Advent 1st Sunday (Year B)

Happy New Year!  Perhaps it seems a bit early in our secular-oriented culture to offer such a greeting this time of year.  This Sunday, however, we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year in our Church.

While it is a time that we prepare to celebrate the past – the entry of God into our human reality as one of us in the person of Jesus – and it is a time to look to the future – when Christ will return in all His glory – it is also a time to look with eyes of compassion and faith to Jesus who shows Himself to us daily in those around us; the poor and neglected, the broken and forgotten.

It is a time to begin anew our commitment to having Christ at the centre of our lives. It is a chance to annually remind ourselves that we don’t have a caricature of a Saviour who remains in the safe and unchallenging guise of a newborn babe; we have a Saviour who experienced the full range of our emotions, challenges and difficulties by emptying Himself of His Divinity for our sake.

It is a season to prepare once again to welcome Jesus into our hearts and our homes, not simply by our choice of decorations or religious catch-phrases; but by opening our hearts and reaching out our hands to seek and serve Him wherever and whenever we encounter Him.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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Christ the King (Year A)

here was an educational television program my children used to watch when they were small, called ‘The Magic Schoolbus’, and the central figure was a teacher named ‘Miss Frizzle’.  That character’s common advice, given to her students before they would embark on a class project would be, ‘take chances; make mistakes and get messy!’

The wisdom in this, of course, was that the students couldn’t learn anything if they didn’t take their studies beyond their classroom walls, and that they were bound to make mistakes if they tried – but they could learn from their mistakes.  Most importantly though, it was the advice to ‘get messy’ that cut to the heart of the learning experience;  life is seldom orderly; our best laid plans often don’t go exactly as we intended, and this reinforces for us the notion that we really are not in control of anything in life.   Life is an ongoing creative process – and creation in itself is a messy business.

It is that ‘messiness’ of life, in the lives of all people, that Jesus addresses in today’s passage from the Gospel according to St. Matthew; the story of the last judgment, of the separating of the sheep from the goats.  For the past number of Sundays, as our liturgical year comes to an end, we have heard several parables from Jesus telling his followers to be ready to meet Him, to be alert, to follow His commands; and in these parables, we hear the consequences for those who are not ready, who are not alert, or who refuse to follow Him.  In today’s passage, both the message of reward and the warning of consequence is blunt and direct.

Jesus, as the Son of Man in His glory, sitting on His judgement seat separates those who did His will – the sheep – from those who did not – the goats.  And His will explained in this parable, is to be involved in the ‘messiness’ of the lives of those around us, of all who are in need.  He cites as examples the hungry, the homeless, the naked and the imprisoned; to those who cared for these people, Christ welcomes into His Father’s kingdom – to those who ignored them, He directs them to the eternal separation from God that they have chosen themselves, through their own actions and choices.

Jesus continually emphasized during His public ministry, that the kingdom of heaven was not just something far off, after we left this lifetime; rather the kingdom of heaven begins here and now, and continues on; so the message in this Gospel is quite clear; to be part of His kingdom, we need to be involved in the ‘messiness’ of the lives of others, in their need.  To refuse to do so, not only isolates us from others, but it isolates us from Christ here and now.  If it becomes our regular ‘routine’ or ‘pattern’, then when it is our turn to stand before His throne, we will have shown a life of choice to isolate ourselves from Christ in our brothers and sisters; and if we have chosen to isolate ourselves, we can’t then blame God or Jesus for our decisions.  We will be accountable for our actions in this lifetime or in the next.

This gospel is a call to charity.  And in reality, charity can be broken down into two types; there is clean charity, and messy charity.  Clean charity is when we might contribute in some material way to some identified need – perhaps cash donations, or food or clothing; in themselves these are good things to do; but in this way alone, we keep our hands clean.  Messy charity is when we actually get physically involved in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned – it means rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty by being directly involved in the ‘messiness’ of the lives of others in need, and doing it simply for the love of God.   That need is great, and that need is all around us; it can be something as simple as spending a little time visiting someone who is homebound or sick; cleaning a small child’s face, wiping away a friend’s tears, serving a bowl of soup at the local soup kitchen – introducing ourselves to someone new in our parish…so many ways to be involved in the lives of others, from the least to the greatest.

This is the message of today’s passage, and while it applies to our involvement in this life as the hands and feet of Christ to our neighbours, to be prepared to see and meet Christ in the poor and lonely and marginalized in the here and now, it invites us to be resolved to live in such a way as to be prepared to be counted among the sheep at Jesus’ right hand.  It is an invitation to take the risk of stepping outside of our prayers and liturgy (our comfort zone) and get involved in the lives of those in need – it is an invitation to do the best we can, recognizing that however well we plan, we will fall or fail from time to time, but with God’s grace we will get up and try again – it is an invitation to roll up our sleeves to work toward the kingdom for Christ our King, and get our hands dirty in the need of those around us.

