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THE JEWISH WAR
War, Volume 1
War, Volume 2
War, Volume 3
War, Volume 4
War, Volume 5
War, Volume 6
War, Volume 7

THE ANTIQUITIES
Ant. Jud., Bk 1
Ant. Jud., Bk 2
Ant. Jud., Bk 3
Ant. Jud., Bk 4
Ant. Jud., Bk 5
Ant. Jud., Bk 6
Ant. Jud., Bk 7
Ant. Jud., Bk 8
Ant. Jud., Bk 9
Ant. Jud., Bk 10
Ant. Jud., Bk 11
Ant. Jud., Bk 12
Ant. Jud., Bk 13
Ant. Jud., Bk 14
Ant. Jud., Bk 15
Ant. Jud., Bk 16
Ant. Jud., Bk 17
Ant. Jud., Bk 18
Ant. Jud., Bk 19
Ant. Jud., Bk 20

OTHER WRITINGS
Apion, Bk 1
Apion, Bk 2
Autobiog.


Apocrypha
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Introduction

Gospel of--
-- Nicodemus
-- Peter
-- Ps-Matthew
-- James (Protevangelium)
-- Thomas (Infancy)
-- Thomas (Gnostic)
-- Joseph of Arimathea
-- Joseph_Carpenter
Pilate's Letter
Pilate's End

Apocalypse of --
-- Ezra
-- Moses
-- Paul
-- Pseudo-John
-- Moses
-- Enoch

Various
Clementine Homilies
Clementine Letters
Clementine Recognitions
Dormition of Mary
Book of Jubilees
Life of Adam and Eve
Odes of Solomon
Pistis Sophia
Secrets of Enoch
Tests_12_Patriarchs
Veronica's Veil
Vision of Paul
Vision of Shadrach

Acts of
Andrew
Andrew & Matthias
Andrew & Peter
Barnabas
Bartholomew
John
Matthew
Paul & Perpetua
Paul & Thecla
Peter & Paul
Andrew and Peter
Barnabas
Philip
Pilate
Thaddaeus
Thomas in India
Lectionary
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MASS-CALENDAR-2014
January 2014
February 2014
March 2014
April 2014
May 2014
June 2014
July 2014
August 2014
September 2014
October 2014
November 2014
December 2014

Readings Generic
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Lent-B
Lent-C
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Easter-C

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Suns 12-22
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Ord-Time Year-B
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Suns 12-22
Suns 23-34

Ord-Time Year-C
Suns 1-11
Suns 12-22
Suns 23-34

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Patristic
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Clement of Rome

Ignatius of Antioch

Polycarp of Smyrna

Barnabas,(Epistle of)

Papias of Hierapolis

Justin, Martyr

The Didachë

Irenaeus of Lyons

Hermas (Pastor of)

Tatian of Syria

Theophilus of Antioch

Diognetus (letter)

Athenagoras of Alex.

Clement of Alexandria

Tertullian of Carthage

Origen of Alexandria

Homilies for Sundays (12-22 of Ordinary Time, C)

Sundays 12-22 of Ordinary Time, C;

12th Sunday (C)

13th Sunday (C)

14th Sunday (C)

15th Sunday (C)

16th Sunday (C)

17th Sunday (C)

18th Sunday (C)

19th Sunday (C)

20th Sunday (C)

21st Sunday (C)

22nd Sunday (C)


12th Sunday (Year C)

Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1
Ps 63:1-5, 7-8
Galatians 3:26-29
Luke 9:18-24

The Big Question
Justice and Discrimination
Human Rights
The Cross
What do YOU say?

Zech 12:10-11,13:1. When a new spirit is poured into the people, they will mourn over the innocent one they have executed.

Gal 3:26-29. "Neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female." Among the baptised there must be no marginalisation based on race, social standing or gender. All share an equal dignity.

Lk 9:18-24. After Peter's confession of faith, Jesus warns his disciples that he will be rejected, and his fate will be shared by his followers.

Theme: Jesus warns his friends about his impending suffering and death. Only by taking up the cross can true disciples follow him. We too become fuller disciples of Jesus by accepting the crosses that come our way.

Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1

And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.

On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land shall mourn, each family by itself; the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves.

On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.

Ps 63:1-5, 7-8

O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.

Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.

My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

Galatians 3:26-29

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Luke 9:18-24

Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" They answered, "John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "The Messiah of God."

He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, "The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."

Then he said to them all, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.

Intercessions

- that God may give us the strength to carry the crosses which come our way in the course of our lives.

- for all those who are sick, physically or mentally, at this time.

- for doctors and nurses and all those who care for people in need.

Thoughts for 12th Sunday, C

The Big Question

A person anywhere in the vicinity of the Sea of Galilee, who looks towards the north, will see a high mountain, Mt Hermon (9,233 ft. or 2,814 metres), almost three times the height of our highest mountain, and surprisingly its summit is covered with snow all year round. One day, somewhere in the foothills of this mountain, where Jesus had brought his disciples, to rest and pray, he asked them rather disconcertingly, "Who do people say that I am?" It marks one of the most crucial moments in the public life of Jesus. St Luke suggests that the whole episode took place in a brief period of stillness and reflection, far withdrawn from the hectic course of events prior to it. Indeed this chapter in Luke's gospel marks a turning point in Christ's mission, for towards the end of it we are told, "As the time drew near for him to be taken up to heaven, he fixed his face firmly to go to Jerusalem."

Fixing his face firmly implies an interior struggle on the part of Jesus. Was he looking ahead with apprehension to what was to be his fate in Jerusalem? The reading makes clear he knew quite well that he was going to his death there on the Cross. Or was he looking back at what he had achieved, trying to discover the kind of understanding of himself and his mission, which his disciples had acquired? By way of answer to his query, "Who do people say that I am?," his disciples listed for him some of the popular rumours that were circulating about him, that he was John the Baptist restored to life, or a reincarnation of Elijah, one of the greatest prophets in Jewish history. Then came a breathless silence, and he put the question which meant so much to him, "Who do you say that I am?" It is never enough to know what other people have seen in Jesus. Christianity never consists in knowing about Jesus; it always consists in knowing Jesus, and this in a more intimate and personal way. In other words, the discovery o Christ must ultimately come from a person-to-person experience between each of us and Christ, an experience moreover that matures within the Christian community that begets it and plays such a prominent part in sustaining it.

The answer of Peter to this question about the identity of Jesus is the only one recorded in the New Testament, and it is interesting to examine the different wordings given in the three synoptic gospels. The oldest one, that of Mark, simply states, "You are the Christ." The title Christ, or Messiah, means "the anointed one," and in Old Testament times only kings, priests, and prophets were anointed, and Christ was seen as all three. Luke's gospel has the slightly longer answer, "You are the Christ of God." The version in Matthew, written later still, is the longest, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." "You are the Christ," "You are the Christ of God," "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." At least two of these answers, you might argue, are not exactly what Peter said. But a religious message with computerised exactness, in every detail, was never what the evangelists set out to give us.

The primary purpose of the gospels was to evoke a response of faith from everyone who listened to them or read them, in other words to draw people to believe in Christ. They are also, however, a reflection of the faith of the Christian communities out of which they grew. And what we are witnessing, in the short period between the writing of Mark's gospel and that of Matthew, is the growth in their understanding of the significance of Christ. The active faith of the first Christians was penetrating deeper and deeper into the mystery that was Christ. It was only after deep reflection on the sayings of Christ, on the miracles he worked, and especially on his post-resurrection appearances that they arrived at the conviction that he was a divine person.

The successors to the contemporaries of Jesus continued to find a more meaningful answer to that query, "Who do you say that I am?" And Christ to this day continues to issue the same challenge to each one of us also. St Paul writing about the faith to his young companion Timothy said, "I know whom I have believed." Note he did not say, "I know what I have believed." Christianity does not mean saying "yes" to a list of truths. It means knowing a person - not a person away out there, remote from us, but the person of Jesus Christ as he dwells by faith within us, for each of us is called to be the temple of the risen glorified Son of God.

Justice and Discrimination

People today are more ready to listen to a message about rights and freedoms and personal dignity than about self-denial or taking up the cross. Yet I suggest that today's readings show us a nice balance between human dignity and equality for all and the need for self-sacrifice and keeping the crucified and pierced Christ whom we profess to follow clearly in view. Modern freedoms are welcome and too long delayed, but they bring attendant dangers and often a deceiving loyalty to Christ's teaching (for example, the woman who says "My body is my own" as an excuse for abortion.)

In the homily some of the following points could be developed:

(1) Each of us should know and rejoice in our own dignity as sons of God. But each other person is as good as we are in the eyes of God, equally a brother or sister of Christ.

(2) The first duty of a Christian towards his neighbour is to give him his proper dignity as a son of God. Allow him or her to be what he or she is.

(3) It is only if you know your worth in God's eyes, and that worth is respected by others, that you can reasonably be asked to deny yourself. Christ only asks you to deny yourself when he makes you his brother, a son of the Father, fins you with his love, gives you the Holy Spirit and comes to you in the Eucharist. Yet he does ask you to deny yourself. You cannot be truly a Christian if there is no voluntary self-denial in your life. In today's world you win find that a basic loyalty to Christ demands self-denial. There are things that must be done, others that must be avoided, for his sake, as he says in the gospel today. In the realm of honesty, fair-dealing, working for pay received and paying for work done, sex, pregnancy, setting aside some of your time each day to pay attention to God - for this you will need that basic loyalty. Remember that if you are not sufficiently in control of yourself to deny yourself, then you are not free at all, but enslaved to your inclinations, pleasures, public opinions o whatever.

(4) Keep an eye on the one they pierced on the cross. That's the Master you profess to follow. And remember that he is pierced often today in his members; the oppressed, the poverty-stricken, the sick, the neglected. Look around you at the pierced ones whom you can help to the dignity you claim for yourself.

Human Rights

A colony with a cosmopolitan population was preparing for independence. Political leaders were at pains to emphasize that every creed and race would have an equal place in the new nation, The slogan "All of we is one" became popular. St Paul said something similar (cf. second reading) to explain what baptism does. All the baptized are united with each other and with Christ. Though basic human distinctions exist they must not be allowed to endanger the unity conferred by baptism. All the baptized irrespective of nationality, social status or sex are all one in Christ Jesus.

"In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God in faith." It's good to hear a thing like that. We readily apply those words to ourselves. We should do so. Faith enables us to accept the doctrine, Faith also imposes the duty to live by that doctrine. Those words apply to every other Christian, including people we dislike and whom we may even reject. Our oneness in Christ should be glaringly obvious. Is it? Our attitudes towards one another must clearly indicate our acceptance of that basic truth. Do they? We Christians must reach out to others, "As we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of the faith." (Gal 6:10.) Christ died for all. Therefore the true follower of Christ must be sensitive to the true welfare, the rights of all men and women. Charity begins at home. We start with our fellow Christians and we work outwards

Human rights are more than lofty ideals. They are practical down-to-earth things. They are the rights of real live people. People like you and me and millions like us. Each person, even an unborn person, has human rights. Individuals as well as societies must respect those rights. We are normally sensitive to our rights. We must be equally sensitive to the rights of others. Why? Because our neighbour is a child of God just as we are. Christian involvement in this area cannot be limited to caring for those whose rights have been violated. Prevention is better than cure. Each Christian is obliged to play a full part in establishing a just society where rights will be respected, not violated. That is a formidable undertaking. Christ started it. Being a true follower of Christ necessarily demands personal involvement in continuing his work. We begin in a small way - with ourselves. We examine our consciences. Do I actually promote or defend the human rights of others? In subtle ways, holding down two jobs for insance, am I violating somebody else's right to work? Have I an ambivalent attitude towards the right to life of the unborn child?

Many disconcerting things may come to light. If we find that our actions or attitudes are in fact un-Christlike we must rectify them. it is no good trying to take refuge in the time-worn excuse "but every-body does it." We have to choose between Jesus and "everybody." Radical renunciation may be necessary: the kind of thing demanded by Jesus in today's gospel.

Bow, bow ye lower middle classes" is a line from a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. Does it cut a bit close to the bone? It could be an uncomfortably accurate statement of our personal attitudes towards certain people. It describes the normal attitude of many good Christians. Does it reflect a deep personal conviction that there is neither slave nor free,.. you are all one in Christ Jesus' Every person without any exception whatever is redeemed by Christs person irrespective of class, race or creed has a tremendous dignity in God's sight. Our non-Christian neighbours may be unaware of the basis of their dignity. That is irrelevant. The dignity exists. Christians must be the first to acknowledge it and respect it, We are not at liberty to discount values which God considers important. It is arrogant to attempt to adjust God's scale of values. Unjust discrimination is an insult to God. It is sinful, If it exists in our lives it is material for our next confession,

Christians are supposed to have the mind of Christ. To acquire it, deeply ingrained prejudices may have to be abandoned. Christian attitudes will have to replace them. Only then will we be able to say with Paul: "we have the mind of Christ." (1 Cor. 2:16.) The effort required will certainly entail daily self-denial, a daily carrying of the cross. We need not be discouraged. Christ calls us to follow a certain life style. He empowers us today. "He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it." (1 Thes, 5:24.)

The Cross

Nowhere has change been so remarkable, than in the field of medicine and all our lives have been radically transformed by it. As little as forty years ago, the life of a priest was dominated by what were then called "sick calls." Day or night he could be called, and often was, to administer the last sacraments to the dying. He daren't leave his house without leaving explicit instructions as to where he could be found and if for some reason he had to leave his parish, he would always contact a neighbouring priest, to cover his parish in his absence.

No priest today feels this awesome responsibility. Most people now die in hospitals, where they are cared for by chaplains.

Most people then died in their homes. Everybody, including children, would have seen death at close quarters. They would have watched over a dying member of the family, for days arid weeks and months, as life slowly ebbed away until at last it flickered out. Sooner or later, "the Great Reaper', so luridly depicted as a skeleton wielding a scythe, was a visitor in every home. Almost the only use made of the "parlour" in country houses was to lay out the dead and hold the wake.

Sickness and death were always accompanied by suffering.

There were no pain-killing drugs then. People turned to what they called "the consolations of religion."

They had an instinctive empathy for the suffering and death of Christ, which we can barely comprehend now. The Stations of the Cross had an enormous appeal for them. It helped them make sense of their own lives. They were encouraged to unite their sufferings to the sufferings of Christ. Suffering was seen as "the will of God', and "resignation" in the face of suffering was the great virtue. They were taught "to offer it up" in reparation for their own sins and those of others. It explains the enormous popularity of somebody like St Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, who was canonised in the first decades of this century. She died from tuberculosis in her early twenties and her diary "The Little Way" had enormous appeal in Ireland, where there was scarcely a home that had not lost a young boy or girl prematurely as a result of Tuberculosis.

Now Tuberculosis has been eradicated, only to be replaced by cancer, which in turn seems about to be conquered by medical science. But a new epidemic, AIDS, is sweeping the world, for which medicine so far has no answer. Suffering may not now occupy the centre-stage in our lives, as it did formerly, but it will remain, like death, a permanent part of the human condition. Just as the cross will remain forever at the core of Christianity. For the first time in history, in this post-Christian era, it is probably more worn as an ornament rather than as a religious symbol. A pretty thing we wear around our necks, rather than a cruel burden that we carry on our shoulders. it is what makes us Christian. What Christ said in today's gospel, he says to all: "If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me."

What do YOU say?

Today's gospel contains a central question in the gospel: "Who do you say that I am?" II we reply that he is someone we are prepared to follow, Jesus leaves us in no doubt as to what that will imply.

Imagine, if you can, Jesus posing that same question to a group of intellectual theologians. The answer would go something like this: "You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being; the kerygma in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationships." I could well imagine that Jesus' reply would be: "WHAT?'!

"And you, who do you say that I am?" Jesus is a personal God, who asks personal questions. "Will you also go away?" "Do you love me more than these?" The question is addressed to me personally, and the answer must come from me personally. I will not find that answer in a book, but in my heart.

The complete answer to the question is "You are my Saviour, my Lord and my God." "You are Saviour in the room of my past; the Lord of the room of my future, and you are God in the room of today." God is totally a God of now. "I am who am." If he is Saviour, then I don't have to be back in the past, with regret, guilt, or self-condemnation. If he is Lord, then I don't have to live in the future, with worries, anxieties, and fear. I need have no fear of the future, if I believe that he holds the future. If he is God today, then "there is nothing impossible with God."

If we are to follow him, then we must join him on the journey. We must take up the cross of daily living, and of fidelity to his call, so that he can lead us into the fullness of life. If we choose to follow him, there will be little in the way of earthly glory involved in the journey. Just as he was rejected, misunderstood, and alienated, because he refused to conform to the standards of this world, so we, too, can expect the same, if we take him seriously.

Response: The cross is not too well understood. Someone suffers a misfortune, and may be looked upon as someone who has a great cross to bear. That is not true, because misfortunes also happen to pagans as well as Christians. The cross is always a blessing, and it does not crush or destroy. "My yoke is sweet, and my burden is light." The cross is made up of splinters. The cross is anything I have to do because of my decision to follow Jesus. If I follow him, then, I must forgive, I must share, I must live in a certain way. "The greatest among you are those who serve." Those who serve are the happiest people on earth.

I could find the answer to today's question within my own heart, and not anywhere else. Travelling with Jesus each day brings me into a personal conviction about the reality of my answer to his question. It is a question of letting go, and letting God. I have to open one hand, and let go of the past, open the other hand, and let go of the future, open my heart, and accept the gift of today.

A group of Christians were holding a Prayer Meeting in Russia, when such a thing was completely forbidden. Suddenly the door was broken down by the boot of a soldier, who came into the room, faced the group, with a machine gun in hand, and asked "If there's any one of you who doesn't really believe in Jesus, then get out now, while you have a chance." There was a rush for the door. The soldier then closed the door, and stood in front of the remainder of the group, with machine gun in hand. He looked around the room, as the people were beginning to think that their end had come. Then he smiled, and said "Actually, I believe in Jesus too, and you're better off without those others!'


13th Sunday (Year C)

1 Kings 19:16, 19-21

Ps 16:1-2, 5,7-11

Galatians 5:1,13-18

Luke 9:51-62

Religion that Divides

Cost of Discipleship

Several Homilies in One

The Price Of Freedom

Repeated Invitation

1 Kgs 19:16,19-21. When Elisha is called to be a prophet, his response is immediate: willingly he follows and serves Elijah.

Gal 5:1,13-18. Although gifted with Spirit, the Galatians must resist the flesh which draws them back towards sin and slavery.

Lk 9:51-62. Jesus resolutely takes the road to Jerusalem, aware of the death that awaits him there. He demands the same kind of unwavering commitment from those who follow him.

Theme: Paul affirms our Christian freedom and yet warns against abusing this freedom by self-indulgence. We should reflect today on the freedom we have and on those who are still denied it.

1 Kings 19:16, 19-21

Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.

So he set out rom there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." Then Elijah said to him, "Go back again; for what have I done to you?"

He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-11

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you."

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup..
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad,
and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.

For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Galatians 5:1, 13-18

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.

Luke 9:51-62

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."

Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Intercessions

- for oppressed peoples everywhere.

- for a spirit of democracy and respect in our society.

- for all those who are imprisoned for daring to speak out against those in power.

- that we may always be vigilant in protecting our own freedom and that of others.

Thoughts for 13th Sunday, C

Religion that Divides

It is a sad reflection on human nature that even religion can give rise to bitter and long-lasting divisions among peoples living in close proximity all their lives. We see an example of this in today's gospel reading which tells us how Jesus resolutely set out to go from Galilee to Jerusalem for the last time. The shortest route for that journey should take one through Samaria, but most Jews avoided this, because for centuries Jews and Samaritans were sworn enemies, the main reason being that the Jews worshipped in Jerusalem and the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim, close to modern-day Nablus. Jesus had hoped to find hospitality in a Samaritan village, and extend the hand of friendship to its people. But he was rebuffed, especially as he was a pilgrim on the way to the Temple in Jerusalem. Even more bitter was the reaction of James and John, who wanted to call down fire from heaven to burn up the inhabitants. It was an example of the kind of bigotry, which has become all too common today, where people are forced nto a religious mould by the threat of physical violence. That the stern rebuke of Jesus had its effect is evidenced from the fact that John, who must have felt the brunt of it keenly, was to make love the central theme of both his gospel and letters.

In contrast to all this we have the advice of Jesus to three separate people who wanted to become followers of his. Far from putting pressure on them, he even seemed to be discouraging them. The first man was advised to count the cost before setting out to follow him, as Christ had no fixed abode. His response to the second man seemed to be quite harsh. Let the spiritually dead bury their dead, the man was told, after asking that he be first allowed bury his father. The father, however, was likely not yet dead, the custom then being that the eldest son should not leave the family home until after his father" death. The lesson is that if we are faced with an option, and do not avail of it at once, it is less likely that we will do so later. His message for the third man was uncompromising too. No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is the right kind of person for the kingdom of God. The wooden ploughs of that time were fragile, and were in danger of being smashed if they struck any of he stones hich were a feature of the land. Therefore the ploughman had to keep his eyes on the ground ahead at all times. The commitment to his task by the disciple of Christ should be total at all times as well.

All through our lives, God is also calling us, whether we respond or not, even as he called Abraham from his homeland, Peter from his nets, Matthew from his tax office, Elisha from his farm. But, how many of us answer the call? Referring to the Jews, Jesus said, "Many are called but few are chosen (Mt 22:14). The almighty God, speaking through Moses to the Israelites, seemed almost to rejoice and take delight in the small numbers who were following his call. "It is you that the Lord your God has chosen to be his own people out of all the peoples on the earth. If the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, it was not because you outnumbered other peoples; you were the fewest of all peoples" (Deut 7:6f).

This was again echoed by Christ before his disciples, "Fear not little flock, for it has pleased the Father to give you the kingdom" (Lk 12:32). But the sad thing, not only in the Old Testament, but throughout the history of Christianity, is that God's generosity has been often met by a lack of gratitude, faith, holiness, truth and fidelity. It is a great mystery why one person follows the call of God and lets it give direction to his/her life, and another does not. We do not know why this happens, but we cannot blame God for it. "As I live, says the Lord God, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked should turn from their evil ways and live" (Ezek 33:11). "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost, but may have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). This reassures us that there is no lack of love on God's part for each and every person that ever lived. It is in the manner of their response to God's love that people are found wantig Nor can there be room for complacency, taking our salvation for granted. Even so great a saint as the apostle St Paul said, "I treat my body hard, and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, having preached to others, I myself should become a castaway" (1 Cor 9:16). We should always bear in mind that we are children of God, called to live in the light of Christ, and not dwell in the darkness.

