Friday, 24 February 2017

February 26th 2017. EIGHTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
Gospel: Matthew 6:24-34
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio
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Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...

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GOSPEL Matthew 6:24-34
Jesus said to his disciples: 'No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.
'That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it. Surely life means more than food, and the body more than clothing! Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are we not worth much more than they are? Can any of you, for all his worrying, add one single cubit to his span of life? And why worry about clothing? Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his regalia was robed like one of these. Now if that is how God clothes the grass in the field which is there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not much more look after you, you men of little faith? So do not worry; do not say, "What are we to eat? What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?" It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’
The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . Who is my real master, the Lord or worldly things? If I am anxious about worldly success, the admiration of others, my economic and physical wellbeing, then how can I claim that the Christian God is my God? The readings this week tell us that the Lord will never forget us. Why should I be anxious about things that have no lasting value when the Lord has dedicated himself utterly to my eternal wellbeing? Our culture lauds individualism. Each human being is expected to be the measure of his own existence and the master of his destiny. But if the meaningfulness and value of my life depends on me, then my situation is indeed desperate! We must entrust ourselves totally to the Lord, but this entrustment is not reckless abandon that disparages everything. Our entrustment must also include obedience. The justice that is implicit in the Kingdom of God is the justice that comes when one is in right relationship with God. Entrustment to the Lord and conformity to his will go hand in hand. We have a choice: turn to worldly consolations and lose God; or, turn to God and lose our worldly consolations. The joys and consolations that come from entrustment to God are far greater than the worldly pleasures that we idolize.

This is a Gospel about anxiety. I am anxious for my material wellbeing. The solution to this anxiety is to focus on the fact that God remembers all of my needs. I don’t need to worry about them
The first reading provides a good introduction for the Gospel on Sunday. The Prophet Isaiah is speaking about God’s ability to remember. The Lord says to Isaiah, “Does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the son of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you.” This notion of the Lord’s tender care for us appears dramatically in the celebrated Gospel of Matthew 6. Jesus says, “Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are we not worth much more than they are?  . . . And why worry about clothing? Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his regalia was robed like one of these.” We often hear these words, but do we truly listen to what is being said? The introduction to the Gospel says, “No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of material riches.” But how can we attain the freedom to live with complete trust in the Lord’s providence and overcome our anxieties about material things? Behind much of our attachment to material things is anxiety and preoccupation. In fact this Gospel is aimed directly against the fretfulness and anxiety we experience about our material wellbeing. And this is where the theme of God’s memory becomes relevant! The Lord remembers me! The Lord will not abandon me! The birds of the air don’t sow anything but the Lord doesn’t forget them! How much more will he remember me!

Our culture exalts autonomy and individualism. But if I am really the measure of my own existence, if I am really responsible for the quality of my life, then my situation is indeed desperate!
This Gospel brings us face to face with a characteristic that is responsible for some of the worst behaviour of human beings. That characteristic is the human tendency of seeking to be the master of one’s own destiny; the effort to try to become the autonomous focal point of one’s own existence. By now the notion of absolute individualism as a “good” has seeped into Western consciousness. The autonomous man, the autonomous woman, the absolute individual who is able to provide for himself and who is the measure of his own existence. But this model leads to existential loneliness, because none of us is an independent island – we need other people. The principal problem with individualism is that it makes the human being the principal source of what is needed for a meaningful life. According to this individualism, what keeps me alive, what maintains my existence, what brings me “salvation”, what invests my life with meaning, is solely that which I can provide with my own limited capacities. It is dependent on how well I apply myself. But if everything is dependent on what I know and what I can provide, then my situation is indeed desperate!

We urgently need to entrust ourselves to the Lord. This entrustment is not reckless abandon. It involves obedience and right relationship with God
If I do not entrust myself to God, then what kind of life can I hope to have? If the Lord forgets me, then who will remember the things that I truly need? We are desperately in need of these acts of entrustment to the Lord, and as well as that, acts of obedience to the Lord. Obedience is important because this act of entrusting oneself to the providence of God is not the reckless attitude of not caring what happens to me tomorrow. It is the business of acting in a way that ushers in the Kingdom of God. So there is a twin movement in this attitude of entrustment to the Lord. First of all I cease to make my material needs absolute and instead I consign my material fate to the hands of God. Secondly, I seek to act with the justice of the Kingdom. The just man in Scripture is not simply someone who observes the law. The just man is the one who is in right relationship with God. This is the justice of the Kingdom that I must seek.