Or to use the words of Miss Frizzle – ‘take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!’

Pantokrator_of_Sinai

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

33rd Sunday Ordinary Time (Year A)i

In this Sunday’s gospel we once again receive a small insight into the concept of a final judgement; Jesus is quoted in St. Matthew’s Gospel relating a parable about what is expected of those to whom God grants His graces and gifts.

Jesus uses what may seem to us to be a rather demeaning portrayal of those who call themselves His disciples; He uses the image of slaves with their master. This might not be the most ‘relatable’ example for us in the 21st century, but to those who were hearing these words in 1st century Palestine, the image was entirely understandable. In that time and place, while slaves were property of another person, they had the potential to become free, either through their service, or the generosity of their master.

In any event, this particular master summons three slaves to himself before he leaves on a journey, distributing some of his wealth amongst them in varying amounts – apparently the amounts take into account the dependability of each slave, and upon his return, the master demands an accounting of what they did with the wealth that was granted them.

In the case of the first two, the wealth increased. In the case of the third, the slave buries the wealth, and simply returns it to the master without even the modest increase of bank interest. The master has entrusted his wealth to his slaves; some put it ‘out there’ where it would grow and accumulate more wealth, while one hid the wealth until the master’s return.

The most tremendous wealth that Jesus could promise or give to those who heard His voice in that setting was the promise of the Kingdom of Heaven; yet He was clear that the Kingdom did not start after death or in some far off place and time. The Kingdom begins here, now with each of His disciples. They are to share that wealth, that gift with all those they come in contact with in this world; sharing the good news of salvation, serving those in need, glorifying God. In doing this in the midst of our day to day lives, putting this wealth of the master ‘out there’ it is entirely likely that it will gain more for the master. Those who receive the good news have the potential to share that with others. The poor who are served are where we meet Christ Himself in our midst, and bear Christ to them – and in this the Kingdom grows. In witnessing our love of God, we draw others into that relationship.

The gift that we have been given, the Kingdom, is meant to be shared so it may grow. It is not meant to be hidden away and jealously guarded, dragged out from hiding on Sunday only or once or twice a year. If we hide the share of the Kingdom promised to us from others, we do a great dis-service to our Master.

Our Lord and God who gave us everything, and who continues to bless and love us all, deserves at least what little return we can make on his ‘investment’ in us.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran (Year A)

Someone recently said, “when we ask ‘What would Jesus do? Remember that flipping over tables and freaking out is always an option.’” They were, of course, referring to the incident recorded in St. John’s gospel which we read today, an incident often referred to as ‘the cleansing of the Temple’ by Jesus.

It’s very important to understand what brings Jesus to this point, and to understand His reaction. For the Jewish nation, the Temple in Jerusalem was the holiest site on earth.  It was the centre of their state, their culture, and their religion.  It was believed that the glory of God dwelled within the Temple precincts, in a place called the ‘Holy of Holies’, a place in which only the high priest for that year could enter, and only on a specific day in a specific ritual.  The Temple complex extended out from the Holy of Holies, and encompassed a number of ‘courts’ or places where not only the religious leaders could attend, but all people, including Gentiles.  This Temple, one of the wonders of the ancient world, was a place where one could study and reflect on the Sacred Scriptures, meditate and contemplate, praise and worship the One True God.

Those who were exchanging the different secular currencies for Temple currency (money changers), and those who sold animals for sacrifice had a practical purpose to serve in the regular activities of the Temple. Originally, they would have plied their wares on the streets and roads leading up to the Temple mount to those on pilgrimage.  Yet, over time, they moved closer and closer until eventually, stalls and pens and exchange tables crept into the Temple complex itself.  It was just ‘another’ place for business.  The Temple was meant to provide a place for God’s glory; it was a place to gather and contemplate and honour God.  Imagine, if you will, coming into a place of worship where you are there to reflect and pray, to worship and honour God, in fulfilling that command to love God with all your heart and soul and mind.  Now imagine trying to do that in an environment filled with the clatter of goods, the clinking of coins and scales, the noise of animals, the shouting and arguing of sales and haggling, the dust and smell of herds of sheep and cattle.

