Sunday, 22 November 2015

1st Sunday of Advent - Year C

Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:12 - 4.2; Luke 21:25-28.34-36
Too many people live either in the past or in the future. Very few of us live in the present.
Those who live in the past or in the future live in a world which doesn't exist, and because it doesn't exist it has no ground for them to put their feet on. They are doomed forever to float, unable to land.
What is more, Christian faith can be exercised only in the present moment. The present moment is real time. We should all have our watches set to it. In real time the sun shines golden, the rain falls fresh and every breath is a blessing. Even when real time turns sour - when the Babylonians attack, when persecution comes, or even, as in the Gospel, the end of the world begins, we can still stand confidently, our heads held high, because our faith in the word of God is undiminished and promises safety - but only in real time.
The readings from Scripture today invite us to remember some moments from the past and some moments from the future but only so that we might become more firmly grounded in the present moment. Ironically, only those firmly grounded in the comforting reality of the present moment are ready for the future, and do not fear it.
The First Reading takes us back to an anguished, dark moment for the Jews when Nebuchadnezzar was besieging Jerusalem. Their world was falling apart and their lives were on the line. The enemy was sweeping in from the north and in those days it was better not to be taken prisoner.
In the midst of the chaos Jeremiah speaks a prophecy - an inspired word about the future:
I will make a virtuous Branch grow for David ... Judah shall be saved and Israel shall dwell in confidence.
A branch from the stump of David will shoot forth and save his people so that they may dwell in confidence! We know this Branch is Jesus.
It is by remembering the loving plan of God in the midst of the troubles and catastrophes of our life in the world that we are given strength to live the painful present moments of our journey.
Jesus, too, in the Gospel today, prophesies that we will be saved (liberated) so that we may stand (dwell) in confidence before him - and this prophecy, too, is made in the context of a fearful catastrophe - the world's final destruction.
I can't help pointing out that Jesus twice exhorts us to stand - erect and in confidence - and I can't help repeating that only those who live in the present moment can stand because they have their feet on the ground and can therefore exercise their faith in God.
There will always be disasters in our lives. There have been disasters in human history and in the personal lives of individuals ever since the creation of Adam. These will continue to the end of time. Our only real security in all our troubles is in the word of God.
Even in the midst of the most cataclysmic signs of the end of time which lie in the future it is the word of God which proposes itself as our rock of safety but only if we listen to it now, in this present moment.
The cosmic nature of the signs which will shake the powers of heaven, which will cause nations to be in agony and bewildered by the mounting tide of chaos, (the clamour of the ocean and its waves); which will cause men actually to die of fear as they await what menaces the world - is set against the unbelievably simple word of God which will ensure confidence and survival - PRAY!
Can you believe it? God's advice for overcoming fear and death in the midst of disaster - pray!
But beware - pray now not then. Pray in the present so that in the future you will stand in confidence before the Son of Man.
Those who do not pray will not have the strength to stand, they will either die of fear or find themselves trapped in their sins, unworthy of the presence of God.
Let us go to the Responsorial Psalm for some good advice as we begin the period of Advent. You will notice once again that the focus is on where our feet are:
Lord, make me know your ways.Lord, teach me your paths.Make me walk in your truth, and teach me:for you are God my saviour.The Lord is good and upright.He shows the path to those who stray,he guides the humble in the right path;he teaches his way to the poor.
I pray that for each one of us today our Advent journey will begin with a fresh resolve to walk in the paths of the Lord. I pray for scrupulous faithfulness to the Sunday Eucharist among the Catholic people of God; I pray for a humble willingness to confess grave sin in the sacrament of Confession; I pray for a readiness to set aside 'prime time' for prayer every day.
The choice God offers is for now - for today - for this present moment - for each of us.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

