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Ἡ Καινὴ Διαθήκη

Josephus
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Who was Josephus?
Maps, Graphics
Highlights
Translation

THE JEWISH WAR
War, Volume 1
War, Volume 2
War, Volume 3
War, Volume 4
War, Volume 5
War, Volume 6
War, Volume 7

THE ANTIQUITIES
Ant. Jud., Bk 1
Ant. Jud., Bk 2
Ant. Jud., Bk 3
Ant. Jud., Bk 4
Ant. Jud., Bk 5
Ant. Jud., Bk 6
Ant. Jud., Bk 7
Ant. Jud., Bk 8
Ant. Jud., Bk 9
Ant. Jud., Bk 10
Ant. Jud., Bk 11
Ant. Jud., Bk 12
Ant. Jud., Bk 13
Ant. Jud., Bk 14
Ant. Jud., Bk 15
Ant. Jud., Bk 16
Ant. Jud., Bk 17
Ant. Jud., Bk 18
Ant. Jud., Bk 19
Ant. Jud., Bk 20

OTHER WRITINGS
Apion, Bk 1
Apion, Bk 2
Autobiog.


Apocrypha
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Introduction

Gospel of--
-- Nicodemus
-- Peter
-- Ps-Matthew
-- James (Protevangelium)
-- Thomas (Infancy)
-- Thomas (Gnostic)
-- Joseph of Arimathea
-- Joseph_Carpenter
Pilate's Letter
Pilate's End

Apocalypse of --
-- Ezra
-- Moses
-- Paul
-- Pseudo-John
-- Moses
-- Enoch

Various
Clementine Homilies
Clementine Letters
Clementine Recognitions
Dormition of Mary
Book of Jubilees
Life of Adam and Eve
Odes of Solomon
Pistis Sophia
Secrets of Enoch
Tests_12_Patriarchs
Veronica's Veil
Vision of Paul
Vision of Shadrach

Acts of
Andrew
Andrew & Matthias
Andrew & Peter
Barnabas
Bartholomew
John
Matthew
Paul & Perpetua
Paul & Thecla
Peter & Paul
Andrew and Peter
Barnabas
Philip
Pilate
Thaddaeus
Thomas in India

Daily Word 2019

SEASONS of:
Advent
Christmastide
Lent
Eastertide

SUNDAYS, Year A
Sundays, 1-34, A
SUNDAYS, Year B
Sundays, 1-34, B
SUNDAYS, Year C
Sundays, 1-34, C

WEEKDAYS
(Ordinary Time)
Weeks 1-11 (Year 1)
Weeks 1-11 (Year 2)

Wks 12-22 (Year 1)
Wks 12-22 (Year 2)

Wks 23-34 (Year 1)
Wks 23-34 (Year 2)

OTHER
Solemnities
Baptisms
Weddings
Funerals
Saints Days

Patristic
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Clement of Rome

Ignatius of Antioch

Polycarp of Smyrna

Barnabas,(Epistle of)

Papias of Hierapolis

Justin, Martyr

The Didachë

Irenaeus of Lyons

Hermas (Pastor of)

Tatian of Syria

Theophilus of Antioch

Diognetus (letter)

Athenagoras of Alex.

Clement of Alexandria

Tertullian of Carthage

Origen of Alexandria

Sundays 1-34, Year C

1st Sun.
2nd Sun.
3rd Sun.
4th Sun.
5th Sun.
6th Sun.
7th Sun.
8th Sun.
9th Sun.
10th Sun.
11th Sun.
12th Sun.
13th Sun.
14th Sun.
15th Sun.
16th Sun.
17th Sun.
18th Sun.
19th Sun.
20th Sun.
21st Sun.
22nd Sun.
23rd Sun.
24th Sun.
25th Sun.
26th Sun.
27th Sun.
28th Sun.
29th Sun.
30th Sun.
31st Sun.
32nd Sun.
33rd Sun.
34th Sun.
Biblical Readings for Mass, as listed in the Irish Liturgical Calendar. (Text: NRSV). Homilies from the ACP website, (section: Liturgy)

NEXT

1st Sunday (Year C) The Baptism of the Lord

Theme: Jesus brings justice and divine life to the nations. As his baptised family, we seek the kingdom of God through justice and peace.

1st Reading: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7

A chosen servant of God will courageously help others to find salvation

Thus says the Lord:

"Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
 my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
 I have put my spirit upon him;
 he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
 or make it heard in the street;
 a bruised reed he will not break,
 and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
 he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
 until he has established justice in the earth;
 and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
 I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
 I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
 I have given you as a covenant to the people,
 a light to the nations,
 to open the eyes that are blind,
 to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
 from the prison those who sit in darkness."

Responsorial: Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-30

R./: Oh, bless the Lord, my soul

Lord God, how great you are,
 clothed in majesty and glory,
 wrapped in light as in a robe!
You stretch out the heavens like a tent. (R./)

Above the rains you build your dwelling.
  You make the clouds your chariot,
you walk on the wings of the wind,
 you make the winds your messengers
 and flashing fire your servants. (R./)

How many are your works, O Lord!
 In wisdom you have made them all.
The earth is full of your riches.
There is the sea, vast and wide,
 with its moving swarms past counting,
 living things great and small. (R./)

All of these look to you
   to give them their food in due season.
You give it, they gather it up:
 you open your hand, they have their fill. (R./)

You take back your spirit, they die,
 returning to the dust from which they came.
You send forth your spirit, they are created;
 and you renew the face of the earth. (R./)

2nd Reading: Acts 10:34-38

At his baptism in the Jordan Jesus went about doing good for God was with him

Peter said to Cornelius and his household: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ-he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him."

Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17

At his baptism Jesus' mission was revealed: to share the Spirit of God with us

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented.

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom am well pleased."

BIBLE

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Or, ad libitum for Year C:

1st Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11

He will feed his flock like a shepherd

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!" See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

2nd Reading: Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7

Purified through the water of rebirth and renewal

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Gospel: Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

The Baptist points to Jesus the Saviour, whom God calls "my Son, the Beloved"

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

BIBLE

Having a purpose in life

During a pilgrimages to the Holy Land I and some friends stood up to our knees in the river Jordan, to renew the promises of our baptism. It was a moving experience as we remembered the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus just after HIS baptism. By being baptised into him we are counted as members of God’s beloved family. United with Jesus, we are made like him, God’s own daughters and sons. Others who stood that day in the Jordan will remember that moment today and use it to renew their commitment to Jesus. But all of us were baptised somewhere, sometime, and we can claim that baptism fully as our own.

Our Lord’s baptism is a vital moment in our story of salvation, where he joined with humanity in the humble outreach to God, and where the Father and the Spirit are seen and heard to be there with him. Our gospel says that “the heavens were opened,” a powerful statement of the point of contact between heaven and earth. Later on, as Jesus completes his life-journey on Calvary, we read how “the veil of the Temple was rent in two,” a symbol that we are not completely free to enter the Holy of Holies. Today’s gospel has Jesus beginning a journey which each of us is asked to travel. It is a journey full of purpose, a journey of intent. We need a sense of purpose and pattern to our living. St Peter summarised the purpose and pattern of Christ’s life when he said, “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” We are each invited, personally, to make this purpose our own.

A little story about finding direction: A Dubliner was down the country travelling along by-roads where the signposts were few and far between. After a while, unsure of his directions, he decided to ask the first person he saw. When he came across a farmer driving his cows home for milking he stopped the car and asked if he was on the right road to Mallow. The farmer told him that he certainly was on the Mallow road. The driver thanked him and was about to move forward when the farmer added, in a nonchalant way, “You’re on the right road, but you’re going in the wrong direction!’ Let’s look into our own lifestyle today, to see if our direction is right.


Embracing Baptism

Baptism is such a happy occasion when a child’s birth is publicly celebrated and cheered, and here they are received into a larger family, the family of the church. In being received into our church-family, these children become our brothers and sisters in the Lord, sons and daughters of God, and temples of the Spirit. The joy of faith and hope is palpable, especially when the parents and godparents come up to the baptismal font and the water is poured over the head of the child by the celebrant. Each child is anointed before and after baptism with special oil of catechumens and the oil of chrism; the baptismal shawl is placed around the child and the baptismal candle is lit. The whole occasion is uplifting in a way that is unique to that sacrament.

Of course, the majority of baptisms are of children, who are oblivious to what is happening around them. A big decision is being made on their behalf without their knowing anything about it. Yet, just as parents make all kinds of other big decisions for their children without consulting them, so they happily make this significant decision on their behalf. There is a story in the gospels of parents bringing little children to Jesus. When the disciples tried to stop parents doing this, Jesus rebuked his disciples and said to them, ‘let the children come to me and do not stop them, for to such as these the kingdom of God belongs.’ Parents continue to bring their children to Jesus today whenever they present them for baptism, because in baptism they are being baptized into the person of Christ; they become members of his body; Jesus begins to live within them through the Spirit. When parents bring their children for baptism they are making a decision for them that is very much in keeping with the Lord’s desire. ‘Let the children come to me and do not stop them.’

Today we celebrate the feast of the baptism of Jesus. It is a good day to reflect on our own baptism and its significance for us. The day of Jesus’ baptism was a watershed in his life; it was a day of new beginning. On that day he began his public ministry during which he gave himself fully in the service of God and all of God’s people. On that day Jesus launched forth as the one who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. As he set out on that momentous journey for all of us, he was assured of God his Father’s favour, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you’, and he was empowered by the Holy Spirit, who descended upon him like a dove.

Though Jesus was baptised as an adult and we were baptised as children, our baptism was also a day of new beginning for us. On that day we were launched on the great adventure of becoming disciples of Jesus in our own time. On that day, we too were given an assurance of God’s love and favour, and we too were empowered by the Holy Spirit for the journey ahead of us. On that day we were caught up into Jesus’ own very special relationship with God and we became a member of Jesus’ family of disciples, the church. It is a moment of grace that has the potential to shape our lives in a very fundamental way, in a way that is in keeping with God’s purpose for our lives.

Baptism is the beginning of a lifelong call. We spend the rest of our lives trying to carry out what it calls us to be. We were baptized as children but years later we personally confirmed the implications of our baptism. It is as adults that we say personal ‘yes’ to the Lord who has blessed us from the start. It may be as late as our twenties or even later that we adopt that ‘yes’ with all our heart and soul and mind. In those mature years we can more fully hear the call of today’s Reading from Isaiah , ‘Come to the water all you who are thirsty; Seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near.’ From the moment of our baptism the Lord keeps guiding to us, and as the Scripture declares, that word “does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.” Like Jesus himself, today we turn to God again to embrace our personal baptism.

.



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2nd Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5

God has prepared joyful feast for his people

For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

Responsorial: Psalm 95:1-3, 7-10

R./: Proclaim his marvellous deeds to all the nations

O sing a new song to the Lord,
 sing to the Lord all the earth.
 O sing to the Lord, bless his name. (R./)

Proclaim his help day by day,
 tell among the nations his glory
 and his wonders among all the peoples. (R./)

Give the Lord, you families of peoples,
 give the Lord glory and power,
 give the Lord the glory of his name. (R./)

Worship the Lord in his temple.
 O earth, tremble before him.
 Proclaim to the nations: 'God is king.'
He will judge the peoples in fairness. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

The many gifts that come from God's Spirit are meant for the good of all

There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who aportions to each one individually as he wills.

Gospel: John 2:1-11

Mary's intervention at the marriage at Cana evokes Christ's first miracle

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

BIBLE

The First Miracle, an act of kindness

In John’s gospel the mother of Jesus is mentioned just twice: at the marriage feast at Cana, the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus and at the crucifixion, the end of it. That could be a way of telling us that the role played by Mary was not just the fact of her being the mother of Jesus, but that she was actively involved with Jesus in the work of our redemption. We have read that at the marriage feast at Cana, Mary was invited as well as Jesus himself and his disciples. As the feasting went on and the wine ran short, Mary took the initiative to intercede with Jesus and he performed what turned out to be his first miracle, the first of his signs.

How did Mary know what her son could do? Other interesting questions arise from the story. Did Mary know back in Nazareth that her son could work miracles and yet never once ask him to do one for the household, or grow their money to make ends meet? After all, charity begins at home. But for Mary and for Jesus the will of God came first.

Jesus somehow knew he had this power to enhance the lives of others. After his forty days fast in the dessert he was hungry and the devil suggested it to him to turn some stones into bread for his own use, but he did not do it. Yet he later multiplied bread for crowds of his hungry followers to eat. What does the Cana miracle tell us? Is it that God’s special gifts are not meant primarily for our personal benefit but for the service of others. That is what St Paul says when he lists examples of different gifts of the Holy Spirit and adds that “to each person is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

What gifts has God given me? Am I using these gifts for some service in the community?” We may wonder why there are no more manifestations of the Holy Spirit like what we read in the Bible. Maybe if we began better using the gifts we have for the common good — like the gift of praying, singing, teaching, caring, sharing, encouraging, supporting, motivating, writing, etc. — then we might begin to see miracles. Concern for others is the basic miracle. We could make our own the famous prayer of St Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.


A life-affirming church

John the Evangelist doesn’t say that Jesus did ‘miracles’ or ‘marvels’. He calls them ‘signs’ because they are gestures that point toward something deeper than what our eyes can see. Concretely the signs that Jesus performs point to Jesus’ person and describe his saving power to us. What happened in Cana of Galilee is the beginning of all these signs. It is the prototype of those that Jesus will go about performing throughout his life. In that ‘changing of water into wine’ we find the key to understand the type of saving transformation that Jesus works and that his followers must work in his name.

It all happens in the context of a wedding feast, the human party par excellence, the most expressive symbol of love, the best image of the biblical tradition to express the definitive communion of God with human beings. Jesus’ salvation must be lived and offered by his followers as a party that gives fullness to all human parties when these end up empty, ‘without wine’ and without leaving them really fulfilled.

Many people today do not find Church’s ministry life-giving. Liturgical celebration bores them. They need to see signs that are more friendly and life-affirming on the part of the Church in order to discover in Christianity Jesus’ own capacity to alleviate the suffering and the cruelties of life. Who wants to listen to something that does not seem to be joyful news, especially if the Gospel is preached with an authoritative and threatening tone? Jesus Christ came to provide a power to love and a reason to exist, a lifestyle to live sensitively and joyfully. If people today only know a theoretical religion and can’t taste something of the festive joy that was spread by Jesus, many will continue to stay away.

At the wedding feast, the water could be tasted as wine only when it was ‘drawn out’ that is, transferred from the six large stone water jars used by the Jews for their purifications. The religion of the law that is written on stone tablets is worn out. It has no living water, capable of purifying and satisfying our human needs. That religion needs to be freed by the love and the life that Jesus communicates. . In order to communicate the transforming power of Jesus, words alone are not enough; gestures of service are also needed. Evangelizing isn’t just talking, preaching or teaching; even less is it judging, threatening or condemning. We need to make our own the example and joyful style of Jesus himself. Our church today should be a place of joy and celebration, where people can feel welcomed, as at the wedding in Cana.


 

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3rd Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Nehemiah 8:2-6, 8-10

Ezra the Scribe set out to re-instate the Jewish Laws

The priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieed, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."

Responsorial: Psalm 18:8-10, 15

R./: Your words, Lord, are spirit and life

The law of the Lord is perfect,
 it revives the soul.
The rule of the Lord is to be trusted,
 it gives wisdom to the simple. (R./)

The precepts of the Lord are right,
 they gladden the heart.
The command of the Lord is clear,
 it gives light to the eyes. (R./)

The fear of the Lord is holy,
 abiding for ever.
The decrees of the Lord are truth
 and all of them just. (R./)

May the spoken words of my mouth,
 the thoughts of my heart,
 win favour in your sight, O Lord,
 my rescuer, my rock! (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-30

The Church joins many individuals into a living unity in Christ

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free -- and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose.

If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to he hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honourable we invest with the greater honour, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

Gospel: Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

In the Nazareth synagogue Jesus proclaims a time of healing and freedom

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to procaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

BIBLE

The path to follow

Before beginning to tell about Jesus’ activities, Luke describes the force that drives the Prophet of Galilee and the goals he follows. Christians need to know in what direction God’s Spirit pushes Jesus, since following him is precisely walking in the same direction as he did.

There is a close description what Jesus does in the synagogue of his village: he stands up, takes the holy book, looks himself for a passage from Isaiah, reads the text, closes the book, returns it and sits down. Everyone has to listen attentively to the words chosen by Jesus, since they put forth the task for which he feels sent by God. He doesn’t speak about organizing a perfect religion or a more worthy worship, but about communicating liberation, hope, light and grace for the poorest and most unfortunate. This is what he reads: ‘The spirit of the Lord is on me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord’. When he finishes, he tells them: ‘This text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening’.

God’s Spirit is the impulse directing Jesus, sending him to the poor, directing his whole life toward those most in need, most oppressed, most humiliated. We his followers need to work in this same direction. This is the orientation that God, incarnate in Jesus, wants to impress on human history. The last should be first in knowing a life that is more worthy, more free, more happy, the life that God want for all God’s sons and daughters from now on.

The ‘option for the poor’ isn’t something invented by twentieth century theologians, nor is it just something fashionable starting at Vatican II. It is the option of God’s Spirit that breathes through Jesus’ whole life, and that we his followers need to introduce into human history. It’s not possible to live and announce Jesus Christ if we don’t do it from the defense of the least and in solidarity with those who are excluded. If what we do and proclaim from within the Church of Jesus isn’t understood as something good and liberating by those who most suffer, what Gospel are we preaching? What Jesus are we following? What spirituality are we promoting? To say it clearly: what impression do we have of today’s Church? Are we walking in the same direction as Jesus did?


Good news to the poor

The mission of Jesus is very clear in today's Gospel. The Spirit that descended on him in the Jordan River now led him to proclaim a message and a way of life for people who longed to be friends of God. He had moved away from home, and had made such an impression that word about him had got back to his home place of Nazareth. We are told that he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, as he usually did, and announced the start of a new age!

His sermon was clear, anyone familiar with the words of the prophets. Isaiah had stated clearly what would happen when the Messiah came. Jesus read that wonderful passage to them, then rolled up the scroll and announced "Today these words are coming true even as I speak." When he announced that he had come to replace the old Jewish love of law with a new law of love, it caused quite a commotion. At first we are told that everyone was pleased with his basic message; but in next Sunday's gospel, we hear how this encounter ended up. Not too well, actually, but you'll have to tune into the next episode next week!

"To let the oppressed go free, to procaim the year of the Lord's favour." Human nature has some in-built resistance to God that results from original sin somewhere in our DNA. It's a refusal to listen, and an insistence on going our own way. Some basic rebelliousness and pride leads to the blindness and oppression named in today's gospel. This is not something that we can resolve without some help from outside. But Jesus has come to join us, to lead us, to save us, and this is the powerful Good News announced in the Nazareth Synagogue. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor."

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4th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19

Jeremiah is commissioned by God, as a prophet

In the days of Josiah, the word of the Lord came to me saying,

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them. And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land-against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.

Responsorial: Psalm 70:1-6, 15, 17

R./: I will sing of your salvation forever, o Lord

In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
 let me never be put to shame.
 in your justice rescue me, free me:
 pay heed to me and save me. (R./)

Be a rock where I can take refuge,
 a mighty stronghold to save me;
 for you are my rock, my stronghold.
Free me from the hand of the wicked. (R./)

It is you, O Lord, who are my hope,
 my trust, O Lord, since my youth.
 On you I have leaned from my birth,
 from my mother's womb you have been my help. (R./)

My lips will tell of your justice
 and day by day of your help.
 O God, you have taught me from my youth
 and I proclaim your wonders still. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

(or, shorter version: 13:4-13, omitting the text in italics)

Paul's hymn to love, as the highest virtue

But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Gospel: Luke 4:21-30

Jesus shares the fate of prophets, rejected by his own people

Jesus began to say to them in the synagogue, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?"

He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'" And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

BIBLE

Worship and prejudice

The scene in the synagogue that Sabbath seems pretty disturbing; a people who have come for worship turn angry to the extent of intending to throw Jesus off a cliff. What is it that made them so angered? He had reminded them of a low point in their history, when God punished the people of Israel with a famine, but then saved a Gentile widow. Jesus had also reminded them of God's mercy towards a Gentile named Naaman. Naturally his message was a shocker and just the opposite of they wanted to hear.

Some truths are often bitter. We too may be angered or agitated when someone (even a preacher?) tells us a truth that we don't want to hear. Had Jesus glorified the Jews and told them that they were God's exclusively privileged people, he would probably have received bouquets instead of brickbats, appreciation rather than criticism. But he chose to call a spade a spade.;In effect, Jesus declared that God has no favourites, that there are no privilege cardholders to receiving love and compassion, that all are equal shareholders of God's love no matter who we are, where we come from and whatever our socio-economic status. We don't earn divine favour by the titles we hold, but receive it freely from the unconditional love of God for us. In the second reading, St. Paul too speaks of the primacy of love.

What happened in the synagogue happens even today in some of our churches and communities. We may carry prejudices with us into our places of worship, and if we do, we shut our minds off to the message God wants to give us. Our prejudice can be against the very priest or preacher who addresses us, against some in the congregation, the choir, the readers or other church helpers, or against the hierarchic Church as such. A prejudiced mind will never sit comfortably in Church and will never find fulfillment in worship or carry the gospel message home.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he began to read the Gospels seriously and even considered embracing Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. "If Christians have caste differences also," he said, "I might as well remain a Hindu." That usher's prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from knowing Jesus more closely.

Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual writer, wrote of how prejudice can degrade another human person "Prejudice of any kind implies that you are identified only with the thinking mind. It means you don't see the other human being anymore, but only your own concept of that human being. To reduce the aliveness of another human being to a concept is already a form of violence." Do we take prejudices into our place of worship? Are we prejudiced against individuals or any community? If so, we turn to Jesus for healing we need.


Our view of God

A young girl was bent purposefully over her copybook, her pencil poised to draw When her mother asked what she was doing, she said she was drawing a picture.” Of what?” the mother asked. “Of God,” was the answer. “But you can’t draw a picture of God,” her mother declared. “Nobody knows what God looks like.” “Well they will, when I have finished drawing,” replied the girl.

In a sense we could say that Jesus Christ drew for us a picture of what God is like. And because he drew it in his own body, soul and spirit the picture as the reality. Our gospel reading points to a essential element of the reality that is God. God is sovereign; he is not subject to our caprice or prejudice. He is the a God of all peoples; he belongs to all classes; nobody is excluded from his love.

Jesus drew that picture when he bluntly rebuked his townspeople in Nazareth for their rejection of his message. He pointed to unlearned lessons of the past and so indicated that his own mission too would embrace the Gentiles. And so it was. There is about Jesus and his actions a certain universalism. His disciples come from a range of backgrounds; his mission is weighted in favour of the poor and disadvantaged, yet he dines with the powerful and wealthy; his healing ministry benefits both the poor an the powerful, Gentiles and Jews. It is clear that all people from all walks of life and from all nations will be the recipients of God’s saving message.

Yet Jesus’ universalism is never bland. There is always a strong hint of challenge about it. It is never a mere acceptance of the way things and people are. It is a challenge to people to be what God wants them to be his image and likeness; and to live in justice, love and peace. So Jesus will reprimand his disciples for their overweening ambition; and he will constantly call on those who are rich and powerful to become like himself and to be of service to the powerless and poor.

His local neighbours felt that Jesus should show them special preference. The proverb “Physician, heal yourself” is like saying “charity begins at home.” They would not accept that his message was not a gospel of status or privilege. They failed to see that with God charity begins wherever human need is found and when people have a welcoming faith to receive it. Jesus came to preach the good news about the mercy of God to those open to receive it. The challenge to us is to have an idea about God based on what Jesus taught about Him. Our impression of God should also have an effect on our daily living. God’s grace is not for a small, exclusive circle, and salvation is intended for all people everywhere. If we were to draw our own picture of God, let’s hope that it would be roughly the same as what Jesus taught.

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Do We Need prophets?

‘A great prophet has arisen among us’ the people shouted in villages of Galilee, surprised by Jesus’ words and actions. However this isn’t what happens in Nazareth when he appears among his neighbours as the one anointed as Prophet of the poor. Jesus observes first their admiration, and later their rejection. He’s not surprised. He reminds them of a well-known saying: ‘In truth I tell you, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country’. Later, when they throw him out of the town and try to do away with him, Jesus abandons them. The narrator says that ‘he passed straight through the crowd and walked away’. Nazareth is left without the Prophet Jesus.

Jesus is and acts like a prophet. He isn’t a temple priest or a teacher of the law. His life is marked by the prophetic tradition of Israel. In contrast to the kings and priests, the prophet isn’t named or anointed by anyone else. His authority comes from God, insisting on encouraging and guiding the beloved people with God’s Spirit, when the political and religious leaders don’t know how to do that. It’s not by accident that Christians confess a God incarnated as a prophet.

The marks of the prophet are unmistakable. In the middle of an unjust society where the powerful seek their welfare, silencing the suffering of those who mourn, the prophet dares to read and to live reality from the perspective of God’s compassion for the least. His whole life becomes an ‘alternative presence’ that criticizes injustice and calls for conversion and change.

On the other hand, when religion itself gets comfortable with an unjust order and its interests no longer respond to God’s interests, the prophet shakes up our indifference and self-deception, criticizes the illusion of eternity and absolutes that threaten every religion, and remembers all those that God alone saves. His presence introduces a new hope since he invites us to think about the future from the perspective of God’s liberty and love.

A Church that ignores the prophetic dimension of Jesus and his followers, runs the risk of being left without prophets.


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5th Sunday (C)

Trust in God is needed not only by fishermen but by all Christians. We need it more than ever, today

1st Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8

Isaiah responds to God's call with enthusiasm

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!"

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"

Responsorial: Psalm 137:1-5, 7-8

R./: In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord

I thank you, Lord, with all my heart,
 you have heard the words of my mouth.
Before the angels I will bless you.
 I will adore before your holy temple. (R./)

I thank you for your faithfulness and love
 which excel all we ever knew of you.
 On the day I called, you answered;
 you increased the strength of my soul. (R./)

All earth's kings shall thank you
 when they hear the words of your mouth.
They shall sing of the Lord's ways:
 'How great is the glory of the Lord!' (R./)

You stretch out your hand and save me,
 your hand will do all things for me.
Your love, O Lord, is eternal,
 discard not the work of your hands. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Paul (least of the apostles) came late to faith in Christ

Let me remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast-unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Gospel: Luke 5:1-11

Awed by the miraculous catch of fish, Peter is called to follow Christ

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

BIBLE

What to preach about?

