Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, November 20th 2022
Two dying men, two sentences, sixteen words. That’s it. That is the whole of the Gospels, and more importantly, the life of Jesus summed up. All of it summed up in those two sentences of sixteen words in total, spoken by two men about to meet their death. I am not being flippant here. For me, the whole meaning of Jesus’ mission here on earth is summed up by the words uttered by the dying thief on the cross next to Jesus, ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom,’ and by the response from Jesus, ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’ If you take them in the context in which they were said, you will understand.
Jesus’ mission was one of salvation. He came to save us all, rich or poor, good or bad, saintly or sinner. Before salvation is possible though, there has to be repentance. We have to want to be saved, be truly repentant for all of our sins, and it has to come from the heart. The thief on the cross next to Jesus knew he was a sinner who had no right to ask such a thing, but showed to Jesus that he was truly sorry for his wasted life and wanted mercy and forgiveness for his sins. Only through his heartfelt plea, and placing himself at the mercy of a dying Jesus, could he achieve this. It is at this point that Jesus demonstrates the full meaning of his mission. Almost at the point of his own death, he recognises the honesty with which this wretched sinner pleads for mercy, and he grants it to him.
There may have been some of Jesus’ followers who were amazed by this. After all, why should he show mercy to this man, given the type of life that he must have led, and especially as Jesus was going through the most brutal and agonising of deaths himself. That is the whole point though isn’t it? All summed up in those two sentences of eight words each.
At least this man had the opportunity to make his last words the most meaningful of his life before it was too late. We don’t all have the chance to say those last few words to someone before they die.
We can look upon the cross on which Jesus died in many ways, but in doing so we should not lose sight of the fact that Jesus was human and divine. From a human point of view, Jesus being nailed to the cross was a failure of the worst kind. It was the cruellest and most humiliating death for anyone. From a divine perspective though, it was a triumph. It was the means by which He could fulfil His mission here on earth and have His death witnessed by all present. Then three days later have His resurrection witnessed by those He chose to reveal Himself to.
Maybe we should learn from the thief on the cross in today’s Gospel. It is never too late to say ‘I am sorry’ to God, and our loved ones. And, if it truly comes from the heart, then forgiveness and mercy will be forthcoming in this life and the eternal life with God.
I would like to share with you a thought of another way of looking at Jesus’ message to us; which, perhaps if we take to heart, may help us to achieve the same outcome as the man on the cross next to Jesus:
‘Hate no none, no matter how much they’ve wronged you.
Live humbly, no matter how wealthy you become.
Think positively, no matter how hard life is.
Give much, even if you’ve been given little.
Keep in touch with the ones who have forgotten you.
Forgive those who have wronged you,
and do not stop praying for the best for those you love.’
33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
We are drawing towards the close of the church year. It’s fitting therefore, that today’s Gospel should deal with the final days of our world. It’s almost as if to say, ‘Well, if you haven’t been listening too well up until now, this should make you sit up and listen.’
The Gospel today refers principally to the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, and has some obvious references to the end of the world. This is sometimes known as the ‘Apocalyptic Discourse.’ It could seem to be a very ‘dark’ Gospel filled with doom and gloom. I don’t think it was meant to be like that, although there is a very serious warning contained in it. There is talk of wars and revolutions, great earthquakes and plagues and famines. You could interpret this as a very grave warning to mankind about changing its ways before the end of the world is inevitable.
We could be forgiven for thinking that this is just about a first-century crisis and it no longer applies to us in today’s world. We would be wrong to do so. It’s as much about today as it’s about any other period of time. Throughout history, there have been constant struggles between the forces of good and evil. As Christians, we do not have the right to assume that everything will continue to get better and better. All we know for sure is that God will eventually bring good out of evil, and that right will triumph in the end. We have not been allowed to destroy each other or ourselves; despite mankind's attempts because God has willed it so.
Although predictions of the end of the world are nothing new, they are very much in the news these days. There are a great many scientists and so called experts, as well as high profile politicians, constantly warning us about the danger we pose to the future of the world by our own actions. Some call it global warming, others call it climate change, but no matter what label you put on it, it is being blamed for most of what is going wrong in the world today. Famines, floods, earthquakes, melting ice caps and deforestation, all being seen as the consequences of mankind’s own actions. Indeed, a lot of the world’s leaders are attending a global conference on that subject at COP27 in Egypt at the moment. Now, without dismissing the seriousness of all these issues, are all of these things down to mankind’s own actions? Or are they actually God’s will? The earth has always heated up and cooled, there have always been famines and floods, as well as wars. Has anything really changed that much? Maybe not, although we are continually changing in a world that is changing around us. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t head the warning signs and change our behaviours.
The only thing we do know for sure is that nothing but God is permanent. God’s will has prevailed through all time and he has given us the ability to endure all sorts of things, good and bad. In the Gospel today, we hear Jesus telling those in the Temple that, no matter what is done to us, our endurance will win us our lives.
Over the years, there have been many ‘doom and gloom merchants’ who have predicted that the end of the world is coming and that we are all doomed. Well, all of their deadlines have passed and we are still here. Thanks be to God. That’s because with God, the end is never the end. The end with God is just the beginning of something new. That was the message in last week’s Gospel, the resurrection, and it is the message of hope in the future from this week’s Gospel.
Do you remember the people you used to see walking around with ‘sandwich’ boards over them saying, ‘The End Is Nigh’? Well, perhaps they should re-read this Gospel and change their message to, ‘The New Beginning Is Nigh!’
32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
There is a clear link between the first reading and the Gospel, and not just the fact that both feature seven brothers. That link is of course, the resurrection. Part of the last sentence of the first reading tells us that the fourth brother, near his end, cried out ‘yet relying on God’s promise that we shall be raised up by him; whereas for you there can be no resurrection, no new life.’
The Gospel passage tells us of the Sadducees, who are trying to outwit Jesus by asking what seems a silly hypothetical question about resurrection. They didn’t accept the whole concept of resurrection. They were taking Jesus to task about it, but he gave them an answer which was based on scripture and would have been difficult for them to argue against. The testimony of the apostles and others who witnessed the risen Christ will have changed the hearts and minds of some of them in later years. Jesus’ mission was to teach, convert and win over the hearts and minds of the doubters and non believers.
Belief in the resurrection is the most fundamental aspect of the Christian faith. We have all lost loved ones, and we take comfort in the knowledge and belief that we will all be reunited when we are raised up on that last day.
One person who I know believed that with every fibre of his being, was Father Gildea. Father truly believed that If we accept that we are born to die, and it is only after death that we become what we were created to be; then we can live this life with hope, strength and comfort, and he truly did that. He lived his life, and exercised his priestly ministry, as a true believer and true pastor. This was demonstrated at his funeral masses this week with all the clergy wearing white. This was to symbolise The Joyous Resurrection. He wanted a white funeral! He led by example and encouraged us to do the same, and we are all better Christians because of that. We owe him a great debt of gratitude for that. I think we all know what Father Gildea would have told the Sadducees, he would have given them short shrift and sent them packing!
Our belief in the resurrection is shown by how we live out the paschal mystery by accepting the things in our lives that we cannot change especially the suffering, and finding a spiritual meaning in them. I know Father Gildea believed that, because we had many a conversation about that aspect of our faith.
When we come up against this level of disbelief and scepticism, do we have the wisdom to deal with it in the same way Jesus did? This reminded me of a quote I once read, ‘For those who do not understand, no words are possible, and for those who do understand, no words are necessary.’ I just wonder if, just for a moment, Jesus felt like that. Whether he did or not we will never know.
