SUNDAY 25 SEPTEMBER 2022: THE TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

University of California, Davis, Shields Library

Dives in Hell, Book of Hours 1475-1499, Shields Library, University of California Special Collections, Los Angeles, California, USA.

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[The rich man] said, “Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”     Luke 16:30-31.

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That picture up there is perhaps the most graphic this website has ever seen! It certainly reflects the equally graphic gospel story today. Note that Dives (Dī-ves or Dī-vees) is the traditional name for the rich man, though it is not in the gospel. Also, this Lazarus is not Jesus’ friend of the same name who was raised from the dead; he’s simply the impoverished character in this story. We have a crystal-clear parable here, not needing expert interpretation or showing any confusing ambivalence. We have a rich man who doesn’t give a fig (literally) to or for the wretched beggar at his gates, and lives the high life without a second thought. It is as if poor Lazarus did not even exist. But he did. And he was so crippled by bad health that he could not take care of himself, but in the eyes of God he was a good man in the way he lived his impoverished life. Dives, on the other hand, ignored the obvious need of the crippled man at the gates of his home (and presumably needy people anywhere else), failed utterly to follow God’s law, to love your neighbor in this life, and so brought punishment upon himself. This parable is like a rallying cry encapsulating Jesus’ entire message – love God and love your neighbor! However, the modern  reaction to the picture above, which seems to reflect the parable accurately, “suffering torment in these flames” is much more likely to provoke laughter than fear. Devils with chains and fire licking at your feet are simply unbelievable. So is an update required?

The rich man clearly thought and acted solely for his own good and never anyone else’s. He could not give a damn for Lazarus. His whole world was focussed completely and utterly on himself. The poor and suffering were irrelevant to his world. So, on being called to account for such behavior on his death, what could happen that would make sense today? At death, our bodies are gone, cremated or decomposed forever, our five senses but a memory. No more feasting and drinking is possible as we understand it. But we will still exist in a spiritual form, fully conscious of ourselves and our history. So, again, this is how it may be for the totally selfish: full consciousness, full self-awareness for all eternity, with no chance of ever -ever- changing; there will be no future. Selfishness condemns us to ourselves, without light, without company, forever. Fully conscious, no hope of change, with no-one else around, nothing to hear or see, nothing to do, yet fully and forever aware of oneself only. That is perhaps a more modern picture of hell I present to you today. Think of someone who is in that state today. Think of that person in a month’s time, and s/he is in exactly the same immovably conscious  state. Think of that person one year from now: no change, yet still fully alone and self-aware. And it is like that forevermore, an eternal present. Does that seem more horrifying than chains and flames? Doesn’t a selfish life call for a selfish eternity?

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Urban Poverty,  K. M.. Nurul Huda 2016, The Independent, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

But there is no condemnation of a wealthy life in this parable. Hard work based on one’s God-given talents, which education moulds into skills, and the rewards which flow from them, are good in the eyes of God. Hence success enables us to be more generous and help those who need it. We are all God’s creatures, and as such are God’s children. Hence we are all brothers and sisters and must behave as such. Ignoring that reality means we might well share in the fate of Dives. But at this moment we live in this present life. That gives us the perfect opportunity to behave as God wishes us to behave. Not one of us is alone; in God’s family, we are related to all other people throughout the world. And heaven knows there are millions of people out there suffering enormous hardship which no-one should have to endure. And so those who can, perhaps even the poorest, should do as much as they are able to lessen the desperate suffering of those who have nothing. I would not wish Dives’ fate on anyone (especially in the possible hell just described). But the thing is, it is easy to avoid such a fate in the here and now. Perhaps we should look on those who have nothing as our passport to Heaven, judged by our genuine efforts to do our best to help them in any and every way we can. That is loving our neighbor as God wishes.

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Passport to Heaven, Christiana Hope, Quora.

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SUNDAY 18 SEPTEMBER 2022: THE TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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God or Mammon? Church Times Nigeria, 21 August, 2019.

