Breaking Open the Word

Proclaim Joy, Hope, Love 6th Sunday Easter, Yr. A

Sixth Sunday of Easter     Year A    Proclaim Joy, Hope, Love

Readings:    Acts 8:5-8,14-17; Ps 66; 1 Peter 3: 15-18; John  14:15 -21

It is not hard to recognize that we are still in the Easter Season when we hear some of the key words in today’s Liturgy of the Word  –  “Proclaim a joyful sound”, “proclaim to the ends of the earth”, (Ent. Ant. Is. 48:20); “There was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:8) – Samaria, that Philip went to in order to proclaim “the Christ to them”.  This proclamation of praise is repeated again in the Psalm, Psalm 66. “Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth!” is the psalm refrain.

We find another aspect of this theme of Easter joy, in the Second Reading : “account for the hope that is in you”.  Hope is lived joy.  The Gospel expands this hope when Jesus says: “ I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever – the Spirit of Truth”.  When this happens “You will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you.”  This hope turns into the epitome of love.   Easter proclaims a big love in! St. Paul comes to know this truth in his life, ecstatically proclaiming that “I live no longer I but Christ lives in me!”  This is the reality for each of us  – beyond anything this world can give us!  “The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”  Do you know that Jesus wants to reveal himself to you!  Then I want to say “Wow!”  This is almost too much to take in! Do I really believe that I am loved by God?  Do I really love Jesus or just a concept of Jesus?  Do I believe that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit make their home in me, embracing me in love?  Is my intrinsic value found in God or in everything that man has made?  Where do I find my truth?  Is it centered in the Holy Spirit?  Pentecost is on the doorstep!

Easter is the promise of love fulfilled.  This promise we find first expressed in the Book of Genesis at the end of the Second creation story.  In Genesis 3, the Father says to the devil “I will put enmity between you  and the woman – between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, you will strike his heal” (Gen 3: 15)   Good  prevails over evil!    This is the message of Easter.  Our God is love!  Merciful love!  The entrance antiphon states this:  “The Lord has freed his people, Alleluia!”  We are an Easter people!

So “Rejoice”!  Sing “Alleluia”!   Live in the Spirit in truth! In this way we will each be a person reflecting the Love and Mercy of God  – The Father, Son and Holy Spirit –  living in you in love – a community to be lived in the here and now!


Salt and Light Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Yr. A

Salt and Light

The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A

This is one Sunday when the three Readings, the Antiphons and the Psalm, all present, very obviously, the same theme. And that theme is our call to be uncompromising light within the world – to be salt that brings healing to a world – a world that lives under the weight of darkness – the darkness that comes from injustice bringing with it spiritual and material poverty – spiritual and material immorality.

So I have been moved to put together in blank verse the various passages, – as one phrase, or verse seems to answer, or enhance another from the Readings, Psalm and Antiphons.

Little needs to be said as they speak for themselves in a challenging and profound way.  I have noted from where each of the verses comes within the Liturgy of the Word.

Thus says the Lord:

Is this not the fast that I choose:

To loose the bonds of injustice   ((s. 58:6)

It is well with the person who deals generously and lends,

Who conducts their affairs with justice. (PS 112)

You are the light of the world.

A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. (Mt  5:14)

Light rises in the darkness for the upright:

Gracious, merciful and righteous. (Ps 112)

The fast that I choose –

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

And bring the homeless poor into your house;

And when you see the naked to cover them? (Is 58:7

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be consoled.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

For they shall have their fill.  (Com. Ant. Mt. 5:6)

I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling ….

So that your faith might not rest on human wisdom,

But on the power of God. (1 Cor 2:5)

In the same way let your light shine on human beings, so that

They may see your good works and give glory

To your Father in heaven.  (Mt 5:16)

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;

You shall cry for help, and he will say,

Here I am.(Is 58:8)

O come, let us worship God and bow low before the God who made us,

For he is the Lord our God. (Ent. Ant. Ps 94:6,7)

The one who has distributed freely, who has given to the poor,

His righteousness endures forever. (Ps 112)

If you remove the yoke from among you,

The pointing of the finger,

If you satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

Your light shall rise in the darkness

And your gloom will be like the noonday. (Is 58:9,10)

Light rises in the darkness for the upright. (Ps Ref.)