Cost of Discipleship

A renewal of personal loyalty to Jesus and to his teaching seems to be the obvious theme today.

One might begin by talking about decisions or choices. Few really important decisions are made without some regrets or hankerings after the alternatives which had to be foregone, particularly if the choice made leads to difficulties or hardship. Some decisions are made once for all (e.g. to eat this cake) ; others have to be reaffirmed constantly (e.g. to love one's spouse.) Our decision to follow Jesus is never without such hankerings after the alternatives, and it must be constantly reaffirmed. Seldom do we really slaughter our oxen like Elisha; seldom do we co-operate fully with the Holy Spirit so as to be free from slavery to our weak humanity.

The following points seem to be suggested by the readings:

(1) The renunciation of the old way of life, i.e. of sin and the hankering after it. This requires constant "conversion," turning back to God and beginning again. Stress the use of the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass for this purpose.

(2) A personal commitment to Jesus which puts him first. This requires that we place his values first, and that we see in them our real happiness and fulfilment. While we are pure but consider that all the fun and enjoyment is on the side of the impure, honest but consider all the advantages on the side of the dishonest, etc., we have not begun to see Jesus' values as the only truly human ones. We have not achieved real Christian freedom. We will need to listen to him, to be faithful to the Eucharist, to be aware of his presence within us, which must be cultivated by prayer. Following Jesus for us may require a practical decision, easy to make but hard to persevere with, to pay attention to him for ten minutes each day in prayer.

(3) Witness to Jesus, proclaiming the Kingdom with our lives. Paul knows that the most practical way we can do this is by loving our neighbour. This requires a serious attempt to live in harmony with those about us. There are plenty of would-be Christians who have not imbibed the spirit of their leader, like James and John in today's gospel. They want God to "sort out" those who oppose them, and believe they have "cornered" God for their side.

(4) Perseverance. Keeping the hands to the plough, looking ahead and not back. By ourselves we will not be able to do it. We must not neglect the Spirit who has been given to us by the risen Christ. As Paul says, we must be "led by the Spirit," guided by him. Perhaps it is because he is so conscious of the gift of the Spirit that Luke can make such demands on the disciples throughout his gospel.

Several Homilies in One

When a text is particularly rich in ideas or themes, the preacher runs the risk of ending up giving several homilies instead of one. The Gospel text we are dealing with is a case in point in that it raises provocatively at least three themes, any one of which can issue in a worthwhile Sunday meditation.

1. Journey. In practically every culture we find stories of journeys of discovery or journeys during which the central figure works out his or her destiny or fulfils a mission that has been confided in trust. The journeys of Jesus can, obviously be examined from any of these angles, but the point I would like to concentrate on in our reading, and which I find particularly suggestive, is that on his journey to Jerusalem, to death and to glory, Jesus did not walk alone. He was accompanied on the way by companions who were not merely passive disciples. They actively participated in the fulfilling of his mission. Not only is Jesus not a lonely and isolated figure, striding out alone, he is surrounded by people who help him and whom he trusts enough to send out as messengers to go ahead of him and to prepare for his coming. They are companions who are not afraid to give suggestions, even if Jesus ends up rebuking them and not going along with their idea of burning out with celestial fire the inhospitable Samaritan!

A practical application of this to our Church-life is to ask to what extent our ecclesial leaders, especially our priests, end up walking alone, either by personal choice or because that is the role in which they find themselves cast by the people of God. There is no doubt that Jesus exercises a leadership role, but he does so in a participative way, calling on people to help in his mission, discussing with them the options and trusting them to get on with the job, even when they are not particularly good at it. In what ways does this text challenge us to devise more participative ways of Christian living?

2. Rejection and misinterpretation. At the beginning of his ministry in Galilee, when Jesus spoke to his own town's people in the synagogue at Nazareth, he was misunderstood, rejected and almost killed (Lk 4:16-30.) Here, as he sets off on a new phase of his ministry, heading for Jerusalem, he again experiences misunderstanding and rejection. A first point which could be developed, therefore, is the fact that misunderstanding and rejection are often part of life and one has to learn to cope with them as one goes along. A second point could explore the reaction of James and John. They were indignant and made no effort to understand the attitude of the Samaritans, who themselves had a long history of being despised and discriminated by the Jews. Not only did they make no effort to understand the point of view of the other, their reaction is one of wanting to obliterate the other. Jesus tells them to cool down, to have patience and to move on to someplace else. By his attitude, Jesus teaches tolerance and the riht of the other to exercise his or her choices and to be different. There is a Brazilian proverb which says that you don't know people until you have eaten a sack of salt with them. There is nothing like eating a sack of salt with someone to deflate self-righteous indignation and to question harsh condemnations. A further point to round off the homily would be to question to what extent we ourselves are responsible for other people rejecting Christianity. Does the witness of our lives give margin for misunderstanding? Does our behaviour give people grounds for rejecting what we say we stand for?

3. "I will follow you wherever you go," exploring the contrast between good intentions and the hard reality of abandoning all for the sake of the Kingdom of God and setting out on the adventure of following Jesus.

The Price Of Freedom

On 14 July, a little over two hundred years ago, an event took place in Paris, the Fall of the Bastille, which shook the world. The recent fall of the Berlin Wall pales into insignificance in comparison to it. In fact, future historians may well link, the dramatic collapse of the Soviet Union with the revival of interest in the French Revolution on the occasion of its bicentenary. In any case, the timing of that recent event seems more than coincidental The fall of the Bastille had enormous symbolic appeal to oppressed peoples everywhere and nowhere more than in Ireland where its anniversary was celebrated with large parades and demonstrations in Dublin and Belfast. The Bastille was an imposing fortress-prison in the centre of Paris, which for many Parisians had come to symbolise tyranny. It was widely thought that its numerous dungeons were crammed with prisoners, the unjust victims of an oppressive system. In fact, there were only seven inmates, three of whom were insane and had been committed there by thei families. The other four were professional swindlers. They were carried shoulder-high through the streets of Paris and later melted into the crowd with the practised ease of professionals, the first beneficiaries of the revolutionary liberty..

It could have been St Paul that day who had fired up the mob to attack the Bastille instead of the Revolutionary orator, Camilles Desmoulins. His message to the Galatians, related in today's epistle, would have raised rousing cheers from that Parisian crowd. "My brothers, you were called to liberty. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery." This is the stuff revolutions-are made of.

Had Paul been its leader, the Revolution might have unfolded differently. The terrible blood lust, culminating in the Reign of Terror, might never have happened. "Be careful," he warned the Galatians, "or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence." It is a warning the French could have done with. But Madame La Guillotine was destined to have her way and the French indulged in an orgy of self-destruction. "O liberty, what crimes have been committed in your name," Danton, himself a victim of the guillotine, is reputed to have exclaimed.

It seems to have set a standard for all subsequent revolutions.

Ireland began its era of independence with a civil war. So did most African States. Now, we have the spectacle of the Balkans, just freed from dictatorship, locked in fratricidal combat. No sooner has freedom been gained than power-hungry factions enter the fray to carve out their own niches in the vacuum left. Paul had foreseen it all: "If you go snapping at each other and tearing each other to pieces, you had better watch or you will destroy the whole community."

Somebody once said: "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." It re-echoes St Paul's warning to the Galatians: "Be careful or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence." One of the first targets of the French Revolution was the Catholic Church, so far had it departed from its evangelical origins. It is a warning to us all. Our record in the past leaves a lot to be de sired. We subscribe to a gospel which above all proclaims: "The truth will make you free."

Repeated Invitation

One could be excused for wondering whether Jesus was trying to attract or to discourage followers. He is certainly forthright in specifying his requirements. His words and actions offer criteria for assessing the quality of our response. How do we measure up? The question is relevant because we are baptised.

On his own initiative Jesus has called us. His 'Follow me' should be regarded as a frequently recurring refrain. It is not just an unrepeated invitation. The call is renewed day by day. He calls us into a personal relationship with himself. We are invited to share in his life and in his interests. Discipleship and mission go hand in hand. Precisely because it is his mission it has to be carried out in his way. James and John were zealous but they wanted to do things their way. Jesus rebuked them. A fire and brimstone approach even towards opponents, was unacceptable to him. He had come as a saviour not as the leader of a punishment squad. 'The anger of man docs not work the righteousness of God' (Jam 1:20). We can be forgetful. Sometimes followers of Christ appear to be more like followers of the 'sons of thunder'. We need the guidance of the Spint to help us to clarify and to refine our understanding of discipleship.

Jesus was meek in the face of rejection. He was not cowardly. He 'resolutely took the road to Jerusalem' even though he was well aware that suffering and death awaited him there. His action speaks louder than words. It indicates the kind of fortitude and dogged perseverance which he expect of at us. His expectation is realistic. We are capable of imitating him. In baptism 'God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power... '(2 Tim 1:7). We are empowered and given the responsibility 'to accept the gospel in faith and to proclaim it in words and deed' (The Vocation and Mission of the Laity, 14).

Disciples do not necessarily have to sleep rough. They are required to break free from all forms of false security. The apostles abandoned the security of an established life style. In his day Elisha had to accept a change of social status. He was a well-to-do farmer. He became a servant to Elijah.

'I will follow you, sir, but... '.Have the words a familiar ring about them? Have we the courage and humility to admit even to ourselves, that they could be ours? 'I will follow you but on my own terms.' 'I will follow you but not if the cost is too high.' We are in no position to criticise the would-be followers. In his replies Jesus conveys a sense of urgency. He has no time for haggling over terms and conditions. Our consent must be unconditional. We have to say a Mary-like 'Yes'.

Mission is demanding. It should not be joyless. Paul the apostle had to endure all kinds of persecution. Yet in his letters he often mentions the great joy which he experienced. He had preached Christ. He had been faithful to his mission. Therefore he could rejoice. The joy which he experienced was spiritual joy - a fruit of the Spirit. It could not be snuffed out by suffering.

The joy which the Spirit gives is a pledge, a first instalment of heavenly joy. It is on offer to each of the baptised. To acquire it we have to be, like Paul, faithful to our mission. The basic mission is the same for all. Freed from the law of selfishness we are now free to love as Jesus loved. We are freed in order to serve one another in love, to spread the Good News of the kingdom. How do we do that? 'The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission.' (Redemptoris Mission, 42).


14th Sunday (Year C)

Isaiah 66:10-14

Ps 66:1-7, 16, 20

Galatians 6:14-18

Luke 10:1ff

Life and Career

A New Thing the Lord is Doing

Peace, like a river

Peace To This House

Is 66:10-14. Written after the return from Babylonian exile, the poem likens Jerusalem to a mother nursing her child at the breast.

Gal 6:14-18. Christian life is a new form of existence, conformed to Christ. Paul bears the marks of Christ's passion on his body.

Lk 10:1-12,17-20. "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" When Jesus sent out his seventy-two disciples in pairs to spread the gospel, they shared in his powerful ministry.

Theme: The peace of Christ which we celebrate today should leave its mark on us, so that we somehow act as messengers of peace to all around us.

Isaiah 66:10-14

Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her- that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom. For thus says the Lord: I will extend prosperity to her like river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants, and his indignation is against his enemies.

Ps 66:1-7, 16, 20

Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise.

Say to God, "How awesome are your deeds!

Because of your great power,
your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth worships you;
they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name."

Come and see what God has done:
he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.
He turned the sea into dry land;
they passed through the river on foot.

Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for me.
Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me.

Galatians 6:14-18

May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule - peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
or, shorter version: 10:1-9

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'

But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.

The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

Intercessions

- that conflicts everywhere may be resolved by peaceful means.

- for peace in our homes and communities.

- that all may "flourish" by the grace of God, as Isaiah foretold.

- for peacemakers that their work may bear fruit.

Thoughts for 14th Sunday, C

Life and Career

It has been said by psychologists and career guidance counsellors that there is a close connection between the career a person chooses in life and the development of the personality of that person. People in positions of authority who become arrogant and overbearing, and scientists who become so carried away with their research that they become eccentric in behaviour, are just a few examples that spring to mind. In total contradiction to this, at a Dublin seminar on career guidance, a professor from Leeds University stated that in his experience many Irish people working in England identified in a minimal way with the career tasks in which they were employed. It was a time when emigrants from Ireland were ill-prepared for undertaking any kind of managerial role. There was little job-satisfaction, he said, or self-fulfilment in their work, which quite often they looked upon as an unavoidable intrusion into what they deemed to be their daily lives.

When they clocked off from work in the evening or at the week-end, they resumed the threads of what they looked upon as their normal existence, which to their way of thinking was sharply distinguished and altogether remote from their working hours. One would be slow to say that this evaluation is applicable generally, but what can be said is that there is a remarkable parallel between it and the attitude some of us have towards our Christian faith. We might well ask ourselves whether we regard the practice of our Catholic religion as a kind of series of intermittent digressions from our normal lives, whether Christianity is something to be practised only on Sundays within a church building, or at odd moments when we say prayers at home throughout the week. Such an approach is far removed from the kingdom of God which Christ wanted preached by the disciples when spreading the gospel, far from the new Israel of God, for which St Paul was prepared to be crucified to the world and to bear in his body the marks ofesus, far also from the vision, in the reading from the prophet Isaiah, of the New Jerusalem, that is the Church, which should be our heavenly sustenance, our consolation, our joy, bringing peace flowing like a mighty river into our souls.

Religion is not something we put on with our Sunday clothes; it must enter into the centre of our being, become a dynamic force lending purpose to our every-day existence. Membership of the Church means this: that God the Father has gathered together in one body all of us who have faith in Jesus Christ, all who see him as the one who has delivered us from the power of evil, and the fear of death, that we are called to identify with Christ in our daily lives, become one with him and with each other in harmony and peace, and furthermore, that Christ has left us the Holy Spirit to establish in each of us this sense of community and service to others. But the Church is meant to be a sacrament, a visible sign to the whole world of God's redeeming love offered to all humanity, and of humankind's response to this offer.

This sign becomes most clearly visible, when we are united to each other and to God, in truth, holiness and mutual love, and especially when we are openly gathered together, as we are at this moment, to confess our faith in Christ, and to celebrate what God has done for us in Christ. In the Blessed Eucharist, not only do we offer homage and thanks - that is the meaning of the word Eucharist - but the risen, glorified Christ becomes one with us. We, in our turn, offer to Christ our lives, and not only our Sunday lives, but also our daily lives, our regular existence with all its concerns, its heartaches, its joys. It does not mean that we have to go so far as to stop in the middle of our work during the day to turn in prayer to God, as was the custom, for example, of the holy man, Matt Talbot, in the timber yard in Dublin where he was employed. Neither does it not mean that we have to do violence to our nature, but it does mean that we allow grace to build on our nature, so that in our work, in our leisure, webear witness to Christian virtue. Let us try and see our lives, in the context of work as well as within our family circle, as lives of service to others, as Christ loving others through us. In all that we do, let us strive, like the early Christians used to phrase it, to be God to others, to let our Morning Offering give direction to our full day, so that all our thoughts, words and actions may be blessed by God, as long as we live on this earth.

A New Thing the Lord is Doing

This Sunday's gospel, which the Church also uses to celebrate the feast of St Luke, gives a special opportunity to teach a basic fact about all the evangelists, but especially Luke, namely, that how he presents the ministries of Jesus and the disciples is as much a reflection on the post-Easter Church as it is a reminiscence of the events before Calvary. It was all written, and intended to be read, through "Easter glasses." Luke 10 provides an occasion for proclaiming the glory of our Christian mission in a variety of ways, since many of the details of today's gospel resonate with images in the first two readings.

Take, for example, the unity of healing and preaching in v. 9:." cure the sick there. Say to them, "The reign of God is at hand," Strikingly, the preaching is an explanation of the healing and the healing illustrates the preaching about the Reign of God. This is much of a piece with Isaiah's portrayal of the Lord's endtime blessing as being like the shalom of a child at its mother's breast. It also resonates with Paul's image of the Christian as a new creation. Bringing a new wholeness and fullness is still part of the Church's mission. Whereas we have readily accepted the mandate to preach and teach, we have sometimes ignored the charge to heal. A full homily might be devoted to this theme, spelling out the ways that a healing ministry is much a part of the Church's mission today. It is obviously at work in the healing professions and institutions but it is also active in the sacraments of the Anointing of the Sick and Reconciliation, in the peacemaking of the counsellor, in the ministry of parenting, and evn in praying with one another with expectant faith for physical and psychological healing.

The gospel image of harvest in Luke 10:2 clarifies in one metaphor the whole mystery of grace which we live out in mission. To speak of mission as harvest points up the dynamic of being involved in the Lord's gift in a way that is both deeply passive and intensely active.

We may be busy about much planting, watering, weeding, cutting, but it is God who gives the growth. Anything we do is a response to the initiative of the Lord of the harvest. For all our active involvement, at bottom we are as dependent as Isaiah's baby at the breast. Like Paul, boasting of his "brand marks," we are not about our "own thing" but rather we carry out the task of the Master. The jubilant seventy-two, reporting on their triumphs in v.17, are reminded that the power of their ministry has a divine source (v. 20.)

Other details of the gospel suggest still other avenues of emphasis. The references to going without staff, sack, or sandals, while no longer a literal prescription, are still a valid reminder that we are to travel light, even risking the vulnerability of lambs among wolves. While a facile critique of the institutional Church might be possible here, a challenge to one's personal life style might be more to the point.

The charge to greet no one along the way is not a call to social withdrawal. Elisha tells Gehazi (2 Kings 4:29) to follow similar instructions because Middle Eastern formalities can be so time-consuming. The point is urgency. It is of a piece with travelling light. We are about the Lord's business and are to take measures not to be distracted or bogged down. What we are about, after all, is the Reign of God - a matter of unexpected wholeness and new creation.

Peace, like a river

One word - "Peace" - dominates today's readings. In Isaiah peace flows like a river through the landscape of the future. Paul, speaking to the Galatians, to the background of divisions in the community, promises peace to all who follow Christ. In our gospel, when sending his disciples out, Jesus tells them that their first message to every house must be: "Peace to this house."

But even as the word is spoken you sense the reluctance of the world to receive it. Even the reluctance and inability of the Christians to live it out, to give it more than lip service. The divisions are obvious in the epistle. Some in the Church want to retain the Jewish circumcision, others view it as a sign of the past. Every age in the Church has its own moments of crisis, its own dividing lines. These may be small issues or large ones. Every community has its breaking point. These may be in the hearts of the best believers. In the gospel we see the disciples returning filled with joy from their success. They are boasting of their success, proud of their preaching and living. Christians are, too often, marked by an arrogance of belief. They look down on others. Such pride swallows the Christ who preached poverty of spirit. It leaves us less compassionate before a world which needs to know the compassion of Christ.

Behind all these readings is the idea and reality of service. The joyful hymn of Isaiah can only be heard in its full glory when we hear the suffering servant singing it. Its promised peace emerges from the insights and love of someone who has suffered the divisions and hatreds of the world and reconciled them in himself. Paul puts this with woeful clarity: "The only thing I can boast about is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world is crucified to me, and I to the world."

The cross of Christ reveals two things about the world. Firstly the intense love of Christ for the people of the earth. Then the cross reveals how divided and broken that world is. Religions go their proud way. Empires and political powers set their own agendas and punish all who question their power over human life and its use and abuse. To remain peacemakers we must remain true to the cross. The poverty and brokenness of Christ on Calvary is the model of how we are in the world. We must live that poverty of spirit: "no purse, no haversack, no sandals." We must never become proud and arrogant. Christ is a humility before the pride of the world. Christ is free love before the necessities of the powerful. Even those who reject Christ must be loved - their nearness to his Kingdom must remain our message.

We can only do this in an often cruel world by retaining our faith, hope and love. Among the wolves of a Calvary world the lambs must remain true to themselves. Our faith in a Christ who died out of love for us all. Our hope is that his faith and love are the source of our peace. Our belief is that by our living out of God's love of the world and its people the Kingdom of peace will be given to us all.

Our readings today show us the Church and world as they are. More importantly they reveal what they might be had we but the faith, the hope and the love of Christ.

Peace To This House

Soon after it started, the First World War was optimistically described as "the war to end all wars." A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then and much of it has been rivers of blood. The macabre sight on the world's TV screens, of the victims of tribal massacres in Rwanda or Sudan, or killed by bombs in Iraq, confirmed the pessimism of many who see no sign of the "end-of-all-wars" in sight. Sure, some progress has been made recently in resolving age-old conflicts, such as the dismantlement of apartheid in South Africa and tentative steps towards peace in Northern Ireland. Even in Christ's native land some peace accords have been established between Israel and a few of her Arab neighbours, notably the Palestinians an Jordan. However welcome such peace is, it scarcely matches Isaiah's promise:

Now towards her I send flowing peace, like a river,
and like a stream in spate the glory of the nations.

Rivers of blood rather than rivers of peace continue to irrigate our world.

Far from being a benign influence, religion so often seems not only to ignite but even to prolong and embitter conflicts between peoples. Bosnia, in the heart of Europe was a lethal cocktail of Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims. Many who make our daily headlines seem to be fanatical followers of a God of vengeance rather than quiet devotees of the God of love.

But the modem media is biased towards the sensational and its headlines chronicle the world's disasters. Ordinary lives make no news. The great masses of humanity live their day to day lives in peace and harmony with their neighbours. Many of them live heroic lives dedicated to the service of others. Occasionally, even the media cannot avoid them. A TV documentary on the horrors of a refugee camp in some war-torn place may briefly feature a young Irish girl volunteer holding a sick child in their arms. "A single picture is worth a thousand words."

Lest we become discouraged, two things about the modem world are worth remembering. Modem technology has created weapons of mass destruction which enable relatively few to cause widespread death and destruction. Secondly, the modern media instantly relays worldwide the resulting horror. As a result it is easy for us to overlook the enormous progress peace has made over much of the world in our time. For most of history war was endemic everywhere. Now it has been isolated to relatively few flash points. It only takes a single incident to start a war. Establishing peace is a long and painful process. But Christ the Prince of Peace is on our side and the outcome is assured. And our reward will be great. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall see God."