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[Jesus said] no servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.    Luke 16:13

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First, that word Mammon, or mammon. I’m sure, like me, you have known it for years, but where does it come from? How has it become acquainted with money? And where else do you you ever see it? Well, tracing it back through old bibles in English, then into the Greek originals, it is still mammon, with no explanation. It does strongly suggest that it is the word Jesus used, as it is the same word in his Aramaic language, māmōnā, ממונא, where it simply means money or wealth, with no connotation of evil or sin. Jesus must have seen how wealth can corrupt people, where they stray from the fundamentals of the life of grace as he saw it. It is us who have personified the simple word into something destructive. Indeed that is the only sense today in which it is used. Mammon is quite simply, evil. But money and wealth in today’s understanding are not necessarily evil. So Jesus is talking about something in our experience which can become evil in the way we view it and handle it. So this is a call to awareness and prudence. And in that light we should look at the remarkable parable Jesus presents to us today.

He describes a pretty hopeless steward managing his master’s money – “squandering” is the term used. Now the master of the house does not fire this man immediately, but orders an accounting of his work and then he will let him go. Strange; I wonder how many other bosses would do that. So this incompetent fellow, not strong enough for manual labor and too proud to beg, reduces the various debts owed to his master by his customers, or whatever they are. That way, he figures, he will be welcomed by them in the future, when he is jobless and might need their help. The master, on learning this, actually congratulates the man rather than has him thrown into prison! And Jesus seems to approve of that behavior, to the confusion of our experts and theologians. They suggest, for example, that the steward had inflated the prices and interest on the charges to the master’s customers in order to make a little profit for himself on the side (apparently a practice known back then – and probably even today). He was just cutting his own profit out of the equation, hence the benign reaction of the master. Could be, Jesus just does not say that. I think Jesus was looking at how “the world” deals with reality, without this time condemning it. He would like to see such shrewd practice put to work in the salvation of souls!  He seems to say do not be afraid to handle dishonest wealth in the full knowledge that it could be short lived and untrustworthy (though that is just a suggestion). In that way you have not put your faith into it but rather handled it with care and discretion, and I think he uses the word “dishonest” simply because wealth is powerful enough to drag us down to sinful levels. You can never trust it. Hence his concluding remark, God or mammon?

One thought from history might help in understanding this challenging teaching. The Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, was quite successful in its efforts to spread the Christian belief in China in the 17th century. They even achieved access to the imperial court through their knowledge, especially, of astronomy. They even ran the Imperial Observatory. They were beginning to make converts even in the imperial court. In doing this, they had to accommodate to various Chinese sacred practices which upset the Dominicans, the Franciscans and even the Pope. Confucian ancestor worship was the major point of contention. The Jesuits devised a way to include this in Catholic prayer (the so-called “Chinese Rites”). In addition, the Jesuits were accused of flouting their own vow of poverty by wearing the silk robes required of anyone close to the emperor (which I think reflects today’s gospel teaching). They were eventually forbidden by the Vatican to engage in several of their “adaptations”, and because of this, the emperor eventually banished them from the court. It is one of the greatest “what ifs” in the history of the Catholic Church. What the Jesuits did there might be considered “dishonest” in some lights, but the greater perspective, the intention was overwhelming and perhaps even near success. You could say they were being true to their precept, Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam (AMDG), To the Greater Glory of God. One of the great Jesuits leading this missionary work was Matteo Ricci.

Matteo_Ricci_2Matteo Ricci, Xu GuangQi Memorial Hall, Shanghai, China.

The opening reading is a reminder about how wealth should be gained, honestly and without damaging those without it. So what should we focus upon? The second reading is clear on this, saying “there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and us, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as ransom for all.” The only wealth we need is that which will last through all types of good and bad times, something worldly wealth cannot do. And it is the Lord who, at the end of the day, presents us with a stark choice even after much confusion which has divided theologians (and us). So which is it for each of us: God or mammon?

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Xu Guangqi speaking with his close friend Matteo Ricci, Xu GuangQi Memorial Hall, Shanghai, China.

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SUNDAY 11 SEPTEMBER 2022: THE TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Basit Zargar, Shepherd, 2019.

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[Jesus said] “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy……  ‘                   Luke 15:4-5. 

