Sunday Reflection

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (30.07.17)

The Parable – A Work In Progress
 
The Matthew Gospel for this 17th Sunday, like the two previous, features Jesus’ parables - 13:1-23 for the 15th.; 13:24-43 for the 16th.; and 13:44-52 for this 17th.
 
Christians, familiar with Jesus’ parables, may be less familiar with how the parable, a teaching tool, works. A parable is helpful when you want to change another’s whole frame of mind. People often resist making such a change. This is especially true when the mindset has been inherited, for example, through generations of how a family votes at a General Election. It’s notoriously hard to persuade a person to alter the way they process the knowledge they receive.
 
That Jesus chose to use parables in his teaching tells us what he wanted to accomplish in his earthly ministry. You may know the lovely story of a tourist, lost in the countryside, who asked a local for directions. The local thought for a moment and then said, “You cannot get there from here!” When Jesus, the teacher, makes use of a parable he is in fact saying, “You cannot get to where I am, and experience how God wishes to be present in your lives, unless you first of all change your frame of mind”.
 
Because Jesus’ parables called into question some of the then prevailing Jewish attitudes to God and life, his teaching unsettled peoples’ minds. He challenged people about their taken-for-granted way of viewing everything namely, “It’s the way it’s always been”. Some believe that Jesus’ parables contributed to his eventual crucifixion. Neither the Jewish nor the Roman authorities appreciated the way Jesus looked at what they regarded as reality. Those who empower people to choose a different frame of mind are often a threat to the status quo.
 
For example, Pope Francis is viewed as a threat by Church members who are wedded to their understanding of the, as they see it, more conservative outlook of Pope John Paul ll and Emeritus Pope Benedict XVl. These two Popes influenced the unfolding of the Second Vatican Council’s teaching, throughout the Church, over a combined period of thirty-five years. Views as to how the two Popes enabled this unfolding vary from Catholic to Catholic. Some are preoccupied with measuring the legitimacy of Pope Francis’ leadership in terms of his continuity or discontinuity with his German predecessor.  For the first time in living memory, Pope Francis’ predecessor is living in retirement in the same complex as the present Pope. This enables some to manufacture mischief to further their own aims. Recently Pope Francis, addressing a plenary session of the Vatican Secretariat for Communications, said:  “Let us resist the temptation of being attached to a glorious past; let’s all be team players in order to better respond to the new communication challenges posed by culture today without fear and without foreseeing apocalyptic scenarios.”
 
Jesus, throughout his public ministry, was building on his initial and foundational declaration: “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.” (Matt 4:17) Jesus’ call alerts all to be aware of the nearness of God and his desire to work collaboratively with us in our daily lives. His presence is sheer gift. We cannot merit it or control it. God is present among us and we engage with him when we bring him our repentance.
 
Today people are less able to see the Kingdom of God among them because they allow themselves to be conditioned, to have their minds set, by culture and peer-group pressure. It is estimated that some people would need a 180-degree change in their value systems, in their mindset, to begin to experience how God’s Kingdom is interwoven with their world and everyone in it. For others the change required would be less but nevertheless a measured change of outlook.
 
Jesus, in the first two of his parables for this Sunday, the treasure buried in a field and the finding of a pearl of great beauty and value, assumes that people would be willing to sell all they had and, in today’s parlance, go into debt (which is covenanting their future) to acquire them. By implication Jesus was asking his audience – as he asks, again, this Sunday – were they, and are we, willing to exchange all we own for these treasures? If our answer is ‘yes’ then it follows that if we appreciate the eternal ‘treasure’ Christ is offering in the Kingdom of Heaven, we would willingly surrender what is truly personal to us, without causing injury to others such as family and immediate community. This is in fact what we profess when we pray The Creed though the familiarity of the words might shield us from a penetrative understanding.
 
It is incumbent on us to remember that this world, as St. John’s first letter tells us (5:19), is in the grip of Satan. The kingdom God does not, for now, annihilate all other kingdoms. Life remains complicated and we will have to continue our pilgrim way until our heavenly Father calls time and brings this world to an end.
 
Jesus explains this with another parable this 17th Sunday: The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them (the wicked) into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
 
In other words, we are called to establish God’s kingdom in an ‘all -comers net’. We are not to wait to establish the faith until conditions are ‘perfect’. There is no such entity as a perfect Catholic parish or a perfect Catholic leader. We are to evangelize the world as we encounter it. Since we do not know when the ‘end of the world’ will come, we must fulfil our Baptismal promises in the daily battleground of good and evil.
 
Matthew, the repentant tax collector become Evangelist, finishes recording this series of parables with Jesus saying: “Every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”  Which is exactly what Matthew did when Jesus called him from the Custom’s house. (Matt 9:9) Matthew will not have expunged the memory of his previous life and activity but made use of it to see Jesus’ invitation with a rarified clarity.
 

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (23.07.17)

Satan, The Master Tactician
 
Satan works tirelessly to lessen people’s awareness of his presence. He is a devilish master tactician as can be read in Matt. 4: 1-11 and Luke 4:1-13. These passages are commonly referred to as ‘the temptation of Christ’. It is worth a moment to reflect that the title may lead people, mistakenly, to liken Christ’s encounter with Satan to their own experience of temptation - an inward desire to commit sin. Christ’s human nature, unlike ours, is sinless. In the Judean wilderness, when his forty-day fast had depleted his physical strength, Jesus is exposed to Satan’s ploys of a plausible, less painful, but false way for Jesus to achieve his goals. In His rebuttal of Satan, Christ remained sinless. He therefore remained the perfect sacrifice, able to assimilate the entirety of humanity’s sin and make atonement for it on the Cross of Calvary.
 
In Matthew’s Gospel extract (13:24-43) for this 16th Sunday, Jesus reveals three distinct parables which, while carrying a message to three distinct groups namely, farmers, those with little or nothing and homemakers, can nevertheless be shared by everyone.
The profundity of The Truth in Jesus’ parables does not reveal itself to the half-hearted or casual reader or listener, or to the person ensnared by habitual sin. Satan’s tactic is always to divert us from The Truth by the substitution of false truth or a reduced truth, as he attempted with Jesus in the desert.
 
