Saturday, 9 March 2019

Each year the gospel for the First Sunday of Lent is the account of Jesus' 40 days and 40 nights of prayer and fasting in the wilderness. It is Matthew, Mark and Luke who record this event, each with a slightly different telling. Mark simple recounts the event without any details of the temptations.

At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. Mk 1:12

Here we note that it is the Spirit who is orchestrating this event. It is a contest of influence between Satan and the Spirit. Who's council will Jesus follow. We think back to the book of Job, where a similar contest between Satan and God is allowed to happen to Job, to test his fidelity to God. Satan is allowed to test Job with a series of crisis inflicted on him. Job remains faithful to God.

St. Ignatius, in his "Rules for the Discernment" offers further insight into this dynamic of the testing of one's fidelity to God.

First, Satan tries to prevent this faith from ever coming alive in a person. Failing this, Satan creates confusion sounding like the voice of the Good Spirit.

The Fourth Rule: It is proper to the evil Angel, who forms himself under the appearance of an angel of light, to enter with the devout soul and go out with himself: that is to say, to bring good and holy thoughts, conformable to such just soul, and then little by little he aims at coming out drawing the soul to his covert deceits and perverse intentions.

How then does one know how to make the correct decisions in order to remain faithful to God? A starting point is following the rules, the directives handed down by sound and tested teaching. This was what guide Israel - the law of Moses - the 613 commandments recorded in Talmud - the negative commandments numbering 365, (thou shalt not) and the positive commandments numbering 248, (thou shalt).

 But in the gospels, Jesus demonstrates that fidelity to the law is only the beginning. In Luke 10:25 we have the account of an expert in the law, trying to test Jesus.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus responded with the story of the Good Samaritan, how a the Samaritan man helped the man who was injured by thieves, while a temple priest and a Levite, going up to the Temple for service, passed him by, because the rules of the law prevented them from coming in contact with blood and then serving in the temple.

 When the rich man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus responded by directing him to the commandments. But when the man said the commandments he already follows, Jesus responded;

“One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:18

We do not save ourselves, God's Mercy saves us. What we must do is "... come and follow me." We must have a firm, committed and personal relationship with Jesus - a real and dynamic spiritual life.

 This spiritual relationship implies listening, learning to hear, to recognize the Voice of the Spirit guiding us through each day - helping us to discern, out of the many voices coming at us, which is the voice of the Spirit. These days of Lent are meant to be an "intensive care", for our mind and heart.  "Speak Lord, your servant is listening."


Monday, 25 February 2019

Seventh Sunday - 2019

Luke 6:27-38
Jesus sets before us some very challenging statements in this gospel passage; “Love your enemies . . . do not judge . . . forgive and you will be forgiven!” This seems to go against our deep-rooted sense of fairness, of justice. Why must we forgive those who harm us, should they not be held accountable for their wrongdoing? Is not justice the very foundation of our society? When you look up at the archways to our courts of justice, you see symbol of the scales, balanced evenly, one side measured against the other. If you do the crime you must do the time.

Simply put, this is the ancient principle of “an eye for an eye.” (Leviticus 24:19) In many places around the world, if you murder someone you will be put to death. Canada has done away with the death penalty and replaced it with life in prison.

Let us look a little more deeply into what Jesus is teaching here. In Matthew’s account of today’s gospel we read: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, and then he continues; “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ….” Mtt. 5:38, 43.

Here, Jesus is bringing to light full meaning the Father’s words spoke through the prophet Ezekiel, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, rather that they should be converted from their evil ways and live.” Ez. 18:23. Now the key word here is “converted”. The goal of forgiveness is conversion, a deep and true turning away from evil doing and embracing all that is true and good. This is what the Father wants for all people. God wants every person to come to heaven and share in His divine glory. But that is not possible if their hearts are full of evil. First, they must be purified, (converted) then they can come.

This is beautifully demonstrated at the scene of the crucifixion. Crucified with Jesus on his left side is the unrepentant, unconverted thief challenging Jesus to cause their escape from justice. On his right is the other thief, equally guilty of the same evil, but now repentant, knowing he deserves punishment for his crimes, asking only mercy. In him Jesus sees that “conversion of heart” he is looking to find in all sinners, so he can take them home with him to Paradise.

