Monday, 25 April 2016

6th Sunday of Easter - Year C

Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Apocalypse 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29
'My husband and I have never had an argument in forty years.'
Call me judgmental, call me anything you want, but I find this impossible to believe. Leaving aside the question of the definition of the word argument I find this statement as incredible as the man (his name was not Joseph) who told me his wife 'had never committed a sin in her life.'
Arguments and conflicts are all around us; the devil loves them. Whether it is between couples, children, members of a parish or between nations, they're always there. And, incidentally, they're not really such a big deal. What is far more important is the way we deal with them.
If the couple I quoted above meant that they had never dealt with controversy in their life, never actually confronted difficult issues, then I can well imagine they never had an argument. However, it might then be more honest to say, 'Our marriage is full of unresolved issues which we've never faced because we prefer not to have conflict.'
Controversy has dogged the Christian faith from its very beginning. When Jesus preached he was accused of disturbing the community. When he rose from the dead the disciples were accused of stealing the body, and when the Holy Spirit filled the Apostles with his power they were accused of 'drinking too much new wine.' This kind of controversy may sometimes best be dealt with by ignoring it. So what if there are voices from the sidelines criticising or laughing at the Church? As time moves on these voices often fade away and new ones take their place but the Church moves peacefully on, completing her mission.
We remember the first reading from Acts a while ago. The Apostles were having so much success that huge crowds sought them out. The Jews, prompted by jealousy 'used blasphemies and contradicted everything Paul said.' When this didn't work they incited others to turn against Paul and Barnabas and had them expelled from the city. And we noted how well they handled this controversy: ..they shook the dust from their feet .. and went off .. filled with joy, and the Holy Spirit.
When controversy arises within the Church there is greater cause for alarm. Dissension within must be faced or it can poison the life of the community. Even more important are those controversies which threaten the very identity of the Church, her charge to bring her members into communion with Christ.
Today we hear: Some men came down from Judaea and taught the brothers, 'Unless you have yourselves circumcised in the tradition of Moses you cannot be saved.' This is serious stuff! Unless this is properly dealt with there could be very serious consequences, even a schism.
Paul and Barnabas strongly challenge the visitors and their unsettling teaching, indeed, they have 'a long argument with these men.' It would have been a far from pleasant episode. From the use of such phrases as 'long argument' and 'disturbed you with their demands' we can imagine these men from Jerusalem were not about to take no for an answer.
The fact that there was a dispute within the Church was not the real problem, such things will always take place till the end of time. The essential thing was that after the 'long argument' during which the issues were clarified, the Church leaders delegated Paul and Barnabas and others to go up to Jerusalem to present this problem to the leaders there. Only they, the Magisterium of the Church, had authority to resolve the matter.
The apostles and elders, with the help of the Holy Spirit, decided the visitors were wrong; neither circumcision, nor the lack of it, was a determinant in the attainment of salvation. As far as the Church was concerned: here endeth the dispute - the apostles had spoken. From this moment on no one who wanted to remain within the Church could legitimately insist on circumcision.
For us here today an enormously important and helpful principle emerges from this unpleasant dispute in the early community. It is indicated by the observation of the Apostles: They (these men) acted without any authority ...
Whenever someone troubles you with a new teaching challenge them, and ask them on whose authority they speak.
·       Oh, we don’t call God him anymore.
·       You don’t have to go to Mass on Sunday anymore if you don’t feel like it.
·       You can use contraception if your conscience is comfortable with it.
·       It’s ok to live a homosexual lifestyle.
Never ask these people for their reasons - always and immediately ask them for their authority: What is the authority for this teaching of yours? Can you show me a Church document, or a passage in the Catechism, or a statement from the Pope?

It's a seriously bad thing to teach falsehood, no matter how plausible or modern or attractive it may seem.
Let me end with a quote from Pope Paul VI: If anyone pretends to call himself Catholic, a son of the Roman Church, he must accept all its dogmas and essential structures, and first of all, the authority of Peter, which is both the symbol of unity and the cement of Holy Church.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