34th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Daniel 7:13-14; Apocalypse 1:5-8; John 18:33-37
Two men confronting each other: Jesus and Pilate.
Two men:
  • a ruler and a slave
  • a master and a servant
  • a king and a subject
But which is which? Who is the ruler and who is the slave? Who is truly King? Each one of us has to decide for ourselves. Where do we stand? On whose side are we?
Let's look at Pilate:
He seems to be powerful enough.
  • Surely you know, he says to Jesus, that I have power to release you and power to crucify you?
  • He occupies the chair of the governor; he wields the authority of Caesar himself.
  • He has servants and slaves to carry out his wishes and fighting men at his disposal.
  • Undoubtedly he would have been rather wealthy.
He certainly seems to be a powerful individual and, in the ways of the world, a real success story; one of the mighty ones with a great future ahead. In modern terms he would have been a senior politician; his face would regularly be in the newspapers; he would have a fine limousine, minders, authority, and a certain amount of fearful respect from the 'ordinary' people. And the fact that he probably got there by stepping over the heads of his opposition would make the world respect him even more. Someone to be looked up to.
But is that really so?
What we have described so far are all the external things; things that tell us nothing about the man himself. What sort of a man do we see in this confrontation with Jesus?
What does Pilate reveal about himself?
We see a man ruled by doubt.
  • He is constantly running back and forth, goes inside and comes out again; from Jesus to the crowd outside and from the crowd back to Jesus.
  • He, the strong man, asks the crowd: What must I do? What do you want me to do with this man Jesus? Whom shall I release for you - this man or Barabbas?
We see a man ruled by contradiction.
  • He finds no guilt - so he has Jesus scourged.
  • He washes his hands in innocence - and orders his crucifixion.
  • He feels pity for Jesus: Here is the man, look at him! and has him killed.
  • He realises that they are out to get Jesus through jealousy - and hands him over.
We see a man ruled by confusion.
  • He is the man who is supposed to uphold the law, to pronounce judgment and dispense justice and he asks, like a blind man: Truth, what is that?
We see a man ruled by fear.
  • He is afraid that Rome will dismiss him from his job.
  • He is afraid of losing his grip on his power and prestige.
  • He is afraid of a riot and he is afraid of losing face before the people.
Outwardly big in the eyes of the world this man is inwardly very small. Pilate is really only a little man.
Jesus stands before Pilate the giant with feet of clay, whose world is about to crumble and who, actually, is soon to be dethroned.
Face to face with him, his arms bound, his eyes swollen from the blows he has received, spittle covering his face, stands Jesus, shivering with the cold.
  • In Jesus, evil is not king because Jesus IS Love.
  • He is not ruled by violence because he IS Peace.
  • In him there is no room for lies and cheating, no questions like 'What is truth?' because he IS the Truth.
  • Jesus is not a giant with feet of clay but rather the cornerstone of the whole building.
  • In him there is no frantic movement to save himself but rather a deep confidence and trust in his Father.
  • He does not even turn his face from those who spit at him and tug at his beard; you have to be powerful to be able to do that.
  • No need, like Pilate, to use threats - his is the calm of knowing he stands in the authority and power of God.
  • No need, like Pilate, to protest his innocence because his Father will show his innocence when the time comes.
  • No whimpering because he faces a savage death, because his life has been one long preparation for this moment.
The moment of fear has passed in the Garden the night before and Jesus now stands before Pilate in the full strength and power of his Father's will and his own integrity - and Pilate is profoundly disturbed. Well, who is the real king? Who do men say that I am .... who do you say that I am?
Is it Pilate or is it Jesus?
Outwardly Pilate is the giant with power and prestige but he is broken inside. Inside he is no giant. Inside he is small and weak and frightened.
The world is really like that. Our society is really like that. Our Church community is really like that. Each one of us individually is really like that - small and weak and frightened. We sometimes put on displays of great power but we remain small and weak and frightened.
But Jesus is not so. He is the true Ruler - King - Lord. He alone is able to withstand the strength of the great and make them nothing. He needs no army and no servants. His greatest weapon is the relationship he has with God his Father and so he has no need for displays of any kind. Jesus manifests to us the calm and peace and gentleness that comes from being firmly rooted in the truth - like a tree planted near flowing waters - not caring whether it be drought or flood.
So where do you stand? There is no middle ground! We align ourselves either with Pilate or with Jesus. So where do you stand, and - tell me - what difference does this make in your life?

Sunday, 1 November 2015

All Saints - Year B

Apocalypse 7:2-4.9-14; 1John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
As children we heard from our father the story of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. He told us that when Adam and Eve put the forbidden fruit to their lips and ate there was a sudden loud noise in heaven which shook the whole universe. It was the sound of the gates closing. From that moment heaven was locked and no one could enter it again.

Of course, it never entered our heads that there are no gates in heaven and that therefore there could not have been a noise. Kids' stories are, like kids themselves, more interested in the truth than in the facts.

The truth was that from that moment humans were no longer capable of friendship with God; that they could not undo the damage they had done; that a Saviour was now needed, and as the story went on to tell us, he would one day come down from heaven to do the saving.

In more adult terms we are back once again to the theme of communion, or oneness with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our feast today celebrates all those who are one with Christ, particularly those who have reached heaven, and of those, particularly the canonised saints. It may be helpful to some to recall here that a ‘canonised’ saint is one who has been authoritatively declared by the Church to have lived in a heroic degree of communion with Christ during his or her life.

St Paul routinely refers to the ‘saints’ living in Jerusalem or in Lydda, and so on. He means all those who are in union with Christ in the Church. In the same way, he would have called all those of us here in this church who are in the state of grace the 'saints at Camperdown'. However, we are ‘saints-at-risk’ since our freedom has not yet confirmed us in the friendship of Christ and sin can cause us to lose it.

The first reading today comes from the book of Revelation. It presents us with two visions, one on earth and one in heaven. Heavy with the same kind of symbolism found in my father’s stories the word of God directs us to divine truth.

And yet, though we all know God does not sit on a throne in heaven because he is pure spirit and that the elect don’t stand around in white gowns holding palm branches, we do not insist on this awareness. My father never pointed out to us that heaven doesn’t really have gates. He understood all too well that symbols are ‘a way of talking’ and that biblical symbolism is the language offered us by the inspiring Spirit of God to enable us to speak of heavenly realities.

And so, the ‘seal’ of God, usually worn on a ring, is pressed to the foreheads of God’s servants. Do you think God really wears a ring? You do? On which finger? No, he doesn’t wear a ring but he can claim as his own and protect from harm all who live in his friendship.

The one hundred and forty-four thousand are the New Israel. They are the twelve tribes of the Old Israel squared and then multiplied by a thousand for good measure.

The white robes and the palm branches are symbolic of purity before God and of victory over evil.

The great persecution is not meant to refer to just one historical moment but rather the experience of every Christian in every age who seeks to overcome evil and enter into communion with God and his saints.

The Lamb is Christ - the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. It is the blood of the Lamb which alone can restore innocence before God and the saints in heaven are those who have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb – perhaps the most powerful image of all.

