15 NOVEMBER 2020: THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Parable of the Talents, de Poorter 17th Century, Narodni Galerie, Prague, Czech Republic.

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His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.  Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’  Matthew 25:23.

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Today’s readings have one of the most famous of Jesus’ parables, that “of the talents”. Indeed it has become so bedded in Christian tradition that the meaning of the word talent has completely changed over the course of centuries. As you know, our Christian Scriptures were written originally in Greek to make them available throughout the Roman Empire; Greek was the universal language of the Empire at that time, not Latin. That would come in the next centuries. The word used for the master’s commission to his servants was indeed talent, τάλαντον, talanton, but that does not mean our modern English word talent, even if the meaning of that word comes directly from our understanding of the parable. A τάλαντον was a measure of weight, and a significant measure it was, perhaps up to 75 lbs. The weight varied over the years. And not just an ordinary weight, but a weight used for precious metals. A silver talent, for example, was valued at about 6000 denarii, with a gold talent worth 30 times as much (imagine 75 lbs of gold….In November 2020’s gold price, this would equal $1,421,925). So the master in the parable is entrusting his servants with an enormous amount of money, five talents to one, two to another and one to a third. So that has to be an important point that Jesus is making. Of course it’s what these fellows did with their entrusted talents that is the point of the parable. The master called the three in, entrusted his money to them, and set off on a journey for “a long time”. Two of them traded or invested their master’s talents, and each doubled the amount. The third one, with his one talent, buried it and made nothing. A long time later when the master returned, the first two, on returning the doubled money to their master, were invited by the delighted man to “Come, share your master’s joy”. I take that to mean an invitation to enter heaven. The third man on admitting his failure to do anything was condemned by his disgusted master to be “Thrown into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth”. Not heaven! So what is this extraordinary story all about? No-one in his or her right mind would entrust such enormous wealth to individual servants to do with what they will. Yet in Jesus’ story, this man does. So trust must be part of the story, and very clearly a full expectation that you do something wonderful with the talent entrusted to you. Talent is not to be buried; it is to be developed to its fullest potential. And if you take the idea of our talents, they are what each of us has been entrusted with; they are critically important to us, and so, yes, they are worth a very great deal indeed. To take a cue from today’s first reading, their value is “far beyond pearls”.

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Ancient Talent Weight, Library of Congress

And each one of us came into this world with gifts from God – our raw talent. At the beginning of course, we have no idea what our talents could possibly be, yet one expert has said this: Look to your childhood years; what did the grown-ups at that time praise you for? They would be the first clues as to what you were good at, and a possible indicator of what was to come. The whole point of education of course is to develop those talents – God’s precious gifts to us – into the skills we will use to get through a successful life. Just as in the parable, we all note that there are others who are much brighter than we are, and some who are not as bright as we are. That is life! But that is no reason to be proud or be despondent. What it simply means is that we have the duty, command even, to do the most we possibly can with what we have been given. It is of no consequence what those around us have been given, unless they need help of course. For example, my best friend in high school was super bright. In one memorable semester he came first in every subject except one, Art, in which he came second! I scrambled around trying to simply pass them all, sometimes not succeeding even in that. But there was never any envy on my part, and no pride in his. We were simply doing our best to carve those talents into something useful for society. But, another example, when I was working in a high school in Washington DC, I had a student who was exceptionally bright. His family numbered scientists and doctors galore. Teachers always know who is the brightest, even without seeing exam results. How the student asks or answers questions, attitudes in class, and so on. Well this boy was bright, but bone idle, would not prepare for exams, would not work. He failed out of school and ended up pumping gas on North Capital Street. I believe that is the sort of person Jesus was aiming at in his parable. His precious gifts were being wasted – buried as in the parable. I left that school before knowing if he ever had a moment of insight, but I hope he did. This certainly points out just how precious talents are, and how imaginative Jesus was to use the idea of a huge talent weight to demonstrate their importance. They are meant to transport us through life!