I decided to know nothing among

you except Jesus Christ,

And him crucified. (1Cor 2:2)

I am the light of the world, says the Lord;

Whoever follows me will have the light of life. (Gospel  Acc.)

Unafraid of evil tidings;

Their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord. (Ps. 112)

You are the salt of the earth.

You are the light of the world.(Mt 5)

Put your lamp on the lampstand, for all to see. (Mt. 5:14)

For He satisfies the thirsty soul,

And the hungry he fills with good things. (Com. Ant. Ps 106:9)

In this juxtaposition of the this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word  we see the ground work for the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy and the interior soil that is needed for them to flourish within.

So, here are the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  What is apparent from the Readings is that all works of mercy are spiritual.  They all stem from our being told by Jesus that we are the Light of the world and the salt of the earth – dispelling darkness and bring healing. And St. Paul says in the Second Reading, that this is   – all through the Crucified Christ.
To behave mercifully, is to “worship God and to bow down low before the God who made us.”(The Entrance Antiphon)

The corporal works of mercy:
feeding the hungry
giving drink to the thirsty
clothing the naked
offering hospitality to the homeless
caring for the sick
visiting the imprisoned
burying the dead

The spiritual works of mercy:
admonishing the sinner
instructing the ignorant
counseling the doubtful
comforting the sorrowful
bearing wrongs patiently
forgiving all injuries
praying for the living and the dead

May we be the light of Christ and the salt of the earth – The city on the hilltop for all to see.

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord – 4th Sunday in Ord. Time Yr. A

Two Turtle Doves or Two Young Pigeons

At the Presentation of a child in the Temple a sacrifice was required of the parents – usually an animal sacrifice – lamb, or goat.  But if the family could not afford such an animal, then they could offer two turtle doves or two young pigeons.  One of the two was killed and the blood sprinkled on the altar and at the foot of the altar of sacrifice, as expiation for sin, and the other bird was burned as a burnt offering when the parents presented their child to the Lord.  If the family was poorer yet, they could offer a tenth of an ephah of wheat flour as an offering for sin committed.  This is very significant, as we shall see.

This feast celebrates the Lord coming into the Temple – the king of Glory has entered his Temple.
The Presentation in the Temple was a celebration of purification for the mother and ceremony of redemption for the child being presented to the Lord at forty days of age.  Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph made an offering of two turtle doves.  We know from the Book of Leviticus, chapter 7, that this was the offering of persons who could not afford an animal of sacrifice. Neither Jesus nor his mother has committed any sin.  Later, at the beginning of his public ministry, we find Jesus again participating in a ceremony of repentance for sin – his baptism.  John tells Jesus that it is not right that he, John should be baptizing Jesus.  Jesus says that John should proceed with the baptism.  John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.  Jesus identifies with us in the totality of our human condition.  He takes our sins upon himself from the moment his life begins.  The spilling of the blood of one dove on, and beneath, the altar of sacrifice was for repentance.  If one was poorer yet, then the offering was wheat flour that the priest would burn on the altar as a sacrifice of sin.  At the end of his life, Jesus who declared himself as having nowhere to lay his head, very poor indeed, took bread – wheat flour – and offered it as his Body.  A day later this body would spill its blood over, and beneath, the altar of sacrifice, the Cross, as an offering for our sins, that he took upon himself.

St. John, in his Prologue tells us that the Light of the World has come into the world that has its being through him, and the world does not recognize him. (Jn 1:9,10) At the Presentation of the Lord, Jesus, the light of the world has come into his Temple.  Two elderly people of faith, Anna and Simeon, recognize and proclaim him, in joyful awareness of the fulfillment of their faith.  In this joy there is a profound juxtaposition that is so often experienced in the journey of faith.  Simeon and Anna are elated. Simeon in his elation is aware of the pain, upheaval and sorrow, that is an integral part of this Light now present in the Temple.  He is aware that good and evil are on a collision path bringing much sorrow to those who love Jesus – beginning with his mother.  “A sword will pierce your own soul too.” The work of the refiners fire, and fuller’s soap has begun. (Mal.3:2) This joy and pain juxtaposed in lived faith is a sharing in the redemptive action of faith.

