Today we celebrate the great Solemnity of Pentecost, in effect, the beginning of the Christian Church. Yes, this is the day when Father Gildea normally starts mass by wishing us all a Happy Birthday, and then tests us by asking us to name the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Those Seven Gifts: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel (Right Judgement), Fortitude (Courage), Knowledge, Piety (Reverence), Fear of The Lord (Wonder and Awe), are exactly that...Gifts.
When someone dies we often talk about their last will and testament, the gifts they wish others to have after they’re gone. You may look upon the Seven Gifts of The Holy Spirit as the gifts that Jesus wanted us all to have after He had gone up to heaven. The difference of course is that, this is not the last will and testament of Jesus, but a testament to the will of God. This was always God’s plan for us, the true revelation of the Holy Trinity.
The Jewish people always had God The Father, the one true God that they worshipped. Then they had God The Son come among them (although they did not all recognise or acknowledge Him as such). Then, the chosen ones, had God The Holy Spirit come among them. One God, Three Persons...The Holy Trinity, revealed to God’s chosen people. This was God’s plan, God’s will, and He did this because of His love for all of us.
We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when we are baptised, and again when we are confirmed. This led me to remember my own confirmation, and I wondered how well I had done with the gifts bestowed upon me on that day. I wondered if I had put them to good use in my life.
Well let’s see then: Wisdom, sometimes but not always / Understanding, sometimes but not always / Counsel (Right Judgement), sometimes but not always...and so on and so on, you get the gist. I came to the conclusion that while at times, I have used these gifts as I should have, there have been many occasions when I haven’t. Does that make me a failure or a bad person in the eyes of God? I hope not, I would like to think that He views me, in His mercy, as ‘a work in progress’. Maybe Jesus saw His disciples in that way too, but they all came good in the end didn’t they? Perhaps there’s hope for me yet.
In today’s Gospel, St. John tells us that Jesus said to his disciples “...the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you.” I’m pretty sure that the disciples probably didn’t understand what Jesus meant when He said this to them, but we do. That’s why today, we celebrate the great day of Pentecost when Christ filled the Church with the power of His Spirit and sent it out into the world to bring His peace, joy and forgiveness to all people.
So, instead of wishing you ‘Happy Birthday’ I will wish you, Peace, Joy, and ‘Happy Pentecost’.
7th Sunday of Easter
Today is the Seventh Sunday of Easter, the beginning of the the last week in Eastertide, and it’s also designated as World Communications Day.
I suppose ‘World Communications Day’ may take on a different meaning each year, as different ways of communicating are constantly evolving with modern technology. In terms of communicating, perhaps in some ways the ‘old ways are the best’. What I mean by this is, talking to people, listening to people, communicating your message by your actions as well as your words. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did? He talked to His disciples, His followers, His critics, in many different ways. Sometimes He talked to them using parables as it was the most effective way of getting His message across to them. He taught them by quoting scripture to them and then explaining it to them in ways that they could understand. He taught them by His actions too, by demonstrating to them how to treat each other with love and compassion. He taught them how to communicate with each other, and when asked, He taught them how to communicate with the Father in prayer.
Today’s Gospel gives us an insight into how Jesus used prayer to communicate with His Father. As He raised His eyes to heaven, He said, “Holy Father, I pray not only for these, but for those also who through their words will believe in me. May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.”
Communicating with God in prayer is something we all do every day, and must continue to do, but we can also communicate with God by our actions. As Christians, spreading the Word of God and the Love of God, is our vocation, our mission. Talking with, and listening to, those in need is a way of showing the love and compassion that Jesus meant when He gave us His new commandment: ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’
World Communications Day always reminds me of a management training course I went on about 35 years ago, in the days before emails, mobile phones, social media and all the modern technology we have today. The subject of the course was ‘Effective Communications’. We were asked to compile a list of as many different forms of communication we could think of. If I remember correctly, we came up with almost 30 forms of communication; from the obvious, Talking and Listening, Writing and Reading… to the more obscure, Jungle Drums and Smoke Signals. I suspect anyone doing the same course today would come up with a totally different set of answers. We also had to use Lego bricks in one of the exercises to demonstrate ‘effective communication’. But that’s another story for another day.
