Monday, May 31, 2010

My Soul Proclaims The Greatness Of The Lord. He Has Remembered His Promise Of Mercy.

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Reading I
Zephaniah 3:14-18a

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has removed the judgment against you,
he has turned away your enemies;
The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
He will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Isaiah 12
Among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
God indeed is my savior;
I am confident and unafraid.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
With joy you will draw water
at the fountain of salvation.
Among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
Give thanks to the LORD, acclaim his name;
among the nations make known his deeds,
proclaim how exalted is his name.
Among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
Sing praise to the LORD for his glorious achievement;
let this be known throughout all the earth.
Shout with exultation, O city of Zion,
for great in your midst
is the Holy One of Israel!
Among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
+++     +++    +++    +++   
Luke 1:39-56
Mary set out and traveled
to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound
of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.”

Mary remained with her about three months
and then returned to her home.
Today we celebrate the second joyful mystery of the rosary, the Visitation, when Mary, herself newly pregnant, travels in haste to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who is about to bear a son, John the Baptist. It's always been my favorite of these mysteries of the Hidden Life. I don't know exactly why. Perhaps it's because it is about something we do all our lives: visit and get visited. Such occasions can be very graced, special, instructive, and consoling, if we only have eyes to see and ears to hear. I think of a line in a folk song of Kathy Mattea several years ago: "He keeps sending me angels ... just like you."

The readings are stunningly beautiful! The passage from the prophet Zephaniah paints such a strong picture of our need to shout for joy, because of what God keeps doing for us, that one can scarcely read it without being lifted up. It makes you want to dance for joy! Because it isn't so much about our rejoicing in God, but about God's rejoicing over us with gladness and singing joyfully because of us! Imagine that!

The response from another prophet, Isaiah, is even more powerfully upbeat because it spells out more clearly the reason for our hope.. A way of praying that I recommend today is to slowly and repeatedly read this passage in light of how we have experienced salvation, why we have every reason to be "confident and unafraid," since "our strength and our courage is our savior." Then, "with joy we will draw water at the fountain of salvation."

Finally, we have the story of Mary's trip to the hill country for the purpose of encouraging, supporting, and helping her cousin, Elizabeth. What a dramatic greeting! What an extraordinary visit! Mary herself doesn't even have to tell Elizabeth that she too is pregnant. Elizabeth felt it in her own womb, as her infant leaped for joy. Filled with the Holy Spirit, her words of humble and joyful praise ring out for us down through the years: "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Think of how often her words have been repeated down through the centuries!

Then comes Mary's own ecstatic hymn of praise, which we still rightly call the Magnificat. It's a perfect prayer of Thanksgiving, and it continues to inspire us all, generation after generation. Repeating this prayer of Mary is my final suggestion for praying this joyful mystery, as we say to our God: "Keep us open to the working of your Spirit, and with Mary may we praise you forever."
Creighton University Daily Reflections
Bert Thelen, S.J.
St. John's Parish

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Spirit Will Take From What Is Mine, And Declare It To You.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Reading I
Proverbs 8:22-31
Thus says the wisdom of God:
"The LORD possessed me,
the beginning of his ways,
the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago;
from of old I was poured forth,
at the first, before the earth.
When there were no depths
I was brought forth,
when there were no fountains or springs of water;
before the mountains were settled into place,
before the hills, I was brought forth;
while as yet the earth and fields were not made,
nor the first clods of the world.

"When the Lord established the heavens I was there,
when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;
when he made firm the skies above,
when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;
when he set for the sea its limit,
so that the waters should not transgress his command;
then was I beside him as his craftsman,
and I was his delight day by day,
playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of his earth;
and I found delight in the human race."
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 8
O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name
in all the earth!
When I behold your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars which you set in place —
What is man that you should be mindful of him,
or the son of man that you should care for him?
O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name
in all the earth!
You have made him little less than the angels,
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him rule over the works of your hands,
putting all things under his feet:
O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name
in all the earth!
All sheep and oxen,
yes, and the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, the fishes of the sea,
and whatever swims the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name
in all the earth!
+++    +++    +++    +++
Reading II
Romans 5:1-5

Brothers and sisters:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith,
we have peace with God
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith
to this grace in which we stand,
and we boast in hope of the glory of God.
Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions,
knowing that affliction produces endurance,
and endurance, proven character,
and proven character, hope,
and hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God
has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
John 16:12-15
Jesus said to his disciples:
"I have much more to tell you,
but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth.
He will not speak on his own,
but he will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you
the things that are coming.
He will glorify me,
because he will take from what is mine
and declare it to you.
Everything that the Father has is mine;
for this reason I told you
that he will take from what is mine
and declare it to you."
THE FEAST OF THE HOLY TRINITY reminds us that God is a family of love. We are dealing here not just with some terribly abstract theological doctrine, still less with a mathematical contradiction that 3=1! We are not saying that one God is three gods but that in one God there are three Persons. What Scripture reveals to us is a unity of three real persons. Of course, to try to understand fully how one God can be three Persons is not really possible for us. There are two extremes to be avoided:
a. Breaking our head trying to work out fully how one God can be three Persons;
b. Saying, "Oh, it's a mystery" and not bother to have any understanding at all.

Our Search For Meaning

On the one hand, as human beings we want to understand, to find meaning in things and we should always try to go as far as we can in making sense of our faith. On the other hand, there are many things in life which are and probably always will be far beyond our understanding. (Recently, the famous scientist, Stephen Hawkings, said he had given up his dream of finding a single mathematical equation that would explain the ultimate existence of everything.) That does not meant we deny their truth or their existence. Even human life itself, even our own lives, our very identity as persons is something we never fully grasp.

Instead, then, of trying to indulge in theological acrobatics or worrying about orthodox formulations, let us instead try to enter into a relationship with these three Persons, through whom God is revealed to us. "The love of God," says Paul today in the Second Reading, "has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us." That is what it is all about.

Behavior and existence

It was the theologian St Thomas Aquinas who said many centuries ago that "action follows being". That is to say, the behavior of any person, animal, plant or thing is determined by what that person, plant, animal or thing is. Human beings can play the piano and geckos can walk along the ceiling. Dogs bark, horses neigh (they only speak on TV), donkeys bray, birds sing. Ducks can swim and fly but hens can do neither.

The reverse is also true. We can get some understanding of what a person or thing is by its behavior. If I say about someone, "He IS a very nice person." On what do I base my statement? Surely on the way that this person consistently behaves, on his ACTIONS. It becomes even clearer in something like atomic physics. No one has ever actually seen an atom - it is simply too small. But scientists can observe the behavior of atoms and from that behavior they can confidently describe something of what an atom is.

A world of mystery

One hears it said sometimes that science has removed all the mysteries from life. Nothing could be further from the truth. The more that science discovers about our universe, whether at the atomic or galactic level, the more questions, the more mysteries emerge.

Life is full of mysteries, including the mystery of my own self and there is no need to be discouraged by that fact. If the material world can be such a mystery, it is hardly surprising that its Creator should not be an even greater mystery too.

What we mean by “mystery”

It is important to be aware that when we say the Trinity is a mystery we are not saying that it is just an impenetrable puzzle, still less a contradiction in terms (3=1). The word "mystery" when used in the Christian Testament rather speaks of something that was previously unknown but is now revealed to and shared by a privileged group of people. The membership card to this privileged group is faith - faith in God as Father, faith in God as the Son whom he sent to us as Jesus Christ, and faith in God as the Spirit that teaches and guides us here and now.

While the inner reality of the Trinity is something we cannot penetrate now, there is much about these three Persons that we can know from what they do. From their actions we can know a lot about who they are both in themselves, between themselves and in their relationship to us.

The “persona”

The Latin word persona translates the Greek word prosopon. Prosopon really refers to the mask that Greek actors used to wear to indicate the role they were playing. There is something similar in Chinese opera where the design of the make-up on the face lets the audience know immediately who or what kind of person the actor is supposed to be. The mask then comes to mean role or function. So even today in our play programs we look at the Dramatis Personae, the roles in the play.

What the Trinity then says is that God has three "masks" indicating three distinct roles or functions. God reaches us personally in three different ways. Although it took the Church a couple of centuries to express this in theological language, the three "roles" of God are clearly delineated in the Scriptures, both Hebrew and Christian. The three Readings today are clear testimony of this.

God as Creator

We see God as Father and Mother, the origin and creator of all life and dependent existence. This Person is the origin and goal, the Alpha and Omega, of all things, of all life. This Person is the source of all Truth and Love, a Person of Mercy and Compassion, the source of all Wisdom. And our hearts will find not rest until they rest in Him. It is beautifully expressed in the First Reading from the Book of Proverbs. (Take time out to read it slowly today.)