One of Jesus’ parables, this 16th Sunday, provides a classic example of Satan’s contemporary tactical approach to confusing and/or reducing our access to The Truth. Jesus’ parable tells of a farmer who grows wheat. One translation of the Bible gives us this:
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field.  While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.”
Another translation gives us this:
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
Another translates the same text as:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 
 
The words highlighted are ‘weeds’ and ‘tares’. People will understand the generic term weed as encompassing the multitude of uninvited intruders that invade our gardens and cause us endless work! They may be less familiar with tares. 
The translation in The New Jerusalem Bible has this:
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everybody was asleep his enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off. When the new wheat sprouted and ripened, then the darnel appeared as well.”
The word highlighted, ‘darnel’, will be less well recognised and its import therefore overlooked.
 
It is fair to deduce that, at some unknown stage of editing these translations, those involved decided to substitute ‘weed’ for ‘darnel’ and ‘tare’. Maybe those who made the substitution had the idea to make the text more readily understandable for 21st century readers. To the casual observer or reader of the Gospel text it may not appear a matter of significance, but in fact it is.
 
‘Darnel’ is the noun that most authentically describes the activity of the farmer’s enemy that Jesus wanted to convey.  But it is not a noun in common usage today. An editor might well strike the word ‘darnel’ from the text and substitute the word ‘weed’ for pecuniary not literary reasons. Publishers employ editors to ensure a profitable return on the publisher’s investment. Therefore publishers want a text that appeals to the widest audience rather than one with specialist language that requires the reader to do some research. Satan’s ploy has worked! The substitution means The Truth is less evident to so many readers.
 
Darnel is a form of Eurasian ryegrass. You may well have one of its derivatives in your garden as it is commonly found. Jesus’ audiences worked the land. They feared darnel and with good cause. Jesus’ parables intentionally featured what was familiar to his audiences so that The Truth would be more readily anchored in their minds and hearts.
 
Bearded darnel, in its early stages of growth, so closely resembles wheat that it is impossible to distinguish one from another. By the time the darnel can be identified, that is when the new wheat has sprouted, the darnel’s roots will have entwined themselves with those of the wheat! Any attempt to pull the darnel out of the ground will bring the wheat out as well! Jesus in choosing the word ‘darnel’ is word-painting the darnel-sowing enemy as a calculating, malevolent and, ultimately, to be feared opponent. Jesus is describing Satan!
 
The wheat and the darnel had to be separated at harvest because the darnel grain is slightly poisonous and causes dizziness and sickness as well as being a narcotic. The time spent separating the wheat and the darnel after harvesting, as well as paying for the labour to do so, would have had serious implications for the livelihood of the landowner and his family.
 
Those who listened to Jesus when he spoke would have known the precise implications of his choice of the word ‘darnel’. Today, for many, the word would not register unless a homilist explained it.
 
The choice of the title for this article, ‘Satan, The Master Tactician’, is meant to alert us to Satan’s infiltration and manipulation of daily life in so many subtle ways. His aim is to reduce our spiritual sensitivity to The Truth. Substituting  ‘weed’ for ‘darnel’ becomes important if it obscures the depth of The Truth that Jesus wanted his audience then, and us in the 21st century, to grasp.
 
Your may have heard of a Scottish poet, novelist and translator called Edwin Muir. He wrote ‘One Foot In Eden’ in 1956. It’s a poem that permeates much of Muir’s work namely, ‘Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden’. Muir saw it as a journey repeated time and again throughout human life. ‘One Foot In Eden’ is included in the religious poetry for the Divine Office for Holy Week. It is a highly appropriate accompaniment for Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the darnel this Sunday.
“One foot in Eden still, I stand
And look across the other land.
The world’s great day is growing late,
Yet strange these fields that we have planted
So long with crops of love and hate.
Time’s handiworks by time are haunted,
And nothing now can separate
The corn and tares compactly grown.
The armorial weed in stillness bound
Above the stalk; these are our own.
Evil and good stand thick around
In the fields of charity and sin
Where we shall lead our harvest in.
Yet still from Eden springs the root
As clean as on the starting day.
Times takes the foliage and the fruit
And burns the archetypal leaf
To shapes of terror and of grief
Scattered along the winter way.
But famished field and blackened tree
Bear flowers in Eden never known.
Blossoms of grief and charity
Bloom in these darkened fields alone.
What had Eden ever to say
Of hope and faith and pity and love
Until was buried all its day
And memory found its treasure trove?
Strange blessings never in Paradise
Fall from these beclouded skies.
 
Edwin Muir
(1887-1959)
 
The parable of the wheat and darnel reminds us that though we are exiles in the kingdom of Evil, God, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, has taken root in our world. Through his suffering, death and Resurrection, Jesus has broken the hold that the Evil of Death had over us.
 
For as long as we live here there will be a daily battle between good and evil. The recent very painful history of the Manchester bombing of young people illustrates the evil of, so called, religious fanaticism. Our Church, let along society, has shown us how such destructive Evil can lurk, hidden for far too long, behind even the clerical collar and the bishop’s mitre. God help us for being so judgemental with our labels of ‘good’ and ’bad’ without being aware of all the facts. But think, too, of the loss that farmer would have suffered if the reapers had had their way and pulled out both darnel and wheat!
 
Like the reapers in Jesus’ parable we, too, must be alert to the every-changing ploys of The Master Tactician.
 

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (16.07.17)

At The Heart Of Jesus’ Parables Is Truth
 
An audience at a lecture can place differing interpretations on the speaker’s words. If we allow that the audience had an equality of opportunity to hear as well as an equality of age, background and audial capacity, how might such a difference in understanding be explained? One aspect for consideration might be each individual’s capacity to recognize and accept The Truth. As Christians we believe that each person has an innate ability to recognise and accept The Truth because we are God’s creation and He is The Truth. However, the voluntary disobedience of our first parents initiated an impairment of humanity’s at-oneness with The Truth namely, God. Over subsequent centuries that initial impairment has become the running battle ground between God and Satan in successive generations of God’s good creation. The Resurrection of Christ ensures that Satan can have no final victory but meanwhile he continuously attempts to undermine our personal relationship with God.
 
It is commonly supposed that ‘people only hear what they want to hear’. It is called ‘Selective hearing’. But is hearing the same as listening? Hearing, for those not suffering from audio impairment, is one of our five ‘automatic’ senses meaning that it is permanently in function.  Listening, on the other hand, is a personally directed focused and purposed use of our hearing.
 
