Tag Archives: Mass Readings

Unteachable – no reason to believe Heaven views us differently!

Twenty Seventh Sunday.

It’s a tough one!

Bear in mind that it comes on the back of: “And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell…” (last Sunday’s Gospel, Twenty Sixth Sunday).

Divorce and remarriage are an accepted part of life. To suggest otherwise is to be considered outdated and backward.

Yet here in the proclamation of this Sunday’s Gospel reading we are once again confronted by the teaching of Jesus which says that divorce and remarriage are not, and never were, a part of God’s plan.

Jesus turns to the teaching of Moses and in doing so he must have known that Moses allowed divorce and remarriage.

In keeping Moses in the conversation Jesus is firstly putting the Ten Commandments centre stage; and secondly, he’s taking the opportunity to correct the teaching of Moses which allowed for divorce and remarriage.

Interestingly, he doesn’t blame Moses. Rather, he blames Moses generation, the masses, from Moses right up to his day, about 1600 years of people divorcing and remarrying: “It was because you were so unteachable” that Moses allowed you to divorce and remarry. There’s no reason to believe that Heaven views us any differently!

Just about everybody seems to have expected Jesus to go with Moses teaching allowing divorce and remarriage – as most people do today – as evidenced by the disciples bringing the matter up again in the privacy of the house.

That Jesus turns to the Ten Commandments should not be a surprise.

He guarded the commandments carefully saying that Heaven and earth would disappear before the Ten Commandments. That’s a huge statement. But there’s more: “Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of Heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of Heaven.” Matt 5:17

In placing divorce and remarriage in the context of breaching the sixth commandment (he actually uses the word “guilty” of adultery), in binding divorce and remarriage to adultery so tightly, and given his understanding of the place of the Ten Commandments in the working out of our salvation, Jesus is raising a red flag 🚩 here about divorce, remarriage and our eternal welfare.

It’s a tough one indeed.

What I haven’t dealt with here is Heaven’s understanding of the purposes of marriage and our everyday understanding – they’re very different and it will go some way to explain our difficulty with Jesus teaching.

But that too is another days work…

Jesus shock – cutting off hands and tearing out eyes!

Twenty Sixth Sunday

Who was this outsider that he’d figured out the significance, if not the identity, of Jesus?

“But he’s not one of us” the disciples complain.

He wasn’t part of the twelve. He didn’t have the benefit of sharing intimately in Jesus inner circle. Yet here he is, ministering in the power of Jesus.

Here we glimpse the wonder of the Father’s revelation which is always capable of catching us offside so to speak. The Father is full of surprises!

Jesus corrects his inner circle; he may not be one of us in the sense that he’s not physically present in this group, but he knows me… and that’s all he needs.

Essentially this passage is teaching us that Jesus is everything, that knowing and recognizing him is everything – not the group we belong to – and that giving a cup of water to someone just because she belongs to Christ is hugely significant because the giving of the water is really about the recognition of Jesus.

The recognition of Jesus is everything.

But then Jesus turns his attention to sin, to the power that is his absolute opposite.

That he swings so suddenly – almost violently – to bring up his opposite suggests he wants us to hear what he has to say.

It’s Jesus shock!

It’s shock tactics so he can get our attention – “thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck… cut off your hand… tear out your eye…”

It’s a shocking message, hyperbole obviously, but nonetheless a very simple message that Jesus really wants us to hear.

Do not sin.

Sin – without repentance – is the highway to hell!

He told us it was going to be like this – the parable of the weeds and wheat. Matt 13: 24-30

Jesus compares good people to wheat and bad people to weeds.

The kingdom is like a field of weeds and wheat. The kingdom of God no less. We’re hardly able to cope with the sinfulness of the Church!

Where is this kingdom? It’s already here, it’s in the Church, the Church that contains, and always will contain saint and sinner.

I have a choice; do I give power to the sinner or to the saint? The weeds or the wheat? “Look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church…” we pray in every Mass.

You’d think that Jesus didn’t teach the parable of the weeds and wheat.