We encounter the risen Christ in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and through our daily prayer, life. We come to believe in the resurrection when we live hope-filled lives, and by caring for others. It gives us a vision of reality.
Last week, in his homily, Father Raymond asked us to think about and identify the obstacles that may be hindering our spiritual life and our prayer life. That made me sit up and think and recognise that there are obstacles in my life that affect me like that. It also made me think what the response of the Sadducees would have been if Jesus had said something like that to them. Perhaps the biggest obstacle the Sadducees had to overcome was the fact that by not believing in the resurrection, they had nothing to look forward to at the end of their lives.
I know that through his strong faith, Father Gildea looked forward to the eternal life, he wasn’t in any great hurry to enter it, but now that he’s there, I’m sure he’ll be having a word in the ears of the Sadducees.
31st Sunday of Ordinary Time
I could have summed up today’s Gospel on a post-it note using only nine words... ‘Forgiveness and redemption through faith and belief in God’ but I decide to expand a little on that.
The point of Luke’s Gospel today is to illustrate to us an important aspect of Jesus’ mission here on earth. To seek out and save those who are lost. Today we hear the story of Zacchaeus, a senior tax collector and a wealthy man. He had heard that Jesus was coming to town and wanted to see what kind of man he was. To do this he climbed a sycamore tree to get a better look and was spoken to by Jesus, who invited himself back to the man’s house. Not for the first time, Jesus confounded those around him, by talking to someone who would have been shunned by the community and seen almost as an outcast by them, let alone going to his house. If they had really understood what Jesus was all about, they would not have been surprised by his actions. Zacchaeus announced that he was going to give half of his property to the poor and pay back, fourfold, all the people he may have cheated.
This may have been seen by the cynics in the crowd as what we would call today, a ‘knee jerk’ reaction to being welcomed by Jesus, or as a huge ‘u-turn’ to placate both Jesus and the crowd. The fact is only two people really knew that it came from the heart, Jesus and Zacchaeus. Either way it was I think, a win-win situation. Jesus was a winner as he had fulfilled part of his mission by seeking out and saving someone who was clearly lost. The poor were winners as they would benefit from the receiving half of the man’s property. The people who were to receive their money back fourfold would gain financially. And finally, perhaps the biggest winner of all was Zacchaeus. He was lost and looking for something to change his way of life. Zacchaeus opened his door to Jesus who told him, “Today salvation has come to this house.” If we open our hearts to him, salvation will come our way also. This too is a win-win situation.
We can all lose our way at times, and I am not talking about being ‘geographically challenged’ or ‘temporarily disorientated’ as I tend to get and won’t give in and ask for directions, according to my wife. No, I am talking about the times when we may fall away from church and lose our faith and need something to happen to help us find our way again. We don’t need to give away half of our wealth to redeem ourselves in the eyes of God as Zacchaeus did, we just need to be able to recognise that we are lost. Once we have done that, we are well on our way to finding Jesus again.
Unlike Zacchaeus, we don’t need to go and physically climb up trees. Six years ago, during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis commented on this Gospel by inviting us all to do as Zacchaeus did, and climb up the ‘tree of desire for forgiveness’.
I haven’t climbed up a tree since I was a teenager, but I have climbed up the ‘tree of desire for forgiveness’ many times. Don’t be afraid to try it, wherever you are, it has branches everywhere.
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lack of humility, full of vanity and a judgemental streak – these are some of the character flaws that are highlighted in the Pharisee in today’s Gospel.
Little Jack Horner, the children’s nursery rhyme character came into my mind when I first read today’s Gospel. It seemed to me that the Pharisee in the parable that Jesus tells his disciples, is just like Jack Horner. Full of his own importance, boasting about the good things that he has done. It is as if all that is missing is him saying “What a good boy am I?” He seems to be taking the high moral ground over the other person, the tax collector. Now the Pharisee would have been a much respected person in his community while the tax collector would have been despised by all, but did that give him the right to feel superior, and adopt a ‘Holier than thou’ attitude towards him? I don’t think so. Certainly not in God’s eyes.
In God’s eyes, the Pharisee was not wrong in his deeds of morality and piety, and the tax collector was not right in his ways of swindling and extortion. However, what was wrong in God’s eyes was the fact that one of them could only see the good in himself and appeared haughty and proud before God. Whereas, the other was showing great humility by only seeing the worst in himself and being humble before God. He stands at a distance and beats his breast in shame and guilt. His stance before God is encapsulated by the line in Psalm 50: ‘A humbled contrite heart you will not spurn.’
There were many similarities between the two men. They were both Jews, both sinners, and both prayed at the temple. The big difference between them was one was humble and one was arrogant. The tax collector went home at rights with God; the Pharisee did not.
There are many parables that Jesus told His disciples to emphasise this same point, and I’m sure that many of us can recall instances when we’ve witnessed similar traits in others that could easily fit into those parables.
There really is no point in pretending to be someone, or something, that we are not. We will only be found out in the end. The one person who knows us as we really are, is God.
The one shining example of a person full of humility was the great man we lost this week. Father John Gildea. He was not just our parish priest, our friend, our pastor; he was our role model of how we should live our lives in the service of others. He has gone to his heavenly home at rights with God.
God will be our ultimate judge, and the one thing we know for certain is that his judgement will always favour the humble.
Let me leave you with this short prayer:
O Lord, help us not to judge or despise our brothers and sisters -
make us remember, that one day we shall all stand before your
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?” These are the final words of Jesus in the Gospel today. He poses this question to his disciples at the end of the parable he had just told them about the unjust judge and the widow who was seeking justice from him. I must admit, I didn’t quite understand the question when I first read it. I had to read the Gospel a few times before I understood it. You see, the theme of this Gospel is the simple lesson of constant prayer and faith. The purpose of the parable was to show the disciples that they had a need for constant prayer, and they should never give up. Jesus posed that final question to them as a way of testing their faith.
He could just as easily have asked the question in a different way by saying, ‘after all I have told you, is there anyone who really believes me?’ Praying to God unceasingly strengthens our faith and understanding. This is what St. John Henry Newman meant when he said, “Heart speaks unto Heart.” Persistence pays off. God does always listen to us, even though we may not think so, especially if we feel our prayers, and what we are asking for, have not been answered when we feel that they should be. God only has our best interests at heart because of his great love for us.
Those of us who are parents can relate to this with the constant requests from our children for certain things. It may be the latest toy or gadget, new mobile ‘phone, or wanting to watch something on television which we don’t think is suitable for them to see. Despite their unceasing pleas, as parents we do not always let our children have what they are asking for at that time. We take these decisions based on our knowledge and judgement of what is right and fitting for them at that time. We do this because we are able to see the ‘bigger picture’ which they cannot always see or understand. Our decisions on which requests to grant or refuse, are therefore made with their greater interests at heart and through our love for them.
I suppose it is an age thing, but I can now understand why I didn’t always get everything I asked for from my parents. Now he has grown up and has children of his own; I hope our son also understands why we wouldn’t or couldn’t, give in to all his requests when he was younger. Parenthood would be so much easier if we could say to our children, ‘have faith in my judgement on this, I have your greater interests at heart, and through my love for you I will see that you always have what you really need’ and for them to understand and accept that.
Isn’t this what the Gospel message is, and the reason for Jesus’ final question to his disciples? So what would your answer to that question be?
Would the Son of Man find any faith on earth?