On this World Communications Day, let us follow the example left to us by Jesus, a great communicator, and let our actions towards each other speak as loudly as our words.
6th Sunday of Easter
What makes a house a home? The simple answer is, Love. If we have enough money, we can all live in houses that are well furnished and full of the trappings of living in comfort, but does that make it a home? No. If there is no love in the house, then a vital ingredient of making a house a home is missing.
God is love, and if we allow God in our hearts, we will be filled with His love. We hear in the Gospel of St. John today Jesus saying to His disciples, “If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.”
Making a home out of a house is not just about filling it with material possessions, but filling it with love. It’s the same with Jesus. In our hearts and the depths of our personality He makes a home for Himself and the Father. He asks for a loving and welcoming heart, not a place that is perfect, tidy and clean. To make a home is a work of love. Jesus’ making of a home in us comes through our growth and development in love. The loving marriage and family, the loving friendship, the heart that cares for others, these are what makes Jesus feel at home.
Some of you will be aware that Selena’s dad has dementia and is in a care home. Over the last few weeks, the family have been dealing with the issue of what to do with his house as he will never be able to live there again. The reality of having to empty the house and deciding what to do with all the possessions and furniture has been a difficult process for them all. A few weeks ago, I was helping the family do this whilst Selena went to visit her dad. She came back to an almost empty house, which was upsetting enough for her, but she then told us that her dad was ‘in good form’ and had been singing to her ...‘There’s no place like home’. It was upsetting but did make them laugh. But the point is, it was very much a home and not just a house. Things weren’t perfect, and times were tough, but there was always love in that home. I experienced that the first time I went there, almost fifty years ago. That house, like all houses, was built with bricks and mortar, but the home was built with love. That love came from God, as all love does.
I guess the biggest compliment someone can give you is to say that, when they visit you, they feel at home in your home. That’s more than just being welcoming and friendly, that’s living today’s Gospel. Opening the door of your home and welcoming a visitor is one thing, opening your heart to God, and welcoming Him, is quite another thing.
Let Him in, because as The Beatles said...All You Need Is Love.
5th Sunday of Easter
“I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
Jesus said this to His disciples at the last supper. He had shown them how to do this buy His actions and teachings throughout His mission here on earth. Perhaps they didn’t realise at the time He was leading by example. So what exactly was he saying to them? What was he expecting them to do? Today we may put it another way, ‘Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself’. In other words, show love, kindness and respect to others, just as Jesus did with his disciples. He is also telling them that by doing so they will be recognised as his disciples.
God is love, and love comes from God. The disciples and the early Christians learned this from Jesus, and their mission after He had ascended to heaven, was to spread His word. Have you ever thought how hard that mission must have been for them? How they would spread the Word?
Well, when the early Christians came on the scene, they were an unusual bunch, and not easily understood. They spoke about following a leader who had been executed as a public criminal, whom they believed was now alive, and that He was the Messiah, God’s Chosen One. There may well have been times when they were ridiculed and even laughed out of town. On the other hand however, others watched their behaviour and the only comment they could make was, ‘See how these Christians love one another.’ Comments like that were the vindication they needed to continue with their mission.
In our own ways, we can live out the words of Jesus. Certainly those of us who are parents and grandparents, will spend a lifetime trying to instil in our children and grandchildren, certain values and morals to live by. We do this from a early stage in their development. Whenever we are looking after our grandsons, sooner or later there will be an argument or a falling out when they are playing together. One of them might try to snatch a toy from the other one, which happened recently, and led to tears and tantrums. We will always tell them to play together nicely. As most parents and grandparents know, this doesn’t always resolve the dispute, and usually leads to you thinking, ‘there will be tears before bedtime’ which there quite often is! When we tell them to be nice to one another instead of being nasty, that it’s better to be kind to each other, we’re really just telling them to ‘love one another as we love you.’
