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Monthly Archives: August 2016

TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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We find it easy to connect with Jesus as a healer, as our saviour, as a teacher and even as a prophet. But Jesus as someone who speaks against the way our society works is harder to stomach, especially when we realize that he is preaching against behaviour that we engage in regularly.

We all have met people who have a sense of self-importance, who feel they deserve special treatment and consideration. There are sports and media celebrities who imagine they deserve the best tables in restaurants and the impossible-to-get tickets to shows. And there are the people with their shopping carts loaded with groceries standing in the express line because they think they deserve to get out quickly—it all sends a message about our worth and prestige, usually based on our economic power. We buy a rung on the ladder as often as we “earn” it.

These signals were conveyed in Jesus’ time by the seating at a meal. And the seating as arranged by the host was not just a signal but a tool. If you hosted a dinner and wanted an advantageous marriage match with a certain young man for your daughter, you could seat her father at a higher place at the table than he usually would have. If a competitor in business beat you in a deal, you could seat him lower at the table to communicate your displeasure. Seating at the table was the stage on which political and social relationships were played out. It was the public display of an individual’s or family’s place on the spectrum of honour and shame.

One of the most interesting parts of this gospel is what Jesus does not say. He does not say, “This entire status-by-seating system is bogus and I want you to chuck the whole thing.” Jesus proceeds on the assumption that we will work and live within this system. Jesus says, “When you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “My friend, move up higher.” In that way, everyone with you at the table will see you honoured. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’

So Jesus leaves the status system intact. At least that’s how we would interpret it. But what if there’s another way to think about it?

Let’s think for a moment about the unspoken cues and subtle put-downs. The unfairness of who is rewarded and who is shoved down to a lower rung. When we get caught up in these games we are disconnected from God and our true selves. And that drains us of life and vitality. Jesus says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.” He’s telling us that as long as we search for satisfaction in ways to put ourselves above others, we will find ourselves with many shiny things but with empty hearts. Exalting ourselves drives us to new lows of integrity and new poverty of happiness. So the exaltation Jesus promises is liberation from the whole status system. Suddenly, that craving to be the best, to have the most, to win at everything, starts to ebb and die away. This is the exaltation Jesus promises the humble. And if we keep working at it, small choice by small choice, the seed of peace starts to flower.

“Those who humble themselves will be exalted.” When we are still trapped in the status system, we might assume that Jesus means that at the Great Dinner Table in the Sky, the humble will finally, finally get to have the choice seats at the head of the table, a never outdated smartphone, and an infinity sign where their Facebook like number used to be. But that would not be heaven. It would be the same prison we lived in on earth.

We can’t free ourselves from the status system. Jesus points that out by assuming that there will always be a table and there will always be fighting for higher positions at the table. Where we have a choice is where we choose to sit. And if we ask Jesus to be with us and help us to take the lower seat, help us to quit playing the game, help us to abandon the quest for success and money and power, he will exalt us to freedom from the need for status at all. We won’t need to make a big show of it. We will know our true worth. We will know deep in our bones that our worth is not determined by where we sit, but by whom we are loved. In the celebration of the Eucharist, we have the assurance of God’s nearness to us. At Mass, our faith doesn’t make God present so much as it finds God present in scripture, in sacrament, and in one another. In the one Bread and one Cup of Christ, we have a foretaste of our eternal banquet feast of heaven. Yet we receive the Body and Blood of Christ neither as rewards for good behaviour nor as passive acceptance of bad behaviour. Rather, we receive the Lord’s presence only by virtue of God’s gracious mercy and our sincere efforts to locate God in the midst of our lives.

We may not know our seating location at the eternal banquet feast, but we can still take heart. The host continues to invite us, and the doors to the hall remain unlocked. And we are loved by Jesus. Amen.

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Posted by on August 27, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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We live at a time where there is a sense of entitlement in society. People believe they are entitled to food, housing, education, health care, prescription drugs, a job, retirement income, unemployment benefits, disability payments, legal representation, connection to the Internet, and more. If individuals cannot provide those things for themselves, then they expect the government to supply them. While people can debate the wisdom of providing the services and programs just mentioned, there is little doubt that a sense of entitlement has grown over the years.

That sense of entitlement even affects religion. Some years ago those who wished to be numbered among the saved were expected to keep the commandments of God, and the precepts of the church, to follow the teachings of Jesus, to faithfully attend Mass each Sunday and holy day, to receive the sacraments, to say their morning and evening prayers, to see to the religious education of their children, to follow the moral guidance of the Church, to support their local parish, to perform acts of sacrifice during the season of Lent, etc.

