29th Sunday of the Year, 2019, C

Dear Friends in Christ, 

29th Sunday of the Year 2019

Why should we pray? Today’s Gospel recounts Jesus’ parable about the impatient judge, who was constantly being bothered by a widow pestering him for justice. If that judge will answer the woman’s need just to get rid of her and get some peace, Jesus tells us, will not our heavenly Father answer the prayers we make to him?

Even since the age of Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, beseechpeople of a philosophical bent have questioned the value of prayer, and especially intercessory prayer. It is said, for example, that the German poet Goethe never prayed because he argued that the world was set on its course anyway. Of course, god knows what we are going to ask him in advance of our asking. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that God ‘is the Lord of the universe, whose order he established, and which remains wholly subject to him and at this disposal. He is mater of history, governing hearts and events in keeping with his will….’ (para 269). God did not create the world and then leave it to its own devices! He has assured us through the Scriptures that he will change events as a result of our prayers. The world is not just a machine ticking over like a watch. It is more a unity, directed by an infinite mind which we call God. So, we must keep praying, as Paul says, ‘at all times’, that is when things are good and when things are bad.

prayOf course, prayer can be frustrating. Sometimes our prayers never seem to be answered. But God may be leading us to the virtue of perseverance, in Greek bupomoné, which we might translate as ‘stickability’. Christian faith teaches us the virtue of fidelity even in difficult times. We also have help from others in our prayer. Out reading from Exodus tells us the beautiful story of Moses being helped to pray by Aaron and Hur holding up his arms. The Church has a role in encouraging our prayers, by giving us the right prayer to say, and by giving us pastors and Christian friends who can help us and guide us as we grow in stickability. Don’t give up!

PRAY AS YOU CAN, NOT AS YOU CAN’T

The Solemnity of Christ the King 2019

Dear Friends in Christ,

CHRIST THE KING 2019

Today’s Feast is a relatively new one in the liturgical calendar. It was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quas primas. Back then the feast was called ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King’ and fell on the last Sunday of October. 

glory

However, in 1969 Pope Paul VI gave the feast its current title ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe’ and also a new date, the last Sunday in the liturgical year. In the UK this day also marks Youth Sunday, when we give thanks and praise to God for our young people. For their faith, enthusiasm and joy, but also pray for all those who have difficulties in living their faith today.

The idea of kingship is one which was better understood by the ancient and medieval world than it is today. Monarchies are less prevalent today, although of course Elizabeth II has served the British people as our queen for over 60 years. Her role as sovereign has decreased politically over the years but her regal presence and witness of dedication to duty and unfailing service of her people is a great source of joy and inspiration to so many. Queen Elizabeth is the first to confess that although she is a queen, Jesus is also her King. In her Christmas speech to the nation a few years ago she said, ‘Jesus is the Saviour, the Prince of Peace, who is our source and light and life both in good times and bad.’

kingofjewsOur understanding of kingship or queenship is very much rooted in the idea of privilege and of ruling our subjects. Jesus, however, bore witness to an altogether different kind of kingship. He is the Servant King. He is the King of the kingdom of love, service and sacrifice. We are his subjects – we swear a loyalty to our King. What is wonderful about the kingdom is that rather than us just serving the King, the King also serves his people. Jesus turned upside down our understanding of what it means to be great, what it means to be regal. We are called to witness to the fruits, gifts and values not of the kingdom of this world but of the kingdom of Christ.

32nd Sunday of the Year, 2019, C

Dear Friends in Christ, 

32nd Sunday of the Year 2019

In Jesus’ day there were two prominent groups within Jewish society – the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus crossed swords with both of them. bushToday it is the Sadducees who confront the Lord. The Sadducees were an elite aristocratic group – a kind of club of socially aspirational and religiously conservative men. They rejected most of the Old Testament, accepting only the Pentateuch (the first five books) as divinely inspired. Unlike the Pharisees, they did not believe in the afterlife, the spirit world or the resurrection of the body.

Intent on backing Jesus into a corner, the Sadducees present a bizarre scenario concerning a woman who appears something of a Black Widow, in that she has made her way through seven brothers, each of whom died after marrying her. In line with the law and Jewish culture at this time a woman whose husband died was offered future security by marrying any surviving male siblings. The question is, of course, whose wife will she be after death?

aliveTypically, the Lord refuses to answer the questions head on. He rather points to the fact that marriage is a human institution which comes to an end with death, ‘till death do us part’. That is not to say that those who are married are not reunited after death – surely they are – but they are united in a different way and in a different relationship before God. Beyond the confines of this world there is no need for marriage because both man and wife are joined together in their love and worship of God – in the same was as the angels are.

God is the God of the living, and when we die in Christ, we receive the gift of eternal life and our bodies will rise again. This is the central event and a basic truth of our faith. We look to the resurrection as our greatest hope, assuring us of our eternal destiny: Christ in us the hope of glory.

‘What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown in physical body; it is raised in spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.’

31st Sunday of the Year, 2019, C

Dear Friends in Christ, 

31st Sunday of the Year 2019

praiseAs sinners go, Zacchaeus was a ‘big fish’ or perhaps it would be better to say a ‘big shark’. As a chief tax collector, he was responsible for other tax collectors and no doubt very experienced in the dark art of exploiting and cheating others. There was a real sense of venom and hatred for these traitors – they were seen as the scum of the earth, the lowest of the low. Ironically, the name Zacchaeus means ‘innocent’ or ‘pure’, but there was nothing pure and innocent about him. His wealth was the fruit of a corrupt tax system in which the Jewish tax collectors secured their own piece of the pie by charging a further levy and skimming off for themselves. They were literally getting wealthy on the back of others.