I recently came across this quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta “Be kind and merciful. Let no one ever come to you without coming away better and happier.”
Perhaps not a bad motto to live by!
4th Sunday of Easter
“The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.” This is the first sentence in the Gospel of John today, but what is it telling us? Jesus is clearly talking ABOUT his followers, and not TO, his followers. He is obviously not ‘preaching to the converted’ as we would say today. So, who is he talking to and what is the message he is trying to get across to them? Well, he was still being greeted with a lot of scepticism and cynicism by a large section of the Jewish community. They still could not accept his teachings and wanted proof from him. I think at this point in time Jesus was probably struggling to persuade a large section of the community that he was in fact preaching the word of God.
He started His mission in a small way by preaching to a few which steadily became a lot. This meant him having to persuade others to accept his word and believe in him by becoming his followers. There were many times when this was difficult for him, he had many obstacles to overcome, but he didn’t give up and he did indeed convert a large number of people by winning their hearts and their minds.
We hear a lot in the Gospels about sheep and shepherds This is because it was easy for Jesus to get His message across in this way, as a large part of the communities He spoke to were involved in that way of life. He was trying to get across to them that He is the Good Shepherd, and indeed, today is also known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ hence this particular Gospel today.
Today is also known as ‘Vocations Sunday’ it is dedicated as a day of prayer for vocations. This isn’t just an annual recruitment drive for priests and deacons! Of course it’s important that we pray for vocations to the priesthood and the diaconate, but we should also pray for all kinds of vocations. We all have a vocation in life and there are many different forms of vocation. Coming to church for Holy Mass, to hear the word of the Lord and receive the body of Christ in the Eucharist is living out a vocation to God. Some people may feel they have a ‘calling’ to become more involved in the church and wish to fulfil that ‘calling’ by becoming Readers or Eucharistic Ministers. Some may even feel that they wish to go further, and like me, explore a ‘calling’ they feel have towards the diaconate. Or indeed, like Father, and feel they have a calling towards the priesthood.
If you do, please come and talk to me first, I promise I won’t try to put you off! I can’t fully explain to you my ‘calling’, my vocation, because I honestly don’t fully understand it myself! All I can tell you is, that I knew there was something inside me that was calling me to explore what may or may not be a true vocation to serve the Lord as a Permanent Deacon. I suppose that I am living proof that I am truly one of the Lord’s sheep who listened to His voice and followed it.
We are all part of the Lord’s flock and we listen to Him in our own way. On this Good Shepherd Sunday, this day of prayer for vocations, if you hear Him calling you, have the courage to follow Him. Who knows where that calling, that vocation may lead you. Look where it led me!
3rd Sunday of Easter
Today’s Gospel of St. John tells us that Jesus showed himself again to the disciples, although they didn’t recognise him straight away. They had fished all night without success and Jesus tells them to cast their net to starboard and they will catch something. It’s only after doing this and catching so many fish that they couldn’t haul it in, that they recognise Jesus. Indeed, it is Peter who jumped into the water to get to him first. The catch was hauled in and Jesus cooked breakfast for them all. It’s only after this, that he reveals himself to them properly.
For the second time now, Peter finds himself being tested by Jesus. He asks him “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?” and Peter replies, “Yes Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus asks him again, and then for a third time also. Maybe Peter realised by now that he was being tested and this time he was not found wanting. I find it very interesting that we are told that Peter has to publicly profess his love for Jesus three times. The same number of times as he denied him on the night before his crucifixion. He gave Peter the opportunity to redeem himself for that betrayal and free himself from the guilt, and in doing so, showed his forgiveness which allowed Peter to move on with his life. I wonder if Peter realised how fortunate he was.
