Friday, 2 December 2016

December 4th 2016. Second Sunday of Advent
GOSPEL: Matthew 3:1-12
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­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 3:1-12
John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
John wore clothing made of camel’s hair 
and had a leather belt around his waist.
His food was locusts and wild honey.
At that time Jerusalem, all Judea,
and the whole region around the Jordan
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves, 
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you, 
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the axe lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit 
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, 
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor 
and gather his wheat into his barn, 
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kierans summary . . . In this week’s Gospel, John the Baptist is preparing for the coming of the Messiah. This, we are told, involves “straightening the ways of the Lord”. In our narcissistic world, there is a tendency to think that “conversion” involves straightening out my personal problems, sorting out my issues until I feel comfortable with myself. But this is not what John the Baptist is talking about at all! He asks that the ways of the Lord be straightened! We have a tendency to domesticate God. We try to get him to conform to our ways, to bless our initiatives. We don’t pray to discover what God wants with us, but pray that God will bring about what we want. This is how we make the ways of the Lord crooked! And we only make his ways straight when we renounce our own will and place ourselves before him in humility to try to discover his will. John the Baptist challenges us by pointing out that our neglect of the Lord’s ways will lead to painful consequences. This is not to make the Lord a “wrathful” God, but simply to acknowledge that evil is not trivial, that the Lord defends the innocent by permitting our maltreatment of others to result in painful consequences for ourselves. This Advent the Lord is coming! Maybe we would prefer if he didn’t come so that we could go on living our ambiguous lives? But he is coming all right, and he comes to us every day in the holy providence of God which challenges us to rid ourselves of the useless chaff, to simplify our lives and return to the simple and clear ways of God.

When people speak of “conversion” they sometimes think of a process by which they get the mess in their own lives straightened out. But John the Baptist is not asking us to straighten our own lives out – he is asking us to straighten out the path ways of the Lord! This Advent we need to return to the simple things, opening ourselves to the intervention of God in our lives, allowing the Lord to enter with his transforming power
In this Sunday’s Gospel, John the Baptist is preparing the people for the visitation of the Lord. It is good to be ready for someone’s visit. When a guest arrives at our house unexpectedly, our welcome can suffer as a result. To fail the welcome the Lord adequately is a great pity because we miss out on the grace, beauty and salvation that he brings. John the Baptist gives some advice on how to welcome him well. He says: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Today true repentance is difficult because we live in an age that is so imbued with narcissism and the pursuit of ourselves. Nowadays, when people speak of “conversion” they are often speaking of something that is directed towards their own personal wellbeing, their own feelings of contentment with themselves. No! The preparation that John the Baptist calls for is the preparation for someone else, it is not a preparation that is focussed on self-contemplation! John tells us that the kingdom of heaven is near, the kingdom of someone else, the splendid situation that prevails when the Lord is finally my king. The reference from the prophet Isaiah to the “voice of one crying out in the desert” was an announcement of the return from exile of people of Israel. It was time to prepare the way of the Lord, to make his paths straight. When we think of conversion and consider these lines from Isaiah, we have a tendency to think that we need to get our act together and get ourselves sorted out, that we need to straighten the mess in our own lives. But Isaiah was not talking about straightening out our ways! He was speaking about straightening the way for the Lord to come! In the Old Testament, references to the “ways of the Lord” were allusions to the Law of God. John the Baptist, in his preaching, was also calling for a return to an authentic form of obedience - a rejection of the tendency of humanity to domesticate the ways of the Lord, the propensity to cut from our own cloth a comfortable interpretation of the will of God. This is how we make the ways of the Lord crooked! We stand before God and domesticate him, making him follow our ways instead of we following his. We turn him into our personal chaplain who is expected to bless our initiatives. John the Baptist calls us to make straight the Lord’s ways. The word “prepare” means to place oneself in front of something, to confront it in anticipation. We are asked to place ourselves in front of the ways of the Lord. How in love we are with our own thoughts! It is time to open ourselves instead to the thoughts of God.

