Sunday Reflection

Easter Sunday

The Long ‘Alleluia’
 
Easter marks the reinstatement of ‘Alleluia’ in our worship after its Lenten absence. How should we evaluate the significance of this?
‘Alleluia’ is a word recognisable in multiple languages. Conveying a sense of rejoicing, thanksgiving and relief. It is a word that lifts wounded spirits, reinvigorates hope and promotes faith. It also expresses thanksgiving for what is not immediately comprehensible, or even achievable, but which is nevertheless recognisable as a God-given goal.
We need the impact of joyful and abundant renditions of ‘alleluia’ to help sustain us spiritually on our 60-day liturgical pilgrimage from Easter to Pentecost and far beyond. Even when an ‘alleluia’ is not exclaimed – as in Lent or in times of personal or national tragedy – we need its silent reverberations to continue not only within us but also to be transmitted through us into our universally beleaguered world which the power of Evil relentlessly attempts to swamp but, we believe, will not succeed.
 
Most people experience weariness of either body, mind or spirit, of any two or of all three simultaneously.  Persistent weariness can become a slippery slope towards depression. If you check the UK statistics relevant to depression there are, currently, three million UK citizens diagnosed with this (mental) disorder and the number is continually increasing.
There are likely to be many prayerful members of the Catholic Church, worldwide, afflicted presently with a ‘weariness of hope’, a debilitating negative kind of fatigue. It is an affliction with which our enemy continually tries to grind us down in these very troubled times for the Catholic Church because our pain is self-inflicted. As such, it is inescapably more difficult to bear than the pain of persecution. Some Catholics may even be edging towards despair that the Church is incapable of reforming itself. Pope Francis himself made reference to the ‘weariness of hope’ saying that any Church member could be overwhelmed.
 
On the actual Day of the Jesus’ Resurrection, which we call Easter Sunday, can you imagine hearing celebratory ‘alleluias’, or the Hebrew equivalent - among the relatively small band of apostles and disciples who were greatly outnumbered by the vast surge of Jews who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover? Jesus’ own community had been beset by betrayal, denial and abandonment by close companions. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, held her own counsel though, undoubtedly, she was a faith-filled positive point of reference. Mary of Magdala announced the theft of Jesus’ Body from the tomb. Peter and John confirmed that the Body of Jesus was not where it had been laid, late on the Friday we call ‘Good’.
 
Those whom we associate most closely with Jesus’ arrest, suffering, crucifixion, death and Resurrection must surely have been overwhelmed with a weariness of hope that did not dissipate on Easter Day. The probable sole exception was Jesus’ Mother, Mary. Catholics who share in daily Mass will realise that all our First Readings, in the immediate post Easter period, come from the Acts of the Apostles which narrates events only from after Pentecost. It is as if weariness, confusion and uncertainty traumatised the founding fathers of our Faith for a substantial period of time immediately following Jesus’ Resurrection.  
 
Looked at from another perspective, the Risen Jesus worked relentlessly, throughout the period we call Easter to Ascension. He spent himself reassembling and resurrecting the badly fractured remains of the initial faith he himself had cultivated in the diverse community that made up his first followers. Somehow, we find it impossible to imagine that Jesus could have drawn a line under their failures and started afresh with a whole new group. For, had he done so, would we be numbered among His adopted family today?
 
Because our Church is founded on a community of recovering sinners, how can we be surprised that there are sinners among us still in need of recovery. Were the words we learnt to say in primary school (still used by many in their later years) in our childish ‘act of contrition’ really helpful? “O my God, I am sorry that I have sinned against you and with the help of your grace I will not sin again.” Should we have been taught to say: “I will try not to sin again”? Yes, there are multiple interpretations of the words but we were taught to repeat a statement that, as it stood, we had little or no hope of abiding by.
Just as Jesus could not have walked away from his sinful first followers, nor can we walk away from the sinners in our midst today for that would be to leave the Church which is a community of sinners. To do so would also be to abandon not only our fellow sinners but, just as importantly, our victims who continue to suffer from the deep wounds of the experiences they endured. It is a matter of justice that we stay connected no matter how uncomfortable we may feel. In coming to terms with what is our foreseeable reality it is so important to remind ourselves that we are sinners too. And where would we be were our community to disown us … sinners?
Nor should the Baptised allow a ‘weariness of hope’ to offer a false pretext for being distant from the Church as if the apostolic community can be reduced to little more than a scourge of abuse of one sort or another.
 
There is another path. It might be called the pilgrim way of ‘positive weariness’. Plentiful scriptural instances exist where Jesus’ words and actions manifest the frustration he felt when his chosen and reconstituted recovering-sinner companions failed to grasp the significance of his washing of the feet of the apostles, his gift of himself in the Eucharist and his Resurrection. Then there are his many words of teaching and his personal unwavering example that were not always urgently adopted by the founding fathers of our Church.
 
The pilgrim way of ‘positive weariness’ is followed by Pope Francis and many members of the Church who have experienced the grief of the present revelations lacerating the community. They live with the uncomfortableness of being divided between their compassion for the victims and their sadness at seeing the reputation of their Church community stained. This pilgrim way of faithfulness is coupled with active participation in the transformation of the Church of which each one of us can feel part of. The Holy Spirit will enable our pilgrim way if we sincerely invoke his help.
 
‘Positive Weariness’ is a blessed pilgrim way but not one that is necessarily either restful or easy. Sometimes, the ‘alleluias’ will seem very small but at other times they will soar to the heavens.
Alleluia!

Palm Sunday

 English Spoken as a Foreign Language
 
Speaking some words in a foreign tongue does not imply a knowledge of that language. How many elderly Catholics spoke Latin responses at Mass without necessarily understanding what the words meant, let along speaking Latin! For that matter, were the clergy necessarily better informed?
 
English speakers use a variety of non-English expressions that have been assimilated into spoken English – for example, ‘pied- a-terre’, from the French, meaning an occasionally used residence. Another example would be ‘alleluia’ which has Latin as well as Greek (allelouia) and Hebrew (halleluyah) roots meaning ‘praise the Lord’.  Sometimes, too, people speak English words without fully appreciating what they are truly saying. For example, take the English epithet ‘bloody’, which originally meant ‘by Our Lady’. Do people, using this word, understand that they are actually calling on the help of Mary, the Mother of God? 
 
The general public refers to Palm Sunday with little, if any, understanding of its religious significance for those who believe in Jesus Christ. Even among the Baptised, Palm Sunday, like most Sundays of the year, has been subject to the corrosive inroads of rampant commercialism and employment undertakings resulting in it no longer being recognised as the Lord’s day. Little surprise then that the title Palm Sunday no longer calls to mind for many the history of the final week upon this earth of Jesus Christ, God-made-Man. 
 
Satan chooses to subtly hollow-out peoples’ understanding of the words of their Christian inheritance rather than ‘banish’ them, which might provoke a negative reaction. A comparison could be made with the countless stealth thieves who collect the eggs of rare birds. These thieves are skilled in preserving the shell with minimum visible damage save for a tiny hole through which the essence of the egg, its new life, is removed to be discarded. It is said that they inject, through the same tiny hole, some formula that gives a protective body to the empty shell. A parallel can be made with Satan. Evil initiates its malign intent through our human lust-inclined senses penetrating deep within our being, causing a slow conscience-numbing confusion cum compromise in the heart and soul. The vague mirage of belief in a deity that remains allows a person to mistakenly suppose that ‘all is well’. The Jesus endorsed words of Revelation (3:15-17) come to mind:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
 
 
The shell of a person’s ‘anaesthetised’ spiritual life is preserved by a powerful appetite for continuously renewed sensory pleasure. The infiltrated conscience is fed a falsehood of ‘tomorrow’, ‘you are only human’, ‘everyone’s doing it’. But the preserved shell cannot hide from its inner deception when a person looks in their soul’s mirror, the conscience. Just as collectors of rare birds’ eggs show infinite patience in ensuring that the shells sustain no damage in the slow exchange of content, so too with Satan. He plays the long-game; taking care not to alert or alarm us as to what he is about.
  
