Sunday Reflection

Christ the King (26.10.17)

Looking To The Future
 
We spend much of our thoughtful hours looking forward. Anticipation and planning is a semi-continuous conscious or subconscious activity that we find attractive in the main. A dental appointment may not compare with going on an exploratory journey into the unknown but the former may prove its worth in the course of an expedition! Looking forward may also re-motivate our flagging will and energy to cope with a present that is not particularly palatable or fulfilling. Looking forward enables us to visualise what, we believe, is to come such as an anticipated vacation.
 
Jesus calls us to look forward to being with his Father, who has become our Father through the grace of Baptismal adoption. Jesus described the scene in Matthew 25:31-46 – our Gospel text for this last Sunday of the Church year, the climatic Feast of Christ the King:
 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take for your inheritance the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink …..”
 
Were we to be asked, “Have you seen Jesus Christ?”, our reaction might be wariness about the sanity of our questioner or their intention. Had we sufficient depth of faith and presence of mind, the response of a Baptised person would be, “I see you and in you I see Jesus Christ because each person is made in God’s image and likeness.” Sadly, such a response is more likely to be the result of prayerful hindsight than at the moment of encounter!
 
In our Gospel text for today, Jesus sets the scene for the General Judgement that will accompany the end of the world. He tells his disciples:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 
 
Countless artists, over the centuries, have attempted to capture in various mediums their interpretations of this scene. Michelangelo’s ceilings in the Sistine Chapel and Graham Sutherland’s tapestry at Coventry Cathedral may come to mind.
 
But rather than rely on the work of others, why not take the opportunity of this Sunday to visualise your own concept of how you might recognise Christ in his Glory? You do not need artistic skills with brush, chisel or needle etc. You have within you the grace of God who formed you in your mother’s womb. God’s grace, in collaboration with your spiritual imagination, is sufficient for you to visualize a picture to accompany Jesus’ words:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.”
 
There is a major hurdle to be overcome before we can begin! Because we know ourselves to be sinful, we find it hard to ‘look forward’ to God because we fear we will not be prepared. Satan, as the author of evil, actively cultivates our reluctance to ‘look forward’ to God. He strives to hold us captive to our past (and maybe our present) of selfish and destructive false pleasures whose legacy is seemingly an inescapable remorse. Satan uses our failings to taunt us with a seemingly inescapable remorse.
 
This is why we need the surety of God’s merciful forgiveness through the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to disarm Satan. As a wise and holy person once said, “When Satan comes to taunt me with my failings I tell him I don’t have them anymore! I gave them to God!”
 
Jesus tells us, in Matthew’s Gospel, that when he returns as Christ the King:
“he will sit upon his glorious throne ..”
 
Please try to visualize for yourself, just now, that throne. Think of its dimensions, its texture, its captivating beauty none of which will detract from the awesome, indescribable majesty of God-made-Man seated upon it. Only you will know the images that flood your mind. Undoubtedly our experiences of royalty and glory will colour our imagination. But will they be an accurate guide?
 
May I share my image of the glorious throne of Christ the King? It is one that has stayed with me over years. I see a wooden cross. Its proportion not dissimilar to the cross of Calvary on which Jesus was once nailed for our salvation. But now, the wood is no longer dead and its bark no longer discoloured by the blood of his and the countless other men and women who there met their death.
 
The wood of Jesus’ Cross is now no longer the symbol of death but of life. It proclaims before all creation that Satan has been conquered and the sins of confessing and repentant sinners absolved.
 
St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, states:  
“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
 
 Now that wood is alive, vibrant with branches and verdant shoots. It holds the glorious Risen Body of our Lord and King but with gentle strength not nails. From Christ the King life and light, of an unearthly quality, flow through the revived tree continuously enlivening all the assembly – all who have ever lived, however briefly or lengthily, upon this earth. In this assembly ageism is no more. There is a oneness of being, common to all, that reflects us in our maturity. The unswerving focus for all is Christ our King.
 
 Our focus is totally captivated by the quality of light that reveals to us Christ our King. Light is the element most associated with Jesus. The same light that Peter, James and John reported seeing on the mountain top of the Transfiguration. (Matthew 17:1–8; Mark 9:2–8; Luke 9:28–36.  And Peter also refers to it in his Second Letter 1:16–18.)
 
On most occasions, it is by means of external illumination that a subject is highlighted. If the translucent nature of the subject matter allows, there may be internal light as well. In the Transfiguration, the light that captivated the Apostles came entirely from within Jesus’ own body and transfigured him. (Transfiguration – a complete change where a human body becomes an indescribably beautiful spiritual entity.) The power and majesty of God was revealed within Jesus and enveloped his whole being. The effect was beyond the vocabulary of the Apostles. This quality and strength of light, such as we have never experienced, will accompany the revelation of Christ in his glory and remain with us for eternity.
 