We have domesticated God. We have twisted him so that he conforms to our crooked ways. This Advent, part of the process of making straight the ways of the Lord involves placing myself before God in humility and asking myself what is the will of God for me.
The prophet Isaiah goes on: “My ways are not your ways”. This is a challenge to reconsider the will of God for each one of us. A noble question that perhaps we do not pose often enough is: “What is the will of God for me? What is his plan?” Many of our brothers and sisters in the faith are surprised by this question and react: “What are you saying? God has a plan for me?” The whole character of John the Baptist is one that radically places us before this question. His clothing of camel hair and his diet of locusts and wild honey demonstrate that he is a man who has returned to the origins, to the time that Israel was in the desert and was being called by God. During the time in the desert, the Lord spoke to his people and showed them his ways. For each of us, there have been moments in our lives when we felt close to God and felt that he was speaking to our hearts; a time, perhaps, when we were more open, and we felt that the Lord was showing us the way. But then we began to complicate things and learned the art of domesticating God.

It is essential to reflect on the fact that our bad actions lead to painful consequences. This is not to turn the Lord into a “wrathful” God. It is to acknowledge that evil is not trivial, that the Lord defends the innocent, that he wishes us to be awoken from our negligence towards others.
John the Baptist speaks out against this twisting of the ways of the Lord. When he sees the Pharisees, he cries out, “Children of snakes! What made you think you could flee from the wrath that awaits you!” All of us have fallen into the tendency of thinking that we do not have to consider the consequences of our actions. We forget that there is a sacred wrath of God that is directed towards our errors. The “wrath” of God should not be understood in a negative sense. Actions have consequences. When things are done wrong, they give rise to pain. God loves all his creatures. If I do wrong to another person, do I think that God does not love that other person? Do I think that the Lord will not defend that person? There is a mechanism in reality whereby the painful consequences of evil serve to waken us out of our illusions about the wrongs that we have committed. John the Baptist refers to this when he asks the religious leaders if they think they can do wrong and not suffer the consequences. Do I think that there are no ill consequences for my utter neglect of what is good? Do I think I can lie and no harm results? This is not true at all.

The Messiah is coming all right. He comes to us every day through the holy providence of God. He purifies us and rids us of our useless baggage, showing that the ways of the Lord are straight and clear.

This is a time to straighten the ways of the Lord. And the ways of the Lord are straight! They are simple and clear. They are non-negotiable because the ways of evil procure suffering. If we continue to be negligent in the way we treat ourselves and others, then it will lead to consequences, and the consideration of consequences helps us prepare for the coming of the Lord. It prompts us to face up to our weaknesses. We are told that the one who is coming “has a winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” In other words, this redeemer will purify things, ridding us of that which is not good and which does not save. Some people would prefer to continue living ambiguous lives. Some people might rather if the Messiah did not come. But the Messiah is on his way, he is coming, he comes many times through the changing circumstances of our lives. The holy providence of God is challenging us daily to free ourselves from this useless chaff, this dross that we carry around with ourselves, but which does not lead us anywhere. To prepare the way of the Lord means to become simpler and more humble. The time of Advent is a wonderful time to wake up and remember the goods that we have received, a time to detach ourselves from evil, a time to return to our true selves.

Friday, 25 November 2016

November 27th 2016. First Sunday of Advent
GOSPEL: Matthew 24:37- 44
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­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 24:37- 44
Jesus said to his disciples:
“As it was in the days of Noah,
so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
In those days before the flood,
they were eating and drinking,
marrying and giving in marriage,
up to the day that Noah entered the ark.
They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.
So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man.
Two men will be out in the field;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
Two women will be grinding at the mill;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
Therefore, stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

KieranĂ s summary . . . Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of the coming of Jesus, both in the Incarnation and when he returns at the end of time. In the Gospel on Sunday, Jesus speaks of the coming of the Son of Man, and compares it to the days of Noah. At the time of Noah, everyone continued eating, drinking and getting married right up to the end. This is relevant for each one of us, for you and me today. Jesus will come to all of us sooner or later. Will he find that we are entirely preoccupied with eating and drinking and satisfying our various appetites? Or will he find that we are already living in profound relationship with him, ready to welcome him? The fact is that the Son of Man comes to us regularly in the shocks and upsets that we encounter in life. These are the ways in which the Lord tries to clear the fog from our eyes and draw us closer to him. In reality, Jesus comes to us every day, but often we do not heed his coming. The Gospel speaks of pairs of people working in the fields or at the mill. The Lord comes and takes one away, leaving the other. The Lord comes to me every day. Do I allow myself to be taken away by him to a new level of relationship? Or do I remain in my own mediocrity, satisfying my appetites? In the end, the issue is this: Who is the master of my life? If it is me, then I will not welcome the coming of the Lord. The coming of the Lord will be like the coming of a thief who is not wanted. But if Jesus is the master, then I will be ready for his coming. I will accept the upheavals and shocks of life in faith and trust, drawing me into a deeper relationship with him.

