DAILY SCRIPTURE REFLECTION (weekdays only)

Pondering the word with Our Lady

July 29 - Martha, Mary and Lazarus

(For the July 28 reflection, please scroll down the page)

For today's Scripture readings, go here (If you happen to be in a different time zone than us, just choose the correct readings by going forward a day, or back).

 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

One of the options for today's Gospel is very familiar:

Jesus entered a village 
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. 
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
“Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? 
Tell her to help me.” 
The Lord said to her in reply,
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. 
There is need of only one thing. 
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.

 

From the time of Jesus until today, people have contemplated the meaning of the "better part". Some homilists try to water down the meaning of the passage a little by saying that Martha's role of service is also essential. But let us not avoid looking at what Jesus is clearly saying: there is a priority in the spiritual life, and that is to place oneself before the Lord, at his feet, open to his word. We have seen too often that those who devote themselves to endless activity - even good activities of service - find themselves getting more and more detached from the Lord. Soon these people wander into error and infidelity to the Lord.

Our great example in this is Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her sisters. Each morning they begin their day with extensive time in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Then they go out on the streets to provide loving service to the poorest among the poor. The priority is the time spent with God. This fills them with the strength to do God's work among the poor. 

Unless we are filled with God, what can we possibly do for others? If our lives are activity only, then it will be merely our activity, based on our feeble strengths, our incapacities. Some people pray better in the evening rather than the morning, but every day should still begin with definite time devoted to prayer, to opening oneself to God's word, to being touched by the Holy Spirit.

The Blessed Virgin spent her life pondering God's word. That is what permitted her to do the greatest service ever done by a mere human for the Lord: "I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done onto me according to your word".

July 28 2021

We have two more beautiful parables today on the Kingdom of Heaven. In his work, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI remarked that many societies and political systems over the course of history have tried to introduce an earthly paradise, a perfect society in which justice and peace reign. The Church has sometimes being preoccupied herself with establishing such a world order. The real mark of the Kingdom of Heaven, however, according to Pope Benedict, is when the kingship of Jesus is acknowledged in the hearts of believers. Thus, even a person who is suffering religious repression in China can make the Kingdom of Heaven a reality in his life if he makes Jesus the King of his heart, the meaning, purpose and guide of everything that he does.

If we read the two parables today, we see that there is a contrast between earthly goods and heavenly goods. In both cases, the person gives up all their earthly wealth to possess this treasure that is worth so much more. This is what I am called to do today in so many different ways. If I spent time aimlessly daydreaming, fantasizing about my image or renown in the eyes of others, then I need to "sell" this empty form of earthly consolation, cleanse my mind and use it to think of heavenly things. In this way I give up the earthly and useless "treasure" and purchase the Kingdom of Heaven, the kingship of Jesus in my thoughts and imagination.

If my life is spent in preoccupations about career or material wealth, then I need to shed these preoccupations and give my heart to Jesus. In this way, I purchase the greatest treasure of all, a relationship with God that will lead to my holiness.

In the first reading, we read the striking account of the way the face of Moses shone whenever he encountered God. This reading emphasizes the holiness of God, his transcendence, his complete otherness. Similarly, the Gospel makes the contrast between the earthly treasures and the priceless treasures of heaven. If we make Jesus the King of our hearts, then we too will be transfigured. We will be filled with joy, with justice, with righteousness, with purity, with meekness and humility. We will shine among our families and friends with the glow of God, the light of holiness. Why then do we continue to be fixated with the empty treasures of material wealth and the fickle esteem of others?

July 27 2021

Today's readings present us with some challenges of interpretation. In the first reading, the Lord reveals himself to Moses as "a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness; for thousands he maintains his kindness, forgives faults, transgression, sin; yet he lets nothing go unchecked, punishing the father’s fault in the sons and in the grandsons to the third and fourth generation." In the Psalm, by contrast, we are told that the Lord "does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults." Both readings emphasize the mercy of God but the first passage tells us that there are consequences for all sins, whilst the Psalm indicates that we will not have to bear the consequences that we deserve.

How do we square these readings? As always, the Scriptures must be read in their entirety with the mind of the Church and in the light of the incarnation of Jesus. God is a God of justice. Therefore, there are consequences for sin. If I treat my brother horribly, then it is not enough that I simply say sorry, ask forgiveness from my brother and from the Lord, and hope that the matter rests there. Justice demands that there be a reckoning. If I allow my poor neighbour to suffer from malnourishment or some other form of want, then it is not the end of the matter if I simply have a change of heart after my neighbour has died and beg forgiveness from God. Justice must be done. The incredible thing, however, is that justice has already been done by Jesus who has borne on his shoulders the guilt of all of us. When the book of Exodus says that the Lord "lets nothing go unchecked, punishing the father’s fault in the sons and in the grandsons to the third and fourth generation", God means what he says. No fault goes unchecked. Jesus bears the guilt and consequences of each and every sin. That is why the psalm can say that the Lord "does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults". There ARE consequences for our sins. Jesus bears the brunt of them and we will have the privilege of sharing these consequences to a lesser extent when we go through purgatory.

