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Monthly Archives: June 2017

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-1The conditions of discipleship outlined in Matthew’s Gospel underline for us a truth—choosing anything with one’s whole heart has consequences. Choosing life with Christ means that every relationship we have must be understood from a new perspective, and for many in Matthew’s community, this choice brought division to their family.

Matthew then outlines for his community and for us the reward of hospitality offered to Jesus’ followers. To welcome another in Jesus’ name is to extend hospitality to Jesus himself. We have many opportunities in our daily life to reach out to others, to be a welcoming presence and a sign of God’s love.

Just so we get this straight: whoever welcomes you welcomes Jesus, and whoever welcomes your friend or neighbour or family member or work colleague or mother-in-law or next-door neighbour and so on and so forth…welcomes God. The bottom line emphasis seems to be on inclusion, reciprocity, welcome and doing for others—all those things it takes to build up community, to include the stranger as neighbour. Jesus and the early disciples and later apostles put a high value on welcoming and proclaiming the presence of God.

So, just pause for a moment and think about what we’ve been hearing about today, division, exclusion, keeping people separated, kicking people out. Now there may be legitimate and compelling reasons to consider the economic impact or national safety issues in such things, but if an inhospitable, exclusive attitude goes along with these ideas, then they are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus who talked so very much about welcome, inclusion, hospitality.

Such an understanding of hospitality, of the obligation of welcome, dates to well before the time of Jesus. It was a matter of survival and community health which translated into the religious understanding of what God wants of us. Still today hospitality is a primary ethic of the cultures and peoples of the Middle East. Whether one is brought into a family home of Muslims, Christians or Jews, there is joy in welcoming, there is the belief that it is desired of God, the welcoming of strangers who are strangers no longer, but beloved friends, believing that in welcoming people into one’s home they are earning their crown in heaven, doing as God would have them do in welcoming the living God among us. Where and how do we experience such welcome today?

“Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’” Is this what we hear? Or do we hear, instead, words of separation, words of breaking relationship, words of opposition and repudiation?

So many of the ugly attitudes playing out on the world stage and in the evening news have spilled over into our popular culture, showing up in a variety of television shows with comments about the increase in bullying not only among children in our schools, but flowing out into our neighbourhoods, showing up in stepped-up immigration strictures among other things.

Where is our witness to welcoming others, and thereby welcoming Jesus and the one who sent him?

This Sunday comes just after the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul last Thursday and that is important to note. Think about Peter and Paul. They did not agree on many things, didn’t get along at all, and finally went their separate ways in the proclamation of the Gospel. Peter insisted that the early believers must follow Jewish ways, must be circumcised, must hold to the Law. Paul’s vision led him to distant lands proclaiming faith in a risen Christ and urging believers to conform their lives to that faith. What they had in common, though, was the conviction that God had visited humanity in Jesus, and that Jesus had brought something new and remarkable to humankind demonstrated in a way to live, a way to relate and a way to witness to God’s love. And they both understood that the welcome of God was an invitation to a place in God’s kingdom.

We may believe differently about the details of faith, as Peter and Paul certainly did and as Christians often do. But for us as Christians, the question of the day growing out of this gospel text asks: What does it mean to welcome, and how do we do that? What does it look like in our churches, in our neighbourhoods, in our national policies, in our very attitudes?

Jesus didn’t say that we must agree on everything, but he clearly told us to be welcoming. Like Peter and Paul, we won’t all agree on everything. And as we live our Christian faith in daily practice we are called to be welcoming, for in welcoming others we welcome God. As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us, when we welcome strangers, we may be entertaining angels unaware.

 

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Posted by on June 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-1In today’s gospel, Jesus instructs his apostles about the cost of discipleship. Christianity just is not an easy life, he seems to say.

Our commitment to Christ will be put to the test. We will hear whispered warnings and denunciations, as Jeremiah does in today’s First Reading. Even so-called friends will try to trap and trip us up.

As Jeremiah tells us, we must expect that God will challenge our faith in Him, and probe our minds and hearts, to test the depths of our love.

