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.

Friday, 2 February 2018

February 4th 2018.  Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
GOSPEL Mark 1:29-39
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 1:29-39
On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.
When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.
Rising very early before dawn, he left
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, "Everyone is looking for you."
He told them, "Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come."
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.
The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . The first reading from the book of Job presents us with the problem of human suffering. Later in the book, we discover the solution to the enigma of suffering, but it is not a solution of the intellect! Rather, it is a solution that can only be lived – the discovery that God is present in my life in the very midst of my suffering. In the Gospel Jesus walks out of the synagogue and goes to the house of Peter. This journey is very significant. Once, we would have had to enter a synagogue to encounter God. But now God, in the person of Jesus, has come out of the synagogue and into our daily lives. He goes to the house of Peter and encounters human suffering there is the person of Peter’s mother-in-law. The story of her healing is the story of two hands: the hand of a sick woman and the hand of God. This woman is not healed because of some talent or quality that she possesses. She is healed because she is touched by the hand of God. The story has a very interesting detail: she is healed and then begins to serve them. The real illness of humanity is our inability to love and serve God and others. How do we remedy this illness? By greater effort? By becoming more integrated? No! By encountering the power of God! The end of the Gospel tells how Jesus moves on because he needs to bring healing to other villages. This is our story too. We are not healed by God in order to remain as we are. The Lord heals us so that others too might be healed.

What is the Christian response to suffering?
The first reading on Sunday presents us with the enigma of the human condition as we hear Job cry out in suffering. The book of Job is a challenge that must be faced by anyone who wants to undertake a deep journey in spirituality. This book will eventually resolve the enigma of suffering in an unexpected way, a way that cannot be comprehended directly by the intellect, but must be lived and experienced. Sunday’s liturgy presents us with the moment in which Job cries out in desperation. This emphasizes that life is not something superficial, like a pantomime with little meaning. Instead it is something serious that demands a mature response from us. What response can we make to the suffering that is proclaimed in the first reading?

Once, you had to go to the synagogue to encounter God. But now Christ becomes one of us and comes to touch us where we are
In the Gospel, Jesus comes out of the synagogue after the healing of the man with the demon. He goes to the house of Peter and Andrew in the company of James and John. Up to that time, the synagogue was the place to go in order to listen to the word of God. The Gospel mentions the journey from the synagogue to the house. This is not a casual reference: it points to an important innovation in Christianity, a break with the old conception of the sacred place that comes with the incarnation of the Son of God, the God who situates himself concretely in our daily lives. The possibility of living the new life that comes from Christ is given in an ordinary house. It is significant that the Church in its early days developed in the homes of families. Once, you had to go to the synagogue to encounter God, but Jesus now comes out of the synagogue and inserts himself in the existence of ordinary people.

Peter’s mother-in-law is not healed because of her own abilities, but because she is touched by the hand of God
And what does he find? He finds suffering. The mother-in-law of Simon Peter is in bed with fever. This fact is recounted to Jesus. The story of her condition is mediated to him by a family, a community, a fraternity, that surrounds the woman and tells of her illness. How important it is to pray for each other! To speak to Jesus about the sufferings of those who are near us! Often an excess of words brings us nowhere, but a supplication that comes straight from the heart can bring about real change. The passage tells us that Jesus approaches the woman and then we hear a story of two hands, the hand of Jesus and the hand of the woman. The hand of the woman is the hand of a sick body, but it touches the hand of Jesus, which is the hand of God. He is the Messiah, the one sent by God, and his hand is the hand of the power of God, of the right hand of the Father who comes and brings with him the power of God. She is not healed because she is good or talented or integrated, but because she is touched by the hand of God.

