Other Reflections

A Reflection on the Angel Gabriel

A Reflection on The Angel Gabriel

Tomorrow is the Eve of the most important day in the Christian calendar, next to the Paschal Mystery – the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus – celebrated next week, Holy Week. Tomorrow is the Eve of the Annunciation – the day that God became man and dwelt amongst us! Jesus becoming man in the womb of the Virgin Mary is celebrated in the Roman Rite (Latin Rite), on March 25th. In light of this I have been thinking about the Angel Gabriel. This dwelling on Gabriel was put into my mind and heart by a friend. At first I thought to write a poem on Gabriel but what resulted was more like a biblical reflection/study. Maybe a poem will follow at a later time, now that the ground work has been done. This would complete the poem: The Annunciation – Eighth Day Redemption Day.

Until then the following has given me much reflective time – not only on Gabriel – but on the wonderful way in which the Lord was constantly preparing sinful creation for redemption and everlasting oneness with him. It is always a cause for wonder – the myriad ways that God expresses his love for all creation!
He uses Angels with strong personalities, to call, teach and dispatch Prophets in His name. These messengers revel to us that God is present in all that transpires in life. Nothing occurs outside of the mind and heart of God. God speaks through everything that happens. Gabriel makes this quite clear to each person to whom he is sent.

This is not a poem but rather a biblical description of Gabriel and his work! He reveals the drastic love of God! That will be heard! And seen! Until the end of time! Eternally!

 

Gabriel :                                 gabri – el   – ‘el’ = God (high God, God of majesty and power)

Abri or Gabri (Arabic) = man; great ,strong man; father (Abraham)

A masculine name

MAN OF GOD ( that is an ABLEBODIED MAN OF GOD) who is seen as:

REVELER

AVENGER                                  of THE MOST HIGH (MAJESTIC) “EL” – GOD

MESSENGER

 

When the above is put together with the Annunciation, then there is an opportunity to see within the experience a special insight that was given to Luke as he records the incident. For us it is a strong punctuation to the event – both in the details of the experience and what it says of Mary.

Throughout scripture Gabriel was understood, because of the people he appeared to and his message to them, as an ‘avenger’ of God. Gabriel comes appearing as a ‘man’ with ‘power’! It is interpreted by the Jews that he was responsible for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Gabriel’s power struck Zachariah dumb!

Gabriel (the avenger of God) revealed to Daniel the vision he was having (Dan. 8: 15 ff) – explaining events leading up to, and including the End of time. There will be a time of retribution and distress resulting from evil leadership and lifestyles. This time will be followed by destruction of peoples and nations, and within this One will arise bringing life, hope and new life. But the wicked will persist in their ways. Daniel fainted and became sick. He was told to rest and not to worry as he would be among those who will rise at the end of time.

Gabriel, likewise is understood as the one giving the scroll to Ezekiel to eat, telling of the actions of God brought on by the evil of man (Ez 2:ff) Ezekiel was to proclaim these actions. The man’s voice in the Book of Ezekiel 1:28 – ch 3 is considered to be the Angel Gabriel. The description of this Man is the same as the description given to Gabriel who appeared to Daniel.  The scroll to be eaten is the foretelling of the destruction of Jerusalem for her sinfulness. In this Gabriel is an avenger, reveler and a messenger.

Ezekiel, like Daniel becomes incapacitated and is told to get up and do as he is commanded. Ezekiel was to carry the weight of the rejection of his people within his very being – the precursor of Jesus.

Gabriel has bright, moving, all inclusive eyes – seeing through and beyond the present, revealing what is, and what is to come. Gabriel is so radiant that it is as if God himself is present – as of course He is through his messenger.

Gabriel, at one and the same time is revealing God, avenging God, and giving a message to the individual of the role they are to play in the living work of God.

None of this is lost on Mary! She is a true daughter of God – chosen at the fall of Eve! She is well aware of the history of her people and their Sacred Writings. Is it any wonder that she was “afraid” when the radiant “man of God” appeared to her. Mary would have been well versed in what had been revealed to both Daniel and Ezekiel. As Gabriel revealed to her the fullness of his message about the child she was asked to bear. Mary could not help but know that this was the fullness of time revealed to Daniel and Ezekiel: now is the appearing of “One” who will arise bringing life, hope and new life, but at the same time being rejected.

What is amazingly different in these 4 apparitions of Gabriel is the one Mary had. Mary unlike the other three persons does not become dumb, does not become sick, does not faint! She is afraid, just as they were. But, the fear does not incapacitate her. Ezekiel and Daniel are continually addressed as “Man of God” – Mary is addressed as “Highly favoured one!” which is basically the same greeting.   It is stating that she is a ‘woman of God’.

“You WILL bear a Son!” “You WILL call him JESUS!” “ He WILL be great.” “He Will be called SON OF THE MOST HIGH GOD!” That is “El” – Elohim! Gabriel is the “Great Man of God” and he speaks as the “Great Man of God! Just as he did to Daniel and Ezekiel! To hear such a proclamation proclaimed in such brilliance must have been overwhelming – a ‘shekinah’ experience!

Rather than being told that Mary, ‘fainted’ or became ‘sick’, we are told that she went “with haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth”. She digested – ate the scroll that was spoken to her – and acted on it for the rest of her life. “The Lord has done great things for me. HOLY is his Name!” (Lk 1:48)

Daniel and Ezekiel are immortalized throughout the Book of Revelation – along with the Archangels.

So is Mary: “A woman robed with the sun, standing on the moon, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. …. the woman was delivered of a boy……. She was given a great pair of eagles wings to fly away from the serpent …….” (Rev 12:1ff). Mary was told at the Annunciation that her offspring would reign forever, but was also told by Simeon that there would be great opposition to him. The Book of Revelation tells the ending of the revelations of Gabriel – the great man of God the avenger, messenger, reveler of God’s word! He, Gabriel, clothed in radiance, with bright, all seeing eyes that reveal what is to come, with the other 2 Archangels and the whole host of Angels ushers in the End of Time! With Mary enthroned!

Canadian Supreme Court Decision on Euthanasia

God, are you calling again in the Garden of Eden – “Where are you?”

God forgive us our trespasses!!!

God protect us from the out of bounds area that we have embarked upon!

Not enough Lord that we should kill the unborn
but now we want to play You in our pain and suffering!
Our courts are the judgement seat over life and death!

“What is man that you should be mindful of him

Or the son of man that you should care for him?

You have made him little less than the angels –

crowned him with glory and honour”  (Ps 8)

What a tarnished crown we wear!

Doctors now in our Country to play God from conception to  ………… death!

“Save us God! For the waters

have closed in on our very being

we are sinking in the deepest swamp

there is no firm ground…..

God you know how foolish we are!” (Ps 69)

All our hope is in you!

 

Family First A Reflection Part Two

FAMILY FIRST – A REFLECTION

PART 2

 When he was about his Father’ business,

is when we hear the passage that opened Part 1 of this reflection. (Mt 12: 46-50)

Later on in his ministry we hear an even more radical statement

That involves family!

“Anyone who comes to me without hating (that is being totally detached from)

Father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters

Yes, even his own life too,

cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14:25-27)

 And let us not rationalize away this statement of Jesus!

It is repeated three more times in the Gospels! (Lk 18:24-30; Mk 10:28-31; Mt.19:23-30)

‘So Lord, what are you saying about family!’

In all of these passages family is talked of in the context of wealth, possessions.

In the passage just quoted from Luke, Jesus addresses the whole crowd

that is following him.

He goes on to say to them “none of you can be my disciple

Without giving up all that he owns!” (Lk 14: 33)

Even chicks are cajoled, and in the end

pushed out of the nest, their comfort zone,

to continue their nurturing in the daily life.

And they go on to repeat the cycle of life.

Jesus is pushing us! –

and, none too gently into our faith life.

                                                                                                    Family is a wealth!

It is the place for nurturing of mind, body and spirit –

within the family of the Trinity to which all belong.