Then there is the problem of multi-talented people who have to decide where to concentrate their talents. Early childhood might well be the place to look once more. This time I am reminded of a student’s essay on this subject. I asked them to interview their parents and parents’ friends concerning their jobs. Were they happy in them? If yes, why? If no, Why? The majority of the responses were positive, with “helping other people” is most usual explanation. One student who had interviewed her uncle, the wealthiest member of the family with heavy Wall Street connections, told her he hated his job, had difficulties getting up on Mondays to begin another horrendous week. She asked him if there was something he would have preferred to do. Yes. What? He had always wanted to be a chef! The Wall Street job came up, and all around him pressured him into it. But he had quickly regretted it, and now it was too late to change. A chef makes nothing like a Wall Street tycoon! Her last words said that she now understood why, at family cookouts, she would see him with his chef’s hat on, doing all the food preparation with the happiest smile on his face. He was certainly using all his talents, and I’m sure the Lord could hardly criticize him, but if we are multi-talented, we have a grave responsibility to ourselves to choose life decisions most carefully. Those talents can be treacherous! They can, as it were, crush us under their weight… Today’s first reading pictures a happy housewife, fortunate that she has chosen a lifestyle that fits her talents perfectly. If, however, she has talents which point in an opposite direction, what then? Fortunately today she would be in a much better position to follow that path than generations of her predecessors! My lovely mother, born in 1907 and required to leave school at 14, wanted to be an engineer like her father. Absolutely no chance back then, a criminal indictment on that society and its treatment of women. Imagine what talent has been crushed over the centuries because of it. The second reading certainly seems to support the ideal presented in the gospel, placing the same idea of the Lord coming at a time we know not; that ties this week’s gospel with last week’s, with the wise and foolish virgins. And so we are fully warned: Are we pursuing the Lord’s way, using his gifts successfully and appropriately to our own fulfillment as well as his…..or not?

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The Talent Chart, Dawna Markova and Angie McArthur, Business Insider 2015.

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

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Roger

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8 NOVEMBER 2020: THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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The Foolish Virgins, Cathedral of St.Maurice and St. Catherine, Magdeburg, Germany.

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Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’   Matthew 25:10-12.

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Wisdom would seem to be a thread in today’s readings. One definition of the quality of wisdom is the possession of experience, knowledge and good judgment. Hence one would expect it to be found more in the older population than in the younger. But according to our first reading, wisdom can be found by those who seek her, and she comes to those seeking her, so perhaps it is a more universal quality than the strict definition suggests. I am reminded of an event back around 1965 when, as a 19-year old, I made my first trip alone from England. The destination was Italy, but in those days, if you could not afford to fly, which back then was almost everyone, you went by train, and, as this was before the Channel Tunnel had been built, you had to face a ferry crossing over the English Channel. Well, being that sort of person, I took the precaution of taking something with me to eat on the train, as it started out about dinner time and in case there was no buffet car, which in fact there wasn’t. Even the water available was “non potabile” (undrinkable). So I got out my two sandwiches, an apple and bottle of water, and began to dine. Well, these were the days of compartments on British trains, with eight people in each, four facing four (as in the Hogwarts Express). I quickly became aware of seven sets of eyes on me; I was clearly the only one who had anticipated such a situation, and did not have enough to pass around with my two sandwiches and an apple. It kind of reminds me of today’s gospel, with the wise virgins (me in this case) and the foolish virgins (everyone else in the compartment) who could not be helped. Such situations do indeed happen, and sometimes there is no way to help out, no matter how much you might want to. But the difference is that the gospel today is here to remind us to prepare now. If only those hungry people on the train had had such a warning! The gospel, however, goes way beyond two sandwiches, and is talking of life, our lives, and how we lead them here and now. Do each of us have a lamp ready to be lit in the dark? Does each one of us have the oil in it filled to the brim and ready to be lit? Are we guided by Holy Wisdom?

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Jesus Christ Mosaic in the Church of Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey (now a mosque).

The key is the oil of course. The lamp must represent us, and the oil our actions which light us up in this life; or should do. Those actions which obey the law of love, which we contemplated last week, provide the oil. No love-inspired life, no oil, simple as that. Remember from of old, we are called to be light to the world (Isaiah 49:6); that is our divine vocation in life (Matthew 5:14-16), and we are told not to hide it away (Luke 8:16-18). Oh foolish virgins: you knew that, yet you did nothing, hoping no doubt that you could rush around at the last moment and make up for the deficit, but: “I do not know you” says the Lord. The parable might well say “I told you so”; so we have no excuse, as the Lord has very clearly shown all of us the way. The light of our lamps will enable us to see and follow that path. Then we will be ready when, at last, we encounter the long-anticipated bridegroom; we will surely be ready! 

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The Wise Virgins, Cathedral of Saints Maurice and Catherine, Magdeburg, Germany.

