Women: Excluded or exalted?

The mercy of God appears in all shapes and sizes. In the to and fro of our daily lives we often miss it. Sometimes we don’t understand it, sometimes it is not what we expect. This is more so, I think, in the long history of mankind, in particular the modern and popular understanding of the history of the chosen people of God; salvation history. Mercy, as is often the case, leads to so much more than itself as it is not an end itself but draws us into a deeper relationship with God, as does love, beauty, goodness, truth, and so on.

In the times of the Jews from not long after its inception men were considered dominant. They were the protectors and providers of their wives and their families. This was the case up until recent years, perhaps it still is in parts. When women were not protected or provided for they were vulnerable to a host of exploitations. Perhaps they still are in parts. Additionally authority, like anything else, can be abused which lead to the mercies of God being twisted for the benefit of the self and not for God. This lead to oppression and so forth.

Before the blessed self revelation of God in Jesus, God gave the Law. It is well known that some key figures in the history of the Hebrews had many wives; I think it was King Solomon who had the most. Nevertheless, this was a mercy extended by God to his people. Widows and other vulnerable women needed the protection and provisions of men. Allowing polygamy was a conciliatory mercy from God to women particularly for their protection.  The ideal would have been to create a society in which women, married or otherwise, were not vulnerable.

In comes Jesus: God’s mercy further extended. Jesus shows us the way in so many things and his example of his treatment of women, in particular widows, shows us the intrinsic dignity of all people and the protection required of the vulnerable, children included. By living the way of Jesus this ideal society is brought another step closer to reality.

Mary has a foundational and unequal role in the perception of women. The Mediatrix of mercy is uniquely exalted in the Catholic and Orthodox churches like no other human ever, male or female. Above all creation there is no one like her. Her preciousness extends to all humanity but is seen fully within the church.

Therefore, somewhat ironically, the patriarchal church Jesus left behind has in its view an example of perfect manhood in Jesus (not the lest by his treatment of those in need) and an example of perfect womanhood in Mary exalted. To uphold these examples in bringing about the ideal society the notion of an exalted person among many (or to put it another way to recognize the distinction within sameness) needs to be lived out loud and permeate through all we do. The ordinary made extraordinary: seen in Mary, through Jesus, by God.

The previous polygamous relationships now have a better example to live by. The chains, no matter how merciful their intent, have been broken and freedom reigns in fidelity to God and witnessed in monogamous marriage. The faithful example of Mary Queen of Heaven is the exaltation of womanhood par excellence. She was not given authority but is above all who have it, like a reversion of the protection and provision of the previous era.

This restored relationship – of Mary exalted, of the example of Jesus – brings together equally the prevailing faults of each of us. The reunions here on earth reflect faithfully (though not perfectly) the restored relationship in heaven. By having the exaltation of Mary, women are given an example to live by, and men are given the example of how to treat them. By having the example of a sacrificial Jesus men are given and example of manhood, and women are restored. United in Christ perfect union is more than possible, its achievable. Praise God!

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Who is it?: a reflection on this weeks gospel (Mat 16:13-20)

A marque quote for papal apologetics (a topic which I have already addressed) this week’s gospel also poses the question, “Who do you say I am?”: a question frequently answered though not always asked.

I personally find this question challenging. Who do I say Jesus is? I know the right answers – Lord, Messiah, the Christ, Rabbi, Saviour, teacher, master, friend, and many more. But who do I say he his?

Jesus calls me to a deeper and more personal relationship. He is all these things and he can be all things for all men all the time. But for each of us at different times our relationship with him will have a different slant. By this I mean that as we grow our perception of things will change and in this way Jesus will be different things to us at different times.

Having thought about this deeper than I had in many years I still am unsure. I do not say this out of a wilful ignorance nor of a lack of personal relationship (for that though there is still plenty of room). But nonetheless, I was no closer to finding who I say Jesus is for me at this time.

Given that Jesus is the head of the Church, which is his body, I looked at the way I most profoundly experience Jesus in the context of the church. Surprisingly I most profoundly experience Jesus in the sacrament of Reconciliation. I say “surprisingly” because I have a love for the Eucharist. Yet there have been moments in my life where I have gone to confession in tears (quite literally) and walked out on an emotional high.

This has shown me that I experience Jesus most as merciful Redeemer.