It’s hard to decide on what to preach about today. The call story of the first disciples in Luke is certainly attractive, with its great invitation “put out into the deep“.  But we also begin reading from 1 Corinthians 15, a stupendous reflection on the resurrection of the dead and a topic in much need of discussion today. This chapter is powerful, penetrating and pastoral. Each Sunday offers a different light on what we believe. It could become a rich catechetical programme. (Kieran O’Mahony)

 

A fisherman-apostle

The miraculous catch of fish in the Sea of Galilee was popular among early Christians. The episode is told in three of the Gospels, but only Luke ends the story with  Peter as both a believing disciple and a professed sinner.

As a man of faith, Peter lets Jesus’ advice outweigh his own experience as a fisherman. Of course, nobody goes out fishing in the noonday brightness, especially if he hasn’t caught anything the night before. But Jesus tells him to do it and Peter trusts him completely. ‘If you say so, I will pay out the nets’. The result was an extraordinary haul of fish. And then, as an honest man with a sincere heart Peter  fell at the knees of Jesus and say how unworthy he feels. ‘Leave me, I am a sinful man’. In front of his workmates, Peter declares his unworthiness to be around Jesus.

Jesus does not  hesitate to have a sinful disciple in his company. On the contrary, one who knows his own weakness can better understand Jesus’ message of forgiveness  and his welcoming of sinners and the undesirables. ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is people you will be catching’.

Why does our institutional Church so resist recognizing her faults and her need of conversion? The Church belongs to Jesus, but she isn’t identical with Jesus Christ. Yes, the Church is ‘holy’ because she is gifted with the Holy Spirit of Jesus, but she is ‘sinful’ because our leaders and our brethren often resist that Spirit and wander away from the Gospel. Sin is in believers and in institutions; in the hierarchy and in God’s people; in pastors and in Christian communities. We all need conversion.

It’s very serious to accustom ourselves to hiding the truth, since this keeps us from committing ourselves to a process of conversion and renovation. On the other hand, isn’t it more evangelical to be a fragile and vulnerable Church, one that has the courage to recognize her sin, than to be an institution uselessly bent on covering up her wretchedness from the world. Aren’t our communities more believable when they collaborate with Christ in the evangelizing task, humbly recognizing their sins and committing themselves to a life that is each day more evangelical? Don’t we have a lot to learn even today from the great apostle Peter, recognizing his sinfulness at Jesus’ feet? [J A Pagola].


Whom does God choose?

Last Sunday we read about the call of Jeremiah, and today we have the vocation stories of Isaiah and the apostle Peter. One might ask: “Why these guys? What was God thinking? But this is really nothing new for the God of surprises. Abraham is made a new father in his old age; slow-tongued Moses takes on Pharaoh, young shepherd David is chosen as king, and Saul the persecutor became Paul the apostle. It is clear that God does whatever God wills.

The characters that God has chosen throughout history to be instruments of justice, mercy, love and compassion have been brave, earthy individuals. We could be wrong to disqualify ourselves from ever being called by God to be his instruments. We may intellectually understand that God has chosen many people like ourselves to be his workers; but too often it ends there, if spiritually we lower our heads, and leave it to others to follow God’s call.

After the extraordinary catch of fish, Peter was suddenly aware of his own weakness and unworthiness. Surely he did not deserve such generosity from Jesus? Then Peter discovers that the Lord has chosen him and has a great purpose for him, in spite of his faults. From now on he will gather people into the net of God’s kingdom. God’s purpose for us does not dependent on our virtue or worthiness. He does not wait for us to be worthy before calling us to a share in his loving service to others. Indeed, our very sense of unworthiness creates an opening for Christ to work through us. If, like Peter, we are called to work with Jesus, we will do so as wounded healers, trying to practice what we preach.


In God’s Net

A popular Irish hymn contains the hopeful prayer I liontaibh De go gcastar sinn, “may we be gathered into God’s nets.” It is a fine prayer in view of the many other nets that are spread out to catch us in these times. There are various nets of consumerism and gambling, that can easily tangle us in a mesh of artificial need, and worry about ability to pay. We feel pressured into “buying things we don’t want, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like!” What about the net of image-building and lots of hype about the success ethic, with an exclusive focus on financial growth and the outward self, to the detriment of human and spiritual values? Also, the net of drug and alcohol culture, and the net of depression, despair and suicide for those for whom life loses its meaning?

We pray that we may be taken caught up in God’s own net where life, even with its faults, holds out a promise of goodness, acceptance and hope. We must also involve ourselves in spreading this net. In the story in John 21 the spread net caught a hundred and fifty three fish , every type was taken in the net. Like Peter we are commissioned to “be fishers of people” and if we spread the net at the command of the Lord we too can take every type of person into God’s net of forgiveness, meaning, love and hope. This is our vocation and duty as Christians. To really do it, however, we must make sure we are not trapped in one of the other nets. I’ve always been fascinated by the number of references to fish in the gospel. In Matthew, Christ says: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind.” When he miraculously fed the multitude he used fish as well as bread. He even found the money to pay his taxes in the mouth of a fish. Fish figured so prominently in the gospel that the early Christians in Rome, chose the symbol of a fish to designate their tombs in the catacombs. The letters which make up the Greek word for fish, ichthus, came to signify “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.”

There were many others in Palestine in the time of Our Lord, besides fisherman. Yet when it came to picking his apostles, he showed a marked preference for them. He made “the big fisherman’, Simon Peter, their head. And he reserved his special miracles, such as the transfiguration and the raising to life of the little girl, only for him and his two fishing partners, James and John. “Put out into deep water’, he told Peter. Peter knew, as every fisherman knows, that fish only feed in shallow waters. Jesus was testing him. After a whole night covering the best feeding grounds on the lake, it was asking a lot. But Peter complied, almost as if to humour Jesus. His compliance was amply rewarded. More importantly, he had passed the test. “From now on,” Christ told him, “it is men you will catch.” (Or as Mark phrased it: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”)

The one virtue, above all others, that fishermen need, is the virtue of hope. To cast a small hook into a large expanse of water in the expectation of catching a fish, is an act of hope. And to do it time after time, hour after hour without catching anything, without even the tiniest bite, is to hope beyond hope. It was the one virtue Christ needed in the person he chose to lead his followers. He was, as history has shown, launching Peter into deep waters indeed. But he knew what Teilhard de Chardin expressed almost two thousand years later, that “the world belongs to him who will give it its greatest hope.”


The workers he wants

Jesus has begun to draw followers, whom he will eventually transform, to continue his mission when he returns to his Father. Today’s gospel is set beside a lake, and the presence of the odd fishing boat makes it even more attractive. By now, Jesus was attracting crowds, who gathered to listen to his message; and this was in the days before public address systems or even megaphones! The nearest thing to a megaphone he could find was a boat, and by pulling out a bit from the shore, his voice would carry much better on the water, and give his space from the pressing crowds.

The next step is both simple and central. Peter was disappointed, without even one fish to show for his work, and so the scene was set for a miracle. As usual with Jesus, the outcome was abundant, “pressed down and flowing over” as with the wine at Cana, or the baskets of loaves and fish left over after everyone had been fed. Then Peter was his impulsive self and asked Jesus to leave him, because he was a sinful man. That must surely have brought a smile to the face of Christ, because it was precisely to draw such sinful people to himself that he had come. So Jesus ignored Peter’s remark, and instead invited Peter and his friends to join him full-time in the mission he was undertaking. There was something magnetic about Jesus, and, immediately, they abandoned ship, and set off down the road with him.

Christianity is more about attracting others to share a vision of life than about forcing it upon them. Throughout history, we read about founders of religious communities and orders. These were people with a vision, dynamic, filled with zeal, and had a powerful sense of mission. Their enthusiasm was highly contagious! Such people always attract attention, and this leads to attracting followers. In our own time we have seen aberrations in the form of cults, based on mind control, that led hundreds to their deaths through suicide pacts. It is the duty of leaders to lead, but they should also know where they’re going. Like Moses headed for the Promised Land, Jesus was totally open and definite in the direction of his life. He came to do the Father’s will, and he was led by the Spirit. Thank God for the many wonderful leaders and founders with which the Lord has provided us down the centuries. Thank God, for the many such people who are alive and active among us today.

Jesus is more often shown as teaching rather than preaching. The art of teaching is to bring the learners from they already know to is yet unknown to them. Jesus speaks of fish, of sheep, of vines, of trees, of water, etc., of things well within the lived experience of his listeners. The Acts opens by telling us that Jesus came to do and to teach. A cynic once described classrooms as places where information is transferred from the teacher’s notebookto the student’s notebook, without passing through the heads of either! Jesus spoke and taught from the heart, and what comes from the speaker’s heart always reaches the listener’s heart. The person and message of Jesus were so united that his words were inspiring and lifegiving.

Was Peter wrong to judge himself unworthy to stay with Jesus? He had not yet grasped that Jesus came to call sinners. What he should have said was, “Lord, stay with me, because I am a sinful man.” Sometimes our church has not been good in welcoming sinners. Sometimes we so emphasised hell-fire and condemnation, that sinners felt they could not share the Eucharistic table. The message often came across as “Depart from here, for you are a sinful person.” Thankfully, under Pope Francis’ leadership, we are reminded of the mind and the message of the Jesus who came to seek out sinners and bring them safely home. If he had a hundred sheep, and one went astray, he would leave the ninety-nine to go after the one that is lost. This message is central to the Year of Mercy proclaimed by the Holy Father.

Instead of asking the Lord to “DEPART FROM ME”, Peter’s prayer to Jesus could have been, “Lord, please STAY with me, BECAUSE I am a sinner. Don’t ever leave me, because, apart from you, I’m lost.” Indeed, the whole message of Jesus is to reassure sinners that he is always there for them. Peter was well aware of his brokenness, and several later episodes confirmed that fact. It is significant that Jesus made Peter head of the apostles. The principle of evangelising is that one sinner tells another the good news, just as with Alcoholics Anonymous, where one recovering alcoholic helps another to sobriety. Many of us could come up with some instance in our lives, when, like Peter, we have tried hard and caught nothing. This could be anything from an addiction, to resentment, an inability to forgive, to a scar of mind or memory, which has never healed. This has the potential for a miracle, if I am willing to hand it over. Let go, and let God. There is nothing impossible with God.

 


Whom does God choose?

We've just heard two iconic vocation-stories from biblical times. Last week we had the call of Jeremiah, and this week we have the vocation stories of Isaiah and the apostle Peter. One might ask: "Why these guys? What was God thinking? But this is really nothing new for the God of surprises. Abraham is made a new father in his old age; slow-tongued Moses takes on Pharaoh, young shepherd David is chosen as king, and Saul the persecutor became Paul the apostle. It is clear that God does whatever God wills.

The characters that God has chosen throughout history to be instruments of justice, mercy, love and compassion have been brave, earthy individuals. We could be wrong to disqualify ourselves from ever being called by God to be his instruments. We may intellectually understand that God has chosen many people like ourselves to be his workers; but too often it ends there, if spiritually we lower our heads, and leave it to others to follow God's call.

Having experienced the Lord's generosity in the extraordinary catch of fish, Peter is suddenly aware of his own weakness and unworthiness. He feels that he does not deserve such generosity from Jesus; but he goes on to discover that the Lord loves him and has a great purpose for his life in spite of his imperfections. From now on he will gather people into the net of God's kingdom. The Lord's purpose for us is not dependent on our worthiness. The Lord does not wait for us to be worthy before calling us to a share in his life-giving work in the world. Indeed, our very awareness of our unworthiness creates an opening for the Lord to work through us. The Lord cannot engage us in his service if we think of ourselves as complete or perfect. As Paul says in the first Reading, "if anyone thinks himself wise in the usual sense of the word, he must learn to be a fool before he really can be wise."


Into God's Net

A popular Irish hymn contains the hopeful prayer I liontaibh De go gcastar sinn, "may we be gathered into God's nets." It is a fine prayer in view of the many other nets that are spread out to catch us in these times. There are various nets of consumerism and gambling, that can easily tangle us in a mesh of artificial need, and worry about ability to pay. We feel pressured into "buying things we don't want, with money we don't have, to impress people we don't like!" What about the net of image-building and lots of hype about the success ethic, with an exclusive focus on financial growth and the outward self, to the detriment of human and spiritual values? Also, the net of drug and alcohol culture, and the net of depression, despair and suicide for those for whom life loses its meaning?

We pray that we may be taken caught up in God's own net where life, even with its faults, holds out a promise of goodness, acceptance and hope. We must also involve ourselves in spreading this net. In the story in John 21 the spread net caught a hundred and fifty three fish , every type was taken in the net. Like Peter we are commissioned to "be fishers of people" and if we spread the net at the command of the Lord we too can take every type of person into God's net of forgiveness, meaning, love and hope. This is our vocation and duty as Christians. To really do it, however, we must make sure we are not trapped in one of the other nets. I've always been fascinated by the number of references to fish in the gospel. In Matthew, Christ says: "The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind." When he miraculously fed the multitude he used fish as well as bread. He even found the money to pay his taxes in the mouth of a fish. Fish figured so prominently in the gospel that the early Christians in Rome, chose the symbol of a fish to designate their tombs in the catacombs. The letters which make up the Greek word for fish, ichthus, came to signify "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour."

There were a lot of other people in Palestine in the time of Our Lord, besides fisherman. Yet when it came to picking his apostles, he showed a marked preference for them. He made "the big fisherman', Simon Peter, their head. And he reserved his special miracles, such as the transfiguration and the raising to life of the little girl, only for him and his two fishing partners, James and John. "Put out into deep water', he told Peter. Peter knew, as every fisherman knows, that fish only feed in shallow waters. Jesus was testing him. After a whole night covering the best feeding grounds on the lake, it was asking a lot. But Peter complied, almost as if to humour Jesus. His compliance was amply rewarded. More importantly, he had passed the test. "From now on," Christ told him, "it is men you will catch." (Or as Mark phrased it: "Follow me and I will make you fish for people.")

The one virtue, above all others, that fishermen need, is the virtue of hope. To cast a small hook into a large expanse of water in the expectation of catching a fish, is an act of hope. And to do it time after time, hour after hour without catching anything, without even the tiniest bite, is to hope beyond hope. It was the one virtue Christ needed in the person he chose to lead his followers. He was, as history has shown, launching Peter into deep waters indeed. But he knew what Teilhard de Chardin expressed almost two thousand years later, that "the world belongs to him who will give it its greatest hope."

 

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6th Sunday (C)

 

1st Reading: Jeremiah 17:5-8

Trust in human resources is like a withering shrub in the arid desert

Thus says the Lord:

"Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. "

Responsorial: Psalm 1:1-4

R./: Happy are they who hope in the Lord

Happy indeed is the man
 who follows not the counsel of the wicked;
 nor lingers in the way of sinners
 nor sits in the company of scorners,
 but whose delight is the law of the Lord
 and who ponders his law day and night. (R./)

He is like a tree that is planted
 beside the flowing waters,
 that yields its fruit in due season
 and whose leaves shall never fade;
 and all that he does shall prosper. (R./)

Not so are the wicked, not so!
For they like winnowed chaff
 shall be driven away by the wind.
For the Lord guards the way of the just
 but the way of the wicked leads to doom. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20

Paul answer to people who disbelieved in resurrection

If Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Gospel: Luke 6:17, 20-26

Luke has only four Beatitudes, and four corresponding 'woes'

Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

BIBLE

Towards the Promised Land

The land of Israel in ancient times was a place of two extremes. Much of its southern half was wilderness, where few living things could survive. This contrasted with the fertility of Galilee in the north, with its thriving population. Their knowledge of the two extremes in nature must have coloured their thinking about contrasting responses to God’s call.

This is urged in Moses’ final words: “Today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster. If you are faithful to the Lord, he will bless you; but if you refuse to listen, if your heart strays, you will most certainly perish. I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life,” he urges, “that you may live in the love of the Lord, your God.”

This concept of The Two Ways – one good, one evil – deeply influenced the early Church. It appears in the gospel today, with its beatitudes and woes, and in the first reading from Jeremiah, where the result of our choices are linked to the extremes of nature found in Israel. A curse on those who trust only in human resources – they will be like the dry scrub in the parched southern wilderness. But a blessing on those who trust in the Lord. Like the tree planted near water, they will never cease to bear fruit.

The first Psalm offers the same idea of the “two ways,” almost word for word (today’s Responsorial). Note how today’s Gospel is addressed, not to the crowds, but to the disciples – “Then, fixing his eyes on the disciples, he said,” – implying that the sermon is meant for those who have already decided to follow him. Jesus warns them not to allow themselves be harnessed to the things of the world.

The prophets warn about social justice and sharing: “Woe to those who add house to house, and join field to field, until everything belongs to them” – in other words, woe to the speculators and those who seek a monopoly of the world’s resources. “Woe to those who from early morning chase after strong drink, and stay up late at night inflamed with wine” – that is those who are pleasure seekers. “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who substitute darkness for light” – that is those who subvert morality and seek to lead others astray. “Woe to those who for a bribe acquit the guilty and cheat the good man of his due” – that is those who lack all sense of justice and honesty in dealing with others. Human nature does not change. All these are just as relevant today as when the prophets first proclaimed them (Is 5:8-23).

Then there are people with no lofty aspirations, the poor and destitute, those burdened with sorrows, those persecuted for trying to pursue the ideals of Christ – the only refuge for all these is to place their trust in divine providence; and Jesus says, happy are these people when they do so, because their confidence will be surely rewarded by God. Here Christ has turned upside down accepted worldly standards. If you set out with all your energy to acquire the things which the world regards as valuable, you will in all probability get them. But that will be your sole reward, he says. Whereas, if you set out to be loyal to God and true to the message of Christ, you may be mocked and insulted by the world, but your reward is still to come. And that reward will be joy eternal, and nobody will take it from you.


Seeking happiness

How often we hear optimistic news about the progressive recovery of the economy. They tell us that we are now witnessing economic growth, but growth of what? Growth for whom? They are hardly telling the whole truth of what’s happening.

Economic growth in the developed world often masks the gulf between those who can better their standard of living more and more and those who are going to stay cut off, without work or future in this macro-economic system.

We must be uneasy at how the provocative consumerism of those whom the system favours clashes with the misery and insecurity of so many. Let’s not forget the economic, financial and social mechanisms denounced by John Paul II which “function almost automatically, making more rigid the situations of wealth for some and of poverty for others.”

We cannot settle for a society that is profoundly unequal and unjust. In his clear and Gospel-based  encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis, John Paul II called this situation clearly sinful.

We can offer all kinds of technical explanations, but our system leads always to greater enrichment of those who are wealthy and little benefit to those who are poorest. Even today there are many who follow Nietzsche and think that Christianity is based on the futile wishes of of those who can’t attain justice in this present life.

Jesus’ message isn’t born out of the powerlessness of cast-aside and resentful people, but out of his intense vision of God’s justice that can’t allow the final triumph of injustice. It’s been twenty centuries, but Jesus’ word keeps being decisive for the rich and for the poor. Word of denouncing for some and of promise for others, it’s alive and well and challenges us all.  [José Antonio Pagola]


The Beatitudes today

(1) In the Beatitudes Jesus is not expressing a pious wish for something entirely unreal and outside of history. As they are presented in St Luke’s version, they are, to say the least, controversial. They are a challenge thrown down to us, because so much of what we see contradicts these statements. People who are poor and hungry, people who are weeping are not happy. What Jesus says is that if they really understand the situation they are in before God, they will be glad. Wealth and a full stomach are not a recipe for misery. But Jesus warns those who are comfortable that if they really understood their situation they would not be so happy. The things that are most important are not being poor or rich, being hungry or well-fed. This is a truth that most people accept in a notional way, or as a pious wish. Jesus invites us to begin to base or behaviour on it.

(2) People often feel morally guilty about their use of bad language. They may feel obliged to confess that they have been “cursing.” Yet in today’s first reading we hear: “a curse on the man who…” This “curse “is really intended as a warning. It is not intended as a prayer that really wishes ill to anyone in particular. What is forbidden most of all by the command not to “curse” is wishing or still worse praying for ill against a particular person – and so committing such an ill against them in your heart. The “woes” here are not curses, but an expression full of the regret, pity and sorrow that Jesus showed when he wept over Jerusalem. Bad language sometimes conveys an element of real wishing for another’s ill. More often it may offend against the spirit of the Beatitudes by dishonouring or humanity, by taking from the dignity and respect that is due to other people, and indeed to ourselves.

(3) St Luke has taken some pains to emphasise that Jesus’ words are addressed to the poor, the hungry, the suffering now. There are plenty of people in the world who are poor, hungry, and suffering now. Perhaps we are among them? If so the Beatitudes are addressed especially to us. It may still take a mighty movement of faith for us to see that the kingdom of God really does transform our situation. If there is little faith in our lives before suffering touches us, we will find faith hard to summon up when the day comes.

(4) If we cannot honestly count ourselves among the poor, the hungry, and the suffering, we can do more than just take to heart the warnings that follow. We can remember that the beatitudes here are especially addressed to the poor and hungry. We can take up the invitation to do something about the situation of the poor and hungry. We can recall that we, the comfortable people with resources at our command that are denied to others, are called to be the instruments of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that is one of justice, love and peace. For justice, love and peace, there is a price to pay.


Roots that go deep

The Jeremiah text today speak about eager roots that stretch out to the sources of water. What are we striving for? He also mentions the heat and drought which inevitably comes. Life is like that. Ups and downs. Challenges. Crisis. Tragedy. Nevertheless, if one is plugged into God, the source of love, mercy, and goodness, one will still bear fruit and green leaves. If our aims are elsewhere, we are going nowhere. Even in a desert place we can still turn back and trust that God, for whom nothing is impossible. There can still spring up a river of life,  by his grace.

The homily could be Paul's message to the Corinthians, reminding the faithful of belief in the afterlife.. Is this something we ever think of? When have we last recalled our own mortality? When have we pondered about heaven? Do we truly believe that Jesus was raised from the dead? Do we believe that we too have a future? Perhaps it is time in your faith community to ponder these questions to simply keep the minds of the faithful heavenward.

Another theme: Dependence is Not a Sign of Weakness. This is well rooted in salvation history. When mankind walks humbly, takes care of the poor, the orphan, the widow, the alien, and is utterly dependent upon God then true happiness and peace ensues. When mankind gets prosperous, fat, lazy, self-seeking, independent, and disregards the marginalized then trouble ensues. True happiness is nowhere to be found. The grace of God is scarce.

The Beatitudes list the kind of people who are called Blessed. It is by no accident that these individuals are all utterly dependent upon God due to their circumstances – the poor, the hungry, the sad, the despised. They are the faithful, they are prayerful people. They are like trees who can weather the drought by stretching their roots to the underground water. They are dependent upon God and feel serene. On the contrary are those to whom Jesus says WOE. They have a false sense of security. They are well-off, socially popular and in need of nothing. It is difficult – but not impossible – to hold on to a sense of utter dependence upon God in these situations. Dependence upon God is not a sign of weakness; rather it keeps one in contact with a never-ending source of strength.

 


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7th Sunday (C)

Today's Eucharist celebrates Jesus as Lord of compassion and love. If we carry hatred in our hearts against others, we cannot properly approach the Lord's table. We ask him to heal us of our petty vengefulness

1st Reading:1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23

Saul, jealous of the young David, wants to kill him

Saul rose and went down to the Wilderness of Ziph, with three thousand chosen men of Israel, to seek David in the Wilderness of Ziph. So David and Abishai went to the army by night; there Saul lay sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head; and Abner and the army lay around him.

Abishai said to David, "God has given your enemy into your hand today; now therefore let me pin him to the ground with one stroke of the spear; I will not strike him twice." But David said to Abishai, "Do not destroy him; for who can raise his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be guiltless?" So David took the spear that was at Saul's head and the water jar, and they went away. No one saw it, or knew it, nor did anyone awake; for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them.

Then David went over to the other side, and stood on top of a hill far away, with a great distance between them. David replied, "Here is the spear, O king! Let one of the young men come over and get it. The Lord rewards everyone for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the Lord gave you into my hand today, but I would not raise my hand against the Lord's anointed.

Responsorial: Psalm 102:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13

R./: The Lord is kind and merciful

My soul, give thanks to the Lord,
 all my being, bless his holy name.
 My soul, give thanks to the Lord
 and never forget all his blessings. (R./)

It is he who forgives all your guilt,
 who heals every one of your ills,
 who redeems your life from the grave,
 who crowns you with love and compassion. (R./)

The Lord is compassion and love,
 slow to anger and rich in mercy.
He does not treat us according to our sins
 nor repays us according to our faults. (R./)

As far as the east is from the west
 so far does he remove our sins.
 As a father has compassion on his sons,
 the Lord has pity on those who fear him. (R./)

2nd Reading:1 Corinthians 15:45-49

Paul's parallel and contrast between Adam and Christ

It is written, "The first man Adam became a living being;" the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Gospel: Luke 6:27-38

Instead of seeking revenge, we seek to show compassion towards all

Jesus said to his disciples, "I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged;do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."

BIBLE

Written on their hearts

In a great passage Jeremiah wrote, “See the days are coming, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel.” It continues, “Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God, and they shall be my people… There will be no further need to teach one another, or say to one another, “Know the Lord.” No they will all know me from the least to the greatest.” (Jeremiah, 31:31). The important message is that people should look into the centre of their being, their heart, in order to discover God, what God wants them to do. St Augustine was influenced by Jeremiah’s concept of a new inner covenant with God, and made it the basis of his spiritual life. “Do not seek outside,” he wrote, “but enter into yourself; for truth dwells in the interior person.” In his Confessions Augustine tells how he experienced this personally. “I entered, and with the eye o my soul I saw the Light that never changes lighting up my mind.”

Tthe New Testament was written in Greek, and “carousing” (komos) in Greek was used to describe a noisy band of revellers who rampaged through the city streets at night, demeaning themselves and being a nuisance to others. It sounds familiar today also. Even to the pagan Greeks, drunkenness was a particular disgrace. Although they were a wine- drinking people – they did not have tea or coffee in those days – drunkenness was considered especially shameful, for the wine they drank was much diluted, and was only taken because water was scarce, and moreover dangerous, on account of possible contamination, something which is true to this day in warm climates. Drunkenness, then, was a vice which not only a Christian but any respectable pagan would condemn. Today, the last Sunday before the beginning of Lent, has been designated Temperance Sunday throughout the country. Temperance does not mean total abstinence but rather moderation in indulging our appetites.