The extract from Matthew’s Gospel for this 15th Sunday of the year (13:1-23) has a classic Jesus parable, the “Sower and the Seed”, and a question to Jesus from the disciples: “Why do you speak to them (the crowds) in parables?”
A parable is a story that invites the listener to stop and, centring their attention, enter into the word-picture being created by the speaker. When that speaker is God-made-Man what you hear is The Truth. For humans, The Truth is captivating because it resonates with who we are by virtue of being God’s creation. But The Truth has to be treated with respect. It will not reveal itself to those who treat it roughly or with indifference. It cannot be grasped or momentarily or hurriedly considered. It cannot be heard, let alone listened to, by people whose attention is multi-focused and therefore distracted.
 
Yet the Truth has the capacity to, as it were, arrest our thought but only if we are willing to surrender our whole heart and mind. A prime example of the power of The Truth is Saul the persecutor of members of ‘The Way’. This was the first title of the group who later became known as Christians. Saul, the powerful Pharisee who breathed threats and murder against the disciples of Jesus, was busily heading for Damascus and the next phase of his bloody purge. Suddenly he was on the ground instead of his horse and was sightless. (Acts of the Apostles 9: 1-9) The powerful Pharisee needed to be led by the hand into Damascus. What a contrast with the entry he had planned. Saul’s sightlessness continued for three days. His conversion from Saul to Paul was to last the remainder of his life before he was martyred for his faith in Jesus.
 
Were the people gathered around Jesus on the lakeside, as described in Matthew’s Gospel, hearing him or listening to him? There is no denying that they were in a unique situation to hear The Truth because Jesus, being The Truth speaks The Truth. No other person, save Mary, full of grace, the Mother of God-made-Man, would have an unimpaired affinity with The Truth.
 
Think, for a moment, of the variety of people gathered for Mass this Sunday. Are they hearing the proclamation of the Gospel, the Word of God brought alive for us, or listening to it? We know from experience how our attention can wander. Those who listen to, that is focus on, the Gospel, as opposed to hearing it being read, are likely to have a clearer recall of its content and meaning for them.
 
A person’s quality of listening is affected by many factors such as the decibel levels of surrounding or adjacent noise. Because people are not necessarily free to choose where they live and work, many have little option save to become acclimatized to a level of extraneous noise that works against focused listening. There are other extraneous noises that we do control such as the telephone, radio, TV and the like.
 
People living in a quiet rural setting know when a city family comes to visit. For the first few days the city family members sound as if they are shouting to one another, the children probably are! Then, slowly, their voice levels decrease as, subconsciously; they adjust to their less noise-prone environment and rediscover they do not need to shout in order to be heard!
 
A friend once spent a month in monastic silence where the only noises were the wind and wild animals. The day after the experience ended the friend was in a city centre. She described experiencing the overall noise as an assault not only on her ears but also her whole being.
 
External noises are not the only reason why people’s capacity to listen to God can be damaged. People, wherever they live, suffer from an accumulation of intermittent but disruptive internal ‘noise’. Internal noise has many components, among them greed, jealousy, anger, unruly competitiveness, the holding of grudges, an unwillingness to forgive and an unwillingness to accept forgiveness, a guilty conscience, a drifting away from communion with Jesus. These internal ‘noises’ are at Satan’s disposal. He uses them constantly particularly at those moments when the soul attempts to respond to a Divine invitation for wordless intimacy – a prayer that is more thought than word. Internal ‘noise’ can drive people to alcohol and drugs, for example, in an effort to find an escape. How many UK citizens are prescribed anti-depressants for daytime and sleeping tablets at night?
 
It is impossible to switch from an environment of noise, external or internal, to stillness and silence in an instant. People who choose, for example, an eight-day silent retreat are sometimes surprised to be invited to spend the first two days resting where they had expected times of concentrated prayer. Though the retreatant may have come into an atmosphere of silence, he or she will have brought their interior ‘noise’ with them. They need time to resolve that noise, as it were, to empty their minds. Remember times when, as a child, you closed your eyes and spun on the spot. Then, suddenly, you stopped spinning and opened your eyes. Your head was still gyrating and it was probably hard to find your balance.
 
Much the same happens when a person rushes into Mass late – having rushed from a home where so many jobs competed for attention – in a noisy car that was difficult to park because of a lack of space. There’s quite a poor chance that that person will be acclimatised to being in church, let alone prayer, before it’s time to leave! Then they may well be plagued with the feeling “I don’t know why I bother to go!”
 
Saul, a practising Jew, believed that in persecuting the Christians he was fulfilling God’s will. The Damascus Road experience was for Saul a moment of conversion not of initiation. Paul already believed in God but that belief had stumbled at the advent of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, as had the belief of many of his fellow Pharisees. For many contemporary already Baptised Western Europeans such an experience would be more a matter of re-connection than conversion. This is one measure of how significant a portion of Europe’s Christian heritage has been surrendered to the wiles of Satan.
 
Despite this tragic state of affairs, each person retains their innate likeness to God who made them in his image, Redeemed them and loves them deeply. The power of The Truth that ‘arrested’ Saul on the Damascus Rd. is also fully capable of ‘arresting’ not only a defaulting Christianity in Western Europe but also the population of the whole world. Saul was given the opportunity to listen to God and he accepted it by the grace of God. Jesus’ parables retain their capacity to ‘arrest’ people’s attention today. There continues to be a substantial quantity and variety of God’s Word filling the airwaves. But are people listening or even hearing? Jesus’ parables hold peoples’ attention when they sense the reader’s own conviction, love and reverence for The Truth in what she or he is proclaiming.
 

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (09.07.17)

At times we all find life difficult.  We become overburdened with problems and worries.

We can often use these as an excuse for not turning to Christ.
 
In today’s Gospel, Christ tells us to bring all our burdens to Him and He will give us comfort, peace and strength....
Come to Me all who labour and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take up my yoke and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you’ll find rest for your souls.  Yes, my Yoke is easy and my burden light.
 
However, the virtues of humility and gentleness don’t seem to make much sense in the world of today.

It seems as though one has to throw one’s weight around in order to get on in this world.
 
Yet gentleness can be a form of strength.

Consider the hands of a mother or a surgeon – surely it is gentleness that counts, not brute force.
 