Family is a wealth in the Lord, for the world.

Its wealth is not found as an enclosed genetic family –

but, is found, as seed that falls to the ground and dies –

thereby, bearing much fruit.

We must die to all we own, and all that owns us,

in order to bear fruit.

While Jesus was on one of his journeys with his apostles

who had left everyone, everything-

They entered a Samarian town.

He tells his disciples to look at the harvest-

that is the town’s people –

They are ready to be harvested –

 They are eager to listen. (Jn 4)

His followers are free to meet the need.

These Samaritans will soon become a part of the family of faith.

Remember that Jesus had just said to his followers that

they must leave all to follow him.

They had left family and wives and business endeavours

to follow him, in a relationship of trust and love!

We tend to say “No way!  Jesus would never ask this!”

He did!

Then we say, in order to defend ourselves –

“Well that is a rarity!”

It must have been meant for just that time and place –

because it makes no sense!

Let us take a look at ourselves!

Is it a rarity in the societal system we endorse?

We are passionate about our sports!

We are passionate about our entertainers –

whether they be musicians on the road,

football players, hockey players, actors.

We admire business tycoons and the like!

We do not question that great parts of their life are away from home!

That is okay – it is part of the job!

That is the price of being famous!

Therefore it is okay!

And our faith is placed in the money earned-

not in the Faith lived!

We are afraid to take the risk of trusting in the Lord!

We are afraid to discover

what he has in mind for those who love him.

We are afraid of what we cannot control.

We are afraid of sacrifice.

Everyone  – everyone, even children

are called to be missionary!

Jesus told the people to let the children come to him.

Look at want the infant Jesus did!

His mission started at his birth!

Look at what Jesus at 12 years of age did!
Children have a missionary role!

We will make sure, do anything to ensure that

children get on the best teams, become whatever they want,

or we want them to be, in the mindset of the world!

Even if –

 success means sending them away from home.

We brag about their success!

Our humanity craves security –

Craves belonging, craves identity

craves power and control.

Our world strives to create itself around these yearnings.

And we as people of faith

are terrified to trust in the security of Christian community!

The Sermon on the Mount

after more than two thousand years is still put in wraps!

The poor of the world are forced to live it!

And, by our way of life we are happy to keep it that way!

The family of faith is our permanent family –

Our eternal family.

This is the family for which Jesus prayed

At the last Supper-

Praying that we would “be one”,

with Him and his Father,

in the Love of the Trinity.

For all eternity!

This family of faith,

this family of baptism,

is the family that Jesus sent out

to the whole world

telling them to continue to

Baptize

“In the name of the Father,

And of the Son,

And of the Holy Spirit
Knowing
– that is trusting in love –

“That I am with you always!”(Mt 28:19,20)

What a different world this would be

if all families

within the family of faith

were to live in  trust, putting their lives

into the hands of the Abba of all creation.

Trusting, that he will provide for all,
everything
that we need –
in order to respond
to his call
to love one another!

Not all that we crave, or tell ourselves that we need!

We wonder why we have so few priests!

There is nothing to wonder about!

Over many, many years

We have eroded into a secularized faith.

We want eternity,

 but

we want to eat all the cake we can here and now!

Here are some passages to dare to take to heart realizing that the people in these passages are not just a conglomerate of adults.
These are real people with real lives, with real families!

As you pray recall Jesus saying
“Let the little children come to me, it is to such as these that the kingdom belongs.”
He was not speaking touchy, mushy words.  He meant them!

Children are part of the missionaries of the Church.
Remember what happened to John the Baptist in the womb!

 Remember as you contemplate these following passages
that by our Baptism we are baptised as “priest, prophet and king” in the family of God!

How prophetically are we willing to live? Is martyrdom in our vocabulary
– bloody or daily martyrdom?

Are we willing to invest our whole lives in the Word of the Lord!

And in him build his kingdom on earth?

“They remained faithful to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. And everyone was filled with awe; the apostles worked many signs and miracles

 All who believed were together and had all things in common;  they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

It is important to note that the ‘holding of possessions in common’, referred to in the preceding and following excerpt is a response to the overwhelming love of the Redemption!  It is not a requirement imposed by the Apostles!

“ Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” (Acts 4: 32-37)

 

 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Mt. 25:31 – 40)


“And Jesus after washing their feet said to them  ………. I give you a new commandment:  love one another, just as I have loved you.  It is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognize you as my disciples.”  (Jn. 13: 34,35)

And this wonderful passage!  One of my favorites, is  from IS 58:

“Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke?
Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house;
Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: “Here I am!”
If you remove the yoke from among you, the accusing finger, and malicious speech;
If you lavish your food on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted;
Then your light shall rise in the darkness, and your gloom shall become like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always and satisfy your thirst in parched places,
will give strength to your bones and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a flowing spring whose waters never fail.
Your people shall rebuild the ancient ruins; the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;
“Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you, “Restorer of ruined dwellings.”

Authentic Sabbath Observance That Leads to Blessing
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from following your own pursuits on my holy day;
If you call the sabbath a delight, the LORD’s holy day glorious;
If you glorify it by not following your ways, seeking your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs—
Then you shall delight in the LORD ,and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will nourish you with the heritage of Jacob, your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Is 58:6-14)

The following passages are included for reflection because our Catholic faith does not find its bases in Scripture alone, but also in Tradition and Teaching of the Holy Spirit promised to the Church by Jesus. While these cannot disagree with Scripture, they do elucidate the Revelation found in Scripture, providing ongoing teaching for the Church.

“It is well known how strong were the words used by the Fathers of the Church to describe the proper attitude of persons who possess anything, towards persons in need. To quote Saint Ambrose: ‘You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself.’ The world is given to all, and not only to the rich.” ( On the Development of Peoples, #23)

“Share everything with your brother. Do not say, “It is private property.” If you share what is everlasting, you should be that much more willing to share things which do not last. “ (The Didache)  WOW!

Christians love one another. They do not overlook the widow, and they save the orphan. The one who has, ministers ungrudgingly to the one who does not have. When they see a stranger, they take him under their own roof and rejoice over him as a true brother, for they do not call themselves brothers according to the flesh but according to the soul.   (Aristides, early 2nd century)   (Do we, really)

How can I make you realize the misery of the poor? How can I make you understand that your wealth comes from their weeping?    (Basil of Caesarea, 330-370 A.D.)

The following is a wonderful way to draw to a close this reflection on the family as a vital part of the family of faith, always open to the Lord’s call to serve.  I think the Lord provided it just for this reflection!

“Pope Francis will bless 174 families belonging to the Neocatechumenal Way, and will leave their lives behind to become missionaries in Asia and Africa.These families will make up 40 new missio ad gentes, small missionary groups that will settle in countries where the Church’s presence is small. They include countries like Mongolia, China and Taiwan.

Each mission will be made up of three families, along with their children, a priest, a seminarian, and two single women. In all, between 30 and 40 people. Pope Francis will also bless an additional 240 families that will take part in ongoing missions.
Overall, the Vatican expects about 10,000 members from the Neocatechumenal Way, including initiators, Kiko Argüello, Carmen Hernandez and father Mario Pezzi.

With the latest 40 groups, the number of Neocatechumenate missio ad gentes will rise to 92, spread out across the globe.” (From Rome Report Jan 31, 2014)

So I may live under a certain roof, but that roof is the roof of my “Abba” who is your “Abba” too!  Therefore, joyfully, lovingly, as siblings, one family, we inherit, share and enjoy all that “Abba”, in his love bestows on his family – that is you and me. Jointly, we cherish and care for, all that “Abba” has given to us, for the good of all creation.  This is our ongoing work of love.  It is truly work.

Bless the work of your family Lord!
“Bless the work of our hands, lord!”  (Ps. 90:17)

PS I lived for three years in a Christian community, such as described above, for three years in the poorest part of a parish.  So when I talk of the Family of Faith I mean just that!

