Dear Friends in Christ
17th Sunday of the Year 2019
Today we encounter Jesus’ teaching on prayer, which is more radical, challenging and life-changing than we may at first realise because it encourages an approach or attitude to prayer which we might not share or even appreciate. The Lord Jesus positively and unambiguously encourages a bold, confident, even brazen attitude towards approaching God in prayer. The Lord wants us to cultivate a way of praying that is hopeful, expectant and sure of God’s goodness and generosity.
No prayer captures this more beautifully than the Our Father, which the Lord himself taught us to pray. The Our Father is the Magna Carta, the blueprint for all prayer. Despite being so short and compact is encapsulates the essence of prayer and the very heart of our relationship with God. St. Augustine said of the Our Father: ‘If you run through the petitions of all holy prayers, I believe you will find nothing that is not summed up and contained in the Lord’s Prayer.’
Jesus uses the story of a persistent neighbour, who will take not take for an answer to reveal that God the Father is not like the unwilling neighbour, but is generous, kind and benevolent provider for his children’s needs. We discover who God is more through prayer, than any other spiritual exercise, for it is in prayer that the Spirit woks in us to expand not just our minds but our hearts, our imagination and our horizons.
Dear Friends in Christ,
16th Sunday of the Year 2019
In a story unique to St. Luke’s Gospel, we read of a remarkable and beautiful incident in Jesus’ life. Mary of Magdalene, whose feast we celebrate tomorrow, is traditionally associated with the Mary before us today but scholars think that it is unlikely to be the same person, believing this woman to be Mary of Bethany. What is clear is that, like Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany loved the Lord. In this account, she did not wash his feet with her weeping or anoint his body with expensive nard but she showed that one thing was needed, and that was to sit at the Master’s feet and learn from him
There has always been a tension between the contemplative arm and the apostolic arm of the Church. The contemplatives are accused of being too focused on prayer whereas the apostolics are criticised for being too preoccupied with action and not placing enough emphasis on the interior life. Of course, this is too simplistic juxtaposition but there is an element of truth in it.
It is, however, hard not to feel some sympathy for Marth, who in this understanding embodies the apostolic approach, Mary can come across as a kind of ‘goody two shoes’. Martha on the other hand, has not airs and graces; she is a worker and not a shirker. Clearly both women were serving the Lord, but Mary, in Jesus’ own words, chose what is better. This doesn’t mean what Martha was doing in that moment wasn’t good or noble or worthy, or even right for her to be doing; it simply means that ultimately sitting at the Lord’s feet and learning from him who is humble and gentle or heart is the goal of our faith.
The great saints of the Church did not hesitate to serve others practically. It was aid of St. Catherine of Genoa, for example, that she used to be so preoccupied in prayer that she appeared to be in a trance. Nevertheless, if anyone needed her help, she would stop praying immediately to respond. Pope Francis is calling us all to serve others in a spirit of love and charity, but all service of God must be first rooted in prayer and hearing God speak through his Word.
Dear Friends in Christ,
15th Sunday of the Year 2019
Catholic Social Teaching has largely owned the parable of the Good Samaritan and in a way rightly so, because it highlights the care and solicitude we owe every human being, but particularly those in dire need physically, emotionally or spiritually. However, ask yourself, if you will, whether there is a deeper meaning to the parable. Are we missing something? Is the parable simply about being good and kind and decent to your neighbour? We can be sure; absolutely sure in fact, that because Scripture is divinely inspired, there are always layers of revelation to uncover and a deeper meaning behind every verse.
Some of the early Fathers of Scripture scholarship, such as Origin, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, discerned in the parable of the Good Samaritan a much deeper meaning than helping our neighbour. They approached the parable allegorically – in other words, as a device in which the characters or events represents or symbolise real people and real events and communicate a hidden and profound message. Approaching Scriptures allegorically can open up deeper and deeper layers to its meaning. Some theologians dislike this approach because they fear that we can read into the text significance which the original author did not intend. But they themselves often approach Scripture in the wrong way, studying and discussing it like a Shakespeare play or another ancient text. Scripture is the divine Word of God and by its very nature there are always hidden depths to plumb.
So, for today, let us consider an allegorical understanding of the parable. Jerusalem represents heaven and Jericho the earth or the world. The robbers are the devil and the demons. The priest represents the Torah (the Jewish law) and the Levite the Prophets. The victim beaten, bruised, wounded and left half dead by the roadside is you! The Good Samaritan is Jesus, and the donkey is Christ’s body, which bears the weight of the broken body of the victim or this terrible robbery on the open highway. Finally the inn represents the Church, our place of healing and sanctuary. The Good Samaritan’s promise to return is a reference to Jesus’ coming again in power and glory.
Dear Friends in Christ,
14th Sunday of the Year 2019
There is an understanding that religion and politics are not discussed in polite society. This is probably because when they are raised, invariably, the conversation gets rather heated. Sex and death used to have the same effect, but nowadays as a society we seem more comfortable at least talking about sex, albeit in a superficial way.
Nowadays the idea of ‘evangelism’ also carries a certain taboo element. For sure, there are conferences on the subject and books written, and the occasional Sunday homily on our call to spread the gospel, but how seriously the subject is taken is debatable. This call is the theme of our Gospel passage today: the commissioning by Jesus of seventy-two disciples to go and preach the gospel.