Two by Two

Today's gospel has Jesus sending his disciples out to do his work. He instructs them, and gives them definite directions. We then read what happened when they returned to him to report on how they got on.

At election times we get the literature in the post, through the mailbox, or we have someone call to the door. Those who call to the door usually travel in twos. They have been well briefed, and they have their presentation ready. They are representing the one seeking election, and, therefore, they ensure that they remain faithful to the political manifesto of that person or party. If not every day, then certainly every week, they return to headquarters to report on how they got on. Today's gospel, of course, is about much more than seeking votes in an election, but there are some similarities.

There is so much teaching in today's gospel that we are forced to be selective. Firstly, we note that he sent them out in pairs. He called each one individually. He never asked the five thousand to follow him, after he had fed them with the loaves and fish. While he called each one personally, he never sent an apostle out alone. There are but two incidents in the gospels when an apostle went out alone: one was to betray him, the other ended up denying him. Community support is essential to living the gospel. Even a hermit has to be commissioned by a Christian Community, and must continue to be in touch with that group.

Jesus told the apostles that he was sending them out like lambs among wolves. That wasn't encouraging! His disciples had a choice. They could conform to the world, and preach a message that made people more comfortable in their complacency; or they could preach the message of Jesus, that was bound to be opposed, because it called for fundamental change. Many years later St John wrote in his first letter "The people who belong to this world speak from the world's viewpoint, and the world listens to them. But we belong to God; that is why those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the spirit of truth or the spirit of deception."

It is encouraging to listen to the enthusiasm of the disciples when they returned. They had obeyed Jesus, and it worked. His promise to them was vindicated. They discovered that the call to mission contained the power to effect that mission. Jesus went even further in assuring them that he had given them full authority over all the power of the evil one, and that their names were registered as citizens of heaven.

Response: The gospel is in between two phrases. The first is "Come and see," and the last is "Go and tell." If I have come and seen, I will want to go and tell. There is a difference between witnessing and evangelising. We are all called to witness, but not all are called to evangelise. Many of us would die a thousand deaths if we were called to stand on a box in Hyde Park, and preach to the passers-by! We can all witness, however, through the example of our lives. Christianity is about attracting, rather than about promoting.

To be involved in the work of the Lord is to be involved with others of a similar vision. If there is no involvement, there will be no commitment. I cannot be a member of the Body of Christ, and fly solo. My foot cannot go off for a walk on its own. The whole body must be involved in the exercise. This does not mean that everybody should be doing the same thing, or that all should be involved in each single undertaking. There are ministries and missions; there are gifts, talents, and charisms. The gift of some is in organisation; of others in prayer ministries; of others in ministering to the sick, the marginalised, or the least of the brethren.

The words at the end of today's gospel are addressed to each one of us. Jesus does give us his power. We are empowered to do his work, and to work in his name. His call is an anointing call, and we are sent with his authority. We have the power if we are willing to supply the goodwill. Jesus assures us that we have a passport, visa, and "green card" for heaven. Our names are already registered there. We are saved, and our mission is to proclaim the good news of salvation to others.

In a way I believe that Christianity is on trial in today's world. Let me put it this way, by using figures from a seminar on evangelisation in Switzerland a few years ago. Imagine there are only 100 people on this earth, all in one village. On today's facts, 67 of them would be poor, while 33 of them would be at various levels of being well off. 93 of them would have to watch while 7 of them spend half the money, have half the bathtubs, and eat one third of the food, and have ten times as many doctors looking after them than the 93 put together. That is not the real problem, though, from our point of view. The real problem is when the 7 have the nerve and the gall to attempt to evangelise the 93! They tell them about the wonderful Saviour they have, who talks about sharing, feeding the hungry, etc., while the 7 throw out more food than would feed all of the 93! They build bigger and better basilicas and cathedrals for this God of theirs, while the 93 find it increasingly difficult to find a place to live. Thy transfer monies, and open new and better bank accounts, while the 93 find it more and more difficult to get something to eat. The bottom line must surely be this: If the 7 are so stupid and so blind that they cannot see the frightful contradiction of their situation, then, surely, they cannot expect the 93 to be that stupid, to be that blind!


15th Sunday (Year C)

Deuteronomy 30:10-14

Ps 69:13ff

Colossians1:15-20

Luke 10:25-37

The Samaritan Impulse

Communication of the Law of Love

What kind of people are these?

The Good Samaritan

Vertical and horizontal religion

Deut 30:10-14. "This commandment is not too hard for you." God's law is not something imposed from outside, but something that arises from our identity as God's chosen people.

Col 1:15-20. A hymn to the supremacy of Christ, beginning and end of creation, head of the Church, universal mediator and redeemer.

Lk 10:25-37. "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho." Love of neighbour is illustrated in the Good Samaritan.

Theme: The parable of the Good Samaritan is Christ's answer to the question "Who is my neighbour?" It should inspire us to go and do the same ourselves.

Deuteronomy 30:10-14

Moses said to the people: "When you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

11 Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" 14 No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

Ps 69:13, 16, 29-30, 32-33, 35

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.
With your faithful help

Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
But I am lowly and in pain;
let your salvation, O God, protect me.

I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
Let the oppressed see it and be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.

For the Lord hears the needy,
and does not despise his own that are in bonds.
God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah;
and his servants shall live there and possess it;
the children of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall live in it.

Colossians1:15-20

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-all things have been created through him and for him.

He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal lie?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

Intercessions

- for ourselves, that we may show our love for God by showing charity to our neighbour in need.

- for the Simon community, the Samaritans, the St Vincent de Paul Society and other charitable organisations that God will bless their work in helping the needy.

- for those in need that our generosity will alleviate their plight.

Thoughts for 15th Sunday, C

The Samaritan Impulse

One of the most prolific writers of his time, a genius blessed with a powerful brain, was the Englishman, G. K. Chesterton. In his early years he was an agnostic, with little religious belief. After leaving school at 18, he drifted into what he describes as a state of "moral anarchy," something which only led to misery and despair. He was saved by his sense of wonder and joy at the existence of the natural world around him. "Having stretched my brain till it bursts," he wrote, "I have come to the belief that heresy is worse than sin." After five years of deep spiritual reasoning, he found that his personal religious vision was for centuries present already in the Apostles' Creed of the Christian Church, although he was 48 before he finally became a Catholic.

Primarily a journalist, he was also a poet, writer of several books, radio broadcaster, public debater, and theologian. So great were the demands on his literary genius that he died at the age of 62 from heart fatigue and chronic exhaustion. Such was his contribution to emerging Catholicism in England that the cause for his beatification is being promoted within the Church there recently. He once stated that the English secularised culture of his day, which often regarded atheism as the hallmark of the intellectual, retained within itself, in spite of everything, especially its attitude to religion, many concepts which were deep-rooted in Christianity. One such concept must surely be that of the good Samaritan. In fact it was in England that the action group called "The Samaritans" originated. The enduring impact of Jesus' parable of the "Good Samaritan" is all the more extraordinary when we remember that for the Jews the Samaritans were anything but good. Instead they looked on them as being despicable reneges from the Jewish faith. They even accused Jesus himself of being a Samaritan and possessed by a devil (Jn 8:48).

We would do well to consider the significance of the parable for us here and now. What is certain is that Jesus used this unusual story to bring home to us in a dramatic way the most important, the most demanding, the most all-embracing quality he requires of those who would be his followers. The importance of Jesus' parable lies in its context. It is the answer to a specific question - who is my neighbour to whom I must show as much love as to myself? The answer is brought home forcibly to the Jewish lawyer who put the question. Everyone without exception, even such as the despised Samaritan, must be regarded as a neighbour.

But if we ponder over the whole account there are further lessons we can draw from it. Firstly, we could ask ourselves what the Samaritan had to gain personally from his act of charity. The answer, in material terms, is precisely nothing. The whole point is that love which is really and truly love, is disinterested. Indeed where is the merit in being good only to friends, who will obviously reward you in return, should the need arise? Christian love must embrace everyone. Secondly, if you do not show love to the neighbour whom you see, then no matter what commandments you keep, what ritual sacrifices you join in, as did the priest and Levite in the parable, you become incapable of loving God, whom you cannot see. This is something which St John reiterates again and again. If you want to join in the Eucharistic banquet and receive God's Son into your heart, then you must first cleanse your heart of all hatred, bitterness, ill-will, because the God we receive in this sacrament is love.

Finally, we could read a deeper meaning into the parable - that we are the ones who have fallen among the robbers, and that these latter represent the forces of evil which have stripped us of our virtue, of our heavenly birthright. The one who comes to our rescue is Christ, the Suffering Servant of the Lord, described so graphically by the prophet Isaiah as the one despised and rejected by his own people. And he has rescued us, not by means of gold or silver, but by the sacrifice of his life, by the shedding of his blood, which takes away our sins, and restores us to the friendship of God once more. Pressed as to why he entered the Catholic Church, Chesterton, incidentally, said it was the only Church which claimed to be able to forgive sin. Confronted then with the heroic self-sacrifice on the part of Jesus, our response is clearly indicated for us by St John in his First Letter: "My dear people, since God has loved us so much, then we too should love one another." (1 Jn 4:11)

Communication of the Law of Love

A strong theme integrating these readings is the primacy of Jesus in the Father's communication of the law of love. The passage from Deut. 30 is a fine example of how the people of Israel treasured the Mosaic Law, the Torah, as God's clear and privileged communication of his will. This is a splendid set-up for observing the quantum leap that occurs in Christian consciousness when the post-Easter believers understand the person and the word of Jesus as fulfilling and even supplanting and surpassing the Torah. The gospel text presents a sample of that. Here, as in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:43-48), Jesus begins from, and then deepens profoundly, the Old Testament teaching of love. The Colossian reading - with its celebration of Jesus as image of the invisible God, head of the body, the locus of cosmic "fullness," the reconciler of all - this supports the idea of Jesus as God's most complete communication of himself.

But all this is in the background. Jesus' teaching itself, the famous parable, will obviously be the centerpiece of any homily this weekend. The best service the preacher can do is to help the worshippers hear the story afresh. The key here is recovering the shock of the identity of the hero, a Samaritan. These people were the outcasts in first-century Palestine. Since they had intermarried with the occupying Assyrians in the 8th century B.C. they were considered a mongrel breed. And because they kept a separate tradition of the Torah and conducted a competing temple worship on Mount Gerizim (see Jn. 4:20-22), theirs was considered a corrupt form of Judaism. (See Sirach 50:25-26 for the traditional Hebrew attitude toward Samaritans.) For a Samaritan, a suspect stranger in Judea, to deal with an injured Jew would have been an act of unexplainable compassion and an unthinkable risk.

Some social analogy may help here. In his Cotton Patch Version of Luke and Acts: Jesus' Doing and the Happenings, Clarence Jordan sets the scene in southern U.S.A. and retells the story as being about a black man aiding a white victim. Others have compared the situation of the Samaritan carrying the victim to the inn to that of a plains Indian in 1890 riding into a small town with a scalped cowboy on his horse. This catches the element of risk. Another analogy: a pastor working in the Middle East confessed that never once was he even tempted to tell Palestinians a story about a noble Israeli.

The point is to find a social parallel which will bring this story home to one's own congregation. Finally, the significant shift between the lawyer's question of v.29 (Who is my neighbour?) and Jesus' question of v.36 (Which proved neighbour to the victim?) deserves emphasis. The lawyer wanted a definition to comfortably circumscribe his duty. Jesus cuts through that word game: one's neighbour is any human being in need. How this is specifically to be applied is up to the imagination and courage of the homilist and the listeners. Here the Torah of God comes through the person and teaching of Jesus with inescapable concreteness.

What kind of people are these?

Newspapers and the other media tend to leave us with a rather depressing picture of human nature, which would seem bent on war, destruction, social and political injustice, and on all types and forms of immorality. That, of course, is what is seen as making news. But it should blind none of us from being more aware in our daily lives of the basic goodness of human nature, and of noting the many selfless and quite unnoticed acts of love and charity. And by being positive about our human nature and its capabilities for good, we become more aware of our own potential to love selflessly. This is what Jesus tries to help the lawyer to experience. Instead of giving him a dictionary definition of "neighbour," he presents him with the parable about the Samaritan who acts not out of a sense of duty or of guilt, but out of sheer love and generosity. Though we are not told, we can hope that the lawyer is fired with enthusiasm to live in a similar manner.

We could, of course, concentrate on the negative elements of the parable - the brigands, the priest and the levite. But this would be to miss the point, and we end up falling into the trap of the press and the media.

The emphasis in the parable upon the positive capabilities of human nature - even in people not normally expected to display such characteristics - takes up the overall thrust of Deuteronomy (First Reading.) Quite often, as Christians, we approach this book of the Old Testament with a certain lack of enthusiasm, noting its negative stipulations and its prohibitions. Yet to concentrate on this aspect would again lead to distortion. For Deuteronomy, expressed as a summary of Moses" instructions, is God's teaching to Israel on how to live a life of love and charity. Deuteronomy repeatedly emphasises God's undying and unchanging love for his people, and from this perspective urges its hearers to respond in kind, They are to live a life of love for God and for their neighbour, defined above all by the trio of the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. These were the people most in need of charity in the community of Israel, and the idea is that, if one is charitable to them, then one is charitable to all without excption. The Law which, in today's First Reading, is described as being the Word, pre-figuring Jesus, is the powerful gift that enables love, Jesus in his parable brings to life the true meaning and understanding of Deuteronomy and of the Law. Indeed, the parable is Jesus' vivid commentary on Deuteronomy.

Sometimes, as professing Christians, we get impatient with ourselves that we are not always living out the life of love demanded by Deuteronomy and in the parable of the Good Samaritan, and that the priest and the levite are still within us. Our impatience is fired by the type of societies in which most of us live, ones that demand quick results. We are conditioned by advertising techniques: we expect that the pain-killers we buy will work instantly, that a brand of washing powder will cleanse instantly of all stain, that fast foods will not only be fast but nutritious, and so on. Perfection in love is usually not so instant. We could do well to remember that the instructions of Deuteronomy were given while still on the way to the Promised Land, and that the parable of the Lord is told while the disciples are still making their way with him to Jerusalem. The "journey" element can remind us that love and charity are part of the journey of faith. And, as with many journeys, there are stops and even wrong turnins. It is when we get bogged down at such stages that we lose our sense of direction and our infinite capacity to love.

The Good Samaritan

"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" was a brilliant piece of propaganda. But it was an odd threesome as a programme for revolution. Laws can be and were enacted to guarantee liberty and equality but no government can make a law to enforce fraternity. There is little evidence of fraternity during revolutions and in this the French Revolution was no exception. But there was one notable example and that on the side of those who were described as the "enemies of the revolution." When the king was condemned to death by the National Assembly, he asked to have a priest attend him at the end. His request was granted and he wrote the name and address of a priest, stipulating that if the priest did not wish to risk his life on such a dangerous mission, the king would understand. The man he chose was an Irish priest, the Abbé Edgeworth. Most French priests had by then fled or gone into hiding for fear of the revolutionaries. The Abbé Edgeworth immediately accepted. He presented himself at the prison where the king was lodge spent the last night with him, offered Mass in the morning and accompanied the king to the guillotine. When the king was beheaded, the priest, spattered with his blood, turned to descend the scaffold. Confronting him were more than fifty-thousand armed soldiers, drawn up in serried rows round the scaffold together with a huge mob of rabid revolutionaries, who had come to cheer at the king's execution. He approached the front row of armed guards, expecting to be seized, but it parted to let him pass, as did the second and third and so on to the end, until he was out of danger. In a strange way, it was almost as if they were forming a guard of honour for the departing priest. The French revolutionaries, like others, respected bravery, even in their enemies.

This story, though known to few in Ireland, is widely known in France, if for no other reason than the countless illustrations of the execution of Louis XVI which appeared shortly after wards and are frequently reproduced since. In these Abbé

Edgeworth is depicted standing beside the king and holding aloft a crucifix.

What is not well known, either there nor here, is the subsequent history of the priest. Shortly afterwards, he was forced to flee France. The king's brother, already in exile in Northern Prussia, invited the Abbé to join him and the royal family as their chaplain. In spite of his delicate health, he agreed and spent the rest of his days he what he described as "the land of ice." In the winter of 1806, the French Revolutionary army under Napoleon had advanced as far as Warsaw. Many of the French soldiers contracted fever and some were left to die near where the Abbé was in exile. When he heard of their plight, he went immediately to minister to them despite warnings from his friends. He caught the fever and died shortly afterwards. He died nursing the soldiers of the Revolution which had beheaded his king.

We read in today's gospel: "Now a priest happened to be travelling down the same road, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side." It is heart-warming for us to know that there was at least one priest, a product of that decadent church of the ancient régime who did not "pass by on the other side." Not once, but at least twice in his life, he played the Good Samaritan. But more importantly, Abbé Edgeworth's story, like that of the Good Samaritan, should inspire us to take up Christ's challenge: "Go and do the same yourself."

Vertical and horizontal religion

This is a enriching gospel, containing the two great commandments, and an excellent story to illustrate exactly what the two commandments are about. To reflect on this gospel is to get to the core of the message.

Several days after the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic, a newspaper carried two pictures side by side. The first showed the side of the ship slashed open by a massive iceberg. The caption read "The weakness of man, the supremacy of nature." The second picture showed a passenger giving up his place on a lifeboat to a woman with a child in her arms. The caption read "The weakness of nature, the supremacy of man." Today's gospel points to a balance between God and neighbour, between a vertical religion, that includes only God, and myself and a horizontal religion, which includes only my neighbour and me.

It is important to notice that the questioner was trying to catch Jesus, to see if he would say anything that was contrary to the law, which they held with such intensity. Jesus' reply was "What does the law say?" Jesus is prepared to meet him on his own terms. The man quoted the law about loving God and loving neighbour, and Jesus said "Fair enough. Do that, and you're on your way to heaven." Later on, of course, Jesus would further refine the commandments to one new commandment: "Love one another as I love you."

Jesus was a born teacher. He usually began with something that was quite familiar to his listeners, and he used that to bring them to a new insight into what he wanted them to learn. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was infamous for bandits and robbers, and any one who travelled that road on his own was certainly taking a great risk. He told a story about this road to highlight what he meant by love of one's neighbour. A neighbour is not just someone who happens to live on the same block. It is someone who is regarded as one who should be friendly. A true neighbour can always be depended on. It is not a question of where the other lives. When I come into your presence I become your neighbour, and I am in a position to help, should such be needed.

One thing we must notice about the Samaritan in the story: When he began something, he saw it through. It is easy to throw a few coins into the hat of a beggar, and then pass on down the road. It is different when I share a compassion for the other, feel the pain and isolation, and I want to accompany the other to security and healing. That is love, which is more personal and "touching" than mere charity, which can be quite cosmetic and sanitised.

Response: Today's gospel certainly calls for a response. Notice the quality of the people who passed the man by on the roadside. They were religious people, who were so engaged in their religious practices that they hadn't time to stop and help. Also their kind of help was so conditioned and limited, that it certainly was not open to just anybody. If you conformed to their definition of a good person you would be included in the club. If you dared to be different, then you don't belong to the club.

It is more than interesting that Jesus chose a Samaritan as the central character of his story. The Jews despised the Samaritans. It was both morally courageous, and possibly slightly foolhardy for Jesus to risk a vicious backlash to such provocation. He said what he said, however, because he was determined to underline the message that love is love, wherever it comes from, or whoever expresses it. God is love, and they who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. This is true, whether the person be Jew, Samaritan, Christian, Muslim, or pagan. God has no grandchildren. We are all children of God.

God is not bound by racial barriers, colour, or creed. Religion without spirituality is dead. Christianity is about witnessing to love in all its forms, on all occasions. It does not differentiate, it does not discriminate. To be so busy praying to God that I have no time to serve my neighbour is an abomination to God, and gives him no honour or glory whatever. The religious people in the story could have been in a hurry on their way to a religious service, or to some study session of Scripture that they just couldn't possibly stop to help the injured man. It is this kind of contradiction and hypocrisy that Jesus is anxious to root out.

A good way of looking at my life is to check on the balance between the vertical and the horizontal, between how I approach and see God, and how I approach and see my neighbour. "Whatever you do to the least of these, that's what you do unto me." "If you bring your gift to the altar, and there you remember that someone has been hurt by you, go first, and be reconciled with that person, and then come and offer your gift."

A king who had no son to succeed him posted a notice inviting young men to come along and apply for adoption into his family. The two qualifications were love of God and love of neighbour. A poor peasant boy was tempted to apply, but felt unable to do so because of the rags he wore. He worked hard, earned some money, bought some new clothes, and headed off to try his luck at being adopted into the king's family.

He was halfway there, however, when he came across a poor beggar on the road, who was shivering with the cold. The young lad felt sorry for him, and he exchanged clothes with him. There was hardly much point in going any further towards the king's palace at this stage, now that he was back in his rags again. However, the young man felt that, having come this far, he might as well finish the journey.

He arrived at the palace, and, despite the jeers and sneers of the courtiers, he was finally admitted into the presence of the king. Imagine his amazement to see that the king was the old beggar-man he had met on the road, and he was actually wearing the good clothes the young man had given him! The king got down from his throne, embraced the young man, and said "Welcome, my son!'


16th Sunday (Year C)

Genesis 18:1-10

Ps 15:1-5

Colossians1:24-28

Luke 10:38-42

Listeners, in Trust

The better part

The Better Part

Martha/Mary/Lazarus

Gen 18:1-10. When welcoming the three strangers, Abraham does not realise that he is in the presence of God. He is rewarded with the good news that Sarah will bear his child.

Col 1:24-28. Paul suffers for his converts as part of his ministry of calling of the Gentiles to salvation.

Lk 10:38-42. The different forms of welcome given to Jesus by the sisters, Martha and Mary, in their home in Bethany.

Theme: Jesus wants Martha not to be too caught up in the everyday chores. Preoccupations like these cause most of our worries and anxieties too. Like Mary we should sit quietly with Our Lord and listen to him.

Genesis 18:1-10

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, "My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on-since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said."

Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes." Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent." Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him.

Ps 15:1-5

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue.

They do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbours;
in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honor those who fear the Lord.

They stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be moved.

Colossians1:24-28

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

Luke 10:38-42

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

Intercessions

- that we may always cherish our intellectuals, our poets and writers.

