SUNDAY 7 MARCH 2021: THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT.

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Expulsion of the Money Lenders from the Temple, Giotto 1305, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy.

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[Jesus] made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables….  John 2:15.

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There is a famous story about St. Teresa of Avila gorging herself on a favorite delicacy, partridge. The other sisters were somewhat perturbed by this display of vigorous appetite, and said so. Teresa replied without hesitation, “When I fast, I fast; when I eat partridge, I eat partridge.” Everything in its proper place, one might conclude, and then turn to today’s gospel and apply the same axiom with its stunning vision of the Lord completely losing it, literally whipping those merchants of profit out of the most sacred space in the world. It is so unusual that there are hundreds of pictures of this scene painted by artists over the centuries. It is also found in all four gospels, and not many events in the life of Jesus can claim that. Clearly it made a huge impact on the memories of those who witnessed it, which, to say the least, is not surprising. The experts say there is little doubt that this actually did take place. Jesus, however, was a man of peace and forgiveness! But clearly even he had his limits. What on earth prompted this display of anger? Looking into my own history, I was reminded of an incident some 25 years ago when I was a teacher at a Catholic girl’s school in Brooklyn, New York. The TV news announced that over $1,000,000 has been embezzled from the Brooklyn diocesan pension fund, the very fund that would supply my pension on retirement. When the culprit, an employee of the diocese, was taken to court and pleaded guilty, the bishop requested that no prison sentence be given, which could have been 15 years! Well, that was an angry moment, and I wondered why our bishop had not used the whip! Clearly Jesus saw much more evil on that day in the Temple than the bishop did 2000 years later. Admittedly there were some extenuating circumstances in the Brooklyn case (including the insurance coverage of the loss, and the employee’s promise to restore as much as possible), but quite clearly there must have been none in the Temple incident. That must explain Jesus’ rage and anger. I presume he just saw greed, chicanery and profiteering in the holiest place in the world, enough to turn this supreme man of peace into an avenging angel. But let us always remember that this same man forgave those who tortured and killed him later on. The offence in the Temple he saw as against the Father; his death was entirely personal; the two events were different and called for different responses. 

So, this being Lent, what vision do today’s readings suggest as a Lenten reflection? Take a look at the context which includes today’s gospel. The first reading concerns the critical moment in Hebrew history when God offered to be their God, and the Hebrews to be his people. The seal of this bargain? That they obey the Law that God gave them: The Ten Commandments, essentially the basis of western civilization. Then the second reading. That concerns our own, Christian, relationship with God, and we offer a crucified man, unjustly killed for refusing to deny who and what he was. As the reading says, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”. So it’s a bit if a scriptural thicket we are in to make sense of it all. One plan suggests itself, appropriate for Lent. There are moments in life when we are all reduced to fury and resentment of one kind or another. They are not pleasant moments, but they are times where our decisions might well last for years, either good or bad.  The idea here would be to avoid an “if only…” moment. The distinction made above of the two responses of Jesus, in the Temple or on the cross, should be our guide. The fury we might be reduced to on seeing an example of pure prejudice towards an innocent person is one case; that would be a “Temple” moment, where action is called for. On the other hand, if we are the target of, say, prejudice or wrong in any way, that’s where have to be really careful. For example, this picture from 1957 outside Little Rock Central High School, the first day Black students were allowed to attend:

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Through a Lens Darkly, Vanity Fair, September 2007.

The contrast between the Black girl and the woman behind her could hardly be greater or clearer. That is a moment for justifiable fury and anger in us against such prejudice, calling for action to challenge and prevent such abuse. Hazel Bryan is the abusive student behind Elizabeth Eckford. On the 40th anniversary of this turning point, Hazel met Elizabeth and apologized for that terrible moment, after 40 years of being identified as a person of hate assailing a person of grace. So that is the Lenten moment for us to contemplate. Which of those two models do we – I – tend to be? Now that’s lenten exercise for each and every one of us. But today perhaps whips or anything like it, should be left at home no matter how angry we might be….

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The Daily Mail, 19 January 2015, Rapprochement?

