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Monthly Archives: February 2017

ASH WEDNESDAY

1-19The use of ashes as a symbol of repentance was a recognised practice in Old Testament times. Jesus also referred to the use of ashes as a sign of repentance: Jesus said, “If the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21). In the early Church those desiring to be baptised began a period of public penance on the first day of Lent. They were covered with sackcloth and sprinkled with ashes, and obliged to remain apart from the Christian community until Holy Thursday. By the tenth century, a derivation of the practice was claimed for the entire church – a practice we will follow today – by placing ashes on the foreheads of the entire congregation, making the sign of the cross.

The ashes we will receive today have a two-fold purpose: they offer us a reminder and an invitation.

They are a reminder of our mortality. Live today – live every day – with an awareness of the preciousness of life. Use the resources entrusted to you wisely, express gratitude constantly for all the blessings of this life, give generously, live fully; because this life will end.

We pray that we may not be “hard-hearted,” indifferent to the needs of the poor and the suffering, but that we may be given “broken and contrite hearts,” hearts broken open and emptied of self in order that they might be filled with the love and compassion of God. So, these ashes serve as a reminder: a reminder of our mortality; a reminder of our poverty, and of the poverty of others.

They also serve as an invitation. They invite us to repentance. They invite us to turn again to God and to receive new life. They invite us to renew the promises we made at our baptisms, renouncing evil and putting our trust in God.

In a few moments, we will be invited to observe “a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word”. Many of us will take on some form of spiritual discipline or ascetic practice over the next forty days. We may choose to give up something, to fast from certain kinds of food, for example, or from unhealthy habits. We may choose to give up worry, or regret, or revenge; or to fast from jealousy or anger.

Or we may choose to take on something for Lent – some regular practice of prayer, perhaps. We may adopt some practice that helps us live a more balanced life. We may give alms. We may seek time for silence and solitude, or go on retreat. We may set aside time each day to read and meditate on scripture. We may choose to perform “random acts of kindness” to alleviate the suffering of others. We may decide to do something selfless.

Whatever we choose to do or not do as a sign of our repentance and commitment, let us do it whole-heatedly, not to impress God or others or ourselves with our goodness, but genuinely humbling ourselves before God, seeking God’s mercy and opening ourselves to the power of God to convert and transform our lives.

What are these ashes? An invitation to life – the true life, the abundant life, the eternal life that God has promised us in Christ. Receive them with sorrow, yes, but also with joy!

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Posted by on February 28, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Shrove Tuesday

1Today has traditionally been called “Shrove Tuesday.” The word “shrove” is derived from an Old English verb “to shrive,” which means “to hear confession,” or “to grant absolution.” To shrive is about cleaning out the cobwebs in the closets of your soul – things done and left undone, things said and left unsaid – which may clutter or weigh heavily on your conscience. And so, this word “shrive,” from which we get the traditional name for today, Shrove Tuesday, is buttressed right next to Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of season of Lent, a season of penitence and abstinence. Some of you may have grown up with the custom of a pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, which is no accident. Going back to the Middle Ages, the custom of eating pancakes and sausages had a practical purpose, since eggs and fat were used, and eggs and fat were forbidden during the fasting of Lent. In one swoop, the larder is cleared out and you have one last blowout meal before you face (tomorrow) Ash Wednesday. Enjoy today because tomorrow’s down to serious business: Lent.

Now tomorrow begins this new season in the calendar of the church, Lent, and the “church colour” has traditionally been purple or violet signifying a time of solemn prepara¬tion and humility in anticipation of Easter. We know that the church has been observing this solemn Lenten season of preparation since at least 325 AD

It is not insignificant that the season of Lent lasts for forty days. The number forty comes from the forty days’ fasts recorded in the scriptures: Moses, Elijah and Jesus (following his baptism) all fasted for forty days. Now here’s an aside. If you look at the calendar and do the math, you will note that there are more than forty days between tomorrow’s Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. That’s because Lent does not include the Sundays in Lent. Sun¬days are “feast days,” Sundays always being “little Easters,” days that we remember Christ’s resurrection, which are festal days. And so, we talk about Sundays being in Lent but not of Lent.