What kind of Christian am I? A true Christian with the Lord as his master? Or do I have another master?
We put an enormous amount of effort into procuring our own wellbeing. We worry about how others will judge our appearance and the way we are dressed. We seek hundreds of little satisfactions and surround ourselves with objects that give us comfort and contentment. But there is something else that deserves our effort and attention! There is another master to be served and that master alone deserves our unswerving fidelity. But instead we find that multitudes of so-called Christians live in complete anxiety about material things. They are like taut violin strings, on edge over dozens of things. And still they say that the Christian God is their God. If their credit card ceases to function they become agitated. When their economic income is slightly reduced, they are willing to begin a march on parliament. They are willing to live in lifelong disharmony with their brothers and sisters when they disagree about the inheritance. It is acceptable to lose a brother or an uncle for material disputes of this kind. But what they risk losing is God himself.

We have a choice: turn to God and lose our worldly consolations; or turn to worldly consolations and lose God. The joys and consolations that come from entrustment to God are far greater than the worldly pleasures that we idolize

When we live a life of this sort, preoccupied by our material wellbeing, we lose a sense of what really brings genuine flavour and joy to life. When we entrust ourselves to God, we experience the extraordinary consolations that are part and parcel of the Kingdom of Heaven and its justice. These things alone deserve our anxious effort! We shouldn’t fear that we will lose our material pleasures if we turn to God; we should fear the possibility of losing God if we continue to worship material things! This is the risk of clinging to worldly things. We wallow in them and our lives become encrusted with material objects and attitudes. Such things of no lasting value prevent us from becoming free children of God.

Friday, 17 February 2017

February 19th 2017. SEVENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
Gospel: Matthew 5:38-48
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio
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Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...

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GOSPEL Matthew 5:38-48
Jesus said to his disciples: 'You have learnt how it was said:Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.
'You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not? You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . This Gospel appears to make impossible demands on us! We are asked to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, offer no resistance when we are the victims of injustice. In summary, we are asked to be holy as God is holy. But how are we expected to become like God? Surely there is a huge chasm between us and God? Curiously, sin is our attempt to become like God. We usurp the place of God and try to make ourselves the masters of our own destiny. This is the kind of “divinity” that we long for. We are not so willing to behave in a manner that is typical of God, i.e., renunciation of self out of love for the other. The serpent in Eden told Eve that she have the “freedom” that would make her feel like God,  but without any of the obedience or self-denial that is part and parcel of the nature of the Son of God. We strive for the independence and autonomy that makes us lords of our own lives, but our way of treating others is completely different to the Lord’s way! If injustice is done to us, we react violently. We demand the respect of others by shouting aloud and asserting our rights. In this Gospel, Jesus points out a different way in which we can uphold our dignity and become like God. No person has greater freedom than a person who has the capacity to forgive others; no person is more autonomous than one who is able to repay the insults of others with kindness. But how are we to achieve this state of holiness or perfection? It is clear that we cannot do it by ourselves! The key to the Gospel is the phrase, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” The fact is that we have already experienced perfection in our lives. We have experienced the perfect love, tenderness and mercy of God towards us. This is the foundation of our capacity to love and forgive others, even our enemies. If I am unable to be merciful, it is because I have not contemplated and experienced the mercy of God for me. Loving one’s enemies is not a matter of a steely resolve of the will! Christianity is not simply a moral code! With my own will and determination I can achieve nothing. It is only when we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts, when we are filled with the contemplation of God’s love and forgiveness, that we can hope to be loving and forgiving towards others.

The Gospel echoes the sentiments of the first reading, with one huge difference . . .
The first reading from the Book of Leviticus is the perfect preparation for reading the Gospel this Sunday.  The first reading begins with the words of God to Moses: “Speak to the whole community of the sons of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy’”. The Gospel ends with almost the same phrase: “Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect”. It is clear that the notion of holiness includes the notion of perfection within it - if one is holy then one is also perfect. But there is also a huge difference between the phrases. The Old Testament text tells us to be holy like God, whilst Jesus exhorts us to be perfect like our Father. The God of the Old Testament is our master and Lord, but a father is someone who has a relationship of intimacy with us.