God’s Love in Jesus

In the Second Reading from the Letter to the Romans, Paul tells us how God's love has been made known to us in the Person of the Son, Jesus Christ. We see God as Son in Jesus, the visible and human revelation and manifestation of God's love and compassion for the whole world. This love is climaxed in the extraordinary events of Jesus suffering, dying and rising to life.

In Jesus, the transcendent and unknowable God is presented in a form, which helps us to have some understanding of his real nature and to reach out to him. Jesus builds a bridge between the human and divine. He is the pontifex, the bridge-maker. God's love becomes humanized and therefore tangible, understandable and able to be more easily followed and imitated. For when Jesus is at his most sublimely human we are in closest touch with the Divine in him.

The Spirit our Teacher

Finally, we see God as Spirit forming us, guiding us, teaching us, moving us, comforting and strengthening us. We find God through his Spirit acting in and through us, in and through others. Constantly creating and re-creating, making all things new. The Spirit is sometimes called the 'soul of the Church'. Without that 'soul' our Church is just a human institution.

A shared life

One final consideration. God's own life is a shared life, a life of mutually interacting relationships. From this we can consider that we are called to a shared living with the Three who are one God, with other people and with our whole created environment. We are called to find unity and harmony in the midst of ever-changing diversity.

Furthermore, has it ever occurred to us that each one of us - like God and yet differently from him - is a community of persons? We are a composite of all the persons that have entered deeply into our lives, beginning with our parents and our family members.
Deep divisions

Yet, both on the intra-personal and inter-personal level, we can experience deep divisions - divided in ourselves, divided against others. Inner conflicts, outer conflicts are often a source of great pain and anguish.

Let us turn to God in the community of his Persons, a community of perfect sharing and equality. It is in his image that we have been created and it is to grow ever more into his image that we are called. It is a world of harmony, peace and joy.

A simple but awesome prayer

Finally, today's feast can be a reminder to pray with much greater meaning and respectfulness that most common of all prayers, so common we hardly think of it as a prayer - the Sign of the Cross. It combines both the mystery of the Trinity and mystery of our salvation through Jesus' suffering, death and rising to life. It encapsulates in so few words and a simple movement of the arm all that we believe in and all that we live for. Let us then resolve to make this sign with greater dignity and reverence and in a spirit of real prayer.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Keep Yourselves In The Love Of God, And Wait For The Mercy Of Our Lord Jesus Christ, That Leads To Eternal Life.

Saturday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Jude 17, 20b-25

Beloved, remember the words spoken beforehand
by the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Build yourselves up in your most holy faith;
pray in the Holy Spirit.
Keep yourselves in the love of God
and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ
that leads to eternal life.
On those who waver, have mercy;
save others by snatching them out of the fire;
on others have mercy with fear,
abhorring even the outer garment stained by the flesh.

To the one who is able to keep you from stumbling
and to present you unblemished and exultant,
in the presence of his glory,
to the only God, our savior,
through Jesus Christ our Lord
be glory, majesty, power, and authority
from ages past, now, and for ages to come. Amen.
As we come to the end of this week, we have a solitary reading from the Letter of Jude. It is a very short letter, consisting of just one chapter of 25 verses. Our reading comes from the latter part of the letter. In general, the letter is a stern warning against false teachers who are doing untold harm to the community.

The first piece of advice is to keep in mind the prophetic teachings of the apostles. The coming of these godless heretics should not take believers by surprise, for it had been predicted by the apostles.

Addressing them as ‘Beloved’, in contrast to the ungodly false teachers about whom this letter speaks at length, Jude gives them some exhortations on how to cope with these threats to their faith. He urges them to pray under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, they are to remain persevering in the love of God. God keeps believers in his love and enables them to keep themselves in his love. As Paul had said so graphically: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, no powers, nor height, nor death, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). As long as they remain open to that love, the Christians can be sure of “the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to life eternal”.

At the same time, some who are confused by the false teachers need to have their thinking corrected, while others need to be snatched from imminent destruction and loss.

“On others have mercy with fear..” - even in showing mercy and compassion to those who stray, one may oneself be trapped by the allurement of their false teaching - “…abhorring even the outer garment stained by the flesh”. The wicked are pictured as so corrupt that even their garments are polluted by their sinful nature.

The reading ends with a magnificent doxology, one of the finest in the whole of the New Testament.

We look to protection from the only One who can protect us and help us stand unstained and triumphant in the presence of his glory. After all the attention necessarily given in this letter to the ungodly and their works of darkness, Jude concludes his letter by focusing attention on God, who is fully able to protect those who put their trust in him.

Every age in the Church, not least our own, has people going around with all kinds of strange and new messages. And there are always those who, in Paul’s words, have “itching ears” for the latest novelty. Some of these novelties can be highly destructive as we have seen in the case of some of the more outlandish sects where many people, including children, unnecessarily lost their lives or where there was indulgence in behaviour that was either bizarre or humanly degrading and abusive.

The Christian churches, including the Catholic Church, have their faults and need continue to learn where the Truth is but there is a solid foundation in the Word of God that comes to us through Jesus Christ that we abandon at our peril.

+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 63
My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.
My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary
to see your power and your glory,
For your kindness is a greater good than life;
my lips shall glorify you.
My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Thus will I bless you while I live;
lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name.
As with the riches of a banquet
shall my soul be satisfied,
and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.
My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Mark 11:27-33
Jesus and his disciples returned once more to Jerusalem.
As he was walking in the temple area,
the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders
approached him and said to him,
“By what authority are you doing these things?
Or who gave you this authority to do them?”
Jesus said to them, “I shall ask you one question.
Answer me, and I will tell you
by what authority I do these things.
Was John’s baptism of heavenly
or of human origin? Answer me.”
They discussed this among themselves and said,
“If we say, ‘Of heavenly origin,’ he will say,
‘Then why did you not believe him?’
But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?” - -
they feared the crowd,
for they all thought John really was a prophet.
So they said to Jesus in reply, “We do not know.”
Then Jesus said to them,
“Neither shall I tell you
by what authority I do these things.”
Jesus is now in Jerusalem. It is the last phase of his public life. Hostility is building up against him. In today’s reading, while walking in the Temple area, he is confronted by a group of Jewish leaders, chief priests, scribes and elders. These are the people who formed the supreme council which will later condemn him to death.

“By what authority are you doing these things?” they ask. The implication is that he is not doing it on their authority which they regard as supreme. In his usual manner, Jesus counters with another question. He asks them if the work of John the Baptist was of human or divine origin.
They immediately realise that answering Jesus’ question raises a serious dilemma. If they were to say John’s baptism was from God, then it could be asked why they did not take part in it (as large numbers of the ordinary people did - and as Jesus himself did). The Gospel describes the leaders as simply coming to observe John as outsiders and judges.

On the other hand if they were to say they considered John’s baptism as merely a human thing, then it would offend all those people who had the highest respect for John and saw in him a prophet of God.

Weakly Jesus’ questioners reply: “We do not know.” A strange and not very convincing reply from the spiritual leaders of the people! Jesus then refuses to answer the question they asked him.

But Jesus’ case was similar to that of John. The people, who had heard Jesus speak (”No man has ever spoken like this”) and saw his cures (”God has visited his people”), had no doubts whatever about the source of Jesus’ authority. “The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the Scribes” (Mark 1:22).

The leaders’ own question was a clear indication of their prejudice and wilful blindness in the face of overwhelming evidence.

We too, of course, can have a similar blindness. We can refuse to see the presence and activity of God in situations where we do not want to see it, in people where we do not want to see it. But God can use any person, any experience, good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, to communicate with us. “Help me, Lord, to seek and find and respond to you in every experience of my life.”

Friday, May 28, 2010

When You Stand To Pray, Forgive, So That Your Heavenly Father May In Turn Forgive Your Transgressions.

Friday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading 1
1 Peter 4:7-13

The end of all things is at hand.
Therefore be serious and sober-minded
so that you will be able to pray.
Above all, let your love for one another be intense,
because love covers a multitude of sins.
Be hospitable to one another without complaining.
As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another
as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God;
whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies,
so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ,
to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Beloved, do not be surprised
that a trial by fire is occurring among you,
as if something strange were happening to you.
But rejoice to the extent
that you share in the sufferings of Christ,
so that when his glory is revealed
you may also rejoice exultantly.
Today we jump to chapter 4 of Peter’s first letter. We have skipped over a longish passage where he gives instructions to various classes and groups of society. Today’s reading consists of the final verses in Part III on ‘The Christian in a Hostile World’ and the opening verses of Part IV which consists of ‘Advice to the Persecuted’.