This section of Matthew’s Gospel should be read in the context of Matthew’s intended audience, a Jewish-Christian community. The Gospel alludes to the dangers and persecutions that this community has most likely already faced and will continue to face. To reassure this community, Matthew recalls for them the encouraging words of Jesus that we read today. Do not fear death, for the forces of evil may kill the mortal body but they cannot kill the soul.

And that beautiful, poetic image: the sparrow, worth half a cent, is cared for and loved by God. Every sparrow. And every hair on your head. In this Gospel passage then, Jesus might be understood as putting suffering in perspective. The disciples of Jesus are called upon to keep their focus on God.

Jesus lays out two fundamental principles of Christianity: First, we are not spared from suffering, and, second, when we suffer God suffers along with us.

First, suffering: we may not be flogged before governors or hated by everyone—but we do struggle. We contract diseases, grieve the death of loved ones, lose jobs, and undergo a myriad of nasty experiences—some trivial, and some catastrophic.

And part of what Jesus seems to be saying in this passage—in his own exaggerated manner —is that we will most probably continue to suffer. The Christian life is not a magic fix to the woes of this mortal life.

If it were, we would not have the manifestation of any evil or hate in the world. Instead, everything would just be lovely.

Imagine: No mass murder of Coptic Christian children in Egypt. No Manchester or London bombings. No killings in Paris, Ferguson, Orlando. No war in Iraq or Afghanistan

And as beautiful a picture as that might be, it is a picture of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, what we hope and pray for, what Jesus came to earth to proclaim was coming, and—let’s face it—what is not yet here.

So how are we to live in this world where hate and violence are so rampant? We need the help of God.

And that’s the second point: our God is with us. “He shall be called Emmanuel, God with us”—remember that from Christmas? The promise made by Jesus is that we are not alone in our struggles. God is here, to comfort us, to help us through the difficult times, to show us the way when we don’t know where to turn, to help us when we cannot help ourselves—and certainly to rejoice with us in good times.

We will sometimes suffer in this mortal life, but God is with us—to comfort and guide us.

Perhaps we might think of these two things when we consider the many current controversies that we seem to be entwined in—in the church, in our nation, maybe even in our families and communities.

Voices on both sides of every issue want resolution—they want to be out of the struggle. And they seek to do this by legislative action, human edict, and having one winner—all based on contradictory interpretations of the same text or tenet.

But could it be that no less than our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ is calling us not to make an end to our struggle, but to be in the midst of it?

And could it be that, once we accept our place in the very midst of it, the Holy Spirit could show us the way forward?

That’s, at least, how Jesus seems to imagine it. Oh, we all have opinions of our own—make no mistake about that. But we must be interested in opposing views—hearing them and respecting them. We must not dare to presume that our view is the right view—or the only view.

We might not face the same type of persecution, but we do experience difficulties as we endeavour to live a Christian life. Sometimes we let the opinions of others prevent us from doing what we know to be right. We need the reminder that what God thinks about us is more important. And so, these readings are an encouragement to hold on, to take courage, to trust in God’s presence and care in our lives and in our struggles. God may not be able to take our pain away, or fix the wrongs we have done, our give us some magic answers to our search for direction in life. What these readings testify to, though, is that God is indeed there, gazing at us, looking on us with care and love. God’s eye is on the sparrow. We are reassured by the promise that God cares for us and protects us.

 

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

THE MOST SACRED HEART OF JESUS

1-10What can we say about the Sacred Heart of Jesus? It’s a heart that overflows with the love of God. From this heart, which was pierced at Calvary, flows a torrent of grace — a crucified, merciful, burning, passionate love flowing out for you.

The love within Jesus’ heart is a crucified love because it gives everything and does not let even the deepest pain hold it back from loving. It’s a love that chooses willingly and joyfully to suffer for those whom Jesus loves. This is why most images show the Sacred Heart surmounted by a cross and surrounded by thorns. No pain, no suffering, was too much for Jesus to bear — because he wanted you to live with him.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus overflows with a merciful love. It is a never-ending fountain of mercy and forgiveness, and day after day, Jesus pleads with us to open the doors of our hearts to this mercy.

