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Monthly Archives: November 2016

FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (Year A)

 

1    Advent is in many ways difficult to come to grips with. This is especially so in Australia where it comes at the beginning of summer, as the school and working years conclude and beaches and barbeques beckon. There is a tendency for the busy-ness of shopping, parties and planning for Christmas Day to overtake the rhythm of the church year.

The special focus of Advent, as the word’s origins indicate, can be summed up in the phrase Here he comes. As we enter its meaning, we look back in time, look forward in time and open our eyes fully to the present.

In today’s gospel passage, Jesus is reminding us that not even he, nor the angels, know when God will come. Some like to think that God will come in terrible retribution with flames and violence. These people look for signs in international politics and weather patterns that God is coming to judge and destroy the world. This is the Day of the Lord, the great apocalyptic coming of God to be with the creation fully. The reason that so many doom-sayers with signs that say, “The End is Nigh,” say what they say is because the prophets and gospel writers, even Jesus, used language like this: great tribulation, division, floods of fire and water.

The point they are trying to make is that when God comes the existing order of things will be reversed. These reversals of the worldly ordering of life is a trademark of God’s presence and it always comes as a surprise because that kind of life, one marked with peace, justice, presence and love can be achieved in the here and now.

And Jesus, in today’s reading, is calling us to be awake and prepared for it. Jesus is reminding us of the importance to be in a ready-state for God’s coming. This is part of what Advent is all about. Advent, it turns out is not, is not, a countdown of shopping days until Christmas but a reminder of the ready-state, a call to training our spirits for God’s arrival.

The Christian tradition recognizes that God has come, and will come, to be with us in three distinct ways.
The first coming of God was when God walked with us in Jesus of Nazareth. We will celebrate that coming in a few weeks at the Feast of the Incarnation, otherwise known as Christmas.

Another coming of God is the final coming which Jesus makes mention of in today’s reading, when God and creation will be as they were meant to be, fully united. The strongest image the Bible has for this union is a marriage between God and creation and, make no mistake, heaven is coming to Earth (Rev. 21).

The third coming of God happens between the first coming and the final coming of God, between the coming of Jesus and the final marriage of God and creation. This coming of God is the daily visitation: God with us in our prayers, finding God in our neighbours, seeing God in those we are privileged to serve.

What we see in these three visitations is that all of them are the hoped-for Day of the Lord. Each of these visitations carries with it the reversals of the normal, worldly order but also the loving and just presence of God.

How are you in a ready-state for God’s coming? How then can we be awake and watchful for the coming of God, whether in the final coming of the daily visitation of God?

There is a telling portion of Scripture that happens when the disciples have just seen Jesus ascend into Heaven. The disciples are looking up, dumbfounded. Finally, some angels appear and ask, “Why are you looking up, trying to find him?” The implication is, “Don’t look up to find Jesus, look out, look in.”

Jesus is always one step ahead, going into the city, into Galilee, into life, we are meant to seek and find him there. That’s how we stay ready for God’s coming, we daily, hourly stay on the lookout for God, not in the clouds, not in the powerful events of the world, but in the quiet, domestic ways that God visits us. God may indeed someday come in the clouds but it more than likely will come in your life.

Advent is a reminder of the ready-state, be awake and ready for God. Therefore, Advent tends to be described as preparatory, not just for the great celebration of Christmas but for the final coming of God and for the ever-present daily visit of God with us in the here and now.

The special focus of Advent, as the word’s origins indicate, can be summed up in the phrase Here he comes. We look back in time, look forward in time and open our eyes fully to the present. Advent is a time to let the Holy Spirit open our eyes to the presence of Jesus Christ alive today, even within ourselves. Every Christian in some way brings Christ to a world that is waiting to share, through whatever opportunities the Lord provides, the good news that God has entered our human condition to unite us to him.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING

 

1-12Week by week the Liturgy has been preparing us for the revelation to be made on this, the last Sunday of the Church year. Today is Christ the King Sunday. Christ the King Sunday is new to the church. Pope Pius XI introduced it in 1925, a time when despotic rulers and systems began to take hold in Europe: Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin. The Pope wanted to advance a message of security through the rule of Christ over the chaos of tyranny.

So, what kind of king is Christ, and how does he exercise his authority?

First, we need to recognize that kingship was central to Christ’s mission. Matthew, Mark, and Luke speak with one voice in telling us that at the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus announced that the “kingdom of God” was drawing near. But Jesus upended and undermined the whole concept of kingship. This world’s kingdoms are about power and prestige; Jesus was about service and humility. The rulers of this world are about coercion and violence; Jesus’ life was characterized by peace and reconciliation. Kings surround themselves with throngs of fawning courtiers; Jesus chose the lowly and rejected as his companions.

