RSS

Monthly Archives: October 2016

THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-1

The scriptures tell us today Our Lord is a lover of souls. In His mercy, our First Reading tells us, He overlooks our sins and ignorance, giving us space that we might repent and not perish. In Jesus, He has become the Saviour of His children, coming himself to transform the lost

Let’s look at the transformation in the story of Zacchaeus. At first glance, we have a perfect narrative of making a new beginning in Christ. The story of the man who is short in stature and climbs a tree so that he can see Jesus is appealing to vertically challenged people.

Zacchaeus is not only short in stature, but also in moral status among his neighbours. He is a tax collector, and not just any tax collector, but a chief tax collector and rich. Tax collectors were hated in the community because they collected taxes from their Jewish neighbours for the Romans who occupied their country. In addition, a tax collector could and often did, overcharge their neighbours and keep the extra for themselves. Not only did they serve the Romans, but they also took advantage of their position to steal from their neighbours. The assumption is that Zacchaeus had become rich by his greed and dishonesty, stealing from his community.

So even though Zacchaeus has difficulty seeing Jesus, he tries by doing an undignified, childish thing – climbing a tree – because of his desire to change and become worthy. He welcomes Jesus into his heart and his house, gladly offers to give half of his possessions to the poor, and make restitution if he has taken any money dishonestly. Zacchaeus makes the proper response to his encounter with Jesus.

Our translation says that Zacchaeus welcomed him joyfully. Joy is the appropriate response to God’s invitation. He becomes generous, a rich man who is willing to give away his money. Zacchaeus is transformed from sinner to faithful follower of Jesus. He is saved, and, in the words of Paul, Jesus is glorified in him and Zacchaeus in Jesus. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to meet his death, but in the transformation of Zacchaeus, his mission on earth is fulfilled.

Now, Christ’s mission was to save not just individual but humankind. Christianity is a corporate faith not an individualistic one. How did Zacchaeus’ transformation affect the community? Zacchaeus was disliked, unpopular, rejected by the community. The crowd grumbles when Jesus reaches out to him, saying, “He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house.” Let’s think about this.

There are two ways of reading verse 8. The original Greek verb might indicate an action that is present and ongoing or a future action. Our translation reads “But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’.”

Scholars dispute whether Zacchaeus is planning to give his money away in the future, or whether he is stating something that he has already done. Perhaps this is the reason that Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus up there in the tree, and calls him down, and invites himself to stay in this man’s house.

We know that Zacchaeus is despised by his community. He is an outsider, labelled as a chief tax collector, a rich man, a sinner. He is short in stature. He is not seen by his community until he climbs a tree and is seen by Jesus. Maybe Zacchaeus had been quietly giving to the poor all along! Who among us, that we have left on the margins, that we have not seen clearly because of our assumptions, might surprise us with their generosity and faith?

While we, and perhaps the crowd in Jericho, might be inclined to feel that Zacchaeus is saved because he willingly gives his riches to the poor, what does Jesus say? “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham.” Jesus says Zacchaeus and all his household are saved simply by being the people of God’s covenant with Abraham. Zacchaeus is saved because of his faith, not because of his works. This is the nature of salvation. It is based on faith. Zacchaeus’ good works are a result of his faith, of his following God’s commandments. Who is proud in this story? Zacchaeus or the crowd? Who is transformed? Zacchaeus or the crowd?

Both ways of reading the story of Zacchaeus are instructive. We might look at Zacchaeus as an individual sinner, who has repented and been granted salvation. Indeed, it is righteous and good to be transformed by an encounter with Jesus. It is righteous and good to respond with joy to the good news of Christ by giving generously to the poor.

And, as corporate Christians, members of the household of God, we need to consider the possibility that we must recognize ourselves in the crowd. Just as certainly, it is righteous and good to look around us and be open to surprise at who among us may be living with faith and generosity of spirit. “for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’.” And the unseen, the overlooked, the misunderstood people on the edges of our community, the ones who need to climb a tree to be seen. In the second reading St Paul prays that God will help the Thessalonians and us to be “worthy of our call,” he asks God to “bring to fulfillment every desire for goodness.”

Today Christ is inviting us to renew both our purpose and our commitment to achieve it – that’s our part.

When we receive him again today in Holy Communion, let’s accept the invitation – so he can have all the room he needs to do his part.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 28, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-1

We see in the Liturgy today one of Scripture’s abiding themes—that God “knows no favourites,” as today’s First Reading tells us (see 2 Chronicles 19:7; Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11). God cannot be bribed (Deuteronomy 10:17). We cannot curry favour with Him or impress Him—even with our good deeds or our faithful observance of religious duties such as tithing and fasting.