Jesus’ close collaborators had witnessed many a high and low over the three years they had accompanied him. They had witnessed him extricating himself from difficult and sometimes threatening situations. He was masterful in addressing the crowds. Perhaps, by this stage, they were being seduced into the belief that there was little that could surprise them about Jesus. They knew the fickleness of the public’s applause that could, within a short space of time, become open hostility, as had happened at Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30)
 
Emotions that are superficial, of the moment, are just that. They suffuse the surface of our lives with excitement but, like Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed – carried by the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:4-15. – they lack significant depth. Momentary happiness can dissipate as promptly as it arrived. In just five days, the Jerusalem crowd’s Palm Sunday ‘Welcome’ to Jesus had been refashioned into ‘Crucify’ by Good Friday. We, too, live our lives in the, sometimes, thrashing entanglements of human relationships. We can visit the heights of elation and the depths of despondency in frighteningly short lapses of time, thanks in no small part, these days, to modern media. The dependency of the Baptised upon the balancing Grace of the Holy Spirit becomes ever more marked.
 
Holy Week for Christians is the most significant period of the liturgical year. How we weave evidence of this into our daily life as a help to those whose lives we share is a crucial ingredient of our Baptismal vocation. The way we live Holy Week should give public evidence of the reverence in which we hold this week. Our Muslim communities have captured the attention of the wider public by their devotion to the month of Ramadan. Surely, as Christians we, too, must re-engage with the wider public. The highly lamentable moral corruption of minors perpetrated by some of our Catholic brothers and sisters must not be allowed to reduce us to silence and invisibility. As a matter of interest, if you are a regular listener to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, when was the last time you heard a contribution from a UK Catholic bishop? Their Anglican counterparts are regularly heard. It is not, so I am led to believe, that the BBC has not invited them but rather that such invitations, when made, are declined.
 
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem centuries ago is featured in the ‘Gospel of Entry’ reading particular to this Sunday (Luke 19:28-40). We could visualise the thousands of people entering the City of Jerusalem today and throughout Holy Week 2019. How many are religious pilgrims – Christians or Jews?  How many, who earlier in their lives were people of faith, have been reduced to sightseeing, having lost communion with the faith that their forebears once revered even to the point of martyrdom? How many are secular political activists? They all share a common appearance and similar mannerisms. All visit the same ‘holy places’; are all our, at least potential, brothers and sisters in the Lord and Jesus would have wept for them, as for us, as he overlooked Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives:
 “And when Jesus drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:41-44)
  
Perhaps a fitting prayer-thought for our entry into Holy Week would be: “Help us, Lord, not to choose convenience over conscience.”
 

5th Sunday of Lemt

A Personal ‘Mount of Olives’
 
Have you discovered your own ‘Mount of Olives’?  A place, a period of time, a space to which you can retreat in the hope of finding something of the solace – consolation in a time of distress - that Jesus Christ found on the Mt. of Olives? The actual Mt. of Olives, also known as the Garden of Gethsemane, outside the walls of Jerusalem and across the Kidron valley, still exists. Its aged olive trees give living testimony to its history. It was Jesus’ refuge for prayer and recuperation.
If you need help in discovering your own Mt. of Olives then maybe you might find help in the Book of Deuteronomy which is the fifth book of the Christian Old Testament and of the Jewish Torah. A major portion the Book of Deuteronomy consists of three speeches delivered by Moses to the Israelites on the plains of Moab, shortly before they enter the Promised Land. Chapter 26 begins:
“When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the first-fruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you. You must put them in a pannier and go to the place where the Lord your God chooses to give his Name a home ….”
What a beautiful expression – “the place where the Lord your God chooses to give his Name a home”. Discovering where it is that God chooses to give his Name a home is a journey that can only be made through faith.
In the first place, it is discovering that God chooses to live not in buildings but in our hearts – “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
And secondly, it is honouring the sacredness of “where the Lord your God chooses to give his Name a home” by treating it as sacred and giving it the uniqueness of each new day through prayer and love.
 
 
The excerpt from John’s Gospel we read this Sunday (8:1-11) begins with the succinct statement: “Jesus went to the Mt. of Olives”. From what follows, it was clearly an overnight stay given to prayer. The Mt. of Olives, we can deduce from the frequency of his visits, was where Jesus had discovered that his heavenly Father had chosen to give “his Name a home”. It was also Jesus’ place to prepare himself for his numerous confrontations with the power of Evil. Do we, who are disciples of Jesus, spend adequate time on our Mt. of Olives preparing for the confrontations, sometimes brutal sometimes subtle, we will face with the power of Evil?
 
 
Scripture enumerates numerous confrontational incidents between God and Satan. Many Christians would highlight the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, not because his treatment was unique but because He is the Son of God. This Sunday’s Gospel describes one of the other better remembered confrontations involving ‘a woman caught in the very act of adultery’. It never ceases to be amazing that only the woman is charged.
 
 
According to John, Jesus arrived back at the Temple in the early morning and began teaching. The scribes, Pharisees and their collaborators arrived with the, in their eyes, guilty and already condemned woman. This attack has all the hallmarks of a careful planned entrapment - knowing where to find the woman, ensuring that her ‘visitor’ was not one of their own companions, collecting a supportive and prepped gang and ensuring that all were equipped with sufficient stones.
 
Probably those who had been listening to Jesus melted away at the sight of this heavy-handed mob – just as Jesus’ own disciples were to do on the Mt of Olives after the Last Supper. Jesus, though physically alone, was not intimidated. His night of prayer sustaining him, he clearly made his own challenge:
“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
It was equally confrontational but not in the aggressive manner of the scribes and Pharisees’ mob. Jesus’ words were aimed at his confrontationists’ consciences. There has been plenty of speculation, over time, about what Jesus wrote in the sand. The truth is we do not know. But, just maybe, it was more the threat of the truth that Jesus could write about his confrontationists that gave rise to what John describes:
“And in response, they went away one by one…..”  
Although John makes no mention of it, reading the text you can almost hear the slow but growing sound of dull thuds as stones were surreptitiously let go of and, this time, it was the mob that melted away: “beginning with the elders”.
 
 
The woman and Jesus were left alone. John gives us their brief verbal exchange:
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
Surely, that woman experienced the power of Divine love in the forgiveness Jesus extended to her. She disappears from Scripture but not from the heart of Christ. For that woman, the area of her deliverance in the Temple became her ‘Mt of Olives’.
 
 
The major portion of Lent 2019 is behind us. Have Ash Wednesday’s good intentions come to fruition or have they succumbed to Satan’s clever and perhaps subtle confrontations? Granted, too, that there have been major feast days – among others, The Annunciation of the Lord, St. Joseph and St Patrick – to cause distraction. All the more reason, therefore, for us to make tracks to our own ‘Mt. of Olives’. We are here with just seven days before Holy Week. Have we the will to accompany Jesus despite the ugliness he foresees and accepts will befall him? For us it is a theoretical ugliness but for some of our sisters and brothers, today, these Lenten days and Holy Week are real times of Christian persecution.
 
 
This penultimate week of Lent 2019 offers us an opportunity to gather our fragmented and, as yet, incomplete Lenten resolves. As we bring our offering to Christ, in the place where we believe:
“the Lord your God chooses to give his Name a home”
we could ask for his support as we prepare for the devilish confrontations Satan has in store for us in Holy Week.

4th Sunday of Lent

Parental Heartache
 
For the parents, the loss of a child is a pain like none other. St. Luke is the only Evangelist to record three of Jesus’ parables on the subject of loss. This 4th Sunday of Lent we read the best recognised of the three, remembered under the title ‘The Prodigal Son’ (vv.15: 1-3, 11-32). In this context ‘prodigal’ carries the meaning of a recklessly wasteful use of inherited resources followed by a contrition.
In the main, Jesus’ teaching parables are complete. He describes the scene, the ensuing action and delivers the conclusion. But the ‘The Prodigal Son’ parable is different. Despite the eventual return of the second son, the prodigal, Jesus leaves the parable open-ended. Not only does the elder son’s antipathy towards his younger brother remain unresolved, it appears to worsen. Then, the elder son turns his venom upon his parents. It is a cliff-hanger of an ending.
 
This ‘Prodigal Son’ parable is much depicted in paintings and essays. Rembrandt’s interpretation in oil on canvas probably stands head and shoulders above other artistic interpretations. A feature unique to Rembrandt is his portrayal of the father’s hands resting on the bowed back of his returned prodigal. Rembrandt gave the father one male and one female hand thereby deliberately including the boys’ mother. Rembrandt drew attention to the fact that, in Jesus’ era and for long after, women were without independent status, personal identity and power.
 