Where a heavy storm can break flowers, a gentle breeze and a ray of sunshine helps them to open up and grow.  So too with us – it is with gentleness that we can help others to open up and grow and develop.
 
How about humility then!   In today’s competitive world where we are told to “project yourself if you want to succeed” it could be seen as weakness; but far from it:
Loving humility is the foundation on which to build the house of the Spirit.
 
Humble people know that before God they are poor, weak and vulnerable; but they have Faith, Hope and   Trust in God, who can fill their emptiness and strengthen their weakness.

It is to the meek and humble of heart that Jesus promises peace of soul.
                                                                                                                       
Reflecting on the words of His promise, exhorting us to come to Him in all our troubles, He will not only sweeten out burdens, but will carry us when we remain weak, He will calm us when we are afraid , and He will help us to be compassionate towards others, and try to do unto them as He has done to us.
 
Let us pray:-
                  Slow me down Lord ............. ease my pounding heart;
                 quieten my racing mind ........ steady my hurried steps.
 
                  Remind me each day that there is more to life than increasing its speed.
                  Let me look into the branches of a towering oak tree,
                 And know that it grew tall and strong, because it grew slowly and well.
 
                 Slow me down, Lord.
                 Teach me to be gentle and humble of heart,
                  And thus I will find rest for my soul.                                             
                 

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (02.07.17)

“A Cup Of Cold Water”
 
For us, living with water-on-tap, a cup of cold water is no big thing. (Matt 10:42) However, in countries where daytime temperatures range to the upper 30 degrees, and where there’s no electricity, then maybe our appreciation of cold water would alter.

Pretty much the whole of Matthew’s chapter 10 - from which the extract for this 13th Sunday comes –is dedicated to Jesus’ ministerial formation of his chosen Apostles.  They will be his ambassadors and Jesus lays their future on the line for them:
–      There will be warfare. The ‘foe’ may well be within one’s own family. Great challenges divide people. The world is divided between those who accept Jesus Christ and those who do not.
–      There will be choice. Each person must choose between the closest ties on earth and loyalty to Jesus Christ. All inter-human loyalties must give way to loyalty to God.
–      There will be a cross. Galileans were all too familiar with the horrendous and inhuman Roman punishment of crucifixion. A Roman General, Varus, had crucified two thousand Jews when the nation had revolted against Roman rule. He positioned the crosses alongside well-used cart tracks and walkways. Committed Christians understand legitimate personal ambitions, careers and dreams may, from time to time, need to be surrendered to the Lord for the sake of the Gospel. The hallmark of the Christian is in living in fidelity to Christ in daily life. This, in a world where the cross is seen more as an adornment rather than a sign of commitment.  
–      There will be adventure. Jesus told his Apostles that those who found their life would lose it, and those who lost their life would find it. The Christian life does not promote a policy of personal safety-first. The only way to true happiness is to spend one’s life selflessly in serving others and in doing so discovering life here and hereafter.
 
If the foregoing appears too strenuous do not be disheartened. God loves us. He would never ask of us what we could not willingly give as he himself would provide us with any shortfall due to our limitedness.

Our Baptismal promise commits us to live an apostolic way of life. It is possible that in highlighting the frequently exemplary lives of Christians who, leaving home and country, took the Gospel to far off lands, we have undervalued the Christians living exemplary apostolic lives in our street! Christian parents struggle not only with their own faith commitment but also with raising children with faith in an atmosphere of oppressive secularism. This is as much ‘frontline’ as the missionary abroad. Equally, those who offer their lives in prayerful support of such ‘frontline’ brothers and sisters are truly apostolic.

We may not all, at first glance, be obvious examples of goodness and righteousness but our own personal struggle with weakness can lend support and encouragement to others in their personal spiritual pilgrimage. Our communion with Christ is not in the ‘chalking up’ of so called victories but in allowing the Lord to make use of our limitedness to enable others.

The nature and composition of the cross that Jesus invites each Baptised person to ‘take up’ (Matt 16:24) will vary in the course of our individual lives. In recognising our cross for what it is we will be enabled by the generosity of other Simons of Cyrene (Luke 23:26), as our ‘way of the cross’ itself offers support to other pilgrims.
Adventure, for the dedicated Christian, is a grace-enabled feat of commitment to love God that is so different from the thrill-seeking romp usually associated with the word.
 
Jesus concluded his briefing of the Apostles: “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple — amen, I say to you, that person will surely not lose their reward."(Matt 10:42)

In the Middle East, once water is drawn to the surface from deep underground it rapidly loses its fresh, sharp, thirst-quenching coldness. This is the context we need to appreciate when we read Matthew’s Gospel extract.

A woman would draw the water from the well in the pre-dawn and then walk to her home balancing the earthenware pot of precious drinking water on her head. Once back at her simple adobe ‘home’ she might pour a beaker of still cold water. She would wrap the beaker to protect it from the heat and put it in some dark, cool space. In the course of the day as the sun climbed higher and the temperature soared, the woman might refresh herself with a few sips from the still cold water. This ‘cold’ water was her treasure. Imagine how reluctantly she would surrender it to another! She would provide the now tepid water from the larger pot for those of the family who asked. Her secret store remained her cold secret.

But then, unexpectedly, a beleaguered, exhausted and dehydrated fellow disciple came to her home seeking water, cold water! It would cost her to give up her preciously guarded store of cold water but she would do so for “one of these little ones”,  as Jesus describes his own.
 
Without clearing our mind, pausing in the rush of life and preparing to listen we have little chance of absorbing what Jesus is saying and doing. We also need the help of the Holy Spirit within our heart to aid our interpretation. For so many people the depths of the Gospel message remain beyond their reach. And if beyond their reach, then how can they inspire others with a love for the Son of God-made-Man!

When we give silence and time to reflect upon the Gospel it reveals itself like the precious treasure it is – like the beaker of cold carefully stored water. There may come a stranger whose need for spiritual refreshment demands that we draw on our hidden reserves for the love of God.
 

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (25.06.17)

 “Fear no one.”   “Do not be afraid.

Jesus’ use of the imperative underlines the non-negotiability of his statement. The imperative opens the Matthew Gospel extract for the 12th Sunday (10:26). Jesus’ teaching, to his Twelve Apostles, underlines the truth that fear is a crippling and permanent feature of human life on this earth.
 