28th Sunday of Ordinary Time
‘Thanks be to God’. Four little words that we use as the conclusion to many of our prayers, especially those during the mass. They are words of praise, thanksgiving and an affirmation of our faith. We thank God, probably without really realising what we are thanking him for, and we do all have a lot to thank him for.
The Gospel today, is a story of thanksgiving and faith. The leper turned back and went to Jesus, threw himself at his feet and thanked him for curing him of his dreadful disease. He was cured by Jesus because he had faith in Him. Indeed, the last sentence of today’s Gospel is Jesus telling the man “Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.” This really is quite a remarkable story, but yet, not a surprising one. In Jesus’ time, the lepers were the outcasts of society. They were the ‘untouchables’, so much so, that they were not allowed to come within a certain distance of those they wished to communicate with. This is why the Gospel tells us that ‘they stood way off and called to him.’ Not only that, the one who returned to thank Jesus was a Samaritan. Again, someone who was seen and treated as an outcast by the Jews of that time. Jesus healed all ten of them and was probably very disappointed that only one of them came back to offer thanks and praise. So we have an example of Jesus reaching out to those whom society rejected and showing mercy and pity. So why did the other nine, who presumably were Jews, not show gratitude towards Jesus? We don’t know. Maybe they didn’t recognise that their new found cleanliness was as a result of Jesus’ actions, or they just took what he did for granted.
I suppose we all take things for granted at times. The other day, I heard a story of an old woman who said that “we should never be off our knees thanking God that we’re able to stand up!” It sounds a bit contradictory I know, but I think we all probably understand what she meant. We can show our gratitude to each other in very many different ways. Perhaps by saying a simple ‘thank you’ for a kind thought or deed, by giving someone a hug or a small gift to acknowledge something they have done for us. It isn’t difficult.
Giving thanks to God isn’t difficult either. Again, we can do this in many different ways. We can just say a prayer of thanks, maybe even make the effort to go to mass when we wouldn’t normally go. He doesn’t ask for much from us in return for everything he does for us, and perhaps we sometimes fail to acknowledge that. Giving thanks and praise is easy; sometimes that hard thing is remembering to do it as often as we should.
Whilst we were away on holiday a few weeks ago, we visited some beautiful churches. In one of them, I went to pray at the little side altar devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. There weren’t any benches near the altar, but there was a small kneeler (thankfully with a soft cushion on the part you kneel on). I lit some candles, knelt down and asked God to help a fellow deacon who is having some serious health problems at the moment. When I stood up again, the pain in my knees was terrible, and I wished that I had been able to sit instead. Then I thought that my temporary pain was a small price to pay if my prayers were answered.
So we don’t necessarily have to take the old lady’s saying too literally and spend all our days on our knees, with the state of my knees, I struggled after a few minutes! But maybe we should just think about saying those four little words; ‘Thanks be to God’ more often, as an act praise, thanksgiving and an affirmation of our faith.
27th Sunday of Ordinary Time
“Increase our faith.” This is what the apostles said to the Lord. When I read this Gospel, I must admit I was a little surprised at the apostles saying this to our Lord. They were his followers and would have known from his teachings that faith is something that comes from within, and the level or depth of that faith comes from within also. Only the person themselves can increase their own faith. This comes from examining and even questioning your own current level of faith.
We all need to go through this process from time to time in our lives, usually dictated by the circumstances we find ourselves in at certain times. We will all have had times in our lives when we felt that our faith was being tested to the limit. Times when we have had to dig deep into our faith to help us to get through a very difficult time; perhaps after a bereavement, or job loss, or health issues. I’m sure most of you can relate to those types of challenges that life throws our way, if you can, then ask yourself what helped you to cope at those times? Was it prayer, or coming to mass more regularly, or just sitting quietly in a church with your thoughts and worries? If this is what got you through those dark times, then it wasn’t any magic trick, it was your faith. You dug deep, turned to the Lord and asked for help through prayer and sacrifice.
That, I believe, is the message that Jesus was trying to get across to the Apostles, that your faith is within you and, as the saying goes...‘Faith can move mountains’ or as in the Gospel, a mulberry tree. So if anyone wants to know the secret of how to increase their faith; don’t ask Father or me! Look deep within yourself, the Lord has placed the answer right there for you.
To give you a good example of how one man’s faith helped to achieve something which was thought to be impossible; I’d like to tell you about a priest called Father Francis O’Leary. He was working in Rawalpindi where he came across an old lady who was dying and had been abandoned. He took her to a mud hut in the church compound where she was cared for until she died. He recognised that there was a great need to offer help to others in similar circumstances. He set about trying to raise funds, get bank loans and struggled to get together the money needed to provide for the needs of the dying. There were many times when he would ‘play one bank off against another’ to get what he needed.
He was asked at one point what he would do if he didn’t get the loans he so desperately required, and his answer was that he would go to the chapel and pray to St. Joseph for help. Through those dark and difficult times, he turned to his faith and prayed for help. His faith grew stronger and he achieved what he set out to do. His vision led to the organisation we know as St. Joseph’s Hospice Association. They run hospices in Thornton and Ormskirk, as well as supporting hospices overseas in Honduras, Guatemala, Peru and Ecuador. The work of the hospices here and abroad are the legacy of how the strength of one man’s faith proved that it is sometimes possible to achieve the impossible.
Perhaps this is a good example of what Jesus meant when he talked about being able, through faith, to uproot trees and plant them elsewhere. Faith is a very personal and individual thing, and something which we all struggle with at times, but maybe it is because it is a struggle that makes it so worthwhile holding on to, and, as the apostles wanted, increasing it.
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The parable in today’s Gospel continues with the theme over the last few weeks, that it is more important to store up treasure in heaven than treasure and wealth on earth. Today’s parable is a variation on that theme.
Jesus is not saying that it is wrong or sinful to be rich, but to wallow in the trappings of wealth, whilst being indifferent to those in need around you, is wrong. The rich man in the parable realises this only when it is far too late to do anything about it. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth, to give a warning to his five brothers that they need to alter their ways before it is too late, otherwise they will suffer the same fate as him. Abraham tells him that it wouldn’t work. If they won’t take heed of Moses and the prophets, then sending Lazarus to them won’t help. The reason is that God has already given us all the means and resources we will ever need here on earth, to ensure that we lead a life worthy of entry to the kingdom of God. It is up to us to listen to His word and follow the example of His son Jesus, who was sent to us for our salvation.
Have you noticed that the poor man’s name is known to us because the rich man mentions him by name to Abraham. So if he knows Lazarus by name in the afterworld, he knew Lazarus by name when he begged for mercy and food in this world. This shows us that the rich man decided he had better things to do than to help the poor man at his gate.
Whether we are rich or poor doesn’t really matter, what matters is how we treat others who are worse off than ourselves. This is what we will ultimately be judged on, not on what level of wealth and riches we accumulated here on earth. The rich man in the parable realised that when it was too late, and was judged accordingly.
Today’s Gospel has made me think twice about being aware to the needs of others less fortunate than myself. It has made me think how I will be judged when the time comes, not too harshly I hope. It made me realise that I shouldn’t give myself a ‘pat on the back’ just because I stopped to give a beggar some money, or went to the shop and bought them a sandwich and a drink. Instead, I should examine my conscience about the times I was guilty of walking on by and avoiding eye contact.
We all know that we can’t give to everyone who is begging on our streets every time we are out, and therefore we choose to be selective of when and how we do give. The fact that we can’t give every time isn’t the issue, the fact that we do give sometimes is the right thing to do; and that’s the message in today’s parable, that we share what we have with those who have nothing, and hopefully we won’t let too many ‘Lazarus’ characters go unnoticed again.