Does this Gospel make impossible demands on us?
The Gospel this Sunday takes us into one of the highest and most paradoxical of Christian doctrines - love for one’s enemies. “If anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. . .  .  . love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven”. All of these descriptions concern injustices and hurts that are perpetrated on us by our neighbour. Jewish law stipulated that a servant could only be ordered to carry goods a certain distance for their master. The text refers to someone who ignores the law and demands that we carry goods an inhuman distance. This injustice, aggression, and violence is the very face of evil. And how are we to respond to evil? With love. But how is it humanly possible to repay evil with love? Surely this Gospel is making impossible demands on us! 

Sin is the attempt to become like God by being masters of our own destiny. But we can really can become like God if we follow the way of love
There is a qualitative difference between God and humanity, so how can we humans possibly hope to be holy in the same way that God is holy? Sin is the effort by humanity to cross this divide and become like God, the master of our own destiny. We try to cross the chasm to God by illegitimate means, but, curiously, the distance between us and God is nullified by another means entirely. The serpent tempted Eve to do that which was forbidden and become like God. But we can become like God when we become his children. The way to become holy as God is holy is the way of love. Sin is the great usurper that tells us that we can become like God by focussing entirely on ourselves. We can attain the esteem of others with violence and aggression. If someone is disrespectful to us then sin tells us to react violently and force other people to consider us. In this way - sin tells us - our dignity is upheld. But the Gospel tells us that through love we attain a dignity of a much higher sort than that which can be coerced from others, the dignity of children of God. No person has greater freedom than a person who has the capacity to forgive others; no person is more autonomous than he who is able to repay the insults of others with kindness; no person is more liberated from servitude than the person who is free from interior anger and bitterness. But how are we to achieve this state of holiness or perfection?

I can live this life of perfection if I immerse myself in the perfect love, mercy and forgiveness that God has manifested towards me
The message of this Gospel is not that we must get our lives in order and start acting in the way that Jesus describes. We are simply not capable of getting out of bed in the morning and deciding that today we are going to love our enemies. The key to this Gospel is the phrase, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The fact is that our heavenly Father has already manifested this perfection in his relationship with us. God has already done wonderful things for me. My capacity to love my enemies, forgive those who offend me, pray for those who persecute me, springs not from me but from my relationship with God. If I wish to forgive my enemy, then it is not a matter of steeling myself and focusing on the relationship between my enemy and me; I must focus on how God has treated me. The relationship that I have with others must be lived completely in the light of my relationship with God. If I am impatient with others it is because I have not contemplated and experienced the patience of God with me. If I am not merciful towards others it is because I have not opened my heart to the tenderness and mercy of the Lord towards me. It is in God that we discover the solution to all of our conflicts, not in steely resolutions to “behave better”. It is only in God that this kind of perfection can be lived. 

Christianity is not a moral code. The source of Christian perfection is not located in lofty resolutions to do good, but in the perfect goodness and love that the Lord has bestowed on us
Do we really think that we can manage to do it all by ourselves? There is a constant tendency to try to turn Christianity into a moral code. But how can we hope to live this high moral code of loving our enemy if the Holy Spirit is not in our hearts? How can we forgive if we do not focus on the manner in which God has forgiven us? In the wonderful Gospel of this Sunday, let us contemplate the foundation of holiness and perfection. This high moral capacity is either rooted in God or rooted in us. But of ourselves we can do nothing! In God is the source of mercy, compassion and love of neighbour

Friday, 10 February 2017

February 12th 2017. SIXTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
Gospel: Matthew 5:17-37
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio
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Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...