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

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Roger

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1 NOVEMBER 2020: THE SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS.

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All Saints, Legião de Maria.

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Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” Matthew 5:11-12

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It is said that we might have in our genetic makeup a “God gene”. It presumably means (if it’s true) that we are predisposed to acknowledging something – someone – spiritually beyond ourselves, a force hopefully geared towards the good. The would certainly fit well into the Catholic teaching that we, as humans, are intrinsically attracted to the good, rather than evil (which is when we know we are in the wrong), and that any deviation is due to our own decision deliberately to change direction, for whatever reason. In other words, it is perfectly natural and possible for each of us to be saints! How? Well look at today’s gospel, the ipsissima verba of the Lord himself, the essential, absolute crucible of Christian identity. That is how we attain holiness. In other words, it is right and good to be poor in spirit, to acknowledge that we are not gods ourselves, but are created by a force of good, and are invited into that goodness, suitably meek and grateful. It is right and good that we be merciful to others, to show compassion to others even if they do not deserve it, following the Lord’s example. It is right and good to seek peace always and everywhere, for that is God’s will, and we are God’s children. And so on through the list of Beatitudes, today’s gospel.

Let’s look at the word beatitude for a moment. It comes from the Latin word beatus usually translated as blessed, itself taken from the Latin verb beare, to make happy (the girl’s name Beatrice comes from the same source). Hence the Beatitudes could equally be called the Happinesses. In the Magnificat, Mary’s great prayer on greeting her cousin Elizabeth in Luke 1:46-55, she says, “All generations will call be blessed”, which might sound rather grandiose to English ears, but when you realize it could equally be “All generations will call me happy”, it rings very differently. So fulfilling the Lord’s Beatitudes is the pathway to happiness! They are not easy steps, but they are sacred steps, and assuredly lead to God’s presence, the meaning of the word grace, the presence of God: “Hail Mary, full of the presence of God…” And to be in God’s presence, even here on earth, is to be, in a real sense, in heaven itself, here and now! Therefore today’s gospel is a recipe, as it were, to true happiness even here on earth. And here we also have to understand the meaning of the word happiness. We are bombarded with commercials on TV which, it seems, will make us happy. According to them, we will be happy if we buy this car, or that hair spray, or this pizza or that suite of furniture: the list is endless, and it goes on and on, night after night. In fact, when I was a student of economics many years ago, I asked the professor what if our desire for all the things we want is actually satisfied, and our consumer demand vanishes? The answer was that we would now enjoy “hither bliss”. Hmmm. I wonder if you can be really happy surrounded by things rather than friends and relatives. Isn’t real happiness working for the good of others, receiving and giving true gratitude, the contentment of an evening spent with a friend, the joy of knowing that we believe in a God who is good, wanting only our happiness and devotion? It is into such a vision that Jesus plants the Beatitudes as seeds which will grow, flower, and provide us with the strength to gain eternal, ultimate happiness. In other words, for us to be truly and fully human, and live out our lives as the true image of God in which we are all made, to which we are all summoned.

 

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I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.”    Revelation 7:9-10. The Apocalypse Tapestry c.1380, Château d’Angers, Angers, 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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25 OCTOBER 2020: TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Mother Teresa of Calcutta, CRS.

Thus says the LORD: “………You shall not do wrong to any widow or orphan.  If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry.”  Exodus 22:21-22.

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Today’s gospel is another strong summons to the center of the Christian faith, to love God, neighbor and self, or, put another way, love and all else follows. Hence we rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, and help those who need help. It might seem Pollyanna-ish, but what is wrong with that? Nothing. It does not mean being annoyingly upbeat in a terrible situation, but it does mean that hope is never extinguished because you never give up on the goodness of God. Remember Jesus in his last breath committed his soul to his Father in hope. The English martyrs about to endure the most terrible of public executions forgave those who had brought them to that point, and expressed joy as they were going to God. I think even Pollyanna might have wavered in that situation! Hence real, true love conquers all. Today’s first reading from the Book of  Exodus puts some flesh to that demand. It reminds the Hebrews that they too were once aliens when they were in Egypt, hence they were ordered to treat aliens among them without any prejudice or dishonor, and also to take care of the weakest members of their community. That Hebrew injunction continued through the centuries to Jesus’ teaching and example, and right down to today. We today are to do exactly the same, and treat the alien and the weak in our midst with dignity and love. Nothing has changed! We are all God’s children whether we like it or not! 