Family First – A Reflection Part One

Part One

“While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him.  Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.”  But he said in to the one who told him, “Who is my mother?  Who are my brothers?”  And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matt. 12:46-50)

The impetus to write this following reflection comes from the courage of a priest to question our wholesale acceptance of the phrase “Family First”, during a homily given on the above passage.

The reflection is radical, in the true sense of the word.

But maybe it will germinate within, and some small part of it will take root.  Maybe it will begin a dialogue.

 This Gospel passage begs the question of ‘family’ for a follower of Christ.

The title above ‘Family First’, risks becoming, and has become a trite catch phrase, –

a catch phrase that has been quickly adhered to by well-meaning Christians.

We can feel good about something in our society –

or so we think.

I would suggest that it is a trap deftly set by the ever vigilant evil one!

 And,
that conveniently opens the door to an acceptable ‘corporate’ church…

adopting society’s values, taking the wide road, thus secularizing our faith.

Adherence to the genetic family becomes a cover for many of our world’s sins!

Sins in the name of faith!

We must do ‘everything’ for the well being of our family.

In our western world ‘everything’ is translated as

‘all that money can buy’!

Or, translated in the old phrase –

‘Keeping up with the Jones’s’

This spirit of competition is rampant – hardly even recognized as such

within the faith community.

It is just accepted!-

No!  It is taken for granted!  Rejoiced in!

To have the latest of whatever in our home –

to remodel every so many years.

Society says that it is necessary that

children have …….

and that parents deserve …….

And they will not be whole, accepted or whatever

unless they are a part of this and this and this!

And in order to have all of this and this and this

for our children  and ourselves –

And in order that the home has the latest of whatever

it is necessary that both parents work.

It is only possible and financially responsible to have

two children.

In order for this to be so

 then,
comes the next step stealthily insert by the evil one:

it is necessary to think for ourselves as adults, as parents –

soon societies mores are adopted and the church

is seen as out of touch.

A deaf ear is turned

to the teaching and guidelines of our faith,

trust in the lord is put aside.

The call of our baptism is forgotten.

The slope of societies catch phrase is a moral downhill all the way.

Of course it only makes financial sense

to take contraceptives, and to court the possibility of

the expediency of abortion.

Faith gets what is left over in our life,

slowly becoming a mindless fulfillment of weekly obligation.

The integration of our life within the faith community

must fit conveniently into the hurried, harried-mess of our lifestyle.

The nurturing of family becomes translated into business.

The faith into which we were baptised,

defines the primary family to which we belong!

It is the family of our Creator

the family of our Saviour

the family of the Trinity

the family of the Church

established by the Saviour!

And thus –

The family of Humanity!

We discover this family through contemplation –

through relationship with our brother, Jesus…

definitely a blood relationship

because he has made it thus!

Genetic,therefore,  in the eternal sense of the word.

And, through relationship with our brothers and sisters in Jesus,

we discover the richness and mission of this family –

“That they may become one Father …

So that the world may believe it was you who sent me.

They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.

…..  Keep them in the truth!” (Jn. 17:16 ff)

This tie is a zillion times more binding.

While it involves the genetic family –

it is more compelling than the genetic family,

taken on its own.

It is more demanding –

encompassing all the demands we glowingly speak of
when we are sounding sanctimonious about ‘family’, –
such as time, relationships, nurturing.

It might be said that

the genetic family is the extended family

Of the primary family –

that is, the Family of Faith

with its universal call

and its eternal umbilical cord.

Baptism catapults us into this one and only eternal family!

So when we speak of ‘family first’ –

this is the family that is first –

 The Family of Faith!

This is how the Scriptural genealogies place families –

within the family of faith over generations.

This is done recognizing all the warts, and blessings, that exist in the faith family.

The family in this context is not isolated

Does not stand alone!

We tend to gloss over the passages that we consider harsh –

because Jesus ‘didn’t really mean it that way, did he?’

Well –

Yes, he did and probably even more so!

When you take the risk to believe that our

children, siblings, relatives

yes, even parents –

are

children, siblings, relatives and

even parents

to a whole host of people,

we can begin to dare to understand the community in

Acts of the Apostles!

We can begin to understand and say the word

‘Abba’ – Daddy!

We can dare to ‘launch out into the deep’

leaving home,

father, mother, family

for the sake of our

Abba Family which is

Eternal,

here and now binding.

Leaving home in faith!

Leaving home

As a defined locale,

as a structural security –

Living with an open door.

Daring to put into reality

What we sing about –

“Our lives are in your hands, Lord!”

Leaving, thereby, the door open to the possibility

That maybe, just maybe –

The call of Jesus spoken of in the Gospels,

Is for all times, all places, and all peoples of faith!

Let us remember that there is no

marriage and taking in marriage in heaven.

This is not to degrade the genetic family!

It, marriage and family, launches us into the everlasting family

here and now!

The ultimate purpose of which is to transform the here and now

into the kingdom of God.

Just as Hannah presented Samuel to the Lord,

just as Mary presented Jesus to the Lord

so every believing parent

presents every child to the Lord!

Presents, here and now

for eternity, that begins here and now!

This is not a nicety!

It is a spiritually profound, radical step

that launches a radical life –

having the power to change

the secular world!

This is a radical call that we have very hesitantly,

very reluctantly, dared to put our big toe into

Over the centuries!

It is fine to pour the water over my head –

but do not immerse me into that water!

What might happen if we launched out into the depths,

As the apostles and first Christians did!

The truth of this,

its great depth of meaning,

is rarely delved into,

rarely exposed!

It is easier to say

‘family is everything’

and stay spiritually, materially, and peripherally cozy!

And forget that our ‘Daddy’ –

From birth to eternity

is everybody’s Abba!

It is radically challenging to note

that

at twelve years of age

Jesus,

responding to his Mother’s anguish

is thereby creating more pain –

saying to her, in her grief

“Did you not know

that I must be about my Father’s business”.(Lk 2:49)

It was quite obviously

not the business of Joseph, his earthly father.

He was also upset by Jesus’ behaviour!

And Jesus went home with them

preparing to  continue his Father’s business!

And, one of the first concrete actions he would take

calls people from their homes, family

and family businesses.

Did he really mean this?

The Annunciation The Sanctity of Life in the Womb

The Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord is the The Incarnation of Jesus!

This is the most momentous day in the history of mankind!  God becomes man and dwells among us!  Yes! Dwells among us, in the womb of a virgin named Mary.  This is the day that the Lord has made!  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  This day makes Christmas possible!  Without the Incarnation Christmas isn’t!  Without the Incarnation Easter isn’t!

This feast day lends us wonderful opportunities to enrich our declaration that life begins at conception.  We spend much time ‘reinventing the wheel’, trying to teach this truth, when God with the cooperation of Mary has provided us with infinite opportunity to declare the truth.  We have succeeded in helping the world to secularize Christmas!  All the trimmings of Christmas have all but obliterated its meaning. For the majority of people Christmas is the trimmings and what is lost is the message of the sanctity of life expressed in the birth of Jesus.  The holiness of life gets trumped by emotions, good in themselves, but remaining very much surface deep.

Always, through its history the Church has had to revisit how it teaches, how it evangelizes, how it passes on the truth.  Now is the time to ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us in the celebration of this momentous event in its history.  Our world is crying out for the Incarnation! It is crying out for the acceptance that the womb is hallowed ground where God and man are at work!  How can we bring this Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord into centrality in our Church year!?  We are in a very different time in Church history than when the feast of Christmas was introduced into our Church calendar. The Day that God became man should not be a moveable feast!  To move this day around on the calendar is inadvertently cheapening the sanctity of life from conception to birth.   There would be no Lent if God did not become man and dwell amongst us!  He dwelt among us from the moment of his conception!  Yet we make the day that God became man into a moveable feast!  Life in the womb from the moment of conception is very cheap now!  There are contraceptives in school washrooms.  Girls of twelve years of age can decide to have an abortion. Woman in many parts of the world are forced to have abortions.

