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Monthly Archives: May 2017

THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD

1-7We are nearing the end of our Easter Season as we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord this Sunday, and then Pentecost Sunday next weekend. Both feasts help us to further make connections to the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ with the lives, deaths, and resurrections of our own.

Today’s Gospel is taken from the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew. Here we are told that the eleven disciples go the mountaintop in Galilee, as Jesus had instructed through Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (cf. Matthew 28:9-10). They see Jesus, and he commissions them to baptize and teach, “to make disciples of all nations.” It is a task which Jesus had previously prepared his disciples for. However, earlier the Twelve were sent only to the House of Israel; in this Final Commission, the eleven are told to go to “all nations.” The mission of Jesus is now to be taken to all people; the task now is to baptize and to teach.

In the sequel to the Gospel of Luke, the Book of Acts, our first reading, the author elaborates on the reactions of the apostles: “When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?’”

God is showing steadfast love, sending these two messengers to remind them not just to stand and look up, but to look around, look ahead, and look toward the work they must do. They must proclaim “repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations.” They must be witnesses to what just happened. And they must not worry; they will receive the Holy Spirit to carry out the mission. Jesus has promised to send the Paraclete, the advocate in his absence, the power from on high. Jesus has told them to stay in Jerusalem to wait for it.

Going through something traumatic, it is easy to dwell on the past or fantasize about the future, but it is not easy to stay in the present. However, the present is exactly where Jesus wants the disciples to be.

Now the disciples should realize they are not only followers anymore, but also leaders. They cannot only stand there, looking up toward heaven. Rather, they need to follow Jesus’ commission, and they need to get into action. Nevertheless, before their action, before the Holy Spirit is bestowed on them, they need to reflect, to pray, and to bless God.

The verses after today’s reading from the Book of Acts tell us that, “When [the disciples] had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying . . . All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers” (Acts 1:13a, 14).

Finally, the disciples’ minds are opened to understand the Scriptures and the purpose of Jesus’ teaching. As we read in the Letter to the Ephesians, “May he enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you,” From then on, the disciples of Jesus set up the Church and proclaimed the repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus to all nations. That is how we have had the Good News passed to us.

They have set a great example for us, the later followers. When we are at a loss, before we carry out our call, we need to pray and bless God, being in the very presence of God.

In our divided world, things seem to have changed for the worse. Life seems to be upside-down, with racial tension, terrorist attacks, chaos in the Middle East, and so much more. We may be like the disciples, with the tendency to look upward and not see the present, our call. But no, we must stay in the present, grounding ourselves in Jesus the Christ to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in his name, and bearing witness to the grace of God.

The reading from Matthew’s Gospel today for the Ascension can be understood as the beginning of the Church. Jesus commissions his disciples to continue to teach in his name and to bring others into the community of disciples through baptism. The Gospel ends, as it had begun, with the promise that Jesus will continue to be Emmanuel, “God with us” (cf. Matthew 1:23), Now, the time to get in action is here. It is not an easy task, but we will not be alone; the Holy Spirit will be with us. The power that God gives us, writes Henri Nouwen, “is not the power that controls, dictates, and commands; (rather) It is the power that heals, reconciles, and unites.” We receive this power – the power to heal, reconcile and unite – through our union with God. The Spirit empowers us to be healing presences in the world, to be channels of God’s compassion and blessing and peace to all whom we meet. Stay tuned and stay in the presence of God. Amen

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Posted by on May 27, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

1-1Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last week’s Gospel: Jesus is speaking to his disciples at the Last Supper. In today’s reading Jesus offers encouragement to his disciples, who will soon see him crucified. He reassures them that even though he will leave them, he will not abandon them. Instead he will send them the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, through whom the disciples will continue to live in union with Jesus. Jesus contrasts his impending departure with the permanence of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus will leave to return to the Father, but the Holy Spirit will remain with the disciples.

St Peter and St Paul knew God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They knew God as the One who keeps promises, a God of a second chance, and a God that saves, a God that can convert. St Paul told one group that God was a “living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea” (Acts 14:15), and he told the people of Athens that he was the One in whom we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The second reading for this day from 1 Peter gives us a challenge. It says: ” Reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have….” Today we need to articulate what our hope is.

Who do you know God as? Who do we know God as? We cannot tell of something or someone that we do not know. As Christians, we know God as a provider. The God we know is fair and just, generous and good. Our God is a loving, healing God. A right-on-time God. The God we know is a forgiving, gracious God because heaven knows we do not get it right all the time. We know God as Redeemer, Reconciler, Restorer and Resurrector, just to name a few.

That is who we know God as. And the God we serve proves this over and repeatedly. The God we serve places the right people in the right places to make things happen at the right time, giving us unmerited favour. And the God we serve makes a way when there seems to be no way.