Advent is a time to prepare for the celebration of the Incarnation. It is also a time to consider the end of our own earthly lives when the Lord will come again
This week we enter into the glorious season of Advent with a reflection on the end of life, the passing away of all things. The first reading from Isaiah 2 says that “In days to come,
the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills”. On that day we will learn the Lord’s ways and follow his paths, and the Lord himself shall come to be our judge and arbiter. Our swords shall become ploughshares and our spears pruning hooks. What a beautiful image, a picture of peace, wisdom and growth! All of this leads us into Advent, which has two aspects. One aspect concerns the parousia, the final coming of the Lord, whilst the other aspect concerns the period of preparation for the Incarnation of Our Lord which we celebrate at Christmas.

Like the people in Noah’s day, we run the risk of being too fixated with our biological needs, rather than on the ultimate significance of things.
In the Gospel Jesus says, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man”. The case of Noah is a striking one for Jesus to use. It was a world just two steps away from disaster, but everyone acted as if everything was as normal. They ate, drank and married right up to the day Noah entered the Ark, and no-one expected anything. This story illuminates a risk that we run in our present state of life. Sooner or later the Lord will come for us and this earthly life will end. The day that we will die is coming rapidly, but other days are on the way too – days when our existence is shaken, when we are challenged to change direction in life, when serious and grave things happen to us, prompting improvement and evolution. The risk for each of us is the tendency to act as if this present state of life were permanent; as if it had a significance that it doesn’t have. The present moment is a great and marvellous thing, but our current situation or state of life must not be given absolute significance. The present moment is a temporary point of passage for each of us; and must not be attributed absolute importance. In Noah’s day, and in our own, people eat and drink and take husbands and wives – focussing on their biological needs, living only for their biological and psychological drives. This is in contrast to a way of life that lives for the ultimate things, that lives everything in relationship with the Lord.

We must live every day in a state of readiness, because the Lord is putting things in our way daily that would help us to grow and mature if only we embraced them properly
In the Gospel, Jesus exhorts us to stay awake because we do not know when the Son of Man will come. If the master of the house knew when the thief was coming he would have remained awake. The Lord is coming. We do not know when; therefore we must be ready. The Gospel tells us that he will come at a time that we are unable to imagine. The plans of God for us are beyond our imagination. But if we are conscious that he is coming; that he will shake up our lives; then we will at least be prepared. We should be aware that he intends to stun us every now and then in order to prompt us to grow and mature. If I live in a state of mind that welcomes and digests these “strikes” from the Lord, then I no longer live as someone who expects the world to respond to my appetites. Instead I see life as something that is all about responding to God, and I myself respond to the best of my ability.

Who is the master of my life? If it is me, then the coming of the Lord will be unwelcome, like the coming of a thief. But if Jesus is the master of my life, then his coming will be welcome. I will live in a state of readiness for his daily interventions that lead me towards him.
It is also essential to be aware that my behaviour will one day be judged. I am not the master of life. Life has been given to me as a gift that I might respond, that I might construct something beautiful and do that which is worthy of being done. All of this prompts a growth  that permits me to live in the world with a certain detachment from the things of the world. This detachment enables me to do things in the best manner. The central issue is this: Who is the master of my life? Who is the lord of my existence? If the Lord comes like a thief, then this means that I am the master! But if he is the master of my existence, then his coming will never be like that of a thief. If he does come unexpectedly, if my plans go completely awry, I will be able to say, “Of course! He is the Lord! He is the one who governs!”

The Lord is coming. He comes daily, if only I would heed him. Am I ready to be taken away? Or do I prefer to be left in the mediocrity of satisfying my own appetites?