5th Sunday of Lent - Year C

Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11

There is something about the awful predicament of the woman in today's Gospel which reminds me of my death. St John uses his words carefully. At first he says she was caught committing adultery and if this were not enough to give us a picture he later has her accusers say she was caught in the very act of committing adultery.
If she had her wits about her while she was being dragged away the woman might just have managed to snatch at a bed covering or an article of clothing to protect her dignity otherwise she would have found herself standing before the crowd, and before the Lord, stark naked. This is the part that reminds me of my death.
One day we will die - you and I - and according to the teaching of our Faith our body will remain here on earth till the last day while our soul will suddenly find itself standing before Jesus.
Of course, our soul is spirit and wears no clothes. It can't put on a smart suit or a pretty dress as do criminals brought before a magistrate. It cannot sprinkle a little deodorant or perfume or put on a bit of makeup.
There will be no room for bravado, no opportunity for lies, no postponement till we have prepared a defence. No. The soul will stand before the just judge in total transparency, clothed in the simple, unadorned apparel of its own truth at the moment of death.
Since nothing will be hidden there will be no need for a prosecutor or defence attorney, and no need for witnesses to put in a good word for us. Even the Judge will have no reason to speak; what, indeed could he say?
At that moment, as we stand before the Master, we will see him face to face in all his terrible beauty, goodness and truth. For some this will be a moment of ecstatic joy; for others a moment of intense regret as they find themselves turning away from him into the purging suffering of Purgatory; for still others it will be a moment of indescribable terror.
What I am speaking of here are what the Church calls the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven, hell.
As I have said, I don't think it will be necessary for Jesus to speak. It will be in seeing him as he is that each soul will see itself as it really is. There will be no need for discussion. The soul will know where it must go.
The soul which enters heaven will find the place reserved for it - the place in which it finds its greatest fulfilment, happiness and peace. Like a fish in the ocean which finds its own depth, or a bird in the air which flies at its own height, the soul will find for itself the degree of joy, of closeness to the Lord, which it can bear. So too with the unfortunate soul in Purgatory and ruined soul in hell. Each will assign itself the place in which it belongs.
The woman caught in adultery, standing naked and transparent before her Lord, is a powerful image of our own destiny but with this difference - however painful and humiliating this moment may be - it is not yet too late, the judgment is not yet final.
For the self-righteous Pharisees, too, it is an opportunity, a warning. These men are no less sinners than the woman but their sins have not yet been exposed. Unlike the woman who, strange to say, has the advantage here - they do not see their own sinfulness laid out before them. Jesus obligingly helps them out.
If the Scripture scholars are right, if what Jesus writes on the ground with his finger is the name of the sin of each one of them, we should marvel at the kindness and respect and mercy he shows each one by not shaming them publicly. Jesus truly shows himself to be  merciful beyond words to each one of the sinners before him.
And he shows us the same mercy. There is no sin he will not forgive. If we were Hindus we would wash in the Ganges. If we were Moslems we would make a pilgrimage to Mecca. If we were Protestants we would privately admit our sin to God. But as Catholics we must confess (at least our grave sins), to the priest. Even those of you who have not been in a confessional for many years know in your heart of hearts that this is true, that this is the teaching of your Catholic Church.
Before the Lord, at the end of our life, we will see ourselves clearly. As the hymn says we will see:
'... the chances we have missed,
the graces we resist ... '
I sincerely recommend that you avail yourself of the sacrament of Reconciliation before Easter so that you may hear the Judge say: Neither do I condemn you.

Monday, 18 January 2016

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Nehemiah 8:2-6, 8-10; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
‘Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.’
(From Mending Wall by Robert Frost)
When Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem lay in ruin he was devastated: On hearing this I sank down and wept; for several days I mourned, fasting and praying before the God of heaven. (1:4)

Why would he do this? Why would he react so strongly?

Nehemiah was a just man, faithful to the Law and deeply conscious of himself as a member of God’s Chosen People. In the desecration and destruction of the walls he saw the sins of his people and was deeply ashamed. He fell down before the Lord and on behalf of the People he prayed: I confess the sins of the sons of Israel which we have committed against you: I and my father's House have sinned. We have acted very wickedly towards you: we have not kept the commandments, laws and customs you laid down for Moses your servant. (1:6-7)

For Nehemiah the integrity of the city of Jerusalem, and particularly the integrity of the walls and gates, was an image of the integrity of the People and, clearly, this was in tatters. Moreover, without the integrity that comes from obedience to the Law of Moses the people were no longer the People; they were without identity.

We could pause here and ask ourselves how we respond to the images of death, destruction and despair we see on our television screens so often today? What would a Tutsi or a Hutu make of the piles of corpses littering the Rwandan countryside? What would an Iraqi or Pakistani see in the mangled bodies strewn around the crater made by a suicide bomber? What do we see in the overflowing garbage bins of abortionists, if not men and women who have forsaken their God and put themselves in his place? This was the cruel sword which pierced Nehemiah’s heart two and a half thousand years ago and the desolation experienced today by every serious Catholic on seeing the offences, great and small, committed against the merciful God.

Nehemiah, and his compatriot Ezra, set about restoring Israel’s integrity and thus their identity. Nehemiah’s mission was that of rebuilding the city walls and gates, while Ezra’s mission was to move the People to recommit themselves to live the Law of Moses and to worship God according to the prescriptions of the Torah. In other words, they set about purifying lifestyles and restoring the liturgy. Ring any bells?

It should not surprise us that from the first moments of the decision to rebuild the walls there was opposition: When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the walls he flew into a rage, beside himself with anger. What a startlingly different reaction to that of Nehemiah on hearing of the plight of Holy City!