- that our church may respect the value of loyal criticism, and allow alternative voices to be heard.

- that by listening to Jesus we will shed our worries and anxieties.

- that God may bless our lives with good and lasting friendships.

Thoughts for 16th Sunday, C

Listeners, in Trust

"What is man that you care for him," the writer of the Psalms asks God to explain (Ps 4:8), "mortal man that you keep him in mind?" It has been said that when it comes to discovering the meaning of human life and of our existence in this world, most of us are like pygmies, who travel on the backs of the giants who have gone before us. In other words the number of people who were able to stand back, as it were, and try to see human striving, endeavour, hardship, in meaningful terms, is small indeed. The majority of us are willing to go along in varying degrees with their discoveries, as they filter down to us through different channels.

The Word of God, which is the theme running through all three readings-today, comes to us in more or less the same way. There were some chosen individuals who were able to grasp in a wonderful way God's message for the human race, who discovered fresh insights into this message, and as a result had an enduring influence on those who came after them. So the Word of God came to Abraham. But it was not something abstract, something which for Abraham was to be found in books; there was no such thing as books then, but rather a wonderful oral tradition handed on from generation to generation, and finally committed to scrolls. Abraham's encounter with God was on a personal plane. He was the friend of God, the Bible says, and his welcoming reception of the message of God is depicted in terms of eastern nomadic hospitality.

Abraham is the supreme example, in the OT, of deep-rooted faith and trust in God. He was called by God to leave his own clan, to leave off worshipping their gods, to set out for an unknown destination, and in return he would become the father of a new and numerous people. Abraham trusted, and followed this call, even though there seemed little hope that the promises to him would ever be fulfilled. Then, after a long time has elapsed, he is told that his wife, Sarah, will give birth to a son, even though both were now old. Again he trusts in God's word. But later when his son Isaac was born he was asked to sacrifice this son. How could the promise of God that he would be the father of a people as numerous as the stars in the heavens now come true? Nevertheless, Abraham's faith and confidence in God never wavered, and was vindicated in the end. This faith was the means by which Abraham was justified - there was as yet no written commandments of the Law - and this faith was to endure in his children, among whom e also are privileged to be numbered.

As we saw in the gospel today, the Word of God came to Mary, the sister of Martha, and was the outcome of an even more personal and direct relationship with God in Christ. We always feel a little sorry for Martha, who was left on her own to attend to the household work, but what is brought home to us here is that our relationship with God, our attentiveness to his voice speaking to us through the Spirit must never be pushed aside, drowned out by the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. Finally, in the reading from St Paul we are told how the Word of God, hidden from all mankind for centuries, comes to the gentiles.

What then is this Word of God, and where do we find it, you may ask. This glorious and rich secret, as St Paul says, is that Christ lives on in us, that he has conquered sin and death for us, that he calls us to share in the glory of God, if only we listen to him as did Mary, and have faith like that of Abraham. For he continues to speak to us, through the Scriptures, through the new Testament in particular, through the liturgy, through the homily, through the community in which we live, and through our own families, provided we open our eyes, our ears, our hearts. For the message of salvation is a living tradition handed down from one generation to the next, as it was in the early days of the chosen people. It is a message which is continually being revealed in new light to us by the Holy Spirit, and like the man in the gospel, who buried his master's talent, we also will be called to account if we do not cherish, preserve, and hand on this message of hope to those who will follow us.

Only one thing really matters in the hurly-burly of our modem world, that we always make space for God in our lives, that we reach out and grasp the message which God is continually presenting to us, that we make it our own, and that we allow it to guide and shape us, as we live and as we hope to die, in fulfilment of God's wishes for us.

The better part

It is hard not to feel a bit of sympathy for Martha. It is her house, not Mary's, and it is natural that she should want to put her best foot forward. The trouble with her - as with over-anxious people in general - was that she could view things only from her own perspective and even became annoyed when others followed a different course. What she does not realise is that, to be a good host, we have to forget ourselves and think only of what our visitor wants from us.

Sure, Martha loved Jesus every bit as much as - and perhaps even more than - Mary, as, no doubt, he loved them both. Where she went wrong was in not trying to find out how Jesus wanted to be entertained, wanted to be loved. Mary is the one who correctly senses that when Jesus comes on a visit the last thing he wants is to have people inconvenienced and fussing over him. So, while Martha makes the greater effort to entertain Jesus, Mary has a better understanding of the situation and of what is expected of her by him. Her contemplative intuition instinctively grasps the reason for Jesus' visit. He is there not to receive but to give, not to be served but to serve. He has something he wants to say and the one thing necessary for now is to listen to the Master who has come to speak to them.

We have here a whole theology of contemplation, of entertaining the Lord. It starts off from the ordinary truth that, no matter who our visitors may be, we have always something to learn, something to gain from them. The person who comes knocking on our doors, comes precisely in order to tell us something, to be reassured by talking things over with us, to be listened to and understood. After a demanding and frustrating confrontation with today's scribes and Pharisees, Jesus comes to visit his own, in an atmosphere of friendship, to talk to us in the quiet of the evening or the freshness of the morning, to share with us the Word that brings us to salvation. He comes not because he needs us but because we need him. We too can be "distracted with all the serving;" we too can "worry and fret about so many things." We may, like Martha, miss the better part, the one thing necessary, which is to submit to the Word of Christ.

The Better Part

The world is made up of Martha's and Mary's - the doers and the dreamers - and it would seem the former are far more numerous than the latter. The industrial and commercial society of today places a huge premium on achievement. It is results that count. Targets are set for production and sales and only those who achieve or surpass them are rewarded. Captains of industry everywhere are pushing hard to have pay related to production. Their message is "shape up or ship out." And those who can't or won't are made redundant. It is all about "turnover" in a profit-and-loss society. We live in Martha's world.

Yet history shows that the greatest contributions to our civilisation were made by dreamers. By those, who in that memorable phrase of President Kennedy, "saw things that never were and asked why not." From Plato to Albert Einstein our world has been shaped by a long line of visionaries who could see a world other than the one they were born into. In their time they were mostly ignored, often reviled and sometimes, like Galileo, condemned. It is ironic that Christ's followers so seldom show his marked preference for the Marys of this world. They toiled away in their garrets, often in poverty, elaborating their dreams and bringing to birth a better world for future generations. Recognition, if it came, always came posthumously. We at least are in no doubt now that they "chose the better part." They have left us forever in their debt.

The achievers, who largely dominate the pages of our history books, have left us an altogether more dubious legacy. From Alexander the Great to Stalin, their rampaging armies have redrawn the world's map in blood, imposed alien languages and laws in the name of conquest and left behind a tangled web of feuds and hatreds that centuries later peoples still struggle to unravel. Their successors in our century, the giant international corporations, in their quest to conquer the world, are now threatening its survival. In the name of production, they are polluting the atmosphere, pillaging the seas and de-foresting the land. Whole species have become extinct or are threatened with extinction. They have condemned us to live in the shadow of a Chernobyl waiting to happen.

But, mercifully, we still have our dreamers. "I have a dream." Who can forget those words of Martin Luther King? "I have climbed the mountain and seen the Promised Land." He was gunned down by an assassin but his people were emancipated. Recently, another great prophet of our time, Aleksandr Solzheriitsyn, returned to his homeland, Russia, after years of exile in the West. He travelled the length and breath of the motherland, listening to the voices of the simple Russian peasants.

Then, looking arid sounding like an Old Testament prophet, he delivered a scathing condemnation of Russia's new achievers to the parliament in Moscow. Those, like him, who chose to be the conscience of a people, may seem to be ignored, but their message lives on.

The message of today's gospel, is that we, like our Master, should cherish such dreamers. It is the poets and prophets, writers and thinkers, philosophers and mystics, who like Mary, have chosen the better part.

Martha/Mary/Lazarus

I've always hope that someone would unearth the whole catena of Martha/Mary/Lazarus stories of which this one and the raising of Lazarus story in St. John's Gospel are the only ones we have. The two stories enable us to see Jesus in a family context, in domestic scenes, with people that he loved and loved him. The parents of the three presumably were dead because we hear nothing about them. They are also likely to be in their early or middle teens because they are not married. The two girls were clearly in love with Jesus and he treated their crushes with respect and affection. Were they people who actually existed? It would be hard to deny that because the stories presume that those who read the Gospels know all about them. Jesus is not saying that one should not wait on guests. He is rather saying that more important than waiting on them is enjoying them and loving them. We should never be so busy that we have no time for love.

Story: Once upon a time a mommy had such a wonderful time on her vacation that she decided that on the last weekend she would have a party for the neighbours at their summer place in gratitude for what good friends they had been. She hoped that she could do that every summer. Let's have pizza her kids said -as kids always say. We can grill some hamburgers, her husband said, that's easy (which is what he always said). No, said the mommy, we should have a really NICE dinner (which is what she always said. The rest of the family groaned to themselves because they knew what that meant - a whole day of hard work for everyone during which the mommy would act like it wasn't her idea but theirs and now they weren't helping enough. The rest of the family thought that beef bourgeone was a little much for a summer dinner. There was no reason to clean up the house like it was just before Christmas. If they had to have Caesar salad, couldn't you make it out of a bag. Was it really necessary to bake potatoes? Wouldn't potao saladbe just as good? Couldn't you buy the apple pies at the bakery instead of making a half dozen of them? And what was wrong with package pie crust? Well, the party was a feast which everyone enjoyed. They would have enjoyed it a lot more, however, if the mommy wasn't so worn out that she didn't have any fun.


17th Sunday (Year C)

Genesis 18:20-32

Ps 138:1-3, 6-8

Colossians 2:12-14

Luke 11:1-13

Both good, but different

People of Faith and Prayer

Ever-present with them/us

Lord, teach us to pray

Guardian of the people

Give Us This Day

All we need know, about prayer

Gen 18:20-32. Abraham intercedes for Sodom, a depraved city. He haggles until God will spare the city for the sake of ten good citizens.

Col 2:12-14. Through baptism we are joined to Christ's death and resurrection; dying to the old sinful ways, we rise to a new life.

Lk 11:1-13. When asked how we should pray, Jesus teaches the "Our Father" and says that God cares for all needs, our both spiritual and temporal.

Theme: Jesus taught his disciples to call God "Father." We are indeed his children, so if we need anything we ask our Father for it, trusting that he won't let us down.

Genesis 18:20-32

Then the Lord said, "How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know." So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord.

Then Abraham came near and said, "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" And the Lord said, "If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake."

Abraham answered, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?" And he said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there." Again he spoke to him, "Suppose forty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of forty I will not do it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there." He answered, "I will not do it, if I find thirty there."

He said, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angy if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there." He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it."

Ps 138:1-3, 6-8

I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name
for your steadfast love and your faithfulness.

On the day I called, you answered me,
you increased my strength of soul.
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly;
but the haughty he perceives from far away.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies;
you stretch out your hand,
and your right hand delivers me.

Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.

Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Colossians 2:12-14

When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.

Luke 11:1-13

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial."

And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Intercessions

- that God our Father will help us to use wisely the blessings he has given us.

- that God our Father will give us each day our daily bread.

- that God our Father will forgive our sins against him as we forgive others who have wronged us.

Thoughts for 17th Sunday, C

Both good, but different

Today's is one of my favourite human interest stories in the gospel. It gives a clear insight into the personalities of two sisters, friends of Jesus called Martha and Mary, and it shows us some different valid approaches of good people in their response to Jesus. It is a simple but important lesson about respecting others in their difference, but also about discovering what aspect of our own selves we may need to develope.

Prayer and work can be like both sides of the same coin. If I am in a boat, and trying to row across a lake with just one oar, I will probably soon find myself going round in circles. On the other hand, if I wish to get to the other side, I will need a second oar to balance the first, and keep the boat moving forward in the right direction.

Martha and Mary were both good people, and dear friends of Jesus. Like any other two human beings, they were different, of course. The main difference was in their point of departure. Mary began by listening to Jesus, and she then would have prepared the dinner. Martha began in the kitchen, and, if she had time, she would then come to listen to Jesus. It is possible that I can become so busy with the work of the Lord, that I don't have time for the Lord of the work.

St Francis de Sales says "Each Christian needs half an hour of prayer each day, except when we're busy; then we need an hour." When I speak about prayer here, I'm not necessarily speaking of saying prayers. I could teach a parrot to say a prayer, but I could never teach a parrot to pray. Prayer is not so much I talking to God who does not hear, as God speaking to me who may not listen. While listening to Jesus, Mary's heart would be deep in prayerful reflection. Like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, she could say that her heart burned within her as she listened to his words.

"There is only one thing worth being concerned about." That is quite a statement from Jesus, especially when he goes on to say "Mary has found it, and I won't take it away from her." There is a hunger in the human heart that can only be filled with the divine. To discover that secret is all that matters. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness, and everything else will be added to you." Going aside with Jesus was always a special time for the apostles. It was at such times that he explained the parables, taught them to pray, and explained the mysteries of the Kingdom. To discover this is, indeed, the pearl of great price.

Martha a was good woman. She loved Jesus, and Jesus loved her. She wasn't wrong as in being wilfully wrong; it was simply a question of priorities. She was a doer, and she wanted to do her best for Jesus. In shifting the stress, she turned the divine imitative into human endeavour. This is a frequent trap for the Christian. Only God can do God's work. It is never a question of muscular Christianity, or being a member of the "white-knuckle Club'!

One dimension of today's gospel that might not strike us straightaway is that all three persons in the story are being true to themselves. Martha was a natural worrier, who tended to fuss a lot over things to be done. Mary was naturally a contemplative soul, who could easily "waste time" with God, with others, or with herself. This is a rare gift, because many of us can be driven by a compulsion to activity, or we begin to feel guilty. Jesus was totally at home with both Martha and Mary, and he probably would have said nothing if Martha had not made an issue of the situation. His reply was not a put-down for Martha, but a typical response of Jesus, which was always gentle, fair, and totally honest.

There is a Martha and a Mary within all of us. This is good, and it only becomes a problem when the Martha takes over, and fails to appreciate the value of the Mary. The longing of the heart of Jesus is that the self-righteous brother might accept and hug his prodigal brother, that the Pharisee might embrace the Publican, and that Martha might accept Mary. This is the reconciliation that must take place within all of us. At the beginning I said that work and prayer can be two sides of the same coin. It is not a question of heads or tails, but a realistic acceptance of the completeness that comes from inner balance, and from inner tranquillity.

Down in southern California is Mount Palamor mountain which is topped by a giant observatory. There are massive telescopes that can scan the distant spaces. One of the facts that I heard from experiments there is the following: If you put a photo-sensitive plate into one of the telescopes, and open it to outer space for a few seconds, when the photo is developed, it will show many hundreds of bodies in outer space. On the other hand, if the telescope is left open for up to half an hour, the developed photograph will show many thousands of bodies in outer space. In other words, the longer the exposure, the greater the results.

The longer I spend in the presence of the Lord, the more of his light is reflected through me...

People of Faith and Prayer

An episode beautifully narrated by St Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, tells how St Paul said goodbye to some of his Christians for what he thought was the last time, before leaving for Jerusalem, where he knew he would end up in prison. It gives us graphic insights into the change the new Christian faith had brought about in these converts from paganism, and the esteem and love they had for Paul. On the Turkish Mediterranean coast, Paul stopped at Miletus, the port serving the great city of Ephesus. The elders of the Church at Ephesus came out to hear his farewell message to them, and when Paul had finished we are told that he knelt down and they all joined together with him in prayer.

Paul is often regarded by us as a stern, academic, off-putting figure, but not by those who came close to him. Here we are told that his listeners broke down in tears and embraced and kissed Paul, sorrowing most of all because he had said they should see his face no more. And they all accompanied him back to his ship. After the last stop at the famous ancient port of Tyre, the disciples yet again, men, women, and children, went with him down to the quay side, and regardless of the sailors and pagan onlookers, kneeling down on the beach they joined together in prayer, and bade one another farewell. The lesson for all of us in this is the depth of faith of these first generation Christians, which can be seen from the extraordinarily rich prayer life they had already acquired.

As soon as one ceases to pray, it is a clear-cut indication that one is no longer walking with Christ, Christ who, according to Luke, went out into the hills to pray, and even spent the whole night in prayer to the Father before selecting his Apostles (Lk 6:12). This obviously was one aspect of Christ's life that made a deep impression on Paul. Time and again he reminded his converts of the need for prayer. "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing," he warned the Thessalonians (15:17f), and to the Philippians he wrote, "Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything, by prayer and thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God" (4:6). And his last word of advice to those at Ephesus was to pray at all times in the Spirit, to persevere in their prayer, and to pray for one another. Why is it then, you might ask, that our prayers, especially our prayers of petition, seem so often to go unanswered?

The fact, however, is that every prayer of petition is answered, provided it is made in faith, made with a readiness to accept God's will, and made with a heart devoid of any feeling of hatred or ill-will towards others. "Have faith in God," Jesus said to his disciples; "I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will" (Mt 11:24). The problem is, do we know how to pray, and what to pray for? When Jesus said, "believe that you receive whatever you ask for," he was telling us that above all we must have faith in God. The only place Jesus could not work miracles was his home town, Nazareth, because people did not have faith. St James, moreover, in his letter has this warning (4:2), "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions." We may in fact be asking for something harmful, and our heavenly Father will only give what will be for our good.

A certain man once asked a Carthusian monk how he should pray, and the reply was, "Pray in, not up" - just four words. It is indeed true that most of the time we imagine the One we are addressing in prayer as being somewhere above or outside ourselves. But scripture tells us that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, and we should focus on God's Spirit dwelling within us. Furthermore, the Spirit pleads for us with sighs too deep for words, and intercedes for us according to the will of God. May we never leave off praying, but rather ask God daily for the gift of prayer, as did Matt Talbot, who set for us such an example of a life wholly dedicated to prayer, by day and by night, at home or at work.

Ever-present with them/us

The affectionate prayer of Jesus in today's Gospel is filled with pathos. Jesus knows that his time on earth is coming to an end. His mission in human form, so to speak, is over. His friends are now on their own. He will be present to them, of course, especially through the Spirit. But they will not see him with their eyes, hear him with their ears, touch him with their fingers. So he now reassures them and through them us that they will nonetheless be under God's protection. No matter what might grow wrong the Trinity supports and protects even when we are in the last moments of life. We may be frightened - who isn't - but everything somehow will still be all right.

Story: Once upon a time Mollie Whuppi discovered she had a real problem with the girls basketball team at Mother Mary High School. Mollie, as everyone knows, was class president, student body president, captain of the volleyball, basketball, and chess team, prefect of the sodality (they still had one at her school) and had the best grades in her class. The president of the high school often said that she was delighted that Mollie permitted her to remain in office. To which Mollie goes, "like REALLY!" Well Mollie did make mistakes. As her boy friend Joe goes, "she's like occasionally in error, but NEVER in doubt." WELL, the problem on the team was the poor kids that never played - the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth players on a team which had only nine really good players. Well, pretty good. So since the games were always close these other players never got in. And when Mother Mary would win close games against schools like Lord Jesus high and all the crowd went wild and hugged those who had played, they ignoredthe tenth and eleventh and twelfth players. These young women were good sports and never complained, but one day Mollie noticed how silent and sad they were down at the end of the bench. So she goes to the coach, we have to do something about them. The coach didn't understand (often times they don't, you know). If those girls played, they'd lose. Well, Mollie wanted to win as much as anyone (maybe a tad more). But she didn't like those sad faces on people she liked a lot. So what did Mollie do? She organized a party at her house for all the basketball team (Absolutely no BOYS permitted) and praised the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth players for their hard work and good sportspersonship, and gave each of them a totally neat blouse she had found at the mall. There was a lot of weeping and hugging. And no more long faces. And Mollie goes to Joe, like we really have to take care totally of everyone!

Lord, teach us to pray

Methods and techniques of prayer have always been in demand and the variety on offer has multiplied recently. Yet, when all is said and done, what can compare with the perspicacity of the disciple who, having watched Jesus praying, said, "Lord, teach us to pray." The first step for us too is to ponder on the prayer-life of Jesus and the content of his prayer. Even a cursory glance at St Luke's Gospel would justify our dubbing it the Gospel of Jesus at Prayer. How many times is Jesus found in the Gospels praying - alone, on the hills, with his disciples!

Beginning with the prayer of Jesus takes our minds off the techniques and draws us towards that point where we too, like the disciple, will simply and humbly ask, "Lord, teach us to pray." But, before that, we may have to wait for a long time in silence, just observing him and listening to his prayer. Then gradually, like the apprentice learning from the master, or rather, like the soil of the earth becoming fertile from the falling dew his prayer takes root and germinates in our hearts. Slowly, and over and over again, we too begin to repeat that prayer - the only one he left us - which is a relating of our whole being to him who is his Father and our Father. to him in whom both he and we - but we because of him - can call, "Abba, Father."

We are not used to praying Luke's wording of the Lord's Prayer. The official version adopted by the Church is Matthew's, which is longer, more solemn, more harmonious in its seven petitions. Luke's is shorter, containing only five petitions, but is more direct, more personal. Instead of "Our Father who art in heaven," as in Matthew, it begins with the simple cry "Father!" It is a way of addressing God that would never have been heard on the lips of anybody except Jesus. It originated in, and revealed, the profound nature of his relationship in the Trinity. He was Son as no other man could know how to be son; he was the unique Son of God.

The early Christians, especially in the communities schooled by St Paul, cherished the moment of Baptism when they became children of God, "sons in the Son." In the depths of their hearts they could hear the voice of the Spirit of Jesus urging them to make their own this word of infinite tenderness, "Abba, Father" (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), a title of familiarity for every child, a title that expressed perfectly the sweet intimacy and total confidence of their new status. Even as it revealed the person of the Son in Jesus, it also brings out for us the dignity of our adoption as sons of the Father. Yes, there could scarcely be any better person to introduce us to prayer than Jesus himself and, of course, his Spirit!

Guardian of the people

The Old Testament uses "Father" of God as the guardian of the people or of groups within the nation (see Deut 32:6; Ps 68:5; Is 63:16; 64:8; Jer 3:4, Mal l:6,2:10). There is a more personal touch in Sirach 23:1,4, Wisdom 14:3. But neither in the Old Testament nor in the writings of Qumran is there the intimate tone such as one finds in Luke 11:2. The preservation of the word "abba" in Romans 8:15, Gal 4:6 and Mark 14:36 are memories of Jesus' intimacy with the Father.