There is no room for gush and mush in the story of Christmas which comes to a conclusion today at the end of 40 days!  We only have to call to mind the significance of 40.  The Jews were forty years in the desert in a constant struggle between sin and their covenant of love with the Lord.  Jesus spent 40 days in the desert growing in the awareness of his call to take our sins upon himself, redeeming us from our slavery to sin.  Forty comes to symbolize ‘desert’, a place of struggle with sin, a place that is to bring about a ‘metanoia’, a change of heart.  John comes out of the desert proclaiming this.  So we have in this Presentation an encapsulation of the Old Covenant in its lived struggled with sin, reparation, sacrifice for sin, faithfulness and human weakness within this faithfulness, that leads to sin and blindness. Redemption is at hand – raised up in the hands of Simeon.

This feast of the Presentation in the Temple is then, also a foreshadowing of the Easter Triduum, when the sword would pierce the heart of Mary as Simeon foretold at the time of the Presentation.  Jesus from his infancy took our sins upon himself becoming both the priest and the victim.  Already his ultimate mission was being defined.  As the Reading today from Hebrews says, ”He has come to help the children of Abraham” (Heb 2:16), our father in faith.  At Jesus’ death the veil of the Temple was torn in two – the cross has become the altar of sacrifice for sin – and we all consume that sacrifice for sin – not the High Priest whose roll it was to consume the sin offering, but each and every one of us consume the sacrifice for sin!  And, by so doing are made holy, just as it says in Leviticus 6:20, that anyone who touches the meat of sacrifice “will become holy”.  All of this is contained in embryo, so to speak, at the Presentation in the Temple.  This is what Simeon declared when he said, “Now Lord, you may let your servant go in peace, for my eyes have seen the salvation you have prepared in the sight of all peoples! ….” (Lk.2:29-32)

To think that birds that we fly – pigeons or turtle doves  – as a sign of peace could be the link to such everlasting peace!

What a marvel our faith is, from creation to eternity – no part of it stands alone – but all is one in the Lord!

Love Rejoices in the Truth Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Yr. C

The link between the Readings for this Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time could definitely be the phrase taken from St. Paul’s First Letter to the to the Corinthians, used as the title for this reflection.  “love rejoices in the truth”.  St. John the Evangelist tells us that “God is love and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him.” (1Jn 4) We would believe that love is centered in the emotions – that it is basically a feeling.  And, for the most part this is how we would like to interpret St. Paul’s treatise on love. This is far from true.

If we take the verse from today quoted in the title and put in the word for love given to us by John then it reads –  God “rejoices in the truth”.  Jesus tells us that he is the Truth, in John 14:6. And, so now we have the phrase meaning God rejoices in Jesus!

In today’s Gospel, Luke 4:21-30, there was on the part of the people in the Synagogue in Nazareth little rejoicing in the truth that Jesus spoke.  We know that Jesus is God and therefore is love.  He spoke a very blunt truth to his relatives and the citizens of his home town.  This very forthright truth was love, an action taken, words spoken to pierce the closed hearts and minds.  If Jesus were to act like we might have in the same circumstance, the truth would have been watered down.  He would have protected himself from any conflict with his own people.  But often the love that “rejoices in the truth” also rejoices in the cross, the ultimate in love and truth.  His own relatives wanted to kill him for exposing their minds and hearts in love!  Jesus was, in our terminology, blacklisted by his town’s people and relatives!  We are told that “all in the Synagogue were filled with rage!” In speaking the truth boldly Jesus was not being ‘irritable’ or ‘resentful’, ‘boastful’,’arrogant’ or ‘rude’.  Although the town’s people may have been judging him to be that way!

Jeremiah knew the dangers of love rejoicing in the truth.  His whole life was lived in this danger.  We might get a warm and fuzzy feeling at the profound truth of the first lines of the First Reading – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”.  This excerpt from Jeremiah is his call from God, who loved him and whom Jeremiah loved.  Jeremiah is told by God who loved him that he better not shy away from the truth of the message that he was called to give to his people, – a message from God who loved them.  Jeremiah is told that the truth he is to proclaim would cause him much pain, and opposition and as would happen to Jesus centuries later, his ultimate death.  Jeremiah, like ourselves, tried to avoid speaking the truth of God’s love for his people, because this truth called them to examine their lives and change their ways.  This avoidance jeopardized his own love of God.  In our language God tells Jeremiah to get on with the call he has received to tell the truth, the whole truth of God’s love, and “put away his childish ways” as St. Paul puts it in the Second Reading.  Jeremiah returned to rejoicing in the Truth.