Now about this practice of fasting. the scriptures speak of fasting: less about fasting in the sense of eliminating something or denying yourself of some food, but fasting more in the sense of holding firm, of fastening our resolve to a discipline or practice. Fasting: more an affirmation of some principle rather than a renunciation of some desire. In the early days of Christian monasticism, John Cassian, a monk of the fifth century, wrote how under the Old Law, the observance of a fast was obligatory. Now, he writes, fasting is a voluntary devotion, what he calls an “efficacious sign of detachment” from the world and an “attachment to God alone.” Fasting is a way of fastening on to what is most important, that first love, that ultimate desire, our beginning and our end: to know God and love God and serve God. Fasting in Lent may open some space within you to receive what Jesus called “the food that will last forever” and to give you both the freedom and the focus share that food – literally and symbolically – with a world that is starving for what Jesus promised.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-21 Today’s Gospel reading is from part three of the Sermon on the Mount’s three-part instruction by Jesus on the way of life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Part three deals with trusting God and performing deeds of loving service to our neighbour.

We are by nature prone to be anxious and troubled about many things. Yet in seeking security and comfort, we may unwittingly be handing ourselves over to servitude to “mammon,” Jesus warns. “Mammon” is an Aramaic word that refers to money or possessions. Jesus is not condemning wealth. Nor is he saying that we shouldn’t work to earn our daily bread or to make provisions for our future. It is a question of priorities and goals. What are we living for? Where is God in our lives? Jesus insists that we need only to have faith in God and to trust in his Providence.

The readings this Sunday pose a challenge to us. Do we really believe that God cares for us, that he alone can provide for all our needs?

Do we believe that he loves us more than a mother loves the infant at her breast, as God himself promises in this week’s First Reading? Do we really trust that he is our rock and salvation, as we sing in the Psalm?

Jesus calls us to an intense realism about our lives. For all our worrying, none of us change the span of our days. None of us has anything that we have not received as a gift from God (see 1 Cor. 4:7). There are several ways to avoid making the big decisions in our lives. On the one hand, we “hedge our bets.” Yes, we want to answer God’s call, but we also want to make sure that if that is too difficult we can get out of our commitment. Or we can procrastinate—I’ll wait a little longer to propose to my girlfriend, or to enter grad school, or to apply for the seminary or a religious order. We have a tendency to want it both ways.

What Jesus says in today’s gospel, though, is that we can’t. Neither of these strategies is a good one—you can’t serve two masters! Ultimately, we must choose. In the end, not to choose is really to choose—or drift into a dead end.
What Jesus also says, however, is that if we do choose what we know in our heart is the better choice, the one that is not about ourselves but about service and giving and relationship, things will take care of themselves. This is because choosing this way to live our lives is to choose the “kingdom of God.” If we choose the kingdom, all the ways we try to hedge our bets or try to hold on to—food, drink, clothing, security, happiness, freedom—will be ours as well.

This is Jesus’ claim, and it’s a pretty radical one. It’s also right at the heart of the gospel. If we give, we receive; if we lose ourselves we find ourselves, if we die we live. Don’t hedge your bets. Don’t drift. Don’t hold on to certainty. Take the plunge. Take the risk. You cannot serve God and mammon—in other words, anything less than God. So, serve God.

Yes, serving God is a risk. But our readings today assure us that it is a risk well worth taking. St. Paul reminds us in the second reading that when the Lord comes he will disclose the purposes of every heart.

Originally Jesus spoke these words to very poor disciples. He was inviting them to follow him and trust that God would provide for them. Over 50 years later Matthew wrote his gospel for his community in Antioch. They were a more secure and established community than Jesus’ original followers. They were more like us. To them Jesus’ words would be as challenging as they are to us today.

We cannot serve both God and mammon. We must choose one or the other. Our faith cannot be partial. We must put our confidence in him and not be shaken by anxiety.

In reviewing today’s gospel, we ask: Did we try to serve two masters today and compromise our love for Christ? Though we might be in tight financial situations, did our worrying leave God’s loving providence out of the picture?

