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TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-9Today’s Gospel reading directly follows last week’s Gospel in which Jesus taught the disciples how to handle disputes and conflict within the Christian community. The story has two scenes: first, inside the throne room of a powerful king; second, just outside in a palace corridor. The story tells of two worlds: the world as we know it, and the world as God wants it. The throne room changes in a moment from the world as we know it to the world as God wants it. That palace corridor, however, starts out as the world we know but fails to become the world as God wants it.

The throne room, starts out as the world we know. It’s a world of calculation and control. The king is reviewing accounts, and a servant, owes him big time. The servant gets called but that’s only a formality. No way can this servant pay back what he owes. Financially, he’s dead.

Everybody there in the throne room thinks his appearance is a mere formality. Everybody, that is, except him. Upon hearing the sentence imposed on him he drops to his knees crying out for mercy. He makes promises he knows he can never keep. This is a world of calculation and control.

Well, in the story Jesus tells, something unexpected happens. Against the advice of his accountants he forgives the servant his astronomical debt.

There we are, my friends. If the cross of Christ and the Christian life mean anything, this is what they mean: By forgiving us the sins we cannot make up on our own, God dies to the world of power and control.

This is a part of Christianity that is scandalous, shocking, and hopeful. It’s good news, for anyone who even suspects that God is the Great Bully in the Sky. God is dead to that sort of world, the world of calculation and control and so are we.

What happens next to the servant in the story? His learning curve is, well, pathetic. He runs into somebody who owes him something. There in the palace corridor, he grabs the fellow by the collar and tries—unsuccessfully—to shake the money out of him. Welcome back to the world of calculation and control.

This second debtor pleads for mercy. You’d think it would be a no-brainer for the forgiven debtor to remember that as of a few moments ago, he was dead to the world of calculation and control and that he should act accordingly in dealing with his debtor out there in the corridor. You’d think that mercy received would result in mercy given.

But that doesn’t happen. He acts out the world of calculation and control. He refuses to show mercy, he fails to help his debtor die to a world of oppression. Instead, he’s ready to send him into the nearest prison. The palace corridor remains in the world of calculation and control.

Here we get to the heart of why forgiveness is hard. We conveniently forget—or maybe we’ve never acknowledged—that we are forgiven sinners, debtors who have been let off the hook. We don’t admit that the king has dropped dead to the world of power and control so that we might have another chance, and another, and another. We don’t realize that if faith means anything, it means we’re free from this world of control and calculation, and all it claims, thanks to a king who dies for us.

Christianity states that forgiveness is necessary. It is not an option, but an imperative. Christianity also makes it clear that forgiveness is hard. It is costly. The one who forgives dies to the world as we know it to usher in the world as God wants it.

His death brings with it a challenge to the one forgiven. By accepting and passing on forgiveness, such a person bears witness to the scandalous truth that, yes, everybody is a sinner, and everybody is forgiven by a mercy that is God-sized.

It’s easy to forget to forgive. That is why we gather Sunday by Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. Here we present time after time, through prayerful word and action, how the king died on a cross, our debt has been paid in full. Not because we deserved it, but because God decided the possibility of a relationship is more important than allowing sin to prevent it. How we respond is up to us. God’s desire is that we use our forgiveness as a beginning point for a new and healthy relationship with God and with one another.

My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Saviour has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, Amazing grace

 

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Posted by on September 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Reflections for Our Lady of Sorrows

2It would not be an exaggeration to say that Mary is the most blessed, privileged, person to come from the hand of God. She was, after all, chosen to be mother to his only-begotten Son. Imagine her delight in raising the Savior of the world, challenging though the job must have been! Throughout her life, Mary pondered and treasured the work of God and rejoiced to see his plan unfold through her.

Yet Mary also knew the deepest of human sorrows. Just days after her son was born, the prophet Simeon told her, “A sword will pierce your own soul” (Luke 2:35). These words certainly could have discouraged Mary from embracing the role that God had laid out for her—or at least drained her of all enthusiasm for her calling. But they didn’t. Instead, Mary embraced them, pondered them, and continued to live by faith in God.