Person to person recognition involves the use of remembered features. Our encountering of Christ the King on Judgement Day will resurrect for us all that we were ever able to glimpse of him as holy, good and true – through His Word, through places of pilgrimage, through prayer and meditation and through the faces, the multiple faces, of our fellow human beings as well as through the fulfilment of our Baptismal calling in daily life. These glimpses enable us to live with the sure knowledge that, as we came from God, we will find our true home in him.
 
The ‘Letter to the Romans’ offers this helpful appreciation (11:33-36)
“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!
For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he (the Lord) needs to pay it back?”
For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.”
 
One could go on, but perhaps the foregoing has helped set you up for your own journey of visualisation. May you have a blessed day.
 

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (19.11.17)

WHEN RELIGIOUS TRUTH BECOMES PARALYSED
 
God is Truth, God is Living (John 14:6.), therefore, The Truth is a living entity. But is this how many view The Truth namely, as full of the life of the Holy Spirit? Or do people think of the Truth as a composite of broadly accepted static, unchanging, established facts? For example, we know that 2+2 = 4 as a matter of fact and pay no attention to the deductive thought process that is a) particular to humans and b) indicative of a rational analytical process continually searching for a deeper understanding of the Truth.
 
Truth is both inexhaustible and unfathomable for us. Truth does not change but our understanding of it is always changing. The closer we draw to God, the more Truth reveals itself to us. The further we drift from God, the less able we are to grasp the Truth.
 
Matthew (25:14-30) provides the Gospel for this 33rd Sunday in which Jesus teaches through ‘The Parable of the Talents’. The ‘useless’ servant hid his master’s coin instead of using it profitably. His master asked why he didn’t bank it? In an era when the UK’s interest rates have been near zero for years, the master’s question to his ‘useless’ servant may sound quite at odds with contemporary reality. This parable has multiple lessons for us that are not connected with finance.
 
Clearly, the ‘Parable of the Talents’ is intended to draw attention to the unprofitable or ‘useless’ servant. Jesus had employed multiple parables in an attempt to bring the Scribes and Pharisees to face up to their shortcomings as the spiritual leaders of their people. In Jesus’ eye, the ‘useless’ servant epitomises their wicked and lazy attitude in respect of God’s Law and the Truth encompassed by it:
So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?”
 
The ‘useless’ servant believed he could secure his place in his master’s house by being able to hand back the one talent exactly as he had received it, in ‘mint’ condition because it had never been used. The Scribes and Pharisees regarded the Law as something dead, static and incapable of growth. Their aim was to preserve it, like a fossil, in the exact formulation in which it had been given to Moses by God. To the Scribes and Pharisees any growth in the understanding of the Law, resulting from human growth and development, was anathema.
 
Generations of Scribes and Pharisees, from the 3rd century BC, had constructed a protective fence of 613 ‘mitzvot’, ‘interpretations’, that were intended to enable God’s people to know how to live God’s Commandments. This manmade and frankly impossible maze of regulations allowed the Scribes and Pharisees licence and leeway in interpreting how to approach the observance of the Law and simultaneously allowed them to claim that the Law itself remained unaltered. In Matthew 23:13 we read how Jesus found fault with this thinking:
 “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let in those who wish to enter.”
 
The Scribes and Pharisees had, by the manipulative procedures of their 613 insuperable preconditions, made it virtually impossible for the ordinary Jew to follow God’s Law. The Parable of ‘The Talents’ teaches how God laments shut minds and devious hearts.
 
In giving us the Commandments God set down a template, a bottom line, a starting point for his creation. Having uniquely gifted us with intelligence and grace, God knew we would hunger for knowledge and search for the Truth. Divine providence had provided humanity, made in God’s image and likeness, with a sure start from which to search for the Truth.
 
God never asks us to show abilities we do not have. He does ask that we use, to the full, the abilities with which he has gifted us. People are not equal in talent, but we can all be equal in effort. The Parable of the Talents teaches that whatever talent a person has, be it little or great, it must be used, first of all, in the service of God. Moreover, we are freed to choose to combine our human talents for the good of all. The role of the Body of Christ on earth, the community of the Baptised under the leadership of the Vicar of Christ (the Pope), is to enable all on our shared pilgrimage to eternal salvation.
 
The parable tells us that the two servants who had done well and multiplied their talents were commended and then given greater responsibility. Idleness or relaxation does not feature in the Divine economy. Jesus underlines the virtue of humble service for the common good in Luke 17:7-10:
“Will any one of you who has a servant] ploughing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’?  Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?  Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
 
The ‘useless’ servant, in the parable, who was punished was the one who did not try. He didn’t lose his one talent, he just did nothing with it! Any effort to increase his talent, even one that had failed and lost him the talent, would have been better than doing nothing at all. The condemnation of the ‘useless’ servant was because he would not even try to use it for the common good.
 
This is a Sunday when each Baptised person would do well to examine his/her conscience as to what she/he has done with the talent(s) he/she has been given. The appropriate follow-up to that question would be – ‘what more should I be doing with the talent(s) I have been given?’
 