Previously in the Garden of Eden, also known as Paradise, our first parents knew no fear. From Genesis 3:8 we can deduce that God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden and they were unafraid either of God or of each other in their nakedness. The bedevilment of fear originates with Satan who deftly and successfully used it to invade the free will of our first parents.
 
Their original breaking of God’s commandment made them Eden’s exiles. It incarcerated them in Satan’s kingdom and subjected them and their successors, including us, to the ravages of multi-faceted fear. Currently, our world can be truly frightening. At so many levels there is the promotion of deliberate disharmony bringing a fear-induced disintegration of society affecting both families and nations. For example, the upheavals of the Trump administration in the USA, plus the number of European countries with very divided views on the EU, migration, control of borders etc. It is unsurprising that people may choose not to take stock of the reality. Among those who do, many hold up their hands in despair. Yet, our world does not have to be like this.
 
Jesus would never lay a commandment upon us without granting us freedom of access to the grace necessary for fulfilling it. It is our responsibility to make, daily, a prayer based application for the grace which we need as a support for our willed choice. Yesterday’s prayer does not serve tomorrow! As Sr. Mary Xavier’s hymn expresses it: “Lord, for tomorrow and its needs I do not pray; keep me, my God, from stain of sin, just for today.” The natural antidote to fear is an inner wholeness. Pope emeritus Benedict XVl expresses it thus: “Only if truth and love are in agreement can humanity be happy: only truth makes us free.”  
 
Jesus, God’s only begotten Son-made-Man, offers a true sense of direction and purpose in this Sunday’s Gospel (Matt: 10:26-33):
Jesus said to the Twelve:
Fear no one ….…. do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Hell.”
 
But are people listening in this 21st. century? Are we, who in real time hear the Gospel being proclaimed, truly listening? If all the Baptised were truly listening and responding would there not be an irresistible surge of unified purposefulness that would impact upon political decisions at governmental level because, in true democracies, the public vote holds the power.
 
As love and truth are not in agreement humanity lacks true happiness. Consequently, lacking a true sense of direction and purpose, public opinion is tossed around in the maelstrom of international and national political uncertainty perpetually stirred up by the, at times, irresponsibility shown by some instant communication outlets. Yet, our world does not have to be like this.
 
A committed Christian must love the world enough, despite its violence, to want it to be as God intended. She or he must be willing to ‘step up to the plate’. The receiving of Holy Communion is also a proclamation of willingness to step into and be prophetically active in the space where the world’s chosen way of acting contradicts the Gospel and proclaim: ‘It should not be like this. It doesn’t have to be like this.’
 
The prophet Jeremiah, in today’s First Reading (20:10-13), laments the negativity he constantly met among his own people when he spoke God’s message to them. Jeremiah’s words strongly resemble the hostility believers in God encounter in our 21st century. As Pope Francis has pointed out – ‘in the Church’s history there have never been more martyrs than there are today’. Very recently in China the authorities held another Catholic bishop under house arrest without cause. They wanted to prevent the bishop celebrating the Mass of Chrism with his priests and people in Holy Week. Without the bishop there could be no Mass of Chrism, itself a celebration of Sacramental union with the universal Church at the local level. He was but one among many more Catholic bishops in China who are actively prevented from fulfilling their ministry of service and leadership.
 
Martyrdom knows many forms other than the spilling of blood. There is much evidence of masked hostility towards Christianity in Western Europe. It breaks surface from time to time with media sensationalism about the wearing of a crucifix or the saying of a prayer in public. But the real hostility goes on at a much deeper level where, for example, the natural careers of breadwinners are derailed because of their religious affiliation. 
 
One cannot be a committed and active Christian, within the spiritual desert that is Western Europe, without that desert impacting on one’s life in some way. This desert-impact becomes the place of encounter. It was soon after Jesus had been Baptised than the Spirit led him into the desert of the Judean wilderness and he encountered Satan. It was Jesus’ moment of commitment and consecration. Satan’s temptations presented Jesus with alternative ways of, apparently, accomplishing his messianic mission. Jesus rejects each temptation because it is either testing God or rejecting God. Underlying each temptation was the lure of blasphemy because the temptations were focused on the glorification of Jesus not on his commitment to his heavenly Father. (Matthew 4:1-11)
 
The Son of God-made-Man, faced with the diabolical power of Satan, repeatedly asserts the absolute sovereignty of God and his own dependence upon God alone. In the desert, at the outset of his public ministry, and again, three years later, in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of his arrest, Jesus gave us a masterclass in how to harmonise truth and love when he demonstrated true Sonship and fidelity (John 18: 1-11)
 
Fear might induce us to fly from a world of such corruption and disfiguration. By instructing us to “Fear no one” and not to be afraid, Jesus is encouraging us to follow in his footsteps, to engage with the world which is in the grip of Satan (1 John 5:19). We are to make our Baptismal journey as a pilgrimage for the world in which the Holy Spirit will bring us to a deeper generosity of service. The Spirit will show us how to be a source of true life in the man-made desert of our affluent society.
 
There were some remarkable television programmes over recent weeks revealing how deserts, far from being sterile places, were inhabited by many living creatures not immediately obvious to the human eye. Desert dwellers, be they human or non-human, have to learn how to live on the edge of survival in a vastness that can only be truly known by God.
 

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (18.06.17)

‘Find the ideal gift for First Holy Communion’  
 
The First Holy Communion (FHC) season is in full swing. Advertisements offer everything for ‘the day’, including professional organisers to set up the day for you with outfits, hairdressing, limousines and party venues, if you can afford it! Even for the average family a FHC event can be uncomfortable for the family budget.
 
Contrast, if you will, a fairly usual FHC 2017 AD occasion with the original event when Jesus instituted The Eucharist. Jesus gathered his disciples in an Upper Room at their Passover meal in Jerusalem around 30 AD, which we refer to as The Mass of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday evening. There are more similarities than you might imagine.
 “On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” (Mark 14:12-15)
 
Planning is a factor common to both occasions, 30AD and 2017AD. Jerusalem, at the time of Jesus, was always crowded for major religious festivals with space at a premium. Clearly Jesus had booked in advance that Upper Room, even to identifying the guide who would lead his disciples to the location. It was evidently a location out of the public eye. Jesus would not want to engage with publicity. He had spent three years preparing people not ‘things’. Those he had chosen to invite as apostles and disciples – and who had accepted even to the ‘leaving of everything’ (Matt 19:27) - had received personal teaching and formation as they accompanied Jesus on his missionary journey. They would be the foundation members of his Church – his visible Body on earth - to continue his mission after his Ascension.
 