Mary certainly suffered, but she was also a woman of joy and hope. Her intimacy with God was a source of consolation and trust that could withstand any tragedy. Mary is called Our Lady of Sorrows not because of the bad things that happened to her but because of the way she joined her heart to the heart of God. As she saw her son endure the hatred of some of Israel’s religious leaders, as she saw his disciples abandon him in his moment of need, as she saw him arrested, tried, and put to death—in all these things, Mary grasped how deeply the Father’s heart was aching with love for a wayward people. Hers were the sorrows of an intercessor who knew the suffering in the world and longed to see all people turn to Jesus for healing and salvation.

As she stood at the foot of the cross, Mary’s heart was indeed pierced—not only by the sight of Jesus’ suffering but also by all the suffering in the world. Even now, as she intercedes with her Son in heaven, she is the mother of all those who suffer in any way. Even today, she continues to weep over all the crushing needs in this world. Like Mary, let us lift our hearts in intercession for all those who are lost or hurting.

Pray for us, O Most Sorrowful Virgin, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ Lord Jesus, we now implore, both for the present and for the hour of our death, the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Your Mother, whose Holy Soul was pierced during Your Passion by a sword of grief. Grant us this favor, O Savior of the world, Who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.​

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-9As Ezekiel is appointed watchman over the house of Israel in today’s first Reading, so Jesus in the Gospel today establishes His disciples as guardians of the new Israel of God, the Church. We find one of only three instances in which Jesus uses the word church in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus addresses personal conflict by urging people to resolve their differences directly first, and then, if necessary, to bring others into the discussion. Jesus’s mission is to create committed communities of believers that will witness God’s love to a battered and broken world.

There are some basic premises at work here: One is that Jesus teaches that God loves all God’s children and that our need to be right is not always helpful. The organization for families of alcoholics, Al-Anon, teaches this premise and reminds its members that all of us, including the alcoholic, have a Higher Power who is not taking sides. People can work out differences in community by listening as much as lecturing, by understanding as much as demanding to be understood. Another premise of Jesus is that healthy people are loving and primarily concerned about others. This is what God does when it comes to us. We certainly offend the Lord by our sins and failures. Yet God keeps reaching out to us. God never give up on us, that is why he sent his Son as our Lord and Redeemer. In many ways, we are keepers of our sisters and brothers. We have social responsibility in family and in neighbourhood. Jesus is saying something like that today. We have a responsibility for each other, for the common good. We teach by example and by love. St Francis taught “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”

Jesus does not envision the Church to be a place of contention and conflict. But we know stories of his disciples and from the Book of Acts that the Early Church experienced a lot of tension and disagreement, even among its apostolic leaders. However, as the church expanded into the Greco-Roman civilization in the West, it had to take on and embrace different norms and customs, as it does even today. The challenge for the Church will always be to find and implement new ways of proclaiming the Good News. When we are engaged in that enterprise, when we are more concerned about serving others than survival, there will be less conflict and more delight in the people that God sends to us and sends us to. Sunday’s Gospel challenges us never to give up when it comes to trying to restore relationships. We need to bind ourselves to the Lord’s way of dealing with hurts and to loose ourselves from the world’s way of anger, gossip, and resentment.

The passage from Matthew for this Sunday concludes with a well-known teaching: “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, I will be in the midst of them.” This is always heard as a reassurance that God desires us to be in community, whether small or large. Being alone is not necessarily bad, but it can lead to isolation and arrogance. It is good to remind ourselves of the presence of Jesus among us all the time, in the heart and hearts of his people. The Divine Triune God is a God of relationships, a dynamic force that empowers our spirituality and grounds us in faith. the Father Creator, the Son our Brother, and the Spirit our energy, our strength and our truth. The Trinity models what our relationships are to be: fully in unity and desiring of diversity. This is all summarized in the two verse reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans. “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another…. Love does no evil to the neighbour; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-1Today’s First Reading catches the prophet Jeremiah in a moment of weakness. His intimate lamentation contains some of the strongest language of doubt found in the Bible. Following God’s call, he feels abandoned. Preaching His Word has brought him only derision and reproach. What Jeremiah learns, Jesus states explicitly in today’s Gospel.