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

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Roger

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SUNDAY 28 FEBRUARY 2021: SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT: THE TRANSFIGURATION.

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Transfiguration of Jesus, Bloch 1872, Frederiksborg Castle, Hillerød, Denmark.

To read today’s Sunday Mass Readings, click here.

Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.”   Mark 9:7.

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First a word about the first reading, almost as famous (infamous?) as today’s gospel. It is the sacrifice of Abraham, when God asked the old man Abraham (roughly 100 years old), to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, to God to show how much he believed in the still small voice he had obeyed for some time. And he did! 

“Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, 
and go to the land of Moriah.
There you shall offer him up as a holocaust 
on a height that I will point out to you.”

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The Sacrifice of Abraham, attrib. Caravaggio 1598, Piasecka-Johnson Collection, Princeton, New Jersey, USA.

As you can see, an angel intervened at the last moment to save the young man, with God now knowing that Abraham would deny him nothing. Today, that whole scene seems unbelievable, preposterous, stupendously evil. Well, not back then… This event took place in the land of Canaan, perhaps 4000 years ago. At that time, perhaps five people had knowledge of the God we all believe in: Abraham, his wife Sarah, the young Isaac, and Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, Abraham’s son through what we would call surrogacy today. All around them were pagan gods and goddesses by the dozen, and some of them were very scary indeed. Perhaps the reigning horror was Moloch, or Baal. Not having the slightest idea of the real God, people had to construct their own idea of the supernatural, and, not surprisingly, it was based on their own experience. If you wanted something, you had to pay for it, hence it was a kind of bargaining model that you would have with a merchant. So, if you wanted good weather to ensure a good harvest, there was a cost. There being no way to pay gods with money or wealth of any sort, other payment had to be figured out, the ultimate “price” being the sacrifice of children. You would bargain with the gods with life itself. It was logical from their point of view, but certainly not ours, but that was because God intervened, and I believe it was the reason God entered into our history. This abominable practice was simply so horrific it had to be stopped, but stopped in a way that the people of that time would understand. So poor Abraham made no protest about the demand placed on him – it was what was expected; it was normal! God had promised him descendants as many as the stars of the heavens, but he had exactly one son by his wife, and God demanded him as payment for his promise. Placing complete trust in God, Abraham obeyed not knowing how on earth the promise could be fulfilled, but the rest, as they say, is history. The angel, God’s messenger, intervened, Isaac was saved, and salvation history entered a brand new direction, away from the prevailing traditions of that day. James Michener has a vivid passage in what that must have been like in his novel The Source. In the chapter entitled Of Death and Life, he describes the priests having divined that an invasion was imminent from the north, decreed “a burning of first sons” to prevent it, and he proceeds to imagine what the effects of that on a family with a first born son must have been (pp.109-113, The Source, Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York, 2002). 

So what on earth has this to do with today’s Mass readings? Well, it took a quite some time to eliminate all child sacrifice even from God’s Chosen People as it was a deeply engrained Canaanite practice. So there was almost certainly a memory of all this even at the time of Jesus. God obviously wanted Jesus to be clearly recognized as the Son of God, as God’s voice declared this at his baptism, and at today’s commemoration of the Transfiguration, plus the demons recognized him as God’s Son (seen two Sundays ago in the gospel), and at the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel told Mary that Jesus would be Son of God. St. Peter himself recognized Jesus as Son of God in Matthew 16:17, and onwards through the New Testament and, tellingly, at the crucifixion: “…if you are God’s Son, come on down from that cross” (Matthew 27:40). But this time, the Son died. There was no angelic intervention, only an agonized wait for death to triumph. 

So Jesus’ followers had to be certain that this man was, indeed, Son of God, and the Transfiguration played a large part in convincing them. They saw with their own eyes Jesus talking to the two towering figures of the Scripture, Moses and Elijah, one representing the Law of God, and the other the Prophecies of God. And so, as today’s second reading tells us, if God did not spare his only Son to prove his love for all of us, what could be possibly denied us as we seek life eternal? God’s love for us is utterly unlimited, unconditional, as has been proven; this Lent perhaps it is now a good moment to examine our own lives to see if we have returned that love in the same, limitless, way.