Secondly, Jesus differs in the relative frequency with which he is portrayed as speaking of God as Father. Each stratum of the sources of the Gospels contains a number of examples Matthew alone has 44 references, while John has 120. Surprisingly, there is a general agreement among all the sources that Jesus spoke of this subject only to his disciples but not to the crowds. Apparently, Jesus restricted the right to address God so to those who by their loyalty to himself, had shown themselves entitled to regard themselves as children of the Father. Jesus' view of God was not one far removed from their lives and struggles, but one who could be known intimately like their own parents (10:22,18:15-12.)

The simplicity of Luke's prayer contrasts sharply with many of the quite fulsome formulations used in Jewish and Greco-Roman prayers, not to mention some modern equivalents! Although "abba" can be translated "daddy," one should not think of Jesus' Father as a weakly indulgent "papa," destroying his children by granting every whim and never chastising them. On the contrary, Jesus taught much about our duties to love our enemies and to trust, love and fear the heavenly Father who is the Lord God Almighty.

The need for structured prayer and for set times has come across more and more to us in recent years. In contrast to the rush for personal prayer "at the time when one feels best," it has often been forgotten what a structured prayer-life Jesus himself led - regular synagogue and temple-attendance, as well as the daily prayer life of a faithful Jew. Jesus and his family, and the apostles after them, are presented in the New Testament as faithful to the Jewish traditions. The Jerusalem temple was criticised by Jesus for failing to be a house of prayer for the nations of their world.

What about our prayer lives? Do we pray that God's will be done by us, by me? Do we pray that God's name as Father be really respected by all, especially by our Church and State leaders? How can we say it is respected if so many, say, are poor? Do we long and hope for the coming of the Kingdom which means the salvation of all people? Do we pray for so many undergoing trials, tests and sufferings of all kinds?

Give Us This Day

Shortly after I was ordained I went to Lourdes for the first time. I was spending the summer working in a parish in Bordeaux. Just before I was due to leave, I took the train down to Lourdes. By this time my money was running out. The French church with its evangelical contempt for Mammon, had not acquired the habit of remunerating its visiting priests. By the time I reached Lourdes, which was before midday, I had not the wherewithal even to buy a sandwich and my return train did not leave until 10pm. I set out for the Grotto where I intended to say Mass. I enquired there for the direction to the chapel and was told to stand in one of the many queues. "When they see you are a priest you will be called in." I was told. Sure enough, minutes later a steward spotted me and beckoned me to follow him. I could hear water being sloshed around. "A strange place to have the chapel," I thought to myself. But it was not the chapel. It was the baths. Too late to back out, I stripped as I was told and after a perfunctory payer, I was duly immersed. Groping for a towel, I was informed that the custom was to dress without drying. Back outside, I sat on a wall in the sunshine, feeling water dripping down my back and into my shoes. Soon after, I began to sneeze. By the time I had reached Ireland, twenty-four hours later, I was quite feverish and was confined to bed for a week. I had been ranted the Lourdes-miracle in reverse. I had arrived there in the whole of my health and returned home sick.

It was twenty-five years later before I was persuaded to return. A group of young Irish in Paris invited me to accompany them on weekend pilgrimage. Being their chaplain, I could hardly refuse. This time was different. A lot of water had passed under the bridge. I was no longer the young priest with the world at his feet. I may not have been crippled, like so many of those I saw there waiting outside the baths, but life had left me my share of scars. And I had had one slight brush with death in the form of cancer. I found it much easier now to identify with the sick and handicapped there, knocking at heaven's doors, looking for an answer to their prayers. Lourdes had not changed in these twenty-five years, but I had. I knew how to ask now, because I had things to ask for. Only those who have reasons to ask, know how to pray. Maybe my sickness on that first trip was a little miracle after all. Perhaps God was warning me that I too had need of his help.

There was nothing wrong, as far as we know, with the disciple who asked Jesus how to pray. His answer is for all:

Ask, and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him.

All we need know, about prayer

There are many thousands of books written on prayer, and there are many times that number written as prayer-books, yet today's gospel teaches as much about prayer as any of us need ever want to know.

Around early October, John was asked what he wanted for Christmas. He thought for a while, and then he casually said "A bike." He never mentioned the word "bike" after that. He talked about the latest CDs, the latest computer game, etc. When Christmas came, he didn't get a bicycle, and he still never once mentioned the word. It would appear that he never really wanted one. If he had, you can be sure that his parents would have received constant reminders, would have been brought down to the bike shop to examine the model he wanted, etc. When I ask God for something, he knows whether I really want it or not; he also knows whether I need it; and he also knows whether I believe that my prayer means anything to him.

When I was growing up I was taught many prayers, but I don't remember anyone teaching me to pray. The apostles saw Jesus walk on water, calm the storm, and raise the dead; yet when they came to him with a request, it was "Lord, teach us to pray." They saw that prayer was such a powerful force in his life, and they felt that the secret lay there. He often slipped away on his own, and spent a whole night in prayer. He did that before he chose his apostles, before his sermon on the Mount, before he faced Calvary. They saw this as the source of his strength, and they wanted what he had.

When he was asked to teach them to pray, he gave them a simple prayer. It is well worth examining it in detail, because it summarises what Jesus himself would say to the Father. It begins with praising God, and praying that life around here might become more compatible with his presence, and more according to his will. We are told to ask just for what we need today, and we make a commitment about forgiveness, accepting the fact that we must forgive others if we want God to forgive us. We ask for protection against the evil that surrounds us, acknowledging our inability, of ourselves, to overcome the trials and temptations that come our way.

Prayer is an attitude that is translated into action. It is something that requires my full attention, something in which I put my whole heart. Because it comes from the heart, it reaches and touches the heart of God. The organ God gave me with which to pray is my heart, not my mouth. If the heart is not praying, the tongue is wasting its time. "These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me."

It is good to pray with the heart of a child. God is my Father, and, like any good and kind father, he will always listen to the cries of his children. It is not possible for a human being to fall on her knees, cry out to God, and not be heard. In our prayer to the Father, we can even ask for his Spirit, and expect that prayer to be answered. St Paul says "Having given us Christ Jesus, will the Father not surely give us everything else?" There is nothing impossible to God, and prayer can become the key to the treasuries of heaven.

I can pray a lot, while not necessarily saying prayers. I can develop a praying heart by being wide awake, alert, and conscious of what's going on around me. If God asked me "Did you enjoy my creation?", I might well have to admit that I never really had time to smell the flowers. Prayer creates a sense of wonder within the heart, and it heightens the awareness. It puts me in touch with reality, because, as Jesus put it "Watch and pray" ensures that I am not just mouthing words as in a dream-A call to prayer is a wake-up call. To live in a Muslim country would make it easier to understand this concept, as the call comes forth from the mosque several times a day. In Ireland, we have the Angelus bell.

Prayer is as much nourishment for the soul as food is for the body. It is easy to become malnourished spiritually, and, in the affluent West there can be a real Third World. If I am too busy to pray, then I'm too busy. Prayer is quite a personal encounter between God and myself; therefore, it is not possible to define it. Ideally, prayer is much more of "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening" than "Listen, Lord, your servant is speaking." Prayer is not me talking to God who doesn't hear, as God speaking to me who won't listen. It is about giving God time and space in my life, and it is about working on my relationship with God.

Poem:

I got up early one morning,
and rushed right into the day;

I had so much to accomplish

That I didn't have time to pray.

Problems just tumbled about me,

And heavier came each task.

"Why doesn't God help?" I wondered.

He answered, "Because you didn't ask."

I wanted to see joy and beauty,

But the day toiled on grey and bleak.

I wondered, "Why didn't God show me?'

He said "Because you didn't seek."

I tried to come into God's presence,

I used all my keys at the lock.

God gently and lovingly chided,

"My child, you didn't knock."

I woke up early this morning,

And paused before entering the day.

I had so much to accomplish,

That I had to take time out to pray!


18th Sunday (Year C)

Ecclesiastes 1:2ff

Ps 90:3ff

Colossians 3:1ff

Luke 12:13-21

If I were a rich man

Thou Fool!

Vanity Of Vanities

Rich, not Wealthy?

Later than we think

Eccl 1:2; 2:21-23. "Vanity of vanities!" The things that are supposed to fulfil human beings do not fully satisfy us. "You can't take it with you, when you die."

Col 3:1-5,9-11. Since Christ has returned to the Father, now our true home is in heaven. We must seek the things that are above.

Lk 12:13-21. A colourful warning against greed. Jesus urges us to seek our wealth not in the goods of this world, but in the sight of God.

Theme: The "Rich Fool" parable is particularly relevant to the super-rich of Europe or America. Economic systems imposed by our accumulative society play a large part in the hunger and poverty of the Third World.

Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

Sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.

Ps 90:3-6, 12-13, 14, 17

You turn us back to dust,
and say, "Turn back, you mortals."
For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night.

You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning;
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.

So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.
Turn, O Lord! How long?
Have compassion on your servants!

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
O prosper the work of our hands!

Alternative Ps 95:1-2, 6-9

O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

O that today you would listen to his voice!

Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your ancestors tested me,
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."

Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

Intercessions

- that we may never blight our lives and our loves by our greed.

- that the pursuit of money may never dominate our lives.

- that we may share our surplus with the needy.

Thoughts for 18th Sunday, C

If I were a rich man

"What does it profit a man to have gained the whole world, and to have lost or ruined his self?" (Lk 9:25). "For a man's life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs" (Lk 12:15). Here the gospel is emphatically telling us that a real and meaningful life cannot be attained from an abundance of material possessions alone. The rich man in the gospel reading must have thought that his future was secure, and that his existence so forward was under his own control. It must have come as quite a shock to him to be reminded that his life on earth was God's to give and God's to take away again. But it must also be admitted that in many of us there is a certain sneaking admiration and sympathy for this industrious man. For deep down in our human nature, there is in all of us, it could well be said, a streak of greed and covetousness, whether this is linked with our innate instinct for self-preservation, or is more essentially the heritage of original sin, the result of Adam'sfall from oriinal grace before God.

It has been said that greed is a sign of a lack of love in our lives, and that to make up for this want, we proceed to amass for ourselves all kinds of possessions and to strive for things that often bring us a mere fleeting satisfaction. We need only look around to find ample evidence of this in today's world. We are surrounded on every side by the obsessive clamour of the rat-race, a scramble to get on in the world by fair means or foul, the strident demands of greater remuneration for their services by some sections of society, backed up by the threat of putting the rest to intolerable inconvenience if these demands are not met. But the message of Jesus in today's gospel reading is in complete contradiction to such self-seeking. In it he is indicating that, at some time or other, each one of us must face up to these questions - what am I seeking to attain here and now in this life, what for me is the meaning of existence in this world, and what are my hopes for the life hereafter?

As regards life here and now, we can be led astray by pursuing either of two extremes - the first a purely material one, which strives to put self first, and regards all things, even other people, as means towards achieving one's own selfish ambitions. If we adopt this approach to life, if we never consider that we have an eternal destiny also, then, Jesus is telling us, some day we are in for the grimmest of grim shocks. The other extreme is that which sees no value whatsoever in striving for material gain. Why bother working at all is the attitude. We actually find an example of this among certain communities of the first Christians, when they thought that the second coming of Christ was at hand. St Paul, whose mind seemed to be ever preoccupied with spiritual matters, was also a realist. "If you do not work," he told them bluntly, "then you do not eat."

Virtues, strangely enough, theologians tell us, are the middle way between two extremes, the golden mean, the best course to follow. Our attitude towards worldly goods must pursue this approach in some way. On the one hand we have Christ's total giving of himself. He came into the world in a place used to house animals; he departed from the world possessing nothing, not even clothes to cover his nakedness. But then, on the other hand, most of us stand in need of worldly goods, especially in the kind of society we live in. The one rich by human standards, who makes use of his wealth to employ others, and thereby enables them to provide for themselves and their dependents, is a better person in the eyes of God then the one who, while professing dedication to the gospel message, refuses to use his God-given talents for the welfare of those with whom he finds himself involved.

We lay up treasure for ourselves in heaven, not only through love of God but also through concern for our neighbour. In showing his compassion for the sick, the elderly, the sinner, God makes use of human instruments. In order to partake in this task, we must be open to Christ's message, we must show determination, as the second reading strongly urges us, to "kill" the vices which are in us, especially greed which is the equivalent of worshipping a false god. There is nothing which can bring us to a more proper understanding of the value of material goods than that stark question of God in the gospel reading, "This hoard of yours, when the moment comes to face your God, whose then shall it be?'

Thou Fool!

Has the parable of the rich fool any validity in today's world of national programmes and planned economies? Can we afford to neglect he advice of the experts and make no provision for the year 2000, just because some of us will never see it? Indeed, one has to ask whether any Christian community has ever put the lesson of the parable into practice. Even the young Church in Jerusalem, for all its disinterestedness in the goods of this world, did it not have its economic worries which necessitated the appointment of certain people to specialise in dealing with them, in order that others could devote themselves to the ministry of the word?

It is important to understand The parable correctly. The fault of the rich man was not in planning ahead; he was perfectly correct in making provision for what we would call "the rainy day." Where he went wrong was in thinking only of himself, of his own personal well-being. He forgot that we all have a responsibility to the community at large - in dealing with our property, our work, and our planning for the future. It is only when we live and work as true brothers and sisters in the Kingdom of God that our life and work conform to God's plan for all his children.

The last sentence of the Gospel reading conveys the mind of Jesus: one must not store up treasure for oneself, but, rather, seek to be rich in the sight of God. What does this mean? Later in the (Lk 12:31-34) it becomes clear: "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be yours as well. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.

Sell your possessions and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail. where no thief approaches and no moth destroys... For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Of next Sunday's Gospel.) To seek the Kingdom of God means a lot more than just taking part in the worship of God. It includes the service of others. demanded by membership of the Church. By giving, and by giving of oneself, a person makes treasure in heaven and becomes rich in the sight of God. The fault in the man who came to Jesus with the grievance against his brother, and likewise in the rich fool. was that they were avaricious, thinking of nobody hut themselves. whereas the Kingdom of God is reached not by money hut by love. sharing one another's burdens. What we give to others. of our goods or of ourselves, is not lost. but is transformed into a treasure for eternity. drawing us forward into the Kingdom.

Vanity Of Vanities

Poverty breeds its own virtues. "Necessity is the mother of invention." For the generation who grew up after the great depression of the thirties and the rationing of the Second World War, the great virtue was "waste not, want not." Life then seemed to be one great salvage operation. There was a Jacob's biscuit tin on every mantlepiece, where all sorts of bits and pieces were stored, like buttons and safety-pins and pieces of string. It was a holdall wherein was stored the wherewithal to repair the wear and tear of daily life. Hoarding then was a virtuous necessity rather than a vice. Garbage disposal was no problem then. Most things had disintegrated long before they got that far. Even the ashes from the fire were used in the garden to kill slugs and worms in the rhubarb patch. Clothes were patched and woollen socks were darned out of recognition and when they could no longer be worn they began life anew as dusters and mops. Toilet paper had not been invented then; yesterday's newspaper served the purpose moe than adequately. For those who came in the middle of families, most of their clothes were hand-me-downs. Sizes tended to be approximate rather than exact. Hems alternated between being "let down" or "turned up."

After all this rigid training in economising we were plunged into the consumer society and the era of the disposable. Cities and governments spend millions on the collection and disposal of waste. Plastic garbage bags figure on every shopping list.

Television shows us harrowing pictures of children and fami lies, foraging for survival in the public dumps of Rio de Janeiro and Manila. Whole shanty-towns have grown up round them. It is a vivid illustration of the ever-widening gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots', between our avarice and their desti tution.

Governments and businesses vie with each other in promoting avarice in their citizens and customers. It is one of the great civic virtues. The good of the economy depends upon it. The Lotto has become a national craze. And lest we might suffer from tweaks of conscience occasionally, we are reassured by the list of hospitals and other charitable institutions who benefit from our avariciousness. But avarice is one of the seven deadly sins, "deadly" because it spawns a host of other sins. No one who reads a newspaper can doubt that. The litany of political scandals make daily headlines. Government ministers in Italy, France and England have recently resigned or been sacked and even arrested for taking bribes. The Mafia and drug-barons are laughing all the way to the bank.

St Paul puts it bluntly in today's epistle: "That is why you must kill everything in you that belongs to the earthly life, and especially greed, which is the same thing as worshipping a false god." "You can't take it with you" was a common expression one time in Ireland about money. Which proves, if it proves nothing else, that the Irish knew their gospel. "Fool, this night do I require your soul of thee." For those who seek God, the church has always recommended poverty, chastity and obedience - and in that order. The hand that reaches out for God must be empty.

Rich, not Wealthy?

In today's gospel Jesus speaks of the riches of heaven, as compared to earthly riches. "There's no pocket in the shroud" is a good old Irish saying. As with the Beatitudes, he is speaking about the poor in spirit. In other words, I could have a lot of wealth, but it does not possess me, nor am I enslaved by it.

It took me many years to distinguish between being rich and being wealthy. I was confusing riches with money. I didn't understand that riches and richness has nothing to do with money. As a family, I thought we were fairly poor, but it was many years later when I discovered just how rich we were. When I came to work with people who were wealthy, and I discovered just how poor they were, it was quite an eye-opener for me.

Ireland has had its share of family disputes over property and inheritance. I am not in a position to say where we come in the international league, but to evidence a family being torn apart over a few acres of land is something sad. Of course, I respect and expect justice and fair play, but, I believe there comes a time when the property is not worth the destruction it costs. It presumes wonderful maturity and personal freedom to be able to walk away, and shake the dust off the feet. One would have to have a enlightened understanding of what possession of property and wealth contains before being able to let go, and walk away. When the property takes over and possesses me, then lam in bondage.

In his story Jesus tells us about something we all know too well. The first million will never satisfy! It may be the most difficult to make, but it can generate a compulsion to accumulate, and I can become driven with the needs to go one better. Once again, it is a failure to distinguish between wealth and riches. Some of the richest people I know have little of this world's goods. There are no greater riches than a loving, kind heart. Money couldn't buy the gifts that bring happiness.

It is such a simple lesson, but I will never learn it if I refuse to open my heart. When I die, I will have to let go of everything. I was at the bedside of a wealthy woman when she died. She had a well-merited reputation for minding the pennies; she had no family of her own; and there was no shortage of interest as to where her wealth was going to go. ("Where there's a will, there are relatives!'). One of the staff asked me "I wonder how much did she leave?", and, with a slight hint of cynicism, I replied "She left everything."

Response: To put a modem translation on the final sentence of Jesus in today's gospel would be: "Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth, but not have a rich relationship with God." The only riches worth pursuing are those that have an eternal value. "Lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven, where the moth cannot consume, nor the rust corrupt."

It is only by growing in appreciation of the wonderful gift of my Christian vocation that I can hope to come into an awareness of my real riches. "If God is on our side, who can be against us?" "Having given us Christ Jesus, will the Father not surely give us everything else?" "What does it profit a person to gain the whole world, and lose themselves in the process. Or what price can a person put on a soul?'

It is not possible for me to be grateful and unhappy at the same time. If I am grateful for what I have, then, I will be happy also. To be happy with what I have, to do the best with what I have; that, I believe, is an act of thanksgiving to God. I have known individuals during life who epitomised this to a unique extent. They were always content, always grateful, and always quick to confirm another. The surest sign that I have had a Pentecost is my willingness and ability to confirm another, and make that person feel worthwhile. The greatest gift you can give another is not to share your riches with her, but to reveal her riches to herself.

A rich man heard that a certain priest had a "hot line" to God, and he came to him in search of a favour. He wanted the priest to pray, and find out if he, the rich man, was going to heaven when he died. It was a strange request, but when the priest heard that the man was prepared to contribute generously towards the completion of the church repairs, he decided to give it ago.

A week later, the rich man returned. "Did you find out?" he asked. "Yes, I did," replied the priest. "Well, then, what's the answer?" the rich man asked, anxiously. "The answer is in two parts," replied the priest. "There is good news, and there's bad news. Which would you like to hear first?" The man was quite nervous, but he ventured to hear the good news first. "The good news is that you are going to heaven when you die." The rich man was thrilled, and excited, and it was a few seconds later when he spoke. "That's great. That's the good news. Surely what could be bad news after that? What's the bad news?" "The bad news," replied the priest, "is that you're going tonight!'

Later than we think

Background:

It is always later than we think, Jesus warns us in this Gospel reading. Even if we are not going to die tonight, we are going to die. No matter how great our wealth, we cannot take it with us. Our fame, our influence, our possessions, our accomplishments will soon pass and be forgotten. We must therefore seize the opportunity to make of our lives what we can. Before it is too late. The prospect is scary, but it is also reassuring. We still have time, some time. Not as much as we would like to have, but still enough. What are we going to do with it?

Story:

Once upon a time the boy who was salutatorian of his high school class was angry. He was sure that he was going to be valedictorian. That had been his goal for four years of high school. He was convinced that someone in the administration had wanted his rival to have the role and they had stolen it from him. And he was determined to prove that he was the better and smarter man. He went to an elite Eastern university and then on to a prestigious business school. He took a job with a successful trading firm and eventually became a partner. He and his wife and son and daughter had a city condo, a commuter house in an elite area outside of the city, a summer place at the beach, a villa in Florida and a condo in the ski area outside of Denver. They belonged to a select country club, had their own yacht and sailboat, and traveled everywhere in a corporate jet. He made every reunion of his high school class to show off his success and to gloat over what he considered the inferior social and economic success of his rval, a university professor. He knew his wife in her designer clothes made the rivals wife, also a professor, look dull by comparison. He felt vindicated at these reunions. Not only was he more successful (in his opinion) than his rival, he and his wife were the classiest couple in attendance.

Then one year, shortly after the reunion, his son informed him he did not want to go to college. He wanted to be part of a rock group touring the country. At the same time his daughter announced that she was pregnant by the man who introduced her to drugs. Shortly after that, his wife said she was divorcing him because she had discovered he was having an affair with a younger partner. She was asking for 20 million dollars. One night during this series of assaults on his self-image, he turned on the TV and saw his rival surrounded by his family and being toasted by colleagues and students as he read congratulatory telegrams from around the world. He had just been named a winner of the Nobel Prize for his work in economics and the influence it had on bettering the life of the poor in many parts of the world. The winner humbly thanks all those who had supported him through the years his family and colleagues without whom the award would never have been his. They all looked on in loving approval.