In a homily for this feast in 2006 Pope Benedict referred to a homily of the great St Bernard who said: The Saints have no need of honour from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs.... But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.

Yes, that is certainly so. We might adapt the words of Preface IV for weekdays and say: Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to their greatness but makes us desire to grow in your grace.

At heart this desire is for growth in communion and the road to this communion is traced out in the Gospel today. The beatitudes are really a description of Jesus. He is truly the gentle, the merciful, the pure One who was abused and persecuted because he hungered and thirsted for what is right. It goes without saying that those of us who seek him must walk the way of the beatitudes.

The Church is God’s household - in heaven, on earth and in purgatory. To celebrate one part of it is to celebrate the whole because we are all one in him, bearing his seal on our foreheads. Let this feast inflame each one of us with the tremendous yearning St Bernard spoke of and may it renew our desire to walk the Christian way.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Daniel 12:1-3; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32
Among the many memories of my youth I clearly remember the moment when it first dawned on me that when I died the world would go on happily without me. The thought came as an unpleasant shock which no one else seemed particularly interested in sharing with me.

'When I die the world will go on - without me!' I was shaken to my foundations. It didn't seem right - it didn't seem fair - and the thought of a world without me in it didn't seem possible. The idea of dying was bad enough, a humiliation, but that my family and friends would go on contentedly without me was unthinkable.

It is fortunate that growing up resolves all those puzzling childhood dilemmas. Of course I will die one day, of course the world will go on after me, as it did before me, and then, one day the world, too, will grow old and die.

The gospel, written 2000 years before modern science, gives its account of this moment and sounds like it's on the right track: The sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Scientists have it all worked out. They tell us in great detail how all this will happen as the sun goes into decline, expands, and then, collapsing in on itself, explodes in an unimaginable conflagration. Everything else will, of course, go haywire. Planetary orbits and so on ... distress, despair, disaster, destruction - the END!

Not so, asserts the gospel, confidently stepping beyond the limitations of science - not the end at all!

...then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory; then too he will send the angels to gather his chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of heaven.

Not only is it not the end it seems, reassuringly, to be a new beginning.

Firstly, it is the moment of the revelation of Jesus in all his glory. This truth should be the subject matter of a lifetime's fruitful meditation. To see our Lord, to behold his face, to be able to discard our faith in favour of the clear vision of him who is our shepherd and redeemer - ecstasy!

Secondly, it is a moment of rescue, of salvation. Those of us who call ourselves disciples of the Son of Man, his chosen ones, who have a certain hope in his merciful love for us, will be gathered ... from the four winds.

No need to be surprised at this. Is this not what a true shepherd does? Is it not his task to gather the flock and to save it from destruction? Is this not what he always promised? And no need to be surprised also, as the Psalms say, that his enemies will be blown away like chaff in the wind.

Clearly today the readings look forward to this moment of the dissolution of the world and the second coming of the Master. Just count the number of times the word will is used - and each time it is used with the force of a promise. The word of God has spoken and it will not pass away.

Today's readings, because they are part of the wider apocalyptic writings of sacred scripture, use images which announce the approach of the end. The disciples had read these images in the Old Testament and now they hear them from the lips of Jesus himself and the natural question, which comes to our minds too, came to their lips - When, Lord, when will all this happen?

This is a natural human question. Our minds like to join the dots, to make logical connections which establish a timeline. Jesus, however, does not answer this question because, in his human nature, he does not know the answer.

But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.

We might find it puzzling that Jesus would give us so many signs of the end and yet not be able to tell us when the end would come. On one level, of course, this has a positive dimension in that it allows that final moment to remain a present possibility for all of us. Knowing the moment of our own death could cause us endless anxiety or, perhaps, to leave our turning to God to our final moments.

My own meditation on the subject leads me to understand that the end of the world, in a sense, parallels the end of our own life. We too have signs of the end of our life - a heart attack here, a cancer scare there, a near miss on the roads, a bout of pneumonia, or simply a headache. These are all signs of our mortality and they grow more insistent the older we get.
So we know the signs, they are clear enough, but they don't answer the question when, and so it is with the end of the world.

All we can do is be prepared. We must stand ready as we live our lives in full view of that door which stands always open to receive us, the door to eternal life. It may be today, it may even be now, that we are called to pass through that door.

So ... when you see these things happening: know that he is near, at the very gates.