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The quick, professional answer to Jesus’ question above is “no-one”. It would be crazy to leave 99 sheep alone as you go wandering after the one lost somewhere. Yet there is the Lord saying that that is what he would do. As shepherding was one of the most widespread activities at that time, everyone I’m sure would wonder at this statement. What is he getting at? It was certainly a great way of getting their attention! Now look at today’s first reading. The Hebrews had been wandering in the desert for some time now, and had not yet reached the Promised Land. Grumbling had started; some even suggested they were better off as slaves of the Egyptians rather than being stranded in a desolate wasteland. In fact, they had reverted to pagan ceremonies and were worshipping a golden calf, a symbol of happier, more structured and reliable way of life. God was not pleased! In fact, God stated that they would all be “consumed” in blazing wrath! But Moses pleaded with God not to do that, and mentioned the successful struggle to get out of Egypt, the divine promises made to Abraham about abundant descendants and a “perpetual heritage”, the land itself. He even reminded God that that was the promise made to them. God relented and withdrew the threat, despite the waywardness of the people, now worshipping a golden calf! St. Paul also mentions waywardness, his own, when he was trying to destroy the early Christian community, when he was “a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant”. But abundant mercy had been shown him; Jesus had come into this world to save sinners and he was the foremost, as he says. And then there is today’s gospel. The shepherd who searches for the lost sheep, the woman who lost her single coin. We live with a God who is perfectly aware of our failings and weakness, who might well be furious about what we have done despite sending his only Son to let us know what we should do and not do, yet is still merciful. I believe each one of us is that lost sheep, lost but aware that we have a shepherd who will always be there searching for us, and when we allow ourselves to be rescued, as today’s reading says, “there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents”. The longer gospel today concludes with the parable of the Prodigal Son, which hammers this central point home with a vengeance. 

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The Return of the Prodigal Son, Batoni 1773, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.

One of Jesus’ most well known parables, it shows the depths of forgiveness of which we should all be capable. This young man took all his (premature) inheritance and ran off with it to have a good time, spending everything. Reduced to penury by his ill-considered actions, he was reduced to tending pigs. Note that. A Jewish man taking care of pigs, a specifically forbidden food according to Deuteronomy 14:8, indicates he was destitute in a distant foreign land. Then came the wondrous insight:  he came to his senses. Then several small indications of the father’s forgiveness follow. First, although he was returning home, his father saw him before he saw his father. The older man had been on the lookout for his prodigal son all that time, hoping for him to return. Then the repentant son had prepared a little speech begging forgiveness to be delivered to his father. His father, however, overjoyed at the return of his son, reacted in joy even before his son could complete his speech! Then his other, older, son on learning what had happened, refused to go into the house to join in the celebration, he was that angry. So his father came out to him, to plead with him to welcome back his brother, the one who was lost, as his father put it, and was found; was dead and has come back to life. There is no word from Jesus on this young man’s response, but is is clear what Jesus’ expectation is. Forgiveness is expected of us all, as it comes from God and should flow through us.

I invite you to consider the extreme example of forgiveness exhibited by the Amish people in 2006 following a most terrible crime. Reflect that when a wrong is done against any of us, there is a choice. We can refuse forgiveness, allowing for the possibility of the wrong to take root in us and become a festering hatred, a cancer which might almost threaten to destroy us. On the other hand, forgiveness, although extremely challenging, perhaps seemingly impossible, allows us to move on, older and wiser, in the knowledge that God stands with us. Remember those final words from the Cross itself, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do”.

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Father Forgive Them, Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, Kimberling City, Missouri, USA.

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SUNDAY 4 SEPTEMBER 2022: THE TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Christ on the Way to Calvary, di Paulo c.1426, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

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[Jesus said] “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple”.    Luke 14:26-27.

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No prizes for those reading the extract from today’s gospel above who were more than struck by one word there: hating. At the very least it has a very uncomfortable feel about it. It is the Lord speaking, so it must mean more than the popular meaning of the word, mustn’t it? We must hate evil in all its terrible forms of course. We must hate what is done to others which brings suffering and injury, mustn’t we? But those meanings do not appear in the scene taken from today’s gospel. Jesus was surrounded by a large crowd who must have realized they were in the presence of a very holy man, one whose words could be trusted and even obeyed…. but this?