Humanity is sick when it is unable to love, unable to serve others. We cannot remedy this by making more effort, but by encountering the power of God
The fever leaves her and she serves him, according to the text. This detail is important: we could simply have been told that she was healed and felt better; but instead we are told that she was healed and served them. The hand that was ill was no longer able to do anything, and it recalls the hand of humanity that is ill and is unable to serve, unable to be love for others; the hand that is paralysed and in bed and unable to move. This is the real illness of humanity. We seek to heal ourselves by trying to become more integrated or by applying more effort. What we really need to do is touch the hand of God. Jesus lifted her up and now she became able to serve. What must we do when we become unable to love? We need to be touched by the Lord and raised up by him. This is what heals us.

Suffering is the place where we encounter the presence of God in our lives
So far we have only considered the first part of the Gospel, but it gives us a perspective on the rest. This woman is healed because she has come in contact with the power of God. The first reading tells us how humanity is when it suffers alone. But, later in the book of Job, everything is resolved in the encounter with God, in the apparent absurdity of the situation when he realises that his suffering is the location of the presence of God in his life. In the same way, Peter’s mother-in-law discovers that the fever is the prelude for her meeting with the power of God.

Jesus moves on to heal other villages. Once we have encountered God, we cannot remain fixed in this position. If we are touched by God then we must go out to others so that they are touched by him also
Then the day is over and the evening comes, which signals the end of the Sabbath, the day in which they gathered in the synagogue. According to the law, no-one was allowed to go anywhere on the Sabbath day, but after sunset the day is considered over and everyone comes to see Jesus. He heals them, but when dawn comes they find that he has gone away to pray. Jesus, we are told, cannot remain in the same place. He must go beyond in order to touch more people. Jesus wasn’t sent in order to remain in Capernaum or to heal just one mother-in-law. He heals this lady and many people in Capernaum, but then he goes to heal people in the other villages nearby. This is the experience of the Church. Every one of us is a prelude to others. We can’t stop once we ourselves have been restored to order. We are healed in order that others may be healed. We are touched in order that others may be touched. Our life is a mission that is truly splendid. The grace of God in Christ is always the beginning of an even greater adventure that we must learn to discover.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

January 28th 2018.  Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
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 1:21-28
Then they came to Capernaum,
and on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.
The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked him and said,
“Quiet! Come out of him!”
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another,
“What is this?
A new teaching with authority.
He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.
The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . In the first reading, the people of Israel complain to Moses. They do not want to hear the voice of the Lord anymore because it fills them with terror. In the Gospel, Jesus preaches in the synagogue and fills the man with an impure spirit with terror. That is what the authoritative teaching of the Lord does: it makes us feel uncomfortable; it uncovers the deceptions and illusions in our hearts! When Satan tempts us, he rarely does so in a way that explicitly sets us against God. His methods are much more subtle. He leads us to justify and rationalise evil things as if they were acceptable and even good. The term “impure spirit” is very significant. Impure water is water than has something foreign in it. An impure spirit has good elements in it that seem acceptable, but these elements are perverted for deceitful ends. Woe to me if I think I can recognize the deceitfulness in my own heart! Woe to me if I think I can know when I am being led astray by Satan! How am I to win this battle against the deception and treachery within me? How am I to recognize it? The Gospel shows us that only Jesus can flush out the duplicity in our hearts. The man with the impure spirit went to the synagogue every Saturday, but it was only when Jesus spoke that he reacted violently. We all react violently when we encounter the truth. To drive out the deception within our hearts, there is only one solution! That solution is to stay close to Jesus and to the things of God! This will provide us with the constant exorcism that we need!