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GOSPEL Matthew 5:17-37
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish them but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved. Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.
‘For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.
‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hell fire. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.
‘You have learnt how it was said: You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should cause you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.
‘It has also been said: Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal. But I say this to you: everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of fornication, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
‘Again, you have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord. But I say this to you: do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne; or by the earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great king. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.’
The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ
Kieran’s summary . . . In this passage, Jesus presents us with the Gospel in its most radical form. The Old Testament Law had prohibitions on adultery, murder, deceitfulness, etc. Jesus tells us that he has come not to do away with this law but to fulfil it. And this fulfilment entails that not only is murder illicit, but so is anger towards my brother; not only is adultery illicit, but so is looking at another person with desire - every precept of the old law is transformed by Jesus into a purer and more radical form! But how am I expected to meet such rigorous obligations? There’s the rub! The Gospel that Jesus is presenting is not a list of moral demands or ethical precepts. The capacity to live this type of radical life is not a question of gritting my teeth and getting my act together. If my moral behaviour depended entirely on me, then I would be faithful for as long as it suited my purposes; I would be truthful insofar as the truth didn’t reflect badly on me; I would be kind to others to the extent that it brought benefits for me. If I continue to view the “demands” of Christianity as a code of ethics, then I will never understand what Jesus means in this Sunday’s Gospel, nor in any part of the Gospel! This Gospel can only be understood in the context of that which we celebrate at the Eucharist on Sunday – the death and resurrection of Jesus who submitted to the Father on behalf of us all and calls us into communion with him. Woe to us if we continue to think of Christianity as a moral doctrine to be understood and put into practice! If that were the case, there would be no need for Jesus to die on the cross for us. The Gospel is not simply ethical action but communion with Christ. What is needed is that we place our hands in the hands of Jesus, allow ourselves to be guided by him, unite ourselves daily with his death and resurrection. When we start living life in this way, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, then we begin to live the kind of life outlined in this Sunday’s Gospel.

The Gospel presents us with a radical perspective on morality. But how can I be expected to live according to such impossible demands?
This lengthy passage presents us with the message of the Gospel at its most radical. Jesus begins by saying that the Law of Moses is not being abolished but fulfilled. The Old Testament law is the external face of a newer, more radical, morality that is implanted in the heart. But how can my heart be made capable of following such radical precepts? How can I cease being angry with others? How can I attain the state of not even looking at another person with desire in my heart? How can I ensure that every word from my mouth is the pure and simple truth? These demands are enormous! To refrain from ever thinking that someone is stupid or crazy! To be filled with such respect for others that we never consider them in any carnal way! If we listen to this Gospel passage and then go out into the world expecting to be able to put it into practice, we are greatly mistaken! That is not how the Gospel works at all.

This Gospel should NOT be read as a series of moral prescriptions
In this passage, Jesus presents us with a vision of life itself, the kind of life that only he can give. Without the Lord Jesus, the best we can do is aspire to live in this way. The most we can achieve is the longing to be able to live with others in complete harmony, communion and purity of heart. Today the indissoluble nature of marriage is something that is completely denied by our culture. The common mentality is that relationships can be disposed of whenever they become inconvenient. In the area of communication, the emphasis on the freedom to say what I like makes a mockery of the notion that everything I say ought to be purely sincere and true. The radical nature of what Jesus is proposing seems so demanding that we risk becoming neurotic if we tried to put it all into practice. And this is the key to understanding the passage. It is not a series of prescriptions that we are expected to follow using our own limited capacities.

Without the life of Jesus within us we are ethical only insofar as it suits us to be ethical
Let us allow ourselves to be guided by the first reading from the Book of Ecclesiasticus. “The Lord sets before you today fire and water, life and death.” In other words, the choice we have before us is not to be just or to be unjust, to act ethically or unethically. The choice before us is the choice between life and death; having an existence that is life-filled, or an existence that plays itself out under the shadow of death. If I live just for myself, for my own survival, for my own wellbeing, then I will be faithful only as long as it suits me to be faithful; I will be kind to others only if there is something in it for me; I will be truthful only if the truth does not reflect badly on me. My priority is myself. This passage, therefore, cannot be read as an abstract ethical or philosophical discourse. It must be read in the context of the Eucharistic liturgy we celebrate on Sunday, which proclaims the self-giving of Christ for us. By virtue of his life, death and resurrection we are given the power to live this kind of “impossible” life.

It is the death and resurrection of Jesus that gives us life and permits us to live the kind of life described in Sunday’s Gospel
Outside of this context we not only fail to understand this Gospel, we fail to understand any Gospel. To understand the Gospel we must open our hearts to the God who wishes to draw us into the life of the resurrection, into a life of complete communion with Jesus. Through this communion and by the power of Jesus we are enabled to live a life that is not simply the life that was bestowed on us by our parents. The life that our parents gave us is a mortal life that we naturally seek to defend in a self-centred way. But the life that enables us to live this Sunday’s Gospel is an immortal life that is bestowed on us by the death and resurrection of Jesus. That is why this passage cannot be read as a series of obligations. Obligations of this sort will never be met by anyone. The only person capable of living this kind of life is someone who has passed from death to life, someone who has scaled the impenetrable barrier of nothingness that surrounds us on account of our mortality.