The temptation that ensnared the ‘useless’ servant in the parable ensnares many people. “I have so little talent, what on earth can I do with it?”, people complain, “It’s not worth my trying for the little that I can contribute.”
Matthew 13:31-32 has one answer:
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.  Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
 
The mustard seed is tiny but when linked with God’s good creation …. it grows! So, too, with seemingly tiny talents!
 

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (12.11.17)

Bridesmaids Lead The Way

Bridesmaids are forever associated with weddings. However, the role of a 21st century bridesmaid would bear little resemblance to the role of bridesmaids at the time of Jesus. St. Matthew is unique among the Gospel writers for recording Jesus’ ‘Wedding Parable’ (25:1-13) which is our focus for this 32nd Sunday of the year.
 
To appreciate the teaching in Jesus’ parable, we need to step out of our 21st century and into that of the 1st century AD. We also need to adopt a Jewish mindset. It would be helpful to remember that in the 1st century AD schedules and timings, such as we have today, would not have existed. The only timing with relative precision would mark the start and conclusion of the weekly Sabbath.
 
 In the Jewish culture of that era a wedding was always preceded by a betrothal. But even before a betrothal the respective parents, who had in all likelihood negotiated the prospective union, would have reached an agreement, to their mutual satisfaction, on all matters concerning the marriage. During the period of betrothal, the couple would have continued to live with their respective families. Contact would have been limited and always supervised. After maybe a year of betrothal, in which a bride-to-be had the opportunity to step out of the arranged marriage, a wedding festival would be agreed. It would likely last a whole week and involve local communities as well as the families.
 
 A prospective bridegroom, accompanied by his attendants, would walk from his home village to the home village of his betrothed. There, there would be a celebration of welcome. Then the prospective groom would lead his wife-to-be back to his village and his family home where she would be accepted as his wife. She would also be attentive to the wishes of her mother-in-law whose ‘word’ was obeyed.
 
 Jesus places his parable at the point where a future husband is journeying from his village to that of his betrothed in order to escort her back to his home.
 
 Very likely a prospective bridegroom and his party would frequently interrupt their journey to greet neighbours and friends along the way. In that era weddings were not scheduled events with precise dates and hours. They were rooted in a commitment to the continuity of the Jewish people. Marriage was viewed as the race’s life-blood, its continuity, with the emphasis on children for a people who, in addition to believing they were God’s chosen, had known religious persecution. Childless Jewish homes are a cause for sorrow.
 
In Jesus’ time the crucial function of a bridesmaid was to light the way for an incoming bridegroom enabling him and his companions to securely reach his prospective bride’s family home. Because people would have travelled on foot and mostly after sundown, light-bearing bridesmaids were a necessity. The bride’s village would have had lookouts posted to watch for the approach of the bridegroom. Hospitality was and remains a seriously important aspect of Middle Eastern culture.
 
In the hearing of or reading of this Gospel extract our 21st century mindset may lead us to be critical of those bridesmaids who had oil. Their unwillingness to share oil with those who had run out might promote feelings of indignation. It may help if we, unsettled by our 21st century mindset, remind ourselves that those bridesmaids would have seen their first responsibility as the provision of light. So, for them, being a bearer of ‘light’ was their prime vocation and it is from their perspective that we must approach this parable’s teaching. The ‘wise bridesmaids’, with their oil and oil reserves, clearly understood their prime vocation to be light bearers. The ‘foolish bridesmaids’ displayed a certain carelessness. They had speculated, unwisely, on a bridegroom’s prompt arrival despite knowing their peoples’ customary behaviour.
 
Jesus’ parable implies that had the ‘wise bridesmaids’ shared their oil reserves, then both the ‘wise’ and the ‘foolish’ would have been unable to fulfil their prime vocation namely, to give light at the crucial point of the arrival of the bridegroom and his party. Neither group would have fulfilled their prime vocation.
 
Jesus wants his disciples to learn that, in committing themselves to him, they were signing up to uphold, as their prime vocation, the promotion and establishment of his teaching. He was indicating that the first responsibility for each was their personal fulfilment of their calling. They were bound by a collective responsibility but it was secondary to their primary individual commitment.
 
Jesus’ teaching upheld the decision of the ‘wise bridesmaids’ who believed they were not free to invert their priorities. In like manner, no Christian person may invert their Baptismal priority – to love God with all their heart, mind and soul – by placing love for a neighbour ahead of their love for God.
 
It is possible to uphold God’s first Commandment by showing an unselfish and altruistic love for one’s neighbour when that neighbour’s life is threatened. A classic example is found in the life of Fr. Saint Maximillian Kolbe who, in Nazi Germany, volunteered to die in the place of a fellow Holocaust victim who had a wife and children. 
“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.…” (John 15:12-14)
 
At first reading, the Matthew extract may appear to Western 21st century minds as a harsh teaching. The continuity of the Faith to which our Baptism commits us, calls each Baptised person to place her or his Baptismal promise ahead of any other consideration, no matter how socially persuading or economically enticing it may appear. The cost of any compromise is too high when it jeopardises the primacy of our vocation to love God.
 
