Saturday, 17 March 2018

March 18th 2018.  Fifth Sunday of Lent
GOSPEL   John 12:20-33
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio
Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading . . .

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Congratulations to the Philippines on making December 8th a national holiday!

GOSPEL   John 12:20-33
Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast
came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee,
and asked him, "Sir, we would like to see Jesus."
Philip went and told Andrew;
then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.
Jesus answered them,
"The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
Whoever loves his life loses it,
and whoever hates his life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there also will my servant be.
The Father will honour whoever serves me.
"I am troubled now. Yet what should I say?
'Father, save me from this hour'?
But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.
Father, glorify your name."
Then a voice came from heaven,
"I have glorified it and will glorify it again."
The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder;
but others said, "An angel has spoken to him."
Jesus answered and said,
"This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.
Now is the time of judgment on this world;
now the ruler of this world will be driven out.
And when I am lifted up from the earth,
I will draw everyone to myself."
He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.
The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . In the first reading from Jeremiah, we hear of a new Covenant in which God’s law will be written in our hearts. But laws usually concern external compliance with a code of behaviour. How can we get to the stage of following God’s ways out of love and inner conviction? The Gospel tells us how! Some Greeks have heard of Jesus fame and wish to see him. How does Jesus respond? By saying, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it yields a rich harvest”. We cannot have love in our hearts, we cannot have new life, if our old ways still prevail within us. The Greeks thought they could casually observe this great miracle worker that they had heard about, but the truth is that if one wants to really encounter God, then one must empty oneself first. This self-emptying is not an act of the will, an exertion of our inner muscles, but an act of abandonment to the Lord. Don’t worry! Jesus makes up for what is lacking in us. In order for Jesus to arrive at the glory of the resurrection, He had to pass the oblivion of the tomb and annihilate himself completely. How can a man truly love a woman without giving himself entirely? How can a woman be a genuine spouse to her husband without giving everything and holding nothing back for herself? And how can God become our true God if we do not abandon our lives into His hands? This is the path to Easter and new life.

Jeremiah speaks of a new Covenant when the law will be written in our hearts. But how can we get to the point of observing God’s ways from our hearts, out of love and not out of obligation?
In this fifth Sunday of Lent, we hear the beautiful prophecy from the thirty-first chapter of Jeremiah concerning the new covenant, the covenant that will finally put into the heart of man the wisdom of God: “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts”. How can a law be written in our hearts? When we speak of law, we are usually referring to a code that is observed physically and externally in a certain way. But there is a big difference between observing a norm because I am constrained to do so, and observing something that I cherish in my heart. It is the difference between legalistically observing a norm of behaviour and following that same pattern of behaviour out of love, because one has understood the norm to its depths. But how do we get to the stage of observing the norms because they are beautiful, because they have become part of us?

The Gospel, at first sight, seems to have a different theme. Jesus speaks of falling to the ground and dying in order to produce new life. And this is essentially the same point that we find in Jeremiah. In order to have the life of the new covenant in our hearts, we must die to our old ways
The Gospel seems to have another theme altogether, but if we reflect on the Gospel in its profundity, then we discover otherwise. The story of the Gospel has arrived at the point where even the Greek visitors to Jerusalem are asking about Jesus. Everyone is talking about him and wants to see him. Jerusalem is the place of the cult with great numbers of visitors, and many people wish to know if Jesus is the Messiah. Word comes to Jesus that some Greeks wish to see him, but his response is very strange. He says that the time has come for him to be glorified. “Truly I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone.” What is all of this about? Why is Jesus talking about death, about losing oneself? Unless a seed goes into a state of decomposition, it cannot become the plant. Jesus must die in order to manifest his glory. He must be annihilated in order to show that he is everything. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” In order to arrive at the new wisdom, in order to have love in our hearts so that we no longer do things solely out of obligation, in order to have new life, the old life must die. It is pointless to think that the new covenant, the beauty of the new relationship with God, can coexist with the way we were originally. We only recognize the power of God when we renounce our own power. When do we experience the power of God? When we cease trying to rely on our own resources. “Dying” in this sense does not mean dying biologically but serving and following the Lord Jesus.