Appearing to the disciples and showing them where to find a catch weren’t the only wonderful things that Jesus did that day. He recognised that they were probably feeling very low, sad, and alone, so He cooked breakfast for them. In doing this He was showing His compassion and love for them. A simple act, and a simple sign of love. In cooking for people, love is active. Some mothers may have sat and calculated how many meals they have cooked for their family. The total number of meals wont’ be what matters, it’s the total hours of love that have gone into them that will matter to those mothers. It’s a sign of love given, love received, and love shared. This too is the mission and identity of Jesus.
This Gospel is another example of Jesus appearing but not initially being recognised, just as He had to Mary Magdalen on Easter morning and to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus is of course, ever present in our lives, but there will have been times when he will have been physically present, yet unrecognisable to us.
There have been two occasions in my life when, looking back, I feel that Jesus was present in a physical form, yet unrecognisable to me, that had a profound effect on my actions at that time. There have also been two occasions when I have felt His presence so strongly, guiding me and talking to me, that it was as if He was right there beside me, telling me what I most needed to hear at that time in my life. Those experiences in my life were so profound, that I firmly believe that I have been truly blessed by His presence.
We can all have the comfort of knowing that we are never really on our own, Jesus will always be there for us, to lead and guide us, and help us through the tough times of life.
He also said “Follow me.” Maybe we should.
Second Sunday of Easter
SHALOM. A Jewish greeting or farewell. The Hebrew meaning is ‘Peace Be With You.’ This phrase shouldn’t just be used as a greeting or a pleasantry, it should be seen for what it is, namely a calming statement, and we should mean it when we say it.
Peace be with you. We say at every mass don’t we, but do we really understand it or mean it? Maybe we tend to just say it as part of the mass then turn to the people next to us and in front and behind us and smile and nod to them. I think that when it is said, meant, and received in the right way it’s quite a powerful statement. A couple I know used to always say this to each other before they went to sleep. Isn’t that wonderful, what a lovely and calming way to end each day. We all need some type of calming influence in our lives from time to time don’t we. For some it may be listening to soothing music or sounds, others may find it in going for a walk in the park. I find it whenever I go up to Barrow and go for a walk along the shore, where I used to play as a boy. I also found that calming influence recently when I was on my annual retreat. No matter what form it takes, I do believe that a calming influence in our lives helps us to get through the confusion, bewilderment and sometimes fear in our lives.
This led me to consider this weeks Gospel. A short time after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he appeared to the disciples. We are told that they were in a locked room when Jesus appeared and stood among them. The first thing he said to them was ‘Peace be with you.’ He then showed them the wounds in his hands and side and again said to them ‘Peace be with you.’
If we consider how the disciples must have been feeling just before Jesus appeared I think we can safely assume that they were confused and bewildered. They had lost their great leader. We know they were living in fear, which is why the door was locked ‘for fear of the Jews.’ If ever they needed a calming influence in their lives it was right there and then. That is exactly what Jesus did. By saying ‘Peace be with you’ it will have calmed then down, relaxed them, and put their minds, as well as their bodies, at ease. He returned to them eight days later, and again, His first words were, ‘Peace be with you.’ This all happened two thousand years ago but even today, Jesus is still there for us to be the calming influence in our lives. He is always there for us when we need him. He may not appear to us in the same way as he did with the disciples, but we know he is ever present in our lives.
We should still take those walks in the park or along the shore, but let us understand that it is Jesus, working through the Holy Spirit, who is the real calming influence in our lives.
Today’s Gospel tells us about Mary of Magdala, Peter and John reaching the empty tomb. They were puzzled, perhaps startled, but would soon be excited when they realised that Christ had risen as He said he would. Today is all about the Risen Christ. It’s surely the most joyous of days. A day for us to be full of joy and thankfulness. And, it’s on that note of thankfulness, that I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who help in the running of our parish.