To help us understand and appreciate the message of today’s Gospel, I want to share with you, a prayer I read a few weeks ago:
"Lord, we know that the good things we have received today have come as a gift from you. May we receive them with thankfulness and learn how to give. Lord, shows us your loving kindness.
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
‘I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him’. How many times have we all said that about someone, I certainly have. There have been some people I have come across in my working life over the years, some I have worked with and those I have worked for, that this saying is very true of. Most of them have just been generally untrustworthy, many unscrupulous and immoral in business, and some downright ‘dodgy’ in the way they conduct their businesses. Some of the things I have witnessed have certainly been immoral, some even bordering on the illegal, but should those ‘dodgy characters’ be condemned for their immorality, or commended for their astuteness? Well, I know how I have felt about those people.
Jesus tells us in the parable that, the man who can be trusted with little things can be trusted with great things, yet the man who is dishonest in little things will be dishonest in great things. He then asks if we cannot be trusted with money, then who will trust us with genuine riches. He admired the steward for his ‘astuteness’, his wisdom of foresight in as much as being able to recognise that he could not continue as he was, and would have to make provision for his future. Shouldn’t we all be doing that? Perhaps we all need to apply the same astuteness to our spiritual life. We may need to recognise that we cannot go on living the type of life that we do and we need to think to the future. Most of us probably do this already in our family and financial matters, looking to the future and making provision for it. The greatest treasure we will ever have, the genuine richness we will experience, is the Kingdom of God. Perhaps we should be building up our spiritual reserves to provide for our future there.
God provides us with the resources necessary to do this, through the mass, the sacraments and the bible. We can use the gift of prayer to help us build up our spiritual reserves. These can be drawn upon in times of need, at difficult times in our lives. We are considered wise if we invest money for our future, for a ‘rainy day’, how much wiser would we be if we thought about building up our spiritual capital in the same way. God will always be there to help us ‘balance the books’. Now that is the type of astuteness that Jesus would commend.
If we take this parable literally, then it can seem a bit confusing. At first glance it doesn’t seem to make sense that the rich man praises the dishonest steward before dismissing him. However, if we look deeper into it, we can then see that the ‘squandering of property’ for which the steward is being dismissed; has not so much to do with olive oil or wheat, but with the mistreatment of the tenants of the estate. They had their debts enlarged to meet the needs of the steward, not of the rich man. By reducing those debts, the steward is trying to gain favour with them for the future. The rich man recognises that while the steward has an ulterior motive, he is also lessening the burden of the tenants. This leads to the commendation for the steward, even as he loses his position. The rich man recognises that true value is not measured in oil or wheat, but in the care of his tenants labouring for him in his fields.
I wonder what became of the steward, did his act of ‘generosity’ work? Or did the tenants see through his ploy that he was just trying to save his own skin? I guess, as with all parables, it doesn’t really matter in as much as the lesson to be learned is contained in the final sentence, ‘You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.’
Astute as he was, the steward clearly didn’t get it.
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Being lost and finding your way back. This is the clear message from today’s Gospel. Whether it is the parable of the lost sheep being found or the woman who lost money and searched until she found it, the point Jesus was making was simple. When someone or something is lost, it can result in pain and distress for those involved, but look at the joy and rejoicing there can be when that person or that thing is found and returned. I am sure we have all had the experience of losing something which is precious to us and felt the sense of loss deeply. We then experience the joy and relief when we find it again.
To help us understand Jesus’ point better, we need to put these two parables into context. In Jesus’ day, the idea of a sheep being lost was a serious situation. A lost sheep would not survive too long out there among the desert wolves. The role of the shepherd was to be willing to die, if needed, in defence of his sheep. Put like that, it sounds familiar doesn’t it.
Also in Jesus’ time, money was not very plentiful, and for someone to lose a coin was also a tragedy. There could be not let up until the coin was found. It is possible that in this instance, the lost coin was precious to the lady in question. The coin may have been part of her dowry, which with the other nine coins would have been made into a crown which she wore on her head. So all could see now that her crown was flawed, and people would mock her and poke fun at her. Jesus knew that when He told this story it would reach the heart. He would also know that people might make the connection – as every coin was essential to the crown, so we are all valued and essential to God.
The deeper message is surely about the loss of faith. There are times when our faith can be sorely tested and we may question it, but never lose it completely. We may even stray from the teachings of our faith and walk other paths, other ways. If we can find it in ourselves to turn our backs on those ways and return to our faith in God, then there will much rejoicing. We will then be in a better position to fully understand today’s Gospel. We were lost, but now we are found. If this happens to us, we can be sure of one thing; God will wait patiently for us to return to Him. The door of our heart has only one handle, and that’s on the inside. It’s up to us to open it and let God back in. If we are not living within His love, then we are lost, but just like the sheep or the coin, we can be found again. God will always be waiting for us with His arms open, there is always a hug waiting for us at the end of our journey home.
When Jesus told these parables to the Pharisees and the Scribes, I guess He was trying to get them to understand what His mission was all about, He was seeking out the lost, to return them to the fold. We know and understand that, but did they get the point? I doubt it.
To remind myself of that message, I have a piece of paper pinned up at home which says...‘You never lost your way. You may have turned your back on your calling – but your path was always right there in front of you’.
Our faith will always help us to find our way back and know that there is an open invitation to the lost. It reads...
‘Party at God’s house – everyone is welcome!’
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The message that Jesus is trying to get across in today’s Gospel is that we must love Him above all others. He was emphasising to His disciples that they need to commit fully to the type of life He wants them to lead if they are to become true followers of His. In a way He was saying to them, ‘Don’t follow me if you don’t have what it takes to do so.’
For me, that raises the question, ‘well who does?’ I suppose the answer is...none of us initially, at least not on our own. It’s only when we have received the Holy Spirit, that we can have any hope of following Jesus. Think about the apostles; they saw Him walk on water, calm the storm, and raise the dead, and at the end of all that, they denied Him, betrayed Him, and deserted Him. It wasn’t until the Spirit came upon them at Pentecost that they were prepared and equipped to take up the cross, and follow Him, even to dying for Him.
This Gospel made me think about those who enter the religious life in a convent or a monastery. For someone to be willing to lead that sort of life, they must be willing to make great sacrifices and show the commitment to be willing to give up more or less everything in their lives.
The year before I was ordained, I went away on a weekend retreat to Ampleforth Abbey in North Yorkshire, and a year later, the week before I was ordained, I went away for a five day retreat to Belmont Abbey in Hereford. Both of them are Benedictine monasteries. I think it’s fair to say that I had my eyes opened to a way of life I had never experienced before. Each one there had made the decision to live their lives in the pursuit of true discipleship of Jesus. This meant making the tough choice to give up living with their families, and more or less all of the possessions which we all take for granted. This is a very vivid demonstration of the level of sacrifice, commitment and dedication required to emulate the life of the disciples.
The same is true of course of one of our parishioners, Claire Wilkinson, known for many years now as Sister Therese; who gave up her family life to enter the religious life. She, and the family, showed great courage and wisdom to make the sacrifices necessary for her to fulfil her calling to live the life of a true disciple of Jesus. And of course, let us not forget Sister Charles, who faithfully served our parish for a long number of years.