In contemporary Western culture we see evidence that Baptismal promises, in which we are to give primacy to God and thereby reflect his light to the world, have been supplanted by careless compromises, by an addiction to endless novelty and an insatiable appetite for things amusing and often deceptively dangerous when contrasted with eternal life with God.
 
Someone once said there are certain things that cannot be borrowed:
-         A relationship with God.
-         The spiritual credibility of another. 
-         A character.
 
St. Luke records Jesus’ teaching about being ready for his return:
“Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks.  The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat!  He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, he will reward the servants who are ready.” (12:35-38) 
 

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (05.11.17)

THE DECEPTION OF HOLLOWNESS  
 
Pope St. John XXIII is still remembered for the warmth of his smile. He was born, on 25 November 1881, in the northern Italian village of Sotto il Monte. The village’s title translates as - ‘Under the mountain’. Baptised as Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, he grew up to be one of the most loved and influential popes in recent history. The ‘downsizing’ he initiated in the Catholic Church began changes that still continue.
 
His papacy began, to make a play on the name of his village, ‘under a mountain’ of inherited protocol reaching back to the Roman Emperor Constantine’s influence when he converted to Catholicism. One of John XXlll’s objectives was, as he himself said to: “Throw open the windows of the church and let the fresh air of the Spirit blow through.” The principal way he effected this was to call the Second Council of the Vatican and make it Ecumenical.
 
In St Matthew’s Gospel for this is 31st Sunday (23:1-12), Jesus does not mince his words about the behaviour of the scribes and Pharisees of his day and their self-glorification. Clearly, the problems Pope John XXlll faced were not new. Nor, as it turned out, was the resistance of those ‘insiders’ who had come to believe that the existence of the Catholic Church depended upon them and their adherence to protocols and hierarchy.

In the remainder of chapter 23 Jesus admonishes the scribes and Pharisees by publicly calling them ‘hypocrites!’ no fewer than six times! In his seventh indictment of them, Jesus calls them ‘blind guides’! On each occasion Jesus makes plain to them the specific area of their failure in leadership (23:13-32). Jesus’ words revealed the rottenness he saw in their hearts beneath the affluent ornateness of their attire.
 
Since Pope St John XXlll, five Popes have stood in the shoes of Peter the Fisherman, the latest being Pope Francis. Each has been charged with implementing the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that John XXlll called and which began on 11th October 1962. Fifty-five years may seem a long time but in terms of Conciliar history and the implementation of Conciliar teaching, throughout the worldwide Church, it is but a moment. A century is the accepted period for the whole Church to embrace changes that inevitably flow from a Council and the process is not without periods of discomfort and even dissent.
 
The extract from the prophet Malachi in this Sunday’s First Reading (1:14-2:2, 8-10) seems challengingly appropriate especially for the peoples of Western Europe whose connectivity with their Christian heritage has become so weakened - “You have turned aside from The Way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction; you have made void the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts.” Our lands are not short of historic places for the worship of God now visited by tourists but no longer filled with God-worshipping communities. The many church buildings can be compared to the sumptuous robes of the Pharisees, where appearance disguised their spiritual hollowness.
 
It would appear in our day, tragically, that no Christian entity is without its share of blame involving the abuse of young people. But the abused are not limited to young people nor is abuse confined to sexual activity. The abuse of power, position and influence within the Christian Church is just as prevalent and can be as damaging. The role of a prophet, we might need to be reminded, is not to foretell the future but to reveal God’s judgement on our present – “I, therefore, have made you contemptible and base before all the people, since you do not keep my ways, but show partiality in your decisions.” There is no denying that the Catholic Church has been shown wanting in many countries.
 
Our extract from Malachi began –
And now, O priests, this commandment is for you:
If you do not listen, if you do not lay it to heart,
to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts,
I will send a curse upon you and of your blessing I will make a curse.”

 
Again, the media spotlight is directed to the clergy, and not without justification. But it would wrong to exclude all Baptised lay people.  Because, by virtue of Baptism each Christian shares in the priesthood of Christ. After the Baptismal water was poured over our forehead, the celebrant anointed us with the Oil of Chrism (the oil of Consecration) saying: “God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the Chrism of Salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.”   
 
Therefore, all the Baptised, not just the clerical component, share in the worldwide Church's missionary activity. All, therefore, share responsibility for the multiple forms of abuse that have infected the whole body of the Church in every age. In addition, each Baptised member has a ministry, in her/his own right, in whichever form of apostolate it is that God has called them.
 
 An indication of awareness of culpability is how often we individually and specifically pray, and in other ways do penance, not only for the victims of abuse but also for the abusers, that they may cease their abusing and seek God’s forgiveness? Do we even hear such a prayer repeated sufficiently in our church services?
 
 The presence of God’s Holy Spirit will protect God’s people, we believe, from being taught falsehood and thereby led astray from the Faith by sinful shepherds, clerical or lay. This is why, Jesus, in the Matthew extract, tells us:
 "The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.  Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.”
 