The Greeks thought that Jesus was a spectacle to be casually observed, but we cannot truly encounter God unless we empty ourselves.
We are honoured by the Father when we give Him His rightful value. The word “honour” in Hebrew means to attribute to something its rightful value. It is only when we abandon our own lives into the hands of God that we, to the depths of our being, allow Him to give His life for us.  It is only then, like the seed, when we allow ourselves to be by broken down and destroyed, when we are taken to the point of nothingness, that we can become completely His. The Lord Jesus empties Himself completely because in us there is always something lacking. Easter and the time of resurrection are coming soon, so this is the time to open ourselves to this moment of transition. We must allow this phase of annihilation, of annulment, to happen. In order for Jesus to arrive at the glory of the resurrection, He had to pass the oblivion of the tomb. Jesus had the omnipotence of God within Him but it was left aside at the time of the crucifixion and death. The hands that were capable of healing were nailed to the wood. The feet that walked new paths were rendered immobile. The heart that was capable of such love was torn apart. He gave himself completely. How can a man truly love a woman without giving himself completely? How can a woman be a genuine spouse to her husband without giving everything and holding nothing back for herself? And how can God be our true God if we do not give Him our lives? The Greeks in the Gospel treated the Lord as a spectacle to be seen, but in reality one cannot encounter God unless one empties himself before God. This is not an act of the will or an exertion of the muscles, but an act of abandonment. What we really need to do is allow ourselves to be taken, allow ourselves to be saved, allow ourselves to be transfigured. We need to give Jesus everything and not resist Him any longer. We need to open the door, give Him the password, follow Him until He is truly our Lord. This is the road to Easter and new life.

Friday, 9 March 2018

 March 11th 2018.  Fourth Sunday of Lent
GOSPEL   John 3:14-21
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   John 3:14-21
Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,
but whoever does not believe has already been condemned,
because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
And this is the verdict,
that the light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light,
because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.
The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . The first reading tells of the exile to Babylon. This event is absolutely central to understanding the Old Testament. The people and priests are guilty of infidelity after infidelity until the anger of God reaches its limit and the people are carried off into exile. Why did the exile happen? For a variety of political and military reasons? No! Scripture is very clear: the exile happened because the people disparaged the benevolence and love of God for them. We too think that we have dozens of different problems, but in reality we have only one: our failure to believe and accept God’s love for us. This is what causes our “exile”, our unhappiness, our brokenness. Our preoccupation with our own self-realization leads us to ignore the love and compassion of God for us. The Gospel this Sunday proclaims the unconditional love of God for each of us: “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that whoever believes in him would not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world so that the world might be condemned, but so that it might be saved through him”. The key to every spiritual challenge we face is our acceptance of God’s loving salvation unveiled for us by the face of Jesus.

The exile is of great significance in the Old Testament. It is the key to reading many of the Messianic texts and to understanding the structure of the entire Hebrew Bible.
In this fourth Sunday of Lent we hear the marvellous dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus in the third chapter of the Gospel of John. The Gospel is prepared by the first reading from the second book of Chronicles. It is worth noting that this is the last book in the Hebrew Bible, so we are reading some of the last words in the Old Testament as far as the people of Israel were concerned. The reading describes the beginning and end of the terrible event of the exile. It is not possible to understand the structure of the Old Testament, the promises concerning the Messiah and the mentality underpinning the texts unless we take into account the significance of the exile. In the history of Israel there are many moments of darkness and light, tribulation and exultation, but the exile is a paradigm which has a particular significance.

The exile happened because the people did not accept the loving compassion of their God. After seventy years in exile they matured and their hearts returned to the Lord.
The description in the first reading is very densely summarised. The people and the priests of Israel were guilty of infidelity upon infidelity, committing the same abominations as others peoples and contaminating the Temple. The Lord in his compassion sent messenger after messenger to warn the people, but these were rejected until the anger of the Lord against his people reached its limit. As a consequence, the enemies of Israel demolished the walls of Jerusalem and entered the Temple. The people were put to the sword or carried off to slavery in Babylon. We could say that the ones who were sent into exile were those who disparaged prophecy, those who did not appreciate the special loving care of God towards his people. And then the text ends with these words: “In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, in order to fulfil the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah,  the LORD inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom, both by word of mouth and in writing: ‘Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!’” There is a people who went into exile and, by the generous providence of God, there is a people who returned from exile. What is it that caused the people to be sent into exile? Their disparagement of the love of God for them. What permits them to return from exile? The loving care of God. Only now the people are able to take this love seriously. During the seventy years of exile, the people mature a lot and learn many lessons. Scripture has many testimonies to the benefits that accrued as a result of this period of correction.