Two of the three sayings of Jesus from the cross illustrate the nature of his kingship. One of the powers of kings is to pardon those accused of crimes. The irony of the crucifixion is that Jesus was sentenced to die for claiming to be a king. However, even while being nailed to the cross, Jesus demonstrated that it was his executioners who needed pardon and he alone had the power to grant it. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

In pardoning those who were executing him, Jesus showed us the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness frees not only those who are forgiven; it also frees the forgiver. When we forgive, we release ourselves from the chains of anger and resentment. In forgiving others, we exercise the royal power that Christ delegated to his followers.

The power of forgiveness is also illustrated by the example of Sir Thomas More. During the English Reformation, More, who was Henry the Eighth’s Lord Chancellor, would not recognize the king’s authority to rule the church as he ruled the state, so Henry had More tried on charges of treason and bound over for execution. After being sentenced, St Thomas More addressed the judges at his trial, saying, “I verily trust and shall therefore right heartily pray, that though your lordships have here in earth been judges to my condemnation, we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together, to our everlasting salvation.” More knew and demonstrated the power of forgiveness.

Secondly Jesus surrounded himself with the poor and marginalized. He crossed social, moral, and religious boundaries by accepting women as disciples. His critics charged that he ate and drank with thieves and prostitutes. Jesus does the same thing every time we celebrate the Eucharist!

Even on the cross, Jesus continued his habit of associating with the despised and disreputable. Poignantly, the second thief pleaded, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

What persuaded the penitent thief to believe not only that Jesus was a king but would survive the cross and “come into” his kingdom? Had he observed Jesus pardoning his enemies? Or was he able to see that the cross itself was Jesus’ royal throne?

“Remembrance” is central to Jewish thought. When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, Exodus tells us that God “remembered” the covenant he had made with the patriarchs. The kind of remembering that God did in Exodus and that the thief was asking Jesus to do is not the opposite of forgetting; it is the opposite of dismembering. The thief was asking to be made a part of Jesus’ kingdom.

By their covenant with David in today’s First Reading, Israel’s tribes are made one “bone and flesh” with their king. By the new covenant made in His blood, Christ becomes one flesh with the people of His Kingdom—the head of His body, the Church (see Ephesians 5:23-32).

We celebrate and renew this covenant in every Eucharist, giving thanks for our redemption, hoping for the day when we too will be with Him in Paradise.

The judgment of the Crucified and Risen Christ remembers not only us but also those whom we have forgotten and neglected and marginalized; he remembers us as we are – right and wrong, good and bad.

When Pope Francis began this Year of Mercy he may have had this ending in mind. For this Gospel relates a plea for mercy that was absolutely answered -a plea for mercy that we can make our own

“Lord Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” Like the thief crucified beside Jesus, we pray that we may be a part of the great kingdom he is building in this world and the next. But we must always keep in mind that we make our prayer to Christ the King, whose judgment is ever against those who trust in their own righteousness (and at times that is all of us) but whose arms are always outstretched in mercy and love.

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 

1-9As we reach the end of this liturgical year and begin the next one with the season of advent, we enter a time when our readings focus on eschatology – the “end times” or when God will bring this world to its ultimate fulfillment.

Penultimate’ is a fine Latin word that means ‘next to the last’. Not the last, not the ultimate, but next to that, before that. The penultimate things are not the ultimate things, but the things that are a step down from them, things come before them.

Penultimate is a great word to hear and ponder as we listen to these wonderful Biblical stories about the end of all things, about “dreadful portents and great signs from heaven” and the day of the Lord burning like an oven, and how not one stone will be left upon another. We always hear stuff like this as we get close to Advent; it’s good for us, and these saying are all about that little word.

Let’s start with the temple in Jerusalem. In the first century, the temple was the centre of Jewish religion, history, culture, civilization and civic pride. It was a beautiful temple, one of the best in the region. Solomon himself had designed it, and King Herod had recently completely renovated it. In its thousand-year history, the Temple had never been as glorious, as extensive, or as popular as it was when Jesus and his disciples visited. It was certainly seen as the ultimate thing in Israel—and as central, indispensable, to the plan of God and the fate of the nation.

When Jesus and his disciples visited the temple for the first time, Jesus isn’t quite as impressed, and he says two things about the Temple.

First, he predicts, quite correctly, that the Temple would soon be destroyed—that not one stone would be left upon another – which is exactly that the Romans did about 35 years later, after an unsuccessful Jewish rebellion. That’s the first thing Jesus says.