If I am absorbed in my appetites, if I am a slave to my own habits and way of life, then I will find it hard to accept that I must one day leave these things behind me.  I would prefer to be left in the mediocrity of my own things. The one who is taken away readily is the one who goes with the Lord. The Gospel speaks of pairs of people doing the same thing: two are working together in the field; two are grinding corn at the mill. One of them is surprised by reality but knows how to change and move forward. The other remains there stuck doing things the same way that they have always done them. How often it happens that a very grave event happens and, as a result, one person matures whilst another degenerates. We must learn to be ready for the coming of the Lord! He strikes us and clears away the fog from our eyes, shocks us with things that we do not expect. If we expected such things to happen then we would not be left in such a state of shock. If I am conscious that the master will come and say, “It is time to have to have a look at the accounts”, then I will keep the accounts in order. But if I think that I myself am the master, that there is no-one above me, then I am utterly taken by surprise when life comes to ask me to give an account of myself. But to tell the truth, doesn’t life demand me to account for myself every day? Whether I am in the field or at the mill, I am being asked to respond authentically and make that leap forward, allow myself to be “taken away”, rather than remaining at the level of my appetites - eating, drinking and looking for a spouse. All of us are like the people in the Gospel who are working in the fields. We all work in our particular field, but the “land” that we work is something transitory. Advent is beautiful and calls us to sobriety. It invites us to rediscover ourselves and live in a way that is more beautiful, grave and serious than the way we live now.

Friday, 18 November 2016

November 20th 2016. Feast of Christ the King
GOSPEL: Luke 23:35-43
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­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: Luke 23:35-43
The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . In the first reading we hear how David was acclaimed as king by the leaders of the people. In the Gospel, by contrast, Jesus is derided by the leaders for failing to act like a king, for his inability to even save himself. When we look closer, however, we see that the two notions of kingship are not so different. David was recognized as king because he shepherded his people and took care of them. Jesus is the ultimate King because he completely renounces himself in order to shepherd us and save us. Why do we have difficulty in recognizing this crucified man to be our King? Because maybe he is not really the kind of king that we are looking for. We would like a king that helps bring our projects to completion, who affirms our egos and brings us worldly success. If my priority is any of these things then I am not following Jesus but a different kind of king altogether. We are told that David led the people of Israel, but where does Jesus lead us? What kind of Kingdom is he establishing? Jesus leads us in the way of self-renouncing love. He teaches me that to be able to love is much greater than any rewards of mundane success. He shows me that the opening of my heart to love, the art of giving and sharing, the entering into communion with others, is so much to be preferred than the realisation  of any of my own projects. This is where Jesus leads us! Beyond the most profound of frontiers, the incompleteness of man, across the abyss that confronts all earthly kingdoms. In other words, Christ our King – and he alone - takes us to Paradise.

In the first reading we hear how the elders of the people acclaimed David as king . . .
On this feast of Christ the King, the first reading and the Gospel complement each other in a striking way. The reading from the book of Samuel tells of the coronation of David, the king par excellence of Israel. David will go on to become the supreme image of royalty in the rest of the Old Testament. The passage from Samuel states that David, even before he became king, was like a shepherd to the people of Israel. Here we are given an image of governance that resembles the action of a shepherd towards his flock. The overriding memory of David, however, was that of success. He was recognized as someone who had exercised the office of king in an exemplary manner.

In the Gospel, we hear how the elders of the people derided Jesus for his failure to be king. But the strange thing is that Jesus is being king in the truest sense of the word.
By contrast, in the Gospel, Jesus receives no such recognition. David is only a shadow of a reality that finds its fulfilment in Jesus, but it is sobering to note that no-one realizes that Our Lord is truly king. In the first reading, the elders of Israel acknowledge David’s right to reign, but here in the Gospel the leaders of the people pour scorn upon the Lord: “He was able to save others. If he is the Christ of God, then let him save himself!” Strangely, Jesus is the chosen one who does not save himself. This might seem to be inconsistent with the tradition of the kings of Israel, but it is actually in perfect continuity. David was recognized as the leader of Israel because he took care of the people. And what does Jesus do? He doesn’t look out for himself because he is totally focussed on saving us. He must make the same stark choice that is open to us in every single act of love, namely, behave in accordance with our own ego or decide to act for the other. We all have that choice of looking after our own concerns or permitting God to act through us for others. If I am a person of God then I will no longer shepherd myself, I shepherd whoever God gives me to love.

