Sundays 12-22 of Ordinary Time, A
Jer 20:10-13. Jeremiah is under severe stress from his enemies, yet holds to his confidence in God who delivers the life of the needy.
Rom 5:12-15. The evil effects of Adam's sin have been more than undone by the death of Christ, whose grace "abounded for the many."
Mt 10:26-33 Jesus forewarns his disciples to be prepared for trials and suffering. But "even the hairs of your head are all counted." God will be near them, in all their trials and sufferings.
Theme: God is at work in all that happens throughout creation. We can always trust in this providence while remembering that God expects us to achieve some good, with His help.
For I hear many whispering: "Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!" All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. "Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him." But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail.
They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal
dishonor will never be forgotten. O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous,
you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the Lord; praise the
Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of
It is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
I have become a stranger to my kindred,
It is zeal for your house that has consumed me;
But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
At an acceptable time, O God,
Answer me with your faithful help
Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
Let the oppressed see it and be glad;
For the Lord hears the needy,
Let heaven and earth praise him,
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death
came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned-
sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned
when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses,
even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam,
who is a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not
like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man's trespass,
much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace
of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.
"So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will
acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before
others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven."
- that we may lessen the burden of our anxieties by trusting more in God's all-wise providence.
- that we may collaborate with God's providence by a healthy lifestyle and by preserving our environment.
- that we may see the wisdom of God at work in all the actions of his creatures.
- that we may share with the younger generation that healthy love
of God which casts out fear and gives a firm foundation to our lives.
Thoughts for 12th Sunday, A
Early in the 20th century, there was a famous scholar and society man in Dublin, highly regarded for the wisdom of his opinions on any subject (J. P. Mahaffey), who was once asked if he was a Christian. His answer was, "Yes, but not offensively so." By this he meant that his aim was not to allow his Christianity to distinguish him in any way from others, that it should not upset them, should not intrude on the society he kept, nor put obstacles in the pursuit of the life of pleasure that he loved. This could easily be a description of the Christianity of many of us here and now also. While we are quite prepared to admit that we are Christians, we are, by and large, careful not to take religion too seriously. We rarely in any practical way so model our lives according to our religious beliefs, that they will be a silent reprimand to others who adhere to purely worldly standards. The fact, however, is that the really genuine Christian can never escape the injunction of Christ to be different from the world The ask which the following of Christ places before us is not to conform to the standards of this world, but rather to transform those standards. Sin entered this world through one man, and through sin death, and so death has spread throughout the whole human race, because everyone has sinned. The world's great sin is really unbelief, and the task of the Church is to challenge this unbelief, while relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit who is our Advocate with God, now that Christ has ascended into heaven. The last words spoken by Christ to his Apostles, according to St Matthew, were, "Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time."
Although we are in this world, we must keep our gaze fixed on the world to come, and live for God by pursuing the spiritual standards given us by Christ. "As for me," St Paul said, "the only thing I can boast about is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world" (Gal 6:14). But the task of Christians is not, as it were, to wage any kind of vendetta against the world. Indeed, the world is also the object of God's love, and he wishes to save it. "For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved" (Jn 3:17). We should never, then, be taken aback by encountering the opposition of people whose lives are governed by purely worldly motives.
When the Apostles were apprehensive about the future, Christ encouraged them, "Don't be afraid." Don't be anxious about the trouble the future may bring, about your material needs, not even about threats to your lives. The most important revelation about God to emerge from the gospels is that he is a caring God, a compassionate forgiving God, and a God who is on our side. Our attitude to God must be that of the psalmist when he says, "In God I trust - I shall not fear" (Ps 56:11). Instead of dominating my actions by fear, God gives me the courage to be myself, to be guided in everything I do by Christian beliefs which have become part of me, transformed me, as they did the disciples of the Lord. The only thing I should fear is the loss of God, the loss of trust in God. This lack of trust begins when I look for security through my own efforts, in the works and wealth of my own making. Jesus criticised the feverish efforts, the anxious haste and worry of those worldly people, who refuse to grant God any part intheir lives. "In God I trust - I shall not fear."
Jesus himself on the night he celebrated his final Passover meal with his Apostles, was about to enter a stage where he would suffer more than anyone had ever suffered, or ever will suffer in time to come. Yet, he remained tender, affectionate and caring towards them, and, although he knew they would all be scandalised when confronted with the awful tragedy of his passion and death, he was in no way reproachful towards them, not even towards the one who, while at table with him, was all the time plotting his betrayal. When in Gethsemane the reaction of his human nature to the terror of what lay ahead was such that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood, nevertheless, his prayer to his heavenly Father was still, "Not my will but yours be done." No matter how awful the future may seem, this should be our prayer too.
Today's first reading reminds us of the trials of the prophet Jeremiah, and the Gospel speaks of our duty of witnessing to Christ in the world - both reminders that all members of the People of God are potentially prophetic and that all should play some part in handing on the truth about God. In a sense, we are all successors to Jeremiah and to the apostles whose job it was to share Christ's message with the world.
Clearly, not all Christians have the opportunities of being spokesmen for God among men. Bishops and priests, for example, have the official duty of encouraging and teaching the faithful. Their difficult but worthwhile task is to faithfully hand on Christ's teaching, and correct errors that threaten the integrity of the traditional Christian doctrine or ethical standards. Like Jeremiah and other Old Testament prophets, they remind their people of God's revealed will and of the high moral standards God asks of us. And, like the prophets, priests can often expect criticism and opposition, just for doing their job.
Theologians too have an important prophetic work to fulfil in the Church, to deeply study the revealed truth, and then combine that traditional teaching with modern knowledge, so as to honestly apply the Christian message to new problems. To help them in this daunting work they have the light of the same Holy Spirit who guided the prophets of old, provided they do their research not as masters but as servants of the word of God.
But it is not only priests and theologians who share in the prophetic role of the people of God. The Second Vatican Council taught that every Christian should give a living witness to. Christ, at least through living a life of faith and charity and by joining in worship and prayer. This is not such an easy matter. The spirit of today's society, the example of our contemporaries, and the irreligious mood of much of the media do not always foster God-fearing attitudes or encourage sound moral standards.
Today's Christian will not be physically persecuted for showing faith in Christ and his Gospel, but when she or he lives according to this teaching they will be swimming against the tide of a materialistic culture and will not find the going easy. Jesus warns that being a Christian will cost sacrifice and suffering. We are bound to face opposition from a world that does not gladly submit to the word of God, that makes so many demands on human nature. But there is real satisfaction, too, in standing up for the truth of things. In the centre of their souls, prophetic people have the happiness of working with the Lord, who is the ultimate truth on whom we all depend.
Wherever you go, I shall go
Wherever you live, there shall I live
Your people will be my people
And your God will by my God, too.
This promise once made by that loving woman, Ruth, reminds us that Christ will live and go with us, wherever we live and wherever we go. But it also invites us to care for people because they are his people, too. Christ asks each disciple to be his partner in the work that God the Father sent him to do in this world. And he promises to be our partner, whatever our work, whatever kind of life we live, wherever we go.
We follow him, trusting that he is with us, not just for a moment, but for the whole of our lives. Wherever we go, however we live, "the Lord is at my side." His commitment to us is lifelong despite our own inability to think of him always, or even despite our occasional thoughtless rejection of him. The mystery of God's call to us and of our response to him is that he is always there for us. "I am at your side; you are my friends," said Jesus, even to disciples who sometimes lose the way.
"Wherever you go, I shall go." If we take those words to heart we can accept the risk of going out to others in his name. In saying "yes" to our life as Christian disciples, we can, like Jeremiah, go forward in a zigzag fashion, going somewhere, but not always directly or in a predictable manner. "Do not be afraid," Christ said and still says. Christ is not for the fearless but for those who must control their fears. Neither is he for the perfect but for those who need his word of forgiveness.
If this ideal of going the journey of life with Christ seems beyond our reach, remember how once said to his friends, "With men it is impossible but not with God; for all things are possible with God." I follow Christ best when I realise that the gospel ideal is beyond the reach of my own strength. It is then that I can lean on him and build on the strength of the Lord who is always at my side
The golden age of the early Celtic monks have left their legends and their legacy scattered all over western Europe. Why they left their beehive cells in Ireland and sought out hermitages in France and Germany, Switzerland and Austria, remains something of a mystery. Nothing seemed planned about their itineraries. They put to sea in currachs, leaving God to guide them to their destination. Their trust in providence was enormous. One such monk is reputed to have set out in a boat without oars, drifting with the currents of the ocean, trusting God to bring him safely to land. It must have tried the patience of the Almighty to pilot one who never heard that "God helps those who help themselves." His fate we do not know. He may well have ended up a savoury rarity for some ravenous shark. Or like so many of his contemporaries, he may have safely come ashore somewhere, to startle natives by his strange appearance and extraordinary beliefs. Their fearlessness and trust in God was legendary. Of these they left no dout. Even after fifteen hundred years, their names are cherished and remembered in Luxeuil and Bobbio, Würzburg and St Gallen, and hosts of other places from the coast of Brittany to the environs of Salzburg.
Providence is the virtue of the poor. The less you have, the more you trust in God. Not surprisingly, it's not strong currency in the present times. Welfare, rather than God-fare, is the last resource of today's deprived. It was once fashionable to explain the economic divergency between the northern and southern states in Europe by religious affiliation. Catholic Ireland, lumped with Latin countries, like Spain and Portugal, were providence-prone and poor. Protestant countries, like Holland and Germany, were industrious and wealthy. Such a theory conveniently overlooked the extraordinary divergency between northern and southern Italy or indeed France which has one of. the world's largest economies. Recent natural disasters, strangely called "acts of God', suggest that richer countries may have as much need of God's providence as their poorer neighbours. The self-reliant Dutch came within a hair's breath of annihilation when heavy floods undermined their dykes. The smugness of the Japanese was rudely shattere when their quake-proof buildings collapsed in seconds with murderous consequences.
The turbulence on the international money markets reduced the thriving economy of Mexico in a single day to a Third World country. Even "In God we trust" stamped on the almighty American dollar did nothing to shore up that ailing currency. Strange that we should call our "natural" disasters, man-made and otherwise, "acts of God'
It is consoling to read in today's gospel that our heavenly Father keeps an eye on the "two-a-penny" sparrow but his hands must be full indeed today minding all the other threatened species we seem hell-bent on destroying. We were created in the image of a creative God and we best reflect that image when we are creative. Wilfully to harm or destroy any part of his creation is to spit in the face of our Creator. Our selfishness and greed threatens the survival of the world. We are called "to declare ourselves for God in the presence of men."
This is a powerful statement from Jesus about the cost of discipleship, and the expectations he has, and the promises he makes to those who follow him.
Over the past thirty years, the history of Northern Ireland has been one of violence and tribal warfare. One of the things most evident was how the Godfathers of violence continued to recruit young people to their cause. The training must have been extraordinarily intensive, because many of these young men gave their lives for what they were told was a just cause. Some who deserted the ranks, or who failed to follow the line of action dictated, were often summarily executed and, in the cases where they were suspected of collusion with the enemy, this execution was preceded by savage torture. It is against that backdrop that I present the gentle, but firm message of today's gospel. No threats, just a simple call to rally to his call, and to trust his promises to those who follow him.
Jesus is asking us to trust him. He is asking us to throw in our lot with him, and he promises to see us through. There is a cost in Pentecost. We cannot pick and choose the Christian message like some kind of a la carte menu. If we choose to follow him, we should not be surprised if this brings us some of the negative reaction that he himself encountered. Fear can make cowards of us all. There are people who wouldn't even dare bless themselves passing a church, for fear of what the others on the bus might think!
His reassurances about the Father's care and provision for us are definite, and simple. The God who cares for the lilies of the field, and the birds of the air, will surely take full care of his own children. I remember reading a children's story one time, when the birds just couldn't understand why people should so often be crippled with fear. The birds quoted Jesus' words about the Father taking care of them, and they also knew that he made the same promise to us. Unfortunately, it's so much easier for us to make promises to God, often promises that we cannot fulfil, than to believe the promises he makes to us. "Heaven and earth will pass away before my word passes away."
There is a strong word in today's gospel about the need to give witness to our beliefs. My silence, when I should speak out, is sometimes moral cowardice and, in doing so, I am denying that lam a Christian. From earliest childhood, I was always puzzled by Peter's denial of Jesus. How could he possibly do such a thing? He had seen Jesus raise the dead, calm the storm, and he got a glimpse of his glory on Mount Thabor. As I went on in life, it was much easier to identify with Peter, as I recognised a tendency within myself to save my own skin at all costs. We have a phrase about "fair-weather friends." When everything is going my way, it is easy to believe in God, in myself, and in others.
However, it is when the going gets tough that the tough get going.
Response: There is a disposition of heart that is necessary before the words of Jesus can enter. To read a passage from the gospel requires a completely different attitude and openness than reading something in a newspaper. The message of Jesus is more Spirit than words. The Spirit enters my heart through the words that I hear. Today's gospel, like any other passage from the gospel, can go right over my head if the Spirit is not present in my heart, giving me a way of hearing that is so much more than simply using my ears.
Faith is difficult to define. It has little to do with knowledge, and has nothing to do with religion. Faith is a response to love. When Jesus speaks today about how the heavenly Father cares for each of us, his intention is to provoke a response of faith, rather than just agree with what he is saying. From my own experience, and I cannot speak for anyone else, the problem with my response is that it can be slow in coming! I often need to hear it many times before I really hear it. To hear it includes responding to it.
There are several core messages in today's gospel. Two of the most important ones are the call to trust the Father's care, and the importance of giving witness to my discipleship. No doubting, no denying. It is amazing how many times Jesus presents his message in a single-minded, clearly defined way. He leaves us in no doubt what he means, if we choose to listen. In one part of the gospel Jesus has some words to say that we could be reminded of here. He says that "When I come, I will not have to judge them. The words that I have spoken will be their judge. If I had not come and spoken, they would have an excuse for their sins." This does "box" us in a little bit, doesn't it?
At the moment of death I will stand before God, totally naked in every sense of that word. Nothing hidden, no pretence, no denial. The canvas of my life will be completely laid out before him. In the words of today's gospel "Everything will be revealed, and everything that is secret will be made public." Why should I wait "till I die for that to happen? I can stand before God, like that, any day I wish. To do so is a wonderful way of praying. "Here I am, Lord."
Can you identify something in your life that you feel, as a Christian, you ought to do, but are not doing? Sometimes I can be timid about joining the SVP, or some voluntary parish group, because of moral cowardice, afraid of what someone might think or say about me. My pride can get in the way, and I haven't the same freedom to pontificate on a high stool down in the local pub, if lam seen to be one of "them'! For every one who is involved, there are plenty of others willing and ready to criticise them, and to say "Who do they think they are?" They are Christians, they are members of this community, members of the Body of Christ, who are actively pursuing their Christian vocation, as best they can.
We are familiar with the question "If all of us were arrested, brought down to the police-station, and charged with being Christian, how many of us would get off scot-free for lack of evidence?" In today's gospel, Jesus is once again saying "It's make-up-your-mind-time." "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God." Purity of heart is about being single-minded, sincere, truthful, and faithful. It's about ridding the heart of all the human deviousness that can so easily become part of our behaviour. If I am a Christian, then my options in life are drastically changed. Examine your heart today and, in all honesty, be your own judge about whether you take Jesus seriously or not.
I remember saying Mass for a Padre Pio Prayer Group in a certain cathedral in Ireland. There was a huge congregation, and everything was highly organised, with ushers, readers, music, etc. In the midst of my words of wisdom, Angela (not her real name), the town drunk, came up the middle of the church. She had several shopping bags that she always carried with her, and she was shouting something that I couldn't understand. AU eyes in the congregation turned towards her, and there was an air of silent shock among the people. She made her way up to the front seat, shouted at the people there to move in, and she flopped down, with bags falling in all directions. She continued to shout at me for a while and, eventually, she dropped her head and fell asleep. Immediately, I switched from what I was saying, pointed in her direction, and continued to speak about how I had felt just then. I didn't mention her name, nor was I specific enough to provoke her attention, should she be only dozing. I told the people of how wrried I was, not at what happened, but at what might have happened. My one fear was that someone, with the best of intentions, might have attempted to remove her from the church or prevent her from entering in the first place. We were a Padre Pio Prayer Group, and one of his claims to glory was that he had the wounds of Christ on his body. I told them that, if they ever came across the Body of Christ without the wounds, they could be certain it was a phoney. Angela was one of the wounds, and to remove her would have put me in an impossible situation because, in conscience, I could not continue with the Mass.
Angela helped teach us more about Christianity that night then anything
I might have said, with whatever sermon I had prepared.
2 Kgs 4:8ff. A wealthy woman welcomed Elisha because she recognised him for a holy man of God. For this, she was rewarded by God by giving her the child that she desired.
Rom 6:3ff. Our baptism calls us to a conversion that means death to sin and living a new life in Christ.
Mt 10:37-42. To be a real disciple is to put the spirit of Jesus before all else and be ready for love and sacrifice, for his sake.
Theme: In the Eucharist we welcome Christ and are also welcomed by him, strengthened for our journey. With his grace, we try to extend the same welcome to others whose lives touch our own.
8 One day Elisha was passing through Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to have a meal. So whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for a meal. 9 She said to her husband, "Look, I am sure that this man who regularly passes our way is a holy man of God. 10 Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us."
One day when he came there, he went up to the chamber and lay down
there. He said, "What then may be done for her?" Gehazi
answered, "Well, she has no son, and her husband is old."
He said, "Call her." When he had called her, she stood at
the door. He said, "At this season, in due time, you shall embrace
a son." She replied, "No, my lord, O man of God; do not
deceive your servant."
I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;
Happy are the people who know the festal shout,
For you are the glory of their strength;
For our shield belongs to the Lord,
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ
Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried
with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised
from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in
newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like
his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body
of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.
For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ,
we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being
raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion
over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the
life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves
dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up he cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
"Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes
the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet
will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous
person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of
the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of
these little ones in the name of a disciple-truly I tell you, none
of these will lose their reward."
- that we may always show a welcoming spirit towards foreigners and asylum-seekers, who seek a better life in our land.
- that we may be protective of and respectful towards the new immigrants in our country, and value the contribution they can make.
- that our own young emigrants may find a welcome in their adoptive homes, and opportunities to live their lives to the full.
- that those we entrust with the authority to govern us may seek
justice for all, and honestly work for the common good of our society.
Thoughts for 13th Sunday, A
In last Sunday's scripture we were told by Christ not to give way to fear, that to be a follower of his requires courage. Today's readings - in particular the first one and the gospel - go further. They impress upon us that being a good Christian requires generosity as well, and moreover the ability and the willingness to rise above self-seeking, a readiness to allow oneself to be used by God for his divine purposes. The prophet Elisha, in the first reading, is described as "a holy man of God," and we should keep in mind that in Old Testament times a person was described as "holy," not because of the achievements of his piety, or the state of mystical union he had acquired with God, but because he was the bearer of God's word, God's message to his people, a message which was of benefit to them in coping with the anxieties and problems which confronted them in their everyday existence.
We have a lesson to learn from the hospitality of the good woman who kept "open door" for the prophet, and arranged things so that he could enjoy privacy and peace apart from the others in the household. The upper room, with its meagre furnishing, was a place where he could not only attain bodily rest, but also, more importantly, renew his inner spiritual strength by communing with God in the solitude it provided. This simple and beautiful little story is a reminder to us that we also should be willing to go apart, to distance ourselves periodically from what can be described as the super-excitement and over stimulation of modern living, and commune with our Maker as well.
If we do so, we will discover that all the time God is standing at the door of our hearts, knocking for admittance into that private domain within us, as the Book of Revelation describes it. Stating it in human terms, we might even say that God at times is "dying" of coldness. He knocks on the door to every heart, and how few there are who willingly open to him. For often this inner room is already occupied, and by none other than ourselves. We see how in the case of the woman who kept a welcome for the man of God, the generosity she showed was to be rewarded by the birth of a son. And for the people of the Old Testament, who were not as yet believers in the resurrection of the body after this life, this was the way they saw themselves surviving, through the offspring with which God had blessed them while on earth.
People of outstanding virtue, of great faith and openness to God, undoubtedly set something in motion which does not stop with themselves. We will never fully understand in this life, how profound is the influence which one truly saintly soul has on the human race. We Christians, whether good or bad, have been signed with the mark of God, as was Elisha the prophet. Each one of us can say with St Paul in today's second reading: I have, through the waters of baptism in Christ Jesus, been made into something special for God. God has committed to me some work, some definite service, which he has not given to any other being.
If my heart is open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I shall do this work, perhaps even without consciously intending it. In my own special way I may, for example, end up being an angel of peace, a preacher of truth, a source of consolation and encouragement to others, but always provided I put God before my own interests, before family ties and relations, even before my own life, as Christ urged his Apostles in the gospel reading. But this is not a programme to be worked out apart from our ordinary everyday calling. The gospel speaks about a simple thing like a cup of cold water, given in Christ's name, not going unrewarded.
But incidentally, lest we belittle the following of Christ, it is well to keep in mind also that water was, and to this day is, a most precious commodity in the Holy Land and neighbouring countries. Sanctity is attained, it has been said, by doing the little things in life well, and sanctity is in no way a little thing. In the light of the readings, and by way of practical example, it is fitting for us, here in this church, to be mindful of the debt we owe to so many unselfish people, who, week in week out, make it possible for us to worship God in a more meaningful and sacred way, in clean and decorative surroundings, when together we celebrate the Blessed Eucharist. To quote the words of Christ himself, such people also will most certainly not go without their reward.
It is a wonderful thing to meet a man or woman of God. There is about such people a peace of such a fullness as communicates God to us. We, no less than the people of biblical times, are looking for someone to "give us a word:" a word which engenders faith and hope, a word which can ignite the smouldering embers of our heart unto a fire of a love which is beyond us.
To welcome such people in the sense of really accepting the word of the Gospel which they speak, more often through their being and actions rather than their words, is to welcome Christ and his Father. Jesus often speaks in the Gospel of his Father and himself coming to abide in the hearts of those who "keep his words" while the "sweet guest of the soul" is a beautiful title used if the Holy Spirit if the tradition.
Meeting someone good can also threaten us. It faces us with the necessity of change in our own life. Unfortunately this does not just mean the struggle to rid ourselves of obvious moral evil but even of things which are in themselves good and valuable in order to make way for newness. When we come face to face with Jesus the Way, the Truth and the Life the choice is even more radical the most valuable things in life such as family and even the quest for our own self-fulfilment must take second place and the following of Jesus which inevitably involves the cross of self-giving and change must be embraced.
When we choose Christ in baptism we choose immersion ("baptism') into his death. We are buried with him, we are grafted on to his death and our "old self" is crucified with him. These images used by Paul in Romans 6:3-11 leave us in no doubt as to the radically of what welcoming Jesus and his word into our lives means. However, just as the woman of Shunem is rewarded with new life for receiving the "man of God" SO the reward from welcoming Jesus is infinitely greater. We be-come the dwelling places of God himself and we become a "new creation" in the image of the Son.
Openness to life! Hospitality of heart - These are some of the themes that suggest themselves through the readings of this Sunday. The woman in the first reading was open to life; she welcomed the prophet into her home, was aware that he was a holy man of God, and set about facilitating his mission. In the gospel we, as disciples of Jesus, listen to his words addressed directly to us telling us how we are to open our lives to him, give him pride of place over family and friends even to the point of bearing his cross. Our welcome is to be whole-hearted, and if I am in any doubt as to where I am to exercise this total acceptance of Christ in my life I have only to turn to my neighbour. "He who welcomes you, welcomes me" Nothing could be clearer. Christ is all around me. He is present in my home, at work, in those who pass me in the street.. He is present in myself! In today's second reading St Paul adds his voice to the celebration of Christian life! Through baptism we have entered into the great life of the reurrection. No wonder we cry out with the psalmist in joy; "I will sing forever of your love, 0 Lord."
The beautiful story of the Shunemite woman illustrates the fact that God's word finds acceptance in people's lives through the instrumentality of human agents. Elisha may seem to be an itinerant preacher. It is the woman who detects his mission and makes room for him in her house. Likewise, many a parent makes space for God in their family life by helping a child learn the words of a prayer and by showing respect for the things of God. When I reflect on how God found a space in my life, I will inevitably return to the influence of a human agent.
The gospel's emphasis on hospitality is presented in the form of a strange equation: "He who welcomes you, welcomes me." We may expect, then, that Christ will come to our doors in many disguises and almost always at the wrong time! He may not even be wearing clerical garb! Rather, I may find him hidden in the stranger, the outcast of society, the neighbour, the child needing attention, the sick person.. There are many delightful fairytales of princesses hidden in rags and of princes imprisoned in toads. Every child's eyes light up in wonder at the moment when the disguise is dropped and the truth is revealed. Openness to wonder, to the mystery of Christ hidden in the other: these qualities are often sadly missing in my life.
The "cup of cold water" is proverbially quoted as a somewhat dubious sign of Christian charity. Perhaps this is because it does not cost much in rain-drenched climates! In a hot, dusty climate, however, a drink of cold water can be a life-saver. The attitude of thoughtfulness, the lack of self-absorption; these would seem to underline the Christian attitude towards others. It is not what is given that counts but the heart with which it is given. At times my legalistic, mathematical mind tends to measure the bare requirement due to the other. This does not make me happy or make for a happy environment. No wonder that a sub-theme of today's liturgy is joy: "Happy the people.. who find their joy every day in your name" we read in the psalm. The open-hearted person is always happy; there is much joy in giving. Cups of cold water may be translated into a letter, a phone-call, a smile, a word of appreciation
They cost little but how the world today is crying out for cups of cold water! Christ is often wounded and struggling in my neighbour.
The image that could be explored by the homilist pertaining to the theme of hospitality is that of making a space for God in our lives. The woman of Shunem had a room built on the roof of her house for the prophet so that he might be rested and refreshed for his mission throughout Israel. She made physical space for the holy man of God. Christianity calls on us to make space for Christ and his message in our lives. Where do I find this space? Is it my time? A small part of my earnings to support the preaching of God's word? Or is it a quiet space in my life where I can turn to welcome the indwelling of Christ in my heart? Mary is the model of Christian hospitality: she made a space in her heart for the Word just as she made a space in her womb for his body. She pondered his words in her heart so that gradually her whole life was filled with his presence.
I have been to Africa only once. I was between jobs at the time. Truth to tell, I had just left a job under a bit of a cloud and I was feeling somewhat bruised as a result. Rather than feeling sorry for myself at home and brooding about the unfairness of life, I decided on impulse to visit a friend in Africa. It was one of the wisest decisions I have ever made in my life. I returned a new man. My friend, Jim, was a priest in Sierra Leone who was in charge of a large secondary school up-country in the bush. He was there to meet me at the airport in Freetown when I arrived and we drove for half a day along dusty tracks, weaving and turning to avoid the potholes before we reached his school compound in the bush. For the next six weeks, he seemed to have nothing more to do than entertain me. In fact, the reality was the opposite. His school was the most prestigious in the country. Everybody was vying to get their sons into it. All the more remarkable as the country was 90% Muslim. On one occasion, he had to expelthe son of the prime-minister for breaches of discipline. There was constant tension between the native and foreign teachers and incidents flared up at the slightest provocation. With all the problems he had to cope with, I could never understand how he could devote so much time to entertaining me. I thought I must have been a special case. He knew I was having problems. Then one day a missionary arrived in from one of the outlying villages where he was parish priest. He told me how he loved to come in here every so often to get away from his mission-station and his lonely life. All the other missionaries did the same. "It's like coming home," he said. "There is always a great welcome and Jim makes you feel he has nothing else to do but look after you."
All those pleasant memories of my one and only African sojourn came flooding back when I read Christ's instructions to the twelve in today's gospel:
Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will have a prophet's reward; and anyone who welcomes a holy man because he is a holy man will have a holy man's reward.
More than anyone else I know, Jim deserves a holy man's reward. Though not quite the one Elisha gave the woman who built a little room for him on her roof, where he could break his journey when he passed.