He ridiculed the Jews and in front of his kinsmen and the wealthy men of Samaria he exclaimed, 'What are these pathetic Jews trying to do?... Do they expect to finish in one day? Do they think they can put new life into these charred stones, salvaged from the heaps of rubble?' (3:33-34)

Nehemiah’s opponents, some of whom were Jews themselves(!), tried to stop him by every means at their disposal. Any bishop, priest or layperson who has resolved to restore some sense of the sacred to our noisy, horizontal liturgies will recognise the tactics. Sanballat begins with anger. This is often enough to frighten off the weak. Next comes public ridicule, which no one likes, and which often deters from standing up for what they know to be right those who love their popularity.

Ridicule is followed by personal insults (these pathetic Jews) and a questioning, not only of their ability to finish the task (Do they expect to finish in one day?) but of their very grasp on reality (Do they think they can put new life into these charred stones, salvaged from the heaps of rubble?)

We understand that Nehemiah saw, not charred stones and heaps of rubble, but bruised, demoralised and despairing men and women especially chosen by God to form a Chosen People. With the Lord there are no heaps of rubble; there are only souls waiting to be redeemed.

As the work neared completion opposition grew. Physical violence was planned but Nehemiah avoided falling into the traps set for him and finally the work was completed. God is always on the side of restoration.

Let us turn again to today’s First Reading: … all the people gathered as one man on the square before the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses which Yahweh had prescribed for Israel. Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, consisting of men, women, and children old enough to understand. This was the first day of the seventh month. On the square before the Water Gate, in the presence of the men and women, and children old enough to understand, he read from the book from early morning till noon; all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. …the people were all in tears as they listened to the words of the Law.

We have come back to our beginning - the weeping Nehemiah. But now it is not Nehemiah who weeps, it is the People. They have been restored and renewed and they cry - but their restorer bids them be joyful, as would one day the true Restorer cause us to cry out Alleluia!

Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Baptism of the Lord - Year C

Isaiah 40:1-5.9-11; Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Most people don’t think about Baptism very deeply. This is manifested clearly at parish Baptism preparation sessions. When asked why they have brought the child for Baptism parents are caught unawares; this is already very telling. They become suddenly uncomfortable. Mum looks at dad, dad looks at his feet.
  • Well, my parents had me baptised and I went to a catholic school and I really enjoyed it and I want my child to have the same opportunity.
  • My grandmother is coming from Europe to visit us in August and she wants to be at the Baptism.
  • Every child should have some religion.
  • Well, doesn’t the child go to Hell if it’s not baptised?
It would be so interesting if one day I asked a group of parents why they brought their child for Baptism and they said:
  • Well, we find such joy in the Faith that we want the same for our child.
  • We are all born in Original Sin and we want God to restore our child to his friendship.
  • We want our child to be born again and made into a new person in Christ.
  • We want our child’s heart to be open to God’s grace. We want God’s Holy Spirit to live in our child.
I can tell you honestly, folks, if that were ever to happen you would see one astonished priest, probably weeping tears of joy.

Most young parents don’t think about Baptism very deeply because they don’t live their Catholic life very deeply. This is not an attack – this is a diagnosis!

A priest friend of mine in a large parish recently told me of a preparation session with fifteen couples: nine of them were either not married, or not married in the Church. This was for a variety of reasons. Three of the nine were Catholic but had simply decided not to get married; six couples were married in the Church and of these six, two were attending Sunday Mass faithfully.

This collapse in the connection between the Sacrament of Baptism and a lived Catholic life is almost universal in Australian society. It’s a horrible phenomenon! And we go on, year after year, baptising the children of parents who have already told us they have no intention at all of practising the Faith. It seems Baptism is now a kind of no-community-attached sacrament, and, therefore, parents have come to see it as a no-responsibility-attached sacrament. This is not as it should be.

The Church herself has something to say about all this, and don’t forget, the sacraments belong to the Church and they belong in the Church, like a fish belongs in water. This is why the Church will not normally allow Baptisms to be performed outside the church building.

The 1980 'Instruction on Infant Baptism' recognised the need for a renewal of our pastoral practices in regard to this sacrament and spoke of two principles.
  • Firstly, considered in itself the gift of Baptism to infants must not be delayed.
  • Secondly, the parents or a close relative must give assurances that the gift of Baptism can grow by an authentic education in the faith and Christian life, in order to fulfil the true meaning of the sacrament.

    But if these assurances are not really serious there can be grounds for delaying the sacrament; and if they are certainly non-existent the sacrament should even be refused.
Priests should be slow to delay or refuse a Baptism but they should not be unthinking in their pastoral practice. Too many of our parents are not really serious in their assurances that the gifts and blessings of Baptism can grow in their children. I often ask them: Are you ready to become the parents of a Catholic child? The fact is that most don't understand what this means and are in need of a thorough catechesis.

By baptising the child of any parent who asks, without making a serious discernment about the assurances given, we are denying those parents an important opportunity of making a renewed commitment to their own faith.

‘But aren’t you denying an innocent child?’ No. The child is not your or my responsibility. The child is the responsibility of the parents. If neither the parents nor a family member is willing to accept the duties of bringing the child up in the practice of the Faith then they are denying their child.