Well, there is the teaching. We might accept it in our heart, but it requires that we act on it; after all, actions mean much more than just words. Look at Mother Teresa above. She depended on money sent to her from those who admired her work and wanted to help in any way they could. Her Missionaries of Charity continue her work, hoping and praying that their work will lessen the world’s suffering. Their joy is in seeing those in their charge grow, educated and strong, to become missionaries in their own way, fired by today’s divine exhortation to love. Jesus said that we will always have the poor among us (Matthew 26:11) so that work with the poor will never end; but that is all the reason why more should be done, not less. So whether it is in donating funds to help good causes, volunteering to help, praying for those who are suffering and those who are helping, every one of us can do something, hence fulfill the command to love. And the more each of us can do, the better. 

We are coming to the end of the church’s year, and lessons like today’s are reminders of the basics of our faith. This is what we are all called to do in one way or another. St. Paul sums it up nicely in 2 Corinthians 9:7: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Pretty clear, as ever, now all it needs is some positive action on our part. The needs are great, so off we go….

 

AZ Quotes.

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

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Roger

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18 OCTOBER 2020: TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Denarius (Roman Coin) of the Emperor Tiberius, 14-37AD. 

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[The Pharisees asked Jesus] “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”  Matthew 22:17.

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That might seem an innocent enough question. Taxation is and has been a vexatious reality since time immemorial. We do not like paying taxes! But we have to. So why did the Pharisees think it important to ask such an obvious question? Well, once again, it was a trick question. If Jesus answered either yes or no, he would be condemned either way. Consider this: Jewish tradition rigidly observed (and still does) the complete prohibition of images, springing from the first commandment, which includes “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image”, which refers to the many pagan gods in the lands surrounding Israel at that time. On the coin which Jesus asked to see, called a Roman coin in today’s gospel, but called δηνάριο (dēnario) in the original Greek text, was a graven image, almost certainly of the Emperor Tiberius. Worse, it states “DIVI AVG F AVGVSTVS” meaning he was the son of the divine (or god) Augustus. Augustus was the first emperor, and Tiberius had succeeded him. And Augustus, in the eyes of the pagan Romans was now a god! Imagine that in the context of monotheistic Israel! The lady on the reverse is thought to be Livia, Augustus’ wife (also a goddess), posing as Peace, with the inscription Pontifex Maximus, or Greatest Bridge-builder, a priestly title (and one which the Christian popes adopted for themselves centuries later!). So if Jesus answered yes, you must pay it, he would be condemned as supporting a repulsive pagan idol-worshiper. Then again, if he said no, then he would be condemned as a rebel against the Roman authorities and liable to arrest and worse. Jesus’ ingenious answer put them to shame, using that very same image to declare that the coin must belong to whoever that image represented. So give it back! (And an aside concerning the denarius: it had a very long life. In the United Kingdom until 1971, pennies were identified by the letter “d” for denarius, hence 1/6d would be one shilling and sixpence, but the monarch’s head on the coin did not designate him or her as a god….). 

So, in a sense, the very same pagan image on the coin assisted Jesus in confounding the malice thrown at him by the Pharisees. Today’s first reading seems to expand on that theme, talking of Cyrus the Great, King of Persia and conqueror of the Babylonians, that people who had destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, and exiled the Jewish leaders to Babylon. Cyrus was not Jewish; he might have been a Zoroastrian believer, a faith found in Persia for centuries until the Muslim conquest, and if so, he believed in one God. He released the Jews from exile in Babylon, and allowed them to return to Jerusalem. It seems he even helped in the rebuilding of the Temple. Hence the glowing language of the first reading today, “Thus says the LORD to his anointed, Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp…” So there seems to be room for exceptions to the Jewish condemnation of all things Gentile. They are not all bad! And this can apply to things Catholic also. In my youth, it seemed that all Protestants were doomed to hell fire forever, including my dear mother who was Anglican, but who had sworn on the Bible to bring her children up Catholic, which she did. So isn’t that an example of goodness from an unlikely, Protestant, source? Today things have thankfully changed radically, and cooperation is more the theme than condemnation. Note Jesus did not condemn the irreligious image on the coin shown him in today’s gospel, and instead used it to confound those who were seeking to bring him down. Thank you Tiberius, even though he knew nothing about it at all. So that could well be a lesson from today’s readings. We humans love stereotypes, meaning that we create profiles of people and things from the barest of facts. If you were to ask an exiled Jew in Babylon his or her opinion of the latest all-powerful king called Cyrus from the north who had just conquered the Babylonian empire, you almost certainly would have got a shrug and a “Cyrus Shmilus” with no hope of any change at all. Stereotypes are almost always wrong and can be dangerous and plain evil. Opinion and judgment should come from the facts, not invention. Good can come from the unknown; people condemned for their appearance stand scant chance of being understood even when the facts are known, so strong is the attraction of the stereotype. Today’s readings are a lesson in not trusting such fantasies, and letting the facts speak for themselves. 