God made the event of his incarnation! Lent is man made and has grown from its roots of only 4 days, to about 3 weeks, then to the length it is now. It is a necessary part of the Church year.  The calendar of the Church Year is also man made and can meet the challenge of being renewed.

Always the Holy Spirit is calling the Church to new insights into the truths of our faith as each age presents new challenges and misconceptions.   All of us have been conceived.  Jesus went through every stage of development in his mother’s womb as each of us did.  He grew as a human from the moment that Mary said “Yes!”  He kicked, he sucked his thumb, he moved, each part of his anatomy developed – took shape. I would venture to say that many, many Catholics, many, many Christians of all ilks never think of this.  The rate of abortions and contraceptive consumption amongst Catholics would say that this is true. And God has given us the incarnation of his Son to be the ‘light’ in a very dark world.  Mary had to keep saying ‘Yes’ for nine long months from the first ‘yes’. Many thousands of people find it impossible to say “Yes” for nine months!  And yet they can emote when a baby is born!  We are a sadly confused people –  a weak people in need of facing the reality of Christmas.  It meant nine long months of pregnancy.  It meant a human being growing from tiny cells through every stage of development until birth.

God blessed, ratified human existence by honouring conception and a nine month gestation period.  It is sacred.  It is holy! The womb is holy ground!  The ‘sign’ that God gave is that a “young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, for God is with us.”  (Is. 10:10)  Let us exploit this sign for the good of mankind.  We say in the Acclamation of the Annunciation of the Lord: “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we saw his glory” {Jn 1).  His glory was seen by Elizabeth and her son when Mary visited her.  Elizabeth recognized that Mary was carrying the Lord, God, in her womb.

“Nothing is impossible with God” (Lk 1:37}, and like Mary we are his servants, so let us ask him how he would like us to visit his people, so that they will come to realize the sanctity of life in the womb from the moment of conception. We do not move Christmas – so why move the Annunciation.  This is not a Feast to be moved but a Feast to move us!

Matthew Chapter 2 Opening the Gift of Christmas

Matthew Chapter 2  Opening The Gift Of Christmas

This is a reflection on Christmas seen mainly from Mt. Ch. 2.  And by the way this is not late for Christmas!  Christmas is not over, even in the Latin, or what is also called the Roman Rite.  All Solemnities are celebrated for eight days!  So the week after the Feast of Epiphany is considered and celebrated as Christmas in liturgies.  What is within liturgies should be within the lived liturgy – our life.  For those of our brothers and sisters in faith who belong to the Eastern Rites – Christmas is just beginning!  It continues into February.  The Celebration of the Manifestation of Jesus, known as the Epiphany, is the original feast of what we call Christmas, celebrating the Manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles.   All of us who are not Jewish are Gentiles.  It was a couple of hundred years after the Epiphany was being celebrated before the date of Christmas was set. This should give us pause to think in the western world, that civilization is much bigger than us – spiritually and economically!

It is necessary to open the gift of Christmas – the first manifestation of Jesus in the flesh to all the world.  (It is important to state from the start, that Christmas is not the day that Jesus became man!  That is the event celebrated at the Annunciation.)  The second manifestation of Christ is the feast that we call Epiphany, and the third manifestation is the Baptism of the Lord.  The fourth manifestation is the Wedding feast at Cana.  In the Eastern Catholic Church each of these manifestations or Epiphanies is celebrated as one continuous feast – much like the Easter Triduum – the Passion, death, and Resurrection is one feast of three day duration.

So Christmas is the first manifestation of Jesus in the flesh – his birth.  A manifestation, an epiphany is to show , to reveal.  Jesus was not shown, revealed to only Mary, Joseph and animals in a manger.  We know from Luke’s Gospel account, Chapter 2, that Heaven revealed it to Shepherd’s, telling them to go to the stable in Bethlehem, because “ to you is born today in the City of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”

The first half of chapter 2 in the Gospel according to Matthew is the recounting of the visit of the Magi, which we call the Epiphany, the second manifestation of Jesus in the flesh. These were men of spiritual integrity who had journeyed, who had sought, in humble faith, unafraid of what they did not know or understand. Their souls had been awakened to the truth of God through the study of his creation. They stand as a testimony to our teaching that all salvation comes through Jesus.  They were not Jews.  They were in fact the first Gentiles to respond to the call of Jesus who announces himself in too many ways to count – even in the stars!  These men of learning obviously had open minds and hearts, and because of this had experienced Jesus who calls himself – the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  These were men in pursuit of the truth. There had been an awakening within them by means of their study and knowledge of astronomy and maybe even astrology.  God reveals himself to all of us, through all of his creation,  if we are of open heart and mind. This study became the way that Jesus used to lead them to the truth, that is himself – the truth that would change their lives.  If Jesus in his first two years was able to speak he might have said, as he said later in his life about another gentile, a centurion – “I have not seen such faith in all of Israel!” (Lk 7:9).  In Chapter 2 of Matthew, it is as if Matthew was trying to show us that Jesus had begun his public ministry at his birth – his death being as imminent at his birth as it was in his adult ministry!  If we truly reflect on the Christian message there is little room for mushy feelings about a cute baby! The Gospel account of his birth places his birth firmly into the Passion of Jesus. Nor is it possible for pious fantasy about a cozy family life.  After the visit of the Magi the family must flee from their homeland to save their son’s life.

If we jump for a moment to the account of Jesus birth, in chapter 2 of Luke, we learn that by his birth, before preaching a word, Jesus has disturbed the powerful, rich and wayward leaders of his people! The Shepherds, considered the lowest of the low, hear of his birth in a heavenly message.  Jesus has not yet opened his mouth to preach one word!  It is a little ironic that the saint who gave us the tradition of the Crèche, was also the saint who said “preach always and when necessary use words”. (St. Francis of Assisi)   Herod was less than thrilled by the searching Magi!  In fact Herod was utterly conniving.  Herod, a Jew, although one who aligned himself with the Roman occupiers of Judea, was treated with respect by the Magi.  Herod showed his true colours, – a man of fear, narcissistic, and lacking in a knowledge of his Jewish faith. His apparent desire to help the Magi find “the infant king of the Jews” was a thinly veiled desire to protect his power.  He lies very easily. This is a stark juxtaposition to the Magi’s desire to come to know the Truth – Jesus, who was to call himself “The Truth”!

Jesus’ birth and early infancy parallels his public ministry that results in his death. He lives his public ministry as he lived his first days – with no where permanent to lay his head!   Already, we learn in Luke 2 that Jesus has shown his preferential option for the poor, the outcast and the sinner all synonymous with the shepherd. The shepherds came with all the dirt and smell and grime of the sheepfolds (Lk 2:8-20).   This is a wonderful teaching of Jesus, without words, about how the shepherds of his church should deport themselves! There is nothing high and mighty about these men.  Not only is a sheepfold smelly – so is a manger!  The Magi were not put off by the simplicity of the surroundings with which they found Jesus.  They are attracted by his light, to his light – Jesus the Light of the World!   What was a star over their heads becomes now a radiance of truth in front of them and within them!  As they pay homage to Jesus, they are infused with his light. Jesus is upsetting the ‘apple cart’ so to speak, of the safe, daily order of life of the Jewish society of his day. And, he is not even walking or talking yet!

The Magi come prepared with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Before ever seeing Jesus in person they were interiorly convinced that this child was a King, gold; God, frankincense; one destined to suffer, myrrh.   Matthew tells us the Magi returned by “another way” having been warned in a dream to avoid Herod.  The star that they followed had ignited them as human beings, rousing their very souls.  They have been enlightened.  A sign of this enlightenment that has taken over their beings is, that like Joseph, and other great figures of the Old Testament, they hear the Lord in a dream!   Luke tells us that the Shepherds left “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen!”  These two groups of men had been changed!  Not only were the Magi walking a different path home – avoiding Herod and his wrath – but within their lives they were walking a different path – the narrow way about which Jesus was to later preach.  They were following ‘the way’ – Jesus.  But,Herod, a Jew, rejects Jesus as he desperately clings to his power and prestige which he sees as threatened.  The Magi are so in tune with the depth of their being that even in sleep they are awake to the Lord.  They have seen his star; they have seen the Lord, and now in a dream they hear his word.  This child who has not yet spoken a word, has converted sinners – the outcast, unclean shepherds  –  and Gentiles who have never heard of the promised Messiah, nor lived in anticipation of the prophets’ messages.