When couples are challenged about all this in the right way its remarkable how often they are ready to acknowledge they are not yet for real. They will accept further instruction and even invite the priest to their house to explain things more deeply and answer some questions.

Some couples become angry because they don’t want a Church that has ‘terms or conditions’, and they simply walk away. That is their choice. It may be that they will give the matter further thought and, one day, come back. All too often, unfortunately, they will shop around for a priest somewhere who offers less resistance.

We mustn’t underestimate parents; they are not stupid. Given the right explanations and sufficient time to digest the ‘unpleasant news’ they will often nod their heads and agree that the true meaning of the sacrament is not fulfilled if they bring their child into a Catholic Faith which they themselves refuse to practise. There are few joys compared to the joy of seeing such a couple come back to the practise of the Faith.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; John 2:1-11

The wedding celebration at Cana was for Jesus a turning point in his life. It started off seeming ordinary enough but suddenly a much deeper reality made itself clear to him in the voice of his Mother and his life was never the same again.

For me it was an ordinary holiday I took with a priest friend, and suddenly I was heading for the seminary, my whole life turned upside down. Has it happened to you? Where did you meet your wife? Your husband? Was it ordinary? And yet look how it affected your future.

It’s one of the uncanny aspects of existence that our future is often dependent on what seems mere chance; the direction of our lives is changed by a pebble or a cigarette butt; the path to our destiny begins in the most unexpectedly mundane places. What starts off as a chat in the kitchen can become the road to our destiny.

The marriage feast of Cana was for Jesus just such a commonplace event. A time to leave behind the busyness of everyday life and just relax for a bit; to enjoy the company of friends, to drink a glass of wine and join in one of the many conversations. Then the wine ran out.

Mary, always on the alert to the needs of others, notices the problem and says to her son: They have no wine.

Jesus picks up the double meaning. Do I hear you ask ‘What double meaning?’

Notice what has happened! The little wedding feast without wine suddenly becomes an image for something else, something much more. It’s as if Mary flung her arms out to the whole world and said - Son, they have no wine! Mary is now speaking not only about the wedding feast, she is speaking about poor drought-stricken humanity, the whole world: Son, they have no wine!

[We who have had the benefit of 2000 years of meditating on this episode may add our own complaint to Mary’s: And if we have no wine, Lord, how can we make Eucharist?]

In the Scriptures there are other examples of how an innocent statement suddenly punches through to another, broader, deeper level of meaning. Take little Isaac walking beside his father Abraham, carrying on his head the wood for the fire on which he will be sacrificed. He doesn’t yet know that God has asked his father to sacrifice his only son. And he asks: Father, where is the Lamb? Without realising it Isaac had asked the very question the whole cosmos was asking as it waited to be redeemed: Where is the Lamb? Where is the sacrifice that will take away the sins of the world?

We may well wonder if Jesus marvelled, as we do, at the wisdom of his Mother’s Spirit-filled words. Their profound simplicity completely disarmed him. Suddenly he was no longer the guest, he was the Bridegroom – and his beautiful Bride, the Church, stood before him, longing for the nuptial banquet with her Beloved to begin. For Jesus this could mean only one thing, the Passion.

Did the humanity of Jesus falter, as it did in the Garden of Gethsemane? My Father, he said, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. (Mt 26:39)

He answers his Mother: Woman why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.

Mary does not reply to her Son. She has not actually asked him for anything but left him free to respond as he wishes. There is a mystery here, a profoundly mystical moment, and deep within us we imagine we can hear Jesus speak the words: Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.

The first great sign has come, the first epiphany of his public life in the Gospel according to John; there is now no turning back.

Mary tells the servants, that’s us, of course: Do whatever he tells you. A moment later there are six stone jars full of wine, each jar holding twenty or thirty gallons! It’s almost like Jesus exclaims ‘You want wine? I’ll give you wine!’

Three years later the wine would turn into blood, as it still does today on our altars, sufficient for all mankind.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

The Epiphany of the Lord - Year C

Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3.5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

... we have come to do him homage.

The wise men from the East came to find the infant king of the Jews; we have come to this Mass for exactly the same reason - we have come to do him homage.

Listening when someone speaks is paying them respect. We pay homage to God by listening to his word. We listen to the words of the Scriptures proclaimed in every Mass during the Liturgy of the Word. We listen and then we obey, we live the word in our lives.

Once I met a young man who said 'Oh, you're a priest. Do you give good sermons?' At the time I didn't know what to answer but now, with a little more experience, I would say 'That depends a lot on how well you listen.'

Now you may have noticed that there is a basic tension in the Gospel between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Jerusalem is the busy city, the metro-centre; Bethlehem is the quiet little town in the back blocks. Jerusalem is noisy and profane, ruled over by an arrogant, power-hungry king. The house in Bethlehem in which Jesus and Mary are found by the wise men is ruled over by a powerless infant. It is a place of silence, holiness and peace.