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God’s Love, Andrew Wommack Ministries, March 2019.

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

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Roger

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SUNDAY 21 FEBRUARY 2021: THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT.

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Follow Me, Satan, Ilya Repin 1895, Russian State Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia.

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The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.   Mark 1:12.

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The word Lent is used in English only for this holy season, but its origin has nothing to do with church seasons. It comes from the Old English word lencten, which means spring, or lengthening of the days. The present day word for spring in German is Lenz, very similar, but the season of Lent in German is Fastenzeit, presumably a time for fasting. Strange our word for this holy season would be pagan in origin. True, in the northern hemisphere it happens in spring, but that is the only connection with what Lent is all about. Jesus had just been baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist. He was revealed as the Son of God, and the Messiah, neither of which did he know until that moment. He was a jobbing carpenter! Those two startling revelations required much reflection, or at least God’s Holy Spirit thought as much, so she drove Jesus into the desert to come to grips with what had happened (always remember that Spirit in Jesus’ Aramaic language has a feminine gender). What on earth would it mean to him to be God’s Son, the Anointed One (Messiah, Christ), as prophesied by Scripture? He was a carpenter! The 40 days must have begun in a cloud of bewilderment. So that should be the starting point for each one of us. I am a retired teacher, you might be an accountant, or bus driver, or cook, or doctor, or artist, or truck driver or anything else. Yet at our baptism, each one of us became an adopted Child, a Daughter, a Son, of God, and as we were also anointed at that time, we too became the Anointed, or Messiah, or Christ to the world. We too are therefore faced with the same question as Jesus, he once, for us, every year: What does it mean? He would have been very familiar with Scripture and what it had to say about the long-promised Messiah. Clearly, here was to be found his new pathway in life, away from the wood and nails (for a short time) and into teaching, helping, fulfilling God’s Word. His job was to fulfill Scripture concerning the Messiah. Our job is to fulfill our potential as Children of God, each with distinct gifts, talents, which lead us into a clear area of life where we can be Christ to the world.

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Rainbow over Manhattan, April 13, 2020, Secret NYC, New York, USA.

But are we fulfilling that vocation? And there lies the work for the next 40 days, just as it was for the Lord. And we should not feel so challenged that we do nothing about it. Our first reading today has God promising Noah, and us, that we will never be so challenged that we will be overwhelmed, destroyed even, if we but trust in the Lord. The rainbow was God’s seal on that promise, so we can face Lent with clear eyes and quiet confidence that we will not be alone. But set out on the journey we must, and the goal is found in the second reading today: a clear conscience. It calls for a reconfiguration, a reboot if you like, of our lives to ensure we are headed in the right direction, doing the things which mark us as God’s children, making amends if need be, adapting behaviors possibly, helping others more, supporting those who need it, checking our tongues sometimes, eliminating certain habits maybe, and so on and on for the period of Lent. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow might not be gold, but something much more precious, an inner life, a spirit, clean and refreshed, a clear conscience, to greet the Risen Lord who invites us to share real life with him. 

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Entering the Gates of Heaven, LetterPile.

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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14 FEBRUARY 2021: THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME.

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Christ Heals the Leper, Rembrandt 1655, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

To read today’s Sunday Mass Readings, click here.

Moved with pity, [Jesus] stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.”     Mark 1:41