There is a prayer by Jacqueline Bergan and S Marie Schwann in the book Love a guide for prayer, it says, “Lord my God, when Your loved spilled over into creation You thought of me. I am from love, of love, for love.” What an awesome claim! When God first created, God did it with us in mind. In fact, the reason for creation itself was so God could create us in order to receive God’s love, to participate in God’s love. We are no afterthoughts, no accidents. God made us from love, of love, for love.

Will we accept that love?

The prayer is beautiful, but it presents a challenge. “Lord my God, when your love spilled over into creation, you thought of me” Really? Isn’t that a little too much? A little over-stated? Can it actually be a fact that not only is there a God, and not only is the nature of God love, but the divine love that threw the stars and moulded the dry land and set all the protons and neutrons and quarks and photons humming and buzzing–that divine love is actually directed at us? Us in particular. And God is just longing to love us and rain down on us an abundance of grace and favour, and all we need to do is receive it? Can that really be? Somehow, we get this idea we have to be worthy of being loved. We have to deserve it, earn it. We turn the question, “Do you love me?” into “What must I do to be worthy of love?”

We do know human love is less than perfect. We know, all too well, that the well of human love can run dry. And we project our small human experiences of finite love onto God. And the result is we think we must be worthy of love, including God’s, and this attendant heresy: God’s only got so much love to give.

Rather than thinking of God as God is known in our scripture and our liturgy and our faith tradition, as the source of all love, we think of God’s love meted out in teaspoons full, eyedroppers full, and we need to qualify, even compete, to get some of it.

So, when we hear today’s parable, of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, we all too easily hear this interpretation: A Pharisee says his prayers in the temple. He is prideful and self-congratulatory. A Tax collector also says his prayers, but, unlike the Pharisee, he is humble. The moral of the story is: be humble like the Tax Collector. Be like the Tax Collector and you too will be able to say, Thank God I’m not like that Pharisee!

And there’s the trap, this is not a parable about winning God’s love. Rather, it’s a story in which two unlike characters standing before God and who are much the same. They both need God’s love and forgiveness. They are both loved and forgiven by God. The difference is that one is open to receiving that love and one is not. The Pharisee’s prayer is more of a progress report: Dear God, just wanted you to know, I’m doing quite well thank you. I give more than I need to; I’m keeping the commandments; I’m well-regarded in the community. The Pharisee asks nothing of God, and goes home with nothing.

On the other hand, there is the tax collector, a traitor to his community, making money supporting the occupying Roman forces. For some reason, this tax collector comes into the temple knowing he needs God’s love and mercy. He has done nothing to earn. He is not deserving of it. He just needs it, and asks for it. And he goes home aware of the abundant love flowing down on both himself and the Pharisee. But where the tax collector has opened up his heart and allowed God’s love and mercy to wash over him, the Pharisee has cloaked himself in a bubble of self-sufficiency, and all of the love of God, just runs right off him.

The response to God’s love is to accept it, treasure it and find as many ways as we can to give it away, to live out the image of God stamped on every one of us, the image of a God of abundant love, to open our hands and hearts and to use every means at our disposal to share this love with others.

In church, we practice accepting that love by gathering at God’s table saying, we need this food. We practice giving that love by praying for people, some of whom we don’t even know. We practice giving that love by making our offerings of ourselves through our money, our talents, our gifts. We practice giving that love by going forth from this place rejoicing in the power of the Spirit, to love and serve the Lord.

The Love that moves the sun and the stars, the Love that creates, sustains, and redeems the world, is always saying “Yes” to our question “Do you love me?” The only thing we need to do is open ourselves to that love. In the end, as we see ourselves in this gospel mirror, we see we are bathed in God’s grace, sinful as we are. And that is the best reason to give God thanks.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 22, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 

1-8 In today’s Psalm we’re told to lift our eyes to the mountains, that our help will come from Mount Zion and the Temple—the dwelling of the Lord who made heaven and earth.

Joshua and the Israelites, in today’s First Reading, are also told to look to the hilltops. They are to find their help there—through the intercession of Moses—as they defend themselves against their mortal foes, the Amalekites.

Notice the image: Aaron and Hur standing on each side of Moses, holding his weary arms so that he can raise the staff of God above his head. Moses is being shown here as a figure of Jesus, who also climbed a hilltop, and on Mount Calvary stretched out His hands between heaven and earth to intercede for us against the final enemy—sin and death

Jesus told the parable of a persistent widow, using her as the model to pray always and not lose heart. Someone wronged her, and she sought justice. It was normal during her time for people to accept their fate. This widow was different because she did not accept her fate. She repeatedly visited the judge saying, “Grant me justice.” When the judge refused, she kept coming. The judge finally granted her justice so that “she may not wear me out by continually coming.” Jesus then asked if he would find this amount of faith on earth.

