Wednesday, 28 September 2016

October 2nd 2016.Twenty Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time
GOSPEL: Luke 17:5-10
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

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

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GOSPEL: Luke 17:5-10
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” 
The Lord replied,
If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
Who among you would say to your servant
who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field,
Come here immediately and take your place at table’? 
Would he not rather say to him,
Prepare something for me to eat.
Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink.
You may eat and drink when I am finished’? 
Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? 
So should it be with you.
When you have done all you have been commanded,
say, ‘We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.’”
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . The Gospel this Sunday seems to contain two disconnected statements of Jesus. One tells us of the importance of having faith, and says that faith as large as a mustard seed can accomplish great things. The other statement speaks of a servant who comes in from the fields and is now expected to serve his master. Jesus says that the servant does not deserve to be applauded for his tenacious service. Don Fabio tells us that these two statements are actually intimately connected. Faith in God is not an easy, passive thing. It demands tenacity, obedience and humility – exactly the attitude shown by the faithful servant who comes in from the fields and continues to serve his master. It is not easy to have constant faith in the Lord! Like the prophet Habakkuk in the first reading, we are surrounded by pain, anguish and desolation. How often we feel like giving up, like ceasing to pray, like resigning ourselves to despair! This is the very time that we need to abandon ourselves to the Lord, placing ourselves before him in humble submission, continuing to serve him. Such an attitude is not one of moralism or activism, but the attitude of one who wishes to maintain his relationship with the Lord above all else. If we can hold on in faith, then the moment of crisis will pass and we will have the recompense of joy and serenity that comes with walking in the Lord.

Does this Gospel contain two discourses that are not connected to each other? The first reading shows how the two sentiments are actually intimately linked
In this Sunday’s Gospel we seem to have the juxtaposition of two things that sound completely independent of each other. Jesus says, “If you had faith as large as a mustard seed you could tell this mulberry tree to uproot itself and be replanted in the sea, and it would obey.” Like the disciples, we too often suffer from the condition of having too little faith, of being only partially open to the Lord. But following this description of faith, Jesus seems to digress. He tells of a servant who comes in from the fields and begins to serve his master. The servant does not expect the master to be grateful to him for the work he has done. Once the servant has done his duty then he should say to himself, “We are unprofitable servants. We have done what we were commanded to do”. These two discourses seem so disjointed!However, the first reading from the prophet Habakkuk shows us how the business of being obedient servants to the Lord is actually part and parcel of having faith in the Lord. The reading refers to a situation of injustice and oppression. The prophet cannot bear it any longer and he says to the Lord, “Why do I have to see this ruin and misery?” God replies to him, saying, “The vision that I have shown you does not deceive. Wait and you will see that it is fulfilled. Those who are rash have no integrity, but the just man, because of his faith, will live”. The prophet is scandalized by the destruction all around him, but the Lord tells him of the importance of being able to abandon oneself in service to the Lord and await his intervention.

Having faith in God and being obedient servants of the Lord are the same thing. Trusting God necessarily involves abandoning ourselves to him when the chips are down and all seems lost. Having faith in God is not an easy, passive thing. It involves humble submission in service to him especially at the moment of desperation
The notion of living by the power of faith is one that has aroused much controversy. How are we to understand the statement about telling the mulberry tree to be uprooted and replanted in the sea? Anyone who knows trees will be aware that the mulberry is a majestic tree with an enormous network of roots. What effort it would take to uproot one of these! But Jesus tells us that with faith as large as a mustard seed - in other words, he is referring to the quality of our faith and not its quantity – the mulberry tree would obey. The second discourse, that speaks of the steward who comes in from his work in the field and continues to serve his master, is extremely relevant to this discourse about faith. The steward demonstrates the tenacity of one who places himself before God as a servant pleased to minister to his master. In life there are many enigmas, incredible poverty, much pain. How often we fall into exasperation! Like the prophet Habakkuk we ask ourselves how long we will have to endure this evil that surrounds us and touches us personally. And, as the Lord tells the prophet, the one who does not have an upright soul is in danger of succumbing to this devastation. In order to endure, we must have a soul that places itself before God in the correct manner, obedient to its master, fully conscious that his master has the right to govern him. There is a form of behaviour that might appear passive but is in fact proactive per excellence: and that is to place ourselves before God and entrust ourselves to him with confidence that we will not be disappointed; to serve him right to the end. The mulberry bush will obey us if we obey God. Life becomes fruitful, it one day transforms into something beautiful, but only if we remain with God, abandoning ourselves to him despite the obstacles and desperation that surround us. Often when we are climbing a mountain, especially with young people, we come to a stage where no-one wants to go any further. We have to say, “Keep going, we’re nearly there!” even if it is not quite true. For when we get past the moment of tiredness then we are able to go on and reach the point where we see the beautiful view. In our spirit and soul there is often the point of difficulty where we encounter a wall of internal resistance. This point of crisis exists in our prayer life, and in our efforts at serving others, but once we get past it then we arrive at a stage of balance and joy that marks the response of God to our plight. As the first reading says, “The just one lives by his faith”.