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Look carefully at the Rembrandt drawing above. Look at Jesus’ hand outstretched to the man with leprosy. There are two hands there! But one looks like it might have been added by someone else, the hand that does not touch the leper. The other, apparently the “original” hand, touches the leper. This suggests to me someone, the one who seems to have “corrected” Rembrandt (and even the Lord!), had as much fear, loathing even, of those afflicted with leprosy as people 1,655 years earlier! It was both dreaded and dreadful. There was no cure. It was contagious. You did not recover from it. It would eventually kill you. And, moreover, it is still with us today, now called Hansen’s disease. In Jesus’ day, and right up to fairly modern times, those afflicted with leprosy were sequestered, and forbidden to mingle with the general population. So Jesus must have astonished all present when not only did he not move away from the man with leprosy, but he actually touched him! That, of course, was nothing compared to the reaction there must have been when, as Scripture says, “The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.” That had never happened before, and not today, usually, though antibiotics will eventually do the trick. But note one thing. Virtually any incurable skin condition might well have been labelled leprosy in the old days. This man might have had one of many skin diseases. And if he had been declared unclean, Leviticus, today’s first reading, is pretty clear on the consequence: ““The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare, and shall muffle his beard; he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.” Note that the traditional word for “outside the camp” is excommunicated. And so the reaction from those present to what Jesus did must have been unparalleled in their lives. What he did was unimaginable, and yet the man was cured. Equally astonishing was Jesus’ instruction to him: “See that you tell no one anything…” Impossible, of course. Nothing like this had ever happened before; the man was overwhelmed with joy, bursting with joy and telling everyone! As with last week, when Jesus expelled the evil spirit from the possessed man in the synagogue, he had to escape to the “other villages”, and on this occasion, he went “outside in deserted places”. He knew that he would be taken as the Messiah, but not his idea of the Messiah, but the popular, military idea of the savior of Israel, he who would expel the pagan, unclean, Roman occupiers. And he wasn’t. 

Jesus, Son of God, had powers which were literally divine, hence the cures, which were extraordinary. The prophets had told the Hebrew people to be on the lookout for such, as they would proclaim the presence of the Messiah. His actions combined the two revelations at his baptism, namely his identity as Son of God, and his vocation, to be the Messiah, the Anointed of God. The culminating miracle, of course, was his conquest of death itself at the Resurrection. So it was through these phenomena and his presence that he won over his followers, many willing to drop everything and follow him, so great was his charisma. So someone who might be tempted to say that any minor little bit of magic would be enough to transfix the ignorant back then would have ignored his magnetic personality. Well, miracles similar to the cure of the leper do occur today. In fact, one, recognized by the Church, was announced in 2018 by Jacques Benoit-Gonin, bishop of Beauvais in France, a city to the north of Paris. Read about it here. It occurred in 2008, when a crippled nun, S. Bernadette Moriau, a sister of the Congregation of the Franciscan Oblates of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, visited Lourdes in the Pyrenees. Her extreme disabilities vanished on returning home, her strong painkillers were banished, and she went on a long walk with her sister-in-law a few days later! It was the 70th Church-recognized miracle at the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes.

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Massebielle, the Grotto of the Apparition, Lourdes, 2008.

The previous “official” miracle was proclaimed in 2011, itself after years of investigation. Doctors are very cautious about affirming the miraculous, in fact deeming them “cures” rather than miracles, and attributable to causes currently unknown to medical science. So a believer can say happily and truthfully that divine cures do still occur, even if rarely. That echoes Jesus’ cures. And what about his “presence” that attracted everyone so strongly? I went to Lourdes in the summer of 2008 with a couple of friends:

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The Infirm before the Grotto of the Apparition of Our Lady, Lourdes 2008, France.

Yes I’m sure many come in the hopes of a miraculous cure, but the overwhelming sense throughout the Sanctuary, or Domaine as it is called, is one of peace, faith and, frankly, love; the presence, the charisma, of the Lord! The sick know it is their place, but the healthy outnumber them greatly, with a spirit of complete acceptance of those less fortunate. It is truly the presence of Christ, loud and clear. And a total-faith Christ; there were announcements when I was there concerning Anglican/Episcopal and Russian Orthodox pilgrimages that summer. And wouldn’t you want that kind of experience throughout the year, throughout the globe? Today’s second reading from Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth is the perfect conclusion to that thought: “Do everything for the glory of God. Avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.” 

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Lourdes, Summer 2008.  

Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of the great season of Lent, the time when we explore our deepest secrets, our motivations, our commitment to the Lord, our very identity as Christian.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings, the first Sunday of Lent, will be posted on Wednesday.

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

Roger

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7 FEBRUARY 2021: FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME.

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Christ Preaching in the Synagogue, 14th century, Visoki Dečani Monastery, Deçan, Kosovo. 

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[His disciples said to him] “Everyone is looking for you.” He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.”    Mark 1:37-38.