The parables Jesus uses in today’s Gospel, touch on the need for wisdom. To be wise enough to realise that our actions have consequences and that if we are not prepared to do things properly, we will not achieve what we set out to do. This will be why he used the examples of the man wanting to build a tower, and the king wanting to defeat the other king’s army. Without the commitment and dedication to give it their all, they will fail to successfully build the tower, or defeat their opponents. That willingness to give everything you have, to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve what you set out to do, is the key to Jesus’ message. To become one of his disciples, you must be willing to do all of this to succeed.
I think that those men, and women, who enter the religious life, already possess those qualities. This is evident by the vows and promises they undertake to allow them to live the life of discipleship. They give everything they can of themselves for God.
I’m not sure I could live the Monastic life I witnessed at Ampleforth and Belmont Abbeys, but I know I must be willing to make sacrifices in my life. So ask yourself, what would you be willing to sacrifice to gain entry to the heavenly kingdom?
Put like that, it’s a sobering question, isn’t it?
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The message in Luke’s Gospel today is pretty clear, it is one of humility. It also touches on pride, which is perhaps the deadliest of the seven deadly sins, whilst humility is perhaps the most characteristic of all the Christian virtues.
The parable that Jesus tells the guests at the Pharisees’ house, clearly illustrates the point that “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.” He tells them that if they are invited to a wedding feast, they should not automatically think it is their right to take the place of honour, as this could lead to embarrassment if the host then asks them to move to make way for someone else. You could say that it proves the saying that ‘pride comes before a fall’. Jesus tells them that it is best to make your way to the lowest place and sit there, so that, when your host comes, he may say, “My friend, move up higher.” In that way, everyone with you at the table will see you honoured.”
Well I’ve only sat at the top table at a wedding twice, the first was at my own wedding, and the second was at my Brother’s wedding, as I was his best man. So thankfully, I had a right to be there and wasn’t ‘shunted’ down the pecking order and asked to sit elsewhere. That would have been embarrassing, wouldn’t it?
So, if humility is a virtue, how many of us consider ourselves to be virtuous. Christian humility is not a virtue we can attain for ourselves, it comes to us in an unconscious way from God. Others may see it in us through our acts and the way we live our lives. The lives of the saints give us plenty of examples of this.
Some examples we have all witnessed were shown by the late Pope Saint John Paul II. He was truly a man of great humility. This was shown in many ways, one of them was something which I suppose you could say became one of his ‘trademarks’. Whenever he visited a country, and he did visit very many countries during his pontificate; the first thing he did as soon as he got off the plane, was to kneel down and kiss the ground. He did this to show how humble and honoured he felt in being able to visit that particular country. He also visited in prison, the man who tried to assassinate him, and told him that he forgave him. I’m sure we can all recall other such public acts of humility he showed to others.
In my ministry, I’ve had many humbling experiences, none more so than at my ordination. At a certain part of the service, we all had to prostrate ourselves in front of all present. That was a very humbling experience. One which I couldn’t do today, not with my back, hip and knee problems. I would be the last to get down, and would need a lift to get back up. But if I had to, I would attempt to do so with as much humility as I could!
Whilst very few of us are called upon to make such public displays of humility, we are all capable of our own individual and private acts. It’s through these acts that we show our humility to be a Christian virtue. Therefore, we can all consider ourselves to be virtuous….with of course, a modicum of humility.
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
The kingdom of God is a place that is open to everyone. Or is it? Well, it certainly is, but I suppose you could say that entry into it has certain strings attached. Those are, that you must first lead the right sort of life, it is not a place that will be open to the wicked, we are told as much in today’s Gospel. When someone asked Jesus if there would only be a few saved, he answered, “Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.” Jesus then says those who are wicked and come knocking at the door will be turned away. There will be those who feel that they should gain entry in preference to others, that they should be put first. Jesus also tells them this by saying, “Yes, there are those now last who will be first, and those now first who will be last.” Today’s Gospel can be closely linked to the Gospel of two weeks ago, which was all about being prepared.
It’s hard to imagine Jesus telling anyone to “Go away; I do not know you.” However it does seem just. We all have the opportunity to know Christ if we choose to, but there is a vast difference between ‘knowing’ Jesus and knowing about him. One is experiential knowledge, and the other is academic knowledge.
So we can see that although the kingdom of God is available to everyone, it is not the case that everyone will gain entry into it. This may sound like it contradicts the teaching of the Church that all are welcome, but it doesn’t actually. All are welcome, we are after all a universal church.
As Christians, and more specifically, as members of the Catholic Church, we anticipate gaining entry into the kingdom of God, and that people of all nations will be brought together before the throne of God. The Gospel today surely teaches us that anticipation or expectation, does not necessarily translate into realisation. We cannot take it for granted that we will be among those who will enter through the narrow door of the kingdom.
In today’s parable Jesus uses the image of a ‘narrow door’ to paint a picture for them, just as he did when He used the image of a camel fitting through the eye of a needle; to illustrate that it wont necessarily be as easy to enter the kingdom as they might think. Especially those who aren’t entitled to enter by the ‘narrow door’.
Now I have a confession to make: I have entered through a ‘narrow door’ that I wasn’t entitled to. I wanted to get into a Celtic versus Rangers match and didn’t have a ticket, so I slipped the guy a tenner to let me through the turnstile. But I did pay for it afterwards, but that’s another story.
We too, use imagery to imagine what the kingdom will look like and how we might enter into it, and there’s many a joke told about St. Peter waiting at the Pearly Gates. In truth, none of us will know what it will be like until we get there, and the only way to get there is to live the type of life that Christ wants us to.
I read the other day that there are three things that might surprise us when we get to heaven. We might be surprised at some of the people we see there, we might be surprised at some of the people we don’t see there, and we might be surprised to find ourselves there! So, be prepared!
Solemnity of the Assumption the Blessed Virgin Mary (20th Sunday)
As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we have all these images in our minds of a young woman, fresh faced and unchanged, and that’s fine, that’s maybe how it should be.
However, let me offer you an alternative portrait of Her. Here is a teenager expecting a baby, no sign of the father. Her betrothed, willing to accept and bring up someone else’s child as his own. She is poor, and is homeless at the time of the birth of her son, having to give birth in a stable. Shortly after this, she has to flee for her child’s safety and becomes a refugee. In addition to being homeless and a refugee, she went on to become the anguished mother of a missing teenager. She became widowed, a single mother, who later would have to witness her son being falsely accused, taken prisoner, tortured and brutally killed. She was then grieving the loss of a beloved son to violence and yet, she endured all of this with courage and faith.
The images we have of this young fresh faced woman don’t show the worry, the hardships, the sacrifices, and the great pain she endured through her life. She doesn’t have the battle scarred face of someone who has had a hard life, whose face tells a story of those hardships and pain. But her face does tell a story of someone who was blessed and chosen by the Lord. He chose her before she was born. She was kept pure and chaste. Her face tells the story of a young woman who accepted the promises of the Lord without question, but with good grace and a trusting acceptance. Her face shows a woman who was a loving, protective, caring, compassionate, faithful servant of the Lord.
Many years ago on a visit to Rome, I saw what I consider to be one of the most striking images I have seen of the face of Mary. It is the Pietà sculpture by Michelangelo, which is in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. That image of a mother, holding her dead son in her lap, is so powerful. Her face and her posture shows so many emotions; sadness, anguish, sorrow, love, compassion, and so much more. So when I think of an image of Mary, I think of the Pietà.