Today’s Gospel continues the story that began in last week’s Gospel. Simon Peter was called the “rock” upon which Jesus would build his Church, and yet Peter continues to show the limitations of his understanding of Jesus’ identity. Now that the disciples have acknowledged that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus starts to reveal that he expects to undergo some significant suffering at the hands of the powers that be. He shares that he expects to be killed. Jesus confides in them the outcome of his ministry. His disciples probably react in some of the ways you might expect, but it is Peter who pulls Jesus to the side and rejects these grim predictions. Immediately Jesus rejects Peter’s resistance to reality. “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus is not calling Peter ‘the devil’. Jesus is saying to Peter, ‘you’re tempting me as I was tempted at the beginning’, to give the whole thing up and preach magic and easy answers: I say now as I said then ‘Get behind me, Satan’. He’s saying to Peter, NO: don’t make my proclamation domestic and cosy and smooth, don’t take out the rough edges of reality.

Peter shows that he is no longer speaking based on the revelation from God but as a human being. Jesus then teaches all the disciples about the difficult path of discipleship: to be Christ’s disciple is to follow in his way of the cross. Peter could not yet understand what it meant to call Jesus the Messiah. It is unlikely that the other disciples understood any better.

The common view was that the Messiah would be a political figure, a king that would free Israel from Roman rule. This is perhaps what Peter envisioned when he was led to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. In this passage, however, Jesus is beginning to teach his disciples that he would be the Messiah in a different way. “Join the path on which I am walking,” Jesus seems to say. “Lose the preoccupation with the way you wanted or expected things to be, and get on board with reality!” Sometimes we need to hear the same message.

Indeed, following Jesus has, does, and will continue to lead us on a path of transformation. It is not, however, we who change the world, but rather God in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, who changes us.

God calls us out of our ideas and the more we follow Jesus, the more we read the gospels, and the more we pray and meditate on Jesus’ life, the more we will encounter those in need. Not only that, the more we seek God, the more God will lead us to face our enemies, face our fears, and face the challenge of risking everything for Jesus’ sake.

This is what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus. To follow Jesus is to go to the place we would not normally go, to follow a path that leads to the outsider, and to seek an encounter with the Living God. When we follow that path, we often find ourselves in intimidating circumstances, but God is with us, and where we find ourselves with God.

A group of tourists was gathered at the base of some cliff. A ranger was orienting them for a walking tour to some less accessible sites. The ranger said; “People, in the next two hours you will hike into a canyon, climb rope ladders with 300 rungs, and crawl through narrow passages on your hands and knees. If you have a heart condition, I don’t recommend your coming. Are there any questions?”

The group was silent, intimidated, many of them doubting they were up to the challenge. Finally, an excited 12-year-old girl’s hand shot up. Almost breathless, she exclaimed, “Do we really get to hike into a canyon and climb 300 steps on a rope ladder and crawl through rocks on our hands and knees? Is it true? Do we really get to?”

The ranger smiled, and responded, “Now that’s the spirit I’m looking for! Let’s go!” And off the group went.

Jesus is looking for some followers who are willing to endure any obstacle, any challenge, for the joy of following him. Yes, by the grace of God, we really do get to follow! And we already have God’s Spirit.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-17It is important to read today’s Gospel and next week’s Gospel as two parts of a single story. These readings are a turning point in Matthew’s Gospel. This week we hear Jesus name Simon Peter as the rock upon which he will build his Church. Next week we will hear Jesus call this same Simon Peter “Satan” when he reacts negatively to Jesus’ prediction about his passion and death.

When the first disciples meet Jesus, the question on their minds was: is he the Messiah? the one we have been looking for? They were really asking, “Is there anything to hope for?” And Jesus showed them there was something to hope for. He showed them in miracle after miracle that he was the Messiah. And in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks a pointed question. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks. Opinions abound, in their day and in ours. From this story, we can be sure that simply saying what we’ve heard other people say isn’t enough for Jesus. Jesus wants to know what we think; Jesus wants to know who we think he is.

Jesus has a real relationship with his disciples and like all good relationships, it’s mutual. There’s a back and forth, a sharing of life. Jesus isn’t polling the whole Judean countryside. He wants to know who his disciples think he is. Peter blurts out, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” How does he know this? How do you know this?

Jesus says it’s an awareness, a knowledge that comes directly from God. And there’s power in knowing Jesus is the Messiah. It’s the power to withstand the gates of Hell, to hold the keys to the kingdom, to bind on earth and loose in heaven. In this one small moment of spiritual awakening, Peter gets all the tools he needs for his life’s work.