Love is hard in it’s kindness, in it’s “bearing all things, hoping all things, believing all things, enduring all things”.  And this “Love never ends!”

“Save me in your merciful love O Lord!  Let me never be put to shame, for I call on you!” (Communion Ant.)  The only way I can be put to shame before the Lord is if my loving does not “rejoice in the truth”!

He is Near 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Yr. B

I have deliberately chosen these words – ‘He is Near’ as the title of this Breaking Open the Word.  Why?  It is necessary that we remain firmly rooted in relationship with the Lord.  Our present relationship with the lord means living in the reality of life – a reality that has many signs, portents, wars, famines and threats of many kinds.  We have been promised nothing less.  Not many Sundays ago we were promised that following Jesus would bear fruit a hundred fold but not without much suffering.  And, we spend our whole life trying to avoid suffering.   The time of year that we put the greatest effort into this avoidance of suffering is the season of Advent.  Rather than wait for the Lord to reveal himself in our midst, we are intent on creating a world of colour, glitter, music, and manufactured peace and harmony. We have even extended our season of preparation for Christmas to eight weeks! We are intent on creating a world made out of tinsel and plastic – a hopeless way of creating lasting  joy.

And what do we hear in today’s Gospel?  We are called in the midst of suffering, fear and the unknown to watch, to wait, to contemplate.   Elsewhere in the Gospels t we are told that we are very good at predicting the weather, but very poor at reading the actions of God.  Today we are asked to do a very simple thing even while we are in fear and upheaval – even while the world seems to fall apart around us.  Jesus tells us to look at the ‘fig tree’.  Look at its stages of life coming to fruition.  The fig tree, unlike other trees in Palestine, loses it leaves in winter, and the tree becomes brown.  In the spring its leaves begin to form.  From brown, the tree becomes lush and green again.  Fruit begins to form.  Summer is near.  In the winters of life we must be quiet, contemplate.  Then we will see that in the unfolding of the events of life, which include the winter of barrenness, of all that appears as no more than death and destruction, -in the midst of all of this – “he is very near, at the very gates”.  The Temple will be destroyed, the city will be under siege, the world order as we know it will be obliterated, or at least come unhinged, and nature will erupt. The Lord is saying:  – look for me in the midst of all that takes place, I will never pass away. Within all that is occurring the Lord is very near, and will be near forever – even at the end of time.  In suffering there is always new life.  There is the promise of eternal life. In suffering we actually come to the fullness of our dignity!  We join Jesus in his redemptive act.

The Communion Antiphon says: “To be near God is my happiness, to place my hope in God the Lord”.  I may have moments of feeling that life is not worth living.  But if I find my happiness in the Lord, my hope being in God, then I believe that God only does ‘good’.  I believe what is said in the Opening antiphon of the Mass: The Lord said, “I think thoughts of peace and not of affliction.” So I must find the promise of peace – not just personal peace, but peace for the world – in what transpires in my personal life, the social political world and the cosmic world. God is the God of the living.  So I must ponder, wait to see his presence at work in the world, and then to proclaim it. I must be ready to respond as co-creator with God, acting for his kingdom.

As surely as fruit comes on the fig tree after winter, so the end of life, as we know it in this material universe, will come for each one of us,  – the fruit being eternal life.  But as long as the Lord wishes me to be here on earth, then “the lord is my chosen portion and my cup”, and he will “show me the path of life”. (Res. Psalm) The events of life are not tarot cards to be juggled and read to foretell the end of time, or the outcome of wars.  They are a warning for us to live a life alert for the Lord.  They are prods to keep us active in the works of the Lord. When the call to leave this earth comes, it is the hope of all persons of faith to be counted as “those who are wise”, and “those who lead many to righteousness”, that we may “shine like the stars forever and ever”. (1st Reading – Daniel 12:3)

