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Monthly Archives: January 2017

FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-1Matthew has a careful pattern in his gospel. Last Sunday, we heard in the fourth chapter of Matthew that Jesus has gathered disciples and gone throughout Galilee teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing the sick.

The so-called Sermon on the Mount, is the longest piece of teaching from Jesus recorded in the New Testament, and the first recorded teaching in Matthew’s gospel. The Sermon on the Mount is not one single sermon which Jesus preached on one definite situation; it is the summary of his consistent teaching to his disciples. It has been suggested that, after Jesus definitely chose the Twelve, he may have taken them away into a quiet place for a week or even a longer period of time, and that, during that space, he taught them all the time, and the Sermon on the Mount is the distillation of that teaching.

Matthew sets the scene for us: Jesus sees the crowds that have gathered, then goes up the mountain, where he sits down and begins to teach his disciples. Jesus began to teach when he had sat down. When a Jewish Rabbi was teaching officially he sat to teach. We still speak of a professor’s chair; the Pope still speaks ex cathedra, from his seat. Often a Rabbi gave instruction when he was standing or strolling about; but his really official teaching was done when he had taken his seat. So, then, the very intimation that Jesus sat down to teach his disciples is the indication that this teaching is central and official. The subject is how to live an ethical life, a life worthy of the household of God. What is the nature of God’s justice, kindness, and humility? What is the nature of God’s kingdom? What constitutes a blameless, right, and truthful character, for the individual and the community?

So, Jesus begins:

To be poor in spirit is to be open and empty before God. Let us approach God’s kingdom humbly, with our hands, hearts and minds open, free of clutter, of old habits and anxieties. Humble and receptive, available for God to do a new thing. Jesus re-orders our reality, re-defines the nature of abundance to mean a new life in God. Mourning is another kind of emptying, an assumption of appropriate responsibility for the brokenness around us. Then Jesus addresses the qualities of letting go of control into the hands of God. Another kind of emptying. So, the first step to kingdom living is emptying, and the next is transforming that clean emptiness to the blessing of a profound relationship with God. Poverty of spirit, mourning, gentleness, humility: these are characteristics of the contemplative life, these are qualities of a life of prayer.

However, Righteousness and justice lie at the heart of an active life in the kingdom of God. Having taught his faithful disciples how to be humble servants of God, Jesus begins to teach them to be leaders: peacemakers who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Jesus puts truth and justice issues on the table.

Justice must be accompanied by mercy and purity of heart. One who is pure of heart is single-minded in the quest for justice and truth, sincere, transparent and without guile before God. One who is pure of heart cultivates habits of integrity: unity among heart, word, and deed.

The peacemaker values truth and reconciliation: peace with God, reconciliation in the community of faith, love for all neighbours, near and far. These are qualities of life in community.

Finally, A great challenge to the qualities of blessedness – openness, gentleness, humility, purity of heart, justice, and mercy – occurs when we are persecuted for that very peacemaking to which we have been led by our relationship with God and our neighbours. Or perhaps we want to aid and protect those who are being persecuted. There is no peace without justice. Peacemakers must affirm hope in the midst of difficulty, despair, suffering.

The shape of the Beatitudes is brilliant in presenting an ethic of character based on the interplay between being and doing.

In the Beatitudes, we journey with the disciples of Jesus from faith through simplicity, service, and reconciliation to hope. As followers of Jesus, we are to be prophets, in our prayers and in our lives, of the good news of the kingdom of God.

We are blessed by God’s grace to live the abundant life, in relationship with God and our neighbours. We are called to be Peacemakers, living the Beatitudes in our daily work, in our communities and organizations. Do Justice. Love Kindness. Walk Humbly with your God. Hunger and thirst for Righteousness. Make peace with purity of heart. Expect nothing less than the kingdom of God, and persevere in the face of opposition.

St. Augustine in his sermon 87.2 on the vineyard workers and the owner of the vineyard once stated that God “worships” you.

God worships us because he believes in us. Augustine explained this by saying that God cultivates the good in you the way a farmer cultivates his field. It means that God believes in us.