Even with this self awakening, it is not to the level of Peter’s proclamation “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” But I don’t think it has to be. To Peter he is one thing, to me another: neither of these are wrong nor contradictory.

Who is he to you? It really is a challenging question, but with the answer comes clarity. So again, who is he to you? 

   

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.            

For the greater glory of God: A reflection on this week’s gospel (Mt 5:13-16)

Recently we remembered the event of the Presentation. Then Simeon took Jesus in his arms raised him up and declared him to be a light for the Gentiles. The same imagery is found in this Sunday’s Gospel. No one, it says, lights a lamp and puts it under a basket (some translate it, tub). The light in the lamp is there to allow sufficient vision for us, for everyone, to see. Clearly, the light is symbol of Christ which can never be put out in a darkened world, though it can be blocked out. But what about the salt?

salt

 

“If salt becomes tasteless…” If? If ever. Salt can be stored dry for years and not lose its taste. It can seem to lose its taste in a number of ways; by way of contamination, dilution, and if we fail to sense the salt. The first two require external sources to effectively contaminate or dilute the salt. It is not that hard to see the connection to Jesus being the salt, like the light, and the contamination or dilution as the world which weakens the taste of the salt.

Our failure to sense the salt is likened to our failure to sense Jesus in our lives. Where the evils of the world could contaminate or dilute the message of Jesus, our readiness to receive and accept the message becomes like our awareness of the salt. Strangely though, the same cannot be said for the symbol of light. Our awareness of light sharpens in darkness. In the right proportions we largely take light for granted. It is only in its absence or flooding where we tend to notice it most.

It’s funny you know,  I like to think that God has a salty pallet. What if the whole world became salty? I would hate it – who likes to eat pure salt?! God on the other hand, because of his will for all men to be saved – to be the salt of the earth. He must love the salty taste. If we all are a light, then we might more perfectly channel God who is the source of all light. Taking these to the extreme, salt eliminates the natural flavour of food as it increases. Light too eliminates distinction between objects if the light becomes blinding. These can be seen as the loss of self in the service of God.

Here we come to the point of the reading. Many people will be familiar with the salt and light analogies. But the last line adds meaning to them. Why should we be salt and light? So that seeing our good works, others may come to believe in God. That is one heck of a demand!

It is widely recognized that you don’t have the be “religious” to do good things. And I’m not going to follow that proverbial rabbit hole, but people do things for a reason. Why would someone who doesn’t believe in God do the good things God asks of us? For those that follow God, here is our answer. But with all this good going on in the world how do we become lights or salt? With so much good going on we should aim to be better; but not only better, more consistent; but not only more consistent, faithful. Commitment to God requires action so that through these actions God may be seen. Commitment to God requires we do these actions for God who is seen through them (as opposed to altruistic or hedonistic purposes). Commitment to God requires the loss of self at the service of God. 

The loss of salt or the covering of light happens when actions occur for impure reasons or they are compromised to less than what they ought to be. Let your light of faith shine, and let your actions be salty. And may they never lose their saltiness. 

Here, There and Everywhere: A reflection on this Sunday’s gospel (Mt 2:13-15, 19-23)

As the calendar year draws to an end I find myself in an unusual situation. While in some ways my plans for the future have been railroaded, there are many opportunities presented. Which of these I am to take is unclear at this point. When I mentioned my unexpected situation to the Deacon at my local parish he said what a blessed position I am in to be living so much in the mercy of God. Needless to say, these were not quite the words I would have used.

This Sunday’s gospel recounts the first uneasy years of the Holy Family (whose Feast Day it is). It is not surprising that it is after the wise men leave (a symbol of the departure of earthly wisdom) Joseph becomes more explicitly at the mercy of God. Through the intercession of angels God sends word to Joseph (a man docile to the Father) to move the Family here, there and everywhere.

While Matthew explains the meanings behind these (to fulfill what the Lord has spoken through the prophets) there is also an element of the Exodus from Egypt, however now it is to Egypt and not from it. What remains, and always did, is the guiding hand of the Lord to safety and protection. It is through trials that I find my trust in the Lord is tested as through a fire, though the scriptural fire is found as Herod and his son Archelaus.

Many today are persecuted for any number of reasons. For some this persecution drives them out of their homelands and, like Christ, become refugees. Being thrown off course; having plans changed; being driven from a homeland; such trials present opportunities in disguise. These opportunities are not without problems yet these difficulties have a way of uniting those who are persecuted, a way of strengthening bonds.