The Two Widows 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Yr. B

The story of the Widow and Elijah, and the story of Jesus outside the Temple Treasury, watching the people putting money in the treasury are well known – familiar to us. As I have been meditating on the Readings for this coming Sunday some words – phrases –  are raising questions about the purpose of Jesus’ observations.  Questions arose that I had not asked myself before.  What is Jesus referring to when he says that the Scribes, the temple leaders “devour widow’s houses”?  Always I have known this passage has to do with the plight of the poor and therefore has to do with social justice.  Upon doing some research I realized just how deeply Jesus is cutting.  This is certainly a case of the Word of God being a double edged sword.  In just a few words Jesus is laying bare the corruption of power and wealth at the very core of the Jewish faith. This corruption deteriorates the religious leaders at the core of their beings.  It erodes them spiritually!  Thus Jesus can say about the religious leaders that for “the sake of appearance, they say longer prayers”.  The community of faith is being challenged at its very heart.

This Gospel passage is not talking about someone being poor because of secular society.  Jesus is pointing out that this Widow is poverty stricken at the hands of the leadership of her faith community. She is not the recipient of the mercy and love of God.  Jesus is scrutinizing the behaviour of the religious leaders and how they justify themselves.  Jesus is pointing out very clearly that the holiness of the religious leaders is a sham, put on to assure their place of honour in the faith community.  The Elders – the Scribes were scholars of the Law and they had found many loopholes, and in so doing had padded their place of honour financially on the backs of the people.  Thus we have Jesus saying to “the crowd” listening to him “Beware of the scribes….. they devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.”  In other words somehow they have justified themselves in their own eyes and want to be seen as justified in the eyes of the community.

How have the religious leaders padded their place of honour financially?  The Temple was not only a house of prayer.  It had become a bank.  Jesus was watching the people pay the mandatory , yearly Temple tax.  But he is reflecting on much more than this in his comment about devouring widow’s houses.  The Temple treasury was banking far more than the temple tax and alms.

The Temple had become the equivalent of a national bank – land titles, notes of indenture and mortgages were set up there. Animals for sacrifice were bought and sold there.  Money is power and the root of evil.  Usury became endemic.  There was money to be made by those in power who were supposed to be religious leaders.  They imposed high interest on loans, and when they could not be met, houses, lands, farms were seized and people became homeless, the poor and those all alone in life became beggars, farmers became serfs. And, as Jesus alludes to in another passage, the Temple, a house of prayer, had become a den of thieves.  The leaders had dulled their consciences as they found loopholes in the Law, forgetting the messages of the Prophets. They began to justify themselves.

After giving this teaching to the crowd in the Temple, Jesus sits outside the Treasury with his disciples, watching people putting money in the Treasury.  The Widow stands in juxtaposition to the Scribes he has just called to task.  She has been disenfranchised by the Scribes.  But, her faith is in tacked.   And she is moved by her faith in God, giving her all to God. Even as she is aware of her plight, she loves God. Jesus wants his disciples to know what it is to live by the values of faith, and not by the doctrine of financial values.  Is our conscience formed by our faith or by secular and monetary values?

Even within our Church, how are our members seen?  Who have the places of honour?  Who goes to the banquets?  Who get recognition for monetary gifts?  How do we look upon those who are unfortunate, victims of immoral governments, or unforeseen circumstances? Do we single these people out as different, or do we absorb them as valuable members of the whole body, as elite as the next person? Or, are they also victimized by the status symbols within the family of faith? Do we have within our Church more material accoutrements than we can support, so that they take a front seat in our minds and hearts?  Do we thereby lose the simplicity of faith that calls us to serve one another and the world around us? How is our collective conscience within our faith?  What do we justify?

Jesus has turned everything upside down in his teaching on the Widow and the Scribes!  It is not about how much money, or prestige I have, but it is about how much faith and love I have, calling  me to give my all to God and his people.  The true life of discipleship demands that we be in touch with our inner poverty, fears and utter reliance upon the Lord.

The First Reading from today supports this.  The widow was moved by God to share with Elijah the very little she had for herself and her son.  By this action she was instrumental in saving the life of Elijah, herself and her son, during the famine brought on by the sinfulness of the leaders of the people of God. They introduced the worship of Baal, playing both ends against the middle for political gain and security.  They had compromised their faith. Secular values infiltrated their faith, in much the same way as they are today.