The people of Israel do not want to hear the voice of God directly. It fills them with terror. Moses foretells the coming of the one true prophet who will speak God’s words, but he also warns of false prophets. There are two types of false prophecy: the exterior ones who preach a false Gospel, and the interior perversion of God’s word in our hearts
The theme of the first reading reappears implicitly in the Gospel. Moses announces the appearance of a prophet that will be of equal stature to Moses. This prophecy is made in response to the behaviour of the people at Mount Sinai. They complain that they are unable to bear hearing the words of God directly. When God proclaimed the ten commandments to them they were filled with terror. This is all very natural! The truth is tough to listen to. It wounds us and embarrasses us.  We prefer to hear the truth gradually or through a mediator who brings it to bear on us more gently. Moses accepts the role of mediator but he is aware that he will not live forever, so he announces the arrival of a future mediator. This foretells the coming of Jesus, the one, true prophet. This authentic prophet will have the words of God in his mouth. Moses also speaks of false prophets who will pretend to speak the words of the Lord. This problem of true and false prophecy is a great exterior problem and also a grave interior one. Exteriorly, there are false prophets who misinterpret God’s word and preach a false Gospel. Interiorly, all of us are susceptible to thoughts and patterns of behaviour that misrepresent God’s word.

The authority and truth spoken by Jesus flushes out the impure spirit. The impure spirits within us are not evidently contrary to God. They can profess faith in God whilst distorting and misrepresenting that faith
In the Gospel we are presented with Mark’s first account of a demonstration of authority on the part of Jesus. There are aspects of this account that are unsettling. Jesus preaches in the synagogue on a Saturday and he preaches with greater authority than the scribes. How did the scribes teach in those days? The Hebrew tradition involved citing various interpretations of a given text. No single interpretation had more authority than the others. Thus there were many opinions, thousands of beautiful reflections on various passages of scripture, but nothing definitive. Jesus, by contrast, speaks with authority, with the sense of one who has the capacity to define things. This authority is made explicitly manifest by the violent reaction of the man with the impure spirit. Each Saturday this same man would have gone to the synagogue without ever reacting because no one had ever before spoken with authority. The man could easily bear the relativism of the rabbinic practices of his time! For as long as there was a general failure to define things clearly, mistaken practices and attitudes could carry on in a hidden way. The term “impure” is not an accidental one. It is a word that seems to belong to chemistry more than to ethics. Impure water is water that has other things present in it. The fact that the spirit is termed “impure” indicates that it incorporates various elements mixed together. The spirit cries out, ““What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” There is nothing false or deceptive about this statement! The most dangerous temptations are not those in which we do or say something evidently wrong. The most insidious temptations involve being lured into doing something that seems right in itself, but at the wrong time, or in an inappropriate way. Satan is not a beginner when it comes to tempting us. We must be careful if we think we are always able to recognize when we are being tempted. After many years of the spiritual life we are still regularly led astray by the spirit of deception, who is more subtle and intelligent than the human being.

Woe to us if we think we can recognize the false prophet, or the deceit within our own hearts! Satan is an expert at helping us to justify the indefensible
The impure spirit tries to escape destruction by professing faith in Jesus as the Son of God. The most terrible things are done in the name of God. Things that are done directly against God are relatively easy to recognize. What is more difficult to combat are the false images of God, the misrepresentations of his work, the exhortation to patience when God is actually calling for action, the claim that God is severe about things that he is not actually severe about, falsifications, perversions and half-truths about the things of the Lord. This is the work of the tempter. How do we win this difficult battle? Woe to us if we think we can recognize the false prophet at first sight! The battle is all the more difficult because we react violently when the deceit in our heart is at risk of being exposed. There is a serenity and calmness about thoughts that come from the Lord, inspirations that derive from the Holy Spirit. By contrast there is a violent reactivity associated with the things that have their origin in evil. When our thinking is impure, it is self-contradictory in itself, but it doesn’t show itself immediately: it shows itself when it is confronted with the truth. There are things in our lives that are incompatible with the teachings of the Church, the content of the Gospel and the stirrings of our conscience, but we justify them with a tortuous rationalisation that only serves to obscure the truth. We use our intelligence to justify things that are unjustifiable.

