This week’s gospel reflection: 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Luke 19:1-10)

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This week’s gospel is the very famous story of Zacchaeus. This poor little guy (OK, not that poor, but certainly little) climbs up a tree to see what all the fuss is about Jesus, who happens to be walking through his city of Jericho. Jesus surprisingly stops under the tree, points to him, and says “I’m am staying at your house today!” Zacchaeus was overjoyed and welcomed him into his home mush to the disgust of the onlookers, for Zacchaeus was considered an outcast and a sinner because of the way he did business. But as soon as he comes down, Zacchaeus makes amends for his wrongdoings by way of over-compensation. And by doing this Jesus declares that salvation has come to this house.

Occurring only in this passage of the whole Bible, the name ‘Zacchaeus’ means pure; and this gives the key to the whole passage. From the first line (as consistently happens in scripture) there is a discord. ‘Zacchaeus’ is anything BUT pure! He is an outcast who ripped people off! So, why the name Pure?

Through the story we see a change in Zacchaeus, from a man who wanted to see what all the fuss was about – just like any other by-stander – to a man who was profoundly touched by the presence of Jesus in a way that drove him to make amends for his life of sin. We see a change in him from manifest greed to spiritual poverty; from unclean to purity.

I do not pretend that this was all his spiritual life could give him, but he entered the path that offered a fuller life in Christ: a path that leads to purity. There is a certain purgation involved with a pure life; a separation of ourselves with our past sins; a separation of what we used to hold dear (money for Zacchaeus) with what we now see as more important; a new recognition of what it is for which we truly long. And it all starts with an encounter with Jesus.

Just as Zacchaeus searched Jesus out, so must we. Zacchaeus, no doubt, had heard about this great man who was coming his way. Interest had been sparked, but he was still a by-stander like many today who have heard the word and not lived it. He could have easily stayed among the crowd and have not got the chance to even see him – but he chose to go, quite literally, above and beyond. He got out of his comfort zone for Christ and was rewarded with the gift of purity of heart.

How often do we go out of our comfort zone for Jesus? Its easy to serve him on our terms, but he wants us to serve him on his terms. This make us (me) uncomfortable, but it must be done. For it sets us on the road to purity.

This week’s gospel reflection: 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Luke 18:9-14)

Providentially no doubt I am a little late in publishing this weeks reflection. I got somewhat sidetracked in preparing a garage sale (yard sale) for my mother. As usual there is much household stuff that is close to its last hoorah. Time dictates deterioration and fashions as the new takes the glory of the old, and so… anyone for Liberace records? Interestingly as I sit here with the radio on, the song “Lord, its hard to be humble” comes on. I don’t know who sings it but I’m sure it’s on YouTube with everything else if you’re interested.

This weeks gospel is about humility. Jesus contrasts two men: one a pride man of power and status and proud to be so. He prays to God (usually a good thing) thanking him that he is not like everyone else. He is especially is not like this tax collector who is a sinner and despised by many in the community. The tax collector meanwhile is also praying: have mercy on me a sinner. Jesus makes the tax collector an example of prayer and contrition.

I am reminded of the sacrament of confession. There is a strong connection between confession and contrition; contrition is the essential matter of the sacrament while the words of absolution are the form. Particularly what I’m reminded of the is renewal confession gives the penitent. It is through contrition an confession that one can find renewal, as John the Baptist preached, “repent and believe the good news”.

This renewal is one of the heart. A turning from pride to humility; a turning from self reliance to God-reliance; from division by sin to communion in God. Humility allows the heart to remain opened to God; pride keeps us separated from God and others. The grace of humility renews us. I’m reminded this time of Paul’s “new creation” theology, where we are renewed in the Spirit; renewed by God. It makes me wonder, what good is pride anyway? At best it might be a temporary solution for a temporary gain, but we lose out in the long run. At worst, it separates us from God forever.

Let humility restore us. We are the old common household items in the final days of glory in search of a new life. Through humility we can find a new life: everlasting life. As God dictates let the New take the glory of the Old. But we are fallen creatures, and we find it difficult to do what we ought. We ought to be humble, but it is hard. “Lord it is hard to be humble, but I’m doin’ the best that I can”. Let us not rely then on ourselves, rely on God and he will do it.