Today, that sense has certainly diminished. Sunday Mass attendance has dropped dramatically. The number of baptisms and church weddings has decreased. Many parents no longer make certain their children receive the sacraments. Parish membership, support, and involvement have all declined. The values of Catholics have largely become like those of the rest of society.

Of course many reasons can be offered to explain these trends, but perhaps the simplest might be this. Many Christians simply feel they are entitled to salvation and a place in the kingdom of heaven. They do not have to do anything. If God loves us, if God is all good, if God is merciful, then God will not condemn anyone. What a person does or does not do ultimately makes little difference.

Yet in this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 13:22-30), Jesus makes it clear that those who think that way, who think they are entitled to a place in the kingdom of heaven are deluding themselves.

In Jesus, God has come—as He promises in this week’s First Reading – to gather nations of every language, to reveal to them His glory.

Eating and drinking with them, teaching in their streets, Jesus in the Gospel is slowly making His way to Jerusalem. There, Isaiah’s vision will be fulfilled: On the holy mountain He will be lifted up and will draw to Himself people from among all the nations —to worship in the heavenly Jerusalem, to glorify Him for His kindness, as we sing in Sunday’s Psalm.

In God’s plan, the kingdom was proclaimed first to the Israelites and last to the Gentiles who in the Church have come from the earth’s four corners to make up the new people of God

Many however will lose their place at the heavenly table, Jesus warns. Refusing to accept His narrow way they will weaken, render themselves unknown to the Father

When Jesus is asked, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” he gives no number, but instead he says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Jesus certainly implies that it takes effort and work to enter the kingdom. The gate is not wide open.

Jesus then goes on to say that those who only have a casual, passing acquaintance with him – those who call themselves Christians and define for themselves what that means – will find themselves on the other side of door of the kingdom. They will not be recognized by him. “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me you evildoers.”

Yes, God loves us, but God expects a response from us. God expects us to live as followers of Jesus Christ and faithful members of his Church.

If salvation were something to which we were all entitled, why would Jesus have told his disciples, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing 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.” (Matthew 28: 19-20)

Jesus is eagerly looking at us today, inviting us to break out of our comfort zones and start striving to follow him more closely.

He only asks this of us because he loves us, and love always seeks the very best for the beloved.

We each have to examine our hearts and see where we have been falling into routine – where in our Christian lives we have been getting lazy.
Whatever each of us decides to do, let’s make sure we decide to do something – depending not on our own strength, but on grace.

Jesus will never let us strive for the narrow gate all by ourselves.
He always helps and strengthens us, especially through Holy Communion.
But he needs us to decide to put that strength to work. Jesus is eager to help us through the narrow gate, but he can’t do his part unless we also strive to do our part.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-1This weekend is the Sydney 2016 city to surf fun run starting at the intersection of Park St and College St, alongside Hyde Park in Sydney’s CBD before heading up William St and through the tunnel at Kings Cross. The finish line is on Queen Elizabeth Drive at the southern end of Bondi Pavilion. Very few have to run a marathon — participation is for fun.

One person I know wrote:” I suppose it’s the finishing that really makes the difference. The elite runners were crossing the finish line when I was about half way through the course. They had about one hour to enjoy refreshments and rest, while I still had about 7kms of one foot in front of the other to reach my goal, and was wondering if I would really make it. But the beauty of the event is that for many of us, just finishing the race is the accomplishment, the goal.”

The author of the letter to the Hebrews asks us a similar question: Will we finish the race that is our life with faith? Will we persevere? Or will we run off course, or give up? And the race is hard. In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us, if we follow him, if we stand up for what is right, we will experience conflict.

The writer of Hebrews, like a good coach, gives four pieces of advice about how to finish the race. To finish the race: recall who surrounds us. Remove what ways down on us. Rely on strength within us. Remember who goes before us. Recall who surrounds us: “With so many witnesses in a great cloud.” The writer wants us to picture ourselves as athletes in an arena. As we strive toward our goal, to finish with faith, we run surrounded by people who have demonstrated faith — faith that persevered, people who by the grace of God overcame great obstacles, and finished the race. These are people of the Bible, the men and women of the Church throughout the ages, people known personally by you and by me whose witness encourages us. They are witnesses, people who have gone through what we struggle with, people whose testimonies of the strength God gave them can, in turn, give us strength and courage.

Our coach tells us also to remove what weighs down on us “throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily,” says our coach. Attitudes and actions, past behaviour and present entanglements can weigh us down. There are weights of sin and brokenness that we carry that cause us to stumble rather than sprint. We can set those weights down. God is ready to take them from us. God is ready to forgive and heal whatever we let get between us and God, whatever has come between us and other people, whatever wrongs we do to ourselves.