Only Jesus can flush out the deceit. We must stay close to him and to the things of God if the deceit is to be driven out of our hearts
So how do we flush out this impure spirit? It is the Lord Jesus who drives it out into the open. This is the important point of the Gospel! The impure spirit attended the synagogue happily every Saturday and only Jesus was able to drive him out. We too have desperate need of real contact with Jesus and the things of God. These things are incompatible with the things of evil. We need to become ever more conscious of those things that dispel darkness and illuminate our lives. There are things we don’t like to speak about, because if we were to speak about them, our self-deceptions would come to the fore. Often we justify things that are indefensible with the expression “You are unable to understand me!” If we can’t be understood, then maybe it is because the way of thinking that we are clinging to is an irrational justification of the deceit that lies in our heart. It is common for people with a spiritual director to notice that there are things that they are afraid to talk about. The things we are afraid to talk about are shadows of the impure spirit within us. We need to be where Christ is if this battle is to be won, for it is the Lord who wins the battle in us! These things we have said about the Gospel today are poor, elementary and incomplete. How much else could be said! Recall those moments when a clear light shone in our hearts and darkness was dispelled! When the deceit and delusion was driven out! We need constant contact with Jesus in order to have this continual exorcism from our inner deceptions. 

Friday, 19 January 2018

January 21st 2018.  Third Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel: Mark 1:14-20
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 1:14-20
After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’ he said ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’
As he was walking along by the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net in the lake – for they were fishermen.
And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.’
And at once they left their nets and followed him.
The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . In the first reading, Jonah tells the people of Nineveh that the city will be destroyed in forty days if they don’t repent. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says his first words: “”The time is here! The Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent and believe the Good News!” Both readings speak about a critical moment that has arrived, a moment of change. Life is all about change. We cannot grow if we remain fixed in our ways of thinking and modes of behaviour. We cannot love another person for life if we are not willing to change and be changed. Some changes need to be made with prudence, that is true. If we are in doubt about something, then we should not act unless the situation becomes crystal clear. But once something is evidently the right thing to do, then we must act without delay! Jesus calls Peter, James and John and they leave their nets immediately! How often we Christians know the right thing to do, but we wait, and wait, and end up doing nothing! We are potential Christians, but we do not turn the potential into real action. When it is clear that something in our lives is incompatible with the Gospel, then that thing should be left aside immediately – nets, boats, patterns of behaviour! That is what the liturgy this Sunday is calling us to do: to act without delay and do the right thing – that thing that my conscience clearly tells me is the Gospel thing to do.

The first reading and the Gospel both speak of the arrival of moments of change and conversion.
The first reading tells the short story of the mission of the prophet Jonah. Jonah had to undergo an interior journey in order to become a prophet, but here we just see the episode when he finally exercises his ministry and prompts the conversion of the city of Nineveh. This was the capital of Assyria and the fiercest enemy of Israel. The Gospel is from the first chapter of Mark, the most ancient of the Evangelists, and it gives us the very first words spoken by Jesus in this narrative: “The time is at hand! The Kingdom of God is near! Repent and receive the Gospel!” Jonah, by contrast, says something much more negative in tone: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed!” What is the connection between the first reading and the Gospel? The theme in common is that of a time that has arrived. Nineveh was a great city that required several days to cross. The conversion of such a city represented a change of historic proportions. Everyone, from the great to the small, put on sackcloth and repented. In the Gospel there is an explicit call on each person as an individual to change.

Change, conversion, flexibility, openness – all these are necessary in life
How does the human being change? There can be no doubt that the theme of Sunday’s liturgy is conversion. Conversion is something that is necessary. It does not happen once and for all - it must occur continually. Our hearts and minds must be living and flexible, not petrified in stone. It is impossible to live without conversion, without the willingness to abandon one’s fixations and modes of behaviour. Love is impossible if we are unwilling to adapt in the face of the things that happen to us. How can we raise a child if we are unwilling to move beyond our own interests? How can a man love a woman all his life if he is not willing to enter into the rhythms, surprises and states of soul that characterize her? Life involves allowing oneself to be changed by things. Of course there are some things in life that are non-negotiable, but a certain flexibility and openness are necessary if we are to grow in step with reality. A good way of offending someone is to tell them that they are inflexible, unchanging, wearing blinkers that only permit them to see things as they wish. We must open our eyes and be always capable of a new synthesis. In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis says a beautiful thing, paraphrasing the Gospel line that says “where your treasure is, there also is your heart”. Pope Francis modifies this slightly, saying, “where your synthesis of life is, there also is your heart”. All of us see the world from our own perspective, but this viewpoint is never complete, no matter how balanced and mature it might seem. We need to be changed and enriched constantly. Ecclesia semper reformanda est - the church is constantly in need of reformation and evolution, though it remains the same church. We too must be malleable and flexible, though always remaining ourselves and remaining faithful to the truth.