Jerusalem in 30 AD. was a garrisoned Jewish city under a cruel military curfew. The Roman Governor and Army feared an uprising with so many Jews gathered for the festival. The Pharisees and Jewish political leaders were caught between a volatile public and a messianic figure in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The Pharisee High Priest, Caiaphas, shows his political colours in John’s Gospel:
But one of them (the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Council), named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (11:49-50)
 
The Pharisees had a twofold reason for their opposition to Jesus. They feared losing their power and control over the Jewish people because of Jesus’ teaching and miracles. They also feared that Jesus might upset their carefully engineered and delicately maintained political balance with the all-powerful Roman authorities. Jesus’ disciples, aware of all this tension, were understandably nervous whereas Jesus was calm.
 
Our 2017 AD. society is also ‘garrisoned’ but by Twitter, Facebook and the world of instant communication. The dictats of ‘mobile rule’ have proven to be as cruel as were the politics in Jerusalem in Jesus’ day. Politicians today are caught between a volatile public and the vast, unelected, financial and employment powers of multinationals that undermine democratically elected governments. Market forces rule and even a FHC is not exempt, it too is squeezed to extract financial profit.
 
Parents, relatives and Godparents want everything to be perfect for their First Holy Communicant. Sadly, the emphasis is on the ‘thing’ part of everything. Material components such as outfits and hairdressing appointments are given high priority. The spiritual preparation of the FHC child and his/her awareness of a personal relationship with Jesus is utterly overshadowed. Too often, the First Holy Communicant’s nearest and dearest have lost their own personal contact with Jesus in all but a mythical way.  As the proverb has it:  No one can give what he or she does not have!
 
Jesus instituted The Eucharist – the first ever ‘Holy Communion’ - at the Passover (Last Supper) discipleship gathering that was far from perfect, despite his dedicated and prolonged input and guidance. Among those at table, whom Jesus would nourish with his own Body and Blood, was the apostle who would betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Judas); the potential leader of the Apostolic College who would publicly deny knowing Jesus three times out of fear (Peter); one Gospel-recorded apostle (Thomas) who initially refused to believe in Jesus’ Resurrection and quite likely he was not alone in doing so; two unnamed disciples who would ‘lose their faith’ and head back to their home village of Emmaus; plus the remainder who within hours, were to run away when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. The apostle, John, was the sole exception. He would stay close to Jesus’ mother when Jesus was crucified. These were the very first ‘First Holy Communicants’ to whom Jesus had dedicated three years of his life. Everything wasn’t perfect nor was everyone!
 
In the dim and distant, there was a school of thought among Catholics in the UK that you went to ‘Reconciliation’ (Confession) on a Saturday evening so as to be free from sin to receive Holy Communion early on Sunday morning, early, because Holy Communion was only distributed to the faithful at the early Masses. Only the celebrant received Holy Communion at the Sung High Mass later in the morning. If this makes you amazed you should know that this is just one dimension of the changes that have occurred in my lifetime and I am now 75 years of age. To be free of sin we have to die and rise again in Jesus. In the interim, Satan attempts to ensnare us along the periphery of our daily life as waves ripple along the sides of a small boat in a big sea. Often, seawater manages to make some ingress and has to be bailed out! It will be thus until we arrive at the shore of eternity.  Meanwhile, in this land of exile, we are constantly threatened by sin because, here, Satan remains free to attack us until the day God calls time and Satan is banished for eternity.
 
The members of the original Apostolic College (the Apostles) and the Disciples were not saints. They were recovering sinners, still subject to lapsation, in whom Jesus saw potential saints. He was willing to forgive them over and over, rebuilding their faith and commitment on the fragmented foundation of their latest lapse making use of their plea for forgiveness, their firm purpose of amendment and their love for him. Peter spoke for many: “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy times seven times! (Matt  18:21)  70x7 = 490; 70x490 = 3,430 etc. The incalculability of the final number is the lesson Jesus taught Peter.
 
When we gather to celebrate The Eucharist, whether as First Holy Communicants or battle-honed and battle-weary long-term members of the Body of Christ, we must truly acknowledge that we are, above all else, recovering sinners. Note, not recovered, as if the job were done, but still recovering because we are only a breath away from lapsation. When we draw our last breath it will be as a recovering sinner, please God. The Eucharist is our food for the journey, our healing on the journey and our destiny.
“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my (poorly kept) roof, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
 

The Most Holy Trinity (11.06.17)

The feast of the Holy Trinity is one of the principal mysteries of religion, so it is not an easy task to try and explain or indeed understand it.  Nevertheless, our Faith requires us to believe it.
 
 I always remember how my parish priest at the time gave his explanation of it, which made sense to me, and now I pass it on to others, hoping they will get the same inspiration.
 
He said:-  “ The Holy Trinity comprises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit....three persons in one God.  The mystery is that God is Father, Son and Spirit.

I am a priest, a son, and a brother – and yet I am one and the same person, whichever title people know me as.  I too am three in one”.
     
It would not be helpful to delve deeply into this mystery, because deep theological study of it would rather confuse the matter even more.

When a pond is still, you can see into it.   Even if you cannot see right down to the bottom of it, you can see something of what is contained in its depths.   But once you begin to stir things up, everything disappears and the picture is more baffling than before.
 
Voltaire said: “It is natural to admit the existence of God as soon as one opens one’s eyes” Yet many look and see nothing.  They listen and hear nothing.
                                               
We have to be attuned to hear and see God.  This calls for great openness and sensitivity.
                                               
The best thing a Christian can do is to look at the Gospels, and see how God spoke about this mystery and lived it.
                                               
He spoke about God as a merciful and forgiving Father.
                                               
He spoke about himself as the Son of this Father.   By seeking to do the will of his Father at all times, he showed us how a child of God should live.  The will of the Father was that he should bring us the good news of salvation.

But it was the Holy Spirit who commissioned him for this work:  He said: “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me.  He sent me to bring good news to the poor.”
 