In the 19th century, inordinate craving for strong drink was seen as a kind of curse on the Irish, a glaring weakness in our national character. People resorted to drink, during periods of great deprivation and misery, to try and escape their troubles. Nowadays it is by and large an unbridled seeking for earthly pleasure. And while the simple pleasures of life are something we should be grateful to God for, what we must impress upon our minds is that pleasure unlimited and Christianity simply cannot co-exist. “Unless you deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me, you cannot be my disciple,” Christ is saying to us as we begin our Lenten preparation for the celebration of Easter. What he is asking of us is not so much total abstinence, but rather temperance, restraint, self-control, virtues which are gifts of the Holy Spirit. Over-indulgence in alcohol does not resolve life’s problems. It merely adds to them. It can lead to break-up in marriages, the disruption of personal relationships, the danger of alcohol-related diseases which after heart disease and cancer is the third most likely cause of premature death among Irish people. The over-riding reason why we should exercise restraint in drinking is that temperance is a virtue. Temperance is not only a duty; it is a test as to whether we are true disciples of Christ or not.


All-embracing compassion

(1) Others had said: “do not do to others what you would not have them do to you.” That is perhaps the basic law of manners and politeness. Jesus, characteristically, goes beyond this: Do to others… The Christian ethic is positive. It goes beyond “Thou shalt not…” to “Do …. ” It is activist. There is the story of the man who appeared at the gate of heaven asking to be let in. St Peter asked him why he thought he should be let in. The man answered: “my hands are clean.” “Yes,” answered Peter, “but they are empty!’

(2) The Gospel asks us to go the extra mile. Jesus asks for more than the minimum that justice requires. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” = He told his disciples: “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Yet with those who tried and failed he was full of sympathy and compassion. He will never say “enough,” but he will not reject anyone who has failed and comes back to him.

(3) Some people prefer the simple formula: “Eye for eye; tooth for tooth”. David had his chance to kill his enemy before his enemy killed him, as Saul fully intended to do. But he held back and he would not take Saul’s life. The temptation to violence is an easy one. The world is full of wars and violent confrontations. We yield too readily to our instincts of aggression, whether it is the great aggression where nation confronts nation in a balance of terrir, or violent confrontations between groups of citizens, or violence in the home. Education in peaceful means of solving interpersonal and intercommunal difficulties is one of the greatest needs of our age. The way is open to Christians to start to learn more about non-violent means of solving conflicts and becomes peacemakers.

(4) Compassion is the characteristic of God – even of the “Old Testament God” whom some wrongly see as uniquely harsh and cruel. Our psalm  emphasises that God is not the seeker of vengeance that many people imagine him to be. He is not waiting and anxious to punish each and every fault, but  is concerned only to remove our sins and fill us with life.

(5) God’s love and goodness, his desire not to reject or to lose us, is shown most powerfully in what he has done for us in his Son Jesus Christ. He has made us into a new creation. He wishes to join us with him for an eternity of fulfilment and happiness. God’s compassion for sinful and unhappy humanity is the model of our compassion. St Matthew had said: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Ch. 5:48.) St John said: “God is love” (1 John 4:7.) St Luke’s report of Jesus’ words is: “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.”


Able to forgive

Jesus’ message was new and shocking for the religious leaders of his day. Their law decreed “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” In other words, they were expected to strike back at those who harmed them in any way. It is in a gospel like that presented to us today that we see just how radical and revolutionary Jesus’ teaching must have sounded back then. Indeed, it is still quite revolutionary in today’s world, with our dog-eat-dog mentality. The process of salvation which he had come to establish would be based on forgiveness, and, therefore, to be part of, and to belong to that process must put each of us right Out there in the front line of tolerance, forgiveness, and love.

Look in a mirror, reflecting on the failures and sin in your life. Take as much time as you need. You are going to ask God’s forgiveness, you are going to offer amendment, to move forward from here.  Jesus taught us one simple prayer, which we call the Our Father or the Lord’s Prayer. It is a simple prayer, and it is quite short. One of the petitions is where we ask God to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. We can rattle off this prayer, and fail to realise the bind in which it can place us.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to forgive us on one condition, which is that we will forgive others in our turn. There is a proven power in forgiveness and love. “Blessed are the meek” says Jesus, “they shall possess the earth.” We are impressed by the power of forgiveness shown by characters like Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and others who somehow managed to turn the other cheek. The bully cannot deal with the power of the one who won’t strike back, but often resorts to violence as the only way to silence their voice of protest. To err is human, to forgive is divine. We would aim to be big-hearted, tolerant and patient.. But the ideal Jesus sets for us is, “Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful.”

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8th Sunday (C)

Our Lord invites us to take the plank out of our own eyes before we try to take the splinter out of others' eyes. It is good to take a hard look at ourselves and our own shortcomings

1st Reading: Sirach 27: 4-7

Three images about our ways of speaking

When a sieve is shaken, the refuse appears; so do a person's faults when he speaks. The kiln tests the potter's vessels; so the test of a person is in his conversation. Its fruit discloses the cultivation of a tree; so a person's speech discloses the cultivation of his mind. Do not praise anyone before he speaks, for this is the way people are tested.

Responsorial: Psalm 91:2-3, 13-16

R./: Lord, it is good to give thanks to you

It is good to give thanks to the Lord
 to make music to your name, O Most High,
 to proclaim your love in the morning
 and your truth in the watches of the night. (R./)

The just will flourish like the palm-tree
 and grow like a Lebanon cedar. (R./)

Planted in the house of the Lord
 they will flourish in the courts of our God,
 still bearing fruit when they are old,
 still full of sap, still green,
 to proclaim that the Lord is just.
 In him, my rock, there is no wrong. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 15: 54-58

If we persevere in God's work, we need not fear death

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.

Gospel: Luke 6:39-45

We cannot offer guidance unless we see the way clearly ourselves

Jesus told them a parable: "Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, 'Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour's eye.

"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks."

BIBLE

Growing in the Faith

Springtime is a time for growing in the faith, and it is good to check whether Jesus’ teaching is taking root in our hearts. Today’s readings focus on being steadfast in faith. St Paul encourages us to “be steadfast, immovable .. knowing that our labour is not in vain.” We need to be like this, if we are in any way to lead others towards Jesus, and help them to grow spiritually, just as we are hoping to grow ourselves. But however firm we may be in the faith, we are warned against letting a judgmental attitude to root in us. Jesus put this warning in a dramatic symbol: Don’t try to remove the speck of dust from another’s eye, until you have removed the log from your own eye! We must not self-righteously correct others without honestly evaluating ourselves.

The problem of enmity has not gone away. The church still suffers polarisation and divisiveness within our own faith community. Even among the hierarchy, some are bitterly opposed to pope Francis’ attempts to reform some outdated structures and attitudes, so that our church can be more welcoming to outsiders who seek spiritul nourishment. Even some cardinals seem more concerned with fault-finding than with building up the body of Christ. We need to pray for a renewal of true collegiality and family spirit at all levels of the church

In Springtime, deepening of faith and dedication should lead to a spiritual maturity, when we aim to be mutually suportive. This warning against hasty judgment and arrogance is sandwiched between Christ’s teaching about universal love (Lk 6:27-36) and his call to build our life on the solid foundation of his word (Lk 6:46-49.) He alls us to be “merciful, as your Father is merciful,” and “like the Most High who is kind even to the ungrateful” (Lk 6:35-36.)

Our life in the Spirit results from his gift and our cooperation. Our part is to remove obstacles to growth, and one of our positive goals is to develope a kindly attitude to our fellow Christians. It is for us to help them and leave it to God to judge them.


Peace and Quiet

In today’s world it’s hard to find a little peace and quiet in order to meet oneself and God. It’s not easy to avoid the constant harassment of all kinds of calls and messages. The worries and hurry of each day tak up our whole attention. Not even in our own home, pervaded by television and digital media, is it easy to find the tranquility and recollection we need to joyfully relax with God.

Have we forgotten what it means to pause, interrupt our hurry, free our minds for a few moments and let ourselves be penetrated by the silence and calm of sacred space? Often it’s enough to stand still and be silent for a short time, in order to quiet the spirit and recover lucidity and peace. How much we need to find the silence that helps us to enter into contact with our very selves in order to recover our freedom and to rescue once again all our inner energy.

Accustomed to noise and agitation, we don’t suspect the wellness that can come from silence and being alone. Eager for news, images and impressions, we’ve forgotten how to be nourished and enriched in the deepest depths of our being.

Without some inner silence, we can’t hear God, recognize the divine presence in our life and grow from within as human beings and as believers. According to Jesus, people draw goodness from the store of goodness in their hearts. Goodness doesn’t blossom without help. We need to cultivate it and make it grow in the depth of our heart. How our lives would blossom if we stopped to notice what God is stirring up in our heart.


For the right reason

Jesus warns us not to judge others. He lays down the premise that since we all have faults, we have no right to judge the faults of others. What is striking about a meeting of recovering alcoholics is this shared admission of weakness. Each is encouraged to take the first step towards reform: admitting that he or she has a difficulty that he needs help to control. Each is encouraged by the others to stay sober. Among the general public our specific weakness is less obvious than the addiction that grips an alcoholic. But we find it even harder to admit our weakness, even to ourselves. Rather we prefer to give the impression that we are just fine, and in no need of the compassion of others.

On the other hand, some are responsible for guiding and encouraging others. Parents have the responsibility of showing their children, by example of course, but also in words, how to lead a decent life. The Gospel reminds us that the blind cannot lead the blind, that we need to remove the log out of our own eye in order to be able to help (though not to judge) others. One cannot undertake to guide others until one has a good sense of values: one must not only be well-informed, but also be committed to correcting one’s deficiencies. As every teacher knows, you really begin to learn something when you try to teach it to others. Every parent knows that just because he or she becomes aware of the need to teach the children how to live he or she is encouraged to behave in a more Christian way.

Jesus warns against self-righteousness. Just keeping the letter of the law is not enough, for God searches the heart. We need to do the right thing from the right intention. He want us to practice self-criticism and be aware of our motives. We need to turn to God within our hearts, to purify our inmost intentions. This is what king David meant when he prayed, “Lord, create in me a pure heart; put a steadfast spirit within me.”


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9th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: 1 Kings 8: 41-43

Solomon welcomes foreigners to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem

Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord and, stretching out his hands towards heaven, said:

"When a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name - for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm - when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built."

Responsorial: Psalm 116:1-2

R./: Go out to all the world and tell the Good News

O praise the Lord, all you nations,
 acclaim him all you peoples! (R./)
 
Strong is his love for us;
 he is faithful for ever. (R./)

2nd Reading: Galatians (1: 1-2, 6-10

Paul warns against trouble-makers, who preach a different version of the Gospel

Paul an apostle, sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead, and all the members of God's family who are with me, to the churches of Galatia.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed! Am I now seeking human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Gospel: Luke 7: 1-10

Jesus praises the centurion's faith and heals his servant

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us."

And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and the slave does it." When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

BIBLE

Interceding for Others

"Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." This confession which we all make before receiving Holy Communion is based on today's gospel story about the Roman centurion. "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you under my roof, but only say the word and my servant shall be healed." This was what the centurion had said, and the fact that this man -

foreigner or gentile, and an army officer - was given the highest commendation by Jesus - "Nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this'- all this must have really infuriated the critics of Jesus, who were listening on. We might even add that hardly anywhere in the Roman Empire could one find an official so concerned about his personal slave as this man. For example a highly respected Roman statesman and moralist (Cato) in ancient times, writing on farm management, strongly advised land-owners that each year they should examine their farming implements and get rid of all those which were faulty or old, and that they should do he same with any of their slaves who were old or sickly. It was the accepted practice in those days that when a slave was past his usefulness he was thrown out to die.

In the light of such indifference to human suffering we should view the action of the centurion in the gospel story. His slave was dear to him and he was prepared to try everything to save his life. He was a deeply religious man, and we know that he donated some of his modest income towards building a synagogue for Jewish worship in Capernaum, at a time when most Romans regarded the Jewish faith as barbarous superstition. He was, moreover, a humble man; he would not even come to Jesus himself. And finally he was a man of faith; even before Jesus performed the miracle, his attitude was "I know you can cure my servant, you need only say the word and he will be healed."

The Jews, on the other hand, who had witnessed Jesus perform even more miracles, persisted in ascribing all of these to the power of the devil. Surprisingly, however, with few exceptions, we can say that as far as those who witness miracles are concerned, nothing lasting seems to be gained, that apart from creating a short-lived sense of wonder, they do not appear to make people better as regards their religious views, or principles, or habits. You might say that a miracle would startle you, but being startled is not conversion, any more than religious knowledge is the same as religious practice.

God offers his grace to us in several other ways, and if these make no impression, the likelihood is that, as in the case of the Jews, miracles will not convert us either. We might ask then, what is the real reason why we do not seek God with all our hearts, and devote ourselves to serving him? Why do people, even after witnessing miraculous happenings, continue to ignore the voice of God that speaks to everyone from within? Sacred Scripture gives us part of the answer when it says, "Take care brothers (and sisters) that there is not in any of you a heart so evil and unbelieving as to turn away from the living God." In other words, we do not serve God, precisely because we lack the heart, the will, and the desire to serve him. We prefer anything to religion as did the Jews at the foot of Mount Sinai, when they grew tired of waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain. They proceeded to erect and adore a golden calf, and afterwards amuse themselves.

Alas, we are no better. How often do we allow ourselves to be seduced by the glitter and attractions of this passing world? We turn aside from the promptings of God's divine Spirit because of our lack of fervour and love in serving him. Oh yes, we keep hoping that we will be converted to God, but at some future date, like the people of Athens whose response to Paul's teaching was, "We would like to hear you talk about this another time," or the young Augustine who prayed, "Make me pure Lord, but not yet." We should keep reminding ourselves of the warning of Psalm 94, recited daily by all who say the Divine Office, "Oh, that today you would listen to his voice. Harden not your hearts." "Listen" is a key word in the Bible. It appears 1,100 times in the OT and 445 in the New Testament. In our prayer to God, especially when celebrating the Mass, not only do we speak to God, but God, in turn speaks to us, provided we listen to the voice of his Holy Spirit within us, and not allow ourselves to be wilfully distracte.


A Gospel for Everyone

The central theme of all of today's readings is universalism: the fact that God - the one, true God who revealed himself initially to Israel is the God not only of Israel but of all nations, of all humankind.

The homilist might fruitfully remind the congregation of the "history of salvation: " God revealed himself firstly to Abraham and this revelation reached a climax in the Jerusalem temple But God's will has always been to bring all nations together as his one people a Solomon saw, however vaguely, this "plan" of God to reveal himself to all nations. The trouble in the Churches of Galatia had been caused by people who insisted that, to be "first class (Christians at least, the faithful had to subscribe to the prescriptions Of the Jewish law - whereas Paul had preached that once faith In Christ was necessary. According to Paul, all human beings of whatever culture or race - could belong to God, through Christ provided that they believed in the gospel. Faith was the only prerequisite, the only qualification required, to belong to the church the new "people" of God, This is also apparent from today's #Gospel: the centurion's servant is healed because of the centurion 5 faith, And Jesus' healing is always a sign of the spiritual salvation which he brings to the world. The centurion is an example of all those who come to God, within the "temple" of the Church, through faith in Jesus.

There are many practical applications - for our personal life and for the life of the Church - to be drawn from today's liturgy of the word. The first and most obvious is that there is no room for insularity and chauvinism - let alone xenophobia - in the Christian view of humankind. There are no "foreigners" in God's eyes - before him all human beings are equal and all are called and destined to become his children, members of his one "people."

The gospel and the moral conversion which it demands are profound and far-reaching but also simple and make for the development of all persons as full human beings. Nothing truly human is alien to the gospel, and all human beings, of whatever culture, colour or race, can accept it and, thereby, reach fulfilment, It would be wrong to identify Christianity with any one culture, be it Jewish, Roman or Western European. The basic qualification of the Christian: to believe in God through Jesus Christ can be, and is, found in every authentically human culture. Only on this condition can the Catholic Church be truly "catholic," that is, "universal: " found everywhere.

At this point the homilist might refer to the efforts being made to bring about greater unity between the Christian Churches - the ecumenical movement - and to achieve a better understanding between the different world religions. It should be stressed that today's liturgy expresses our belief that there is only one, true God and that it is the will of this God that all human beings should come to know him. All our efforts to understand "other" religions should not be construed as a dilution of this fundamental truth of our religion.

The true Christian should - in imitation of Jesus - be a welcoming, unprejudiced person. Many societies today include immigrants; many people are forced to emigrate, to flee for refuge from natural or political disasters. The "global village," the "multi-racial society," the "pluralist society" - these are cliches, but they remind us that we are living in a world in which people are experienced as being "different." The Christian attitude to all genuinely cultural differences between people is one of positive acceptance and welcome, not just of "tolerance," in the belief that God himself accepts and welcomes people as they are, and that he gives them healing, salvation and access to his Church, on the one condition that they welcome the gospel preached by his Son and continually communicated to the world through his Church. It is incumbent on the Church to safeguard and to work for the purity of this gospel. In practical terms, this means that all the members of the Church should ensure that they are not bigoed, biased or prejudiced with regard to others but open, hospitable, welcoming and friendly to everyone - just as God has been, and is, to them. After all, the centurion in today's gospel represents, by far, most of the Christians in the world today.


Uniting opposites

Today's gospel seems to contain an ordinary gospel story, telling of an action in Jesus' life which we would judge to be fairly characteristic: someone needs help, asks Jesus, who comes and gives what is required. Nothing startling there... until we look at who asks for the help and who receives it.

The Romans in Palestine were unwelcome occupiers, to put it mildly. They were occupation forces among the Jews, a people keenly aware of the meaning of freedom and nationhood. Not only was the presence of the Romans a political insult, but a religious one as well. The Romans were pagan, bringing even on their legion standards images which they worshipped. The Roman general Pompey had, years before, walked nonchalantly into the Holy of Holies in the Temple, a blasphemous act which should have meant immediate death. The Dead Sea Scrolls witness to the hatred which many Jews had for the Romans, and to the hope that God would some day drive them from the land. The presence of Rome in Palestine was offensive to the religious and political sensitivities of nearly every good Jew. And if a Roman's servant was sick, it would cause heart-ache among very, few. But there's no evidence of this state of affairs in this gospel passage. When the servant needs help, who comes and asks Jesus? Not just a group of Jews, but Jewsof some standing in the community. And do they ask because they are afraid what will happen if this Roman monster is turned down? No, they praise this Roman to Christ "He deserves it of you." And Christ himself is not only open enough to come to the centurion's aid; he ends up praising the centurion's faith above anything he had seen in his own people.

This story demonstrates one important aim of Jesus: he came among us to take groups of people and individuals, all with every reason to hate each other, and to establish understanding between them. In his own lifetime, he did this by loving across every barrier: as a Jew, he loved Romans; as a Jew, he loved Samaritans; as a teacher of religion, he had time for the religionless and the erring; as the only Righteous One, he loved sinners. There was no outsider with Jesus.

But can the same be said about the followers of Jesus? There are plenty of outsiders as far as we are concerned. If we are on one side of a fence, chances are that we don't like many people on the other side; that fence can be social class, skin colour, employment category, county border, political sympathies... in fact, just about anything that makes people different from each other can be a wall that no human feeling can breach.

One mistake which is tempting to make in approaching this problem is to pretend that the differences aren't there, which approach would be about as successful as trying to enter a room pretending that there are no walls. Only when we know the walls can we find the doors. People in the world will always differ in customs, outlooks, ways of speaking, ways of voting. A world where everyone were the average height and thought the average thoughts would be boring, indeed. Our loving of our neighbour has to recognize these differences, and not be blind to them. Our love must extend to people whom we know to be different from ourselves. It's a major challenge, for it not only means changing our actions (which is difficult enough), but changing our attitudes and evaluations of others. There are few things as deeply rooted as our prejudices.

One area that must be mentioned over all is our religious differences, especially with our fellow Christians. The present divided state of the Church of Christ is the tragic result of the will of man, not of the will of God. As is sometimes noted, the present generation of Christians is not responsible for the fractioning of the Body of Christ: historically, the blame can rest on people, long buried, who didn't care enough or work hard enough to keep all Christians in union with one another. But in another sense, we bear just as much responsibility today. Our prejudices, fears, and suspicions can keep the wounds in the Body of Christ open - our bitterness and lack of forgiveness to past wrongs can assure that the gulf between Christians is kept wide.

Jesus, the one so open to those who are unlike himself, prayed for us who have such great differences among ourselves. When at that Supper, he looked around at those who were with him, he saw Simon the Zealot, who had worked with those who tried to oust the occupation forces (or at least sympathized heavily with them) ; and he saw Matthew, who collected taxes for Rome, a collaborator with the enemy. He saw Peter, whose enthusiastic faith at times virtually bubbled over, at times a little too enthusiastically; and he saw Thomas, whose sceptical approach to things supernatural would become famous world-wide. And looking at these differences, and dozens more, and knowing that there would be many more differences in his followers yet to hear of him, he prayed: "Father, that they all be one." And it seems that this is one prayer in whose answer we have a say.


That Roman Centurion

The Roman centurion in this gospel has special significance for me. Several years ago a young relative of mine, aged 7, arrived at Dublin airport from the USA, along with her mother. She had been violently sick throughout the flight, and, before she set foot in Ireland, she was already dreading the return flight. Some hours after she arrived, I brought her to one side, and I told her that I was going to entrust her with an important secret, which nobody else must know. Through a friend of mine, I had succeeded in getting a tablet which was guaranteed to prevent travel sickness, but my problem was that it was not available on the public market, and my friend would get into serious trouble if it were known that he had given one to me. This cheered her up no end, and any chance she got during her vacation, she would come to me and whisper that she didn't worry at all now about the flight back home. I left them at Dublin airport for their return journey. I brought her over into a corner, where I slipped her half an aspirin, with a sup of water. Within seconds she was telling me that she felt much better already! Apparently she had a most enjoyable flight home. I use this example to show what can happen when there's faith and trust. The comparison ends there, in so far as the power Jesus used was far removed from the placebo employed by me!

This gospel offers a few details about this centurion. One of the first things we notice is the kind of person he was. It was Jews who came to Jesus, because he was so good to them, and he built their temple for them. He was concerned about his servant who was a slave, at a time when slaves were another form of property, to be disposed of at the will of their master. He was truly a remarkable man.

One of the most striking things about the man, of course, was the strong faith he had. How he came to this level of faith we can only surmise. He must have been a humble man, because centurions in his day were people of authority, and things happened because they said so. He considered Jesus so superior to him that he did not consider himself worthy to have Jesus come under his roof. It is interesting to note that, following his example, after all these years, we, too, declare "Lord, I am not worthy..."

"All things are possible to those who have faith" were the words of Jesus to the man whose son was possessed by the demons. "There is nothing impossible with God" was the message to Mary. Jesus pays a remarkable tribute to the centurion "I tell you, I have not found faith like this in all of Israel." The centurion was certainly a remarkable man.

Humility is the foundation-stone of all authority. We are told that Jesus spoke with great authority; in other words, he knew who the author was, because he never said anything unless the Father told him. People in authority positions have a greater responsibility for service. Their authority is based on love and service, rather than fear and power. A husband asked his wife one-time "Do you know how many truly great men there are in the world today?" "I don't," she replied. "But I know that there's one less than you think there is!" As a result of reflecting on today's gospel, I could do well to search my heart for arrogance, pride, domineering, haughtiness, and impatience.

It was a hospital ward, and over in the corner was a man lying on the broad of his back, looking up at the ceiling. He was unable to sit up, or lift his head. Over by the window was another man, who spent most of his time looking out the window. For over an hour every day, the man by the window regaled the other man with graphic descriptions of everything that was happening out on the road. As he spoke about the clouds, the children playing, the vehicles flying past, the other lay there with his eyes closed, trying to imagine in his mind's eye everything the other man was describing. One day, the man was describing a parade passing by, while the other could almost see the band marching and playing. Listening to the descriptions of what was going on outside was the highlight of his day, and it helped him enormously to deal with the frustration of being so powerless.

One morning the nurses came in and found that the man by the window had died during the night. His body was removed, and, later that evening, the man in the other bed asked if he might be transferred to the bed next the window. The nurses readily acceded to his request. After a few days, the man made a Herculean effort, and, with the help of a few pillows, he managed to get into some sort of sit-up position, so that he could look out the window, and see all the things the other man had described to him so often. When he looked out the window he got a great surprise. There was a blank wall outside the window, and there was nothing to be seen. He called the nurse, and asked her how was it that the other man had given him all those daily details, when, in fact, there was nothing to be seen outside the window at all. The nurse replied "He was one of the kindest men I have ever met. He was actually blind, and he did that every day just to help you deal with your boredom." Like the centurion, a man like that is himself a miracle, and miracles happen wherever they are!


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10th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: 1 Kings 17:17-24

Elijah restores the widow's son to life

The son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!"

But he said to her, "Give me your son." He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?" Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, let this child's life come into him again."

The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, "See, your son is alive." So the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth."

Responsorial: Psalm 29:2, 4-6, 11-13

R./: I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.

I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me
 and have not let my enemies rejoice over me.
 O Lord, you have raised my soul from the dead,
 restored me to life from those who sink into the grave. (R./)

Sing psalms to the Lord, you who love him,
 give thanks to his holy name.
His anger lasts a moment; his favour through life.
 At night there are tears, but joy comes with dawn. (R./)

The Lord listened and had pity.
The Lord came to my help.
For you have changed my mourning into dancing;
 O Lord my God, I will thank you for ever. (R./)

2nd Reading: Galatians (1:11-19

The Gospel Paul preaches comes from a revelation of Jesus Christ

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.

But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord's brother.

Gospel: Luke 7:11-17

Jesus restores to life the only son of a widow at Nain

Soon afterwards Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep." Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and "God has looked favorably on his people!" This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

BIBLE

Receiving salvation

God's initiative . In the story Jesus takes the initiative; the widow offers only her unspoken need. Jesus acts with such concern and sensitivity that the approach of God's power, though it provokes awe, arouses also praise and faith. If this could be the manner of God's approach to us always! Yet that is precisely Luke's message. Jesus is the image of the Father, sharing in action the love of the Father for us. We only have to place our need of salvation before him. He approaches the spiritually needy as mercifully and with as much concern as the physically needy. Jesus sorrows for human wretchedness, and the only thing he cannot overcome is a refusal to acknowledge the need of God's salvation.

