See ya later

It was during our celebration of All Saints day and All Souls day that we farewell a visiting priest to our parish. Coming from India Father continues a series of sub-continental priests to fill in the shortage in our diocese. The next is already here and we anxiously await for his contribution to the parish life.

Nonetheless, during his final homily (his homilies are quite divisive; he uses scripture, like Hendrix uses a guitar, to call us to account which is confronting to some people) he spoke about the celebrations of All Saints / All Souls as a celebration of the Church Glorified (or Redeemed), the Church Suffering, and the Church Militant.

If these terms are new to you its basically a recognition of the three states of the people of God: those in Heaven are the Church Glorified (and is celebrated during All Saints), those in Purgatory are the Church Suffering (and is celebrated during All Souls), and those of us still working out our salvation with fear and trembling are the Church Militant, for we are still battling the evil one. (For scriptural support of purgatory I point you to 1 Cor 3:12-15).

It was, in his usual custom, both comforting and confronting to hear about the reality of Hell from the ambo. Where  much soothsaying is normally found the font runneth dry, at least for a time. But the point was clearly made that life is eternal and we end up in either Heaven or Hell which is determined by our choices. Life does not end here.

As Father was saying his goodbyes to parishioners during the week it was pointed out to him that in Australia we don’t say “good bye”, we say “see ya later.” So just as the words of scripture do not end on the page, just as the ministry of the priest does not end in the parish, life does not end on earth. In each of these cases we can truly say “See ya later.”

So while Father continues his ministry elsewhere we say a big thank you for your ministry in our parish. And we extend the prayer to include all priests in their ministry. Thank you all, and “See ya later!” Join me in prayerful thanks; Our Father…

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The Busy Life: a reflection on the last few weeks gospels

Is this cheating? Putting a few reflections in one? Some might say so but I’ll do it anyway! I’ve been busy.

Have you had some busyness in your life? I’m sure you can relate. You may have been more busy I. You may have been less. But there comes a time nonetheless where the ordinary life becomes a memory and the mundane a dream. I wont go into with what my days have been consumed, suffice to say they unfortunately have somewhat limited my alone time with God.

Just as Jesus and the apostles seek time alone to pray, away from the pursuing crowds so we must seek it too. I am reminded of its importance recently and while I try, I am unsuccessful. There have been many who have said things like, “If you’re too busy to pray, you’re too busy,” or “It is when you’re most busy that you need to pray the most.”

I find this sort of advise more of a shifting of focus more than anything else. Not quite as practical as I would hope. And I’m afraid I cannot help beyond that. I found that if I shave some time off in the mornings, getting up a little earlier, say, or likewise in the evening, then I only rob Peter to pay Paul. It feels as if it is not enough. 

I find it is easy to get disheartened, feel inadequate and give up for a bit. In the last few weeks Jesus has reminded me how much we can get from just a little. It was only five loaves and two fish that feed five thousand: it was the first step that got Peter walking on the water: it is the crumbs from the feast for the people of Israel that heals the daughter of the woman of Gennesaret. It takes courage and obedience to take that first step.

The familiar cycle of willingness, courage, success, trial, then failure is one that is shared by many. Through these last few busy weeks I am reminded to keep my eyes on Jesus. Peter called to be saved by keeping his eyes on Jesus, the crowd was fed through the obedience of the apostles, and the woman saved her daughter through an at of courage.

With each cycle we become a little more courageous and a little more obedient, if we only keep our eyes on Jesus. I know that even the little time I give – as inadequate as I feel it might be – is enough for Jesus to do his work in me. Jesus, I am sure, is not only after quantity of time. A minutes prayer said with sincerity is worth a thousand years of hollow devotion. While time is worthwhile he wants our hearts, if only we are courageous enough to give it.            

An uncomfortable comfort: A reflection on this week’s gospel – The Ascension (Matt 28:16-20)

(Another introductory note: Clearly I had last week incorrect. What I believe occurred is that last week there was an alternate Gospel; the one on which I reflected. If there was confusion I apologize.)

 

I recently attained a First Aid accreditation certificate as required by my employer. The day long course was filled with bandaging, dressing, splinting, treating, wrapping, resuscitating, and applying all sorts of things in all sorts of situations. I hope I am never in a position where I am required to recall my training, both for the victim and for me (I have this tendency of temporary memory loss in times of pressure. Thankfully it’s counteracted by my coolheadedness, but I digress).

The one take home point was that it was not obligatory for me to help in such situations, but if I did it is obligatory for me to stay until the victim recovers, more help comes or I can give no more. With such a demand I don’t know whether I would stop to help or not. This lack of confidence and resourcefulness adds to my discomfort. Like I said, I hope I am not put in this situation. Would I overcome these fears and do what I can to help others in such desperate cases? Honestly, I don’t know. It’s easy to find excuses not to.

The final words of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, often referred to as the Great Commission, is the Gospel for this week’s Sunday, at least for those who are celebrating the Ascension. This passage is thought of, though not explicitly expressed, as the words Jesus said immediately before his Ascension which we celebrate this week either Thursday or Sunday.