And then,when we believe in God we believe not only in God but also in the inner goodness of that person that God created each of us to be.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-1John the Baptist was arrested and imprisoned. For Jesus, the time had come. Firstly, He left Nazareth and he took up residence in the town of Capernaum. In that moment, Jesus left his home never again to return to live in it. It was the clean cut one chapter was ended and another had begun. He went into Galilee to begin his mission and his ministry, Galilee was densely populated. So, then, Jesus began his mission in that part of Palestine where there were most people to hear him. Of all parts of Palestine, Galilee was most open to new ideas. History had compelled Galilee to open its doors to new strains of blood and to new ideas and to new influences. The natural characteristics of the Galileans, and the preparation of history had made Galilee the one place in all Palestine where a new teacher with a new message had any real chance of being heard, and it was there that Jesus began his mission and first announced his message.

The message of Jesus consisted of a command which was the consequence of a new situation. “Repent!” he said. “Turn from your own ways, and turn to God. Lift your eyes from earth and look to heaven. Reverse your direction, and stop walking away from God and begin walking towards God.” That command had become urgently necessary because the reign of God was about to begin.

So then, who is the recipient of the “repent” message? Think again—the kingdom of heaven has come near! There is a challenge in this pronouncement. Who is Jesus really telling to step aside? It isn’t the common people, like Peter and John, the people down on the ground. The coming of God’s Kingdom is good news for the poor.

Why exactly were Peter and Andrew and John and the others so eager to quit fishing for fish and start fishing for people? It seems remarkable how quickly they respond to Jesus’ invitation. “Follow me,” Jesus says, and Matthew tells us, “immediately they left their nets and followed him.” They give up their livelihoods without a second thought to follow an itinerant preacher around the Galilean countryside.

It was these ordinary men whom Jesus chose. Once there came to Socrates a very ordinary man called Aeschines. “I am a poor man,” said Aeschines. “I have nothing else, but I give you myself.” “Do you not see,” said Socrates, “that you are giving me the most precious thing of all?” What Jesus needs is ordinary folk who will give him themselves. He can do anything with people like that.

Further these men were fishermen. Good fishermen must possess qualities which will turn them into the good fishers of people.

(i) They must have patience, to wait patiently until the fish will take the bait. The good fisher of people will have need of patience. It is but rarely in preaching or in teaching that we will see quick results. We must learn to wait.

(ii) They must have perseverance. To learn never to be discouraged, but always to try again. The good disciple must not be discouraged when nothing seems to happen.

(iii) The fisherman must have courage. As the old Greek said when he prayed for the protection of the gods: “My boat is so small and the sea is so large.” The good disciple must understand there is always a danger in telling the truth.

(iv) They must have an eye for the right moment. The wise fisherman knows well that there are times when it is hopeless to fish. To know when to cast and when not to cast. The good disciple chooses the moment. There are times when people will welcome the truth, and times when they will resent the truth. The wise disciple knows that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent.

(v) Finally, the wise fisherman must keep themselves out of sight. If he obtrudes his own shadow, the fish will certainly not bite. The wise disciple always seeks to present people, not with themselves, but with Jesus Christ. The aim is to fix people’s eyes, not on themselves, but on that figure beyond.

We 21st Century Catholics have the benefit of seeing the witness provided by the early Apostles and early Christians. From our perspective, we see the abundant fruit of apparent failures. Jesus looked like a failure when He preached His most eloquent homily from the cross on Calvary. The other Apostles saw growth from their efforts, even though they were persecuted for their efforts.

We see from the Gospels that God is Father who keeps his promises. Yet we are slow to believe, and even slower to respond to His call. We are not as prompt as we should be when God calls each of us. God knows how little faith we have. God in His mercy, reveals his plan gently. He knows our weaknesses better than we do. We could not handle the plan all at once, due to our sinfulness, ignorance, and weakness. But God can do a lot with a little good will, if we show Him that we want to follow Him. It’s only because he has called us to be his followers that we will have this opportunity to receive God himself at Holy Communion.

