17th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year C)

No other word in the English language speaks more to relationship that the word, ’our’.

Whether it is in terms of recognizing the resources of this earth are to be shared; that technological achievements are never accomplished solely by individuals in isolation; that improvements in the living conditions of people in impoverished regions are brought about by the actions of group effort.

The word, ‘our’  reflects the simple reality that we are social beings; that we do not exist on this planet only for our own benefit and gratification; that we are not to look after ourselves alone and let the rest of the human race ‘get by’ as best it can.  Not only is this ‘unproductive’. It is actually quite ‘destructive.’

This lesson is not something new; it is really quite old; and it shows up sometimes in the most unexpected places.

Take for example, this week’s passage from St. Luke’s gospel, in which Jesus’ disciples ask Him to teach them ‘how to’ pray.  This passage, like its parallel in St. Matthew, is the only instance in the Gospels where Jesus teaches a prayer ‘formula’ or ‘structure’ for a specific prayer.  At first glance, He is simply giving them a formula prayer which has become known in most circles as ‘the Lord’s Prayer,’ or simply, ‘the Our Father.’

However, there is much more here than simply a formula for prayer.  There is much that can be gleaned from each and every part of this prayer, but I would like to focus on what, if I may suggest, is the crucial point from which the entire prayer – and really the message of the Gospels- proceeds.

The beginning of this prayer is the vital point in all of it: Jesus starts with the word ‘Our’. He says ,”OUR Father”.  We need to let that sink in a bit. 

He doesn’t say, “My Father” or begin with a generalized or generic ‘Lord God’.  He begins by addressing God with the term ‘Our Father’.

Using that turn of phrase, Jesus leads us to the understanding of an intimate relationship of us, the created beings, with God the creator as ‘Father’.  This is not an image of some celestial being who simply ‘waves His hands’ and people spring up all over the place.  This calls to mind a deeply involved, loving and close relationship between a father and child. 

But in the use of this word, there is even more: God is ‘our’ Father.  There is a relationship on the one hand between the Father and all of His children; and there is automatically (although not spoken) a relationship between all of the children as siblings.  There is a truth and an expectation implied in this pairing of words; that all who call God ‘Father’ are in fact children of that same God, brothers and sisters; members of the same family – and as such, they are expected to act as brothers and sisters, members of the same family, children of the one true God.

Those two words, “Our Father’ really summarize the two greatest commandments, which as Jesus pointed out, are the key to salvation.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength,” and, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

I cannot call God ‘my’ Father if I am not open to recognizing, loving and serving His ‘other’ children.  I cannot serve His ‘other’ children if I do not first recognize them as ‘His’ children, and therefore my brothers and sisters.  There is a permanence and unity built in the service of ‘family’ when we recognize ‘family’ – and that begins with recognizing that this ‘family’ begins with God the Father, and involves all of our ‘brothers and sisters’. 

There is an even more profound point in this wording as well.  It is Jesus Himself who says, “Our Father”.  In using those words, not only is He –the second person of the Holy Trinity – calling on the Father, the first person of the Holy Trinity: He is also placing himself squarely in the middle of the human race, identifying Himself with all of us His own brothers and sisters.  He, in His divinity, unites Himself completely with us in our humanity, so that we too can have some share in His divine life. 

This sharing, this unity, this profound relationship with God and each other, is what we are all called to, and should be the hallmark of all Christians.  Ours should not be an existence of ‘looking out for number one’ but should be recognized by its concern and care for each other centred on a deep and loving relationship with God. It is a lifestyle marked by a trust in the promise of an eternity in the embrace of the Creator of all.

This is ‘our’ inheritance from ‘our’ Father, to be shared with ‘our’ family – the human race – promised and given to all of us by ‘our’ brother, Jesus Christ.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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16th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year C)

Imagine visiting a friend, whom you haven’t seen in a while. There are things to talk about, stories to share, different events to reminisce or share memories about; you are all set to sit and talk about a whole host of topics, and your friend is busy preparing a meal for you to share, or perhaps to get some refreshments…they leave you in the living room or parlour, and go out to the kitchen; we hear all sorts of noises – ice clinking in glasses, pots and pans banging together, food being chopped and washed – the sounds and smells of cooking – but our friend is too busy preparing this meal that they don’t have time to sit and talk with us.

Maybe we would go out to the kitchen and offer to help, only to be met with a response of ‘no, you’re a guest – I’m taking care of this – you go sit and relax – honest, I’ll be there soon” But maybe after a considerable length of time, our friend hasn’t emerged from the kitchen, finding more and more ‘things’ to do – one more item to cook, one more dish to prepare, one more cup to clean; and by the time they come out of the kitchen, we have to be on our way.  There has been alot of food prepared, and there was an intention to have a great conversation, but ‘things’ just kind of got in the way;   in our lives, we may find that to be the case, not just with visits with old friends, but in time with our spouses, or our children, or our parents – that we just have so many ‘things’ to do, that we just don’t have time to sit and talk. 