In this chapter of Matthew we are brought abruptly face to face with the corruption that comes with political power, that is lived for the sole purpose of self aggrandizement!  We are told by Matthew that Herod was frightened by the message of the Magi.  Power that is not lived in service is a false power, and results in brutality both overtly and covertly.  It is very difficult to stay on the narrow path when one has power and wealth!  The Middle East was in no better political shape at the time of Jesus than it is now.  Israel was an occupied nation.  Its leaders kept their power by aligning themselves with the Romans.  As with any of us when we sacrifice our integrity and our faith for worldly gain we become corrupt and brutal, so it was with Herod and his successors.  Life for the ordinary citizen was unstable.  Jesus and his parents at his birth and during his early years, share a common reality with those who now live in the unstable, war torn Middle East, and with those who live in the so called Third World, along with those who live in war fractured countries all over the world; and with those on the streets and slums of the rich world.

Like Pharaoh, hundreds of years before, at the time of Moses, Herod, in fear and anger, has sent out an edict to kill all male children of two years of age and under. They are innocent!  They have done nothing to harm anyone but in the despotism of false power that does not find its anchor in faith, it is always the defenseless who are victimized!  Mary, Joseph and their young child flee, becoming exiles, in Egypt, displaced persons, living as refugees!  Upon returning home after a couple of years, they find that they could not go back to their own region, Bethlehem of the house of David, because of political unrest.  They become displaced persons within their own land! They had to start over!  All of this upheaval, and insecurity came about because of political corruption.  The parents of Jesus were frightened for his well-being.  This sociopolitical reality does not make for a cozy, idyllic family life!  It does make for a family life lived on the firm foundation of faith – no matter what the circumstances of life – no matter how little physical sustenance or security exists.  This calls to mind St. Paul saying in his Letter to the Philippians – “He did not cling to equality with God.  But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are.” (Phil. 2:6,7) The family fled into Egypt to live as exiles, refugees, where generations before their people were, just as Paul says – “slaves”.    It can be said of Jesus from the moment of his birth, that he and his parents witnessed in their family life –  what Vatican 11 states as the call of the Church – ‘a preferential option for the poor.’  This is delineated quite clearly in Matthew’s account of the Last judgement in chapter 25.  We, today are surrounded in our world by the those experiencing what Jesus, Mary and Joseph experienced in their fight into Egypt.  Christmas calls us to take to heart the Last Judgement account.  What an utterly direct life path can be traced from Jesus’ birth with an attempt to kill him, to his death on the Cross!

The Christmas story – that is the Birth, the Visitation of the Shepherds, the Visitation of the Magi, the threat to the lives of all male children of two years of age and under, the flight into Egypt, the return to nothing except upheaval in their family district, the decision to settle in Nazareth – all of this in its reality contains much more than a manger scene.  The manger scene that we surround in romance, is only a small part of the story of Jesus’ birth.  Unless we see the reality of the manger as a star of love that points us in the direction of the cross lived daily by the poor, those whose lives are ravaged by war, by fear, by destitution, by the evil of greed in our daily lives we are missing the message.  Jesus was born into a very real world! We are called to reflect on how much security we surround ourselves with, even within our faith!  We are called to be unafraid; to step out in loving faith; to pursue the truth; to be light in the darkness; to see with new eyes.  Remember that when Jesus was eight days old Mary was told that her son was destined for the rise and fall of many and that she herself would suffer.  Not long after this they had to run away to save his life! All of this is part of the Epiphany, the manifestation of Jesus.   What a strange way to announce “Peace on earth!” “Do not be afraid” the angel told the shepherds.   He came to announce  “Peace” in the midst of chaos! Inner peace in the light of truth is what the Magi came to.  Thus they followed a different path.
He made exactly the same announce in the chaos of his death – “Do not be afraid” he told Mary Magdalene.(Mt. 28:5;9,10)  To the frightened Apostles at the Ascension he told them to get on with the work that he had begun and had given over to them. They well knew that persecution and death were part of this work!  Christmas in all of its facets cannot be separated from the Paschal Mystery!    When we open the gift of Christmas we must find the Paschal Mystery!  This I believe is what Matthew wants us to realize as he recounts the first years of Jesus life.

The Canaanite Woman The Role of Women in the Church

The Canaanite – Syro-Phoenician Woman (Matt. 15:22-28; Mk 7;24-30)

This story, with slightly different dialogue, is found in both Matthew and Mark’s Gospel.  Though a very short event in both gospels, it is a profound story when delved into. Both accounts stir our emotions – tending to make us a little angry at Jesus and the apostles – especially when we focus only on the surface of the story.  We tend to be very correct, and as a result very sterile in our western verbal interaction, and so take offence easily.  On the human, emotive level, it would be to our benefit to have a little Mediterranean volatility.   Of course all this is on a very human – emotive level.  But if we remember that our humanity is also divine, then we can begin to see this episode in another, deeper dimension that leads to challenges in the life of our communal faith within the Church.

A very human reaction to the interaction of the woman with Jesus, before he ever responds to her, is the reaction of the disciples.  They are very aware of their own discomfort at her presence, and not of her need. They cannot perceive what is really taking place. She, in her distraught concern for her daughter is an embarrassment to them.  They are also annoyed at Jesus for not responding to her immediately, even if that meant sending her away. She is, in their eyes, creating a scene.  And, so she is!  But, the unseen, internal stage is the much more dramatic stage, which in the end, produces much more than an Oscar.

If the Gospel account is broken down step by step, using Matthew’s account, we will become challenged in our own prayer life – that is when praying in petition. First it is important to look at what the woman says to Jesus.  She appears to not even notice the crowd, or the uncomfortable disciples.  Her eyes, the eyes of her heart, her inner attention is focused on her need and upon the person of Jesus.  We would have to assume that she doesn’t even care what anybody thinks – for that matter even what Jesus might think. She is like many of the Old Testament prophets who do not mind telling God what they think! She has only one thing on her heart, and it possesses her whole being.  Now, that is undistracted prayer in the midst of noise and confusion!  So much for a quiet, secluded, personal place in which to pray! It is important to remember when we hear her words, that she is a pagan on Jewish terrain.  But, she certainly knows something about the Jewish faith and its promises for a messiah.  She actually truly knows, that is, she has a knowledge that possesses her whole being, that Jesus is the promised Messiah!  She is convicted of more than the Jewish leaders, and the apostles, and is willing to publically acclaim it!  Even if she is creating a scene and is ridiculed! “Lord! Son of David, take pity on me!”  (Matt 15:23)

And now we come to the next important element in the story.  Notice that the woman says: “Take pity on me!”  But, we know from the story that she is driven to this pleading because her daughter is “possessed by a devil” which are her next words.  This is a prayer of petition.  She does not say ‘have pity on my daughter’ but “have pity on me”. She is teaching us, that when we pray for someone it is important to so identify with them, that we are one with them.  That is what Jesus prayed at the Last Supper- that we would be one.  This same insistence is seen in the story of the man whose friend comes to him at midnight. He went and pleaded to another friend to get up and give him some bread for his visiting friend.(Lk11:9-13). He did not care that it was midnight, he did not care that he was causing a commotion. Jesus prayed for us by taking our sins upon himself in blood, sweat and tears upon the cross. So to appeal for someone in prayer is more than reciting a prayer for them.  It is to so identify with them that they become one with us.  Like the men that carried the paralytic to the roof and lowered him to Jesus, so must be our oneness with the person on whose behalf we are petitioning. ‘Lord, have pity on me, my friend is suffering.’ His, or her suffering is my suffering, is our suffering.