There is a time for everything. Some things require reflections and discernment. Sometimes it is not the right moment to act. But when it is clear what the Lord wants from us, then we must act without delay

So when does the moment of conversion arrive? Both texts this Sunday point to the question of time. “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed!” “The time is fulfilled! The Kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Life is not just a series of uniform events. There are moments when it is right to do something and other moments when it is not appropriate. If you do something wrong, then there is a time to correct that error before it is too late. There is a time to speak to children on a particular issue. When that time passes, it is no longer possible to speak productively of that thing. When we say an offensive word to someone, then the time to make amends is immediately. Later it is much more difficult to put things right. Sometimes it is better to wait until things calm down before speaking about a particular problem. The point is that life has a rhythm. We must enter into this rhythm and do the correct things at the correct time. When Peter, James and John are called by Jesus, they leave their nets immediately. Sometimes we are called to something, and the response should be immediate. Waiting is the wrong thing to do. It is true that things must not be done in haste. The things of God are done in a balanced way. But when it is clear that the time is at hand and God is calling, then we must not wait a second. In the interval of time during which we delay, the work of destruction enters. There are forty days till the destruction of Nineveh, and the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand right now. Once I have understood what it is I must do, then I must wait no longer! This is not haste. It is doing what must clearly be done. When something appears to our conscience as something right, good and appropriate, then we must not delay. St Augustine tells us that while something is in doubt, we should not make a firm decision. But once things are obvious then we must act. How many people refuse to do that which is clearly right to do! How often we behave like potential Christians, a dawn of Christianity that never becomes day, a handful of promises that never becomes concrete. We wait and wait without acting, even though it is evident [k1] what the Lord wishes us to do. When it is apparent that something should be abandoned, then it must be abandoned immediately. Firstly we should use all of the discernment that is possible in this world. But once things are clear then we must act, leave Zebedee and the boats behind. The things that have nothing to do with the good must be put aside - whatever it might be - boats, nets, ways of life. If Nineveh waits, the city will be destroyed. If Peter delays, his opportunity will vanish and he will become an anonymous figure. If we are to be true to our calling, then we must enter into the rhythm of life. When the truth is clear in our hearts, then we must act without delay.

Friday, 12 January 2018

January 14th 2018.  Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel: John 1:35-42
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 1:35-42
As John stood with two of his disciples, Jesus passed, and John stared hard at him and said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God.’ Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, ‘What do you want?’ They answered, ‘Rabbi,’ – which means Teacher – ‘where do you live?’ ‘Come and see’ he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day. It was about the tenth hour.
One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Early next morning, Andrew met his brother and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ – which means the Christ – and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked hard at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas’ – meaning Rock.
The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . In the first reading the Lord is calling Samuel, but Samuel does not recognize the call until he receives the guidance of Eli. In the Gospel, John the Baptist leads Andrew to Jesus, and then Andrew in turn leads Peter to the Lord. That is how the life of faith is: we need others to lead us into a deeper relationship with the Lord, a relationship in which our deepest identity is transformed and our very name is changed, as happened to Simon. And once we have had our own personal and profound encounter with the Lord, then we too can become mediators who lead others to him. How often we try to take our own self-sufficient path! How often we think that we can make progress by going it alone and focussing on ourselves! If we live in this way then we cannot lead others to Christ. This chain of faith is a delicate thing and we can betray it by not heeding the guidance of others, or by becoming false guides who only lead to ourselves. The Lord loves us to participate in his work and to assist in bringing others to the faith. John the Baptist is our great example. He never points to himself but only to Jesus, the true source of independence and freedom.