But, there are individuals who do not know this God. The knowledge of the God we know is not everywhere you turn, because people do not really know who God is, and what God has done, and can do. God, for some, is only a God to question or blame or accuse or even curse when things go wrong. Many people believe that God is some sort of vengeful deity that must be appeased by good behaviour, just in case! But that is not the God that Peter or Paul proclaimed.

There really is a God who loves everyone, a God who came to serve us. Our God, who has given everyone life and being, and is interested in every part of your life, no matter how insignificant it may seem. God’s love, care, and identity have been made abundantly clear in the person and work of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. As St Peter wrote “Why, Christ himself, innocent though he was, had died once for sins, died for the guilty, to lead us to God”. That God should be known by everyone!

And therein lies our responsibility as Christians. We must bear witness to the God we know. In the person and work of Jesus, all the doubts and fears and anxieties over the “unknown God” happily disappear. God is not a distant, uncaring God. God is a very close and personal God.

So, who do you know God as? Who do we know God as? We cannot tell of something accurately if we do not know for ourselves, first-hand. You cannot give directions to a place if you do not know where it is. Similarly, we cannot share a God we do not know for ourselves with others, or people will get lost.

We are charged with being a witness for the God we know. We are charged with telling somebody about this God. Tell people about the love God has shown us in Jesus Christ. Our God should no longer be unknown. Our God is too good and too generous to remain that way.

God is the God who is known by loving-kindness to us, shown in the One who lived and died and rose again, so that we too might live with God. Each time we approach God’s altar, we are saying, “We believe. We believe in a God whose only begotten Son died for us all.” We are saying, “God, you are in me and I in You.”

But it does not stop there. When we make our way to God’s altar and ultimately out of the doors of the church, that is where the real work begins. Catholic Christianity is – at least on its good days – a faith of action, not of words. We do not remain in Jesus’ love by sitting and doing nothing – not even by prayer and reading the scriptures We are all called to be witnesses to the God we know – and our lives, our beings, our very essence should always, always reflect that. We remain in his love by living in his commandments.

Let us pray that our love may always show more in actions than in words.

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

1-17The Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, once said: ‘We live forward, but we understand backwards.’ So, on Sundays and at other times, we go backwards to the life of Jesus, so that for now and for the future, we might become better people, his kind of people.

In Jesus’ time, people identified themselves with being Jewish or Roman or Samaritan or one of the many other cultures and nations that were intermingling under Roman conquest. Jesus himself was Jewish and worked within the framework of being Jewish to call people back to God.

When we celebrate Easter, we celebrate a very particular definition of what it means to be community: We are the people who believe in the God who has been revealed to us decisively in Jesus Christ. This separates us as a community, just as it separated the community for whom the Gospel of John was written.

Our Gospel of John was written over time. We don’t know exact times, but we can understand this Gospel as originating in an early Christian community struggling to separate itself from first century Judaism—that is, sometime between 75-100 AD. In 70 the Jewish temple was destroyed, and John’s community saw themselves to be a persecuted religious minority, expelled from the synagogue, their religious home, because of their faith in Jesus.

The early Christians were also living within a Hellenistic society—meaning that much of the worldview held at that time was that of the Greeks— the way the Gospel of John was written is also influenced by this fact. This Gospel was written to a community in a so that they could define themselves apart from the other religions that were around them. It helped define them as a community.

Things haven’t changed much since then. So how do we define ourselves as Christians now? How do we live as Easter people? Defining ourselves doesn’t mean that we throw stones at others. Defining ourselves means that we live out our lives in a particular way as community so that people can clearly see what being a Christian means

In our Australian culture, we are not persecuted in the same way that the early Christians were or how Christians are treated in other parts of the world. This is nice and comfortable for us, but it often makes it more difficult to show the world how a community that follows Jesus defines itself. The media makes this even more difficult when it highlights Christians that manifest bigotry, hate, and judgment on their neighbours, lumping us all into that category together. How do we continue to define ourselves in the midst of this? How do we show that we are God’s people?

In our Gospel lesson, we have part of the answer. We know the way to the place that Jesus is going because we, by definition, claim to know Jesus as God incarnate—God with us—God’s own son. Jesus was always going to return to God the Father because they were inseparable. Jesus himself was and is simultaneously the access to and the embodiment of life with God. This is our particular belief that helps define us as a Christian community and because of this belief, we are to love Jesus by doing his works and by keeping his commandments: love God and love one another.

How have we defined ourselves in our own community as Catholics? What does it mean to be Catholic? When we begin to lose our own identity, and lose our saltiness, we need to be recalled to the larger community of The Catholic Church and to the extended Christian community.

As Christians, we are not called to be like everyone else and as Catholics, we have our own distinct flavor. What is our identity in the wider community? What do we want to be known for?