The real problem of humanity is its rejection of the love of God. This is what causes our “exile” and belief in God’s love helps us to return!
The Gospel too proclaims that there is a way back, a way of light, a way to reach salvation. This salvation impinges on the central problem of humanity. Was the event of the exile in Babylon the result of economic, political or military factors? No. Scripture tells us that it was a result of the rejection of the benevolence of God. As the Gospel says, “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that whoever believes in him would not die but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world so that the world might be condemned, but so that it might be saved through him”. Belief in the love of God, belief that God desires to save us, belief in his benevolence: this is what permits us to return from exile! What is the real tragedy of man? This or that pain, disaster or setback? No! The real tragedy is that we do not believe that God loves us dearly. Our love of anger, our attachment to complaining, our tendency to wallow in negative attitudes instead of welcoming the tender love of the Lord for us. It is vital that we believe that God is saving us in every single event of our lives! He does not forget us. He is love and treats us as his dearest children . In Jesus Christ, God has made his face known. The key to every spiritual challenge we encounter is to believe in the love of God and his goodness.

This Sunday, the unconditional love of God for you and me is proclaimed!
We tend to think that we have dozens of problems, but the only thing that ultimately determines our happiness is whether we open ourselves to receive his tenderness. God can only offer us his love. If he forces it upon us then it is not love. The love of the Lord is offered as a gift, but like any gift we can take it or leave it. How many books have been given to us as gifts that we have not even opened! And it is the same with the love of God. We do not accept this gift because we are too preoccupied by our own affairs. This Sunday the unconditional, generous offer of salvation is proclaimed. Jesus shows us the face of God. He unveils the fact that none of us should feel left out of salvation. All can be saved because all are loved! We all have the capacity to say no. It is a really vital matter that we welcome this beautiful invitation. In Sunday’s Gospel, God presents himself as someone who implores us, saying: “Welcome me. Believe me. Allow yourself to be loved by me”.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

 March 4th 2018.  Third Sunday of Lent
GOSPEL   John 2:13-25
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   John 2:13-25
Since the Passover of the Jews was near,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,
as well as the money changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,
and spilled the coins of the money changers
and overturned their tables,
and to those who sold doves he said,
"Take these out of here,
and stop making my Father's house a marketplace."
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him,
"What sign can you show us for doing this?"
Jesus answered and said to them,
"Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."
The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,
and you will raise it up in three days?"
But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
Therefore, when he was raised from the dead,
his disciples remembered that he had said this,
and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.
While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover,
many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing.
But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all,
and did not need anyone to testify about human nature.
He himself understood it well.
The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . The first reading has the proclamation of the Ten Commandments. Is there a commandment that is more important than the others? In the rabbinic tradition there is the story that a disciple goes to his rabbi and asks: “Why do the last commandments tell us not to desire the property or wife of my neighbour when the earlier commandments already prohibit stealing and adultery? Do the commandments repeat themselves?” The rabbi replies: “The earlier commandments prohibit the transgression itself but the final commandments tell us the origin of our transgression, which is the desire of the heart”. In the Gospel we read the account of Jesus’ purification of the Temple, when he chases the merchants and money-changers away with a cord. The purification of the Temple precedes the real job of purification which Jesus came to accomplish: the purification of our hearts. It is the state of our hearts that is responsible for everything that we do. Jesus once said that it is not that which enters our mouth which defiles us but that which comes forth from the heart. When we assume and welcome our baptism, we are regenerated by Jesus so that we begin to be filled with the desires of the Holy Spirit. We need Jesus to purify our hearts! It is useless to think that we can be transformed if we just apply ourselves with more determination, or if we try to change ourselves on the outside. We need to be changed from within. We need Jesus to enter our hearts with a cord and drive away the sellers whose only interest is material gain. Do we think that we will get anywhere if we allow Godliness and materialism to cohabit our hearts?  Purification involves an interior dying to these things. Only the Lord Jesus can change our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.