Today he gives some warnings about the end time which is believed to be close at hand. The early Christians expected to see Jesus come again in their lifetime. But by the time the later writings of the New Testament came to be composed, this expectation was fading and a longer wait was anticipated. This also changed church attitudes which looked more to present behaviour as a long-term preparation for the coming of the Lord.

The anticipation of the end times, particularly Christ’s return in glory, should influence the believers’ attitudes, actions and relationships. “Be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayer”. If they are to be ready for this coming, Christians are to be characterised by reason; they are to make wise, mature decisions and are to have a clearly defined purpose in life. Prayer should form a central part of the Christian’s life - not just the reciting of prayers but being in close dialogue with the Lord, of which a large part should be listening.

In their relationships with each other, love, a real care for each other, should dominate. That love should be “intense” because “love covers a multitude of sins”. A phrase which we can use very glibly but it contains a profound truth. The truly loving person, the one dedicated to taking care of the needs of others, can never be far from God. Wherever there is love, there is God; wherever there is love, there cannot be sin.
And such love clearly includes the Christian virtue of hospitality, of opening one’s doors not only to friends but even to strangers, especially those in need. In addition, all have received gifts in abundance from the Lord and these are to be generously put at the service of others. That is why they were given in the first place. In a climate of fear and anxiety, where love is missing, it is so easy just to think selfishly of oneself.
Those who have the gift of public speaking, for instance, should use that gift to share the message of the Gospel. And this applies not just to community leaders but to every person to whom the Spirit speaks. Those deputed to minister to the community (including liturgical service) should do so with all the strength that God has given them.

In a word, all is to be done for the greater glory of God. Everything we have belongs to him and our enrichment is in giving everything back to him - through those around us.

In the final part of the reading, there are words of encouragement. He addresses his readers as ‘Beloved’ - the objects of his agape-love. They are reminded not to be surprised at trials they may be experiencing from those who attack or persecute them. Far from being disturbed by this, they should rejoice to be able to share in the sufferings of Jesus. When it comes to misunderstandings, abuse and suffering physical violence Jesus has experienced it all - and for our sake. It was Peter, we might remember here, who opposed the idea of Jesus suffering (Matthew 16:21-23).
Much of this advice needs to be heard and taken on board by each one of us. It is as valid now as when it was written 2,000 years ago.
Mark 11:11-26
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple area.
He looked around at everything and,
since it was already late,
went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

The next day as they were leaving Bethany
he was hungry.
Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf,
he went over to see if he could find anything on it.
When he reached it he found nothing but leaves;
it was not the time for figs.
And he said to it in reply,
“May no one ever eat of your fruit again!”
And his disciples heard it.

They came to Jerusalem,
and on entering the temple area
he began to drive out
those selling and buying there.
He overturned the tables of the money changers
and the seats of those who were selling doves.
He did not permit anyone
to carry anything through the temple area.
Then he taught them saying, “Is it not written:

My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples?
But you have made it a den of thieves.”

The chief priests and the scribes came to hear of it
and were seeking a way to put him to death,
yet they feared him
because the whole crowd was astonished at his teaching.
When evening came, they went out of the city.

Early in the morning, as they were walking along,
they saw the fig tree withered to its roots.
Peter remembered and said to him,
“Rabbi, look!
The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”
Jesus said to them in reply, “Have faith in God.
Amen, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain,
‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’
and does not doubt in his heart
but believes that what he says will happen,
it shall be done for him.
Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer,
believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours.
When you stand to pray,
forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance,
so that your heavenly Father may in turn
forgive you your transgressions.”
We are now entering the final part of Mark’s gospel. Jesus is now in Jerusalem and in the final days of his ministry.

Today we have the strange incident of the fig tree. Jesus was leaving Bethany for nearby Jerusalem and was hungry. He went up to a fig tree looking for fruit to eat, even though it was not the time of year for figs. Jesus then cursed the tree: “Never again shall anyone eat of your fruit!” Why curse a tree for not having what it could not have at that time?

In the evening on their way back to Bethany, the disciples saw the fig tree that Jesus had cursed all withered.
This story is generally understood as a kind of parable. The fig tree without fruit represents those people among the Jews who rejected Jesus. When he came to them looking for faith in his message, he found nothing. In a sense, they had closed their minds and withered up.

This meaning is reinforced by another event which is sandwiched into the middle of the fig tree story. This is a common device used by Mark and it is called ‘inclusion’, when one passage is enclosed within another. (We remember the story of the woman with the haemorrhage which is included within the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter.)

After cursing the fig tree Jesus went to the Temple in Jerusalem and began driving out all those who were trading in the Temple court. He accused them of turning God’s house of prayer into a market place. It was an example of people who had reduced their religious faith to mere commercialism. Religious ritual had been turned into an opportunity for making money. The meaning of the Temple as the symbol of God’s presence among his people was being lost. And there was also the failure to see the presence and power of God working through Jesus himself. The fig tree was adorned with beautiful leaves but there was no fruit.

And so at the end Jesus urges his disciples to develop real faith, a real trust and insight into God’s presence in their lives. To those with true faith, Jesus says, just anything is possible. It is an essential condition for prayer. And prayer must include a willingness to forgive and be reconciled with those who cause us difficulties so that we may find forgiveness and reconciliation from God for our own faults and failings in his service.

Let us pray today for that kind of faith. A faith that produces much fruit. A faith that generates harmony and togetherness.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Chosen Race, A Royal Priesthood, A Holy Nation, A People Of His Own.

Thursday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
1 Peter 2:2-5, 9-12
Like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk
so that through it you may grow into salvation,
for you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Come to him, a living stone,
rejected by human beings
but chosen and precious in the sight of God,
and, like living stones,
let yourselves be built into a spiritual house
to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices
acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, a people of his own,
so that you may announce the praises of him
who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Once you were no people
but now you are God’s people;
you had not received mercy
but now you have received mercy.
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and sojourners
to keep away from worldly desires
that wage war against the soul.
Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles,
so that if they speak of you as evildoers,
they may observe your good works
and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Yesterday Peter was speaking of the gift of God’s word to us. Today he sees that word as a form of nourishment - milk. We should be as eager as newborn babies for that “milk”. (Have we ever observed with what gusto the hungry baby attacks his mother’s teat and drinks deeply?) The author is speaking figuratively. Milk is not to be understood here as in 1 Cor 3:2 or Heb 5:12-14 - food for the immature in unfavourable contrast to solid food. With the complete nourishing ‘milk’ of God’s word we “grow into salvation”.

For those who have already got a first taste of what God has given to us in Christ (”You have tasted that the Lord is good”, Ps 34:8), there is an eagerness for that nourishment which will lead to growth and maturity in the Spirit. Since this taste has proved satisfactory, the believers are urged to long for additional spiritual food.
Peter now moves to another image when he speaks of Christ as a “living stone”, rejected by many but precious in the eyes of God. This Stone is the very foundation of the Church. It is a “living stone” both in the sense of referring to the real person of Christ and as a source of life for others. Christ as the Son of God has life in himself. He is also “living water” (Jn 4:10-14; 7:38), “living bread” (Jn 6:51) and the “living way” (Heb 10:20).

It is a stone chosen by God but so often rejected by human beings. In his addresses to the people in the Acts, Peter repeatedly makes a contrast between the hostility of the unbelieving towards Jesus and God’s exaltation of him.

But, not only that, the Christians, too, are living stones, “built as an edifice of the Spirit”. They derive their life from Christ, who is the original living Stone to whom they have come, the “life-giving Spirit”. These references to stones may well reflect Jesus’ words to Peter in Mt 16:18, where he is told that he is the Rock on which the whole structure of the future community is to be built, called here a “spiritual house”.
The house is spiritual in a metaphorical sense, but also in that it is formed and indwelt by the Spirit of God. Every stone in the house has been made alive by the Holy Spirit, sent by the exalted living Stone, Jesus Christ. The Old Testament temple provides the background of this passage. It reminds us of Paul’s telling Christians that they are the temples of the Holy Spirit and where the letter to the Ephesians speaks of each Christian as a stone contributing to building up the whole edifice of the Church. For now it is the people and not a building which is the Temple housing God’s presence in the world. Paul will say to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16 and see Eph 2:19-22).

The purpose of that sacred building is to be a “holy priesthood”. This is the priesthood of the whole body of believers. As priests, believers are to (1) reflect the holiness of God and that of their high priest, (2) offer spiritual sacrifices, (3) intercede for others before God and (4) represent God in the presence of all. Through our priesthood we offer “spiritual sacrifices”, as opposed to sacrifices of animals and fruits. These can include: bodies offered to God (Rom 12:1), offerings of money or material goods (Phil 4:18; Heb 13:16), sacrifices of praise to God (Heb 13:15) and sacrifices of doing good (Heb 13:16). These sacrifices are “acceptable to God” through the work of our Mediator, Jesus Christ. In brief, believers are living stones that make up a spiritual temple in which, as a holy priesthood, they offer up spiritual sacrifices.