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Our realisation . Like the widow we must know that we are in need. We cannot save ourselves. "Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh" (Luke 6:21.) We must weep for our sins, for our indifference, our lack of perseverance in good intentions, our helplessness to heal the ills of the world around us. God is "visiting" us every day of our lives through Jesus, the risen Lord, coming close to us in love and concern. Jesus visits us especially in the Eucharist. We are called first to accept the gifts of life that he gives us, then to praise him joyfully for the gift. We do not have to be in the charismatic movement to do that.

Conversion . Some prefer to reject God's approach or simply disbelieve in Him. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem in sorrow that its response is so poor (Luke 19:44.) Our lives are the poorer if we don't realise that Jesus has the same love and concern for us that he showed for the widow of Nain and her son. That is a sort of conversion, of turning towards God, that we look for in the Mass. "Lord, come to me; visit me in your love and stay with me always."


A Mother's Tears

There is a story attributed to Oscar Wilde, which takes up where today's gospel ends. It runs something like this: One year later, Jesus came once more to this town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a great number of people. When he was near the gate of the town it happened that there was a woman sitting on the roadside weeping bitterly.

When the Lord saw her he felt sorry for her. "Do not cry," he said. Looking up, the woman saw Jesus standing there and began to weep even more loudly. "Why do you weep so?" Jesus asked the woman. "Because of you," the woman answered. "I curse the day I met you when I was burying my only son and you brought him back to life. Now I wish he was dead." "Why do you speak so?" Jesus asked the woman. The woman answered, "When my son came back to life, his fame spread throughout Judaea and all over the countryside. Many people came to do him homage. Before, he had been a dutiful son to me. Now, his head was turned and he squandered all my savings on wastrels and harlots who fawned upon him, abandoning me on the wayside with neither son or home." When Jesus heard these words he was astonished and, turning round, said to the crowd following him, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found ingratitude like this."

The moral of this story, according to Wilde, was that nobody, not even God, should interfere in other peoples' lives. Wilde's theology fell far short of his undoubted literary skills. In the gospels there is no miracle which is futile, trivial or unwholesome. Nor are there miracles which inflict punishment on anybody. Christ's miraculous intervention in our lives, albeit extremely rare, is always benign. In the case of the bereaved widow, the gospel expressly mentions that "he felt sorry for her." His motive was to heal her pain, not to replace it with another. The motive of this miracle was compassion: its message was God's victory over death. All the miracles of Jesus are the prelude to his own resurrection, which was the decisive triumph of the power of God.

Personal and profound suffering would bring Oscar Wilde deeper insights into the compassion of God. Falling from grace, the once literary lion of glittering London society became a social outcast, committed to Reading gaol. In his prison cell, he began to wonder: For who can say by what strange way Christ brings his will to light. In the humiliation and desolation of his imprisonment, he came like the widow of Nain to experience the compassion of God:

Ah! happy they whose hearts can break and peace of pardon win.
How else may man make straight his plan and cleanse his soul from sin?
How else but through a broken heart may Lord Christ enter in?

And he of the swollen purple throat and the stark and staring eyes,
Waits for the holy hands that took the Thief to Paradise;
 And a broken and a contrite heart the Lord will not despise.


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11th Sunday (C)

Today's Scriptures offer two major examples of repentance. Even if the notion of sin is almost extinct in Western society, we are invited to accept personal responsibility for our wrong-doing and seek God's forgiveness

1st Reading: 2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13

When challenged about his sin, King David has the grace to repent

Nathan said to David, "You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.

David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord." Nathan said to David, "Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die."

Responsorial: Psalm 31:1-2, 5, 7, 11

R./: Lord, forgive the wrong I have done

Happy the man whose offence is forgiven,
 whose sin is remitted.
 O happy the man to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,
 in whose spirit is no guile. (R./)

But now I have acknowledged my sins:
 my guilt I did not hide.
 I said 'I will confess my offence to the Lord.'
 And you, Lord, have forgiven the guilt of my sin. (R./)

You are my hiding place, O Lord;
 you save me from distress.
You surround me with cries of deliverance. (R./)

Rejoice, rejoice in the Lord,
 exult, you just!
 O come, ring our your joy,
 all you upright of heart. (R./)

2nd Reading: Galatians (2:16, 19-21

Jesus is so central to Paul that he feels crucified with Christ

We know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

Gospel: Luke 7:36-8:3

In a Pharisee's house, Jesus praises the repentance of the sinful woman

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him-that she is a sinner." Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "Speak." "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly."

Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" And he said to the woman, "our faith has saved you; go in peace."

Afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

BIBLE

Forgiveness at work

We can't help wondering why was Jesus so forgiving towards the wayward and the sinners, and yet so seemingly harsh towards the upright Pharisees, pillars of the Jewish religion? It must be because Pharisees saw moral goodness as atheir own achievement, based on will-power and integrity, without need for divine help or forgiveness. God, they felt, was a Law-enforcer, who rewarded those who observed the Law, while punishing those who broke it. This explains their attitude towards sinners, whom they shunned and despised. They were blind to the fact that we do not, and cannot, create our own goodness.

St Paul faces this point, and indeed puts into words what most of us feel, on occasion, about our own conduct. "I cannot understand my own behaviour," he says. "I fail to carry out my good intentions, " Our rescue from this dilemma is by a loving trust and faith in Jesus Christ. Be guided by the Holy Spirit, he advises, not by the Law, and you will not yield to self-indulgence (Gal 5:17). The core of the his message is not about law, but about the grace of God, the love and forgiveness which Christ alone can give. For St John too, the essential sin is to lack this faith and trust in Jesus. Faith is admitting our need for Jeus, accepting his claims, and coming to Jesus relying on his mercy. This is the point of today's gospel. Love wells up in our hearts from the experience of being forgiven by God.

Julian of Norwich, a 14th century English mystic who lived most of her life as a recluse in a cell attached to a church, saw the life of faithful discipleship as a succession of failures, of falling down, picking ourselves up and falling flat again. "We need to fall," she wrote, "and we need to see that we have done so. If we never fell, we should not know how weak and pitiable we are in ourselves. Nor should we fully know the wonderful love of our maker." And indeed no one, no matter what they have done, is barred from forgiveness. Our first reading describes the repentance of king David, and the gospel that of a despised public sinner. No matter how terrible the sin, God is ready to blot it out, if we repent.

"It is the one who is forgiven little who has little love," was our Lord's rebuke to the Pharisee. The ones who are good for making excuses are seldom good for anything else, and we see how King David did not offer excuses for having brought about the death of Uriah after committing adultery with his wife. "I have sinned against God," he openly admitted, and God forgave him. Let us too sincerely admit the need we have for forgiveness from such a forgiving and compassionate God.


Sacrament of forgiveness and love

The homily might concentrate on good and bad associations with the sacrament of reconciliation, i.e. on the experience of receiving God's forgiveness, which is at the same time the gift of his life and love, the binding of the repentant sinner to himself, rather than the feelings of guilt and anxieties and arithmetical gymnastics. Any confessor will realize that it is so much easier and more satisfying to deal with the "big" sinner who acknowledges guilt frankly and is overjoyed by receiving forgiveness, than with the dulled conscience like David, or the "good" person not conscious of sin like Simon. Perhaps the preacher's role is to help the Davids and the Simons to find in themselves the response of the sinful woman. The Mass should be a conversion experience for us, a turning to God.

(2) Explain that God's gift of forgiveness involves God's gift of himself. It is an enriching of our lives with his love and his truth. We are splendidly gifted by a generous and compassionate God. We do not merit the gifts. Thank God we do not get what we deserve! What is lacking in so many of us is a response of gratitude and love for the gifts we receive. We put no heart into it. Jesus is our guest, and we treat him decently enough, but as nothing special. Like Simon, we miss the meaning of what is happening. Lord, teach us to stand at your feet, to listen to you, to reach out to you in love, to rejoice that you meet us with such patience and understanding.


The Friend of Sinners

Today's gospel gives us a "close-up" view of the friend of sinners in action. I knew somebody like that. She was an elderly religious sister who was retired, and who was free to use her time as she pleased. Every morning she set off with a shopping bag, and no one seemed to know where she was going, and what she did all day. She never spoke about her work, and nobody asked her. One day she was knocked down and killed by a car as she tried to cross a busy road.

Her funeral took her community completely by surprise. Every drop-out, wino, and homeless person in Dublin arrived at the convent for her funeral. She had been their friend, and they came to pay tribute to her. It was quite a revelation for her community, who were embarrassed, humbled, and profoundly moved by the outpouring of grief they witnessed.

Today's story is at the house of a Pharisee, one of those who emphasised love of law rather than the law of love. It was certainly no place for a public sinner to show her face. She was outside the pale, of a group despised by devout Jews. It is almost as if Jesus had prearranged the scene, to let him state the whole purpose of his mission. He frequently said that he had come to call sinners, and to befriend them.

Not only did Jesus befriend the woman, but he even let her serve him. There was something about him that stirred a profound reverence within her, and she showed that reverence and respect by the anointing with oil, which was the highest expression of reverence one could show to another. Jesus had a ready-made, real, living object lesson right there, and he took full advantage of it. He was aware of the shock and horror among the onlookers, and he used the occasion to drive home a central point of his teaching.


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12th Sunday (C)

Jesus warns about his impending suffering and death. Only by taking up the cross can disciples follow him. We are fuller disciples of Our Lord if we learn to accept the crosses that come our way

1st Reading: Zechariah (12:10-11; 13:1

Guided by a new spirit, people will revere the One they have killed

The Lord says this, "And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.

On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land shall mourn, each family by itself; the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves.

On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity."

Responsorial: Psalm 62:2-6, 8-9

R./: My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God

O God, you are my God, for you I long;
 for you my soul is thirsting.
 My body pines for you
 like a dry, weary land without water. (R./)

So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
 to see your strength and your glory.
For your love is better than life,
 my lips will speak your praise. (R./)

So I will bless you all my life,
 in your name I will lift up my hands.
 My soul shall be filled as with a banquet,
 my mouth shall praise you with joy. (R./)

For you have been my help;
 in the shadow of your wings I rejoice.
 My soul clings to you;
 your right hand holds me fast. (R./)

2nd Reading: Galatians (3:26-29

Neither slave or free, male or female: the equal dignity of all the baptised

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Gospel: Luke 9:18-24

Jesus warns that he will be rejected, and his fate will be shared by his followers

Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" They answered, "John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "The Messiah of God."

He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, "The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."

Then he said to them all, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.

BIBLE

Who do you think I am?

One day, somewhere in the foothills of Mount Hermon, where Jesus had brought his disciples for a quiet time, he asked them straight out, "Who are people saying that I am?" It is the most crucial moment in the ministry of Jesus. Luke sets the episode in a period of stillness and reflection, away from the hectic activity prior to it. This episode marks a turning point in Christ's mission, for at its end we are told, "As the time drew near for him to be taken up to heaven, he fixed his face firmly to go to Jerusalem."

Heading for Jerusalem must have cost Jesus a real inner struggle. Was he apprehensive about what his fate was to be in Jerusalem? All our Gospels say how well he knew he was going to meet his death there at the hands of his enemies. Or was he happy with what he had achieved so far, with the understanding of himself and his mission his disciples had gained?

As their first answer to, "Who do people say that I am?," his disciples list some of the popular rumours circulating about him, that he was John the Baptist restored to life, or a reincarnate Elijah, one of the greatest prophets in Jewish history. Then came an awkward silence when he put the harder question, "Who do YOU say that I am?" It is never enough to know what other people see in Jesus. Christianity is not just knowing about Jesus; its core consists in knowing Jesus personally, and this in a developing way. In other words, knowing Christ comes ultimately from a person-to-person experience of his living presence, an experience that grows within the Christian community and is vital in sustaining it.

Peter's answer to this question of who Jesus is the only one recorded, and it is interesting to examine the different reports of it in the three synoptic gospels. The oldest, Mark's report, is simply, "You are the Christ." The title Christ, Messiah, means "the anointed one," a quality shared by kings, priests, and prophets, and Jesus was seen as combining all three. Luke's gospel has the slightly longer answer, "You are the Christ of God," which to his Gentile-Christian readers helped to explain that Jesus was on a God-given mission . The report in Matthew, written later still, is the longest and most carefuld, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." We cannot know exactly what Peter said on that occasion, but the shortest version "You are the Christ ," is the most likely. The other two versions: "You are the Christ of God," "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" could easily develope from that, as the evangelists reflected on the full significance of Jesus.

The four Gospels reflect the faith of the Christian communities out of which they grew. What we find in the period between the writing of Mark's gospel and that of Matthew, is the growth in their understanding of Jesus. The active faith of the first Christian generations penetrated deeper and deeper into his identity. It was only after deep reflection on the sayings of Jesus, on the miracles he worked, and especially on his presence to them in the post-resurrection time, that they came to clearly believe in his divinity.

The later church continued to find meaningful answers to his question, "Who do you say that I am?" And Christ to this day continues to issue the same challenge to each believer. Writing about the faith to his young companion Timothy, St Paul declared, "I know whom I have believed," not "I know what I have believed." Essential Christianity is not captured in a list of truths. It means knowing a person, not a person of the remote past, but the person of Jesus Christ living within and among us, for individually and collectively we are called to be the temple of the risen glorified Son of God.


Ending discrimination

People today are more interested in rights and freedoms and personal dignity than in a message about self-denial or taking up the cross. Yet today's readings show us a nice balance between human dignity and equality for all and the need for self-sacrifice. Modern freedoms are welcome and too long delayed, but they bring attendant dangers when a culture of entitlement replaces one of responsibility.

Basing the homily on the Galatians text, one of the following could be developed:

(1) Each should know and rejoice in our own dignity as child of God. But each other person is as good as we are in the eyes of God, equally a brother or sister of Christ.

(2) The first duty of a Christian towards his neighbour is to give him his proper dignity as a child of God. Allow him or her to be what he or she is.

(3) Remember the one they pierced on the cross. That's the Master we follow. And remember that he is pierced often today in the oppressed, the poverty-stricken, the sick, the neglected. I must seek for them the dignity I claim for myself.


What would YOU have said?

Today's gospel poses the central question of our faith: "Who do you say that I am?" If we reply that Jesus is someone we are prepared to follow, he makes very clear what that will imply. Imagine, if you can, Jesus posing that same question to a group of intellectual theologians. The answer would go something like this: "You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being; the kerygma in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationships." I could well imagine that Jesus' reply would be: "WHAT?'!

"And you, who do you say that I am?" Jesus is a personal God, who asks personal questions. "Will you also go away?" "Do you love me more than these?" The question is addressed to each of us personally, and the answer must come from personally too. We will not find that answer in a book, but in the heart. If we are to follow him, we must join in his journey, as Peter did. We must take up the cross of daily living, faithful to his call, so that he can lead us to the fullness of life. If we follow him, we need not expect much in the way of earthly glory for our pains. Just as he was rejected and marginalised for refusing to conform to the standards of this world, whoever takes him seriously may expect a similar response.

The complete answer to the question is "You are my Saviour, my Lord and my God." "You are Saviour in the room of my past; the Lord of the room of my future, and you are God in the room of today." God is totally a God of now. "I am who am." If he is Saviour, then I don't have to be back in the past, with regret, guilt, or self-condemnation. If he is Lord, then I don't have to live in the future, with worries, anxieties, and fear. I need have no fear of the future, if I believe that he holds the future. If he is God today, then "there is nothing impossible with God."

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13th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: 1 Kings 19:16, 19-21

Elisha immediately answers his call; leaving all he follows Elijah

The Lord said to Elijah, "You shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place."

Elijah set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was ploughing, with twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." Then Elijah said to him, "Go back again; for what have I done to you?"

He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

Responsorial: Psalm 15:1-2, 5, 7-11

R./: You are my inheritance, O Lord

Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
 I say to the Lord: 'You are my God.'
O Lord, it is you who are my portion and cup;
 it is you yourself who are my prize. (R./)

I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel,
 who even at night directs my heart.
I keep the Lord ever in my sight:
 since he is at my right hand, I shall stand firm. (R./)

And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad;
 even my body shall rest in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead,
 nor let your beloved know decay. (R./)

You will show me the path of life,
 the fullness of joy in your presence,
 at your right hand happiness for ever. (R./)

2nd Reading: Galatians (5:1, 13-18

Resisting the flesh which draws us back towards sin and slavery

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.

Gospel: Luke 9:51-62

Jesus resolutely takes the road to Jerusalem, calling others to follow him

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

BIBLE

The Cost of Discipleship

Commitment and loyalty to Jesus are central today’s Gospel. It's a quality that should affect decisions that crop up in our own experience. Few really important decisions are made without some hankerings after the alternatives which were not chosen. Some decisions are made in one single go (e.g. to paint the house); others have to be constantly renewed (e.g. to keep a marriage thriving; to care  for our friends.) Our decision to be active Christians is never totally definitive, and needs constant reaffirmation. Today’s Holy Scripture gives some examples of radical choice of vocation, like Elisha slaughtering his oxen before leaving home to be a prophet. Can we fully follow the Holy Spirit, to be totally free for God’s service?

Some points from the readings:

(1) Personal commitment to Jesus, putting him first in our life. Making his values part of our lifestyle. It’s mistaken to imagine all pleasure as connected with sin. The nobility of Jesus’ values gives real joy. Following him requires a decision, but is supremely worthwhile.

(2) “Through love become servants to one another.” This is living with the true freedom for which Christ has set us free.

(3) Persevering with Jesus; keeping our hands firmly on the plough, and not looking back. To do so we need to be “led by the Spirit.” Luke is so aware of the gift of the Spirit that he feels enabled, in his gospel, to underline so often the cost of discipleship.


Our personal calling

The Gospel tells how three individuals wanted to follow Jesus and learn more about God. Far from urging them to join his group, Jesus seemed rather to discourage them. The first was told to count the cost of joining, as he would have no fixed abode. The next answer seems quite harsh. “Let the [spiritually] dead bury their dead.” Perhaps the man’s father was still alive, and an eldest son could not leave home until after his father’s death. But if we are faced with a radical option and do not decide at once, we are less likely to do so later. What Jesus said to the third man was equally challenging: “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” The wooden plough could break if it struck a large stone; so the ploughman had to watch the ground ahead at all times. The commitment of a disciple to following Christ should be equally focussed.

All through life, God is also calling us, whether we respond or not, even as he called Peter from his fishing, Matthew from his tax office, Elisha from his farm. But, how many choose to answer God’s call? Jesus once observed that “Many are called but few are chosen” (Mt 22:14). On the other hand we have his words of warm encouragement, “Fear not little flock, for it has pleased the Father to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32).

As a foundation for any vocation to service in the church is the belief that God “so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost, but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). This reassures us of the unconditional love on God’s part for each and every person. With that belief we renew our Yes to our basic Christian vocation: “through love become servants to one another” or in our Lord’s words: “Love one another as I have loved you.”


Hands to the plough

Sometimes we wonder if Jesus was trying to discourage people from following him, he was so blunt in spelling out what it would cost. Yet ‘Follow me’ is an invitation frequently repeated in the Gospel, and it echoes in the hearts of every generation.

Jesus calls various people to share in his life and in his interests. Discipleship and loyalty to his mission go hand in hand. And this mission needed to be carried out in right spirit, not as dominating people but as serving them. James and John were eager but they wanted to do things their way; so Jesus sharply rebuked them. A fire and brimstone approach even towards opponents, was unacceptable. Jesus came as a saviour not as the leader of a punishment squad. It seems online that some would-be guardians of orthodoxy today share the angry spirit of the Boanerges: ‘sons of thunder’. We need the guidance of Jesus to help us to clarify and to refine our understanding of discipleship.

Disciples need to to break free from false forms of security. The apostles left behind their established lifestyle in order to be with Jesus. At an earlier time, Elisha left aside his security as a farmer in order to serve with Elijah the prophet. “Yes I will follow you, sir, but first let me…” Have those words a familiar ring to us? So they resemble our own first response to God’s call? I will follow you but on my own terms. I will follow you, if the cost is not too high.

In today’s Gospel, several people wanted to follow Jesus, but found the conditions too strict. The project of spreading the kingdom of God was noble and urgent. Instead of trying to haggle with Jesus over the conditions, they could have gone with him immediately. Ideally our own ‘Yes’ to God should be total, like our Blessed Mother’s. If we do this, it can bring us that spiritual joy which St Paul calls the “pledge,” or first instalment of eternal life.


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14th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Isaiah 66:10-14

After the Exile, Jerusalem is like a mother nursing her child at the breast

Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her, that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom.

For thus says the Lord: I will extend prosperity to her like river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees.

As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants, and his indignation is against his enemies.

Responsorial: Psalm 65:1-7, 16, 20

R./: Let all the earth cry out to God with joy

Cry out with joy to God all the earth,
 O sing to the glory of his name.
O render him glorious praise.
 Say to God: 'How tremendous your deeds! (R./)

'Before you all the earth shall bow:
 shall sing to you, sing to your name!'
Come and see the works of God,
 tremendous his deeds among men. (R./)

He turned the sea into dry land,
 they passed through the river dry-shod.
Let our joy then be in him;
 he rules for ever by his might. (R./)

Come and hear, all who fear God.
 I will tell what he did for my soul.
Blessed be God who did not reject my prayer
 nor withhold his love from me. (R./)

2nd Reading: Galatians (6:14-18

Paul bears the marks of Christ's passion on his own body

May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule - peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

Gospel: Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

Jesus sent the seventy missionaries to share in his powerful ministry

or, shorter version: 10:1-9, omitting the italics

The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'

But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' And I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.

The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven ."

BIBLE

Going two by two

When Jesus sent out his volunteers to continue his work, he gave them definite directions. Afterwards they returned in a spirit of celebration, to report their missionary success.

At election times we get lots of literature in the post, or through social media, or people call to the door, to canvass our vote. The canvassers, who usually travel in twos, will be well briefed, and they have their arguments polished and ready. Since they are representing the election candidate, and, therefore, they stay “on message”, echoing the political manifesto of the candidate’s party. On a regular basis, they return to headquarters to report on progress. Today’s gospel is about a deeper target than vote-seeking votes, but there are similarities. He sent them out in pairs. Although Jesus called each one individually, he never sent missionaries out alone. There are just two episodes when an apostle went out alone: one was to betray him, the other ended up denying him. The support of others is essential to living the gospel. Even a hermit has to be commissioned by a community, and must stay be in touch with that group.

Jesus sent them out like lambs among wolves. That wasn’t very encouraging, but they had a choice. They could preach a message that made people comfortable in their complacency; or they could preach the message of Jesus, that called for fundamental change. But he promised them the gift of healing, and they returned full of enthusiasm for the welcome they got at people’s doorsteps. They had obeyed Jesus, and it worked. They experienced for themselves his healing power. And further still, Jesus assured them that their names were registered in the heart of almighty God.

Our discipleship can be summed up in two phrases: “Come and see”  and “Go and tell.” If we have personally felt the value of having Jesus in our lives, we will want to tell others about him. There is a difference between witnessing and preaching. We are all called to witness, but not all are called to preach. Many good Christians would melt rather than preach in public. But we can all bear witness to Christ, through the quality of our living. Let’s ask ourselves the challenging question attributed to G. K. Chesterton: “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Imagine there were only a hundred people alive on this earth, after a nuclear disaster. On today’s statistics, about seventy of them would be poor, while thirty would be comparatively well off. Ninety-three of them would have to grumble that seven of them owned half the money, ate one third of the food, and had more doctors looking after them as the other ninety-three. The real problem is when the seven have the nerve to attempt to evangelise the ninety-three! How can they tell about the wonderful Saviour they have, who talks about sharing, feeding the hungry, while the seven throw out more food than would feed all of the ninety-three! A certain simplicity of lifestyle would be needed, if the good news is to be really credible from those who try to share it.


What kind of peace?

One word, PEACE, recurs in today’s readings. In Isaiah, peace flows like a river through the ideal future landscape that he predicts. Then St Paul prays for peace for all who follow Christ (“peace be upon them, and mercy”). And when sending out his disciples, Jesus says their first message must be: “Peace to this house.”

But while most people agree that peace must be sought, many seem to want peace only on their own rigid terms. Even many Christians hardly give it more than lip service. Bitter divisions are obvious in the epistle to the Galatians. A radically conservative Jewish-Christian group want the Church to keep the Jewish rite of circumcision, while others like Paul considered that ritual as now obsolete, replaced by baptism. Such arguments and misunderstandings are probably unavoidable. Every age in the Church has its own controversies and sectarian divisions, often based on arrogant refusal to hear competing visions of what God requires of us. Notice how, when the first disciples returned to Jesus, flushed with joy from their success, they were too proud of the people’s response to their preaching. They were in danger of arrogance and needed his word of guidance. Pride is far from the poverty of spirit taught by Jesus. It leaves us less compassionate towards a world which needs to know the compassion of Christ.

The splendour of this joyful hymn in Isaiah is that it comes from the Suffering Servant. It is the joy of one who has suffered from hatred and rejection, and yet acts as a reconciler. Paul appreciates this paradox: “The only thing I boast about is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Christian peacemakers and servants of the Gospel must be prepared for their share of the cross. The total, self-emptying service whown by Christ shows us how to behave. We need a simple lifestyle, prepared for service and not tied to material things: “no purse, no haversack, no sandals.” He rules out all pride and arrogance. Even those who reject him should be loved and served in his name. The generosity of God must remain our message. In an often cruel world, we can do our part only by remembering Jesus, staying close to him.


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15th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 30:10-14

To God's chosen people the commandments are not a burden but a privelege

Moses said to the people: "When you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

Responsorial: Psalm 68:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36-37

R./: Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live

This is my prayer to you,
 my prayer for your favour.
 In your great love, answer me, O God,
 with your help that never fails:
 Lord, answer, for your love is kind;
 in your compassion, turn towards me. (R./)

As for me in my poverty and pain
 let your help, O God, lift me up.
 I will praise God's name with a song;
 I will glorify him with thanksgiving. (R./)

The poor when they see it will be glad
 and God-seeking hearts will revive;
 for the Lord listens to the needy
 and does not spurn his servants in their chains. (R./)

For God will bring help to Zion
 and rebuild the cities of Judah.
The sons of his servants shall inherit it;
 those who love his name shall dwell there. (R./)

2nd Reading: Colossians1:15-20

A hymn to Christ, head of the Church, universal mediator and redeemer

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-all things have been created through him and for him.