Is there one commandment which goes beyond all the others?
On this third Sunday of Lent, Year B, we hear the dramatic Gospel recounting the purification of the Temple by Jesus. It is interesting that John has this event at the beginning of his Gospel, whilst the other Gospels place this scene in the last week of Jesus’ life close to the completion of his mission. But John describes this very serious event immediately after the account of the wedding feast at Cana. The first reading has the proclamation of the Ten Commandments. An interesting question to ask ourselves is: “What verse or phrase encapsulates the entire Gospel?” Of course, it is not possible to find a single phrase of this sort, but nevertheless it can be a helpful way to deepen our understanding of the Gospel. A similar question is: “Is there a commandment that helps us enter more deeply into the other nine commandments?”  The last two commandments (which are ordered differently in the classic account from Exodus than the numbering normally used by the Christian churches) demand that we not desire the wife or property of our neighbour. They can be collapsed into a single commandment that requires that we not desire what belongs to others. Could this be the most important commandment? How could such an assertion be justified? There is a celebrated rabbinic commentary that discusses this very issue. A disciple puts a question to his rabbi: “Why does the blessed Isaiah tell us not to desire the house, livestock or slave of our neighbour? He had already instructed us not to steal. Moreover, why did he tell us not to desire the wife of our neighbour when he had already told us not to commit adultery? Perhaps the holy and blessed Isaiah has given us commandments that are superfluous?” The rabbi responds: “By means of the other commandments the blessed Isaiah has shown us the transgressions that we are to avoid, but in this final commandment he tells us the origin of all the other commandments: desire, that which is in the heart”.

Jesus wishes to purify my heart, since it is the origin of everything that I do
In the last line of the Gospel for Sunday, we are told: “But Jesus would not trust himself to  them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” In other passage from the Gospel we hear that it is not that which enters the mouth that contaminates man, but that which proceeds from the heart. Where does our tragedy have its source? Our robberies, our adulteries, our homicides? All of these things are simply the result of what we have in our hearts. It is by our desires that we are crucified. Jesus’ purification of the Temple is a forerunner to another kind of purification, the purification of our hearts. And if we do not experience this purification, then everything that we do is a waste of time. Until our hearts are rid of that which produces our destruction, we will never be happy.

We must enter into our baptism, be purified by Jesus, so that our hearts are changed and begin to have the desires of the Holy Spirit. These desires will regenerate our lives and reorient our being
Often our lives are miserable not because they are miserable in themselves, but because we want them to be different than they are. How often we are dissatisfied, angry and frustrated only because our lives do not correspond to our own expectations. What is it that crucifies man? His expectations. Not reality, but what he expects from reality. Jesus discovers that the Temple has been exploited for gain and advantage, and the Lord must perform his task of the reconstruction of things, the reconstruction of this Temple which is humanity. Our experience of baptism, if assumed by us, if welcomed by us, becomes the basis of a radical re-foundation of our being. Beginning from our hearts, our baptism engenders in us different desires, as described in Galatians 5. These desires of the Spirit involve a reorientation of our being. We might try to change ourselves from the outside; we might seek to be faithful by applying ourselves with more determination; by not looking at what is not ours, not doing the things prohibited by the Law; but it is the heart that is the origin of all these things! It is the heart that is sick and is the origin of all our suffering, the heart that is the source of these desires that do not come from the Holy Spirit!

We need Jesus to drive these merchants of material things from our heart. We try to allow these material fixations to cohabit our hearts along with our religious sentiments. But such a condition will lead us nowhere. We need Jesus to purify us, which involves a dying on our part. Only Jesus can liberate us so that our hearts are filled with the desires of the Spirit
Jesus needs to give a hiding to some of the merchants, the sellers who focus on material gain, that dwell in our hearts. This Lent let us receive from the Lord Jesus the gift of being purified by him. Jesus knows what is in our hearts and is capable of giving us new desires. Through his word he can bring to fruition a new orientation in our hearts. If this does not happen, then we will end up going nowhere. And the problem is that we are inclined to allow these merchants to cohabit alongside the Temple. The work Jesus wishes to do is chase these merchants away from the Temple. We try to allow worldliness and Godliness to stay together side by side. Our egocentric desires, directed to our own self-realization, sitting side by side with the true God? No, this is not possible! Purification requires a dying on our part, a destruction. Let us allow ourselves to be “destroyed” by the Lord and challenged by his word. Let us permit Jesus to enter our hearts with the cord, correct us and tell us what we need to hear, fertilize the Good News within us. This Sunday the liturgy speaks powerfully to our hearts. Our hearts must be liberated by the only one who knows how to renew them, the only one who can transform them from hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