Jesus is silent.  He does not respond to her pleading.  The Father does not respond to Jesus on the cross as he cries out Ps. 22, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me”(Matt. 27:47).  Jesus did not stop in his praying, but, in his act of dying, his whole being prayed – “Father, forgive them they do not know what they are doing!” (Lk 23:34)  And we are living witnesses by our faith that he was heard, as he carried us on the cross!  The woman did not stop when there was no reply from Jesus.  It is as if the silence was drawing her forth.  There is no crowd for her.  There is only Jesus and her. She must have had some awareness that the followers of Jesus wanted to see the last of her.  His followers even pleaded – “just give her what she wants” (Matt 15:24).  They had no idea of the inner journey of faith she was walking.  After all, by her actions, she had already professed publically more faith than them. Jesus is drawing her on. They, Jesus and the woman, in the midst of commotion are in a dialogue!  This is prayer. He acknowledges her claim that he is “Lord, son of David” by stating that he “was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel” (Matt 15:25).  They both know that she is a stranger.  But something else is happening here.  The woman’s conviction that this man is the Son of David is proven true by Jesus’ response, and she is profoundly moved.  She bows ‘low’ to him.  She is a Canaanite.  Canaan was the ‘promised land’ – promised to the great man of faith, Abraham – and she a gentile, a pagan, is not lost like the sheep of the House of Israel, but is in deep conversation with the Redeemer, in the Promised Land!  How amazing is the work of the Lord!

She pleads with him for her daughter, as Abraham pleaded for Sodom and Gomorrah.  “Lord, help me!”  Jesus is honing her faith.  She is being purified.  Her faith is being deepened.  How deep is her faith?  Is this just a onetime pleading for her daughter?  Or is this non-Jew, this gentile, gentiles considered by the Jews as “dogs”, truly a woman of faith. So Jesus presents it to her directly using the diminutive form of “dog”, a term for non-Jews that she would know. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the little dogs.”  She rises to the occasion, not insulted, but recognizing the truth of what he has said.  In the bravery of faith she takes his statement and gives it right back to him using exactly his words!  How wonderful!  “Ah, yes Lord!  But even the little dogs eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table!”  So, in our vernacular she is saying – “How about some scraps!”  Jesus is moved.  He is always moved by faith.  He is always moved by sincerity of heart, openness and honesty.  He gives her great praise.  He calls her “woman” a title of respect that he used for his mother. “Woman, you have great faith.”  When talking about his mother he said “Blessed is she who hears the word of God and keeps it.”(Lk 11:28) This woman has done just that, in the midst of great turmoil.  Through Mary’s faith God becomes man, and in the anguish of her faith she joins him in freeing us from the grip of Satan.  Through this woman’s faith that grew through anguish, her daughter is freed from a demon, thus experiencing new life. We don’t know how the disciples responded to this event.  But, we do know that their faith was to be tested in much anguish in the days to come. They were to learn much about persevering in faith even to the point of death.  Where will our faith take us?  Where will my faith take me?  How do I carry someone in prayer?

This woman, sadly unnamed, but one of the great women of scripture none the less, not only taught us how to carry someone in prayer, she also taught us to be bold, fearless in publically expressing our faith.  She, by her example, is proclaiming the power of converts to Christianity.  They disturb the comfortableness of those of us born into the faith.

When we look at this Canaanite Woman it would be good to look at her in conjunction with other women that Jesus encountered in his life. In her open, direct and simple faith, she along with these other women, has much to tell us about the importance of women in his church.  When we look at the Woman at the Well, the woman who found the coin, the women who followed Jesus on his journeys, the woman who washed Jesus’ feet, the woman who put her last coin in the treasury, Mary Magdalene, the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’  garment, Martha and Mary, Elizabeth, the women who wept for Jesus as he carried his cross, and the women who joined the first woman of faith, Mary the Mother of Jesus,  at the foot of the Cross – we need not get side tracked by demanding woman priests.  Jesus, in his life on earth well defined the role of woman in his Church and her profound impact within the community of faith.  We would do well to meditate on each of these passages mentioned above. The role of woman in the church, as with the Canaanite woman, has much to do with proclaiming the faith, giving it life, both in prayer, in word and in deed. They taught by word and example. Certainly the disciples were challenged in their ingrained attitude about women.  And this Canaanite woman was not to be put off by them.  She actually had something to teach them about prayer and proclaimed faith.

There is something these women have in common.  They all knew anguish.  They knew the faith deep within the recesses of their beings. They all had suffered in the depth of their faith. They are the heart and soul of the faith. When one looks at these women that Jesus encountered we find that their interaction with him took seed within them, germinating into new life.  They pondered – they listened, with their hearts, to what they had seen and heard – what had happened to them, and then proclaimed it.  Something must have happened within the soul of this Canaanite woman.  She must have pondered, listened intently to the murmurings within to have known that Jesus was the “Son of David”.  This time of gesticulation brought forth faith in action.  As with all the other women Jesus encountered, so too with the Canaanite Woman – their proclamation was always a source of new life for those who witnessed them. “Scraps” can make a wonderful meal!

In their pondering, in their unabashed love they profoundly teach, directing to Jesus. Jesus was not afraid to use them to announce the ‘good news’ in words and in actions. They are the mothers within Mother Church.   They are the mothers, taking the seeds of faith and giving forth renewed life within ‘Mother Church’, nurturing it day in and day out – aloud and in silent tears.  And when the women of the church cry out in word and deed, as the Canaanite woman did, totally identifying with her daughter, – “Lord, have pity on me!” – the ‘me’ these women carry deep within is the Church. They prod the Church, carry it from the purely external aspects of the faith that often possess it, to the internal, to its heart and soul – always initiating new – renewed life.

Jesus is the Word. He says to the Canaanite woman – “Woman, your faith is great!”

Jesus shared very deeply with women the essence of who he is.

Mary of Magdala said, “Rabbuni!”  …and to the disciples –  “ I have seen the Lord.” (Jn 20:16ff).  The Woman at the Well (Jn 4) in discussion with Jesus,  says “I know that Messiah, the Christ is coming … Jesus said, ‘That is who I am, I who speak to you”.  She tells the towns people – “Come and see.”  Martha said to Jesus, in John 11, “Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world”.  Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit says, ‘Why should I be blessed with a visit from the mother of my Lord!’” (Lk 1:42)  Through praying, listening, pondering, proclaiming  – the women of the Church with Mary, the mother of the Lord, say to the People of God – “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).

He is “Jesus, Son of David!”, “the Messiah”, “Rabbuni”, “the Christ, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world”.  “Come and See”!

 

August, 2013

A Problem of Seismic Proportions

It was disturbing this morning to have a Sunday Mass Sermon that was totally given over to business management – the management of protecting ourselves from natural disasters, in particular earthquakes.  It ranks somewhere with taking out ‘life insurance’! – of which there is no such thing.  The only truth is that as surely as we live we are going to die!  What a misnomer.  We do not like the word ‘death’.  Even as Christian we fail to believe that death is no more. We are only ‘seeing now’ in a mirror dimly, as St. Paul tells us.  Certainly earthquake protection is not a bad thing in itself.  It is wise to build new structures with what we believe to be standards of construction that will with stand a fairly strong quake – with the awareness that nothing is totally safe – and here is the crux of the matter – nothing stands outside of the hand of God: neither life nor death. And, nothing is going to protect us from what we call ‘death’.

While wrestling with the business sermon on the drive home from Mass, two scripture passages came to mind – one of which really stuck in my heart.  Just why should the Tower at Siloam, Luke Chapter 13, anchor itself within me?  After a few hours of thinking and puttering around, avoiding the promptings to delve prophetically into the matter, I took up the Scriptures and began reading, praying and then reading commentaries.  This was fatal to my wish to avoid approaching the issue.