Were we so preoccupied with our health that we were less sensitive to the needs around us of family, friends and stranger? Are we spending too much on clothes and personal grooming, becoming insensitive to the very poor who lack decent clothing and health care for their families? Are we overdoing the purchase and consumption of pricey and specialty foods, while not seeing the hungry in our community?

In other words, are God’s concerns our concerns?

For those of us who worry do those worries distract us from seeing God acting graciously towards us? Should I take that new, challenging job? Should I apply to University? Should I get more involved in my parish? Should I go on that “come and see” weekend? All these are big questions, and big risks. But if we don’t take the risk, we’ll never know. We can’t serve two masters. We can’t have certainty and take risks at the same time. But we have a God who will never forget us, who takes care of little birds, the tiniest wildflowers, the most common blades of grass. So, take the risk. Take the plunge. Seek first the kingdom of God and his holiness before all else—confident that we are beloved sons and daughters, and that our Father in heaven will never forsake us.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-2 Few passages of the New Testament have more of the essence of the Christian ethic in them than this one. here is the characteristic ethic of the Christian life, and the conduct which should distinguish the Christian from others. The last two antitheses offered in the Sermon on the Mount deal with love of enemies. We are to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. But in saying this Jesus pushes against what we imagined perfection to be when he upsets the social order and religious customs. He touches those he shouldn’t, heals when he’s not supposed to. Jesus, in many ways, did not live up to expectations, but in his imperfect life and violent death he shows us a better meaning of perfection.

So, then Jesus reads the commandment against murder, he sees beyond the rule and finds encouragement for people to work through their conflict in ways that respect each other’s life. Anger is, for Jesus (Mt. 5:22) and the author of Leviticus (19:17), an emotion that misguides us and causes us to act out violently instead of constructively. When Jesus reads Leviticus, he interprets God’s commandments to love as being all-inclusive.

God instructs that we should live in a different way than the world expects, God insists that someday we shall. We shall not have hate in our hearts or take vengeance and bear grudges (Lev. 19:17-18). We shall live together in perfect unity—this is God’s promise for our future.

The holiness codes of Leviticus are not about setting God’s people up on a pedestal, out of reach of everyone else. Rather, God calls on her children to be set apart in their recognition that the world’s habit of turning people into commodities is no way to operate.

It can be tempting, even for the most well-adjusted among us, to compete with others to enhance our sense of self-worth. In sensing a lack of self-worth, we might try to improve ourselves, striving for a misguided notion of perfection. In doing so, we separate ourselves from one another in some not-so-healthy ways.

These divisions lead to exclusion, to intolerance, and to the anger God in Jesus Christ calls us to replace with compassion. God calls us back together. God calls us to live in our diversity, seeking unity under the umbrella truth that each one of us is a beloved child of God.

As Jesus toured around from town to town, he embodied God’s call to come together. He reminded the people that holiness is not about achieving a standard of perfection but about all kinds of people embracing a perfect, unified love.

The meek, the hungry, the poor and oppressed—Jesus calls them “blessed.” He even calls on them to love their enemies. He practices what he preaches, and because Jesus is an effective teacher and the incarnate revelation of God, people still respond as only people do when they recognize Truth.

Jesus helps us realize that God’s kingdom is not an exclusive perfect people club with a privacy gate and a bouncer at the door; the kingdom of God is what we live when we choose to see each other as beloved children of God instead of as commodities to be bought, sold, judged, and discarded. Living in God’s kingdom is like awakening from what Thomas Merton called a “dream of separateness,” which is much more nightmare than dream.

We follow Jesus not only because he appeared to be an exceptional human, but because of his truly divine ability to birth the kingdom of God in every given moment. And we can participate in this kingdom, here and now. Matthew emphasizes that love of God and love of neighbour are the fundamental commands on which all else depend. Because God’s love is unconditional, we are to strive to love as God does, though, of course, it is challenging. Is it even possible?

The key is in the final verse. We are to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. Matthew uses the Greek word telos, which is probably better translated here as “complete.” A person who has reached their full-grown stature is teleios in contradistinction to a half-grown child. A student who has reached a mature knowledge of his subject is teleios as opposed to a learner who is just beginning, and who as yet has no grasp of things. To put it in another way, a thing is perfect if it fully realizes the purpose for which it was planned, and designed, and made.