 

Hold on a minute. If Jesus bears the guilt of each of us, why does the Gospel parable say: "The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth"? Oh-oh, is Jesus saying here that there will be hell to pay after all for our sins? What we must remember is that salvation always involves free-will. Christ has borne our guilt, but we must accept salvation. Christ's death on the cross does not save all of humanity automatically. Salvation is offered to us. If we in our arrogance and pride refuse to submit to the Lord's will, embracing his merciful love, then our sins will have exactly the consequences promised in the first reading.  

July 26 2021

We take today's reflection from Reflections on the Weekday Readings 2020-2021:  You have the Words of Eternal life by Martin Hogan and published by Messenger Publications  c/f www.messenger.ie/bookshop

It is likely that Jesus spoke the two parables we have just heard as a word of encouragement to his disciples. God’s kingdom was not coming through the ministry of Jesus as quickly and as powerfully as many of Jesus’ followers might have expected. Indeed, the longer Jesus’ ministry went on, the more opposition and hostility he encountered, especially from those in powerful positions. In this setting of growing hostility, Jesus reassures his disciples that, in spite of the small and insignificant progress being made, God’s good work would come to pass, and God’s kingdom would come in all its fullness. The seed, small as it was, had been sown, and its growth is assured. Similarly, just as a small amount of yeast has a significant impact on a large amount of flour, Jesus’ ministry will eventually have an enormous impact for good.

Jesus’ words of encouragement are as necessary for disciples today as they were for those original disciples. We can get discouraged by how things are with the church today and with our world, and even with our own lives as the Lord’s disciples. Today’s gospel reading assures us that a seed has been sown by the Lord and its growth is assured, a power for good has been released, the power of the Spirit, and its impact for good is not in doubt. There is no room for complacency, but there is also no room for despondency. As Saint Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, God’s ‘power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine’.

July 21 2021

The Parable of the Sower is very familiar to us. The explanation given by Jesus is very important. God is calling each one of us to fruitfulness. This is very important. It is not just that Jesus wants us to be "saved", to scrape over the line into heaven, even if we don't deserve it. No, God loves us and in his love he wants us to have the fullness of life. The fullness of life is not fun, entertainment or pleasure. The fullness of life is to do what God does, which is to live for others, to build up others, to create, to be fecund. Thus, it is very appropriate that the life giving work of God should be described as the sowing of seeds, and our response should be thought of as being fruitful.

Here is the parable in full:

Jesus left the house and sat by the lakeside, but such large crowds gathered round him that he got into a boat and sat there. The people all stood on the beach, and he told them many things in parables.

He said, ‘Imagine a sower going out to sow. As he sowed, some seeds fell on the edge of the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on patches of rock where they found little soil and sprang up straight away, because there was no depth of earth; but as soon as the sun came up they were scorched and, not having any roots, they withered away. Others fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Others fell on rich soil and produced their crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Listen, anyone who has ears!

In his explanation, Jesus says that the seed that fell on the path that is taken by the birds is the action of Satan who seeks to snatch away from us the precious seeds of life that the Lord sends our way. The seed that falls in shallow soil represents our shallowness, our lack of depth. If we are superficial, vain and do not have a deep spiritual life grounded in prayer, then how can we expect God's word to take root in us? We have a responsibility to nurture the soil which is our minds and hearts. If we look at rubbish on the internet, then we damage our capacity to nourish the seeds of God word within us.

The seed that falls among thorns represents the cares, worries and preoccupations of this life which quickly strangle God's inspiration in us. If I am fixated about my career, my job, my material possessions, then my spiritual life is destroyed. The foundation of the spiritual life is humble dependence on God, placing him and his Kingdom before everything else.

That we might be the rich soil! That we might have a pure heart filled with nothing but God! That we might devote time every day to nurturing God's word within us by prayer, contemplation and spiritual reading. That we might turn away from the distractions of material things, pleasure, prestige and career. Then God's word will take hold within us and produce a bountiful harvest, just as happened with saints like Padre Pio, Mother Teresa and John Paul II.

 

July 20 2021

Today's Gospel is often understood in terms of Jesus speaking somewhat negatively about his mother. It is as if he is saying, "She is my mother according to the flesh. But that is not so important. What is important is that all of you do God's will. That's the real key to being  part of God's family". Let us read the entire text:

 

Jesus was speaking to the crowds when his mother and his brothers appeared; they were standing outside and were anxious to have a word with him. But to the man who told him this Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand towards his disciples he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.’

John Paul II gave a great explanation of this passage in a catechesis in St Peter's Square. As always, the key to reading the Scriptures is to read them in their entirety, not as isolated passages that we interpret according to our particular views or biases. The first thing to note is that Jesus is sinless and keeps the Ten Commandments. Therefore, he is never disrespectful towards his mother. So anyone who interprets the passage as Jesus speaking harshly to his mother needs to look at the text again. Secondly, Jesus uses a curious turn of phrase here. It is commonplace to speak of fraternal communion. The early Church used it all the time. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore Jesus can refer to people whose wills are united to his as "brothers and sisters". In a sense, any arbitrary person can be a brother or a sister, so long as they have this communion of wills. But he would never refer to an arbitrary person (even one who keeps the will of God) as "mother". Only one person is his mother! It is very significant that he says, 'Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.’

As John Paul II pointed out, this phrase is not a way of saying, "The physical maternity of Mary is not so important. All that matters is that you do the will of my Father". No, in fact, Jesus is paying a great tribute to his mother here. He is saying. "If you want to be my brother or sister, then you must keep the will of my Father, just as my mother did".