Earthquakes are not the only devastating and disastrous events  that humanity endures on a daily basis.   One of these devastating events is referred to in the beginning of the passage in Luke 13:1-21 – the same passage in which is found the collapse of the Tower of Siloam.  This devastating event is the slaughter of Galileans, an act of terrorism perpetrated by Pilate, that was punctuated by an horrific act of sacrilege.  The sacrilege mocked a very central belief of the sacredness of blood – Pilate took the blood of the Galileans  and mingled it with their sacrifices. This is religious persecution of earthquake proportions.   Sacrilege is happening everyday in our world!  Terrorism is happening everyday in our world. In this same chapter of Luke we have the story of the woman bent over double for eighteen years!  Our world, not only the ‘third world’, is riddled with people suffering from the weight of poverty, hunger, homelessness, sickness and rejection.  People from the age of 6 are suffering from what amounts to slave labour, in abhorrent work environments, so that the rich can become richer and those of us not so rich can buy at costs that don’t even cover the price of the material.  Children are sold or stolen into sexual depravity. These labourers and sex toys are suffering a devastation of earthquake proportions.   And, the labourers’ substandard factories collapse because we don’t know, and don’t care to know, how we can buy things so cheaply.  These are all earthquakes that can be addressed, and arise from human sinfulness.  We, the Church, are meant to be Jesus, in his mercy and compassion in the world. Will our Christian hearts erupt to the plight of our brothers and sisters begging for us to bear fruit right here on the streets where we live?  Like the fig tree in this passage, Luke 13, the epicenter of our faith needs some tending so that it can bear the fruits of compassion, mercy, justice and peace.  All are very possible and will go much further in assuring our eternal safety than an earthquake proof building.  This world will, and is passing away.  Do we strive to keep monuments to ourselves and to our physical endeavours as though the engraved structures of brick and mortar are the body of our church, while the Body of Christ – that is all for whom he died, not just registered parishioners – languish from mediocre care, or worse still from being unseen and totally ignored?

And now, we get to the Tower of Siloam in the Luke 13. A tower is meant to be a sign of security, protection and defense.  It is a place of safety – and in this instance the tower is especially safe as it is guarding, the sacred pools at Siloam. This is a good strong tower.  These are saving waters to which the sick are sent for healing – Siloam meaning ‘sent’.  But the strong, secure tower – a place of pride –  falls, killing 18 people.  Our Church building and all its out buildings is not our church, and they are not our strength and security, no matter how big they are, or how securely they are built. Our church is the Body of Christ – every man, woman and child within the boundaries of our parish. The earthquake, the tornado, whatever be the natural disaster that may befall us at one time or another is, in reality, happening everyday in some form or another within the Body of Christ, within each parish boundary.  This wounded body is what needs to be shored up with the love of Christ.  The earthquakes and tornados that are affecting the Body of Christ are not a possibility at some unknown future date, they a real present effect of evil.  And, the method for eradicating this evil is given to us in the Sermon on the Mount and the Last Judgement.  These two teachings in Matthew are found in the Prophets of the Old Testament –in Isaiah 58 for example.

In Luke 13 each part is closed with the call to repent.  Death is coming to each of us eventually but in the mean time we could do with the resurrection to new life that comes with repentance, which is the true seismic upgrading.  Seismic upgrading is no guarantee that the church or another building may not get destroyed.  Storms and other natural disasters come in all sizes, and despite all our scientific prowess we still call them ‘acts of God’ and we are humbled in our knowledge, and in the power of nature.  We are, despite our faith, afraid of death.

It is a strange, but I think providential, that the very day chosen for this announcement on seismic upgrading being demanded in all parishes and on all parish buildings, was made on the Sunday that had two Readings – the First Reading and the Gospel –  that talked of a boy being raised from the dead – only sons of their poor widowed mothers.  The preparation for the future rising of Jesus from the dead, the only son of his mother and she a widow, is not lost.  What is also not lost is that our faith needs a resurrection from the quagmire of worldly values – in this instance – control over the future, the unknown.

Is our church building supposed to be our tower, our strong defense of all that is sacred, like the pools of Siloam?  Our bulwarks are only as good as those who build them – and the builders are fallible human beings.  How many thousands  – hundreds of thousands of dollars would be required to upgrade all the church edifices that are in earth quake regions of the world – Italy for one?  The church is much more than the sum of all its buildings.  The buildings have no ability to contain God.  We, the people, are the people of God.  We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  We are the “wounded Church”  that Pope Francis speaks of and asks us to present to the Father with Jesus, who with his wounded hands and pierced heart presents it to the Father.  We, the Church, are not wounded by earth quakes or other natural disasters, the pain of which like the bloodshed of martyrs spawns a renewed faith life.  We are wounded by our weak faith, by our adoption of secular values, by our desire to be not just like God, but to be God, by our desire to make the work of our hands, and our intellects as sacred as God.  The Church, if it is truly Church, the Body of Christ, will be out on the highways and byways, in homes, hovels  – wherever there is need.  If we were truly rising to the challenge of Jesus, we would be aspiring to his description of himself in Matt. 8:20 – “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  If this were so we would not be in the position of having to worry about seismic upgrading or building towers to protect ourselves.

Can we truly say that the business management decree that was presented at Mass this morning was in keeping with the words found in the First Reading and the Gospel of today’s liturgy?  In the First Reading the Widow of Naim says to Elijah (1Kg 17:24) “Now I know that you are a man of God, and the word of the Lord in your mouth is Truth.”  After hearing this business decree, can we say with the people in the Gospel, who “glorified God, saying: “A great prophet has risen among us!  God has visited his people!”  This word about Jesus spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding countryside.”?  (Lk 17:16,17)

Maybe we need to go to the Pool of Siloam and wash so that we may see!

A Lamentation

Listen to me, my people

While in anguish I tell of  my love!

Listen to me closely,

To me who made all peoples.

I am the God who made

The Assyrians, the Babylonians,

The God who created the Iraqis and Afghans.

Listen to me who made

The peoples of all the Americas,

The north, the central,

The southern Americans.

I am the God of the Semites,

Arabs and Jews.

I called the gentiles, white and black.

The peoples of India, Asia, Europe and Africa,

They are all,

All of them, my children.

 

Listen to me all you who have ears to hear.

Listen to me all of you,

You have hearts created to forgive.

I have said “Put your swords back into their scabbards”!

I have mended too many ears,

Comforted too many widows and orphans!

I have heard too many children of Rachel screaming in terror!

The cries of those you have made homeless,

Starving, naked and thirsty,

The cries of those you have maimed and tortured

The cries of your brothers and sisters,

Their cries have reached my ears.

 

What have you done?

What have you done, you who are rich?

You who talk from full bellies and comfort?

What have you done

You who crave power in the world?

Search your hearts!

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

My ways are not your ways

As far as your love is from one another

So are my ways from your ways.

 

I do not want “bombs bursting in air”!

My peoples of the world you have hardened your hearts!

You have turned away from your God.

You listen only with your jaded hearts,

With your pride and your stubbornness.

You say “In God we trust”!

“Allah be praised”!

While you plot destruction, ruin,

Murder and deception in your hearts.

                                                I know of what you are made.

I know the hearts of men.

Your lives are a pretense, a shame for caring.

You have grown so far from me

Farther than east is from west

North from south.

You cannot feel my love for you

You of hardened hearts!

 

“As the doe yearns for running streams”

So your hardened hearts yearn for

Ease, comfort,

For all that money can buy.

You have become weak in your lives of immorality,

Lives of sexual pleasure and greed.

You no longer know right from wrong.

Insanity grasps you

killing those unborn, old and sick!

 

You have become Sodom and Gomorrah.

You have built towers of Babel

And how you babble on!

Trusting more in your trinity

Of economic pundits, pollsters and powerful!

They have become your prophets

False prophets of you who rape the earth.

They do not speak my words!