It might not be much of an exaggeration to say that Zacchaeus was as loathed and despised by the general public as a drug dealer or drug baron might be today. Imagine then the shock and indignation that would be caused if Pope Francis invited himself to dine at such a drug baron’s or drug dealer’s house. Pandemonium would break out at the knowledge that the head of the Catholic Church was associating with such people. But what if our drug baron or drug dealer truly gave his life to the Lord and became a Catholic! Zacchaeus’ conversion is dramatic and generous, reflecting his experience of Jesus’ goodness and generosity. His story teaches us that no one is beyond the pale, no one beyond redemption, and that God’s grace and mercy reaches into the deepest and darkest hearts.

Jesus did not come to call the righteousness but the unrighteous. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and the truth is that we are all lost. The rich young man encountered the Lord and went away sad. Zacchaeus encountered the Lord and went away filled with the joy of conversion. God works in amazing ways: those we think are far away from God are closer than we realise, and those we think are close to God may be further away that we imagine.

Lord, you treated everyone you met with dignity and compassion; as persons created in your image and likeness. May I now go and do likewise.

Twentieth Sunday of the Year 2019, C

Dear Friends in Christ,

20th sunday of the year 2019

It is an amazing reality of the Christian faith that Jesus of Nazareth whom we worship and adore as God made man, lived, breathed, and moved in an age without television, radio, the Internet or even the motor car. He was born into an ancient world without the printing press or means of communication which can reach, in an instant, millions of people. And yet, his words, the most holy, sacred and loving ever spoken, resound through history, speaking to every person, person to person, heart to heart, one to one.

His sweet words speak of those who are blessed; they speak of kindness, mercy, turning the other cheek and forgiving from the heart. His bitter words speak of judgement, punishment, millstones, hell and division. The things is that with Jesus, as much as one might want to pick and mix, select this teaching over that one, or prefer his sweet to his bitter words, we cannot: we have to study and pray on all of Jesus’ words.

Today we encounter an especially bitter teaching. It’s hard, isn’t it; to think that the Prince of Peace, whose first words after he had risen were ‘Peace be with you’, says also firetoearth‘Do you think I came to bring Peace to earth? No, I tell you, but division’. The trust is the name of Jesus divides as much as it unites. There are many in our world who despise the name of Jesus. Indeed, his name is used by many as a word of cursing. Try mentioning Jesus’ name in polite company. Sometimes even in Church circles, to mention the name of Jesus creates a hostile reaction. Why is this? It is because Jesus is God. His is the name above all other names and before him all things, in heaven and on earth, will bow down. Jesus did come to bring peace on earth but this peace was secures through the bloody suffering of his cross. First came division, hatred and violence, and then came the peace that only Jesus the Prince of Peace, can pour out, the peace of Christ in our hearts.

Nineteenth Sunday of the Year 2019, C

Dear Friends in Christ, 

19th Sunday of the year, 2019, C

watchwaitAstonishingly, today in the gospel Jesus compares himself to a thief who unpredictably burgles a house. In this and other ways, Jesus teaches graphically that he will return, and that his return will always be a surprise. Yet his return must not catch us unawares: ‘Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning.’

Our lives of faith can become flat and lack any sense of excitement or urgency. What can inspire us? We need an element of tension to move us from apathy to zeal. God gives us the spur we need – the return of the Lord. He will come back – and when we least expect it! To create that sense of tension we must reject all unbelief that would convince us that whilst the Lord may be coming back, it will certainly not be in our lifetime. Such an assumption sets itself against Jesus’ own words. It is also foolish, for his return could occur as soon as tomorrow or it may delay until sometime after our death.

People are often afraid of dealing with their fears. The Late Pope John Paul II said: ‘Christians are exhorted to prepare for the Great Jubilee of the beginning of the Third Millennium by renewing their hope in the definitive coming of the Kingdom of God, preparing for it daily in their hearts, in the Christian community to which they belong, in their particular social context, and in world history itself.’ The surest way to prepare our hearts for the second coming is to ask the Holy Spirit to give us a hunger, thirst and longing for it.

Eighteenth Sunday of the Year 2019, Year C

Dear Friends in Christ, 

Eighteenth Sunday of the year 2019, C

The man in the crowd asking Jesus to settle a family dispute wants him to act like a rabbi. Jesus however, is instantly aware that his request stems from greed and envy. He chooses to expose the motives of the man’s heart rather than settle his grievance. The Lord teaches that the purpose and meaning of life is making oneself ‘rich towards God.’

house

Greed and envy focus a person on self. Those who pursue wealth seek security and safety. They use their riches to shield themselves from life’s vicissitudes and to find comfort and confidence in material things. In the pursuit of wealth they lose sight of the real meaning of life because they are seduced by the illusion that with their fortune they can control their lives. Yet one day everyone will die – possessions cannot protect against that day.

Furthermore the pursuit of affluence and pleasure eliminates both God and neighbour from sight since the focus is exclusively on obtaining possessions in order to feel secure: ‘I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’ Finally wealth creates the desire for greater wealth, making the circle of illusion complete.

Being rich in the sight of God brings into sharp focus the purpose of life and allows us to live according to truth. The real meaning of life is that we depend on God for everything; God is the source of all good, and we are created for a relationship with him. Our security is to be found in God alone; we can live with confidence that is directing our lives, and will provide for all our needs.