So why did he tell his disciples to keep it a secret?

Well, we do know a couple things about how Jesus operated, especially before he went to Jerusalem. He told people to keep quiet his work and identity a number of times. We also know Jesus was not real big on public displays of faith, if a person’s heart was not right. Jesus knows that his new and fledgling flock needs to grow stronger before he can depart.

The Secret of Jesus’ Messiahship is to be guarded, kept, and only told the few who can hear it. Jesus’ parables were meant to confuse and confound, to cloud the mind of the proud and disinterested and to give life to those who were seeking hope and life.

In our time, the Messianic Secret has changed. Once it meant not announcing Jesus as the promised one until his death and resurrection revealed him completely. Now it means not announcing Jesus without the cross and the empty tomb, not announcing him unless we are ready to die and rise together with him.

There are plenty of versions of Jesus abroad in the world today. Some of these versions are authentic; many of them are not.

What makes a version authentic is not a denominational or cultural label or any other marking likely to set us at ease. What makes a version of Jesus the real thing and not human fantasy is whether it invariably returns us to what is most important, what reveals divine love completely.

The knowledge of Jesus as Lord and personal Saviour should become a living, personal experience for each Christian. This relationship is not theoretical or abstract. God does not need us in the abstract. He needs us and meets us in the concrete; the everyday; the real; the now. Frankly, God just needs us to show up. And this is how we evangelize. we can share how Christ has shown up for us. We can share how Christ has shown up for others. And if we carry that message authentically and consistently, the people we meet along the way may come to believe that if Jesus showed up for us, he will show up for them, too.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-16 Today we move ahead in our reading of Matthew’s Gospel. The Pharisees and scribes have challenged Jesus, asking why his disciples do not wash their hands before they eat. They imply that Jesus and his disciples are breaking the traditional purity laws. Jesus replies: It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles, but what comes out. What goes into the mouth is flushed out into the sewer; it is a passing, temporary uncleanliness, unimportant. What comes out of the mouth comes from the heart. Evil intentions such as murder, theft, and lies are what truly defile.

Now, Jesus has crossed from Galilee into the district of Tyre and Sidon, which is gentile territory. There are tremendous implications in this passage. Apart from anything else, it describes the only occasion on which Jesus was ever outside of Jewish territory. The significance of the passage is that it fore-shadows the going out of the gospel to the whole world; it shows us the beginning of the end of all the barriers.

A woman begs for mercy and healing for her afflicted daughter, recognizing Jesus as Lord and Son of David. However, Jesus gives an unsettling reply: I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Not to an outsider, a woman, a Gentile. Even when she kneels before him, implying worship and a deep understanding of his divine status, he refers to her and her daughter as dogs. Yet she persists, again addressing Jesus as Lord, and insists that even the dogs eat the crumbs from the table, but we can be quite sure that the smile on Jesus’ face and the compassion in his eyes robbed the words of all insult and bitterness. Secondly, the word for dogs means the little household pets.

Not only does she see clearly who Jesus is, but also, she understands how great is his power to heal. This is what faith means. She knows who he is and she knows that only Jesus can heal her daughter. The rest does not matter: She is a supplicant. She is not proud; she is determined. And Jesus responds to this faith instantly. In those few minutes, he recognizes that his mission has expanded. A poor woman has shown him this much: He did not come just for the children of Israel. His mercy extends to everyone. Full of admiration, he responds first to her great faith, and then to her wish for her daughter: “Your faith is great. Your daughter is well.” God’s mercy is abundant; God’s healing and love overflow; there is enough for not only the children of Israel, but also for the entire world.

Jesus is illustrating for his disciples that true faith is persistent and open-eyed, and extends to a wider world beyond the Jewish community and so we all benefit from that woman’s faith. Jesus has redefined the boundaries of the kingdom of God, extending the kingdom beyond the borders of Israel. An outcast becomes a catalyst. This is the wonder of the gospel stories. The Good News comes from unexpected places. A woman ignored and considered a nuisance becomes an object of admiration by Jesus himself. Instead of sending her away, he expands his mission from the limits of Judaea to the rest of the world. We owe this woman a great deal. And the prophecy of Isaiah concerning foreigners is fulfilled: They, too, can minister to the Lord.