We are asked to humbly place ourselves as servants before God even in times of trial. This is not some sort of moralism. Rather it is the attitude of one who clings tenaciously to his relationship with God. And when we continue to walk with God, we do not deserve to be applauded! The walk itself is its own reward. Once we get past the moment of crisis we enter the stage of joy and serenity, God’s recompense for our faithfulness
How often we find that the “problems” is our lives do not actually get resolved, but we become better people as a result of the fact that we place ourselves in the hands of God through it all. The source of anguish does not go away, but we are changed, we grow more mature, we become adults. This attitude of doing what we have to do is not some sort of moralistic approach to life; rather it is the attitude of one who refuses to abandon his relationship with God. It is the attitude of one who goes beyond the tiredness, beyond the desperation. We all have the experience of holding firm beyond the point of crisis and discovering that things become more beautiful and serene. When it appears that all is lost and it is time to give up, that is the very time to cling fast to our hope. If we think we have already prayed too much, then (unless our spiritual director tells us otherwise) it is essential that we hold on longer and keep praying. We must stay constant in serving God and placing ourselves obediently before him; God will look after our recompense. The fact that we are mere servants does not mean that we are useless. As in the Gospel parable, we are servants who do not get paid because the service that we do is already payment in itself. We experience the joy of continuing to walk with our God, to climb that last stretch of beautiful mountain. The reason I am in these mountains in the first place is to climb them. Tiredness may have overcome me for a moment, and when I manage to pick myself up, I do not deserve to be applauded for continuing to climb and discover the beauty around me. In life, the moment will always arrive when we have to overcome our own state of the soul, overcome our own physical weariness, our fixations, our own notions of how things ought to be done; when we have to continue to move towards God and entrust ourselves to him

Saturday, 24 September 2016

September 25th 2016.Twenty Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time
GOSPEL: Luke 16:19-31
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

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

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GOSPEL: Luke 16:19-31
Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man's table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died,
he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. 
The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,
he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off
and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me. 
Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,
for I am suffering torment in these flames.'
Abraham replied,
‘My child, remember that you received
what was good during your lifetime 
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go
from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’
He said, ‘Then I beg you, father,
send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers,
so that he may warn them,
lest they too come to this place of torment.'
But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets.
Let them listen to them.’
He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham,
but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, 
neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . When confronted with the notion of hell, there are two temptations. The first is to live the externals of the Christian faith in a blindly obedient way, out of the terror of the possibility of perdition. Here there is no true conversion or possibility of real love. The second temptation is to deny the possibility of hell and to claim that God’s great mercy will mean that all of us will be accepted into paradise. But this clashes with the clear teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. Our Lord clearly reveals that we have the possibility of eternal damnation. The parable about Lazarus and the rich man highlights the importance of living a reflective life, a life that is conscious that our actions have eternal consequences. How many of us live dissolute lives! Lives that do not look beyond the present significance of our behaviour! How many of us are inclined to think that in the future a special “boat” will arrive that will carry me to salvation! This parable reveals that the boat of salvation is passing me by right now, today. The rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to tell his brothers to change their lives. But Abraham replied that they already had Moses and the prophets to instruct them, and they would not believe even if someone were to rise from the dead. We too have Moses and the prophets, and we also have had the resurrection of Jesus announced to us, but we still carry on living dissolute lives! The message of this Sunday’s Gospel is that God is giving us his grace, right now, for our salvation. Let us open our eyes and accept the graces that are being put in front of us this very day. Let us not waste the opportunities the Lord has sent me in the present moment that lead me to true and authentic life.