When we do, we can thank him for not giving up on us, for continuing to call us – and we can promise him that this week we will listen with extra attention.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-1  This Sunday we break from our reading of Matthew’s Gospel (the Gospel for our current year A) to read from John’s Gospel. We hear Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Today, Jesus is among the crowd that was listening to John and being baptised by him in the Jordan River. But at first, John did not know him. Twice in the Gospel reading John admits, “I did not know him.” But, something had happened at the baptism of Jesus which had convinced John beyond all doubt that Jesus was the Son of God. As the fathers of the church saw centuries ago, it was something which only the eye of the mind and soul could see. But John saw it and was convinced. It is only when John saw “the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him” that John recognised the stranger.

And so, when Jesus walked by and John announced to his followers, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! “, John pays spontaneous tribute to Jesus. He calls him by that tremendous title which has become woven into the very language of devotion—The Lamb of God.

What were they to make of such an improbable claim? If they had the slightest familiarity of their faith and religious tradition, two words stood out. They were “lamb” and “sins.”

First century Judaism was based on two traditions. The older, the one that placed the Temple centre stage, invoked memories of the Passover Lamb. The Passover Feast was not very far away (John 2:13) in the calendar. The old story of the Passover was that it was the blood of the slain lamb which protected the houses of the Israelites on the night when they left Egypt. The blood of the lamb delivered them from destruction. Around this system grew the Tabernacle and then the Temple cult, supervised by a hereditary priesthood descended from Moses’ brother-in-law Aaron. John was the son of a priest. He would know all the ritual of the Temple and its sacrifices.

The second vital part of Jewish religion in the days of Jesus was the synagogue system. The Old Testament tells the story of Israel, torn apart, situated between aggressive world powers, conquered again and again. The conquering powers sought to cower the Jewish people by destroying its visible connection with God. Those Jewish people taken hostage “by the waters of Babylon” not only wept; they gathered together to hear their Scriptures read by authorised teachers. In first century Palestine Temple worship, with its substitutionary sacrifices, situated in Jerusalem, jostled together with synagogue practice, hearing and receiving the Scriptures and applying them to daily life.

Note how today’s Gospel brings together these two practices, not in a theory, but in a Person. Jesus is the sacrificial lamb, “who died that we might be forgiven, who died to make us whole.” Jesus is also Rabbi, the authorised teacher, in whom God’s law is renewed and applied to the new citizens in his chosen nation.

So, when John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, he was making a reference to the sacrificial lamb on a new scale. He proclaimed that Jesus would make a sacrifice so significant that the whole world, not just a few participants in a religious service could experience forgiveness of sin and redemption. Certainly, that was an amazing calling, a painful road and a momentous task. It was Jesus’ higher purpose in life. It led to the Last Supper and Calvary and the Resurrection. We call this the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Our minds are best focused on the Eucharist, on a Person. In the Mass, we re-member. We bring to life in the here and now, the sacrifice, once offered for the sins of the whole world. In Holy Communion, we eat and drink, ingest, the life of Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Before we reach that point in the Mass, we hear Jesus the Rabbi, the authorised teacher, expounding to us God’s law, the words Jews heard at the time of Jesus and the words Christians have heard since the time of Jesus. And we corporately confess our misdeeds, missteps and flirtations with evil.

We do so as God’s community of priests, as we stand between God and humanity, the nations, the Church, our families and ourselves. For, The Spirit of God has given us the vision to see Jesus in the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist and in the hand of the priest raised in absolution. The Spirit of God has given us the ears to hear the voice of Jesus in the proclamation of the scriptures and in the preaching of the Church. The Spirit of God has helped us to recognise the supportive and comforting presence of Jesus in the loving members of the Church.

Sitting in your place this morning, look up, and with the mind of faith see the Lamb of God, the one you call Rabbi, and in your hearts, pray, “Have mercy on us. Grant us peace.”

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD

1-1  Dr. Margee Kerr is a sociologist who studies fear. She says we need to confront the fears that keep us from achieving our goals—confront them, figure out if the fear is rational, and then take steps to overcome the fear. Overcoming fear gets us on the path to meaningful change.

