As in life, so in death: a reflection on this week’s Gospel (Lk 23:35-43)

I’m sure I don’t need to convince anyone here just how great our Lord is. But this week we see a man who lived a life of such contradiction ending life with the same contradiction.

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This is the week we celebrate the Kingship of Jesus. But why do we read about his last hours of life as a celebration of his kingship? A good example of “why?” is in the reading of John’s gospel. The evangelist builds the gospel to the climatic scene of the crucifixion. Just prior to it, he is presented to the blood-thirsty crowd and crowned with thorns while Pilate proclaims, “Here is your King.” The leaders return their cry of, “We have no King but Caesar.”

But this is Luke’s version of the final hours of Jesus – the crucifixion is considered more shameful yet unavoidable as it was well known within the community and beyond. So, just as John was highlighting a message, what might Luke be saying through these same final hours?

When I think of it I find it extraordinary. It is no secret that Luke’s gospel portrays Jesus most compassionately, and here we see at his death the same compassion. Reassuring the “good thief” who is repentant and defending Jesus to his death, Jesus continues to extend mercy promising paradise. Here is Jesus, dying, and at a point where I would be screaming innocence, Jesus has the welfare of others in his mind: as in life, so in death. 

Common to all gospels, the sign placed above him on his cross reads “King of the Jews.” It is no wonder then that we recognise this as the point of Jesus’ kingship: he is crowned, raised above all as on a throne, and in authoritative leadership, extends compassion to his people. And he asks me (us) to do likewise. Is there a tougher challenge?

Rightly, kings have authority and Jesus is no different. Authority; it shares the origin of author. Those in authority have the ability to “write” on others. Jesus continues to “write” on us through his legacy as seen in the scriptures. I think this is what Jesus is asking us to do: to write on others in the same way Jesus “writes” on us. This is a profound example of how to do exactly that.

We are called to be leaders; leaders of families, or businesses, or governments, or churches, or even among friends. This expression of authority, of being able to “write” on others, is what Vatican II recalls when each of us are to be priests, prophets and kings. What is it that we “write” on others? We have influence, can extend mercy and compassion, but do we? We are kings without being a king. As in life, so in death. Compassion has been extended to us as “good thieves” (for while we were still sinners Christ died for us, Rom 5:8); do we continue to extend the same compassion to others? Repentance and compassion changes us, and it can change others too if we choose to let it.       

Focus; focus; focus. A reflection on this week’s Gospel (Lk 21:5-19)

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I find it hard to stay focused these days. There is so much demanding our time and attention. Emails, television, smart phones, Facebook and so much more. There is a great avoidance of silence in society, so much so that distraction is often a way of escapism from a reality we do not want to deal with. Distraction numbs us and dumbs us; it lulls us and dulls us.

Immediately before this weeks gospel passage is the famous widows mite. Immediately before that, is the denunciation of the scribes. The comparison found in these two people – one from a group who seeks the attention, security and superiority, the other humble, vulnerable and forgotten – is picked up again in this gospel.

The disciples become aware of the fine detail and stonework of the temple. But Jesus speaks of a time when these things will be laid to waist. The beauty gone: not one on another; all will be thrown down. Our focus should not be on the flashy and fabulous but on the humble and forgotten. What grabs our attention is often not what we should be focused on.

In asking again the wrong question (when and what signs?) the disciples reveal their understanding, or rather misunderstanding, of what is ahead. They are looking for the glory of the Davidic kingdom to be restored, a king of Israel to take the throne and rule the people. Talk about attention! But this is not to be. Not a stone of the temple will remain on another. “Beware you are not lead astray” Jesus warns, in hope that their focus remains on the Spirit and not on man.

There is a great significance in the destruction of the temple. What demands our attention becomes a false temple that we worship. We are always checking our emails or Facebook or something at the neglect of real personal contact. Even today we have lost some focus on our lives: we have been lead astray. Our attention is in the modern, the shiny, the new and the trendy at the cost of the discarded, the outdated, the forgotten and the old. Jesus sees the proper value in these things and the inherent dignity of such people, and so should we.