Simple questions propose themselves: Do I live more in Jerusalem or in Bethlehem? Which of these two places do I live in? Which of these two places lives in me?

The arrival of the wise men in Jerusalem causes anxiety and upset. Herod was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. The joy of the angels (and of the shepherds) is now forgotten.

Strange, isn't it, the way people can react so differently to the same news! Mary and Joseph put themselves totally at the service of the Child; the angels announce his birth with jubilation; the shepherds leave their sheep and go to see him for themselves; the wise men react with great excitement and joy and undertake a long and arduous journey to find him.

On the other hand we have Herod who is afraid and on guard and ready to kill, while the Jewish elders, astonishingly, are not terribly interested in Jesus at all - they have something far more manageable than a Messiah: the Law and the Prophets.

Yes, indeed, it is very strange the way people react to Jesus.

Some run away and some follow him; some oppose him and some become his disciples; some hate him and some worship him. Jesus is not often ignored!

Take any group of people and put Jesus in their midst and soon, very soon, there is a rearrangement of relationships. Not only will some hate him but they will also begin to hate those who love him.

Herod is fearful and defensive, cunning and deceitful. He attempts to use the naiveté of the wise men to his advantage and do away with this threat to his power. His intention is to remain in charge at all costs, even at the cost of the lives of innocents.

The Lord who humbles the proud simply sends an angel to the wise men to warn them to go home by a different way.

Surely this is the most appropriate punishment for those who consider themselves 'key stakeholders', essential to the workings of the world - simply to be bypassed!

The chief priests and scribes of the people were knowledgeable enough to point out to Herod where the child was to be born. They knew their faith. They knew the Scriptures. These were men who had mastered the Book but who had no intention of letting the Book master them. They believed the Scriptures, they read the Scriptures, but they would not live by the Scriptures. Theirs was a religion of the head, not of the heart. Theirs was a static faith centred on the words of a scroll and not on a living person - even if that person was God.

These men seem to have received the same 'treatment' from God as Herod did; They were simply bypassed. In the end they missed out not only on the joy of welcoming the Messiah, but on the salvation he offered: I have told you already: You will die in your sins. Yes, if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins. (John 8:24)

The wise men were pagans, gentiles, dogs (as some Jews called the gentiles). They came from far away, from the distant east. They were open-hearted, truth-seeking, adventurous. They longed to know the true God.

St Augustine says in his writings: You would not be looking for him if you had not already found him.

These men had already surrendered to the Lord even before they met him. No wonder they brought with them extravagant gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The wise men are instantly loveable. Their trust in the guidance of the star, their humble readiness to ask for directions, their courageous journey and their generous gifts to the one they were seeking. These men were hungry for worship. They longed to see the face of the One who had been foretold and their longing was satisfied.

So I say to you: Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. (Luke 11:9)

Perhaps we can conclude with another question, a question only each of us can answer for himself or herself: Where am I in my spiritual life?
  • Am I like Herod - frightened to let go and fearful of Jesus?
  • Am I like the elders - knowing my faith but not really letting it touch me?
  • Am I like the wise men - thirsting to know the Lord and setting out afresh every day to draw closer to him?

The Holy Family - Year C

1 Samuel 1:20-22.24-28; 1 John 3:1-2.21-24; Luke 2:41-52

The Gospel writers were not like modern journalists. Journalists today are pre-occupied with facts and photos and 'spin' and, ironically, they get things wrong a scary percentage of the time. The evangelists are interested in what happened only because it reveals the truth - the truth about Jesus.

Indeed, Luke tells us at the very beginning of his Gospel that he drew up his account of the facts, that you may know the truth concerning the things (i.e. the facts) of which you have been informed(RSV). So Luke presents us with what happened in such a way that through his presentation we can identify and receive the truth.

The episode presented in Luke's Gospel today is the only record anywhere of Jesus’ life before he began his public ministry as an adult. We are lucky to have it and we do well to read it attentively and to reflect on it deeply.

Every year his parents used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual.

The Holy Family did not need to go up to Jerusalem for the Passover; Joseph because he lived about three days from Jerusalem and only those within a day’s journey were obliged to go; Mary, because women were not obliged to go; and Jesus, because he was not yet thirteen. Still, their gratitude to God who had set the Hebrews free and their love for the feast caused them to make the arduous journey every year. Though we as Catholics are not obliged to go to daily Mass, there are some who have the same need to express their gratitude to God by going every day.

On the way back home Jesus was thought to be with other family members or friends and it was only at the end of the day, when they couldn’t find him, that they knew they had to return to Jerusalem. Frantically they searched for three days and then found him. Remind you of something? Was there another time when Jesus was ‘lost’ for three days?

To be able to understand the torment of Mary and Joseph at the loss of their son we would need to be able to understand how much they loved him. The Holy Family was without one of its members; it was a kind of broken family, and the tip of the sword which would later pierce the sorrowing Mother began to make its way into her heart.