When we think of the Blessed Virgin Mary and prayer, apart from the ‘Hail Mary’, there is Her own prayer, the ‘Magnificat’. A beautiful Canticle, which we have just heard in today’s Gospel, which encapsulates the true Mary. This is her own image of herself and of the Lord. The first part of it says it all: “My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my saviour. He looks on his servant in her lowliness; henceforth all ages will call me Blessed”. A truly self-effacing, humble, beautiful, account of her encounter with the Lord.
So, no matter what image we have of Mary, remember that the road she travelled was a long, hard and at times torturous one. Her reward was to be her assumption, body and soul, untainted, into Heaven, where she remains to intercede for us with the Father. Therefore, the first line of our prayer to her is very appropriate; ‘Hail Mary, full of grace’.
I have another prayer to Mary in my missal that I’d like to share with you:
‘Take my hand O Blessed Mother, hold me firmly lest I fall.
I am nervous when I’m walking, and to thee I humbly call.
Guide me over every crossing, watch me when I’m on the stairs.
Let me know you are beside me, listen to my fervent prayers.
Bring me to my destination safely every day.
Help me with each undertaking, as the hours pass away.
And when evening falls upon us, and I fear to be alone,
Take my hand O Blessed Mother, once again and lead me home.
19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Are you the type of person who likes surprises? Or do you hate surprises? Well I suppose one of the answers to those questions may be...It depends on what type of surprise it is!
In his Gospel today, St. Luke is relating the message Jesus gave to His disciples, “You too must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” If we live our life in Christ, then although we may not know the exact timing, we will at least be prepared for His coming. That really sums up the message in today’s Gospel...Be Prepared!
‘Be Prepared’, that well known motto of the Scouts and Guides. Well I never was a Boy Scout. I was in the Cubs for about three weeks when I was nine years old, until someone stole my new duffle coat, and my mum couldn’t afford to buy me another one, so she stopped me from going back.
In His attempt to get His message across, Jesus also tells His disciples, “You may be quite sure of this, that if the householder had known at what time the burglar would come, he would not have let anyone break through the wall of his house.” If we take that statement literally, it’s sounds obvious doesn’t it? None of us would go out for the evening, or go away for a few days, and neglect to leave our house secure.
We make preparations for so many aspects of our lives, but do we think about being prepared for the day when the Lord calls upon us? Probably not.
When I first read this Gospel, I found myself asking the questions: What is it exactly that we have to be prepared for? Why must we be ready? And why would the Son of Man come to us when we least expect it? I may have found some of the answers to satisfy myself, but in doing so I have only raised more questions within myself. We do not know how, why or especially when, we will be tested to see if we are ready. We may all be tested in different ways and at different times in our lives. Perhaps the test may be to make sure that we are living the good Christian life that Jesus wants and expects us to. This may be shown in lots of different ways from loving our neighbour, to sharing what we have in abundance with others, to answering a calling to enter the religious life.
Modern day living can be a very complex existence, but living up to the expectations of Jesus are very simple. He doesn’t set us standards that are impossible to achieve yet some of us find it very difficult to do even that at times. All of us will probably have successes as well as failures along the way. Therefore, it is important that we are ready for the time when we will be tested. Will we pass, or will we fail? The fact is we will never know until it happens.
St. Luke was writing for believers who anticipated the return of Jesus at any moment. We too anticipate the return of Jesus, but at the end of time even though we don’t know when that will be. We also know that Jesus is with us always, He hasn’t gone away, it may be us who are not always present to Him.
Meister Eckhart, the 14th century German mystic, theologian and philosopher once said: “God is at home. It is we who have gone for a walk.” Well, maybe it’s time for us to come home to God, and take onboard that motto...Be Prepared!
18th Sunday of Ordinary time
In today’s Gospel we hear of Jesus telling the crowd the parable of the rich man. God called the man a “Fool” because he had stored up treasures for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God. The point of the parable is not to tell us that it’s wrong to be rich, but it’s wrong if we place the importance of our wealth above all else.
Did you hear on the news last week that someone won £195 million on the lottery, yes £195 million. If that lucky person was one of you, please throw some of it Father’s way, the church needs a new roof. So what would you do if you won millions on the lottery? I suppose most people would do very similar things: Buy a big house, a nice new car, go on a few holidays, give some money to their families, maybe give some money to charities etc...It’s what a lot of people dream of being in a position to do. It would be great wouldn’t it?
When I was young, every week, my mum used to make lists of all the things she would do if my dad ever ‘came up on the pools’. He never did! So I guess my mum just wasted a lot of paper, but she had dreams and hopes for us all, and just wanted to be able to ‘see us right’ as she would put it.
I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to be rich, or to have nice things in life, some people just are, most of us are not. Some have acquired their wealth through sheer hard work, some by saving up, others by inheriting it. It’s not having riches and wealth that is the important thing, it’s how important they are to us, that’s the issue. If they are, or they become, the most important things in our lives, then we are lost to materialism. If that happens to us then we are not very different from the rich man in the parable. Whether we consider ourselves, or others, to be rich or poor depends on how we measure the wealth we have. True wealth and true life are only found when we share God’s gifts, and we can only do that if we place our faith in God above the trappings of materialism.
Last week I mentioned one of the questions we ask parents when they attend our Baptism preparation meetings, well when we are discussing the Baptismal Promises, we ask several questions of them, such as: Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises? Some of their answers are quite interesting, and after some discussion, I tell them that I class some of Satan’s empty promises, as the importance some people put on the materialistic things in life. I tell them that in my view, that they are not what’s important, and that the promises of Christ are what should be important to us all.
I’d like you consider this prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, for me, it sums up the parable in today’s Gospel:
‘Let us also love our neighbours as ourselves. Let us have charity and humility. Let us give alms because these cleanse our souls from the stains of sin. Men lose all the material things they leave behind them in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give. For these will receive from the Lord the reward and recompense they deserve.’
I wonder what reward and recompense the rich man in the parable would have received? Or did he just get what he deserved?
17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Last Sunday afternoon, we had a baptism preparation meeting, and I posed this question to the parents who attended...“How do you envisage God?” I would like you all to think about that too. Quite often when we pose this question at these meetings, we get the same response...‘An old man with long white hair and a long white beard, like a stereotypical grandad.’ Well, God is not our Grandfather, He is Our Father.
Given that some people envisage God as an elderly grandfather figure; that shouldn’t deter them from treating Him with love and respect, cherishing Him and looking to Him for guidance and wisdom through His experience, should it? Of course it shouldn’t, and it shouldn’t stop us from viewing the elderly and grandparents in our society the same way. This is important, and it is why The Holy Father created the ‘World Day Of Prayer For Grandparents And The Elderly’. Indeed, Pope Francis says that, “Grandparents and the elderly are the bread that nourishes our lives ... The hidden wisdom of a people, that is why we must celebrate them.”
In a way, isn’t that what Jesus was saying about His Father, Our Father, when He ‘gave’ His disciples the words to use when they prayed? We hear in the Gospel of Luke today that it was one of the disciples who actually said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus answered them, “Say this when you pray.” He then ‘gave’ them the Our Father.
Most of us will recite it at least once a week at Sunday mass, some of us may say it daily as part of our own prayers, but how many of us have stopped to actually think about the words and what they mean. It is essentially a prayer of petition, a prayer of asking, but not before we consider God himself. In fact the first four lines are devoted to God before we get to the section of it where we are asking for things for ourselves. It is an ‘inclusive’ prayer, one in which we ask not just for ourselves, but for others also. I have heard it said that you cannot say the Lord’s Prayer and not once say ‘I’ or ‘Me’, only ‘Our’, ‘Us, or ‘We’. We are taught it by our parents and our teachers, people of authority in our lives. It was with authority that Jesus gave this prayer to his disciples. God will always be ‘looking out’ for us, guiding us along the way, answering our prayers.