Sadly, that can even happen to all of us in our relationship with God; we have too many ‘things’ to do, many distractions, many concerns, many anxieties.  The events that unfold in that home in Bethany as related in today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke, can unfold in the lives of each and every one of us. There may be a bit of Martha and a bit of Mary in each one of us.

Jesus visits Martha and Mary – the sisters of Lazarus – at their home.  When we look at all the Gospels, this is one of three encounters Jesus has with Martha and Mary; the Gospels don’t show many repeat encounters between Jesus and particular people, so this relationship Jesus had with the members of this particular family must have been very important. Jesus must have been considered by this family to be, among other things, a close friend as well as a teacher.

Jesus enters their home and begins to speak – and of the two sisters, only Mary sits at His feet to listen to what He has to say.  This posture ‘sitting at the feet’ of Jesus is loaded with meaning and would have been startling to the people of Jesus’ time:  this posture would have been the typical position of a disciple learning from a teacher; except in first century Palestine, women didn’t sit at the feet of a rabbi as a disciple; but this doesn’t seem to concern Jesus.  He welcomes Mary’s attention to His words and his presence.  She has chosen to be open to His words.

Martha, the Gospel says, “was distracted by her many tasks”:  she begins bustling about, working and preparing food and refreshments, maybe going ‘all out’ to impress this honoured Guest.  But instead of offering some light refreshment and then returning, or even just sitting to find out what Jesus has to say to her, Martha starts bemoaning the fact that she has ‘so much work’ to do, and demands that Jesus tell Mary to get up from her place at His feet and come help her.   She says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?  Tell her then to help me.”

This sounds rather whiney, doesn’t it?  Imagine being the guest in this house – how comfortable would any of us feel in the midst of this ‘sibling rivalry’?  It almost sounds as if Martha is angry at her sister and by implication is blaming her Guest for all the extra work she has to do.   The phrase that Martha uses,  speaks volumes of where all her distractions leads to – where all these ‘tasks’ are centred – she may think her work is for her Guest, but her attention is not on her Guest:

 – my sister has left me to do all the work by myself  – tell her to help me

Caught up in all of her work, Martha doesn’t seem to notice that she is ignoring Jesus, present in her home.  And yet, Jesus doesn’t respond with sharp or angry words; his response shows his compassion and caring for Martha, but points to the error of her actions. 

“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.”

Mary’s attentiveness to Jesus’ presence and His words are the ‘better part’ that Mary has chosen.  This pondering of Jesus in stillness and silence will not be taken away from her.  Jesus is saying to Martha (and us) that those who have their attention focused on Him have an awareness of His presence to them, and that is a gift that they will not be separated from.

There is a sense of inner peace that comes from a deepened prayer life and a deeper awareness of the presence of Christ in our lives.  This comes from spending time like Mary, at the ‘feet of the master’; whether it be at Mass, in receiving the Sacraments; in listening to and studying Scripture; in taking the time to spend in prayer – it is in this way and others that we are attentive to the presence of Jesus in our own lives. 

From this focus, our works and efforts grow outward; when there is work to be done, we do it – when there are responsibilities to be faced, we face them; but as Christians, we do these things with an awareness that Jesus is present to us in everyone we meet.

Or we can react as Martha in this particular story;  we can allow our worries and cares to distract us, to worry us, even to overwhelm us, causing us to lose sight of what is truly important in our lives.  Martha was doing her best to serve Jesus at her home in Bethany, but she was so caught up in the service, she lost sight of her Guest: 

We can get so caught up in ‘doing’ things, that we have no time to spend with Christ; even in church or in parish life – we may have so many other thoughts running through our minds, that we can’t concentrate at Mass – or we can’t be open to hearing what God is calling us to in our lives because we are too” busy” to listen.  Our works become an end in themselves, rather than an extension of our love for Jesus.  We might even find ourselves offering to work for Jesus, but like Martha, end up centred on ourselves, even feeling a little ‘put out’ for doing extra work that we have brought upon ourselves, trying to please God, and almost blaming God or others for our struggles in that work.  

When our work is centred on Jesus, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easy or simple; but it changes the whole attitude with which we do everything; in order to properly serve Jesus, we need to be focussed on Jesus.  To do that, we need to take time to ‘sit at the feet’ of the Master – receiving Him in the Sacraments; being attentive to Him in our individual prayer lives; gathering in His presence at Mass –  from there, all of our work to serve Him will flow outward.

We will have chosen the ‘better part’.