Christianity must not be reduced to a set of precepts! Christianity is living the life of Jesus by immersing ourselves daily in his death and resurrection
Our introduction to this life of the resurrection comes at Baptism. Baptism is not just a rite that happened to us years ago and no longer has any relevance. It marks the acceptance of our redemption in Christ. We must continue to welcome this redemption daily! If we do not welcome the life of Christ then the sayings of Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel are nothing more than abstract philosophy. Many great saints of the Church, as well as hidden multitudes of Christians, have lived these words of Jesus, not because they were “good” people, but because they passed from death to life by the power of the Holy Spirit, They allowed themselves to be led by the hand of Jesus. This rendered them capable of being faithful to this radical extent, of being truthful to this radical extent, of being respectful to this radical extent. Woe to us if we reduce Christianity to a doctrine that must be understood and put into practice! If Christianity were a series of ethical precepts, then there would be no need for Christ to die on the cross. Jesus died on the cross and rose again so that we might be able to live in the way that is set out in the Gospel. If we examine the Gospel in its entirety, in fact, we will see that it never asks less than that we live the experience of the resurrection.


Friday, 3 February 2017

February 5th 2017. FIFTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
Gospel: Matthew 5:13-16
                                                                                                                                             
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...

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GOSPEL Matthew 5:13-16
Jesus said to his disciples: 'You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.
'You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house.
In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven
The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . In the Gospel passage from Matthew, Jesus makes clear that each of us has a unique mission to be the light of the world. How do we achieve this? Does our personal mission consist in amazing individualistic feats? Stunning public performances of some kind? The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah tells us that we become a light to the world if we feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and clothe the naked. The human person is a fundamentally relational being. Our mission consists in entering into relationships of love and service with God and with the people we encounter in our daily lives. That is how we become a light for the world! If we follow individual, egoistic goals then we fail in our mission and bring darkness to the world. If I am caught up in my own projects, worries and sufferings, then I bring gloom and shadows to the people around me. The more I strive for my own individual light, the darker I become! But if, in union with Jesus on the cross, my sufferings and limits orient me towards God and neighbour, then I become a shining light in the obscurity of this world. Our Lord Jesus becomes a light to the world above all at the moment that he is hanging on the cross. At the moment of his death there is an eclipse of the sun and the world is thrown into darkness. The absence of natural light helps us to appreciate that Jesus is a light of a much different and more enduring kind! Jesus is our light because he offers his sufferings on our behalf and thus he illuminates all of history. At the end of the day, God is the origin of all light. He gives us life and wishes to fan us into a flame that will illuminate the world. We will be the light when we cease striving for worldly light and limelight, when we cease pursuing our selfish goals and instead turn towards God and neighbour. Until we shine with this light, we are not truly living at all.

Each of us has a unique mission to illuminate the world
The first reading comes from the latter part of Isaiah which speaks about the things that will take place at the end times. The prophet tells us that true fasting involves feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and sheltering the homeless. If we do these things, we are told, then our light will shine like the dawn and our wounds will be quickly healed. What does this passage of Isaiah refer to? What kind of light does a human being possess? And how can this light heal us? All of this is made clearer when we consider the celebrated Gospel text from Matthew regarding the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Every human being has a unique identity and he is called so that his light will shine for others. Each of us has been given a mission, something important to accomplish.

Our mission is not to achieve some wonderful personal feat but to be light for others
This mission is not something for ourselves. It is not some kind of personal achievement or triumph.  It is something that must be done for others, because the human being is fundamentally a relational creature. Each of us has a relationship with God and with our neighbour. To fail in our mission means to become darkness, to become a contributor towards the darkness of the world and the blindness of others. To fail in our mission means to fail to lead others to see God and to see their neighbour. When darkness prevails we cannot see the other. Individualism, the pursuit of one’s own goals, the failure to share with others, is not just a problem of social justice. Individualism is a betrayal of our most authentic identity. We are called to be beautiful human beings and this involves being brilliant emitters of light for others.