He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Gospel: Luke 10:25-37

The parable of the Good Samaritan

A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal lie?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

BIBLE

The Samaritan Impulse

In their racially diverse and pluriform country, the English have largely retained values which were rooted in Christianity. Many of them take seriously the message of the good Samaritan parable. The Samaritans were started in 1953 by a London vicar, Chad Farah, in order to help people in trouble and on the verge of despair. It is a very Gospel-based movement.

The impact of the parable of the “Good Samaritan” is extraordinary when we remember that for the Jews the Samaritans were anything but good. What does the parable mean for us here and now? Jesus used it to illustrate the most important quality he wants in his followers. It was his answer to a specific question: “Who is my neighbour?” The answer is that everyone without exception, must be treated with love and respect.

We might wonder what the Samaritan had to gain personally from doing this act of charity. The answer, in material terms, is precisely nothing. Love that is really and truly love, is disinterested. What merit is there in being good only to our friends, who will reward us in return, should the need arise? Christian love must be more inclusive than that. Furthermore, if we do not show love to the neighbour whom we see, then no matter what commandments we keep, what ritual sacrifices we join in, as did the priest and Levite in the parable, we become incapable of loving the God we cannot see. If we join in the Eucharistic meal and receive God’s Son into our hearts, we must first cleanse our heart of hatred, bitterness, ill-will, because the God we receive in this sacrament is love.


Limited love

Deuteronomy invites us to treasure the Mosaic Law, the Torah, as the direct communication of God’s will. Here, as in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus adds to the Old Testament teaching of love, deepening its application. The Good Samaritan will obviously be the centerpiece of the homily this weekend. It would be good to help our people hear that story in a fresh way. They may be surprised to hear some background about its hero, the helpful Samaritan. His people, the Samaritans of the hilly region north of Judea, were an outcast group in first-century Palestine. For intermarrying with the occupying Assyrians centuries before, the Jews considered them a mongrel breed. Further, for building their own temple on Mount Gerizim (see Jn. 4:20-22), they were considered a heretical form of Judaism. For a Samaritan to help an injured Jew at the roadside would have been an act of heroic generosity and compassion.

Some social analogy may help here. Some American preachers have compared it to a black man aiding a white victim of street crime. The point is to find a social parallel which will bring this story home to one’s own congregation. Note the significant shift between the lawyer’s question “Who is my neighbour?” and Jesus’ question at the end of the parable: “Which of them proved neighbour to the victim?” The lawyer wants a definition that will comfortably limit his duty of helping others. Jesus forbids us to set any such limits: our neighbour is any human being in need.


Are we so bad?

Our news media give a rather depressing picture of human nature, incurably bent on war, destruction, social and political injustice, and on all types and forms of immorality. That, of course, is what is seen as making news. But it should blind none of us from being more aware in our daily lives of the basic goodness of human nature, and of noting the many selfless and quite unnoticed acts of love and charity. And by being positive about our human nature and its capabilities for good, we become more aware of our own potential to love selflessly. This is what Jesus tries to help the lawyer to experience. Instead of giving him a dictionary definition of “neighbour,” he presents him with the parable about the Samaritan who acts not out of a sense of duty or of guilt, but out of sheer love and generosity. Though we are not told, we can hope that the lawyer is fired with enthusiasm to live in a similar manner.

Perhaps we get impatient with the slowness of our society to make changes for the common good. But perfect love is not so soon reached. It’s well to remember that Deuteronomy’s law of love was given while the people were on their journey to the Promised Land, and that the Gospel parables were told while the disciples were still on their way to Jerusalem. Perfect charity is a challenge all through life. Along that journey there can be stops and even wrong turnings, but if we remember the Good Samaritan we can renew our desire to follow his example.

To stress the negatives in the parable — the violence of the brigands, the neglect by the priest and the levite — would be pessimistic and miss the real point. The Samaritan shows the virtues of humanity – even in people of whom little good was expected. The Jews were meant to take special care of the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. These were the groups most in need of charity, and so whoever came to their help would be helpful to all, without exception.

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16th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Genesis 18:1-10

Welcoming the strangers, Abraham was really in the presence of God

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, "My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on-since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said."

Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes." Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent." Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son."

Responsorial: Psalm 14:2-5

R./: The just will live in the presence of the Lord

Lord, who shall dwell on your holy mountain?
He who walks without fault;
 he who acts with justice
 and speaks the truth from his heart;
 he who does not slander with his tongue. (R./)

He who does no wrong to his brother,
 who casts no slur on his neighbour,
 who holds the godless in disdain,
 but honours those who fear the Lord. (R./)

He who keeps his pledge come what may;
 who takes no interest on a loan
 and accepts no bribes against the innocent.
Such a man will stand firm for ever. (R./)

2nd Reading: Colossians1:24-28

Paul suffers for his converts as part of his ministry of calling them to salvation

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

Gospel: Luke 10:38-42

The welcome offered by the sisters, Martha and Mary, in Bethany

Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

BIBLE

Hospitable Household

Wouldn’t we be delighted if a whole raft of stories turned up about Martha, Mary and Lazarus; but today’s episode and the raising of Lazarus (John 11) are the only ones recorded by the Evangelists. However, these two stories let us see Jesus in an everyday setting among people that he loved and who clearly loved him. The parents of Martha and Mary were presumably dead, since we hear nothing about them. The two women were clearly very attached to the Lord and he treated them with respect and affection. This story is not teaching that one should not serve a meal to our guests. Jesus is saying rather that more important than feeding them is enjoying their company and loving them. We should never be so busy that we have no time for conversation.

Our Irish tradition emphasises hospitality, a tradition somewhat harder to practice in a busy urban setting, but one that we would do well to keep alive, and even revive to a higher level. We are more likely to encounter the grace of God when welcoming visitors to our home, than just by sitting watching television!


Listen to him

The Psalmist asks God, “What is man that you care for him, or mortal beings that you keep them in mind?” Some saintly people seem to have an exceptional grasp of God’s plan for the human race, and have shared that knowledge with the rest of us. So the Word of God came to Abraham, not as an abstract doctrine but as a conviction grasped by the heart. Abraham’s encounter with God was deeply personal. He was called the friend of God, and his welcome to God’s Messengers mirrored eastern nomadic hospitality.

Abraham is the iconic model of deep-rooted trust in God. Called to leave his own clan, he stopped worshipping their gods and set out for an unknown destination. In return God promised he would become the father of a great nation. Abraham trusted and followed this call, even when there seemed little hope that this promise would ever be fulfilled. When they had practically given up hope, he again hears that his wife will bear a son, and again he trusts in God’s word. Later still, when Isaac was born Abraham felt he ought to sacrifice this precious son. But he carried out this grim command, how could the promise of God evercome true? According to Genesis, later echoed by St Paul, Abraham’s trust in God never wavered, and in the end was vindicated. It was for this faith that he was justified in God’s sight, and this faith was passed on to Abraham’s children and to all believers, including ourselves.

Jesus had a special esteem for Mary, the sister of Martha, and enjoyed her vibrant relationship with him, her eager spirit of listening. While we feel sorry for Martha, being left to do the household work on her own, it’s clear that Jesus appreciated Mary’s listening spirit. Our attentiveness to him must not be eclipsed by our mundane daily bustling about. Then we have St Paul’s reflection about how the Word of God, hidden from all mankind for centuries, was received by those who eagerly listened to it. We need to make space for God in our lives, to listen for it at some time each day, and to pray the Holy Spirit to be our guide.


Martha and Mary

I love this conversation between Jesus and his friends (two sisters and their brother Lazarus) in the village of Bethany. While he was friendly with all of them, it is hard not to feel a twinge of sympathy for Martha. It was her house after all, and she would naturally want to show it at its best. Her problem, as with over-anxious people in general, was that she saw only one right way to do things, and became annoyed when others followed a different course. What she does not see is that the best kind of welcome is when we forget ourselves and focus on what our visitor really needs.

Martha loved Jesus too, and it is clear that he treasured them both. Her mistake was in not realising how Jesus wished to be received. Her sister correctly sensed that when Jesus came to visit them on his way to Jerusalem, what he wanted from them was not food but conversation. So, while Martha made the greater effortat housekeeping, Mary knew better what he expected of her. Her contemplative intuition grasped instinctively the main reason for Jesus’ visit. He was there not to receive but to give, not to be served but to serve. He had something to say and they needed to listen to him.

This encounter suggests a theology of contemplation, how to receive the Lord’s visit. It starts from the basis that whoever our visitors may be, there is always something to be learned from them. The one who comes knocking on our door will have something to tell us, should be listened to and understood. After a frustrating debate with scribes and Pharisees, Jesus came to visit his friends, for peace and calm. He comes to talk to us in the quiet of the evening or the freshness of the morning, to share with us the Word of life. He comes not because he needs us but because we need him. We too can be distracted and “worry and fret about so many things.” We may, like Martha, miss the better part, the one thing necessary, which is to listen to the Word of Christ.

The world is made up of Marthas and Marys – doers and dreamers – and the former are much more numerous than the latter. The commercial society of today places a huge premium on achievement. It is tangible results that count. Production and sales targets are set for and only those who meet them are rewarded. Captains of industry insist that pay be related to production: “shape up or ship out.” And those who can’t or won’t are made redundant. That is, in a sense, Martha’s world. Mercifully, we still have our dreamers. And like Jesus, we should cherish such dreamers for the contribution they bring to our lives.

Who are the Marys our church today? Not all of them live in cloisters, though some still do, quietly worshipping on behalf of us all. Some live a busy life at work and as home-makers, but find time in their hearts for prayer and for going to church. Others work creatively in their writing rooms or studios, patiently building their dreams of a better world for future generations. It is the poets, painters, writers, philosophers and mystics, who like Mary, have chosen the better part.

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17th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Genesis 18:20-32

Abraham intercedes and haggles with God to spare the city of Sodom

The Lord said, "How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know." So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord.

Then Abraham came near and said, "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" And the Lord said, "If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake."

Abraham answered, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?" And he said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there." Again he spoke to him, "Suppose forty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of forty I will not do it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there." He answered, "I will not do it, if I find thirty there."

He said, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angy if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there." He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it."

Responsorial: Psalm 137:1-3, 6-8

R./: Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me

I thank you, Lord, with all my heart,
 you have heard the words of my mouth.
Before the angels I will bless you.
 I will adore before your holy temple. (R./)

I thank you for your faithfulness and love
 which excel all we ever knew of you.
 On the day I called, you answered;
 you increased the strength of my soul. (R./)

The Lord is high yet he looks on the lowly
 and the haughty he knows from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of affliction
 you give me life and frustrate my foes. (R./)

You stretch out your hand and save me,
 your hand will do all things for me.
Your love, O Lord, is eternal,
 discard not the work of your hands. (R./)

2nd Reading: Colossians 2:12-14

Through baptism into his death and resurrection, we rise to a new life

When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.

Gospel: Luke 11:1-13

When asked how we should pray, Jesus teaches the "Our Father."

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial."

And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

BIBLE

Teach Us To Pray

There are methods of prayer a-plenty and many gurus offering to teach us meditation. We can readily identify with the disciple who asked, after watching Jesus at prayer, “Lord, teach us to pray.” They wanted to know how Jesus set about prayer, in his own heart. St Luke’s Gospel is notable for its prayerful focus. More than the other Evangelists he draws attention to Jesus praying – whether alone, on the hills or in the garden of olives.

Like that unnamed disciple, we can sincerely ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.” But first we need to sit in silence, just aware of him. Then gradually, like the apprentice learning from the master, or rather, like good soil becoming fertile from the falling dew, his prayer takes root and germinates in our hearts. Slowly we too begin to repeat that central prayer which links our whole being to the one that Jesus calls, “Abba, Father.”

We are unused to Luke’s wording of the Lord’s Prayer. The official version adopted by the Church is Matthew’s, which is longer and more liturgical, with its seven petitions. Luke’s is shorter, containing only five petitions, but is more directly personal. Instead of “Our Father who art in heaven,” as in Matthew, Luke’s version begins with the simple cry “Father!” It is a form of address that would not have been on the lips of anyone but Jesus. It originated in, and revealed, his profound bond with the Father. Jesus was Son of God in the depth of his being.

The early Christians, especially those who listened to St Paul, cherished the moment of Baptism when they became children of God. In the depths of their hearts they could hear the Spirit of Jesus urging them to make their own his intimacy with God, “Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). This title of familiarity expressed perfectly the sweet intimacy and total confidence of their new status. Even as it revealed the core identity of Jesus, it makes us aware of the dignity of our adoption as children of the Father. Who better to introduce us to prayer than Jesus himself and, of course, the Holy Spirit he shares with us?


Our interior life

When the Old Testament calls God “Father” it means guardian of the people or of groups within the nation (see Deut 32:6; Ps 68:5; Is 63:16; 64:8; Jer 3:4, Mal l:6,2:10). There is a more personal touch in Sirach 23:1,4. But neither in the Old Testament nor in the writings of Qumran is such an intimacy with God expressed as in Luke 11:2. The repeating of the word “Abba” in Romans 8:15, Gal 4:6 and Mark 14:36 shows how the early Christians were aware of Jesus’ intimacy with the Father.

The simple prayer taught by Jesus contrasts with the fulsome formulations used in Jewish and Greco-Roman prayers, not to mention some modern equivalents! Although “abba” can be translated “daddy,” one should not think of God as a weakly indulgent “papa,” spoiling his children by granting every whim and never correcting them. On the contrary, Jesus taught much about our duties to love our enemies and to trust, love and reverence the heavenly Father, who is the Lord God Almighty.

There is a positive value in praying alone as well as in praying with others. Not only did he pray in the garden and in quiet places, but Jesus also prayed in the synagogue and in the temple. He would have said the Shema, the daily prayer of a faithful Jew, about loving God with all our heart and soul. And in the temple he blamed the priests for failing to make it a house of prayer for all nations. Do we ourselves pray daily? Do we pray that God’s will be done? And do we give thanks in all circumstances?

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18th Sunday

The Rich Fool stands as a warning against clinging to our comforts while knowing that others starve. The heartless economic model proposed by globalised capitalism and our accumulative society adds to the world's inequalities and tensions.

1st Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23

"Vanity of vanities!" You can't take it with you when you die

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. Even one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.

Responsorial: Psalm 89:3-6, 12-14, 17

R./: In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge

You turn people back into dust
 and say: 'Go back, children of men.'
To your eyes a thousand years
 are like yesterday, come and gone,
 no more than a watch in the night. (R./)

You sweep men away like a dream,
 like grass which springs up in the morning.
In the morning it springs up and flowers:
 by evening it withers and fades. (R./)

Make us know the shortness of our life
 that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Lord, relent! Is your anger for ever?
 Show pity to your servants. (R./)

In the morning, fill us with your love;
 we shall exult and rejoice all our days.
Let the favour of the Lord be upon us:
 give success to the work of our hands. (R./)

2nd Reading: Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11

Since Christ has returned to the Father, we must seek the things that are above

Since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Gospel: Luke 12:13-21

The Rich Fool, a warning against greed and selfishness

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."

Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

BIBLE

If I were a rich man

"What does it profit us to have gained the whole world, and to have lost or ruined our own self?" (Lk 9:25). "Our life is not made secure by what we own, even when we have more than we need" (Lk 12:15). A worthy and purposeful life focus merely on heaping up money or a material legacy. The rich man in the parable believed his future was secure, and that his good fortune was entirely due to his own merits. It must have come as a shock to learn that his life was God's to give and God's to take away. We might even feel a sneaking admiration for this industrious man. There is in all of us some streak of greed and covetousness, wanting to own things at all costs.

Greed can spring from lack of love, and many people try to fill that void with property and celebrity. There is ample evidence of this on every side. The clamour of the rat-race, an obsessive scramble to advance by fair means or foul, the demands of already well-paid professionals for higher salaries, backed by the withdrawal of service if these demands are not met. Jesus opposes such self-seeking and wants us to face the question: What are my hopes for the life hereafter?

The rich fool spent his energies on piling riches upon riches. The other extreme would be to see no value at all in working for a lving. "Why bother with service since life is so short, and we can be fed at public expense?" Living off state benefits is not a valid vocational option. That tendency existed among some in the early Church, who thought that the second coming of Christ was so near that work was superfluous. Saint Paul, usually so concerned with spiritual growth, shows himself a pragmatist on this matter. "If anyone refuses to work, he should not eat."

Virtue is usually midway between extremes. We should apply this to our appetite for money. On the one hand we have the voluntary poverty of Jesus; born in a place used to house animals; he left this world owning nothing, stripped even of his clothes before being crucified. On the other side, we need some worldly goods, a place to live and money to live on. And there are many ways to use money responsibly. Someone rich who uses that wealth to provide worthwhile employment, is doing more than one who claims to believe the gospel but does nothing for the welfare of others.

We "lay up treasure in heaven", by living with integrity, not only honouring God but also caring for our neighbour. To live a good, honourable life we need to put to death our vices, especially greed which is like worshipping a false god. Nothing can better show the relativity of money than the question, "This pile of yours, when death comes knocking - whose shall it be?'


Rich, but not well furnished

Jesus speaks of treasure in heaven, as quite different from financial profit on earth. “There are no pockets in the shroud” is a wise old saying. To be poor in spirit, even if I am well off, so that my money does not own me, nor am I enslaved to it. It is a commonplace that while the first million (euro, pounds or dollars) may be the hardest to make, it breeds a compulsion to make even more. It cannot be right that some people own thousands of times more than the lowest-paid worker. Naked capitalism, unrestrained by some requirement of social sharing, is far from the fairness that God requires. There’s such a difference between monetary riches and spiritual wealth. There is no greater wealth than a loving, kind heart. Money cannot buy happiness.

It is such a simple lesson, but one we never will learn unless we want to. When we die, we have to let go of everything. A doctor was at the bedside of a wealthy woman wo was dying, who a reputation for being miserly. She had no family of her own, so there was great interest as to who would inherit her wealth. (“Where there’s a will, there are relatives!’). When she passed away, one of the nurses whispered “I wonder how much did she leave behind?” Quietly the doctor answered, “She left everything.”

 


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19th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Wisdom 18:6-9

Learn from the Exodus: God will save us from all dangers

That night was made known beforehand to our ancestors, so that they might rejoice in sure knowledge of the oaths in which they trusted. The deliverance of the righteous and the destruction of their enemies were expected by your people. For by the same means by which you punished our enemies, you called us to yourself and glorified us.

For in secret the holy children of good people offered sacrifices, and with one accord agreed to the divine law, so that the saints would share alike the same things, both blessings and dangers; and already they were singing the praises of the ancestors.

Responsorial: Psalm 32:1, 12, 18-20, 22

R./: Happy the people the Lord has chosen to be his own

Ring out your joy to the Lord, O you just;
 for praise is fitting for loyal hearts.
They are happy, whose God is the Lord,
 the people he has chosen as his own. (R./)

The Lord looks on those who revere him,
 on those who hope in his love,
 to rescue their souls from death,
 to keep them alive in famine. (R./)

Our soul is waiting for the Lord.
The Lord is our help and our shield.
 May your love be upon us, O Lord,
 as we place all our hope in you. (R./)

2nd Reading: Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19

In praise of faith, and of Abraham, our father in faith

(or, shorter version: 11:1-2. 8-12, omitting the text in italics)

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old, and Sarah herself was barren - because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, "as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore."

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, "It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you." He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

Gospel: Luke 12:32-48

Fear not, little flock. But be vigilant, faithful

[or, shorter version: 12:35-40, the text in italics]

"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

Peter said, "Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?" And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you,he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, 'My master is delayed in coming,' and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one o whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

BIBLE

A faith still searching

There is a crisis in the life of faith of many Catholics, even in what once was complacently called “Holy Ireland.” It can be sparked by different things, like the past cruelties of an unjust system, a disastrous love-relationship, family tensions, the tragic injury or death of friends. Sometimes religious feeling can wither as financial prosperity grows, and our need for God is stifled by a sense of self-sufficiency. Perhaps new friendships that we make with nice people who hold no religious beliefs make us feel that God really does not matter after all. On school retreats we used to hear that going through a questioning phase does not mean we have lost the faith. Questioning of faith can also be a growth point. A faith which is challenged can emerge as deeper and more genuine, changing us from the comfort of childhood certainties to new horizons, searching to base our faith on our experiences.

Faith is neither a purely intellectual nor a purely emotional attitude. It has an intellectual side, professing what we judge to be true; and in part it is a matter of responding to feelings; but these are a gift of the Spirit which moves us to give ourselves over to One greater than ourselves. If we hand ourselves over to this sense of God and let go of the illusion of being only for ourselves, it can bring us inner, spiritual growth.

Faith is a special form of knowing, as when we know a friend. It touches an awareness deep within us, an awareness of God’s presence guiding and helping us. It is the experience described about Abraham, Jesus and other great figures in the Bible. Faith is an on-going process, growing as we grow, changing as we change, maturing and we mature. Our childhood faith cannot sustain us in adulthood, though it can develope into one that stays with us through life.

Experiences of faith will be sporadic, and cannot be precisely programmed. We must be grateful if, at priveleged moments we feel God’s special presence, but at other times life will be confusing, full of darkness and doubt, with God silent and seemingly absent. And yet, even in times of confusion and loneliness, God really is there. This world is God’s and God really does know what is going on in it; other people are God’s people and when we dig deep enough, we can find God in them.


Living responsibly

“See that you have your belts done up and your lamps lit.” What meaning can these words have for us, after so many centuries of Christianity? The belts and the lamps indicate the attitude that the servants should have as they await the return of their master. Whenever he comes, they need to be there with their sleeves rolled up and ready for action. They need to be there with the lamps lit, to have the house lit up and to keep themselves awake.

We are called to live responsibly, not in a state of passive lethargy. In the Church’s history it sometimes seems very dark. That does not justify us simply turning off the lights and abandoning hope. It’s the time to awaken our faith and try to plan the future, even in an old and tired Church. The main obstacle to the renewal our Church needs today is the passivity of so many Christians. Unfortunately, for centuries we have been taught to be submissive to authority, rather than be active agents in our own church. But today, we all need to think, project and promote new paths of faithfulness to Jesus.

We need our leaders to encourage the laity to live their discipleship actively. This was one of the main aims of Vatican II, the first council that was concerned directly and explicitly about vocation of lay people. Individual believers today can be the leaven of our parishes in a renewed following of Jesus. They are the greatest potential for the health of Christianity. We need them more than ever to build a Church that is both open to the problems of today’s world and that is close to actual men and women.


Hanging in there

Abraham's faith in God eventually brought him serenity and joy. The great patriarch had such trust in God’s promise that it kept him going through life. We are impressed at how Abraham obeyed when God asked him to leave the past behind and launch out into an unknown future.

The Gospel says that a whoever belongs to Jesus need have no fear. People who makes God their treasure, and commit to Christ as our guide to living, see life as a journey leading to our true home where a loving Father is there to welcome us. If we can keep our eyes fixed on the vision that God has promised and attune our ears to the voice of God in the scriptures and in the events of daily life, we can live with confidence in his presence.

The same Gospel suggests that God also makes demands of us. If the saints in Scripture had many proofs of God’s love, they also experienced suffering both as individuals and as a race. Often their faith was seriously put to the test, like that of Abraham and his wife Sarah, when it seemed that the promise of children could never be realized. The spirituality of Abraham ruggedly trying out to follow God’s call in the obscurity of faith remains a template for Christian faith.

We don’t know in advance what demands God’s love may make on us that will clash with our own plans. We cannot know when personal illness, bereavement or some other calamity will put us to the test. But we trust that our life will be a success if we set our hearts on being faithful to the will of God. Our faith, like Abraham’s, leads us onward, always pointing to something still to come. If we have faith like his, at the end of our pilgrimage all of God’s promises will be fulfilled.

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20th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10

Jeremiah is dropped into a well to die, but is saved by a foreigner

The officials said to the king, "This Jeremiah ought to be put to death, because he is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, and all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm." King Zedekiah said, "Here he is; he is in your hands; for the king is powerless against you." So they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king's son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. Now there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.

Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, a eunuch in the king's house, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. The king happened to be sitting at the Benjamin Gate, So Ebed-melech left the king's house and spoke to the king, "My lord king, these men have acted wickedly in all they did to the prophet Jeremiah by throwing him into the cistern to die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city." Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, "Take three men with you from here, and pull the prophet Jeremiah up from the cistern before he dies."

Responsorial: Psalm 39:2-4, 18

R./: Lord, come to my aid

I waited, I waited for the Lord
 and he stooped down to me;
 he heard my cry. (R./)

He drew me from the deadly pit,
 from the miry clay.
He set my feet upon a rock
 and made my footsteps firm. (R./)

He put a new song into my mouth,
 praise of our God.
Many shall see and fear
 and shall trust in the Lord. (R./)

As for me, wretched and poor,
 the Lord thinks of me.
You are my rescuer, my help,
 O God, do not delay! (R./)

2nd Reading: Hebrews 12:1-4

Persevere, for we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Gospel: Luke 12:49-53

Christ calls for total loyalty, even if it causes severe dissension

Jesus said to his disciples,
 "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No,I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

BIBLE

A bit of a challenge

Today’s Gospel is a bit of a challenge, in two parts. The first part states the passionate desire of Jesus, first in the language of fire and then of baptism. There is a sense of something tremendous about to take place, both destructive and purifying, and also a sense of foreboding. There’s something very human and vulnerable about it, echoing our own existential situation.

The second part of the Gospel reflects the experience of the early church. When a person became a Christ-believer, it could affect the harmony and cohesion of his or her whole family. It may well be that we are back to that situation today. The conscious choice of discipleship and our full engagement with it can indeed be disconcerting if not disruptive for our families and friends.


Lighting a fire

Many well-off Christians are deeply attached to the status-quo that favours them, and consider it the main task of Christianity to help maintain law and order. They find it strange and wrong if Jesus seems to invite, not economic and social and conservatism, but a deep and radical transformation of society. “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already… Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

It’s not easy for us to accept Jesus as bringing fire, destined to destroy so much lying, violence and injustice. He wanted to radically transform the world, even at the cost of challenging and dividing people. Following Jesus isn’t a kind of fatalism, passive and resigned to the status quo, valuing tranquility above all else.