Our actions have consequences, not only in this world, but also for our eternal salvation
This Sunday’s Gospel presents us with the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. There are many themes in this Gospel, but the first reading from the prophet Amos draws attention to one of them: the scandal of those who live in opulent comfort and have no heed of those who are deprived. In the story of Lazarus, the poor man lies starving at the rich man’s door and is carried to the bosom of Abraham when he dies. The rich man dies also and ends up in hell. We are told that there is an unbridgeable chasm between the two realms. This last point is very important and it highlights the fact that our actions have consequences and that these consequences are serious. During our earthly lives we can experience conversion and embrace the mercy of God. In this sense our actions can be “reversible”, but our actions in general also constitute a global “yes” or “no” to the love of God, a “yes” or “no” to the call to serve God’s love and truth. We can rebel and refuse to submit to him as his creatures, and this can lead to a terrible outcome. There has been a lot of debate in modern times about the existence of hell, but if we were to deny its existence then we would be going against the Gospels: it would be difficult to find anyone speaking as much about hell as Jesus does in the course of the Gospels. He clearly states that we have the possibility of perdition. Jesus died for us; he is love incarnate; the face of the mercy of the Father; the one who prays for us from the cross while we are crucifying him. But our freedom is real and we can reject what he has done for us.

We can be tempted to obey blindly out of the fear of hell, or we can be tempted to dismiss the possibility of damnation entirely. The correct response to the notion of hell is to take the consequences of our actions seriously, to try to act in a dignified and righteous way
When confronted with the notion of hell there are two temptations. The first was more prevalent in the past. We can focus on the possibility of perdition, leading to acts of submission and obedience out of terror. But St John tells us that there is no love in fear. Fear does not produce real sanctity. It leads to acts of external conformity that are wholly oriented to one’s self-preservation. Such acts do not derive from love or from true conversion. The second temptation in the face of the belief in hell is one that we find more commonly nowadays. We flee from the notion of damnation and deny it. All behaviour is ultimately excusable in some way or other. We develop the hypothesis of an “empty hell”, speculating that each of us will be allowed into heaven regardless of our misdemeanours in life. But I think we profit little from useless speculation as to whether hell is empty or not. What is more essential is to entrust all our loved ones, as well as those who have sinned greatly, into the merciful arms of God. But apart from the temptations to live in terror of hell. or to live life whilst denying it completely, there is a middle way. This involves the recognition that I am responsible for my own actions. I shouldn’t live so much in the fear of the eternal consequences of my own actions as in the concern for the dignity and uprightness of my actions.

What is the correct response in the face of the problem of evil and suffering? It is not fatalism but the recognition that my actions have consequences. The parable reminds us to live reflective lives, lives that are mindful of the meaning of our own actions
Sometimes it is said that the final judgement is not so much about God asking humanity to account for its actions as humanity asking God for an explanation of the terrible things that have happened in the course of history. Enormous multitudes of people have been tortured and killed. Is all of this nothing in the eyes of God? No, it is not nothing! All of this is present to God. If we have concern for other people who are suffering, then God has a thousand times more concern for the creatures that he has loved into existence. The Lord does not give anyone the right to inflict suffering on others and we should never resign ourselves to fatalism in the face of evil. God did not will the evil that is in the world. Humanity must take responsibility for this evil, with all of the excuses that the heart of God will discover in order to show us mercy. But how does this Gospel passage help us to confront the problem of evil and suffering? It highlights the thoughtlessness of the rich man. We too carry on without asking ourselves where we are going. We live dissolute lives, which means that we behave without consideration for the final end of our actions. The dissolute person does not care that his life is short, that his youth and strength are disappearing. He does not realize that his independence is illusory and that he will soon need the care and mercy of others. The rich man in the parable does not bother examining the outcome of his behaviour. One of the fundamental principles of discernment of the human heart is the question: “Where is this leading me?” We must never evaluate things solely for their actuality but also for their consequences.

Am I inclined to think that my present behaviour is ok, and that in the future some special “boat” will arrive that will take me to salvation? The boat of salvation is already passing me by! God gives me the grace every day to be saved. I must grasp it. The message of this parable is to grasp the grace that the Lord gives me today.
The rich man asks that Lazarus be sent to his brothers so that they may become aware of the errors of their ways. This seems a noble desire, the urge to save his family. The response of Abraham is surprising. He says that they have the teachings of Moses and the Prophets to instruct them: let the rich man’s brothers listen to them! But the rich man replies: “No, they will listen if someone from the dead goes to them”. Abraham says, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, then they will not be persuaded even if someone were to rise from the dead”. This statement is relevant to all of us because Jesus has risen and his resurrection has been announced to all of us. Have we changed our behaviour as a result? The parable reveals to us that the ways of salvation are always at hand’s reach. They were already available to the rich man and his brothers and they are available to us today. We have the inclination to think that it is ok to carry on behaving as we are now, and that in the future some special “boat” will arrive that will carry us to salvation. The boat of salvation is already passing us by, right now. It is essential that I ask myself, “What must I do today in order to be saved? What is present in my life right now that must be embraced in order to be saved?” To carry on living in an unreflective way is not good. I can destroy my own existence and it is essential that I grasp the opportunities that come my way today for salvation. I must make use of the helps that are placed in my way today because they are the graces that the Lord gives me. The teachings of Moses and the prophets are graces that the Lord gives me for my salvation. He always gives us what we need for salvation. It is good and right to always ask for God’s help, but let us recall that he is already helping us. Let us open our hearts and fix our eyes on what he has given us. Let us not live our lives dissolutely, wasting the grace of God.