The Acts of the Apostles tells us that the apostles themselves branched out from just “prayer and the word” to encompass a wide range of care for others including distribution of food to those widows in need. Look where and to whom Christian organizations reach today.

Sometimes an individual may feel that as one person an “I” cannot make a difference in the world, let alone a big difference. We know from Jesus that is not the case. He left his legacy to his apostles and through them, to us. If we examine the good done in the lives of those fuelled by the fire of Christianity, from the first apostles to our pastor or neighbour or co-worker or even ourselves, we know the Fire is still there, lighting the way and keeping us going.

The truth is that each person does, in fact, influence all those whom he/she encounters, one at a time. Each of us does that with positive or negative results. If we, as Christians, profess to follow in Jesus’s footsteps, we, too, must be “living stones” upon which the legacy of Jesus through Christianity will continue. We must live the Way, the Truth, and the Life authentically… as Jesus predicted his true followers would.

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

1-10This Fourth Sunday of the Easter season is sometimes called Good Shepherd Sunday because in each of the three lectionary cycles, the Gospel reading invites us to reflect on Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In each cycle the reading is from the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel.

Today’s reading falls between the stories of Jesus’ healing of the man born blind and the raising of Lazarus. Both stories were proclaimed in the Gospels in this year’s season of Lent. Following the controversy that ensued when Jesus healed the man born blind, Jesus directs his allegory about the sheep and the shepherd toward the Jewish religious leaders of his time, the Pharisees.

Our world today, is full of conflict. We can see it daily on our televisions and read about it online. Yet, the basic conflict we experience is not truly on our streets much less in lands far from us. The conflict is always fought out in the human heart.

Jesus knew this at least as well as we do, for his world was not much different from our own. Indeed, many of the conflicts of his time and his land are with us even today. The human heart does not change so quickly or easily. And, the world today still has its share of “thieves and bandits,” as Jesus calls them in our Gospel account today, ready to snatch and scatter the flock.

We in the West like to think that we are in control, that no one can hurt us if we just stop the boats to keep others out, and that no problem is so intractable that it cannot be solved. All we need, we are tempted to believe, is a little common sense and some well-honed negotiating skills. After all, that is how deals are done. Yet events of the past few years must make us doubt our most cherished convictions. We do not have our act together. And, we remain as vulnerable to our own sinfulness, gullibility, and the blandishments of contemporary life as to far-off terrorists and revolutionaries.

Left to our own devices, we might not have chosen dirty, bleating, vulnerable sheep as the appropriate image for ourselves as Christians populating this post-modern world of digital efficiencies and sophisticated technological solutions. Surely, we share precious little DNA with ewes and rams after all. Yet as one animal behaviourist also reminds us, “We spent quite a long time evolving together” with our animal cousins. So, like it or not we probably have more in common with the sheep of Jesus’ story than we care to admit.

The shepherds of Jesus’ day endured sun and rain for days or weeks on end and were often as dirty and smelly as the flocks they tended. No smartly-styled business casual attire for them. But unlike their charges, shepherds then as now were vigilant and uncomplaining, watching for danger and trouble, providing pasture and allaying the thirst of their flocks. The shepherd knew his sheep as no one else. And the sheep followed him, as Jesus tells us, “because they know his voice.”

Jesus speaks of himself in this Gospel passage as “the gate for the sheep.” Shepherds of the period would often place their own bodies across the small opening or aperture of the sheep enclosure during times of peril, risking their lives for the sake of their flock. Perhaps it is this image of the shepherd as human gate that Jesus has in mind with this metaphor; his own presence stretched out, as on a cross, bridging the disciples’ –and our own — base insecurities. “Whoever enters by me,” he assures us, “will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

It is all too easy to lose direction — to lose our bearings and a sense of who we are and where we are going in our lives. It is all too easy, in other words, to go astray like lost sheep. But it is just then that we are most vulnerable to the “thieves and bandits” of the world, most vulnerable to the more destructive animal instincts that lurk in every human heart, our own included, but it does not make us notorious sinners. In the letter from Peter, the final line tells us we are lost sheep returned to the fold and to the shepherd and guardian of our living spirits.

We are all fed by the God of mercy and forgiveness. The shepherd speaks to us, calls us individually by name. The Shepherd knows us, calls us by name. He leads us no matter our condition, no matter our individuality. His voice welcomes us to the family, calls us home. This Shepherd does not separate us according to colour, to language, to national origin, nor even by religious tradition. His sheep know his voice and follow him, trusting him to bring us where we belong. It is the voice we must listen to hear. Christ’s voice always brings us together with each other and with the Life of God. What unifies leads to unity with the Trinity. What divides does not. In all this we walk by faith in the Risen One. For he lives!

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2017 in Uncategorized