Today's readings are Number 11: 25-29; Psalm 19; James 5: 1-6 and Luke 9:38-48 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time B Mk. 9: 38-45, 47-48 A scene frequently depicted in many hospital television dramas centres upon a patient arriving at the hospital without a heartbeat. Very quickly the ER doctors and nurses begin using 2 electric pads that shock the heart to resume beating again. This form of electric shock therapy delivers quite a jolt to both the heart and body, as they try to bring the patient back to life. I trust that if you listened attentively to today's 2nd reading and gospel you received another form of shock therapy – because both readings contain messages that are jolting, with St. James and Jesus using some very strong images and language. St. James rages against the rich in the ways they have exploited the poor, and he warns of the miseries that will come to them. And then Jesus invokes images of the cutting off of hands and feet, and tearing out of eyes. Why all the graphic language? For a very good reason – both of them want to bring us back to life in a spiritual, social, and emotional sense, by getting us to wake up and scrutinize the full reality of our lives. A constant message found throughout the Bible is that our actions have consequences – sometimes good, and sometimes bad. These actions can be individual, done by one person, or they can be collective, involving the whole community or nation. And the consequences that result in both cases affect not just ourselves, but others. As St. Paul reminds us in Romans 14, "The life and death of each of us has its influence on others". Who we are and how we act is very much determined by the various people who have shaped our lives. For example, psychologists and psychiatrists will tell you that a large number of the issues of the patients they treat find their origins in the patient's childhood – particularly what was done to them, or not done for them, by their parents. In the 2nd half of today's gospel, Jesus challenges each one of us to examine the reality of our own individual lives and to do so with brutal honesty. Are there attitudes, dispositions with us that are preventing oneself from truly becoming the person God is calling us to be? Is there at least one root sin, so to speak, that is producing painful consequences for yourself and others? Maybe a prejudice, an extreme selfishness, or one of the 7 deadly sins: pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy or sloth? Whatever it may be, Jesus urges us to identify it, and then cut it off, get rid of it, or at least do our best to keep it in check. Because it could lead to our own personal demise as well as causing great harm to others. On a collective level, Jesus is asking us to wake up and recognize those things in our world that are life-denying, that are destructive and cause suffering. For example, when the poor and marginalized are exploited by practices and policies of the ruling elite; or when a government enacts laws that go against the principle of defending life from conception until death; or if it institutes economic policies that that damage the environment; or when we turn a blind eye to the plight of refugees throughout the world, then as people of faith we are called work for change. On the other hand, as Christians we are also called to recognize and support those things in our society that are life giving. So, when initiatives are brought forth from within by, say, the local community or government, such as affordable housing initiatives or the selling of fair-trade products, then we should support them, because of the positive results that will be for the benefit of all. When we go back to today's gospel, what is Jesus trying to get us to understand? First, we need to remember that we are responsible for own well-being, and for the well-being of each other. We do not live in isolation – we live in community, and our lives are intermingled in all kinds of ways. This is one of the fundamental reasons why both the Holy Father, Pope Francis, and our Cardinal Archbishop Thomas Collins urge us to get fully vaccinated against Covid. As Pope Francis said in a statement on August 18, 2021, getting the vaccination that is “Authorized by the respective authorities is an act of love. Love for oneself, love for our families and friends, and love for all peoples ... Getting vaccinated is a simple yet profound way to care for one another, especially the most vulnerable.” Secondly, nothing drives Jesus crazier that to see us not living up to our potential, for own benefit and the benefit of all. God has been so good to us, and given us so many talents to make so much good happen in this world. But the reality of sin, both individual and collective, prevents us from unleashing that full potential in our own lives and in the life of our families, our parish, our community, our world. Jesus is saying, "WAKE UP - get rid of that stuff!" For Jesus knows what the possibilities might be if we only became what we could be. Sir Edmund Burke quote - "the only thing necessary for evil to spread is for good people to do nothing." Remember this – God doesn't call you to be good – God calls you to be great! And God needs us to be great. Our world needs us to be great. Are we willing to set aside the sinfulness in our lives and dare to be great?
today's other readings are Haggai 1: 1-8 and Psalm 149 There have been repeated stories of how kings and other rulers, even when their rule, to put it charitably, was not exactly in line with the teachings of the Christian faith, would still be fascinated by holy men and women who would come into their midst. The case of Girolamo Savanarola, the Dominican Friar of the late 15th century in Florence, whose preaching was very much in line with John the Baptist, is a classic example of this. Railing against corruption of Flrence and of the world, he was still tolerated by the leader of Florence, Lorenzo Medici. For a long time Herod was tolerant of John the Baptist, and he liked to hear him preach, even when John's message was directed against him. But now with John martyred, Herod hears someone new, who is named Jesus. And the stories about Jesus have made Herod very curious. But he would only meet Jesus during Jesus' trial, as we read in St. Luke's account of the Passion (see 23: 7-15). While curious, Herod still sat in his palace and never bothered to venture out to meet Jesus until the time of the Passion. And much to his chagrin, when he did, Jesus said nothing to him. This story about Herod begs the question - how much have you tried in your own faith journey to meet Jesus? After all, there are many ways to do so.