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

1 Kings 17:10-16; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
Every week, in our Liturgy of the Word, we meet new people. We see them interacting with one another, we listen to them speak, we admire them, pity them, are attracted to them or repulsed by them.
Some are close to God, some are far from him, some repent, others fall away.
There are prophets and prostitutes, rich young men and lepers, priests, widows and fishermen, tax collectors, kings, eunuchs, children, the demon-possessed, soldiers and paralytics. The Liturgy of the Word is a like a huge stage and each time we celebrate Mass one or other of these characters makes an appearance.
This week we have a prophet, two widows, some scribes, and Jesus himself.
  • The Scribes
Jesus doesn't like the Scribes at all and warns us about them. Beware of the scribes...
These men, Jesus tells us, like to walk about in long robes. That is rather funny. Can you see them in your mind's eye? They are not going anywhere, really, they are just, well, walking about - taking their long robes for a walk. Like the man who says his wife is out taking her new hairdo for a walk.
These long robes would be the dress of the scribe which were not easy to get. Like a lawyer's wig or an academic's funny hat and gown, or a doctor's stethoscope, they are a status symbol. We all have them - even if it's only the new car.
Which brings us to a serious point in our reflection. Jesus does not just hold the scribes up for ridicule, he wants us to recognise ourselves in the scribes and perhaps make some necessary changes in our attitudes and behaviour.
To be perfectly honest, I can recognise a bit of the scribe in myself from time to time. Can you? No, not in me, in you!
Still, we can't blame ourselves for smiling at these men as we see them soak up the obsequious (flattering, fawning) greetings in the market squares and scampering for the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. Poor fellows - and how easily pleased! If there weren't such a sinister side to them we could almost like them but Jesus warns us they swallow the property of widows. It's not like they do really good business deals and get rich through their astuteness. No, these men swallow (what a greedy sounding thing to do) - they swallow up what belongs to poor defenceless widows! - all the time making a show of prayerful piety. No wonder Jesus says: Beware of the scribes... and of the severe judgment they will receive.
  • The Prophet
Elijah the prophet is person of vastly different character. He is a wonderful man. When God speaks Elijah obeys. God tells him to go into the wilderness where the ravens will bring him food and where he can drink from the stream. Elijah goes at once and when the brook dries up God sends him to Sidon where a widow will look after him. That's the widow he meets in today's First Reading.
Elijah is a marvellous character. He journeys the roads of his prophetic mission with all the confidence and trust and power of a man who walks only the paths of God's holy will. It is this intense obedience to God which gives him the moral authority to speak in God's name: Do not be afraid ... bring it to me.
  • The Widows
This widow (and the one in the Gospel) is dirt poor. She has only a handful of meal (flour) and a little oil left and after that, nothing.
Note the utter simplicity of the scene. There are no 'long robes', no 'places of honour', no obsequious greetings, and no gold coins tumbling into the treasury - there is only a widow gathering sticks.
The prophet politely asks for a little water and a scrap of bread.
Please bring a little water in a vessel for me to drink ... Please bring me a scrap of bread in your hand ...
Does he realise he is asking her for all she has?
Like the scribes in the gospel, Elijah is about to swallow the property of this widow but with a huge difference. He knows that God will reward the poor woman for her kindness and work a miracle in her favour. In fact, although our short reading does not mention it, she and her son continue to live for a whole year on the flour in the jar and the oil in the jug.
The widow in the Gospel, in total obscurity and anonymity, gives all she has voluntarily - two small coins.
  • Jesus
Jesus was watching. Jesus is always watching and we do well to remember it.
Jesus is so thrilled that he calls his disciples (that's us) onto the stage and teaches them the immensely important truth: ...this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury.
What an amazing thing this is! Once again, in the paradox of Christian discipleship, we discover what we really already know - God does not need money; he needs, he wants - us. And the lesson comes not from those entrusted with teaching it, it comes from a poor widow!
She did not give God money, she gave him herself, her present and her future.
Her song of praise was not the jingling of coins but a heartfelt, wordless hymn of trust. Alone in a dangerous world she divests herself of the last thing which stands between her and total dependence on the providence of God - a penny.
Jesus speaks of a severe judgment for the scribes and we could be forgiven for suspecting that among the celestial judges, humble and beautiful, will stand two widows.