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This week’s gospel reflection: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 18:1-8)

(Coincidently, I write this gospel reflection on the feast day of the author, St. Luke. Happy feast day to all Lukes out there!)

We see this week a parable in which Jesus speaks of a woman who persisted in asking a judge for justice. The judge, no doubt annoyed by this nagging woman, relented and fulfilled the woman’s request. There is a clear message of persistence. It reminds me of St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians when he writes “pray without ceasing” (5:17). Persistence in prayer is often rewarded. However we know that it sometimes isn’t.

20131018-105431.jpg God is wisdom and love. God is also just and merciful. It is this understanding of God that we see in this story. It was through the unbelieving judge where God showed his mercy and justice.

I’m reminded of a story about a poor old woman who would stand in her balcony and loudly pray to God for all he has given her. Her atheistic neighbor would be driven crazy by her constant prayers. One day she loudly prayed to God of her need for food. Well, the neighbor heard this and thought to himself, “Right! I’ll fix her! I’ll buy the food, place it on her balcony and when she comes to pray I’ll tell her is was me, not God!” So she goes out to pray, like she does, and finds the food. She prayed with a renewed exuberance, thanking God all the more; thanking him for the food! The neighbor pipes up that it was him who gave her the food, not God. Praying all the more in thanks she says, “Oh, how great you are God! You even made an atheist pay for it!”

God fulfills prayer. But rarely as we expect. God gives us what we need, but in his perfect timing. Pray without ceasing, constantly, like the nagging woman. But you don’t have to nag God. Yes it’s good to ask God for things. Even repetitively. But there runs a real risk of think about God as a giant Santa Claus in the sky who gives us what we ask for. Prayer is more than that. Persistent prayer, constant prayer, takes many forms. A great theologian said once (I’m not sure who and when), unless you’re screaming at God in the street in the pouring rain, then it’s not really prayer. The point he’s trying to make is that prayer comes from the heart, whatever shape that looks like. Some of us might be familiar with the A.C.T.S of prayer: Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. But prayer from the heart doesn’t always fit in these categories. Whatever our mood, sorrow, disgust, fear, joy, awe, silence, indifference, and so much more, God is there with us. Prayer recognizes God accompaniment through good times and bad. Prayer is an opening of our hearts to God; to pray always is to keep those lines of communication open.

This is founded on faith. “Faith in action” is often used as a slogan in the Catholic Church. It counteracts much of the “faith alone” Protestant theology. Here the action is prayer: persistent prayer. Our faith in God naturally leads to a deeper relationship with him. This relationship is recognized by action, just read the Letter of James. A vague acknowledgement of some “greater power” is not a relationship with God. It’s like looking at the shadow of God and recognizing that he’s there. Look at God! Confront him in the street! Talk to him! Listen in silence: frequently. And you may begin to get a sense of a relationship. A relationship based on faith, which through prayer, calls us to action. But will there be any faith on earth when the Son of Man comes?

This week’s gospel reflection: 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Luke 17:11-19)

This weeks gospel sees Jesus cure ten lepers at the border of Samaria and Galilee, and only one comes back to give thanks. The first thing that strikes my mind is the place where this occurs: between Samaria and Galilee. The boarder areas are where those discarded from society have ended up with nowhere else to go. But both the Galileans and Samaritans would have each discarded lepers from within their respective communities which have now found comfort in the company of each other. It is through this community, through the fringes of society among the forgotten and insignificant, where Jesus performs this great miracle.

The second thing that comes to mind is that only one returns to give thanks. There are many analogies than can be drawn from this. One clear one today is the seemingly small number of church-going Catholics as compared to the nominal Catholics. We might be baptized, catechized, and sacramentalized but are we thankful, and showing that we are thankful? Thanksgiving is one thing we can offer God that he doesn’t already have. Think about that! He who created all, in whom we and everything exists, lacks something – thanksgiving. This is the reason for our highest form of adoration – the mass, also called Eucharist, which means thanksgiving. This passage is ultimately Eucharistic.