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Well today’s first reading could well have been written last week, considering our times and situation:

So I have been assigned months of misery,
    and troubled nights have been allotted to me.
If in bed I say, “When shall I arise?”
    then the night drags on;
    I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.

And then at the dawn, there is nothing to look forward to, except more misery! Poor Job, poor us! We have been assigned a terrible condition and time, albeit with some promising lights on the distant horizon in the form of vaccines and “herd immunity”. It is times like these that really do test our faith and belief. How can a God of Love allow this to happen? Why are so many good people struck down before their time? How can innocent and good men and women die for no good reason? But, of course, we can ask the identical question concerning the crucifixion of the Lord himself. The only answer that occurs to me is the unfolding of the supreme gift and supreme curse and mystery of freedom. Each one of us is a child of God, free to respond to that identity with its challenges, or to bow out into a life of self before everything else. We enjoy freedom in way animals cannot. We can choose deliberately and consciously what, when where and how to do something. That is also found to some extent in the non-human world. Given certain circumstances and opportunities, animals can make basic choices; a dog may look around, lose interest and decide to fall asleep. Or may get up and sniff around, or scratch at the door to be let out, and so on. I’m sure sometimes dog owners have no idea what ideas are going on in that doggy mind. The same is true of the virus world, free to exploit whatever environment it might enter, be it a dog or me. And in that same freedom, off it goes on a potentially fatal joyride. We only have our God-given brains and intelligence to come up with an effective response, be it remembering to put on a face mask before going out, or as a research biochemist, to seek a good defense against the bug. There’s no easy way to move from all that into today’s gospel, which sees Jesus going off to pray in solitude while his fame as a healer has spread and many people are seeking him out. It does demonstrate his exercise of freedom, however, in a way which can impress us. When his disciples find him and tell him he is in enormous demand, he ignores that and states that he must move on to places where he is unknown to spread his good news there too. In other words, he too exercises freedom not to enhance and enjoy his fame, but to obey his vocation to go to new places to teach, preach, cure and draw more and more to the love of God. So he had priorities, a ranking of importance which he, in his freedom, decided to follow no matter what. Jesus was not interested in fame, fortune, power, wealth or those other goals which have little to do with following his vocation, to be Christ to the world. That is our God-given vocation too. Should it accidentally produce any of those other alluring effects, then we must assuredly use them as tools of our vocation, rather than ends in themselves. 

One example of a wealthy and highly successful businessman is Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft. In his early 50s, by then worth a staggering $50 billion, he left his company and began to concentrate on what he was going to do with so much wealth. His father had created the William H. Gates Foundation in 1994 geared to reducing the mortality rate in childbirth and improving impoverished childhood health, found widely in poorer countries. In 2000 the junior Bill Gates founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, incorporating his father’s charity into it. To date, the Foundation has invested, donated, earmarked and supported ventures to the tune of $50 billion! Although this is clearly out of just about everyone’s league, the model is clear, and parallels Jesus turning away from fame and possible fortune in today’s gospel to go other “nearby villages” to spread his life-affirming message among those who did not know him. It is therefore up to each of us to consider that model and decide what we can do, each in our modest but sincere way, to follow such an example and actually love our neighbor as best we are practically able. And this should be undertaken as freely as we are able, as God’s free children.

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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Africa.

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

31 JANUARY 2021: THIRD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME.

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Christ Cures the Possessed Man in the Capernaum Synagogue, 11th Century, Abbey of the Assumption, Lambach, Austria.

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All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”  Mark 1:27.