So I ran to the experts for guidance. This from Fr. Ray Brown in the Jerome Biblical Commentary: “Luke adds these words to the form found in Matthew 10:37; however, no convincing reason can be found to show that Jesus did not utter them. hate: The force of the word is Semitic; in Matthew the expression “loves father or mother more”, shows hate must be understood in the sense of “love less” (JBC p.148). Well, first, it might ring a bell concerning the gospel of the 20th Sunday, three Sundays ago. That was when Jesus proclaimed he was not bringing peace but rather division, with families divided against each other. Today seems even stronger, with that word “hate”. So this is a topsy-turvy Scriptural passage for us, making us sit up and pay attention. Doing some research helped a great deal. Take a look at this enlightening article on what Fr. Brown meant when he said “the force of the word is Semitic”. Remember that Jesus spoke Aramaic, a Semitic language. Anyone who is bilingual or trilingual knows that thought patterns differ a little according to the language being spoken.

The Semitic understanding of hate is more akin to avoiding pain than the English understanding of the word, perhaps one might say it is more passive in the Semitic understanding as opposed to the more active sense of the English. Note that languages often have words unique to themselves that are untranslatable into another language. For example, the words procrastinate, silly, and judgmental do not have equivalents and cannot be translated directly into French without a full explanation. Perhaps hate is the closest word we have to the Semitic understanding of avoiding or staying away from a source of pain. And so, anything or anyone who is not Jesus/Father/Holy Spirit, the source of all life, light and love, has to be a source of pain. And that would have to include ourselves! Now look at the gospel quotation above and see if it makes more sense. So if the source of life and light carries a cross, so must we, as it connects us to him. And remember Jesus carried his cross willingly, as it represented his total obedience to the mission given to him by his Father. We have the identical mission, to be Christ to the world, even if we will probably not have to carry a cross as devastatingly heavy as his. So once that has been accepted, we then must act, speak and behave like the Lord, the incarnation of love and service to family, friends, colleagues, enemies, everyone. It was that total confidence in God, his Father, that gave Jesus the strength to carry his cross. We must have the same total confidence in a God of Love which enables us to carry our own cross through life’s storms, at the same time being Christ to the world so that all can see in us the disciples of an all-loving God.

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Christian Quotes: Three Ways to Love God.

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SUNDAY 28 AUGUST 2022: THE TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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The Invitation to the Feast, Burnand 1899, Kunstmuseum, Winterthur, Switzerland.

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[Jesus said] when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.    Luke 14:13-14.

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Today’s gospel begins with Jesus talking to us all and advising us to avoid a situation at a banquet we have been invited to, where we might sit unwittingly at the place of honor. Don’t do that, Jesus warns, because someone “more distinguished” may arrive and you will be asked to move down amid much embarrassment. That actually happened to me once. I had been invited by a rather grand colleague at work to his place for dinner and I sat in the host’s chair. I had never been to such a grand repast and did not know the etiquette! Jesus was right – it was very embarrassing. I never did it again! Pity I hadn’t memorized this parable. In fact, sitting in the host’s chair was worse than Jesus’ example. In his story, the Lord himself is presumably the host! Then comes Jesus’ punch line – we must invite to our banquet those we know will never be able to reciprocate, the poor and the lame, as listed above, as we see them walking towards the feast in the picture above. Well, I never hold feasts or banquets. People who eat with me might be a single friend or alone. How on earth can this parable apply to me or, I suspect, you? In fact, what is Jesus’ point? Perhaps two points suggest themselves here. Last Sunday I talked about entitlement, those who, in a situation of challenge, will come out with the deadly line “Do you know who I am?” Well they might also be the ones who will grab the best seat at a banquet because, of course, they are entitled to it! And great will be the protests if they are asked to move down, because, guess what, someone who is greater than they has arrived! They might even be asked to leave… The first reading today looks as if such people were in mind when it was written: “Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.” 