This is a heart that overflows with a burning love. Images usually depict flames of fire coming out of Jesus’ heart to symbolize the intensity of his love. This fire of divine love changes, transforms, and purifies everyone it touches. It can ignite a fire, empowering you to love Jesus in return and to go on to love others as he does. In the words of St Bonaventure: Let it transform you into the very image of Christ.

Finally, the Sacred Heart of Jesus overflows with a passionate love. Jesus wants to be with you, to embrace you in your joys and comfort you in your afflictions. Learn how to welcome this passionate love into your heart, and you will know an intensity and depth of love that you would have never before thought possible.

“Jesus, I adore your most Sacred Heart! By the power of your Spirit, ignite the fire of your love in me. Make my heart like your own — overflowing with crucified, merciful, burning, and passionate love for you and all your creatures.”

Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), a French nun, claimed to have received visions of Jesus Christ during the octave of Corpus Christi, 1675. Jesus told her, “Behold this heart that has loved men so much, and has been loved so little in return,” and asked Margaret Mary for a feast of reparation on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi. Margaret Mary reported everything she saw to Fr. de la Colombière, superior of the small Jesuit house at Paray. He acknowledged the vision as an action of the Spirit of God, and directed her to write an account of the apparition. He also made use of every available opportunity to circulate this account through France and England.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST

1-5“Blessed, praised, and adored be our Lord Jesus Christ on his throne in glory and in the most Holy Sacrament of the altar.” So, goes a prayer said by some priests when they return to the sacristy after a Eucharist.

Today we celebrate “The Body and Blood of Christ”, or “Corpus Christi”. It’s a feast added to the calendar in the 13th century to celebrate the institution of the Eucharist outside Holy Week. Maundy Thursday, of course, celebrates the institution of the Eucharist, but there’s so much going on otherwise that day that it was felt we needed another occasion to commemorate this event and in a more festive way than is possible in the shadows of the Passion. On this day, we acknowledge and celebrate the meaning of the Holy Eucharist wherein we are spiritually fed by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ under the forms of consecrated bread and wine, and fed also by the prayers of the whole Church.

All the Post Communion prayers that we use during the year recognize the importance that the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist has for us, that points up that importance in ways that go beyond our daily spiritual nourishment to touch on the higher dimensions of what takes place when we have participated in this Holy Sacrament. There is a prayer I say after Mass that goes, God of abundance, you have fed us with the bread of life and cup of salvation; you have united us with Christ and one another; and you have made us one with all your people in heaven and on earth. Now send us forth in the power of your Spirit, that we may proclaim your redeeming love to the world and continue for ever in the risen life of Christ our Saviour. Amen

When I was in seminary some years ago one of the questions on a mid-term examination for Liturgy class was to “write briefly what participation in the Holy Eucharist meant to you.”

My answer to that question was that “when I participate in the Eucharist, especially now of receiving Communion, whether I feel it or not, I am united with Christ and with all of God’s people in heaven and on earth.” A few years ago, when I prayed a prayer for Corpus Christi that began “God of abundance”, and said the words, “you have fed us with the bread of life and cup of salvation; you have united us with Christ and one another; and you have made us one with all your people in heaven and on earth,” I was struck with a strong recollection of that examination and the answer I had written to the question about what participation in the Holy Eucharist means to me.

Although I would have agreed with the truth conveyed by the final sentence of the prayer; “now send us forth in the power of your Spirit, that we may proclaim your redeeming love to the world and continue forever in the risen life of Christ our Saviour;” at the time of that examination I would not have felt that truth with the conviction that it now holds for me.

What undergirds and validates those truths that I hold concerning the Holy Eucharist is my conviction that our Lord Jesus Christ is really and truly present both in the sacramental elements of the consecrated Bread and Wine, and in the efficacy of the prayers that we offer when we gather to celebrate our Lord’s presence with us in this Blessed Sacrament.

