Laetare, Jerusalem: et conventum facite, omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum lætitia, qui in tristitia fuistis…”

Be glad Jerusalem: gather together all you that love her: rejoice and be glad, you that were in sadness…”         Isaiah 66:10.


Pope Francis in Rose Vestments, the Traditional Color for Laetare Sunday.

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“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”  Ephesians 5:14.

The Latin verse at the top is the traditional Entrance Antiphon for this Sunday (which may or may not be recited at Mass today, if there is a Mass!) It is deliberately cheery and even happy, and for a good reason: today is the midpoint in Lent as we move towards Easter, the preparation for which is the goal and whole purpose of Lent. So some celebration is called for, hence the (optional) rose vestments for the celebrant at today’s Mass. The rose color is supposedly half-purple, the Lenten color. In the old days, this day saw the blessing of the golden rose which the Pope would send to Catholic monarchs in Europe:


Golden Rose sent by the Pope to Rudolph III of Nidau, 14th Century, Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages, Paris, France.

Also in the old days, servants were permitted to go home to visit their mothers, hence “Mothering Sunday” in the UK, which is celebrated today. Let us pray in these dark days of coronavirus we may all soon be able to return to such a tradition.

So, that being said, what lessons do we learn from today’s readings? Today has a very long gospel (with a shorter alternative possible) taken from John, which gives a full report of one of Jesus’ miracles. A man blind from birth was spotted by the Lord. Presumably taking pity on the man, Jesus spat on the ground, made clay with the wet earth, smeared it on the man’s eyes and told him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam, just outside the old city of Jerusalem (its ruins are still there). He did so, and he was given sight for the first time. But that precipitated a huge controversy with the Pharisees, the guardians, as it were, of God’s law. That stated, and still does, that the Lord’s Day is to be kept holy. That had been interpreted as meaning no work. Well, Jesus had made a sort of mud paste to put on the man’s eyes – work, in their opinion – and this was on the Sabbath Day! Hence they declared of Jesus, “This man is not from God”. Well, OK, but how on earth in that case could he have worked a stunning and obvious miracle which clearly came from the hand of God? They wriggled, trying to see if the once-blind man was lying, but everyone knew him as someone who had always been blind. How could Jesus, who was clearly evil, godless in their eyes, be capable of doing such a thing? They were incapable of seeing that such a selfless, charitable and generous action could only be of God. It was not “work” as defined by them. Instead, it was “work” for another, a neighbor, a brother in need, done utterly without thought of reward or praise. It was the God of love in action, just for the delight of healing another person. The once-blind man clearly saw this, returning to Jesus and saying, as the gospel states, “I do believe [in you as Messiah], Lord,” and he worshiped him. 

Additionally, the longer gospel passage alludes to an ancient Jewish tradition which was also debunked by this miracle. Jesus’ disciples asked whether it was the blind man or his parents who were the sinners which had caused his blindness. That was a very common belief at that time. Any great disability, any failure, had to be the result of sinfulness. Conversely, any great success in life was God’s reward for being a good person, which often led rich and successful people at that time to look down their noses at the less fortunate who were clearly sinners. All that was probably the result of the belief in Sheol, a condition everyone entered of shadows after death, no matter how good or bad you had been in life. So any reward or punishment for good or bad behavior in life was believed to be seen while you were alive, not after death. In today’s long version of the gospel, Jesus states categorically, “Neither he nor his parents sinned…” effectively ending that belief for all Christians. This also explains that line in the Apostles’ Creed “He descended into hell…” namely, SheolJesus did that to release all the righteous souls there to allow them at last into God’s presence, namely, heaven, a radically new teaching for Jesus’ followers.

The second reading picks upon the idea of light, with St. Paul telling us that we are to “Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth”. The trouble with that is that we are the ones sometimes shielding ourselves from the light! We can refuse to incorporate Jesus’ teaching and example into our own lives, act as he would act, speak as he would, and so on. Being his disciple is not easy; often it demands of us actions and words which we might find almost impossible to do. But this is Lent, a time when we can confess that, seek divine strength and actually begin to do what Jesus demands of us. And remember we are not alone in that, for he promised to be with us – in prayer, in each other and above all in the Eucharist – each moment even until the end of time. It is always time to believe that, trust in that and do it.