In the Gospel, people are led to Christ by people who point Jesus out. Then these people in turn lead others to the Lord
Many things are contained in this text for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, but we will use the first reading as the key for reading the Gospel. In the Gospel, John the Baptist sees Jesus and says, “Behold the Lamb of God!” Two of his disciples hear him and begin to follow Jesus. Jesus takes them to where he lives and begins an encounter with them. The passage continues: “One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Early next morning, Andrew met his brother and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ – which means the Christ – and he took Simon to Jesus”. John leads two of his disciples to Jesus. These disciples encounter the Lord and then, the following day, they do exactly what John the Baptist did for them! They lead others to the Lord. Simon in turn has such a powerful encounter with the Lord that his name is changed that very day. The person who is led to the Lord becomes a person who leads others to him. This is how we come to Jesus, by the fact that someone shows him to us, a person who leads, a person who invites, a person who indicates.

In the first reading, Eli helps Samuel to see that he is being called by the Lord. We too have need of the help of others if we are to get to know Jesus more deeply. And we too have the responsibility to lead others to Christ
The first reading tells the story of Samuel. This is one of the great prophets of Israel, one who governs his people. He leads them through the period of transformation in which they become a monarchy, anointing first Saul and then David, the beginning of the dynastic succession that will eventually lead to Jesus. And how did Samuel become such a great leader of his people? Because he too allowed himself to be led. The first reading, in fact, tells us that the Lord called on Samuel four times. It is only at the third call that Samuel gets prepared to respond to the Lord because at this point he is assisted by Eli, the priest. Eli instructs him as to how to respond to the call of the Lord. When the Lord summoned Samuel originally, the prophet did not understand that he was being called, but Eli understood and instructed Samuel to give the Lord his assent. This assent enables Samuel to become more fully himself, the prophet that he was destined to be. But he needed the help of Eli to guide him in the right path. Thus the first reading underlines this theme of the Gospel: the Lord does not come to us except through the help of another person. We tend to strive to make our way along our own autonomous path, a self-referential path in which we nurture the illusion of absolute self-sufficiency. We think that we can get by on our own steam even when it comes to important issues of life such as our relationship with the Lord. In reality we have a great need of guidance in all of the important areas of our lives. Incredibly, we are also called to be guides for others. The Lord Jesus loves to be assisted by us. He loves when we act as mediators who bring others to him. He loves to be made known through these means chosen by him. In the life of the Spirit we have need of the assistance of others. No-one is able to stand alone on his own two feet. In order to come to Jesus we need people who will tell us about him, assist us in understanding him. And we in our turn have the responsibility to build up the faith of others.

Others can lead us to Jesus but we must then have our own personal and profound encounter with him. Only then can we in our turn be mediators that bring others to Christ. A true guide leads people to Jesus, not to himself

The faith is something we learn from the Church, from someone who teaches it to us, who writes within our hearts those directions that we need in order to make our own personal, direct encounter with the Lord. In the Gospel, the first two disciples have a personal encounter with Jesus, and they do this because they follow the directions of the Baptist. Simon’s name gets changed to “Peter” because he follows the indications given to him by his brother, Andrew. In other words, he too has an experience that is personal and profound. None of us can reach what is important in life without the help of our brothers and sisters, without the assistance of someone who guides us. This chain of grace is a delicate thing and it is easy for us to betray it. We can refuse to follow the directions of those who lead us in the faith, and, equally, we can become deceitful guides ourselves, guides who do not lead people to Jesus but lead people to ourselves. Note how John the Baptist does not point to himself but to Jesus! This is the role of the true guide! The true guide does not lead to something that ultimately depends on himself. Rather he leads people to Jesus, and Jesus is the source of true independence and freedom.

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Sunday Gospel Reflection