We have difficulty recognizing this crucified man as a king in the “sensible” sense of the word because it is WE who lack sense. We live on such a superficial level that we cannot recognize the greatness of this man who renounces himself for love of others. We would prefer a king who would advance our own projects, our own plans for success and greatness.
There is no real contradiction between the first reading and the Gospel. The discontinuity in the notion of kingships expressed in the first reading and in the Gospel originates in us. It is we who seek a king who is a projection of our own aspirations. We are not really looking for a king who will shepherd us and take care of us: we are looking for a king who will fulfil our model of the successful human being, a ruler who is perfect and imposes no restrictions on us. The problem is that we are not really oriented towards the love that is the mark of our true King. Love is something that requires a profound commitment on our part. Instead we live on a superficial level and are oriented towards worldly success and self-affirmation. The King that we encounter on this last Sunday of the year is shepherding us towards self-renouncing love. This King is leading us towards heaven, and in fact the text speaks explicitly of Paradise. He is not a ruler that helps us reach the top of the table of worldly success, but a King that takes us to heaven.

Our King is leading us somewhere, but where? I do not follow him in the hope of success, riches, or the affirmation of my projects. I follow him because he shows me that self-renouncing love is the fullest way of being human.
This sort of strange kingship is the theme of Sunday. The entire liturgical year culminates in this feast which attributes to Jesus a kingship over the entire universe. It is in contrast to human history that is fixated with power and force, violence and self-aggrandisement, all of which is mundane and illusory. Every worldly empire comes to an end. Ultimately all kingdoms founder on the reality of the poverty of the human being. Jesus is the only King who can take humanity beyond the most profound of frontiers, the incompleteness of man, and take us into Paradise. I do not follow Christ for hopes of worldly success, nor for earthly possessions. Neither do I follow him in the hope of tranquillity and the affirmation of my objectives. I follow Jesus because he teaches me that to love is much greater than any rewards of mundane success. He shows me that the opening of my heart to love, the art of giving and sharing, the entering into communion with others, is so much to be preferred than the following of my own projects. My projects are oriented towards my own comfort and well-being, but I have profound need to be led towards that happy discomfort of serving others.

My king leads me to fulfilment. What is fulfilment? Being affirmed? Self-realization? Being recognized by others? Strangely, it is in losing myself that I become fully human! It is only in following Jesus on the way of the cross, the way of self-denying love, that I can come to completion, that I can make it to Paradise.
If I do not know how to serve, if I do not know how to share, if I do not know how to lose myself for the love of others, then I am not a human being – what a curious thing! We are inclined to think that the human being has arrived when he possesses something, when he affirms himself, when his plans have been realized. But Christ teaches us that the human being is when he renounces himself in love. The human experience of falling in love is the fundamental basis for understanding the nature of true happiness. Falling in love is natural but at the same time extraordinary. It involves the forgetting of oneself, the capacity to forget one’s own aspirations, the ability to share everything one owns, to give oneself in love. Our true King is the one has been crucified, despised by everyone, but who responds in love, and who alone can lead us to the greatest objective. “Today” - this poor and rejected Lord Jesus says - “Today, you will be with me in Paradise”. This is what our King alone can give. He alone can shepherd his people to the ultimate of goals, the true destination of human existence.

Friday, 11 November 2016

November 13th 2016.Thirty Third Sunday of Ordinary Time
GOSPEL: Luke 21:5-19
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­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: Luke 21:5-19
When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All these things you are staring at now - the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed’. And they put to him this question: ‘Master,’ they said ‘when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?’
‘Take care not to be deceived,’ he said ‘because many will come using my name and saying, “I am he” and, “The time is near at hand”. Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not so soon.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.
‘But before all this happens, men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.”
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . In the Gospel, Jesus talks about great upheaval and disasters, the destruction of the Temple and the persecution of Christians. What is he referring to? The passage can legitimately be interpreted to refer to three things. Firstly it speaks of the great upheaval that will come at the end of the world. Secondly, it predicts the destruction of the Temple and the persecution of the early Christian communities in the early centuries. Thirdly, it is to be applied to the daily battle that you and I are required to engage in as baptized Christians. We tend to reduce Christianity to an easy and affable religion, a pleasant way of life that concentrates on each of us trying to be good people. Christianity may well involve us becoming better people, but it is fundamentally a transforming relationship with God. To be a Christian we must be people of heaven, people who ground their existence fundamentally in God.  To live as a Christian I must undergo radical conversion every day, and this involves the destruction of the current order of my life. It involves upheaval and the renunciation of my idols and fixations. The disciples are impressed with the visible grandeur of the Temple, but Jesus wishes to tell us that the things our eyes see will not be left standing, not a stone upon a stone. Similarly, we are not to listen to the deceptions and lies that the world whispers to us. We are to single-mindedly follow the will of God. Certainly, this will involve trauma and upheaval, but Jesus tells us not to fear; not a hair on our heads will be harmed! By this he means that every little thing that happens to us is part of God’s design to lead us into a better and wonderful state of life. Yes, we will be betrayed. Yes, we will be left isolated. But all of this is part of God’s plan to draw us towards him, to root our existence in following his holy will.