Since commentaries often give a detailed examination of the Prodigal Son, it may be refreshing to broaden the focus. The parents represent God the Father who, in creating us [male and female] in his own image and likeness, has endowed each of us with an equality of dignity and purpose. Another word to describe this endowment is vocation. Created by the Almighty, we each carry within us God’s personal invitation to understand that our vocation is not a choice we have to make, but our answer to His proposal that we will find in the words of his Son, Jesus Christ. The Prodigal, isolated in the foreign pigsty – the epitome of shame for a Jew – remembered his parents’ (God’s) lifelong forgiveness that he had repeatedly experienced in his early life. By contrast his elder brother did not consider himself in need of forgiveness – he had kept the Law!
 
Human parents pass on to their offspring genes that considerably influence the life decisions made by their offspring of either the first or subsequent generations. We can ask what was the prime endowment passed on by these parents to their two sons in Jesus’ parable entitled, ‘The Prodigal’? A tempting answer would be land but is that the correct answer?
Is the earth we inhabit God’s prime endowment to us? A Divine endowment is forever, literally. Our earth, as we now know only too well, has no permanence. Neither, apparently, does anything in the cosmos. Surely, the prime endowment we have received from God is our likeness to Him and its hallmark is Divine forgiveness.
 
 
The parents (God), in the first place, showed their sons the quality of respect for the law of God. Having chosen to retire, the father had no alternative but to accede to his younger son’s request for one third of the estate. It may have broken the parents’ hearts to divide their much-loved land that the boy’s father would have received as a cherished inheritance, but it was the Law.
 
Secondly, the parents showed their sons the quality of love. The parents had evidently lived this quality themselves and in doing so would have demonstrated it continuously to their sons and their household. In Jesus’ parable there is no trace of parental recrimination towards the elder son when his younger brother leaves home. The parental love for the elder son is shown in the father’s words: ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.’”
It would appear that the elder son remained as unmoved by his parents’ suffering at the loss of their younger son as he was unforgiving towards his brother.
The younger son’s actions and words speak for themselves.
 
 
Thirdly, the parents showed their sons the quality of forgiveness. A continuous exemplification of forgiveness must have been both visible and audible in the parental behaviour. How else could the prodigal son have been so sure that he would be completely forgiven and reconciled. Had he not been certain he would never have said:
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
 
St. Luke’s words paint a clear picture of the parental heartache: “While he (the prodigal son) was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.”
You can only hope to catch sight of someone or something for whom or for which you are committed to searching for specifically and continuously. The recognition is as much of the heart as of the head.
Note the earlier parable of the ‘lost sheep’ in chapter 15: 4-7.
Both the sons were the cause of the parental heartache. The Prodigal recognized that he was a recovering sinner. The elder son had yet to do so. Parental love continued to be extended to both.
 
 
 
God’s prime disposition towards each and every person whom he creates, in his own image and likeness, is forgiveness. When God invites us individually to our specific vocation it is not because we are without fault or even perfectly suited to it. Each vocation is a gift enshrined in Divine forgiveness because we can only come to him as sinners. We are invited to understand that our vocation is nor a choice we have to make, but our answer to Christ’s proposal that we recognise our need of his forgiveness and actively seek it. This journey, like that of the Prodigal, can be lengthy and arduous.
The Prodigal, at his homecoming, must have sensed his being forgiven, being ‘re-birthed’, was way beyond anything he had expected. It is his belief in Divine forgiveness that allows Pope Francis to repeatedly call himself a sinner. “Pray for me, please, I am a sinner.”  The Pope recognizes himself as a recovering sinner. He urges us to share his vision because this is how we will remain until our last breath.  
 
The elder sibling’s attitude towards his younger sibling, whom he sees as a miscreant, is one of God’s works in progress. Is there here a reflection of the divide between Jew and Gentile?
Jesus calls his Christian ‘prodigal’ adoptees to share in this on-going mission of repatriation through the teaching of the Second Council of the Vatican and subsequent Papal teachings. As Christians we are encouraged to pray for our elder brothers and sisters, the Jews, on to whom we have been grafted in and through the Person of God-made-Man, Jesus Christ, the Jew.
 
Faith and prayer embolden our hope in an era when, once again, there are worrying signs of the growth of widespread anti-Semitism. But, do we believe and pray with the same personal and deep faith that kept a mother and father, whose pain is incalculable, searching through rivers of tears that channelled the worn skin of their face as seen in the Rembrandt portrait?

3rd Sunday of Lent

The Effects of Spiritual Disorientation
Disorientation is a scary experience. It’s causes can be internal or external, neurological or circumstantial. Either way, disorientation is a cause of suffering. Dementia, for example, is a chronic progressive disorder of the mental process. Equally, a person trapped in a snow blizzard, a sandstorm or a total blackout can be suddenly and life-threateningly disorientated, as well as frightened.
There is also spiritual disorientation which Satan puts to much use. Unlike the sudden snow blizzard or sudden darkness, the Satanic initiated disorientation infiltrates a person slowly and progressively. Satan disguises his infiltration of spiritual disorientation by bombarding an individual’s senses with excesses of continuously stimulating and captivating momentary distractions and delights. This has been happening in Western Europe for decades. The result, for an unaware Christian, can easily be an increasing disorientation resulting in a lapsation. Lapsed Christians do not feel out of place in a society that is itself disorientated. A society no longer drawing on its Christian heritage for moral guidance becomes more and more secular.
An example of modern secular mentality is the ease with which people have assumed for themselves God’s prerogative of judgement and authority. People now block, erase and reject on Facebook and Twitter etc anyone or anything that does not share their outlook and current belief. A 2018 UK survey commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust found that one in five of those questioned did not believe the Holocaust happened. 
 
It is not that God refuses to share his prerogative with us. The prophet Jeremiah relays God’s message:
“I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them upon their minds. I will be their God and they will be my people” (31:33)
It is that in the Satanically induced disorientation affecting Western society many people, including Church people, have less daily awareness of God and God’s Word-made-Flesh. Wherever a ‘faith-gap’ opens up in a person’s’ life, Satan occupies it.
 
 
Christianity is anchored in God who has revealed Himself, in these last times, through Jesus, His only-begotten Son-made-Man. Jesus defined Himself as the one reference point underpinning all reality when he answered ‘doubting’ Thomas: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
For thousands of years The Truth has been accepted by thinking people as an objective feature of our world. It is external to us. We neither invented nor discovered it. Objective Truth is what should ground everyone’s thinking and decision making.
Tragically, many people today in our disorientated modern secular society choose to believe that Truth is what an individual decides. Even the number of Christians, who believe moral truths are unchanging and unchangeable, is shrinking because of Evil’s ability to disorientate them through the pressures of society’s shifting culture. Satan has persuaded many people that Truth is relative to the prevailing circumstances.
 
 
 
God’s Word for this 3rd Sunday of Lent presents three scenarios that could be said to share a theme of our need to be always alert and of the consequences of not being. There is an Evil-induced spiritual disorientation forever lurking whose purpose is human entrapment.
 In the 1st Reading (Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15) a youthful Moses is told by God:
“I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering.”
Despite promising to do so, the people of Israel had failed, collectively, to uphold the covenant they had entered into with God. This failure brought them a lengthy suffering and enslavement in Egypt. The Jews had become generationally disorientated in failing to appreciate that, by reducing to external conformity their observance of the Covenant, they had succumbed to Evil.
 
The educated one-time Pharisee, Saul, now Baptised and renamed Paul, was all too aware of the effects of ancestral disorientation. This explains why, in the 2nd Reading, we hear Paul address his young Corinthian converts to Christianity: (10:1-6, 10-12)
“I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea….  These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did….  whoever thinks they are standing secure should take care not to fall.”
 
In the Gospel extract from St. Luke (13:1-9) Jesus calls his people to repentance as a necessary step to escape the effects of Satan’s disorientation:
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? They were not! I tell you. No; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did!”
 