Friday, 16 September 2016

September 18th 2016.Twenty Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
GOSPEL: Luke 16:1-13
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

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

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GOSPEL: Luke 16:1-13
Jesus said to his disciples,
“A rich man had a steward
who was reported to him for squandering his property.
He summoned him and said,
‘What is this I hear about you?
Prepare a full account of your stewardship,
because you can no longer be my steward.’
The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do,
now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?
I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.
I know what I shall do so that,
when I am removed from the stewardship,
they may welcome me into their homes.’
He called in his master’s debtors one by one.
To the first he said,
‘How much do you owe my master?’
He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’
He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note.
Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’
Then to another the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’
He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’
The steward said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note;
write one for eighty.’
And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.
“For the children of this world
are more prudent in dealing with their own generation
than are the children of light.
I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,
so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
The person who is trustworthy in very small matters
is also trustworthy in great ones;
and the person who is dishonest in very small matters
is also dishonest in great ones.
If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth,
who will trust you with true wealth?
If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another,
who will give you what is yours?
No servant can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . The Gospel is difficult this week because it seems to commend the dishonest steward who uses his master’s wealth to make friends for himself in his hour of condemnation. But the message is ultimately a simple one: the goods of this world are to be used at the service of others, to lighten their burdens, to foster communion between us. They are not our true master, but are entrusted to us by our true master in the service of others. When we serve our earthly master, when we seek possessions, fame, positions for ourselves, then we are led into conflict with others. How many families become estranged over the family inheritance! But once we serve our true master, then we lose these earthly things and we gain our brothers and sisters. The parable is an invitation to reflect on the way we have administered the goods that God has given to us, the wealth we possess, the talents, gifts and opportunities that God has bestowed on us. How many of us would feel comfortable if God asked us today to give an account of how responsible we have been? We are all called to put ourselves in the position of the steward of the parable: imagine that out time of service is coming to an end and the Lord is asking us how well we have used the things and capacities we have been given. Have they become our master or have we put them at the service of others?

The Gospel is difficult to understand this Sunday. Does Jesus really encourage us to be dishonest with wealth? Or is he more concerned to give us a message about the importance of putting the things under our care at the service of others?
One of the desert fathers said, “Lord, grant that I may love you as much as I have loved sin”. This is a good key for understanding the very difficult Gospel text this Sunday. In the first reading, Amos laments the corruption of the merchants who cheat the poor by altering the readings on their scales. Then we come to this week’s Gospel, which has stretched the imaginations of many people. It tells of the steward who squanders the property of his master. The master becomes aware and calls the steward to him. “Give me an account of your stewardship”, he asks, “for your time of service is ended”. All of this recalls our own situation in life. The rich man who asks for an account of the service rendered to him is unquestionably our heavenly Father. And the steward represents the human person who is called by God to administer the grace that has been bestowed on him. We have been made stewards of creation, blessed with talents and qualities, called to look after the people that have been entrusted into our care. All of these things are goods that belong to God. We are just the custodians. This is true even in the case of our children. Children are not our possessions but a responsibility that has been entrusted to us.

 The steward lightens the burdens of others when he realizes that judgement is upon him. We too are more inclined to forgive others when we reflect on our own failures and irresponsibility before God
One day we will be asked to account for the way we have handled our duties. The state of the entire world may not be our responsibility, but the things that have been entrusted to us are certainly our responsibility! Speaking honestly, who among us has really been true to his duties in a faithful manner? Who among us would be able to face that ultimate weighing scales in a truly confident manner? Each one of us would have something to fear if we were called to account for our stewardship of the things given to us. In the Gospel, the steward’s period of service is being brought to an end, and now he must decide how he is to react. How would we react if we learned that we were at the end of our period of stewardship? The servant in the Gospel is brought to recognize his own limits, his own poverty. He is unable to work manually, and he is ashamed to ask the help of others. So he decides to administer the goods in a different way than previously. He reduces the debts of others and lightens their burdens. How often it happens that we develop a readiness to pardon others when we realise our own state of debt before God. As the Psalm says, “If you O Lord should mark our guilt, then who would survive?” We learn to forgive others their negligence and faults when we become more conscious of how we have failed to respond to God’s grace in our lives.