There is a world of a difference between a kind thought and a "cup of cold water." We all feel kindly disposed towards others except they seldom choose the right time to call. "Oh! It's you!" we say, opening the door, barely suppressing the word "again." "You couldn't have caught me at a worse time." We had been watching TV when the door-bell rang. Or when we do bring him in, we keep looking at our watch to make sure he doesn't outstay his welcome. We have no time because we have no welcome. It is amazing how much time we can make on those rare occasions, when somebody of importance arrives on our doorstep. "You're not going already?" we say, as the evening draws to close and the whiskey-bottle is all but empty.
Nowhere is welcome more needed than in our world at this time. There are immigrants almost everywhere. France is flooded with North Africans and Portuguese. Germany has its large Turkish community who do the menial tasks that Germans are no longer prepared to do. The tenements of English cities are crammed with immigrants from the Carribeans and other former English colonies in Africa, largely replacing the Irish there and on the building sites. So many "wet-backs" cross the Rio Grande every day that it is predicted that Spanish will soon replace English as the first language of the United States. Xenophobia has raised its ugly head everywhere. Turkish families have been burnt to death in their German flats. The National Front, with its undisguised anti-immigrant rhetoric, are winning votes all over France and its massive rallies are regularly followed by murderous attacks on innocent immigrants. - We in Ireland don't have any immigration problem and it may be just as well, judging by the way we treat our ownitinerants. Our "hundred thousand welcomes" might not survive that test.
We follow Christ who "came unto his own and his own received him not." He spent his early days with his mother and father, as a little immigrant family in Egypt, fleeing persecution in his own country. Our Christianity would be mockery indeed if we fail to welcome others and especially our immigrants.
Jesus makes a direct connection between the Father, himself, others, and ourselves. What we do for one, we do for all. A kind deed done for another is registered in the books of heaven as having been done to God himself.
Looking back on my own life, I have plenty of memories. One of those has to do with members of my family emigrating. At one stage or other, eleven out of thirteen of my siblings had to go abroad, in search of employment. One important person, in each situation, was the person each was going with, or the person each was going to. Each needed a helping hand to get started, by way of temporary accommodation, work, etc. As the years went by, and each of my siblings became self-sufficient, there was always a special love and appreciation reserved for those who were there for them, when help was needed. When someone helped one member of the family, that person gained and earned the love and appreciation of everyone else in the family.
On first reading, today's gospel comes across as harsh, and unfeeling. Once more, Jesus presents us with a straight choice. He issues a call, and the onus is on us to respond to that call. His own life is the blueprint. He spent his life in the service of others. He himself lived the message he spoke, and he never asked his followers to do anything he himself was not prepared to do. Following him meant taking up a cross.
The word "cross" is often not understood too well. We speak of someone losing a job, losing mobility, or losing a loved one, as having a heavy cross to bear. These are not crosses, because these things happen to pagans as well. A cross is anything I have to do as a result of my decision to follow Jesus. To become a Christian is to have lopped off all other options. The word "decision" comes from the Latin word decidere, which literally means to "lop off." To follow Jesus is to take up the cross of service every day. It is a cross that is made up of splinters, and those who spend their lives in the service of others are the happiest people on earth. "My yoke is sweet, and my burden is light."
The reference to the cup of cold water, given in Jesus' name, should give us thought for reflection. Every good deed is recorded, nothing goes unnoticed. The kingdom of God is built up in two ways, by tiny acts, and most of them are hidden. Jean Vanier says that the quiet prayers of totally unknown people have brought about most of the greatest movements for good in the history of the world.
Response: The problem with today's gospel is that it is so much of the Spirit that it is difficult to speak about it in human words. The heart can only hear the call that Jesus utters. No glossy posters, or slick TV adverts can get this across. When today's gospel first happened, the apostles were looking at Jesus as he spoke, and his voice reached them. Today, because of my own Pentecost, the voice comes from within me. I can read the words of today's gospel, but I have to listen to them with my heart.
Life is a gift given to us for the service of others. If I save it for myself, it remains un-invested, and produces nothing. I had a funeral some time ago of a young man who died in an epileptic fit. He was spastic, and was frequently hospitalised. He died aged 31. His whole life was spent in the service of others. His funeral was an extraordinary experience, and it began with a five-minutes standing ovation. This was from members of every possible branch of disabilities, because he had spent his life raising funds, pushing wheelchairs, visiting the sick in hospitals, and serving as a Scout Leader. To him could be applied the following quote from Harry S. Truman, former President of the US:
"I always remember an epitaph which is in the cemetery at Tombstone, Arizona. It says "Here lies Jack Williams. He done his damnedest." I think that is the greatest epitaph a person can have - when he gives everything that is in him to do the job he has set before him." My words at the funeral were "He did the best with what he had."
It is interesting to note that Jesus seems more interested in charitable deeds than in religious practices. Describing the General Judgement in Matthew 25, he speaks of bread, water, clothes, visits to prisons, etc. There are no questions about how many prayers you said, or how often you went to church. Today's gospel even stresses the importance of giving someone a cup of cold water.
Look at your life, and distinguish between what is a cross, and what is a misfortune, or a disaster. Remember that the cross is always redemptive, and it always produces life-giving blessings. Walking the Christian Way is to take up the cross of service every day; it is about sharing, listening, forgiving, helping, etc. If you are a Christian, you have no choice, because there is only one way to live the Christian life.
The word "welcome" is repeated several times in today's gospel. Hospitality is much part of Christian living. Jesus tells us "what you do to others, I will take as having been done for me." We extend hospitality to Jesus every time we welcome another into our homes. I may not have much to give by way of food or drink, but the quality of the hospitality is not measured by the amount of what is given. It would be a really worthwhile exercise to examine how I would rate myself on the scale of hospitality. It would, indeed, be interesting to know how others rate us in this area.
Whatever I invest in life, through my service of others, takes on an eternal value. Whatever I keep for myself, when I die, it dies. It is in giving that we receive, and the richest people are not the wealthiest people. My richness comes from my generosity in sharing what I have. Like Scrooge in Dickens" novel, the miser is always miserable. Today's gospel goes to the heart of what it means to be a good friend and neighbour; something that is within the capabilities of any one of us.
Ruth went to her mailbox, and there was only one letter. She picked it up, and looked at it before opening it. Then she looked at the envelope again. There was no stamp, no post-mark, only her name and address. She read the letter.
I'm going to be in your neighbourhood Saturday afternoon, and I would like to visit.
Her hands were shaking as she placed the letter on the table. "Why would the Lord want to visit me? I'm nobody special. I don't have anything to offer." With that thought she remembered her empty kitchen cabinets. "Oh, my goodness, I really don't have anything to offer. I'll have to run down to the shop and buy something for dinner." She reached for her purse, and counted out the contents. Four pounds and fifty pence. "Well I can get some bread and cold cuts, at least." She threw on her coat, and headed out the door. A loaf of bread, a few slices of turkey, and a carton of milk; leaving Ruth with the grand total of sixty pence to last her till Monday. Nonetheless, she felt good as she headed home, her meagre offerings tucked under her arm.
"Hey, lady, can you help us, lady?" Ruth had been so absorbed in planning the meal that she had not noticed two huddled figures in the alleyway; a man and a woman, both of them dressed in rags. "Look lady, I have no job, and we're both living out here on the street, and it's getting cold, and we're really hungry. If you could help us, lady, we would appreciate it."
Ruth looked at them both. They were dirty, they smelled bad, and she was sure they could get some kind of work, if they really tried. "Sir, I'd like to help you, but I'm a poor woman myself. All I have is a few cold cuts and some bread, and I'm having an important guest for dinner tonight, and I was planning on serving that to him." "Alright, lady, I understand. Thanks, anyhow." The man put his arm around the woman's shoulder, turned, and headed back into the alley. As she watched them leave, Ruth felt a familiar twinge in her heart. "Sir, wait!" The couple stopped and turned, as she ran down the alley towards them. "Look, why don't you take this food. I'll figure out something else to serve my guest." She handed the man her grocery bag. "Thank you, lady. Thank you much." "Yes, thank you." It was the man's wife, and Ruth could see now that she was shivering. "You know, I've got another coat at home. Here, why don't you take this one." Ruth unbuttoned her jacket, and slipped it over the woman's shoulders. Then smiling, she turned and walked back to the street; without her coat, and nothing to serve her guest. "Thank you, lady. Thank you much."
Ruth was chilled before she reached her front door, and she was also worried. The Lord was coming to visit, and she had nothing to offer him. She fumbled through her purse for her keys, and, as she did so, she noticed another letter in the mailbox. "That's odd. The mailman doesn't usually come twice in one day." She took the letter out of the box, and opened it.
It was so good to see you again. Thank you for the lovely meal. And, thank you, too, for the lovely coat.
Love always, Jesus.
Zech 9:9-10. Prophecy of a humble, mild Messiah, "humble and riding on a donkey." And yet, he will also be strong and victorious, in the end.
Rom 8:9,11-13. By the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, we have the strength to live the new life of grace to which God calls us.
Mt 11:25-30. Jesus, gentle and humble in heart, invites us to come to him with all our problems. His yoke is easy and his burden light.
Theme: Jesus invites us to come to him and find rest from our burdens. Only those who become humble like a child can put themselves and their problems fully into God's hands.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to
the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River
to the ends of the earth.
I will extol you, my God and King,
Every day I will bless you,
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
The Lord is good to all,
All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
The Lord is faithful in all his words,
The Lord upholds all who are falling,
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit
of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ
does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is
dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,
he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies
also through his Spirit that dwells in you. So then, brothers and
sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the
flesh- for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if
by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
At that time Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven
and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and
the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for
such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me
by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one
knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses
to reveal him. "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying
heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and
learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find
rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
- for the grace of humility, like Jesus, who was "gentle and humble in heart".
- for those in authority that they may exercise their power not for merely personal gain but as a service for others.
- for all who have the care of others, whether at home, or school, or hospital, or any other setting, that they may serve those in their charge with gentleness and humility.
- that helped by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, we may live the
new life of grace to which God calls us.
Thoughts for 14th Sunday, A
If you live unspiritual lives, you are doomed to die; but if by the Spirit you put an end to the misdeeds of the body, you will live. In saying that St Paul was being faithful to the traditions of the Old Testament, and so were the first Christians in adhering to the doctrine of what was referred to as the "Two Ways," the choice between two kinds of life which face everyone during their brief sojourn on earth. On the one hand there is the life dominated by sinful human nature, a life focused and centred on oneself. Such a life follows only one law, namely its own desires. It takes what it likes, where it likes. It is motivated and controlled by passion, or lust, or pride, or ambition. To allow the things of this world so to dominate one's life is self-extinction, spiritual suicide. And those who follow such a course become totally unfit to stand in the presence of God, because they become resentful towards the law and control of God, and end up regarding him as an enemy.
On the other hand there are those for whom God is the focal point of their lives on earth. Their lives are given direction by God's Holy Spirit, a direction which finds them daily drawing nearer to heaven. For such, death is only a temporary interruption on the way. These, it could be said represent extreme states of the Two Ways, whereas, in reality, most of us pursue a course that goes back and forth between the two.
One of the great heresies of our time, surely, is that happiness and peace of mind, and provision for the future can be bought with money. This, rather surprisingly, is especially true about the poorer people in society. The rich are all too well aware from bitter experience that not every day of their lives is filled with bliss. Despite having the luxuries that money can buy, they can suffer from the strains and tensions that go with money, which quite often can lead to the breakdown of personal relationships within the family circle, resulting in broken marriages, and separation from the children.
One of the great reasons why family members fall out, especially in rural Ireland, it has been said, is disputes over land and wills. Because of consumerism in our society the capacity to love has become rarer, a certain sociologist has claimed (Eric Fromm). Since God speaks to us from the scriptures, it is profitable to follow the evolving moral attitudes towards riches which we find in them. In the Book of Genesis, worldly possessions were regarded as a sign of God's special blessing. We have, for example, an obviously exaggerated description of the wealth of Abraham, his flocks and herds, his silver and gold. Here the inspired writer is simply stating, in the language of his own time, that God loved Abraham in a special way indeed, that Abraham, by the fact of being rich, was a just man, since poverty was a curse, a punishment for sin.
But in the Book of job, this view is questioned. "The Lord gives, the Lord also, for his own purposes, can take away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." Later on during an age of great prosperity in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the minor prophets, like Amos and Hosea, even denounced the rich, because of their luxury, their injustices, and their exploitation of the poor. At this point the concept of poverty had reached a crossroads. There was the road which led nowhere, the way of the bitter, despondent, cynical, and - let's face it - even the greedy poor, that Christ said would always be with us. And then there was the road travelled by those who came to be known as the "poor of the Lord," those with nobody else to turn to, who in every aspect of their existence, depended entirely on the Lord, those who could declare with utter sincerity, "Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth."
Christ identifies with these latter in today's first reading. "See your king comes to you, humble and riding on a donkey." And it is to these very, people that he addresses himself in the gospel, "Come to me all you who are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Learn from me, for I (too) am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls." At the Last Supper he had said to the Apostles, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. Not as the world gives, do I give to you." And the gift of Christ was not that of this world, but rather the gift of God's Holy Spirit, a gift more precious, more enduring than silver or gold, or anything that this passing world can offer.
In preaching the homily this Sunday there is a choice of speaking about the relationship of the Christian with God or of developing some aspect of the condition of that relationship as proclaimed in the readings, for instance poverty. To take up the first option the homilist could develop the family analogy of adoption. A child that is helpless and without any riches to commend it is taken in to the bosom of a family and becomes one with all the other sons and daughters. Such an adoption is an act of generosity on the part of the parents in that they have no guarantee as to how the young child is going to turn out. He or she may resent their adopted family, they may bring disgrace on the family. Yet the act of adoption gives them the relationship that enables them either to grow in love and gratitude or to rebel and reject the love offered. God's gift of family relation with him in Christ, give us a capacity to love or to reject. The work of God is for our freedom. He does not force us to accept his love, yethis love in adopting us enables us to respond to him. He give himself to us. The readings portray this theology of grace under the symbol of the Kingdom of Heaven given to the poor and to the persecuted and also in Paul in the theme of being in Christ.
The option of speaking about poverty as a condition of being God's friend would open up the whole area, well documented, of the preferential option for the poor. When Christ walked this earth he seems to have had a special place in his heart for those in need. But the area of poverty has to be treated with discretion as it is no merely material poverty that is blessed; it is those who know their need of God, who accept their creature status and do not make of themselves the centre of the universe. To live in such an attitude is to accept everything as a gift and to grow in sensitivity to the materially poor. How can a person be poor in sprit and close his heart against his brother in need? When one speaks only about material poverty one can limit God's outreach to those of a particular economic condition, whereas by focusing on the attitude of the heart the preacher can disturb the consciences of the self sufficient as well as those who fell that they are not well off. Indeed in the western world how can we nt be severely disturbed at our relative wealth in the face of the hunger and privation/that is displayed on our television screens? As stewards of the gift loaned to us, we must respond from the depth of our heart and out of the abundance of God's resources. But the active commitment to help will only spring freely from the converted heart that is poor in spirit, poor in the core of one's being. When we are conscious of our family responsibilities in a world-wide sense, we can with open hands receive the gift of God which is himself. The preacher could refer to the parable of the sheep and oats to bring Matthew's theology out more forcefully.
"Put your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee" was the refrain of a fairly recent pop-tune. Putting a hand in somebody else's is the characteristic gesture of a child. Only to parents will a child give its hand unquestioningly. It implies complete trust. No amount of cajoling will entice it to take the hand of a stranger. Once outside the familiarity of the home, a child confronted with a big and frightening world becomes acutely aware of its own smallness and helplessness. Without father's hand it wouldn't dare venture out. Holding his hand there is nowhere it will not venture. The child is not only willing to be led, it positively wants to be led. The sad thing about growing up is that we lose our fathers or they lose us. In any event, we outgrow our need of them. And having lost the need for parents, God becomes remote for us. Only children instinctively understand God-language. Every child's father is God to him. And God to every child is his Father. So is God revealed to "mere children."
Growing up means becoming more independent. Or rather ceasing to be dependent. We exchange a child's dependence on people for an adult's dependence on things, like money, alcohol and drugs. And things are notoriously fickle. The world of an adult is stress-ridden and anxiety-plagued. There is no escape from tension. Drugs may provide temporary relief but can never reach the underlying cause. Contentment is a quality of the soul. A state of harmony between a creature and his creator, a child and his father. Adam and Eve unfortunately grew up. They lost their innocence. The original sin was Adam's pride, his ambition to "go it alone." It has tainted our nature ever since.
It has left us all "labouring and over-burdened." Labouring under illusions of grandeur and burdened with conceit. The heaviest load we have to carry is the load of our own unfulfilled ambitions, the burden of our own ego. We've grown too big for our boots. Only humility can restore our lost innocence and our lost paradise. The humility to accept our creature-status, our child-status. We must learn to want to be led. We must trade childish pride for child-like humility. We must "put our hand in the hand of the man from Galilee', if we ever hope to find our way home. Jesus invites us to do just that:
Come to me , all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.
This is a beautiful gospel passage, in which Jesus tells us the kind of heart he has, and the kind of hearts we should have, if we are to be open to his message. It is a consoling gospel, because it speaks of humility, gentleness, and rest.
I remember, some years ago, when Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. The "powers-that-be" didn't know how to deal with her! They sent two limousines to the airport to meet her, one for her, and one for her luggage! She arrived smiling, with her personal belongings in a shopping bag, and the welcoming committee was completely at a loss what to do. They would have no problem at all with heads of state, and other dignitaries but, with this little frail woman who had some sort of extraordinary aura about her, this made them feel powerless, and they were in awe in the presence of a power and a strength with which they were totally unfamiliar. That is what Jesus speaks of today.
Please notice that part of today's gospel is not spoken to us at all! It is Jesus speaking to his Father. I often think that, if you really want to get to know someone, it would be easier if you could eavesdrop on their prayers! How they speak, and what they say gives an insight into what's going on within. The prayer in today's gospel is like a whispered exclamation of gratitude. Jesus is truly grateful about the nature of his message. It is for the child-hearted, for the ordinary punter, and not for the intellectuals, and the worldly-minded. It makes little sense up in the head, because it goes against the thinking and values of the world, and it confounds those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Jesus repeats his oft-spoken message that he, and he alone, is the only way to the Father. He came with a message from the Father, and he is the only one who knows that message, and can deliver it. Genius is the ability to discern the obvious. The message is so simple that only God could have inspired it. The Jews were expecting a Messiah who would be endowed with worldly might, and he would lead them to earthly power and glory. This has no value in the eyes of God. Jesus said that the meek possess the earth, that the lowly are raised up, and that to live in his kingdom requires the heart of a child. Even as I write I know that you, the reader or the listener, don't want some kind of theological dissertation. You want a simple message that touches your heart, and inspires your thinking. If the thinking is clarified and simplified, the actions that follow are simple and clear.
Today's gospel contains a beautiful invitation. Jesus invites us to come to him if we want peace, if we want solid teaching, if we want salvation, or freedom from the bondage of our humanity. "Let me teach you," he says. Come to him, just as you are, and he will lead you to a life beyond your wildest dreams. This life is not about going to heaven, or something that is promised after we die. It is promised and offered now, because the road to heaven is heaven.
Response: Today's gospel certainly calls for a response. It should evoke a kindling of the heart, and it should offer us a clear way out of our turmoil and struggles. We can all distinguish between being intellectual and worldly-wise, and being childlike. Jesus speaks to the Father, and he speaks about the Father in today's gospel. If God is Father, then we are called on to become like children. Being like children is to live within the limits of what we have, what we know, and what we can do. It is a time of learning and discovery and, especially, is it a time of dependency. For those of us blessed enough to have had a normal childhood, it is so much easier to understand what that means.
Jesus speaks about knowing the Father, rather than knowing about him. We axe invited into a relationship, an attachment, a sense of belonging. We have to think of God as Father, and to speak to him as Father. Prayer would be so simple and spontaneous if we could speak to the Father as a child speak~ to his/her earthly father. Not all fathers are good at listening, nor are some of them good at giving time and space to their children. This can make it all the more difficult for us to relate to the full meaning of such a relationship. Jesus tells us that he will inform us about the Father, and he will reveal the Father to us. Jesus is always on "stand-by," as it were, waiting on us to be ready.
We all experience weariness, and heavy burdens from time to time. There is a tendency to file God's phone number under "Emergencies Only," and to turn to him when everything else has failed. God would love to be in on the act so much quicker. He is our Father and, having given us life, he wants to be involved in every dimension of our lives. Coming to Jesus is coming to the Father. Jesus tells us that his burden is light. It is not a question of exchanging one burden for another. Responding to his call, or invitation, is a source of great blessing and real joy. Responding to his invitation is to share in his life. The people who do this are the happiest people on earth.
When you get a chance, a quiet moment, today or soon, go down into your heart and see can you find the inner child there. Remember it is only the body that grows old. The person within is always a child, who always likes to be loved, needed, and praised, and who still whistles passing the graveyard. If you can get in touch with that inner child, your heart is ready to be open to God. If you read today's gospel with that sort of open heart, it would really enter into you, and your heart would burn. The children of God are heart-people, not head-people. Down in my heart I know, even when I completely fail to understand it in my head. For those who don't understand, no words are possible; and for those who do understand, no words are necessary.
Have you ever asked Jesus to reveal the Father to you? "Jesus, please reveal the Father to me." To use this as a mantra, to be repeated again and again throughout the day, is bound to bring you into a new experience of God. Jesus, who knows our inner most hearts, will see clearly whether I'm serious or not and, therefore, whether to answer or not. You can easily become one of those to whom Jesus chooses to reveal the Father, as he says in today's gospel.
It is not possible for a human being to fall on her/his knees, cry Out to God, and not be heard. The next time you feel "down," go aside somewhere and, remembering Jesus' invitation in today's gospel to "Come to me," call out to him from your heart. He will hear you, and respond to your plea. Then you take up the yoke of service, do something for someone else, and you will soon be distracted from yourself and your burdens. "I will give you rest. You will find rest for your souls." The only way to know this is to do it. Take him at his word, and be open to him keeping his promises.
The father and mother brought Junior with them to the supermarket on a Thursday night, to do the weekly shopping. They filled up the trolley and arrived at the checkout. The girl looked at them, waved them forward, and said "It's okay, everything is free today; no charge." Imagine the reaction of the parents! There is no way they believe this, as they begin putting items on the conveyor belt. When the girl insists that it is all free, and there's no charge, the father checks to ensure that it's not April Fool's Day. Then it dawns on him. Candid camera! He smiles as he looks around, and continues to transfer his shopping from the trolley to the conveyor belt. When the girl insists that there is no charge, the parents begin to get annoyed. A joke is a joke, but they are in a hurry, and they can't be standing around here all day.
In the meantime, where is Junior? He heard the magic word "Free" and, by now, he has grabbed another trolley, and is dashing around the supermarket, grabbing boxes of sweets, crisps, etc., off the shelves! He has no problem at all with things that are free, and he sees the situation as an opportunity, rather than a problem!
Unless you have the heart of a child, says Jesus, you will never understand what I am telling you.
In today's Gospel St. Matthew continues his "logical" organization of the words and deeds of Jesus by topics or by similarity of words. The related topics in this passage are the expression of Jesus's concern for little children and His love for us as members of His family. The latter passage in which He says that His yoke is easy and His burden is light does not seem to fit the reality of our lives. The yoke is often hard and the burden is heavy. Jesus obviously means that if we can identify with the love of God which he experiences life will look different. Alas, it is so hard to do that.
Once upon a time there was a boss and an administrative assistant. The assistant was not the most ambitious or reliable person in the world, but he tried hard at least some of the time. The boss was generous and good-hearted because it was in her nature to do so. When she corrected his mistakes she did so gently. When holidays fell in the middle of the week (like July 4 this year), she gave the rest of the days off. She gave him the week after Christmas off because, as she said, nothing ever gets done that week anyhow. On Summer Fridays she let him go home at noon. Whenever he needed time off to go to the doctor or for some family event, she gave it to him without question. She granted him a substantial raise every year and wrote generous reports on him to the personnel office.
Finally, he saw what he thought would be a better job and quit without
notice. He told the new assistant "You won't like working for
her, she's too demanding."
Is 55:10-11. God's word, spoken through the prophets is like rain which brings fertility to the earth. If we just listen, it will bear fruit in us.
Rom 8:18-23. All creation eagerly waits for God to reveal his glory - especially those who believe in Christ. Even problems can be seen as "groaning in labor pains," preparing for new birth.
Mt 13:1-23. The basic parable is that of the Sower and the seed. What is sown is the word of God, and the good soil is the heart of the individual believer, receptive to the message.
Theme: We celebrate Christ who came to sow the seed of God's word in our world. The fate of that seed depends on the type of soil where it is sown. It all depends on how we receive it.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return
there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and
sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall
my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me
empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in
the thing for which I sent it.
You visit the earth and water it,
You water its furrows abundantly,
You crown the year with your bounty;
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth
comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation
waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God;
for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but
by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation
itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain
the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the
whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not
only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of
the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption
of our bodies.
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!"
Then the disciples came and asked him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" He answered, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that 'seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.' With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: 'You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn-and I would heal them.'
"But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
"Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word
of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and
snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on
the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who
hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person
has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution
arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word,
but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word,
and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this
is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears
fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and
in another thirty."
- that the word of God for us will not fall on the stony ground of hearts too hardened to care.
- that the word of God will not be choked by our superficial concerns, or our material greed.
- that the word of God sown in us will blossom into eternal life, in God's eternal presence.
- that we can see even our problems as "labor pains," preparing
for new birth.
Thoughts for 15th Sunday, A
As a former teacher, I'm often amazed at what some of my past-pupils remember. It would be less embarrassing on occasions if they conveniently forgot. "I remember you saying one time. .."and out it comes, if not word for word, at least in its general thrust as heard or understood. Ordinary words can have an extraordinary life-span. Their immediate and continuing power we don't always appreciate. They are not dead things; they have roots!
What's true of the ordinary word is even more true of God's. That's what's stressed in today's readings. It's put in the strongest of terms in the reading from Isaiah 55:10-11: "So it is with the word that goes from my mouth: it will not return to me unfulfilled, or before having carried out my good pleasure and having achieved what it was sent to do." The only defence against God's word is inadvertent or deliberate deafness. And being deaf or hard of hearing is something today's Gospel does not recommend. In fact, it urges us to hive our ears cocked. But it conveys that message in a different image. It urges us to let the Word fall into good soil, so that it can yield a rich harvest in our lives.
Even though we're meant to have our ears cocked in church, and even though there's no substitute for hearing God's word as a worshipping community, the richest soil in any parish has to be in the home. The home, more than any place else, is a good place for growth. If space is made for God in the home, if parents pray with their children from an early age, if parents treat one another well, if the relationships within the home are basically sound, if Mass, as Christ's memorial, is seen to matter to the older people, then there is a fair old chance that in the hearts and minds of the children, the seed will take root and grow! It doesn't always happen, but on balance, if we do the best we can, there's a fair old chance that it will! Somebody has said that education is what remains when you have forgotten everything else. We forget so easily what was said in church or school. We never forget what happens in the home. The hate and the tension and the fighting - or the hope and the love and the peace. I knew a cole once who used to get up every night and do a Holy Hour for one of their children who was sick. Wasn't that extraordinary? What family could ever forget that? What family could fail to be influenced by it? But in a sense it's a bad example because it's so exceptional. It's the ordinary things that make the impact on most of us - the daily effort, the daily drudgery, the repeated efforts a father or mother make separately or together to think of us and to remind us of God. It's only when somebody dies and people start looking back that the ordinary daily sacrifices take on a heroic pattern, and people say, "God, she was a great woman" or "he was a great man." If we receive God's word every day in our lives and try to live it, then we are scattering the seed ourselves for the younger generation and generations to come.