February 25th 2018.  Second Sunday of Lent
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 Mark 9:2-20
Jesus took Peter, James, and John
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses,
and they were conversing with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
"Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents:
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."
He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
from the cloud came a voice,
"This is my beloved Son. Listen to him."
Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them.
As they were coming down from the mountain,
he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone,
except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
So they kept the matter to themselves,
questioning what rising from the dead meant.
The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . Why is the story of the sacrifice of Isaac used as the first reading when the Gospel on Sunday is that of the Transfiguration? Because the story of the Transfiguration of Christ is intimately linked to the transfiguration that the Lord wishes to effect in each one of us. From the first moment that he is called in Genesis 15, Abraham undergoes a process of transfiguration by the Lord. Recall that he was elderly with no children and a sterile wife. Yet, through the action of the Lord, he would become the father of a great multitude. It is God alone who can reveal the true beauty and potential in each of us! The first reading tells how Abraham obediently took Isaac to the place of sacrifice. The sacrifice of children was commonplace among the pagan religions of Canaan. In our time too, the gods of materialism demand the sacrifice of children. We neglect our children, or refuse to conceive them, or abort them for the sake of our careers, or our material wellbeing. Abraham was not surprised when God asked for the life of his only son, and he was obedient right up to the point of sacrifice. But then he discovered that our God was not like the other gods. Our God is the one who gives life rather than takes it. Eventually we would discover that our God does not ask for our firstborn son but offers his own for our salvation, that our God is a God of love who does not ask anything from us, but only wishes to give. Whenever we undergo a trial and are afraid, let us trust in the Lord and then we too can be transfigured; we shall see his face, and when we encounter his beauty, we too will become beautiful.

The Transfiguration is a revelation of who Jesus is at the deepest level
The second Sunday of Lent is traditionally reserved for the account of the Transfiguration. But what has the Transfiguration got to do with the subject of the first reading – the sacrifice of Isaac? Why does holy mother Church consider this reading a good way to approach the mystery described in the Gospel? The true etymological meaning of “transfiguration” is that of metamorphosis – to go beyond something’s form. In other words, to change a reality, not by replacing it, but by going beyond what it already is, or how it appears – in a certain sense, to unveil the truth. The disciples see Jesus “beyond the form”, beyond what is visible. St Paul tells us to fix our gaze on invisible things. By the grace of God, Peter, James and John are able to see who Jesus is in a profound way. They perceive his mysterious reality and hear the voice of the Father. In the Old Testament, the voice of God represented his most intimate form of revelation.

The Transfiguration of Christ is intimately related to the transfiguration of humanity
What was the motive for the Transfiguration? In his letters, St Paul says that from glory to glory we are transfigured into his image. But are we talking about the transfiguration of Christ or our own tranfigurement? Are these two separate things? What is our transfiguration? From the moment when God first calls Abraham in Chapter 12 of Genesis, it is the transfiguration of Abraham by God that is in progress. He is an elderly man with no sons and a sterile wife. His life seems to be at a dead end, but he will become the father of a nation and the progenitor of many descendants. His very name will be transformed. “I will make your name great”, says the Lord. This is the meaning of transfiguration – the work of God in us.

It is God alone who removes the veil and reveals our true beauty, our true paternity. It is in encountering his beauty that we become beautiful ourselves
Where does it lead us? In the case of Abraham, he seemed the lowest in every sense, and yet he had in himself the potential to be the father of a great nation. It is God alone who can reveal who we are. Each one of us needs God to reveal who we are. We need the experience of God to lead us to our beauty, to our true paternity, to the greatness of our name. Every woman and man has a wonderful grandeur, but it is God alone who can make this beauty reveal itself. How does this happen? The eventual transfiguration of Peter, James and John will occur when they come to know the true face of Christ. Curiously we are transformed, not by working on ourselves, but by encountering the Lord. When he changes in our eyes, we too are changed. When we see his beauty we become beautiful ourselves. In his first letter, John says that we don’t know yet what we will become but we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is. What a curious thing!