Are you already beginning to see the prophetic truth that is unfolding in this account of the Finding in the Temple? It gets even clearer.

On the third day they found him again. He was discussing with the doctors of the Law and showing himself, as a twelve year old, to be superior to them. He was questioning them and they were astonished.

My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been looking for you. The RSV says: Son, why have you treated us so?

They are Mary’s first recorded words to Jesus and his reply will be his first recorded words to her; their first recorded conversation.

Son, says Mary. She knew he was her son by birth as well as the Divine Son of the Eternal Father. She utters this anguished word as the Mother of God who brings the two Holy Families, the human and the divine, into her tortured question.

Jesus responds: Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father's affairs?

Mary had spoken of ‘your father’ and Jesus had spoken of ‘his Father’. Jesus, too, is aware that he belongs to two families, and that one has precedence over the other. Do we have this awareness? How many parents there are who recognise only the human dimension of their family relationships.

Far from being hurtful this truth was already familiar to Mary and Joseph. Besides, they were well-schooled in the truth that not all is what it at first appears. Joseph learned this when he discovered that Mary was to give birth to a child he had not fathered. He had learned to be silent and to await the unveiling of God’s plan in God’s time. Though neither Joseph nor Mary understood their son’s answer they did not question him further. Instead, as we can well imagine, they would have pondered in their hearts.

What appears to us hurtful is that Jesus seems to be tersely reproving his parents’ anxiety, but it is not so. The RSV translation is more helpful: Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?

Mary knew from the annunciation of the angel that God was Jesus’ Father and that the Temple was his house. What she had seemingly not understood was the prophetic content of Jesus’ need (must) to be in the Father’s house. This twelve year-old lad could see the path of his mission stretched out before him and it ended in his Father’s house. His foray into the Temple of Jerusalem, the place of his future suffering and death, among the doctors of the Law, at Passover time, after which he was ‘lost’ for three days - all spoke of his passion which lay twenty years ahead. His mission would bring him ultimately into ‘his Father’s house’ and it was a mission he must complete. It had not yet happened; it had not yet been fulfilled; and therefore could be understood only in the fullness of time.

Perhaps this is a fitting truth with which to conclude our reflection. There is always something in our family lives, some difficulty, some contradiction, some tragedy which we do not understand. We can choose to act impulsively, destructively, impatiently, proudly – or we can store up all these things in our hearts and humbly ponder their meaning, waiting for God's light to arrive.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Christmas Midnight - Year C

Isaiah 9:1-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

On this holy night the Church invites us to celebrate with joy the great event of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

We know the details well:
  • born of the Virgin Mary in a stable because there was no room in the inn
  • wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger – not a cradle
The outward circumstances are of poverty and anonymity but they conceal a mystery.

This great mystery would have gone by unnoticed and unknown had not heaven opened and the angels come down to sing of Jesus’ birth. After all, as Luke says further on in his Gospel: No one lights a lamp and puts it under a tub or hides it under a bed.

Jesus was God’s light, the light for the whole world, and God his Father wanted him to be seen and known by all. And so he sent the angel to the shepherds tending their sheep in the fields nearby: Listen, I bring you news of great joy … today a saviour has been born to you…

After many years of reflection by the Church we now know that in this child, God himself, has come down to humanity. God has become man in order to give man a share in God's own divinity.

This is the good news of salvation, the message of Christmas, the best news the world has ever heard - the birth of a baby.

But did you notice the first words the angel said?

Do not be afraid!

Of course, in an immediate sense the angel is telling the shepherds not to be afraid of him because the angel's sudden appearance would certainly have startled them. But the angel is speaking also to us, here and now in Sydney. That’s why the Holy Scripture is so powerful and relevant; its spirit-filled words are spoken to every people in every age. Do not be afraid!
  1. Firstly, don’t be afraid of God. That may seem like a funny thing to say but I truly believe there are many people who are afraid of God, and yet there is no need. God is our loving Father, our loving Creator. He loves us with a deep and faithful love. He understands us, our weaknesses and our broken dreams, our sinfulness and our failures, and yet he loves us. I believe this is one of the main things wrong with humanity today - we don’t understand God's love for us. And because of this we don’t know how much we are worth. What a sad situation!
  1. Secondly, do not be afraid of the Gospel. The Gospel is indeed Good News of great joy! Do not let your fear block your ears or harden your hearts. Don’t be afraid to believe these words from heaven. This is God’s word to you.
  1. Thirdly, don’t be afraid of this child; don’t be afraid of Jesus - he means you no harm. Don’t be afraid to open the doors of your heart to him, to give him access to your inner self. Don’t be afraid to let him into your relationships, your marriage, your family, your private life. Talk to him, trust him, confide in him because that is why he came. He is looking for you. He wants you to approach him. He already knows you through and through, every detail of your life, and yet he loves you with a love no other person can equal. Don’t be afraid of his love; it will bring you healing, completeness, joy, peace and life.
Let me finish off by telling you something which I think is so little known that one could almost call it a secret. On Christmas night God gives us a saving message, yes, of course. He gives us a saving truth which we must believe, yes, I won’t argue with that. But most of all God gives us this night a saving relationship, a relationship he invites us to enter.