In today’s Gospel, we get to see fearlessness in action. We get to see how fearlessness in seeking the holy leads to freedom and joy.

First a little background on these fearless worshippers from afar. Contrary to the familiar hymn, in Matthew’s gospel, they aren’t kings, and Matthew doesn’t tell us how many there are. The idea that there were three of them probably comes from the three gifts they bring. What we know about magi before the Christian tradition is that as early as about six hundred years before Matthew writes his gospel, magi are known as a group of religious experts in Persia advising kings, performing religious rituals, watching the stars, and interpreting dreams. So, the magi were from the East. They were Gentiles. They were educated. They were wealthy. They were self-assured. They studied the stars. They believed in signs. They were not afraid to travel. They were adventurous. They were willing to seek guidance from others. They were treated with respect by those in authority. They were generous in giving gifts.

If they had been satisfied and content with their situation, why would they have been studying the stars and looking for some heavenly sign? Why would they have gone on a quest with no certainty of success and with the high risk of being attacked or robbed, getting lost, or even being killed? Why would they have desired to seek the newborn king of a conquered, insignificant people? Certainly, there were far more powerful kings, rulers, and emperors they could have visited?

Obviously, they believed there was something special about this child, something that made him worth searching for.

So, in what ways are the magi fearless?

The wise men are not afraid to stop and ask for directions. They are not afraid to ask for help, get more information. They don’t neglect the use of basic common sense. Looking for a king? Go to the king’s house. Ask for help there. “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? We observed his star, and here we are, ready to do him homage.”

When Herod hears about this, he is terrified. King of the Jews? I’m the King of the Jews! Herod thinks. The position is filled. There is a young pretender to my throne out there somewhere. Herod is fearful, scared, but he knows where to go for more information. He knows scripture will have the details he and the wise men need.

This is important. The wise men know something of God’s grace through nature. Through the appearance of the star, they know that the Christ has been born, but their knowledge is incomplete. They need scripture to tell them where. By the star’s guiding, they are close—they’re about fourteen kilometres away from Bethlehem—but experiencing God through nature isn’t enough. They don’t know enough to get to the full manifestation of God. They don’t know enough to be able to truly worship.

On the other hand, Herod can get a room full of Bible scholars together and still not truly worship. One can memorize verses from the Bible, but miss the Good news of God’s redeeming love for all people in Jesus Christ.

Herod doesn’t question the authenticity of the star or scripture. But he is so certain of his own importance that he won’t even go with the magi to see the child. He would rather stay in Jerusalem, send others, go, do this and that, and then come back and tell me. He isn’t seeking God’s truth, he spends his time and energy scheming and deceiving.

The wise men, who were not afraid to ask for help, direction, guidance, and not afraid to trust the witness of scripture, continue their way, filled with great joy.

They follow the star and the guidance of the scripture to Bethlehem where they find the Christ child. They worship and offer their gifts – gold, for a king; frankincense, to honour his divinity; myrrh, because this divine king will die and myrrh is used to anoint the body of a king. The wise men achieved their goal: worshipping the true king of the Jews.

Then, they show fearlessness in two more ways.

First, during the night, they receive word in a dream not to return to Herod. And they obey. The wise men are not intimidated by worldly power. They aren’t afraid that Herod told them to come back and they’re not obeying him. Second, they return home by another way. They are not afraid to incorporate new information when it’s given to them, even if it changes their plans.

Today, we live in a society in which many people seem to be restless and discontented and afraid. They have a feeling that something is not quite right or that something is missing. But that restlessness, that discontent can only be filled by the One for whom the magi searched. For God, has made humanity with a restlessness inside its soul that can only be truly satisfied by a relationship with him.

With their departure by another way, the wise men exit the story.

But they don’t have to exit our lives as witnesses and examples. After all, they were the first of all the people, through the generations and throughout the world, who worship Jesus Christ and find that perfect love casts out all fear.

May we have the sense to do what the magi did, the sense to continually seek out the Lord.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2017 in Uncategorized