Quoting the book of Exodus (19:5-6) Peter, in a phrase much used in our liturgy, calls the Christians “a chosen race (Is 43:20-21), a royal priesthood (Is 61:6), a consecrated nation (Deut 28:9), a people [God] claims as his own” (Deut 4:20; 7:6; 14:2; Is 43:21; Mal 3:17). It is a phrase originally directed to the Israelites but now extended to God’s people of all races, Jews and Gentiles alike, who have chosen Jesus as their Lord.

And in words recalling a passage from the prophet Hosea (2:23), we who were once called “no people” have become God’s own people. Once we were beyond God’s mercy and now we have found mercy. In Hosea it is Israel who is not God’s people; in Romans it is the Gentiles to whom Paul applies Hosea’s words; in 1 Peter the words are applied to both.

The final two verses (11-12) belong to the third part of this letter, where the position of the Christian in a hostile world is discussed.
They are reminded that privilege and choice brings also responsibility. There is no room for complacency. We have to realise that in this world we are strangers and exiles. The word ‘world’ can be understood in both its scriptural senses. We do not belong to that world which is opposed to all that God and Jesus and the Gospel stand for. But even in the sense of the material environment in which we live, we are not meant to be here forever. It is not our permanent home. It is a place we pass through to a much greater destination.

Hence we are not to indulge our baser instincts which can undermine our spiritual destiny. We are not to be bothered by attacks made on us by outsiders who may call us “troublemakers”. Given our different life vision, this is only to be expected. Our Way is a “sign of contradiction” for many.

We are to persevere in following the Gospel because many unbelievers, seeing how we behave, seeing our integrity, love, compassion and sense of justice and peace, will ultimately come to praise not us but the God who enables us to live this way. Jesus had said the same in the Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

May they observe the good things that we do so that in time they are led to change their ways and give glory to God “on the day of visitation”. The Greek word translated “observe” refers to a careful watching, over a period of time. The pagans’ final evaluation is not a ’snap judgment’. The “day of visitation” is perhaps the day of judgment and its ensuing punishment, or possibly the day when God visits a person with salvation. The believer’s good life may then influence the unbeliever to repent and believe.

It is a very meaningful reading. It is full of lovely images of Christ and of our relationships with him and it concludes by reminding us how we are to reveal the presence of Christ’s Spirit within us by the way we relate to all those around us.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 100
Come with joy into the presence of the Lord.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.
Come with joy into the presence of the Lord.
Know that the LORD is God;
he made us, his we are;
his people, the flock he tends.
Come with joy into the presence of the Lord.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
his courts with praise;
Give thanks to him;
bless his name.
Come with joy into the presence of the Lord.
The LORD is good:
his kindness endures forever,
and his faithfulness, to all generations.
Come with joy into the presence of the Lord.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Mark 10:46-52
As Jesus was leaving Jericho
with his disciples and a sizable crowd,
Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus,
sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
But he kept calling out all the more,
“Son of David, have pity on me.”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
“Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
He threw aside his cloak,
sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply,
“What do you want me to do for you?”
The blind man replied to him,
“Master, I want to see.”
Jesus told him,
“Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way.
At a first reading this is simply another pleasant story about Jesus healing a blind man. However, as we shall see, there is much more here than meets the eye. Although Mark’s gospel is the one which gives most details when telling a story, leading people to speak of his using the memories of an eyewitness (perhaps Peter), there is a lot more symbolism in his stories than at first seems apparent.

First of all, this story is strategically placed. It comes at the end of a long portion of the gospel beginning with the healing of a deaf man (8:31-37). This section includes the high point at the middle of the gospel where the disciples recognise Jesus as Messiah and Lord and also the three predictions of his passion, death and resurrection with their accompanying teachings. In between are several other episodes and teachings. Through it all we see the disciples stumbling along in various degrees of misunderstanding as they accompany their Master.

Today’s story brings all this to an end and, in a way, can be seen as a summing up of all that has gone before. Immediately after this, the final phase of the gospel begins with Jesus in Jerusalem for the last time.

We find Jesus and his disciples in Jericho, which lies just north of Jerusalem. They are journeying south on their way from Galilee. We saw yesterday how alarmed they were about Jesus’ determination to head for a place so full of danger for him (and them). As Jesus was leaving the city, accompanied by his disciples and a large crowd of people, there was a blind beggar called Bar Timaeus (son of Timaeus) sitting beside the road. Already we have in this apparently simple description a sentence full of symbolism, some of which we will discuss further on.

Jesus is not just leaving the city*; he is on the first stage of the final and climactic period of his mission on earth. He is heading for Jerusalem. Although he is surrounded by a large number of people, most of them are with him only physically but not in spirit, as we shall soon see.

When the blind man hears all the commotion he naturally wants to know what is going on and is told that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. Immediately on hearing this he calls out, “Jesus, son of David, have compassion on me!” It is a form of what we now call the “Jesus Prayer”. A prayer we need to make constantly; a prayer we can only make sincerely when we are truly aware and accepting of our dependence on Jesus’ help and guidance, when we fully acknowledge the distance that exists between what we are and what Jesus is calling us to be.

In making such a prayer, the blind man is opening himself up to all that Jesus can and wants to give him. However, the surrounding crowd, smug in their (physical) closeness to Jesus and contemptuous of an irritating beggar, try to silence him. How often people have given up their approach to Jesus because of discouragements they have met! How often have we, perhaps, been a source of discouragement or scandal to people who were tentatively looking for Jesus and the meaningful life he can open up for us?

This man, however, is not discouraged. The more he is scolded by the crowd, the louder he shouts. Jesus has told us to ask, not once, but many times. This the man does. Then Jesus stops. If the man had not called, Jesus might not have stopped. He would simply have continued on his journey. Jesus constantly passes through our lives. Every single day. How often have we failed to recognise his presence? How often have we failed to call him? How many times has he passed on and out of our day?

“Call him over,” Jesus tells those around him. Notice that Jesus does not call the man himself. He tells others to call him. Again that is something that is the norm in our lives. If we believe that Jesus has appeared to us in a vision and directly called us, either we are ready for canonisation or, more likely, for a mental home! No, it is through others that we are constantly being called. In fact, we might reflect today on the huge number of people who have directly or indirectly brought Christ into our lives. It is because of them that we are what we are now. Without them, we would not know Jesus or the Gospel or the Church.

Notice, too, the fickleness of the crowd. Those who were just now scolding the man are now urging him to approach Jesus. “Courage, do not be afraid; he is calling you.” How many people need to hear those words! And how often they never do! Yes, there is no need ever to be afraid of Jesus, our Good Shepherd. And he is calling everyone of us, in some way or other. But perhaps many have never heard the call, because Jesus expected me to do the calling. But I was too absorbed in myself to do so.

“Get up!” they tell the man. Yes, he is being told to rise, the same verb that describes the rising of Jesus from the dead. He is not just being told to get on his feet but to enter a whole new way of living. He throws off his cloak, which presumably was all he was wearing, and comes to Jesus. He comes to Jesus encumbered with absolutely nothing. It is also reminiscent of the disciples leaving their boats, their nets and their family to follow Jesus. It is reminiscent of the early Christians stripping themselves of all their clothes, symbolic of their sinful past, as they go down into the baptismal pool. When we approach Jesus, we need divest ourselves of everything, get rid of everything we tend to cling to. (Remember the story of the ‘rich’ man earlier this week?)

Jesus now asks him: “What do you want me to do for you?” Isn’t this a wonderful thing to hear from Jesus? But he is asking the very same question of us every day. We often tend to ask what Jesus wants us to do for him but he is also asking us what he can do for us. And when he asks you that question today - as he will - what answer are you going to give him? What you say is going to reveal a great deal about you and your priorities in life.

In a sense, of course, Jesus does not need to know the answer to your question, but you do. And the answer comes from the asking. And have you noticed any changes in the way you would answer the question over the years? And what would today’s answer be?