. We are to be perfect as in striving to reach the completeness we are called to in the Kingdom of Heaven. Attempting to love our enemies is part of striving for that completeness.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-2Immediately after His Baptism and following the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew, presents a discourse of moral teachings we have come to know as “The Sermon on the Mount.”

It is a portion of these instructions that we experience in today’s Gospel. Jesus eloquently presents a series of specific and shared understandings or interpretations of the law of Moses and contrasts them with a renewed way of looking at these matters. When we look at the Ten Commandments, which are the essence and the foundation of all law, we can see that their whole meaning can be summed up in one word—respect, or even better, reverence. Reverence for God and for the name of God, reverence for God’s day, respect for parents, respect for life, respect for property, respect for personality, respect for the truth and for another person’s good name, respect for oneself so that wrong desires may never master us—these are the fundamental principles behind the Ten Commandments, principles of reverence for God, and respect for others and for ourselves.

Without them there can be no such thing as law. On them all law is based.

That reverence and that respect Jesus came to fulfil. He came to show people in actual life what reverence for God and respect for others is like.

That reverence and respect which are the basis of the Ten Commandments can never pass away; they are the permanent stuff of man’s relationship to God and to his fellow-men.

He begins these statements with, “You have heard that it was said” and by concluding, saying, “but I say to you”; thus, presenting the true intent of the law through the lens of Jesus’s message. He challenges his disciples to examine the thoughts and attitudes they harbor in their hearts. For those thoughts and attitudes give rise to behaviour that determines who has a place in the kingdom of heaven.

One of those standards highlighted in today’s Gospel is reconciliation. Jesus, through specific examples, shares with His disciples the negative impact of unresolved and conflictive human interactions, offering at the same time a mechanism for accountability and a path towards mending broken relationships.

For real reconciliation to occur, we must not only meditate and identify the offense, but also value the relationship that may be jeopardized by such offense. It requires openness of heart to engage in dialogue and to seek the restoration of that particular relationship. God desires for us to live in relationship with one another. When our relationships are broken, other areas of our lives may become off-balance to the extent that, at times, it may impact our ability to function. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbours as ourselves. We are called to build bridges, not walls.

It is practically a common occurrence to hear friends “de-friending” each other’s pages in social media because of political debates or opposing points of views about relevant and challenging topics.

How may we find common ground amid our differences? How may we, create spaces for dialogue and reconciliation?

Jesus came to this world to reconcile us with God. It is that ministry of reconciliation that urges us to remain faithful to our vocation of love where we reject sin while embracing the sinner.

Author and researcher, Brené Brown, shares that “Empathy feels connection while sympathy drives disconnection”. She describes empathy as the ability to take on the perspective of another person while staying out of judgment, recognizing the emotions in other people and communicating that. Brené accurately states that “Empathy is a choice.” Having empathy for those with whom we differ may provide us an opportunity to listen attentively to their perspectives, that may lead to reconciliation or even positive changes in the midst of profound and basic disagreement of ideology.

We can choose to nurture our divides and remain in a state of tension and dissension, or, we may decide to be open to the movement of the Spirit and focus on that which unite us, God’s love for humanity, and work together through our disagreements. Our disagreements, political or not, are not sufficient ground to separate us. We are bonded by something greater.

Avoidance of contact is a defence mechanism we may use to evade our responsibility to foster reconciliation and unity. Reconciliation is hard work. As a church, we have a unique opportunity to become bridge-builders during this time in Australia.

Jesus, our model, faced confrontations with determination and compassion. It is a healthy and necessary balance to mend and maintain challenging relationships.

Jesus’s determination ensured that the dignity of every human being was respected. His compassion showed God’s love to those who were difficult to love. Jesus tells us to look into our hearts.

May we find a balance in these challenging times to maintain a reconciliatory tone while challenging the injustices against God’s children in a way that foster dialogue and build bridges. Not an easy task, but a necessary one.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-2Last week we heard the opening lines of the Sermon on the Mount, the eight Beatitudes. Today Jesus has a lot to say about salt and the importance of salt being salt and not something else, Well, what does that mean?