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The Tribute Money, Rubens 1614, Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco, California, USA.

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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11 OCTOBER 2020: TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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The Parable of the Great Supper, Cicely Mary Barker 1934, St. George’s Church, Waddon, UK.

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[The King said,] Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’  Matthew 22:9.

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This story, or parable, of Jesus contains many elements of Jewish history and hopes. For centuries they had awaited the invitation to the banquet, the celebration of the triumph of the Chosen People of God over the unbelievers. Now here was the Messiah, fulfilling the prophecies as stated in Scripture, yet those who believed were a fraction of the Hebrew population. The majority of them refused to believe that this peaceful, loving, gentle man was the promised Messiah of strength and conquest. They refused to “come to the banquet” inaugurating the reign of the Messiah, the binding of the people intimately with God through what was to become the Last Supper and today seen in the Mass. Unwilling to abandon the Messiah and his message, the King, whom we can read as God the Father, expanded the invitation from the Chosen People to the whole world, and, in the parable, prophesying that those unbelievers who had even killed his messengers would be cast down, and their city burned to the ground, which can be taken as a prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Emperor Titus in response to a rebellion against Rome in AD 70. 

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Arch of Titus AD81, Spoil from the Sack of Jerusalem, Rome, Italy.

Hence everyone was now invited to the banquet, and in they came, “bad and good alike”. It seems that this expanded invitation still included the Hebrews, who would be considered the “good”, and the Gentiles, the “bad”. In other words, no-one was excluded, even then. Now consider. If any of us were to receive an invitation to a wedding feast or something similar, we would make an effort to be presetable, to put on our “Sunday Best” as it were. It would be necessary to appear presentable, otherwise it would constitute an insult to the host; we would have to make an effort to justify, as it were, our presence, and remember that another person’s Sunday Best might not be ours – the Lord will know the truth of the matter. On the other hand, to just wander in unprepared, lured by the promise of a free grand dinner, would be an insult, and that is how it was treated by the king when one such did enter. Worse, that malefactor, unable to offer any explanation, is bound hand and foot and “cast… into the darkness outside”. There is no such thing as a free meal! Remember that a wedding banquet is a beginning, not an ending. In a special sense, it is the wedding of each one of us to the Lord as our Savior, the one who will walk with us through life, giving guidance and strength, until the day we are called to the ultimate eternal banquet. Our wedding garment will be that which we have created through our life, attempting at all times to be Christ to the world, the vocation given us at our baptism. We were dressed up that that event, a prefiguring of the heavenly banquet we hope for when called from this world. Well, each Sunday Mass should be the source and sustenance of that life work as we edge towards that moment when the king welcomes us into the eternal feast. With trust in the Lord, obedience to his guidance and determination to fulfill it, we will be accepted, and enter into eternal happiness.

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Heaven.

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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4 OCTOBER 2020: TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Grape Harvest Season in Volnay, Central France, South China Morning Post, June 2018.

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“There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it…..” Matthew 21:33.

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There have been so many vineyard parables in the last few weeks that I began to think of other ways of dealing with this metaphor. The vineyard typically means the world, and we the workers in it. So how about this as an alternative: the vineyard represents each one of us. We are each lovingly created by God as we emerge into the world. Some of us have heavier burdens to bear than others (as seen in the photo above) but everyone is able to produce a good harvest (also seen above); after all, what is the point of creating a vineyard is there is no hope of it producing anything of profit? The people in the vineyard are our talents, again some of God’s children having more than others, but that’s the way of the world. God must intend it, our job is to figure out what God’s intention is! Clearly it is to grow grapes as best we can, the reward being success and the vineyard owner, God, being pleased and the reward being ultimate and eternal happiness. I can’t change that element in the parable! We are the ones in charge of those worker-talents. We decide what they should be doing, or, as in this parable, what they shouldn’t be doing. So in a sense, in this way of thinking, we are the tenants of ourselves, each the temporary boss. And it is there that the trouble begins. The owner eventually wants to see how his property (us, you, me) is progressing, which is not surprising seeing how he lovingly created it. Well the tenant (each of us), according to the parable, thinks otherwise, and is not prepared to acknowledge that the owner is the owner. I am the owner! And this even to the extent of killing the owner’s son in the vain hope that this would mean the ownership would now revert to me. Now all my skills, those gifts of God, will now work exclusively for me and no-one else. It is the triumph of self over God our creator. I become my own god! However, according to the parable, the owner is quite able to evict me, bag and baggage.