Many years ago, I read in a book about the Anglican Church in the era of the first Queen Elizabeth a statement purported to have been made by that Queen about her own belief in the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. “Christ was the Word who spake it, he took the bread and brake it, and what that Word did make it, I do believe and take it.” This is in reference to Jesus’ words, “This is my body, this is my blood; take them in remembrance of me.” This I do take and believe with my whole heart.

This is the mystery that is at the heart of our Eucharistic theology. In the elements of bread and wine, Jesus’ Body and Blood are truly present. When we share in the Body and Blood of Christ, Jesus himself comes to dwell within us. We are made one flesh with Christ. We have His life in us and have our life because of Him. This is what Paul means in today’s Epistle when He calls the Eucharist a “participation” in Christ’s body and blood. We become in this sacrament partakers of the divine nature. This communion with the Lord makes us one body, brings us eternal life, and sends us forth to be Christ’s Body in the world.

The Body and Blood of Christ in heaven, in the consecrated bread and wine and in human hearts is one and the same. We expose our blindness when we perform reverences before altars, tabernacles, monstrances and such and fail to see and honour Christ present in our neighbour. The same reverence is due them. And didn’t Christ himself on that last night also genuflect before them and wash their feet?

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY

1-16With the end of Easter, we return to the season of Ordinary Time. This Sunday and next, however, are designated as special days that call our attention to central mysteries of our faith. Today the Gospel passage we read follows Jesus’ conversation with a Pharisee, Nicodemus, about what it means to be born of both water and the spirit. After the dialogue with Nicodemus, the author of the Gospel offers his own explanation of Jesus’ words. This is what we read in today’s Gospel, John 3:16-18.

In the context of today’s focus on the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the reading calls our attention to the action of God, who reveals himself in three persons: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God the Father, out of love for the world, sent his Son into the world to save it. Through the death and resurrection of the Son, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. As three persons, God acts always as a God of love; he does not condemn the world but acts to save it.

The Gospel also calls attention to the response that is required of us. God’s love for us calls us to respond in faith by professing our belief in God’s son, Jesus, and the salvation that he has won for us. This profession of faith is a sign of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

There have been many attempts to try to bring this mystery into our level of understanding. Some have said that the Trinity is like water in its three phases: steam, liquid, and ice. My seminary theology professor kindly explained to me why this position was in error when I tried it out on him.
Others have said that the Trinity is like the same person with three different titles, such as a woman could be a mother, sister, and daughter all at the same time. With all things considered, none of these analogies or metaphors or symbols or whatever it is you want to call them is an accurate illustration.

Rather than trying to shrink a vast mystery into a short explanation, it seems better to ask ourselves what the Trinity has to do with us today. How does the Holy Trinity connect to our day-to-day lives?

In Jesus Christ, we see everything there is to see about God’s love. We see a person who entered our world in the humblest, most ordinary way possible. We see a person who loved everyone and who challenged everyone to be transformed. That’s an important point: Jesus never said to someone he met, “You’re perfect just as you are” but rather invited every person to be transformed by the power of God’s love. The mystery of the Holy Trinity pushes us to look further. Last Sunday and today, as we think about the Holy Spirit, we see yet another dimension of God’s love for us.

In the Holy Spirit, God has promised to be with us always, to guide us into all truth. The Holy Spirit’s guidance and love is inseparable from the love of God the Father and from the love of God the Son. The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus, and Jesus and the Father are one. There is a mutual glorification at work, and each person of the Holy Trinity reveals something about the other persons of the Trinity. And that is what can draw us into the heart of God’s eternal love: The Trinity represents how God’s very being is about relationship and love. The Holy Trinity is itself the manifestation of God’s abiding promise to be with us at every turn, through every struggle.

This is Good News in our time. So often our temptation is to tear apart the fabric of society and put others down, but we see in the Holy Trinity a God who unites and glorifies. So often our impulse is to separate ourselves from that which challenges us, but we see in the Holy Trinity a God who is eternally steadfast. So often we limit our reality or our possibilities to what fits into our own finite understanding, but in the Holy Trinity, we see a God who promises to lead us into all truth, into deeper mystery.