Prayer can be a powerful thing in our lives, and some people say we should never underestimate the power of prayer. I think the ‘power’ comes from within, from our belief and faith in the Lord, without which, they may just be empty and meaningless words said in the hope of dreams and wishes being fulfilled. We should put our whole heart into praying, because it comes from the heart and reaches the heart of God. The organ God gave me with which to pray is my heart, not my mouth. If my heart is not praying then my tongue is wasting its time.
God the Father is not a grandfather, He is ‘Our Father’, we are all His children. He is not elderly, He is ageless and timeless. It is in His name that the Holy Father, on this ‘World Day For Grandparents And The Elderly’ asks us to cherish and pray for those in our families, and in society as a whole, who are in this category.
We should cherish, respect and draw on the wisdom and experience of the elderly; and we should view grandparents as those who have a unique love that transcends the years and bridges the generations with ageless love. We should also have them in our thoughts when we pray that great prayer that Jesus gave to His disciples...the ‘Our Father’
16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Ask yourselves these questions: In your house, who is the Martha and who is the Mary? Who is the one who does all the work and is busy fussing about all the chores to be done, and who is the one who sits and entertains and is waited on? You will notice that I am suggesting that you ask yourselves, I’m not inviting you to ask Selena, as we all know what her answer would be!
In St. Luke’s Gospel Martha appears to be more concerned with providing hospitality for Jesus, while Mary was more content with sitting quietly listening to Him. There was of course, nothing wrong with what either of them were doing. As with a lot of the Gospel stories, we don’t know what happened next. It would be nice to think that after Martha had provided food and drink for Jesus, that she did sit down and listen to Him. I’ve often wondered if Mary, after she had listened to Jesus, got up and cleared up. Perhaps they did share the chores, who knows.
Note that while Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part and it is not to be taken from her; He is not criticising Martha for what she is doing, just that she is fretting and fussing about something that perhaps isn’t that important in the great scheme of things.
The purpose of this Gospel story isn’t to exalt the contemplative life over the active life, rather it is to suggest that the Christian life is not about ‘either- or’ but ‘both-and’. We can choose to be either a Martha or a Mary, or we could be both. We can lead a very active life but still find time to sit and contemplate the teachings of Jesus. There is a bit of Martha and Mary in all of us if only we choose to recognise it. Our busy lives are important to us, but so should our prayer life be too. St. Francis de Sales once said, “Each Christian needs half an hour of prayer each day, except when we’re busy: then we need an hour.”
We know that Jesus became close friends with Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus, and he visited and stayed with them frequently. You could say that they were quite privileged to spend quality time with Him, to listen to Him, to be taught by Him, and to enjoy each others company. To be considered almost as family. We too can feel privileged to have close family and friends who visit us frequently. If we do, then it’s okay to sometimes be ‘Martha’ and other times to be ‘Mary’, or even better, be both ‘Martha’ and ‘Mary’ at the same time.
So, whoever is the Martha, the busy one, or the Mary, the waited on one, in your house, it’s good to do a swap from time to time...But don’t tell Selena I said so, otherwise she’ll be telling me to practice what I preach!
15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
It doesn’t seem like three years since we last heard this Gospel story, but it is. The story of the Good Samaritan only appears in the Gospel of St. Luke. It’s a parable that raises a lot of questions, which is exactly what Jesus intended. You may have noticed that he answers the lawyer’s questions with His own questions, not always giving a straight answer. Jesus does this, knowing that the lawyer is out to test Him, to try to trip Him up. Jesus sees through that ploy, and it’s almost as if He is thinking to Himself, ‘Ah, so you’re trying to trick me, well I’ll give you something to think about.’ By doing it this way, Jesus doesn’t just get the lawyer to answer his own question, He also gets him to think about the ethical and moral aspects of the story. This in turn, hopefully, will lead to the lawyer becoming a better, more caring and more compassionate person. This may be one of the best stories ever written, and there’s a lesson there for all of us I think.
When we think about the Good Samaritan, we may also think of a lot of people who we associate with that title. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, or Saint Teresa of Calcutta as she is now known, springs to mind, as does St. Maximilian Kolbe. There are countless others and I’m sure you can all think of some that spring to your minds too. I also associate this Gospel with that well known organisation, The Samaritans. Those who volunteer their time to help others in their hour of need. They may not be out on the road physically patching up the wounds of strangers, but just by being a sympathetic listener on the other end of the ‘phone, they not only help people, but save countless lives too. There are many other organisations who do similar valuable work in communities up and down the country. These people are true ‘Samaritans’. They show compassion and care to total strangers, not for any reward, but just because that’s the type of people they are. They are living out today’s Gospel.
Thankfully, I’ve never found myself in the physical state of the man on the side of the road. But a few years ago, during a very difficult time in my life, I was in a very dark place with my mental health. Luckily I was able to get a lot of help from strangers, volunteers as well as professional health care workers. For me, at that time, all of those people were my ‘Good Samaritans’ and I will be eternally grateful for their care and compassion.
During our lives, some of us may find ourselves in a position where we need help from others, all of us are in a position where we can offer help to others.
Jesus could tell this story because He was the good Samaritan Himself. His heart went out to those who were suffering most at the hands of others. He could tell it because He knew what it was like to be an outcast – rejected by His own people, and in danger all the time of being victimised even to death ... like this man at the side of the road.
The final words to take from the Gospel today are simple, yet difficult… “Go, and do the same yourself.”
Perhaps we could all pray...Lord help me that I may go and do the same myself.
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel from St. Luke is a very rich Gospel. There’s so much to unpack in it, so many different threads to pull at and analyse. I want to explore with you just a couple of those threads.
Firstly, let’s look at the message Jesus gives to the seventy two disciples before they set out on their mission. He tells them, “Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road.” These sound very harsh words don’t they? Not exactly encouraging words of wisdom. Not the type of message you would give as a ‘pre-shift’ team briefing, not the words of an effective ‘motivational speaker’.
Well that may be one way to interpret that particular passage, but it would of course be taking it totally out of context. Jesus then goes on to tell them what to do and what not to do on their travels. He knew that their mission was not going to be an easy one, and He was preparing them for it by setting out the challenges they may face and how to deal with them. He was spelling out for them the realities of mission, positive and negative. So perhaps we can say that it was a practical and realistic ‘pre-shift’ briefing after all. Perhaps we should bear that in mind as our ‘mission’, our journey of faith, may not always be an easy one. There will be positives and negatives for us too as we witness to our faith.
Secondly, I want to explore the last nine words of this Gospel, “...rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.” When He said this to them, Jesus wasn’t being dismissive of the good things they had done on their travels. He was merely pointing out to them that there are more important things for them to rejoice over. And, of course this is true for all of us. We are told that all our names are written in heaven. It’s the first place that our lives are recorded, but what does it mean to you that your name is written in heaven? Does it effect the way you live your life?
Where, how, when and why our names are recorded can be a concern for a lot of people. It does effect how some people live, they are concerned about their ‘digital footprint’. As we go through life, we find our names written in many places: birth certificate, baptism certificate, school records, driving licence, marriage certificate etc...etc...These days we can be tracked and traced through our ‘digital footprint’ without us even knowing it. That information about us, in the wrong hands, can be problematic for us. Some people fear that ‘Big Brother’ is keeping tabs on them and it effects how they live their life.