“…he went his way and washed, and came back seeing”, Kirt Harmon, 2020.

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

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Jacob’s Well, Church of St. Photini, Nablus, Palestinian Authority.

Sunday’s Mass Readings can be seen here.

[The Samaritan woman said:] “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”      John 4:25-26.

This is a famous scene, where Jesus meets a Samaritan woman, and they have a lively theological debate perhaps not seen anywhere else in Scripture. So let’s play a little bit of sitz in leben here, a scholarly term to try and get to the setting in which the event took place in order to understand better what was going on. The gospel reading begins immediately telling us that we are in Samaria. This was the area between the Galilee to the north, and Judea to the south, both Jewish areas. Samaria was also Jewish, but…. It was a little bit like areas of Germany today where one has been traditionally Catholic for centuries right next door to a Lutheran area, also centuries old. Both are Christian, but…. Well thankfully Catholics and Lutherans talk and act together in a civilized manner today, but that was not always the case. Jews and Samaritans back then had a hearty dislike of each other. For example, the Samaritan lady stated that her people worship on the mountain nearby, Mount Gerizim, where their temple stood, whereas Jews worship in the temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. That was a point of contention. Further, the Samaritans only accepted the Pentateuch, the first five books of the bible, as the revealed word of God, nothing more, rejecting the prophets, psalms and everything else simply as pious writings. That was worse. Samaritans were also known to marry Gentiles, which might have been the final straw; Jews and Samaritans did not get along together (remember this when you next hear the Good Samaritan parable: it astounded its first Jewish listeners). So the fact that Jesus and the woman were even talking astonished Jesus’ followers when they returned (seen in the longer gospel today). But she was certainly standing up for what she believed, but was clearly attracted to what Jesus was saying. Furthermore, the fact she was on her own, coming to the well near the hottest time of the day also suggested that she had been ostracized by the locals, a truth that Jesus reveals (also seen in the longer gospel); she was still not daunted! However, she was so deeply affected by Jesus’ message that she ran back to her neighbors announcing she had found the Messiah! They clearly heard her and went out to investigate. So this is a dramatic gospel passage of conversion and excitement. Note also that Jesus frequently says to his disciples to tell no-one of the various events which clearly point to him being the Messiah; there was a perfect example last week with the Transfiguration. But here, Jesus actually tells the woman he is the Messiah. He is clearly not the least worried that these Jewish Samaritans would get hold of the wrong end of the stick and hail him as the long-awaited new David who would smash the Romans and re-establish the Kingdom of David. All the Samaritan woman states is that the Messiah will “tell us everything”. So the Samaritans were part of the Chosen People, but followed a different tradition. Jesus corrects this, and says salvation must be from the Jews, the Jews of the Jerusalem tradition, not the Samaritans.

Perhaps this explains the choice of today’s first reading, the moaning and complaints of God’s Chosen People in the wilderness: “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt. Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” This hardly shows a rock-solid trust in God! True, as slaves in Egypt they knew where the next scrap of a meal was coming from, that they had a kind of miserable roof over their heads each night, unlike the wandering in the desert. It is said that it was this attitude which convinced God they were not the generation to inherit the Promised Land, hence condemned to wander for a generation (40 years). Today’s psalm declared the kind of trust we should all have in God: “For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.” Perhaps Jesus viewed the Samaritans as a lost people, not trusting in the promise that salvation would come from Jerusalem, whither he was bound.

Is there a lesson for us here? Are there Christians who sort of follow the Lord, but not quite fully? Are there among us some who shop around for the bits of gospel teaching which sound OK, but ignore other bits which are too demanding? Are they similar to the sort of moaning Chosen People in the desert, happy to be free of slavery (perhaps) but not happy in what they have to do to achieve the Promised Land? It isn’t easy to be a true Christian, to take in all that Jesus demands and respond positively to it. It takes trust (unlike those in the wilderness) and true belief (unlike the Samaritans). With those two qualities, total trust and belief, total Christianity can be forged in the fire, and a rock-solid basis to life is to be found, against which the gates of hell will not prevail. Alone this is impossible. With the Lord present in sacred word, people (us), loyal priest and Eucharist, it can be so. And so it must be, and Lent is the time to do it.