By the way, did we not hear Jesus asking the same question before? Yes indeed. In yesterday’s Gospel when James and John came asking for a favour, Jesus asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Compare now the two answers. The disciples asked for a privilege, for positions of status and authority and power, to be one up over others. What did the blind man ask for? “Rabbuni, that I may see again.” Of course, in our present context he is not just asking for physical sight. He is looking for something much more important; he is looking for IN-sight, the ability to see into the meaning of life and its direction and its ultimate values.
In answer to the question that Jesus is asking us, we could hardly make a better response: “Lord, that I may SEE again.” When we truly see with our inner eye, it changes our whole way of looking at the world and our behaviour changes accordingly. We cannot ask for anything more crucial in life. Perhaps we feel all along that we have been able to see both literally and figuratively. But today we are asking to see again, to have a deeper vision that goes much further into the ultimate meaning of our lives.
Fr Tony de Mello speaks of this in his last book. He calls it Awareness, being wide awake and living with your eyes open. No wonder Jesus responds generously to the man’s request: “Go; your faith, your deep trust in me, has saved you.” “Saved”, that is, restored him to complete wholeness. Only a person with perfect sight (in the sense we have discussed) is truly whole. Only such a person knows where to go and how to get there.
And what happens then? The beggar receives the sight he asked for (”Ask, and you shall receive”) and what does he do? He does the only thing that a person with true vision can do - he follows Jesus on the road, that Road, that Way to Jerusalem and all that it means. He becomes unconditionally a disciple.

Going back now to the beginning of the story we were told that Bar Timaeus, a blind beggar was sitting by the road. This description is one that fits every person who discovers Jesus. We are, without Jesus, blind, we cannot see clearly although we may be very clever and highly educated. But, if we cannot see what Jesus sees, we are sightless, blind.

And we are beggars. We can only truly come to Christ when we realise that, whatever intellectual, social or material endowments we may have, we are basically poor. That was the problem of the rich man who came to Jesus. In his monetary wealth, he was not aware of his radical poverty. We have nothing that is really ours.

Thirdly, the man was sitting beside the road, not on it. And this indeed is the lot of everyone who sits beside the road, to be blind and a beggar in need. The road, as we have said, in the Gospel story is a symbol of the Way that is Christ. It is where there is Truth and Life. And so at the end of the story, the man having made his compact with Jesus, is now able to see, is no longer a beggar, and is accompanying Jesus on the road, on the Way.
This story has meanings going far beyond a mere miracle story. It is a beautiful summing up of how Jesus’ disciples learnt to see and walk with him along the Way. It is a Gospel in miniature, a vignette of the spiritually deprived person discovering where Truth and Life are and committing oneself to it totally.

*Luke mentions the same visit but describes Jesus entering Jericho. Here he has his encounter with the Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector (Luke 19:1ff).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Can You Drink The Chalice That I Drink, Or Be Baptized With The Baptism With Which I Am Baptized?

Wednesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
1 Peter 1:18-25
Realize that you were ransomed
from your futile conduct,
handed on by your ancestors,
not with perishable things like silver or gold
but with the precious Blood of Christ
as of a spotless unblemished Lamb.
He was known before the foundation of the world
but revealed in the final time for you,
who through him believe in God
who raised him from the dead and gave him glory,
so that your faith and hope are in God.

Since you have purified yourselves
by obedience to the truth for sincere brotherly love,
love one another intensely from a pure heart.
You have been born anew,
not from perishable but from imperishable seed,
through the living and abiding word of God, for:

“All flesh is like grass,
and all its glory like the flower of the field;
the grass withers,
and the flower wilts;
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
This is the word that has been proclaimed to you.
Peter reminds us that we have been “redeemed”. In the Scriptures, to ‘redeem’ (literally, ‘buy back’) means to free someone from something bad by paying a penalty, or a ransom. Similarly, in the Greek world slaves could be made free by the payment of a price, either by someone else or by the slave himself.

In this case, the ransom price is not silver or gold but something far more precious, Christ’s own blood poured out for us by his death on the cross. The result is the “forgiveness of sin” and our reconciliation with God.
The readers are told that they have been redeemed from the “futile conduct”, an empty way of life, that had been handed down by their ancestors. Some maintain that the letter is addressed to former pagans because the New Testament stresses the emptiness of pagan life. Others think they may have been Jews since Jews were traditionalists who stressed the influence of keeping the Law. A life simply based on the observance of external laws could not bring salvation and redemption. In the light of the context of the whole letter, probably both Jews and Gentiles are addressed.

They have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God, an “unblemished Lamb” foreseen long ago in God’s plan to bring us all back to him and replacing all other animal sacrifices of the Old Testament which were only a pale foreshadowing of what was to come. The Old Testament sacrifices were types (or foreshadowings) of Christ, depicting the ultimate and only effective sacrifice. An unblemished lamb was the centrepiece at the Passover meal. But for us, Jesus Christ is the Passover Lamb, the One who takes away the sin of the world.
It is through this Lamb, raised by the Father into glory, that we have become believers in God and that, through our faith and hope, our lives have become centred on God, the only source of meaning to our lives.

Before time began Jesus was already chosen but only revealed in these times to those who are called. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1) “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). Some think the Greek for this word can mean ‘foreknown’ rather than ‘chosen’. In other words, God knew before creation that it would be necessary for Christ to redeem the human race but he has revealed Christ only in these last times. Others interpret the word as meaning that in past eternity God chose Christ as Redeemer.

It is through this Jesus, raised from the dead to eternal glory, that we put all our faith and trust in God.
Our submission to this understanding of our origins leads necessarily and unavoidably to a deep love for our brothers and sisters. “Therefore, love one another constantly from the heart.”
All in all, our being re-born is the result of an enduring seed planted in our heart, that seed is the word (Word) of God. “The grass withers, the flower wilts, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (Isaiah 40:6-8). Our new birth comes about through the direct action of the Holy Spirit , but the “living and abiding” word of God also plays an important role, for it presents the Gospel to the sinner and calls on us to repent and believe in Christ.
The writer concludes by quoting from the prophet Isaiah (40:6-8):
“All flesh is grass… the grass withers…
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

It is this word which the Letter is proclaiming, a word which is a source of life. It is the Gospel which we hear proclaimed to us. That Gospel can be summed up in the two points brought up in today’s passage: 1, we have been bought back from sin by the priceless blood of the Lamb, poured out on the cross for us; and 2, we show our gratitude for this by the unconditional love we show for our brothers and sisters everywhere.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 147
Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem;
praise your God, O Zion.
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;
he has blessed your children within you.
Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He has granted peace in your borders;
with the best of wheat he fills you.
He sends forth his command to the earth;
swiftly runs his word!
Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He has proclaimed his word to Jacob,
his statutes and his ordinances to Israel.
He has not done thus for any other nation;
his ordinances he has not made known to them. Alleluia.
Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
Mark 10:32-45
The disciples were on the way, going up to Jerusalem,
and Jesus went ahead of them.
They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.
Taking the Twelve aside again, he began to tell them
what was going to happen to him.
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man
will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes,
and they will condemn him to death
and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him,
spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death,
but after three days he will rise.”

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
came to Jesus and said to him,
“Teacher, we want you to do for us
whatever we ask of you.”
He replied, “What do you wish me to do for you?”
They answered him,
“Grant that in your glory
we may sit one at your right
and the other at your left.”
Jesus said to them,
“You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the chalice that I drink
or be baptized with the baptism
with which I am baptized?”
They said to him, “We can.”
Jesus said to them,
“The chalice that I drink, you will drink,
and with the baptism with which I am baptized,
you will be baptized;
but to sit at my right or at my left
is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this,
they became indignant at James and John.
Jesus summoned them and said to them,
“You know that those who are recognized
as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them,
and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you
will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you
will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come
to be served but to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
We now come to the third and final foretelling of his passion, death and resurrection by Jesus. It is not insignificant that it follows immediately on the story of the rich man and the teaching of Jesus that goes with it. We are now going to see what discipleship of Jesus really means.

“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem.” A statement of fact but pregnant with meaning. They were on the road, not just any road, but THE road and that road goes to Jerusalem and points to all that Jerusalem will mean for Jesus and his followers. Jesus is the Road, the Way and his way brings him to Jerusalem, the carrying of his cross, the letting go of his life in love of his Father and us, leading to the final triumph. Those who wish to be his disciples have to be ready to walk that road with him.

The disciples have not quite reached this stage of discipleship yet. As Jesus steps out firmly on the road to Jerusalem, his disciples straggle behind. They were “in a daze and those who followed him were apprehensive”. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was out of his mind. To go to Jerusalem at this time was asking for trouble, serious trouble. Everyone knew the Jewish leadership was out to get Jesus. Jerusalem was the last place to go.
Jesus shows them he is under no illusion about the situation. He gives them a detailed description of what is going to happen to him, more detailed than in the previous foretellings. The key term “handed over” is used again and, for the first time, a handing over to the “Gentiles” is mentioned. Condemnation to death will come from the leaders of his people but the carrying out of the execution will be the work of the Romans. It was not just some Jews who were responsible for Jesus’ death; we were there, too, in the person of the Roman Gentiles.

Nevertheless, earlier on the disciples had acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah and Saviour-King of Israel. In the second prediction they had revealed an awareness that what Jesus was predicting was going to happen and so debated who his successor might be. Now, for the first time, the last part of the prediction - rising after three days - seems to be getting through.