In today’s Liturgy of the Word we are called to get in touch with our poverty, not our plenty.  Within the depth of our being we are all poor: we all have nothing that we have not been given by God.   Jesus, in his teaching was educating his disciples, and he is educating us and our shepherds, in this Year of Faith, to recognize who we are, to recognize that our greatest wealth is God’s merciful love for us, and for all that he has created.  That is what each of us has to give away. As we give the wealth of God’s love, it growths within us and within the world. The Temple will not be left standing, nor will all that our money can buy.   In abandonment to the providence of God, we, like Elijah and the widow, will have more than we need – not need measured by the world’s standards. To live this way is unsettling and Elijah tells the widow “Do not be afraid.”

The widow in the First Reading had a little water, flour and oil. Within the very core of our faith we have the fullness of the water, flour and oil.  We have the Bread of Life, the oil of salvation, the Anointed One, eternal life itself!  This is the greatest wealth we could possibly have, greater than all earthly prestige.  He gave his all for us, that we in turn would give our all.

The Gospel Acclamation says: Blessed are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven!

“Shema” “Hear” 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time Yr. B

“Shema”    “ Hear”

The passage from today’s First Reading  – Deut. 6:2-6, and repeated in today’s Gospel – Mk. 12: 28-34 contains the most central words in the faith of our Jewish brothers.  Depending on their custom these words are found on the frame of their entrance door, on their foreheads, on their wrists.  They are recited on their rising and going to bed.  “Hear O Israel…”  These words are spoken by God to his people through the Prophet Moses.  Jesus, the Moses of the New Testament, repeats the same words in the Gospel passage of this Sunday.  “Shema” is Hebrew for “Hear”. The word “hear” is found 247 times in the Bible.  Some Scripture scholars say up to 550 times depending on how the word is translated. The word “listen” is found 331 times!  It is very hard for God to get our attention!

And what does he want us to hear with our ears and our hearts today?  There are three obvious messages today.  There is one God!  “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!” The other message is that we are commanded to “love the Lord”!  It is not an option.  Both of these messages are presented in the Old and New Testaments.  And the other message implicit, in the passage, is that our God is a loving God who is in relationship with us.  He speaks to us.  He is like a loving, caring Father with us. Like any father he wants his children to listen, to hear the love and wisdom that he speaks. He wants us to live in love with him.  This love that he has for us, is for every fabric of our being. And, he wants us to love him with every fabric of our being!  It is this reciprocal love between God and us that is “the land flowing with milk and honey”!  It is an eternal love. There are so many words in today’s liturgy, to express this love that the Lord, our God has for us. God’s love for me is “my strength”, “my refuge”, “my rock”, “my fortress”, “my shield”, “the source of my salvation”, “my stronghold”.  All these words are found in the first stanza of the Psalm!  This is surely life flowing with milk and honey, if we truly “hear” him – if we truly live God’s love with every fabric of our being.

To “hear”, to “listen” are active words.  The action of God, and the action God calls for is always “Love”!  And we are not kept guessing about what love is.  In the Gospel acclamation we are told “Whoever loves me will keep my word (commandments), and my Father will love him, and we will come to him.” (Jn. 14:23)  It is not just a Jewish trait to enjoy semantics, and argue the meaning of words and phrases, refining and refining them.  We do to.  Jesus left the religious authorities, and he leaves us in no doubt.  Love of God goes hand in hand with love of self, and love of neighbour as oneself.  It is all one.  There is no room for self- justification. This is “the path of life, the fullness of joy in the presence of the Lord.” (Ps.15:11)

Do I know God as loving me?  Do I hear him? Is he my land flowing with milk and honey?  Do I experience his love of me through my loving my neighbour? Do I express his love for me by loving my neighbour?  Do I express his love for me by loving myself?  Is God, God alone for me or do I have other gods in my life? In this our Year of Faith and renewed evangelisation let us take these words to heart and live them:

“The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,

And with all your soul, and with all your mind

And with all you strength.