What kind of light do we emit?
But what sort of light do we emit? Many people in the world pursue their own success, their own light. They shine with an artificial radiance that soon fades. This light has nothing eternal in it. These people seek to be themselves by taking themselves as their starting point and finishing point. But the first reading from Isaiah speaks of people who shine like the dawn because they have focussed on the welfare of others. We find the same discourse in the Gospel. Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” The disciple is someone who lights the way for others, not for himself. This is a key point for understanding many aspects of our lives. “No-one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on a lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house.” A lamp is only lit so that someone else may see. We do not light a lamp in an empty room. But who is it that lights the lamp of the human person? It is God who is the origin of this light! It is God who called us to life. God lights each one of us so that we might be light for others.

If we follow egoistic goals then we walk in darkness. Suffering has no meaning if it is understood in egoistic terms
We continue to walk in darkness so long as we continue to pursue the dictates of our own egos. For as long as our ego remains the key by which we interpret the meaning of our lives, we will never be able to understand the things that happen to us! Many difficult and bewildering things happen to us in life. We only begin to accept them when we realize that through these things we can become light for others. If something critical happens to us, then by means of these things we can attain perspective on life and show love to others. The alternative is to view these things in a narrow egoistic way. The events then have no wider redeeming significance beyond themselves. They start from us and finish with us. How different it is to view my sufferings or limits as opportunities for doing good for someone else! This is the perspective we attain when we contemplate Christ crucified. The horrible, unjust and individual suffering of Jesus becomes the light of the world. As Jesus is dying on the Cross, there is an eclipse of the sun. There is no more natural illumination and Jesus becomes the true light of the world. It is the fact of Jesus offering his sufferings for us that makes him the light of the world.

As the Prophet Isaiah says, and as the Gospel says, we become light for the world when all the sufferings and challenges of our lives are transformed into love and service for God and others

We are redeemed when our light becomes something that illuminates others; when all of the events in our lives, its challenges, and its sufferings are oriented towards love, oriented towards making ourselves available for the other – the Other with a capital “O” (God) and the other with a lowercase “o” (our neighbour). When we open ourselves in this way, our lives become salt that gives flavour to the existence of others. It is one thing to be with a friend who has never suffered, another thing to be with a friend who has suffered but become embittered through his sufferings, but it is something else altogether to be with someone who has suffered and who has transformed his sufferings into a greater capacity to love, serve and understand others. There is a light hidden in our lives that we are not showing forth as we should. It is the light of the world, the light of Christ, the light of love.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

January 29th 2017. Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time
GOSPEL: Mt 5:1-12A
 ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio


Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...

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GOSPEL: Mt 5:1-12A
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. 
He began to teach them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven."
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Summary . . . The Gospel this week proclaims the Beatitudes. How can poverty, mourning, meekness and persecution be sources of blessing? It is not poverty in itself, or mourning in itself, or persecution in itself that constitute a blessing. These states are pathways to God. They make us ready for the action of God in our lives.
            Usually, we provide a summary of the homily here, but the entire homily this week is really a summary of the meaning of the Beatitudes. Please try to read it in its entirety!