That is the setting in which this episode takes place. Would we be upset?  As people of faith, I would expect so.  Yet Jesus displays what we would call ‘righteous’ anger at the sacrilege and irreverence of what is happening around Him.  He doesn’t lash out in a blind rage, or in vicious hatred; there is direction, control and purpose in His actions.    He doesn’t hit anyone (despite what our cultural adaptations have added to this event); read the words carefully, “Making a whip out of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle.”  It doesn’t say he whipped or used the whip on people – he used it to direct the animals out.  Yes he overturned the merchants’ tables, but he didn’t strike anyone.  His was an anger that expressed itself ultimately in a positive action; an act to restore the Temple to the place of worship and honour and glory of God.  Jesus saw the ultimate act of sacrilege, was moved to righteous anger, and in a measured response, He did something about it.  It turned some against Him, but He did it just the same.

This opens up a host of implications for us, as we look around our own modern world and community. We live in the wealthiest part of the world, blessed with riches and resources and freedoms.  Yet thousands of people in cities across our country have nowhere to live- they are out on the streets. Many children do not get enough to eat in our own country.  Every year hundreds of unborn children never see the light of day because they are aborted. Many of the people of our First Nations communities do not have proper housing or basic things like clean running water to drink.  We look at millions starving in various parts of the world; we hear of people being persecuted and killed for no reason other than their faith; and again we are drawn as a nation, into armed conflict to defend the victimized.

Do these things make us angry? As Christians, they should.  Not with a vengeful, vindictive hatred; rather we should be compelled to act with a sense of justice and charity.  We should feel driven to be an instrument for righteousness, for cleansing, as Jesus was – in a controlled and directed manner; not blindly striking out.  Our calling as disciples of Christ in the world should move us to act to restore and to strengthen; to heal.

We used to hear it said often that our bodies ‘are the Temples of the Holy Spirit’ because we are all made in the image and likeness of God. We need to cleanse our own inner temples too, when those worldly things creep in and threaten to overpower our relationship with God and others – greed, desire for power, pride and arrogance – we need to work on our inner temples so we can view our world with eyes and hearts cleansed and purified and open to see where we, as people of God, can best serve Him amongst each other.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

All Souls (Year A)

‘I know something you don’t know…’

Perhaps we’ve all heard this before in one form or another; maybe as a kind of teasing ‘sing-song’ taunt in our childhood from another; possibly phrased differently by someone who is trying to let us know that they have a ‘leg up’ on us in some kind of competition at work or play; possibly by someone trying to shield us from some form of trauma or betrayal.

There is a positive side to this kind of comment though. It can be a prelude to some information being revealed to us , that perhaps may make our job easier or more efficient; it may be a complement that someone overheard about us that we are unaware of; it could be an invitation into a pleasant surprise, situation or gift.

Regardless of the viewpoint from which we have heard this ‘I know something you don’t’ phrase, there is something in our human nature that drives us to want to know what that ‘something’ is; it is a basic curiosity. It is the same curiosity that continually propels us forward to explore, to seek, to attempt and to build. It is an innate quality to is one of the key points upon which all human progress and discovery is made.

How is it, then, that in our modern secular world, we seek to separate half of the potential for discovery from our daily lives? Too often we concern ourselves with immersing ourselves in the physical, the material and the sensual – and completely ignore that other ‘side’ of our very nature, the spiritual.

In our gospel passage today from St. Matthew, Jesus begins with words of praise and thanksgiving to God, and ends with words of invitation and comfort to all people of good will. But in the very middle he holds out something which, I am sure if we take time to reflect deeply on it, would pique our interest and drive us to want to explore more deeply.

‘…no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’

Coming to know God the Eternal; the Almighty; Truth itself; Being itself – all of this and much, much more is held out to us by Jesus who knows the Father and reveals the Father to anyone he chooses. Let that sink in for awhile.

Are we not the least bit curious? Are we not the least bit interested? Do we presume to believe that once that mystery is even slightly revealed to us we could continue to think and act and live the same? Or would we be forever changed?

Every time we gather together as a people of faith, and hear the Word of God proclaimed, we are given an opportunity to have the Father revealed to us. Every time we open ourselves to the presence of Christ in our midst we are open to that revelation as well; Jesus ends this discourse by inviting everyone to come to him that he might reveal the Father to them – everyone; the world-weary, hopeless, hurt and broken, sad and lonely, the poor and rich, the hungry and the well-fed.

He invites everyone to come to Him that He might share this knowledge with them. For those who take the name of Christian, we believe that He has already begun to reveal that mystery too us. He chooses to; He wants to; He desires to – He has told us this himself. The problem is that too often we don’t want to open ourselves to that mystery because something will be expected of us; we will have to share that mystery with those around us, that wonderful revealed presence of God.

That will mean a change in perspective; it may mean a change in lifestyle or habit or activity. But it is a change that we will not face without the grace and support and love of Our Lord and each other.

The Lord knows much that we don’t know; the question is, how much of it are we willing to learn?

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.