The message that we do often hear is that if we are good, kind and loving, then that is evangelisation. St. Francis of Assisi famously said: Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words’, highlighting that witness whether by action or word is crucial. We definitely don’t want to come across as ‘Bible bashers’ or over the top’, and we definitely do not want to impose our faith on anyone. Nevertheless, there is no escaping the fact that sooner or later our faith invites us to pass the Good News on to others.
John Lennon famously said: Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We are more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first – rock and roll or Christianity.’ While Lennon had a point, the passing of almost four decades since his death had shed a different perspective on his comment. As Christians we know that the raison d’être of the Church is to grow and spread to the four corners of the earth. Our parishes are meant to grow and flourish, not stagnate and be closed
No one is saying that sharing our faith is easy. It isn’t – it requires effort, creativity, passion, enthusiasm and conviction. The key is in the name: the gospel is Good News. If we don’t experience it as Good News, we don’t share it as Good News. The Holy Spirit is the One who creates within us as burning desire to both witness to and share our faith. We pray for this blessing and anointing of faith.
Dear Friends in Christ,
CORPUS CHRISTI 2019
Today we celebrate the sacrament which is the source and summit of the Christian life. This phrase ‘source and summit’ is a rather awesome one, isn’t it? It is as if in the blessed Eucharist is contained the entire spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Passover Lamb. The great St. Irenaeus put it so beautifully when he said many centuries ago ‘Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.’ What does it mean to have our way of thinking attuned to the Eucharist?
Our word Eucharist has its roots in the Greek words eucharistein and eulogein, which recall the Jewish blessing – especially during a meal – of God’s works of creation, redemption and sanctification. At the very heart then, of the Eucharist is a celebration of praise and thanksgiving at which Christ is made real and present. This is why, on entering a church where the Eucharist is in the Tabernacle, we acknowledge the real presence of Christ and genuflect in adoration.
We must continue to cultivate a genuine sense of Eucharistic wonder and awe. As we allow the Holy Spirit to work within us, he helps us grow in awareness of the fat that it is truly Christ himself whom we are receiving
This understanding that Christ is real and present in the Eucharist cannot be apprehended by the senses but only by faith, and our faith relies on God’s authority, for it was Jesus himself who said: This is my body, which is given for you.’ The eminent Church father St. Cyril said, ‘Do not doubt whether this is true but rather receive the words of the Saviour in faith, for since he is the truth, he cannot lie.’ The Eucharist is our greatest gift; it is our richest blessing and most cherished treasure. Nothing in the Christian life compares to it for in the Eucharist is Christ himself, the ‘Godhead here in hiding’.
Dear Friends in Christ,
SS PETER & PAUL 2019
On this Feast of SS Peter & Paul we focus on the gift of revelation through which these two giants of the Christian faith entered into the mystery of the Christian life.
Revelation can best be understood as a gift of grace through which we grasp or understand or receive insight into the mystery of God in Christ. Revelation is a form of knowledge which reason itself cannot penetrate. We are blessed in today’s Gospel to see revelation at work, so to speak. Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ did not and could not come from ‘flesh and blood’ or human thought or reasoning. Jesus is explicit and clear where this gift of revelation came from – from his heavenly Father.
Paul having suffered intensely at the hands of his fellow believers, who constantly questioned his authority and credentials, pointed to this gift of revelation as the way in which he took hold of the gospel: ‘For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ’. There you have it in a nutshell: the two apostles were both recipients of the grace of revelation.
We too seek this grace of revelation and, as St. Pope John Paul II explained, our search must draw us to the Father: ‘How had Peter come to this faith? And what is asked of us, if we wish to follow in his footsteps was ever greater conviction? Matthew gives us an enlightening insight in the words with which Jesus accepts Peter’s confession: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven”. The expres sion “flesh and blood” is a reference to man and the common way of understanding things. In the case of Jesus, this common way is not enough. A grace of “revelation” is needed, which comes from the Father’.
Lord Jesus, grant me in ever-deeper measure the grace of revelation into the rich panoramas of Christian truth. I humbly confess that I come to the fullness of contemplation of your face by my own effort and must let you take me by the hand.
Dear Friends in Christ,
At Pentecost, the Apostles underwent a kind of baptism. It was as if they cast off their old clothes to be robed anew in the resplendent and radiant white garment of the Holy Spirit. The idea of being clothed in a resplendent and radiant garment reminds us of Christ’s Transfiguration on Mount Tabor: ‘And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white’. There is a profound connection between the transfiguration on the mountain and the transformation on Pentecost morning. The Holy Spirit changed and changes everything! The Spirit has and always will astonish, amaze and astound us.
One of the greatest works of the Holy Spirit was the Second Vatican Council. Pope John XXIII, the Council’s prophet and visionary, had an acute sense of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church and in us all. One of the wonderful fruits of the Council was its teaching documents. As one example, Lumen gentium says the following about the Holy Spirit: ‘Whenever the Spirit intervenes, he leaves people astonished. He brings about events of amazing newness; he radically changes persons and history…It is not only through the Sacraments and the ministrations of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes holy the people, leads them and enriches them with his virtues. Allotting his gifts according as he will, he also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank… He makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church’. (para 12)
Being filled and renewed in the power of the Spirit is an invitation we cannot refuse. To receive the gift of the Spirit we bow our heads in expectation of God’s blessing. We make this prayer conscious of our sin, weakness and failure, for the Spirit is poured out not when we are strong but when we cry out in need and supplication.