I wouldn't like to give the impression that it's only parents or older people who are expected to receive God's word and live it! I think God's call comes to us at its most personal and urgent when we are young. That's when most of us felt called to our particular vocations. That's when I felt the call to be a priest! God's word has fresh soil and a great future when it falls in a young heart. So if you are young, be generous with God. Be truthful and just and caring and good-living. Be faithful to your Sunday Eucharist and give it continued life throughout the week in the great commandment of love. One of the greatest saints the Church has ever produced, St Thérèse of Lisieux, "the little flower," was only twenty-four when she died. What use she made of her youth! She had one great objective: At the heart of the Church, my mother," she said, "I shall be love." Make that your own. Make it your personal resolution, your greatest objective, your life-long ambition! At the heart of the Church, my mother, I shallbe love."
When the Second Vatican Council was in session the army of newspaper men present found much of the discussions rather dull or over their heads, and to inject more life into their reports they portrayed the entire thing as a struggle between two opposing groups of those participating in the discussions. On the one hand, there were those they labelled conservatives, the cardinals and bishops who wanted to retain the status quo, and, on the other, those who became the darlings of the media, the progressives, who were all for fresh thinking, for new approaches. But the interesting thing was that the progressive policy was, in many respects, a return to the sources of Christianity, an attempt to go back to the mind, and the attitudes and the thinking of the early days in the Church. Many of those ideas which were regarded as new, when put forward by the so-called progressives, were really old ideas, which were brought to birth in the age of the Apostles.
This morning we can try and go back to the age of the Apostles, and capture the fears, the anxieties, the problems that confronted the early Church. The first reading really sets the picture for us. It highlights a correspondingly dark age, further back in the history of the Old Testament, hundreds of years before the Apostolic age. It is taken from that part of the Book of Isaiah, which is called the Book of Consolation. At that time everything seemed to be in a disastrous mess for the Jews, the chosen people of God. The Temple was destroyed, all the leading citizens, the ruling and moneyed classes, were in exile in Babylon, and, to make matters worse, there were many rather weak-willed people among the exiles who had fallen away from the faith of their ancestors, and were putting their trust in the pagan gods of their conquerors.
But God, through the preaching of the prophet Isaiah, kept reminding the faithful not to despair, to keep trusting him when he said that his word would not fail. "The word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do." This, almost precisely, was the situation in the Apostolic Church also, as we see from the gospel. The Christians encountered opposition and persecution on all sides - from the Jews who regarded them as bringing the Law into disrepute, as being blasphemers because they claimed that Christ was a divine person - from the gentiles, who mocked at the folly of the Cross, and at Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Moreover, many of the new converts to Christianity, the "false brethren" as St Paul described them, had fallen away in the face of opposition and persecution.
The gospel parable speaks of the man who hears the word and welcomes it at once with joy, but when put to the test, does not persevere. When some trial or persecution comes on account of the word - that is the gospel teaching - he loses courage and falls away at once. Christians, at present, do not have to contend with active persecution for their faith, at least in this country. Yet our faith, as Christ predicted, will of necessity be challenged from time to time, and indeed at present we have to stand up for our beliefs in the face of a more subtle opposition than that encountered by the early Church, in particular the veiled sarcasm, criticisms and mockery of those who have it in their power to inform public opinion.
Faced with such, we should ask ourselves whether in us the word of God is succeeding in what it was sent to do, whether we try to understand with our hearts, so as to be converted, to be strengthened and healed by our loving God. We should always bear in mind what St Paul said to the faithful who were suffering for their beliefs in pagan Rome, "I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us" (Rom 8:18).
Nor, indeed, should we ever forget that the principal message in the gospel parable of the sower is that, despite all the frustrations we may encounter as we go through life, the grain which is scattered by the heavenly sower will yield a return out of all proportion to what was sown, even at times a hundred times greater. No matter, then, what ups and downs we encounter as we go through life, we should never despair, because we are assured by sacred scripture that God's kingdom will finally triumph. "God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, so that no one might perish, but might have eternal life" (Jn 3:16).
The preacher will do well to concentrate either on the second or on the first and third. Apart from the fact that the second is not well related to the others, it is not technically an example of the "word of God;" it is a "reflection" rather than a kerygma.
(1) The word of God. Words belong to the category of signs. They presuppose both a speaker and a listener and a relationship of understanding. But words are delicate things; the listener in particular can fail to grasp them. So the need to be attuned- to think, to ponder, to pray. This is the point of the parable. There are so many "words" floating about today - papers, books, TV and Radio - that the one essential communication can be lost. But that communication is always there, for any man of good will. "In the beginning was the Word." The world itself is a word of God. And the word became flesh - and still speaks in the word and sacraments of the liturgy, in the advice of parents, in the example of one's friends.
Where My Word is unspoken,
In the land of lobelias and tennis flannels
The rabbit shall burrow and the thorn revisit,
The nettle shall flourish on the gravel court,
And the wind shall say: "Here were decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls."
(T. S. Eliot, Choruses from "The Rock')
(2) The problem of evil. It remains the great scandal. Not even faith and hope take it away. But through the Cross and sacrifice of Christ one can triumph over them. Suffering has diminished in the world, but so has the intensity of life that suffering entails. The pleasures of modern living can be an anodyne, blinding men to the great reality of life, which is death.
What was sown along the path Matt came to a bad end. His body was
fished out of the Thames one morning a couple of years ago. Nobody
knew for certain what had happened. There was talk about an "under-
What was sown on rocky ground Concepta was different, different. From the beginning she was religious. At school she was the nuns" favourite. I think they hoped she would enter the convent. She didn't. She got a job in the civil service instead. She never married. She became active in her parish church as a lay reader and eucharistic minister. If ever they ordained women, she would have been one of the first. Then one day all that changed. They say she had a terrible row with the parish priest. She has never darkened the church-door since.
"What was sown among thorns'
Pat was the golden-boy of the family. He was confident, able and ambitious. At school he was a natural leader. Maybe it had something to do with being the eldest. Everything he touched in the business world thrived. He had both the head and the stomach for it. Luckily for him, heart did not enter into it. Because he hadn't any. Whatever feelings he had for people have long since been choked to death by his greed for money.
IA/hat was sown on good soil Bridget was the youngest. People said there was no go in her at all. It was no surprise to anybody that she was the one who stayed at home. She was always easy-going. She married a local lad who turned out to have a bit of a problem with the drink. She has had more than her share of troubles since her last child was born retarded. And looking after her bed-ridden father doesn't help either. Still, she never complains. She wouldn't think of herself as a religious person but her children, husband, father and neighbours are all reaping the harvest of her goodness.
Listen, anyone who has ears!
Today's gospel contains a core teaching of the gospel message. It is about his message being given to us, and the ways in which we respond to it. His message is given, it is available to all. When he has spoken, he stands back and awaits our response. That response can range from a full response, to a half-hearted, lukewarm one, to none at all.
Where I am living at the moment, there is a small garden out front. I always got the impression that it is scruffy-looking! Over the years, various people have thrown a few fists of seeds here and there, but it brought little or no improvement. Over a month ago, a resident here, with some gardening expertise and enthusiasm, removed the whole top sod. He then proceeded to dig up the soil, to let the air at it. He fed it some nutrients, and he drove small holes all over it, to let both the air and the rain enter into the soil. He then raked, smoothed it, and removed all the stones, etc. It was then that he sowed a good quality seed. The garden is totally transformed, and I feel good every time I look at it.
The first point is a simple but central one. "The sower went to sow his seed." He just scattered it here, there and everywhere, with a certain sense of prodigal generosity. Having done that, his task was finished. What happened the seed after that was not his responsibility. That depended on what kind of ground received the seed. The conditions of the ground varied, from place to place. Where the right conditions existed, the seed took root and grew into a harvest. It is exactly like that with the message of the gospel. We often speak of someone "having a heart condition." Well, in this case, it really does depend on the condition of the heart of the hearer. Every invitation from God has RSVP written all over it. Even "no" is a response!
Some of the ground was as hard as a rock; other places were shallow and had no depth, while other areas were taken over by briars and weeds. There were, however, certain places 174 AND THAT'S THE GOSPEL TRUTH that were just right for sowing, and the seed got a chance to grow. Have you ever noticed that, after a shower of rain, part of the ground is quite dry, while another part has a pool of water on it? It is the same with human beings. Some people are really open, and the rain can enter freely, while another person is so shut off that the water has to lie on the surface, evaporate, and return to the clouds from whence it came. Beneath the driest desert there is plenty of water, but it is only in rare places that the water is able to reach the surface. So it is with people "You have been able to understand the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but others have not." It is only when they came aside with Jesus that the apostles were given special insights into Jesus as a person, and into the message he spoke. I was at one such time that he taught them to pray; it was at another that they saw him glorified on Thabor; and yet again, it was so when they saw him in agony in the garden. Prayer is about spending time with God. It is about listening to him. "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening," rather that "Listen, Lord, your servant is speaking." All of this is part of the openness of the good soil. Prayer is a hunger, and the soul has a real hunger for - · God, and his word. "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts can never be at rest until they rest in you."
Response: Everything that comes out of today's gospel is an invitation to respond. Jesus was speaking to people who were familiar with farmers sowing seed, and the various and varied Outcome of that work. They knew exactly what he was talking about. Being the brilliant teacher that he was, he brought them from the known to the unknown. He was speaking to them about something new and wonderful, while using images with which they would be familiar. There is his offer, and my response. His offer is sure and certain, and can be relied on. The big question is:
What is my response? What condition is my heart in, to receive the word of God with gladness?
We are not saints! None of us can claim to be perfectly ready to receive God's word. It is consoling, then, to notice that what Jesus called good ground produced different levels of results, some 30%, some 60%, and some 100%. Even the 30% was considered good ground. The thing about it is that the ground produced something. It didn't lie completely idle, and produce nothing. The message is for "those of goodwill." In another story about talents, Jesus tells us that the person who received five talents produced five more; the person who received two talents produced two more; while the person who received one wrapped it in a cloth, and did nothing with it. He was held accountable for what was entrusted to him.
"To those who are open to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge."
We are speaking about a personal contact with Jesus here. These are the times when we come aside. Life can be difficult, and sometimes out of control. Not to have the spare moment is not to be living, but to be driven or dragged. If I'm too busy for those quiet moments, then I'm too busy. There are as many ways of praying as there are people. It is more a question of getting in touch with and acknowledging my inner hungers, than of the time spent or the method used. Anybody can pray, and praying is so much easier and so much more natural than saying prayers.
When it comes to God and to his word, I must be prepared to go downstairs into my heart, because it is only there that I will meet him, and hear him. "Be still, and know that lam God." "It is in silence and quiet that you will preserve your soul." I can have all the theories and knowledge in the world but, if I do not give God time, open my heart to him, and invite him to live in my heart, nothing will happen. "You are the potter, we are the clay." "You are the sower, I am the soil." Are you aware of the conditions within your heart, as you reflect on today's gospel?
How do you rate yourself as a listener? To be a good listener is a wonderful blessing for others. You have one mouth and two ears, so you should listen twice as much as you speak. We often hear the remark "Take the cotton wool out of your ears, and put it in your mouth!" Jesus speaks of people who do not listen. "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." A worthwhile experience is to sit quietly in a spot where there are no distractions, to close your eyes, and to try to listen with the heart. On the first few occasions you may hear nothing. Please take my word for it, and act on it: if you continue this experiment, you will hear, and that hearing will lead to prayer.
Unlike the soil which is suitable for sowing only at certain times of the year, there is no time constraints on hearing God's word, like today, for example. There are so many things in our lives that we are "going to get around to" sometime! "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts." If you read this, or hear this, now, then consider what you should do about it. It is worth reading the text of the gospel a few times, so it would be good to have a gospel, or a Mass leaflet, so that you can do that. All I can do is repeat the offer of the gospel. Your response is as important as if you were actually there listening to him with the crowds. It is a personal message, however, or at least the response has to be personal. Think about it.
A working man set out to work every morning with his lunchbox under his arm. In the canteen at lunchtime, he went through the same exact ritual day after day. He opened his box, took Out the sandwiches, opened one of them, and muttered "Oh, no! Not cheese sandwiches again!" One day his mate had enough of this, so he said "Look, dummy, why don't you ask your wife to put something else in the sandwiches?" "What wife? I'm not married," came the reply. "Well, who makes the sandwiches?" "I do," he said.
My life is the way it is because of me. The Lord has scattered the
seed, but I may not have the proper condition of heart to receive
Wis 12:13,16-19. Because God is all-powerful he governs the world with lenience and patience, allowing us time to repent of our sins.
Rom 8:26-27. All of us whether young of old, can at times find it hard to pray. God knows all this. He understands our ill-expressed wishes better than we do ourselves.
Mt 13:24-43. God, in his wisdom, allows both good and bad people to exist side by side in the Church, but will judge them as they deserve at the end of time.
Theme: The Spirit of Jesus helps us in our weakness; and God has sown the good seed in our hearts. So we have all that we need to make our lives successful, with the help of the divine mercy.
For who will say, "What have you done?"
Who will accuse you for the destruction of nations that you made?
Or who will come before you to plead as an advocate for the unrighteous?
For neither is there any god besides you, whose care is for all people,
You are righteous and you rule all things righteously,
For your strength is the source of righteousness,
For you show your strength when people doubt the completeness of
Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness,
Through such works you have taught your people
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
All the nations you have made shall come
For you are great and do wondrous things;
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
Turn to me and be gracious to me.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know
how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs
too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is
the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints
according to the will of God.
He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?' He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he replied, 'No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"
He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is
like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is
the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest
of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and
make nests in its branches." He told them another parable: "The
kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with
three measures of flour until all of it was leavened." Jesus
told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he
told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through
the prophet: "I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will
proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world."
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples
approached him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds
of the field." He answered, "The one who sows the good seed
is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the
children of the kingdom; the weeds ar the children of the evil one,
and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end
of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected
and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The
Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his
kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them
into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing
of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom
of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
- for our Pope, that guided by faith and love he may provide spiritual leadership for the church and the world
- that we may resist the temptation to interfere without invitation in other peoples' lives.
- that we may each be convinced that, with the help of the divine mercy, we have all we need to make our lives successful.
- for those minorities in the world, those ostracised in our society,
who are deprived of their civil and human rights.
Thoughts for 16th Sunday, A
In the eighth psalm of the Old Testament, the writer poses the question to God, "What are human beings that you care for them, or mortals that you keep them in mind?" In so doing, we might say that he was trying to come to a greater understanding of both the motives of God and the nature of humanity. For by the fact that we have come about through the creative action of God, that God has made us in his own image as scripture tells us, it follows that as God for us remains forever the great unknowable, so there must be an element of mystery also about each one of us.
One of the things in us which remains inexplicable is the urge which arises at times, in all of us, to cast off, as it were, the stamp of the divine we bear, to wipe out that imprint of God on our inner being, to turn a deaf ear to the voice of God which throughout our lives continues to address us through our conscience. There were two requests which, all through his life, St Augustine kept repeating in his prayers, "That I may know God, and that I may know myself." Knowledge of God is purely a gift of the Holy Spirit given out of generosity.
In trying to acquire self-knowledge, however, there are two extremes to be avoided. There are souls - admittedly few in number - who have almost a pathological fear of admitting to any imperfection in their lives. They go to confession and say, "I have committed no sin," and when the priest suggests that there may perhaps be something in their past lives for which they can be sorry, they remain adamant in their refusal to admit to any such. One might well ask the question, how then can there be contrition, which is a necessary part of the sacrament, or indeed what purpose does the sacrament of reconciliation serve for such people? For if somebody were to go through life without ever sinning, then that person would have no need for redemption or for a redeeming Christ.
By way of direct contrast there are those who might be described as tortured souls, by whom the most trivial actions are deemed to be evil and sinful. They are haunted by the spectre of damnation, and God, who is love, becomes for them a kind of despot scrutinising all their actions, ready to exact retribution for their least fault. They forget that one of the divine attributes, as today's reading from the Book of Wisdom points out, is forbearance, that while the common tendency of humans is to lapse, to deviate from the path of true virtue, the mark of the truly strong, the divine, is to forgive. "Disposing of such strength," the first reading today states, "you are mild in judgment, you govern us with great lenience, you have given your children the hope that, after sin, you will grant repentance." While in all truth and humility, we must confess that none of us is perfect, to regard ourselves as beyond redemption is to belittle the redemptive power of the life and death of Jesus Christ, our Saviour. Each o us has been given his or her own special talents and virtues, but each one falls short, in varying degree, of the ideal which God proposes to us individually in our inmost being. We all have good in us, but we also have evil. As it was said once, "There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it hardly becomes any of us to speak badly about the rest of us." The gospel reading adds further emphasis to this when it likens the kingdom of heaven, or the Church, to a mixture of wheat and darnel, or weeds. At an early stage the darnel is much like wheat, and so the landowner does not try to separate the two, but waits until harvest time. Likewise, God does not immediately separate the bad from the good, but gives them every chance, here and now, to change and amend their ways. It is when we are united with Christ, when the Holy Spirit pleads for us before God, that we become pleasing to God.
We should find great consolation, then, when we recall the mercy, the graciousness of God, who, as St Paul points out, loved us while we were still sinners, and loved us to the point of dying for us. "No one can have greater love than this," Christ himself said, "to lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13). The repentant thief, having been forgiven on his cross on Calvary, did not have time thereafter to perform any good deeds, or to put the commandments into practice. He threw himself on the mercy of God, and his sins became as if they had never existed. It is by doing this that we too can draw near to our God.
I want to tell you something now that you will find a bit horrific, so if you're inclined to be squeamish I want to warn you not to be shocked. The sin of blasphemy is the sin of speaking mockingly or contemptuously about God. Now, in seventeenth-century England, if you committed that sin, do you know what they'd do with you? For the first offense they'd bore a hole in your tongue. For a second offense they'd burn the letter B into your forehead. And for a third offense they'd sentence you to death, without benefit of priest or parson, so that hopefully you'd go to hell, which you'd richly deserve. There you are now, ladies! And you thought it would be nice to live in those days with your crinoline dress, your lavender water and your coach and four. It was savage! That was the Christian community punishing the sinner, pouring paraquat on the weeds, dividing people, separating the bad from the good.
Now there were people in Our Lord's time who wanted him to separate the bad from the good as well. Among them were the "moral la-di-das" - the Pharisees whose name means "the separated ones." Even John the Baptist expected Jesus to separate the cream from the skim, to have only holy people around him. John foretold that Our Lord would separate the chaff from the wheat. He said in Matthew 3:12: "He will gather his wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out."
That's precisely what Our Lord didn't do. He had all sorts of people around him, a rainbow coalition of people - the learned, the ignorant, the good-living, the badliving, tax-collectors, prostitutes, the lot. What in God's name is he doing, they said. Why doesn't he get down to business? Why doesn't he get rid of the scruff?
Now the parable we heard today is Our Lord's answer to that. Will we pull out the weeds? they asked him. Will we pull out the wicked people and bore holes in their tongues? No, you won't, he said. Let both grow until the harvest and then, and only then, if some persist in their sin, will separation come. What I want you to do is be patient. What I want myself is to give everybody a chance. A chance to change, to give up sin, to love me. What I want above all is to give people time, the time they can use to repent.
My dear friend - and I say friend deliberately because I'm talking to each one of you as an individual - that parable in today's Gospel is meant for you personally and it's meant for me. Our Lord is imploring us to change and he's giving us the time to do so. There isn't one person in this congregation, myself included, who doesn't need to change in some respects. If our efforts are to bring the success that we want, there are a few things that we need to do!
The first thing is to so motivate ourselves that accomplishing change becomes a matter of supreme importance. A vague velleity or desire has to give way to a settled determination. Unless we keep our objective before our minds as a matter of urgency, the only thing that will change will be the timing of our new resolution. We'll move from one resolution to the next with diminishing conviction and increasing despondency. So motivation is of the utmost importance. We have to keep our objective constantly before our minds.
The second thing is to be on our guard! We are all as strong as our weakest moment. There are times when our resistance to infection is low; there are times when our resistance to temptation is low as well. We can undo the effort of months or years in an unguarded moment. It's a question of avoiding the circumstances in which we are likely or certain to fail. If a habit or a pattern is to be broken, then it's foolish, even fatal, to take unacceptable risks. Grace has no space in tight corners.
Thirdly, it's not enough to be motivated or on our guard. We need to be on our knees as well. Unless we recognise our dependence on God, we'll get nowhere. Along with that, we need the support and guidance of a counsellor or confessor. We need to use the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly as an instrument of growth. "Confession % as we call it, is not dry-cleaning or paying the bill or wiping the slate dean. It's part of the ongoing process of conversion and growth.
Whatever happens, let's never be discouraged; let's never lose heart. Spirituality isn't perfection but it is effort. Triers are highly regarded in heaven. As long as we're really trying, God's grace is at work within us. In spiritual terms, we'll succeed. His grace is sufficient for us. His power is at its best in weakness. We must never expect fairy-tale change. Cinderellas don't become princesses in our world. One thing we all learn is that in the moral life there are no "truces" or "cease-fires." Battles go on to the end!
So let's pause now and make a firm resolution. All of us need to change. If you are wondering about the areas in your own life, just listen to the beat of your conscience. Let's make our resolution now And we'll finish together with a prayer:
Dear Lord, in your love and mercy you give me time to repent.
Thank you for that time.
You know the areas that I need to change.
I make a good resolution now
Help me at my weakest moments and
Help me to find a good counsellor and confessor
Never, never let me lose heart.
In you I trust, in you I hope, with you I change!
(1) A sermon on modern atheism (first reading.) "There is no God other than you," says the Wise Man. He is speaking at a time when all men at least believed in divinities, if not in God. Secularism discourages belief in any God. To speak of modern men as "neo-pagans" is to use a misnomer, as Chesterton pointed out long ago. Today the god is Progress, big business, exploitation of world resources, "scientific" reasoning. The result is a false euphoria, an alienation worse than anything man has known in the past. In a certain sense the "death of God" theology is 1,942 years out of date (Francois Mauriac.) Christ died to show the way to life, not by mastery of the earth but by communion with it and with the human condition. "You show your strength when your sovereign power is questioned, and you expose the insolence of those who have knowledge" (in the Greek the meaning of the final words is obscure.)
(2) Possibly a sermon on true "Pentecostalism" (Second reading.) Not the enthusiasm of exotic prayer forms but that of God's children crying, "Abba, Father." Emphasis on the body and its members: "In one Spirit we were all baptised into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and all were given to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13.)
(3) The principle of tolerance. How Christians should behave towards the wayward in their midst. Liberalism? Bigotry? Censorship? Faith and charity?
As any gardener knows, weeding can be the greatest threat of all to the life of the young seedling. At first, the problem is one of identification. The weeds must be left until the seedling can be clearly recognised. Even then, removing the weeds may pose an even greater threat. It might sever the seedling's root system. Often the weed brings the seedling away with it.
In the case of human beings it is an even more hazardous operation. "Weeding-out" has no history of success which doesn't seem to curb people's passion for it. Fifty years after Hitler's final solution, the horrendous weeding out of six million Jews in concentration camps, the Bosnian Serbs are attempting the brutal policy of "ethnic cleansing." Race, religion, colour, sex, politics are still considered ready-reckoners for identifying society's weeds. Increasing power over nature provides new and sinister instruments for weeding out. The unborn child, the seed of life is threatened with abortion. At the other end of life, euthanasia is proposed as the final solution for the new Jews, the old, the maimed, the incurables and the burdensome. Right through life, the weeding-out continues remorselessly. The handicapped axe institutionalised, the delinquent are penalised, the deviant are ostracised and the poor are patronised.
Weeding out is not confined to faceless bureaucracy. We all try our hand at it. We like-to think our judicious weeding-out prevented many great personal calamities. We are sharp at spotting the undesirables, the troublemakers, the misfits. We may admit reluctantly to lapses in our watchfulness but never to mistakes.
One shudders to think of the people who might have been weeded Out if men had got their way and God himself had not chosen to intervene. Probably most of the saints in the calendar. Peter, after his triple denial in the crucifixion crisis should have been weeded out for failing the leadership test. Strange isn't it, that Christ never weeded out Judas? The church did not always show her master's tolerance. Galileo could testify to that. The spirit of the Inquisition lives on. Excommunications and anathemas may be out of fashion but old habits die hard.
The lesson of the parable of the weeds is so uncompromisingly simple and so widely ignored. To the question "Do you want us to go and weed it out?" the answer is a categorical "No." And the reason is self-evident. Only God has eyes sufficiently discerning and fingers sufficiently gentle for this job. Weeding out is God's prerogative. Life would be so much better for everybody, if only we would leave it to him.
Today's gospel is rich in its teaching. Jesus uses images like fields, wheat, mustard seed, and yeast, to illustrate to his listeners what the kingdom of God is like. In today's gospel, we see Jesus the teacher at his best.
A important issue in today's world is that of health, pollution, global warming, etc. Some people are concerned, while many are indifferent. We feel we are losing something, and there is no simple solution as a recovery. An individual can feel powerless, and feel the problem is too much for any one person to tackle. The fact is, however, that the solution must begin with some individual. "If each before his own door swept, the whole village would be clean." "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." While no one of us can remove the weeds, each can be like the yeast, which effects where it is mixed, or we can begin some growth that can lead to greater things. We may begin as a tiny mustard seed, but we have all known wonderful people who were giants. Belonging to the kingdom of God imposes responsibilities on all of us.
What God creates is good, like the wheat sown in the field. Unfortunately an enemy (the word Satan means "enemy') has sown the weeds of sin, sickness and death in our humanity. These are not part of God's creation. The reality is that it is only the Creator who can recreate. Jesus came to remove the weeds of sin, sickness and death. We must know our place here, because only God can do a God-thing. We say "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Lord, you are the source of our healing. Dying, you destroyed our death." Jesus came to remove the weeds, because any attempt by us to do so would only make matters worse.
Jesus is a brilliant storyteller. His stories are simple, but the message is profound. Using the effect of yeast, when placed in the dough for baking, is a simple way of describing the profound change that the Christian can have on his/her surroundings.
As a Christian, you are the message, because Christianity is about attracting rather than promoting. "You shall be my witnesses." We cannot underestimate the effect of Christian living in the world. For example, missionaries going to India today would be more concerned about the witness of their Christian living than about "converting" anyone to Christianity. I still have to bear witness, even if there's no chance that anyone would want to become Christian. Jesus gave the witness of his life, and he left the rest to us. Not everyone who listened to him actually followed him.
"Learn to live and to walk in the Spirit;" this is a learning process. It is slow, gradual, and on going. I have seen mustard seeds, and they were so tiny that I could not pick them up with my fingers, but had to use a strip of cellotape to hold them on the fly-cover of my Bible. I also have seen mustard trees in the Garden of Gethsemane, and I was amazed at the size of them.
This is surely a powerful image Jesus uses, when speaking to people who would have been familiar with the items in question. It certainly is a slow growth, but it also is a sure growth. We are told that our faith can grow like that, if we exercise it. I learned to walk by walking, and to talk by talking. I learn to trust by trusting, and my faith grows the more I exercise it. In fact, like the mustard tree, in whose branches the birds of the air find shelter, other people can find consolation and encouragement through my faith. When the people lowered the man through the roof, in the gospel story, it is possible that he was unconscious and incapable of having faith. However, Jesus marvelled at their faith, and he healed the man.
Response: Each of us has to face up to the reality of the presence of weeds among the wheat in our lives. Each of us has to accept the reality of sin, sickness, and death. In a way, I suppose, I could say that we are all cracked! The Spirit, however, enters our hearts through the cracks of our brokenness. The presence of Jesus in my heart must make a fundamental difference. I throw open the canvas of my life, right out to the edges, and I allow him see the sin, the sickness, and the fact that I have to face up to the certainty of death. I hear him say "your sins are forgiven.., arise and walk I have overcome death."
My presence within the community has got to make a difference. Every brick in a wall is important, whether it is at the base, or on the top row. "Bloom where you're planted;" it is constantly evident in a parish, for example, that there are some people who contribute enormously to the vibrancy of parish life. They are the yeast, they are the salt. Without them the community would be greatly impoverished. Not everyone listens, therefore, not everyone responds. "Many are called, but few are chosen Many are called, but few choose to respond. A community is like a mirror taken off a wall, dropped on the ground, and shattered. Each person in the community is entrusted with a piece of that mirror. Each person represents some aspect of God's reflection. It is only when each is ready and willing to make that piece available, that the community can reflect the full face of God.