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28-34
The scribe in today's Gospel is quite straightforward and sincere in his question to Jesus. He does not seem to be out to deceive the Lord or to trap him into an error. And so he asks: Which is the first of all the commandments?
Perhaps touched be the scribe's sincerity Jesus answers in an equally forthright manner, quoting Deuteronomy: This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.
This is the first. Jesus is not giving any options here. This is not the first commandment under certain circumstances; this is not the first commandment unless you think you might prefer to substitute another; this is not the first commandment for some but not for others. This is why Jesus says: Listen, Israel.... In other words, listen all of you - priest and layman, teacher and pupil, rich and poor, married and single- every single one of you.
The Lord our God is the one Lord.... There is only one God and one God alone.
With these words Jesus captures our attention and has us all looking in the same direction; all faces turned to the one Lord, the one God, our one and only heavenly Father. And Jesus' face, too, is turned to him, indeed, it never ever looks away. Jesus' eyes are always on the Father.
Quite spontaneously, quite naturally, even before Jesus says anything more (if our eyes are truly on the Father), we find the first movements of love already being drawn from our hearts. We find ourselves making a deep sigh, taking a deep breath, as we gaze with our wounded, longing hearts at the one who created us; the one who breathed life into our souls, the one who loves us with all his divine being.
You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.
We are not accustomed to being commanded to love. We tend to think of love as a kind of volatile sentiment over which we have little or no control. It can overflow like lava from a volcano or evaporate like the morning dew. But we are wrong. Sentiment is not the heart of love.
Love is essentially a decision, a free and noble exercise of the will, and for this reason the Evangelist John is able to equate it definitively with keeping God's commandments. He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me. (Jn 14:21)
An added dimension of all this, whose wisdom and power I have come to appreciate more and more over the years, is that the love of God we show as Catholic Christians must necessarily be expressed in the Church through faithfulness to Sunday liturgy and the other sacraments.
We have a terrible tendency today to reduce love of God to the second great commandment: love of neighbour. 'Oh, Father, I don't go to Church, I just help out in St Vincent de Paul or the Rotary Club. So long as we are good to one another I think God will be happy with us.' Like all heresies, this tendency takes a portion of the truth and inflates it into the whole truth.
There is no greater act of love of God than to celebrate the Eucharist, and to celebrate it faithfully, every Sunday, indeed, it is a solemn obligation. And yet, it is nothing short of a glorious tribute to God's humility and love for us that he wishes that even the Eucharist should occasionally yield to the needs of a sick child or husband.
To hold the two commandments separately AND together is extremely difficult. Jesus states them separately but cannot mention the first without at once affirming the second. As one commentator said, 'They are two horses pulling the one carriage.'
The real problem, I suspect, with love of God and neighbour is the one which Adam and Eve's transgression brought into the world - a divided heart.
To love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength seems more a statement of ideal than a reachable goal. And yet the saints prove otherwise. It can be done with two ingredients working together - our desire and God's grace.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Jeremiah 31:7-9; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52
Every Sunday, whenever the priest says the words: A reading from the holy Gospel according to; each one of us should sit up and pay particular attention because what the priest will read out after those words will be all about us. And today is no exception. It will be about us as individuals and about us as a community.
As Jesus left Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd .... Jesus was going away from Jericho. He was leaving. His work there was complete for the moment. He had dug the ground and sowed the seeds and now he was off again.
Bartimaeus (that is, the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting at the side of the road.
This is a picture of a sad individual. He is blind, he is a beggar, and he is sitting at the side of the road. He is in a rather desperate situation.
Do you recognise yourself, or any part of yourself in the predicament of Bartimaeus? Are we able as a community to recognise ourselves in his sad situation; a blind beggar sitting at the side of the road?
From Jesus’ point of view which, would you say, is the worst of these three afflictions?
  • Being blind?
  • Being a beggar?
  • Sitting at the side of the road?
From the perspective of the kingdom the last of his three afflictions is the worst.
Why? Because the road is the road to the kingdom and Bartimaeus is sitting beside it rather than travelling it. And again, immediately we have to ask, ‘Am I? Am I a blind beggar sitting by the side of the road? Am I moving ahead, am I growing closer to Jesus, more like him?’ And we have to ask ourselves as a community, ‘Are we growing? Are we becoming holier? Or are we sitting by the side of the road?’
When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and to say, `Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me'.
Jesus reveals his presence to blind Bartimaeus through his sense of hearing. Jesus always reveals his presence somehow to those who seek him.
Bartimaeus begins to shout. Do you notice that?
Bartimaeus knows that he is a blind beggar who cannot travel the road. He knows he is being left behind and so he does what he can. He does what he can. He makes a beginning. He cries out.
This is a great lesson to me and I hope you see it as a great lesson to you as well. Bartimaeus shows me I don’t have to use fine words in prayer, I just have to call out. I just have to let my desire for the healing of Jesus manifest itself in a heartfelt plea for help.
And if we as a parish feel that Jesus is so to speak, leaving us, we, too, need to do what we can, to make a beginning. We must do what Bartimaeus does, we must, as a community, begin to call on Jesus to help us.
And many of them scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he only shouted all the louder, 'Son of David, have pity on me'.
You can almost hear them: 'Pull your head in, mate! Give it a rest.' Yes, there are always some who resist, who know better, who prefer the status quo.
Jesus stopped and said, `Call him here.' Jesus stopped. Jesus always hears our call.
But why did he not go over to the man himself? Why did he send others to bring the man to him? This is a big question. There is an important principle involved here.
  • When we get sick why does God not heal us himself? Why does he send us to a doctor?
  • Why did God not just part the waters of the Red Sea? Why did he ask Moses to raise his staff over it first?
  • Why does God not just forgive our sins? Why does he send us to the priest?
So they called the blind man. `Courage,' they said `get up; he is calling you.' Ah! Now they are evangelising! Now they are participating in the mission of Jesus. Now they are truly co-operating with him. They are going out to the needy person, encouraging him, and telling him that Jesus is calling him. Wonderful! That’s how we should all be. That’s how we should be as a community.
So throwing off his cloak, he jumped up and went to Jesus.
When we begin to go to Jesus we always have to leave something behind. That is why Mark includes this detail. The cloak stands for that thing we wrap ourselves in to keep us warm. He wants us to ask ourselves: What is my cloak?
We have to throw our cloak aside and jump up and go to Jesus because he is calling.
Then Jesus spoke, `What do you want me to do for you?'
'Rabbuni,' the blind man said to him `Master, let me see again.' Jesus said to him, `Go; your faith has saved you'. What saved him? His faith! What faith?
The blind beggar believed that if he called out to Jesus and asked for something that would help him follow Jesus along the road to the kingdom he would get it. And Jesus did not let him down.
And immediately his sight returned and he followed him along the road.
What is the lesson for us in all this? I believe that we, as a community, are like Bartimaeus. We don’t know where the road is anymore. We are slowly growing smaller and weaker. We can't see the way ahead, we are blind. The future is dark for us.
Bartimaeus knew he was blind and he called out to Jesus. This is the beginning of all renewal. Jesus answered Bartimaeus and he will answer us.
So, does all this give you any ideas for our parish?

Saturday, 17 October 2015

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B

Isaiah 53:10-11; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45
The Lord has been pleased to crush his servant with suffering.
What strange words these are at first sight! Just to harass an employee, let alone to ‘crush a servant with suffering’, is a chargeable offence in our country. But on the lips of the prophet Isaiah  they are words of wisdom, love and mercy. They are not what they seem, though they do mean what they say, and seek to radically correct our all too human way of thinking.