Like the pagan gods, our materialistic gods demand the sacrifice of our children through abortion, neglect, or the refusal to conceive
It is often forgotten by many commentators that the Canaan in which Abraham lived had gods like Baal and Moloch who demanded human sacrifice. It was normal for the Canaanites to offer their first-born sons to their false gods. Our modern idolatry demands the sacrifice of children as well. To advance our careers we renounce children. If a life is not exactly as we hoped it would be, then we abort our children. There is nothing new about this. For money we sacrifice our children. Our careers demand the sacrifice of children. Worldly success demands children, children that are never born, or aborted, or neglected. We do not take care of them because the idols of this world demand our attention. The Canaan in which Abraham lived offered their first-born to the Gods. When God asks Abraham for his son, he seems to be a god just like the others. Abraham will discover that his God is completely different, but he will only make this discovery when he has shown himself completely willing to sacrifice his son. Many people are horrified when they read this account, but the person who was least surprised at God’s demand was Abraham himself! When God said, “Take your son and give him to me”, Abraham simply takes him and begins the journey. The gods, after all, all asked for that which one was most attached to; they made humanity pay the necessary taxes for existence. Abraham obeys and climbs the mountain, and there he discovers that God does not demand this sacrifice at all.

At the sacrifice of Isaac, God reveals to Abraham that he is a God of love who does not ask anything from us, but only wishes to give. Whenever we undergo a trial and are afraid, let us trust in the Lord and then we will be transfigured; we shall see his face, and when we encounter his beauty, we too will become beautiful
In Jesus Christ we will discover eventually that the Father does not demand the firstborn son but offers us his own. The ram that Abraham finds caught in the bushes is a sign of the providence of the Lord: he will provide the sacrifice. On this mountain, the Lord reveals to Abraham who he is. It is not simply the mountain where God does not ask for the life of Abraham’s son: it is the place where Abraham follows the Lord to the limit and where God reveals himself as the one who gives life. He is not like Moloch who demands the firstborn son. The true God is the one who offers his own son. It is here that Abraham truly becomes the father of a multitude because of what the Lord is doing with him. We too discover that the Lord does not require anything at all from us. He only wants to give to us, and when he appears to ask for something, it is only because he wants to give us more. If he seems to be asking a sacrifice from us and we are afraid, then let us trust in him, because it is in these situations that we will see his face, and when we see his face, we will be transfigured. The transfiguration of man is the encounter with God which draws out his authentic beauty, an encounter in which he discovers that God is much different than he thought. He is a God who does not ask for anything, but has so much to give us.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

February 18th 2018. First Sunday of Lent
GOSPEL: Mark: 1, 12-15
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­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: Mark: 1, 12-15
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.
After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
"This is the time of fulfilment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel."
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . The first Sunday of Lent presents us with Jesus’ time in the desert before he begins his ministry. Why does the Spirit drive Jesus into the desert? His forty days in the desert recall the forty years spent by the people of Israel before they entered the Promised Land. These forty years were a time of transformation in which a disordered conglomerate of individuals became the people of God, ready to settle and govern the land. In the Bible, the desert is a temporary place of passage, a place of formation and evolution. The human condition is also a desert. It is an incomplete state, in need of transformation and maturation. But why would Jesus need to enter the desert? Because, says St Augustine, that is where humanity is! We have rejected the Garden of Eden and we live in a state of isolation, solution, fear and irresolution - a veritable desert. Jesus comes to save humanity in its entirety. He wishes to with us in our trials and temptations, in those parts of our existence that are fearful, unresolved and alone. Lent is a time when we come face to face with the desert within us. The Gospel tells us that Jesus was among the wild beasts and the angels ministered to him. In the desert of Lent, let us allow Christ to bring these problematic aspects of ourselves into contact with angels.

In life we all need signs like the rainbow, signs that show that our struggles have meaning
As always, the first Sunday of Lent presents the account of the time spent by Jesus in the desert. We are called to begin the period of interior struggle that is necessary if we are to arrive at Easter. The phase in the desert is a very important part of our journey. The first reading recounts the end of the Flood. In a sense the Flood is a negation of creation. The Genesis account tells of the separation of the waters on the second day of creation. In the Flood, these waters reunite and bring an end to much of life, apart from that saved by Noah who follows the indications of the Lord. After the tragic event of purification a sign appears in the sky, a rainbow, which marks the end of the time of destruction. Humanity needs this sign! Apart from the beauty of this phenomenon of the refraction of light - a beauty that appeals to everyone especially children - there is a sense of rebirth with the appearance of a rainbow. We all need signs like the rainbow to indicate that our problems have meaning, that they lead us to somewhere better, that there is something other than destruction, that there is a solution to the mysteries of life.