Christ and Woman of Samaria, Veronese, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.

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The Lord Directing Abram to Count the Stars, Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1860, Bible in Pictures.

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The LORD said to Abram: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.    Genesis 12:1.

Today’s first reading, from the 12th chapter of Genesis, is arguably one of the most significant passages in all of Scripture. Many scholars have said that the previous 11 chapters are predominantly theological, not historical. They record the thoughts and reflections and handed-down stories of how everything began. That is not to say they were human invention; no – they are all inspired by God to allow us to understand why things are as they are today. That explains, for example, why there are two creation stories, not one. These early chapters also offer us an explanation as to why we sometimes become alienated from ourselves (seen in last Sunday’s readings, where Adam and Eve clothe themselves which was the first result of their disobedience) which may lead ultimately to self-hatred and  worse; alienation from each other (seen where Adam blames Eve to explain his action, demonstrating alienation neighbor from neighbor, which might possibly lead to hatred and worse), and so on, all because of our disobedience of God’s commands. These creation stories are profoundly wise and true from a theological point of view, but not from an historical point of view. That is why Genesis 12 is so important: it is here that God enters human history directly. Here is God beginning to instruct us in the right and proper way to lead our lives in the here and now. Now, God’s intervention was not random, such at spinning a globe and sticking a pin in it somewhere to begin. No; it was deliberate and almost certainly in reaction to the time and place. The man whom God approached was no spring chicken; Abram was 75 years old (Genesis 12:4). His barren wife Sarai was perhaps about 80 at that time. They lived in Haran, northern Mesopotamia. God told the old man to pack up everything and move to Canaan, a country to the south of Haran, on the Mediterranean coast, about which Abram had no knowledge. God promised land and ancestors to him, despite his wife being barren. Abram believed, and moved. Now Canaan (and several other locations in the Mediterranean area) at that time believed in and worshipped brutal and, they believed, powerful gods. I say that because child sacrifice was an accepted practice at that time. It is my belief that this was what prompted God to enter our human history. That ancient people thought they were doing the right and proper thing in accepting a very high “price”, sacrificing their children, when they asked for, or tried to “buy”, a great favor of the gods (among them Moloch), such as delivery from invasion or famine, or, alternatively, to keep them happy. It was logical, but contrary to our God’s will, but this was a God unknown to them. God would change all that by guiding a new people in their midst, the Hebrews, in ways which were also new, but this time reflecting God’s will in the midst of pagan belief. It took time to wipe out child sacrifice, echoed in the acceptance, for example, of Abraham obeying God’s command to sacrifice his only son Isaac. God’s last second prevention of that revealed for the first time the divine abhorrence of the practice. 


Babylonian Cylinder-Seal Representing Child Sacrifice.

Now look at today’s second and third readings. They reveal culminating results of that long, 2000-year history of the Hebrews, guided by the prophets and living by the divine Law of God. Paul talks of God who “saved us” , who “called us to a holy life” which ties directly into the first reading (as expanded here). The gospel’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus, appearing with Moses, personifying that same Law, and Elijah, representing the prophets who announced it, is the culmination of that 2000-year history, with none other than the Son of God standing in their, and our, midst. The Hebrew people had become the Chosen People, and were now ready for the arrival of divinity in their midst. There is a great peace and tranquillity to these readings. They reveal God’s greatest gift to us, his only Son, who freely and willingly invites us to eternal life and happiness in his company. Compared to the ancient Canaanite practices, how different could any two situations and times be!

The Lenten lesson here, perhaps, is a reminder of the evil of which humanity is capable. Each of us is able to upset that peace and tranquillity by destroying the law of love which puts God’s will for us first every time. We won’t be sacrificing children of course, but we are able to kill God’s will and substitute our own will in its place, sacrificing our own guardian angel as it were, representing God’s life in our own soul, for our own selfish ends. This is the time of the year to look at that possibility in the face, and if we find it there, resolve to deal with it.