  • Firstly, they cause us to question ourselves about whether we really believe that God is good.
For many of us it seems the jury is still out on this question. Every bad experience, every hurt or suffering, every unhappy news report of a volcano or tsunami or earthquake makes it plain that we have not yet confidently and totally reached the conviction that God is good. ‘How could God do this? How could God allow this? Why does God not put an end to this?’
Many years ago, as a seminary student, I reached a point where I came to believe I could not go on to ordination. I had given up a teaching career and a house and I was very angry with God. I complained to him one night in a way that now causes me to blush with shame. I blamed God for causing me this humiliation and I told him so in no uncertain terms. When God’s response finally came I was utterly stupefied at his goodness and mercy towards me. Immediately I experienced the most intense remorse and vowed I would never again blame God for anything!
I had learned that God is good; that God is good when the sun is shining and when dark clouds blanket our lives. He is good when all is going well and he is good when disaster strikes. As Job affirmed: Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him. (13:15)
The total conviction of God's goodness is a necessary foundation on which to build our relationship with God; it gives great peace and great strength. No more anxieties or doubts and no more criticisms. Our God is good.

  • Secondly, these words cause us to question ourselves as to who is servant and who is Lord.
We may notionally acknowledge that God is Lord and that we are the servants but in actuality we often seem to live and pray as though it’s really the other way round. That’s one of the reasons we get so angry and frustrated when he doesn’t seem to be answering our prayers the way we want him to, or when our plans are thwarted.
The good God is not my servant; I am his servant. I am here to do his will and wait on his plans for me. Let’s get this straight in our minds and hearts once and for all.

  • Thirdly, these words cause us to reassess our notions about suffering.
No person in his right mind would claim that suffering is good in itself; certainly it is evil. And let us remind ourselves that evil is not of God's doing; suffering was never part of God's plan. We well understand that it entered our lives because we misused our gift of freedom; we wanted to set our own limits, to be our own god.
Suffering now accompanies almost every move we make; we are born in suffering and we die in suffering.
And yet there is a positive dimension to it all. Suffering can bring good. It dogs our footsteps but it can become an instrument of healing and growth; it can bring us to come to resemble the Lord himself, who learnt to obey through suffering. (Heb 5:8)
His sufferings brought him to perfect obedience, redemptive obedience, and our sufferings can lead us to come to bear a likeness to him.
As the vintner is pleased to crush the grapes (with suffering) so that he can transform them into wine, we too can be transformed if we accept, in the Lord, the sufferings involved in our own purification. We, too, shall become wine, pure and fragrant, and after that we live in the Christian hope that our good God will say over us the words, ‘This is my Body, this is my Blood’ and our transformation will be complete.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Isaiah 53:10-11; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45
Whoever the author of Hebrews may be it is an absolutely sublime and inspired work. Today’s passage begins: The word of God is something alive and active ...
Here the word is called ‘something’: something alive and active; elsewhere it is designated as ‘someone’, a person, Jesus Christ.
John the Evangelist begins his gospel (1:1) with the words: In the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
The Word was with God from the beginning. As the Creed puts it he is: eternally begotten of the Father; and therefore the Word of God is God, alive and active. We call the Word the second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
Now before our heads start spinning let’s pause here and simply focus on the wonderful fact that it was through the Word that the Father created all things, including us. His Word is irresistibly powerful and it is sufficient for it to be spoken for it to be accomplished. So God says: ‘Let there be’ and we can be certain that it is so.
The realisation that I was put together by the Word of God has always been an immense source of consolation to me. I am made by God! This tells me a number of things about myself.
Firstly, it tells me I am well made and that my existence matters. God did not have to speak the word which made me but he did and, as many of you will remember the little bumper sticker from years ago, ‘God does not make junk.’ Isn’t this a wonderful realisation! No matter what the circumstances of our lives may be there is no such thing as human ‘junk’. Every person is formed by a deliberate choice of God.
The second thing this tells me is that I belong to God and not to myself – I am his. I am made by him and therefore I belong to him. This is why we are called to be good. We must be good because God is good and we belong to him.
Thirdly, it tells me I have a future, an eternal destiny. Sometimes I wonder how atheists cope with the thought that they are just random assemblies of molecules with no ultimate future or ultimate meaning. Jesus tells us (John 14:3) who are privileged to be his disciples that he has gone to the Father to prepare a place for us: so that where I am you may be too.