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Looking at the 11th century fresco above, taken from the Benedictine Abbey of the Assumption in Lambach, the scene is a little scary to say the least. It looks like Jesus is stamping on the poor wretch at his feet, who looks like he’s at death’s door! The Lord’s expression does not encourage us to think otherwise.  But I wonder if this might indeed be close to the original event 1000 years before this was painted. Summon up a little imagination and see the event: A man, clearly very troubled, probably screaming and ranting, talking in the plural (Have you come to destroy us?), must have occupied center stage in the synagogue. He was probably well known in the local community, and I imagine everyone avoided him as best they could, possibly were even scared of him. And the evil spirit, or spirits, recognized Jesus instantly, unlike the others in the synagogue, hence the question above. Jesus’ fierce look in the fresco might well have been the anger the Lord experienced at the presence of evil, especially in the Lord’s house, the synagogue. This unhappy individual was not free, proven by the very word “possessed”, in this case by something beyond his control. Throughout Scripture, time and again God defends the ideal of freedom. In the Old Testament it is most clearly seen in God’s delivery of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. Characteristics of the promised Messiah included the ability to make the blind see and the lame walk (Isaiah 35:5-6), releasing them from a different type of captivity. God wants us to be free so that we can fulfill the potential given us by our gifts, our talents. Anything which inhibits us is, as it were, unnatural. Notice also, Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit(s), and banishes it immediately after it calls Jesus the “Holy One of God”, another name for the promised Messiah. Jesus does not want that known, something he states time and again through his ministry. Why? Because the prevailing image of the Messiah at that time was more or less a military figure who would rid the Hebrews of foreign domination and restore the kingdom of David. Jesus would eventually reveal his identity, only to be crucified, but that was after his mission had been accomplished, his followers had accepted his teachings and they would then be able to spread that gospel throughout the world. In other words, a premature revelation of his identity, as threatened by the evil spirit, would have crippled him, rendered him unable to fulfill his vocation as true Messiah, would have stolen his freedom. Note also that the second reading displays the same theme, stating that unwarranted anxiety is also a restraint on our freedom.

So the concept of freedom is, I believe, one of the principal characteristics of Godhead. Anything which hinders that is, therefore, wrong, and every effort must be made to establish true freedom. Teaching in my girls’ school I made a big point out of this, as it was my understanding that they should beware of any “friend”, boy or girl, who sought to control them, hence would be robbing them of their freedom. It was not unknown for such captors to take over their lives, control who they would interact with, even hold their money or even abuse them. Some girls would even try to justify such behavior, saying they deserved it. Do you recall the scene in the movie Good Will Hunting with Robin Williams, as a psychologist, and Matt Damon as his young patient? The young man makes a habit of destroying promising relationships, springing from the self-loathing resulting from abuse when he was a foster child. Children will often irrationally blame themselves for the evil they have been subjected to. The psychologist repeats and repeats that it was “not his fault” that he was abused (be aware of strong language in that clip). Eventually the young man breaks down, the moment, if you like, when the evil spirit is expelled, and he becomes a free man. God wants us all to be free, free to discover our strengths, free to develop them and free to use them as true children of God, loving God, our neighbor and ourselves. So any hindrance to that freedom is to be confronted in whatever way is appropriate in order to attain the joy of God’s free children. Note that any unavoidable hindrance, such as being blind or lame, is, like any such impediment, not our fault, but such individuals must do all in their power to minimize such constraints so as to be free to follow their vocation. I am reminded of a British film called Mandy made in 1952. It concerns a seven-year old girl who is deaf. Deafness is a profound disability, worse than blindness in my opinion, because, left on its own, it prevents communication with the outside world. It is a very uplifting story, made at a time when such disabilities were considered shameful. Well, the story is full of hope, and one scene sticks in my memory. Mandy’s parents are desperately searching for a way to help their child. In one scene they are talking to a teacher of deaf children, and in the course of their conversation they ask her a question but she has her back to them, and does not respond. Then she turns and sees the confusion on their faces. She apologizes, and admits she, too, is deaf (she can lipread). Now it’s 69 years since I saw that movie, but that scene is the one that sticks in my memory. Here is a teacher, a person who had tackled her “evil spirit” if you like, and had defeated it, rather than let it possess her, to become a glowing example of what is possible with the true human, God-inspired spirit. Helen Keller faced even greater impediments to her freedom, also overcome, as seen in the movie The Miracle Worker. So freedom was the gift Jesus gave to the man who confronted him in the Capernaum Synagogue all those years ago, and in many ways it is still possible to defeat such devastating constraints to freedom today so that we can truly act as God’s children. Finally, this means that the vast majority of us who face significantly fewer impediments to our true freedom, such as bad habits, have an even greater responsibility to crush them underfoot and become truly free children of God.