Parishioners make a parish, and all parishioners contribute to the life of the parish simply by being here. Our parish relies heavily on a team of volunteers that give freely of their time to keep the parish running. This includes, Eucharistic Ministers, Catechists, Readers, Stewards, Cleaners, Gardeners, Building Maintenance, Musicians, and a whole host of other jobs, done by those who help in whatever way they can. This large team of people are what keep our parish functioning. Look at the way that the church has been prepared for today, the Easter garden, the altar, and at Christmas with the Nativity scene etc...These things don’t just happen by magic, they are only made possible by the hard work, time, and effort of those who help in whichever way they can.
So on behalf of Father Gildea and myself, may I take this opportunity to offer you all a heartfelt and sincere thank you for all you do throughout the year. And may ...
I wish you all a very Happy and Joyful Easter.
Palm Sunday has the same two Gospels in each of the three years cycle. In the first Gospel, we celebrate the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem, and in the second Gospel, we have the Passion of the Lord. These two Gospels span the few days when Jesus is welcomed triumphantly by the people, then effectively, condemned to death by them. When they choose Barabbas to be the one who is freed from prison leaving Jesus to be crucified. Talk about going from Hero to Zero in a short few days!
Today, Palm Sunday, we enter Holy Week, probably the most intense week of the liturgical year, certainly the busiest! Lent is almost over and the end is in sight, literally, but so is the great new beginning. From Ash Wednesday through to Easter Sunday, there are four days and four words stand out:
Repent : This is the word we are asked to concentrate our minds upon as we receive our ashes on Ash Wednesday... ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel.’
Hosanna : The great triumphant cry of the people on Palm Sunday as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt lauded by the people as their King.
Crucify : This is now the cry of those same people on Good Friday as their hearts and minds are turned to condemning Jesus to death by crucifixion, even though He had done them no wrong.
Rejoice : On Easter Sunday, this is the only word that can describe how we should react at the Good News that Christ has risen from the dead. He died for our sins and rose again as the light of the world, to lead us to eternal life.
To remind us of the joy of Palm Sunday, today we will all receive a palm which Father Gildea has blessed. When you take it home, think about placing it in a prominent position in your home, to act as a constant visual reminder of the joyful and triumphant reception that Jesus received as He entered Jerusalem. Let that same feeling of joy be in your heart whenever you look at it. If you have small children, you may want to explain the significance of receiving a palm on Palm Sunday, a bit better than a dad I was reading about this week:
Little Johnny was sick on Palm Sunday and stayed home from Church with his mother. His father returned from Church holding a palm branch. The little boy was curious and asked, “Why do you have that palm branch, Dad?” His father explained, “You see, when Jesus came into town, everyone waved palm branches to honour Him; so we got palm branches today.” “Aw, shucks,” grumbled Little Johnny. “The one Sunday I can’t go to Church, and Jesus shows up!”
Perhaps the dad needed to expand on his explanation a bit!
5th Sunday in Lent
Do you remember the saying you used to use as a child to fend off those who were picking on you? ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!’ Well, name calling does hurt and I’m sure the woman in today’s Gospel was called many names when she was being pursued by her accusers. Sticks and stones will break your bones, if enough of the right size and weight hit the right parts of your body. Unfortunately, the barbaric method of punishing people by stoning them to death still goes on in some parts of the world today.
When Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,’ they went away one by one. I’m intrigued to know whether they actually dropped the stones they were holding, or just took them away with them. I’m intrigued because we have used the holding onto stones, and the laying down of them, as part of our services of reconciliation in the past.
Some of you will remember a few years ago we held some ‘Living Christ’ retreats in the school hall. At one of those, we used the method of holding a stone in our hand and using it to think of all the wrong we have done in our lives, think about our sins. At the end of a short examination of conscience, we then came forward one by one and laid our stones down, signifying that we were shedding our sins, our past wrongs, and feeling remorse for them. Of all the many things we did and the experiences we had at those retreats, I still find this the most powerful experience I had there. We have of course, done the same thing in church at our services of reconciliation with stones and nails, which were also very powerful and emotional experiences.