today's other readings are Tobit 13 and Lk. 9: 1-6 Our first reading today is set in with the return of the Jewish exiles from their exile in Babylon in the mid -6th century BC. Ezra is both a scribe and a priest, and has been instrumental in the building and consecration of the 2nd Temple, as the 1st Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians. For about 50 years the Jewish people, while in exile, had longed for their return back home, as is reflected in Psalm 138. But through the intervention of God, they are now home. Howevr, in short order they have returned back to their sinful ways of old, as Ezra laments in this passage. This story has been repeated throughout human history, nations and individuals enduring very challenging circumstances. In their desolation, they appeal to God for help, and God provides relief. They, in turn, praise God immensely, but soon their ways do not reflect such thankfulness. What is that line - the more things change, the more they stay the same?
today's readings are Ephesians 4, Psalm 19 and Mt. 9: 9-13 Of all the fascinating choices Jesus made to fill the roster of the 12 Apostles, Matthew had to be the real shocker. Why? Becasue of his profession - a tax collector. Such people worked for the Roman Empire but in the area of the Holy Land, would have been Jewish. By the population they were viewed as traitors for working for the despised Romans, and cheats, for the way they would overcharge the population while collecting the Roman taxes. Matthew was very aware of this but somehow had set aside any sense of conscience to take up such a profession. He most likely have been aware of the work of Jesus before he was called. And no doubt he would have been shcokd that Jesus would have wanted him to be part of this group. hence, the surprised look on his face as depicted by Michelangelo Carravagio's masterpiece, The Calling of St. Matthew (as depicted above). In the painting Matthew points to himself as if saying, "Who, me?" Yes, him. Certainly not the holiest candidate out there. But he was called. And he answered. You were called, too, dear reader. On the day you were concieved, the day you were born, the day you were baptized. Called by Jesus to come and follow Him. The question is: Will you? P.S. On Saturday afternoon our internet, due to a local outage, went down for 48 hours. Obviously this affected our ablility to livestream the Sunday mass, for which I am sorry. God bless you.
today's other readings are 1 Timothy 6: 2-12 and Psalm 49 Our gospel is a story that has been repeated over the ages, the story of women who supported the mission of Jesus Christ, both in terms of spiritual and financial support. In terms of the Bible, we also see this in the role of women who were essential partners and supporters of St. Paul. In a church that is often described as partriachal, the presence of women is beyond essential - for I have witnessed personally how women make up the majority of volunteers in every parish I have served in. When I was a seminarian, I had the privilige of being in Bolivia for almost 4 months - and not only did I see the role of women in the church there, in fact I would describe the church as matriarchal, especially in the eyes of the laity, as it was the women religious there (an in my case, the Sisters of St. Dorothy) who basically ran the church, especially in its outreach to the substantial impoverished population of the country. Today, dear reader, I pray for the countless women serving the church in a huge variety of ways, and I thank almighty God for their presence.
Today’s other readings are Psalm 111 and Luke 7: 36-50 There is no doubt that Timothy was someone for whom Paul felt great fondness and caring. His two letters contain passages of warmth and paternal advice. Today’s passage is one of them. Being young, Timothy would have faced a fair amount of scepticism from more than a few in his community. “What could that young whippersnapper know?” And it may have been that Timothy had self-doubts in the face of such attitudes. But Paul reminds him that he is ready to take on such a task, through his conduct, with love and faith and purity. He is a leader, and was appointed to be one by the laying on of hands by the council of elders. This passage reminds of our youth ministry, whether it is for the EDGE or Lifeteen programmes, when one of the young catechists is ready to deliver a teaching everyone else is asked to pray for them and extend their hands over them, asking the Holy Spirit to be with them and guide them. For the Spirit will lead them and guide them, no matter how young they may be. For they too are doing the work of God, just as Timothy did. May almighty God bless our youth ministry as it resumes this Autumn.
our Numbers 21: 4-9 or Philippians 2: 6-11; Psalm 78 and John 3: 13-17 The cross - the symbol of our faith. A symbol that so many wear so proudly around their necks, a symbol personalized in the crucifix hanging in homes, churches, and other gathering spaces. But 2000 years ago, it would have been something viewed with fear. For the cross was an instrument of torture, used to punish criminals and political foes. Death by crucifixion was deemed to be so horrible that the Roman Empire would not allow its own citizens to die that way - it was reserved for all those that were its subjects or slaves. Jesus died on the cross. On a cross would hang the body of the author of our salvation. He died for us - and then He saved us. For we Christians, this instrument of fear has become the symbol of our hope and salvation. The cross became our triumph. As that glorious hymn sings, "Lift high the cross".