Christians should seek eagerly, creatively and in solidarity for a better world. But neither are they rebels motivated by resentment, who tear everything down and then replaces one dictatorship with another. Those who really listen to Jesus are moved by his passionate desire for completely changed world. True disciples have “revolution” in their heart, in the sense of wanting a more just society.

The world order so praised by the powerful is rather a disorder. We are far from giving food to all the hungry, or guaranteing everyone’s rights, or even eliminating wars and getting rid of nuclear arms. The revolution we need is deeper than merely economic reforms. It must transform people’s and nations’ consciences. What we want is a world “where competition, the struggle of individuals one against another, deception, cruelty and massacres no longer have a reason to exist” (H. Marcuse). Whoever follows Jesus wants the fire lit by him to burn brightly in this world. The main thing asked of Christians is that they be authentic. That would be the real revolution.


Peace and Division

“Do you think that I am come to bring peace on earth?” Quite honestly, we would hope so. We’ve come to equate Jesus with peace; is he not the Prince of Peace? The Communion Rite links him with peace; the discourse at the Last Supper is peppered with the word. Yet, when he answers his own question, he confuses us. “No. I tell you, but rather division.”

We look at the life of Jesus for clues as to how “peace” and “division” can be reconciled. One approach is to find Jesus exercising options in his life; facing moments when he has a choice of two roads ?” the easy pliant one of the prevailing culture or the lonely reforming one. His decisions cause divisions. Some of the division and turmoil is within himself (the garden scene.) some between himself and others ?” his mother and relatives. Peter on the road to Jerusalem, the final divisiveness of the cross of scandal.

Each time Jesus decides to follow the Father’s will, that has two effects. It divides him off from those who won’t take the step with him, and it moves him deeper into the peace that comes from being true to who you are. The peace Jesus talks about has a shape to it. It is not the wishy-washy, compromising, anything-for-a-quiet-life kind of peace we often settle for. When he mentions “division” in the same breath, we begin to see division as almost the price of authentic peace. We could spend time going through the decisions of Jesus. He reached out; he had compassion; he suffered along with people; he understood their pain; he broke bread with the hungry; he befriended the poor and sinners; he was at ease with the little, working poor people who lived in the shadow of the powerful elite.

The problem is that while we’ve read and heard these scenes a thousand times, we’ve lost sight of how disruptive and unconventional Jesus was. He talked of Samaritans saving Jewish lives! He praised the father who embraced the son who shamed him! You were to share your cloak and tunic, all you wore, literally! The soldier in the occupying army was to be accompanied not just the one mile but another mile, unbidden.

Jesus parted company with the authorities, not because he wished to but because they did. His warm, open-handed approach to others provoked in the authorities an angry, clench-fisted reaction. To preserve the status quo they would have to be rid of this challenging presence. The crucifixion was meant to silence him for good. Instead, it gave him the last word. It not only capped his life of sacrifice but raised up an iconic sign to inspire us over the centuries. The sacrificed life of Jesus shows the price to be paid if we are to reach the peace he calls us to.

The problem is that while we've read and heard these scenes a thousand times, we've lost sight of how disruptive and unconventional Jesus was. He talked of Samaritans saving Jewish lives! He praised the father who embraced the son who shamed him! You were to share your cloak and tunic, all you wore, literally! The soldier in the occupying army was to be accompanied not just the one mile but another mile, unbidden.

Jesus parted company with his critics, not because he wished to but because they did. To his open-handed approach they gave a clench-fisted reaction. They wanted rid of his challenging presence. But the cross that was meant to silence him for good it gave him instead his supreme victory. It completed his life of service and self-sacrifice -- showing us the price to be paid if we are to reach the ultimate peace.

 

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21st Sunday (C)

The value of a disciplined life is little mentioned in a permissive society. But the theme of the "narrow door" is there to make us think.

1st Reading: Isaiah 66:18-21

The returning Jews bring non-Jews to join in the worship of God

The Lord Says: "I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. From them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud - which draw the bow - to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations.

They shall bring all your kindred from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and on mules, and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring a grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. And I will also take some of them as priests and as Levites, says the Lord.

Responsorial: Psalm 116

R./: Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.

O praise the Lord, all you nations,
 acclaim him all you peoples! (R./)
 
Strong is his love for us;
 he is faithful for ever. (R./)

2nd Reading: Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13

As a father disciplines his children, so our God trains us

You have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children: "My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts."

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Gospel: Luke 13:22-30

People from every nation can enter in by the "narrow door"

Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few be saved?" He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.

When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then in reply he will say to you, 'I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' But he will say, 'I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!'

There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."

BIBLE

Two asides

(Padraig McCarthy:) Jesus said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.” Could it be that Jesus is saying: “If that’s what matters to you, then you’re making the door narrow, and you making it more difficult, not just for others, but for yourself too, to enter that narrow door. But that’s not what I want you to preoccupy yourself with. I want you to think instead of those whom you may have thought are beyond the scope of God’s mercy. If you’re a narrow door person, you’ll be in for a big surprise!” We need to take the reading in the context of the full gospel of Jesus. In three weeks time we’ll have Luke Chapter 15, where Jesus is criticised for associating with sinners – even eating with them! In reply we have the joy of the finding of the lost sheep, and the lost coin, and the joy of welcoming back a lost son.

(Joe O’Leary:) Joyce makes fun of a Jesuit brooding on “the number of the elect” in Ulysses. It is a mark of theological decrepitude that some still waste their brains on this question. The warnings of Jesus can be read off from our human existence. To the pharisees he represented a scandalously broad path of salvation. The idea that he secretly knew information of otherworldly realms stems from poor Christology. Any suggestion that ” you need to make a better effort in order to be saved” tends to miss the abundance of grace, which despite the mess Augustine made of it with his predestinationism, is the essence of the Good News.


Not everything counts

As Jesus went walking toward Jerusalem it was not as a pilgrim going up to the Temple to fulfil a religious duty. According to Luke, Jesus went around the cities and villages ‘teaching’. He needs to communicate to his people that God is a good Father who offers salvation to everyone. All are invited to receive God’s forgiveness. His message surprises everyone. Sinners are filled with joy to hear him speak of God’s unfathomable goodness: even they can hope for salvation. In the Pharisee camp, however, they criticize his message and also his welcoming of tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners: isn’t Jesus opening up a road to the watering-down of religion and to unacceptable morals?

Someone from the crowd interrupts Jesus, to ask him about how many people will be saved, in the end. Will they be few? many? everyone? only the just? Jesus doesn’t answer his question directly. What’s important isn’t knowing exactly how many will be saved. What’s decisive is living with a clear and responsible attitude in order to welcome salvation from that Good God. Jesus reminds them all: ‘Try your hardest to enter by the narrow door’. In this way Jesus undercuts the reaction of those who understand his message as an invitation to laxity. That makes fun of the Father. Salvation isn’t something one receives irresponsibly from a permissive God. It also isn’t the privilege of an elect few. It’s not enough to be children of Abraham. It isn’t sufficient to have known the Messiah, to have heard and seen him. One needs also to follow him.

The invitation to ‘enter by the narrow door’ can be read in light of another saying of Jesus: ‘I am the door; the one who enters through me, will be saved’ (John 10:9). Entering by the narrow door is ‘following Jesus’; learning to live as he did; taking up his cross and trusting the Father who has raised him from the dead. In following him, not everything counts, not everything is equal; we need to respond to the Father’s love faithfully. What Jesus asks isn’t legalistic rigourism, but a radical love for God and neighbour. That’s why his call is a source of demand, but not of anxiety. Jesus Christ is a door that is always open. No one can close it, only ourselves if we close ourselves to his forgiveness. (José Antonio Pagola)


The Stick and the Carrot

A four-year-old was sulking under the table. He had been refused a second helping of ice-cream. His mother ordered him out, but the boy wouldn’t budge. She fried coaxing, but nothing doing. When finally she promised him the ice-cream, he trotted out triumphantly and they both went out to get his reward from the fridge. The visitor was left alone with the other witness of this little domestic scene, the little boy’s grandmother. While mother and son were being reunited over a dish of ice-cream in the kitchen, the old lady said to her visitor, “She isn’t fair to that boy; he doesn’t know any better. She should have punished him.” The visitor had never heard it put that way before: Punishment as a service due to a child. It underlined an important change in attitude between the two generations.

This change was confirmed by a survey once carried out on the religious attitudes among Irish university students. That boy might have been one of those questioned then. While 56% said they believed in heaven, only half that number, 28%, believed in hell. The ice-cream approach to wrongdoing won hands down. Reward as an incentive rather than punishment as a deterrent, was easily the more acceptable answer to wrongdoers. Incidently, 58% of those interviewed believed in wrongdoing, i.e. sin. Why should not reward and punishment both be acceptable responses to behaviour. This was the received wisdom, where both the stick and the carrot had a role in the formation of the people of God. While our first parents were expelled from the Garden of Eden as punishment for eating the forbidden fruit, the complaining followers of Moses were rewarded with manna to encourage them on their difficult way through the desert.

Political scandals involving corruption and bribery among highly-paid public figures should give us reason to reflect. It is tempting to speculate that as children they picked their mother’s purse or otherwise misbehaved, secure in the belief that they would not be caught or, at that if caught, they would go unpunished. Our present culture of impunity among the elite gets no support from the Letter to the Hebrews, says that proportionate discipline a sign of love. The Lord trains the ones he loves and tests his children. Suffering is part of our training.


By the narrow door

Responding to the beauty of a spring morning, Robert Browning wrote, “The lark’s on the wing, the snail’s on the thorn; God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.” While the thought is beautiful, the poem suggests a misleading concept of God, which maybe most of us entertain from time to time. “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.” How often we imagine God as “away up there, somewhere,” while the world goes its separate way, with the events of every day independent of God. If the Gospel shows God in the person of Jesus Christ intervening in human affairs, combatting the evil forces at work in mankind, at the back of our minds we suspect that the battle against evil is not going God’s way.

This kind of Deism seldom bothered his chosen people, Israel, in the Old Testament. For them God was not remote, away up there. They felt a divine presence in the events, good or evil, of everyday existence. Everything in history was somehow God’s doing. Even when the cream of the nation were exiled to Babylon and their monarchy was utterly destroyed, they continued to search for the hand of God in this tragedy. Out their shattered hopes there emerged a purer, more spiritual vision of what God meant them to be. Eventually they saw their exile as the means God used to bring salvation to the pagans. They saw their destiny as still being glorious, but now from a more spiritual perspective. As stated in Isaiah, all nations would come to worship the true God in Jerusalem. God would bring good out of the catastrophe they had endured, and this would have an effect as well on nations apart from their own.

Constantly at the back of our minds we carry on, as it were, a conversation with ourselves ?” talking to ourselves, processing our hopes and fears, making plans. Relating to God means not leaving him on the fringe of all this consciousness, but making him part of it, discussing it with him, asking his guidance, his assistance, expressing to him our gratitude. All day long he is with you, and you can walk with God, you can talk with God, you can discern his loving purpose for you in every passing moment, you can rest in his presence, even while you go about your business. Gd, however, will not posses your soul unless you sincerely want him to.

Sometimes we seem to be only half Christians, without a strong spiritual awareness. We remain on a material plane, like the people in the gospel who ate and drank with Jesus and heard him preaching in their streets, but with never a change in their lives. He warns that people will come from the east and west, from the north and south, and take the places in God’s kingdom meant for those who were originally called. So we humbly ask God to help us to enter by that narrow door, to the inheritance meant for us from the beginning. May we not be found wanting but rather persevere to the end.

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22nd Sunday

1st Reading: Sirach/ Ecclesiasticus 3:17-20, 28-29

A person attentive to God will never reject wisdom

My child, perform your tasks with humility; then you will be loved by those whom God accepts. The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself; so you will find favor in the sight of the Lord. For great is the might of the Lord; but by the humble he is glorified.

When calamity befalls the proud, there is no healing, for an evil plant has taken root in him. The mind of the intelligent appreciates proverbs, and an attentive ear is the desire of the wise.

Responsorial: Psalm 67: 4-7, 10-11

R./: God, in your goodness, you have made a home for the poor

The just shall rejoice at the presence of God,
 they shall exult and dance for joy.
 O sing to the Lord, make music to his name;
 rejoice in the Lord, exult at his presence. (R./)

Father of the orphan, defender of the widow,
 such is God in his holy place.
God gives the lonely a home to live in;
 he leads the prisoners forth into freedom. (R./)

You poured down, O God, a generous rain:
 when your people were starved you gave them new life.
It was there that your people found a home,
 prepared in your goodness, O God, for the poor. (R./)

2nd Reading: Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24

Mount Sinai prefigures our destiny, in the future, glorious Zion

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death." Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear.")

You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.

Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14

Place-seeking at a banquet: Jesus urges humility

As Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable.

"When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, 'Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

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BIBLE

We do not save ourselves

Psalm 15 praises the person who “takes no interest on a loan” and promises that “Such a one will stand firm for ever.” Until the late Middle Ages, the Church regarded charging interest for money-lending as sinful. In Europe during that period, since Christians were excluded by church law from that activity, Jews had a virtual monopoly on banking. But since banking had become essential for trade, theologians came to interpret the biblical passages as excluding not interest as such, but profiteering from the misfortunes of others. Even the Jews made distinction between lending to each other and to foreigners: “You may take interest on a loan to a foreigner, but you must not take interest from your brother” (Deut 23:21).

What a far cry this is from today’s heartless globalised capitalism, ruled by iron laws of supply and demand, and shareholder value. The greater the demand, the more we can charge for for goods and services. The shareholder maxim is, “take maximum profit from every deal. If it’s is not profitable, have nothing to do with it.” If it’s “strictly business”, benevolence has no place.

The transactional model can infects the spiritual sphere too, if we seek to be unfettered masters of our own destiny. It’s mistaken to believe that we can save ourselves. It’s tempting to think: “I’m going to save my soul and win myself a place in heaven.” As if we could store up credits and merits, to be later shown to God, and claim eternal life on the basis of strict justice, rather like a business transaction.

The underlying problem is illustrated in today’s Gospel. It is the error of pharisaism, their legalist self-sufficiency, their lack of true humility.The Pharisees vied for the places of honour, which they saw as theirs by right, for strictly observing the Law. We, too, can fall into that mistake and forget our complete dependence on the grace of God, freely offered and unmerited. We can be self-absorbed and ungenerous, so that the very idea of giving a party, not for our friends, but for the poor and the needy, does not occur to us.

In this parable, the message of Jesus is, “Accept others; be open to others. Don’t put up barriers against others, like the Pharisees.” Another possible interpretation is that we ourselves are the poor, the lame and the blind. And God has invited us to the banquet-hall, out of sheer good will. God invites us so that divine mercy and goodness may be shown to all the world. But we could resist this goodness of a merciful God by thinking it unnecessary. How mistaken it would be to secretly think, “Lord, I’m a pretty good Catholic. I go to Mass on Sundays. I contribute to collections. I don’t slander people behind their backs. In fact, Lord, I reckon I’m all you could expect of me.” Jesus rejects pride like this, because it is the opposite of the truth. It fails to see that salvation cannot be deserved, cannot be claimed, becaus the grace of God is a pure gift.

It is better to come as a beggar before God with this simple request: “Lord, help me.” We need to face honestly our weakness and limitations, and realise our need for Christ’s redeeming power in our lives. The saving power of God is clearest when the recipient knows that she or he is needy. As St Paul puts it, “I am content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:9f).


Putting aside pride

In this era of assertiveness training, aggressive marketing and general one-up-manship the call of today's readings for self-effacement, gentleness and a true concern for non-influencial people seems like nostalgia for a more gentle age, or a romantic picture of a bygone world. Signs of pride are all round us and within us. Pride of place, be it in Church or State, at work or recreation, is jealously guarded. As in Luke's Gospel, seating positions are carefully arranged and the pecking order carefully observed. If arrangements go awry we feel offended, even slighted. Are these ceremonial positions, then, matters of true significance or are we merely conditioned from within by viewing our gifts as if they were our own, or from without by viewing our temporary achievements or positions of superiority as of truly lasting worth?

In the opening prayer we ask God to bring to perfection our gifts. Whatever we have, talent, wealth or the ambition which enables us to achieve, we have it from God. If "a generous rain" has been poured on us, if we have been given a home to live in, if we are in apposition to exalt and enhance then we hold these things as gifts of God and we should praise and thank him for them.

If pride flourishes in our hearts we insult the gifts of God. We jealously guard our status and dine in high places with others who enjoy the illusory glare of celebrity. How vain is this concern with social and financial celebrity! Side by side with wealth and social posturing, other people are living lives of quiet desperation, plagued with want and anxiety. We may pass them in the street, as we rush to some urgent appointment or other, and our hearts do not go out to them.

In the city of the living God, everyone has the status of a firstborn child. As members of God's family, we all have equal status and dignity. Can we reshape our values in the light of this? We are not asked to deny our gifts, just to acknowledge them as being from God and to act responsibly towards those less gifted or otherwise gifted.

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Wisdom and humility

What is wisdom, according to the mind of Christ? The gospel poses this challenge within the context of a parable. In it, Jesus wants his disciples to be counter-cultural, regarding status-seeking and all ambition. They must stand out against prevailing social mores based on class, status, aggression and dominance. The woman or man who, as a believing Christian takes their guidance from Christ, will live according to a different vision.

In order to follow Jesus, gentleness, compassion, acceptance of the other, must become guiding values in our way of life. In a society based on ambition, aggression, "going for it" regardless of consequences, being meek and humble can seem like a recipe for social disaster. But this is the point. What the Gospel presents the direction we must take in order to build a just society with room in it for all. Violence of whatever kind is a recipe for disaster for humanity. Yet this is a hard lesson to learn. We are afraid to lose face or status. We connive in an unjust status quo, while pretending to be Christian.

Jesus wants us to enjoy life to the full. ( "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." John 10:10). But our enjoyment of life should be in a spirit of gratitude and humility. Humility is not weakness. Meekness and gentleness are not cowardice. Humility arises from genuine self-awareness, while meekness and gentleness arise from compassion. We need these qualities if we are to live at peace with each other. We need them if we are to help others and be helped by them. They are essential qualities if we are serious about changing the world to better reflect the will of God.

 


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23rd Sunday (C)

Theme: To share the vision of Jesus we need detachment from our possessions. Without the spirit of detachment we cannot be full disciples.

1st Reading: Wisdom 9:13-18

God gives us all the knowledge we need to be saved

For who can learn the counsel of God?
 Or who can discern what the Lord wills?
For the reasoning of mortals is worthless,
 and our designs are likely to fail;
 for a perishable body weighs down the soul,
 and this earthy tent burdens the thoughtful mind.
We can hardly guess at what is on earth,
 and what is at hand we find with labour.;
 but who has traced out what is in the heavens?
Who has learned your counsel,
 unless you have given wisdom
 and sent your holy spirit from on high?
 And thus the paths of those on earth were set right,
 and people were taught what pleases you,
 and were saved by wisdom."

Responsorial: Psalm 89:3-6, 12-14, 17

R./: In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge

You turn men back in to dust
 and say: 'Go back, sons of men.'
To your eyes a thousand years
 are like yesterday, come and gone,
 no more than a watch in the night. (R./)

You sweep men away like a dream,
 like grass which springs up in the morning.
 In the morning it springs up and flowers:
 by evening it withers and fades. (R./)

Make us know the shortness of our life
 that we may gain wisdom of heart.
 Lord, relent! Is your anger for ever?
Show pity to your servants. (R./)

In the morning, fill us with your love;
 we shall exult and rejoice all our days.
Let the favour of the Lord be upon us:
 give success to the work of our hands. (R./)

2nd Reading: Philemon 9ff

Paul appeals to a wealthy convert, for the runaway slave Onesimus

I would rather appeal to you (Philemon) on the basis of love; and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, so that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.

Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother-especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.

Gospel: Luke 14:25-33

Jesus invites reflection, by two short parables

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them
"Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

BIBLE

Half-hearted Christianity

This gospel sets the homilist a real challenge. The listeners need no explanation of Christ’s words about carrying the cross, but they will be repelled by the words about “hating father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters” – a teaching that seems to fly in the face of natural affection. One of the following experiences might help.

(I) A priest went to Taizé with a group of young people. Among the many tales he brought back was this. One evening as the English-language visitors gathered for a general meeting he was asked to reserve two seats beside him. After repeatedly telling others that those seats were occupied he finally gave in and told the next pair: “Yes, these seats are free. Take them away with you,” which they did. From that moment he had peace. Eventually his companions returned to find their places vacant but without seats. They had no bother finding seats for themselves and returning to their reserved places. Everybody was happy with this arrangement. Sometimes we are so concerned with holding on to what we might need that we fail to see other’s needs and our opportunity to help.

(2) Another afternoon at Taizé the whole group had planned an outing. The rain poured all that day and there were many glum faces looking out from the various tents. Making the most of things, they decided to come together for an extra session of prayer and discussion. This turned out to be the most memorable event of the whole trip. Learning to adjust to unfulfilled plans, waning strength, failing health and uncertain fortunes, is a key to happiness and contentment. We are not masters of all we possess, e.g., talents, health and even life itself.

(3) Again at Taizé, two of the group were deaf. Not being able to hear is a great handicap, a barrier to be overcome. These two could have missed so much of the experience at Taizé, the music, the bells, the prayers, the sincerity of the group discussions. However, for the whole week they were able to participate through the help of their friends who relayed everything to them through signs and lipreading. There was a modern miracle of the deaf hearing, and the others discovered so much about themselves in the process.

(4) Many of the saints discovered their true freedom in the practice of voluntary poverty. Francis of Assisi comes to mind as the example par excellence. By renouncing all earthly possessions he discovered how much he possessed and shared with all of God’s creatures. All the teaching of Jesus is marked by this same spirit of freedom. Like prayer, voluntary poverty is a gift to be savoured and treasured.

(5) One of the two parables in the gospel, found only in Luke, might provide the basis for a homily. Building a tower is not a useless exercise in vanity. It had a practical use in the vineyard. A modern parallel might be a grain silo or shed. It is ironic that Luke and Jesus pick an example of progressive investment in farming to illustrate a lesson on detachment from property. Obviously, they approve of the venture as it shows where half measures will not do. Half-hearted Christianity is not a profitable affair either.


How God Treats His Friends

The ways of God are mysterious, and our inability to understand them is stressed in Today’s reading from the book of Wisdom, and were we seriously to consider the message of the other two readings we should perhaps find ourselves asking the question, why should St Paul, having devoted most of his life to the spread of the gospel of Christ, end up a prisoner in chains, with death by violence to follow. Or indeed, why should it be, as stated in the gospel reading, that in order to be a disciple of his Christ says we should carry a cross. Again and again, on our journey through life, we come up against the mystery of suffering, the mystery of the path of the cross which Christ calls us to tread.

One of the saints who suffered all her days, and despite this led a most active life, never allowing herself to be overcome by her troubles, was St Teresa of Avila, foundress of the Discalced Carmelite Sisters. She was an extraordinary person, uniting sublime and mystical holiness with practical good sense and humour. When she heard that her close associate, St John of the Cross, was imprisoned, and being punished as a renegade from the Carmelite Order, she wrote, “God has a terrible way of treating his friends, and in truth he does them no wrong, since that was the way he treated his own Son, Jesus Christ.” If Christ then, the all-holy Son of God, submitted to suffering and death, then we his servants cannot expect to be treated any differently from our Master. And this he states for us quite categorically. “Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”

We should not picture God as being one who takes an unholy delight in seeing his children suffer. If no earthly father worthy of the name would adopt such an attitude, then how much more so our heavenly Father, who sent his Son to show his love for us, to the extent of sacrificing himself for us. This raises the question, why did Christ, in compliance with the Father’s will, have to suffer? Indeed, why should any of us have to suffer? We can approach the problem differently by saying that all sufferings, especially those associated with death, are concrete evidence of the mystery of evil, our tendency to upset God’s purpose, in other words to commit sin. At the end of the creation story in Genesis (1:31), we are told that “God saw all he had made and indeed it was good.” We can therefore say that everything is truly good in so far as it serves God’s purpose. It is blindingly obvious that, both physically and morally, the world is not all good. The culprit is sin, which is not only the root of all evil, but whose very existence is now denied by so many.

Nowhere do the gospels suggest that Jesus wanted suffering for its own sake. His prayer in Gethsemane was, “Father if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me” (Mt 26:39). But the example of Jesus, as well as that of his sinless mother, shows us that it is impossible, even for just and virtuous people, to avoid suffering and the effects of sin in the world. When Paul begged God to cure him of his ailments the answer he got was, “My grace is all you need.” (2 Cor 12:9f). Later he would write: “I gladly to suffer for you, and in my body do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church” (Col 1:24).


Responsible planning

The parables of Jesus are many, but his teaching remains the same: anyone who begins an important project without knowing if he has the means and energy for the task, risks ending up with a mess on his hands. No farmer starts building a guard-tower for his vineyard, without first calculating what the job requires. If the project remains unfinished, he will  look ridiculous to his neighbours. No ruler will go to war against a powerful enemy, without first calculating the chances of final victory.

At first glance, this seems to recommend a prudence and caution far from the boldness he ordinarily asks from his followers. But that is not really the message of those  comparisons. The mission he gives his followers is so important that nobody should commit to it without discernment. Jesus calls for a mature reflection.The two protagonists of the parables should sit down to reflect. We need to sit ourselves down and gather our thoughts, reflect together and decide on the path to follow. We need more listening of the Gospel together, to discover God’s call today, to awaken charisms, and cultivate a renewed style of following Jesus.

In our times we are living through major socio-cultural change. We cannot spread faith in this new phase of our world, without knowing it well and understanding it from within. What access to the Gospel can we offer, if we despise or ignore the thinking, feelings and language of our own times? We cannot respond to today’s challenges with yesterday’s strategies.

It is reckless to act without reflection. We’d be exposing ourselves to frustration, ridicule or even disaster. According to the parable, the «unfinished tower» brought mockery on its builder. Remember the thoughtful language used by Jesus, inviting his disciples to be «leaven» in the midst of the people, or a pinch of «salt» that give new flavour to people’s lives. 

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24th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14

When the people worshipped idols, Moses won God's pardon for them

The Lord said to Moses, "Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!' I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation."

But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, "O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, 'I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Responsorial: Psalm 50:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19

R./: I will arise and go to my father

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
 In your compassion blot out my offence.
 O wash me more and more from my guilt
 and cleanse me from my sin. (R./)

A pure heart create for me, O God,
 put a steadfast spirit within me.
 Do not cast me away from your presence,
 nor deprive me of your holy spirit. (R./)

O Lord, open my lips
 and my mouth shall declare your praise.
 My sacrifice, a contrite spirit;
 a humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Timothy 1:12-17

Paul's own conversion is a living proof of the mercy of God

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel: Luke 15:1-32

The parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son

[or shorter version 15:1-10 only the text in italics]

All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. "Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

Then Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."' So he set off and went to his father.