Isn't it curious that a phrase that is often quoted by non-Catholics (and also some Catholics) to be evidence of a rift between Jesus and his mother is actually a case of Jesus paying tribute to Mary? That is why Scripture must be read in its entirety, not just in isolated passages that seem to support my narrow views. If we look at the other Scriptural references to Mary, we find that her very character is that of submitting her will to that of God. At the Annunciation, she says, "I am the servant of the Lord. Let what you have said be done onto me". At Cana (her final words in Scripture), she says, "Do whatever he tells you". Her most wordy contribution to Scripture, the Magnificat, is a canticle humbling herself and extolling the God who has looked favourably on her lowliness. It is the perfect hymn of one who considers herself nothing and bows to the will of her Creator.

 

July 19 2021

The words of Jesus in today's Gospel require unpacking. When he is asked for a sign, he replies:

"It is an evil and unfaithful generation that asks for a sign! The only sign it will be given is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the sea-monster for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights."

This is surprising when we consider that in another place (John 10,38) Jesus tells the people that even if they do not believe his words, then at least believe on account of the miracles and signs that he has performed. Clearly, Jesus performs signs as an aid to faith and he even says explicitly that it is ok to believe on the basis of the signs. So why does he react badly in today's passage when he is asked for a sign?

The problem here is that the people are looking for signs only and they are not interested in the message that accompanies the signs. The miracles are an aid to faith, so faith is our real goal, and faith involves a relationship of trust with God. How many people have little interest in a relationship with God but are fixated with the sensationalism and thrill that goes with miraculous signs! Jesus makes this clear in today's Gospel. He points out two cases of a right relationship with the Lord which did not depend on visible wonders.

On Judgement day the men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation and condemn it, because when Jonah preached they repented; and there is something greater than Jonah here.
On Judgement day the Queen of the South will rise up with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here.

Nineveh listened to God's call for conversion and repented. The Queen of Sheba listened to the wisdom of Solomon. We too, when we consider the signs that the Lord has done in his saints through history, are called to repentance, conversion and openness to God's word.

But there is even more in this Gospel passage! When Jesus says that the only sign that will be given to this unfaithful generation in the sign of Jonah, he is saying something incredibly profound. Other signs, such as the healing of leprosy, blindness or paralysis, may have aided people's faith at the time, but their influence was temporary. The greatest sign that Jesus worked, his resurrection from the dead, is something of cosmic significance. Jesus enters into our human condition of weakness, fragility and mortality and he fills us with his Spirit, drawing us to eternal life. So when Jesus says that the only sign given to unbelievers is the sign of Jonah, he is not referring to some obscure sign, but to the very event that offers salvation to us all. Ultimately, we are all called to faith in the resurrection, not to faith in the healing of the leper or the paralytic.

To summarize: Signs and miracles are a legitimate aid to the faith, but it is wrong to seek signs without seeking that to which the signs are pointing, which is faith in Jesus as our Saviour, a Saviour who effects our redemption by his death and resurrection, which is the ultimate sign of all of history. In the end, no sign or miracle is sufficient by itself to produce faith in the resurrection. Faith is a God-given gift which also requires our co-operation. Our co-operation involves abandoning ourselves in trust to our Creator and Redeemer.

July 16 - Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Jesus criticizes the Pharisees today for their lack of mercy, their severe adherence to the letter of the Law regarding not working on the Sabbath. It is important to distinguish between man-made regulations and a morality that is enshrined in human nature and based on natural law. For example, the principle that it is wrong to take innocent human life is based on natural law (whereas the taking of non-innocent life in self-defence would be considered morally justifiable). Similarly, the prohibition against adultery or against the neglect of the hungry or the needy, are also based on natural law and ultimately derive from the fact that we are all made in the image and likeness of God. Laws regarding traffic regulations, for example, may be based on more universal laws regarding respect for life and property, but their formulation and content is man-made.

But isn't the law regarding respect for the Sabbath one of the Ten Commandments? It isn't just a man-made regulation. That is true. It is a law that is part of the deposit of divine revelation and cannot be dismissed as a purely human contrivance. However, the Pharisees had taken the stipulation that the Sabbath was to be kept holy and interpreted that in a narrow and rigid sense. A finger could hardly be lifted on that day without the "Sabbath police" descending harshly on people. In another passage, Jesus points out that it is ok to free an animal trapped in a pit on the Sabbath. If the Sabbath is a day that is to be kept holy for God, then of course it is ok to do things that are good on that day! To allow an animal to perish on the Sabbath would be to do evil, not good. To allow a sick man to languish in his sickness on the Sabbath would be to fail to do what is good.

 

When Jesus says that he is Lord of the Sabbath, he is not saying, "I'm a king and I can break the Ten Commandments whenever I like. They don't apply to me". In fact, he is doing the exact opposite. He is God and the law regarding the Sabbath comes from God. Jesus, as Lord, is interpreting the law as it was intended to be interpreted, not in the narrow, rigid and ultimately ridiculous sense of the Pharisees. 

 

Today is a great opportunity to reflect on the spirit of the law regarding keeping Sunday holy. My life will not be fruitful unless I am attached to the true vine, the source of all life and fruitfulness. Sunday gives us a regular chance to reflect on my relationship with God, spent serious time with him in prayer and return to communion with him with all of my heart.