But then there are the poor and the  lame. They have nothing. They are coming because, one, they have been invited, and two, they are hungry. Where do we find that sort of situation in the year 2022? Well, working in a soup kitchen would be one way. Another way is supporting one or more charities geared to exactly those sorts of people. The blind need guide dogs. Guess how much it takes to train such a dog? – over $40,000! So there is a charity for such a need. The Christians in the Middle East have been victims of religious persecution in the last 20 or so years. Most of them are poor. Who could possibly help them? Kids who have been kicked out of their home for whatever reason and are now on the streets with nothing: where can they go for safety and care? And so it goes on and on. Be assured, there is a charity for whatever you think more needs to be done in this world. Find it and support it so that they (and you!) can come to the feast! The world’s millions of refugees, almost every single one almost certainly with nothing – what can I do about it? How about the children of single mothers who have committed a crime and are now in prison? As I said, it goes on and on. As a help to supporting these people – and many more – take a look at Charity Watch, which is a kind of watchdog of charities, and can recommend those which give the highest percentage of money raised to their cause. Yes, there are many people in the parable invited to the feast, each one able to tell a tale of misfortune, cruelty, war and plain old bad luck. So those of us who are not in a terrible situation have a responsibility towards those who are, and it is our Christian obligation to help them as best we can. And rest assured, as Jesus himself said, the poor will be always with us and will always need our support in a million ways. I am assuming that God has blessed most of the readers of this webpage with a living which has its challenges, but is nothing like the challenges reported above, mostly way beyond our experience (and we all pray it remains that way). We are not, as today’s second reading states, touched by “gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast”, for which, I am sure, we are, each of us, truly thankful. And at each Eucharist (a Greek word meaning thank you) we utter our profound gratitude. And it is because of our generosity that the feast has been laid out, and the guests invited…

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iStock Getty Images.

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SUNDAY 21 AUGUST 2022: THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Entitlement Is Dangerous, Susan Grant July 7, 2019.

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And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.  Depart from me, all you evildoers!’     Luke 13:26-27.

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A few years ago I was visiting a friend in Texas for a few days, and he invited me to a concert his university choir was giving. I readily agreed, and we set off in his car. It apparently proved to be a very popular evening night out, as the parking lot was almost full. My host obediently followed the directions of the young parking lot attendants which was not the easiest thing to do as they were sometimes contradictory. It was very frustrating, but eventually we were parked and set off for the auditorium. My friend was dean of the university, and I congratulated him on not pulling a “Do you know who I am?” moment. In fact I was very relieved that he hadn’t. I suspect you may have been witness to one of those moments, and it is not pleasant. Look at the quotation from today’s gospel above. Do you detect a suggestion of entitlement there? I did a little research on the topic. The best non-entitlement story involved Queen Elizabeth; look at this clip, be patient and you will see what I mean. Then there is the opposite, here. Such arrogance can actually make one angry and tempted to become as bad as the perpetrator is, but we shouldn’t, of course.

Brooding on today’s gospel seems at first sight to be shocking. I got the impression that these good folk had done all the right things only to be shut out of heaven, and therefore agree with their frustration, anger, disappointment at the host’s response: “I do not know where you are from…” But if you think of their words, there is a clue there, with words such as “We” and “Us” and “Our” as if they had condescended to listen to him while he was in “their” town. Now that attitude can be taken in two ways. It may be completely innocent, or spoken with condescension, which smacks of sinful pride. It certainly makes sense of the narrow gate or door. Inflated self-pride will never get through it! The only person who can self-congratulate with abandon is the Lord. It was God who made us and considered that creation to be “very good” (Genesis 1:26-31), and gave us this beautiful world and awe-inspiring universe. That’s the spirit God speaks of in the first reading today, of a people “that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory; and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations.”  That is the simple truth, designed to teach us that we are God’s servants, and hence must act that way. It certainly was the way the Lord saw himself, so what greater example could we have? The second reading, also challenging, might well be taken as God’s attempts to remind us of that servant status we all have, and what will happen if we forget it. Remember Paul’s ineffable words from the beginning of his letter to the Philippians: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as one like us, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8). That is what God asks of us, to serve him, to do the right thing so that God might be honored, not us. Look at this from the gospel of Matthew: “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:2)And, to make things completely clear and unambiguous, there is this, again from Matthew: “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16), and this from the first letter of St. Peter: “…if you are a speaker, speak in words which seem to come from God; if you are a helper, help as though every action was done at God’s orders; so that in everything God may receive the glory through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10-11). All this is so clear, strong and simple that any hint of entitlement is poison. All is for God, as Jesus’ whole life shows; we, like him, are all servants. If we claim anything more, puffed up pride will mean the narrow door will block our way.