Perhaps it was in that frame of mind that Jesus is approached by two of his closest disciples, James and John. However, it is also clear that they showed little understanding of all that Jesus had taught them so far. They approached him gingerly: “Master, we want you to do us a favour.” Replies Jesus: “What is it you want me to do for you?” (Note the question, because we will meet it again in tomorrow’s reading.)

The answer of the two brothers indicates how little they have understood of the mind of Jesus: “Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory. (After all, you did say three times that you were going to rise again after your death.)”

This is a perfect example of what the Chinese call guanxi, using a personal acquaintance or relationship to get in by the back door and obtain a favour otherwise out of reach. And by “glory” they are almost certainly thinking in worldly terms of Jesus as an earthly, victorious, all conquering king. The kind of person they expected the Messiah to be.
“You do not know what you are asking,” Jesus tells them. They neither know the kind of King Jesus is going to be nor do they know the price he is going to pay to enter that kingship. This is clear from the next question he puts to them: “Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised in the way in which I must be baptised?” This is a clear reference to Jesus’ passion and death, the price he will pay to reveal God’s love for his children.

We remember, later in the garden, as the weight of his coming passion presses him down, Jesus prays that the cup be taken away. “Baptism” implies a total immersion and Jesus will be totally overwhelmed with suffering and shame and humiliation.

Do the two disciples realise this? Are they ready to go through this with Jesus on their way to the privileges and glory they are asking for? “We can,” they confidently boast without realising just what is involved. In fact, with the rest of their companions they will scatter and disappear when these events overtake their Master.

Nevertheless, looking further ahead Jesus generously tells them that they will indeed one day share Jesus’ cup and his baptism of suffering and death. James would be one of the first martyrs of the young church. However, as to giving them the places of honour they were looking for, that was beyond Jesus’ power to give. “They belong to those to whom they have been allotted.” In other words, these places are not just for the asking; they have to be earned. They will be given, not to those who furtively ask, but to those whose love most closely approaches that of Jesus himself.

Not surprisingly, the other ten were highly indignant when they found out what James and John had done behind their back. They were not indignant at the impropriety or the daring but that they had been taken advantage of. They wanted exactly the same things themselves.

Following the same pattern as the other previous incidents, the prediction of the Passion and Resurrection is followed by a show of misunderstanding by the disciples, leading to a teaching. And that is what comes now.

Jesus now patiently gives them another lesson on what real greatness in his Kingdom consists of. In the “world” to be great is to have power over others, to exercise authority, to be able to control and manipulate people to be at your disposal, to use people to attain your ends. However, in Jesus’ world those are really great who put themselves and their unique gifts to promote the well-being of brothers and sisters, especially those in most need. And the more people we can serve the greater we are.

‘Authority’ is not to control but to empower. And it is the role of anyone in authority to generate ideas, energy, creativity in those for whom one is responsible. In other words to serve those who have been entrusted to one’s authority. But it is a corruption of the word to become ‘authoritarian’ in such a position. After 2,000 years of Christianity it is a lesson practically all of us have yet to learn.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Set Your Hopes Completely On The Grace Of Jesus Christ, Who Has Called You To "Be Holy As I Am Holy."

Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
1 Peter 1:10-16
Concerning the salvation of your souls
the prophets who prophesied
about the grace that was to be yours
searched and investigated it
investigating the time and circumstances
that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated
when it testified in advance
to the sufferings destined for Christ
and the glories to follow them.
It was revealed to them
that they were serving not themselves but you
with regard to the things
that have now been announced to you
by those who preached the Good News to you
through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven,
things into which angels longed to look.

Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly,
and set your hopes completely
on the grace to be brought to you
at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Like obedient children,
do not act in compliance
with the desires of your former ignorance
but, as he who called you is holy,
be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct,
for it is written,
Be holy because I am holy.
Peter continues to speak of the “salvation” which the Christians are confident of experiencing.

We now are the possessors of the grace which the prophets of the Old Testament looked for. They spoke in advance of the very blessings which the Christians are now experiencing, without knowing or experiencing them personally. But, even at that time, they were already filled with the Spirit of Christ when they spoke of the sufferings of Christ to be followed by glory. There is a seamless unity between the Old and New Testaments as one flows into the other, as one prepares for the other.

At the same time, the way of Jesus is one which the Christians themselves will follow. Those who are united to Christ will also, after suffering, enter into glory. And so they will benefit in the midst of their present sufferings from Jesus having already entered into glory.
“They (i.e. the prophets) knew by revelation that they were providing, not for themselves but for you.” And what they were providing was what has now been communicated to the Christians by the evangelisers of the Gospel, first of all, the Apostles - the proclaimers of the Gospel, the Good News. They did so “through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven”, who came down on them at Pentecost and Jesus himself on the cross “breathed out his Spirit” (John 19:30  -- literally, "He handed over the Spirit").

These are matters of such deep interest and importance that the angels themselves “longed to look into them”. Their intense desire is highlighted by the Greek word rendered “to look into”. It means “to stoop and look intently” (It is the same word used of Peter and Mary Magdalen peering into the empty tomb at Jesus’ resurrection, John 20:5,11).
As Peter then says, our expected response is very clear. We have to move into action, “gird our loins” and put all our hope and confidence on the gift of salvation that will be ours when Christ appears. We have here the first of a long series of exhortations (actually imperatives) which end at 5:11. In the language of the 1st century the term ‘girding one’s loins’ meant that Peter’s readers were being called on to gather up their long, flowing garments and get ready for action. Jesus uses a similar image: “Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning… so that [you] may open to [the bridegroom] when he comes and knocks” (Luke 12:35, 36)

Here they are to set their hopes completely on “the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Christ”. That grace is the final state of complete blessedness and deliverance from sin. Peter later indicates that a major purpose of this letter is to encourage and testify regarding the true grace of God (5:12).

We Christians have to change our whole lifestyle. We can no longer “yield to the desires that once shaped [us] in [our] ignorance”. We are to be like children, re-born into the family of God, children of our heavenly Father, able to pray, “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). Believers are also described, by Paul, as being adopted into God’s family (see Romans 8:15).

Even more, we are called on, in so far as we can, to imitate the holiness of God himself. “Be holy, as I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45). The word “holy” (hagios) suggests, not a kind of piety, but being set apart from the majority. We have a vision of life and a consequent behaviour which makes us different. As Christians, that difference should clearly appear in the way we live. That is true holiness. Being ‘holy’ also implies a certain wholeness, a total harmony with ourselves, those around us, our whole environment and God.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 98
The Lord has made known his salvation.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
The Lord has made known his salvation.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
The Lord has made known his salvation.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
The Lord has made known his salvation.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Mark 10:28-31
Peter began to say to Jesus,
“We have given up everything and followed you.”
Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you,
there is no one who has given up
house or brothers or sisters
or mother or father or children or lands
for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel
who will not receive a hundred times more
now in this present age:
houses and brothers and sisters
and mothers and children and lands,
with persecutions,
and eternal life in the age to come.
But many that are first will be last,
and the last will be first.”
Possibly in response to the parable of the wicked tenants which we read yesterday, a delegation comes to confront Jesus. Their composition is rather unusual but proves the saying that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. It would be hard to find two groups more ideologically opposed than the Pharisees and the Herodians. The Pharisees set the highest standards in their observance of the Law. They were highly patriotic and strongly anti-Roman. The Herodians, on the other hand, were seen as rather lax and not particularly devout. And they had the reputation of being a little too cosy with the Roman colonial powers. In normal circumstances these two groups would never be seen in each other’s company. But now they had a common opponent in Jesus. For Jesus was seen, depending on how he was interpreted, as challenging the Law on the one hand and as a potential rallying point for anti-Roman sentiment.

The confrontation is carried out with a good deal of subtlety. It begins with shameless flattery. “We know you are an honest man, that you are not afraid of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you, and that you teach the way of God in all honesty.” In fact, every word of this is absolutely true and would that it could be said of every one of us! In their book, however, it means that Jesus is a very dangerous person and, indeed, people like Jesus have run into trouble all through history, not least in our own days.

Having, as they imagined, totally disarmed Jesus by their positive approach, they smoothly slip in the knife. One can almost hear the blandness and feigned innocence with which they ask their question: “Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” It sounds to us a very straightforward question but it was, in fact, one of the most politically sensitive issues of the day. And, of course, it was a trick question of the “Have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife?” kind.
If Jesus said it was permissible, then he incurred the wrath of every Jewish patriot, most of all the powerful Pharisees, who deeply resented the presence of the Roman power on their land. If he said it was not permissible, then he could immediately be denounced by people like the Herodians to the Roman authorities for subversion. In either case, he would lose.