Just as Jesus was surprised by the faith expressed by the Canaanite woman, so too the first Christians were surprised that the Gentiles would receive the salvation God offered through Christ.
Reading this stories during the season of Ordinary time, when we celebrate the role of the Church in the work of God in the world, reminds us that God is constantly entering new territory and breaking boundaries. God’s work, and the work of the Church, is to meet outsiders and grant them a place at the table. Do we extend a welcoming hand to persons whose experience of God’s presence is understood from a different tradition? The first reading from Isaiah and the selection from Paul’s letter to the Romans make this clear. We hear the apostle Paul considering this same concern. He confirms that God never rejects God’s people. God is merciful, always, to everyone.

It comes down to remembering that we are all God’s children, that God’s love is unconditional, and that God’s mercy extends beyond all boundaries. God’s mercy covers all of us.

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-9The boat has, from very early days in the Christian community, been a symbol for the Church. In Particular, a vessel large enough that it takes a number of people doing diverse things to get it to move, beautiful, but vulnerable; seaworthy, but subject to storm and winds and waves. Moving through the waters when wind and water and sailors cooperate, the journey is great. Sometimes, though, life on the ship can get routine. The same things need doing every day. A large crew means a variety of people, which means a variety of ideas and personalities. But a ship’s mission can be jeopardized by those who are tempted to set sail alone, or mutiny, or jump overboard. But any problems on the ship have more to do with the sailors than the Captain – with a capital C, as in “Christ” – because the Captain has provided for the ship. The Captain will guide them into the ultimate safe harbour.

Our Gospel reading for this weekend from St Matthew is about the disciples’ growing understanding of the identity of Jesus and about what the disciples’ faith in Jesus will enable them to do, it involves a boat and a storm, the disciples and Jesus, fear and faith and working together.

After the feeding of the multitude Jesus sent his disciples away When he was alone, he went up into a mountain to pray; and by this time the night had come. The disciples had set out back across the lake. One of the sudden storms, for which the lake was notorious, had come down, and they were struggling against the winds and the waves, and making little progress.

Jesus calls to the disciples and calms their fears. He is not a ghost. The impulsive Peter seeks proof that the person is indeed Jesus. He asks Jesus to call him out onto the water, and Jesus grants this request.
Peter’s fear and doubt overtake him, however, once he is walking on the water. Jesus reaches out to Peter and saves him. When Jesus and Peter enter the boat, Matthew reports that the wind ceases, and the disciples confess that Jesus is the Son of God.

One thing that’s true about Matthew’s gospel is it’s interested in community. It’s really interested in figuring out what it means to be the church, the body of Christ in the world, the gathering of people who are trying to follow Christ together. Matthew really isn’t interested in great heroes of the faith, singular individuals who go above and beyond. If, like Peter, they go swinging their legs out over the side of the boat, leaving the rest of the disciples behind trying to row and manage in the storm, we’re likely to see such an individual take a few steps and then plunge beneath the waves, surely to drown, if not for the grace and love and forgiveness of Jesus who always, always, reaches out to save, even when we get confused and fearful and full of doubt.

So, I wonder if when Jesus says to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” the meaning isn’t, “Oh, Peter, if only you had more faith,” but is, instead, “Oh, Peter, why did you get out of the boat?”

Jesus doesn’t chide Peter for being afraid. Of course, you’re afraid during a storm. But why did you doubt? Did you really think I wouldn’t come? Did you really think I wouldn’t save you? Did you really think, when I told you to get into the boat and go on ahead, that I would ever, ever leave you alone? “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Faith in Jesus will enable the disciples to do the work that Jesus has done. Peter walks on water. The five loaves and two fish feed a multitude of people. The disciples can and will participate in the work of the kingdom of heaven. When Peter fears and doubts the person of Jesus, however, he falters. Peter’s example teaches us that true Christian ministry emerges from the faith that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s only Son.

Storms will blow up in all our lives. But Jesus has not left us alone. The one who calms the storms and makes the winds to cease is still with us. He still has work for us to do. And yes, it will mean stepping out in faith, but not getting out of the boat, not going it alone, not leaving the community of disciples. The purpose of a ship is to set sail, not to stay at the dock.

There are plenty of adventures ahead, and Jesus will bid us follow. And he will say to us, in the midst of any storm, “Courage! it is I! do not be afraid.”

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2017 in Uncategorized