Because God guarantees the freedom of our conscience and will he will not allow his faithful to be led, by corrupt shepherds, into any falsehood that will endanger our faith and eternal salvation. But God cannot prevent self-harm coming to those of his faithful who freely choose to distance themselves by turning aside from his Word-made-Flesh. A gold or silver cross hanging around the neck is no more than an ornament if Christ is not resident in each heart and soul.
 

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (29.10.17)

Identifying The Truth

People, when asking questions, reveal much about themselves. Jesus’ questioner in Matthew’s Gospel for the 30th Sunday (22:34-40) is a case in point. Jesus’ previous questioners demonstrated, either individually or collectively, a depth of antagonism as in last Sunday’s Gospel (Matt: 22:15-22). Their aggressive intentions may likely have revealed themselves in an insincerity of tone or manner, or both! Posture would also have played a part in revealing their irritation. A questioner may try to disguise his or her true feelings behind a smile or a false humility. Jesus had quickly become well experienced in reading the less obvious dispositions of many interrogators.
 
Several of our senses are involved whenever we listen with full attention. In addition to our hearing, our eyes look at and, in a sense, into the person posing the question. Our sense of smell may contribute to an overall evaluation of the questioner. Our sense of touch may be involved. Touch can be an informative means of communication telling us about our questioner’s disposition. These multiple points of information can happen simultaneously or over a short period of time. Either way, they should help us determine the manner of our response.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Matthew tells us how a question from a Pharisee and scholar of the (Jewish) Law probed Jesus’ authenticity. Jesus’ response was entirely different from his previous encounter with the combined forces of Pharisees and Herodians whom he addressed as “You hypocrites!” To this questioner Jesus said:
"You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."

Imagine how you would read aloud Jesus’ response for the benefit of your listeners. You surely wouldn’t shout or employ a stern voice and manner, would you? Jesus must have inwardly rejoiced that here was a genuine question from a genuine believer and moderated his response in word and in his manner accordingly.

Jesus was appealing to his questioner’s faith and religious knowledge. As in the case of Jesus, his questioner had been immersed since his infancy in the beliefs and culture of his people. Both would have lived their faith through their home and family relationships as well as with their synagogue communities. There was a wholeness to their lives that was deeply embedded in their relationship with God. For Jesus, the relationship with his heavenly Father was unique. For the young Pharisee and future scholar of the Law the path was through prayer and study.

Now, grown to adulthood and despite being strangers, the faith Jesus and the Pharisee valued and shared enabled them to communicate at a level those around were unable to appreciate or understand. Their faith united them, in a relatively short time, with one another at a level deeper than word and despite the hostilities of their surroundings.

The Pharisee and scholar of the Law heard not only the words that Jesus spoke to him but the truthfulness of the encouragement that Jesus offered as well as the love with which he communicated his teaching. The Pharisee did not ask for further clarification nor did he attempt to endorse what Jesus had said – as another Pharisee had once done (Mark 12:32) Moreover this Pharisee had addressed Jesus as “Teacher” and had done so without any hint of sarcasm or hypocrisy despite the hostile environment around him.

This particular communion of minds and hearts may not have lasted long, but it hadn’t needed to. Jesus had combined two Commandments from the Torah and in so doing had underlined the principles that govern the enactment of all the Commandments.

The first Commandment Jesus quoted (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) is an integral part of the Shema, the prayer a faithful Jew makes at the start of each day. Jesus then added a second Commandment giving it equal status with the first. Quoting Leviticus (19:18), Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” The Book of Leviticus explains the love of neighbour as ‘right relationship’ which, for the Jew, is the meaning of justice.

Jesus had given a teaching full of incontrovertible Truth. His questioner was both satisfied and full of admiration. This ‘Teacher’ had given an equality of status to two of the Commandments and made them pivotal in the living of all the Commandments.  
 
From the writings of the time it is clear that there was constant controversy among scholars of the Law as to which of the 613 commandments of the Torah should be prioritized since no one could be expected to observe all 613 commandments. The two Commandments Jesus linked are at the core of all his teaching. The love of God and the love of one’s neighbour as oneself are the interpretive key to the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus ‘cements’ his teaching in the last sentence of Matthew’s extract for this Sunday: “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."
 
Given the controversies that bedevil our world today and the incessant aggravation that stalks our streets, it is worth noting that the deep communion of minds and hearts between Jesus and the Pharisee, who was a scholar of the Law, took place in an aggressively charged setting.

Believing communicant Christians need to identify one another and draw strength from their oneness in faith. On the shop floor, in the office or staffroom Christians need not be in isolation. Nearby, even hidden within a controversial setting, can be another or others with whom there is a Baptismal link waiting to be made. Our Baptism calls us to be proactive in searching for other members of our Baptismal family – especially those who may have succumbed to weariness and fatigue.

This last Sunday of October has long been called “Reformation Sunday” by Protestant denominations. The Catholic Church, too, has shared in this the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. We thank God for the progress already made in the long and winding path of Reconciliation and Mutual Understanding between the various Christian communities, especially since the Second Vatican Council.