Having our names recorded in official records is not always a bad thing. Recently, my brother unearthed some information about our great grandad by checking old records. We knew nothing of him, but we now have a better understanding of our family history. I now know that both of my great grandads, as well as one of my grandads were from Ireland. For me, that was a positive outcome of names being written somewhere.
However, knowing that our names are written in heaven, is a positive thing. When we come to end of this life, when we journey from this life to a greater life in heaven, what will matter then is what we’ve heard in today’s Gospel, “...rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.”
And so, let us rejoice!
13th Sunday of Ordinary Time
On the morning that I received a call to tell me that my father had just died, I went to my boss and said that I had to drop everything and go. The only thing on my mind was to go and see my father and say goodbye to him, and be with my brother and sisters to arrange his funeral. If anyone had come up to me at that time and said ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead, follow me’, well I can’t repeat what I would have said to them! However, this is what Jesus said to one of the men in today’s Gospel.
This statement has always puzzled me, but we have to understand the context in which it was said to appreciate the ‘radical’ nature of the statement. In Judaism, the responsibility for burying the dead was one that took precedence over all other duties required by the Jewish Law. The Jewish texts exempted from the customary practices of Jewish ritual, those who needed to bury their dead, and Jesus says ignore it! Proclaim the kingdom of God! That’s because the response to the challenge from Jesus must be total and transcend all other duties. To another potential follower, who wanted to return home to say goodbye to his family first, Jesus had an equally sharp response. These men wanted to follow Jesus, but not just yet. Jesus was testing their commitment. In today’s language, He may well have been interpreted as saying, ‘Put up or Shut up!’
Jesus wanted people to follow Him, but in a totally committed way, half-hearted discipleship just wouldn’t do. Once we understand the context of Jesus’ words, we can see them in a different light. We don’t actually know how those men responded in the end, but you could say that Jesus made His position very clear to them, and left them in no doubt about the commitment He was looking for.
This Gospel is about Jesus beginning His own ‘longest journey’. It’s a trip made on foot, but it’s also a journey ‘inwards’ as He moves without hesitation to complete the destiny marked out for Him by the Father. By using these hard sayings, Jesus isn’t trying to frighten us off. These are real challenges and at certain moments in our lives we are surely called to rise to them. There are times in our lives when two paths open up before us and we know that Jesus wants us to take the ‘less travelled road’ the hardest road.
So, let us all be willing to rise to the challenge and not resist it. We must all walk the road of our lives each day. Jesus’ words must lead us to examine our own faith and be willing to be honest with ourselves as to how far we are willing to put that faith to the test. We must be ready for that day when Jesus, on that same road, comes walking by and addresses us with those simple, but deeply challenging words...“Follow Me!”
During the Eucharistic Prayer, we recite a ‘Mystery of Faith’ and quite often we will say, “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.” We are celebrating the Lord’s life and looking forward to the second coming, that’s the essence of today’s Solemnity. The first two verses of one of my favourite hymns, for me, sum up the importance and the warmth of today’s Solemnity:
‘This is my body, broken for you,
bringing you wholeness, making you free.
Take it and eat it, and when you do,
do it in love for me.’
‘This is my blood, poured out for you,
bringing forgiveness, making you free.
Take it and drink it, and when you do,
do it in love for me.’
Beautiful isn’t it? Admit it, it’s in your head now and you’ll be singing it to yourself all day. Well if it makes you think about today’s Gospel, that’s no bad thing is it?
Today’s Gospel is the story of the feeding of the multitude, the five thousand. What Jesus did that day was truly amazing for many different reasons. There are elements of trust, obedience, caring and sharing, love, humanity and self giving. The disciples showed obedience and trust towards Jesus when he said to them, “Get them to sit down in parties of about fifty” which they did. The elements of caring and sharing are shown when Jesus tells the disciples “Give them something to eat yourselves.” With these words he is showing the disciples that, to them, this may just be a large crowd of people, but that doesn’t stop Him caring about their needs and being willing to share what they have with them. This is a sign of his love towards his followers, and a sign of humanity in terms of being concerned for their welfare. Jesus knew that the crowd would be hungry and they wouldn’t have the means to provide for themselves, so He provided for them, and this was a very self giving way of doing that.
Why was the crowd there in the first place? The first sentence of the Gospel explains this; ‘Jesus made the crowds welcome and talked to them about the kingdom of God; and he cured those who were in need of healing.’ So we can see the reason the crowd gathered was to hear Jesus, and for some, to be healed by him. Whether they realised it or not, they were being fed by Jesus even then. They were being fed by the word of God. He was nourishing their hearts and souls and minds. We experience this when we come to mass. We are fed at the table of the word in our liturgy, as well as the table of the Eucharist, with the Body and Blood of Christ.
Many years ago whilst on holiday in Rome, I was fortunate to attend a papal audience with the late Pope John Paul II in the auditorium which holds about twelve thousand. His Holiness preached in many different languages to the crowd gathered there. In doing so, he showed great caring, love, humanity and self giving to us all. He fed us with the word of God, and nourished our hearts and souls and minds. It was a very moving and uplifting experience, so I suppose I could say that I have been part of a feeding of the multitude.
When we read this Gospel, maybe we should consider the fact that Jesus ‘fed’ the multitude before he actually ‘fed’ them.
If you were to ask someone for their understanding, their interpretation of ‘The Trinity’ be careful who you ask. If it’s a Manchester United fan, you might get the obvious answer: Bobby Charlton, Dennis Law and George Best. After all, there is a statue of them outside Old Trafford know as ‘The Trinity’. Well that may well be their idea of ‘The Trinity’ but it’s not ‘The Most Holy Trinity’. So how do you explain ‘The Most Holy Trinity’ to someone? Trying to explain it to a non Christian (and even to some Christians) is not the easiest thing to do.
Many years ago, we had one of our nephews staying with us for a few days. After mass on the Sunday, he said that he didn’t understand how God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit can be three persons but one God. For a moment I thought, how are we going to explain this to him, then Selena said “Ah, that’s where your faith comes in. It helps you believe and accept something which is a mystery and can’t easily be explained.” I thought, that’s a good answer...smarty!
There are many other ways we can think of The Most Holy Trinity such as: God The Father created us out of love, God The Son taught us how to live by loving one another, God The Holy Spirit is the means by which we are kept ‘topped up’ with God’s love. Or, think of it this way: God is our creator, our redeemer and our sanctifier; God The Father created us, God The Son redeemed us and God the Holy Spirit sanctifies us...three persons...one God.
Others have tried to explain this mystery of faith using various symbols such as, an equilateral triangle, or two interwoven triangles, or three overlapping circles or three jars of water each reflecting equally the light of the moon. If you’re still struggling to understand The Most Holy Trinity, try thinking of a shamrock. What is it? Is it three leaves bound together? Or is it one leaf, consisting of three equal parts?
Jesus did try to explain to His disciples about the Spirit which would come to them after He had gone. He knew it was a lot for them to understand fully, and that’s why He said to them, “I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth.” They may not have fully understood what Jesus meant; but as we saw last week when we celebrated the Solemnity of Pentecost, the Spirit would soon come upon them and enlighten them. Our faith helps us to believe in the mystery of The Most Holy Trinity, and when we make the sign of the cross, we are witnessing that faith.
I recently came across a short prayer which helps me to sum up an act of faith and belief in The Most Holy Trinity: Lord Jesus, I begin and end each day with the sign of the cross. Help me to live my day in union with you. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.