Lent, like the desert, is a place of passage. The human condition is incomplete and in need of the transformation that requires passage through the desert
The fact is that humanity finds itself in this desert, and this point is underlined by the season of Lent. The people of Israel had to spend forty years in the desert before entering the Promised Land and experiencing the new condition of freedom. When Jesus spends forty days in the desert, it is an image of the condition of humanity. All of us are in a place that is incomplete and inhospitable. The typical characteristic of the biblical conception of desert is that it is a place of passage, a place of trial. Mark is the oldest of the Gospels and he recounts the events in his usual succinct fashion, keeping his account to the essentials. In other years, we read the versions of Matthew and Luke in which various details of the events of the temptations are given. These profound passages, rooted in Scripture, are interesting and inspirational, but Mark summarises it all in a few simple words. Every element of these words is precious. Jesus has just been baptised, and this might seem to indicate that he is ready to begin his mission. But no, there is a passage that he cannot avoid. The Spirit drives him into the desert. The desert is a category all of itself. Scripturally speaking, it is the place of formation, the place where the people of Israel were formed over the course of forty years. And that is why the number forty appears again in the account of Jesus’ time in the desert. During those forty years of evolution, a people of slaves is transformed into a people who are ready to settle down and govern the Promised Land. From being a disordered conglomerate of people, they are formed into a unified and ordered people. The desert has this positive role, but yet it remains a place of passage, a place where one cannot live or settle down. It is a place where issues are confronted in order to arrive at maturity.

Jesus enters the desert in order to be with us because humanity is in the desert
St Augustine asked why Jesus would need to go into the desert? Because humanity finds itself in the desert! Humanity has lost the Garden of Eden and finds itself in this problematic state of incompletion. The Hebrew word for desert is midbar, a term that means “where the word is absent”. When we think of desert we tend to think of a sandy place like the Sahara. The deserts of Sinai or Judea are not like this. They are rocky with a lot of shrubbery. There is life in the desert, but it is an inhospitable and ungovernable place, not organised by humanity. In contrast to the presentable and orderly dimension of human life, there is the desert where the wild animals, spiders and insects hold sway. These animals represents what is unresolved in man. It is there that Christ must go. It is there that Christ must bring these wild beasts into contact with the angels. To be “with the beasts” is to affront the place within ourselves that is the desert. The Greek for desert is eremos, the place that is isolated from everything else. Jesus does not begin with abstract theology, he begins with the problem of humanity, his solitude, his interior beasts, the issues within him that are unresolved. Lent is a wonderful time to enter into these unresolved issues of our lives and discover that here, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can find angels. Christ is truly human and he wants to bring humanity to salvation. He does not want man to throw away a part of his life, nor exist with his life divided into different sections. Christ wants to redeem that part of man which is bestial, ugly, fearful, unresolved, alone and separated. Lent is a time for humanity to discover peace by confronting himself. Christ did not come to save the presentable aspect of humanity, but to save humanity in its entirety, especially its side that is filthy and neglected.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

February 11th 2018.  Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel: Mark 1:40-45
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 Mark 1:40-45
A leper came to Jesus and pleaded on his knees: ‘If you want to’ he said ‘you can cure me.’ Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. ‘Of course I want to!’ he said. ‘Be cured!’ And the leprosy left him at once and he was cured. Jesus immediately sent him away and sternly ordered him, ‘Mind you say nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering for your healing prescribed by Moses as evidence of your recovery.’ The man went away, but then started talking about it freely and telling the story everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived. Even so, people from all around would come to him.
The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . A leper presents himself to Jesus and says, “If you want to, you can heal me”. God wants us to be healed in the fullest sense of the word! But the Gospel reveals that being healed is not just the absence of disease. It involves living a new way of life. In our parishes and churches, we receive innumerable graces. We ask God to heal us, to help us overcome anguish, resolve problems, take away suffering. But what do we do when God grants us the grace we ask? It is an indisputable fact that we behave in a frivolous and stupid way with the graces we receive, just like the leper in the Gospel. We return from Holy Communion and start silly chatter with the person sitting next to us. Graces and healings are not momentary events! Being healed of an illness is not just the absence of disease. Being purified by God is not an act that happens once and lasts forever. God wants us to assimilate and nurture these graces and healings, as the Gospel story demonstrates. Sometimes we doubt that God wants us to be healed and purified, but there can be no doubt that he wants us to be healed in the fullest sense of the word! The problem is that we do not nurture and possess the graces that he gives us. We have a responsibility to assimilate these graces and make them into a way of life that is beautiful, pure and wholesome.