At times you’d be forgiven for thinking that he didn’t teach at all, never said a word.

You’d think he wasn’t betrayed by somebody who shared his table.

You’d think he didn’t die between two thieves.

You’d think he didn’t describe the kingdom for us.

And yet, after all Jesus teaching, we still expect the Church to be different?

You’d think that the incarnation never happened at all!

That’s my point – many people seem to attempt to believe without Jesus Christ and his teaching!

Is it any wonder that so many fall away?

You’d never know that He told us it was going to be like this.

Of course weeds are dangerous if they get out of control.

But the best way to deal with weeds is a reminder that in the end there’s judgment. Dare I say it: Hell! The weeds are thrown on the fire and burnt.

How can there be Mercy without Justice? Justice is the very precondition of Mercy. Mercy is undoubtedly God’s greatest attribute but that presupposes Justice.

Do we really think that God bestows Mercy forcibly? Did Jesus?

God will never – never – superimpose Godself or his Mercy on our freedom.

We must use our freedom to receive Mercy, that’s its purpose.

Divine Justice just is, it’s the default position, but Mercy is our choice, always.

Jesus’ reasons for unbelief – the parable of the sower. Matt 13:1-9

We hear all sorts of reasons for unbelief.

But every time I read the parable of the sower I’m struck by its reach. Is there a reason advanced for unbelief that’s not included in the parable?

Jesus compares people who hear the word to seed that falls on the edge of a path.

The seed of the word is sown in the heart but there’s no understanding. Where there is no understanding, abandonment follows.

The heart is simply not receptive – receptivity is the precondition of understanding – the heart is not open, and entry through anything that’s closed solidly is difficult. The word simply bounces off non-receptive hard objects and falls away.

Next, Jesus compares people who hear his teaching to the seed that falls on patches of rock. It lacks both rich soil and deep roots.

When confronted with human suffering and human failure including outrageous scandal – scorching sun – the faith of some people withers because it’s not deeply rooted in the rich soil that is Jesus Christ.

Scorching and withering – apt descriptions of human suffering and failure.

That objections to God using this very argument can attract millions of views on YouTube suggests that many have not taken Jesus and his teaching seriously. The God that many refuse to believe in is not the God found in the teaching of Jesus Christ. They dismiss a God unrelated to Jesus Christ!

Next, Jesus compares people who hear the word to seed falling in thorns; falling in the midst of the worries of this world and the lure of riches the seed is choked to death! A strong image, mind. Choked, and common parlance adds “the living daylights out of!”

It’s dramatic, but for most people the choking happens unconsciously. It’s simply that other stuff – the cares of this world (interests that are good and wholesome in themselves) and the pursuit of wealth – take our hearts. For many the interests become false gods.

Is there a source of unbelief that’s not covered in this parable?

It seems that many people attempt to believe without Jesus Christ and his teaching which means they end up struggling to believe at all.

Fourth Sunday of Easter: Good shepherds or hired hands?

He says he’s the gate of the sheepfold. All others who have come are thieves and brigands.

What is this sheepfold and who are these thieves and brigands?

IMG_1352The very idea of a sheepfold suggests that we do not follow Jesus as individuals in isolation – there’s always Jesus Christ (the shepherd) and the Church (the sheepfold).

The sheepfold is the Church but it’s the Church merging into the kingdom of God. The Church is the gathering of those who’ve entered into the life of God through Jesus – it’s this passing through Jesus that produces the Church.

Jesus describes people who enter in this way as “safe” going “freely in and out” (of the life of God), “sure of finding pasture” – powerfully descriptive words.

There are other people who’ve entered the Church but without entering the life of God. They’re just going through the motions. These are the thieves and brigands – an accusation that’s directed in the first place at the religious leaders of his day.

Catholics, but particularly bishops and priests who maintain the mere external practice of religion without true conversion of heart are thieves and brigands. They usurp the things of God becoming obstacles rather than stepping stones to God. Pope Francis repeatedly warns about the threat such people pose within the Church.

But this problem is not confined to priests and bishops. Few are immune to the trappings of religion without the appropriate conversion of heart. 