First, it’s important to remember that Jesus is talking to his disciples. Jesus has a vision in mind, a standard by which we disciples should be in the world. We are meant to be the salt of the earth, a sort of leaven or spice for the world. It’s interesting that Jesus uses this metaphor of salt.

In the time of Jesus salt was connected in people’s minds with three special qualities. (i) Salt was connected with purity. No doubt its glistening whiteness made the connection easy. (ii) In the ancient world salt was the commonest of all preservatives. It was used to keep things from going bad. (iii) But the greatest and the most obvious quality of salt is that salt lends flavour to things. Food without salt is a sadly insipid and even a sickening thing.

Salt, in a dish, is not just salty, but since it is such a fundamental flavour it highlights all the others. In a word, followers of Jesus are meant to draw out the flavours of all the world!

For too long Christians have been the people who want to quit the earth, to escape into an abstract spiritual existence or just be plain miserable. Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers.” Robert Louis Stevenson once entered in his diary, as if he was recording an extraordinary phenomenon, “I have been to Church to-day, and am not depressed.”

But here we see that Jesus would have his followers deeply engage with the world, to act as a spice that enlivens all the rest. With this spice, the world feels things more deeply. With this spice of Jesus’ disciples, the world feels, thinks, and acts more profoundly.

Now, before all this, Jesus says that we are the salt. The key word here is “are”. He doesn’t say, “You will someday be the salt of the earth,” or “Continue to work at becoming the salt of the earth,” no, “You are, the salt of the earth.” For Jesus, we are already the salt of the earth, this is a spiritual reality, we are already the salt of the earth, it is a state of being that is already in place.

So, with this reminder that Jesus has a clear idea of what we are to be in the world, and that we are that spice, we come face-to-face with the prospect of how we are doing in the light of Jesus’ statement. In other words: how are we doing in living with the standard that Jesus has laid out? Are you living as the salt of the earth? Are you enlivening the flavours of life, do you make a difference? He is pretty harsh too when considering the prospect of salt without saltiness: “If salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

It seems to me that a life of saltiness that Jesus is getting at here is one that, without fear, moves into the world in love and affection. We don’t allow ourselves to be bowled-over by the tragedies and disappointments of the world, but we also don’t allow ourselves to fall into quiet resignation over injustices. We followers of Jesus, walk a brave line of love into the deepest experiences of life, neither being swept away nor disengaged. This walk of course happens only because we are empowered by the Holy Spirit which, in my experience, is more about granting patience and tenacity more than anything.

At Baptism, the priest takes the baptismal candle and lights it from the Easter candle. Handing the lighted candle to the parents and godparents he tells them, “Receive the light of Christ . . . this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. This child of yours has been enlightened by Christ. She is to walk always as a child of the light.” From the very first moment we become Christian, we are told that, “we are the light of Christ.” Beautiful words but they bring with them a responsibility. “You,” Jesus exclaims; “You are the light of the world; you are my light.”
“You are the salt of the earth . . . you are light of the world.” We are salt and light, and our faith demands that we live public lives. As easy as it would be to keep our religious lives in a safe and sound compartment, tucked carefully out of the way, the truth is we must take a stand and we must act—that’s our edict from Christ; that’s our imperative from the Gospel.

Isaiah’s opening words from our Old Testament reading spell out the actions we are to take if we want to receive the blessings of the covenant These were not suggestions or encouragements they’re directives and mandates. They deal with our hands-on involvement in helping others meet their basic needs—not from a distance, but up close and personal.

Catholicism doesn’t permit us to stand apart from the world, but requires that we help shape it. Catholicism doesn’t mean that we can leave the difficult tasks and responsibilities to others, but requires that we take them on ourselves. We are teachers, students, nurses, doctors, corporate executives, bankers, investment counsellors, factory workers, and small business owners. Jesus challenges us, not to become something we are not, but to become who we really are; reflections of our identity, the one we received at our baptism, reflections of him, holding the candles we received so long ago—we are light of the world and salt of the earth.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2017 in Uncategorized