In other words, we are not our own property; we are created by God, in God’s own image, and must behave accordingly. Our gifts (and each one of us has them, some more, some less according to God’s will) are to be developed to the greater glory of God, not our own glory. In that lies the source or destruction of our own true happiness, or blessedness (the words have the same meaning). If we reject the fact that we are called to be servants of God, serving God and neighbor as we take legitimate care of ourselves, therein lying the source of all happiness, then we condemn ourselves to a life of selfishness, envy, covetousness and pain. Ultimately that leads to hell. Remember my vision of hell is an eternity of self-consciousness, left entirely to ourselves, with nothing and no-one else, exactly the life we chose to live here on earth. Forever: the “wretched death” of the parable. How much better it is to tend willingly to our gift of the vineyard, our own life here on earth, utilizing therein our gifts for the greater glory of God through the supreme command that we love God, neighbor and self. Then, at last, to be welcomed into God’s life and ultimate happiness forever. The choice is always with us, to obey – or disobey, the original sin.

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The Expulsion from Paradise, Michelangelo 1510, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City State.

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.

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

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

27 SEPTEMBER 2020: TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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The Parable of the Father and his Two Sons, Pencz 1536, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA.

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Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you”.   Matthew 21:31.

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Jesus was never someone to hold back on what he was thinking. That quotation above was spoken directly to the “chief priests and elders of the people”, according to Matthew. They would be the instigators of the crowd baying for his blood later, and today’s gospel gives a little background to explain that. It must have taken Jesus some courage to speak like that, and he did it no doubt in the hope that they would take it to heart, pray over it and come up with the explanation of why on earth he said it at all. In his explanatory parable, one son, on hearing his father’s order to go work in the vineyard stated baldly “I will not”. The other son said he would do what his father wanted. However, the first son changed his mind and went to work. The other did not go and work. Clearly the first son, despite his declaration, changed his mind and obeyed his father. The other obviously did not. As ever with parables, there is symbolism. As with last week’s story about the vineyard owner, the vineyard is the world, and the father’s order is the vocation each son receives, to work in that vineyard, the world. One agrees but does not follow his vocation; the other says no, but does, indeed, fulfill his father’s will. Jesus then recalled the ministry of John the Baptist which attracted crowds of people from Jerusalem to go out and hear him. He preached repentance and renewal, the acknowledgement of sinfulness and the determination to remedy that. Jesus’ prostitutes and tax collectors (remember tax collectors are the excommunicated Jews who, in collaborating with the pagan Romans, had forfeited their place in Jewish society) accepted John’s exhortations, and reformed their lives. The chief priests and elders did not see any of John’s words as applying to themselves: they were above all that. That is Jesus’ point. They were the ones supposedly leading the people in the way of God’s justice and truth and hence should have taken John’s words to heart and led the people in that same repentance for sins – we are all sinners in the eyes of a perfect God. They were the ones who had said “yes” to God but had done nothing to implement his will, to fulfill their vocation; the tax collectors and prostitutes had said “no” judging from their way of life chasing the wrong vocation, but had reformed themselves and were now obeying God’s law. 