The first reading gives the Old Testament regulations regarding leprosy. The leper was basically excluded from society
The first reading provides the perfect introduction to the Gospel and gives the regulations that are to be followed by those suffering from leprosy. Because it was such a contagious disease, the leper had to show concrete signs that he had the condition, such as torn clothes. He had to shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” This made other people keep their distance. The leper, in fact, was required to remain on his own apart from the rest of society.

The leper appeals to the will of Jesus. What is God’s will for us? That we be healed in the fullest sense of the word!
In the Gospel, a leper approaches Jesus and says, “If you wish, you can cure me”. This man appeals to the will of Jesus. What is the will of God for us? When we pray, “Thy will be done!” we are speaking of that which God truly wants. Is what God wants something that has little regard for us? Or is the will of God totally bound up with his care for us? What God wants is that we are healthy, whole, and full of life! He wishes us to be clean and pure. When he sees the leper, he is moved to compassion. Our term for “compassion” derives from an expression that means “to suffer in solidarity with another”. But the Greek word for compassion in the original text of this Gospel means to be dramatically moved interiorly. Jesus is profoundly affected by his desire to heal this man. God, at the depths of his being, wants humanity to be happy.

The difference between being sick and being healed is not simply the absence of disease. We must live a healthy life. When God gives us a grace, we mustn’t just take it, end of story. This grace is not just an event in itself, but must be nurtured by us so that it becomes the beginning of a new way of life.
Jesus touches the man, even though he is a leper and the rules did not permit the touching of lepers. “Of course I want to!” Jesus says, “Be purified!” This is the will of God – that we be purified. The leprosy disappears, but Jesus then gives him some instructions that concern his convalescence. What does it mean to be healed? Does it mean to be simply without leprosy? Or does it mean to begin to possess a new state of existence that consists in living a life without leprosy? Many people ask for healings and graces. But graces are not simply received, they must also be possessed. The difference between being sick or healed is not solely the absence of illness. Being healthy involves living a healthy life with healthy attitudes. Otherwise a person cannot remain healthy for long. Jesus tells the man to go to the priest and to make the offerings prescribed by the Law. In other words, the healing has not finished here. He must now begin the process of living a spiritual life. Similarly, we should not simply “obtain” graces unthinkingly. When we return to our seat from Communion, do we start chattering about silly things with our neighbour? Do we spend even a moment contemplating what we have received? Do we give this grace a container in which it can be possessed for at least a moment?

When we receive grace, do we assimilate it and nurture it? Or do we use it frivolously and stupidly?
Jesus wants this man who has been freed from leprosy to remain silent about his healing and go through a process by which he can assimilate the gift that he has received, but he does not do so. The first reading tells us that the leper is someone who must remain excluded from society. We do not know how long the man in the Gospel had been ill, but it may have been a significant time, and during all that period he would not have been able to speak to anyone. So, instead of taking the time to possess his healing, he immediately exploits his new-found permission to speak with others. And how he speaks! He speaks with everyone and this means that Jesus is unable to enter the town. It is a curious fact: before the healing the man was expected to remain in desert places; after the healing it is Jesus himself who must remain in the desert because of the fuss that this event causes. How Jesus takes upon himself our illnesses, the consequences of our condition, and also of our stupidity! In our churches and parishes we receive innumerable graces, but it is an undisputable fact that we often manage these graces with frivolity and stupidity. We receive new and wonderful gifts, but we assimilate them according to the habits and attitudes of the “old man”. The leper in the Gospel has been given the gift of being restored to human society, but he uses this gift impulsively and reactively. His previous condition of being not allowed to speak conditions his response to being healed.

Being purified by God is not a once-off event. It is the beginning of a process of living a healthy and beautiful life. God wants us to possess the graces that he gives us and bring them forward, nurturing them into a way of life.
This Gospel tells us of the desire of God to heal us and purify us. But it also relates the need for each one of us to possess the graces we have been given and nurture them. We must not be content with the bare reception of the grace itself! This is only half of the real picture! God does not want us simply to escape from some vice, anguish, suffering or illness. He wants us to begin the process of living a life that is healthy, beautiful and pure in the fullest sense of the world. Becoming purified is not a once-off event. It is the beginning of a process that never ends. For all of our lives we must take possession of what is healthy, holy and what really counts.

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Sunday Gospel Reflection