The other aspect of this Gospel which intrigues me is, what exactly did Jesus write on the ground with His finger? Was it something very profound? Was it something that really made the scribes and Pharisees stop and think about what they were planning to do? We will never know. Perhaps he drew three circles, and wrote inside the inner circle, ‘God’ then in the middle circle, ‘Man’ and in the outer circle, ‘Sin.’ If He did it in that order, it would show the scribes and Pharisees that the importance of the truth, the three realities, God, Man, and Sin, must be kept in their proper order if we are to live grace filled lives. Jesus did not condone the woman’s behaviour, but neither did he condemn her for it. He showed grace and mercy towards her and told her to ‘go away and don’t sin any more.’
We are all in need of God’s grace and mercy, and to help us perhaps we could pray: ‘O Lord, grant us the gift of your mercy, pardon our sins and save us from punishment. Amen.’
I have the following little verse pinned up on the wall of my study, which I have shared with you before, but I feel it’s fitting today and every day:
I am not what I ought to be,
I am not what I would like to be,
I am not what I hope to be.
But I am not what I once was, and by the grace of God, I am what I am.
4th Sunday in Lent
The parable in today’s Gospel is commonly known as the story of the Prodigal Son, but there are two other actors in this story. Perhaps it could just as easy be known as the parable of the Elder Son, or the parable of the Forgiving Father. It truly is a very rich parable with lots of messages contained in it. Each of the three characters in this parable show a range of emotions, some good, some bad. We have examples of: Impatience, Greed, Joy, Happiness, Sorrow, Repentance, Anger, Jealousy, Loyalty, Love, and of course Forgiveness.
The Prodigal Son: Well, he was impatient to get his hands on his share of the inheritance in advance. He wanted to leave home for greener pastures and live the high life, have a taste of the lifestyle that money can buy. It may have started out fine for him, and I’m sure he enjoyed most of the things he squandered his new found wealth on, but ultimately, did it bring him happiness and peace? No, of course it didn’t, it never can. He ended up broke, starving, destitute and full of sorrow, emptiness, and regret. Was it all worth it? He may have thought it was at the time when he was ‘splashing the cash’ but ultimately he soon realised that the grass wasn’t greener on the other side. His sorrow turned to repentance and he came back asking for forgiveness.
The Elder Son: Well, we know how he felt when his younger brother returned to the fold, but what we don’t know is how he felt when his brother left with his share of the inheritance. I think it’s safe to assume that he wasn’t best pleased with his brother, or his father. However, he remained at home, carried on with his duties and showed great loyalty to his father. His reaction to his brother’s return, and his father’s reaction to that return, brought out some very negative feelings that had probably been stewing within him for some time. He was disappointed, angry, bemused, resentful and hurt. He certainly couldn’t understand his father’s actions.
The Forgiving Father: Again, we don’t know how he felt when his younger son asked for his share of the inheritance in advance. Perhaps he was disappointed and sorrowful, but ultimately, he was lenient, generous and understanding enough to give his son what he wanted. He obviously did so out of love for his son, possibly with a heavy heart, and his heart must have got heavier as time went by and he thought he would never see his son again.
The overwhelming message of this parable is of course one of repentance, forgiveness and unconditional love. In my life, I’ve experienced all three and that’s why I love this Gospel. It makes me stop and think of the mistakes I’ve made in life, the second chances I’ve been given, and the love I’ve been shown. It also makes me think of one of the verses from one of my favourite hymns: O, The Love Of My Lord:
‘There’ve been times when I’ve turned from his presence, and I’ve walked other paths, other ways; but I’ve called on his name in the dark of my shame, and his mercy was gentle as silence.’
For me, this sums up the measure of love each of us receives from God, and the fact that we can be assured that He will always welcome us back with open arms, even if we have squandered the wealth we have been given.