Such ‘Catholics’ find life in the Church boring. They’re highly visible at the one-off events, First Communions, Confirmations, there’s an obvious disconnect which manifests itself in distraction. There’s little sense of the sacred, little sense of the presence of the Totally Other. In their distraction they “steal and kill and destroy” the sacred.

Finally, allow me to present you with the ultimate test of the Christian; are you a goodIMG_1356 shepherd prepared to lay down your life for the flock (the Church, God’s people) or are you a hired hand who runs away when the wolf attacks?

The difference, I think, is the gate we’ve used to enter the sheepfold. Have we really come in through Jesus?

Easter Sunday: Without this day death has the last word.

“Why should the privileges of the true Christian be disclosed to mankind at large?” John Henry Newman.

It’s “the first day of the week (Sunday) and still dark” and Mary of Magdala is up early to visit Jesus tomb. Why? Because she loved him. If she didn’t love him she wouldn’t be there.

Finding the tomb empty she runs to find Peter and the other disciple. 

Just a few months earlier Mary of Magdala had a very different set of friends.

“They have taken the Lord” she says, using a title that she doesn’t fully understand. How can he be Lord if he ends in death? Death is Lord then! The only man worth calling ‘Lord’ is the man who overcame death – not some guy who can kick a football or host a TV show!

Jesus has brought them together – but for this man Jesus, Mary of Magdala wouldn’t be running to find Peter and the others. Their love of Jesus has bound them together, given her and given them a new set of friends, a new family – the Church.

Peter, if married, has allowed a new person into his life, a person now as important to him as his wife. Every marriage should have him! Every life!
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They run, they’re full of emotion, it’s a matter of love and BANG they’re allowed to see because they love him.

They see, not everyone sees, only those close to him. The majority are doing their own thing, elsewhere. So it is to this day. “Why should the privileges of the true Christian be disclosed to mankind at large?” John Henry Newman.

Nonetheless –

Without this day we have no future. Just the denial of an inevitable and approaching doom!
Without this day cancer will often have the last word!
Without this day injustice will often have the last word!
Without this day violence will often have the last word!
Without this day evil has the last word!                                                                                           Without this day death, always and without exception has the last word!

Jesus has a great big heart! Reflections for Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

Jesus has got a great big heart!

One of the biggest problems within Catholicism is that we’ve watered down Christ and the Gospel so that more often than not we’re like the man who started to build without first sitting down to work out the cost to see if he had enough to finish the job. When he can’t finish he becomes a laughing stock (Luke 14:28). The result is a city (Church) that always looks half-built, or less than half-built – or like a ruin and the object of ridicule!

The first meaning of Holy Thursday is service – love.

Most of us have grasped that Christianity (therefore Catholicism) is about service – but Jesus has got a great big heart and his understanding of service is considerably more than giving a few hours here and there. It’s nothing like reaching a realization that life has been good so I’ll give something back. As good as that is, it’s not the message of Jesus.

Jesus asks that we lay down our lives! Believe it or not, only then will we know the joy of the Gospel.

In the aftermath of Good Friday the disciples will remember the washing of the feet and begin to see it not just as a general call to service, but also as pointing to the greatest service known to humankind; Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection in which men and women are washed clean of sin (in his body and blood).

What does it mean to be washed clean of sin?

I did not die on the Cross for you to bear the burden of your sin.

I did not die on the Cross for you to bear the burden of your sin.

It means that Jesus didn’t die on the Cross for you and I to bear the burden of our sins. I’d like you to really think about that, meditate on it… St Paul says “that for someone really worthy, a man might be prepared to die – but what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:7). A parent might be prepared to die to save the life of a son or daughter, but would you be prepared to die for a notorious criminal?

So instead of condemning the already condemned man, like we often do, Jesus does the opposite, he seeks to take the condemned man’s place in prison, or in the electric chair, or wherever! What do we think he’s doing on the Cross?

Can you see it?

At once he identifies with both the guilty and the innocent, guilty perpetrator and innocent victim. So whom exactly is Christ excluding? Nobody. Awesome!