Our coach also tells us to rely on the strength within us. We are told to “keep running steadily in the race we have started.” When the going gets tough, when the road is difficult, obstacles come up around every bend, when every stretch of the road seems like another steep hill to climb, we can rely on spiritual resources within us — spiritual resources we develop in gathering with other Christians, in hearing and reading God’s word, in participating in the sacramental life of the church.

Most important of all, remember who goes before us. We can look “Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy which was still in the future, he endured the cross, disregarding the shamefulness of it, and from now on has taken his place at the right of God’s throne.”

We can and will finish the race strong in faith if we look to Jesus, if we keep our eyes focused on him, not being distracted by other things along the way that can cause us to lose our direction or footing and stumble. Jesus has gone before us, has shown us the way that leads to victory. If we keep our eyes on Jesus and follow him, we will not only make a good beginning in faith we too will finish and win the race.

In the race of our life, we have people cheering us on. We have someone willing to take on our burdens. We can train for patient endurance. We have a guide who leads us and will not leave us. Let us keep running until the prize is ours and we hear God say to us, “Well done!”

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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Today we hear “wake up parables” – a short one about a thief’s break in and a longer one about responsible stewardship. They stir up questions. Each of us is unique and has some particular area of responsibility, besides our jobs and household work, but some “stewardship.” We have been put in charge and will be called to account someday. The parables are not meant to frighten us, or make us feel guilty. But they do occasion reflection for each of us.

There’s a bumper sticker that says ‘Jesus is coming. Look busy!’ It is funny, for sure, but it also points to the heresy of believing that as long as we’re being nice people doing nice things, then we are good Christians, or more accurately, nice Christians.

To be a follower of Jesus—to be a disciple—requires so much more. A transformed life means that you can never go back to simply being nice. It implies that the church has a deeper quest than humanitarian groups and clubs. Those are good things and we should be part of them, but that is not why the Christian church exists.

William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II, is quoted as saying, “The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members.” Think about that. We exist to benefit non-members. The people who are not us.

According to the Catechism, ‘Our assurance as Christians is that nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ This assurance gives us the faith to share this promise with those who are outside our walls – those who are the reason we exist. Our Baptism reinforces this as it asks us to persevere in resisting evil, repent and return to the Lord, proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, seek and serve Christ in all persons, and especially strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being. This is a tall order, but we don’t have to strive alone: we have God and we have each other.

We may wonder how we can join in God’s work outside our church walls when we feel that what we are already doing so much within. Perhaps looking outside is overwhelming and we do not know where to begin. Most of all, it is sometimes difficult to find or interpret the messages that we are receiving. In his book “Seek God Everywhere”, the Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist Anthony de Mello suggests: “In all actions, in all conversations, Ignatius [of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus] felt the presence of God and contemplated the presence of God. He enjoyed that mysterious gift of seeing God. So we are entitled to be called contemplatives in action if in all things and all actions we feel the presence of God and contemplate the presence of God. We can see that this is not the same as doing the will of God in everything.”

As people of faith we seek an encounter with God, and we look for places, moments, and experiences when we might have such a personal encounter with the Divine.

To find God, to see God in all things, or to be a contemplative in action means much more than doing God’s will in everything. To feel and contemplate his presence is the experience of devotion, peace, quiet, and consolation… How do we attain this grace of finding God in all things? In all the documents I have read there is a key word: solely, only, or entirely. That is the key word — doing it only for God.

When we become quiet, when we become still, we are finally able to listen to God. Only then can we act. We hear the crunch of the master’s sandals on the road and begin to light the lamps.

In Paul Showers’ children’s book, The Listening Walk, a young girl enjoys taking walks with her father and their old dog, Major, who does not walk very fast. “On a Listening Walk I do not talk,” she says. “I listen to all the different sounds. I hear many different sounds when I do not talk.” At the end she tells us, “You do not even have to take a walk to hear sounds. There are sounds everywhere all the time. All you have to do is keep still and listen to them.”

The key is to learn to do ordinary things with extraordinary love. God’s promise to Abraham is the starting point: the liberation of the Hebrew tribes is a step along the way: the Incarnation is the final step in God’s process of calling us. What remains is for us to bring that consciousness of God into the community of humanity and to all creation. Can we listen: can we come to see God present: can we work at becoming aware of God’s continual intervention in our lives: can we become conscious of God present in relationships with people we encounter?

All we have to do is be still and listen to God, to listen to Love. God will take care of the rest. Amen.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2016 in Uncategorized