It is an extraordinary thing that the only sure thing in our lives is that we shall all one day die, and yet there is a tendency to keep that well at the back of our mind. Many people are not sure how to approach the whole issue. Should we face up to it now, or keep our heads below the parapet, and wait till it approaches us? Jesus speaks about the general "round-up" at the end of time. There are a few places in which he speaks of what we call the General Judgement. There will come a time when we cannot hide anymore. No more denial, no more pretending, no more rationalising. We will stand naked before God, with the canvas of our lives wide open before him. He will separate the sheep from the goats. The sheep follow the shepherd, while the goats have to be driven by the goatherd. God doesn't send me anywhere when I die. Rather does he eternalise the direction in which I choose to travel now? The decision is mine, because I have free will. One thing is certain: I can never say that I didn't know!
Because of the whole evolution in today's world, with the growth of materialism, etc., in a post-Christian era, I am either a mystic or art unbeliever. A mystic is someone who reflects on life, and ponders the tensions, while facing up to them. We live in a world of "quick-fix." Soon we will not repair cars, machinery, etc., but just replace the part that is causing problems, and everything will be up and running in record time. We replace a pair of shoes rather than go to the cobbler. We cannot do that with the weeds of original sin in our lives. The mystic faces up to reality, is not in denial, and is open to the work of re-creation, which only the Creator can do. Can you get your head around the concept of what it means to be a mystic? I could easily accept the teachings of Christianity, and not believe in God at all. I can live with the ideology of Christianity, while not having any great faith in redemption, salvation, and transformation. What are my thoughts on that?
Look around you, and see if the world where you live is any better because you are part of it. The best place to begin is my own heart, and then in my own home. When I was a kid we were praying "for the conversion of Russia." That was safe, because it was far enough away! It really made no demands on me. When I put myself on the line, however, against the background of today's gospel, there is no escape. If I read this gospel slowly twice, once for the head, and again for the heart, and I take it as being directed personally to me, what do you think my reaction should be? Do I really need any sermons on it? I don't think so. The easiest way to avoid doing something is to talk about it long enough! Jesus, however, calls for decisions, not discussions.
"We shall all one day die" is fine, but "I shall one day die" can be uncomfortable. It is much easier to keep it in the first person plural. Without wishing to be morbid, what do you think God might see if you stood before him now, in death, and Out of the body? It has been suggested that there could be a meeting at the moment of death between the person that I am, and the person that God created me to be. I hasten to add that God loves me exactly as I am, but the complete picture is that he loves me more than that, or he would just leave me the way I am! Sometime, when you get a chance, let your imagination bring you before God as in death. Reflect on your thoughts, and see if you get any inspiration, or can glean any insights. This is part of being a mystic, and it can deepen my consciousness as a believer.
A young lad was passing a sculptor's yard somewhere in Italy. He was on his way to school. He noticed a huge block of marble in the middle of the yard. For the following few months, as he passed by, the front doors were closed, but he could hear the sculptor chipping away. After several months, he passed by, and saw that the front doors were open. He stood transfixed in amazement. Where the block of marble had been, stood a giant sculptured tiger. It was so life-like, with powerful muscles, and a real sense of aggressive movements. He stood looking at it for a while, and then he approached the sculptor. He tugged his coat, looked up into his face with awe, as he whispered "Excuse me, sir, but how did you know there was a tiger in there?'
Jesus looks at each of us, and he sees the possibilities. He cannot
begin, however, without our openness and goodwill.
1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12. King Solomon's prayer for wisdom: he prays for a heart that would discern between good and evil.
Rom 8:28-30. If we simply love God, everything that happens to us will work for our good and bring us closer to Christ.
Mt 13:44-52. Three parables: the treasure, the pearl and the net. The kingdom of God, our relationship with our blessed Lord, is to be prized beyond everything else.
Theme: Solomon prayed for the gift of discernment, something we all need. All things have value, but if we over-value them, we devalue God. We need the spirit of faith-filled detachment.
At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God
said, "Ask what I should give you." And Solomon said, "You
have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David,
because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and
in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this
great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne
today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in
place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do
not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst
of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they
cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding
mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil;
for who can govern this your great people?" It pleased the Lord
that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, "Because you have
asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or
for the life f your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding
to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed
I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before
you and no one like you shall arise after you.
The Lord is my portion;
I promise to keep your words.
The law of your mouth is better to me
Let your steadfast love become my comfort
Let your mercy come to me, that I may live;
Truly I love your commandments
Truly I direct my steps by all your precepts;
I hate every false way.
Your decrees are wonderful;
The unfolding of your words gives light;
We know that all things work together for good for those who love
God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew
he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order
that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom
he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified;
and those whom he justified he also glorified.
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown
into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they
drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw
out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will
come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into
the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
"Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes."
And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained
for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings
out of his treasure what is new and what is old."
- for the gift of discernment between good and evil, in the often complex circumstances of life.
- for the spirit of faith-filled detachment, not to become possessed by material things.
- for addicts everywhere that they may be released from their addiction and experience a healthy freedom of spirit.
- that we may prize our relationship with our blessed Lord, as the
pearl of great price, beyond everything else in life.
Thoughts for 17th Sunday, A
The farmer finds a hidden treasure in the field and sells everything he owns to buy that field. The merchant finds a pearl and sells everything to own it.
If God appeared to you in a dream and asked you to make one wish, what would you say? I suppose the immediate reaction would depend on one's circumstances.
A sick person might ask for health; a person doing an important exam would want to pass the exam; the person playing in Croke Park or Lansdowne Road would wish to win this vital match... The following verse has helped me to get a deeper understanding of the pearl of great price:-
I was young I never knew
realised that fame
wealth despite all it can do,
beauty, though its powers be strong,
Don't get me wrong. There are other pearls of less value. There is nothing wrong with a bit of fame for yourself, your county or your country. See the efforts players put into winning for their county or country. We all like our own bit of fame. But fame does not last. Think of the stars of yesterday. Many of them are forgotten and live lonely lives.
There is nothing wrong with having money and being able to afford a good life style. I wish more people in Africa and elsewhere could afford at least the basic necessities of life. But we know that riches do not guarantee happiness.
Beauty: we all like beautiful things - beautiful house, clothes, people. But again beauty does not last. According to the author of the Rose of Tralee:- 'It was not her beauty alone that won me. Oh no, 'twas the truth in her eyes ever shining that made me love Mary, the rose of Tralee'.
Ronald Rolheiser tells the story of a young man dying of cancer who said to him: 'There are things worse than dying young'. And what is that? To live to old age and not know love. To have never loved or be loved.
That leads me to conclude that the pearl of great price in this life is found somewhere in human relationships: the pearl of a happy family, good friends and people who love and accept you, even if none of them is perfect. Even these we can lose through departure, falling out and, more radically, through death.
What then will sustain us except that deep faith in God which is implied in accepting his kingdom. In the words of St. Augustine: 'Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee'.
I have known people who have had to cope with old age and debilitating infirmity and yet their faith is so deep that they have an inner peace which is amazing. I think of John Paul II at the end of his life.
Recently I was talking to a woman who had just celebrated her seventieth birthday. She had lost her husband eight years ago and is now living on her own, but at the celebration she had her four children, their spouses and her twelve grandchildren. Suddenly it dawned on her that she was one of the luckiest people in the world. She had found life's true treasure right under her nose, as it were in her own back yard.
A message for us all - maybe we are looking for the pearl of great price in the wrong place, out there away from home. Maybe we should look closer at our everyday situation.
In the Gospel story they sold everything to get what they wanted.
We will also find that the pearl of great price is costly. No amount
of money will buy it. It must be purchased with your very life. You
have to invest yourself in it. It is never cheap, otherwise it would
not be called a treasure or a pearl.
The words of popular songs, most people would agree, are by and large repetitive and without much meaning, but some lyric writers at times have an uncanny knack of getting to the heart of human situations, what people are looking for in life. There was one song some years ago, which intentionally or not, parodied the approach of many of us to God in the prayer of petition, and one of its lines went, "Lord, please send me a Mercedes Benz." At first this appears a bit silly and rather amusing, but then when we start seriously to examine those things we keep asking of God, we begin perhaps to have second thoughts. How often is our prayer an attempt to manipulate God, to make God change his mind, to pressurise God into bringing about the kind of things that we want in our lives. If so, we would do well to ponder over the significance of this saying from a famous spiritual writer (Meister Eckhart) of the Middle Ages, "To use God is to kill him."
If our prayer is only inspired by concern for material things, then when these are not granted, prayer, in our estimation, becomes pointless. And as soon as we cease to pray, our faith begins to vanish. For every prayer is an act of faith in God, and without it God is removed from our lives; for us God becomes, as it were dead. This is the lesson we should learn today from the Old Testament reading, which suggests that God was pleased because Solomon did not ask for a long life, nor for riches, nor for the downfall of his enemies, but instead sought something spiritual - that inner wisdom which would enable him to discern good from evil, and consequently make the right choices in life.
Every day of his life the devout Jew - and Jesus in a pre-eminent way was one such - repeated these words from sacred scripture, a tradition which is maintained up to this day, "Hear Oh Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be written on your heart, and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise" (Deut 6:4-7).
This in effect is what Christ too is saying to us in the gospel, through the parable of the man who sells all he owns, in order to acquire the treasure he desires, and likewise through the story of the merchant prepared to part with all he possesses for the sake of the one pearl of great value. For the hidden treasure and the pearl that is worth everything, both symbolise something far more precious, the grace and love of God, which come to us in Jesus Christ. It is these latter which will guide our prayer towards the things that really matter, in particular towards the acceptance of God's holy will for us. As St Paul reminds us in the second reading, for those who love God, everything will turn to their good.
Genuine prayer is the act of coming before God with a generous heart and with open hands. There are so many things in my life that I cling to, and hold tight with clenched fists - my work, my position, the friends I have, the esteem of others for me, my ideas, my views on things, the image of myself I like to project to others. If, however, I come before God with an open mind, and open my fists, these things may still remain. And if I am prepared to wait long enough with fists open, with mind uncluttered by longing and selfish desires, the Lord will inevitably come. He will look at the things I have been clutching in my hands, may even be surprised that there are so many. Then perhaps he will begin to ask, "Would you mind if in turn I take out this little item?" And I perhaps answer, "Of course, that's why I have come here with open hands." Then again the Lord may take a second look, and ask, "Would you mind if I put something else in your hands?" And once more I answer, "Of course, you may."
This truly is always the heart of prayer. It is putting into practice the lesson learned by Job, who had travelled a long and painful road before becoming resigned to God's will, no matter what he demanded, a lesson summed up in his own words, "The Lord gives, and the Lord also takes away." My response should likewise be, "Blessed be the name of the Lord; may the will of my Lord, in all circumstances, be done in me, even as it is done in heaven. "
(1) A sermon could be built round the first and third readings. Wisdom, science, technology - fine! They are a heritage from the past, a gift of God. One notices how the Bible always keeps man in mind of the past:
The past - the infinite greatness of the past! For what is the present after all but a growth out of the past. (Whitman)
Man's existence is not "future" only; it is structured on past, present and future. So too, our Lord in the Gospel ("old and new') gives a perfect definition of tradition as a mindfulness of the past which is ever adaptive to the present and the future. Man's future is meaningless except in terms of the past. This is the essence of religious thinking.
But science and technology do not answer the fundamental question: what is the purpose of existence? This is where the parables of today's Gospel come in. The ultimate choice is for or against the Kingdom of God. Nowadays one often finds theologians interpreting the Kingdom of God as the messianic, class-less society of the future. But this certainly does not explain the Kingdom of God of the New Testament, which is an absolutely religious conception, however difficult it may be to comprehend it. One could say in a word that the Kingdom of God is God himself, in all his dread reality, yet to be manifested as the ultimate, the absolute, the all-fulfilling end of man and the ground of all being. As a consequence, -in all one's dealings with one's fellow men one has to face up to the reality of God.
(2) Otherwise a sermon on the Pauline text, though it is more difficult. For the passage is wholly shaped by a mythical process of thinking. It comes back to what has already been said above (Fifteenth Sunday.) Man sees his existence in time as determined by what - has been from the "beginning" (in this case God's eternal plan), which is also determinative of the future. Whence the conclusion of a "time that is outside time," and end or eschaton, which is, in fact, the Kingdom of God." For St Paul, of course, the "end" is already realised, or virtually realised. He can say the at - "those whom he justified, he - also glorified," even though glorification is altogether eschatological.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present. (Eliot, Burnt Norton)
An apt illustration for preaching on the first two parables of the Gospel would be the person who has been looking for something in the shops or market, He or she knows exactly the object which is wanted, and is unwilling to settle for anything else. Eventually the desired object turns up, and the person's reaction is one of excitement, joy, relief and haste to acquire it before anyone else does.
The best theme to take might be that of total commitment to the Christian life. The theme of renunciation is perhaps not fully appropriate when speaking to a general audience. The teaching in the Gospel itself is given privately to the inner circle of disciples, not to the people as a whole, and the idea of giving up everything is riot possible for most Christians. But the idea of sitting lightly to possession or material things is worth stressing. We have the theme of discernment suggested by the first reading. Solomon is given the choice of anything he wants, but he asks for wisdom, not for his own benefit, but because wisdom is that which will best equip him for the task for which he has been chosen by the Lord The characters in the Gospel are faced with a decision: is the treasure they have found more valuable to them than all the other things they possess Apparently it is. In the light of that decision they act Nothing is allowed to come between them and that which they most desire.
Nothing then should come between the Christian and the Lord The danger in such basic drives as ambition, the desire to have a nice home and so on, is that they can become ends in themselves, even becoming false gods. Family life can be damaged or destroyed by the father or mother being so concerned about providing things for their children that they give little of themselves, Knowing where to draw the line between using material possessions and allowing ourselves to be dominated by them is indeed a matter of wisdom and discernment, and vital for us all, Solomon asked for the wisdom to carry out his vocation, We all need to consider how best to live out our vocation, whatever it may be, because we have been offered the pearl of great price, a share in the kingdom of heaven, not just in the future, but here and now.
In different ways each of today's three readings emphasizes one central point: the need to recognize the primacy of God and his saving plan in our lives. Our sole preoccupation should be the knowledge of God himself and of his intentions for his world. This necessitates prayer and contemplation. It is only in prayer that we are open to receive God's gift, whether we envisage this prayer as Solomon's liturgy (Kings 3:3-4), as the intercession of the spirit in our hearts (Rom. 8:26-27) or, more picturesquely, as the ploughing of a field or the search for pearls (Mat. 13:44-46).
Nevertheless, God does not in any way compete with his creation. On the contrary, he is for his creation. Single-minded attachment to God cannot exclude creatures. Indeed it must include them. For the Christian an "exclusive love of God" is nonsensical We cannot love God "in himself" without, at the same time, being committed to his revealed saving plan which concerns man in his entirety of matter and spirit and, indeed, the whole of creation. So there can be no opposition between God's "glory" and man's happiness. Intact God's glory is man's happiness. The Christian view is that man will be happy only in so far as he sees reality in its right perspective, that is, has having its source in God who is all-powerful and all-loving. From this perspective there flows a whole series of attitudes towards life which alone make man happy. True Christian happiness is the assurance, in faith, that one possesses or, more precisely, possessed by" the one who is both Creator and Father. With this assurance, the Christian kows that he is at home in creation and with his fellow men who are his "brothers."
There is no greater indictment of the quality of life than the sight of an old man clinging on desperately to his holding. To him, this miserable patch of grass and bog is his only insurance against abandonment. But hanging on is not the answer. It only sows bitterness and frustration in sons whose best years are squandered in waiting. Sons who in turn never learn themselves from the mistakes of their fathers. Love alone can guarantee security and care in one's declining years. Possessions provide only the illusion of security.
Elderly farmers are not the only ones who hold on to things for security. Others have their own holdings from which only death can separate them. It may be property and wealth, status and prestige or power and influence. It may even be an awful lot less - trivial comforts and an easy life. It may be a sixteen-hour day or the thankless responsibility of high office. Or a reputation we can no longer live up to. There is nothing more pathetic than an ageing beauty queen who refuses to accept the ravages of time.
"Ask what you would like me to give you," God said to Solomon. "Give your servant a heart to understand how to discern between good and evil," he replied. It is the kind of gift we all need. Possessions come in many forms. It is not so much these possessions that we should rid ourselves of, as the demon of possession itself that should be exorcised. Poverty has become a dirty word in the world we live in. We should not let an Ethiopian famine or a Rwanda disaster make us forget that poverty is also a Christian virtue. It is no accident that Christ began his Sermon on the Mount with "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Or that the only condition for his followers is that "they leave all things." Or that the rich young man should have failed all because he failed this one test, "for he had great possessions." Or that the pearl in today's parable could only be bought by "selling everything he owns."
The trouble with most people is that they want it both ways. All this and the good life too. But they can't have it both ways.
There is a pearl for everyone. And there is a price for everyone to pay. A price tailored to each individual circumstances. Detachment is that price. To be able to walk away from what we cherish most without so much as looking back with regret. Our tragedy is not that we cannot find the pearl but that we are unwilling to pay the price.
Today's gospel contains three simple illustrations to help us grasp what the kingdom of God means. It is not a question of explaining it, because the reality would be beyond our comprehension. It is a question of using illustrations to enable us to get some concept of what Jesus is talking about.
There was a man one time who had a huge block of marble. His pal asked him what he intended to do with it, and he said that he was going to sculptor an elephant. "But you are not a sculptor," said his pal. "I know that, but I thought if I chipped off everything that doesn't look like an elephant, I might succeed." Jesus said "Seek ye first the kingdom of God;" in searching for something, it is necessary to have some idea of what it looks like!
The first parable is about finding a treasure in a field. Jesus is appealing to their common sense. Supposing one of us found some precious item in a field, we would surely love to have it in our possession. We cannot take it, however, because it is buried, and it would require an amount of digging to get it out and, anyhow, that would involve stealing something that is not ours. One of the ways around it would be to investigate the possibility of buying the field. If I buy the field, all that it contains becomes mine. What Jesus is telling us here is that, once the coin drops and we realise what an extraordinary treasure we are offered, we should be motivated enough to give up everything else to get it. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and everything else will be added onto you."
The second parable is almost a repeat of the first, except it is addressed to a different audience. The first one was for farmers, this one is for fishermen. We have legends of the extraordinary lengths people have gone to, to discover the Holy Grail, or to retrieve the gold on the Titanic. This is a full-blooded commitment, and nothing, short of death can deter those who go searching. The difference with the kingdom of God, of course, is that it can easily be found. "It has pleased your Father to give you a Kingdom."
Once again, Jesus uses a fishing practice to illustrate the workings of the kingdom. We can interpret it in many ways. One simple thought is that I throw the net across the sea of my soul; I gather everything there is, good, bad, indifferent. I then sit down and begin to sort out my catch. There is much to be disposed of here, which includes getting rid of the wreckage of the past, and throwing out the leaden weights of addiction, compulsion and sin, that weigh me down and prevent me from living life to the full. In a way, it is like the programme of Alcoholics Anonymous. When the alcoholic puts down his last drink that is 10% of his problem solved. There's still 90%, and this has nothing to do with alcohol. The alcoholic drinking was but a symptom of the underlying cause.
Response: If I may continue speaking about the alcoholic for a moment. When the recovering alcoholic discovers and experiences sobriety, it becomes the top priority in his life. If he gives that his full attention, everything else in his life will come right. He can forget his name, his address, or his dinner, but he must never forget that he is an alcoholic. Going to meetings, reading the literature, helping other alcoholics, all of this becomes a driving force in his life, and now he is more committed to sobriety than he ever was to alcohol. When I find the kingdom of God Many of us grew up with stories and legends of Yukon and the gold rush in California. Many people left Ireland to travel there, and join in the frantic search for gold. Many of them perished in the cold, and horrific conditions. Nothing could deter them, as they were driven by their desire for the sparkler. That is exactly what Jesus is pointing to in today's gospel. If we know where the gold is, we will dig with our bare hands, if we haveto.
The parable of the net being cast into the sea has often been used to speak about the end of the world, and the General Judgement. I don't have to wait till then for the net to be cast. There is an approach nowadays that's becoming more prevalent, and it generally has to do with working on oneself. People attend psychiatrists, join Self Help groups, or get a spiritual director. It has to do with clearing the wreckage of the past, and with developing healthy skills for living. It is about finding the treasure of inner peace, and of getting rid of all those things that adversely effect that inner peace. Peace is what I experience when my relationships are the way they ought to be. There is no problem in life that is not a relationship one. I am not getting on too well with God, myself, or with others. There are people who cannot relate properly to food, alcohol, money, etc., and they find themselves in a situation where the tail is wagging the dog!
There are three rules in the kingdom of God that are diametrically opposed to the values of this world. The first is Jesus is Lord. If I live in the kingdom of this world, my god can be money, success, pleasure, or power. There are people who are completely driven by the Stock Markets, opinion polls, or tam ratings. If I live in the kingdom of God, then I am driven by the person and teachings of Jesus. Are you conscious of what drives you in life? What sustains you in your living?
The second rule in the kingdom is that every person is on this earth with as much right as anyone else. The most disabled person is on this earth with as much right as the greatest genius that ever lived. Those who live with a worldly mind-set have no problem with abortion, euthanasia, or ethnic cleansing. Half the world is dying of hunger while the other half is on a diet, trying to get down the weight. We have all witnessed racism, bigotry, and intolerance. What a wonderful thing if I could rid my heart of all traces of such. "Live and let live" is a good motto for living.
The third rule in the kingdom is that it is the Holy Spirit, living in me, who alone can make this possible. If I live in the world, I can get my power from social status, political clout, or bigger and better Star Wars. If I live in the kingdom, it is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit. "The kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours." If I supply any of the power, I will be tempted to steal some of the glory. "Learn to live and to walk in the Spirit," says Paul. I have a friend whose daily mantra is "Come, Holy Spirit." This prayer is going on in his heart all day long. It helps remind him where his power lies. Worth considering, eh?
An elderly man, whose memory was beginning to lapse, decided to take the car, and travel to a new shopping centre on the other side of town. His daughter tried to dissuade him, but to no avail. She insisted, however, that he take her mobile phone, just in case he had problems. An hour or two later, she was listening to the traffic report on the radio. It told about a bus broken down on the Artane road, and traffic lights that had failed in Inchicore. The reporter went on to speak about word that had just come in about a car travelling in the wrong direction, against the flow of traffic, on the M-50 motorway round Dublin. "Oh, my God, I hope dad is alright." She rang him, and warned him about the car travelling the wrong way, as he would have to travel on that motorway. "Tell me about it," he replied, "there are hundreds of them coming the wrong way!'
Living in the kingdom of God often involves going against the flow
of traffic. You will meet people actually moving away from the thing
you are looking for
Is 55:1-3. "Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters." God invites his people to come to him for true life.
Rom 8:35,37-39. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Because God loves us so much, no problem, indeed no created thing can separate us from him.
Mt 14:13-21. "All ate and were filled." The multiplication of the loaves and fishes foreshadows the Eucharist, in which Jesus gives us the true bread of life.
Theme: Christ did not simply feel pity for them, he took practical steps to feed them. Our Eucharist should inspire us to concern for helping feed the hungry in our society.
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no
money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and
without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to
me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline
your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make
with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
The Lord is good to all,
The eyes of all look to you,
You open your hand,
The Lord is just in all his ways,
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor
rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height,
nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate
us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Now when Jesus heard (that John the Baptist had been killed), he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven,
and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples,
and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled;
and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets
full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women
- that our God may give us the grace of generosity, for some sharing of our surplus with the needy.
- that our gratitude for life and prosperity may overflow into an active compassion for those who are less well off.
- that we may convince our government to increase its contribution to the Third World both by financial aid and just trading conditions.
- that we may not pollute our environment by irresponsible waste
Thoughts for 18th Sunday, A
In the Israel of two thousand years ago, there was great significance attached to the sharing of a meal. It was almost regarded as being a sacred action which demanded that the host put aside any resentment or ill-will towards his guests, and treat them in a most courteous and honourable manner. This sharing of a meal played an important role in Christ's public life also, but for him there was something uniquely special in it, something of a sacramental character which conveys a message to us. It is hardly surprising then that the miraculous feeding of the multitude is recounted more frequently than any other single episode in the four gospels; in fact, it appears six times in all.
We might wonder why did the evangelists lay such stress on this event - indeed why did they regard it as being so important a part of the faith of the early Church? If we look more carefully at the wording used by the evangelists to describe the miraculous feeding by Christ of large groups of people, we begin to see the answer to our query. The people were ordered to sit down, and this was in effect more by way of gaining their attention, of getting them to concentrate on what was about to happen. There was more or less an accepted formula to describe what then followed. Jesus took the bread, raised his eyes to heaven, and said the blessing - this is not to say that he blessed the bread, but rather that he blessed God, that is, gave thanks and praise to God, for having given the bread. Having done this Jesus then gave the bread to his disciples, who in turn distributed it to the people.
The use of these terms should make it quite clear to us that the miraculous events in question are closely linked with the Eucharist. Indeed, in the whole gospel of St John, there is no mention whatsoever of the institution of the Blessed Eucharist at the Last Supper, but instead the miraculous feeding of the multitude becomes a sign, that helps us focus on the nature of the Eucharistic mystery, on the necessity of it, on the consoling and healing value of it. For us, who hear so much about want in our own times, about the endless struggle of some people to obtain food that will satisfy their hunger, it is well to recall and meditate on the rather extraordinary and somewhat mystifying saying of St Augustine, that "Christ is food, seeking hunger." It could, possibly, be linked with the beatitude which states, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after justice, they shall have their fill."
The presence of so many people mentioned in the gospel story - five thousand, not counting women and children - bears clear testimony to the inner hunger of mankind for the bread of Christ. But people are not always quite certain what this bread is, what exactly they are seeking. They long for Christ, whether intentionally or not, but their understanding of him is often blurred and unreal. They have perhaps been brought up in a way that sees God as an avenging God, one who will mercilessly punish their least transgression. Instead of the liberation preached in the gospel, this approach begets a feeling of uneasiness, even of rebellion; and understandably so, since one does not halt the course of human longing, of search for meaning to existence, by confronting it with a wall of fear. Today, and perhaps during the coming week, we might reflect on our own seeking, what we hunger for, and how Christ can satisfy this hunger. "Why spend money," the first reading asks, "on what is not bread, on what fails to satisf?'
"Come to me," says the Lord, "listen, and your soul will live." For those who respond to this invitation there is clear evidence that Christ fulfils this promise, especially in our churches, where the troubled in mind, the broken in spirit come and kneel before the tabernacle, and go away touched and strengthened by Christ's healing presence there. He fulfils it in the confessional, where penitent souls seek forgiveness, and go away reassured in the belief that God's love is greater than their sins. He fulfils it at the foot of the altar, where, during the Mass devout souls receive the only food that will satisfy their inner yearnings. No matter, then, how heavy your crosses, St Paul says, no matter how frequent your falls, come, eat, and be refreshed, for nothing can come between you and the love of God, made visible in Christ Jesus, our Lord, even as it is in the holy Eucharist which we are now celebrating.
"The joy of Christian hope runs wide and deep; it accompanies all right use of creation by a Christian. Any use of food is a use of creation. You might say that to enjoy food, to look forward to a good dinner, is the end of the animal man. And I suppose that if that is all he gets, he is no more than an animal! But the Christian man can look forward to his food and enjoy it because he is looking beyond it and reaching out to the life promised in it. When food is made into a sacrament his vision breaks through to the life hidden beyond the appearances. Even in the ordinary use of food and the ordinary enjoyment of food there is a secret door, a portal to life. The Christian should be going through that, as he eats and drinks to life, and to Life spelt with a capital letter. And what we say in an over-simplified way of food is true of all the various uses we make of the good that God has put at our disposal in his world. When Jesus multiplied the loaves or changed the water into wine it was easy for those with im to receive their bread as from the hand of God: they ate and drank in communion with God. It is no less true that the same divine hand reaches us out daily bread, and-if our daily bread-then also all our daily joys and human comforts, all the things that build home about us in this world-human society and friendship and guidance and above all our home itself. Like the multitude in the desert we should enjoy them all in communion with God-look forward to, and use, and enjoy them all according to his plan, finding in all our human joys that secret sacramental door through which we press towards the gates of everlasting morning.