19th Sunday (Year C)

Wisdom 18:6-9

Ps 33:1, 12, 18-20

Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19

Luke 12:32-48

Promoting the Love of God

A Life of Faith

Obedient Faith

Adventurous Patriarch

Are you ready?

Wis 18:6-9. The exodus from Egypt illustrates how God ultimately delivers the righteous (and destroys their enemies.) Whoever trusts in the Lord will not be disappointed.

Heb 11:1-2,8-19. In praise of people of great faith, and of Abraham in particular, our father in faith.

Lk 12:32-48. "Do not be afraid, little flock." But Jesus also urges constant watchfulness and faithfulness.

Theme: In today's epistle there is high praise of Abraham as our father in faith. We aspire to this persevering kind of faith which is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.

Wisdom 18:6-9

That night was made known beforehand to our ancestors, so that they might rejoice in sure knowledge of the oaths in which they trusted. The deliverance of the righteous and the destruction of their enemies were expected by your people. For by the same means by which you punished our enemies, you called us to yourself and glorified us. For in secret the holy children of good people offered sacrifices, and with one accord agreed to the divine law, so that the saints would share alike the same things, both blessings and dangers; and already they were singing the praises of the ancestors.

Ps 33:1, 12, 18-20

Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous.
Praise befits the upright.
Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.

Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
to deliver their soul from death,
and to keep them alive in famine.

Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and shield.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.

Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19

(or, shorter version: 11:1-2. 8-12)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old-and Sarah herself was barren-because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, "as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore."

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, "It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you." He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead-and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

Luke 12:32-48 or, shorter version: 12:35-40

"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. "But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

Peter said, "Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?" And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you,he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, 'My master is delayed in coming,' and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one o whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

Intercessions

- for faith to live in this world as "strangers and nomads."

- for faith to live in this world as in a strange land.

- for faith to continue our journey in search of the Promised Land.

Thoughts for 19th Sunday, C

Promoting the Love of God

The Second Reading today is from a chapter in the Letter to the Hebrews that has been described as "the roll call of heroes of the faith," Old Testament patriarchs, and others who fulfilled a special role in salvation history, such as Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Moses, who were commended for their trust in God, down to King David, Samuel and the prophets who acted as God's messengers to his people. These were people who took God at his word, for faith is trust in God, the acceptance of things unseen, truths that cannot be grasped with reason alone. Even for us who are members of the New Testament, it is only with the help of the Holy Spirit of God, and not by our reasoning powers, that we come to accept Jesus Christ. Intellectual giants, doctors of divinity, simple people, illiterates, we are all equally like children when trying to comprehend the mystery we call God.

To advance in the love of God is the greatest possible achievement of the human spirit. How wonderful is God's love, in that he permits us to love him without having to compel or force us to do so by commandments. Of course the first commandment states that we should love the Lord, our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind. But here the initiative is always taken by God, who draws us to love him by his grace freely given, which we are free to accept or not. The greatest exponent of this doctrine was St Francis de Sales, who died in 1622, having served as bishop of Geneva for 20 years. He was renowned for his graciousness towards penitents, and is said to have brought back into the Church some 72,000 followers of Calvin. Often people came to him just to be reassured, to draw strength from his deep faith. For the ordinary soul slips in and out of faith a hundred times a day. Yet underneath the confusion, the doubts, the loneliness, the sense of being abandoned, God is always there.

Often it is when we reach zero-point that the deepest religious experiences occur, and we are transformed by God's healing presence within us. Even at the most desperate moments, faith is ever possible, and the trusting soul will find God is close at hand. "Fear not little flock, for it has pleased the Father to give you the kingdom" (Lk 12:32), to give you the strength to bear your burdens, the courage to shoulder your cross. At the end of World War II, in the dreaded German concentration camp at Ravensbruck, there was found on a piece of wrapping-paper, a prayer written by one the inmates there. It read: "Oh Lord, remember not only men and women of good will, but also those of ill-will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted on us; remember the fruits we have bought, thanks to this suffering, our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this, and when they come to judgment, let all the fruits which we have borne be their forgiveness." There cannot be any doubt but that the writer of this most extraordinary plea for God's mercy towards his/her persecutors, will be included in the roll-call of heroes of the faith, when the Son of God returns on judgment day.

Such heroic forgiveness proves that no matter how terrible and shattering the trials some souls undergo, they can frequently come through them with a deeper and stronger faith, so convinced are they of the abiding presence of God with them. For most of us, however, the greatest test of our faith may arise from the ordinary, humdrum, daily routines, the ups and downs of life as we go through it. And it is true that we can brood over these until they get us down, until our faith in divine providence turns sour, and we are left stranded in our misery. It is at such times that we should turn to prayer and renew our inner strength through reception of the sacraments. "No matter what happens, keep on praying," St Paul told the first Christians who endured so much for their faith.

If we really try and respond to God's grace as they did, then our faith also will grow strong and vigorous, like that of those great figures of the Old Testament who were commended for their trust in God's word. We have all seen this take place in the lives of people we happen to know, how they often acquire great serenity in the face of acute and prolonged suffering. For although the final reward of faith in God will come hereafter in his promised kingdom, even here and now it is possible to acquire a foretaste of that eternal peace which this world cannot give.

A Life of Faith

There is fairly widespread evidence of a crisis in the life of faith of many Catholics, even in what once was called - far too complacently - "Holy Ireland." It can be sparked off by different things, like the past cruelties of an unjust system, a disastrous love-relationship, family tensions, the tragic injury or death of good people. Sometimes religious feeling can wither as financial prosperity grows, and one's felt need for God is stifled by a feeling of self-sufficiency. Again, new friendships that we make with some nice people who adhere to no religious beliefs can confirm our suspicion that perhaps God really does not matter, after all.

While conducting school retreats I learned the value of telling young people that going through a period of questioning does not mean they have lost their faith. Questioning can be a painful experience but may also be a growth point. A faith which is challenged or doubted can emerge as a fuller, more genuine faith. It can often be simply the tension between the comfort of childhood practice and the need for new horizons, when the young adult is searching for a deeper experience.

Faith is neither a purely intellectual nor a purely emotional attitude. It has an intellectual dimension, based on what we judge to be true; and in part it is a matter of responding to feelings; but these are a gift of the Spirit which moves us to give ourselves to God as One greater than ourselves. If we hand ourselves over to this sense of God, and we "let go" of the illusion of belonging only to ourselves, that process brings us inner, spiritual growth. In faith there is indeed a special intimate form of knowing, as when we "know" a friend. It touches something deep within us, an awareness of God's presence guiding and supporting us. It is the experience described about Abraham or other great figures in the bible.

In faith there is a two-way process. God offers us the gift of life and awareness, and we accept this gift in openness of heart. As in human friendship we we grow to get new insights into our friend, so we grow in our understanding of God, his goodness, his loveableness; and yet always God is so far above, and remains a mystery that we cannot ever fathom. Faith leaves us with the ability to be surprised by God, and still to be joyful at what we have already understood about his mysterious ways.

Faith is an on-going process, growing as we grow, changing as we change, maturing and we mature. The faith of our childhood cannot sustain us in adult crises, though it can develope into one that stays with us through life. Experiences of faith will be sporadic, and cannot be precisely programmed. We must be grateful if, at priveleged moments we feel God's special presence, but at other times life will be confusing, full of darkness and doubt, with God silent and seemingly absent. And yet, even in times of confusion and loneliness, God really is there. It is at such points that the deepest religious experiences can occur and the light of faith enables us to see reality from a new angle. This world is God's world and God really does know what is going on in it; other people are God's people and when we dig deep enough, we find God in them.

Obedient Faith

Today's Scripture proposes that faith in God and trust in his promises give serenity, security and deep joy to our life. The first reading shows how the Hebrew patriarchs had such trust in God's promise that they left all their worries into his care. Then we are told in particular how Abraham responded with a persevering faith when God asked him to leave the past behind and launch out into an unknown future.

The Gospel reaffirms that a person who belongs to Jesus need have no fear. One who makes God his principal treasure, and commits in faith to Christ as guide to living, can, like Abraham, see life as a journey that leads to our true home where a loving Father is there to welcome us. If we keep our eyes fixed on the vision that God has revealed and keep our ears attuned to the voice of God whether in the scriptures, or in the ordinary events of daily life, we can live with unfailing confidence in his presence.

On the other hand, the same Scriptures also show that the God who grants such favours to his chosen ones is also a demanding God. If the saints of the Scriptures had many proofs of God's love, they also experienced much suffering both as individuals and as a race. Often their faith was seriously put to the test, like that of Abraham and his wife Sarah, when it seemed that the promise of children could never be realized. Later, Abraham, in great anguish of mind, was put to the test by the command to slay his son; his response showed the depths of his obedient faith, the light that guided his whole life.

God expects his chosen ones to be always on the alert, striving to please him and using their talents to promote his kingdom on earth. A faith in the Lord that is merely at the level of words and does not lead to action is not real faith. The kind of faith that has value in God's sight is the one that leads to obedience and loving service.

The spirituality of Abraham ruggedly trying out to follow God's call in the obscurity of faith remains basic for Christian faith. We do not know in advance how God's demanding love may make demands will clash with our ingrained selfishness. We cannot know when personal illness, bereavement or some other trying experience will put us to the test. But we do know that our life will be a success if we set our hearts on values that go beyond all the transitory goods of this world. Our faith, like Abraham's, is leading us onward, always pointing to something still to come, and at the end of our pilgrimage, like his, all God's promises will be fulfilled.

Adventurous Patriarch

The bishop had invited me to preach at confirmation. It was one of those clerical chores masquerading as an honour. I was a soft target, being the youngest priest in the diocese and these extra assignments were usually dumped on the newly arrived. It was a rural diocese in the west of Ireland, not my own, and I was unfamiliar with its geography. On my way there I got lost. When, at last, I found the little village, I was informed that the parish church was situated a few miles outside it. Finally, I got there only to find that the ceremony had already begun. But I was still just in time to give my homily. I quickly donned my surplice and soutane and almost sprinted to the pulpit. It's a daunting experience for a young priest to preach on such occasions in the presence of the bishop and a large contingent of clergy who turn up, I suspect, more for the sumptuous clerical dinner that followed than for the ceremony itself. It's more like a public oral examination than a pastoral exercise.

I cannot remember now what I said, but I doubt much it was anything radical, given the times and the circumstances. But my late arrival condemned me from the start, confirming the reputation I had already acquired of being something of a maverick. At the end we all processed out led by the altar-servers, then the clergy, with myself and the bishop bringing up the rear. The choir had struck up Faith of our Fathers. I always thought the music of that rousing anthem more suited to a football stadium than a church. The clergy joined in the refrain, raising their voices noticeably for the last line, which a clerical jester had changed ever so slightly:

We will be true to thee til death in spite of dungeon, fire and Swords.

The enigmatic smile on the face of the bishop, registered approval.

Faith, in the sense of rigid adherence to the church's teaching, was paramount then. There was almost never a dissenting voice among the clergy. The people had no opinions, as was expected of them. Their role was simply to "pray, obey and pay." Every issue from creation to the end of the world was dealt with magisterially and majestically by the church. From the cradle to the grave we were kept in tow, if not in line, by her teaching. The catechism in the classroom and the catechetical instruction from the pulpit, left us in no doubt where she stood and where we were expected to follow. Doubts, like scruples, were kindly but firmly treated as neurotic disorders. Scripture was a dubious extra, still suspect from its Protestant past. It was a safe, comfortable, if unexciting world, and there are still some who regret its passing. But pass it did when a twinkling Sputnik encircling our planet raised our eyes and removed our certainties.

Our notion of faith then was a far cry from that which inspired Abraham, "our father in faith." The Letter to the Hebrews gives us today its best definition: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." The models we had then were rigid guardians, minding their deposit of faith like keepers of a bank-vault, far removed from that adventurous patriarch who invested his in a risky future.

"It was by faith that Abraham obeyed the call to set out for a country that was the inheritance given to him and his descendants, and that he set out without knowing where he was going. By faith he arrived, as a foreigner, in the Promised Land, and lived there as ii in a strange country." His octogenarian wife, Sarah, was weaving a cradle when she should have been making a death-shroud.

But their courageous faith was rewarded. Their descendants today are as promised, as numerous "as the stars in the sky and the sands on the seashore." Though it might be added that those children of Abraham, the Jews, the Arabs and the Christians, have become ever more querulous with the passage of time.

We now, like Abraham and his, are wanderers in a world of uncertainties. We are "only strangers and nomads on earth." Like them, we "live in tents while we look forward to a city founded, designed and built by God." And as the Letter to the Hebrews observes: "People who use these terms about themselves make it quite plain that they are in search of their real homeland." We too are searching for the Promised Land and, like Abraham, our faith should help us to realise, in the words of another great adventure, Robert Louis Stevenson, that "to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive."

Are you ready?

Jesus speaks plainly about taking our responsibilities seriously. We have been entrusted with a special task. "The Lord gives, the Lord takes away." He can come at any time and demand an account of our stewardship. Like sentries or night-watch men, we must always be on duty.

I remember giving an assignment to a class one time, asking them to work on it for a while, as I had to go down to the principal's office to consult about something. I had just gone down the corridor when I remembered that I had forgotten a folder. I returned to the classroom, and, as the door was open, there was no advance warning of my arrival. Imagine my amazement to find myself standing right behind a pupil, who was standing out in front, facing the class, and doing a good impersonation of me! I put my finger to my lips to signal to the other pupils to remain silent, as the parody continued. I thank my God that I had the ability to laugh at what was something really funny, even at my expense.

Life is a gift that is given us for others. The first time I was carried into a church I was not consulted. The next time I'll be carried into a church I will not be consulted either. To try to run the show in the meantime is crazy. I own nothing. Everything is given to me on loan, and can be taken back from me whenever God decides. God is not a tyrannical God, but he does impose certain expectations. My role is simple, but it is real, and must be taken seriously.

Jesus tells us to "watch and pray." There is a certain way in which we must remain alert. Any one of us would be amazed if we could really discover just how much of ourselves is dormant and inactive. The Advent liturgies calls onus to "arise from your slumber," to waken up, the Lord is coming, and, like the shepherds, we should be on duty when he comes. We all know only too well that we will die one day, but, because it won't happen today, there is no sense of urgency. We also know people who didn't believe it was going to happen that day, and it did. It came "like a thief in the night."

We will have to give an account of our stewardship. "To whom much is given, of him much will be expected." I cannot accept the privilege without accepting the responsibility. I will be held responsible for howl invested the gifts and talents- that God has entrusted to me. Whether it is one talent, three, or five, the return will have to be commensurate with the treasure entrusted to me.

Let's pretend this actually happened. I enter a second-level college; and I go into one of the senior classes. I have a bunch of envelopes in my hand, one for each pupil in the class. I hand out the envelopes, asking them to do two things: "Don't open the envelope until you get home; and don't tell anyone else what is in the envelope." So far, so good. Whether they waited until they got home or not before opening the envelopes, when they did so they discovered that I had given them every question that was going to be on their final exams at the end of the year. I would have friends for life!

Do you imagine that each kept the secret? I feel certain that a country cousin would get a phone call that night! Imagine what would happen for the rest of the year. Some poor English teacher is trying to enthuse them about the extraordinary literary treasure that is "Tintern Abbey," but, because it is not on the exam paper, all attempts fail to evoke the slightest interest. The same would happen with- every other subject, when the subject is irrelevant to the questions on the exam paper. Unless it is on that paper it is seen to have no importance.

When the exams come along, there is one thing the pupils must agree about. If they don't do well, they just have themselves to blame!


20th Sunday (Year C)

Jeremiah 38:4-6,8-10

Ps 40:1-3, 17

Hebrews 12:1-4

Luke 12:49-53

Poor Jeremiah

Out of Misery

Peace and Division

For Evil To Triumph

Fire to the earth!

Jer 38:4-6, 8-10. Jeremiah is charged with treason and thrown into the cistern to die. But a foreigner, a eunuch, acts on his behalf.

Heb 12:1-4. We should persevere in the faith, because we are "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses." Like Christ we must learn to endure.

Lk 12:49-53. The message of Christ brings fire to the earth and calls for complete loyalty. This can cause dissension, even disruption of lives.

Theme: Today's readings treat of moral courage, a virtue always in short supply. It is the fashion to keep our heads down and go with the herd; but this is not the way that a courageous Christian follows Christ.

Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10

Then the officials said to the king, "This man ought to be put to death, because he is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, and all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm." King Zedekiah said, "Here he is; he is in your hands; for the king is powerless against you." So they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king's son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. Now there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.

Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, a eunuch in the king's house, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. The king happened to be sitting at the Benjamin Gate, So Ebed-melech left the king's house and spoke to the king, "My lord king, these men have acted wickedly in all they did to the prophet Jeremiah by throwing him into the cistern to die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city." Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, "Take three men with you from here, and pull the prophet Jeremiah up from the cistern before he dies."

Ps 40:1-3, 17

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.

He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.

As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.

You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God.

Hebrews 12:1-4

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Luke 12:49-53

"I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No,I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

Intercessions

- for moral courage to speak out against evil in our society.

- for moral courage to risk our peace, our jobs and our security to defend the victims in our society.

- we pray for martyrs everywhere who give their freedom and lives in the cause of justice.

Thoughts for 20th Sunday, C

Poor Jeremiah

"Oh all you who walk by, consider and see if there is any sorrow like unto my sorrow." These words have often been said of Jesus, but they were not said by Jesus. They are from the Lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah (1:12), the one saintly figure from out the Old Testament, whose life bears the greatest resemblance to that of Jesus. He is often described as the antetype of Jesus. He lived in the 6th century B.C., an age of great upheaval in the Middle East, which saw the collapse of the Assyrian empire, and the emergence of a greater one in Babylon. Having been in bondage to Assyria for some time, the Jewish leaders allowed their faith in God, and worship of him, to become tainted by pagan practice.

The task given to Jeremiah by God, was to condemn idolatry - pagan idols were even set up in the Temple itself - and to warn against forming an alliance against Babylon, something which ultimately led to the end of the Jewish monarchy. The ruling officials blocked all his efforts, and even wanted to kill him, but in such a way as to make it appear that he died of the famine then afflicting the country. The king, despite having little real power, managed to save him. Being a young man of gentle character, Jeremiah's whole being shuddered before God's call to him, which was "to tear up and to knock down, to destroy and to overthrow" (1:10). As we see from his own descriptions it was to lead him to the verge of despair. "Each time I speak, I have to cry out and shout, "Violence and destruction." The word of the Lord has brought on me insult and derision all day long" (20:8). "I hear many muttering, "Terror is everywhere. Denounce him. Let us denounce him" (20:10).

Faced with such threats, the agony of Jeremiah grew deeper and deeper. "Woe is me my mother, that you gave birth to me, to be a man of strife and discord for all the land" (15:10). "Why is my suffering endless, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?" (15:18). "Cursed be the day when I was born" (20:18). But self-concern was not allowed dominate his thoughts. "Oh that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep night and day for all the dead of my people" (8:23). Jeremiah was going through what St John of the Cross called "the dark night of the soul," when the soul specially chosen by God seems to be abandoned by him. By such suffering the heart of Jeremiah was purified, leaving it open to the wishes of God.

Instead of concentrating on externals like the Law, circumcision, sacrifice, the Temple itself, Jeremiah began to see that religion should really be inward, heartfelt, a more personal relationship with God. Deep within his people God would plant his Law, writing it on their hearts (Jer 31:33). "Seek God within" was the motto of St Augustine as well. "Enter into yourselves," he advised, "for truth dwells in the interior person." The practice of this interior religion by Jeremiah is what makes him dear to Christians. He spoke about a new covenant between God and the house of Israel, the first time such an idea is found in the OT. Incidentally the words of consecration over the chalice in every Mass refer to "the blood of the new and everlasting covenant." Both Jesus and Jeremiah had tremendous love for the ordinary people, and a burning desire for their welfare, and both were rejected by the powers that prevailed in their time.

Speaking of Jesus, Caiphas the high priest, at a meeting of the chief priests and Pharisees, said, "It is better for one man to die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed" (Jn 11:50), and from that day they wanted to kill Jesus. But a generation later the Romans were to capture Jerusalem, wipe out all opposition, and destroy the Temple for ever. "This fellow does not have the welfare of the people at heart, but its ruin," were the precise words of the leading men in Jerusalem about the prophet Jeremiah, who also saw clearly the disaster looming ahead for his people. We heard in the first reading, how they plotted to kill Jeremiah in such a way as to make it appear that he had died from the famine then raging in the land. He was only saved by a Cushite, i.e. an Egyptian, who raised the alarm and then helped draw him out of the muddy well into which he had been thrown. The only person to assist Jesus on his way to Calvary, Simon of Cyrene, was also a foreigner, a Libyan. The clear lesson for u also, as St Paul told his disciple Timothy, is that "anybody who tries to live in devotion to Christ is bound to be attacked" (2 Tim 3:12).

Out of Misery

The prophet Jeremiah is generally associated with warnings and lamentations; we often think of him as the prophet of misery. While he sometimes sounds exaggerated, the human experience he talks about is a universal one, since in one way or another every person experiences misery. Even if one is happy and prospering, there is always the danger that this happiness will be whipped away. We know that we will grow old and die, but try to bury our anxiety about this, sometimes in over-work, or in a hectic social life, maybe in drink, or in music, books or games. It's morbid to dwell on the sadness of life too much, but maybe we tend to go to the opposite extreme, and just cover it up and hide from it.

There are no exemptions from the share of suffering that life allots to us. Young people suffer from strong pressure to achieve, from a fear of failure, from poor self-esteem, or a sense of rejection by people they admire. Married people can suffer disappointment in each other, even feelings of disloyalty, an inability to cope with their growing children, fears about career, money, the security of their house or property. Older people often suffer from insecurity, diminishing mental and physical powers, loneliness and anxiety about death. Even dedicated religious people are no exception. Indeed, it seems that they can suffer intensely from a sense of the absence of the God that they love. Suffering is endemic to human life, no one it outside its reach.

