Galilee in the north where Jesus was from, and Jerusalem to the south. Samaritans were Jews, but…. As with any dispute, those within the family are probably the worst. Here we have such an example. The Samaritan bible, for example, consists only the first five books, the Pentateuch, namely Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. All the other books of the Old Testament were rejected by Samaritans as not being divinely inspired. Also, Samaritans rejected the idea that Jerusalem was the location of the temple. Their holy mountain was, and remains for them, Mount Gerizim, and their temple was built there (though, like the Jerusalem temple, it was eventually destroyed). So any mingling of Jews and Samaritans was forbidden, hence the frosty reception described in today’s gospel. But this was difficult, as Jewish travelers to Jerusalem from the north either went straight through Samaria, or had to take a long way round to bypass it. For most people then, they had to interact in order to buy food and lodging. But note in today’s gospel the reaction of Jesus’ followers to the Samaritan refusal to allow them to prepare a reception; they wanted divine fire to destroy them! Jesus, not surprisingly, calmed them down and they all moved on to another place. Jesus’ reaction to being among Samaritans is nothing like that of his followers, or, indeed, any average Jewish person of that time. Remember one of Jesus’ most famous parables involves a hero Samaritan taking care of a wounded Jewish man. Imagine the reaction to that story when first heard!

It is perhaps not a coincidence that Jesus seems a little depressed there in Samaria when he said he had no place to lay his head. On the other hand, it was in reaction to someone who declared he would follow Jesus anywhere, so perhaps it was a warning that things would not necessarily be rosy when following the Lord. Anyone who has had the courage to stand up for what is right in a hostile context would certainly agree with that. Then the final words today are a statement about what to expect and what to do as a follower of Jesus. It requires complete dedication and absolute trust that in what you are doing is correct and right. The second reading elaborates on that theme. We are free to do anything we like, a gift from God; we are a free people. But how we use that freedom is what counts. Will it be to gratify ourselves or serve others and God? And I think that is the core of today’s reflection. The readings remind us that we are here for a purpose; there is a blueprint created by God. We can chose to follow it or tear it up. Ultimately it is to decide if we treat ourselves as god, or look to the real God as God. On paper it sounds like an easy decision. But Jesus himself tells us of the potential challenges in taking such a path. However, that path, long and difficult though it may be, is the path to self-fulfillment as a child of God and in the end union with perfect love and happiness. So the path, as Jesus states, is to be as straight and true as the path of the plowman; deviate, look back, run off to do something else, and the results will be a disaster. Stay the course, and the harvest will be great.


At the Plough, van Gogh 1884, Private Collection.


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Corpus Christi Procession, St. Mary’s Church, New Haven, CT, USA.

Click Here for the Readings of Today’s Mass.

Then taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.      Luke, 9:16.

Today’s feast, the third and last following Pentecost (ordinary time resumes next Sunday), culminates in the reality of Jesus’ promise to be with us until the end of time (Matthew 28:20). The traditional name for today’s celebration is Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. Indeed, as we can see from the picture above, Jesus, present in the consecrated bread in the monstrance the priest holds underneath the canopy, is present in the neighborhood around the church! Corpus Christi street processions are apparently coming back into favor as demonstrations of Catholic belief and devotion. They were almost universal in days gone by. The basic idea is that Jesus is actually present under the guise of consecrated bread and, at the Mass, wine. In other words, Catholics and Orthodox Christians take Jesus’ words at the Last Supper literally. When he took a piece of bread and said “This is my body”, Catholics and Orthodox, perhaps for the only time, become fundamentalist, and accept the literal words and what they mean. Similarly when Jesus said “This is my blood” while holding a cup of wine. Weirdly, most fundamentalist Christians make an exception of their literal interpretation of Scripture over this; they prefer to believe that Jesus’ intention was to make the bread and wine a sort of symbolic presence of him. Except Jesus said this is my body. Even Martin Luther himself defended this interpretation in a crucial meeting with Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss reformer, who absolutely denied the literal meaning of the words. Luther even wrote the words Hoc est corpus meum (“This is my body”) on the table top across from Zwingli! 

Now in the Mass, at the consecration, the priest takes the chalice and says: This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant….” That seems to suggest that there was an old and finite covenant. Well for Jews there was and still is but one major covenant, that one made at Mount Sinai where God declared them to be his children, the Chosen People. The covenant, or alliance, between them was an agreement; they would obey God’s law, the 10 Commandments, and God would become their God. Then a ceremony was enacted (Exodus 24:1-8), where the blood of sacrificed animals was splashed against an altar representing God, and then  and rest of the blood splashed upon the people. Blood, being a sign of life, symbolically linked the life of God with the people, and the covenant was complete. At the Last Supper, Jesus proclaimed the bread and wine to be his body and blood, which we are invited to consume, hence in a literal way we link our lives with the life of Christ, in an infinitely more intimate way than the Sinai covenant. So holy communion is the way our souls are fed, refreshed, kept holy, in a way which parallels the way we keep our bodies alive and well. 


Pope Francis celebrates the Eucharist in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, traditionally the location of the Last Supper, Da Mihi Animas.

So today the Church celebrates a basic, fundamental belief in life and health. Just as our bodies have to be treated with care and respect, as they are God’s gifts, animated by the Holy Spirit, so our souls, our very Christian life, must be fed, nourished, kept healthy by the holy food instituted by Jesus himself. The belief that the consecrated bread and wine are, indeed, Christ’s very body and blood, has to be the highest possible trust Jesus places in us, the highest respect, and ultimately, the highest, truest love. Christ’s life to enter into us, literally, is the supreme Christian act. For every priest, bishop, even the Pope himself, celebrating the Mass is the ultimate privilege and honor; for all of us, receiving Christ in this way is our ultimate privilege. What we do with the spiritual food and the strength it provides marks us out as children of God, and what we do with that will be how we are judged when our time comes. Jesus has done all that for us. It is our turn to do all for him. 


By means of His presence in the Holy Communion He makes our unity in Him evident and certain even today. 


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