 

July 15 2021

The Gospel passage might sound a little paradoxical today. On the one hand, Jesus is telling us to bring all our burdens to him and he will bear them for us. Then he tells us to take on ourselves his "yoke". The yoke was the wooden cross beam placed on the shoulders of beasts of burden. The plough or carriage was then strapped onto the yoke. It was a crucial piece of equipment, the instrument by which the burden was loaded on the strongest part of the animal.

Christ's yoke, as we all know, is the cross. How can taking on the cross of Christ be "easy and light" as the passage tells us? Firstly, Christ himself bears the bulk of all the burdens of humanity, sin and the consequences of sin. He asks that we participate in this task, not because he is not able to do it himself, but so that we will be liberated from egoism. Yes, it is indeed paradoxical, but carrying the cross is the path to freedom and the fullness of life.

Consider again what happened in Eden. We turned our backs on God and tried to become masters of our own destiny, believing the serpent that we would become like gods if we distrusted God and looked for our own happiness. To return again to a proper relationship with God requires turning away from ourselves, and there is some pain involved in that. To take up the cross is to stop following my own way and instead allow God to take the reins of my life. 

Why is the cross easy and light? Because the real burden is that produced by egoism. If I do not take up the cross and follow my own path, then my life will be disordered, full of rivalry, bitterness and deceit. Egoism promises pleasure and happiness, but all it brings is division, discord and mental hardship.

The way of the cross is the way of life because it is the way of submitting myself as a creature to the will of my loving creator. Jesus, only begotten Son of God, submitted himself to the will of his Father. Shouldn't we?

July 14 2021

Today's Gospel is one that has had an immense influence on many saints, especially St Therese of Lisieux.

Jesus exclaimed,
‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth,
for hiding these things from the learned and the clever
and revealing them to mere children.

Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do.
Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father;
and no one knows the Son except the Father,
just as no one knows the Father
except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

What might be not so clear, however, is the link between the first half of this passage and the second. In the first, Jesus blesses God for revealing the mysteries of the Kingdom to mere children. In the second, Jesus asserts that all has been entrusted to him by the Father, including the full revelation of who the Father is. If we put the two phrases together, then it is clear that Jesus possesses the complete knowledge of who the Father is, and the reason he possesses it is because he makes himself "a mere child" in relation to his loving Father.

We think of Christ as the all-powerful Second Person of the Trinity, and so he is, but Jesus is first and foremost the Son of his Father. We see in his earthly life that he bows in obedient humility to the Father's will. He abandons himself to the love of his Father.

If we wish to live life to the full, if we wish to have full knowledge of God, then we must place ourselves in God's hands. If I follow my own way, if I base my decisions on my own opinions and interests, then God's Holy Spirit will not find in me a suitable ground for his gifts to flourish.

St Therese of Lisieux was content to be the smallest flower in God's garden, because she was convinced in his goodness and providence. She did not ground the meaning of her existence on her own talents, successes or the praise of others. To be a flower for God was all that mattered and she followed her "little way" in submitting the struggles and sorrows of everyday life to the Lord. By doing so, she may have appeared to be nobody special, but God took her offering and made her one of the greatest saints of the Church, her autobiography selling tens of millions of copies and her spirituality having a profound influence on people the world over.

Today, may we too make ourselves small in the eyes of ourselves and others. May we submit our desires, projects and actions to the loving providence of God. He will take our humble offering and multipy it beyond recognition.

July 13 2021

Jesus has a message of warning for us today: 

'Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. And still, I tell you that it will not go as hard on Judgement day with Tyre and Sidon as with you.

‘And as for you, Capernaum, did you want to be exalted as high as heaven? You shall be thrown down to hell. For if the miracles done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have been standing yet. And still, I tell you that it will not go as hard with the land of Sodom on Judgement day as with you.’'

It is interesting that these punishments are related to the miracles Jesus had done. Jesus did not expect the people of these towns to just believe on his word alone. He performed great signs so that they would believe. Their decision to ignore the signs is what brings God's chastisement on them.

Of course, nowadays, people are less willing to hear talk about chastisement and punishment. God loves everyone. If we fail to follow him, he loves us anyway, and we'll all manage to scrape over the line eventually into heaven, even if we live abominable lives. But this is not what Jesus tells us in the Gospels! Sin and obstinate lack of faith have consequences. The warning Jesus gives us is a warning out of love, for our eternal salvation, which is very much still at stake.

But, you might protest, I don't live in Bethsaida or Capernaum! I have never seen the miracles that Jesus performed! But this is a weak excuse. We all have access to learn about the countless miracles the Lord is performing for us every day. There are multiple Eucharistic miracles from all over the world. Incredible numbers of miracles have been investigated by the Vatican for the beatification of blesseds and the canonisation of saints such as John Paul II, Paul VI, Carlo Acutis, Mother Teresa, Sister Faustina, and thousands of others. These miracles are easy to find on any search engine.

Yes, the Lord has performed signs, not just 2000 years ago, but in our own time, for you and me. These signs are performed to strengthen our faith. They are not a substitute for faith but it is clear from the bible that the Lord gives them to us to aid us in our weakness. The message of today's Gospel is clear: look at these signs and believe; God is love, and he is also lovingly just; there are consequences for obstinate unbelief, consequences for ourselves and consequences for the world around us, a world that has great need of our faith.

