Week 5 of Ordinary Time Year ‘A’ - (5th February 2023) Gospel:- Matthew 5:13-16
When you walk into our school hall, the first thing that catches your eye is the scripture quote at the top of the wall. It’s the ‘take away’ headline from today’s Gospel: “Let Your Light Shine.” It reflects the whole ethos of our school. It’s the message that our headteacher, Mrs Helen Lea and all her staff, not only promote, but instil in the children.
Today’s Gospel is about Christian witness, and that Gospel message is implanted by the very presence of our Christian living. This Gospel passage follows on from last week and is another part of the Sermon On The Mount.
Jesus does not say that His disciples were to become: ‘salt of the earth, or a light of the world, or a city on a hill top’. They already were all of these things by virtue of the fact that Jesus called them and they responded. He was instructing them to show by their deeds, that they can lead others by the light which shines from them. The good work of the disciples point away from themselves to the grace of God, and that His grace is there for all of us. By living the Christian life, we are that light of the world, and this is what our children are taught in our school.
We are all called to be witnesses and we can respond to that call in many different ways. I’ve mentioned before that every parish relies on a team of volunteers to help run it, and our parish is no exception. Some are more visible, more ‘high profile’ than others, not because they are any better than anyone else, only because what they do is more visible than the things that some others do ‘behind the scenes’ so to speak. Those whose contributions you don’t see, and probably aren’t even aware of, doesn’t mean that those people are ‘hiding their lamp under a tub’ it’s just that their form of witness is different to some others, but no less important.
Responding to the call of Christian witness is not reserved for the few, but is open to the many. We should be that ‘city on a hill top’ that’s there for all to see. We shouldn’t ‘hide our lamp under a tub’ we should let Christ’s light shine out through us.
I’m now going to use this opportunity to ‘plug’ the Diaconate. If there any men in the parish who feel they may be being called to witness Christ by becoming a Deacon, please let me know. There is an information evening for enquirers next Wednesday (8th Feb) at St. George’s in Maghull. So guys, if you do feel you are being called to witness in that way, please don’t hide your light under a tub, come and talk to me.
You can all see part of what I do as a Deacon and may have an idea of the qualities required to fulfil that role. I’m not going to go into all of that here, what I would do is ask you to have a look at the noticeboard in the porch. Recently, the children in Year 4 at our school were asked to consider the role of a Deacon and the qualities required of that person. I have put a few copies of what they came up with on view in the porch.
Now I’m not saying that I consider myself to have all the qualities that the children may think I have. If I did, I may start thinking of myself as some sort of saint, which I’m not. I’m a sinner just like everyone else, but then, Christ called sinners to serve, well He called me didn’t He.
Week 4 of Ordinary Time Year 'A' - (29th January 2023) Gospel:- Matthew 5:1-12
Today’s Gospel is commonly known as ‘The Beatitudes’ and is also referred to as ‘The Sermon On The Mount’. Some people see it as Jesus’ alternative to Moses’ Ten Commandments. It wasn’t. It was never meant to replace the commandments, but to compliment them. It could be said that Jesus was laying out a form of road map to heaven. In other words, if you live your life by these standards, the way to heaven will be easier for you, this is what God will do for you.
The last time I proclaimed this Gospel was almost three months ago at Father Gildea’s funeral, and the next time I will proclaim it will be on Friday at Selena’s dad’s funeral. Each time I read this Gospel passage I get something different from it. Recently it has made me think about whether Jesus actually rhymed of the list of Beatitudes all in one go, or whether they were mentioned bit by bit throughout the day as part of His teachings. We will never really know, but it really doesn’t matter I suppose. The important thing, as always, is the message itself.
We are all familiar with political manifestos. These are statements about what a political party stands for and what’s in it for you if you vote for them, and what they intend to achieve if you elect them. Many people are cynical about politicians and politics in general, because no matter how sincere their promises are, many of them fail to deliver on those promises. Well, today’s Gospel is Jesus’ manifesto. The important thing for us to remember is that, in the words of Jesus, ‘Heaven and earth will pass away before my word passes away.’ In other words, this is a manifesto in which He certainly will keep His side of the bargain.