Jesus was aware that if his people continued their political intrigues, plottings and rebellions, they were committing national suicide. Their seeking of an earthly kingdom while rejecting the Kingdom of God could only have one outcome. After Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, this is precisely what happened. In AD 70, Roman patience finally ran out. The Roman army obliterated both Jerusalem and its people – see Luke 21:6, 24.
 
 
There is a paradox that links the deliberate choice of sin with subsequent suffering. While it cannot be said that individual sin and suffering are inevitably connected, it can be said that communal/national sin and suffering are connected. The nation that deliberately chooses to engage in sinful ways will suffer the consequences of its choice. Jesus did not mince his words in today’s Gospel: But I tell you, if you (the nation) do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”
In the case of the individual, it is different. Individuals, being part of a community, can be caught up in their nation’s activity and its consequences which they neither willed nor caused but were without power to halt. Where such individuals manifestly rejected their nation’s choice and did their best to persuade others to do likewise, they, as individuals, will not be held to account by God.
It is always unwise to automatically attribute an individual’s personal suffering to their sin. It is always safe to say that a nation that rebels against God will inherit disaster.
 
 
God shares with each of us his concerns for all his people. Our informed consciences are alerted through daily prayer. There will be ‘burning’ issues calling for our attention and engagement. There will be people we see at spiritual risk as well as in need of physical shelter. There will be seemingly unproductive situations absorbing precious time and energy. And when we feel ‘enough is enough’ we hear the Lord of all gardeners/carers plead for us to continue “one year more”.
The bringing alive of the Gospel message depends on the spiritual capacity of Christians today to collectively discern, under the leadership of Pope Francis, God’s action as it continues to unfold through the reiteration of the central spiritual questions of our age.
 
 
If we could just sense the treasure there is in participating in the Mass, in the Eucharist, then perhaps even a lame homily, a poor liturgy, a faulty choir or distracting neighbours would not diminish our sense of the presence of the sacred or our joy in recognising the depth of love God has for each of us. The Evil One is fully capable of using even distractions to further our disorientation, even when we are in church.
It is vital for us to remain alert and on guard against the Evil One’s surreptitious infiltration of spiritual disorientation. As St. Peter, in his first letter to all Christians, wrote: “Keep sober and alert, because you enemy the devil is on the prowl … looking for someone to devour.” (5:8)

2nd Sunday of Lent

The Invitation
                                                                                 
God extends the most sublime invitation we will ever receive. The prologue to the ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church’ calls to mind words of Jesus, of St. Paul and St. Luke:
"Father . . . this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17.3) 
"God our Saviour desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1Tim: 2:3-4) 
"There is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) - than the name of Jesus.”
For those of a certain age, the version memorised long ago in the classroom has these or similar words: ‘God invites us to know, love and serve him in this world, and be happy with him in the next.’
 
The title above features the definite article ‘The’ to underline that no other invitation can compare with that which God extends to us not once but repeatedly, until our final conscious moment. To wake in the morning and thank him for his renewed invitation by pledging to Jesus the coming day, and all succeeding days, is the ultimate morning offering. 
 
We are equally exposed, in our self-imposed exile, to another invitation that might be described as a close second. It is extended to us, with the same frequency, by Satan the author of Evil. God’s invitation resounds with Truth. Satan’s resounds with false-truth deceptively dressed up to look like truth.
 
On this 2nd Sunday of Lent, our Scripture extracts present us with examples of two Divine invitations, separated by centuries, but sharing the same hallmark namely, a call to have faith in the God of Love.
Abram, in the 1st Reading from Genesis (15:5-12,17-18) whose name God later extended to Abraham, asked to be shown how God’s promise of progeny and land would be fulfilled. As a nomadic wanderer and already at an advanced age, as was his wife, Abram found it hard to believe. He, nevertheless, reached out in faith and today the three great monotheistic religions of the world honour Abraham - ‘as our father in faith’.
In the Gospel, Luke (9:28-36) tells us how Jesus invited Peter, James and John to climb a mountain with him about a week (9:28) after Jesus had made known his forthcoming Passion to his disciples:
 “The Son of Man is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders, and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.” (9:22)
In that week Jesus had spelt out for all the conditions for being his disciples:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26)
 
There are no words in Scripture describing the reactions of Peter, James and John to Jesus’ invitation to climb the mountain with him. Surely, Jesus’ prophecy of his Passion coupled with his definition of discipleship would still have been fresh in the minds of all his disciples. Peter, James and John must have wondered not only why they were chosen but what was ahead of them in this proposed ascent of the mountain.
If you were signed with blessed ash on ‘Ash Wednesday’, or if you were feeling the effects of the fast-day or if you commemorated the start of Lent 2019 in some other way, did you feel personally invited by name to enter upon this sacred time for the accompaniment of Christ? Perhaps the invitation remains unanswered or answered with just a token response of quantitative chocolate, sugar or alcohol. The Lord who invites sets no cut-off day for us to take up our Lenten invitation, including the final hours of Saturday in Holy Week. Jesus’ parable of the landowner who paid all his workers the agreed wage, irrespective of the hours worked, comes to mind. (Matt. 20:1-16)
 
That Peter, James and John reached the summit of that un-named mountain must, in part, have been due to the inspirational support given by Jesus. Like all ascents, it would have involved physical, mental and emotional endurance infused with trust and sustained faith. Jesus would have accompanied and encouraged the three disciples, as later, he encouraged his two despondent disciples leaving Jerusalem in the evening of the Day of Resurrection. The story of the road to Emmaus can be read in Luke (24:13-35). Jesus, through his Holy Spirit, is always willing to accompany his invitees when he is made welcome.
Peter, James and John would have been wholly preoccupied with Jesus’ transfigured appearance, with eavesdropping on the conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah, with the cloud and voice of Jesus’ heavenly Father saying,
“This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.”
Peter, James and John’s mountain-top experience would have left them at a loss for words. As each internalised it in the ensuing weeks it would have penetrated ever more deeply their conscious memory. In later years the three disciples would have relived that mountain-top experience as each lived and preached the Gospel of the Transfigured One.
 
Likewise, what we hear of God’s Word this Sunday, or any day, will stay within our heart - provided we can become still and receptively attentive. Where and when it will enliven our thoughts as we live and proclaim the Good News will become clear when and as it happens, provided that we have placed our life in God’s hands. Referring, again, to Jesus’ parable of ‘The Labourers in the Vineyard’, this may happen tomorrow or on the last day of our life.
 
Neither Abram (Abraham), nor Peter, nor James, nor John could have foreseen how, where and when their personal experiences of God’s invitations – and there would have been multiple – would bear fruit in their expressed love for God. As ‘Lumen Gentium’ (the 2nd Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church) expresses it, God has not ceased to reach out to all whom he has gifted with a participation in his own Divine Life … “By an utterly free and mysterious decree of his own wisdom and goodness …. When in Adam and Eve humanity had fallen, God did not abandon them but ceaselessly offered them help to salvation, in anticipation of Christ the Redeemer, who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.” (LG Nn2)
 
The Council’s document ‘Lumen Gentium’ continues enumerating all who are related to ‘The People of God’ including ‘those who have not yet received the Gospel. Among these LG lists God’s Chosen People, the Jews. Then those who acknowledge God as Creator – the Moslems who adore the One and Merciful God; also those who ‘in shadows and images seek the unknown God; also those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ yet sincerely seek God; also those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God but who strive, aided by his grace, to live a good life.
This section of Lumen Gentium concludes:
“Whatever goodness or truth is found amongst all these are looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel, and as given by him who enlightens all that they may finally have life.”
 
Is God’s Invitation wider and more embracing than you may have thought? For sure, each Baptised will be in daily touch with many who are embraced by the criterion given in the Council document even if they do not appreciate it. What a blessing that you are to hand.

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“The Kiln tests the work of the Potter”
 
 The meaning of this pithy short phrase is clear and memorable. Two centuries before the birth of Christ the grandson of Ben Sira collated his grandfather’s aphorisms in what is now called the Book of Sirach or Ecclesiasticus. Ben Sira, a popular philosopher of the time, set out to harmonise and synthesize the Mosaic tradition of salvation history with wisdom traditions that were more focused on creation. In Ben Sira’s era, education was by word of mouth. Pithy, memorable phrases were more easily remembered. The early Christian Church used the Book of Sirach as a source of moral teaching. Nowadays, Catholics, but not all Christians, accept the Book of Sirach as part of the Canon of Scripture. The 1st Reading for this 8th Sunday comes from Ecclesiasticus (27:4-7) has six more memorably pithy quotes.
 