We are not saved by reading a book or attending a church service. We are saved by entering a relationship.

In the child of Bethlehem God enters a love affair with mankind, a love affair which saves us from our own evil and the evil of others.

He presents himself before us in the manger as a gift of total love and invites us to respond. It is our response that is crucial.

What the angel is saying to us tonight is 'Do not be afraid! This helpless child in the manger is the one you have been longing for, the one who loves you as you need to be loved, as you long to be loved. He alone can satisfy this hunger of yours for love and life. Do not be afraid to enjoy his favour.'

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Christmas Midnight Mass - Year C

Isaiah 9:1-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

On this holy night the Church invites us to celebrate with joy the great event of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

We know the details well:
  • born of the Virgin Mary in a stable because there was no room in the inn
  • wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger – not a cradle
The outward circumstances are of poverty and anonymity but they conceal a mystery.

This great mystery would have gone by unnoticed and unknown had not heaven opened and the angels come down to sing of Jesus’ birth. After all, as Luke says further on in his Gospel: No one lights a lamp and puts it under a tub or hides it under a bed.

Jesus was God’s light, the light for the whole world, and God his Father wanted him to be seen and known by all. And so he sent the angel to the shepherds tending their sheep in the fields nearby: Listen, I bring you news of great joy … today a saviour has been born to you…

After many years of reflection by the Church we now know that in this child, God himself, has come down to humanity. God has become man in order to give man a share in God's own divinity.

This is the good news of salvation, the message of Christmas, the best news the world has ever heard - the birth of a baby.

But did you notice the first words the angel said?

Do not be afraid!

Of course, in an immediate sense the angel is telling the shepherds not to be afraid of him because the angel's sudden appearance would certainly have startled them. But the angel is speaking also to us, here and now in Sydney. That’s why the Holy Scripture is so powerful and relevant; its spirit-filled words are spoken to every people in every age. Do not be afraid!
  1. Firstly, don’t be afraid of God. That may seem like a funny thing to say but I truly believe there are many people who are afraid of God, and yet there is no need. God is our loving Father, our loving Creator. He loves us with a deep and faithful love. He understands us, our weaknesses and our broken dreams, our sinfulness and our failures, and yet he loves us. I believe this is one of the main things wrong with humanity today - we don’t understand God's love for us. And because of this we don’t know how much we are worth. What a sad situation!
  1. Secondly, do not be afraid of the Gospel. The Gospel is indeed Good News of great joy! Do not let your fear block your ears or harden your hearts. Don’t be afraid to believe these words from heaven. This is God’s word to you.
  1. Thirdly, don’t be afraid of this child; don’t be afraid of Jesus - he means you no harm. Don’t be afraid to open the doors of your heart to him, to give him access to your inner self. Don’t be afraid to let him into your relationships, your marriage, your family, your private life. Talk to him, trust him, confide in him because that is why he came. He is looking for you. He wants you to approach him. He already knows you through and through, every detail of your life, and yet he loves you with a love no other person can equal. Don’t be afraid of his love; it will bring you healing, completeness, joy, peace and life.
Let me finish off by telling you something which I think is so little known that one could almost call it a secret. On Christmas night God gives us a saving message, yes, of course. He gives us a saving truth which we must believe, yes, I won’t argue with that. But most of all God gives us this night a saving relationship, a relationship he invites us to enter.

We are not saved by reading a book or attending a church service. We are saved by entering a relationship.

In the child of Bethlehem God enters a love affair with mankind, a love affair which saves us from our own evil and the evil of others.

He presents himself before us in the manger as a gift of total love and invites us to respond. It is our response that is crucial.

What the angel is saying to us tonight is 'Do not be afraid! This helpless child in the manger is the one you have been longing for, the one who loves you as you need to be loved, as you long to be loved. He alone can satisfy this hunger of yours for love and life. Do not be afraid to enjoy his favour.'

4th Sunday of Advent - Year C

Micah 5:1-4; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-44

We began our Mass with the Entrance Antiphon. It's on the back of the bulletin and it's wonderful. I'll read it again:
Drop down dew from above, you heavens,
and let the clouds rain down the Just One;
let the earth be opened and bring forth a Saviour.

Isn't that a beautiful prayer! Each year, on the fourth Sunday of Advent we have this same antiphon and it's worth looking at more closely right now.


The first thing we notice is that it is a natural image - an image taken from nature.


The clouds rain down ... the earth brings forth ...


How often have we seen this happen? A dry field, a bare lawn, a thirsty vegetable garden, then a cloudburst. The rain falls, covers the earth, penetrates the soil - and the earth brings forth new life. Rain transforms, rain renews.


Secondly we notice that to this natural image has been added a supernatural dimension. It is the Just One who is rained down - it is a Saviour who is brought forth.


