23 AUGUST 2020: THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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Flag and Coat-of-Arms of the Vatican City State (the “Holy See”).

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

[Jesus said to Peter] “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and ……. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”   Matthew 16:18-19.

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Have you ever stood under the spectacular dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and looked up? In clear capital letters you will see the Latin words: “Tu es Petrus and super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam et tibi dabo claves regni caelorum” “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven” all taken from today’s gospel.

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This passage from Matthew is the locus classicus for the claim that the Pope is the legitimate successor of Peter, believed to have been the first Pope, and is therefore the primary leader of the Christian Church, just as Peter was 2000 years ago. It also contains a pun in Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, Greek and no doubt other languages, but unhappily not in English. For example, in French, the gospel reads “Tu es Pierre et sur cette pierre je bâtirai mon église” In all those languages, “Peter” and “stone” or “rock” are the same word. Jesus is equating Peter with the foundation of the Christian community which will continue after him. In the original, with Jesus speaking Aramaic rather than the Greek of the gospel writings, he nicknamed Peter Cephas, meaning rock (or Rocky?). The dome of St. Peter’s also stands directly over what is believed to be the tomb of Peter, three stories down from the high altar, and so the church is literally built on him! (Note that the only connection in English between Peter and rock is the word “petrification” and “petrified”, or turned to stone; not helpful, even though the name Peter is indeed derived from the Latin word Petrus). His tomb, underneath St. Peter’s, is near what was once a narrow lane through a pagan necropolis open to the sky. Take a look:

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Tomb of St. Peter. (This video takes a little bit of learning to operate, but persevere…)

Additionally, today’s gospel from Matthew is also the origin of the keys in the arms and flag of the Vatican City State, as you can see above, the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Also, any church statue of a man holding two keys means it is St. Peter, as they are his symbol.

So what does today’s gospel mean for us today? Jesus seems to be doing a sort of review of progress so far. I think many of us could understand this in terms of an annual job review, with compliments on what has been done well, and goals set to improve the rest. His disciples gave him that, reporting that some say he is John the Baptist returned from the dead, or, even more spectacularly, Elijah or Jeremiah. After that, Jesus wanted to check on them: “Who do you say I am?” One can imagine a moment of silence, as they all presumably thought he was the long awaited Messiah. Peter stepped forward and stated it out loud and clear: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Remember that “Christ” means the Anointed One, or Messiah. So at that moment Jesus must have thought that they had understood everything about his mission, his vocation, and declared Peter to be the very foundation of this new community. Today’s gospel ends at that point. The very next verses prove, unhappily, that they did not understand his mission! They firmly believed he was the messiah of Jewish hope and expectation, the one who would restore the kingdom of David and expel the hated occupying pagan forces from the land of Israel. On the contrary, when Jesus stated that his mission would end in disaster and death, Peter objected strongly, to which Jesus replied “Get behind me Satan…” (Matthew 16:23), this same Peter who had just been given the keys of heaven! Jesus then said that his followers must be prepared to take up the cross and follow him; his call to all of us is just as strong today as it was then. Note the hidden lesson here. How many parents and teachers have there been who have tried to decide what their children and students should be rather than pointing out their strengths and talents, and allowing them to figure it out? Jesus strenuously rejected his disciples’ false image of him as he already knew what the prophecies concerning  the Messiah meant. Our children and students are still finding this out. All we should do is praise their strengths, their gifts and perhaps indicate all the possibilities they might consider, rather than thrust our own choice on what they should become instead of just suggesting it as a possibility.

As we are currently confronted with Covid 19, we must act as true followers with strength, dignity and conviction that ultimately truth, good health, will prevail. But we too, almost despite all that, must declare our belief in Jesus’ identity and vocation, as it is also ours. Remember we are adopted daughters and sons of God, with our vocation to be Christ to the world. So, following today’s gospel, perhaps it’s time for some personal introspection; what progress have we all made along that path? Do we seek glory and power in our own world, or the profound satisfaction that we are doing our best to be servants of all, as Jesus was, offering all to God?

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Arms of Pope Francis, Vatican City gardens.

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Arms of Pope Francis explained.