It is important that Catholic Christians pay attention to this significant commemoration.  Firstly, to confess that, realistically, some of the Catholic Church’s own behaviour, at the time, contributed to it. And, secondly, to relaunch our prayer and work for Christian Unity.

Successive Popes since Pope John XXlll have said, without exception, that praying and working for Christian Unity is not an optional extra for the Catholic family. This Sunday’s Readings offer us an excellent opportunity to expound on what unites us as Christians by helping us focus on the essential aspects of discipleship and being willing to let go of whatever is not crucial or essential to Christian living.
 

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (22.10.17)

“You Hypocrites!”
 
Jesus is not a name-caller without reason. In this, as in each instance, he is motivated by the Truth. Matthew (22:15-22) provides our Gospel extract for this 29th.Sunday.
 
 The Pharisees were perhaps reeling from the impact of the three parables that Jesus had addressed to them in public revealing the mis-directedness of their faith.  In their anger, they concentrated their efforts to entrap Jesus hoping thereby to discredit him in the eyes of the people.

 The Pharisees’ depth of determination explains their collaboration, in this instance, with their bitter rivals the Herodians. Whereas the Pharisees claimed to be the supremely orthodox followers of Judaism, the Herodians, who equally were Jews, were the political agents of the Roman puppet-king Herod, king of Galilee, and were, like him, subservient to Rome.

In those days, as now, taxation was loathed. In Palestine the more so because, as an occupied territory, taxation was governed by the Roman Empire. For the Jew, the burning question was: "Is it lawful, under Jewish law, to pay tribute to Rome?"

The Roman Empire exacted three regular taxes. A ground tax; the payment to the government of one tenth of the grain, and one fifth of the oil and wine each produced; this tax was paid partly in kind, and partly in money. Then there was income tax. This amounted to one percent of a person’s income. And finally, a poll tax that had to be paid by every male person from the age of fourteen to the age of sixty-five, and by every female person from the age of twelve to sixty-five. It amounted to one denarius. It was what Jesus called the tribute coin being the equivalent of about 4p. Bear in mind that, in those days, 3p was the usual day's wage for a working-man.

It was the Poll Tax in which the Pharisees and Herodians chose to set their entrapment question. It posed Jesus a very real dilemma. If he said that it was unlawful to pay it, they would promptly report him to the Romans for promoting sedition and his arrest would follow. If Jesus said that it was lawful to pay the tax, he would stand discredited in the eyes of his own people. The Jews resented all the Roman taxes. But they resented the Poll Tax even more for religious reasons. For the Jews, God was their only king; their nation was a theocracy. Therefore, to pay tax to an earthly king was to insult God. The more orthodox of the Jews insisted that any tax paid to a foreign king was religiously offensive to God. The Pharisees and Herodians believed that whichever way Jesus answered their contrived question, he would lay himself open to a serious accusation.
 
By way of background it may be useful to remember that one of the first acts of each successive Roman Emperor, on gaining power, was to issue his own coinage as evidence of the reality of his authority. This official coinage was held to be the property of the Emperor. In asking his questioners to show him a denarius coin, Jesus was inviting them to condemn themselves.

Under Jewish law no orthodox Jew was allowed to carry anything of an idolatrous nature, including coinage because it bore the image of the Emperor. By providing Jesus with a denarius the orthodox Pharisees and their less orthodox Herodians showed themselves to be ‘unclean’ before the assembled people. It was for this reason, among others, that Jesus addressed them as: “You hypocrites!” They were themselves infringing the very Law with which they hoped to entrap Jesus!

Jesus asked his interrogators whose image the coin, that they had provided, bore? They answered: “Caesar’s”. Jesus then delivered his judgement, still quoted widely today – “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar; and to God what belongs to God."

His interrogators’ hypocrisy had been defeated by The Truth speaking truth. Undiluted truth is the answer that cannot be gainsaid. Matthew tells us that on this occasion Jesus’ questioners were silenced and surprised and: “they left him alone and went away”. Truth is timeless and never goes out of date though it is always under devious attack from Satan and many fall victim to falsehood he confects.
 
Christians hold a double citizenship. They are citizens of the country of their domicile. This citizenship places them under a debt of obligation to act responsibly; failure to be upright earthly citizens is also a failure in Christian duty to God as well as to fellow citizens.

Christians are also ‘citizens’ of heaven. There are matters of religion and principle when the Christian’s responsibility to God takes precedence over their civil citizenship. It may well be that the two citizenships will never clash; they do not need to.

A Christian convinced that a particular principle is the will of God must uphold it even at the cost of her or his life. Equally, if a Christian is convinced that a civil law is against the will of God, they must resist it in all lawful ways and take no part in it. Where the boundaries between the two duties lie, Jesus does not say. That is for a person’s own informed conscience to test.