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The Angel of God Stops the Sacrifice of Isaac, 13th Century German, The Burrell Collection, Glasgow, Scotland.

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The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, Duccio, 1310, The Frick Collection, New York City, USA.

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“At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”  Matthew 4:1.

This is the time of the year in our northern hemisphere at least, when the notion of spring cleaning takes root, gnaws at us until eventually many of us are moved to do something about it. The accumulated dust and grime of a year in those almost untouched parts of our living space start calling to be cleaned, polished, dusted. And if and when we heed the call, the reward is a sparking home where you really can see the difference. And guess where, on the First Sunday of Lent, all this is leading?

I talked of venial sins a couple of Sundays ago. Those are the little seeds of evil which, if left to themselves, have the potential to destroy our very spirit, our soul, the heart of who we truly are. If left unchallenged, we could become people who are out for ourselves totally, and will never heed the cares and pains of others. We will have convinced ourselves that such pain is imagined, that all these other people need to do is pull themselves together. They are not our business. Then at that point we should heed Jacob Marley’s ghost call out Mankind was my business” but he heeded it not in his life, and Scrooge’s reformation began. We are not set down here to get everything we can for ourselves out of this world; we are here to heed God’s call, help each other and take care of ourselves within that wider context. And it is not as if there is any difficulty looking for others in need these days. Take a look:


I challenge you to find one smiling face here. These are refugees from their Syrian homeland forced to leave or be killed or maimed by bombs, shells, bullets and/or be tortured by crazed religious extremists. Their days are dominated by the need to find something to eat, to keep their children safe and warm, to find somewhere safe where they will be welcomed. Good luck to all that! Here is something we could address in our spiritual spring clean. What are we – I – you – going to do about it? They are our neighbors, they are God’s children. They are suffering through no fault of their own. They are penniless. They need help, they need friends.

All this is not forget the needs which surround each of us, the needs of our own families and friends. How can we help them too? So if we have not been as responsive as we could have been to the needs of others of which we are aware, Lent is the time to do some soul-searching. I remember years ago of giving up something (invariably chocolate) for this long season; surely it would be more positive to ask what should I do which I have not done before for this long season? Wouldn’t it be great if, as the greatest feast of all overtakes us, that at Easter we can look around and see the good that we have done? A spiritual spring clean will result in a grace-filled Easter, with the strength perhaps of continuing our good deeds for those in great need, as their needs will continue way beyond that time. But perhaps they will now be able to count a little more on our help and generosity as a consequence of this Lent.

Consider the Lord’s trek into the wilderness (today’s gospel) on learning he was God’s Son and, indeed, the long-promised Messiah. He was first tempted to use his newly-discovered divine powers as God to turn stones into bread as he was hungry. That would be to serve himself exclusively. No; we must be filled by God’s word which will direct us to help others. Then came the temptation to challenge God; no again. Trust in God, do not test God. Very well, accumulate immense wealth through all possible, even evil, ways to make yourself immensely rich and become the envy of all. No – to God alone be the glory and power; it is through serving God and not ourselves that true peace is to be found. The devil and all his works and pomps was rejected.

So as we know God’s will – to love God, neighbor and self – we must use our power, our finances, our skills and our prayers to help others, especially those in need. We trust that by doing that, we will serve God truly and well, and trust in God’s benevolence to implement our good wishes for others. By this means, we store up immense spiritual riches which will last forever and will strengthen our friendship with God. Well. I’ve convinced myself I need to something extra for Lent; now to figure out what would be manageable and best. Have a great spiritual spring clean!

PS: The link below claims that it is directed at women only. Don’t believe it!

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Little Yellow House Adventures.

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The Price of Forgiveness

More on the incredible faith of the Amish:

Ours is a faith-torn world in which most of us tolerate — however unhappily — a schism between what we profess and how we act toward our fellow humans. In such a moral void, the quiet actions of Pennsylvania’s small Amish community speak volumes about the call to forgive others rather than tally our wounds.

Today, the Amish attended the funeral of the man who murdered their daughters.

Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, was buried in his wife’s family plot behind a small Methodist church, a few miles from the one-room schoolhouse he stormed Monday. His wife, Marie, and their three small children looked on as Roberts was buried beside the pink, heart-shaped grave of the infant daughter whose death nine years ago apparently haunted him.

About half of perhaps 75 mourners on hand were Amish.

“It’s the love, the forgiveness, the heartfelt forgiveness they have toward the family. I broke down and cried seeing it displayed,” said Bruce Porter, a fire department chaplain from Morrison, Colorado, who had come to Pennsylvania to offer what help he could and attend the burial. He said Marie Roberts was also touched.

“She was absolutely deeply moved, by just the love shown,” Porter said.

God bless them.


P.S. — The Lesson of the Amish:

“Sometimes, faith helps ordinary men and women do the humanly impossible: to forgive, to love, to heal and to redeem. It makes no sense. It is the most sensible thing in the world. The Amish have turned this occasion of spectacular evil into a bright witness to hope. Despite everything, a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” — (Rod Dreher, Dallas Morning News)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Thinking on the Margin, Brian Hollar.

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[Jesus said] “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies.”     Matthew 5:43.

If ever there was a claim that Jesus was counter-cultural, today’s gospel proves it. We, his followers, must turn the other cheek to the one who has just struck us. Someone claiming our property? Give that person more. Obliged to go where you don’t want to go? Go even further. Give to the beggar and agree with the one who wants to borrow from you. Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. Hands up the one who has done all these without a second thought. On Monday October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV walked into a one-room schoolhouse where Amish youngsters in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania were studying. He shot eight young girls aged 6-13, killing five of them. He then shot himself. The attack was completely unprovoked and utterly unexpected. The small conservative Amish community, a Christian sect derived from the Swiss German Anabaptist tradition, was devastated.


Nickel Mines, PA. 

A grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, “We must not think evil of this man. He now stands before a just God.” Hours after the dread event, a young Amish man knocked on the door of the killer’s house. His widow, mother and father, themselves devastated by the event, were there. He told them that his community did not see them and their family as the enemy but rather that they too were a family grieving the loss of a son. About 30 Amish attended the funeral of her son, among them some parents of the children he had killed. They offered their condolences to the grieving family afterwards. One cannot imagine a deeper demonstration of forgiveness than that showed by these peace-loving people to the family of a man who had wreaked unprovoked horror upon them. It was a shining, purest example of the very words of the Lord in today’s gospel in action.

We are all called to show exactly the same reaction to anything unjust or unfair thrown at us. The Christian heart has no place at any time, in any place, for any reason, for hatred, revenge or retaliation. Remember the Lord at another time, when Peter asked him how many times must he forgive? Six times? Seven?” Jesus said “seventy times seven times” or, less poetically, always (Matthew 18:21-22). And there are the Lord’s dying words from the cross itself to forgive those who had done that to him. Hence Christians must be cloaked in forgiveness now and always. It is at the heart of our belief always and everywhere, without exception. The root meaning of the word is to give up or even let go. The opposite would be to grasp whatever has not been forgiven, with all the evil repercussions that would entail. But it is not the easiest lesson the Lord has given us, probably the reverse – the most difficult of all. That’s why we have a sacrament of forgiveness and a God who calls us to forgive at all times as often, indeed, as we are forgiven for our sins. That is the way of life and light to which each one of us is invited.



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Choices, Creative Educator.

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[Jesus said] whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.  Matthew 5:22.

Today we live in an ocean of choices: from the mundane: which clothes to wear  when we get up, what breakfast food to have, which car on the train to take, and so on, to the middling: what to do this weekend, when to mend something about the house, choosing a new book to read, to the profound: do I say sorry about something, am I satisfied with my career, what do I do about a terrible decision I made, each with a resounding ? after them. Television is saturated with choices thrown at us, from which $50,000 car to buy to which toothpaste will be most beneficial.  Look at the quote from today’s gospel above. Jesus talks about the commandment Thou shalt not kill, the 5th commandment in the Catholic reckoning. That’s pretty clear, but Jesus has expanded it enormously in today’s reading – we must not even be angry with someone! He teaches similar massive developments with the other commandments in today’s gospel. What is his point?