I want you to see something else. Jesus never says wrong is right or right is wrong, he upholds a moral standard that applies to and judges all men and women, but instead of condemning those who fall short, what does he do? He lays down his life, literally, he offers his body and blood that they might be saved (which itself implies ultimate Justice) which is the exact opposite of what so many Catholics have done in recent years – they’ve run away believing that righteousness is on their side. This is not the path of Christ. Followers of Christ redeem with their lives! They become like Christ – hung among thieves!

Of course, all this implies that there’s ultimate justice; a final putting to right of wrongs. Indeed, mercy is justice transfigured by love. Unless we want to live in a meaningless universe, this is how it has to be!

Mass is long because our love of the Saviour is short!

Mass is long because our love of the Saviour is short!

The second meaning of Holy Thursday is the Eucharist – Holy Mass. The Last Supper is the DNA of Holy Mass. Jesus identifies his body with bread and his blood with wine. Try to capture something of the intensity with which Jesus took the bread and wine and offered it to his disciples. He knew he was ‘going away’ and he was giving them the means by which he’d stay with them. Catholicism is not primarily a moral code, an ethical system, it’s a person; Jesus Christ, who offers himself to us in Holy Mass; his life, body and blood, soul and divinity, his suffering, death, resurrection and glorification – everything.

The third meaning of Holy Thursday is the priesthood, but priesthood as being like Christ, as laying down your life, as the literal offering of your body, the pouring out of your blood, the willingness to exhaust yourself on behalf of God and man, to give everything, not a few hours here and there, to hold nothing back, to have no ‘me’ and no ‘mine’, only to have Him!

Because if you have Him you have everything. And you know what? He’s worth it!

Fourth Sunday of Lent: The blind man; victim of God’s love and man’s unbelief.

Jesus came into the world to separate those whose blindness is curable from those whose blindness cannot be cured because they presume themselves to be healthy. Pope Benedict XVI 

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John 9, The cure of the man born blind

Sometimes religion can be blind!

On the human level the man can see for the first time.

But the miraculous restoration of the mans sight has another layer of meaning. This healing is not just about restoring a man’s eye sight, it’s about recognizing the true identity of Jesus and as a result becoming a missionary. It’s impossible to discover the true identity of Jesus and keep it to yourself!

As events unfold it’s clear that the blind man’s healing is pushing the people involved to the point where they must make a decision about Jesus, about his identity. But they don’t want to go there even though they’re religious people and willing to argue about it. “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” Johnathan Swift. They’re like children kicking, screaming, resisting! The majority just refuse. No, we’re not moving. “Nobody who has been drinking old wine wants new” Luke 5:39. This is a real danger for religion and religious people – that we do not press on.

The blind man quickly begins to see beyond his physical healing and in this sense ‘to see’ means to come to faith in Jesus which is what happens. He pressed on. Through his encounter with JesusIMG_1113 the blind man comes to faith, step by step, it’s a gradual development, from describing Jesus as “the man” to “prophet” to “Lord”, and his journey to faith happens while he’s being questioned – interrogated – to the extent that he has to defend himself, and in fact he ends up defending Jesus! He’s even abandoned by his family. Once questioned his family quickly distance themselves from him. This hostile engagement on the front-line is such an important part of growing in faith. When did we engage in it last?

The blind man becomes something of a victim because Jesus restored his sight. He becomes a victim of God’s love and man’s unbelief. Spiritually, God’s love is a wound that never quite heals until it can reach fulfillment.

See, he becomes a missionary in sharp contrast to the people around him. There is a reversal of order at work here that’s classic Jesus shock! The blind man can see while those with sight can’t see at all! He who is last is now first, and the first are rapidly becoming last. As religious people we need to make sure it doesn’t happen to us!

As events unfold the blind man gets increasingly bold. He just gets fed up with their unbelief and becomes incredulous towards them, almost ridiculing them: “Now here is an astonishing thing! He has opened my eyes and you do not know where he comes from!” I’ll paraphrase that – he’s looking at them and thinking; what kind of fools have I got here that they can’t work this out?