July 12 2021

Jesus gives a hard message in today's Gospel. If we are to be his followers, then this will put us in conflict with members of our own household. But shouldn't the Gospel bring peace and harmony to our lives? On the one hand, Jesus is making a prophecy about something which came to pass very quickly in the early Church: the first Christians were frequently betrayed by members of their own households, leading to horrific executions. This was often the case with female Christians. Men were often more likely to remain pagan because they had a vested interest (for career and social status) to publicly make sacrifices to the Roman gods. Very many of the early Christian women were betrayed by their fathers, husbands, mothers-in-law, or other members of their households.

On the other hand, as is always the case, this Gospel is relevant for you and me, right now. Jesus comes to bring a sword to our lives. With this sword, which is the word of God, we are to discern what to cut away and what to retain. So much of our "domestic" situation is at odds with the Good News! We live materialistic, compromised lives. Our relationships with those in our own families and further afield are not grounded in Christian principles. The sword of God's word must be allowed to cleanse and purify these relationships. This can involve personal discomfort and conflict, but it will allow the Spirit of God to breathe new life into our existences.

The heart of this Gospel passage is also the heart of the Gospel itself: Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me. Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.

 

Humanity lost its privileged relationship as children of God by its disobedience, its insistence on following its own way and trying to be the masters of its own destiny, deciding for itself what is good and bad, what is life and death. Jesus comes to restore us to a right relationship with his Father. He does this by his obedience onto death. Satan tells us that the sure road to life is to follow our own inclinations and fulfil our own desires. Jesus shows us that this is a lie: true life consists in being in right relationship with the Father, the source of life. It sounds like a paradox, but actually makes perfect sense. To have life, we must stop seeking our own disordered version of life, and lay down our wills and our very selves in humble submission to the Lord of Life.

July 9 2021

In the Gospel, Jesus foretells that Christians will have to suffer much for the faith. So what should we do? Lie low and stay quiet? Practice the faith in private? That is not what Jesus tells us to do. In fact, it is because the Christians are sent out by Jesus to preach the Good News that they suffer persecution. The message that we possess is worth suffering for! Through bearing witness to our faith, we are purified and tested and conformed more and more to Jesus.

 

How do we bear witness to the faith in the modern world? By living lives of love, kindness and respect towards all. By putting the poor, sick and marginalised first. By not making profit, gain and self-image my idols. By holding fast to Church teaching on the sanctity of life and the meaning of marriage. By living lives of purity, chastity, modesty and fidelity. By dressing in a chaste manner, by not engaging in hurtful or flirtatious talk, by being honest and sincere in everything I do.

 

If I keep to these, simple, old-fashioned ways of the faith, then persecution of some sort is sure to come my way, and then I can rejoice that the Lord has counted me worthy to share in his struggles for the redemption of the world. 

July 8 2021

The Old Testament frequently contains "types" of people or events that will recur in the New Testament, but in a more powerful and more dramatic way. The Ark of the Covenant is a type of Mary, the ever-pure virgin who will provide a home for the Son of God. The first Jewish Passover and crossing of the Red Sea is a type of baptism, the event in which we are washed with the blood of Christ and are freed from slavery to sin.

In today's first reading we have a beautiful illustration of typology. Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers. Many years later, he has risen to the position of the Pharaoh's chief steward and his brothers come begging for grain, for a terrible famine has gripped the land. They do not recognize him. Joseph could have dealt with them harshly. He could have reprimanded them for their evil treatment of him and said, "You sold me to slavery. Do you now expect me to help you?" Instead he says, ‘I am your brother Joseph whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not grieve, do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here, since God sent me before you to preserve your lives." Not only does he save them, he also wipes away their guilt and tells them that even their evil was taken by God and used for their salvation.

Of course, Joseph by doing this shows himself to be a type of Christ. We do much evil. Does God use it against us? Incredibly, he takes our offering of evil, inflicts it on his son Jesus, and by that very evil and Jesus' wholehearted submission to it, we are saved!

July 6 2021 - St Maria Goretti

In today's Gospel we see Jesus healing the sick, preaching the Good News and teaching the people. He asks us to pray for more labourers for the rich harvest of souls that he years for. Today is the feast of St Maria Goretti. Maria lived in Nettuno, a swampy, mosquito-infested area not too far from Rome. Her father died with malaria and her mother had to take his place working in the fields, leaving Maria (at the age of 9) in charge of the cooking, cleaning and rearing her younger siblings. Her maturity, kindness and holiness were apparent to all. On the day she received her first Holy Communion, people were struck by her devotion.

At the age of 11, Maria was attacked by Alessandro Serenelli, a young man who shared the same house as the Goretti family with his father. Maria had rejected his advances and he had stabbed her more than a dozen times in rage. As Maria was being taken to hospital on a carriage, they passed the police division that was at that moment marching Alessandro to custody. When Maria was made aware of this, she stated that she forgave him completely.

 

She endured a terrible day of pain as the infections from the wombs ravaged her body. During her agony, she again announced that she forgave Alessandro and wanted him to go to paradise. After her death, devotion to her grew rapidly. Alessandro was sentenced to a long term in jail. He became even more bitter and closed in on himself. One day, Maria appeared to him in his cell and stated again that she forgave him. What followed was a most remarkable conversion. Alessandro reformed his character, turned to prayer and entered a religious order when he was finally released more than twenty years later.