 

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Luke 13:29, till Christ is formed.

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SUNDAY 14 AUGUST 2022: THE TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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No Cross No Crown, Roman Catholic Man.

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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.

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This is one of those Sundays when the Christian scratches his/her head and wonders what the Prince of Peace actually means when he says things like the quotation above, taken from today’s gospel. There’s more:

From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three… a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother…

You will recall the rule that polite dinner conversation absolutely forbids any talk about two topics: politics and…. religion. Every individual has a set of opinions, convictions and rock solid beliefs that might well be triggered into action by wandering into either of these two topics and the dinner table might well become a battleground. What it shows, of course, is just how important religion and politics are, even in this age where organized religion seems to be collapsing, and politics seems to be wandering into Wonderland where we are all mad, according to the Cheshire Cat. The fact that Jesus expressed these sentiments 2000 years ago suggests that nothing has changed, in that regard at least, in all that time. And it was true even earlier as we see from the first reading. The prophet Jeremiah lived more than a half-millennium before Jesus, and he proclaimed a message which was unwelcome, that the people were turning away from God, and he warned that trouble would follow. For that he was thrown into a deep well, traditionally called the “miry cistern” from the Douay (and the King James) Bible: “And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire…” with the intention that he would die of starvation, the punishment for demoralizing society. People do not want to hear that which they do not want to hear! And let us not forget today’s second reading: “Consider how [Jesus] endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” The author of the Letter to the Hebrews means that, so far, his readers have not been put to the ultimate test, where they might face martyrdom rather than abandon their faith in Jesus. It seems that all three readings today point to one thing: which belief each one of us cherishes would we be prepared to die for?

That is a question that is probably impossible to answer. Only an actual test of faith can provide the answer. Luckily, at least in parliamentary democracies today, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion, so martyrdom there is not an option for believers, though there are still some other countries where that might not be the case. But on many other levels our faith in God can be tested to the core. For example, it can be tested in our pocket, with a call to help others who have nothing, such as these people:

refugees

English Channel Migrants, BBC News, 12 August 2020.

Arriving illegally from France on the southern coast of England, very lucky to have escaped drowning, despite life jackets, these refugees are utterly destitute, friendless and facing a hostile, unknown future in a country whose language is probably but one of the many enormous challenges they will face. Now Jesus could be talking about them, or about us who have the uncomfortable question before us: What am I going to do about it?

So the lessons for today seem to be:

  1. If I know something is wrong with my family or at work, what will I do about it? Silence is not an option. Indeed, in the legal maxim, qui tacet consentire videtur, if you are silent in a bad situation, then you are deemed to have agreed with the situation. If you say nothing about the situation, then you do not have a problem with it. So you have to speak up!
  2. Jesus proved beyond doubt that he believed in his mission totally, and was prepared to die for it, and did die for it. What in my belief system is so precious that I will go to the wall for it, and defend it completely, to my last breath?
  3. There will be opposition from someone who does not accept my set of beliefs and might act accordingly. Will I defend my central beliefs against against that person? Am I so certain of them that I will defend them to the bitter end? Am I prepared to run the race, with its pitfalls, chasms, dangers and gale force winds right to the end no matter how bitter the opposition to all that might be? It is not easy to do the right thing; no cross, they say, no crown. Or, put another way, no pain, no gain. Unhappily not one of us can avoid pain in this life, from the Queen of England to the poorest beggar. It is what we do when afflicted with bad fortune is what counts, and there can be gold in such moments. Or, as St. Peter says in his second letter, “It is a blessing for you when they insult you for bearing the name of Christ, because it means that you have the Spirit of glory, the Spirit of God resting on you”  (1 Peter 4:14).