Personal suffering can strike at the roots of one's relationship with God and undermine one's trust in his love. A crisis of faith can bring the most intense kind of suffering. To find no meaning in life and no hope for the future can be devastating. To wonder whether God really is there, and really cares what happens to us. Even the early Christians had this problem. The suffered from persecution, and resented it bitterly. If God's Kingdom was among them, as Jesus said, why did they have to go through this? Luke in today's Gospel wants to show that Jesus changed the meaning of suffering and gave it a positive value in in the formation of a Christian character. We have to take it on board, just as Jesus himself did. He came to love and to serve but he found himself in a crooked world, surrounded by self-centred people, who found his message so intolerable that they finally did away with him. And yet, the sufferings of his passion became a source of peace and a model of goodness for countless generations.

As a religious sister has written, "Jesus suffered not to soften God's heart towards us but to soften our hearts towards God. We built the barriers, we shut God out. The only way there could be a breakthrough was for him to show us what a life lived in love was really like. When people inflicted suffering on him, he was saying to us, no matter what limits of evil you go to, God will still love you. And so, 'dying he destroyed our death, rising he restored our life.'"

From his passion, there is one thing we may always be sure about: in times of tension and suffering, the Lord who consoles will also be there. He has gone through it before us and knows our need for support. St Peter once summed up this message in the most wonderful way, "Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps... By his wounds you have been healed." (1 Peter 2:21-24.)

Peace and Division

(Colm Kilcoyne)

Do you suppose that I am come to bring peace on earth?" The honest answer has to be that we do. We've come to equate Jesus with peace; he is called the Prince of Peace; the Communion Rite links him with peace; the discourse at the Last Supper is peppered with the word.

Yet, when he answers his own question, he confuses us. "No. I tell you, but rather division

The homily might look at the life of Jesus for clues as to how "peace" and "division" could be reconciled. One approach is to find Jesus exercising options in his life; facing moments when he has a choice of two roads - the easy pliant one of the prevailing culture or the lonely reforming one. His decisions cause divisions. Some of the division and turmoil is within himself (the garden scene.) some between himself and others - his mother and relatives. Peter on the road to Jerusalem, the final divisiveness of the cross of scandal.

The homilist can explore how each time Jesus decides to follow the Father's will, that one movement has two effects. It divides him off from those who won't take the step with him, and it moves Jesus deeper into the kind of peace that comes from being true to who you are. The peace that Jesus talks about begins to take a definite shape. It is not the wishy-washy, compromising, anything-for-a-quiet-life kind of peace. The mention of "division" in the same breath no longer is seen as strange. We begin to see division as almost the price of peace.

We could spend time going through the decisions of Jesus. He reached out; he had compassion; he suffered along with people; he understood pain; he broke bread for the hungry; he befriended the poor and sinners; he was at ease with the samll people who lived in the shadow of the powerful.

The problem is. we've read and heard these scenes a thousand times. Their newness, their divisiveness escapes us. We've lost sight of how disruptive Jesus was. He talked of Samaritans saving Jewish lives! He praised the father who embraced the son who shamed him! You were to share your cloak and tunic, all you wore, literally! The soldier in the Occupying army was to be accompanied not just the one mile but another mile, unbidden

Like an animal shedding its winter coat, Jesus shed the timid and the self-centred, not because he wished it that way, but because they did. His open-handed approach to others provoked a clench fisted reaction in them. They thought they would have release from this turbulent presence. The crucifixion was meant to immobilise him. Instead, it gave him the final, supreme option. It not only capped his life of sacrifice but raised up a symbol to disturb us over the centuries. The ravaged life of Jesus indicates the amount of harrowing that must go into all lives if we are to aspire to the peace he calls us to.

For Evil To Triumph

There is a little cemetery in the seminary of Maynooth. There rest the remains of the students and professors who died there in the course of its two-hundred year history. It is not a much visited spot. During my seminary days, I liked to sneak there occasionally if only to escape briefly the enforced camaraderie of student life. The graves are marked by headstones of varying heights, all bearing effusive Latin tributes to the virtues and scholarship of the deceased. Nothing here recalls Job's famous dictum: "Naked I came into the world and naked I leave it." The occupants of these tombs went to meet their Maker, heavily draped in the eulogies of their contemporaries. Only one grave has no headstone at all. Instead, there is a small diamond shaped flag laid horizontally over the centre of the plot. It bears the name Walter MacDonald. Apparently, he had died under a cloud. What he had published to earn the disapproval of his fellow professors and the opprobrium of the hierarchy, I don't really know. I suspect t wouldn't raise many eyebrows now. The anonymous admirer who arranged his burial, added one short line in Latin on the small memorial plaque. It read simply: Obiit in festo Sancti Athanasii. ("Died on the feast of St Athanasius.") In that one little phrase, he paid his departed friend a greater tribute than all the other eulogies put together. St. Athanasius was a fourth-century Bishop of Alexandria, much maligned by his contemporaries. Persecuted by emperors and people alike because he opposed their erroneous views, he was exiled no less than five times from his diocese. His outstanding courage earned him immortality with the Latin dictum Athanasius contra mundum ("Athanasius versus the world'). Walter MacDonald, like the saint whose feast he shares, also achieved some posthumous recognition. The great Irish playwright, Sean O'Casey, dedicated a volume of his autobiography to him. An extraordinary tribute to a Maynooth professor from such a distinguished anti-cleric.

Moral courage is a virtue in short supply in today's world and it has been for much of this century. It is just fifty years now since the true horror of the Nazis concentration camps was first exposed to the world. Few can now doubt that butchery on such a massive scale could have been carried out without the compliance or connivance of a large section of the population. The Nuremburg Trials condemned a few of the ringleaders; another court will judge their numberless accomplices. Nor could the now dismantled system of apartheid in South Africa have been maintained so rigorously for so long without a conspiracy of silence on the part of the majority of the white population. It took far more than the numerous informers, apparatchiks and jail keepers to fill and maintain the Siberian gulags of Stalinist Russia. The totalitarian regime there, like those in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy or Mao Tze-tung's China, could only have come to power and stayed in power, with the tacit approval of an enormous number of peole. "For evil to triumph, it is enough that good people do nothing."

But all was not black. Those terrorist regimes of our notorious century produced their little crop of heroes. Some, like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, have lived to tell their terrible tale.

Others, like Andrei Sakharov, died within sight of the promised land. A few, like Nelson Mandela, survived long years in prison and achieved their hard-earned recognition. The Polish priest, Maximilian Kolbe, gave his life for another inmate of Dachau and has since been canonised. "But there are others, of whom there is no record, whose godly deeds have not failed." Many went to their graves unknown and unsung.

We are the heirs of these horrendous events, the first to learn their terrible lesson. It may well be that "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance', but it requires a lot of moral courage of ordinary citizens to make it thrive. Our world too is awash with victims whose cries for help so often go unheeded and unheard. The battered child in our neighbourhood that goes unreported. The drug-pusher in the inner city who plies his deadly trade in broad daylight. The sexually-harrassed employee in our company whose plight we watch in silent disapproval. Uninvolvement is the easy option. Nobody wants to tempt a neighbour's wrath or lose his job or risk assault. But such are the demands of the gospel for the followers of Christ. "Think of the way he stood such opposition from sinners and then you will not give up for want of courage" the Letter to the Hebrews tells us. And Christ leaves little doubt as to what our courage will entail: "I am not here to bring peace, but rather division."

Fire to the earth!

Jesus tells us that he has come to bring fire to the earth. Fire can heat, purify, provide facilities for cooking, or it can totally destroy. When we pray to the Spirit, we ask him to "enkindle within us the fires of divine love." My own initial understanding of the word "fire" in today's gospel is the fire of divine love. To inflame us with the fire of enthusiasm. The opposite to love is indifference, not hatred.

We seldom had to light a fire in the winter, when I was a child. The last thing at night was what was called "clamping down the fire." A bucket of dampened turf-mould was packed tightly all over the fire. When we got up in the morning, the ashes were removed, and there in the centre were the bright hot coals. A few sods of turf, and the fire was off again for another day. (Incidentally, I think of today's church in much the same way. The hot coals are still there, but there is great need for the ashes to be cleared, and for the fire to be poked into flame again.)

To understand what Jesus means about families being split apart because of him, it is easier to understand when I consider that even I myself encounter differing pulls within myself when I consider taking him seriously. "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." It is no surprise, therefore, that, in certain cultures, a family member risks death by becoming a Christian and forsaking the religion of the ancestors.

Response: There is a restlessness within Jesus in today's gospel. There is a task ahead that must be faced, no matter how unpleasant or unsavoury it is. He longs to complete the work entrusted to him by the Father. With his dying breath on Calvary he says "Father, I have finished the work that you gave me to do." The task ahead is called a "baptism," except that it is a baptism of blood. He began his journey with the baptism of water by John the Baptist in the Jordan. He would complete that journey on Calvary. At the Jordan, we are told that "the heavens were opened." On Calvary we are told that "The veil of the Temple was rent in two."

"I have come to bring strife and division." This seems strange, until we reflect seriously on it. If Jesus landed among a group of people anywhere on this earth right now, he would create division. The reason he would create division is that, once he begins to speak his message, the crowd will become divided, some agreeing with him, and some opposed to him. If Jesus waited for everybody to listen to him, he wouldn't have started yet! He divides people into those who are for him, and those who are against him. The "in-betweens" are against him, because "if you're not for me, you're against me."

The first conflict I myself must face up to, and deal with, is the conflict within myself. If I decide to take Jesus seriously, there will be all sorts of voices coming at me. Voices of prudence, of reason, of intellectualising. If I were to fast, my friends will express concerns about my health, while, if I eat too much, they may well remain silent!

The little girl inherited her mother's stubbornness, and there was often a flare-up, when the little one stomped her foot, and just refused to do what she was told. One day, it had gone too far, so the mother decided to get the better of her in some other way. She put a stool in the corner, and told her daughter to sit down there, and stay until her dad came home. She refused to sit, despite all the threats. Eventually, in frustration, the mother put her hand on the child's head, and pushed her down until she was sitting on the stool. Shortly after that, the dad came in, saw her sitting on the stool, and asked "Well, what are you doing over there?" To which he got the teeth-clenched answer "Outside, I'm sitting down, but inside I'm standing up!'


21st Sunday (Year C)

Isaiah 66:18-21

Ps 117:1-2

Hebrews 12:5-7,11-13

Luke 13:22-30

Very Near To Us

Truth and Healing

Clear-sighted or Blind?

Stick And Carrot

Eternal Life Starts Now

Is 66:18-21. "I am coming to gather all nations." The dispersed Jews returning to the restored city of Jerusalem bring with them non-Jews to join in worshipping the one God.

Heb 12:5-7,11-13. As a father disciplines his son, so God trains his children through suffering so that they may reach their goal.

Lk 13:22-30. Though the kingdom of God may have a "narrow door" it is not just for the Jews but for people from every nation.

Theme: The theme of today's epistle is discipline, a subject that is almost taboo in our society. We should reflect on this theme as part of the overall scheme of divine justice in history.

Isaiah 66:18-21

The Lord Says: "I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory, 19 and I will set a sign among them. From them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud - which draw the bow - to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations.

20 They shall bring all your kindred from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and on mules, and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring a grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. 21 And I will also take some of them as priests and as Levites, says the Lord.

Ps 117:1-2

Praise the Lord, all you nations!

Extol him, all you peoples!

For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13

And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children-"My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts."

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Luke 13:22-30

Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few be saved?" He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.

When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then in reply he will say to you, 'I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' But he will say, 'I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!'

There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.

Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."

Intercessions

- that the punishment life inflicts on us for our wrong-doing will bear fruit in peace and goodness.

- for all those who are punished unjustly in our society.

- for victims of physical abuse, especially battered wives and children.

Thoughts for 21st Sunday, C

Very Near To Us

The English poet Robert Browning, describing the beauty of a spring morning, ends by saying, "The lark's on the wing, the snail's on the thorn; God's in his heaven, all's right with the world." It is a beautiful piece of poetry, but the ending suggests a misleading concept of God, a concept which maybe most of us from time to time entertain in our minds as well. "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world." How often do we imagine God as being away up there in his heaven, and the world going its own separate way, with the events of its history taking place independently of God. And we think of God intervening in human affairs, in the person of Jesus Christ, in order to combat the evil forces let loose in the history of mankind; and at the back of our minds there is the nagging, but persistent suspicion that the battle against evil is not quite going God's way.

If we go to the Old Testament, we find that this kind of dilemma never posed any great problems for his chosen people, Israel. For them God was not remote, away up there. They saw God present in the events, whether good or evil, of everyday existence. Every event in history was God's doing. For example, the Israelites had looked upon the monarchy, the line of David, as something which would last for ever, bringing glory to their nation. This they regarded as a certainty, based on what the great prophets had told them. But when the exile to Babylon of all the leading figures among them occurred, the monarchy itself was utterly destroyed, and was never to be restored.

This tragedy did not however destroy their trust in God's promises. Rather, from out the ensuing suffering and shattered hopes there emerged a purer and more spiritual vision of what God meant their role to be. They saw their national catastrophe, not so much as a punishment for sin - for most of the exiles were good and devout people - but as the means God would employ to bring salvation to the pagan nations. They saw their destiny as still being glorious, but now purely from a spiritual perspective. As stated in Isaiah, all the nations would come to worship the true God in Jerusalem. In other words God would bring good out of the catastrophe they had endured, and this would have an effect as well on nations apart from their own. In all of this there is a lesson also for us.

As the reading from Hebrews puts it, God is treating us as his sons and daughters, but he is training us too, and suffering is part of this training. However painful, however unpleasant this suffering is, it will bear fruit, it will bring peace, it will generate goodness. Whatever the anxieties on the surface, deep down we can be utterly at peace with God as he relates to us through the events of our lives. Constantly at the back of our minds as we go through the day, we carry on, as it were, a conversation with ourselves - talking to ourselves, expressing mentally our hopes and fears, making plans. Relating to God means not leaving him on the fringe of all this consciousness, but making him part of it, discussing it with him, asking his guidance, his assistance, expressing to him our gratitude. All day long he is with you, and you can walk with God, you can talk with God, you can discern his loving purpose for you in every passing moment, you can rest in his presence, even while you go about your business. Gd, however, will not posses your soul unless you sincerely want him to.

But the tragedy is that so many of us remain "unconverted Christians." We have no spiritual vision of the meaning and significance of our lives. We remain on a purely material plane, like the people in the gospel who said they ate and drank with Jesus and heard him preaching in the streets, but with never a hint that this, in any spiritual way, changed their lives. As for those who do not accept Christ in faith, God will simply pass them by. People will come from the east and west, from the north and south, and take the places at the feast in the kingdom of God, which had been promised to those who were called originally. So we never cease asking God to enable us to enter by that narrow door, to possess the inheritance set aside for us by God, and not to be found wanting but rather persevere to the end.

Truth and Healing

In reaction to a bad policy being pursued by the king, Isaiah urged the people of Jerusalem "Do not let Hezekiah mislead you". Then Jesus invites us to realise the hard truth that our personal actions will determine our eternal destiny. These readings could prompt a homily on truth, beginning with the power of language, which affects our whole human experience of life.

The ability to speak is the most important skill we ever acquire, putting us into intimate communication with other persons. Among grown-ups, words can build confidence, inspire idealism, stimulate creativity; but they can also break a reputation, undermine a project, or alienate a community. In every newspaper we find concrete evidence of the power of language to build up or tear down. In our own lives we have experienced for good or ill the dynamism of the living word.

Telling the truth is not merely saying what is one one's mind, which could be subjective; it goes further and communicates things as they really are, or as they actually look place. Truthfulness places an obligation on all to learn to experience life as it really is, not dressed up in flights of imagination. When we communicate we talk about real people and real events; we share, as objectively as we can, our insights about life and about the things of the spirit.

The people of the Bible had a deep respect for truth. The Hebrew word emeth expressed the basic idea of truth as firm, steady, trustworthy and faithful. The person of truth was one who was reliable, and spoke with dignity and assurance. In the New Testament the Greek word aletheia also has an important place. It is the truth of Christ, the truth that saves.

We need to promote respect for truth as a deep value, much needing revival today. Telling the truth is not merely saying what one feels, since this can be subjective, but it goes deeper and first tries to see things as they really are or as they actually happened. Only such truth is worthy of communicating. Truthfulness urges us to see and experience life as it really is, and to distinguish this from those flights of imagination that also have a place in entertaining each other. People need to know whether we are communicating about real events; we need to share, as truly as we can, our insights about life and about the things of the spirit.

Lying is the opposite of truth; when it become habitual, it distorts reality, goes directly against the virtue of thinking honestly, breaks down trust and destroys integrity. Children may tell lies, often more out of fear or an inability to cope with a difficult situation than out of a deliberate intention to deceive. Truthfulness requires many qualities but especially courage and maturity, it is an adult virtue. The adult who tells lies loses in stature. It is sad to meet with grown-up people who live in a dream world and paint a false picture of themselves. This is a sickness from which a person can be healed only by re-discovering the value and the beauty of truth.

Clear-sighted or Blind?

The liturgy of the Word today faces us with a vision that is at once awesome and challenging in its extent and in its demand. It is clear that God's saving will is universal, cosmic in its extension and implications. But it is equally clear that this disclosure must be met by a response in faith that must face the paradox of existence. A faith that is superficial just won't do, it is just not good enough. God's self-disclosure in Jesus Christ demands a response from the human family that finds its true commitment mirrored in the life and person of Jesus himselL In effect, Jesus is God's yes to us and at the same time our yes to God. Thank God this is a life long process preceded and accompanied by grace!

We are challenged today to face up to the real nature of discipleship and its real challenge. If we look to the life of Jesus for guidance in this task several elements become immediately clear. First of all, Jesus is committed, determined to face up to all the consequences that his life choice and life-style before God involve. He is clear sighted, ready for both the joys and the sorrows that flow from his own choice to be faithful to what the journey to Jerusalem entails up to and including death. This is the quality of endurance, of a self-imposed spiritual discipline which Hebrews calls to our attention. Secondly, there is a refusal to be narrow-minded. Jesus' vision cuts through human pretence to the core where the true person lies hidden under the detritus of personal history, under the failures, the sins, the pain, the broken, the false, the threatening. He is ready to wait, to care, to love that fragile, hidden self into bloom, while most of us are content to blame, scapegoat, block and minder each oter as we boastfully, narcissistically jockey for position as we give way to our inflated self-importance and grandiosity. We always forget that loving truth alone can set us free, truth accepted, carried, lived. This, I believe, is the real narrow door.

It is easy to come up with self-righteous claims, it is easy to blind ourselves to our true state, it is easy to boast, to become superficial, canal, blind, deaf and not know the difference. But life is such, and the anti-Christian stance of many is such, that the sham, the pretence is soon shown up for what it is. These are not easy times for disciples. The west is experiencing a change of vision that leaves no aspect of life in our societies untouched. Alternative visions abound, new Christs are foretold, Jesus is demoted to a sun-mau, a kind of out of date avatar whose day is done, people are told that selfishness is the way to freedom, Christians are told that they are impediments to liberty. In the West, Christians run the risk of being ridiculed and rejected by their peers. This, then, is the context of approach to the narrow door, the door named Fidelity, the door named commitment. This is the cross the western Christian is asked to carry, this is the discipline, this is place of correction.

This is the question we are asked today. Will I be faithful to Jesus of Nazareth, will I be true to the risen Lord? Or will I turn away, secretly afraid, not trusting the grace of the Spirit, so choosing the door that must be eventually locked? We are challenged today to find new strengths within our hearts and spirits, new spaces in our lives to present a genuinely Christian face to the world in which we live, a Christian experience that knows rejection and pain, and so can sit with those who are broken by rejection and despairing about life itself. Superficiality just won't do. We know this, of course, but it's good to remind ourselves of it from time to time lest we become complacent and fall into debilitating compromises. May we have the courage to face our infidelity in order to become more faithful. May we have the courage to face our own pain in order to become wounded healers.

Stick And Carrot

The little four-year-old boy was sulking under the table. He had been refused a second helping of ice-cream. His mother ordered him out, but the boy wouldn't budge. She fried coaxing. Nothing doing. Finally, she promised him the ice-cream, and he trotted out triumphantly and they both went out to get the ice-cream from the fridge. I was left alone with the other witness of this little domestic scene, the little boy's grandmother. While mother and son were being reunited over a dish of ice-cream in the kitchen, the old lady said to me, "She isn't fair to the little boy; he doesn't know any better. She should have punished him." I'd never heard it put that way before. Punishment as a service due to a child. It also underlined the change in attitude towards punishment between the two generations.

This change was confirmed by a survey once carried out on the religious attitudes of Irish university students. The little boy might well have been one of those questioned then. While 56% said they believed in heaven, only half that number, 28%, believed in hell. The ice-cream approach to wrong-doing won handsomely. Reward as an incentive rather than punishment as a deterrent, was easily the more acceptable answer to wrongdoers. Incidently, 58% of those interviewed believed in wrong-doing, i.e. sin. Rather than pointlessly arguing the merits of each of them, I cannot see why both rewards and punishments should not be both acceptable. Such was the received wisdom, where the "stick and the carrot" both had an honourable role in the formation of the people of God. While our first parents were expelled from the Garden of Eden as punishment for eating the forbidden fruit, the complaining followers of Moses were rewarded with manna to encourage them on their difficult way through the desert.

I suspect that the present rejection of punishment is largely due to the media. Popular journalism dislikes subtleties. Bald, bold statements make strong headlines. The rarer the happening, the more newsworthy the story. "Man bites dog" gets disproportionate coverage. The battered child report can make parents shy away from inflicting even the mildest punishments on their erring children. It hasn't helped either that whenever punishment is discussed, it is always prefixed by either "corporal" or "capital." These two adjectives alone have assured a bad press for punishment in our time. "Spare the rod and spoil the child" may no longer be acceptable in our time, more because of our perception of the harm it may do to the perpetrator than the hurt it inflicts on the victim. Victims may suffer more long-term damage from the withering verbal abuse that so often now replaces that much-spared rod.