There is an expression, great oaks from little acorns grow. This is clearly true – where else would oaks come from? But that can be applied to today’s teachings. In old school Catholic teaching a great deal was – is – made of the concept of venial sin. It is always contrasted with mortal sin, the worst sin we can commit, as it destroys – kills, hence ‘mortal’ – our very spirit, our very soul. The teaching says that venial sins, left to themselves, can lead to the death of the soul, hence our link with God, hence eternal damnation, which is eternity without hope; a hell of our own making. So, following the Lord’s line of thinking, anger left alone can grow into the most terrible situations which could be avoided by acting earlier, with courage and hope, to resolve a potentially terrible consequence. So leaving anger unchallenged is to permit it to grow to hatred and ultimate disaster. He points to other common failings which could also result in ultimate catastrophe, such as lusting leading to adultery and destruction of life-giving and sustaining relationships, and so on (great mortals from little venials grow?). Today’s first reading has the same theme, the need to make choices which strengthen our relationship to God and those around us, sometimes very difficult choices, and the second reading indicates the ultimate result, a profound wisdom which is the result of carefully made choices where the goal is clearly on getting closer to God rather than getting more wrapped up in ourselves, God-focussed as opposed to selfishness.

Each of us lives in a unique situation with its own challenges and demands. The golden rule which applies to each and every situation remains the same, love God, neighbor and self. Living by that golden rule would deal with anger immediately, lust would be extinguished, and anything which presents itself as a choice but which leads us away from the golden rule would be rejected at once. Stamping out selfishness in all its guises however is not easy; it seems that modern life is devoted to attempting to enhancing selfishness on a daily basis! Awareness of what is happening around us and to us is a step in the right direction though, provided we choose the correct pathway. With today’s readings as a guide, and with prayer, reflection and the sacraments to strengthen us, the right choices should become clear, if not easy. That’s when we ask for God’s help and guidance. St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, had a model for arriving at the right choice, a “discernment” as he called it. Briefly, when a very important decision was required and hence you are faced with a choice and (most important) acting with radical self-honesty, and a searching for the deep feelings which the various choices trigger within your heart, you list the pros and cons of each side of the argument, honestly and bluntly. This is putting it very simply (though look at “prayerful decisions” below for the full approach), The choice with the more positive thoughts and feelings and the least negatives point in the right direction; those choices which trigger negative feelings, honestly identified, should be rejected. Here is a secular version of the same thing.


St. Ignatius Loyola, Making Prayerful Decisions

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Lighthouses don’t go running…..  Anne Lamott, 2015.

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[Jesus said] You are the light of the world.    Matthew 5:14.

After all the sublimity of Christmas, the beginning of a new year, the Magi, the Holy Family and candles (last week), today’s readings bring us down to earth and state clearly, without fuss, what our Christian life is all about:

First reading:       Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them…

Second reading:   I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom
but on the power of God.

Gospel:              [Jesus said] Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

And there you have it, summed up succinctly and clearly. Despite our weakness and failings, with God’s presence in and around us, we can stand firm amidst anything life can throw at us. Examples of this are to be found in the lives of the saints, but remember, saints are never aware that they are saints! They simply accept certain principles as life-saving, even though that might be the reason for losing their lives in this world. One example was a humble housewife in England, married with three children. This was in the 16th century, and the England of Queen Elizabeth I had renounced the pope and established her as “supreme governor” of the Church of England (a title which is given to the monarch to this day). Mrs. Clitherow did not find the new system spiritually satisfying and converted to the old faith, which at that time was an illegal thing to do. Worse, she hid Catholic priests as they ministered to those who refused to adopt the new church. At that time, it was treasonable to be a Catholic priest in England, thanks to a highly unfortunate and inflammatory papal bull issued by the then pope Pius V, declaring Elizabeth “the pretended queen of England and the servant of crime” and releasing all English Catholics of any allegiance to her. That made all Catholics potential traitors in the eye of English law. Well, Margaret Clitherow was caught and accused of harboring and sheltering traitors, namely, Catholic priests. To this accusation she made no response (that is, she did not plead guilty or not guilty) simply saying “I know of no offense whereof I should confess myself guilty. Having made no offense, I need no trial.” Today a refusal to plead automatically means a “not guilty” plea is entered for you. Not then. You had to make a plea. If you refused, you were condemned to the peine fort et dure. This meant, literally, a plea would be forced out of you. Clearly this woman was acting totally from her belief and determination not to betray it; she was also aware that if found guilty, her property would be forfeit to the crown, and her children (she had three) would become beggars.  All this made her, as it were, a lighthouse amid the tempestuous storms of religious controversy and recrimination of that time. The same can be said exactly of Jesus at his trial when he was accused of being the Messiah and the Son of God; knowing that he was indeed the Messiah and the Son of God (from the events at his baptism), and to deny it would mean the destruction of his entire ministry given to him by God, he simply said “I am” (Mark 14:62), fully aware that the penalty for this perceived blasphemy was death. So these two people were put to death most cruelly, simply because of their belief, which would hurt no-one. In 1970, Margaret Clitherow was canonized as one of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales by Pope Paul VI.