I suspect we all have a little of both in our lives, and little bit of “yes” and a little bit of “no”, and we might be tempted to say “I’m only human”. But that would be quite a sinful thing to do and to say. To be human is to be made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), in whom there is no sin, no stain. Jesus was human through and through, and he, although tempted, did not sin. That is to be fully human; anything less is to be less than human. Today’s numinous second reading pushes this to its limit concerning the Lord: He humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, because if he had not, and had betrayed his own vocation to fulfill God’s word, would have been the ultimate betrayal of God. All of us, however, have fallen into that sub-human state, even the greatest saints. To acknowledge that is to have taken the first step in rectifying the situation, to regain our humanity in all its glory as God’s forgiveness is infinitely generous. I read a news story recently about the construction of a building. Problems resulted when some of the building material weakened and became unsafe, whereas some of the same material showed no such weakness. It was a mystery until it was found that the material which had been stored in very damp conditions, even if only overnight, had absorbed enough moisture for it to become weak before being installed (a classic case of being in the wrong company?). That material which had been used immediately on arrival at the building site was perfect. So the same material was both “sinful” and “graceful”. A little “sin” here was sufficient to destroy the whole plan if it had been undetected, or did not have a John the Baptist to alert us to the consequences of its/our fallen nature, a nature meant to be perfect, and should be. Remember an old, somewhat adapted, saying, “great mortal sin from little venial sins grow.” We need a call now and then to remind us and redeem us for falling from our graceful, beautiful  human nature to a lesser, inhuman, state. Jesus’ warning to the elders and chief priests should have been sufficient for them to see what was called for, but they ignored it. However, the stone that they rejected became the cornerstone…..

cornerstone

Psalm 118:22-23, Isaiah 28:16,  Ephesians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:6-8.

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

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Roger

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20 SEPTEMBER 2020: TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Rembrandt 1637, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia.

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[The landowner said], am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? 
Are you envious because I am generous?’    Matthew 20:15.

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Last Sunday I mentioned that forgiveness runs like a golden thread through the gospels. There is another: generosity, beginning at the top: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And we are reminded that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). And on and on: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have…” (Hebrews 13:16). And so the message is clear, especially if you live in a wealthy country and are comfortably off. In fact, there is even another parable about that, Lazarus the beggar at the gate of the rich man who gave him nothing (Luke 16:20). And remember, even if you are poor, there is the story of the impoverished widow who gave her last penny to the Temple (Luke 21:1-4). So to be a good Christian is to be a generous person, and to do it joyfully! Today’s gospel underlines this teaching rather spectacularly. As a parable, there is an underlying reality represented by the elements in the story. The vineyard is the world, the workers, us, the payment at the end of the day, the heavenly reward, and the landowner, God. In any city, I imagine, it is not difficult to find groups of men hanging around on a street corner in a poorer part of the city, waiting to be hired for the day to do manual work. That is the setting for today’s parable. Although most of us will have a job, a career, a calling of some sort, we would not be used to hanging around hopefully in the early morning waiting to be hired. But in another sense, we might well be. It is the landowner who approaches the laborers and enquires why they are hanging around. He then invites them to work in his vineyard. Wouldn’t that be God asking our souls why they are hanging around doing nothing, slowly starving for spiritual nourishment? The ones who are hanging around later in the day might be those who have tried various spiritual adventures, and have found them all lacking. To work for the landowner in his vineyard is the vocation they have been after all their lives, and at last here it is. They remain there, and receive their rewards. It was the answer to their hopes and prayers. “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call him while he is near” says today’s first reading. St. Paul says “If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me” in the second reading. So the message is pretty clear. We work for the Lord, we happily share what we earn, and we anticipate a generous welcome when our days are done. 

And then there are the others in the parable: “These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.” I think it is pretty easy to understand the outrage of those workers who have slaved since dawn and received the identical wage as those who joined them an hour or so before the day ended. Surely they should receive more? The landowner, with clear logic, explains they all agreed to the wage offered; he was happy to give that to everyone; where’s the problem? (Some scholars point out that a full day’s wage was necessary for everyone so that they could feed their families). He also asks if they are upset at his generosity…. Clearly, yes they are. I am reminded now of the criminal crucified alongside the Lord, who understood why he was so barbarically punished, who asked forgiveness for his sins, which the Lord readily gave, and he entered paradise that day. There is the other Scriptural message which states, “…there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:10), or should we say “who think they do not need to repent…”? It is very easy to justify lack of generosity in troubled times, and to forget that story of the widow’s mite….

So we are called to help others, the practical side of loving one’s neighbor, in obedience to God’s call. Generosity is the measurable way, as it were, to estimate how good we are at being Christian. As Catholics, be aware of the research which states we are among the least generous of Christians, and this from research conducted at Notre Dame University! So today we are all called to a brutal self-examination of where we stand in light of today’s gospel. How practical in fact are we in living out the Number One Rule: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Pretty clear.

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Heaven’s Balcony, Ron DiCianni 2003, ChristCenteredMall

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