At further look at the scripture passage one may notice that the lepers didn’t come asking for healing, they asked for mercy: “Take pity on us” or another translation has, “Have mercy on us”. While mercy draws on a notion of compassion it goes beyond that. Mercy removes suffering; mercy is connected to justice. Jesus has done both of these. By healing them (removing their suffering), he says “show yourselves to the priests” which restores the relationship between the cast community and their leaders (justice).

One last observation, bubbling under the surface until the end, is the notion of faith. “Your faith has saved you” Jesus says to the one who gave thanks. But all ten had faith in Jesus that he could and would show mercy. Even after he did reveal his power to them, only one returned. The difference? His faith – faith to save. But they were all saved; from isolation, from persecution, loneliness. But only one was saved spiritually – eternally. The one who felt his unworthiness for healing so deeply that he had to return and give thanks.

It can be easy to be caught up with the next item on the to-do list that we don’t stop and give thanks, especially to God. How often we take things for granted. Take a moment now. What have you got to be thankful for? Name it, specifically. Thank him now.

If your faith does not call you to action you might not be saved. Practice faith daily, even if starts as a recognition of power and a return of thanksgiving. This humble act acknowledges a source of power outside of ourselves: it acknowledges God. So go in peace, glorifying The Lord by your life, thanks be to God!

Yeah, about Pope Francis…

It seems that everywhere you go, people on the street, and even the media, are talking about how great Pope Francis is. “A breath of fresh air for the church” (implying that is was a bit stuffy), “people on the street have really taken to him” (implying that Common Joe was not at all interested at Pope Emeritus Benedict), “he’s showing us how to live like Jesus” (implying that this has not been happening). I could go on but I think you get the idea. There is a groundswell of people liking the pope.
Among these though are ones who profess that there is a new teaching going on: that Francis is changing Catholic Doctrines. First, and I say this by getting it off my chest, Francis has not changed any teaching. And if he did, it certainly would not be through some media outlet. Therefore he is not speaking infallibly, and furthermore any Catholic is still in full communion with the church if he or she disagrees with the Pope.
With that disclaimer, I’m not sure I agree with the way he’s going about things. Or about what he is saying. I certainly don’t think the biggest issues today are found in the youth or the elderly. Don’t get me wrong, I think the way he lives and shows human dignity is exemplary, but his silence is deafening on, say, the “gay” marriage movement in France (well, everywhere really), or abortions in America or China, or the Euthanasia movement surfacing in Europe. I mean, is he not aware of these things? I’m sure he his. So why his silence? His vocal support for those defending the traditional teachings of the church would have been like a shot of adrenaline in the arms of a tiring army. It’s easy to say he’s doing nothing about it. It’s too easy; there must something else he’s doing.
First, as has been said a number of times by a number of outlets, he has not changed any church teaching. Lets make that clear. But just as clear, something has changed. Some have said there is a refocus of teachings, of a way of life. Others have said that some of what was neglected by Benedict, is being addressed by Francis. Though there might be ring of truth to these statements I think there is still more going on.
As I reflect on the significance Francis has had on my life during his short pontificate, I find, in truth, that I am unsettled. I was comfortable with Benedict. I loved his approach to scripture and theology. His writing danced seamlessly from scripture to history to philosophy to doctrine and back in a way few before him have captured. I think he will end up being a Doctor of the church. (Sure, I’m calling it early, the man isn’t even dead yet! But he certainly has it in him.) I also liked Benedict’s renewal of the liturgy. I think there are few things that direct ones mind to heaven like a liturgy well done. It is important, but only for those in the church. There is one thing Benedict did though that, I think, will be significant through the eyes of history that is overlooked still so close the event: his effort in ecumenism.
It was an important and critical first step to get brothers of similar faiths united for the long road ahead. I think especially of the more traditional of the Anglicans who have entered the church – and continue to do so – and of the work in uniting the schismatic SSPX. His work towards reunification of the faith will be a landmark in his pontificate.
I remember last year running a lesson for some year 10s on ecumenism. I added in there the ways towards ecumenism highlighted by Dr. Peter Kreeft, the transcript of which can be found here. He points to the importance, in the context of Protestantism, of the personal relationship to Christ, a relationship closer than the Protestants could ever get. This is his key to ecumenism with Protestants. But the same principle applies to other groups: let’s love the environment more that the environmentalists, lets be more peaceful than Buddhists. Few doubt that the actions of Francis are from anywhere but God. He is living charitas. It is through his actions that people are coming to him. His is being more charitable than charities, more embracing than secularists, and more focused on personal dignity than humanists. And it’s making me uncomfortable.
But I’m sure it’s making many people uncomfortable. As someone with a more traditional bent, Francis is taking me out of my comfort zone. But he needs to do this for all traditionalists, as he is for all people. He is making those who oppose the faith uncomfortable, because they are reconsidering their opposition.
By his exemplary lifestyle, a lifestyle that challenges almost everyone, he is addressing what I think is among the biggest issue in the world today: that of the loss of human dignity. Restoring the human dignity in everyone he meets: that is his example. And by doing so his is challenging me, making me uncomfortable, to live likewise. And he also addresses the issues of “gay” marriage, euthanasia and abortion which have their foundation in the dignity of the human person. His silence in deafening, but his actions resonate through a largely hollow world. He may not be speaking infallibly, but if there was such a thing as acting infallibly, I think he would be very close to it. May he continue to challenge me and the whole world to a life conformed in Christ.