 
Jeremiah (18:1-11) describes God as the Master Potter.
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So, I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel….. 
Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.” 
The skilled, creative hands of a human, experienced potter can draw out of mouldable clay forms of great beauty and delicacy. If the soft clay develops faults or the artist extemporises the design, the potter’s skill comes into its own and, perhaps in the process, adds more beauty and form. Only when the potter is satisfied will the finished piece be fired in the kiln, the ultimate test of the potter’s skill.
 
 
This Sunday’s 2nd Reading is an extract from St. Paul’s 1st Letter to his Corinthian community (15:45-58). In it, Paul writes of a time:
“When this perishable nature has put on imperishability and when this mortal nature has put on immortality…
Humanity, in this present world, is both mortal and perishable. Of itself humanity is incapable of effecting a change in its status. Immortality and imperishability are the prerogatives of God our Potter. He made such a translation possible for us when he took to himself our corrupted human nature in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus, by freely choosing to pass through the kiln of intolerable suffering and a crucified death, opened up for us to way to his Father who thus became our Father when he adopted us as the sisters and brothers of his Only-Begotten Son.
Hebrews 2:14-15;18 expresses it thus:
Since the children share the same flesh and blood, Jesus too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death …..   Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
 
 
Next Wednesday being ‘Ash Wednesday’ makes this the last Sunday before the start of Lent 2019. Imagining God as our Potter might help us adopt a Lenten mindset more in keeping with this 21st century world’s needs. Human potters can alter their sculptures up to the point they are put in the kiln for firing. Likewise, we can choose to welcome the ministrations of our Divine Potter who lovingly wills to continue his creative work in us throughout our earthly life. As the potter, working at the wheel, continually dips his hands in water the better to shape and reform the mouldable clay, so our Divine Potter, we might say, continually dips his hands in our Baptismal water the better to effect the remedial work our sin-weakened will requires. We could set aside the chocolate and sugar of childhood and, instead, genuinely ask our Divine Potter to enable us to work with him bringing about the restoration that he sees we need. In times of surgery, consultants will often ask their patients, beforehand, to give them permission to make adjustments, in the best interests of the patient, to the proposed schedule of work as the operation unfolds. If patients can trust their surgeons, how much more should we be able to trust our Divine Potter who is also our Saviour.
 
 
The Divine Potter’s engagement with us does not terminate on Easter Sunday. For it then begins a further extended journey, this time of 60 days, to Pentecost Sunday when we celebrate the collaborative artistry of the Only Begotten Son, our brother by adoption, and the Holy Spirit.
Though the Ash Wednesday to Pentecost Sunday pilgrimage totals just 100 days, our Divine Potter is on-call to us the full 365 days of the year and for 24 hours a day too. Living, as we are, in this world of exile there is no let-up in Evil’s hostility. Thank God, our Divine Potter loves us so unconditionally that we are free to engage with Him whenever and wherever we choose. 
 
 
There will come a day when we are to be fired in the kiln of translation from here to eternity. That purgatorial experience will test not only the work of our Divine Potter but also the depth and quality of our commitment to Him, for as many days as we have been allocated for our Baptismal journey.
Perhaps you may have the opportunity to acquire some mouldable clay this Lent. Keep it moist and work it with moistened fingers for whatever time you allocate to daily prayer from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost.  Have no particular design in mind but rather allow your fingers and the clay to engage in something that is, just like you and I, a ‘work in hand’ for our Divine Potter. When this harmony is realised there is no fear of the proving fire of the kiln.

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time (24.02.19)

Vade Mecum
   
The two words are a Latinised version of our word ‘Handbook’. But then, the English word handbook is not as expressive as the two Latin words. A ‘vade mecum’ implies a trusted, reliable and proven, source of information enabling a person to achieve their hoped-for outcome from a journey into the unknown. People continue to use the phrase ‘vade mecum’ to describe how they treasure the source of the guidance they have received. When someone hands you their Bible and the leather binding is well patinated, the page crispness has lessened and their gold edging is worn, you know immediately that this is a well-used and revered source of inspiration.
 
The Book of Samuel (1st Reading for the 7th Sunday) describes a further incident in King Saul’s jealous pursuit of the increasingly popular and younger, David. Unchecked jealousy, is a relationship killer that has crippled humanity from the days of the exiled Adam and Eve up to our own time. In the era of Saul and David there were no books. Revealed wisdom, handed on verbally by successive generations, was stored in the heart because it was regarded as sacred. Can what has pride of place in many 21st century people’s hearts be designated as sacred?
 
Though David caught his persecutor asleep, he refused to take advantage of the situation and allow Saul to be killed because David recognised in Saul ‘the Lord’s anointed’. David had consulted his heart’s ‘vade mecum’. Today, worldwide, many would recognise Pope Francis as ‘the Lord’s anointed’. He, on the other hand and consulting daily his ‘vade mecum’, would recognise those who sleep rough around the Vatican, begging on its streets, as ‘the Lord’s anointed’. In response, Francis has set up medical and care centres, tucked beneath Bernini’s gigantic and majestic colonnades, for these destitute ‘anointed of the Lord’.

God’s Word-made-Flesh, Jesus the Christ, has continued to pour his own ‘vade mecum’ into the hearts of the Baptised through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There is no situation that can confront us, as the Lord’s anointed, for which we will not find a Christlike response if we are familiar with the treasures of his Divine gift. The Baptised, who value and live daily their adoption as the sisters and brothers of Jesus and adopted children of the Father, have Jesus’ vade mecum as their constant companion. The Baptised who have packed away or put aside Jesus’ ‘vade mecum’ from their hearts are like those with a Bible on their bookshelf in mint condition, as on the day it was published, but unopened.
 
‘Lectio Divina’, another Latin term meaning ‘divine reading’, describes a reading of Scripture in which we gradually let go of our own agenda. Instead, we open ourselves to what God is longing for us to hear. In the 12th century, a Carthusian monk called Guigo, described what, for him, were the essential stages of Lectio Divina. Nowadays, there are various ways of practicing Lectio Divina, either individually or in groups, but Guigo's description remains fundamental.
 
Guigo's first stage is the ‘lectio’, the ‘reading’.
Finding a quiet and familiar corner, we sit and try to empty our over-active minds and imaginations. Initially, until we become accustomed to the process, this learning of stillness takes most of the time we have allocated for the Lectio Divina.   
When we are mentally stilled, we read The Word of God, slowly and reflectively. Next, we pause for a few moments so that the Word begins to sink into us. Think of pouring water on the surface of dry soil in a pot with a plant dying of drought. The secret is to pour only a little water and then pause, allowing time for the soil to slowly become absorptive. Then repeat the exercise as often as necessary until the soil is sufficiently moist. If we pour too much water at the start, it just runs of the surface, spills and the roots remain dry! Any passage of Scripture can be used for this way of prayer but short passages are recommended.

The second stage is ‘meditatio’ (reflection) where we invite God to help us take from the passage what He wishes to give us.  

The third stage is ‘oratio’ (response) where we set aside our thinking and calculating thereby allowing our hearts to speak openly to God reflecting what, in the passage of the Word of God, has struck us.

The fourth stage of Lectio Divina is ‘contemplatio’ (rest) where we let go of our own ideas, plans and meditations, our holy words and thoughts. Instead, we, as it were, allow the Word of God to hold us. We listen, at the deepest level of our being, to God who speaks within us with a still small voice. As we listen, we are gradually enlightened from within.
 
Over time, this process of Lectio Divina will have an effect on the way we live. The way we live is the true test of the authenticity of our prayer and it should become evident in our daily lives.
 
These stages of Lectio Divina are not fixed rules of procedure but simply guidelines as to how the prayer normally develops. Its natural development is towards greater simplicity, with us doing less thinking and more listening. How much time should be given to each stage depends very much on whether it is used individually or in a group.
 
The practice of Lectio Divina as a way of praying the Scriptures has been a fruitful source of growing in relationship with Christ for many centuries and in our own day is being rediscovered by many individuals and groups. The Word of God is alive and active and will transform each of us if we open ourselves to receive what God chooses to give us.
 