3rd Sunday in Lent
I’m not a gardener, I’m not ‘green fingered’ and I’m not always the most patient of people. I’ve lost count of the number of rose bushes I’ve planted over the years, only to have to rip them up again because they haven’t grown and blossomed. My failure to see the fruits of my labours has led me to think, either my soil is no good for growing, or more likely, I’m just a rubbish gardener. Therefore, in relation to the parable in today’s Gospel, I’m afraid I would have ripped that fig tree out of the ground a long time ago. That said, let’s remember that this is a parable and not a true story.
This parable is found only in Luke’s Gospel and is aimed at the Jewish people of Jesus’ time, and the fig tree symbolises Israel or Jerusalem. The parable is meant as a warning to those who have witnessed three years of Jesus’ ministry but have yet to produce the fruit of repentance. The gardener in the parable is a man of great patience and asks for more time, another year, to have the time to cultivate the ground around the fig tree and fertilize it. Perhaps the extra time and effort in cultivating it may help it to yield more fruit.
If a gardener can be that patient with a fig tree, Is God the one to get rid of the tree or the one to give it another chance? Is it not possible that God will be even more patient with us? Of course He will, God is the God of the second chance all the time! He will nurture and cultivate us, lead us to repentance, through which we will gain salvation and redemption. The fruit of that fig tree is our faith in God, that’s what He wants to see grow in us. Some of us may take a little longer than others to reach that conclusion, but God will wait for that penny to drop for us, He is the patient gardener of this parable.
The Father owns the vineyard; the Son is the gardener giving us the ability to grow. It’s up to us to choose to bear fruit for the Lord. I think it’s interesting that this parable ends the way it does. We don’t know what happens next. Is the gardener successful during the next year? Does the tree finally produce good fruit? I think ending the parable in this way way was intentional on the part of Jesus, because by doing so He draws us into the parable. We cannot avoid the conclusion that we are the fig tree. It’s us he wants to see blossom, and He will give us every chance to do so. He won’t allow the tree to be cut down because He knows that it capable of producing good fruit given the chance.
Now, having said all of that about cutting down trees, I have to confess that I am having a tree in my back garden cut back, not cut down. I couldn’t pronounce the proper name of the tree, but ironically for a Deacon, it’s commonly known as ‘The Tree of Heaven’. I’m having it severely pruned as it is growing out of control and causing me problems. I did have the option of having it cut down completely, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that, it is a living thing and we need trees to help with the environment. Also, one end of the washing line is tied around it so I need to keep it. My concern was how to manage it and still maintain some of its beauty. Isn’t that what this parable is about? Isn’t Jesus trying to manage humanity whilst still maintaining its’ beauty?
2nd Sunday in Lent
The Transfiguration story appears in each of the Gospels on the second Sunday of Lent, and it acts as a reminder that Lent is a time of preparation. Jesus was preparing Peter, James and John for what was to come. I’m not sure if they fully understood or appreciated the enormity of the experience they had on that mountain at the time. I think they only really appreciated it and fully understood it after the Resurrection. They had been the first, and only ones to see Jesus in His true glory prior to the then. What an experience for them! What a privilege!
In our own way, we too can share the experience of a transfiguration. When we come to the altar, this altar of sacrifice, this table of plenty. When we come in procession to receive holy communion, we bring our sufferings, our sacrifices, and, in turn, we receive Christ transfigured. Not the transfigured bodily experience that Peter, James and John had on Mount Tabor, but bread and wine transformed into the body and blood of Christ. And as we receive and are shaped by these transformed elements, we ourselves are the ones who become transfigured. We share in Christ’s glory.
The reason Jesus went up the mountain was to pray. We see this quite often in the Gospels, Jesus wanting to go somewhere secluded to pray. We can of course, pray anywhere, anytime, on our own or with others, but there can be great value in being able to go somewhere quite and peaceful to be at one with God and pray. Some people find that it helps them by arriving early for mass and having some ‘quite’ time, and prior to the way we are doing things at the moment, some people preferred to stay on in church for a while after mass had ended. Unfortunately that’s not possible at the moment. Once upon a time, it was easy to just pop into a church during the day for that quite time in prayer, alas, open churches are few and far between these days. No matter where or when you find the time to pray, God is listening.