In 1950, Maria Goretti was canonised in St Peter's Square by Pope Pius XII. It was the largest crowd ever seen at such an event up to that time. Her mother and sisters were present. So too was Alessandro Serenelli, the only known time in history that a person who has killed a saint has been present at their canonisation.

Today, Jesus asks that we turn to prayer and assist him with his great harvest. Maria Goretti is an example and model of purity for the perverse times in which we live. By her example, may we pray today that we will all respond to God's grace as she did at the tender age of 11, with determination, steadfastness, kindness, joy, and purity onto death.

July 5 2021

Today we hear Matthew's account of the famous dual healing by Jesus: the daughter of the official and the woman with the haemorrhage. These are striking examples of faith. Luther had a deficient notion of faith as it it were a pure act of the will, an act of intellectual assent to the belief that Jesus is my saviour. It is now generally recognized, by protestants and Catholics alike, that true faith involves the entire human person. It requires an act of abandonment, of complete trust in the Lord. Along with this entrustment of oneself to the providence of God there is necessarily a rejection of the false attitude that I am the master of my own destiny, that I can save myself, or further my salvation using my own capacities alone.

The woman in the Gospel gives a beautiful example of right faith. She will no longer rely on doctors or her own efforts to be made whole. She recognizes that Jesus alone is her hope and her salvation. ‘If I can only touch his cloak I shall be well again’. It is not just the act of touching Jesus' cloak that heals her, but the attitude with which she entrusts her future to Christ.

Today's psalm expresses the attitude of faith so well. Why now spend ten minutes now prayerfully reading this psalm and entrusting yourself completely tot he Lord? 

1. He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
and abides in the shade of the Almighty
says to the Lord: ‘My refuge,
my stronghold, my God in whom I trust!’   

2. It is he who will free you from the snare
of the fowler who seeks to destroy you;
he will conceal you with his pinions
and under his wings you will find refuge.     

3. His love he set on me, so I will rescue him;
protect him for he knows my name.
When he calls I shall answer: ‘I am with you.’
I will save him in distress. 

July 2 2021

The call of Matthew is one of the most dramatic in the New Testament. Peter, Andrew, James and John were in the very wholesome business of fishing when Jesus called them. Matthew, by contrast, was in one of the most notorious professions of all, tax collecting. Tax collectors generally got more money (by extortion) than the Romans required and kept the surplus. A Jewish tax collector was someone who had turned away from his own nation, profited by dishonest means, and got rich on the backs of an oppressed people. Yet, Matthew responds immediately when Jesus calls him.

The choice of Matthew is the same choice that you and I have every day. We can choose to base our existence on material things or we can choose to be rooted in the Lord. We can choose mammon or God. We can choose death or life, passing material pleasure or eternal joy.

When Jesus calls us, he gives us the grace to respond, but he expects us to exercise our freewill and cooperate with grace. We are not robots. God does not want us to be his puppets. He desires that we freely welcome his invitation and respond to it with generosity. The call of Matthew was a call to follow Jesus, ultimately onto death, for Matthew was a martyr like all of the apostles apart from John. You and I may not be called to make this ultimate offering, but we are called to make the radical offering of ourselves, our plans, our projects, our desires, our everything. We are called to make this offering daily, from the moment we rise until the moment we sleep. If we respond generously, as Matthew did, then God will pour grace upon grace into our hearts. He will bless us and increase our fruitfulness. In whatever measure we respond, he will give a hundredfold.

June 30 2021

This can seem a perplexing Gospel! When Jesus delivers two possessed people of their demons, he actually goes along with the evil spirits' suggestion and sends them into a herd of pigs. The pigs throw themselves off a cliff and are killed. So Jesus, in one swoop, does something good for the possessed people, but does something apparently bad for the townspeople by destroying their herd and source of livelihood. In fact, the people ask Jesus to leave immediately. What is going on here? Why would Jesus obey the demons' request? Why would he damage the economy of a town?

Firstly, it is good to remember that the Gospel narrative doesn't always tell us the full story. We don't know what happened to this village in the period after Jesus left, but we can be sure that they would have reflected in depth on the fact that two people who had been violently possessed were now as peaceful as lambs. Secondly, the destruction of the pigs may not be such a negative event. Remember, the Covenant with Moses did not allow the consumption of pig meat, so these people were either unfaithful to the Covenant or non-Jewish, or perhaps (more likely) a mixed group with some Jews who had fallen away from faithful observance. There is also historical evidence that Hellenistic migrants had set up a temple to Zeus in this very area. The worship of Zeus included the offerings of animals like swine, considered impure for Jews. This means that the owners of the pigs were profiting by supplying pigs for idolatrous worship and sacrifice. When Jesus sent the demons into the herd, he was actually using them to defeat their own evil purposes!

 

The Lord chastises those whom he loves - so says the Letter to the Hebrews. Thus, the destruction of the pigs was thus perhaps a sign to return to observance and to contemplate the coming of the Messiah which fills the Old Testament, a coming that this village had witnessed powerfully in the delivery of two men from violent possession.