You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”(Mk 12)

“Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart!” (Deut. 6:6)

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Yr. B

When I ponder these Readings for today a phrase keeps coming to mind – “the one who has been forgiven much”, taken from Luke 7:43.

In the First Reading taken from Jeremiah 31 there is much anguish – joy and pain all jumbled together- within the joint heart of a people and within each individual person within the masses traveling back to their homeland.  One only needs to read the book of Jeremiah to know the past sins of this people, their religious and political leaders, and the suffering that they endured in the obstinacy of their hearts.

In our sinfulness we exile ourselves from God.  We create our own Babylon.  When we come to the awareness of our sins and cry out to the Lord to save us, the response to our cry almost confuses us!  We don’t know quite what to say – how to respond.  To be forgiven is almost overwhelming! This is especially so when we have been honestly in touch with our sinfulness. The First Reading is a cacophony of jubilant words: “sing aloud”, “raise shouts”, “proclaim”, “give praise”, “weeping”.  We have been saved.  We have been brought back from the brink of disaster!  We are “walking by brooks of water, in a straight path”!  The Jews, as a people, as individuals have been saved, forgiven, redeem, given new hope, new life.  They know that they have “been forgiven much”.  They know that the “Lord has done great things for us”, and they “are glad indeed”.

The Jews had 70 years to contemplate their relationship with God. The Blind Beggar was sitting on the roadside.  It is necessary to sit on the “roadside” of life, taking stock of who I am before God, and how I am living my life. Do I “constantly seek the face of God” as the Entrance Antiphon says?

So enter the scene of the Blind Beggar.  As I become the Blind Beggar maybe I will admit the things for which I have really been seeking, and how blind I have become. Maybe, in my vulnerability, I will hear Jesus of Nazareth passing by.  Maybe I will seize the opportunity to be “the one who has been forgiven much”, and cry out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” When he, Jesus, calls to me will I hesitate while I quickly take stock of changes this will mean in my life, or do I jump up as the blind man does?

Every time that I admit my sinfulness there is a dialogue which ends with a new direction in my life.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus asks me “What do you want me to do for you?”

“My Teacher, let me see again!”

“Go.  Your faith has made you well.”

Immediately I see clearly, and I follow Jesus on the way, – the new direction in my life, because he is the renewed direction in my life.

God is my homeland.

I become one of the great crowd that walks the earth “ringing out our joy” at the saving help of God and exulting in his name. (Communion Antiphon)

First Sunday in Year of Faith 28th Sun. Yr. B

Isn’t the Holy Spirit wonderful!

What Readings for the opening of The Year of Faith, the year for renewed evangelization!  The Second Reading (Heb.4:12-13) is a good place to start as it cuts right to the core of the matter. “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword…”  “It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And before God no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”   This is a passage that could be taped on our dresser or bathroom mirror.  If we were to live each day rendering an account of our thoughts and intentions of our heart, how differently would we be living our lives? The psalm for the day (Psalm 90) asks God to “teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart”.
A wise heart knows that we are called to live the depth of the commandments, rather than the grocery list approach to our faith.  If we listen to the Word of God, who is Jesus, we will be drawn to the very heart of the matter – to the essence of our faith.  We will be drawn to what is impossible for man to arrive at on his own merits and intellectual endeavours.   We will be drawn to Wisdom, the greatest wealth that we can have, the wealth that grows as we give it away to all who are hungering and thirsting for it, unaware of what they are truly yearning for.  It is the eternal and impossible wealth to have, when I hold tightly to material wealth, to intellectual wealth, to the wealth of being in control of my own life, to the wealth of being looked up to, to being well thought of, and the like.
As a matter of a fact, if all these worldly concepts of wealth are what I am living my life for, then I may be  more likely to see a camel go through the eye of a needle, than of seeing myself in heaven!  Strong words, that are as sharp as a double edged sword.  Such attachment to wealth stands in the way of experiencing Jesus looking at us with love. This was the wonderful wealth that the rich young man never even noticed! Jesus looking at him with love!
Jesus’ love calls us to live in faith, which is lived wisdom – the greatest gift we can give away because it is the Good News.  It is the Good News that we can only freely give when we are willing to leave everything and everyone  – holding them with open hands raised to God – so that he can use us as he wills.  This message of Jesus on living for the “sake of the good news” is so radically different from the  perspective of lived faith taught by the Jewish leaders, and from what we ourselves are lead to believe is lived faith.
It is such a radical call to live in wisdom of heart, because it counts of no value anything that this earth offers – gems, gold, beauty, health, radiance of person-hood, wealthy abodes.  The rich young man thought that he was very blessed and in very good standing with God, because of his great wealth.  But thousands of years before him, the writer of the Book of Wisdom had come to know in the depth of his heart that true wealth was intangible and everlasting – it was being at one with God.  Wealth is no sign of having eternal life.  But living in utter freedom – from all that I consider of utmost importance in my life, –  in order to pass on the good news, with only the promise of persecution, that is eternal wealth!