The widow modelled faithfulness in prayer. Her actions expanded the idea of prayer to include the believer’s entire and whole life. So, Jesus uses the widow is his parable to model faith and prayer. Her only weapon is persistence. Thus the widow, conventionally powerless, has claimed a righteous power and brought about justice and vindication.

The widow showed what is called continual prayer. Continual prayer differs from continuous prayer.

Some churches have continuous prayer on Holy Thursday leading into Good Friday, with groups of people praying hourly through the night before the Altar of Repose. Continuous prayer is prayer that starts and stops and starts again.

Returning to God in prayer day after day is continual prayer.

Prayer is conversation with God. Christians believe that God initiates prayer. When we pray, it is the Holy Spirit speaking to us, calling us to prayer.

God is always communicating. We are not always listening. Prayer is a conversation beginning with God and flowing to us. Our response to God completes the prayer cycle.

Catholics used to have the tradition of “Paying a visit” to a church usually always open in daylight hours. Unfortunately, now often not possible, however there is still the important tradition of Catholics having an altar or sacred place in their homes, a place to return day after day to pray. The altar can be a table with candles, a crucifix, bible, small statue, or Holy Picture. On the other hand, it can alternately be an unassuming place near a window overlooking nature’s beauty, or a spot in the garden. This becomes a place of continual prayer.

Returning to the same place to pray trains the body to pray. Crossing the prayer threshold signals to the body it is time to pray. This is significant since there will be times in your life when you cannot find the words to prayer: a loved one dies; life’s circumstances weigh you down. Prayer in those moments are the “sigh prayers” of Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

Like the Israelites and the widow in today’s Gospel, we face opposition and injustice. We, too, must lift our eyes to the mountains—to Calvary and the God who will guard us from all evil.

Proclaiming the word and sharing our faith is really not an option, it comes from our baptism. Others get a picture of the word, our faith, and us, whether it is a positive view or a negative one, whether we think we are sharing anything or not. The option is in the quality and accuracy of what we choose for others to see and hear.

As Paul exhorts Timothy in today’s Epistle, we need to remain faithful, to turn to the inspired Scriptures—given by God. We persist, so that when the Son of Man comes again, He will indeed find faith on earth

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 14, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-1

In our gospel lesson for today, we have a story of gratitude found in an unlikely person in an unlikely place. It is the healing of the ten lepers, and in Jesus’ day lepers were quite literally cut off from the community because of their physical illness. It was a condition that was met with fear and ignorance. The leper was to be removed from sight and isolated from all communal and religious contact. In Leviticus, the law says, “The leper who has the disease shall wear torn cloths and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry, ‘unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp.” Disease and isolation are multiple illnesses.

While Jesus is travelling through Samaria and Galilee on the way to Jerusalem, a group of ten lepers draws near, but they are also careful not to get too close. They drew near out of their need; they keep their distance because of their disease. Their illness creates a barrier between them and others, between themselves and the community. But notice that in the presence of Jesus, the lepers do not cry out “Unclean, unclean.” Rather, they cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”

Out of the pain of their disease and the depths of their isolation, they cry out to the Lord to have mercy on them.

And he does. Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priest as the law requires when someone is healed. And as they go, they are made clean. Restored to health, they will also be restored to the community. No more wearing torn cloths: tattered garments on a tattered body. No longer hair hanging over their blotched and blemished faces. No more yelling out “Unclean, unclean” from covered lips. No more dwelling alone outside the camp.

But a funny thing happens on the way to see the priests. One of the lepers who was healed turns back and praises God. He prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet and he thanks him. And the surprise ending of this story is that the one who praises God and gives thanks for his healing is a Samaritan. He was not only physically ill, but also a social outcast and a religious heretic. The one isolated not only by illness, but also by his culture and religion turns back and gives praise to God. We are not told why the other lepers who had been healed did not turn back.

Maybe they had run off to tell their families and friends about the miracle. Perhaps they were busy trying to convince their families and friends that they really had been healed and were now safe to be around. Or maybe they were preoccupied getting jobs to support themselves. But gratitude was a highly esteemed virtue in Judaism.

It is somewhat ironic then, that it is only the foreigner who returns and gives thanks and praise to God. In the return of the Samaritan leper, we have a story that is not just about physical healing. It is a story about the healing of all those things that keep us separated from each other and exiled from God. Out of our pain, out of our isolation, out of our despair we cry out across the abyss, “Lord, have mercy on us.” In the presence of Christ, in the nearness of the Lord, we are healed, made whole, restored to our community and reconciled to God.