This passage is to be read on three levels. It refers to the end of the world, to the destruction of the Temple and the early persecution of Christians, but also to the daily struggle of each one of us as we seek to detach ourselves from the deceits and illusions of the earthly order.
On this thirty third Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Gospel is serious and austere. It speaks of great suffering, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and of the end of the age. What is this passage referring to? Is it speaking of the Last Judgement, when Christ will judge the living and the dead? Yes, the passage is surely speaking remotely of the end times, but fundamentally it is speaking of the great tribulation that faces the Christian in every age. The words of Jesus begin with a reflection on the edifice of the Temple in Jerusalem and of the fact that the Temple will be destroyed. He goes on to speak of suffering, tribulation and betrayal. Ought we to live in fear of these things? In reality, there are three levels on which this passage can be understood. Firstly, it speaks of the end of the world, a time of great upheaval when the powers of this earth will come to an end.  Secondly, the passage predicts the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the terrifying ordeals that would have to be faced by the Christians of the first century A.D. These persecutions would also be glorious because the early disciples would bear witness to the faith. Thirdly, and more pertinently for you and me, this text is applicable to the combat we engage in daily as a result of our baptism. The battle of the “Day of the Lord” is the battle we are called to when we are born again in Christ. This battle entails that there are things in our lives that must collapse and be lost. There are deceptions that must come to an end. Christians of the early centuries risked their lives when they bore public witness to their faith. Everyone who wants to attain true life and enter the Kingdom of heaven must destroy a part of themselves in order to save their own hearts. This leads to separations and renunciations. We tend to make Christianity into something easy and pleasant. We confuse being a Christian with being a good person. Of course a Christian will also be a good person, but more basically he will be a man of heaven, a woman who comes from the Lord, who has the heart of God. Every day, in every moment of conversion, I am asked to live the “Day of the Lord”. I am asked to engage in combat and live a situation of conflict, directed against my life as I would like to organise it, against my idols, my impoverishment.

Jesus tells us not to trust the testimony of the eyes or the ears. We are to follow something else, something hidden from the human senses. Our Christian existence may well lead to desolation and betrayal, but this is all part of God’s hidden plan to lead us to authentic life
The disciples are marvelling at the beautiful stones and votive offerings of the Temple. Jesus replies, “Of what you are looking at, not one stone will be left standing upon another”. Jesus is contesting the beauty and permanence of that which is before their eyes. When each one of us begins the process of conversion, we start to have less faith in that which the eyes see. We no longer see the vainglory of this world and we begin to perceive something else. We begin to appreciate the beauty and significance of something which resides in another place entirely, before the throne of God. Jesus then goes on to tell the disciples not to allow themselves to be deceived. Here Jesus moves from the sense of vision to that of hearing. We will hear many things but we are not to trust any of them. In other words, there are people who only trust the evidence of their eyes, and they only perk up their ears only when they hear something that touches upon their human anxieties, projections and fears; but we are called to follow only the work of God. The passage says that “men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness”. In other words, the meaning of everything is to be turned upside down; every event is part of the secret design of God. Even in the greatest tribulations, God brings our salvation towards completion. The “Day of the Lord” may well be terrible, but its goal is our salvation. That day may well involve betrayal and isolation, but it is always directed towards our happiness, towards the construction of true and authentic lives.