For the uninitiated there may be a question about what Scripture to choose. The Gospels hold a preeminent place. A personal favourite is John’s Gospel being so location centred enabling the reader to visualise where Jesus was. There are also many dramatic conversations instanced. The ‘summation’ with which John introduces his Gospel could be transferred to the end, if a reader so wished.
 
‘Lectio Divina’, our daily reading of Scripture, expresses our love for our heavenly Father. The more we contemplate the treasure, the more the treasure reveals itself to us. It is like a masterly musical score or painting, the more we listen or view the more we understand what the composer or painter wished to reveal to us
 
(With thanks to the Carmelites for information about Guigo)

3rd Sunday In Ordinary Time

The Future Is Now
 
Where we grow up provides sustainable lasting memories. The Gospels indicate that Nazareth was Jesus’ home for his youthful and formative years.
 
The Gospel extract for this 3rd Sunday of the Year comes from Luke 1:1-4 and 4:14-21. In the late Henry Wansbrough OSB’s ‘New Jerusalem Bible’, Jesus is described as having “the power of the Spirit in him” (4:14) for his first return visit to Nazareth after his baptism by cousin John the Baptiser.
Luke’s use of the phrase - “the power of the Spirit in him” – is so revealing. What Jesus chose to do and say, not only during this visit to Nazareth but thereafter throughout his public life, was the expression of his total communion with his heavenly Father - “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased” (Matt.3:17) - empowered through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Luke tells us that Jesus, when in Nazareth, went to the synagogue on the Sabbath as was his custom. There the youthful Jesus would be remembered but the adult Jesus would be unknown. Sabbath visitors at the synagogue would have been invited to read the Scripture. Jesus was now a visitor, having long since ceased to be a resident. He was handed the Scroll of the prophet Isaiah in which Jesus found the passage:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord..” (61:1-2)
 
As was customary, Jesus sat down and prepared to address the congregation. Would the congregation’s expectations have been coloured by their historic memories of Jesus or by reports that may have reached them from other places where he had interacted with people? In all likelihood the synagogue congregation would not have anticipated Jesus’ reported opening words:
“This Scripture text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening.” (4:21)
 
Those present who remembered the youthful Jesus would have recalled him as a conveyor of hope among his people who were daily under siege by violence, hunger and fear. They would have heard how Jesus, emerging into Jewish adulthood at twelve years of age celebrating his bar mitzva in Jerusalem, had remained in the Temple. When his Mother and foster-Father, who had searched Jerusalem for him for three days, eventually found him, he told them “Did you not realise that I must be about my Father’s business?’ (Luke 2:49)
Perhaps that Sabbath’s synagogue congregation remembered the youthful Jesus as an idealist who had refused to let the brutality of the military occupiers and the connivance of his own religious leaders crush his hope and his trust in God. His opening words to them in the Nazareth synagogue that Sabbath did more than covey hope, they revealed to them that he was, himself, the Divine promise personified!
Luke tells us (4:22) “And Jesus won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips.”
However, we are bound to wonder whether that ancient congregation had grasped the depths of Jesus’ revelatory statement? For that matter, how many, hearing his opening statement read aloud this Sunday, would grasp sufficiently of its depths?
 
Back then, in that Nazareth synagogue, the hesitations began to surface. “They (the people) said: ‘This is Joseph’s son surely?” In other words, how could this boy become man be other than as we remember him? It is characteristic of fallen human nature that we are slow, even reluctant, to accept the manifestation of holiness in those with whom we have shared, or currently share, the path of life. Is this because we are more apt to see the imagined faults of others before acknowledging their virtues – lest their virtues reflect adversely on ourselves?
 
The clarity in Jesus’ statement - “This Scripture text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening.” – tells us that he clearly a) knows who he is b) understands the primary focus of his mission and c) is fully committed to the mission his heavenly Father has entrusted to him.
Jesus’ chosen Isaiah text (61:1-2) makes, for the Baptised, an appropriate Morning Prayer:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord...”
We could amend Jesus’ opening synagogue statement to conclude our morning prayer saying something along the lines of:
May the Lord in his love and mercy help me to fulfil this Scripture text today to the best of my ability.
This format for our morning offering enables us to affirm daily a) our being, unworthy though we are, an adopted member of the family of God b) that our mission is to love God and our neighbour as our self and c) to reassert our commitment to this primary objective, despite our numerous failures at implementation.
 
Luke describes Jesus as having “the power of the Spirit in him. Each person Baptised is sealed with that same “power of the Spirit”. The evidence is visible in the lives of so many thousands of women and men, young as well as old, who chose wholehearted collaboration with God’s Holy Spirit, rather than a compromise in order to save their earthly lives. There is no day that passes when the history of Christianity in our islands does not provide us with knowledge of saints remembered by name as well as countless more whose individual names have not come down to us. It is a tragedy that ‘All Saints Day’, November 1st, has become obscured in recent decades by a commercial malevolent interest in Halloween on 31st October.
 
Today’s Gospel invites us, as the Baptised, to actively share in “the power of the Spirit”? Have we the conviction of our faith to live each God-given day in active engagement with Jesus’ opening statement in the Nazareth synagogue? - “This Scripture text is being fulfilled today……...”
It is true that actions speak louder than words but it is equally true that the Word of God-made-Man, living in us, continues to give us the focus for our choice of action.
As St. Paul wrote to his beloved Corinthian community: “You are God’s building… Everyone doing the building must work carefully. For the foundation, nobody can lay any other than the one that has already been laid, that is Jesus Christ.” (3:9-11)

33rd Sunday In Ordinary Time

WHAT WILL IDENTIFY YOU AT THE JUDGEMENT?
 
This is the penultimate Sunday of the Church Year. Mark’s Gospel extract (13:24-32) focuses on the ‘end of time’ as we know it. The whole of Mark’s Chapter 13 makes thought-provoking reading. At the ‘end of time’ all man-made identities creating social distinctions and division will disappear. The identities received from God, on the other hand, will remain.
 
Each person’s unique identity owes its origin to our being made in the imagine and likeness of God. No one is duplicated. As we grow up, our unique identity may become overlaid by ever-changing clothing, make-up, badges, uniforms, possessions and behaviour. Through it all our likeness to God our Creator remains, though it may be hidden at times.
 
As human beings we come into this world as God’s creation. Christians believe that, through Baptism, God has initiated a revolutionary, eternal change in his relationship with his human creation. God has allowed his human creation, irrespective of tribe or people, to become His adopted daughters and sons by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Through this Sacrament, God makes each of the Baptised a brother or sister of His Only-Begotten Son, the Jewish man, Jesus of Nazareth.
 
For Catholics, each freely received successive celebration of a Sacrament enhances the presence of God’s spirit. This increase in God’s indwelling is to fortify our personal relationship with God. It also enables us to stand four-square with Christ our Saviour in His continuing battle, in this world, with the cunning power of Satan. As is testified by the history of the worldwide community of the Baptised, The Church, many have followed our Saviour’s path to death through persecution. An even greater number endure a bloodless, but still painful persecution, of interminable length.
 
For a non-Jew, Mark 13 is difficult to fathom, referencing, as it does, so much of Jewish history and thought. But then, that should not be wholly unfamiliar territory for the Baptised who have become the sisters and brothers of Jesus the Jew who is God-made-Man.  It may be helpful to reiterate here some fundamental distinctions between Jews and Christians who form the two original streams of people called by God.
For Jews, Jesus is a holy Jewish man. Jews do not accept Jesus of Nazareth as the Incarnate Son of God-made-Man. Therefore, they continue to await the Messiah’s promised ‘Coming’. For this reason, continuity is at the heart of Judaism. Their unconquerable optimism that they are God’s ‘Chosen’ has enabled them to survive horrendous persecution down the centuries.
 
Anglo-Saxon Gentiles consign history to archives. For the majority it is ‘The Past’ and, as such, quite distinct from ‘The Present’. 
For Jews, their ‘history’ is for them their ‘present’. It lives in them today. Jews, alive today, are the living expression of their ‘history’ with which they are very familiar. When a Jew speaks about the Holocaust, for example, he/she is mentally and spiritually living that experience in the present moment. When you visit Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, you will recognise this to be so.
So, too, each Sabbath Eve meal (Friday at sunset) is a sacred family gathering in which each member lives, here and now, the experience of their captured enslaved forebears whom Moses was to lead from Egypt to the promised land. Gathered to share their Sabbath eve ‘Passover’ meal, each Jewish family is doing more than remembering, they are making real and continuing the turmoil of that ‘journey of promise’ awaiting the ‘Passover’ that is the coming of the Messiah. This is the strength of the individual Jew and the entirety of Jewish identity.
 