"We are often told to kiss the mysterious hand of God in the sufferings that come our way. But isn't it even more important for us to recognise and respond to all the good things that our Father in his holy providence disposes and dispenses to us, from the little flash of winter sunshine to the never-fading sunshine of his grace? The more humble joys of life are flashes from a higher day; in duly enjoying the former we desire the latter. That "duly," of course, is not so easy as it sounds! But we must get a right hold of the principle that all the honest, wholesome human joys of the day and the year are there to keep us constantly looking forward in hope. As we get on in years, and come to see more and more the weakness and fallibility of creatures, let us not degenerate into cynicism. Let us rather intensify our desire of God. We see then, in principle, the sacramental character of the ordinary goods of human life. They keep drawing us on; and when we overtake them and find them inadequate they are but tellig us to pass them by and seek beyond. But the exercise they give us in hope and joy, the taste of the eternal that they put on our lips, this is the point to be kept clear. This is their value. The sacraments therefore take up and intensify the eternal good they symbolise, put us in immediate contact with that ultimate towards which man yearns. The use of sex expresses an implicit desire of life and immortality. Men live on in their children. The sacrament of matrimony opens the secret gate to life which is the home, making of this home a replica of the wedding of the human soul with God in Christ.
"The sacraments stand as the acme of all the desirable things that draw the human will. They bless and give an ordered status to all that is below them. And they also warn us of the essential wholesomeness of the ordinary joys of mankind.
They warn us of the danger of continually saying thou shalt not, of robbing people of legitimate joy. The cure for wrong joy, or sin, is not no joy but right joy. Give people wholesome food and they can easily be kept off unwholesome food. If we clergy were up and doing in this more positive sense, materialism would not have such a hold. Develop good will by plenty of Advent. The sacraments that Jesus gave us are a constant reminder to us to provide and preserve to God's people the sacramental principle throughout the whole range of the good things that lead to God.
"When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist." What exactly did Jesus hear? What did his disciples, who had just buried the corpse of John, tell him? Did Jesus simply hear of the untimely passing of his relative, or did he hear of the gory and revolting details? Did Jesus know that Herod first had John imprisoned for his unwavering and vocal judgment that Herod was in an unlawful union with his sister-in-law Herodias? Did Jesus know that if it were not for the ostentatious generosity of Herod offered as a reward to the daughter of Herodias in the midst of his birthday party guests, then John would still be alive? Did Jesus know that if it were not for the spiteful prompting of Herodias, then her daughter would not likely have asked for the head of John on a platter? Did Jesus sense the sad absurdity that the taking of this great life ultimately was done to conveniently maintain an illicit union between a brother-in-law and a sister-in-law?
Homily theme: How far will people go to keep their lives unruffled? What are the consequences?
He withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. This phrase has has a distinct rhythm to it which points to a strong desire for solitariness. Did Jesus go to the deserted place without his disciples? This conjures up an interesting image of Jesus sailing a boat or rowing a boat by himself. The first question may be why did Jesus withdraw? Was it in order to privately grieve over the death of John? Was it to grieve and to pray? Did he withdraw out of fear? Did Jesus fear that he too would be imprisoned by Herod? Does the decision to use a boat to withdraw speak of the level of solitude he was seeking? Except for one place in the Gospel of Mark, boats are only used in the Gospels to (1) travel to a specific, inhabited place, (2) to protect Jesus while he preached to the crowds, (3) to send away the disciples in while Jesus withdrew on foot to pray, (4) and to fish. In Mark, chapter 6, verses 29-32 it is written: The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said tothem, Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while. For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
Homily theme: A view of a Jesus who grieves, who suffers emotionally, who needs solitude, who fears, who needs rest from distractions. Do we realize our solidarity with Jesus during our own moments of pain or fear?
The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns. This phrase paints an interesting image of crowds who hear of the desire of Jesus to withdraw in a boat to a deserted place by himself and yet their reaction counters the intention of Jesus. It also paints an interesting image of the crowds who follow Jesus using the visual contact of his boat. That is, while Jesus sails or rows to his deserted place, the people are walking along the shore in a direction which they hope will intersect with the docking place of Jesus. I wonder if some turned back and gave up? That is, was there a point of no return in terms of making a decision to either press on and abandon the familiar - their town borders - food - comfort, etc., and follow the boat of Jesus by foot on shore, or to turn around and head back to the familiar - their town - food - comfort, etc.? Also, what were they looking for? Teaching? Healing?
Homily theme: What would we want from Jesus? What would we look for? How much would we risk? What is our no turning back point? In the end, who made the right decision: those who may have turned back, or those who pressed on? What crowd would we have wanted to be in?
The experience of wilderness is, in different ways, common to all three readings. The Gospel incident is set within the context of a "lonely place," far from the towns. In the first reading, the prophet addresses a people who although living in the magnificent City,"" of Babylon, experienced the wilderness of exile, a lonely place where the exiles "sat and wept" (Ps 137.) Paul suffered his own wilderness, as is clear from the second reading where he speaks of his experience of being troubled, worried, persecuted, threatened, attacked, lacking at times the basic necessities of food and clothing. Such a wilderness experience will be part of the common lot of both homilist and congregation. Yet, all three readings also speak of a God whose love has the power to sustain, even in the heart of the wilderness. The word of God spoken by Isaiah, the personal confession of Paul, the actions of Jesus all proclaim this encouraging and sustaining message. One might profitably develop such a theme.
The wilderness experience can be a salutary one. When trials come, our perspectives can radically change, our sense of values can be upturned, what once seemed so important may no longer seem so, and vice-versa. Such an experience can shatter many of our illusions, e.g. the illusion that we are completely in control of our lives, that our own resources are sufficient to enable us to cope with life. A crisis situation can bring home to us how small, in fact, our resources are. Like the crowd in today's gospel, we are forced to acknowledge how inadequate are our few loaves and fish, when faced with the task of the moment. The shattering of the illusion of independence can be the occasion for grasping anew the profound truth of our dependence on God, and the good news that "with God nothing will be impossible" (Lk 1:37.) To be able to feed ourselves is a sign that we have left behind the dependence of childhood. Yet, even as adults, there is a sense in which we need to become again like little children, acknowleging our dependence on God, our need to be fed by him. There is a hunger in our lives which only God can satisfy. We can so easily waste our resources on what fails to satisfy (First Reading.) In Jesus, God gives himself as the Bread of life and promises that those who come to him will never go hungry (Jn 6:35.)
The Lord not only calls us to himself to be fed, he also sends us out to feed, to give as we have received, to forgive as we have been forgiven, to love as we have been loved. In the gospel reading it was by means of his disciples that Jesus fed the multitude. In this connection, the homilist might develop the relationship between the Eucharist for a life of service. The language which describes Jesus taking, blessing, breaking and giving the bread is Eucharistic. The Eucharist, where we celebrate the presence among us of one who can satisfy our deepest hunger, commits us to the feeding of the hungry, the care of those in the wilderness of life. The Eucharist calls us to become the bread of God in the world, taken by him and blessed and, at times, broken so as to be given for the service of others.
The Christian Church is the community of the new covenant. The essence of this new covenant is union with God, communion in his life by obedience to his word which, as we saw last Sunday, is addressed to his creation. Communion with God must entail communion with his creation. The disciples in today's Gospel had to learn this lesson by sharing their "picnic" with the crowds (Mat. 14:16-18). Their association with Christ was not exclusive but inclusive of the crowds. The use of "food," "drink," "eating" and "drinking" as metaphors for listening to God's word and believing shows that, according to the Bible, faith is a matter of actually living by God's word, that is, ultimately, his plan for men fully revealed in the person of Christ. It means allowing God's creative word to bear its fruit in our lives, a process which requires continuous prayer and contemplation. The true Christian is the one who assimilates God's word and, in this way, becomes conformed with his Son (Rom. 8:29).
The Eucharist, the Church's covenant meal with God, must always be seen in the light of the "spiritual" "eating" and "drinking" of God's word that is faith, just as, indeed, complete Christian faith must be seen as the real participation in the total reality of Christ. Our communion with God is incomplete as long as we are not assimilated with Christ by living, dying and, finally, rising as (that is, in the same Spirit as) he has done. So the Eucharist is a "sign" not only of God's love for us but also of our response to his love by a life led according to his word. In particular, our "breaking of bread" with God is a sign that we share his concern not only for "one another" within the Church but also for the whole of his creation, for the "crowds" who do not appear to be in the Church.
My father dug a pit at the end of the garden which served as a rubbish dump. Every day I emptied a bucket of ashes into it, the remains of yesterday's fire. Though it wasn't deep, it seemed to be a bottomless pit. It never overflowed. But then, apart from the ashes, I can't remember anything else that was thrown into it. It just wasn't a throw-away age. There was always another use found for everything. Clothes were handed down to the next in line and when that line petered out, they began a new life as dusters and mops. Or if the colour was right or near enough, there was always a trousers to be patched or reinforced in some strategic area. We covered our copy books with the brown paper our groceries were wrapped in and cut-outs from cardboard boxes helped to reinforce the covers of our school books. They too had to be passed on. Newspaper was the most versatile of all and there was always a shortage of it. It was used to light the fire in the morning and wrap our lunch sandwich in. The bottoms of drawers wee lined with it to keep out the damp and it was placed under the mattress to keep in the heat. When father brought his newspaper to the toilet it was not only to broaden his mind. The leftovers on the table, if there were any, were used to feed the dog and cat and a whole generation of mice thrived on what they in turn left over. I must hasten to add that, though I wasn't born with a golden spoon in my mouth, my father with his teacher's salary was regarded as a man of means.
How the world has changed in such a short time! Garbage disposal is now a major industry and one of the few which continues to boom even during a depression. Even the remotest farmhouse in rural Ireland now has its brightly coloured garbage-bin on the side of the road waiting for the weekly collection. One of the more pathetic sights in cities is that of an old woman rummaging in a garbage-bin for something to salvage. Worst of all are the television pictures of people scavenging in rat-invested city dumps for the wherewithal to support their families. "The scraps which fall from the rich man's table." Whole shanty-towns have sprung up on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, and elsewhere in the Third World, on the site of these dumps. If we are to believe the commercials, the wide variety of cat and dog food we buy to feed our pets would provide a nourishing diet for these unfortunate creatures.
We should "take pity on them" as Christ did when he multiplied the loaves and fishes, recorded in today's gospel. John provides us with a few extra details. It appears that it was a small boy who produced the five loaves and two fish. It has been suggested that others too among the five thousand, shamed by the little boy's generosity, produced their hidden hoard. When shared around, it proved more than enough to feed them all. If so, it would have been no less a miracle. "Pick up the scraps leftover," Christ said, "so that nothing gets wasted." This garbage collection was not intended just to protect the environment. Presumably, there were other hungry mouths to fill when that crowd got home.
The message for us is clear. Our garbage condemns us. If we had shared our bread with the hungry of this world, we would have no waste to dispose of.
This is one of a few different accounts of miracles in the gospel, involving loaves and fishes. It matters not if all accounts are about the same event, or that it happened on more than one occasion.
Easter week is the annual pilgrimage to Lourdes for thousands of children from all over Europe. Because of the age and condition of the children, there is not a heavy schedule of religious events. On one of the days, there is a trip to a mountain, with picnic baskets, sports activities, and the combined musical talents of thousands. I remember, on one occasion, being with a group on the mountain, when the leader of another group approached us, telling us that they had a serious problem. They had left all the baskets of sandwiches back in their hotel, and they had nothing to eat. The response was extraordinary. The word was passed from group to group, and in a short while this particular group had much more than they needed. The interesting thing is that, while having given part of our food to them, we ourselves had more than we needed. Love in action is powerful.
The first thing we notice in today's gospel is that the crowds had a hunger much stronger than that for food. They followed Jesus, listening to every word he spoke, and in none of the stories does it say that they were bothered about food for the body. In today's story, it is the apostles who expressed their concern. In another story, we are told that Jesus "looked at the crowd, and felt sorry for them, because they had been with him for several days, and had nothing to eat." Mother Teresa said that the greatest hunger in today's world is for love, and not for food.
Jesus puts the apostles on a spot. When they express their concern about the people, Jesus tells them to feed them themselves. This, of course, is impossible in their eyes, and they tell him so. He was trying to show them, and all of us, a basic lesson: "Whatever you have is enough. Just let me have it, and I will do the rest." At Cana, all they had was water, and that was all he needed. He would do the rest. One of the saddest phrases in the gospel is in another version of this story, where one of the apostles says "We only have a few loaves and some fish, but what is that among so many?" The tendency then would be to put the loaves and fish back in the bag. Mother Teresa would never have started if she had that attitude.
There is power in the actions of Jesus. He looks towards heaven, says a prayer, and begins distributing the bread. Before he called Lazarus forth from the tomb, he raised his eyes to heaven, and said "I thank you, Father, that you have heard me." It was his constant contact with the Father that inspired his actions. At his baptism in the Jordan he had heard the Father's voice saying "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." He lived constantly with the Father's approval, even when everyone else rejected him. What a lesson this is for all of us! In commissioning his apostles, later on, he would tell them to feed the hungry. Because he came "to do and to teach," that is why he fed the hungry before sending his apostles Out to do the same.
Response: Hungry people make up a large part of today's world. We can become immune to the pictures of emaciated bodies, of children with bloated stomachs, or of thousands of hands in the air, reaching out for the one item of food being offered. This should disturb us. Unfortunately, it is much easier to press the remote control and change channels. In another version of this miracle, we are told that "Jesus looked at the crowd, and felt sorry for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd ..."; and then he did something about it. For his listeners, because of their everyday experiences, and their long traditions, culture, and way of doing things, the idea of a flock of sheep without a shepherd would be shocking beyond belief. It was always understood that the shepherd was one who would die in protecting his sheep, if necessary.
Some of us can be frozen into inactivity, because of what we call our limited resources, either in terms of earthly goods, or physical ability. We may not see how each of us is a vital part of the solution. Even a cup of cold water is upheld in the gospel as something that will gain an award. Whatever you have is enough. I celebrate eucharist every morning in a nursing home 188 AND THAT'S THE GOSPEL TRUTH next-door to where I live. The residents are elderly, with many confined to wheelchairs. Many of these people ran the show for many years, either at home, or in the workplace. All that is gone now, however, and the danger is they may begin to see themselves as being of no value anymore, because their usefulness is no longer as evident. That is why I have to repeat, like a daily mantra "Whatever you have is enough." You may be limited to a quiet prayer for the hungry people of the world, or for those who are trying to feed them. You may ask God to touch the hearts of those who have more than they need, so tha they might be inspired to share with those who have nothing. Whatever you have, whatever you can do, give that to Jesus, and let him work the miracle. Jean Vanier says that some of the greatest miracles for good in today's world have been brought about by the quiet prayers of totally unknown people.
When Jesus told the story of the sower who went out to sow, he describes him as throwing the seeds in all directions. He threw fists of it here, fists of it there. That was his task. Whether the wheat grew or not depended on the conditions in the place where it fell. In today's gospel, Jesus was prodigally generous in delivering bread and fish so that the people could eat. He wasn't putting any conditions on the giving. He didn't demand a declaration of belief in him before providing the food. He acted like he told us his heavenly Father acts, when "he lets rain fall on the good and on the bad." He had fed them with his words, and then he fed their bodies. We are told that "he had compassion on them, and he healed their sick." He was interested in their welfare, both soul and body. He was both a friend and a miracle worker.
Today's gospel is applicable to the world in which we live. We are called to "complete his work on earth." There are still many people searching for what Jesus had to offer by way of peace, salvation, and hope. They are also hungry for food to keep them alive. I cannot be a spectator in today's world. Those emaciated bodies and those swollen stomachs must pull at my heart, demanding a response. I may not be able to do much on a material level, but we all can do something. The doorbell rings, and it's some homeless person looking for a cup of tea and a sandwich. I may be busy, and the person is a nuisance. I have to make a decision. If I have taken the message of Jesus to my heart, there is only one decision to make. To make the effort is to carry the cross of service to others.
Most of us have more than we need of money, clothes, food, etc. We may not have as much as we want, but we have more than we need. There is a struggle here, and there is a tension from which we cannot escape. "Whatever you do for the least of these, I will take as being done for me." The decisions to walk in the Christian Way removes many of my options and choices. Christianity is much more than just saying prayers. It is also a call to action. It is a call to do as Jesus would do. I cannot read today's gospel and remain indifferent or detached.
"It is in giving that we receive." When we give, we discover that we are not at a loss. It is an extraordinary paradox, but it is literally me. I will never know this until I try it. How do you consider yourself in the whole area of responsibility for the welfare of others? We are all familiar with the SVP, Trócaire, Concern, Goal, etc., and we may admire what they do. We must go beyond admiration, -however, and become willing to imitate, and follow their example. Christianity is about witnessing, and in the witnessing is the invitation to "go and do likewise." The opposite to love is not hatred, but indifference. If God is love, and I am indifferent, then I must seriously examine where God is in my life. This is a fundamental and basic question that must be asked, and it must be answered.
There is a story told about a parish in the south west of Ireland. The parish priest was annoyed by some of the local farmers who came in the back door on Sunday, insisting on standing there, and who disappeared before Mass was over. He decided he would do something to correct this bad habit. He would have a parish mission, the first week for the men, and the second for the women. The word got out around the village, and the guys decided to boycott the mission. On the opening night the missioner came out on the altar, complete with biretta, sheaf of notes, turnip watch, and a crucifix. He got a shock when he looked down the church to see just one man in the whole church. This man lived out at the back of the mountain, he hadn't been in town all week, and he hadn't heard about the boycott. The priest didn't know what to do, so he approached the man, asking him what he thought he should do. It is well-known that, in that part of the country, it is difficult to get someone to answer a question. "Ah, sure I would't know, Father. I'm just a simple man, and I live out at the back of the mountain. But I'll tell you what, though, Father. I have fourteen hens, and when I call them in the morning, if only one of them comes, I'll feed her." "Oh, I see," said the priest. "I get your point." He returned to the pulpit to feed the one solitary hen that showed up! He began with Adam and Eve, and he worked his way through to the Second Coming, about an hour and a half later! Down he came to the man again. "Was that alright? Were you happy enough with that?" And here again we have another question! "Ah, sure Father, I wouldn't know that. I'm just a simple man, and I live out at the back of the mountain. But I'll tell you what. I have fourteen hens, and when I call them in the morning, if only one of them comes, I'll feed her; but I certainly wouldn't give her the full bucket!'
In today's gospel Jesus gives them much more than they could possibly
1 Kgs 19:9,11-13. To Elijah on Mount Sinai, God's voice was like the gentle whisper of a breeze. The Lord works quietly in history and in individual lives.
Rom 9:1-5. Paul grieved to see his fellow-Jews refuse to accept Jesus as the Messiah. The apostle loves his countrymen and would do anything to win them for Christ.
Mt 14:22-33. When Peter begins to sink Jesus chides him for his lack of faith. The storm subsides and the disciples proclaim Jesus as the Son of God.
Theme: We are called to a spirit of deep and trusting faith, like Elijah and Peter, in today's Scripture.
At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then
the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "What are you doing
here, Elijah?" He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain
before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Now there
was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking
rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind;
and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;
and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire;
and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it,
he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance
of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What
are you doing here, Elijah?"
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
The Lord will give what is god,
Righteousness will go before him,
I am speaking the truth in Christ-I am not lying; my conscience confirms
it by the Holy Spirit- I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in
my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off
from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to
the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the
glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the
promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according
to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever.
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear.
Immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is
I; do not be afraid." Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is
you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come."
So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came
toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened,
and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus
immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You
of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat,
the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly
you are the Son of God."
- for the courage to make progress in our faith, to examine and ponder God's place in our lives.
- for a deep and trusting faith, like that of Elijah and Saint Peter.
-that our lives will be inspired by the ideals of the gospel and the example of Jesus.
- for the grace to start again, spiritually, after every fall and
Thoughts for 19th Sunday, A
Shortly after the ancient Roman Republic had become an empire, with supreme power vested in the person of the emperor, the pagan religion began to lose its attraction for people, especially when they were forced to worship the reigning emperor as a god, and more and more Romans were attracted to what were called "mystery religions." These mystery cults, introduced mainly from the east, with their special initiation rites shrouded in secrecy, became popular. The charge has been levelled against the Catholic Church, in modern times, that a lot of the mystery which originally was part of the liturgy - even the mystery surrounding the person of Christ - has been pushed into the background; and as a result that the Church itself has lost some of the fascination and the attraction it formerly had. But the first reading today, about the pilgrimage of the prophet Elijah to the holy mountain of Sinai, or Horeb, never fails to fascinate the thoughtful reader.
The great prophet, who had been so fearless in confronting and defeating, on Mount Carmel, the army of false prophets who were followers of King Ahab, and even more so of his queen, Jezebel, suddenly lost heart in the face of continuing opposition from the queen, to such an extent that he wished he was dead. For him it was a real crisis of faith. How could God really be Lord when Jezebel's power continued undiminished, and she still posed a threat to his life? God, however, was to restore his faith by means of that strange pilgrimage to the holy mountain, Horeb or Sinai, where he was to encounter the divine presence in a special way, a way that shows clearly the development in the Old Testament understanding of God. When he gave the commandments to Moses on this mountain, God's presence was made manifest in a storm, earthquake and lightning. But for Elijah these were only the heralds of the Lord's coming. For he was not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the lightning, but rather in "a voice of a gentle stillss," an awesome vocal silence.
The whole revelation was a lesson to the fiery prophet, who had overturned pagan altars and slaughtered 450 false prophets, that the days of violence were past, and that God in his own hidden way would bring about the welfare of Israel. It was not the fearful and tremendous forces of nature, but rather this whisper of a gentle breeze that denoted the presence of God, and made Elijah cover his face with his cloak, for, as the Jews believed, no human being could look on the divine countenance and live. From now on the power of God is not to be seen in natural phenomena, for God is superior to all such. In fact he controls them; he uses them for his own purposes, for God is in no way material; he is pure Spirit.
We see this further exemplified in today's gospel, in the person of Jesus, who shows himself the complete master over the elements which whipped up the lake into such mountainous waves, that the disciples despaired of ever reaching the land. Wherever, then, there is storm and unrest, God brings calm, where there is inner turmoil and depression, God generates peace and spiritual renewal. Leading up to the first reading, Elijah's prayer was, "Lord, I have had enough. Take away my life." But after his encounter on Horeb, all this was changed. "I am filled with jealous zeal for the Lord of hosts," we find him saying.
Likewise, at the outset of the gospel story, the disciples were in desperate straits in their boat, and that at a time, the fourth watch, between three and six in the morning, when human resistance is at a low ebb. We can understand how their first reaction to the appearance of Christ walking on the water was one of terror. But those few words from Christ, "Courage, do not be afraid," bring about a change so dramatic that Peter ventures to get out of the boat, and walk on that element which up to then had inspired such alarm in them all. In his momentary hesitation Peter is reassured by the sustaining hand of Jesus.
The message for us is quite clear. When fears and problems assail us, when God seems so remote and forgetful of our plight, then we should cry out, "Lord, save us, we perish." This little prayer should also be an act of faith in God, and conversely, every act of faith is another form of prayer, because in making it our thoughts are turning to God. And God will not only hear our call, he will respond favourably to it, provided we do not waver in our trust in him.
1. Voyage: Life can be viewed as journey (Pilgrim's progress; Exodus; Odyssey), or still better as voyage (because driven by forces more powerful than ourselves, like wind and wave.) We sail upon a rippling surface of events, feeling the joy of movement, being alive and going somewhere. When things go well, we feel the contentment of those experienced sailors, the apostles on their way home across the quiet lake of Galilee.
2. Waves: A gale blew up, changing their mood. Danger and fear of drowning. Our own life-voyage has its share of storms too, anxieties, problems and pressures of various kinds. How often a sudden turn of events can rob us of inner peace. Are we on a charted course, or just drifting along without any determined direction? Many find it hard enough to stay afloat, pressurised by the bewilderingly changing times, ill-at-ease in their relationships with others, discontented and insecure in themselves. That's exactly what the frightened apostles in the storm mean for us today: we are those sailors, tossing about in the waves.
3. Remedies: Many prescriptions are suggested, to ease the upsets of our voyage. Like different brands of medication for sea-sickness! A long quiet rest, a change of occupation, psychiatric help or counselling, a course of Yoga or Transcendental Meditation, Contemplative or Charismatic Prayer. Doubtless, every remedy has its own advantages, but what better support can be found in times of stress than an understanding friend? Today's gospel suggests that our first and most constant recourse should be to none other than, Christ himself.
4. Hidden Presence: God is present where we least expect him, although it is a hidden, unseen presence, not always easy to discover. It takes faith nearer than the door." So the apostles were amazed to see Christ coming to them in the middle of the storm, for (at that stage) they were men of little faith. Elijah, that lonely refugee, faithful to his God despite cruel persecution by Jezebel, discovered the mysterious presence of God in the still, small voice of his own soul. Standing at the mouth of a cave, on the slopes of the holy mountain, he got strength and comfort from the Living God. Where God is, there is peace. But his presence is everywhere, for those who learn to discern it.
A fine expression of this belief in God's unseen presence is given in Francis Thompson's poem, The Kingdom of God:
O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!
Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air -
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumour of thee there?
Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.
The angels keep their ancient places;-
Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
'Tis ye, 'tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.
But when so sad thou canst not sadder
Cry; - and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.
Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry, - clinging Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water
Not of Gennesareth, but Thames!
Whether at the height of the storm, or when its fury has passed, the Lord is there.
5. Safe Harbour: We do not expect to be immune from the hardships and problems faced by all the other voyagers through this life. Indeed, Christ himself shared fully in all of these anxieties, being tested as we are. If the Church be seen as a boat (in which there are no idle passengers, but all are needed to row!), then we have as destination the safe harbour of eternal life. With the compass of faith, and Christ himself as unseen captain of the ship, that harbour will surely be reached. In the meantime, though tossed about by circumstances, he tells us: "Courage! Do not be afraid, men of little faith!'
After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
If you do not succeed the first time, try, try again. Jesus, who earlier in the day withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself in order to either grieve, pray, or escape the interest that Herod had in Jesus as possibly John the Baptist raised from the dead, now makes deliberate plans to escape both the disciples and the crowds in order to be alone. The only time he has spent alone on this day was in a boat on the Sea of Galilee - on his way to a deserted place. And even then, I wonder how much solitude could be enjoyed on that trip with a visible throng of 20,000-30,000 traveling on foot on the shore in the direction in which Jesus was either sailing or rowing. Furthermore, Jesus has spent the better part of the day curing the sick, and a better part of the evening feeding the hungry.
Homily theme: Under some circumstances, it might be appropriate to put off private, reflective prayer in order to do a work of charity; however, never let work take the place of prayer, let them exist hand-in-hand. Although Jesus is moved to delay prayer earlier in the day, he now unmistakably creates the opportunity for uninterrupted prayer when his works of charity are complete.
I wonder if the boat that Jesus made the disciples depart in was the same boat that he earlier in the day arrived in? Did the disciples arrive on foot with the crowd, or did they show up in an additional boat to the place of the multiplication of loaves and fishes? Does the fact that Jesus walks on the water support the theory that there was no boat available for Jesus? If it is the same boat, is this why Jesus MAKES the disciples get into the boat? Were the disciples leery to part with Jesus? Did they fear that they would be separated from Jesus for a few days too many?
Homily theme: Do we ever think we can be separated from Jesus by the places we go, or to the places we are taken? Do we feel that Jesus abandons us in our time of crisis? Do we ever feel that we have permanently separated ourselves from Jesus by the storms of sin or confusion with which we have surrounded ourselves? During times likes these Jesus walks out to us in our storm, tells us to take courage, and calms the wind. Let our simple response to the saving help of Jesus be that of Peter - Lord, save me!