But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe-the best one-and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.

"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!'

Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"

BIBLE

If hatred is not to flourish..

We all find it hard to forgive any wrongs inflicted on us by others. Perhaps the resented incident was deliberate, or it might have been unintentional. But it’s sad if people have to go through life harbouring grudges, making themselves miserable because they cannot let bygones be bygones. They need to consign to the past those hurts of the past, rather than still smoulder with unresolved resentment.

Because we ourselves often feel resentments, we might imagine God as waiting to settle accounts with us some day. Because we can be vindictive, we project vengeance onto God. Such a distorted notion appears in our first reading today, where Moses seems to be more merciful than God. When the people worshipped the Golden Calf, God turns aside from his anger only because Moses intercedes on their behalf. How different is the picture of God that Jesus presents in his parable. Our heavenly Father is not an angry God who wants to judge us harshly, but a merciful God who wants to be close to us, and forgives all our foolishness. God is like the loving, welcoming parent who has lost a child, and cannot rest until the child is safely home.

The spirit of hatred, anger and revenge is alive and well in our world today. Proxy civil wars are stirred up and prolonged by outside powers, with masses of guns and weapons of mass destruction piled up and waiting to be used. Some have stockpiled chemical weapons while others have nuclear bombs enough to destroy the whole planet. How conflicted are the views of politicians who talk of spreading democracy, but can rain down destruction from the safety of drones, high in the atmosphere.

Forgiveness is fine when we ask for it for ourselves. But what about letting others be forgiven? The father in the parable throws such a huge party that the noise is heard out in the fields. Are we also willing to celebrate, if peace can be reached without revenge or punishment? Or are we like the sullen elder brother who resents celebrating the return of his lazy, irresponsible younger brother? Can we accept that God offers mercy to everyone, no matter what they have done? If we are to be truly Christian, we have to change our view of other people, and to see them as God does, with understanding and of mercy. The Prodigal Son story has no clear ending. We don’t know if the elder brother eventually went in to join in the celebrations, or stayed outside, seething with self-righteousness. There is no ending, because it is not just a story, it is a challenge to each of us. How would you end the story? Would you go in or stay outside?


Lost And Found

God loves the just but does not ignore the sinner, for whom there is always a place in his kingdom. The church is not an exclusive club. The Pharisees resent God’s mercy. The parable of the lost sheep does not deny the goodness of the virtuous majority but makes the point that there’s a special place for the repentant sinner. The lost coin is important to the careful housewife, and her joy at its recovery is shared because it is deeply felt. The sum may be modest but it’s sentimental value matters a lot to her. All are V.I.P.s in God’s eyes, and especially what was lost and found.

But there is another side to this story: the Prodigal Son “came to his senses.” He opened his eyes to see, his ears to hear; he reached out for help, and got in touch with reality. The father’s welcome was extraordinary, but it could only happen because the son came back home. Are we willing to let the Father embrace us, and are we prepared to come to our senses too? His mercy is there for any of us who turn to him with all our hearts.

The parable of the prodigal son is a classic of narrative skill that is timelessly relevant. We need to know that a loving Father awaits our return home. We also need the reminder that the same loving God expects us to forgive one another and to keep in touch with one another. The joy of a son’s homecoming was spoiled for the father by the sulking of the elder brother.

How sad that the elder brother resented his brother for having been such a waster in the past? God wants us all to be merciful. Leaving people helpless is no part of his plan. Though living under the same roof, the elder son was isolated from his father. Focussed on his own rights and needs, he could not stomach his brother’s safe return. Calling him “this son of yours” must have grieved his father. Faithful and dutiful disciples need to be open to welcome home the wild ones, even the apparent wasters, for that is how things are done “up above”, according to Jesus.

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25th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Amos 8:4-7

God is concerned for justice and fair play

Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, "When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat." The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

Responsorial: Psalm 112:1-2, 4-8

R./: Praise the Lord who lifts up the poor.

Praise, O servants of the Lord,
 praise the name of the Lord!
 May the name of the Lord be blessed
 both now and for evermore! (R./)

High above all nations is the Lord,
 above the heavens his glory.
Who is like the Lord, our God,
 who has risen on high to his throne
 yet stoops from the heights to look down,
 to look down upon heaven and earth? (R./)

From the dust he lifts up the lowly,
 from the dungheap he raises the poor
 to set him in the company of princes,
 yes, with the princes of his people. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1-8

We pray for everyone, including public officials, hoping that all will be saved

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all-this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument;

Gospel: Luke 16:1-13

You cannot serve God and wealth

[ or, shorter version: 16:10-13]

Jesus said to the disciples,
"There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.' Then the manager said to himself, 'What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.'

So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' He answered, 'A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' Then he asked another, 'And how much do you owe?' He replied, 'A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill and make it eighty.'

And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

"Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?

No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

BIBLE

Filthy Lucre?

A schoolboy had to write an essay on “The adventures of a pound note.” Nowadays it would be the history of a fifty-euro note. On average, banknotes have a life-span of just over twelve months. After passing through many hands, they are recalled and incinerated. It would be fascinating to follow the new banknote’s uses from the moment it came fresh and crisp off the mint until its burning in the incinerator, some twelve months later. Every crease, every stain on it, would have a tale to tell. It passed through wallets and purses, pockets and handbags. Only God knows where it has been and what it was been spent. It has its joyful mysteries and its sorrowful mysteries. It might even have its glorious moments. Has it been used to buy a fix of heroin or cocaine, or to bribe someone to secure a contract? Was it ever picked from a pensioner’s pocket? It could as easily have bought medicine for a sick child or education for someone from a poor family. It could have been an anonymous donation to a worthy cause. It could have been somebody’s gift to a neighbour worse off than themselves. It could have been sent to the Third World and fed a whole family there for a week.

Many worry about devaluation and shrinking purchasing power as they recall what money could buy when they were young. But in a sense what really devalues money is if we make bad use of it. “Use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends,” said Jesus, “and when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity.” The rich can be casual about money, but in tenements and shanty-towns around the world, even the price of a meal can be a precious and elusive thing. Oscar Wilde said that a cynic is “one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” A Christian should be the reverse: one who has less interest in the price of a thing than in its true value.


No pockets in a shroud

“The love of money is the root of all evil” says St Paul. He did not call money itself the root of all evil, but rather the love of money. Of course money is needed as a means of exchanging goods in every organised society. But a person can become its slave through excessive love of money. It can become a substitute for God in one’s life. In George Bernard Shaw’s play, Major Barbara, when the rich industrialist was asked what was his religion he answered, “Why, I’m a millionaire. That’s my religion!” but life is far more precious than the money we have, the food we eat or the clothes we wear. Possessions are only on loan to us, and in time we must leave them all behind. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb,” (Job 1:21), “and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.”

The story about the Unjust Steward is about the fair and just use of money. Great personal wealth is rarely acquired without some sharp practice, and so Jesus regards money as somehow tainted. The laws and structures of society still seem to cater not so much to the common good but to the benefit of the wealthy and the priveleged few. We need to keep in mind the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the merciful, blessed are those who strive for justice.” This brings true fulfilment and the greatest reward of all, the friendship of God for all eternity. Deep down, we know that there are no pockets in a shroud.

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26th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Amos 6:1, 4-7

Amos laments the wealthy who care nothing for the poor

Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria.

Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.

Responsorial: Psalm 145:6-10

R./: Praise the Lord, my soul

It is the Lord who keeps faith for ever,
 who is just to those who are oppressed.
It is he who gives bread to the hungry,
 the Lord, who sets prisoners free. (R./)

It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind,
 who raises up those who are bowed down.
It is the Lord who loves the just,
 the Lord, who protects the stranger. (R./)

He upholds the widow and orphan
 but thwarts the path of the wicked.
The Lord will reign for ever,
 Zion's God, from age to age. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 Timothy 6:11-16

Christians should keep the faith they have professed

As for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time-he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.

Gospel: Luke 16:19-31

From deep in Hades, Mr. Rich (Dives) sees Mr. Poor (Lazarus) sitting at Abraham's side

(Jesus said to the Pharisees):
"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.

In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.'

He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house- for I have five brothers-that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

BIBLE

The Lazarus paradox

One could start with a story about a drastic change of fortune. Cinderella is a fairy tale with the same moral as our gospel parable. She starts life poor and oppressed, but her status is changed by her godmother and finally she becomes the Fairytale Princess. Jesus uses a contrast to drive home his message. The parable could be unpacked, explaining some of its details. The poor man’s name gives a hint of his inner attitude. He is called Lazarus, or in Hebrew Eliezer, which means God will help. He is a beggarman who trusts in the Lord. The nameless rich man is anyone who stonily ignores all the human misery that goes unaided. The rich man has lavish food and a luxurious wardrobe. There is no mention of guilt, for he had done wrong to the other. He simply ignores the fact that just outside his gate lies a poor man in rags and starving. Even the scraps of food that fell from the rich man’s table were not offered to him. The rich man clearly sinned by omission.

Lazarus goes to heaven and basks in the company of Abraham, the friend of God. The poor wretch, whose poverty had been misinterpreted as punishment for sin, is welcomed by the angels into Paradise. The rich man goes down to the dark emptiness of the grave. The sermon could focus on the ultimate settling of accounts, the final judgment that will level off all injustices. It could urge the need to care for the poor on our own doorsteps, who call out for a better life. The rich man did not deny the existence of Lazarus, he just ignored it, or accepted drastic inequality as normality. In the richer countries, urged by the media to balance their domestic budgets, there can be an ostrich mentality that ignores the needs of the developing world. The promise of life after death should not be used as an anaesthetic to dull the need to work for justice in the real world.

Another option is to start with the state of the rich man in Hades. He has fallen from his real privileged position as a son of Abraham. The rich man did not really listen to the message of the prophets. Abraham says that the five brothers will not be able to change their way of life if they do not do so through listening to God’s word. The sermon could tackle the falseness of ethereal devotions that stress the extraordinary but ignore the social implications of the real gospel. The circumstances of each community will be important in how this gospel of justice in faith is to be preached.


Partying, while poor people starve

As religious feasts diminish in popular significance, the secular calendar expands. They advertise Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, Earth Day, Black Friday and Gay Pride Day, and many another social celebration. Maybe we shouldn’t worry too much, as many of our Christian feasts were originally pagan festivals that we baptised. Now the process is being reversed. The latest addition to our secular calendar is Animal Day early in October. Without any disrespect for our fur and feathered friends, the amount spent on pet animals is now enormous. Dogs and other household pets are no longer fed on the scraps that fall from the table, as in former times. Advertising for dog-food and cat-food shows how dramatically our pets’ eating habits have changed. With what we spend on them, we could feed many poor people who are undernourished and starving.

When hearing of Lazarus and the rich man, if we tend to identify with Lazarus, we miss the point of the story. We, collectively, embody the spirit of the rich man. In Europe we have a mountain of beef, of cereals and of butter, a lake of wine and a lake of milk, that cost a fortune to maintain. These are like the crumbs that fall from our table. The warning of Amos aims at us: “Woe to those ensconced snugly in Zion.”

However, the problem of shocking inequality of opportunity in our world is so large that we tend to shrug off any responsibility for our personal part in it. You may be living in a bed-sitter with few comforts or struggling just to meet mortgage repayments on your home. Yet all the services we benefit from, our public transport system, our education, our health services etc. derive from the rich man’s club to which we belong. In that sense, we are dining at the rich man’s table.

The prosperity of the developed world began with products that were looted from the colonies. We still get primary resources from developing countries for a relative pittance, like the tea and coffee we drink, or our year-long supply of fruit from tropical countries. Added to that, we still look to poorer countries to accept our toxic waste. After feeding and clothing ourselves with their resources, we want to return our rubbish to them. We know that we are contributing to climate change, yet don’t relish the lifestyle changes that are required. We need to learn from the parable of Dives and Lazarus. Our world is too small to bear such inequalities. Unless we share our surplus and care for our world, we will end up in a hell of our own making.


Empty hands upraised

The parable of “Mr. Rich and Mr. Poor” is a warning for prosperous people in our prosperous countries. Indifference to the needs of the poor is against the gospel. The gospel contrasts the two attitudes, that of Lazarus, the image of the poor, the downtrodden, those left penniless by the greed of the wealthy and the tax-collectors, and whose only hope was in the mercy of God, and on the other hand that of the rich man, clothed extravagantly, and feasting magnificently every day, self-sufficient, not seeing any need whatsoever to beg for God’s mercy.

Help is at hand for the poor, who for a short while share in Christ’s sufferings so as to share in his glory. For as St Paul tells us, “What we suffer in this life can’t be compared to the glory which is awaiting us.” But for anyone who stores up treasure in this world instead of becoming rich in the sight of God, death brings the realisation that his life was wasted, that his spirit wants to be possessed by God, but cannot do so because it has become fixed in its ways. As a man lives, so shall he die.

The poor in spirit are the ones who put their trust in God. “There is one thing I ask of the Lord; for this I long; to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” (Ps 26). They try to bear life’s crosses with patience and trust. Further, they welcome life gratefully, without being materialistic, for as St Paul says, “the world as we know it is passing away.” (1 Cor 7:31). Take each day as a gift and try to live it well. With the Psalmist we can pray, “my soul thirsts for God, the God of my life. When can I enter and see the face of God” (Ps 42).

If when we listen to today's gospel about Lazarus and the rich man, we tend to identify with Lazarus, we miss the whole point of the story. We, collectively, are the rich man. In Europe we have a mountain of beef, a mountain of cereals, a mountain of butter, a lake of wine and a lake of milk, that cost us a fortune to maintain. These are only the crumbs that fall from our table. Amos" warning is aimed directly at us: "Woe to those ensconced snugly in Zion." The problem about being collectively responsible for the world's starving masses is that we can so easily shrug off our personal responsibility. You may be living in a bed-sitter with few comforts or struggling to meet the mortgage repayments on your home. Yet all the services we benefit from, our public transport system, our education, our health services etc. derive from the rich man's club to which we belong. We dine at the rich man's table.

The prosperity of our developed world began to be built on products that were looted from the colonies. We still get primary resources from developing countries for a relative pittance, like the tea and coffee we drink, and sell it on at elevated prices. Adding insult to injury, we still hope that other countries will be willing to accept our toxic waste. After feeding and clothing ourselves with their resources, we are now returning our rubbish to them. We are becoming aware that we are spoiling our world by climate change. Our revelry is coming home to roost. We need to take to heart the parable of Dives and Lazarus. Our world is too small to bear such inequalities. Unless we share our surplus and care for our world, we will end up in a hell of our own creation.

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27th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Habbakuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4

When the prophet mourns injustice, God promises a day of justice

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.

Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

Responsorial: Psalm 94:1-2, 6-9

R./: If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Come, ring out our joy to the Lord;
 hail the rock who saves us.
Let us come before him, giving thanks,
 with songs let us hail the Lord. (R./)

Come in; let us bow and bend low;
 let us kneel before the God who made us
 for he is our God and we
 the people who belong to his pasture,
 the flock that is led by his hand. (R./)

O that today you would listen to his voice!
 'Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
 as on that day at Massah in the desert
 when your fathers put me to the test;
 when they tried me, though they saw my work.' (R./)

2nd Reading: 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14

Like his teacher Paul, Timothy must make sacrifices for his ministry

For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God.

Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Gospel: Luke 17:5-10

Faith the size of a mustard seed can achieve great things

The apostles said to Jesus, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"

BIBLE

Learning from him

“Lord increase our faith,” said the apostles. Elsewhere they asked him, “Lord teach us how to pray” (Lk 11:1). In essence the two requests were the same. To pray is to focus our heart on God, to have faith in God’s concern for us. Every prayer renews our trust in God, and whenever we turn to God in faith, we are praying. It is no more possible to have faith without prayer than to swim without water. But we need to pray in the right spirit. Too often we just want to bring God around to our way of thinking rather than putting ourselves under God’s guidance.

Sometimes prayer is used as a magical formula, a last resort, worth a try when all else fails. A lawyer was walking along a street with a scholarly friend. When they came to a ladder leaning against a house which was being painted, the scholar refused to pass under it. The lawyer laughed and said “Surely you don’t believe in that old superstition about never walking under a ladder!” “No, I don’t believe in it,” the scholar answered, “but I never waste a chance of avoiding an accident.” Maybe that’s how we approach prayer. We don’t strongly believe in it, but we feel that maybe it might work, as a last resort. So we could join in that request, “Lord, increase our faith; Lord, teach us how to pray.”

Jesus did not just teach his friends how to pray, he showed them by his own example. Often he would turn to God and address him as Father. Early in the morning he would go up the hillside, his favourite place for quiet prayer. When visiting Jerusalem, he spent nights at prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, so Judas knew where to find him on the night of his arrest. His prayer in the garden is clearly reported. “Father, if it is your will, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will, not mine be done” (Lk 22:42f). Well, the Father did not take away the cup of suffering from Jesus. But by embracing the will of God, something greater was to follow for Jesus, ultimately his resurrection and ascension. “Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain. But if it dies, it yields much fruit.”


If they could only see me now

“If they could only see me now.” What would our parents or friends think of us if they saw how we behaved in various circumstance, whether we were generous or mean. Many feel this need for the opinion by others, especially to be valued or praised. Unless there’s an audience of some kind to validate us, we hardly think it worthwhile to make the effort. How easy it is to dress up things with a veneer of virtue. Yet only God sees the heart and knows our thoughts.

The opinions of others do matter to some extent. But what counts in the long run is not human opinion but how God sees us. Nothing compares with that judgment. The basic issue is whether we have been authentic human beings. Because of fidelity, the righteous will live. Life in the state of grace, does not depend on social reputation, but on our inner quality. As Paul says, one cannot even fully judge oneself. About righteousness, we can only trust in God’s mercy, while making an honest effort to do what is right. Then the principle applies: “for those who loves God, all things work together unto good.”

If we did things simply for God’s approval, would we be exploited by others? So we won’t commit to being just and generous until others doing so too. The rat-race is nobody’s fault, and yet it’s everybody’s. Social solidarity can only begin when individuals choose it for its own sake. “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask rather what you can do for your country.” Ultimately, this is the way to salvation. When our race has been run, and the Master comes to judge our service, only those who have been generous will feel at home in God’s company. Then we will see that this was the right way to live. “Well done good and faithful servant,” and we will say “It was no more than our duty.”

Unprofitable servants? A better word might be “ordinary”. The servants had just done their job, what was expected; they made their due contribution to life, to God and to others. With Jesus as our guide, we would do this as normal. The standards he sets for us are high. Our lives will be worthwhile and noble, if we also choose them for ourselves.


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28th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: 2 Kings 5:14-17

When Naaman heeds Elisha and washes in the Jordan he is cured

Naaman the leper went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy and he was clean.

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant." But he said, "As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!" He urged him to accept, but he refused. Then Naaman said, "If not, please let two mule-loads of earth be given to your servant; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god except the Lord.

Responsorial: Psalm 97:1-4

R./: The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power

Sing a new song to the Lord
 for he has worked wonders.
His right hand and his holy arm
 have brought salvation. (R./)

The Lord has made known his salvation;
 has shown his justice to the nations.
He has remembered his truth and love
 for the house of Israel. (R./)

All the ends of the earth have seen
 the salvation of our God.
Shout to the Lord all the earth,
 ring out your joy. (R./)

2nd Reading: 2 Timothy 2:8-13

Preaching is a hard vocation; but we will also reign with Christ

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David-that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful-for he cannot deny himself.

Gospel: Luke 17:11-19

Of the ten lepers cured, only one returned to express thanks

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

BIBLE

Grateful for what we have received

A friend was once rushed to hospital with a serious pain in his back, the result of an old football injury. He was successfully operated and made a rapid recovery. After his cure, he could hardly say enough in praise of his surgeon, the nurses and the whole hospital. Never again did he complain about our health services. It is normal to feel grateful to those who took good care of us. We have a new joy in living and thank God for being spared the other ailments we saw around us while in hospital. My friend even dropped his guard, to say a prayer of thanks. But the real test of gratitude comes later when the relief has worn off. Do we remember then what people did for us? Do we still say thanks to God, who saved our life?

Earlier generations used to say “Thank God” after remarking about fine weather, success in business or at school, the safe arrival of a child, or a recovery from illness. It’s a good custom, built on a tradition of faith and prayer. We might wonder whether a people truly grateful to God would not show it more in their way of life. A grateful people might be more ready to share what they have. They would hardly be totally fixated on private property, while so many are unemployed and the politics of austerity threatens the welfare of the elderly and the chronically ill.

How satisfying it is to receive a sincere “Thank you” for a service truly appreciated. We might even be embarrassed by the warmth of another’s thanks for something that didn’t cost us much sacrifice; but there’s still a warmth in being thanked for things we’ve done. The contrary also holds, of course: how hurtful it is to be consistently taken for granted, without ever a word of appreciation. One out of ten was a fairly poor proportion; but then, truly appreciative people, willing to make sacrifice to show their thanks, are rare enough.

After Mass, we need to bring this thankful spirit into practical social expression in our treatment of others; seeing our life as gift, we should be better able to accept the realities of daily living and share our blessings with others in a generous spirit.


Doing God’s will

Sometimes we pride ourselves in having such a good democratic system, a claim which indeed is debatable. We value individual freedom and liberty, the right to choose and decide for ourselves how to live our lives. But the populace can be swayed by pressure groups and allow hardship and curtailment of liberty to be the lot of migrants and asylum-seekers. And while we do not suffer dictators gladly sometimes we seem to want to dictate to God, make God do things our way, and leave us masters of our own destiny. Some even abandon faith and prayer, because God has not granted their requests.

This was the inclination of Naaman the leper, an army commander from Syria, as he bargained with God. Hoping to be cured of leprosy by prophet Elisha, Naaman arrived laden with gifts of silver and gold, to pay for his cure. The prophet did not even come out to meet him, but sent a message telling him to wash seven times in the river Jordan. Naaman was so hurt that he prepared to return to Syria, raging with indignation. Why wash in this particular river, when there were so many bigger and cleaner rivers at home? “Here was I thinking Elisha would cure the leprous part,” he fumed.

It was only when his servants pointed out how simple was the prescription that he was persuaded to try it and so was cured. Come to think of it, how often do we behave like Naaman. “Why do I have to go to church, when I can worship God out in the open air?” “Why does God send me the cross of sickness, when I could do so much good if I were healthy?” We even find such attitudes among the apostles. “Why do you not show us the Father?” Philip said to him. Some complained, “He says intolerable things and how could anyone accept it?” and they walked with him no more. This reaction of unbelief is often found. But it stands to Naaman’s credit that he thought again, was cured and then returned to thank Elisha.

As Shakespeare wrote in King Lear, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” The Eucharist is a reminder never to forget God’s greatest gift to us, his own Son, our Saviour. If we concentrate too much on asking for things, there is a danger that we may reduce our Mass to the level of magical thinking, a way of turning God to our way of thinking. How much better if we can open our hearts and our lives to whatever God wants for us, which is sure to be the best that can happen to us in the long run.

We are meant to pray “thy will be done”, not demand to have our own way. When we need a favour, we must ask for it with prayer and thanksgiving, because God answers prayer, even if not precisely in the way we expect. Ultimately, says Jesus, God grants only what is for our good. We need to thank God from the heart, like Naaman after his cure, or like the leper who was grateful to Jesus. What a pity the other nine did not say a word of thanks for the blessing they received.


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29th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Book of Exodus 17:8-13

When Moses prays with arms outstretched, God gives victory to his people

Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. And Moses said to Joshua, "Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand." So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.

Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword.

Responsorial: Psalm 120

R./: Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains:
 from where shall come my help?
 My help shall come from the Lord
 who made heaven and earth. (R./)

May he never allow you to stumble!
Let him sleep not, your guard.
 No, he sleeps not nor slumbers,
 Israel's guard. (R./)

The Lord is your guard and your shade;
 at your right side he stands.
By day the sun shall not smite you
 nor the moon in the night. (R./)

The Lord will guard you from evil,
 he will guard your soul.
The Lord will guard your going and coming
 both now and for ever. (R./)

2nd Reading: Second Epistle to Timothy 3:14_4:2

Timothy stays with the sound doctrine he has been taught since childhood

As for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.

Gospel: Luke 18:1-8

Like the persevering widow calling for justice, we are never to grow discouraged

Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, 'Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, 'Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'"

And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

BIBLE

Praying from the heart

There is a way to pray with the heart, which reaches out to God, who is sure to answer. To speak from the heart is also to speak to the heart. God can read the human heart, and knows me better than any words I might use; better than I know myself.

Late in Autumn, a family were sitting around eating their dinner. For whatever reason, Christmas came into the conversation. Smiling, the mother asked her son what he wanted for Christmas, and, after a long pause, young John said “A bicycle.” The months went by, and the word “bicycle” was never mentioned again, not even when the mother bought roller blades for John at Christmas. She had decided that, if he really wanted a bicycle, she would have heard about nothing else for all the weeks coming up to Christmas,

There was something that the widow wanted, and, despite all his toughness, the judge simply had to give in to her eventually, because she showed no sign of giving up. If I met an alcoholic who wanted sobriety, my initial question would be, “How badly do you want it? Do you want it enough to do what it takes to stay sober?” A young lad wanted to work for a particular firm, and they had no vacancies. So he went back there eleven times in one month, until the personnel officer threw his hands in the air, and gave him a job!

After speaking about the evil judge Jesus speaks of his Father. If even the judge gave in to persistence, how much more will our heavenly Father respond to our prayers? God can read the heart, and knows whether we really want and need what we ask. If sometimes prayer goes unanswered, perhaps it is that God gives us what we ask, unless he has something better to give us.

The prayer in today’s gospel is an acute petition. This is a normal form of prayer, of course, but not the most important. Praise and thanksgiving are the highest form of prayer; but that is greatly helped when my prayers of petition are granted. If my prayers are always prayers of petition, I run the risk of being selfish and self-centred; except, of course, when the prayers of petition are for others. Like one of the ten lepers, I can ask, and, when my prayer is answered, I can return to give thanks.