The second is subtler. Jesus also says, (again quite correctly) “the end will not follow immediately.” The temple will crumble, but things will go on pretty much as before. There will still be much to do. There will be people to help, and evil to resist, and prayers to say – just like before the Temple was destroyed. So, the temple falls, but “the end will not follow immediately”.

That must have been a hard thing to hear. It was impossible for anyone in Israel to imagine the destruction of the temple. What would be even harder to imagine was the destruction of the temple and the rest of the world not coming to an end right then. After all, everyone knew that the Temple was the ultimate thing, the final thing: if it went, everything else was sure to go, too. But the Temple was not the ultimate thing after all, it was only one of the penultimate things, but that’s all.

All of creation did not hang on it. The main thing, the one truly important and indispensable thing, is God, and what God is up to. Everything else is penultimate.

Everything else takes a back seat. Everything else can—and will—crumble to dust. Anything else can, and will, crumble to dust. The fate of creation hangs on none of them. Who God is and what God is up to – this is what abides, this is the main thing. This alone is ultimate.

It can be difficult to remember this. When the Temple fell, (and the world did not end) the fledgling Christian church in Jerusalem (as well as many Jewish groups) faced a huge crisis of faith.

Lots of people then simply could not separate what was most important and most valuable and most immediate to them from what was most important and most valuable and most immediate to God. For many, the Temple’s fall was devastating, and seemed to prove God false. They had confused the ultimate with the penultimate.

And something very much like that is still with us. We all have our temples, our penultimate. We all have our own ideas of what is indispensable to creation – these may be personal things, or religious things, or social things, or cultural things, things we cannot conceive being otherwise, or doing differently, or losing – things we cannot imagine that either we or the world or God could ever live without.

So, every now and then, we need to be reminded that these things are not quite ultimate.

It’s very important to be able to make this distinction—to be able to realize that our special concern, our pet project, our current passion, is not the same thing as the kingdom of God, or the will of God. This whole business of the last things, the end of the world, all of that is here to remind us that our stuff, no matter how important it may be, our stuff is not ultimate. It will all pass away. Remember that word…penultimate.

Instead, it is who God is and what God is doing, right now among us, that is of ultimate importance. Nothing else matters nearly as much, nothing else will matter for so long. The point is not to hang on tight to what we have. The point is to keep our eyes and hearts open, the spirit of God gives structure to our lives. The Spirit forms us and leads us so that we can give shape to our church, our community, and our world.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-1As we enter the month of November, a month when we traditionally reflect on death and those who have died, our first reading and gospel focus our attention on death and resurrection.

In the First Reading, seven brothers and their mother are brought before the pagan king who was trying to impose the Greek way of life on all those under his rule. The king had decreed that the Jews had to abandon their religious traditions by eating pork in violation of God’s law. If they did they would live, if they refused they would die.

Seven brothers are brought before the king and rather than obeying him, they each decide to obey God. So, in sight of their mother, the seven brothers are tortured and killed one by one. After witnessing the execution of her beloved sons, she herself is put to death. Those seven brothers died with the hope that God would reward their faithfulness to him by raising them to new life. As one of the brothers told the king, “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.”

In the Gospel, the Sadducees, challenge Jesus by posing a hypothetical situation that involves seven brothers. The Sadducees create the situation to show the absurdity of believing that life continues after death. Messy situations in this life would become even worse in a next life.

Of all the lessons, this portion of the Luke’s Gospel that we read today offers us a clear message about God’s plan for our future. On this occasion, several Sadducees questioned Jesus regarding levirate marriage, the practice of widows marrying their husband’s brother to carry on the family name and its results on the Last Day at the General Resurrection. Those who questioned Jesus did not believe in the hope that he offered to his disciples. It was an attempt to entrap him and discredit his teaching, but Jesus was not deterred. He explained that God’s promise for the age to come is a promise of transformation.

Rejecting the resurrection, as the Sadducees did, was to misunderstand something essential about who God is. God is the living God, and those who trust in him will become “like angels,” not concerned with the worries of the present, and they shall “children of God” and “children of the resurrection.”
God’s purpose is to make us like the Risen Christ, to make us like Jesus by means of our own resurrection to eternal life. Jesus grounded this hope, not in the problems of the present, but in the living God himself. Jesus reminds us that the Holy One, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of the living who can give life even to those to who have died.

What people believe about eternal life is not just something that affects how they view what follows death; it affects how they live today. It determines whether like the seven brothers of our First Reading, they live with hope and trust in God’s eternal care for them or like the Sadducees of our Gospel, they restrict their vision only to this world because their idea of God´s greatness was too small

Jesus himself faced the cross with the absolute hope that God the Father does not abandon his children to the oblivion of nothingness when they die. As Jesus says, God “is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

The tremendous greatness of God and this promise of resurrection and future transformation form an essential part of our Christian faith. Day-in and day-out the Church proclaims that we believe in “God, the Father Almighty,” “the resurrection of the body,” and “everlasting life”.