Margaret Clitherows’s house in York, England.

Well we live in less barbarous times, though I’m sure you can find places today where similar things still happen. We Christians are still possible targets for ridicule and contempt, and how we deal with such things will show the strength of our belief. But we do have to be sure that the ridicule is based on the good works we have done, not through some self-glorifying vanity project. Jesus simply went around doing good (Acts 10:38); Margaret Clitherow helped those in danger of arrest, torture and gruesome death simply because they were Catholic priests. So, a question for our times: What have we done to help the poor, feed the hungry, tend the sick, help the refugee, no matter the consequences? How have we loved our neighbor, ourselves and God? It always comes down to the golden command, and how we respond to it.


“The Shambles” where Mrs. Clitherow lived, York, England.

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

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Our Lady of Candelaria, Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, Tenerife, Canary Islands.

Click here for today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord…..   Luke 2:22.

Today is special for many people; for some, it represents the end of the Christmas season. Another angle comes to us from the gospel, which tells us that Joseph and Mary were obeying the Mosaic law. This states that 40 days after the birth of a baby boy, he must be presented to God, to whom he belongs, to be “bought back” into the care of his parents for a certain price, two young pigeons in the case of the poorest people. Also, the birth-woman had to be “purified” according to the Jewish tradition as stated in the Book of Leviticus. Additionally, when Jesus, Mary and Joseph entered the Temple precincts in Jerusalem, an old man called Simeon approached them, gazed upon the child, and proclaimed this famous speech:

Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be glory of thy people Israel. 

This prayer is perhaps better known for its first two words in Latin: Nunc dimittis. For centuries his proclamation has been sung as part of evening prayer as the day dies and night approaches. Simeon had been promised by the Holy Spirit that his eyes would see the long-promised Messiah before he died. Additionally there is an ancient title for this day, namely Candlemas. It is associated with Jesus, the light, coming into the world, as Simeon says. Churches traditionally bless their candles for the year on this day. They represent light in the darkness, and are a pre-echo of the lighted paschal candle being brought into the darkened church at the great Easter Vigil Mass. That ties the aged Simeon, now ready for death, with Jesus conquering death. The candles on either side of the lectern when the gospel is proclaimed therefore remind us of Jesus as the light of the world. So this is a many-faceted feast, but light does seem to be the overarching symbol, in its way it is yet another epiphany, with the Holy Spirit’s promise to Simeon.


Candlemas, uCatholic, January 2015.

It is said that we today, in the 21st century, can have very little idea of what life was like in Jesus’ day, also the time after him right up to the 19th century when everything changed. But we do have direct experience of that time if we think about it. When a church bell  rings out, that is the sound of the Middle Ages; candles connect us directly to days long ago. The chant in the Nunc Dimittis link above would be instantly recognized by people centuries ago. There is the treasury of sacred art from the Middle Ages (see below and the current stunning exhibition in Ghent, Belgium) which many feel has never been surpassed. We are more children of those times than we think! And of course the message of today’s readings is as relevant now as it was then. Simeon’s words can cleave into our hearts in exactly the same way: is there any darkness there that begs for the light of Christ to enter? Is there any coldness there that longs for the warmth of the presence of God? Jesus’ sacrifice for us is the price he paid for that light and warmth of our salvation….. not two pigeons. That’s how much God wants us back; that is how much Jesus was prepared to pay for our redemption. If we allow that light, that fire, to enter our hearts, then will today’s first reading come true: …who can stand when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire….. the purifying fire of the presence of God even within us. As today’s second reading says, he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. We are never, ever, alone if we are brave enough to let that light, that fire, enter into us which allows us to be true, responsive, active children of God.