The ‘Sermon On The Mount’ has great significance for many obvious reasons, not least because it was given on a mountain. Have you noticed that mountains have a religious significance in the drama of salvation history in both the Old and New Testaments? After surviving the great flood, Noah’s ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat; at Mount Horeb “The mountain of God,” an angel of the Lord first appeared to Moses in a burning bush; it was on Mount Sinai that Moses would receive the Ten Commandments. Elijah was commanded to “go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” When Jesus was tempted in the desert , Matthew says, “ The devil took him to a very high mountain.” So when it comes to events of religious significance, mountains have long been a favourite venue, but the true significance is of course the message, not the venue. Jesus was teaching his disciples that by living our lives in a certain way, we will reap the rewards in heaven. He is setting out for them the importance of living by a set of values, morals and ethics. When you think about it, isn’t that what we all should be aiming to achieve?
The Beatitudes can also be interpreted as being ‘auto biographical’ after all, Jesus did lead by example. He was no politician, but unlike the political manifestos we are used to, His stood the test of time. He delivered, and continues to deliver, on His promises. Someone who tells the truth, lives up to His word, looks out for the poor, the needy, the marginalised in society and keeps His promises...that’s Jesus.
He acted like no politician we have seen, but if today’s politicians acted like Him, well the world would be a better place wouldn’t it?
Week 3 of Ordinary Time Year ‘A’ - (22nd January 2023) Gospel:- Matthew 4:12-23
‘The light at the end of the tunnel’ a phrase often used for many different reasons. Selena takes it literally. Whenever we drive through a tunnel, the Mersey tunnel or the Clyde tunnel, or any other tunnel or long underpass; she tenses up and cringes until we are almost at the other side. Until she can see the light at the end of the tunnel, she can’t relax. Maybe it is a fear of enclosed dark spaces, or just the fact that she can’t see what is around her properly that causes her to react that way, I don’t know. The phrase is sometimes used by people when they are going through a difficult time in their lives, when their problems seem too much to cope with and they don’t have hope in the future. They say that they ‘just can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel’.
The word light seems to be used a lot as a positive thing. ‘Out of the darkness into the light’, ‘I finally saw the light’, ‘the light of my life’ etc. … Now and again we may hear of someone who has had a near death experience and saw a bright light before regaining consciousness.
I recently came across a few lines of a song which seem to sum up the importance of light in our lives:
“Ring out the bells that can still ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That is how the light gets in.”
It reminds us that it’s only because of our shortcomings that the Light of Christ came into the world. It’s through our very flaws that He enters our lives. Then it’s up to us to let Him shine out again. This then surely is the message in today’s Gospel. We hear how Jesus settled in Capernaum thus fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah who said “The people that lived in darkness has seen a great light; on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death a light has dawned.”
It’s God’s will that we live in light as each new day dawns for us. His son, Jesus came to save us, to lead us out of the darkness into the light. To those around him at that time, he was the light at the end of their tunnel. Jesus truly is, The Light of Our World.
I wonder if Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John ‘saw the light’ when Jesus approached them to follow Him and become fishers of men? Something must have sparked in them.
Today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah, part of which is referenced in the Gospel, reminds me of a hymn we quite often sing:
‘The Spirit lives to set us free,
Walk, walk in the light.
He binds us all in unity,
Walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light,
Walk in the light,
Walk in the light,
Walk in the light of the Lord.’
I feel that this hymn sums up the hope which the light of the Lord brings us all, especially in our darkest moments. I hope it does for you too.
Week 2 of Ordinary Time Year ‘A’ - (15th January 2023) Gospel:- John 1:29-34
Today’s Gospel is a lesson in humility, and when we look for a good example of humility, we need look no further than John the Baptist. Indeed, in today’s Gospel we can see this attribute shining through him in how he describes Jesus to those around him. He tells them that Jesus ranks before him, because he existed before him. He then goes on to say, “Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God.” In John there is no doubt about whom Jesus was, and that it was now time for him to step aside to make way for the Messiah.