in 1977 I was assisting in a parish for the summer in Manchester in England. I was asked to take communion to those who could not make it to church. I remember two such occasions vividly. One was an old lady being taken care of by her daughter and son-in-law. I was welcomed most warmly. You can always tell what sort of atmosphere a house has in the first moments, and this house was very welcoming. I was taken upstairs, and found their mother in an immaculate bedroom, and she was clearly in good, capable hands. She received communion, and then asked me if there was anyone I would like her to pray for. Well who doesn’t? I told her and she promised to do that. Bed-ridden and essentially a burden and useless in the eyes of the cold world outside, in the eyes of God she was acting as God’s true child. I was also asked to take communion to a middle-aged lady, unmarried and in the last stages of terminal cancer, yet still at home. She had a grey pallor and was clearly very ill. Yet her spirit was vibrant, her attitude positive, her faith in God rock solid. These two people were undergoing their own crucifixions “with their eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” as today’s second reading says. No cross, no crown and did they ever have a cross. They were the living embodiment of what today’s readings talk about. They had nothing, but everything.

everything-he-who-has-everything-but-god-has-nothing-saint-augustine-129-4-0413.

St. Augustine, AZ Quotes.

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SUNDAY 7 AUGUST 2022: THE NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

RadarWWII

The Operations Room at RAF Fighter Command’s No. 10 Group Headquarters, Rudloe Manor  1943, Wiltshire, UK. The north coast of France is at the top of the map, the south coast of England and Wales at the bottom, the reverse of what we normally see.

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[Jesus said to his disciples], Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.    Luke 12:39.

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Trying to put a modern twist on today’s gospel, I thought of a time of great peril in the history of the world, and the thought of a possible Nazi victory in World War II came to mind. The USA and UK were linked together at that time to defeat a monstrous enemy which was inflicting immense suffering on innocent people all over Europe. The Battle of Britain, where the Nazi air force was intent on destroying the significantly smaller Royal Air Force in order to prepare for an invasion, meant that it was critical to defeat the Luftwaffe. One weapon in the fight which experts say really swung the outcome in favor of the RAF, was radar. Although both sides had radar, the British had developed it much further than the Germans, who thought it was not a significant weapon and chose to downplay it. It is said that without radar, Germany might well have been able to crush the RAF, invade Britain and possibly, even probably, win the war. Why do I mention all this? Because of Jesus’ warning about being alert to danger in today’s gospel. The difference is that the UK did know the hour when the thief was coming, and so the house – the nation – was not broken into and defeated.

But do we have radar locked into our personal defense systems? Are we always scanning the horizon looking for events/people/opportunities which we can recognize as dangerous and might spell disaster? And know for sure that evil is always lurking out there. The devil never misses an opportunity to wreak havoc and pain and suffering wherever it is possible. And know also that we are never alone in confronting such a threat (unless we consciously choose to ignore the strength that God offers to us). God is our sacred, rather than secret, weapon. It is through God’s presence, God’s eyes, that we can identify evil and fight or, better still, avoid it. It was through God’s power and friendship that the Hebrews were released from slavery, seen in today’s first reading. And it was through trust in God that Abraham, in obedience to God’s will, did truly have descendants as many as the stars of the heavens, today’s second reading. So, one might ask, what is there to lose if we seek God’s help, trust in God’s help and follow God’s teaching through everything? The alternative surely leads to suffering or even death. Aren’t we much better off with God as our divine radar, giving us the early warning and advice on what to do? We do of course have the power, freedom, to do whatever we will. The Luftwaffe chose not to destroy the radar antennas which provided the crucial information to the Operations Room in the war. How strange if we on our own, choose to destroy or ignore the teaching, the example or advice which power God’s radar which would silence the warnings coming our way.RadarWWII2

Chain Home radar installation at Poling, Sussex, 1945.

What would be the sacred equivalent of this picture? Surely Sacred Scripture, the acts and events of Jesus’ life, the heroism of the saints, the deep-rooted knowledge of what is right and what is wrong embedded in our souls are the answers. Ignoring all that would be the equivalent of destroying the means whereby our knowledge of right and wrong comes to us. And we can destroy all that; human weakness or foolishness knows no bounds. We are free as God’s children to do whatever we wish. But if we wish fulfillment, happiness and satisfaction, there is only one way, the way which overcomes evil and admits grace.

saint-michael-overthrowing-the-demon-raphael

Saint Michael Overthrowing the Demon, Raphael 1518, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

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SUNDAY 31 july 2022: the eighteenth sunday in ordinary time.