I wonder if it was difficult to dismiss the crowds? Perhaps the hunger that drove the crowds to seek Jesus earlier in the day has been sated and know they feel free to depart. The sick were cured, the masses were miraculously fed, and the glory of God was made manifest on earth. Not a bad day. Perhaps it was time to get home to the familiar. Perhaps they were excited to recount what they had experienced to those who were not there. In any event, the crowds were dismissed.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone.
Interestingly we are told twice in this short phrase that Jesus is, indeed, alone. Perhaps the importance of solitude in prayer is stressed here.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
Here is an interesting contrast in scenes. In the last scene Jesus finally finds an opportunity to pray. There is an emphasis on his solitude. Furthermore, he prays on an elevated place - a mountain. A scene is conjured up of Jesus praying in a quiet, placid, elevated place away from, and above distractions. And now we hear of the simultaneous, forceful waves against which the disciples are trying to make some headway. Here is a powerful juxtaposition of serenity - and panic.
During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea.
In the time of Jesus, the night was divided up into four watches: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. - 9 p.m. to 12 midnight - 12 midnight to 3 a.m. - and 3 a.m. to 6 a.m.
I love this kind of stuff. Who thinks like this: Barclay proposes that by Matthew telling us earlier in the account of the miracle of the loaves and fishes that Jesus ordered the crowds to sit on the green grass, that it must have been springtime - likely near Passover time, which was in the middle of April. If this is true, then the moon would have been full. Therefore, it might be further proposed that when Jesus descended down the hill upon which he prayed that he would have been able to see the boat being tossed by the waves. Therefore, Barclay has Jesus intentionally walking to the boat to help. In any event, you have to love the geological and astronomical proposal.
By the way, here are some Sea (actually a freshwater lake) of Galilee stats: 13 miles long, 8.5 miles wide, maximum depth 150 feet, surrounded by mountains 1,200-1,500 feet high. In short, one can look across the Sea from any direction. Tradition places the site of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes at Heptapegon, where the early Church of the Loaves and Fishes was built. This is located in the Northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee. Also, it is common for high winds and dangerous storms to suddenly appear out of nowhere. Dangerous sailing conditions are oftentimes unpredictable. If your slant is that Jesus intentionally walked out to the boat to lend assistance, there is certainly a homily here.
Homily theme: Again, Jesus comes to our need when we are blown about in our own boats of life. Winds of temptation, winds of despair, winds of sadness, winds of anger, winds of jealousy.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. It is a ghost, they said, and they cried out in fear.
Some say that this is a common symptom of little (infantile, growing) faith: a faith that is still afraid. Gee, I wonder if I would be afraid if I saw a figure walking toward me atop of 150 feet of water?
At once Jesus spoke to them, Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.
The response of Christ is immediate.
Peter said to him in reply, Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water. He said, Come. Peter got out of his boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, Lord, save me!
For me this is the real heart of the story - the interaction between Jesus and Peter. Peter knows that whatever Jesus commands is made possible. Peter has witnessed all day long Jesus commanding cures to be worked and loaves and fishes multiplied. Peter has no doubt that what Jesus commands will happen. However, the command requires a response, and we learn that the success of the response is contingent upon faith. The great Dietrich Bonhoeffer states that Peter had to leave the boat and risk his life in order to learn perhaps the most valuable lesson and straightest path in the spiritual journey: the realization of both his own weakness and the almighty power of Jesus. For Bonhoeffer, had Peter remained in the boat and not taken the first step, his faith would have been worthless.
The response to follow Jesus requires a definitive and unavoidable step, and those who think they can follow Jesus without making this step are diluting themselves. Note that Peter SAW how strong the wind was; that is, he must have moved his gaze FROM Jesus who commands him TO a manifestation of the fierce wind - probably shown by its forceful movement of the waters around Peter. However, the response by Peter - Lord, save me! - is in a sense one of two perfect prayers when nothing else comes to mind in prayer (the other one is - Thank you, Lord).
Also, Peter, a leader who is known to act impulsively and from his heart moreso than his head speaks up first among the disciples and makes his request. Barclay points out that the wonderful thing about Peter is that every time he failed - every time he fell, he rose up again and became closer to Christ. He had the good sense at least to yell out, Lord save me! In the moment of his weakness he knew enough to reach out to Christ, his rock.
A saint is not a person who never fails, but rather a saint is a person who gets up and goes on again every time he falls. The failures of Peter only made him love Christ more - only made him rely upon Christ more.
I side with those who contend that the response of Peter is not indicative of a skeptic who constantly doubts; but rather a faithful follower of Jesus who simply becomes overwhelmed by the circumstances that surrounded him. Peter panics when he moves his gaze off of Jesus and on to the fierce winds which roll the water into ominous waves. Although his faith clearly weakens, he makes the most appropriate response - Lord, save me! Before he sinks to his demise he immediately feels the hand of his savior supporting him.
Homily theme: Peter is the model of a human journey of faith. He seeks, He steps, he sinks, he is saved, he praises, repeat. One could propose that the faith of Peter returns when he refixes his gaze again on Jesus and says - Lord, save me! - not, Lord, save me IF you can. Peter trusts in the immediate saving help of Jesus. Weakness which leads to the awareness of the saving power of Jesus is always beneficial. Have we moved our gaze from Jesus? Has our gaze moved toward fears or distractions?
Homily theme: I think what we should take away from this interaction between Peter and Jesus is the courage Peter displayed in first asking Jesus to command, and second, responding to that command. We should also be mindful of the purest request of help from Peter (Lord, save me!), and the immediate response from Jesus.
Matthew follows his liturgical "instructive" account of the feeding of 5,000 people with a no less didactic account of Jesus's walking on the waters. From a narrative of richly allusive eucharistic symbolism we go on to another incident of. deep ecclesial significance.
It is clear that Matthew is thinking of the Church as a boat, navies, tossed on the ocean wave. He wants us to know that Christ is never absent from his Church no matter how much in danger the baroque may appear to be. In the midst of the storm Jesus comes walking on the waters to relieve anxiety and distress. Peter's faith is not equal to the strain. But when Jesus takes his hand his faith is strengthened and he expresses his growing conviction that Jesus is the Messiah. The disciples are coming on!
This incident may be part of the post-resurrection tradition of the Church. It reminds us that Jesus, who is ever living to make intercession for us, is never far away from his Church provided that the faith of the Church members grows. Peter is a weak, impetuous man who will always need Christ's help. But that help is always forthcoming because Christ is with his Church all days until the end time. The prayer of Jesus never ceases.
This is Matthew's first account of Peter in a position of prominence. It will be followed by the incidents at Caesarea Philippi (sixteen) and the payment of the temple tax (seventeen.) The instruction of the disciples proceeds apace. They are gaining insights into the nature of the messianic community in which faith has to keep on growing and men have to keep on accepting the hand of Christ held out to them.
We can all recognize ourselves in the doubts of Peter when once lie had taken the plunge and sets out to walk towards the Lord on the waters. To each one of us is spoken the rebuke "Man of little faith." Why do we doubt? Is it not because we, like the disciples, have a lot to learn about Jesus and his Church?
Jesus today is still the question-raiser. "What sort of man is this?" (8: 27), "Can this be the son of David?" (12: 23). The impact of meeting Jesus when once he had joined them in the boat stimulated the disciples to make a full confession of Christian faith "Truly you are the Son of God."
The first reading reminds us that God comes in the little things, in the quiet ways of Church life. The second reading shows us that we today have the fullness of God's revelation. We envy nobody. We are invited today to grow in our understanding of the presence of Christ in his Church. It is not the ghost of Jesus but the living Lord of the Church whom we salute here today.
A ghost terrifies the disciples. The real Christ, when once they recognize him, reassures them. So with us, too. It is our faith that has to grow, that has to be stretched.
Jesus is with us, with all Church members, as ready to continue for us today our instruction in faith as Matthew shows him doing for his disciples. To be a Christian is to be always at school at the feet of Christ, listening, learning, growing in faith, as we are this morning.
We believe that Jesus is with us in this church as we pray together. His promise stands firm. We believe that Jesus is speaking to us in his word in the scriptures. (We ask his Spirit to help us to apply today's readings to our lives, inspiring us to make our hearing fruitful.) We believe that Jesus comes sacramentally in the Eucharist, inviting us to become one with him in communion. Like the apostles in the boat, we in the nave of this church acknowledge Jesus as our Lord, we bow down before him and adore him. We profess "Truly you are the Son of God." Our faith has to be submitted to the proving ground of daily living. What is the point of a faith that is not exercised?
We do not have to wear ourselves out worrying about the state of the Church today. It rides rough seas and has ridden out rougher. We know that Jesus is in the boat and that he takes the hand of Peter and of those who have the authority vested in Peter. All that is required of each one of us here today is that we should be men of growing faith. The little we have is not enough to be going on with.
Faith is a gift of God. We need it desperately if we are not to be terrified by the storms which threaten. Assailed by doubts and apprehensions we cry out this morning "Lord, save me!'
Man today is tempted to go it alone, not to recognize Jesus. At every Mass we have a saving encounter with Jesus which can make our faith strike deeper roots. We pledge him our allegiance in this celebration. To us may he come through as the way, the truth and the life. May he do for us in our need what he did on the lake for his disciples. The Gospel anecdote lives because the same Jesus lives and acts upon us who place our confidence in him. Every action of Christ has its repercussions down through the centuries.
We stand at the centre of the Christian life. It is Christ who proclaims to us his Gospel. He is present and speaking to us, nourishing our spirit, reminding us of how much we need him. He walks on the waters towards us in the boat. He comes to deepen our faith as surely as he advanced Peter's faith from doubt to certainty.
Lord, we believe that you are with us in this church this day. You hold out to us your helping hand. Enable us to take it firmly, trustingly, sincerely. You never desert the barque of Peter. Our faith is weak. Make it strong. Help us to find you today in this eucharistic celebration. With our strengthened faith may we go out into the street and into our homes, confirmed in your love. Make us to be at all times men and women of the Church, Christians growing in faith, loyal to you and to those you have sent to be our guides. Make us strong when the storm clouds threaten.
What do I wish to achieve today? As a homilist it is my task, under God, to translate the message of God in scripture into today's language and conditions. For the readings we listen to were originally addressed to different people at a different time and in different circumstances. Today I must re-address that message for a particular congregation. Certainly I will be conscious of the presence of Jesus in so many different ways, e.g. as outlined in the Constitution on the Liturgy, 7. I will be conscious of the calmness that the presence of Christ brings and of the need to bring about a calmness, "a gentle breeze," in which he may speak to me.
Some will have been struck by Paul's great love of the Jewish people. History has plenty of examples of anti-Semitism. It has many more examples of discrimination on the grounds of colour and religion. To these can be added the various forms of prejudice which are based on property, status and way of life. Today I must identify these in my community - without being insensitive, without landing in stormy waters. It is up to me to increase the awareness of prejudice and discrimination in society. The Christian message is of equality under God. The Christian celebration is of fellowship with God and with one another as sisters and brothers.
Many may feel a hopelessness and a helplessness in combating prejudice. It is not my task to increase this but, like Christ, to say "Courage." But I must point out that the remedy must begin with each individual person. I must point out that each individual person exercises influence, be it great or small, on every single other person that he or she meets (or avoids.)
None of us remember now what must have been one of the greatest achievements of our lives. Our first steps. Since then we have relived the same experience with our own children.
A mother's eyes keep aloft her child attempting these first tottering steps. Her outstretched arms encourage, ready to catch her baby when it falls. As fail it does. But that baby's world will never be the same again. Its first ideal has been born. Never again will it be content to grope about on all fours in that safe myopic world of pots and pans and table-legs. It has climbed the mountain and seen the promised land. A vertical world of unlimited horizons. We may not have performed again on cue when mother summoned in the neighbours to witness this historic moment. But the goal was now in sight.
A similar but less momentous occasion I do remember, is the day I learned to swim. It was the "dead man's float." Holding my body stiff with outstretched arms and taking a deep breath, I lay back on the water. Father held me with his strong hand beneath my back. Slowly he withdrew it. I sank momentarily beneath the water and then resurfaced and remained afloat. I had mastered my fear. It was an unforgettable moment. Ever since, I always prefer swimming on my back. I may not always know for sure where I'm going but my gaze is firmly fixed upon the skies.
Those faltering steps of Peter on the water mimic so closely a baby's first attempt to walk upright. Of all the apostles; Peter's impulsiveness is infant-like, if not occasionally infantile. Seeing Jesus walks upon the water, he cries out, like children do: "Let me try too." "Come," Jesus said, as most indulgent parents would. One foot out, he tests the water, solid as the ground. Eyes fixed on Jesus, he begins his weightless walk. Until he realises the enormity of his feat. Then looking down, he sees the windswept waters swirling round his feet and he begins to sink. Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. "Man of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?'
His first steps, his first fall. But there would be no going back now. He had taken his first few steps into the world of faith where all was possible.
We too are called to this world of faith, the world of the spirit. "Be ye perfect," the gospel tells us, "as your heavenly Father is perfect." The demands it makes seem impossible, its ideals unattainable. Mired as we are in the mud of daily living, we are asked to raise our eyes to higher things. The happiness we are promised will make us walk on air, if not on water. Like the child on all fours on the kitchen floor we are encouraged to stand up and attempt to walk. "Come," Jesus calls us like Peter in the boat. And when we start to sink, he reaches out his hand and holds us, clucking like a mother to her child. "Men of little faith, why do you doubt?'
Today's gospel is one of several incidents when Jesus calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee. It has several extra nuances, because it tells us about Jesus going aside to pray, how he walked on the water, and how poor Peter fared when he attempted to do the same. It is a gospel that has much to teach us.
I'm sure we all have seen a sheet of paper on the wall near a phone, with emergency numbers on it. There's the fire brigade, the ambulance, the doctor, etc. It is useful, and advisable to have these at hand. I have never seen God's name on this list! And yet, he is often called on in emergencies only. The apostles were lucky that he arrived on time.
The opening of the gospel is quite touching. It speaks about Jesus sending his apostles away, where they could have a rest, while he would stay back and deal with the crowds. He then went off to be alone, to spend some time with the Father. He showed wonderful concern and sensitivity for others, but he also had to have time for himself. Many good people fail in this second part. I can become so busy with the work of the Lord, that I haven't time for the Lord of the work. There is something gentle and impressive about these opening comments. It gives us a glimpse of just how beautiful a person he must have been for those who walked with him in life. That is the same for us today.
To the Hebrews, water was a symbol of death, as well as life. They had to pass through the waters of the Red Sea to enter the Promised Land, just as we have to pass through death to enter eternal life. Jesus came to remove the weeds of sin, sickness, and death. By walking on water, he showed that he had authority over death. Later on, after his resurrection, he would keep appearing among his apostles to convince them, beyond doubt, that he was alive. He told them on several occasions that he would rise from the dead. Death was "the final enemy," and it was essential that they be convinced that death had been conquered. Their mission was to be witnesses to his resurrection. "Dying, you destroyed our death Peter was always ready for a "dare." If Jesus could walk on water, then Peter was ready to try that too. It was as if he were saying, "Lord, could I have the freedom over death that you have?" Jesus invited him to come on, and try it. Peter did that, and, when he kept his eyes fixed on Jesus, he succeeded. One he took his eyes off Jesus, however, and became conscious of the wind and the waves, he lost his nerve and began to sink. "Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith." Jesus faced Peter with the fact that he hadn't trusted him, as if Jesus was going to let him drown. How often do we hear those words from Jesus, "Oh, you of little faith; why did you doubt?" It is interesting to see that as soon as Jesus stepped into the boat, the wind stopped. Quite a dramatic lesson!
Response: Most of us have seen films based on the life of Jesus. The persons playing the part of Jesus were almost identical in every case. It would have been fascinating to have met Jesus in the flesh. We must be touched by his gentle thoughtfulness in the first part of today's gospel. A friend is someone who is willing to walk another mile with us. We are told that "he came to do and to teach." He did the kind act first, and then he told them to love one another as he loved them. For those who witnessed his actions, this must have seemed an impossibility.
When I reflect that the gospel is now, and I am every person in it, then I must surely experience myself in a storm of one kind or other, and I cannot see how I can remain afloat, or regain a balance in my life. Alcoholics, manic depressives, etc., experience this all the time. It must be really difficult for those who feel alone, either because they do not believe in Jesus, or they choose to ignore him. The sea of life can be intimidating at times, and my boat is small. It is essential that I make room for Jesus in that boat. It is not possible to call out to him, and not be heard.
Peter had a spontaneity that often got him in trouble. He certainly was the only one in that boat who would dare step over the side! Jesus must have smiled at Peter, while being pleased with the trust he had in Jesus. Human as he was, he lost his nerve, and he got quite a fright. However, he knew where to call for help and, once again, he was not disappointed. He still had a lot to learn, but he was willing to have a go, and to learn, even through his mistakes. Experience is a good school, although the fees are often high!
I'm sure we all know people who are just naturally kind, thoughtful, and active in service. I know one lady who, when she visits a house, she is happiest if she can find a tea towel, and help with the wash-up. She just has to be doing something. She seems to be at her best when she gets an opportunity to roll up her sleeves and help in clearing up after a meal or a party. I see that in Jesus at the beginning of today's gospel. I also admire the balance between taking care of dismissing the crowds, and going off by himself, to be alone. There is a simple lesson there for all of us. It would be a well-worthwhile exercise to take some time out to reflect on what I see in my own life in this area.
Please don't keep Jesus' phone number under "Emergencies'! Practise involving him in everything you do. "Lord, please walk with me today. May your presence within me touch the hearts of those I meet today, either through the words I say, the prayers I pray, the life I live, or the person that I am." Learn to walk with the Lord. Imagine him entering every door just ahead of you. Don't wait for the storm to call for help. I would rather be safely guided by a lighthouse than be saved by a lifeboat.
Give some thought to the words we use in the Mass : "Lord, by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Saviour of the world. Dying you destroyed our death; rising you restored our life." Notice these statements are in the past tense. We speak of something that has already happened. Peter did not have the advantage of hindsight that we have. When I think of death, I can reflect on stepping over the side of the boat. The secret is to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, and I won't be troubled by the wind and the waves. Jesus has made all things Possible for me, and I must be willing to claim my inheritance from the legacy he has left. I have an onus to accept the gift of salvation, and this puts a further onus on me to witness to that truth, and look saved!
There was a disastrous drought in one of the southern states of the US some years ago, and much of the crops were lost. The state was declared a disaster area and, while the government was coming to the help of the farmers, all churches began to pray for the rains to come. One night a mother was putting her little girl to bed. She was saying her night prayers. The mother suggested that she pray for rain, but she refused. This puzzled her mother, so she tried several different ways of broaching the subject, but each attempt was firmly turned down. The mother couldn't figure out why she was so insistent on refusing to pray for rain, so she came right out and asked her. "Mammy, I have two dolls on a bench in the back-garden, and if you go out and take them in, I'll pray for rain."
If she prayed for rain, she expected it to rain! You could imagine
Jesus saying "Thank you for your faith, and for not doubting
Is 56:1,6-7. Every individual is acceptable to God, provided we earnestly try to live a virtuous life.
Rom 11:13-15. Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, trusts that eventually his fellow-Jews also will acknowledge Christ as the Messiah.
Mt 15:21-28. Jesus answers the persistent prayer of a Gentile woman and praises her faith.
Theme: The gospel shows a woman of great faith and determination. Like her, we can come to the Lord with our needs, trusting him even if at first he seems not to care about our predicament.
Thus says the Lord: Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me, and what is my resting
place? Listen, an uproar from the city! A voice from the temple! The
voice of the Lord, dealing retribution to his enemies! Before she
was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered
May God be gracious to us and bless us
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
May God continue to bless us;
Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle
to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people
jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the
reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life
from the dead! for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy
because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in
order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.
For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.
Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started
shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter
is tormented by a demon." But he did not answer her at all. And
his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for
she keeps shouting after us." He answered, "I was sent only
to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and knelt
before him, saying, "Lord, help me." He answered, "It
is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."
She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall
from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered her, "Woman,
great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And
her daughter was healed instantly.
- that we may never spurn or neglect Christ's generous offer of his body in Communion.
- for all those, and particularly the young, who have drifted away from receiving Communion, that they will return to the Master's table.
- that all people everywhere may eventually acknowledge Christ as the Saviour, who brings us to God.
- for priests and lay ministers of the community, and all who contribute
to the ongoing Eucharistic life of this parish.
Thoughts for 20th Sunday, A
When St. Matthew included the story of the Cananite woman forty to fifty years after the event, he did so to get the Christians of his community who were mostly converts from Judaism to change their attitude towards pagan gentiles. He is challenging the Christian community to broaden their horizons. God is not confined to one group of select individuals: he is present to all people and has the whole world in his hands.
This Gospel also challenges us Christians of today to broaden our horizons as regards non-Christians, and particularly as regards Muslims who are very much in the news at the moment for all the wrong reasons. The suicide bombers who are creating havoc all over the world - in Iraq, in Palestine, in America and nearer home more recently in London - are all Muslims. Also, the radical clerics who support and encourage them are all Muslims.
Islam is one of the largest and fastest growing religions in the world - one billion members world wide, four to five million in America, large numbers in England and a significant presence in Ireland, especially in Dublin.
The official attitude of the Catholic Church towards Muslims can be found in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and I quote: 'The Church has a high regard for Muslims. They worship God who is one, living, merciful and almighty, the creator of heaven and earth who has also spoken to men. They link their faith to that of Abraham......They venerate Jesus as a prophet, his Virgin Mother they also honour. Further, they await the day of judgement . For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God especially by way of prayer, alms-giving and fasting'.
An expert on Christian-Muslim dialogue makes some interesting comments in an article in 'The Tablet'. Just as there are many different types of Christians, so too there are many different types of Muslims. Generalisations should be avoided, such as all Muslims are this that or the other thing...
From the point of view of dialogue there are hopeful signs. Plenty of contemporary Islamic movements are deeply committed to non-violence. Christians need to set the record straight - there is no intrinsic link between Islam and terrorism.
There are very few atheists in Muslim countries. The vast majority of Muslims do not question the authority of their sacred book - the Koran.
Muslims often find Christians a puzzle. For instance, they find it strange that some people who claim to be loyal Catholics yet do not agree with everything the Pope says. Public prayer is important to Muslims. They turn towards Mecca and pray five times a day without any embarrassment whatsoever. Catholic public prayer is now for the most part confined to less than one hour on a Sunday. Catholic fasting nowadays is done in private, if done at all. Muslims during Ramadan fast from sunrise to sunset for the entire month.
There is the negative side of course. In most Muslim countries Christians are very restricted as to when and where they can worship. Also, Saudi Arabia recently spent 65 million in building a Mosque in Rome and at the same time refuse to allow any Christian building in their country.
But there is a positive side to the dialogue and I believe that the
only way forward is to follow the advice of the Vatican Council which
urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding
for the benefit of all.
The people of Israel, when chosen by God as his own special people, regarded themselves as being uniquely favoured, and rightly so. But by way of conclusion from this they began to regard all other people as being just so much material for stoking up the fires of hell. Yet we have God proclaiming through the prophet Isaiah, "Foreigners who have attached themselves to the Lord, to serve him, and to love his name - these I will bring to my holy mountain. I will make them joyful in my house of prayer" (Is 56:6). I wonder how those Jews, who so abhorred all gentiles, could ever reconcile this saying with their own attitudes.
However, lest we feel like condemning their bigotry, it is well to remember that up to the middle of the nineteenth century it was the firm conviction of many Catholics that only members of the Catholic Church could be saved, and those outside the Church could only be saved by belonging to the soul of the Church, whatever that really meant. As with the Jews, this was a flawed argument that in effect tried to set bounds to the scope of God's grace, to see him as a kind of sectarian God, serving the interests of a limited and select group. But Sacred Scripture - both Old and New Testaments - warns us against such a narrow and biased outlook. God's house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples, and God will make them all joyful in this house.
This was what God was proclaiming through the prophet Isaiah, as given in the first reading. St Paul, who regarded himself as being privileged to be chosen as an apostle for the pagans, reiterates that God will show his mercy to all mankind without exception. Moreover, the gospel story foreshadows the breaking down of racial divides when it tells us how Jesus cured the daughter of a Canaanite woman. The Canaanites, we should remember, were the traditional ancestral enemies of the Jews. They were regarded as a sinful race that embodied all that is wicked and godless, a race, according to Jewish thinking, to be wiped off the face of the earth. It was the only occasion recorded in the gospel when Jesus was ever outside Jewish territory, and what transpired there foreshadows the spread of the gospel to the entire world.
It marked the dawn of a new era, when membership of God's holy and chosen people would no longer be restricted to followers of the Mosaic Law only. Confirmation of this is found in the last words of Jesus to his disciples before his Ascension, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you." Indeed the heart of the Christian message lies in this: that irrespective of lass, race, nationality or colour, whether we are sophisticated and learned, or uneducated and ignorant, whether we are rich or poor, we are all called to be members of the newly constituted family, which has God as Father, and Jesus Christ as brother.
As St Paul pointed out to the people of Colossae, we are the people of God; he loved us and chose us for his own, and not because of any merit of ours, or the colour of our skin, or because we are morally or intellectually superior to others. God's choice of us to live out the gospel of Christ to the full is really a mystery. And just as certain people within the state, such as members of the armed forces or police, wear a distinctive uniform, so must we Christians be distinguishable among the rest of mankind by a kind of uniform also, not in any material way, but spiritually. "You must clothe yourselves," says St Paul, "with compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience."
Christ's message, which is that of love towards others, must live in all its richness in all our hearts. Everything we do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as we give thanks through him to God the Father. It is only then that we become really Christian, that barriers are broken down, that we can go forward, sustained by, and sustaining, the community which has been brought into being by the preaching of the message of Christ. Finally, you might ponder over, and bring away with you, this saying of St Augustine, when speaking from Hippo, as bishop to the people of his diocese, about the union that should exist between them, "What I am for you terrifies me; what I am with you consoles me. For you I am a bishop, but with you I am a Christian."
At the centre of last Sunday's gospel was Peter, a man of little faith. At the heart of today's gospel is a woman of great faith. It is often the case that faith is not found where we might have expected it and is found in abundance where we would least expect it. We can be taken by surprise at the faith of some and the lack of faith of others. Many of the prophet's contemporaries would have been surprised and even offended at his vision of the godless foreigners streaming into the house of God. Paul was surprised and disappointed that his own race, the people of God, rejected the gospel of God's Son, whereas the blind and foolish Gentiles embraced it. Today's readings implicitly warn us of the danger of pre-judging, categorizing, and compartmentalizing others. They alert us to the possibility of being surprised at the workings of God among men and women. Perhaps what is often our own attitude is best reflected in the behaviour of the disciples in today's gospel. They wanted Jesus to send away as quickly as pssible this annoying pagan woman. On another occasion they asked Jesus for permission to bid fire come down from heaven and consume a Samaritan town (Lk 9:45.) Far from complying with the disciples" request, today's gospel reading mentions, no less than three times, that Jesus "answered" the woman. Her "kyrie eleison" did not go unanswered, because in Jesus ( ~d was showing mercy to all humankind (Second Reading.)
One might contrast the inclusive attitude of Jesus with our own exclusive attitudes. We can suffer from a religious snobbery, a boastfulness which excludes others from the possibility of a relationship with God which we consider ourselves to enjoy. We can be blind to the movements of the Spirit in the lives of those who belong to a different church from ours. We may be slow to acknowledge an openness to God among those who are of a different race, colour. background or social class to ourselves. The readings remind us that we cannot possess God for ourselves, that he can never be the exclusive property of any one group. The cry: "God is on our side" is a dangerous and misleading one. God is always greater than our idea of him and he refuses to be contained by our often narrow view of him. "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" (Exod 33:19.)