The spate of political scandals now rocking European governments, involving corruption and bribery which we were led to believe was endemic only in the Third World, should give us all reason to reflect. In Italy, one former prime-minister has fled the country while another is awaiting trial on charges of accepting bribes and sinister Mafia connections. Italy may be more spectacular, but similar scandals are being reported in Spain and England, France and Belgium, all involving highly-placed public figures. It is tempting to speculate that they may have been the little boys who picked their mother's purse or robbed the family till, secure in the belief that they would get away with it or, at least, if caught, that they would go unpunished. Those of them attending Sunday Mass today in their prison chapel, will get small consolation from the second reading. The Letter to the Hebrews has no reservations about punishment, which it places firmly in the context of parental love. It is worth repeating at length:

For the Lord trains the ones he loves and punishes all those that he acknowledges as his sons. Suffering is part of your training; God is treating you as his sons. Has there ever been any son whose father did not train him? Of course, any punishment is most painful at the time, and far from pleasant; but later, in those on whom it has been used, it bears fruit in peace and goodness.

Eternal Life Starts Now

Jesus speaks of the need to know him, to do his will, and so to belong to him. If he is the only way back to the Father, then no one can attempt to slip in any other way. Eternal life in heaven is a logical follow-up to living in the Kingdom now.

I am often puzzled by the temerity of some people who think little of taking chances, and who don't go in too much for planning and preparation. I have known people who go along to an All Ireland football final without a ticket, just in the hope that they might get one anyhow. I have seen the same at International games, where the tickets are like gold dust, and people come along and try to enter the turnstiles. This, indeed, has led to riots when hordes of hooligans followed a team to the continent, and created great destruction just because they were denied entrance.

Jesus tells us "I am the Good Shepherd. I know mine, and mine know me." In today's gospel he tells the people "Go away, I do not know you." In other words, you never knew me. Oh, of course, you knew all about me, and you had heard about me, but it didn't make any difference to your lives. If you were mine, if you belonged to me, you would know me.

There are three things that will surprise us when we get to heaven. We will be surprised at some of the people we see there. We will be surprised at some of the people who won't be there. And, lastly, we'll be amazed to find ourselves there! "Some who are despised now will be greatly honoured then; and some who are greatly honoured now will be despised then." He is a God of infinite love, but he is also a God of infinite justice.

Response: Once again, Jesus speaks of the need to heed his call now. Tomorrow could be too late. This is a moment of grace. I sin in what I do, and in what I fall to do. It is only right that I should have to account for the moments of grace that come my way. "To whom much is given, of him / her much will be expected." Two thirds of the people in today's world never heard of Jesus, beyond, perhaps hearing his name. They will have it easier at the pearly gates, because they will have an excuse. It has been put forward as a possibility that, at the moment of death, each and every one of us will come face to face with Jesus, and will be given one final chance to say "yes" or "no." Whether the person is Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, or pagan, there is no other way into heaven except through Jesus.

When I am out of the body, and I can see myself clearly against all other realities, free of the body, and, for the first time in my life, able to make a free decision, I will come face to face with Jesus. Every human being, from Adam until the end, will come face to face with Jesus, at least once, and will have to decide for or against him. Many will say "yes," even if they never heard of him before. Jesus tells the story of the man in the vineyard who hired workers at various hours throughout the day, and, when the day's work was over, he paid each one of them the same wages.

It is hard to imagine Jesus telling anyone to "Go away; I do not know you." However, it does seem just, if we consider that these people actually had every opportunity to know him, and they chose to neglect every moment of grace that came their way. Jesus told his disciples, when he sent them out to preach "If people in a town do not receive you, shake the dust of their town from your feet, and go on your way..." They were offered a gift and they chose to reject it.

Today's gospel, and the gospels of the past few Sundays keep bringing us back to the NOW. "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts." "This is the day of salvation, this is the day of the Lord." St Paul gave a long sermon in Athens on the statue they had erected "To the Unknown God." He told about the God he knew, and he spoke at great length about Jesus, and about his message. At the end of it all, they said to one another "That is interesting; we must hear him again sometime'! In other words, we're not going to do anything about it now!

A wealthy man lost his wife when his only child was young. A housekeeper came to work in the house, and to take care of the boy. The boy died tragically at twenty years of age. The old man was without kith or kin, and he died of a broken heart some years later. He had no heir to his enormous estate, nor could one be found. Neither was there a will, so the whole property passed to the state. In due course, there was an auction to dispose of the personal effects of the mansion.

The old housekeeper attended the auction, not because she could buy anything, but her grief was too strong to keep her away. There was only one thing in the whole collection that attracted her attention. It was a photo of the son. She had loved him as her own. No one wanted the photo, so her few pence were enough to buy it.

She brought it home, and proceeded to take it from the frame. When she opened the back of the frame some papers fell out. They looked important, so she brought them to a lawyer. The lawyer looked at her and laughed, saying "You sure have landed on your feet this time. The old gentleman has left all his estate and all his money to the person who loved his son enough to buy this picture."


22nd Sunday (Year C)

Sirach 3:17-20, 28-29

Ps 68:3-6, 9-10

Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24

Luke 14:1, 7-14

True Justice?

With Wisdom as Guide

Cost of being Christian

Pride and Aggression

Having A Party

Humility and Generosity

Sir 3:17-20, 28-29. "An attentive ear is the desire of the wise." The person who is humble and attentive towards God will never reject wisdom, no matter where it comes from.

Heb 12:18-19, 22-24. Mount Sinai contrasts with the future, glorious Zion. Sinai, or the old covenant, is a place of fear; Mount Zion is the heavenly Jerusalem, the goal of our earthly pilgrimage.

Lk 14:1, 7-14. Places at a wedding banquet: He urges us not to covet places of honour and always to act from unselfish motives.

Theme: "Sit in the lowest place." Instead of pushing ourselves forwards, demanding attention or making high claims, we should aim to be modest and unselfish. A contrast with today's rampant egoism!

Sirach 3:17-20, 28-29

My child, perform your tasks with humility; then you will be loved by those whom God accepts. The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself; so you will find favor in the sight of the Lord. For great is the might of the Lord; but by the humble he is glorified.

When calamity befalls the proud, there is no healing, for an evil plant has taken root in him. The mind of the intelligent appreciates proverbs, and an attentive ear is the desire of the wise.

Ps 68:3-6, 9-10

But let the righteous be joyful;
let them exult before God;
let them be jubilant with joy.

Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds -
his name is the Lord -
be exultant before him.

Father of orphans and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to live in;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity...

Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad;
you restored your heritage when it languished;
your flock found a dwellin in it;
in your goodness, O God,
you provided for the needy.

Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death." Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear.")

You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Luke 14:1, 7-14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.

"When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, 'Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Intercessions

- for the grace of kindness to give generously and anonymously to the poor.

- that the needy will always find a place in our hearts and homes.

- that our government will give priority to those in greatest need.

Thoughts for 22nd Sunday, C

True Justice?

Psalm 15 puts its message in question-and-answer form:

"Lord, who shall be admitted to your tent,
and dwell on your holy mountain?

He who keeps his pledge, come what may;
who takes no interest on a loan,
and accepts no bribe against the innocent.
Such a one will stand firm for ever."

Back in the Middle Ages, Christian theology interpreted that passage in the Psalms to mean that charging interest on a loan was always morally wrong. However, it is clear from other passages in the OT that this condemnation was not originally a general one, but only applied where it meant making a profit from the financial misfortunes of another member of the community to which one belonged in ancient times. To quote one example, "You may demand interest on a loan to a foreigner, but you must not demand interest from your brother" (Deut 23:21).

All this is a far cry from financial practices today, where the law of supply and demand is supreme: the greater the demand for services, for money, for labour, the more we arecharged for them. The modern motto certainly seems to be, "Keep your eye on the bottom line. Get as much as possible for every transaction, and if there is no profit from it, have nothing to do with it." Repayment in the next life for the good deeds of this one has little attraction for the modern business mind. And - let's face it - this attitude also has passed over into the spiritual sphere, whereby many of us, in varying degree, attempt to become masters of our own destiny. The great idolatry of our time is the belief that we can save ourselves. We are tempted to think like this: "I'm saving my soul; I'm winning a place for myself in heaven." We store up credits and merits, towards the day when we can present them before God, and claim our reward on the basis of strict justice, rather like a business transaction.

But if this in any way is a true reflection of our attitude, then we are living an illusion. The problem underlying this is one which is touched upon in the readings of today, namely the problem of pharisaism, the idea of self-sufficiency, the absence of true humility. In other words we do not understand the truth about ourselves, and how we stand in regard to God. The Pharisees in the gospel parable picked the places of honour, which they regarded as being theirs by right, because they observed the Law. We, too, fail to recognise the common lot of humankind, its complete dependence on God's mercy, freely offered and not merited. The idea of giving a party, not for our friends and relations, but for the poor and the crippled and the blind, does not particularly appeal to us.

We must, however, remember that this is a parable, and what Christ is saying is, "Accept others; be open to others. Don't put up barriers between yourselves and others, as did the Pharisees." Another possible interpretation is that we ourselves are the poor, the lame and the blind. And God has invited us to the heavenly banquet, precisely because, for himself, there is no possibility of gain or interest by so doing. He has invited us so that his mercy and his bountiful goodness may be shown before all the world. The only way we can deny this goodness of a merciful God is by declaring it to be unnecessary. And this we do whenever we show a lack of humility, a misunderstanding of the role God wants to play in our lives, whenever we say secretly, at the back of our minds, "Lord, I'm a pretty good Catholic. I go to Mass every Sunday, and extra times during Lent. I contribute to every collection. I don't criticise people behind their backs, even though I know a lot of others who do. Actually, Lord, I'm getting on ite well." But such is the attitude Jesus condemns, because it is a violation of the truth. It fails to see that salvation cannot be deserved, cannot be claimed, that salvation is a pure gift.

Indeed, there is only one true posture for a Christian, and that is to come as a beggar before God, and make this basic request: "Lord, please help me." It is being true to Christian practice to face honestly our emptiness and limitations, to realise the need we have for Christ's redeeming power in our lives, to glory in our infirmities, because the power of God is more evident when the recipient of it is weak. As St Paul himself stated it, "I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:9f) in Christ Jesus, my Lord.

With Wisdom as Guide

In today's Scriptures we are challenged to consider what it is to live according to true wisdom, according to the wisdom of Jesus Christ. The gospel unashamedly sets this challenge within the context of controversy and dispute. We are told that the life of the disciple, of the believing community centred radically on Jesus Christ, offers a stark contrast, stands as a real alternative to prevailing social morals based on class, status, aggression and dominance. The woman or man who, as a believing Christian, is in genuine relationship with God lives according to a different vision.

The first reading presents a clear image of what is involved. If a person is truly rooted in God, truly attempting to follow Jesus, then themes such as gentleness, compassion, concern, acceptance of the other, must be taken up and allowed to become guiding values, core values in that person's way of life. In a society based on the hard sell, ambition, aggression, "going for it" regardless of the consequences, being meek and humble can seem like a recipe for social and economic disaster. But this is the whole point. Unless a person considers the courage that meekness and gentleness require if they are to become personality characteristics, then the whole exercise becomes irrelevant. What the biblical vision presents is an image of the direction we must take if we are to develop a just society with room in it for all. Violence of whatever kind has been and always will be an ongoing recipe for disaster for humanity. Yet this is a lesson we are afraid to learn. We are afraid to lose face, to lose status; we are araid of our own personal truth. We keep secrets from ourselves, play pretend games at being Christian, and are always caught out. That secret story is the rock we perish on, again and again.

When we find the courage to face ourselves, face our dark side, then we begin to find the way out of the fear-driven, anger-complicated traps we have dug for ourselves and others as we reacted resentfully to personal dilemmas. Jesus wants to heal us of these imprisoning traits, wants us to experience life to the full, wants us to hear truth that carries freedom as its gift.

By inhabiting the oppositions, by experiencing the tensions they involve, by allowing ourselves to spend time in the gap between cross and resurrection, between brokenness and wholeness, we will come to a new sense of what it is to live the Christian paradox and discover its gift. As we allow ourselves to dwell in the ground of honest encounter, as we give ourselves the permission to feel its potentially creative tension, new life becomes possible. As with Jonah, the paradox-whale will allow us, too, to be changed and to live life from a different perspective.

Humility is not weakness, meekness and gentleness have nothing to do with cowardice. Humility is the fruit of self-awareness, meekness and gentleness the best expressions of strong compassion. We need these qualities if we are to respect each other, we need these qualities if we are to help each other and be helped, we need these qualities if we are serious about changing the world and orienting all life, all of creation towards the Divine.

Cost of being Christian

Wisdom attracts us. Our minds have a strong affinity for the truth. We want to stand on the solid ground of reality. We search for wisdom from East and West. Do we neglect to look afresh at Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life? Jesus is the kingdom of God in his own person. Socrates spent his life searching for the truth and lost it because he persistently incited the Athenians to inquiry and discussion. The wisdom Jesus offers is not a soft option but head-on collision with accepted values. Society's values in Luke's time around AD 84 had many parallels with today. Jesus warns that the price to be paid for gaining his wisdom is the heavy one of cross-carrying and the even heavier one of sometimes having to part company with those who are closest and dearest to us. All-out gospel service can isolate and ostracise.

Our contemporaries value possessions so much that Christ and cross scandalise them. St Paul was imprisoned for turning the world upside down. He was a faithful disciple. It costs everything to be a disciple of Jesus. (Cf. Powys" novel Mr Weston's Good Wine.) The treasure found in the field required that everything be sacrificed to acquire it. The radical demands of today's gospel, equiparated with heavenly wisdom, disturb us.

We are invited to count the cost of being authentic Christians. There is no escaping the point of the parables. If we don't feel the pinch, we haven's got the message. Do we think that is easy to be a disciple? Have we structured the following of Christ under the headings of attendance at Sunday Mass, a few prayers hastily said, occasional sacramental practice without undergoing a real conversion of heart? Do we today as a Sunday congregation reflect a deep awareness of the presence of our Lord in our midst as we listen to the gospel or move up to the altar for communion? Are we ready for renewal every Sunday? How open are we to receive the wisdom of Jesus and take seriously its harsh demands? If we live comfortably are we living as Christians ought to? Does our parish reflect an evangelical preoccupation with gospel values, with poor deprived people near and faraway? The body claims too much of our time and attention? Its appetites for food, drink and beautification makes incessant and expensive demands. Comort matters greatly. Is all this compatible with the wisdom of Jesus whose name we carry? Have we no more than the colour of being Christians? An objective vision can be acquired if we use the criteria of the gospel-if we ask ourselves frankly what does Jesus think of my lifestyle, my work and social patterns? Do I think like a Christian? Confront ourselves with what is and what ought to be in the light of the gospel. Jesus left the crowds in no doubt as to what the kingdom costs. A wise man has to stand over against the crowd at times. Mammon's apostles advertise their wares with alluring attractiveness. Wisdom of the world/folly of the crowds are choices all have to make. Where Christians go they bring the good news of Jesus with them to transform society. Paul's commendation of Onesimus to Philemon has its modern counterpart in our obligation to christen society in labour relations, business and politics. The implications of baptism have to be worked out by each generation in the light of the undiluted gosel. Opening prayer (I) today "give us true freedom and bring us to the inheritance you promised" articulates a deeply felt aspiration and synopsiss the message of today's scriptures. Mammon enslaves, Christ liberates. The imitation of Christ is real human promotion.

Pride and Aggression

In our world of assertiveness training, aggressive marketing, status-winning hospitality, and general one up-manship the call of today's readings for self-effacement, gentleness and a true concern for the noninfluencial person seems like a hopeless nostalgia for a more gentle age, or a vapid romantic picture of an idealised world.

Pride is all round us and within us. Pride of place, be it in Church or State, at work or recreation, is jealously guarded. As in Luke's Gospel, seating positions are carefully arranged and the pecking order carefully observed. If arrangements go awry we feel offended, even slighted. Are these ceremonial positions, then, matters of true significance or are we merely conditioned from within by viewing our gifts as if they were our own, or from without by viewing our temporary achievements or positions of superiority as of truly lasting worth?

In the opening prayer we ask God to bring to perfection the gifts he has given us. Whatever we have, whether it is talent, wealth or the ambition which enables us to achieve, we have it from God. If "a generous rain" has been poured on us, if we have been given a home to live in, if we are in apposition to exalt and enhance then we hold these things as gifts of God and we should praise and thank him for them.

If on the other hand we let the evil growth of pride and presumption flourish in our hearts we insult the gifts of God. We are watchful for our positions, we watch closely and enjoy being watched, we exalt ourselves, we dine in high places with the right people so that we feature among the clever vulgarities of the gossip columnists. How vain our wishes, how silly our concerns with the passing glory of the hour!

For side by side with our petty posturing and position seeking, there live others in want and hopelessness. Sometimes they live in fear of us who seem powerful - we make, or connive at, the laws which oppress them. They are blind, they are lame, they are poor. We pass them daily as we rush to some other urgent insignificance, and our hearts do not go out to them.

Can we then claim to be Christians newly created by our Baptism in the image and spirit of Christ? In "the city of the living God" everyone is a first born child. There is neither higher nor lower, only the harmony of those who have found rest from the conflicting strivings of human nature in the person of the Mediator who brings the new covenant of love.

There exists in us all a conflict between pride and humility. Humility is being what we are - fragile passing creatures of time yet endowed by God with reason and faith, his noblest creation. Pride is a mistaken feeling that our achievements, our positions, our place in society are all our own doing and that those who are poor and powerless are somehow inferior.

Our society, despite its protestations of concern, despite its periodic widely publicised gestures to charity, despite its lip service to equality, exists on the principle of the powerful and wealthy exploiting the poor and the lowly. Business is not carried out gently, it is done ruthlessly and without concern for the human wreckage business decisions may imply.

God is calling us in today's readings, once again, to reevaluate our positions. He is putting an ideal of love and peace before us mere humans who are in conflict within ourselves on the issues of pride and humility. We are not asked to deny our gifts - we are merely called upon to acknowledge them as being from God and to act responsibly towards those less gifted or otherwise gifted.

We are called to love Christ by our attitude and actions towards the plight of our fellow man. God asks us to listen to his call, to consider our whole position and he promises the greatest riches of all, the inducement which should rouse our hearts and minds from their apathy, the treasure of his love forever, if only we will convert from stubbornness and pride and listen to the call of the weak, the humble and the voiceless.

Having A Party

Someone had given me a turkey for Christmas. I didn't know what to do with it. I mentioned it to a few friends in the parish and somebody came up with the idea of putting on a meal for the travelling people. A number of poor families were camped on the roadside on the outskirts of the town. One woman offered to cook the turkey with her own on Christmas Day. The plan was that we would all have our Christmas dinner with our families. Afterwards we would meet at a selected venue, prepare the meal for the travellers and when everything was ready, a number of cars would collect them from the camps. I was deputed to call to the camps in advance and let them know. The idea was taken up with great enthusiasm.

Originally, it was intended to keep the organisational side to about a half-a-dozen of us, but inevitably, the word leaked out. We were showered with presents of all kinds, toys for the children, Xmas crackers, plum-pudding, sweets and ice-cream. A local publican gave us a crate of beer and stout. I found an empty cupboard in the presbytery kitchen where I stored everything. I planned to hold the party in the presbytery as all the priests were going away on Christmas Day. I thought it better not to say anything in case objections might be raised. The day came and my friends and I arrived to begin preparations. The cupboard was completely empty. I was flabbergasted. I managed to contact one of the priests as he was sitting down to his Christmas dinner with his family. "Oh! I gave it all away to the travellers," he said, "I thought the housekeeper had bought all that stuff under the mistaken assumption that we were all staying for Christmas."

"Well, Father certainly spiked your guns," one of my friends commented. I rushed out to the camps to try and get it all back again. I remember standing in one camp begging the old woman in the bed to give me back the bottle of stout she was cradling in her lap. As I emerged with it, a parishioner who was taking a pre-prandial stroll and had witnessed the whole scene, was shaking his head in disbelief and dismay. I don't think lever explained it to him.

I was a young priest then and probably something of a prig. Looking back after more than twenty-five years, the whole incident now smacks of a "holier-than-thou" exercise. There was too much trumpet playing and banner-waving. There was more "do-goodism" than Christian charity about it. It had probably more to do with making me look good than with feeding the poor. If a younger colleague attempted a similar venture now, I might well be tempted now to sabotage it myself. It certainly did not quite comply with Jesus' advise to his host in today's gospel:

When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbours, for fear they repay your courtesy by inviting you in return. No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; that they cannot pay you back means that you are fortunate, because repayment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again.

Humility and Generosity

Today's gospel is a simple teaching on humility and on generosity. It is a typical gospel teaching, because it flies in the face of all worldly wisdom.

I have a friend whom I regard as a true Christian, and to watch him live his life is quite edifying. He is quiet about the whole thing, and he certainly would never trumpet his good deeds in public. He always invites one or two for Christmas dinner; people who would not be in a position to repay the favour. He is a handy man, and, now that he is retired, he is always doing odd jobs for people who could not afford to pay a tradesman. He has a natural ability to keep in the background, and, were I to mention him by name here, it would surely test his Christianity beyond the point of strain!

Humility is not too well understood. I suppose the fact that pride is so prevalent has something to do with it. We live in a world, which encourages self-promotion, and it is all too easy to get sucked into the rat race. There is something extraordinarily powerful about humility, because of the disposition of character that is required to discipline the ego, and to know my proper place. Pride is so endemic in our natures that it goes undetected by those who display it. On the other hand, I always find myself deeply touched while in the presence of someone who displays genuine humility.

Jesus calls for selfless service in today's gospel. This is at the heart of Christianity. It consists of putting others before self. This is not easy, because selfishness is much part of our human nature. It is part of our human instincts to look out for number one. If we were to line up God, others, and ourselves as being the proper order of things, then sin consists in mixing those up in any way, e.g., putting others in front of God, or putting myself in front of others.

Jesus tells us that "the greatest in my Kingdom are those who serve." He showed this by example when he washed the disciples" feet, when he sent them away to rest, while he took care of the crowds. He took a child, put the child in the centre, and told his disciples what real greatness was. His message was a sign of contradiction to this world, because his values are completely different. There is no way that his message could be accepted or understood by someone with a worldly mind-set.

A priest began his homily by holding up a huge triangle. He said he was going to use the triangle to illustrate the main points of his homily. He pointed to one of the angles and said "Half the world is dying of hunger, in a world in which there is plenty of food. I will deal with that at some length." Pointing to the second angle he said "The problem is that most of us don't give a damn about the poor, and I will develop that point at some length also." Pointing to the third angle, he said "It is possible that some of you listening to me now are more concerned about the fact that I used the word "damn" than you are about all those hungry people, sol will have to deal with that third point also'!