The upheavals that are part and parcel of the Christian life are all a call to radically ground ourselves in God. Never fear! Not a hair on our heads will be harmed! What Jesus means by this has nothing to do with the physical hair on our heads. What he means is that every little thing is part of God’s plan for our good. All we have to do is reject the things of this passing world and follow the holy will of God.

We are surrounded by terrible tragedies and bad news. These disasters cause us anguish, but they are all opportunities to love. All of these events are actually demanding a right response from us. Instead of being terrorized or rendered immobile with fear, we are called to open ourselves to love in every moment, to be witnesses to God, to be part of his plan in the world. We are called to treat every occasion as an opportunity to encounter God. History unfolds before us as a wise teacher that frees us gradually from our illusions. Being betrayed and left alone is all part of the cultivation of the interior life. We must learn not to depend on anyone but God, the author of life. Everything that concerns us as human beings is grave and serious. As the Gospel tells us, not a hair on our head will be lost. Everything that regards us is for our salvation. We must be prepared for the end of the world, of course, for dramatic upheavals in the history of the world; but also personally, on a daily basis, we must be ready to leave behind everything that we are attached to, in order to follow the holy will of God.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

November 6th 2016.Thirty Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
GOSPEL: Luke 20:27-38
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­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: Luke 20:27-38
Some Sadducees-those who say that there is no resurrection-approached him and they put this question to him, ‘Master, we have it from Moses in writing, that if a man’s married brother dies childless, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Well then, there were seven brothers. The first, having married a wife, died childless. The second and then the third married the widow. And the same with all seven, they died leaving no children. Finally the woman herself died.  Now, at the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife since she had been married to all seven?’
Jesus replied, ‘The children of this world take wives and husbands, but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are sons of God. And Moses himself implies that the dead rise again, in the passage about the bush where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive.’
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection and considered this hypothetical situation (of the woman with seven husbands) to be a serious challenge to anyone who believed in eternal life. Don Fabio tells us that, in fact, it was the Sadducees’ view of life in general (not just eternal life) that was absurd. The sort of life they believed in was horizontal, earthly, and deprived of all eternal significance. Unless we believe in the resurrection then we cannot grasp the enormous dignity of the human person. No-one would be capable of unconditional love, authentic mercy, or sacrifice for the sake of others, if he did not believe in the eternal dimension of human life and action. A true perspective on life is only possible through the lens of eternity. But why does Jesus tell the Sadducees that the people who are destined for heaven do not marry? In other places, Jesus unambiguously affirms the indissolubility of marriage and that the union of man and woman is part of God’s basic plan for humanity. He wants the Sadducees to know that marriage in an earthly sense has no place in the Kingdom of Heaven. If I get married just for my own earthly purposes, then the union will not last. I will tire of my spouse or run from her when she makes me suffer. But when I live my marriage as part of God’s design for the human race, as a sacrament of encounter with God, then I will continue to embrace her even when she makes me suffer. This is the distinction Jesus wishes to make: Marriage in the earthly sense of the Sadducees has no significance in heaven. But marriage that is focussed on eternity is a different story. In this case, I live my marriage as an angel sent on a mission from God and my marriage becomes something genuine, a place of encounter with God.

The Sadducees did not believe in eternal life. If we do not believe in life in the authentic sense of the world then we can end up being bewildered by some of life’s problems
In the Gospel passage this Sunday, Jesus is presented with a question: According to the Law of Moses, if a childless woman is widowed, then one of the husband’s brothers is obliged to take the woman as his wife. In the scenario presented to Jesus, a woman marries and is widowed on no less than seven occasions, remaining childless each time. So in the end, she marries all of her husband’s brothers, raising the question of who she will have as a husband in the afterlife. The Sadducees put this unlikely situation before Jesus to demonstrate the absurdity – in their eyes – of the belief in the resurrection of the dead. But it is the Sadducees themselves who remain in absurdity. There are many questions in life that we expend great effort in trying to answer; when we fail we feel a sense of sadness or disappointment. But often it is the way that we express our question that is at fault. As humans we have great capacity to use logic but we must also recognize its limits. Many questions do not lead anywhere. Too many of the puzzles that we set ourselves are labyrinths without end. We must learn to direct our questioning to that which brings life, not to that which gets us bogged down. The Sadducees, in fact, were those very people who did not believe in eternal life, in the reality of the resurrection. There is a mentality that does not believe in life, that holds that everything leads to a dead end, that our existence is merely an earthly one. It was the very people who were fixated with life here and now that sent Jesus to his death, the High Priests and the rest of us in this pragmatic culture who act like we do not believe in eternity, like we do not appreciate the reality of the invisible.