Today, let us not try to explain away something that is unfathomable. Instead, let us join in songs and prayers of praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And let us give thanks that this Triune God loves us more than we can imagine. Let us give praise for our God’s everlasting presence in our lives in this age and in the age to come. And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, three Persons, one God, be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, and power, both now and forever, world without end. Amen.

 

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST

1-7The Season of Easter concludes with today’s celebration, the Feast of Pentecost. On Pentecost, we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem; this event marks the beginning of the Church. The story of Pentecost is found in the Acts of the Apostles, today’s first reading.

The account in today’s Gospel, John 20:19-23, also recounts how Jesus gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to his disciples. We already heard today’s Gospel proclaimed on the Second Sunday of Easter this year. In the context of the Feast of Pentecost, John 20:19-23 reminds us about the integral connection between the gifts of peace and forgiveness and the action of the Holy Spirit.

The disciples were afraid! Their world had end abruptly on a Friday afternoon as their teacher, leader, and friend had died in shame outside the city walls. There was no good news as they scattered from the city in search of safety, security, and something that resembled sanity. The preaching and teaching, traveling and telling seemed for nothing. The miraculous healings and even the raising of Lazarus were distant memories. The peaceful kingdom Jesus preached now lay in ruin, like his body on the cross. The blessing of the poor, the meek, the persecuted, the mournful felt like empty words. The disciples were heartbroken.

Early the morning of that first Pentecost, the Archangel Michael stood beside the Risen Jesus in the heavenly court. They watched the folks gathered in the upper room, all 120 of them at prayer. “Lord, what’s plan B?” “There is no plan B, Michael.” “Look at those people, they are afraid, they cower at the sound of footsteps outside their door. They are afraid to speak, they afraid they will be arrested and killed even as you were. They don’t have the stuff to carry out the mission you have for them.” “I know. We are sending our Holy Spirit to empower them. Watch, Michael and learn. Humans are much tougher and better than even they know.”

Of all the persons of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the most abstract—God the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and Jesus Christ, the only Son of God. The Holy Spirit is more difficult to describe—who proceeds from the Father and the Son and with the Father and Son is worshiped and glorified. Yet on that day, that first Pentecost, the Spirit’s impact was undeniable. The door flew open, the wind of the Spirit blew through the room and tongues of fire appeared over every head, everyone received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The timid people knelt to pray, bold saints rose up to carry the Good News to others. The disciples became different people in a new kind of community with gifts and capabilities they never had—barriers were broken, fear vanquished, and new beginnings started. The once weak, timid, and shallow were transformed into the bold and wise and all were proclaiming Jesus while all around them exclaimed, “Who are these people?”

Today we are gathered in one place, as diverse a group as the disciples in that upper room, bringing with us our own challenges, fears and joys. Many of us are struggling to cope with all that is happening—excited and worried as our children move on from primary school to high school to TAFE, or Uni, to new careers and lives; afraid about unresolved health issues that grow more complicated with each passing day; and a host of countless other anxieties and depressions about growing older while grieving the things we once did with ease and now can no longer do. And for this time, we acknowledge our needs, and with outstretched arms we wait for Holy Spirit to descend upon us because we know we can’t do it on our own.

But, to be truthful, most of us are skeptics and we sell the Holy Spirit short unsure and unconvinced that the Spirit still acts in that same dramatic and profound way as he did on that first Pentecost morning. We want to feel the Spirit blowing through our lives; we want to be infused with new faith and conviction with tongues of fire hanging over our heads; we want our own Pentecost experience. But we wonder and we doubt and convince ourselves that it may be easier to just remain behind locked doors.

However, the Holy Spirit still breathes upon us. The Holy Spirit is here revamping and rearranging our lives, just as Jesus promised, inspiring us to do what we cannot do on our own—taking risks we thought we did not have the courage to take; speaking up when we could not find the right words to say; stepping forward to minister and help convinced our gifts were inadequate and our capabilities insufficient; reaching out to help when it would be so much easier just to take care of our own problems; trusting that if we turn it over to the Holy Spirit that we’ll get what we need and what we’re asking for.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2017 in Uncategorized