In a few weeks time, I will be away for the weekend on my annual Diaconal retreat and I’m really looking forward to it this year. Two years ago it was cancelled just as the pandemic took hold, and last year it was held ‘online’ which was okay, but not the same. I see it as an opportunity for a spiritual ‘top up’. I will have the opportunity for silent prayer, private prayer and group prayer. I won’t be going up any mountains, and it won’t be a ‘life changing’ time for me, but I’m sure it will be a ‘life enhancing’ experience for me. I do hope to find the solitude to try to be at one with God, which is what I believe Jesus was attempting to do on mount Tabor.
The experience that Peter, James and John had on that mountain with Jesus, Moses and Elijah must have been a ‘life changing’ experience for them.
Luke’s Gospel today ends with the sentence: ‘The disciples kept silence and, at that time, told no-one what they had seen.’ In the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Mark we are told that Jesus told them not to say anything until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. It must have been difficult for them to remain silent. Perhaps they did actually understand and appreciate the enormity of what they had witnessed, and realised that no one else could truly understand until the resurrection. Then, and only then, would they have been believed by others.
1st Sunday in Lent
Repent and believe in the Gospel.’ Those are the words we heard when we received our ashes this week. ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel’ those six words help us to sum up the message as we begin the season of Lent this year. We are asked to repent our sins and spend time preparing for Easter. We are asked to believe in the Gospel, as the true account of the life of Jesus.
We may all try to ‘give something up’ for Lent, or perhaps, instead of giving something up, we may commit to doing something we wouldn’t normally do. The optimum word here being ‘try’ as our attempts may succeed or fail for various reasons. If we make an honest effort to ‘try’ and yet fail, we shouldn’t get too downhearted. We are only human after all, and sometimes can’t help giving into temptation. We all have our weaknesses and limitations, I know I do.
Yes, it’s that time of year again when I ‘try’ to give up all my sweet stuff. Hopefully this year, with a greater level of success than last year. I was weak and didn’t manage it. I know, I know, I’m weak and have a lack of willpower where it matters. Hey, I’m only human.
Jesus had human limitations too. We are told that he was tempted in every way that we are, yet did not sin. He didn’t waiver either, even under the pressure of the devil’s best efforts. In today’s Gospel, we hear of Jesus being tempted to ‘short-circuit’ the whole of God’s plan, but he rejects that temptation in favour of doing God’s will.
The devil tries to tempt Jesus by suggesting that He ends His fasting by turning a stone into a loaf to satisfy His hunger. He then tries to tempt Him with power and glory, by telling Him that all the kingdoms of the world could be His if only He would worship him instead of God. The devils’ final attempt is to persuade Jesus to throw Himself off the parapet of the Temple and be self-reliant as no harm will come to Him.
In the end, the devil is defeated in his efforts. He gives up and leaves Jesus alone, for the time being. If this was a football match, you could say that Jesus won the first leg 3-0, but the devil is biding his time for the 2nd leg to come. But it doesn’t matter anyway, as Jesus wins outright in the end.
So, how are we to relate today’s Gospel to our own lives? Well, the temptations that we will face during Lent are likely no different than those we face at any other time of the year. What may be different is the greater awareness we have during Lent of our own weaknesses in the face of temptation. We are more attentive to God as we discipline our wills in preparation for Easter.
Jesus’ unique character, being true God and true Man, allow Him never to turn away from God, even in the face of stark temptation. As humans, we too are all uniquely different. What may be too great a temptation for one person, may pose no issues for another. I read an interesting definition of ‘temptation’ this week:
‘Temptation is like dangling something very attractive outside the windows of our souls, when such an item or thought appeals directly to some weakness within us.’
It would be nice to think that we could keep that particular window firmly closed to all temptation, and be as strong and resilient as Jesus was in the desert. But hey, we’re only human, He is Divine.