Pieter-Claesz-Vanitas-Still-Life-1625

Vanitas Still Life, Claesz 1625, Frans Halls Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities!  All things are vanity!   Ecclesiastes 1:2.

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Today’s first reading opens with the quote above. It is strange that some biblical passages stick in the memory forever, and I believe this to be one of them. We are liable to come out with it when a friend is spending too much time getting ready to go out, or we might even spring it on ourselves after spending too much time on our hair or nails or choice of clothes. But to counter that, here is a line from today’s gospel: “Eat, drink and be merry”,  a second equally popular quotation!

Eat

Eat, Drink, & Be Merry Beer Bucket, GourmetGiftBaskets.com

And these two expressions might seem to be diametrically opposed, but of course the second quote is taken out of context, whereas the first is not. You might say to yourself “spoilsport” at this moment. But today’s readings are not super wordplays, but lead us to a very sober conclusion which I believe to be the point of today’s teaching. Remember that Jesus was not opposed to a good party; his first miracle, you recall, was to replenish the wine which had run out at a wedding reception (John 2:1-12). He essentially invited himself over to Matthew’s house for a dinner party too, admittedly with a motive… (Matthew 9:10-17). So the image of a good time, with which he was familiar, was being used deliberately to make a serious point in this parable, and the first reading is, I believe, the key to the readings.

But first, the parable talks of a very successful, rich, farmer. He is so skilled, successful and no doubt lucky (with the weather) that he cannot house all the produce of his fields. So he plans to store as much as possible so that it is available in the future, which, for him, there is none, as God will call him from this life that very night. He will enjoy none of it. It was all in vain, as it were. All is vanity. So what is the point? Look at the gospel carefully, and you will see this: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God”. It was all focused on himself. There was no mention of sharing or providing for others, very similar to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). There is also a similar scene from Dickens Christmas Carol. Scrooge, led by the Spirit of Christmas Past, is reminded of the annual Christmas party old Fezziwig, his first employer, gave to his employees and how much goodwill was gained from it.

Fezziwig

Ghost of Christmas Parties Past – Mr Fezziwig’s Ball, John Leech, from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” (1843).

Isn’t that the way to handle one’s bounty? If old Fezziwig had been called from this life that night, he would have been sincerely mourned and missed, because he had shared the fruits of his labors, exactly what God is looking for. Clearly there was no vanity here at all. Old Fezziwig was what you could call, without blushing, a Child of God from such simple, joyful acts of charity and goodwill. As we can see from today’s second reading, there was none of this world’s evil in that old gentleman, something which Scrooge glimpsed and then compared it to his own behavior, which Dickens describes as a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!” One who, it might be said, did not have one joyous bone in his body. All was vanity with him, and no happiness whatever. What a way to live! The painting of Vanitas (Vanity in Latin) at the top seems to show a life apparently better than Scrooge’s bleak life, but still empty: the anemone flower is very short lived, also indicated by the timepiece whose wind-up key is dangling and liable to vanish below. The walnut is split, its fruit soon to wither, the candle is burned down to the base and will soon flicker and die. And the letter, unsealed which means it has been read, together with the quill pen, suggests a reply has been thought of, but has not been written. It all points to the shortness of life here on earth and offers comparison with the life to come, eternal and full of life. 

So all the readings put together warn us of the frivolity of grasping as much as we can for ourselves in this life, because this life is not permanent and it is not intended to circle around the individual. God requires, orders us to consider others and their good. One way leads to nothing, the other to life eternal. Vanity, therefore, is an example of pride, one of the seven deadly sins. As with any mortal sin, it can start with tiny little selfish imperfections, but can build into a catastrophic disaster capable of leading us to hell. As ever, the Lord is calling us to self-examination, identity of that which is wrong, eliminating it and substituting it with life-giving, other-oriented life goals which, though challenging, lead us on a much happier road to heaven.

 

hard-roads

Reaching for the Sky, April 2014.

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