We are dealing with a great mystery here.   We think of God as our Father, who loves us deeply.  It is from Him that we come, and it is to Him that our lives flow like a brook to the sea.
                                               
We think of Jesus – the Son of God - as our Brother, who leads us to the Father’s House.
                                               
We think of the Holy Spirit as the one who helps us to live like Jesus, and who binds us together as brothers and sisters in a community of love.
 
Like fish in the sea and birds in the air – this becomes the very atmosphere in which a Christian prays and lives.
 
How often do we call upon the Holy Spirit,  perhaps not realising it...how about  every time we pronounce :-
                               
     “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”
    or “ Glory be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
 
The following quote written by an inmate on the wall of a concentration camp is also revealing:-
 
“I BELIEVE IN THE SUN, EVEN WHEN IT’S NOT SHINING.
I BELIEVE IN LOVE EVEN WHEN I DON’T FEEL IT.
I BELIEVE IN GOD EVEN WHEN HE IS SILENT”

Pentecost (04.06.17)

Interactive cellular activity, which begins with life, is common to all living matter. The cellular structure of each body is being constantly renewed. Individual cells have a finite life span and as they die off most are replaced. The human body has between 50 and 75 trillion cells. Red blood cells live for about four months while white blood cells average more than a year. Skin cells live about two to three weeks while colon cells last only four days. Brain cells last a lifetime but neurons in the cerebral cortex, for example, are not replaced when they die.
 
The international community of the Baptised is the cellular structure that is the body of the Church on earth. It is made up of unique individuals each gifted with life for a specific period. Each member is drawn to love God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit who has made himself known through Jesus Christ. Equally, each is called to demonstrate their love by helping others achieve their goal of loving God through obedience to his Commandments. This Spirit promoted interactive-harmony makes real and visible the Body of Christ on earth.

Christ’s earthly body continues to be threatened with violence and persecution. The words the Risen Jesus left with the Eleven in Galilee at his Ascension – “I will be with you all days, even to the end of time”(Matt 28:20)are coupled with his previous promise to Peter also in Matthew (16:18):  “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” That the powers of hell will not, ultimately, conquer does not mean that the Church will not experience horrendous pain, in varied places and times, until the end of the world as we know it.

By way of example, you may not have read these recent words of the Pope’s Representative in Syria: “Six years after the start of the Civil War the country is in a bloodbath – a situation so desperate it leaves you with the impression of being in hell. I do not know how else to describe these atrocities. I always say, whoever does not believe in hell, just come to Syria and you will see the might of hell” Cardinal Mario Zenari told ‘CAN News’ on March 30. By contrast, the problems of the Church in the UK shrink to insignificance – inconvenient Mass times, shortage of priests, delays for funerals and such like.
 
One problem with feast days is that, unthinkingly, we set limits to them in our accustomed time slots of segmented twenty-four hours periods. The Church highlights the Day of Pentecost to draw attention to the fortifying activity of the Holy Spirit of God that actually continues 24 x 7 x 52. Were Pentecost not to be continuous, the Church would not exist and we would be the unbaptized, trapped in our self-created exile.

St. Paul in 1 Corinthians writes: But God has composed the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its members should have mutual concern for one another.…
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it …  Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a member of it.…” (12:24-27)

The physical human body coordinates its cell structure to assist any one part of the body that is injured or not functioning. So, in conditions of extreme cold, the body draws its blood inwards to protect core organs. As a consequence, extremities like feet and hands can feel the cold intensely. 

News of our sisters and brothers being actively persecuted and murdered in the Middle East should motive us, in the relatively unscathed Western Church, to make more than financial donations, necessary though these are. The impact of voluntary self-mortification, for example, assists us in aligning our mental and spiritual awareness with a reminder of the oppressive suffering of our sisters and brothers are experiencing in other parts of the world. Self-mortification also acts as a form of intercession with God on their behalf. This is the interactive ‘cell to cell’, Baptised-to-Baptised, activity that our Baptismal vows call for and which is enabled by the Holy Spirit in the continuous Pentecost that is our life on earth right now. Because we have no idea of how long the ‘now’ will last, it is important that we make the most of each present moment.
 
Pope Francis is frequently heard asking for the prayer of the crowds who come to visit him or that he visits on his missionary journeys. Francis began his ministry, on the night of his election as Pope, by asking the assembled people in St. Peter’s Square to silently pray for him right there and then. He bowed his head in silence while they did so. As a Jesuit, a priest, a bishop and now as the Pope, Francis is crystal clear as to how much he believes himself to be in need of the daily prayer of all his sisters and brothers in the Church. That we pray for the current Pope at each Mass is indicative of the demands of his leadership role.

A Pentecost moment is precious for its capacity to remind us that we are living cells within the Body of Christ on earth through our Baptism. Our living relationship with all the baptised is a ‘two-way street’. We contribute our daily prayer and witness and we daily draw support for our battle to remain faithful to God.
 
Pentecost is a state of being not a moment in time. It is the Baptised person choosing to live, with a moment-to-moment consciousness, in the relationship that this Sacrament confers. In this it could be compared with, for example, the relationship between a husband and wife in the Sacrament of Matrimony. Whether they are in the same room or separated by a geographical distance, they are united in an exclusive bond of love that is the presence of the Holy Spirit in each. “Idealism!” – some might call out disparagingly. And yes, it is an ideal but an achievable one thanks to the gift of Pentecost – not a moment, but a state of being.
 
Were the Baptised members of the Church in the western world to become fully alive to the potential presence of the Holy Spirit within them, how different would be the impact of European Christianity on its host societies? The Second Vatican Council’s document ‘Gaudium et Spes’ (Ch.3) has this challenge:
(37). “Sacred scripture teaches humankind what has also been confirmed by centuries of experience, namely, that the great advantages of human progress bring with them grave temptations: the hierarchy of values has been disordered, good and evil intermingle, and every person and group are interested only in their own affairs, not in those of others.

The whole of human history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil stretching as our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding themselves in the battlefield, men and women have to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to themselves, and aided by God's grace, that they succeed in achieving their own inner integrity.”

Christ, to whom all power in heaven and on earth has been given, is forever at work in the hearts of those women and men who welcome Him through the indwelling of his Spirit.