John would have been aware of his own importance in the mission he was carrying out, but was always aware also that it was not about him. In that sense, he did not see himself as important at all. He always preached that his mission was not the end in itself, but the beginning of what was to come. His role was to prepare others for the coming of the Messiah. Someone of whom he felt that he wasn’t even worthy to undo the straps of his sandals. John the Baptist, was, and still is, an example of humility for us all. A man who not only knew the meaning of the word, but indeed lived it.
In today’s world, some may look upon John the Baptist as the ‘warm-up’ act before the main attraction. This would be totally wrong, and a view that totally misses the whole point of John’s mission. He was the last of the old testament prophets, and the only one who actually straddles both the old and new testaments. Just as the prophets of old foretold of the coming of the Messiah, John not only did the same, but prepared the way for him. By announcing to the people that Jesus is the ‘Lamb of God’ John has completed his mission. He may also have confused and perhaps even horrified those people because a lamb was seen as the sacrificial animal to atone for wrongdoing. They may not have understood that God sent His Son as the sacrificial lamb to atone for our sins.
Today’s Gospel has made me think more deeply about the Agnus Dei which we recite at mass prior to receiving Holy Communion when we say: Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace. It made me think that this is a prayer which can also be used for occasions other that its mass setting.
Over the last few days I have found myself saying this prayer a lot and thinking of all the occasions where it would have been appropriate to recite it. I felt that one of those occasions would have been a few nights ago. Some of you will be aware that Selena’s dad passed away on Tuesday evening. I said a few prayers over him and gave him a blessing, but now I wish I had thought of saying the Agnus Dei. I had been praying that the Lord would show him mercy and let him slip away peacefully, which he did. I now feel that it would have been appropriate to say this prayer as it sums up the situation the family were in. I’m sure that all you can think of situations in which this would be right for you. Can I please encourage you to do so, it’s a beautiful prayer.
Feast Of The Baptism Of The Lord - (8th January 2023) Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17
We all celebrate our birthday with great joy and we have just celebrated the birthday of Jesus, certainly the greatest birthday of all. Now we are celebrating the feast of His Baptism. How many of us celebrate the anniversary of our own baptisms? How many of us even know when we were baptised? I don’t have a clue when I was baptised. I did have to get a copy of my baptism certificate as proof that I was actually baptised as part of the process of applying for the Diaconate, but unfortunately, it was never returned to me. When I conduct baptisms, I always give the parents a lovely certificate which they can keep safe for their child. I wonder if any of them actually celebrate that day each year with their child, not many I suppose. We all remember and celebrate Jesus’ baptism, which marks the end of the liturgical season of Christmas.
For more than two weeks we have celebrated Jesus as an infant. Now once again, on this first Sunday of Ordinary time, we begin celebrating Jesus as an adult. It’s therefore appropriate we begin with Jesus’ first appearance as an adult, His baptism by John the Baptist in the river Jordan.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus insisted on John baptising Him? John baptised sinners who wanted to repent, yet Jesus was without sin so why would He need John to baptise Him?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells John, “Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that righteousness demands.” This may be difficult to understand as Jesus was already righteous. So how could His baptism by John fulfil all righteousness?
The late Pope Benedict explains it like this in his book, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (pp17-23); ‘Sinless Jesus did not have any sins of His own to take down to the river Jordan, therefore it could only have been our sins that He took down into the river Jordan. Naturally no one would understand this at that time but they would realise this later when they understood that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. So Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan and His dying on the cross go together; He did both for our sins. He took our sins on His shoulders as He went down into the Jordan and as He died on the cross.’
There are many examples in the Scriptures where we can see this close connection between Jesus’ baptism and His death on the cross.
Jesus’ baptism by John was an important step in Jesus making Himself known to the Jewish people. When God the Father spoke and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus, this was the first public display of the Holy Trinity for all to see.
The baptisms I conduct aren’t as dramatic as that, but then, I’m no John the Baptist! I do hope that everyone present understands the importance of the sacrament. It is, after all, the legacy of Jesus.