The obvious meaning the Church intends us to take from this is that the Just One, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, has come from above, from heaven, and yet, truly Man, he is brought forth by the earth, from below - God and man - human and divine.


Thirdly, the word let makes the whole thing not just a statement of truth but a graceful prayer: let the clouds rain down the Just One; let the earth be opened and bring forth a Saviour.


Is it possible to say these words without them expressing our longing for the Lord while at the same time increasing our longing for him? I can't imagine that.


Next, we notice that this is a nuptial image in which heaven and earth, the divine and the human, are the groom and the bride. We might see this more clearly if I quote the lines from Isaiah on which this antiphon is based.


Rain righteousness, you heavens, let the skies above pour down; let the earth open to receive it, that it may bear the fruit of salvation .... (Isaiah 45:8)

You can't tell me that is not a clear yet delicate nuptial image, an image of procreation.


If we had time we could reflect more deeply and show a connection to Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body which proposes that our sexuality and the marriage act, being essentially good and holy, are in fact a revelation of God himself. Certainly God here unashamedly associates the coming of his Son Jesus to earth with the nuptial act by which new life is created - in a subtle and alluring natural procreative image.


Finally, we see in this Antiphon a looking forward to that moment of intimacy between God and man, when the Virgin Mary surrendered totally to the Will of God with her yes to the message of the angel, and the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, letting the rain of his grace fall into her open womb, and she brought forth the Saviour of the world - a moment of utter human fruitfulness.


No wonder the Communion Antiphon exalts: Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son; and his name will be called Emmanuel.


Sunday, 13 December 2015

3rd Sunday of Advent - Year C

Zephaniah 3:14-18; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18

Today is Gaudete Sunday, Joy Sunday! It is a day for considering all that we as Christians have to rejoice about and, of course, what we have to rejoice about is Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. I asked a few people around the place what they especially had to rejoice about and here are a few of the answers I got. I confess that I did edit them a bit to bring a few of their thoughts together more neatly.

"I rejoice mostly when I pray. This is where I meet God and it really makes me happy that he is so available. I love to pray and make an effort to pray every day. I love the Rosary and also the Divine Mercy chaplet."

"I rejoice because God is looking for me. I still remember that young man Stuart Diver and what he must have felt like when he was buried all that time in the avalanche in the snow fields. He felt so helpless and alone. He thought he was doomed. He must have been so glad to hear the noise of the people looking for him. I read in the scriptures and I hear it in the prayers of the Mass that God is looking for me. He has sent his Son Jesus to find me. I lie there trapped in all the weakness of my life and I long to be rescued, to see the face of my rescuer. I know he will find me and that he will come for me and save me. Not everyone has this longing for him or this trust in him. I rejoice that I have been granted this gift."

"I rejoice that the teachings of the Church are so crystal clear. My faith is certain; black and white. So many of my friends move from church to church looking for one which suits their beliefs. They change every few years and never seem content."

"I rejoice because he is near and I find this exciting! He is not far away. He is near because my stay on earth, however young I am, will soon end. Death is not a falling asleep it is waking up. And he is near in his Second Coming. He has promised and I believe his promise. This gives me so much joy. Many people do not have this sense of meaning in their life. They wait for death. Christians wait for life and life is coming; it is near."

"I rejoice because he is here. As the Scripture says 'He stands among you.' Jesus is in our world but he is not recognised. He is here already among us actively working to save us in all sorts of ways. What a gift this presence is! He is present in my heart, in my life."

"I rejoice because He is my Saviour who came to save me from all those things I am so afraid of: my sins, Hell, Satan and death. He is my Saviour and stronger than any other person or thing. He is Lord of all and has power over all. I rejoice that my God is THE God and that I am safe."

"I rejoice that I am a member of such a big lovely family, God’s family. Whenever I meet a catholic who believes I am immediately at home. I click with that person, we are friends. We understand each other and even ‘love’ each other."

"I rejoice that I have a gift to give God that is worthy of him in the Mass. I know that when I give this gift to God it is pleasing to God and it expresses my love for God in a way that God accepts. The Eucharist is the gift that God wants me to give him and it is the gift I want to give him."

"I rejoice that I have a place to confess my sins where Jesus forgives me through the priest. Jesus is waiting for me with the priest. He always forgives me. He understands me. He is gentle with me. He helps me. I rejoice in this sacrament because it gives me a new start. It is God’s mercy at work on my behalf."

"I rejoice that I know where I am going in life. My life is a journey and I know its destination. So many people don’t know where they are going. I do. And I have all the help I need to get there from the Church and from the sacraments."

"I rejoice that Jesus has taken the one thing I don’t like about life, that is, suffering, and given it meaning. He has made it into a kind of treasure for me. I have plenty of sufferings and, with Jesus, they help me grow in love for people and for him. I am so glad that I have found joy in suffering. I never thought it was possible but it is. He has given it meaning because I find him there."