A Christian has the obligation to inform his/her conscience with a continuous updating that involves the grace of the Holy Spirit received through the Sacraments, an effective appreciation of the legitimate and authoritative teaching of The Church and the person’s own daily prayer. An informed conscience is a living entity. Unless it is continuously and correctly informed it is unreliable, subject to the infiltration of evil and therefore less fit for purpose that it should be.
 
The truth that Jesus lays down in this incident is how to determine to be, at one and the same time, a faithful citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven and a true citizen of the country of one’s domicile. As St. Peter said, "Fear God. Honour the emperor", God comes first. ( 1 Peter 2:17 ).
 

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (15.10.17)

Parable’s Multiple Strands
 
Jesus appeals, again, to his people’s chief priests and elders. According to St. Matthew’s Gospel (22:1-14) for the 28th Sunday, this is Jesus’ third parable specifically for those in leadership.

Jesus weaves multiple strands of teaching into this one, or is it two, parable(s) perhaps to cover adequately the variety of attitude and understanding in his audience.  People who are familiar with diplomatic procedures will know the process for issuing a formal invitation to, say, a dinner.

The first intimation of an invitation would be in the form of a general enquiry as to whether a named person would be free to consider an invitation in a month or so. This general enquiry might also carry information about the reason for the proposed gathering, the likely number of people to be present and whom they may represent.

If a favourable response were to be received there would follow, later, a more specific invitation giving date and time. It may also indicate potential table companions. This would allow a guest to negotiate a possible change of table companions. Even closer to the date of the event, the host would circulate the full guest list inclusive of seating arrangements.
 
The chief priests and elders of the Jewish people listening to Jesus’ parable would have been familiar with the protocols of their time.  Having this background in mind may help us appreciate the detail of the first five sentences of chapter 22.

The treatment meted out to the king’s messengers is an indication of how little respect his people had for their king. The inference is clear, Jesus is setting the scene in the context of the damaged relationship between the Jewish elders and Jesus’ heavenly Father. God had sent successive emissaries to his chosen people over the preceding centuries many of whom had been persecuted. As Jesus developed his parable, we can imagine the level of anger rising in his audience. They were faced with, for them, an unpalatable truth that they could not contradict.
 
God never rescinds his invitation to humanity to share in the feast of heaven - the joy of his presence. This remains true even when people choose to ignore Him and maltreat his messengers. The parable also reminds us that what makes people turn away from God’s invitation are not necessarily bad in themselves. Matthew tells us that one man went to his business and another to his estate perhaps claiming administrative urgency. It is all too easy for any of us to be so preoccupied with the ‘here and now’ that we forget the necessary provisions for eternity. The noise of Satan’s world can drown out the gentle call of Christ. As someone said: ‘A man can be so busy making a living that he fails to make a life’.

The parable also prompts those who refuse or ignore the invitation to consider not so much the punishment as the joy of the ‘wedding feast’ which they will have foregone – for eternity!

God’s invitation is a ‘moment’ of grace. It cannot be merited or bought as indicated by those who were gathered in from the ‘highways and byways’. In their wildest dreams, they could never have expected an invitation to this wedding feast! It came to them from the ever open-hearted, generous hospitality of the king.
 
Verses 11 – 14 of this chapter 22 could almost be considered a separate, but connected, parable. What are we to make of the issue of the missing wedding garment?

We are aware of places, to which we may be invited, where we are required to put on protective clothing. This clothing is either to protect us or to protect the environment we are entering from any contamination we may carry. Just for a moment, let us imagine God’s grace as a form of clothing. God’s invitation is an outpouring of grace. We must choose to be clothed in that grace. To whom but the God of Forgiveness will we turn at the door of eternity? Our re-clothing in God’s grace commences from the moment of our Baptism. It is intended to be continuous. God will never withdraw from us but we, because we are sinners, may choose to clothe ourselves in something other than grace. His love is so profound and generous that God allows us to go back, repeatedly, pleading to be re-clothed in grace again.

In Jesus’s parable, it was the apparent unconcern of the guest without a wedding garment that brought his incarceration. He lacked the interior disposition of petition, the wedding garment, that he might be accorded the ‘Grace of Reconciliation’.

‘The weeping and gnashing of teeth’ reflects how, at the General Judgement everyone will be fully conscious of the wondrous joy and splendour of God’s presence (the “Wedding Banquet’). This reality all will keep undimmed for eternity. Those in heaven will experience it unendingly. Those who have chosen to forsake God will also know, for eternity, what they have chosen to forsake. In Jesus’ parable, the ‘weeping and gnashing’ of the one expelled was self-inflicted! It was not being done to him. It is said that remorse is the worst of all punishments because our culpability is inescapable.
 
We can also reflect that the second half of this parable has nothing to do with the clothes we wear to church and everything to do with the disposition with which we enter church! The parable challenges us, as it challenged the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day. Are we in communion with the Lord, who longs to clothe us in his ‘wedding garment’ of graced reconciliation, or are we more conscious of church-going as a fashion parade?

Even some who attend church may arrive without those essential interior ‘garments’ of mind, heart and soul – humble confession, a desire to grow in faith and a sense of reverence for the holiness of God’s presence.