Not giving up

Rome was not built in a day: No great work can ever be achieved without long and patients effort. Look at the art of Michaelangelo, the Beethoven concertos, the cathedral of Notre Dame (How many chisel-strokes to release the Pieta from its marble shroud? How many brush-strokes to transfer the Last Judgment from Michaelangelo’s teeming imagination to the sanctuary wall of the Sistine?.) Not just the world’s teeming artists and leaders, but everyman, are/is involved in a work of great significance, needing persevering courage to see it through to a successful conclusion; and that work is our salvation. To achieve it, we must co-operate vigorously with God, and in a sense struggle with Him. Today’s liturgy invites us to consider two picturesque examples of perseverance in prayer, and the final success that this achieves.

Moses, the man of God, stands on the hilltop interceding for his people who are struggling for their survival in the valley below, attacked by the violent tribe of Amalek. His arms are raised in the classic gesture of intercession (later immortalized in the Cross of Christ, and still used by the celebrant at Mass.) When, out of sheer weariness, his arms begin to droop, Israel fares badly in the battle. With the help of friends he manages to persevere in his mediating prayer, until victory is won. A beautiful prophetic image for Christ, whose prayer continued even when his soul was sorrowful, even unto death. It supports the ideal of intercessory prayer on behalf of others-not, however, in a superficial way or for petty requests; but for matters of life and death, for salvation, release from sin, recovery from depression, strength to cope with problems, perseverance. And when we pray these things for others, we must do so seriously, with a love that is ready for practical service too.

The widow’s dogged perseverance is reflected in the lives of many strong women. History recalls the struggle of various women to achieve particular aims. Think of the persistence of Joan of Arc, of the suffragettes, the feminists who protest at all inequalities based on gender; the mothers who face up to all bureaucratic barriers on behalf of their family. Their styles of campaign may be different; but the perseverance and the courage are the same. Today we have the story of the widow, who kept up her petition until finally she forced the judge to try her case and give her justice. Her situation was that of a poor person under threat, but with the law firmly on her side. There was no doubt about the justice of her case, but the problem was to get a judge to hear it.

That persevering widow encourages us to pray constantly, for ourselves and for others. We recognize our needs (especially for peace, love, grace and salvation), and ask for them. Our God is not like the unheeding judge of the parable, though it may often seem so. We need to persevere and never abandon hope. In this spirit, eventually all will be well, and into his presence we will come, happy to have reached our final destiny.

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30th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Sirach/ Ecclesiasticus 35:15-22

The prayer of the humble will reach to the clouds

The Lord is the judge,
 and with him there is no partiality.
He will not show partiality to the poor;
 but he will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged.
He will not ignore the supplication of the orphan,
 or the widow when she pours out her complaint.
 Do not the tears of the widow run down her cheek
 as she cries out against the one who causes them to fall?
The one whose service is pleasing to the Lord will be accepted,
 and his prayer will reach to the clouds.
The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds,
 and it will not rest until it reaches its goal;
 it will not desist until the Most High responds
 and does justice for the righteous and executes judgment.
 Indeed, the Lord will not delay,

Responsorial: Psalm 32:2-3, 17-19, 23

R./: The Lord hears the cry of the poor

I will bless the Lord at all times,
 his praise always on my lips;
 in the Lord my soul shall make its boast.
The humble shall hear and be glad. (R./)

The Lord turns his face against the wicked
 to destroy their remembrance from the earth.
The just call and the Lord hears
 and rescues them in all their distress. (R./)

The Lord is close to the broken-hearted;
 those whose spirit is crushed he will save.
The Lord ransoms the souls of his servants.
Those who hide in him shall not be condemned. (R./)

2nd Reading: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

Paul has fought the good fight and will receive the crown of glory

I am already being poured out as a libation and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel: Luke 18:9-14

Two men went up to the temple to pray; two contrasting approaches to God

Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

BIBLE

A Humbled Heart

Opposites Attract: In marriage and other human relationships we often notice how two unlike personalities complement each other, like the positive and negative sides of a magnetic field. One partner shows a natural flair for leadership and the other is happy to follow that lead, at least in many areas. Among ourselves, the taking of initiatives will be shared back and forth of course, neither partner being fully passive with respect to the other; but with God there is only one proper relationship: he is the powerful giver and we the dependent receivers.

This weakness on our side, this dependency towards our Creator and Father, is in fact our way to peace. As Paul so clearly saw: “when I am weak, then am I strong; I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (2 Cor. 12:10; Phil. 4:13.) The apostles attributed all their abilities and successes (cures, conversions) to the power of God, working through them. Only when we are humble in God’s presence can he do great things in us, as Our Lady so well declares, “He casts the mighty from their thrones and exalts the lowly.”

People often feel awkward about regarding humility as a virtue at all. Is it really a good thing to feel small? Or does it harm our ego and our self-confidence. Perhaps the word “humble” is too often misused, applied without much thought to dwellings that are shoddy or neglected, to efforts that are half-hearted failures and to characters who adopt a pose of false modesty in order to win approval.

Genuine humillity is simply recognizing the essential truth about ourselves. It is honest self-appraisal, in God’s presence, with no pretences, masks or poses. Iin the presence of the all-holy, all-powerful God each of us knows himself/herself as weak, imperfect and indeed sinful; and with this we recognise our need for mercy. There is no bribe that we can offer to blot out our guilt. There is no pressure we can exert (as we might among ourselves) to gain a credit we do not deserve. Our best recourse is a humble spirit; this attitude will draw down on us divine mercy and grace. The Publican felt this need for complete honesty, as he stood in the Temple of God. “Lord, be merciful,” he said; and went home with his sins forgiven and with relief in his heart.

On the other hand, what’s wrong with the outlook of this Pharisee, if anything? After all, he leads an admirable life and gives good example within the Jewish tradition. According to his self-appraisal, he kept all the rules, from fasting and almsgiving to honesty and purity. There was real effort there, a commitment to holiness within his tradition. But his virtues made him to forget that he remained weak and sinful, like other people. His sense of punctilious holiness took the place of prayer. He goes so far as to despise others, while giving thanks for his own merits. And by this attitude, he undermines his other virtues. Pride is like a worm, destroying the apple at its core. Indeed, it turns him from speaking to God, to talking about himself. His prayer dies.

This warning may apply to our church’s attitude, towards God and others. In the past, didn’t we sometimes take a stance of collective pride, towards people of other religions? We claimed ours as the fullest expression of Christ’s Church, with the best moral standards and sacramental practice, promoting a visible world-wide bond among believers. We continue to value these things and want to share them with people who are searching for the truth. But we must resist a niggling temptation to look down on outsiders, to disparage their values or under-rate their sincerity? We need to guard against self-righteous Catholicism and sincerely respect other pathways of faith. Leave it to God to judge the merits of other persons and their faiths. It is enough for us to trust in his mercy, recognise our own imperfections and try to live by the spirit of compassion.


Pharisee and Tax Collector

If we could get this story into my heart, we would be helped enormously in our grasp and practice of the gospel. It spells out how to come before God and how not to come before God.

A newly commissioned colonel had just moved into his office, when a private entered with a toolbox. To impress the private, the colonel said “be with you in a moment, soldier! I just got a call as you were knocking.” Picking up the phone, the colonel said “General, it’s you! How can I help you?” A dramatic pause followed. Then the colonel said “No problem. I’ll phone Washington and speak to the President about it.” Putting down the phone, the colonel said to the private “Now, what can I do for you?” The private shuffled his feet and said sheepishly, “Oh, just a little thing, sir. They sent me to hook up your phone’!

My generation were given all the rules and regulations and we were told to remain faithful to those and not deviate in any way and that we would so merit heaven. The religion I had growing up was to keep people from going to hell. Spirituality, on the other hand, is the only thing that frees those who have already been in hell., Ask anybody in recovery from addictions, compulsions, etc. Religion is about externals, it’s what we do and it’s about control. Spirituality, on the other hand, is what God does, it is internal and it’s about surrender.

But the way to holiness is to discover that I’m a bigger sinner than I ever thought I was! The closer I come to God, the more obvious the sin is. It is a long journey from the Pharisee at the front to the tax-collector at the back. It is a journey of repentance and of facing up to the truth. It is a journey that Life will provide if I have the courage and honesty to find it. If I still think that I should be still up at the front with the Pharisee, then my life will be riddled with guilt and I will never find peace.

The tax-collector knew his place before God. God is my Creator, in whom I live and have my being. I am a sinner, and have no right to think myself superior to anyone else. Even the hardened criminal and the beggar on the street are children of God. We should see them with compassion and say to ourselves, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” The Pharisee need not feel superior. He could have been born in different circumstances and become a tax-collector. He would do well to stand with the man at the back of the temple and pray “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

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31st Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Wisdom 11:22-12:2

Wisdom makes us humble in God's presence

In your sight, Lord, the whole world is like a grain of dust that tips the scales, like a drop of morning dew falling on the ground. Yet you are merciful to all, because you can do all things and overlook men's sins so that they can repent. Yes, you love all that exists, you hold nothing of what made in abhorrence, for had you hated anything, you would not have formed it. And how, had you not willed it, could a thing persist, how be conserved if not called forth by you? You spare all things because all things are yours, Lord, lover of life, you whose imperishable sprit is in all. Little by little, therefore, you correct those who offend, you admonish and remind them of how they have sinned so that they may abstain from evil and trust in you Lord.

Responsorial: Psalm 144:1-2, 8-11, 13-14

R./: I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God

I will give you glory, O God my King,
 I will bless your name for ever.
I will bless you day after day
  and praise your name for ever. (R./)

The Lord is kind and full of compassion,
 slow to anger, abounding in love.
How good is the Lord to all,
  compassionate to all his creatures (R./)

All your creatures shall thank you, O Lord,
  and your friends shall repeat their blessing.
They shall speak of the glory of your reign
  and declare your might, O God. (R./)

The Lord is faithful in all his words
  and loving in all hid deeds.
The Lord supports all who fall
  and raises all who are bowed down. (R./)

2nd Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1:11--2:2

Warning against being too alarmed about the Day of the Lord

We always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.

Gospel: Luke 19:1-10

Jesus dines with Zacchaeus, searching for what was lost

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."

BIBLE

Letting him find us

A phraseg in today’s Gospel makes clear the mindset of Jesus and throws light on all his activity. His purpose in life was always “to seek out and save what was lost.” If we recognise a certain lostness in ourselves, our way to be saved is to trust in him, and let him find us, just as he found Zacchaeus.

Being found by Jesus meant that Zacchaeus the tax-collecter had to let go of any arrogance based on his wealth. He humbled himself by climbing the sycamore tree, and then promised to hand over much of his wealth, to pay back those he had defrauded. In return, Jesus set aside his dignity as rabbi and a man of God by going to dine in the house of such a notorious sinner. One may assume that Zacchaeus, as chief tax collector in that city, had enriched himself at the expense of the pilgrims passing through Jericho on their way to religious festivals in Jerusalem.

Jesus looked up into sycamore tree and called Zacchaeus, “Hurry on down!” — for he knew the man was ready for a change of heart. St Luke adds that the conversion of Zacchaeus brought such joy not only to himself but to everyone around him. Truly, “the Son of Man has come to search out and save what was lost.”


Searching for Jesus

Whatever his faults may have been, Zacchaeus took great trouble to look for some contact with Jesus. He wanted to see what kind of man Jesus was. For this, he was prepared, quite literally, to go out on a limb, the leafy branch of a sycamore tree. He went to extravagant lengths to see Jesus, to really encounter him. In the process he found that the one he was searching for was also searching for him. “Come down, for I must stay at your house today,” said Jesus.

From his perch among the branches, Zacchaeus was amazed to be called to share a dinner with Jesus. When he threw open his house to Jesus and spoke of reforming his life, he received a greater gift in return, a welcome back to his community of faith. “Today, salvation has come to his house, because this man too is a son of Abraham.” There was place in God’s house for Zacchaeus, as there is for all of us. He was warmly welcomed in spite of his past. As in the case of Zacchaeus, our searching for God is preceded by God’s search for us. Whenever we seek the presence of Jesus, he is already there, willing to share and dine with us.

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32nd Sunday (C)

1st Reading: 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14

Martyrdom of the brothers and their mother: faith in the resurrection

Seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and thongs, to partake of unlawful swine's flesh. One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, "What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors." And when he was at his last breath, he said, "You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws."

After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands and said nobly, "I got these from Heaven and because of his laws I disdain them and from him I hope to get them back again."

As a result the king himself and those with him were astonished at the young man's spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing. After he too had died, they maltreated and tortured the fourth in the same way. When he was near death, he said, "One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!"

Responsorial: Psalm 16:1, 5-6, 8, 15

R./: Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.

Lord, hear a cause that is just,
 pay heed to my cry.
Turn your ear to my prayer:
 no deceit is on my lips. (R./)

I kept my feet firmly in your paths;
 there was no faltering in my steps.
 I am here and I call, you will hear me, O God.
Turn your ear to me; hear my words. (R./)

Guard me as the apple of your eye.
Hide me in the shadow of your wings.
 As for me, in my justice I shall see your face
 and be filled, when I awake, with the sight of your glory. (R./)

2nd Reading: 2 Thessalonians 2:16--3:5

May the Lord direct your hearts!" Paul prays for their fidelity in the faith

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you and that we may be rescued from wicked and evil people; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.

And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

Gospel: Luke 20:27-38

Jesus teaches resurrection, because God is truly a God of the living

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.Now there were seven brothers; the first married and died childless; then the second and the third married her and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."

Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."

BIBLE

Knowing our direction

We would think it foolish to set out on a journey without knowing where we were going. In a broad sense, of course, our pilgrimage through life is largely a path into the unknown, a journey towards the destiny God sets for us. The Maccabee family whose martyrdom is reported in the first reading, believed very firmly that God had a place for them beyond death. The faith in the after-life expressed by each of them at the point of death is the most explicit in non-Christian Jewish literature. During this month of the Holy Souls, it is good to recall our faith in the resurrection of the body, and the our Church’s teaching about those who have gone before us and what kind of help we can hope to give them.

It is the Catholic tradition that for all those who die without fully repenting their sins, there is a purification in the next life. We also believe that the departed on Purgatory should be prayed for by those living, and especially through offering Mass on their behalf. While popular folklore may imagine it like hell with a lower temperature, the Church teaches nothing specific on the nature of Purgatory. Any ideas people may have about it are pure guesswork. The Curé of Ars, Saint John Vianney, when asked about the life hereafter said very simply, “I know nothing of to-morrow, except that the love of God will rise before the sun.”

Jesus promises at the Last Supper. “In my Father’s house there are many rooms and I am going to prepare a place for you.” While this offers us great hope it should not make us complacent, for we are daily challenged to choose between right and wrong, in order to follow the Lord of Life. If we do not live as God wants we feel an inner sense of unease. In his epic poem “The Dream of Gerontius” John Henry Newman described Purgatory as a healing process, preparing us for God’s presence. Awareness of sin causes anguish to the souls of the departed. But the Lord is there to heal that soul and draw us into heaven. This is what we pray for the Holy Souls in this month of November.


What lies in store

The tricky riddle set by the Sadducees in today’s gospel is exaggerated and humorous. They raise the question of the existence of an after-life by an implausible story, to see how Jesus would respond. In the afterlife, presumably we will be free of the bodily constraints and appetites that shape our present experience. We will all be like children in God’s presence, fully complete in love, no longer requiring what we need in this world.

The human heart feels an an inherent hope for the after-life. But It is what Shakespeare memorably called “The undiscovered country from which no traveller returns.” Though nobody comes back to confirm it for us, through Jesus we believe it is there, just the same. As Paul the apostle said: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of any person to imagine what God has in store for those who love him.”

 

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33rd Sunday (C)

Towards the end of the church's year, we remember the 'last things' and in particular, the Lord's return. We should live our lives in the light of eternity

1st Reading: Malachi 3:19-20

The Day of the Lord will bring condemnation or salvation

See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.

Responsorial: Psalm 97:5-9

R./: The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice

Sing psalms to the Lord with the harp
 with the sound of music.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
 acclaim the King, the Lord. (R./)

Let the sea and all within it, thunder;
 the world, and all its peoples.
Let the rivers clap their hands
 and the hills ring out their joy
 at the presence of the Lord. (R./)

For the Lord comes,
 he comes to rule the earth.
He will rule the world with justice
 and the people with fairness. (R./)

2nd Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12

All should try to earn their own living and not be burden to others

You yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labour we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.

For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

Gospel: Luke 21:5-19

Jesus warns his disciples to beware of false prophets

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down." They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?"

And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them. "When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately."

Then he aid to them, "Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

BIBLE


Judgment coming up

As we get older we get a clearer sense that life is short and that each of us will face the moment of death before very long. Last Sunday, we thought about the after-life and entrusting our future into God’s hands. But how literally to take what today’s Gospel says about the end of time? It is hard to know what to believe about the Last Day. There are sects and groups who claim to know the exact date of the Lord’s coming, and the failure of previous predictions does not appear to unduly discourage them from setting yet another date for Armageddon.

We are right to be wary of street-corner orators who delight in threats and warnings about catastrophes about to befall the world. Notice how Jesus warns against believing in such predictions. Even though he himself used the idea of the coming day of judgement as a motive to turn people’s hearts back to God, he also said that “no man knows the date, not even the Son, but the Father only.”

There are too many references to the Final Judgement in our Scripture for us to dismiss it as just a figure of speech. People of faith have benefitted from keeping the Judgement-Day as part of the horizon against which to assess the value of our daily activity. Seeing our problems and our successes in the light of eternity, (sub specie aeternitatis), puts them into a new and different light and one which helps us to judge as God sees things.

A devotional advice much favoured by preachers, was “always live as though each day may be your last?” Most people feel disinclined to centre much attention on the last things. Sobering and spiritually purifying on occasion, yes, especially in November; but most days, like Martha in the Gospel we are fully occupied with immediate tasks, busy with many things. Remember the practical advice given by St Paul to some people who were excitably looking out for the Lord’s return and neglecting their ordinary duties. “Go on quietly minding your own affairs,” he said in today’s reading. “And if anyone will not work, neither let him eat!”


Ready to meet him

Toward the end of the liturgical year we may wonder how to interpret the gospel predictions about the end of this world and the day of judgment. In the midst of all the dramatic language about wars and insurrections and earthquakes and dangers, we should keep in mind one certainty, that one day we will die. The moment of death will put an end, absolutely and beyond recall, to all our works, all our plans, all the seemingly vital concerns which motivate us day by day. Every human soul must cast off its earthly body and go into the unknown like a traveller into unexplored territory. Cardinal Newman wrote about the hereafter, “Do not fear that your life shall come to an end, but rather that it shall never have a beginning.” It is when our next life begins that we will clearly understand our present life. It will then be clear to us, to what extent we did our part in spreading God’s kingdom.

In these last Sundays of our church year we are meant to look beyond our immediate worries, troubles, interests and largely selfish concerns. The liturgy confronts us with the four last things death, judgment, heaven and hell. People who never look beyond the immediate here-and-now may resent us talking about these things, but there is nothing morbid about it. If we are exiles and wayfarers on this earth, we are drawing ever nearer to our ultimate home in heaven, a thought that need not fill us with sorrow, but with a longing to be with Christ in the life to come.

It is useless speculating about when Christ will return in glory, although many in the earlies years of the Church expected it to be within their own lifetime. His message is to be ever watchful, to let the thought of what is to come be a reminder of the shortness of our present life.We need not be alarmed by the mention of earthquakes, stars falling from the heavens, and the like. This Jewish apocalyptic imagery was used in the early Church to express hope for world-wide justice at the end of time. If we love God we need not be alarmed, for love casts out fear. But until the day when the Lord calls us, we go on preparing to meet him.

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34th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: 2 Samuel 5:1-3

David becomes king of a united people

All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, "Look, we are your bone and flesh. For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel."

So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord and they anointed David king over Israel.

Responsorial: Psalm 121: 1-5

R./: Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord

I rejoiced when I heard them say:
 'Let us go to God's house.'
 And now our feet are standing
 within your gates, O Jerusalem. (R./)

Jerusalem is built as a city
 strongly compact.
It is there that the tribes go up,
 the tribes of the Lord. (R./)

For Israel's law it is,
 there to praise the Lord's name.
There were set the thrones of judgment
 of the house of David. (R./)

2nd Reading: Colossians 1:12-20

A hymn to Jesus as the living head of the Church

We give thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-all things have been created through him and for him.

He himself is before all things and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Gospel: Luke 23:35-43

The crucified Jesus is the King who leads into paradise

The people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at Jesus, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

 

BIBLE

Prince of Peace

As Jesus was crucified, people mocked him as “the king of the Jews.” The inscription calling him by that title that was nailed to his cross, was meant to be ironic. Jesus had said to Pontius Pilate, “I am a king. I was born for this. I came into the world for this” but he also declared that his kingship was not of this world. Most people today find it hard to empathise with royalty. In the modern world the concept of kingly rule evokes authoritarianism, class distinction and a world of unjust, unearned privilege, but this is far from the biblical notion of kingship. The kingship of Christ is non-political, universalist and non-national. It aims at a special kind of justice, not based on fallible human laws, but to help and protect the weak, the poor and the helpless. If the justice of God was embraced by our world it would bring peace between nations, and between individuals.

The authorities were at a loss in face of the moral power of Christ. Their reaction was to strike out blindly, to violently crush his threat to their power. Human rights and justice for many were trampled underfoot by the imperial power of Rome. To remedy this a fresh start was needed, something that Jesus wanted to bring, ultimately through the complete sacrifice of himself. Although Christ died in apparent powerlessness, his was the greater, spiritual power, to be revealed at the end of time. The repentant thief caught a glimpse of this when he called out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus used parables to explain the kingdom of God, evoking its mysterious presence in this world. For example, the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds, the most insignificant of all things. Yet out of it comes a huge tree. God’s kingdom comes in a hidden way, in spite of seeming failure. As with the mustard seed, this small beginning holds the promise of a magnificent ending. “I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us,” wrote Saint Paul. Seemingly contradictory things occur in Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom. The kingdom is here and now, we are told and yet we are asked to look forward to its coming. But there is no contradiction if we consider that the Kingdom is both a present and a future reality. It is already here in part, but its completion is in some unknown future. As Jesus says, “The kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. No one will say, ‘ ‘Look here it is,’ or ‘There it is’… because the kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17:20f).


What we deserve

A random act of kindness, a glass of water given out of goodness, seems like a very low threshold for a personal friendship with Christ. Christians have always had a strong trust in Christ’s humanity; he was like us in every way except that he did not sin. Although this Sunday portrays him returning in regal splendour, the judgments of Jesus are not like ours either. He seeks good among the ordinary and the bad alike; too often we seek bad among the ordinary and the good alike. For Jesus, the sinner who does a single act in kindness can be saved. For the rest of us, the saint that does something wrong is tarnished forever.

His hands stretched in forgiveness to those who had nailed them down. Ours often just point in criticism at the wrongdoer. The image of Jesus as a fair but stern judge is known by many Christians. Maybe some even who delight in the idea of wicked people getting their just deserts. Just as Jesus told the soldiers arresting him that his kingdom was not of this world; his standard of judgment is not of this world either. That should be good news, although not everybody sees it that way.

“Vengeance is mine,” said the Lord. Traditionally Christ has been represented as coming in majesty and power. From Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to the mosaics in many a church apse, that image is prominent in western art.  It is familiar because it is like what we do in every way, except that we don’t forgive. The classic picture includes tormented souls being dragged off to eternal flames.. It is likely that almost all of us have an idea of some of the people who should be in that category.

The 1970s musical Godspell gave another version of the judgment scene. In it, Jesus has second thoughts and brings the damned along too. They had sung a song asking for mercy and they received it. That is an image which is very much in keeping with the words of Christ the King: “Judge not and you will not be judged. Condemn not and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” He brings a different kind of rule, a rule where boundless mercy trumps self-righteous justice.


Justice, Love and Peace

Paul says that at the end of time Jesus Christ will hand over the kingdom to God the Father. Our Preface repeats this, describing the kingdom as one of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice. love and peace. This vision is something to be promoted by us in the present. The kingdom is our hope, but it is also in our midst, in process of becoming. Jesus tells us how to promote the coming of God’s kingdom among us. It comes closer whenever justice is done for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the oppressed. To act in this way is to imitate the Shepherd-King himself who rescues us from situations of alienation, who feeds, gives rest, heals and makes strong. At the end he was promising the thief being crucified at his side, that he would be brought to paradise.

The best way to honour Christ our King is to work to develope his project of mercy among us. Whatever we do to help the deprived and underprivileged is alse a service to Christ, who identifies himself personally with people in need. Following Christ the King is not the passive option of “keeping myself to myself” or “I do harm to anyone.” To ignore the needs of our neighbour is to close our ears to Christ. To turn aside from the anguish of the dying is to shut our eyes to him. If we follow Jesus Christ as our Shepherd-king we must in some way be shepherds ourselves, for his sake.


A strange kind of king

Is the notion of kingship of any value to us, as democrats and republicans? Democracy, with all its complexities, is our preferred form of regulating society, business, law and order. Except in figurative phrases like “king of the road,” words like royalty and kingship, implying an absolute demand for respect and subservience, evoke a bygone structure of  inherited privilege and power. The so-called “divine right of kings” sustained this structure and favoured the suppression of individual rights. So if kingship is an unsuitable image for our times, how do we explain today’s feast, celebrating Christ as our king?

Would he suppress our right to self-expression and all other rights? When faced by Pontius Pilate, Jesus says clearly what kind of king he is. He tells the Roman Governor, “My kingdom is not of this world.” His rule is far removed from a dictatorship. This noble prisoner, robed in purple and crowned with thorns as a mock king before this ruthless Roman judge, claims a spiritual authority that has nothing to do with the power to compel by force. His authority is the authority of truth. He is our king, with authentic authority, because he lives the truth and has the power to lead others to the truth — the truth that can save them to eternal life: “for this I was born and came into the world, to bear witness to the truth. All who are on the side of truth listen to my voice” (John 18:37.)

Christ lived by the truth and died for it. His followers trust his guidance, as our king and shepherd. In his message, millions find inspiration for their lives, the truth which makes them free. Christ the King joins word and action in perfect harmony. Existential truth was vitally important to him, who hated all sham and pretense. To get deeper in touch with the truth may require some change in our lifestyle. It needs periods of quiet, even spending time with him in personal prayer. Truth in our lives needs the inspiration of Christ our King. A new commitment to him give us purpose, and a willingness to share. Far from oppressing us, Christ the King is the one who sets us free.