What St. Paul wrote to the Romans is applicable to us who live in the continuousness of Pentecost:
“Do not be conformed to this world” (12.12)

Jeremiah, the prophet, proclaimed in 600BC words that have value today: (6:16)
Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads and search for the good path; that way choose and walk in it for there you will find rest for your soul.
 

7th Sunday of Easter (28.05.17)

PRESENT .. BUT IN A DIFFERENT WAY
 
“Know that I am with you always to the very end of the age.”  (Matt 28.20) This final sentence from St. Matthew’s Gospel also concludes our Gospel for Ascension Sunday. There are many ways of ‘being present’. There is the physical, verbal or photo-generated presence. There is a way of ‘being present’ through mementos that can be substantial like a building or small like a ring, a set of rosary beads or a something written. The absence of a physical presence attracts us to tactile objects as a source of comfort. In the strict sense of the word tactile, there is nothing to physically connect us to the Resurrected Jesus and yet he fulfils his promise.
 
The Ascension of Jesus is an apt moment to refresh our understanding of the Church’s teaching on Jesus’ dual natures, a God and as Man.

When, in the fullness of time, God the Son became Incarnate as Man in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, he simultaneously continued as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. The Church teaches this as the unique mystery of the One Person, Jesus Christ, possessing two natures, the nature of God and the nature of Man. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) explains it in these words:
“479 At the time appointed by God, the only Son of the Father, the eternal Word, that is, the Word and substantial Image of the Father, became incarnate; without losing his divine nature he has assumed human nature.”
“481 Jesus Christ possesses two natures, one divine and the other human, not confused, but united in the one person of God's Son.”
“482 Christ, being true God and true man, has a human intellect and will, perfectly attuned and subject to his divine intellect and divine will, which he has in common with the Father and the Holy Spirit.”
 
For want of a better expression, there is a type of duality to be associated with Jesus’ Ascension. The Incarnate Son of God-made-Man, now Resurrected and Ascended, is humanly present with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Prior to the Incarnation, Jesus’ humanity was real but potential in that it had not taken shape and form on earth. The previously potential human person of God-made-Man becomes the actual human person fused with the Divine in the mystery that the Church describes as Jesus having two natures in one person.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Church at Colossae, writes in reference to Jesus:
“He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the Church; He is the beginning and firstborn from among the dead, so that in all things he may have pre-eminence. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him …” (1:17-19)
 
Jesus’ dying confirms his humanity, but the sting of his dying could not touch his Divine Nature. In his dying on the Cross, Jesus did away with the everlasting character of death so as to make death a thing of time, not of eternity. (Pope St. Leo the Great ‘The Cross of Christ’) His Resurrection and Ascension confirm his Divinity. The nature of Man and the nature of God are equally present in the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. So Jesus in Ascending to the Father and the Holy Spirit raises a truly human being to a closeness with God that allows humans to address God as ‘Father’ because God has adopted us as his daughters and sons in Jesus who is our Brother. Jesus is the natural Son of God. Humans are the adopted children of God.
 
The previously visible, audible and touchable Jesus, God-made-Man, is no longer physically present in this world. Yet he remains present in his Word and in the Eucharist. At liturgical gatherings of Christ’s Body on earth, the community of the Baptised, his Word is proclaimed. Each proclamation ends with the Acclamation: ‘The Word of the Lord” which invites the response: “Thanks be to God.” Or, in the case of the Gospel: “The Gospel of the Lord” with the response, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.”  The community acclaims Jesus as present and nourishing them with his Word.

The importance of the Ministry of Reading is so often not appreciated. People are called upon to proclaim God’s living Word to the community without any preparation! Inevitably this can lead to uninspiring responses from the assembled community. Compare the vibrancy of the liturgical responses that are heard in local churches with, for example the responses experienced at Lourdes and Fatima with international pilgrims speaking various languages but with hearts alive and full. Yet, whether it is in a local church or an international pilgrimage centre, it is the living God speaking to us and through us!
 
At the Consecration of the bread and wine, the celebrant, speaking in the Person of Christ, holds up the blessed bread and wine: “Take this all of you and eat it … drink from it:  This is My Body given up for you  … My Blood … poured out for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven.”

The emphatic ‘This is …” underlines the on-going presence among us of the Ascended One.
At the time of Holy Communion, the celebrant repeats the emphatic statement: “This is the Lamb of God ….” The intended recipients respond: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof….”

With these words the Baptised Body of Christ on earth proclaim their faith in the coming among them and within them of their Resurrected and Ascended Lord.
 
For the Baptised believer this is fulfilment of the words of the prophet Isaiah who lived eight centuries before the birth of Christ: “For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!” (64:4)

St. Paul, a former persecutor of Christians who became a convert Pharisee never met Christ on earth, yet he reiterated Isaiah’s words to his embryonic Church community in Corinth adding:  “But God has revealed it to us by the Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God …” (1 Cor 2:8)
 
Rather than pondering what the eleven Apostles saw at the Ascension, we might be better employed preparing for next Sunday’s celebration of ‘Corpus Christi’ – the Body of Christ. We could profitably reflect on the dialogue in which we participate as Communicants – “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter …” In our hearts do we sufficiently believe the words our lips utter? Do we believe that this is the real presence of Christ come within us, the Christ of Bethlehem, Calvary, the Resurrection and the Ascension?

Matthew’s Gospel for the Ascension (28:16-20) addressed to the Eleven is intended for all the Baptised who, by that Sacrament, share in the Priesthood of Christ:
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And know, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

St. Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthian community, lays it on the line in chapter 4:2-13
“God in his mercy has given us this work to do, and so we do not become discouraged. We put aside all secret and shameful deeds; we do not act with deceit, nor do we falsify the word of God. In the full light of truth we live in God's sight and try to commend ourselves to everyone's good conscience.
Yet we who have this spiritual treasure are like common clay pots, in order to show that the supreme power belongs to God, not to us. We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed. At all times we carry in our mortal bodies the death of Jesus, so that his life also may be seen in our bodies. Throughout our lives we are always in danger of death for Jesus' sake, in order that his life may be seen in this mortal body of ours.  This means that death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
The scripture says, “I spoke because I believed.” In the same spirit of faith we also speak because we believe.”
 
Like the Apostles, we must face the very real and dispiriting events of our times, the circumstances that cannot and should not be ignored.

As a person of wisdom said: ‘Hope begins just after we have reached our limit’.
 

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.