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The Remains of the Synagogue at Capernaum, Israel, Summer 2018. The black basalt stone at the base is believed to be the floor of the Synagogue which Jesus knew.

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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24 JANUARY 2021: THIRD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME: SUNDAY OF THE WORD OF GOD.

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Metanoia, Christ Church NC, 2018.

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Jesus said to [Simon and Andrew],“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.  Mark 1:17-18.

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Metanoia is a Greek word, μετάνοια, a word which is not used on a daily basis but is reserved for very special occasions. It has several meanings, but the one I’m thinking of is strictly Christian. It means, for me, a fundamental change for the better in thinking, leading to a fundamental change in behavior and consequently living in a radically improved way. Look at all three readings today. Firstly we have the “enormously large” city of Nineveh where “Jonah began his journey through the city, and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,” when the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.” Then the second reading states “I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning….” And finally the gospel describing Simon (Peter) and Andrew encountering Jesus, hearing his message, and immediately dropping their livelihood equipment as fishermen and following the Lord. These are all metanoia moments of topsy-turvy change which would dazzle anybody. The word metanoia comes from a root word meaning repentance, so it could be said that what had been left behind was inferior, and perhaps not worthy of us (it is much better explained here). Therefore it was conversion from an inferior state to a superior state. This means for me to become a better me, and you to become a better you. Easy? I don’t think so. Yet Jesus’ words today, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” are the first words he speaks in Mark’s gospel, which is the oldest of the four gospels, and presumably closest to the events mentioned. Also, the word “repent” is really a poor translation of metanoia, which is the original Greek word in Scripture, μετανοεῖτε, here in the imperative: Jesus is instructing us, calling us, ordering us, to metanoia, today as clearly and forcefully as he called Simon, Andrew and James back then! It is a clear invitation to step back, evaluate what and where and who we are, and make a judgment in the light of his teaching and example. That being so, and being a follower of the Lord, we should all take a deep breath and begin to ponder the Lord’s instruction today. Am I being the best I can be? Am I living the life which would please the Lord? Do I follow the precepts as laid out in the Good News, the Gospel? Do I love God, my neighbor and myself in the manner Jesus wishes us? Is metanoia called for? And it is important to know that metanoia does not necessarily suggest that we have done something wrong, as our English word repent does. Simon and Andrew were fishermen, an honorable occupation, nothing whatever to be ashamed of. Yet they clearly realized that Jesus was calling them to something greater, and they obeyed. Am I, are you, being called to something greater? That is today’s message. This could mean many things: greater generosity towards the sick and the poor, helping out a neighbor in trouble, attempting to heal a family rift, responding to a church appeal for some great need, and so on. Depending on our situation, this could mean anything from a small adjustment to a Scrooge-like metamorphosis! But today’s gospel, remembering that today is Word of God Sunday, is a clear call to self-reflection which must lead to action. Remember that Jesus never calls us to more than we can manage; let us simply ask for insight, clarity and strength to react appropriately. 

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Change.

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

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Roger

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17 JANUARY 2021: THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME.

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The Isenheim Altarpiece, Grünewald 1515, Unterlinden Museum, Colmar, France.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

…as [John the Baptist] watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”   John 1:35.

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The incredible, stunning Grünewald painting above shows the Savior taking his last agonized breath on the cross, with John the Baptist, who of course was not present, pointing towards him, and the Lamb of God below, transferring today’s gospel to the end of Jesus’ life. It is the completion of the Baptist’s insight, in the opening chapter of his namesake’s gospel, when he laid eyes on Jesus. Here was the innocent, sacrificial Lamb who would be offered for our sins on the cross at the fulfillment of his mission. It is the parallel of the original Passover event, when the blood of a sacrificed lamb “without blemish” was applied to the doorposts of the enslaved Hebrew homes as the angel of death flew over Egypt but “passed over” their homes, and their first-born sons did not die. As a consequence, the Hebrew people were released from slavery that night. They had also been instructed by God to consume the sacrificed lamb that Passover night to strengthen them for the journey to the Promised Land, the origin of the Passover Supper. So the blood of the lamb saved them (Exodus 12:1-14). For us Christians, it is the sacrificed Lamb of God who releases us from slavery to sin, nourishes us for our journey towards life eternal, our Promised Land, as we are reminded at every Mass just before Communion. 