And as He said about Mary, He promises each and every one of us, that this ‘better part’ – this awareness of His presence in our lives – will not be taken from us.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

There are occasions, we can open a newspaper or listen to a newscast and hear a story of how someone went, ’above and beyond’ what would be expected of them in coming to the aid or rescue of a complete stranger.  Often these stories involve someone putting themselves at great personal risk to prevent serious injury or death to another person.  Most often, the ‘heroes’ in these stories are dubbed ‘Good Samaritans’.

This promotes the image that a Good Samaritan is someone who does something extraordinary; who steps well beyond what would be expected in terms of helping out another human being. Perhaps, though, this image is somewhat ‘inflated’ or gives the impression that a good Samaritan is only one who performs great deeds.

In his Gospel today, St. Luke writes about Jesus speaking with a ‘lawyer’ who stands up to test Jesus. First off, we need to understand the term ‘lawyer’ in this setting; it is someone who is well versed and educated in the Law of Moses, the Torah; the laws handed down by God.  He asks how to inherit eternal life, and Jesus, also being well-versed in the Law, puts it back to him, asking what written in the law.  The lawyer answers with the two great commands, love God with all your being, and love your neighbour as yourself.  He knows the answer already; he has learned it well over the course of the studies. Jesus compliments him on his knowledge, but then this ‘religious teacher’ wants to push the matter a little further;

The Gospel says, ‘wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus, “and who is my neighbour?”

We often want to ‘justify’ ourselves, like this lawyer; particularly in our current culture.  We are very much a ‘bottom line’ people –

We want to know the minimum required to achieve something, or the maximum effort we need to put out to get what we want;

The lawyer is asking much the same thing, perhaps continuing to ‘test’ Jesus, by asking –how far do I have to go to prove my love for neighbour according to the law?  Is my neighbour restricted to those in my social circle; my family; my religious congregation?

What is the minimum I need to do in terms of reaching out to others? How far do I have to go?  How extraordinary do my efforts have to be? How difficult is this going to be for me?

To be sure, today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke would seem to point out what we might consider ‘extraordinary’ actions.  Jesus relates the story that we have come to call the parable of the Good Samaritan; in the context of his audience, and the way the story unfolds, the actions of the ‘hero’ of the story, a Samaritan, seem well outside what would be expected.  At the time of Jesus, Samaritans and Jews despised each other; the way Jesus tells the story it would seem the man who became a victim of robbers was Jewish, since he was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho.  And yet, it is not members of the man’s own community who come to his aid, but rather someone from the culture that was at odds with, or even the ‘enemies’ of his own culture. Truly, Jesus’ audience would think, this Samaritan in helping a Jew was doing an incredible thing.

This lawyer would have been aware of the contents of the book of Deuteronomy, from which we have our first reading today: in it, God speaks to the people through Moses telling the people to ‘turn to the Lord with all your heart and will all your soul’,

In speaking to the difficulty of following this command, he continues, “surely this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away….it is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”

In other words, the command to love is quite straightforward and simple, and should come naturally; but our society and our culture compete for this ‘natural space’ in our hearts – a natural space that should have us readily stepping outside ourselves help our neighbour all the time.

Two of the most popular saints of modern times in their own ways emphasized how natural and simple the act of loving God by loving our neighbour can be.  The Little Flower, or St. Therese of Lisieux, and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta both lived out examples of doing ordinary things with extraordinary love.  For the Little Flower, it involved her little way, performing what others would see as small, menial tasks in the convent and offering them up continually in gratitude to God.  Whether it was serving a meal, dusting the chapel, cleaning a floor; spending time to help one of the sisters to a meal- befriending one who was difficult for the others to develop a closeness to – in all of these things, Therese showed that in helping others, it was not in the task itself, but the attitude of the heart with which the task was performed that determined the ‘greatness’ of the work.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta started with individuals; the poor starving and dying in the streets of Calcutta; it didn’t matter whether the person was Catholic, Christian, Hindu or Moslem; the fact that they were a human being created in the image and likeness of God was what determined whether they had a claim to the mercy and compassion shown by Blessed Teresa.  But she also stressed that this charity had to be an attitude – a hallmark of everyone who takes the name Christian, and it was to be shown to the poorest of the poor in our society wherever and whenever we find them. But it also starts with small actions and grows from there.

Our desire to help anyone in need should grow with our realization of who our neighbours are, a circle which keeps growing outward with our own awareness of the goodness of God in our own lives. We can build on our experience of family, helping each other; building on the experience of doing ordinary things with extraordinary love; to continually reaching outward to our neighbour – members of our faith community, our city, our country, or the poor on the other side of the world. We might help out with a charitable organization feeding the hungry, or take time to visit someone who is lonely – it might be something as simple as holding a door for someone, helping someone fix a flat tire, or sitting at coffee break with co-worker others don’t get along with.