How is he challenging you?

This week’s gospel reflection: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 17:5-10)

Following a simple request by the apostles to increase their faith, Jesus seems to reply with a harsh retort. They already knew they had little faith, for that is why they asked for an increase, but smaller than the size of a mustard seed!? This striking comparison still today reverberates – for if the faith of the apostles was smaller than a mustard seed, how much smaller is ours that never got to see Jesus perform miracles or hear him teach authoritatively? And still today I do not see trees uprooted or mountains moved because a person of faith has told them to do so. Our faith remains still less than a mustard seed. But what is faith?

Faith is one of the three theological virtues: faith, hope and love; the greatest of these being love St. Paul says in 1Cor 13:13. But that does not make faith unimportant. On the contrary. I think of these as a skyscraper. While love is what makes us want to reach the sky, faith is the foundation of that love. (Hope, incidentally, is what knits the building together.) Love may exceed faith, but it must always presume it for it otherwise becomes not the love of God but the love of self; just as hope in God presumes faith, otherwise we place that hope in man.

Following the retort is what can seem to be a disjointed parable. One could validly ask what has that got to do with faith? Through Jesus’s parable he outlines a few features of faith. A first observation is humility. This final resonating note of humility is the entry path to attaining faith – and although there are many things within the parable this is the main point Jesus was trying to make. Even if we have faith enough to uproot trees, pride could easily set in. We see this with the Pharisees from time to time.

Humility leads to trust which leads to service. Once we become submissive to a master we do what we are told, without reward. Many saints over history have said that they have done little in their work – Thomas Aquinas’s “all is straw” deathbed comment could be a case in point. Yet his service to the faith of the church was great. But he recognizes that it is not his work but that of the master.

This love directed faith comes about through a relationship established between master and servant – a master who calls us friend and laid down his life for us. A loving service that is not only reciprocated but becomes the example we must follow.

While it is foundational, faith continues to grow through loving service. When we see love in action and right relationships restored with family, with friends, with society, and with God, our faith grows. Service of others becomes the garden bed of faith. It is confronting, challenging, disquieting and often works in silent. But faith extends us beyond our capabilities and may one day enable us to uproot trees. But stay humble about it, brother!

On a related matter, the attached picture is a flyer of an upcoming men’s conference called Moving Mountains. Celebrating the conclusion of the Year of Faith, it is a day long event with some great guest speakers. The day finishes with mass. Come along if you can get there. If you can’t, I ask you to pray for its success. I hope the day fills many men with faith and provides ways in which they can live that faith in their daily lives.

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