Fourthly, it tells me that I am known by him. He understands me because he put me together in my mother’s womb. This is seriously important to me because most of the time I am nothing more than a muddle to myself; most of the time I even feel ‘locked out’ from myself. No doubt this is simply the consequences of Original Sin which has confused and fractured our inner selves and distorted our vision but what a comfort to know that God still has the key. God is not locked out from us because he made us. His Word can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; and that it can: judge the secret emotions and thoughts.
What’s more God remembers how we should be and could be once again. He has before him the divine template, the first-born Son, and he is ceaselessly working through his grace to heal and restore his image within us. God’s vision is not blurred: No created thing can hide from him; everything is uncovered and open to the eyes of the one to whom we must give account of ourselves.
Finally, God’s Word makes it clear to me that I have immense dignity as a child of God and that I will be called to account for my personal response to this gift he has bestowed on me. The Word through which we were called into being and which has inscribed itself on our DNA, the Word which never ceases to work in us for our sanctification, that Word requires we make a final account to him of our lives. It is the Word by which we will be judged.
In the meantime let us ask the Lord to hear our words as they are expressed in the Entrance Antiphon of next week’s Mass:
To you I call; for you will surely heed me, O God;
turn your ear to me; hear my words.
Guard me as the apple of your eye;
in the shadow of your wings protect me.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Wisdom 7:7-11; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30
This gospel causes us to look at our love relationships – all four of them – our relationship with God, with ourselves, with each other and with the world we live in.
When God created us these four relationships were places of harmony and communion, a paradise. By the sin of Adam they became more like boggy swamps. But when you come to think of it, we have nowhere else to go; they are where we live, they are our home. The best we can do, with the help of God, is to try with all our heart to redeem them.
At the very least, just being able to name them is immensely helpful. They constitute the battleground on which we all must struggle if we are to find true peace for ourselves and for society. All our spiritual energy must be directed at getting things right with God, with others, with ourselves and with the material world.
The gospel today introduces us to a man who is clearly in the midst of this struggle.
The story is simple enough. He runs up to Jesus, kneels before him and asks a question. He runs up and kneels before him. This tells us a lot about him. He is enthusiastic, reverent, and honours the Lord. It is clear that already he knows and loves him to a certain extent. He has recognised that Jesus is Master and that a master has rights and so he asks him what he must do to get to heaven: Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
It’s a great question which not everyone is capable of asking. I can well imagine that the opening lines of the reading from the book of Wisdom would have applied to this man: I prayed, and understanding was given me; I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me. Something had begun to move in this man, the stirrings of a desire for spiritual life, a desire to bring his relationships into a proper order.
He had obviously already made significant progress. Together with his great love for God this man showed great love for his neighbour. When Jesus answered his question: ... You must not kill; You must not commit adultery; You must not steal; You must not bring false witness; You must not defraud; Honour your father and mother’ the man was able to look Jesus in the eye and say: Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days.
How many people would have been able to respond as that man did? His simple, honest answer portrays a goodness which I for one would not have dared to claim. No wonder Jesus: looked steadily at him and loved him. The man before him was undeniably ‘a just man’.
But there was one thing he lacked. There was still one of the four relationship he had not yet succeeded in bringing into harmony with the other three. Do you see which one it was? Yes, it was the last one – his relationship with the material world.
Jesus uncovered it for him: There is one thing you lack. Then he gave the remedy: Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven... .
Lest the man think he would be losing out Jesus immediately offers him the greatest vocation he could offer anyone here on this earth, the pearl of great price. He says: come, follow me.
The man is sad, his face fell at the invitation. He was a wealthy man and he loved his wealth very much, too much. His relationship with the material world was still out of kilter with his other three relationships so that, probably without realising it, and despite his goodness, he had put God in a subordinate position to his wealth.
The man’s goodness had not grasped the paradox that the only way to perfection was to submit to the word of God which would not take second place. He had discovered the limits of his love, He had discovered that he was not really free to follow Jesus on his way to the kingdom. No wonder he was sad.
Of course, we do not know how the story ended. We have every reason to hope that once this young man adjusted to the shock of Jesus’ radical demand he might have thought better of it and found the grace to say that difficult yes. Perhaps it was the words of the book of Wisdom which opened his eyes?
I prayed, and understanding was given me;I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.I esteemed her more than sceptres and thrones;compared with her, I held riches as nothing.I reckoned no priceless stone to be her peer,for compared with her, all gold is a pinch of sand,and beside her silver ranks as mud.