Unconditional love and mercy only make sense from the point of view of eternity
In this clash between Jesus and the Sadducees, we see the true colours of those who do not believe in the full value of human life. They occupy themselves in debates about ridiculous situations, failing to appreciate the authentic dignity of themselves and others. Indeed, it is impossible to believe in love itself if we do not believe in the resurrection. The first reading tells of seven brothers who die as martyrs because they believe in the reality of heaven. How can we sacrifice our lives for others if we do not believe in eternity? Today we encounter many good people around us who do not believe in the resurrection. For them the meaning of mercy is, at most, compassion or patience. It cannot become the oblation of pardon because, for them, justice does not go beyond a squaring up of accounts here on this earth. The notion of unconditional love doesn’t make sense for someone who doesn’t believe in eternity. Unconditional love entails that I do not care about the consequences for me here and now. We are weak and we cannot love like that for long if we do not believe in the reality of heaven. As we get older and have lesser reserves of energy, love of that sort becomes more difficult for one who does not believe in the eternal significance of his action. As the first reading demonstrates, in order to live the faith to the end, we must believe in eternal life.

The meaning of this earthly life can only be understood through the lens of eternity. Marriage in an earthly sense has no place in heaven. But marriage as a sacrament, as part of God’s design for me and my spouse, is a different story.
The absurdity of the situation described in the Gospel derives from an erroneous understanding of what life is all about in the first place. We cannot feel ourselves to be genuinely alive without believing in eternity. How can we have children if we think they are being born for nothing? How can we do good, or take care of others, if we do not glimpse the great dignity that is written in man? Without a belief in eternity, we descend into a mere pursuit of justice in the sense of the settling of wrongs in this life. Jesus alludes to all of this with his paradoxical response to the Sadducees: “The children of this world take wives and husbands, but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are sons of God.” This does not mean that we must refrain from marrying if we wish to enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus elsewhere speaks unambiguously about the indissolubility of marriage and about the union of man and woman as being part of God’s plan from the beginning. The distinction that Jesus wishes to make is between the children of this world (who act for their own purposes and according to their own strategies) and the children of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is one thing to get married for my own purposes, and a completely different thing to take a spouse because I see the union with this other person as being part of God’s plan. Marriage in this sense is a calling, not something that I do on my own initiative. If marriage is done merely on my own initiative, then it is destined for failure. I will get rid of my spouse once I tire of her, or once she makes me suffer. But if I see marriage as being part of God’s plan, then even if my spouse makes me suffer, this is all understood as being part of God’s greater design for the good of all.

Marriage becomes a true place of encounter with God only when it is directed towards heaven. It is only when the spouses live their mission as people sent by God that the union becomes what it ought to be.
The right attitude to marriage requires that I possess a piece of heaven inside of myself. Those who live for this world take husbands and wives for themselves. Those who live for the resurrection are those who have been sent by God; they are children of God, similar to the angels, entrusted with a mission. Marriage is a mission, a sacrament. In these wonderful realities of the sacraments, we live an encounter with God. Many people who are married do not know what a Christian marriage is. Many people are admitted to marriage who do not believe in eternity, but it is only with a focus on eternity that it can function properly. If it is merely you who takes a spouse, then your union will not have any significance in heaven. But if you live as someone sent, if you live according to heaven, then you succeed in living out a matrimony, then you manage to live at whatever it is you do in life, you accomplish your work, build a household. Too often, it seems, we live in a society that exists at a purely human level. It is no wonder then that we get bogged down in paradoxes and incomprehension. No one can truly understand the significance of the sacrament of marriage if he is not profoundly open to the Kingdom of Heaven. It is important that this be said to candidates for marriage. Otherwise we end up sending sheep to the slaughter. People enter marriage thinking it is something of earth, failing to appreciate that it is something directed towards heaven. Matrimony is for heaven; it is for God; it is for the eternal; it is for that which cannot be taken away by death.

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