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

© SundayMassReadings.com

16 AUGUST 2020: TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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“Crumby Dog”, Ally Barrett 2017, @Reverendally.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters.”    Matthew 15:27.

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A very interesting gospel today, seemingly showing Jesus reluctant to help a desperate woman seeking help for her young daughter. Let us do a sitz im leben analysis of this scene to begin to understand it. Today’s gospel begins by stating where Jesus was, “in the region of Tyre and Sidon”. If you look those two places up in the atlas, you will see today they are located on the Lebanese Mediterranean coast, south of the capital of Lebanon, Beirut. Just as a drama is depicted in today’s gospel, there is a major drama in that same area right now. A few days ago, Beirut suffered a gigantic explosion of dangerous chemicals which has killed and maimed hundreds of people in a huge area of the city. The president has appealed for help from the whole world, just as our “Canaanite” woman did to Jesus 2000 years ago. She would be Lebanese today. Just as Jesus was reluctant to respond to her then, we might be reluctant to help the Lebanese today. But as Jesus did, in fact, respond positively to her, so should we help them today…..

Now, today’s gospel indicates Jesus’ whereabouts for a good reason. Jesus has moved out of a predominantly Jewish area into a Gentile area. Perhaps it was to get a bit of peace and quiet after the dramas related in the gospels of the last few weeks. It was not to be, of course. His fame had clearly spread even to these pagan lands, as we see. It might well have been the first time that Jesus had left the Jewish lands where he had grown up. His confusion can be seen clearly in how he handled this situation. He understood his baptism in the Jordan as giving him his identity as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. Although messianic prophecies indicated that Gentile lands would also bow down to him, this was understood that they would come to him, not he to them. He had traveled to the coast for a little vacation, it can be assumed, not to bring his mission to the pagans. I think this was at the root of his untypical response to this desperate woman. He first kept silence, ignoring her completely. She persisted. Even his friends told him to tell her to clear off. He seems to agree with them, recalling his mission from God was exclusively to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”. She persisted still, again calling him “Lord” as if she were Jewish herself! She then collapsed into begging him for help. He now characterizes his mission as “Food for the children” not food for dogs, again a reference to his Jewish mission and the common attitude of the Jews towards Gentiles. She, even more desperate, grabs this as a possible chink in his armor, and, lawyer-like, states baldly that even dogs can eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table….. And that did it. At that moment Jesus saw through the fog of discrimination and hatred to the truth of hope and belief in every person, recognized her sincerity and authenticity, and granted that which she wanted more than anything else. He might even have thought of today’s first reading from Isaiah, supporting his action. The woman’s daughter was released from her crippling state. You might recall a similar desperate mother in that terrifying film, The Exorcist. It seems that the true story on which it was based happened to a Lutheran family. In desperation their minister sent them to a Catholic priest, a Jesuit it seems, for help. This also resulted, I believe, in a restoration of the child to normal life. Jesus’ outreach to everyone, as shown in the gospel, continues down to this day.

It could be said that this positive but hesitant step by Jesus towards the Gentiles was the foundation of the revolutionary outreach his followers were to show in the early years of the church. Indeed, the acceptance of Gentiles into the early, Jewish-Christian church almost led to its destruction. It took a council of that early church to handle the situation and come to a final decision to admit Gentiles as full members of the church. This has led to a present-day, world-wide church membership open to anyone, the modern Christian Church. The Jewish tradition has hardly ever called for missionary activity aimed at increasing converts. So Jesus’ hesitancy can be understood more easily when you consider the weight of tradition against which he embarked, beginning with today’s gospel passage. Had he not done so, think of the ways in which our lives and our world might have been utterly different, and almost certainly not for the better.

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The Canaanite Woman, Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, c.1489, Condé Museum, Chantilly, France.

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

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

Roger

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9 AUGUST 2020: NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Slide Player.

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

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

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

2 AUGUST 2020: EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger

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26 JULY 2020: SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

19 JULY 2020: THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIMES.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More, Not Less, Forgiveness, Florida Counseling Centers.

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

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

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

12 JULY 2020: THE FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger

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5 JULY 2020: FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

28 JUNE 2020: THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com