There is a connection here for Catholic Christians. Sunday Mass is the gathering of God’s Baptised family whether it be a congregation of two or more than half a million. Each is called to renew their individual adoption by God through absorbing The Word of God and receiving The Word-made-Flesh. At the celebration of Mass, Jesus, our Lord and Brother, links each Catholic Christian present with two thousand years of Baptised forebears whose pilgrim steps we are walking in today, through circumstantially very different times. But also, through our communion with Jesus the Jew, Catholic Christians are linked to his Jewish antecedents including, of course, his Jewish Mother, Mary. I wonder how often we identify that linkage in our prayer even, when praying the Psalms particularly, we are making use of a Jewish form of prayer which Jesus would have known by heart and used!
 
This makes me ponder my Catholic identity. As a Catholic am I, at the time of Holy Communion, sufficiently aware of being united with Jesus the Jew who is the Christ? Am I consciously willing myself to be one with Him in His continuing self-sacrifice for the redemption of the world, for Jew and Gentile? Does Holy Communion unite me, as it should, with my suffering, imprisoned, persecuted brothers and sisters, Jews and fellow Christians, struggling to be faithful in this ‘Vale of Tears’? Am I motivated by receiving Holy Communion to become more actively engaged with corporal works of mercy and of the promotion of justice? Am I conscious of Jesus’ outreach to his fellow Jews … am I concerned for them as my sisters and brothers?
Or, is my thanksgiving after Communion over concerned with me, my agenda and my needs?
 
Mark’s chapter 13 shows Jesus making use of much that would have been familiar to his fellow Jews then or now but which is unlikely to be familiar to contemporary Christians. Mark 13 benefits from being read against a Jewish mindset and that does not come easily to a Gentile. ‘Listening in depth’ to the Gospels involves a lifetime of prayer to the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to switch meaningfully into such an in-depth listening mode for a few minutes at Sunday Mass.
Do we spend sufficient time dwelling on the implication of our affiliation to and identification with the Jew who is Jesus Christ, God’s Incarnate Son? Do Gentile Christians somehow identify with Jesus minus his Jewish background? A Jewish mindset can only be grown from the inside, from our hearts. In our prayer, do we ever ask Jesus to help us understand his Jewishness? It is not something that can be taken on board, like a fact of impersonal history. Nor can this short article supply what is needed but it may help point a reader in the right direction.
 
Mark 13 gives Christians much food for thought about, what we refer to as, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ as King and Judge of the world. We know today, sadly, that many non-Jews, and not a few Christians, disregard this revelation.
 
Jews and Christians share a belief that God will break into the Evil- induced chaos of this world, at a point we do not know, ending time as we know it and bringing about an entirely new order namely, eternity.
Jews and Christians share belief in the prophet Joel’s disturbing descriptions of the ‘Day of the Lord’ (Ch.2&3) that tell of that day of God’s intervention. We share belief there will be times of terror and chaos when the world, as it is known, will be shaken to its foundations.
 
Where we differ is that, for Christians, the Messiah has already come, 2000 years ago, in the Person of Jesus the Christ. Therefore, God’s return as King and Judge in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth will be, for Christians, the Second Coming of God-made-Man. Christians celebrate this article of our Faith next week on the last Sunday of the Church year, the Feast of Christ the King.
 
The Jews believe that the advent of God will be the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham and that, in this new order, they would occupy the place assigned to the Chosen People.
  
From the time of Jesus up to our present, Jews and Christians have walked parallel, semi-complimentary yet also vastly distinctive paths as we share God’s creation. The complementarity of our paths is to be found in that both Jew and Christian share belief in the visible coming amongst us of God. The distinctive difference between our paths lies in the gulf of belief that, for Christians, the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth is the Only-Begotten Son of God made Man; whereas, for the Jews, the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth is a man of God and probably the most famous Jew who has ever lived.
For Christians, God is among us and working in our world through his adopted daughters and sons, the Baptised, who are Jesus’ brothers and sisters.
For Jews, God has yet to break into our world. So, for Christians, the present year is 2018 Anno Domini (the Year of the Lord) when God-made-Man came among us. It’s a sad sign of our growing secularism that many have jettisoned ‘AD’ for ‘CE” (the Common Era).
For Jews, this is the year 5,778 which they regard as the number of years since the start of Creation.
 
Will the Jewish and Christians paths converge? Well, for certain there will be a convergence when God calls the world to order, but prior to that we can but pray for one another. It is said that when Judaism accepts the Divine Nature of Jesus of Nazareth, Mark’s chapter 13 will be fulfilled.
 
The question posed in the title above is: ‘What will identify you at the Judgement?’ The answer, for Christians, will lie in how loyal and dedicated each has been in acknowledging and responding to the Son of God’s call in John’s Gospel (15.4) “Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.”
Our Jewish brothers and sisters will answer for themselves.
May Jesus, their brother in race and ours by adoption, bring us both to his heavenly Father.
 
 
1645
 

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (13.08.2017)

Danger Is Not Our Only Constant Companion
 
“Would Jesus have knowingly sent his disciples into danger?” A university student put this question in a Bible-share on this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 14:22-33). Certainly a night crossing on the notoriously unpredictable Sea of Galilee would have its dangers.

Danger, specifically the unknown, is our constant companion. Since our first parents disobeyed God, thereby losing the peace and divine harmony of ‘The Garden of Eden’, humanity has been continuously endangered. The counterbalance to the presence of unknown danger is the declaration by God of his abiding love for us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

St. John, in his first letter (5:19) makes it clear that, while we belong to God, our world of exile is in the power of Satan. It will continue so until the Risen Lord returns as King and Judge of the Universe. Then, finally and forever, Satan’s grip on the world will be broken.

The ultimate danger for humanity is the loss of heaven, eternity with God. All other dangers, even the life-threatening variety, are relative. Just as God did not write-off our disobedient first parents neither does he write-off their descendants. The ultimate proof of this is that God the Father sent his only Son into our dangerous world. He knew that Satan’s power over this world would not triumph even when it inflicted crucifixion on his Son, Jesus.

St. Paul made this point strongly in Romans 5.20 “But however much sin increased, (God’s) grace was always greater; so that as sin’s reign brought death, so grace was to rule through the saving justice that leads to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Jesus knew the individual, as well as the collective, strengths of his disciples. Among them were experienced ‘Sea of Galilee’ fishermen. For them, sudden storms would have been nothing new. Matthew tells us that their boat was ‘battling with a strong headwind’, not sinking. There’s no mention of the disciples being in fear of the waves. Their terror came not from the storm but from the vision of Jesus walking on water. Sometimes in listening to the Gospel, as also at other times if our listening is distracted, we can insert our own preconceived interpretation on the words we hear. This can lead us to wrong conclusions and possibly faulty decisions.

Does this Gospel text challenge you and I to review and reassess the dangers, real or imaginary, we associate with our life? What do we see as the prime danger in our life? It should be any threat, from our self or from another, to our relationship with God. This always has to be our priority concern, even if the upholding of it costs our life here. The provenance for this assertion is the First Commandment – 

"YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD
WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL,
AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND"(Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Unless we give the preservation of our living relationship with God our ultimate and unchanging priority in life, then all our other judgements and evaluations become suspect. They could then, adapting words from the cigarette packet, ‘seriously damage our eternal health’.

To be a loyal disciple, follower of Jesus in this world has always been and remains for many today, dangerous.  Jesus himself said, “The birds of the air have nests and foxes have holes, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)

To the careerist Zebedee brothers, James and John, Jesus posed the question, “Can you drink of the cup of suffering of which I am to drink?” (Mark 10:38 & Matthew 20:22) Their affirmative response, like Peter’s boast to Jesus (John 13:37) “I will lay down my life for you” had yet to pass the test of reality.