When a text is perplexing, it is often full of richness, and this passage is no different. We are confronted here also with the contrast between worship of God and worship of mammon. In one swoop, Jesus delivers two people of spiritual evil and also destroys material livelihood - though admittedly, not a livelihood based on something noble or wholesome. The townspeople come out and see these two things: the delivered men now at peace, and the destroyed pigs. They are confronted with a choice between spiritual health and economic health. Which will they opt for? Of course, they opt for mammon and send Jesus away. They are not sufficiently drawn to Jesus by his spiritual power, and they do not want him doing any further damage to their business interests. But, as stated earlier, it can be hoped that subsequent reflection would have led them to see him as their saviour and to renounce their way of life based upon supplying animals for idolatrous purposes.

How often we place material interest before spiritual interest! How often we follow mammon instead of the one true God! How often we make compromises and do things that are materially profitable but spiritually dubious! This Gospel is a challenge to make Jesus our one and only God. Let us not send him away because we fear that he will damage our material wellbeing! Our spiritual wellbeing is much more important.

One final reflection: it seems strange that Jesus would obey the demons and send them into the pigs, but what subsequently happens is very informative for all of us. Evil runs its course in this world and will eventually be destroyed. In another place, demons speak to Jesus from within possessed people and say, "What do you want from us? Do you want to destroy us before our time?" Evil might seem to prevail in the world, but its days are numbered. The demons seemed to be given a reprieve, but it was very brief and we can suppose that they returned to hell with the death of the pigs. Sin, evil and death are all under the power of Jesus. They are allowed their time, and can even work to the Lord's purpose - as in their elimination of animals used for profane worship - but the victory of the Lord is immanent. Let us place ourselves under his dominion.

June 29 - Saints Peter and Paul

The Catholic Church has always kept the figures of Peter and Paul in a healthy balance. Peter is the conserver of the faith. Christ prays for him that "your faith will not fail, and you in turn will strengthen your brothers". Peter, with his successors, preserves the truths of the faith and passes them to future generations. St Paul, by contrast, is the Apostle to the Gentiles. His mission is to carry the faith beyond the places where it has already been received. 

Imagine a Church that had the charism of Peter but not of Paul. It would be insular, closed in on itself, not dialoguing with the rest of the world and other modes of belief and worship. Such a world would suffer from all the clericalism and self-serving navel gazing that Pope Francis criticizes.

Now imagine a Church that had Paul's charism but not Peter's. It would be highly engaged with the world, but would not be sufficiently focussed on preserving the truths of the faith. Ultimately, it is the truth that sets us free. If we are willing to modify or compromise the truths of the faith in order to appease the world, then the faith will quickly degenerate into an ugly parody of itself.

In today's world, we see plenty of examples of imbalanced emphases on either the charism of Peter or of Paul. There is no shortage of far-right websites and movements that promote an entrenched form of Catholicism that refuses to engage with the authentically good aspects of modernity. And there is no end of movements that want us to compromise the truths of the faith to "reach out" to our culture's clueless dalliance with gender ideology, rights to choose, and assisted suicide.

Our Church and our world needs both Peter and Paul. We need to be rooted in Christ and absolutely uncompromising in our adherence to the truths of the faith. But we also need to be able to reach out to the world, expressing our faith in ways that do not compromise the faith, but yet make sense to our listeners and speak to their hearts. Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us!

June 28 2021

The very short Gospel for today has two very stark sayings from Jesus:

One of the scribes then came up and said to him,’Master, I will follow you wherever you go’.

Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’.
Another man, one of his disciples, said to him, ‘Sir, let me go and bury my father first’. But Jesus replied, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their dead’.

Burying the dead is one of the corporal works of mercy, so Jesus does not intend us to neglect this duty, but we may suppose that this man had other siblings that had the matter well in hand. The point here that Jesus wishes to emphasize is that discipleship involves a radical rootedness in Christ. The replies of Jesus point to two aspects of this radical state of life. Firstly, we are no longer attached to possessions, material things or our earthly home. In this sense, we have "no place to lay our heads". The centre and meaning of our lives is the spiritual reality of being attached to Jesus. Secondly, this new way of existence is a way of life, not death. In that sense, we leave "the dead to bury the dead". Our priority is in things that give life, not things that are centred on earthly things that have no eternal future.

Today, let us spend some time in silent prayer with Christ. Let us root ourselves in him, so that he becomes the place where we lay our heads, the meaning and compass of our lives. If we do this, we will draw life from him.

June 25 2021

Gospel reflection is from Reflections on the Weekday Readings 2020-2021:  You have the Words of Eternal life: by Martin Hogan and published by Messenger Publications  c/f www.messenger.ie/bookshop/

Today’s gospel presents us with that very striking meeting between Jesus and the leper. The term ‘leprosy’ was used to describe a variety of contagious skin diseases. Those who suffered from this disease were not only physically afflicted. They were also religiously afflicted, many believing that their disease was a punishment for sin. They were socially afflicted, in that they lived alone with only other lepers for coming. The leper in the gospel reading shows great courage in breaking through all these barriers and approaching Jesus directly. He shows his faith in Jesus by saying, ‘if you choose, you can make me clean’. In response, Jesus also breaks through the barriers that separated this man from himself, from God, from the community, and touches him, and in touching him, heals him. Both Jesus and the leper have something to teach us.