Why couldn’t they see? What stopped them looking at the facts and reaching the obvious conclusion? Why couldn’t they reach the point where with the ‘blind’ man they too could say; Lord, I believe, and worship him?

John Henry Newman

Of course they could see, but they didn’t want to see, and thus refused to see, because seeing would mean having to change their lives. “Nobody puts new wine into old skins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins too. No! New wine, fresh skins!” Mark 2:22

Time to change our lives?

 

 

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Fourth Sunday of Advent A: Faith is not totally blind.

Homily Notes Fourth Sunday of Advent A

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born … Matt 1:18-24

Here’s a human story. At times it’s a chaotic story. But it’s also God’s story.

Joseph, wanting to spare Mary publicity decided to leave her.

But I doubt it was just about sparing her publicity.

Joseph wasn’t about to tolerate what he believed to be Mary’s unfaithfulness. After all, she was pregnant and he knew he wasn’t the father!

It seems clear that Mary’s position – single and pregnant – was something of a scandal within society at the time – otherwise why would Joseph want ‘to spare her publicity’?

Reminds me of a friend of mine who married young; she says that for months afterwards people used to say hello to her tummy!

The immediate aftermath of Mary’s discovery that she’s pregnant could be taken straight out of 1950s/60s and 70s Ireland.

“There is no present or future – only the past, happening over and over again – now.” (Eugene O’Neill)

I’d like you to observe one particular detail in God becoming man – the ‘messy’ mix of Divine and human.

Christmas was God’s idea, God’s doing, but it required the co-operation of Mary and Joseph and the taking of huge steps of faith by both.

Nonetheless, they weren’t blind steps, they were steps based on significant encounters with God.

Yes, Joseph took a huge step of faith based on a dream but within the dream no doubt God was persuasive. Still, Joseph had to act in faith.

Yes, Mary was left with the humanly impossible task of ‘explaining’ her pregnancy to Joseph and to face the cultural cruelty of people, but earlier she had seen and heard an Angel announce her pregnancy.

Mary and Joseph teach us that faith is not totally blind, or at least it shouldn’t be, for any of us. Faith is based on real encounter with God, and in the difficult moments on the memory of earlier encounters with God.

Third Sunday of Advent (A): God is Father of victim and ‘perp’!

John was the one chosen by God to prepare the way for the Christ-child.

Actually, he is the last of many.

For hundreds of years holy men and women had been saying a Messiah would come in much the same way that we look to Christ today and indeed to his second coming.

Faith is expectant!

Of course, even back then some people rubbished such claims, rubbished faith, in the same way that faith is rubbished today.

Nonetheless, the expectation of a Messiah, of a decisive intervention of God was fulfilled in the events of the first Christmas.

But Jesus surprised many, he didn’t match their expectations, and indeed many chose to keep their expectations and reject Jesus (the same is happening every day of the week!)

John is not so sure, he is in prison (don’t we love to imprison God!) and he has heard about this Jesus who was causing a stir, no doubt he was aware of the prophecies (First Reading), and could probably recognize something of Jesus’ actions in the words of the prophecies, so he sends messengers to ask Jesus the obvious question.

John (as did so many) expected a severe judgement (last Sunday’s Gospel) but what they got was a saviour. Hence he’s unsure if Jesus could be the One.

Jesus revealed God as a Father. OK, as a parent! One of the most misunderstood phrases inIMG_1017 the Gospels is ‘little ones’. When Jesus uses ‘little ones’ at times he means victims, at other times he means missioners, still at other times he means sinners – ‘perps’! God is the Father of all, we’re all God’s children (some of us may be lost to the Evil One but we belong properly to God – the loss is one of theft). God is the Father of both the victim and the ‘perp’!

This is the difference between the State and the Church. The State wants only good citizens. The Church takes both because she knows a Father who, like any good parent, doesn’t want to lose a single child but desires to restore both to ‘life’.

If we can’t tolerate that, then I doubt we’ll be able to tolerate Jesus Christ, never mind tolerate the Catholic Church!