The lawyer in today’s Gospel, it would seem, was asking Jesus to put boundaries on how far he would have to go in helping his neighbour.  Maybe he wanted a minimum.

Jesus, in relating the story of the Good Samaritan tells him, and us, the minimum that is expected is the maximum we can do, and that with God, there is no limit to that maximum.  That there are no boundaries to who our neighbour is – cultural, religious, ethnic – we are all created in God’s image, and the needs of even one affects us all; that it should be natural for us, as children of God, to want to reach out to help our neighbours; to reflect our love for God in our love for one another;

That what our society sees as ‘extraordinary’ in reaching out to help others, should be ‘ordinary’ for us, particularly as members of His Church.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

14th Sunday Ordinary Time

Here is something that I am sure will come as shocking news.  There are actually people out there who no longer practice their faith!   

Seriously though,every one of us knows someone who no longer actively practices their faith.  Whether friends or family, extended or immediate, we all have an experience of someone drifting away from the Church for one reason or another.  Particularly if they are our own children, we might view their choice as a reflection on us; somehow we are to blame – somehow we did something wrong or did not do something right; that another person’s decision to accept or reject the faith is somehow entirely our fault.  As disciples of Christ, we did the best we could, with the best information we had, and the best of intentions; and yet somehow, rather than coming closer to Our Lord and God, these people moved away from Him.

It’s very easy to become discouraged, particularly when we see the grand scale of how far our culture, our society, and our country have drifted away from the Gospel values that were taken for granted just a generation ago.  If we listen to the media, it seems as if everyone and everything is stacked against the Church, against freely expressing our faith in the modern world, against proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  I can assure you, that if we allow it to, the way we measure success today – ‘concrete results’ or ‘visible numbers’- can become very discouraging to those of us involved in ministry, or anyone involved in authentically living as a disciple of Jesus.

This desire to ‘measure our results’ and base our joy or sorrow on them is part of the message in today’s gospel passage from St. Luke, where Jesus sends 70 of his disciples on ahead of Him to places where He Himself was planning to visit. They go out as His messengers.

These disciples were sent out in pairs; and they were given instructions on what would be necessary to take with them – nothing except each other and the knowledge that He had sent them to proclaim the Kingdom of God. 

They were also forewarned that not everyone would listen to them, that not everyone would accept what they had to say, that some would reject them and their message.   We might be tempted to wonder, ‘how could anyone reject these disciples of Christ? ‘  These disciples were coming to them in preparation for or ahead of Jesus – unannounced, uninvited; they were bringing word ,that the Kingdom of God was near, that God was present to His people, that Jesus was coming to them.  They were giving freely what they had been given, this Good News, and healing the sick in those places they went to. How could people reject that?  Apparently, they did.

We could ask the same question in our own world today; a world where increasingly we see hostility to Christians practicing their faith; we see those who were baptized later rejecting relationship with God, seeing faith practice as somehow oppressive, limiting and unintelligent.  Yet Jesus told His disciples on that first mission that there would be some who would accept and some who would reject them and their message. 

In all of this, though, there are two things that remind us of our mission as Church; of the interconnectedness of our relationship with Jesus and with each other as His disciples.  He sends them out in pairs. In the culture of the time, two witnesses were required to give testimony to the truth; and so as pairs, these disciples are testifying to the truth of the coming of the Kingdom.  But there is more to this. 

In simple, human terms, they are traveling together to support each other, to encourage each other, and if necessary, to protect each other.

But someone else is with them in their mission; they would not be able to effect any cures or cast out demons if Christ Himself was not with them – He reminds them that even though they had some encouraging results (and these are a cause for some rejoicing), the most important point is that they recognize that they belong to and have a relationship with God; their ‘names are written in heaven’ as Jesus says.   They are reminded that their joy should be in recognizing and believing that they are children of God; their mission is to bring that joy to others.  Whether or not others respond to that message and mission is not up to them.  They are to keep themselves secure and encourage each other in the knowledge that they belong to God, no matter what the world says or how the world responds to them. 

This then is our mission too; first and foremost to recognize and rejoice with grateful hearts that we belong to God, and to share that news and joy with the world around us. 

Whether the world rejects what we have to share, rejects us, or rejects God is really not up to us. We shouldn’t allow a lack of ‘concrete results’ or some measure of ‘visible numbers’ to discourage us in sharing our faith.

All we can do is persevere as disciples, as Church, knowing that Christ, in His love, goes with us in our mission to share the Good News with everyone around us; and that as children of God sent out into the world, we are to encourage, support and protect each other; that we can only be messengers of healing and hope; and leave the results up to God.

gospel procession day 4

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!