Jesus continues outlining what the future holds, and its not glory in the eyes of man. It is persecution, devastation, insurrection, earthquakes, famines, plagues and great signs from heaven. Among this shocking news Jesus reassures them “do not be frightened, for these things must take place.” But the end is NOT near, as some false prophets will tell you.

Through these times of trial, there remains the opportunity to speak the good news to all. Focus on the Spirit and he will give you the words you need to speak. Focus on the Spirit, endure to the end, and we will gain our souls. Focus not on the things of this world but of the things of heaven, even when from it comes great signs. Endure all hardships proclaiming the good news of Jesus. Gain our souls by obediently trusting in what The Lord has done, and what the Spirit will do in us: giving an eloquence and a wisdom that is irresistible.

Jesus starkly grabs the disciples attention. The warnings of the time to come are confronting. Do not focus on the details, the whens and whats, but on the Spirit who will lead us to everlasting life. Still today life is confronting. Great devastation, persecution, earthquakes and the like are still going on in innumerable places around the world: think of the Philippines and the Middle East to begin with. Yet Jesus says to proclaim the Kingdom of God to the end no matter what the circumstance.

I need to stop being distracted and listen to the Spirit. I need to unplug my headphones and take a moment to stop and focus on Spirit, then proclaim the Kingdom of God through loving acts of service to the humble, the vulnerable and the forgotten in our society: those most affected by such turmoils. What demands your attention and takes your focus away from the Spirit of God? Are you lead astray? Can you tear down your temple with the help of the Spirit? What great turmoils in your life present opportunities to preach the gospel in loving actions?

Clarinets and candle light : A reflection on this Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 20:27-38)

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For those that may not have guessed yet, I lean more to the traditional side of things. When it comes to liturgy I am no different. I saw a clip on twitter this week which I forwarded (you can find me @G0d_lover) that showed a disgraceful mass with a clarinet playing celebrant, belly dancers (in front of the exposed Blessed Sacrament) and Holy Communion distributed to the congregation seated at candlelit tables! I mean, where’s the parousia?! (That is the name given, basically, to the line up of the faithful into heaven of which the queue to receive the Eucharist is a sign.)

This morning’s mass, thankfully, fell short of clarinets and candle light but had a number of, what some may call, “liturgical abuses”: readings were unnecessarily changed, liturgical dancers made an appearance… Yes, it was a mass for young children, so “accommodations” had to be made.

What has all this got to do with this Sunday’s gospel? Jesus speaks to “some Sadducees – those who say there is no resurrection” – about marriage. However in the context of marriage Jesus gives a lesson on the resurrection. There is the clear lesson of eternal life (“he is God, not of the dead, but of the living”) but he alludes to more than this. In saying that those in the “other world” do not marry, he points to a deeper change in our state of life. Once we cross the great divide of death nothing is the same. Perhaps a better way of saying it is that everything of God is perfected. Marriage should never be for an individual. Marriage is for the dedicated service of two individuals to each other. Marriage becomes a way to holiness; to communion with Christ. In heaven this communion is perfected. This widow was graced enough to get possibly seven men to heaven (though whether heaven existed in its current state or not is a matter for another time!). Widows and widowers are themselves the best adjudicators whether or not they have succeeded in their role to get their spouse to heaven. I mean, apart from the spouse and God.

This perfection in heaven is living – and real. All things offered for the greater glory of God are perfected in heaven. Marriages are among them. So are masses, no matter how poor or disrespectful they seem. I remember speaking about this problem (of masses with little respect) to my spiritual director. She advised me to focus on Christ. Be aware of the form and matter. If these are present, so is Christ. I still tell myself “Jesus is here, Jesus is here” during what I would consider poor masses, but it is true. I am not the judge, Jesus will be. And he will perfect all things offered to God, whether marriages or masses, whether clarinets or candles.

Pray for the souls in purgatory. They are in the process of being perfected.