 

I am the Father

I am the Son

I am the Holy Spirit

Listen to this Trinity!

 

I am the Father, creator of all that is.

I am the Son, Jesus who came for the sick and the sinner.

I am the Spirit to be found in the hearts

Of all who love God.

 

I love the sinners, the terrorists

I want to forgive them,

To give them new life, new hearts.

 

I love the sinners, the powerful and greedy

I want to forgive them,

To remove their hearts of stone.

 

I love the sinners, the immoral and perverted

I want to forgive them,

To give them hearts that thirst for my love.

 

I love the downtrodden victims of injustice

All of them,

The poor, the orphan and the widow,

I want to wipe away their tears.

I want to heal the brokenhearted.

Those thrown on the garbage dumps of profiteers.


Oh my people of this broken world

How I long to draw you to my heart,

Cover you as a mother hen her chicks!

 

My dreams for you are vast

Vaster than you can imagine.

Listen to me, my people of the world.

Listen to my prophets who call,

Call you back to my ways.

Come back to me.

You will find all that your hearts desire.

 

I am the Alpha and the Omega.

I am the Way, the Truth, the Life.

I Am, who made you in love!

Choose life that you may live everlasting life.

I have no pleasure in the death of anyone.

Return to me and live!

PENTECOST A JUDEO-CHRISTIAN FEAST

The Birthday of our Church

Our faith is enhanced when we realize its historical and cultural significance.  We are Judeo Christians.  Our roots are deeply entrenched in the Jewish faith.  Jesus was a Jew.  The Apostles were Jews.  The Jews were God’s chosen people who he called, loved nourished and interacted with over thousands of years.  Our Christian scriptures are a composite of the Old Testament, – that is the Pentateuch, known as The Law; The Prophets; and the Writings; and the New Testament.  Neither section of our Bible stands alone.  We are well aware of this in our Liturgy of the Word at each Eucharistic Celebration.  On Sundays, our Sabbath day, Readings are chosen from both the Old and New Testaments. And our Liturgical Year celebrates the Judaic belief in one God, the Creator and Father of all the world, who promised to save his people from their sins.  This is strikingly evident during the Easter Season.  Since we are coming to the end of our 50 days (Pente) of celebration of the Easter Season let’s take a look at the Judeo Christian background of what we have been celebrating since Easter, and will be celebrating on Pentecost Sunday.

Through Moses, God gave to the Jewish people three solemn festivals that they were to celebrate at appointed times each year. “God spoke to Moses and said “Speak to the Israelites and say: The solemn festivals of Yahweh to which you will summon them are my sacred assemblies.  These are my solemn festivals:…” (Lev. 23:1 ff)  The overall ritual requirement is actually the observance of every Sabbath day, well known to all Christians as the third commandment.  Then, there follows the three major, yearly festivals.

The first solemn celebration is Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  This feast celebrates the freedom of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. (Ex 12:1-28).  It corresponded to the time of barley harvest. During Passover, for seven days no leaven bread is to be eaten – that is only Matzot is to be eaten.  Jesus took the unleavened bread of Passover and changed it into his Body.  Unleavened bread is symbolic of sincerity and truth. This Feast of Passover of course corresponds to our Sacred Triduum – Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrections –  our Passover from death to new life. The prophet Zechariah received God’s message about how the Messiah of the royal House of David would die for our sins:   “I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; and they will look on Me whom they have pierced . . . (Zec. 12:10) (also  Ps. 22:16; and Jn. 20:37)

The second solemn celebration follows Passover. It is the Feast of Weeks (Lev. 23:15,16). Seven weeks or forty-nine days were counted to wheat harvest. These seven weeks were a time of thanksgiving for freedom from slavery. With this freedom came new life and hope symbolized in the promise of a harvest. By the time of Christ this last day of the celebration of Weeks also celebrated the giving of the Law, a spiritual harvest. We have our 50 day celebration of Easter, our Passover, during which we celebrate our redemption from sin and death. We celebrate new life, eternal life.

The third major feast is the Feast of Tabernacles, celebrated on the fiftieth day – ‘Shavuot’, ‘ or in Greek ‘pentekoste’, after Passover.  This was the time of wheat harvest.  With singing and dancing, the fruits of the first harvesting of wheat were brought, lifted high, in the form of two loaves of leavened bread, into the Temple. This is new leaven – new life.  Old leaven is symbolic of sin, wickedness and malice as St. Paul says in 1 Cor. 5:7-8. For us the new leaven is Jesus, the Risen Son of God who became man to free us from our sin. He promised to send us the Holy Spirit who would nourish us in the truth, revealing to us the meaning of all that Jesus said and did (John14,15,16).  This same Holy Spirit that Jesus promised to send to his followers, those who believed in him, was promised to the Chosen People hundreds of years before by the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel proclaimed that God would send the Holy Spirit – Ruach Haqodesh –into the lives of the Jewish believers.  Ezekiel announced that God would “pour out His Spirit upon the house of Israel.” (39:29) and “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh . . then they will . . be careful to keep My laws.” (11:19)

The prophet Joel foretold that God promised to “pour out His Spirit upon all flesh” – a hope for believers in all nations! (Joel 3:1) These promises when fulfilled would introduce a new quality of life and a new life style into society.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 speaks of a new covenant through which the Law will be written on the heart and all will come to know the lord from the greatest to the least, and all guilt will be forgiven.

“The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things . . He  will guide you into all truth . . . “(John 14:26; 6:13)

And before the risen Messiah ascended back to the heavenly Father, He affirmed for the last time:

“ Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift My Father promised, which you have heard Me speak about … you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:4,8)

And in John’s Gospel chapter 20 verses 22-23 we hear what Jeremiah prophesied hundreds of years before, that is that sins would be forgiven through the Holy Spirit.

This promise of the Holy Spirit made over hundreds of years to the Chosen People, the People of God, and made by Jesus to those who believed in him was fulfilled fifty days after his death and resurrection – Pentecost.  This day we call the Birthday of the Church – the Church built by Jesus, not of bricks and mortar – but on the foundation of Peter and his fellow apostles, and all who would believe through them witnessing through the power of the Holy Spirit.

There were hundreds of people in Jerusalem for this feast of Pentecost, the closing of the Feast of Tabernacles because this is where faithful Jews from everywhere gathered for these three major festivals. The Jews from everywhere were in Jerusalem on Passover when Jesus our Passover Lamb was slain.  Many were in the Temple praying when the Temple veil was torn apart at the hour of his death.(Luke 23:44-46)

Fifty days later at Shavuot, Pentecost, people were present “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5)and heard the “violent wind” that is the breath of the Holy Spirit, and saw the “tongues of fire” like the fire on Mount Sinai, not settling on the Mountain as at Sinai but settling on the believers in Jesus.  Breath is life, and this cacophony of sound is the sound of Life.  This fire is proclaiming that this is the New Mount Sinai. And by the Holy Spirit on this new Mount Sinai all peoples from all over the world are challenged to believe because they can all understand in their own language the message of God.  The Holy Spirit has undone the babble of the Tower of Babel. We are told in the Gospel of Luke chapter 24:52,53, that after the Ascension, the Apostles and other believers, were “continually in the Temple praising God.” This temple in not too many years hence will be no more.

As there was fire on Mount Horeb, which was declared Holy ground because the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob was there(Ex3:1-6), so too there was fire on Mount Sinai – “God descended on Mount Sinai in the form of fire” (EX 19:18) Moses went up that mountain to get the Law.  On Shavuot, that is Pentecost, on the Temple Mount, the Jews celebrated the giving of the Law as part of their festival.  From now on Paul will preach that we believers are all temples of the Holy Spirit (1Cor. 6:19).  We are all “holy ground”!

“In the one Spirit we were all baptized, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and the one Spirit was given to us all to drink.” ( ! Cor. 12:13)

Let us celebrate our Birthday with Joy and Thanksgiving!

“The love of God has been poured into our hearts by his Spirit living in us! “ (Rom. 5:5)