Monday, 28 September 2015

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Genesis 2:18-24; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16
When I took charge of my Volkswagen Golf in 2010 I was warned not to forget that it was diesel powered and not to accidentally fill up with Super. So far I have succeeded. However, one day I was filling up and the man at the pump in front of me suddenly stopped the pump and moaned ‘Oh, no, no, no, no, NO!’
The irritation in that man’s voice was made up not only of the inconvenience he knew lay before him in pumping out the tank of his new car, but also of the sting of having to learn a lesson he already knew: diesel engines are not compatible with ULP. The irony of this truth is that Mr Volkswagen has gone to some effort to write it on the petrol cap in clear, unmistakeable letters.
A motor mechanic, however, reads another language. He reads the clear, unmistakeable letters written into the motor itself, into how it is put together by the manufacturer. Actually, to use a banal simile, it is not unlike how parents know their newborn is a boy or girl. Our sex is written 'into' the way we are put together.
This being the case, what are we to make of the modern tendency to define sex by how we feel. He is born biologically as a boy but he says he ‘feels’ like a girl. She is born biologically female but she says she feels like a boy. The question therefore poses itself: Is he or she really a girl or a boy? What actually determines our sex? Can our feelings override our biology?
Apparently for some the answer is yes, and so they attempt to bring their biology into harmony with their feelings by undertaking surgical procedures. This, of course, is only ‘apparently’ successful because it seems that somehow our biological sex lies beyond the reach of the scalpel, however sharp. Besides, feelings are notorious for the way they change. What feels right one day feels absolutely wrong the next.
Further questions arise when a person of a ‘surgically reassigned gender’ demands of society that they be treated in accordance with the gender they have ‘chosen’ according to their feelings. Here it may be a question as simple as which washrooms or dressing rooms they are entitled to use? What’s more, can it be said that those who object to this are unfair or discriminating? Are there any limits to the demands an individual (or a minority) can make on the social order as a whole?
These are all huge questions and our Western society, having no desire to share the Christian answers, condemns itself to having to struggle with them only in a legal framework. And if this is done without due regard to the rights of both parties, the law of the land can find itself in irreconcilable opposition to the law written in the hearts of its citizens. I believe we are well on the road to this scenario in our own country.
A school principal once said to me, ‘Don’t worry about these laws too much. The vast majority of humanity will never come to believe, at least not for very long, that a man can marry a man, whatever the law may say.’ This is profoundly true.
It may be that a tidal wave of silliness can wash over a society, or even the whole world, but the day will come when reality and truth and common sense return to reassert themselves and then, I believe, will come a nasty backlash of recrimination and anger which will overthrow the politically correct in favour of the eternally true. Then, as the pendulum swings back, it will once again be the turn of the homosexual community to suffer the unjust discrimination which has pursued it throughout history, all because they overreached themselves and required ‘marriage equality’ – more than truth and justice could give them.
There is a kind of burgeoning rage which is already palpable in Western society as the law of the land distances itself from the law written in human hearts. If our leaders don’t desist, if they continue to take society to a place beyond the limits of natural law they will unavoidably plunge us into confusion, division and conflict.
Once made it is intended that laws be kept. Those who break the law are required by law to be punished. If the laws are such that larger and larger numbers of citizens are required by their conscience to break the law – what do you think will happen? Those who know their ancient and modern history will readily know.
Let me conclude with a quote from Saint John Paul II’s bicentennial talk given in the United States when he was still Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krak√≥w, Poland
We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel. We must be prepared to undergo great trials in the not-too-distant future; trials that will require us to be ready to give up even our lives, and a total gift of self to Christ and for Christ. Through your prayers and mine, it is possible to alleviate this tribulation, but it is no longer possible to avert it. . . .How many times has the renewal of the Church been brought about in blood! It will not be different this time.

Monday, 21 September 2015

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Numbers 11:25-29; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
The world today is in trouble – big trouble - politically, economically, socially, and morally. What has gone wrong? There are no easy answers because the problems are complex but I do know that the analyses offered by the ‘experts’ are little more than descriptions of the disease – lust for power, greed for money, reliance on force, apathy fostered by materialism, disrespect for human life – a disease over which they are powerless.
As any doctor will tell you to treat symptoms alone is a sure way of allowing the malady itself to progress until all too often it becomes terminal. This simple logic which stares us all in the face somehow escapes our political leaders and this incapacity to see connections, to think logically, to join the dots to the core of the problem is another sad symptom of our dysfunctional leadership.
I was once asked to give a year twelve graduation talk on the topic ‘Whom shall we follow?’ I explored several options but the worst one, the most disastrous one, the one which led nowhere was – each other – a sure recipe for degeneration and eventual chaos. And yet, this is exactly what our leaders are doing. They constantly ‘test the electorate’, invite ‘feedback’, and conduct ‘internal polls’. They no longer have an inner guidepost pointing the way and so they have to rely on what their polling tells them the Australian people want, or are ready for, or will tolerate.
Moreover, if it is true that we are not ‘going anywhere’, it is even more tragically true that we are not ‘becoming anything’. When truth is supplanted by ‘group think’ we destroy the very foundations of human dignity and condemn ourselves to such parodies of human advancement as ‘technological breakthroughs’ or ‘medical discoveries’.
And so round and round we go with one leader after another – waltzing with one, hip hopping with another – and all the time becoming more and more disillusioned and angry. We vote for the leader we think will give us what we want while they in turn try to discover what the majority of us wants because they want to be voted in. Not only are we going round and round in circles but the circle is a descending spiral. [When a human being is cut off from the source of what gives him meaning and dignity he will eventually revolt but that is another story.]
The real problem, of course, is that we have side-lined the one, the only one we should be following – the only leader who is going somewhere worth going and who can direct us to something worth becoming – and that is Jesus.
Think for a moment about the diseases I mentioned earlier – lust for power, greed for money, reliance on force, apathy fostered by materialism, disrespect for human life – and ask yourself does Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbot, Malcolm Turnbull or Bill Shorten inspire you to overcome these things and build a better Australia? I don’t think so.
These failings of the human character will resist any leader or any law which attempts to curb them, as is shown not only by the numbers in jail but also by the multiplicity of our laws. External laws can compel but they can’t change us; they can’t heal us or give us the power we need to walk the road they point out to us. Ask yourself, when it comes to the major causes of disharmony in the world – lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy and pride – where is real help to be found?
As things now stand in Australia we are cut off, and we have allowed ourselves to be cut off, from the only hope we have for justice, security and growth. Incredibly, tragically our inertia has allowed him to be banished from our deliberations, and those who banished him have done so because they want to take his place.
Pope Francis often speaks of that other one, not the one who wishes to save us but the one who wishes to destroy us, the one called Satan. Jesus says in the gospel today that: Anyone who is not against us is for us. The opposite is also true.
Those who wish to erase the presence of Christ from this earth also want to destroy us, whether they have realised it yet or not. Therefore we can legitimately, without exaggeration, say that we are in a battle, a battle to the death. Fortunately, a growing number of Christians are beginning to see this. I hope you can see this.
On December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis will institute a Year of Mercy for the whole Church and, indeed, for the world. In the light of this initiative it is certainly worth reflecting on the words of Jesus to St. Faustina: Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy.” (Diary, p.300)