During the time of Jesus, the people were confused. They had diverse ideas about Him. They regarded Jesus as a political Messiah, a teacher, a healer, wonderworker, prophet, king, and many others. In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus asked his disciples a sort of a survey question: “Who do people say that I am?” He was not really interested in their answer. He was just testing them whether they were affected by the confusing ideas of people about Him. His most important question, however, followed the first: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter gave the correct answer: “You are the Messiah.” But Jesus did two surprising things: first, “He warned them not to tell anyone about him” and second, he called Peter “Satan.” The name Satan means adversary. Although Peter gave the correct answer, this truth about the identity of Jesus was not yet to be made known to the people. Doing so prematurely would jeopardize his mission. The people would be very excited and agitated and this could threaten the Roman authorities. And secondly, the salvation that Jesus was to bring about was by way of the cross, and the people would not be able to understand and take it. So, his identity had to remain as the “Messianic Secret.” Jesus also surprised everybody by rebuking Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” This was because, when Jesus was talking about his forthcoming sufferings and death on the cross, Peter objected and tried to dissuade him: “No! There must be some other way, not the cross! The cross is for criminals and evil-doers, not for you!” These words of Peter must have tempted Jesus. So, he quickly rebuked Peter with the harshest words ever: “Get behind me, Satan!” Underlying these two surprising actions of Jesus is the reality of the cross. He had to keep his identity hidden from the people because of the cross he was about to carry. And he called Peter “Satan” because he was trying to prevent him from taking up the cross, and thereby disobey his heavenly Father’s will. WHO IS JESUS? In order not to be confused, there is one thing, which will definitely identify the true Jesus: it is the cross. The true Jesus always has the cross. There is no cross- less Jesus. That is why Jesus said: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me”. He is the suffering servant of Yahweh that the prophet Isaiah talks about in the first reading. The cross has been the symbol of man’s cruelty. It has been used as the instrument of torture and death to punish criminals and enemies of the state. But Jesus was no criminal. He has no sin. He cannot be punished. Yet he was nailed to the cross. He voluntarily suffered and offered up his life on the cross as sacrifice to atone for man’s sins and offenses against God. From that time on, the cross became the most perfect symbol of self-sacrifice, love and salvation. Jesus said: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Our journey as Christians is an upward ascent to perfection and holiness. Jesus said: “Be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.” It is never easy. It is the way of the cross. It is the way of rendering good works and loving service to those in need as the apostle James said in the second reading. It is the way of forgiveness and love, even love of our enemies. It is the way of self- denial in the midst of temptations to comfort and extravagance. It is never easy. So, if we are looking for an easy life, if we are looking for comfort and pleasure, beware! A quotation says: “If the going gets so easy, be careful! You may be going downhill!” This Tuesday, the 14th of September, we will celebrate the feast of the Exaltation or the Triumph of the Cross. It seeks to remind us that we must remain loyal to Jesus and to follow him no matter what lies ahead. The suffering servant in the book of the prophet Isaiah said these words: “I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame”. “Setting one’s face like flint” means to look straightforward; to focus oneself towards one direction, never turning one’s head to other distractions. This is precisely what the lord wants us to do. He walks ahead of us with the cross on his shoulders. Let us follow him, with our faces set like flint, knowing that he will lead us to victory and eternal glory.
today's other readings are 1 Timothy 1 and Psalm 16 A thankfully infrequent event is when I get something in my eye. The irritation demands immediate action. I run to a sink, fill a glass with lukewarm water, then tilting my head back over the sink, carefully pour the water into the affected eyeball, all the while pulling the eyelids wide open with the fingers of the other hand. While messy, this method is effective, and soon relief arrives. Pat Marrin points out that Jesus used a short parable about about the irritation of a speck in the eye to help people realize that even our smallest faults, the ones too close for us to notice, are the ones that blind us in dealing with others, whose faults are always so obvious, glaring and irritating. And often the method I outline above doesn't work. It takes someone close to us to help us overcome the little blind spots that distort our vision and keep us from being more patient and empathetic to the common self-centeredness that affects us all. Jesus reminds us that one needs to deal first with your own faults and then you can help others. Underlying this message is the understanding of the need to accept the human condition you share with everyone. When you do that, we realize that each day is an exercise in forgiveness and asking to be forgiven. Love grows in that home or workplace or school setting where the willingness to help is stronger than the need to criticize others.
today's other readings are Psalm 150 and Luke 6: 27-38 As we are well into September, soon we will be wearing light jackets to keep us comfortable. But in our reading St. Paul urges us to wear something else - and not because of the change in weather, but the change that needs in ourselves. Hence, the wearing of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. To do so will help one to bear with one another and if need be, forgive one another. But above all else, the last and must essential layer to "wear" is love. That sounds like a whole lot to wear, but it will serve us well. So the next time you get up from bed and prepare yourself to go out, ask yourself, "What am I going to wear today?"