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Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”) Plaque, 14th Century Catalan, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis/dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us/grant us peace.

When you catch sight of lambs early in their lives, they are running and jumping and leaping around, apparently giddy with delight and innocence and life itself. Perhaps that is the key to understanding the other readings today. The young man Samuel is innocent of the fact that God is calling him until the High Priest Eli realized it was God calling him and told him how to respond. The second reading, telling us to treat our bodies with respect, calls us to innocence there. Applying that reading to our own time, it clearly means that we must not damage what St. Paul calls the temple of the Holy Spirit. Hence tobacco, illegal drugs, even careless eating habits leading to health-endangering obesity, could all reasonably be considered destructive to ourselves, and so going against God’s will for each of us. Responding positively to that call is very like today’s gospel, where Jesus invites Andrew and another disciple to “come and see” where he is staying and they spend the day with him, changing their lives forever, having seen and experienced the Lamb of God, innocent and pure. And at that point Andrew rushes, lamb-like, to his brother Simon Peter to declare “We have found the Messiah”, the beginning of Christian missionary proclamation, the overwhelming desire to share the Good News with whoever will listen. And don’t you agree that that is a suitable keynote to a new “ordinary time” in the Church’s year?

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The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew, Caravaggio 1603, Hampton Court Palace, London, UK.

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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SUNDAY 10 JANUARY 2021: THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD.

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The Baptism of Jesus, Artist Unknown.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

On coming up out of the water [Jesus] saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  Mark 1:10-11.

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Note where the quotation above is taken from – the very beginning of the Gospel of St. Mark. After a few words about John the Baptist, we go straight into the scene in the River Jordan, with John the Baptist fulfilling his destiny to recognize and proclaim the arrival, at long last, of the promised Messiah. Then the focus switches to Jesus, who experiences two life changing moments. The first, God’s Spirit, as of a dove, descended upon him. That constitutes an anointing by God, hence Jesus became the Anointed of God, in Hebrew the Messiah of God, in Greek, the Christ of God. Then a voice from heaven, therefore that of God, proclaimed him Son of God. So in a few seconds the culmination of the entire Old Testament occurred, and the promise of centuries was fulfilled. The Messiah was no less than the Son of God Almighty come to earth to redeem us all, to invite us into God’s kingdom that we might dwell in eternal happiness. In other words, Jesus had now received his identity, as Son of God, and his vocation, to fulfill all the prophecies concerning the Messiah of God in holy Scripture. It was no wonder the poor man took off to the wilderness immediately to try and come to grips with those two revelations! It inaugurated his mission on earth, removing him from the carpenter’s bench to become God’s long-promised champion. Now you might well ask, what Scriptural passages are there concerning the Messiah? Today’s first reading from Isaiah begins to answer that: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting,…” and “so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it” Jesus now being God’s word made flesh. With the power of God he made the lame walk and the blind see. He fulfilled all that Scripture claimed for him. And he stayed true to that vocation even to death rather than deny his God-given identity or vocation. Even if that resulted in death, so be it. Jesus did not betray himself or his mission for anyone or anything.

Baptism is the cultic exercise whereby Christians become Christian. It is at that moment we, too, receive our identity as children of God and our vocation to be Christ to the world, using our God-given gifts or talents, as Jesus did. We emerge from the waters of baptism to become a daughter or son of God, a spiritual birth as it were. We are then anointed with oil, the outward sign of receiving the Holy Spirit, and are henceforward the Anointed of God, hence Christ to the world. Perhaps each time we are reminded of such treasures we too should take off for a short time to examine what we are doing with such an identity and vocation. Are we truly acting as a child of God? Are we truly using our talents as a child of God ought? Well it’s never too late to start:

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Amy P. Photography, Cathedral of St. Paul, Birmingham, Alabama, USA.

God appreciates, loves and encourages even the smallest steps in the right direction!

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