We are called to show forth in our lives the inclusiveness of God. One might invite the congregation to reflect on whether or not they are unjustly excluding people from their lives. It is easy and natural to love those who love us, to be good to those who are good to us, to pray for those who pray for us, to include only those who include us. More is required of those who have received in abundance God's merciful love.
There is no doubt that some of the faithful will hear the Gospel this Sunday and be surprised that Jesus appears to be speaking to the Canaanite woman in such harsh terms. Jesus disregards the heartfelt and sincere plea for mercy made by the woman, Jesus makes it clear that his mission, at this time, is for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and even likens the woman to a dog.
One could attempt to soften some of this harshness by explaining that the evangelist, Matthew, is taking this Jesus-story and reconstructing it a bit by giving it some teeth in order to make a strong point about the principal place of the Jewish people in salvation history. However, preaching this point may also prompt you to pass out smelling salts.
What might be a smarter approach is to simply preach this point as: everything has a time and a place and an order in the will of God inside of salvation history. The love of God for all humanity, however, is not diminished by this fact.
A rather simple story from childhood illustrates this point. At ten years old, one of the simple pleasures of hanging out in the kitchen - especially when mom was baking - was to get a hold of the mixing spoons of the electric, handheld mixer that she would use for mixing cake batter. If mom was making a cake for no particular occasion then the spoons were up for grabs on a first come, first serve basis. However, if the spoons were mixing batter for a birthday cake for someone in the family, then it was tradition that the birthday-girl or birthday-boy had absolute first dibs on the spoons. No amount of pleading, begging or mimicked sounds of starvation could change mother's mind, if the spoons were meant to be had by one of my brothers or sisters because of their birthdays.
Did she love me? Yes. Did she purposefully wish me to be disappointed and made to feel slighted? No. Tradition was tradition. We had an order of things in the household. We stuck to it. Rules were rules.
In the same way, one could say that the way salvation history was to unfold in the world was ordered in a particular way by the will of God. However, what is amazing in the Gospel story this Sunday is that this order is allowed to be interrupted.
Jesus defeats the opposition in almost every single verbal confrontation. Whether he is called onto the carpet by pharisees, Saducees, scribes, elders, lawyers, or even Pilate himself, Jesus always seems to get the upper hand.
What makes this woman different - the only person in Scripture to seemingly get the better of Jesus in argument - is that fact that her motivations are pure and selfless. She searches for a way to keep Jesus engaged in conversation by introducing the great comeback line - even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters. She does not wish to test, to try, or threaten Jesus. She simply wants her daughter healed. The longer she can keep Jesus engaged in conversation the more of a chance she feels that she will get what she wants.
In the end, Jesus in fact gives her what she asks. Her persistence, her selflessness and her cleverness is responded to by Jesus.
We have no scriptural account of Jesus laughing, but if we had to choose a story in which to insert such laughter this is it. A surprised smile would lead to a hearty laugh and as Jesus throws his head back he would laugh as he speaks the words - O woman, great is your faith!
"Thy Kingdom come." We have become children of the same Father in our baptism. There is no distinction between native and foreigner. Both are welcomed. Both are called to care for justice (First Reading.) The Mass summons us to service, to sacrifice, to work together to make a kingdom of justice and love, until Jesus comes again.
"Foreigners are welcome." Often contrary notices have been displayed. Sometimes we have acted cowardly and treated people unjustly without putting up a public declaration. At other times we have taken refuge in talking about the unjust social order ~at exists in the Third World, in the Second World and, less often perhaps, in the First World. Yes right at the heart of our Christianity lies an equality in dignity, an equality of grace and a universal call to holiness.
"Justice begins at home." "There is a danger that we might regard justice as essentially something for others to practise, not for us. We might even come to think of justice as something for us to get, not something to give. But justice begins with myself and my dealings with others. Justice is about my work, my business, my commercial dealings, my profession, my style of life. Justice is about paying a just and fair wage for a job, and doing a just and honest job for the wage. Justice is about buying and selling. It is about employing men and women or making them redundant.
"Justice before charity." The most familiar and elementary definition of justice is the virtue of giving to others what is due to them. We give in justice (what is not ours anyway) before we give in charity (what is ours.)
1. Pigeonholes: For office purposes, filing cabinets and pigeonholes are splendid. Separate compartments where accounts, applications, drafts etc. can be tidily stored away, everything in its proper place. No surprises and no disorder! There's a temptation to think of God's grace as parcelled out in the same neat, orderly way-as something reserved for the People of God. Many of the Jews adopted this view, and badly needed the universalist message of Isaiah: "House of prayer for all nations." We Christians may need to be reminded of it too: God wills ALL men to be saved; in the Father's house there are many mansions.
2. Blessings of Loss: Our heavenly Father draws people towards Himself in strange, unpredictable ways. Just as in a family the misfortune of one member can serve to unite the others in a new, protective loyalty; or as in business the failure of one concern can direct energy into a new, more productive line.. so the rejection of Our Saviour by the Jews resulted in His more rapid acceptance throughout the Gentile world. It's an ill wind blows good to nobody! Even the lapses and sins of mankind can be turned to good account, says Paul in a profound but difficult section of his letter to the Romans: "God has imprisoned all men in disobedience only to show mercy on all." Our own past sins will not bar us from Christ-they only show us how much we need him ("To seek and save what was lost.")
3. Crumbs in the Kitchen: Still, there's a real problem in today's Gospel. Why does Jesus want to limit himself to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel?" Was he not concerned for people of other nations, like that foreign woman with the loud voice, who pleaded for his help? What did he mean by the children's bread, that must not be shared by the dogs? How easily that poor woman could have given up, insulted and discouraged, after such a remark!
Well, she didn't give up; that's the first thing. Second, she found the perfectr answer: "Even the pups get the crumbs that fall from the master's table!" Thirdly, her prayer was answered, and her faith warmly praised. But still, what do we make of the initial remark? A popular idiom in Israel, used by Jesus to convey that his primary mission was the conversion of his own Jewish people? Historically, that was his way; first to revive the Chosen People, so that these in turn would furnish a "house of prayer for all nations." However, even during his lifetime He was willing to receive those pagans who came to him; and he predicted that in future "many will come from East and West, and will sit down at table in the Kingdom of God." Notice too the world-wide mission of the disciples, after the Resurrection (Mat. 28:18.)
4. Expanding circles: That's how Christian faith spreads-like the rippling circles expanding on the surface when a stone drops into a still pond. First to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. Always handed on by direct contact, the sharing of trust, the witness of peaceful conviction, the bearing of one another's burdens. But will our path of faith be smooth? Or will there be setbacks and obstacles, objections from people more clever than ourselves, a contrary wind of current opinion hostile to religious belief? In such circumstances, the Canaanite woman offers inspiration, with her iron resolve coupled with good humour and ready wit.
5. Let the Peoples praise you! Above all, believers must try to share with others the spirit of praise, towards the God who cares for us all, and who turns all things unto good for those who love Him. Zeal for sharing our Catholic faith, yes! But without any anguish that others might be lost simply for failing to conform to our doctrine. It takes few dogmatic ideas to support the spirit of thankfulness and joyful praise. Today, as we offer our Christian sacrifice, may we renew our hope for the salvation of mankind, and resolve to share with others the fundamental outlook of living faith.
My mother took me to the local draper to buy me a suit. I was getting ready for my First Communion. I tried on several suits and my mother made me walk up and down while she and the draper discussed the relative merits of each. Eventually, one was chosen to the satisfaction of both. I was delighted too, as it was the one I had set my heart on. They began to haggle over the price, while I waited impatiently to get back to play with my friends. It was then I noticed that the atmosphere had changed.
It appears that we had an outstanding account in that shop and the draper decided to use this occasion to settle it. My mother offered to make a small deposit but the draper would have none of it. It was all or nothing. I was ashamed to hear my mother pleading with him, though I knew, God love her, she was doing it all for me. It was all in vain. We left the shop empty-handed, my mother squeezing my hand to ease my disappointment, while I fought hard to hold back tears, more of shame than disappointment. She found a piece of material somewhere and the local tailor ran up a suit just in time. It was nothing out of the ordinary while the draper's son, who was my friend and classmate, looked like Little Lord Fauntleroy. Looking at my First Cornmunion photo now, all I now recall about that special occasion, is the incident in the draper's shop.
It puts me in mind of the way the Canaanite woman kept pleading with Jesus to cure her little girl. Her insistence was matched only by Christ's indifference. "He answered her not a word." Even his disciples were dismayed by his lack of compassion. "Give her what she wants," they pleaded. The woman dropped to her knees. "Lord," she pleaded,. "help me." When at last he spoke to her his words sounded brutal. "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." But a child's pain can make a mother eloquent. "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master's table," she replied. It was enough. Her prayer was answered.
I remember, when I was an altar boy, a man who came to Holy Communion every morning. The strange thing about this man was that I never saw him outside the church but he was drunk. I was too young then to realise that he was an alcoholic. He wasn't the type we would expect to find at the altar rails every morning. But he was the type God expects to find there. And he knew that. He pestered heaven with his pleas for help.
Christ knows our failings and our weaknesses. He knows - our troubles better than we do ourselves. Others give us a helping hand when we are in trouble. He gives us his whole body so that we might borrow his whole might in carrying our burdens. "This is my body which is given for you," he said. It is sad to see how many of us let this help go a-begging. The real tragedy is that just those people who most need it seldom take it. Christ doesn't send anyone away hungry. Like the Canaanite woman and that alcoholic, we too should come for "the crumbs that fall from the Master's table."
Today's gospel is a beautiful vignette of faith in action, and in a way is quite puzzling. Jesus seems to ignore the woman, and then be offensive, before he yields to her persistent faith, and answers her prayer.
Over the years we have all witnessed the stories of those who were wrongly imprisoned for many years, before their pleas of innocence were listened to, and they were finally released. It must be really traumatic to be accused in the wrong, to be sentenced to prison, and to be vilified in the press when, all the time, the person knows that he is innocent. The sheer persistence, and a stubborn refusal to give up, must have taken a heavy toll of those who were in such a situation. I sometimes reflect on what they must be thinking when they are released, and recall the chilling words of the judge who lectured them, before passing sentence. The woman in today's gospel loved her daughter so much that she just would not take "no" for an answer.
The woman in today's gospel is an unusual woman. Firstly, she was not a Jew, and yet, in approaching Jesus, she called him "O Lord, Son of David." This was a mark of reverence for who he was and what he was. Obviously, it was her love for her daughter that drove her to overcome every barrier, and to persist in any search, if that could save her daughter. As far as Jesus was concerned, she was on a trump card here, because she was doing exactly what he would ask anybody to do. She was driven by love, and that was sure to find a response within the heart of Jesus.
It is difficult to understand why Jesus seemed to ignore her, and even to insult her. I can only imagine that he was teaching his disciples a lesson. It was they who asked him to send her away, because she was a persistent nuisance. He may have wanted them to discover that she was much more than that, and that her faith was something they may not have witnessed before. It was as if he knew that her love for her daughter was so strong that she just could not be put off. He adopted the official Jewish line against such people, because they were considered no better than dogs, while the Jews were the children of God. The woman wasn't going to get sucked into a discussion or a debate; she looked to Jesus for a decision, and she was not disappointed.
One can almost imagine Jesus throwing his hands in the air, and giving up! The apostles were right; get rid of this woman! There was only one way to get rid of her, however, and that was to give her what she was looking for. Despite all that had gone before, one can easily imagine Jesus smiling, and with warmth in his voice, he told her to go on home, that her daughter was healed. There is a saying nowadays, "Don't invade my space." Well, she had come at him like a JCB, went through everything in the way, and she came away with what she came to receive. I could imagine Jesus saying "What a woman!'
Response: Let's look at this woman again. She is not aggressive, or demanding anything as her right. She is powerless, the daughter she loves is dying, and she has nowhere else to turn. Like the apostles in the boat in the midst of the Storm, the point of experiencing our powerlessness and helplessness is the point at which we can come face to face with Jesus. He is the only one who will continue to be there for us. "I will never leave you, or abandon you in the storm." "If you have found him, never let him go," is a line from a song of some years ago. The first Step in a Twelve Step Programme is "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable." This clears the way for an appeal to a Higher Power.
The power this woman had came from her love, and from her humility. She didn't see herself as deserving anything, and she was prepared to be grateful for the crumbs that fell from the master's table. The combination of her love and humility insulated her from the slings and arrows of others. She was single minded in her quest, and she never took her mind off what she wanted. Surely this makes for a powerful prayer of intercession. There are several incidents in the gospel like this, such as Bartimneus, the blind man. Even though those around him told him to keep quiet, he continued to call Out to Jesus, until Jesus stopped, and called him to come to him, where he was healed. At another time, Jesus asked a man "Do you want to be healed?'
It is obvious that this woman wants her daughter to be healed, and with her love and humility, there's no way Jesus could continue to ignore her!
This woman may not have done much homework or research on Jesus before approaching him. However, for whatever reason, she seems to have got the "measure" of him, and this prompted her not to take "no" for an answer. She was a Gentile and he was a Jew; he was a man, and she was a woman. In those days each person had a place on the ladder of life, and they were expected to stay within those boundaries. It was because her love for her daughter was boundless that she probably would have followed him into the Temple, if she had to! Jesus didn't go around healing people; rather he went around, and he healed when he was stopped and asked. Bartimeus was told "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by." Bartimeus had a choice. He could call out to him, and stop him; or he could die a blind man. The woman in today's gospel is a clear example of someone who has enough faith, hope, and love, to enable her to keep going, and not give up until the miracle happens.
A friend of mine is an alcoholic, and when he began attending AA meetings at the beginning, he found it difficult. However, one old-timer who had been around the block for many years, brought him aside and gave him a word of advice: "Just keep showing up at the meetings, and don't leave until the miracle happens." He has followed that advice, and he has now been sober for many years. If a child asks Santa for a bicycle around about early October, and he never mentions the word "bicycle" again, I doubt if he will get a bicycle, if he really wanted a bicycle, he would mention that fact from time to time and, as Christmas approached, it would become a regular topic of conversation. When you ask God for something, he can read your heart, and know whether you really want what you ask.
There are many instances in the gospel where people brought their sick to Jesus to have them healed. The centurion came for his servant, who was too ill to travel. Jairus came for his daughter, and the woman in today's gospel came for her daughter, as well. It is certainly a strong lesson about how our prayers of intercession can benefit others. I know one lady who said a Rosary every single day for twenty-three years for a brother of hers who was an alcoholic. The most impressive part of this is that her brother, who is now sober, has never known this, and is still not aware of it. Praying for others can be real love in action We live in a world of "quick fix," of instant cameras, and of global communication at the push of a button. We cannot approach prayer of intercession in that way. There must be an element of perseverance in our prayer. "Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." How often I fail to find a lost object on my first search. I begin again,and I retrace my steps, and look for areas I may have overlooked first time around. The depth and length, and thoroughness of my search depends on how precious the object I have lost. I have spent hours searching for something, and I have experienced the joy of finding. If I approached prayers of petition in this way, I certainly stand a much better chance of getting an answer.
Most of us have learned to live with "automated answering services" now as a necessary part of our daily lives. But have you ever wondered what it would be like if God decided to install voice mail? Imagine praying and hearing the following:
Thank you for calling heaven.
Please select one of the following options:
Press 1 for Requests
Press 2 for Thanksgiving
Press 3 for Complaints
Press 4 for all other inquiries
I am sorry, all of our angels and saints are busy helping other sinners right now. However, your prayer is important to us and we will answer it in the order it was received. Please stay on the line.
If you would like to speak to:
God the Father, Press 1;
For Jesus, Press 2;
For the Holy Spirit, Press 3
If you would like to hear King David sing a Psalm while you are holding, Press 4
To find a loved one that has been assigned to heaven, Press 5, then enter his or her social security number (PRSI), followed by the pound sign. (If you receive a negative response, please hang up and try area code 666.)
For reservations at heaven, please enter J-0-H-N followed by the numbers 3-16.
For answers to nagging questions about dinosaurs, the age of the earth, life on other planets, and where Noah's Ark is, please wait until you arrive.
Our computers show that you have already prayed today. Please hang up and try again tomorrow. This office is now closed for the weekend to observe a religious holiday. Please pray again on Monday, after 9:30 am.
If you are calling after hours and need emergency assistance, please
contact your local parish priest.
Is 22:19-23. Isaiah warns Shebna, the unwise royal counsellor, that he will be removed from his office. The key which symbolizes his authority will be taken from him.
Rom 11:33-36. After the worry and anguish of chapters 9-11 comes a joyful hymn to the wisdom and goodness of God.
Mt 16:13-20. By divine inspiration Peter declares his faith in Jesus the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. In turn, Jesus makes Peter the leader of the community of his church.
Theme: We celebrate Christ's choice of Peter, in spite of his shortcomings, to be the rock on which his church is founded. We pray for our present pope, for wisdom and strength to lead us in facing the challenges of the modern world.
I will thrust you from your office, and you will be pulled down from
your post. On that day I will call my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah,
and will clothe him with your robe and bind your sash on him. I will
commit your authority to his hand, and he shall be a father to the
inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on
his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no
one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open. I will fasten
him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor
to his ancestral house.
I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
I bow down toward your holy temple
For you have exalted your name
On the day I called, you answered me,
Though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly;
..Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable
are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For who has
known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" "Or
who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?" For
from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the
glory forever. Amen.
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked
his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"
And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah,
and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to
them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered,
"You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus
answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh
and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And
I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you
the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth
will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed
in heaven." Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell
anyone that he was the Messiah.
- for the Pope, that he may wisely guide the church in this secular age.
- for a respectful harmony between the Pope and all teachers and preachers of the gospel in the church.
- for theologians who courageously explore the frontiers of truth, applying the Gospel to our modern world.
- for those whose critical spirit makes it difficult for them to
accept the church's teaching, that they may see the value of a shared
communion of faith.
Thoughts for 21st Sunday, A
In this gospel, the intention of Jesus was to discover what understanding of himself and his mission his specially chosen disciples had learned, as well as their concept of the role they were to play when he was gone. So he put to them the direct question, "Who do you say that I am?" Even now this is a question which he continues to address also to each one of us. What does God really mean to me; what does Christ, the incarnation of God, mean? And, like the disciples in Caesarea Philippi, we will be able to respond if and only if for a brief period we put aside the daily concerns that occupy our minds.
It is interesting to read how one man in the present era conducted this soul-searching in complete isolation, which however was forced upon him. It is the account by a French journalist, Jean-Paul Kauffman, of how he survived three years captivity in Beirut, during the war in Lebanon. Despite all the horrors of his ordeal there, he seemed almost glad that he had undergone this solitary confinement, because of what he called the spiritual cleansing it brought about within him. Had he not experienced it, he believed, he would perhaps have died in utter ignorance of the meaning of life in this world.
"The closeness of death hanging over me," he wrote, "helped me put my thoughts in order, it enabled me to cleanse my soul. God became significant for me. Never have I prayed with such intensity. In the darkness and silence I felt close to God. This one and only uncreated, holy God, so far beyond the real understanding of humans, is the most impressive reality in the world, and yet so completely beyond the compass of the human mind." And drawn by the challenge of that question to Peter, "Who do you say that I am?," in order to find an answer, he read and reread the Bible, one of only two books to which he had access, the other being Tolstoy's War and Peace.
The question for us is what source do we consult in our quest for Christ. We must bear in mind that, important though it is, the New Testament is based on something else, namely the recollections of the message and teachings of Jesus which were preserved in the first Christian communities. In other words the Church was already in existence before the writing of the New Testament. So it is that to encounter Christ we must first turn to the community of the Church today, where the Jesus tradition is enshrined, not so much in writing as in the lives of those who make up the Church, for literacy was never a Christian prerequisite.
The Church is the result of the mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and the visible sign of the continuation of that mission. Christians in the first century used to say, "The world was created for the sake of the Church." Indeed God created human beings so that they might be partakers of his divine life. This communion with God can only be attained by the bonding together of people in Christ, and this union is the Church. It was St Augustine who first stated that the Church is Christ. It was inaugurated by his preaching of the gospel, and by his choice of twelve men with Peter as head. And it was finally to come into being from the pierced heart of Christ as he slept the sleep of death on the cross. It is only with the eyes of faith that we can recognise the visible Church, of which we are members, as being a spiritual reality that enables us to be sharers in the divine life. This happens because, in a new and spiritual way, Christ remains at the centre of this worshipping community, as well as in each inividual member, through the sacrament of the Eucharist. Moreover the reality of redemption through Christ is brought about also by encounter, conversation and communion with other human beings who are followers of Christ.
The Church is not the creature of times and places, the result of secular politics or the whims of individuals. The Roman Empire persecuted it for three centuries, and then a flood of heresies tried to change it. Barbarian hordes invaded its territory; the so-called Reformation attacked it from within. That it survived is a sure sign of its divine origin. We should love the Church as our mother in the order of grace, and also see it brought to perfection in the Blessed Virgin Mary, who as St Augustine said is "clearly the mother of the members of Christ since she cooperated out of love so that there might be born in the Church the faithful, who are members of Christ their head."
The homilist today is presented with two readings on the place of authority in the household of God, the Church. In our tradition today's gospel has been a basis for the understanding of the Petrine ministry in the Church. In these days of ecumenical dialogue it is important not to see this as a narrowly catholic interpretation - there is a growing recognition of a Petrine ministry by some other Christian communities.
A Sunday homily is hardly the place to attempt a survey of the complexities and controversies that surround this issue. It is, rather an opportunity to present a positive view of the role of leadership within a view of the Church. The homilist's aim might be to present positively the view that Peter's role given by Christ, is that of "a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and fellowship" (Lumen Gentium, 18.)
A metaphor that the homilist might develop would be that of "household," a symbol for the Church and a basis for understanding authority within it.
(A) House building techniques vary from one culture to another. from
one climate to another. There are the igloos of the far north, the
granite mansions of Ireland, the reed huts of Mesopotamia. For all
the variety there is a common search for protection from the elements
that threaten, whether they be cold or heat, wind or water. Beyond
the merely physical requirements is the need for "home"
- a permanence a context to belong in a place of spiritual as well
as physical security. One might develop the image of the Church as
"home" in which we are given protection from the forces
that would destroy our lives. This includes the promise of resurrection
from the dead but also the saving protection of God from the injustice
and sin which can destroy our spirit.
Here the homilist has to face the needs of his/her own community face up to whatever is seen as threatening (hunger, unemployment, injustice. ) and present the Church as the context in which such challenges can be met, with the help of the "Master of the House.")
Just as there is a diversity of cultures and needs so the ways that the Church faces these needs will show diversity. But it remains the one Church, the one "home" big enough to have its doors open to the whole world. All peoples are invited into this "safe house."
(B) Another way to develop the home" image could be to remember that the Church as "home" is not a building but a community of people, a community of believers. We belong here because we have been called together by God, because he has given us the gift of faith in his Son. It is this faith alone which gives the Church community its unshakeable foundation. It is living out that faith in fidelity to the teaching of the Son that keeps us all in the community protected from everything that would lead to our destruction.
This community of faith and fidelity has to preserve unity of faith and practice. Without unity it is in danger of collapse and disintegration. The more its doors are open to the world the more the household of God will be subject to the tensions that arise from the diversity of the world. There is the temptation to become the Church of one group rather than all peoples. What is needed in the "open house" of God is a kind of unity that can balance diversity with true fellowship. We believe that the Lord himself provided a ministry to provide such unity in diversity, a unity of faith based on the true exposition of the Lord's own teaching.
That ministry was given to Simon when Jesus gave him the title of Peter. Today we are asked to believe that this Petrine ministry of teaching, guiding and preserving the Church in unity is continued in the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. We are invited to see this in the gospel perspective as a ministry of faith for faith, a ministry of service not power, a ministry to build the fellowship of the Church, a ministry to guide the Church in its understanding of God's will. There is nothing here that is meant as "offence" to the responsibility of each individual before God. The Petrine office is a function of the unavoidable community dimension of our way to God.
Above the massive sanctuary of Saint Peter's basilica in Rome, written in huge lettering of gold mosaic, stands the text of the promise made by Jesus to his foremost apostle: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven." These words are revered by Catholics, as giving the basis for the papacy, since we understand the bishop of Rome as successor to Peter, as a human support for the church's living faith, and as holder of the power of the keys.
Of course, there are problems involved in applying those words not just to Peter but to his successors. Non-Catholic Christians, our separated brethren in the Protestant churches, do not accept that there was any succession, at least in the full sense, to the position held by St. Peter. They disagree even more with the claims which have been, and still are, made by papal authority under the heading: "apostolic jurisdiction" or "the power of the keys." They interpret differently from us what today's Gospel requires for the organisation of the Church. Fair enough. We need not insist that the Catholic way is the only way of taking Christ's words. Still, this Gospel deserves close attention for what it says about faith, enlightenment and leadership, and guidance for our own lives.
Each must make our own personal answer to Our Lord's question: "Who do you say that I am?' although Peter's credo is a solid basis from which to begin. Notice the beautiful phrase: "Son of the Living God," expressing more richly what "Christ" means. Peter's worshipful faith comes to him as gift from above, not from any mere human logic or ingenuity. Why was the blessing given especially to him? Because his humble but warm and devoted spirit made him best prepared to receive it? Or because God chooses whom He wills, quite irrespective of previous merits? (Election remains an insoluble mystery. We are simply asked to accept its outcome, and to trust that God's Providence is pervaded with universal mercy.)
It is to this Peter that Jesus entrusts the Keys. Upon his solid, whole-hearted faith the Church will always rely, for unity and encouragement. Keys are primarily for opening; many doors lock by themselves. We could reflect further on Peter's task, as shown in other Gospel passages (Mat. 14:28ff; 17:24ff; Lk. 22:32; Jn. 21:15-17), and in the Acts (1:1 5ff, 2: 14ff; 3:1 2ff). The texts can easily be located in any dictionary of the Bible; or you might look under "Peter," in the Bible Dictionary on this CD, or the article "Peter as Leader" in Bible Stories.
While he is appointed to "feed the lambs and sheep" of Christ, to "confirm his brethren," and welcome the first pagan convert into the Church, Peter is no plaster saint. Weakness of faith (when he began to sink), rash self-confidence and eventual denial are also portrayed by him. But these serve only to underline the grandeur of his conversion, when with a new clarity of self-knowledge he turns and says to Jesus: "You know that I love you." The task is not one of stern domination, or merely of the efficient organisation of Christ's Church. Pastor and penitent at once, convert and the support for other converted sinners, he leads the faithful by witness and example. This pastoral understanding of authority finds a lovely echo in the first epistle of Peter. Elders or leaders are asked to "tend the flock of God, not as domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock" (5:13.) Just so, Peter tended the early church by sharing his deep faith in Christ the Risen Lord. So, he kept them united i the bond of mutual love, and in faithful obedience to the Gospel. Such an ideal situation of harmony in the Church is briefly sketched for us in the Acts (2:42ff; 4:32f.)
What of today's Church, spread worldwide across five continents? How can the same work of inspiring, teaching, encouraging and uniting so many millions of baptised believers be carried on? Jesus remains the centre, He is the Christ, Son of the Living God, and he continues to guide the: Church. We today, just as much as in the time of St Peter, need the ministry of faithful apostles, ministers appointed by Christ to build up his people, give true witness to the faith, and positive leadership in Christian love. This is the meaning of hierarchy in the Church. Pope, bishops, priests and other ministries exist in order to serve. But in some sense, we get the service that we deserve. It is for us to make known to our pastors both our appreciation and our criticisms; especially to pray for them, for their courage and perseverance. In today's Mass, we particularly remember the present successor of Peter, our Pope; that God may establish him in faith and wisdom; that being strong himself, he may confirm the brethren; nd that as keeper of the Keys, he may help us on our way to the Kingdom.
"How many divisions has the Pope?" Stalin retorted dismissively when an aide suggested his policy might encounter opposition from the Vatican. That former seminarian should have known church history better. The Soviet empire he so brutally created was one of history's briefest, while the papacy, though still maligned, continues to thrive as it prepares to enter its third millennium. Ironic too that a Polish pope contributed in no small measure to the Russian empire's demise.