The leper teaches us never to be afraid to reach out to the Lord in our need, no matter how separated from him we may feel. Jesus shows us that there is no condition in our lives, in our world, that he cannot touch with his loving presence. There is no situation, no matter how awful and desperate, that he cannot enter into and transform

 

June 24 - Birth of John the Baptist

The first reading is from the prophet Isaiah. It is one of those beautiful expressions of the way the Lord calls us, individually and collectively, to participate in Christ, who is the one who lifts all of us to salvation. At first glance, the words seem to be about Isaiah himself. Then they appear to refer to the manner in which the Lord has been nurturing Israel as a whole to be his witness. Finally, we see that the words refer to the coming Messiah, the light of the nations. 

 

 He said to me, ‘You are my servant (Israel)
in whom I shall be glorified.’
while I was thinking, ‘I have toiled in vain,
I have exhausted myself for nothing.’

And all the while my cause was with the Lord,
my reward was with my God.
I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord,
my God was my strength.

And now the Lord has spoken,
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
to gather Israel to him:

‘It is not enough for you to be my servant,
to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel;
I will make you the light of the nations
so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’

 

Of course, these words also refer to John the Baptist, who is called from the womb to prepare Israel for the coming of the Messiah. How can a single passage refer to Isaiah, Israel and Christ? Because, ultimately, all salvation is from Christ. When Isaiah is called to bear witness to the Lord, it is the word of God that is working within him. He is acting through the power of the Spirit. Thus, Christ is already being manifested in the doings of Isaiah, especially through the prophet's obedience to his God. Similarly, the faithful remnant of Israel, of which Mary is the purest and noblest exponent, is a concrete manifestation of the saving presence of God in the world. This comes to wonderful fruition in the incarnation of Christ, light of the nations, in the womb of the virginal mother of God.

 

Not only do these words apply to Isaiah, Israel and Christ, they also apply to you and me! Christ wishes to be present in us. He wants us to carry him to the world, to be light and solace for those around us. How do we do that? Christ has already come. He is present in the sacraments. Let us make a good confession, receive him worthily in the Eucharist, ground our daily life on personal prayer. Then, let us bring our relationship with Christ into our relationship with others, starting with family members and friends. In this way, we participate in making Christ the light of the nations.

 

June 23 2021

It is often remarked how different John's Gospel is from the three Synoptic Gospels. But they are a perfect complement to each other. Today's Gospel passage from Matthew can be read very profitably along with John 15. Here is an excerpt from today's passage.

Just so, every good tree bears good fruit,
and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,
nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down
and thrown into the fire.
So by their fruits you will know them

 

And this is John 15:

 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

John's passage makes clear that which is implicit in Matthew's: if we wish our lives to be fruitful then we must be joined to Christ. He alone is the source of genuine fruitfulness. If our lives are spiritually unfruitful, then it is likely that we are not grounded in Christ, not grafted onto him. Matthew says that "a good tree cannot bear bad fruit". How can we be a good tree? By being rooted in Christ, by having the Holy Spirit as the lymph that flows through our branches.

In one way, it is not that difficult to be rooted in Christ. It simply means abandoning myself into his providential care, giving time to him in prayer and spiritual reading, frequenting the sacraments. In another way, it is the most difficult thing in the world because it requires renunciation, the decision to no longer follow my own way, my own projects, my own disordered search for meaning and life. It is only joined to Christ that we will have life and joy. Only in Christ will our lives bear fruit.

 

June 22 2021

Today, Jesus gives us the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like them to treat you. Afterwards, however, Jesus says that it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and few take it. That's strange. Our Western culture is always talking about being tolerant towards others, treating them as we would like to be treated. Social media is full of political correctness and respect towards others. But Jesus said that it is a narrow gate that leads to life and few take it. In our Western culture, everyone seems to be taking that path of respect and tolerance, or are they? Is the truth different to how things appear?

Scripture must always be read as a whole with the mind of the Church. That is, in view of the interpretation of Scripture handed on by the apostles and their successors. Otherwise, fairly direct teachings such as "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you" can be understood in all kinds of ways. The Golden Rule must be understood in the light of the other clear teaching by Christ elsewhere when he says that we must love the Lord with all our mind and strength, and love our neighbour as ourselves.

Our love for neighbour, which is clearly taught in today's Gospel, must be a sincere and pure love, based on the truth and emanating from divine love. If I love the Lord with all my heart and root myself in his word daily, then I will be aware that I am a child of God, made in his image and likeness. As his creature, I cannot decide what is right or wrong, good or bad. I must submit myself to his revealed word. Therefore, "treat others as you would like them to treat you" doesn't mean that, for example, I engage in masochistic behaviour towards others just because I happen to have a wayward desire that they treat me in that fashion. My desires, my goals, and the entire direction of my life must be submitted to the Lord to be purified and corrected.

It is only when we are seriously engaged in a life of Christian discipleship that our hearts and minds begin to manifest more clearly the divine image and likeness. Then our desires become more conformed to Christ and we desire the things that Christ desires. Thus, our following of the rule to treat others as we desire to be treated becomes an ever better rule of life, because our desires have been purified and corrected.

There are good aspects to modern culture's fixation with showing tolerance towards others. But this will be an outward show if our minds and hearts within us are not radically conformed to Christ.