Jesus was not seeking to belittle the Jewish leaders but to draw them into choosing to be consecrated and clothed anew with God’s healing grace, as he is, continually, with us.  
 

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (01.10.17)

God Alone Is The Perfect Parent
 
The dysfunctionality of relationship is not uncommon among siblings. While psychiatrists and psychologists will have their theories as to the causes, Christians will trace such unhappiness to our first parents’ disobeying God. The fracture within the Divine / human relationship resulted in Adam and Eve’s son Cain murdering his brother Able. (Genesis 4: 3-9) The rest, as they say, is history.
 
Matthew’s Gospel for the 26th Sunday (21:28-32) also depicts two brothers. By use of a parable, Jesus was attempting the restoration of true faith in some of the chief priests and elders of his people. The son’s father, according to Jesus, asked his elder son to work in the vineyard. The youth refused but, later, reconsidered and went to work. The second son, on receiving the same message from his father, replied “Certainly, sir”, but did not go. Jesus asked the Jewish leaders, “Which of the two did his father's will?" They answered, "The first." The Leaders condemned themselves by recognising the validity of the elder son’s change of heart whereas they remained obstinately resistant when God manifested his will in the presence and teaching of his Son, Jesus.
 
Jesus gives no indication of the time lapse between the father’s request and the elder son’s change of heart. Nor is there an indication of whether another family member had played any part in the youth’s change of heart. What is clear is the elder son’s forthrightness of character which Jesus contrasts with the duplicity of the second son.
It is said that a couple’s first child can have a tougher upbringing than subsequent siblings. The parents are learning to be parental! A first child often sees his/her younger brothers and sisters accorded leniency for things for which he/she was punished! The resultant sense of injustice can last indefinitely causing damage to the parental/offspring relationship.
 
God alone is the perfect parent. Tragically, all God’s children, bar one, Mary the Immaculate Mother of God, are sinners. Humanity’s self-entrapment in sin, hereditary and personal, prevents any possibility of our being able to restore our broken relationship with God. This truth is as valid today as it was from the beginning. We are helpless unless Jesus Christ comes to our rescue. He can only come to us when we sincerely and truthfully call upon him with the same conversion of heart that was shown by the elder son in Jesus’ parable.
 
There’s a true story of a priest, many years ago, who was part of a missionary team in a parish in The Gorbals on the south bank of the River Clyde in Glasgow, Scotland. In the 1930s and beyond as many as 90,000 people were crammed into densely-crowded job-provided tenement housing without proper sanitation and often running water.

As the priest climbed to the top flat up a filthy staircase, a woman called out, “You shouldn’a bother yerself, Father. The one up there! She’s a woman of the night and won’t welcome ye disturbing her sleep!” Nevertheless, though he would have preferred not to have bothered, the priest knocked on the door. At length, a bedraggled youth appeared. The priest asked if he could speak with ------. He was shown to a disgustingly dirty and smelly tiny bedroom where a woman was sleeping. As he waited for her to be awakened he looked around. His eye was caught by one among many pictures on the walls by the bed. This one was out of keeping with the rest. It was a small ‘stampita’ (a holy picture cum prayer-card). It was of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in which Mary is depicted as holding and giving protection to the Infant Jesus who has run to her in fright.

That ‘woman of the night’, it turned out, had clung on to this tattered remnant of an earlier time in her afflicted life. In those depressing circumstances, she shed tears of joy when she received God’s Absolution from the priest. The next day, she came to the mission and received Holy Communion – much to the disapproval of some of her fellow communicants.

That one experience made the sheer slog and multiple disappointments of his priestly work on that Gorbal’s mission, and many more like it, worthwhile for that priest. He told the story. I heard it sixty years ago and, today, I rejoice to be able to pass it on to you.
 
It is quite possible that the father in Jesus’ parable shed many a tear when he discovered how his elder son had had such a change of heart. Who knows, maybe it was the first step of a reconciliation for which the father had long prayed without knowing how to apologise for his shortcomings as a dad!
 
Pope Francis had this to say about the Church he wants to see in the world of the 21st.Century:
The "thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle."
Pope Francis 24/09/13

The Pope has offered an image of the Church that is not only scripturally rich (cf. Mk 2:17) but one that should resonate with its members as well as with nonbelievers and those searching for a spiritual home.
 
Please God, we are more able not only to identify which son did his father’s will but to apply the truth in our own lives than were, apparently, the chief priests and elders who heard Jesus speak.
 
On August 9 2017 at a Wednesday General Audience, Pope Francis said:
“We, who are used to experiencing the forgiveness of sins, perhaps too “cheaply,” should at times remind ourselves how much we cost God’s love. Each one of us cost a lot: Jesus’ life!
He would have given it also for just one of us. Jesus didn’t go to the cross because He cured the sick, because He preached charity, because He proclaimed the Beatitudes. The Son of God went to the cross above all because He forgave sins, because He willed the total, definitive liberation of the human heart.”
 

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.