Our extract from Matthew’s Gospel offers us confirmation, as the actual event did for the disciples, that Jesus is always near, fully cognisant of what we are experiencing. Even the darkest of circumstances, symbolised by it being the fourth watch of the night 0300-0600 when Jesus appeared, cannot prevent the Light of Christ reaching us. Notice though that it is the disciples, in particular Peter, who engage Jesus not vice versa. Jesus never forces himself upon us. We have to invite him – as did the two utterly dispirited disciples on the ‘Road to Emmaus’ after Jesus’ crucifixion (Luke 24:13-35) “Stay with us, for it is towards evening and the day is now far spent.”

One of life’s tragic paradoxes is that while our media and billboards are packed with information to enhance and protect our life here on earth, there’s precious little to direct peoples’ attention to eternal life. That Jesus became visible to the disciples in their hour of need indicates that they had first, in their hearts and minds, individually and possibly collectively, turned to him.

In times of desperation people, in all languages, can be heard to invoke the name of ‘God’. Is it a prayer from a humbled and contrite source or has it become just another swear word? Only God and the individual know. That is what it comes down to in the end, the quality or otherwise of that one-to-one relationship which, for God, began even before we came into being in our mother’s womb.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
 (Jeremiah 1:5)

The sinking Peter’s cry for help in our Matthew passage, “Lord, save me!” was from a humbled and contrite heart yet one, like our own, still being formed.
 

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time (03.08.14)

‘Previously’

Glacier explorers are always alert to the death-dealing danger of hidden, deep crevasses. These bottomless chasms have claimed countless lives over the centuries. A parallel can be drawn with the Church in Western Europe today. A chasm has opened up between the three Scripture readings at Sunday Mass and people’s weekday life. A homilist, unless truly charismatic, has an impossible task!

Just consider - entering a church for Sunday Mass - worshippers come from their electronically all-embracing 21st. century life to a setting, value system and vocabulary that has become, especially for upcoming generations, alien! Fewer and fewer young people speak ‘Christian’, which means having a mindset and a vocabulary resonating with Christian empathy!

Popular TV series insert ‘Previously’ segments before new episodes, even when just days apart, to help viewers’ recall. A combination of the visual and verbal triggers the memory, enabling the new segment to sit seamlessly with the habitual viewer.

Tragically, there’s no ‘Previously’ for congregations participating at Sunday Mass. Many have a six-day chasm of utterly different involvement with no meaningful remembrance of God’s Word from the previous Sunday. Moreover, the Sunday Scripture readings do not always ‘follow on’.

Through his prophet, Jeremiah, God addressed these words to his Old Testament people at a similar time of disconnect (14: 17-21)

“Therefore you shall say this word to them:
‘Let my eyes flow with tears night and day,

And let them not cease;


For the virgin daughter of my people
has been broken with a mighty stroke, with a very severe blow.
If I go out to the field,
then I behold, those slain with the sword!
And if I enter the city,
then behold, those sick from famine!


Yes, both prophet and priest ply their trade throughout the land and have no knowledge.’”

An exception is this Saturday and Sunday, 2nd and 3rd August 2014. By coincidence, Matt 14: 1-12, the Gospel reading appointed for this Saturday, reveals the background that led to John the Baptist’s martyrdom. Multiple-murderer King Herod’s conscience proved to be his personal ‘previously’. Herod had beheaded John the Baptist rather than lose political face. Uncharacteristically this had disturbed him and he now believed Jesus to be the resurrected John the Baptist! A troubled conscience is, at least, a living conscience!

In Christian times, John the Baptist was a familiar name. The memory of a man clad in animal skins, eating locusts and wild honey and with a fearless preaching style, would have endured. People would have recalled tales of his birth, mission and martyrdom to some degree. A street poll today would likely turn up few, if any, who could identify John the Baptist.

For centuries, parents gave their children the names of revered Christians. The Christian history of places was reflected in their name. This treasure chest of our noteworthy Christian antecedents has been replaced in people’s memories by the names of sports personalities and briefly enduring celebrities.

As we experience the world from an armchair or computer console, we are bombarded with more information than we can comfortably store. Experienced TV producers understand all too well the ever-shortening attention and retention periods of the human mind. ‘Soap’ producers need to refocus every twelve to fifteen seconds if they wish to retain the attention of their viewers. Maybe this says as much about the poverty of content as the state of the human mind!

Popular ‘soaps’ have weekly multiple episodes with full ‘watch-back’ facility. Sunday Mass, by comparison, is a one-day-a-week verbal-only event for the inside of an hour with no changing scenes and one male voice with readers making brief appearances. In times past, Sunday Mass was the gathering place of the local community followed by particular family get-togethers. Now, Sunday Mass has become the optional, often missed, ‘add-on’ to a busy weekend.

The reality of the six-day chasm (Monday to Saturday) means that many Sunday Mass-attending Catholics are progressively unable to link up with the Scripture extracts they hear. For there to be the essential, Scriptural connectedness, people would need a considerable time of pre-Mass acclimatization. Where once, daily life and Christian life were one and the same, now they bear no resemblance.

World Cup footballers and other sports stars are taken to expensive acclimatization locations well in advance of their professional events to ensure their fitness and readiness for the contests. There needs to be comparable preparation provided for the average Catholic who does make it to Sunday Mass.

The disconnect, now entrapping the Catholic laity in particular, has grown surreptitiously like the hidden glacial chasm. Sadly and tragically those who trek to Sunday Mass, unlike their glacier exploring counterparts, are largely unaware of the danger they are in. God’s Word is our essential lifeline for spiritual nourishment and fortification in our daily battle with Satan’s hidden entrapments. Without God’s Word alive and active, daily, within our souls and hearts we are not only a danger to ourselves but also to our companions. Jesus’ warning in John 15:5 comes to mind:

“I am the vine, you are the branches;
those who abide in Me with Me in them, bear much fruit,
for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Just today, the Bible Society sent me this appeal to support Bible literacy:

“We’re giving you the opportunity to help us teach more than half a million Chinese Christians to read the Bible. 

Han Xiao Lang from China learnt to read when she was 34. She was one of the first to sign up to Bible Society literacy classes in 2009 and said, ‘After the class I felt more hopeful, I could appreciate the message of God for me. I found it easier to hear his voice…’ (Han Xiao Lang, now 38)”


While I’m glad to support the promotion of the Bible in China, I’m alarmingly aware how many of the UK Baptised are sleepwalking into a disconnect with their Christian heritage. Unlike us, the Chinese are hungry for God’s Word. Perhaps it is all too easy to condemn Herod the Murderer forgetting that his conscience was at least functioning.

Matthew 15:14 is an appropriate quote for the spiritually unseeing who fail to appreciate the chasms under their very noses!

"They are blind guides of the blind!
And if a blind person guides a blind person,
both will fall into a pit."
Peter said to Jesus, "Explain the parable to us."…

The Gospel for this Sunday (Matt 14: 13-21) reveals Jesus’ wish to grieve privately when given news of his cousin, John the Baptist’s, martyrdom. But the pressing needs of the living called so loudly to Jesus that he stepped away from his grief to answer their cries. Jesus picked up John the Baptist’s baton adding it to his own mandate to establish a Kingdom whose hallmark was to be communion with his heavenly Father in the care of one’s neighbour. The crucial element is the depth of our connectivity with God. The Christian veneer over much of modern day Europe is as deceptive as the glacier with its hidden crevasses. In Matthew 13:21 Jesus warns about superficial Christianity:

“But since they have no root, they last only a short time.
When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word,
 they quickly fall away.”

Keeping to the glacial analogy, the last line could be amended to read, “they quickly fall victim to the crevasse”!

At Pentecost this year, Pope Francis spoke about the Christian disconnect:

“Christians without memory are not a true Christians: they are halfway along the road, imprisoned in the moment, who do not know how to value their history, who do not know how to read it or live it as a history of salvation. We, with the help of the Holy Spirit, are able to interpret the inner inspirations and events of life in the light of Jesus' words. And thus our knowledge of memory, the knowledge of the heart, that is a gift from the Spirit, grows in us”.   (Vatican 8 June 2014)

In the popular quiz show ‘I want to be a millionaire’, the lifelines are often crucial. Our Baptismal life, when functioning well, makes us wonderful spiritual lifelines for our family, friends and colleagues.