Jesus is the incarnation of the Father loving his enemies; full of forgiveness for all sinners. Just as he now teaches us to do the same. In Matthew 9:10 we read: Later, as Jesus was dining at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Him and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

A further note: do we not understand that Jesus love is unconditional? Is not adding “conversion” to the mix adding a condition? Jesus’ love is unconditional. You need only to look at the cross to know that. His love is always in his heart for the sinner. It’s our choice to accept or reject his love.

On Good Friday we sing what is known as The Reproaches. Not words of scripture per say but speak so truly of the heart of Jesus the lover rejected.

My people, what have I done to you
How have I offended you? Answer me!
I led you out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom,
but you led your Savior to the cross.

My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!
For forty years I led you safely through the desert.
I fed you with manna from heaven,
and brought you to a land of plenty;
but you led your Savior to the cross.

What more could I have done for you.
I planted you as my fairest vine,
but you yielded only bitterness:
when I was thirsty you gave me vinegar to drink, 
and you pierced your Savior with a lance.

"My people...."
I gave you a royal scepter,
but you gave me a crown of thorns.
I raised you to the height of majesty,
but you have raised me high on a cross.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Fifth Sunday - 2019

Imagine there is a meeting of some amateur botanists, who love to meet and discus all things plants and flowers. They are meeting to plan a trip to some exotic place to experience new and mysterious plants. The chairperson of the group has some brochures to look at but also mentions a place he just heard about that is most exotic but has no further information.

Then a person raises their hand and announces they can help. Then the person proceeds to describe a place of utter beauty, saying that they had spent time there as a botany student studying these magnificent plants. No doubt when asked everyone will agree that this will be their trip this year.

Travel brochures can be of some help, but eye witness and first-hand experience has so much more to offer. 

Today’s First Reading gives us an account of the call of the prophet Isaiah.
I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above. They cried one to the other, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!"
Isaiah is experiencing the very presence of God. He is seeing and hearing for himself; (my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!")
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send?  Who will go for us?" "Here I am," I said; "send me!" – then an angel purifies his lips with the flame of truth, to become God’s messenger.
True prophets are not just person with there own take on theology – so much more. As I have often mentioned all of us baptized believers, gifted with the Holy Spirit in the sacraments, are called to share in the Church’s vocation to be God’s prophets in our time.

St. Paul in Roman’s lays it out so very well for us.
How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear, unless someone tells them?  And how can anyone tell them without being sent by the Lord? The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to proclaim the good news. Rom. 10:14:
Our world needs new Isaiah’s. Now we may hesitate to say, “here I am, send me”, because I am surely no theologian. But look again at today’s gospel. The people Jesus is calling to be his disciples are not the learned Scribes and Pharisees, they are simple fishermen. As prophets, we are called to be living evidence of the gospel of Jesus. When people see and experience your goodness, they will take notice. “Don’t tell me, show me.”

Not every one will respond positively to our efforts. So it was with the first disciples Jesus sent out, but many did.
In Luke 10:1 we read:
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two a others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few . . . . . Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.
Then in Verse 17:
The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven . . . . . but, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Did we come to Mass today able to say, “Lord, I am happy to report these good things have happened this week because of the grace you put into my heart.” 

And what will this week bring?

Think of the final words of the Mass today, “Go in peace, glorify the Lord by your life.”  

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.

He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted —and you yourself a sword will pierce— so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. Lk. 2:22

Points for Consideration & Meditation

[...... their purification according to the law of Moses ......]

·         While we see our faith as a deeply personal matter, it belongs to a greater reality, part of a family of believers to which we belong, in who's company our portion of the faith was awakened.

[...... had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit ......]
·         Consider how much we appreciate the guidance of another as we delve into new and hidden things about our lives. In our faith journey, that One is the Holy Spirit. Talk to the Spirit - invite the Spirit into each and every prayer time you begin - "Spirit show me, what should I see, what are you teaching me?"

[.....the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him.....]
·         To have prejudged what we think the Spirit has in store for us is likened to one covering their ears, lest they hear. Be amazed. "Eye has not seen, ear heard, or we ever imaged, what God has in store for those who love Him." (1Cor. 2:9) 


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