Jesus, of course, immediately sees through their deceit. He asks to be shown a denarius, a coin roughly equal to a day’s wage. It was a Roman coin and it carried the head of the emperor, Caesar Augustus. Pointing to the image, Jesus asks whose head it is and he is told it is that of the emperor. “In that case,” replied Jesus, “give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor and to God what belongs to God.”

His enemies were reduced to speechlessness and they had no comeback. It was an answer that said everything and said nothing. It said everything because no one could quarrel with it; it said nothing because it did not decide in any way what belonged to God and what to the emperor.
The whole scene, of course, reflects a serious problem besetting the early Church. How much allegiance did they owe, as Christians, to the temporal power, especially one where the emperor was seen as having divine prerogatives or was openly persecuting Christians? There were clearly limits to the allegiance they could give. This resulted in waves of persecutions and large numbers dying martyrs’ deaths rather than compromise their faith.

It is still a live issue for us today. It concerns the question of separation of Church and state and how that is to be interpreted. It concerns the way we - both electors and elected - vote when sensitive moral issues are at stake.

In one sense, God has a total claim on our allegiance. There is nothing which does not belong to him. Nevertheless, society, through its legitimate authorities, also has a claim on our allegiance. It can make demands on us in asking us to contribute e.g. through taxation, to promoting the overall well-being of our whole community, especially of those who are in need.

As Christians, we cannot simply isolate ourselves from the political arena, that is, the area in which the interests of the citizenry is discussed and managed. The political arena is inseparable from issues of truth and justice and there is no way that Christians, who are committed to building the Kingdom, cannot be concerned about the welfare of their fellow citizens. “The Church should not dabble in politics,” say some. No, it should not dabble; it should be deeply involved in every important moral and social issue.

Nevertheless, the words of Jesus remain our guiding principle: We give to God what belongs to him; we give to society what it has a right to ask of us, our cooperation in making it a place guided by the principles and values of the Kingdom. To do anything less is to fail to give everything to God.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Good Teacher, What Must I Do To Inherit Eternal Life?

Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
1 Peter 1:3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,
kept in heaven for you who by the power of God
are safeguarded through faith,
to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time.
In this you rejoice, although now for a little while
you may have to suffer through various trials,
so that the genuineness of your faith,
more precious than gold that is perishable
even though tested by fire,
may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor
at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Although you have not seen him you love him;
even though you do not see him now yet you believe in him,
you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
as you attain the goal of faith, the salvation of your souls.
Today we begin readings from the First Letter of Peter.
“This letter was most likely written… about 64 AD and sets forth the nature of the Christian life begun in baptism as an experience of regeneration. By their acceptance of Christianity, the Christian communities of Asia Minor had become separated from their pagan countrymen, who were abusing and persecuting them. The apostle instructs his readers that Christianity is the true religion in spite of their trials and sufferings and exhorts them to lead good Christian lives.” (St Joseph’s Weekday Missal, vol. 1)

The first three verses of the chapter are not included in the reading but in them the writer tells us to whom the letter is being addressed. They include five Roman provinces in Asia Minor and cover most of what is modern Turkey - Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.

The letter begins in the usual way with a kind of prayer which is full of hope. In fact, an aura of hope suffuses this whole letter. In spite of the frequent suffering and persecution mentioned in the letter, hope is such a key thought in it (the word itself is used here and in vv.13,21; 3:5,15) that it may be called a letter of hope in the midst of suffering. Christian hope is not just wishful thinking; it is an utter conviction of what is going to be realised. Here there is a guarantee of an “imperishable inheritance” to which all can look forward to with faith and confidence. The basis of that hope is the resurrection of Jesus, who passed through such terrible suffering and death to life. Our faith tells us that we can go the same way with him.

This hope leads to the enjoyment of an inheritance, an inheritance that is eternal, one that is being kept in store for us by God. And we are being made safe, first, by the power of God and, second, by our faith, our total trust and commitment to God. And this guarantees our salvation, which can be seen in three phases: 1, the salvation that comes when we first believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour; 2, the continuing process of salvation as we grow in holiness and wholeness; and 3, when we are united face to face with our God and Lord in glory.

In spite of the many trials and tribulations that the Christians are passing through, the writer assures them that “there is cause for rejoicing”. Because such trials test their faith like gold being purified in fire and will make them even more ready to welcome Christ when he comes. As precious metals are purified by fire, so our faith is strengthened by the trials we experience in our living it out. Experience has shown again and again that persecution has been a strong reinforcer of faith in Christians. Jesus foretold that his followers would constantly face resistance, contempt and persecution. It is not something to be deliberately sought or provoked but at the same time it is one of the signs of our commitment to the Kingdom and the Way of the Gospel. The true Christian will always be seen as a ‘sign of contradiction’ and hence a challenge to conventional wisdom and political correctness.

Peter, who himself had a personal knowledge of Jesus, is presented here as praising the readers of the letter, who, “although you have never seen him, you love him, and without seeing him, you now believe in him”. It reminds one of the words of Jesus to Thomas after the resurrection: “Blessed are those who have not seen but have believed” (John 20:29). Through our faith, we are in direct contact with Jesus. The true believer makes contact with Jesus in every person and every experience.

So, they have reason to “rejoice with inexpressible joy” because they are achieving the goal of faith - and indeed the goal of life - their salvation. “Salvation” means much more than “going to heaven” after we die. It implies a restoration of our fragile and weak lives to complete wholeness and in being totally reunited in joy and peace with him from whom we came - God our Creator. And it begins in this life on earth.

Joy and consolation should be the over-riding experience of the committed follower of Jesus. This joy and consolation is not taken away by our experience of hardships, testings and disappointments in our lives. Quite the contrary.
If that joy is not the deeper part of our Christian experience, then we need to look further for the cause.

+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 111
The Lord will remember his covenant for ever.
He has given food to those who fear him;
he will forever be mindful of his covenant.
He has made known to his people the power of his works,
giving them the inheritance of the nations.
The Lord will remember his covenant for ever.
He has sent deliverance to his people;
he has ratified his covenant forever;
holy and awesome is his name.
His praise endures forever.
The Lord will remember his covenant for ever.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Mark 10:17-27
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up,
knelt down before him, and asked him,
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good?
No one is good but God alone.
You know the commandments: You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not defraud;
honor your father and your mother.”
He replied and said to him,
“Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
“You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
At that statement, his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
“How hard it is for those who have wealth
to enter the Kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words.
So Jesus again said to them in reply,
“Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God!
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”
They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves,
“Then who can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said,
“For men it is impossible, but not for God.
All things are possible for God.”
Today we have the story of a rich man, that is, a man who believed he was rich or who believed that in his material wealth was his happiness. He was a well-meaning man. “Good Teacher, what must I do to share in everlasting life?” You know the commandments,” says Jesus and then proceeds to list only those commandments which involve our relations with others, omitting those relating directly to God: not killing; not committing adultery; not stealing; not bearing false witness; not defrauding; respecting parents.

“I have kept all these things since I was young,” says the man. He was indeed a good man insofar as he did respect his parents and he did not do any of the sinful things mentioned.

Jesus looked at the man with a real love. This is not a love of affection or attraction. It is the love of agape a love which desires the best possible thing for the other. This man was good but Jesus wanted him to be even better. So he said to him: “But there is one more thing: go and sell all you have and give to the poor. After that come and follow me.”

On hearing this, the man’s face clouded over. He walked slowly away full of sadness because he was very rich. Jesus had asked him for the one thing he could not give up.

Had asked for the one thing which the man believed showed he was specially blessed by God. He had not expected this.

After he had gone Jesus looked at his disciples and said: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” Now it was his disciples’ turn to be alarmed and shocked.

Their whole tradition believed that wealth was a clear sign of God’s blessings; poverty was a curse from God.

Jesus removes any misunderstanding on their part: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.” In other words, quite impossible. This was really too much for them. “In that case,” they asked each other, “who can be saved?” If those who have done well in this life cannot be saved what hope can there be for the losers? It would take them time to learn the truth of Jesus’ words. And it is a lesson that many of us Christians still have to learn.

And we might ask, Why is it so difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God? Is there something wrong with being rich? The answer depends on what meaning we give to ‘rich’ and to ‘Kingdom of God’.

A person at a lower middle class level in Europe or the United States may be extremely wealthy with the same resources if living in some African or Asian countries. Similarly a ‘rich’ peasant in a remote village may live a life that is primitive compared to a family on welfare in Europe.

When Jesus uses the word ‘rich’ he means a person who has more, a lot more, than those around him and especially when many of those around him do not have enough for their basic needs. For a person to cling to their material goods in such a situation, to enjoy a relatively luxurious standard of living while those around are deficient in food and housing is in contradiction to everything that Jesus and the Kingdom stand for.