So in this year of faith, how is the word of God, the double-edged sword, piercing through my heart?  What wealth is it cutting out?  What is it asking me to leave behind for the sake of the ‘good news’?  Who is it asking me to leave behind?  We need to step aside from life and into the ‘rest’ of God, (that activity that Sunday is supposed to call us to), in order to carefully examine Jesus’ answer to Peter, and not allow it to be dismissed as hyperbole.  “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age – houses, brothers, sisters, mothers and children, and fields – but with persecution – and in the age to come, eternal life.”(Mk 10:29,30)

“I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.”(Wis 7:7)

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Yr. b

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

Lord We Have Sinned Against You

The Sub heading to this title might be “Because we have not all prophesied in your name!”  With our baptism we were all baptized as ‘priest’, ‘prophet’ and ‘king’.  We are frightened off from the call to be prophets for a number of reasons – the main one probably being the fear of being labeled as false prophets and kooks.  There is a seriousness of faith and spirituality that comes with our call as baptized prophets – we have to be in touch with our own sinfulness.  In the Psalm from today’s Liturgy of the Word we pray to be mindful of the Lord’s teachings so that we can be at rights with Him.  We pray:

By them is your servant warned

In keeping with them there is great reward.

But who can detect unmindful errors?

Clear me from hidden faults.

Keep back your servant also from the insolent;

Do not let them have dominion over me.

What a powerful prayer, calling for truth before the Lord and as a result before my brothers and sisters.  To be the lord’s baptized prophet is to be brutally honest before the Lord, myself and others. The title to this BOW is taken from the Entrance Antiphon. ‘ I’ am part of the ‘we’.  When we sin, I sin.  When I sin, we sin.  So when I proclaim the Lord’s message, calling all to oneness with him, revealing what is standing in the way of this oneness, I am declaring our sinfulness.  So I speak in pain.  It is a pain that comes with our not being at rights with the one who loves us, and pain at the anguish the sin is causing to others in our society, and our world.  I must be honest about what I am doing in my own life if I want to call back my brother and sister.

Moses cries out – would that all God’s people were prophets.  What a different world we would live in.  What a different world the poor, the sick, the disadvantaged would live in.  What a different world the rich would live in! How different our lived faith would be!   Does my life lead others of weak, or new faith astray?  Is there a millstone waiting for me? Do I even believe in Hell?  Or is Jesus just speaking in hyperbole and, therefore, I can easily dismiss his strong language as a figure of speech?  Of course Jesus does not want us to maim ourselves physically – our bodies are sacred.  But he is well aware that we are maiming ourselves and others by ignoring our baptismal call to proclaim him and to be ready to lay down our lives for him. Thus better that we enter eternal life with him, a little battered and bruised, maybe minus a limb than go to hell. The Holy Spirit dwells within us, but is his presence obliterated by our self-centered life style?

There is not one part of my life that does not come under scrutiny.  I can, and do sin with every part of my body. What I yearn for, grasp at and hold on to against all inner warnings, with clenched heart and fists; what I see, revel in , dream of , lust after in the secret of my heart; all these and more must be scrutinized if I would be an uncompromising follower of Christ.  It does not take much to begin – a cup of water for the man on the street changes not only him but my heart too.  All that we clutch is destined to disintegrate but our good deeds can cast out demons and turn into everlasting life. Our very lives are called to be prophetic, not just our words.

The Communion Antiphon says:

By this we came to know the love of God: that Christ laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for one another. (1 John 3:16)