 

Joseph pie chart

 

 

There’s another key feature of the Holy Family’s journey  (I hate this word: life is an adventure, not a passive journey). The Immaculate Mary and the perfect Infant Child both in their humility submit themselves to fallible Joseph. That is trust! Joseph must surely have been a very righteous man! The perfect guided by the imperfect. Relationships are key, no matter who we are, and our ultimate relationship is between us and God. The same God that is so far above us that he humbles himself as a babe in a manger under the protection of a man.

Yet who was protecting who? It was the angels that instructed Joseph to move here, there and everywhere. No doubt all three were under the watchful eye of a loving God, as we all are. The Holy Family holds a special significance to the eyes of the faithful for they become a model for all families who are, as the church describes, the domestic church.

Following the model of the Family there is a certain pressure, yet relief, as the father of my domestic church. The pressure is in the uncertainty of what lies ahead; the hows and whats of provision, protection and direction. The relief is found in the knowledge that ultimately God is providing, protecting and directing the family, if I remain docile to his will. Things often change and each change presents opportunities: the most prominent, to walk closer with God. I don’t know what my future holds but, as the cliche goes, I know who holds the future. May God continue to pour out his blessings on you in 2014.

….to save his people from their sins: A reflection on this Sunday’s gospel (Mt 1:18-24)

There have been many reflections during this week pointing out particular parts of this weeks Gospel. One might look at the comparison between the two names given: Jesus and Emmanuel (which I will address later). One might also look at the commendable faithfulness of Joseph, who in his shining moment truly becomes a model of obedience through confusion. Another reflection might also look more deeply at the relationship between Mary and Joseph: the “righteous man” and the quiet divorce which reflects contemporary honour. Any of these might link into the readings of the day or of any other Old Testament reference as a support.
magi
I however choose to examine a different aspect, not to the negation of any other. One phrase strikes me as a little unusual particularly in regards to its placement: “…who is to save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). Mark (Ch 8) is a marque reference addressing the uniqueness of God being the only person who can forgive sins when the paralytic is lowered down to him for healing. This draws on the Old Testament priestly tradition where sinners were to offer sacrifice for their sins through the priest to God. This was done by use of a proxy (a sacrificial animal) who bore the sins of the penitent. (It is not hard to see the sacrificial role of Jesus in this context and is drawn out further, most significantly, in the letter to the Hebrews which designates Jesus as the Sacrifice and the Priest.)
But this is not about Easter – the moment of his sacrifice – it is Christmas! It is all “joyful and triumphant” not “it is finished”! But that’s the point. Why is it that there is a reference to sins during the birth of Jesus? We know now with the gifts of hindsight and faith why that is, but to Joseph this would not have been the case. The name “Jesus” has a fairly fluid meaning but is most accurately interpreted as “God Saves”: but from what? The Messiah they were waiting for was a liberator from oppression. While the name Emmanuel means “God-with-us” the name Jesus adds depth: God-with-us as a Saviour.
Where the deviation occurs is in the understanding of Saviour; what Joseph (and later many others) understood of the Saviour is different to what God has in mind. This is what God addressed by adding “… who is to save his people from their sins.” I am reminded of King Solomon’s prayer of dedication (1 Kg 8:22-53) that he prayed after the temple was completed. This beautiful prayer pleads to God for forgiveness of the sins of his people. Jesus, in “rebuilding the temple in three days”, becomes for us the place for us to go for our sins to be forgiven.
In the simple words “to save his people from their sins” God allows Joseph a glimpse into the mission, the role, and the mystery of his Son and Saviour. This simple phrase points to Christ as the Perfect Sacrifice, as the High Priest, and the Holy Temple. Already at his birth his death is prefigured; a prefigurement echoed in the gifts of the Magi: Gold for his Kingship at the Temple; Frankincense for his Royal Priesthood; Myrrh for his death as a Sacrificial offering.
Just as every mass celebrates the Paschal Mystery of Christ, so too does every mass celebrate the birth of our Saviour. There is, therefore, something eternal about every mass; every Christ-mas. This allows us a glimpse of eternity, a glimpse of God we may not understand but need to accept. Are we there ready to accept God like a faithful Joseph? Or to acknowledge it joyfully like the Magi? There is something eternal about every Christmas and is lived by our reception of God-with-us.