Why is the one who mourns blessed? How is being persecuted a blessing? The blessing does not come from he fact of being bereaved or the fact of being persecuted. It comes from the fact that such states prepare us for the action of God in our lives.
Last week we heard the proclamation of the Kingdom of God by Jesus. This week, we hear the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ longest and most comprehensive discourse in all of the Synoptic Gospels. Consider for a moment the structure of the eight Beatitudes proclaimed in this week’s liturgy.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land, etc.
The fact that the phrase “Blessed are . .” is hammered out in rhythmic fashion at the beginning of each Beatitude tends to make us focus on the words that come immediately after the phrase. In other words, we register that the poor in spirit are blessed, those who mourn are blessed, those who are meek are blessed, etc. But this can cause us to lose the authentic sense of what Jesus is saying. Those who mourn are not blessed by the fact that they are mourning. Those who are persecuted are not blessed by the fact that they are persecuted. It is the second element in each phrase - the part that comes after the “because” - that tells us why these people are blessed! It is a matter of cause and effect, after all, and it is this second part that tells us the reason for the blessing. The poor in spirit are blessed because there is something in this condition that allows them to possess the Kingdom of Heaven.  Those who mourn are blessed because this condition is the departure point for arriving at authentic consolation. The beautiful passive form of the verb  - “they shall be consoled” - tells us that it is God who will do the consoling. The meek are blessed because they will inherit the land. Those who hunger and thirst for justice will be satisfied. The justice referred to here is not a legalistic, forensic form of justice but the justice of the Kingdom of Heaven, the justice of God, our relationship with him. Those who hunger and thirst for a real relationship with him are blessed because they will be satisfied. The hunger and privation that they feel is the point of departure for attaining genuine fulfilment. The merciful are blessed because they will receive mercy. They pardon others and have a more fundamental blessing in store for themselves because they too will be pardoned. The pure in heart are blessed because they will see God. A pure heart is a heart that has said “no” to certain things. It is not confused, has not made compromises, is not tainted. This act of being pure is not easy. It is painful and requires renunciation and abnegations. But these renunciations in themselves are not the point! The point is to be able to see God! To have one’s eyes fixed on the invisible and to arrive at the contemplation of God in Paradise.

It is not poverty, persecution or mourning that we seek. We seek heavenly consolation. We seek the Kingdom of heaven. Poverty of spirit, mourning, persecution and meekness are all pathways to the Kingdom.
The Beatitudes are really posing eight questions of us: Do you wish to possess the Kingdom of God? Do you seek authentic consolation? Are you interested in a genuine inheritance? Do you want to be satisfied in a complete and eternal way? Would you like to be pardoned deeply? Have you a desire to see God? Do you long to be a child of God? Do you want to enter into that Kingdom which alone is worthy of our allegiance? If a person is interested in these “fullnesses”, then he must return to the beginning of the Beatitudes and look at the eight pathways announced by this passage.

Summary of the ways in which these pathways lead to blessings
Poverty is not something pleasant. To be poor in spirit signifies to have the sort of simplicity within that is the precondition for possessing the greatest riches of all. To be in a state of grief is the precondition for receiving the fullness of consolation. Tears and mourning by themselves can often prompt the sort of useless consolations that serve nothing.  But mourning can also bring a beam of wisdom with respect to life. Weeping can be an important occasion, a gift that God bestows on us. Even while we are suffering, the Lord is preparing us for something else. Meekness involves bending to others as if they were stronger than us. It involves a control of aggression, of avoiding clashing with others, a refraining from standing up to others. We hate being meek! We hate behaving like sheep for the slaughter! We prefer to assert ourselves, but in so doing we lose the “land”, the possession that the Lord wants to bestow on us. All we end up with is that which we are able to take with our own force and our own aggression. Meekness, by contrast, is the road to authentic possession. To have hunger and thirst for justice is to feel oneself to be unjust. It is to be aware on one’s need for a greater righteousness. It is to be aware of one’s own sinfulness. To be merciful is to acknowledge that I do not have the right to stand over others in judgement. How often we focus on describing the sins of others and fail to see our own sinfulness. The person who is merciful is someone who has their perspective on themselves in order.  All of these things help us to realize that our hearts as they are now are inadequate and deficient. The pure of heart are those who realize that we must often resist the temptations to follow where the heart would like to lead us. We must be able to choose to do that which is right, because many of the choices before our hearts are simply wrong. The one who is persecuted is someone who has been excluded. The etymology of the word refers to someone who has been thrown out, marginalized. If the persecuted are blessed then it means that it is in some sense important that we are excluded by this world if we are to arrive at the Kingdom of Heaven. If you are the centre of popularity in this world then you are far from the Kingdom of Heaven, simple as that! To be on the threshold of the Kingdom means to be on the margins of this world. What does it matter if people think badly of us because we follow the Lord Jesus? We are a disappointment to this world if we follow the Lord! How fortunate we are if there is opposition, if there is no applause for us! Later on in the same sermon, Jesus will say, “Woe to you if people speak well of you, for they did the same for the false prophets”. To be a true prophet is to be on the margins of this world. What an interesting life this is! What a beautiful, unique life! The Christian life is not banal or predictable. It is full of absolute novelty, a journey of discovery that the Lord has prepared for us.

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