And we need to emphasise that the ‘Kingdom of God’ here is not referring to a future life in ‘heaven’. Jesus is not saying that a rich person cannot go to heaven. He is concerned with how the rich person is living now. The Kingdom is a situation, a set of relationships where truth and integrity, love and compassion and justice and the sharing of goods prevail, where people take care of each other.

The man in the story said that he kept the commandments. One should notice that, except for one, all are expressed negatively. The man could observe several of them by doing nothing! Jesus was asking him to do something very positive, namely, to share his prosperity with his brothers and sisters in need. That he was not prepared to do. As such, he was not ready for the kingdom. He could not be a follower of Jesus. Nor can anyone else who is in a similar situation.

We might also add that the teaching applies not only to individuals but to communities and even nations. There are countries in the world today enjoying very high levels of prosperity with all kinds of consumer luxuries available while a very large proportion of the rest of the world lives mired in poverty, hunger, disease. It is one of the major scandals of our day. This is not a Kingdom situation and much of it is caused not by an uncaring God, or natural causes but by human beings who just refuse to share their surplus wealth. As someone has said, the really rich are those whose needs are the least.

A final reflection. We may feel that, in our society, we personally could by no stretch of the imagination be called rich and so the story does not apply to us. But we can cling to other things besides money. I might profitably ask myself today if there is anything at all in my life which I would find it very difficult to give up if God asked it of me. It might be a relationship, it might be a job or position, it might be good health.

To be a disciple Jesus means that he is asking me to follow him unconditionally, without any strings, ready to let go of anything and everything (although he may not actually ask me to do so). It is the readiness that counts. The man in the story did not even seem to have that.

Can a Catholic be a millionaire? What do you think? What do you think Jesus’ answer would be?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lord, Send Out Your Spirit And Renew The Face Of The Earth!

Solemnity of Pentecost
Reading I
Acts 2:1-11
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Now there were devout Jews
from every nation under heaven
staying in Jerusalem.
At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd,
but they were confused
because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
They were astounded, and in amazement they asked,
“Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?
Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?
We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites,
inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene,
as well as travelers from Rome,
both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,
yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues
of the mighty acts of God.”
+++    +++     +++    +++
Psalm 104
Lord, send out your Spirit,
and renew the face of the earth.
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD, my God, you are great indeed!
How manifold are your works, O LORD!
the earth is full of your creatures;
Lord, send out your Spirit,
and renew the face of the earth.
May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
may the LORD be glad in his works!
Pleasing to him be my theme;
I will be glad in the LORD.
Lord, send out your Spirit,
and renew the face of the earth.
If you take away their breath, they perish
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.
Lord, send out your Spirit,
and renew the face of the earth.
+++    +++    +++    +++  
Reading II
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
Brothers and sisters:
No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.

As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.


Romans 8:8-17
Brothers and sisters:
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh;
on the contrary, you are in the spirit,
if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ
does not belong to him.
But if Christ is in you,
although the body is dead because of sin,
the spirit is alive because of righteousness.
If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus
from the dead dwells in you,
the one who raised Christ from the dead
will give life to your mortal bodies also,
through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Consequently, brothers and sisters,
we are not debtors to the flesh,
to live according to the flesh.
For if you live according to the flesh, you will die,
but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body,
you will live.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,
but you received a Spirit of adoption,
through whom we cry, “Abba, Father!”
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit
that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs,
heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,
if only we suffer with him
so that we may also be glorified with him.
John 20:19-23
On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this,
he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this,
he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”


John 14:15-16, 23b-26
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate
to be with you always.

“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him
and make our dwelling with him.
Those who do not love me do not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.

“I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.”
TODAY'S GREAT AND JOYFUL FEAST rounds off the tremendous mysteries that we have been commemorating since Holy Week - the Passion, the Death, the Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus culminates in the sending of the Spirit of the Father and the Son on his disciples. As has been said previously, we are not dealing here merely with separate historical incidents but with one reality - the extraordinary intervention of God into our lives by what we can only call the "mystery" of Christ. And today's feast indicates that it is an ongoing reality, which still touches our lives every single day.

Two models, one reality

What we said, too, of the Ascension last week applies with equal force to the meaning of Pentecost. In other words, we would be making a mistake to read the Scripture texts too literally, otherwise we will run into unnecessary conflicts. As with the Ascension, our traditional catechisms tends to identify Pentecost only with the version in the Acts (the First Reading of today's Mass). But in today's Gospel, which takes place on Easter Sunday, Jesus, before his Ascension, gives his Spirit to his disciples and the mission which follows from that. The two accounts are two different ways of describing the same reality. Actual time and place are not important.

A new creation

Let us go to the Gospel first. It is "the first day of the week", that is, the Sunday after Good Friday, the day of the Resurrection - or Easter Sunday. Jesus' disciples are cowering in fear behind locked doors. As colleagues of Jesus they are afraid they may have to face arrest or even worse. Suddenly, there is Jesus among them. He gives them the usual Jewish greeting 'Shalom' but here it is filled with meaning. "Peace with you" can be taken as a wish ('Peace be with you') or more truly ('Peace is with you'). In the presence of Jesus we experience a kind of peace which only he can give.

It is no wonder that the disciples, who just now were terrified, are filled with joy. There are two qualities that always accompany the presence of Jesus in our lives - peace and joy.

Passing the baton

Now comes the mission: "As the Father sent me, so am I sending you." The baton is being passed. They have a job to do and it is exactly what Jesus himself came to do - to establish the Kingdom on earth.

Jesus now breathes on them. In Greek the word for 'breath' and 'spirit' are the same. The breathing recalls God breathing life into the dust and bringing the first human being into existence. Here too there is a kind of creation, as the disciples are re-created into the 'new person' that Paul will speak about in his letters, a person filled with the Spirit of Jesus and mandated to continue his work.

Agents of unity and peace

And how is that work expressed? "For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained." This is their job - to be agents of reconciliation. Reconciliation of people everywhere with their God and reconciliation with each other as brothers and sisters, children of one common Father. Reconciliation means the healing of wounds, of all forms of division. This is the work of the Kingdom. It is what we are called to do.

We use this text for the institution of the Sacrament of Reconciliation but I believe that the meaning of the words includes this but goes much further than just referring to a Sacrament.

A mind-blowing experience

Let us now turn to the second Spirit-experience as it is described in Luke's account in the Acts (First Reading). This is sometimes called the Exodus account, for it reminds us of the great event commemorating the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.

Here, too, there are significant elements:

a. There is the powerful wind, which, of course, is the Spirit and which, in John's gospel, is translated as "breath".

b. There is the fire - the tongues of fire over each one in the place. This, as in the Exodus narrative, indicates God's power and presence. We think of the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses and gave him his mission to his people. It reminds us of the pillar of fire, which, by night, accompanied and guided the Jews on their wanderings through the desert. They knew they were not alone.

Extraordinary change

And what an extraordinary result this experience had on the disciples! These men, huddled fearfully behind locked doors are almost blown from the room. No longer afraid, they have an almost uncontrollable urge to share what they have experienced, to share their knowledge but, even more, their experience of Jesus. Threats of prison or torture in no way intimidate them.

Special gifts for each one

Second, the Spirit is the source of the special gifts (or 'charisms') which each member of the community receives. The Source of the gifts is one - the Spirit of God and that is what unites together all those who receive them into one community. But there is a huge variety of gifts. It is important to note that the gifts are not given as a personal grace for oneself. They are rather special abilities by which each one serves the needs of the community. We have all to work together, using our gifts, to build up the community to which we belong.

We are many in number but, through the working of the Spirit, we become like one body, in fact, we are the Body of Christ. Just as one body has many limbs and organs working together as a harmonious unit, so we as the Body of Christ each make our distinct contribution to the life and work of the community. "In one Spirit, we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink."

The way to freedom

The Spirit is a way of true freedom and liberation; his is not a way of slavery, compulsion, addiction, greed or fear. Through the Spirit there is a close, warm, confident relationship with God who can be boldly addressed by the intimate term "Abba" (Papa). Filled with the Spirit, we are in the fullest sense children of God, living images of our Father.

The Spirit makes us co-heirs with Christ to "suffer with him that we may also be glorified with him ". The suffering does not arise from restrictions on our freedom but because, in our total commitment to truth, love, genuine freedom and human dignity, we are prepared to pay any price, even, if necessary, the surrender of life itself. We could not be truly happy otherwise.

Gifts to be shared

We radiate that Spirit and by our word and example invite others to share it. The gifts of the Spirit are not for ourselves: they are to be shared. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, as we have seen, the disciples did not stay in that room luxuriating in what they had been given. They burst out to tell the world how much God loves everyone and how he wants everyone to experience that love. How he wants people liberated from the destructive constraints of the flesh to an unlimited blossoming in the Spirit.