The Presentation in the Temple, Lorenzetti, 1342, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy.

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

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synagogue2The Synagogue at Capernaum, late 4th century, built upon the foundations of Jesus’ synagogue. 

Sunday’s Mass Reading can be found by clicking here.

As [Jesus] was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”    Matthew 4:18-19.


Statue of St. Peter, Madden, Sculptor, 2000 CE, Caperneum, Israel. (The Sea of Galilee in the background).

Last year, Pope Francis declared the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time to be celebrated as Word of God Sunday. That day is to celebrate the great book containing God’s very words. In the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June, 1953, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, presented the Queen with a bible. The Archbishop said, “…we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords”.  Then the Moderator said, “Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively Oracles of God”. Note “Lively”. That means full of life. The bible contains all that is necessary for a happy and fulfilled life here on earth, and provides a pathway to heaven itself. If one follows these Oracles, the result is happiness and fulfillment. Now let us look at today’s gospel. 

On February 10 last year, the 5th Sunday in Ordinary time, we heard St. Luke’s description of the call of Peter. Try to find it (do a search for “Peter” and you’ll get there eventually). That reveals my take on this event, perhaps a little too “lively” in the secular sense to make it into Scripture. It shows how a hard-bitten, hard working man such as Peter was overwhelmed by the presence of Jesus, despite what I think he might have said when Jesus told him to pull out and fish again. Matthew omits that episode, but does of course put in the effects of the encounter: Peter drops everything to become a disciple. On 17 January, we celebrated the feast of St. Anthony, recognized as the founder of monasticism. He too dropped everything and walked out into the desert in order to get closer fo God and away from the distractions of the world. We still have today, though the numbers have sadly declined, men and women prepared to give up everything and follow a life dedicated only to God and follow the lively Oracles contained in God’s word. So the power is still there even now, when Isaiah’s words in the first reading are once more fulfilled: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing….” But let me not forget those who have not embarked on such a life, the vast majority of people. These are still “in the world” but through these same lively Oracles, we all have the same identical invitation to live a life fulfilled and holy leading to eternal happiness. Indeed, Paul’s letter today is addressed to just such people, who are arguing madly about who has the greatest and most effective teacher, just like today’s arguments about who is the greatest Yankee pitcher or best Manchester City striker. Except those people in Corinth argued about who was more likely to get them into heaven! Paul quickly puts them to rights: only Jesus, always Jesus and he alone is to be their – our –  teacher. In him you trust, in his words you place your hope, his example you follow to the very best of your ability.


The ruins of the ancient synagogue at Capernaum in Galilee; the big black stones are the floor of the synagogue in Jesus’ time, where he would have walked.

Today’s challenges, which are monumental and certainly enough to reduce us to despair should we let them, can be tamed, controlled and overcome with the application of Jesus’ words. If we each love the other, if we trust in God’s presence here and now, if we act accordingly (and that is by no means easy or simple), these challenges can be met. They require sacrifice, never popular in the secular world; climate control demands courageous decisions, income equalization demands massive changes, corruption elimination requires courage and clarity and strength. And on and on. The simplicity and honesty of the Lord should be our constant model, his resilience our guide. It is as if, in fact, we are being asked to drop all number of privileges and wealth for the greater good, as the saints have done through the centuries, modeling St. Peter in today’s gospel. This attitude would offer the world hope, which is in short supply. But it seems, as the days go by, that we, among the wealthiest people in the world, will be asked for such sacrifice to preserve our planet. With God’s help, and our trust in that, it is possible, as the lively Oracles of God guide our way to doing what is right and good.

st peter

St. Peter, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City State.

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

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