The Pope, it seems, has more divisions than Stalin ever dreamt. It was as Christ promised Peter on whom he built his church. The gates of the Soviet underworld, with all its terror and secret agents, could not hold out against it.
The Pope and his powers is a subject much debated, even among Catholics, while papal claims are generally dismissed outside the church. The old Latin dictum, Roma locuta est, causa finita est ("Rome has spoken, the case is closed'), is not so readily accepted. To judge by the media, it would appear that every papal statement is greeted only with controversy. But probably it was always so, since Paul first resisted Peter "to his face" over the circumcision of early Christians. It certainly was so, a little over a hundred years ago, when the First Vatican Council promulgated the doctrine of papal infallibility. Some eighty bishops, some of them Irish, left in protest before the decree was passed. John Henry Newman wrote at that time about Pope Pius DC: "It is not good for a pope to live twenty years. It is anomaly and bears no good fruit; he be-comes a god, has no one to contradict him, does not know facts, and does cruel things without meaning it." Those strong words of that saintly man will not, I suspect, haten his canonisation, though a later pope made him a cardinal. The fears of some in 1870 that Catholics would be deluged with dogmas as "plenty as blackberries', never materialised. Papal infallibility has rarely been used. Even the recent encyclical of the present strong-minded Pope did not invoke his infallibility. It is not the infallibility of the Pope we need to fear, but the infallibility of those many lesser popes through whom his words are filtered down to us.
Our world is torn asunder by ideas and ideologies. Unlike other times, it has no central philosophy that compels assent. Well-meaning people are ranged up equally on opposite sides of the moral divide, making sometimes strange bedfellows. Those who are anti-abortion are pro-war, those for euthanasia are against capital punishment. Passions flare easily and dangerously. Fanaticism is no substitute for conviction, nor intimidation for persuasion. Yeats might well have had in mind our world rather than the Second Coming, when he wrote his famous lines:
Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold,
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The best lack all conviction
While the worst are full of passionate intensity.
Governments are too busy currying favour with the electorate to provide leadership. So often tainted themselves by corruption, they are least suited to give lessons in morality. The world needs a conscience. If the papacy did not exist to play that role, it, or something like it, would have to be invented. The UN is subject to too many sectional pressures to fill that need. As Newman wrote: "Demos is the greatest tyrant of all."
Our church is founded on a Rock, a light-house to pilot us through troubled waters. Let us be grateful for it. Life is too short and too precious to be spent bickering among ourselves. We should share in the wonder of it all like St Paul:
How rich are the depths of God - how deep his wisdom and knowledge - and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods!
"Who do you say that I am?" is probably one of the most important questions in the gospel. In today's gospel we are told that the apostles were asked that question. Today, that question is being put to us.
The story is told that Jesus put this question to a learned theologian one time, and the reply he got was: "You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma, in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationships." Jesus exclaimed: "What?" I will find the answer to this question within my heart, and not in some Theological treatise.
Jesus puts some personal questions to his apostles. "Who do you say that I am? Will you also go away? Do you love me more than these?" Notice in today's gospel that he begins with a general question: "Who do people say that! am?" They give him several answers, and before they are finished, he comes with the vital question: "But you, who do you say that I am?" It matters little what others say, but he needs to know what his disciples say.
Every place he went he taught the people, but they were different people each time. The apostles, however, were present to hear all of his teaching. Surely they should have a much clearer idea than the general public.
Peter steps into the breach with the correct answer: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." It is interesting that Peter could give this answer with such conviction while, later on, he would deny him and desert him. Most of us can identify with Peter, who shows more of humanity than any of the other apostles. Perhaps he knew this up in his head, but it had not yet arrived down in his heart. Knowing who Jesus is, is not faith, because even Satan knows who Jesus is. Knowing it in the head is nothing more than mental assent. It is when I begin to act on that knowledge that it becomes faith.
Jesus commends Peter, however, for his answer, and he says that it is the Father who has revealed this truth to him. He then goes on to confirm Peter as the one on which he would build his enterprise. There follows a real outpouring of trust and of promise. The church will be built on Peter, and it will remain safe from all the attacks of the evil one. It will continue to live with his promises, and he will accept whatever the church does in his name. Later on, when Jesus ascended into heaven, he brought the body he had with him. He then sent the Spirit to complete his work. Our roles, and the role of the church, is to provide the body, so that the Spirit can work through us.
Response: "Who do you say that lam?" The answer to that question will not be found in a book. Rather will I find it in my heart? There are three parts to the answer. The first has to do with the past. If Jesus is my Saviour, then I can safely, and with total confidence, entrust to him the room of my past, with all its sins, brokenness, and hurts. If Jesus is Saviour in that room of my past, there is no place for guilt, self-condemnation, or regret. "Lord, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change." St Thérèse of Lisieux had such confidence in God's love and mercy, that she said if she committed every sin that has ever been committed, she would die, trusting totally in his mercy and forgiveness. Regarding the first part of the answer to today's question, if there is part of me back in the past, with guilt, regret, hindsight, or self-condemnation, then I can answer "Well, Lord, you certainty are not my Saviour."
The second part of the answer has to do with the future. If Jesus is Lord, then I have no reason to fear the future, because he is in charge. I don't have to worry what the future holds, if he holds the future. Just as I should not be in that room of my past with guilt, neither should I be in the room of my future with worry. "If you follow me, you will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." I need not worry what the future holds, be that a wheelchair, cancer ward, or cardiac unit, if he is Lord, then every morning I will accept the gift of that day, batteries included. Each day brings its own daily bread, and I am asked to live my life, one day at a time.
The third part of the answer has to do with now. God is totally a God of now. "I am who am." Just as he is Saviour in that room of my past, and Lord in that room of my future, so he must be God in the room of today. "For with God nothing is impossible."
It is easy for us to slip into the trap of trying to play God. Accepting the things I cannot change means that I am powerless over persons, places, or things. Allowing God be God in my life makes all things possible, and brings me to a life beyond my wildest dreams.
The first thing I would suggest is that you take some time out, go into the room of your past, and spend some time there. You axe a product of that room, because your past, either through nature or nurture, has made you the person you are today. The room could be cluttered with the wreckage of the past. You will find hurts, scars, unforgiveness, resentments, etc., there. You will find the roots of all your guilt, and of all your fears and phobias. By using your creative imagination, you can open the door and invite Jesus to come in and to take over, as Saviour. You can watch him as he takes out the whip of cords, and begins to rid this temple of everything that is not from him. When he has exorcised this room, healed the hurts and scars, and washed away the sins in his precious blood, you can ask him to remain on there as your personal Saviour, so that his work there will be ongoing, as each of my todays become yesterdays. When this is done, you should come out of that room, and leave it to him. The only valu the past has are the lessons it taught me. I would be wise, compassionate, and understanding of others, if I learned the lessons from that room of my past.
The second thing I want you to do is to look at the room of your future. You cannot enter this room, of course, because it would be total darkness, as you cannot foresee the future. However, you can imagine Jesus coming out of that room, putting his hands on both your shoulders, and saying gently to you: "I know everything that's in this room. You have a choice. You can struggle on alone into the darkness of the future, or you can allow me take charge of this room, and each morning I will hand you one day at a time from it. I know what's in this room, even down to the number of days that are left. If you let me be Lord, I will never lead you where my grace and my Spirit will not be there to sustain you. I will never hand you a day, which you and I together will not be able to handle. The decision is yours..."
The third thing I ask you to reflect on is to look at today; indeed, at this moment. The only yes in your whole life that God is interested in is your yes of now. What part has God in your life today? Do you feel that you are plodding along all alone? Turn to Jesus and invite him to walk with you today. "Jesus, I invite you into my heart today. Please make your home there, feel at home there, and be at home there. May your presence within me today touch the hearts of those I meet, either through the words I say, the prayers I pray, the life I live, or the person that I am." You'll never walk alone.
One Sunday morning, a priest, in the middle of his homily, held up a 20 pound note. He asked if anyone wanted it. Many hands shot up. He then crumpled it in his fist, making a small ball of it, held it up again, and asked if anyone still wanted it. Again the hands shot up. He tore it in two, held up the two pieces, and asked if anyone still wanted it. And yet again the hands were raised. The priest then went on to speak of the offer Jesus extends to us. If we could appreciate the value of it, our response would be clear and definite, if we didn't understand it too well, we would seek some spiritual direction, go on a Retreat, or buy a book. Hopefully, we would call on the Holy Spirit to lead us into the fullness of the truth being presented to us, because Jesus promised that "the Spirit will lead you into all truth, and the truth will set you free."
As I said earlier, the answer to the question in today's gospel is
to be found within our hearts.
Jer 20:7-9. Jeremiah feels anguish and complains to God at having to preach such a hard message of condemnation and repentance to his people.
Rom 12:1-2. A true Christian cannot just blindly follow the social conventions of this world. He must try to discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Mt 16:21-27. Jesus tells his disciples that he must save the world through suffering and death. The disciple of Jesus must also follow the way of suffering and self-renunciation.
Theme: St Paul's call to "present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God," is indeed a high ideal, a worthy target for all who wish to aim at giving their lives full value.
O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered
me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day
long; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must
shout, "Violence and destruction!" For the word of the Lord
has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say,
"I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,"
then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my
bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
O God, you are my God, I seek you,
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
My soul clings to you;
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of
God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable
to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this
world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you
may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must
go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders
and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day
be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying,
"God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you." But
he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a
stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine
things but on human things." Then Jesus told his disciples, "If
any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take
up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life
will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find
it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but
forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
"For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of
his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.
- that we may present ourselves as "a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God," by the quality of our daily life.
- for deep inner peace and the ability to share it with others.
- for the grace to take up our cross and follow Jesus, accepting whatever sufferings providence may send our way.
- for all those who suffer and are seriously ill, especially those
whose illnesses are terminal.
Thoughts for 22nd Sunday, A
There are three things in particular which the readings in today's Mass teach us. The first is that God calls each one of us in a unique way to bear witness before the world to certain eternal values, by what we believe, what we say, what we do. That call may not be as insistent as the one which came to the prophet Jeremiah, on whom it brought insult, derision, and suffering throughout his whole life. But if our minds are open to the promptings of God's Spirit the call will be unmistakable. The second lesson is how we respond to God's demands. Are we prepared to live by these, to change our ways in accordance with the insights granted us, and not just model our lives on the behaviour of the people around us? The third lesson is, how far are we prepared to go in defence of our principles, in pursuing the demands of our conscience, especially when these run counter to the standards of the world around us. Are we ready to act according to the example of Christ, Christ who tells us that unless we renounce ourselvs, take up our cross daily and follow him we cannot be numbered among his faithful disciples. John Paul I, who was Pope for only 33 days, while being Cardinal Archbishop of Venice, was asked to write something each month for the city's Catholic paper. This took the form of a letter addressed to some important person in past history.
His final letter was to Jesus and part of it goes like this. "When you said, "Blessed are the poor, blessed are the persecuted," I wasn't present with you. Had I been, I'd have whispered in your ear, "For heavens sake, Lord, change the subject, if you want to keep any followers at all. Don't you know that everyone wants riches and comfort? You're promising poverty and persecution. Who do you think is going to follow you?" But you went ahead unafraid, and I can hear you saying you were the grain of wheat that must die before it bore fruit; and that you must be raised up on a cross, and from there draw the whole world up to you. today this has happened; they raised you up on a cross. You took advantage of that to hold out your arms and draw people to you. And countless people have come to the foot of the cross, to fling themselves into your arms." This was a lesson the disciples of Jesus were slow to learn. They wanted him to be a conquering Messiah, a warrior leader who would drive out the Romans from their contry.
"But Jesus' way was that of the cross to which he would be condemned by the religious leaders of the day. Peter reacted almost violently while reproaching Jesus, "God forbid that this should happen to you." The response of Jesus, however, was most severe, likening Peter to Satan in tempting him to turn aside from the path that would lead to suffering and death, and consequently to his resurrection. What in effect Peter also had been advising was, "Lower your standards. Give people what will please them and they will become followers of yours." And this was precisely what Satan had urged upon Jesus during his forty days" fast in the wilderness at the start of his public mission. It requires courage and a special grace to pursue a call in the face of rejection and mockery. The prophet Jeremiah did not want to do it, but the sense of mission to which he was called by God prevailed in him. For St Paul God's love was the only thing that really mattered and even the prospect of death did not deter him from preachin this to others. Jesus, whose life was so much shorter than that of Jeremiah or Paul, never once gave way to his opponents while proclaiming the kingdom of God by word and example.
It is so easy for us Christians to identify with society and its standards. Lying, stealing, killing, for example, are condemned by society. But the more subtle ways of committing these are often not even regarded as moral issues. Lying is evil, but the commercial world can so easily get away with bogus advertising and deceptive packaging; stealing is evil, but what of useless food products, inflated prices, or perpetual idling in paid employment; killing is wrong, but what of industrial pollution, the continued marketing of harmful drugs such as in the thalidomide case, or of poisoned olive oil as in Spain where approximately one million people were affected. Taking up one's cross and following Christ can mean being faithful to the teaching of Christ when turning one's back on it could bring ill-gotten wealth, or short-lived pleasure, or promotion to higher office in society. Being a true disciple of Christ can often mean speaking what people do not want to hear, or doing what people do not want to do.
It has become a cliché of certain kinds of drama that the grief-stricken mother of a criminal asks "Where did we go wrong? We gave him everything." It is a bitter experience indeed to see someone to whom we have given life, whom we have nurtured and to whom we have given our all, to see them fail to find life. Was the child's failure a reflection of the failure of the parents? Were they too poor in possessions or perhaps too poor in love?
Each homilist might reflect today on this experience of how potential for life is stunted and even destroyed, and how life is to be regained.
The first element of the mystery to be presented is the fact that life, even the life we have given to others, cannot be controlled. Parents cannot manipulate their children into happiness, anymore than one of us can manipulate others into freedom. The other person is always independent, in a basic way beyond us. As we make this discovery we also come to realise that life itself is beyond us. Our own life is not something whose origins or whose ultimate goal is known to us in any clear kind of way. We need to come to accept it as gift, as we accept the lives of others as gifts. As gift, our life is not something we can hold on to as a possession nor is it something that can be protected and given security by the accumulation of possessions. Our life is more than food and our body more than clothing (Mat 6:25.) If any of us were to be held to ransom we would undoubtedly think that no price would be too high to pay for our release, each of us is priceless to ourselves, yet we fail to remember that before God "n one can pay a ransom for his life, it is beyond him" (cf. Ps 49:7.)
Today's gospel reminds us that the price has been paid by Christ himself. The gift of life that we had been given and which was in jeopardy because of sin, that potential for life has been rescued by the Incredible generosity of Christ. The "price of life" is not possessions or power over others but an act of self-sacrifice which makes no sense by the standards of this world. The paradox of the cross is that life is gained not by holding grimly on to it but by lovingly letting life be in others. The message of the cross includes the followers of Christ as Christ himself. We too are called to realise that we won't gain life for ourselves or for those who depend on us simply by heaping up possessions (possessions cannot buy life without end) nor by seeking power structures with which we would seek to guarantee life. Life as gift is to be found through poverty not possessions and trust not control. Following this way will involve self-sacrifice, a struggle against doubt (like Jeremiah) and rejection. It means haing our "normal" way of thinking totally transformed, transformed by the mystery which is the will of God, "the good, acceptable and perfect" (Second Reading.)
All of us know that we have been graced with a life and potential for a life that goes beyond the here and now. Like the mother of the "criminal" son, we can also know the experience of life-failure, of unrealised potential. The "good news" of Jesus is that our heavenly Parent never gives up offering us the gift of new life whenever we fail. His love is strong enough to endure all rejections and to make it possible that we might imitate that love.
If we were invited to pick and choose within the Gospels, and build up our religion just from those parts that appeal to us, what a comfortable church would emerge! We might retain the stories of Christ's birth and infancy, his temptations in the desert and his miracles among the sick. We would include our favourite parables-like the Prodigal son, the Pharisee and the Publican, and of course, the Good Samaritan. But how many would leave out that Gospel we read today, that hard teaching about renouncing self, taking up the cross, even losing our lives for the sake of Jesus? And even though we have not removed those words from our Gospels, do we not remain deaf to them in practise, in our lives?
In a way, accepting the Gospel is like accepting a friend, whom we must accept in full; accepting the demands as well as the benefits of friendship. Just as we should take people as they are, without trying to modify them just to suit ourselves, so with the Gospel: we. accept the whole of Christ's word, because we trust him and know that his ways are truth.
Well then, what does the Lord want from us? What does he mean by "renounce yourself," "lose your life for my sake," "carry your cross," or (in the epistle) "present your bodies as a holy sacrifice?" Surely these words don't refer to anything suicidal, to devaluing of this present life, its joys and its achievements? And yet, are these not something more than a pious way of saying: Put up with what cannot be changed? These are questions to revolve in the mind, without expecting any quick or simple solution. If we will allow, God's Word challenges us out of any complacency with a comfortable, conforming religion. It unmasks our many evasions, our double standards, our desire for "cheap grace" - wanting salvation at cut price, unwilling to involve ourselves in sacrifice.
Perhaps one clue to this Gospel demand is provided by the first reading, in Jeremiah's extraordinary accusation that he was seduced by God. Letting God overpower him with his prophetic vocation, Jeremiah found himself involved in many a hard and thankless task. But he had fallen in love with God, so that nothing could hold him back from following God's will, no matter to what lengths this might lead. But have you and I fallen in love with Christ? Are we seduced by him, so as to follow his example, and offer to his service all that is ours to give? Wouldn't that be renouncing self, and becoming a living sacrifice?
We might overly concentrate on the "renunciation" in today's Gospel so as to miss its positive aspect. All growth, all achievement demands effort and sacrifice. Yet the sacrifice can become a peaceful, satisfying part of experience, when orientated towards the desired goal. (Examples: athletic training; mountain-climbing; studying a language; practising any skill.) So, the self discipline involved in living out our Christian life, and acceptance of the circumstances in which God places us, should be seen as contributing to our personal destiny. And we look forward in hope to the great reward of loyal service-When the Son of man, coming in glory, "will reward each one according to his behaviour.
This homily - or one like it - is one that I once delivered on the RTE series Outlook. Ireland was a single channel area then and that late-night religious programme had a surprisingly large audience. Besides, it was transmitted just before the nightly news and as a result netted quite a few otherwise unwilling viewers. This I gathered from the letters I received, not all of which were fan mail. On that occasion, a woman wrote to me. She was the mother of four young children, one of whom was handicapped. Her husband had left her some time previously for another woman and was not paying her any child-support. Her life was a constant struggle trying to hold on to a badly paid job and look after her young children. All this, and much more, she poured out in her letter to me. My talk, then as now, was a commentary on Christ's injunction to his disciples in today's gospel: "If anyone wants to be a disciple of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me." She bitterly resented the smugness ofsomeone like me, with the comfortable life that lied, lecturing people like her about accepting suffering. Her punch line certainly shattered my smugness. "The heaviest cross you have ever carried," she wrote, "was probably your golf-bag." I was, in fact, though she couldn't have known it, a keen golfer at that time. I replied to her, as I always did to all the letters I received, complimentary or otherwise. Apart from her trenchant criticism, I was impressed by the quality of her writing. She was a natural born writer. I told her so, suggesting that she try to publish something, a somewhat inane suggestion, given her circumstances. But it did do wonders for her self-esteem, as she told me in another letter, regretting the bitterness of her remarks in the earlier one. The moral of this story is that those who have no crosses to carry should be the last to encourage others to do so. The trouble about preaching the gospel is that a preacher must never dilute its message, just because he doesn't practice it himslf. Having so prefaced my homily, I now propose to do just that.
With the rising standard of living of our world, our tolerance of suffering has diminished enormously. Certainly we've all become softer compared to previous generations. Pain or discomfort of any kind is something to be avoided at all costs. We bombard the doctor with all sorts of trivial complaints. Our bathroom closets are full of pills for all sorts of ills, real or imaginary. Unused medicines are so extensive, that campaigns are regularly launched to have them collected and sent to the disease-ridden Third World. We try to take the pain out of living. We long for a trouble-free existence. A sort of Utopia, where we can have comfort without effort, roses without thorns, happiness without tears. In short, the sort of life, that every commercial promises us. In religion, we have been chipping away for some time now at anything that smacks of suffering either here or in the hereafter. "Nobody is bound to the uncomfortable" would seem to be our moral bottom-line. Self-denial, abstinence, sacrifice are dismissd as weird practices from an ignorant and superstitious past.
It's a long way from the world the gospel was written in. It's a long way too from the world our parents grew up in. But they probably had a vision of life far closer to reality than ours. Suffering for them was part and parcel of living. The great myth of modern life is that perfect health, like perfect happiness, is attainable. But perfect health, as Ivan Illich once told doctors, is not the absence of pain, but the ability to cope with it. And, it is precisely this ability that we axe fast losing by our dependence on drugs that mask the symptoms rather than cure the disease.
Maybe the older people were too fatalistic, too pessimistic, too prone to accept suffering as the will of God. But at least they knew that you can't take the cross out of Christianity any more than you can take the pain out of living. As St Rose of Lima said:
"Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven." Crosses are burdens you carry on your shoulders. (golf-bags excluded!) not just pretty ornaments you wear round your neck.
"Get behind me Satan!" Christ strongly rebuked Peter when he tried to dissuade him from heading towards Jerusalem, where his cross and crucifixion awaited him. "The way you think is not God's way but man's." St Paul has the same message for us: "Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you."
In today's gospel, Jesus tells his disciples what is going to happen to him, and he invites them to follow him, while explaining to them some of the ramifications of their decision to do so.
What Fr Damien the Leper undertook was something entirely new in the world at that time. He knew the risk he was taking, and he eventually paid the full price for his courage and bravery. Since that time others have been inspired to follow his example, and to travel down that road. There are volunteers ères working with lepers in Calcutta and, as recently as a few years ago, another priest was withdrawn from Damien's island of Molokai, because he too had contracted leprosy.
It is worth noting that, from early on, Jesus told his disciples that he would be killed, but that he would be raised on the third day. It is interesting, because, when it did happen, the disciples didn't seem to be ready for either event. Even on the morning of his ascension, we are told that some of them doubted. They still had a problem at taking him at his word, and it was in believing his word that Jesus depended for the success of his mission. "Heaven and earth will pass away before my word passes away." He himself was the Word of God, and when he spoke a word it could be accepted and acted on. "The sin of this world is unbelief in me."
The contribution of Peter, and the strong reaction of Jesus, is well worth looking at. Right from the start of his mission, Satan had done everything within his power to thwart his plans. He put Jesus through a severe testing in the desert, His attacks took several forms, but today's episode is particularly cunning. Satan is using Jesus' own right-hand man to do his dirty work for him. Peter is completely innocent, because he acts out of love and concern. He doesn't want to see Jesus walking into the hands of his enemies. However, he cannot see the scenario as Jesus can, and so he doesn't realise that this is all a part of the Father's plan for Jesus. Later on, on the way to Emmaus, Jesus asked the disciples, "Did you not read what the prophets said, that the Son of Man must suffer, and be delivered into the hands of his enemies, who would kill him, but on the third day, he would rise from the dead?'
After his confrontation with Peter, Jesus lays it on the line for his followers. He makes it clear what following him will entail. He speaks in apparent paradoxes, because I'm sure the disciples never heard such thinking in their lives. How could you find your life by giving it away? Was it necessary to sacrifice one's own personal ambitions to be a follower of Jesus? He then goes on to make a distinction between what is most important, and what is less important. You can abandon your earthly dreams, and sacrifice your bodily comforts, but you must never lose your own truth, your authentic self, your own soul. He then goes on to bridge the gap between his earlier prediction about his death and resurrection, to tell about his final coming in glory with all his angels. It will all end in eternal triumph, and those who follow him will be part of that, it seems, once again, that the apostles failed to grasp the great truth behind what he was saying.
Response: Reading today's gospel two thousand years after it happened gives us a great advantage over the disciples. The facts of death and resurrection have been fulfilled. We should have no problem, then! Our problem can arise when we try to bridge the gap between what happened to Jesus, and what must happen in our lives, when we take the gospel story and apply it to our day, we discover that we are the ones who now have to die, and then be raised from the dead. We believe that it happened to Jesus, but it's not so easy to believe that it will happen for us, Incarnation is not a once-off event that happened to Jesus. Bethlehem, Calvary, the tomb, the Pentecost room, all this must be on-going within our hearts.
Prudence and over-caution can stultify us, and freeze us into non-action. To live is to take risks, and the person who never takes a risk cannot claim to be fully alive. I can eat as much as I want and put on weight, and the chances are that no one will say anything. However, if I fast, I will get all sorts of advice about being careful, about minding my health, and about the dangers of going down that road. Some years ago, one of our young priests decided to go on the mission to Mozambique. I was present when a friend of his tried everything within his power to dissuade him from doing this. There was such a need for young priests in Ireland, etc. Today's gospel is now The latter part of today's gospel holds some solid teaching for all of us. We are called on to consider what is involved before we make any decisions, what good is it for any of us to gain the whole world, and lose ourselves in the process? If I were to play back the tape of any normal day, and line up in order how I spent my time and my money,it would give me a picture of where my priorities lie. If there is a football match on the television, I'll arrange my time in such a way that I have a chance to see it. Nothing wrong with that. However, I may find that I didn't have time for someone who called on me, or I may not have time to take the few quiet moments to be alone with God, and my reflections, If I am that busy, then I'm too busy. Jesus tells us that we will be judged by our deeds. Carrying the cross has to do with being at the service of others. Having time for others is an important part of being a Christian.
"You see things from a human point of view, and not from God's." Taking time out to reflect gives me an opportunity to see things from God's perspective. In prayer I come before God exactly as he sees me, and I accept his love and acceptance. Faith is to have the courage to accept God's acceptance. I must make a clear distinction between saying prayers and praying. Prayer is what God does and says when I give him an opportunity. It is essential that I develop a reflective spirit, and I cannot do this without giving time to it. After a while it becomes natural, and I can have a reflective heart in the midst of city throngs.
Am I aware of the place of the cross in Christian living? It's not about suffering all the time, or about enduring a burden, without seeking help or advice, Jesus tells us that his yoke is sweet, and his burden is light. The kingdom of God is built up by tiny acts of kindness, and most of them are hidden. I have to develop a generosity of spirit that prompts me to be there for others, even if that inconveniences me, it is about dying to myself for the sake of others. It is about giving, and about walking that extra mile with another. Like Jesus, we are called to be "basin of water and towel people." The selfish person lives in solitary confinement, because I am the only person in my life.
I suggested above that I might look at the priorities in my day. This enables me to discover what god I serve. Some people are completely taken over by the god of money, pleasure, or power. This is what motivates everything they do. They know the price of everything and the value of nothing. If money brought happiness, then every wealthy person would be happy, and we know that is not true. The happiest people on earth are those who serve others, There's a vast difference between being wealthy and being rich. I could be a really rich person, and have little money. I need to check my priorities, to select what is most important in my life, and to make what changes are necessary to become a life-giving person for others. Today's the day for stock-taking!
The mother had to go out to the
shop, so she asked her children to set the table for dinner when she
was gone. They did as they had been asked, but they added a nasty
sting to the tail of their giving. They got a piece of paper, and
wrote on it, "for setting the table 2 Euros." When the mother
returned, she spotted the piece of paper, picked it up, put it in
her pocket, and said nothing. She went into her bedroom, deeply hurt
and disappointed. She got an A4 page, and began to write. "For
giving you life, and for carrying you within me for nine months. For
going through the pains of childbirth, so that you could be born.
For nursing you, and caring for you night and day for several years.
For sitting up with you when you were sick at night. For dressing
you and feeding you. For bringing you to school, helping you with
your homework, and for bringing you on holidays. For buying you presents
at Christmas, on birthdays, and at many other times. For loving you,
and for giving you everything I possibly could, Total Bill = Nothing!"
She returned to the kitchen, placed the sheet of paper on the table,
and began preparing dinner. The children read what was written, and
they began to cry. They went over to her, hugged you, and told her
they were sorry for being so selfish. They'd learned something about
love, and about giving