The first thing that comes to mind when reading this is that Jesus had arranged for them to meet at a given place but that place isn’t listed: Galilee is given but not the specific location. At a time when people and places had specific names which become clues about the person or place here it is noticeably silent in the matter. Yet the fact that they are only there because Jesus told them to be there is not lost in this detail.

With such intentional vagueness comes an easy path to modern application. It could easily be somewhere up the road to where Jesus calls us. The point is still the same: that they only go because Jesus says. While under instruction we are not obliged to go.

Those that choose to go meet Jesus are rewarded with divine recognition. Although Jesus these days is recognized as divine in his absence this was not the case for the disciples. Their faithful witness of Jesus’ resurrection then testifies to us today. They saw him; they bowed down before him, though some hesitated. We still bow down; some still hesitate.

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Whether we be one who bows or one who hesitates Jesus gives to each the same message, the same commission. This message hits home and brings forth a new reality. Like a bolt of lightning they are suddenly thrust into a situation that demands more from them. Through the authority of Jesus they are commanded to go forth into the world and teach what they have been taught and obey as they have obeyed. Warmth and comfort proceed the shock: I will be with you until the end of time.

The apostles are largely passive through this episode, though they go from one place to the next, but so much is demanded of them. They have been training for this by their life with Jesus. Though they willing chose Jesus they have not sought out this mission, it was thrust upon them. (Hello, Shakespeare.) But they are turned into men of action and discomfort. Knowing that Jesus will be with them until the end of the age (the end of time) is a comfort, but an uncomfortable comfort: the world will violently hate them, their faith will be shaken, their lives will be taken… and so on. But, hey, this is a great message and we should tell everyone and baptize them. This is what life is though; being uncomfortable for the comfort and benefit of others. Eternal life awaits them after all; a very real hope, a very real driving force into breaking beyond the comfort zone of apathy which is fueled by the Spirit which Jesus leaves.

I don’t know if I could do what I have been trained for. I could apply what I have learnt, but would it be enough? How would I cope if my actions not only failed to help them but made the situation worse? I could find myself in a situation like this at any time, even somewhere up the road. Even then I am not obliged to go. Would I hesitate? Would I go? Would I bow down to help them? Could I cope with the responsibilty when thrust into this situation? Can I become a man of action through discomfort?

In applying First Aid, I don’t know. In faithfully following the call of Jesus…

Hey, there he is!: a reflection on this week’s gospel (Jn 1:29-34)

At coming to the end of the Christmas Season, at least for most of us, we enter ordinary time reflecting on a gospel with an unusual feature: one in which Jesus doesn’t speak a word. And yet his silence allows him to be the center of John the Baptist’s monologue. So why is this gospel, one with which Catholics should be well familiar given it is in the mass, selected as the introduction for the year?

I think it may have more to do with the context of the story. Jesus returns from the desert and John, with his disciples, see Jesus. This begins the gospel. Upon John pointing the way to Jesus (I like to think of it as a “Hey, there he is!” moment) some of his disciples start following him, and rightly so: John is the one who, of Jesus, cries out in the wilderness, is the one unfit to untie his shoes, the one for whom he must decrease.

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Within this context one begins to see the meaning of the gospel. John points the way to Jesus, a way we too must follow. For the start of the year and the season of ordinary time – which, by the way, does not mean ordinary as in plain but ordinary as in ordered or sequential – it is fitting then that the first gospel directs us to Jesus, the Chosen One of God.

Insofar as the Mass is concerned, it may seem strange that these words of John’s direction are placed where they are. If the words, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” are inviting us to be aware of the presence of Jesus, shouldn’t they be earlier perhaps at the start of the Mass or at least before the consecration? Valid arguments, since Jesus is present earlier than when these words are said. So why are they placed there?

I believe – and though I have studied the Mass and indeed given presentations on it, it is no more than a belief, or at best a lucky shot – I believe that while the real presence of Jesus becomes manifest at the point of consecration, just as Jesus was present prior to these words of John, it is not until after Jesus is recognized that others begin to follow. Likewise, it is soon after our public recognition of Jesus in repeating these same words of John that we too begin to follow Jesus, quite physically and publicly, in the reception of the Blessed Sacrament.

I am told there are still disciples of John the Baptist in existence today in a remote part of somewhere (sorry the details are sketchy, some years have since past when I heard that). In spirit at least, I think there are more. These followers of John have not taken heed of his word, have not followed his direction. There are some people today (and perhaps more than some) who have not followed John to Jesus. They may live a worthy life and while they may have come close to Jesus, they have not begun to follow him. They continue to follow a false Chosen One.

In living a life faithful to the gospel, do we point the way to Jesus like John did? Are we continuing to follow a “John” like replacement? Can we let go of the comfort of what we know and like the disciples of John reach out to Jesus and follow him in a radical life? Do we point the way to Jesus in the ordered life?

Let the silence of Jesus be at peace within you. Follow the promptings of his Spirit, in whichever form they take for you – for I’m fairly sure they will not be manifested in the same way as it was for John! – and let your faithfulness to these promptings draw you closer to Christ, and in turn direct others to him on whom the Spirit rests.

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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