We believe that despite our problems and burdens, God will convert our frequently inglorious present into a life of eternal significance filled with joy, peace, and an incorruptible glory—we will become like our risen Saviour Jesus Christ. Such a transformation will not be the product of our human devising; nor will it be a reward for our own good works. Rather, it will be fruit of God’s love and grace at work in our lives to bring about God’s good purposes for us through the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray for balance in work and play and balance in quiet prayer and good actions. Let us pray for a healthy mix of concern for doing God’s will and the assurance that we are loved anyway.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

All Souls Day

 

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It’s not very pleasant to think about death.

If we were not people of faith, recalling our departed loved ones would bring us nothing but sadness. We’d see their passing as “affliction” and “utter destruction” (Wisdom 3:2-3). There would be nothing beyond this life to offer us any consolation and encouragement—all we could really say is, “When you’re dead, you’re dead!”
But as Christians, we know that such an attitude has no place in our hearts. Especially today, on this feast of All Souls, God is inviting us to put aside sadness and share in his joy. As today’s first reading tells us, all those who have left this world in the friendship of God are in the hands of a loving Father. Sorrow and tears can no longer touch them; they are at peace now because all their questions have been answered, and they can live with Jesus forever.

Don’t let this day pass by as just another feast day! Take a moment to remember your friends, family members, and acquaintances who are no longer with you. If you can, try making a list of their names, and recall all the things you loved about each of them. Recall the kindnesses they showed you, and the times you laughed and cried together.

What we are reminded of today is that those who are already in the eternal presence of God and those who are still on pilgrimage on earth can help the group we call ‘Holy Souls’ to reach the Vision of God sooner through our good works and prayers. And so, although it is a “holy and wholesome thought to prayer for the dead”, it is especially appropriate on this day. Naturally, we will remember especially family members and good friends but we should also think of those who may not have anyone to remember them.

When our time comes to leave this world, it is the prayers of those people on whom we will depend.

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS

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This is not “Some Saints Day.” This is “All Saints Day,”

The great saints of the church, the heroes of the faith who gave their lives for the gospel, were in fact folk just like us. We start there. Poor St. Peter, certainly put his foot in it more than once, up to the point of denying and abandoning Jesus. We can easily picture a 21st century St. Peter losing his temper and making rude gestures in traffic. If St. Teresa of Avila lived today, she might use the last scoop of coffee grounds and not replace the canister. If St. Francis lived today, they might have embarrassing pictures on Facebook of their younger and wilder days.

We know that the saints were everyday human beings just like us, and we can be sure they made the same mistakes and had the same frailties. And yet something within them led them to do great things for the gospel, to live and sometimes die with incredible courage and boldness. How did they do that? If we are all saints, then we are all called to live as though our lives and our memories will still be important a thousand years from now. How can we live so that our legacy strengthens generations of the faithful to come after us?

What the saints had was an unshakeable commitment to follow Jesus, no matter where that took them. Picture being a disciple standing around in a circle as Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor. Blessed are you who are hungry, who weep, who are excluded and reviled and persecuted. You are blessed, and you are beloved, and you are mine.”

Jesus speaks to us from the heart of frail, suffering, flawed humanity, because that is where he lives. He chooses to be with and in the pain of the world, and he calls us to follow him there. That was the special charism of the great saints. They weren’t spiritual athletes, accruing an ever-escalating number of holiness points. They knew that their own weaknesses combined with the desperate need of the world created the very conditions for God to work miracles, and they gave themselves to that process wholeheartedly.

Many of us hearing this gospel today are not literally poor and hungry. But those of us blessed with economic riches and societal privileges are often desperately poverty-stricken in other ways. We are starving for meaning in our lives. We weep silent inward tears of loneliness and depression. We hunger for community without realizing it. We thirst for our own lost integrity and hope in a world driven mad by greed and cynicism.

And where he is, we need never fear to go. That is what the great saints, the heroes of the faith, knew. They saw Jesus look up at them and call them blessed, and so they followed him down into the depths. And there, they found healing, and joy, and communion with God and with one another.

An individual who follows Jesus down to join with him in lifting the whole world up. That’s all a saint is. No glory, no perfection, not even any holiness. Just mustering the courage to say yes to his love, his love that reaches out to touch us in our poorest and most wounded places. Want to know if you’re a saint? See Jesus look up at you and say, “You are blessed.” Take that truth into your heart and know that today, All Saints’ Day, is for you.

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2016 in Uncategorized