Our earthly lives are a journey, somewhere between Samaria and Galilee, between illness and health, between exile and return. We are all traveling along the way. Because of the devices and desires of the human heart, we will all suffer from the fear and distrust that separates us from our neighbours and from God. But rather than remaining within the darkness of our despair and keeping ourselves at a great distance from others, our Lord calls us, even as he draws near. He awaits our cry for mercy and he responds by making us whole, by restoring us to life with others and by reconciling us with God.

Pope Francis tells us that “the Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk. Whenever we embrace hope and take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.”

So what was different about the Samaritan leper, the one who did return? The difference was in his spirit. His faith in Jesus saved not only his body but also his spirit. He appreciated the healer, not just the healing. He didn’t seek help from the Lord only for his own sake; he went to him for God’s sake. He had something he could give to Jesus — his appreciation, his praise, his worship — and he wanted to give it.

We all have something that God cannot give to himself: our praise and our worship. Please don’t ever underestimate the value of these important gifts!

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 7, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Transitus of St Francis

1-3

In the last year of his life, St Francis accepted the fact that sister death was drawing near. While the most fundamental human instinct is to search for ‘exit’ strategies in an effort to escape the ultimate frontier of human existence, death, Francis gradually came to understand that death was not his enemy. Despite his premonition that death was rapidly approaching; despite concerns that the Order of lesser brothers, might not continue with the originating dream of a world renewed in Christ as God revealed to him, Francis found in death an opportunity to once again celebrate life, and demonstrate that the life of penance and peace are inescapable passages leading to new life in God.

The early biographers recount that in his last year of life, Francis continued to promote the vision of a reconciled world with all of his energy. The renewed conflicts between the three forces controlling societies in medieval Italy, namely, the Church, the local Governments and the rising Merchant Classes, raised their ugly heads once again as animosities and competition for economic resources broke out between Bishop Guido and the Mayor, Oportulo Bernardo. We know that Francis dedicated the greatest part of his active ministry, and something to which he would return at the end of his life, as highlighted in his final Testament.

All of us deal with anger, an unwillingness to forgive and let people be free, fear of the ‘stranger’ and the foreigner’, and the challenge of living in human societies that seek to co-opt our fundamental Gospel vocation. The invitation of Francis to each of us gathered here tonight is for us to see whether we are living lives reflective of the pardon, reconciliation, justice and peace of God. Francis invites us through his death to become active seekers of life. For this, we must become active believers in the uncompromising forgiveness and love of God for all people and for creation. And we must become active agents of forgiveness, peace, reconciliation and non-violence. We do this because this is what God expects of us as disciples of the Risen Lord Jesus who, according to John’s Gospel narratives of the Resurrection, entered the heavily guarded upper room where the disciples huddled in fear and spoke the message of the Resurrection, namely, peace: “Peace be with you,” proclaims Jesus to his disciples, and to us who are on this Gospel journey. Francis obviously would pick up this insight and turn it into a program for life, the life of penance and peace.

We return to the bishop’s palace in Assisi in 1225. We recall Francis’ call to the brothers to carry him out on his stretcher to the bishop’s court where he could confront the bishop and the mayor, remind them of their fundamental dignity as children of a loving and forgiving God and invite them to take up the way of forgiveness and reconciliation as the way back from a culture of death and towards the renewed culture of life, the life of the new creation in Christ.

It was in that court yard of the bishop, lying between two men who had ‘lost their minds and hearts’ to hatred, jealously and endless competition for power and resources that Francis broke out into song, a song of peace and reconciliation:

Those who are here and who admire the Saint of Assisi, Francesco, cannot escape the challenge to become instruments of peace, hope, reconciliation and love in a world torn by all forms of competition and jealousy. We can bow down and call upon the Spirit of the Living God and ask God to turn our hearts, minds and actions to the way of peace.

May our celebration of the passing of our brother and father Francis provide us the opportunity to open our lives to God’s invitation to become signs of love and hope for our world, a world desperately in need of such witness. And may we find new ways to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ as revealed to Francis to our families, fraternities, Church, society and world. This is the greatest act of gratitude and thanksgiving we might offer – to become the very forgiveness and peace of God to all people.

Francis speaks to us tonight from the place of seeming death and annihilation, the grave. Francis calls out and beckons us to take up this Gospel life of penance and peace with renewed vision and commitment. He sings to us this night the same words and melody that he sung to the bishop and the mayor, to his brothers and sisters of penance and peace, and to the citizens of Assisi, Perugia, a song of peace, forgiveness and blessing.

Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 3, 2016 in Uncategorized