When we serve the master of this world, then we are led into conflict with others. When we serve the Lord and reject the things of this world, then we are at peace with others

An essential lesson for all of us is that the things of this world are not there to be possessed by us but to be put to service for the good of others. They are to be used to lighten the burden on others, to “reduce their debts”. Who or what do we serve? Do we serve the things of this world, or do we serve God? Once we come to serve God, then the things of this world lose interest for us. Most of our conflicts with others concern the possession of things, fame, positions of prestige, wealth. In other words, these conflicts arise because our master is the things of this world. We learn to love according to the designs of our true master only when we leave the things of this world behind. Sooner or later, we learn that to love someone authentically we have to leave behind the things of this world. If we are attached to the things of this world then it destroys our love for others. Brothers and sisters become estranged when they fight over the family inheritance. Love returns when we realize that it is more important to have a sister than to possess the family property; that it is more important to have fraternal love than it is to defend one’s own little corner; when we discover that the administration of things must be done according to the designs of our heavenly master; when we are motivated not by material gain but by love.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

September 11th 2016.Twenty Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time
GOSPEL: Luke 15:1-32
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

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

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GOSPEL: Luke 15:1-32
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So to them he addressed this parable.
“What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them
would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert
and go after the lost one until he finds it?
And when he does find it,
he sets it on his shoulders with great joy
and, upon his arrival home,
he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
I tell you, in just the same way
there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents
than over ninety-nine righteous people
who have no need of repentance.

“Or what woman having ten coins and losing one
would not light a lamp and sweep the house,
searching carefully until she finds it?
And when she does find it,
she calls together her friends and neighbo
and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’
In just the same way, I tell you,
there will be rejoicing among the angels of God
over one sinner who repents.”

Then he said,
“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father,
‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’
So the father divided the property between them.
After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings
and set off to a distant country
where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
When he had freely spent everything,
a severe famine struck that country,
and he found himself in dire need.
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens
who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought,
‘How many of my father’s hired workers
have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’
Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field
and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns,
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’”
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . In the first reading, God wants to punish his people for their terrible infidelity, but Moses reminds him of his promises and the Lord “changes his mind”. What can this mean? Does God really become merciful in response to our intercession? The Gospel throws light on this enigma. Here we are told the story of the merciful father whose only concern is to be a father. He is not interested in the past wrongs committed by the younger son; he is not even interested in the past righteous actions of the older son; what he wants is that both of them have an intimate relationship of love and trust with him. This is the message of the Year of Mercy. The real issue in life is not conformity or non-conformity with ethical systems; what counts is that we have life. And this requires being in right relationship with God. Wrong actions break our intimacy with the Lord. The priority is to foster this relationship of closeness to God. Returning to the first reading, it is not that Moses really changes the intentions of God. The dialogue between him and the Lord is a way of expressing the reality that God does not operate according to an internal weighing scales in which right actions are rewarded and wrong actions punished. It is we who are changed by this dialogue as we come to realize that God is a Father whose priority is not a simplistic application of justice, human-style, but an exercise of divine paternal love.

In the first reading Moses intercedes with God on behalf of the people. As a result God “repents” and does not act as justice demands. Instead he is merciful. How are we to understand this notion of a God who changes his mind in response to human intercession?
The first reading this Sunday helps us to approach the parable of the merciful Father contained in the Gospel. In the Book of Exodus, Moses is receiving the tables of the Law when God informs him that the people have made an idol out of metal and have prostrated themselves before it. They have betrayed the covenant even while it is still being made. The Lord foretells a great punishment and the destruction of the people. Moses intercedes for Israel saying, Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with such great power and with so strong a hand? Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and how you swore to them by your own self, saying, I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky; and all this land that I promised’”. And then, enigmatically, we are told that the Lord repented of the evil he had threatened on his people. The notion of a God who repents is an anthropomorphic one and a source of frustration for those who criticize the bible. But the word of God is something that seeks to foster growth, transformation, change in the human being. Thus we are presented with a dialogue between God and his collaborator that results in God changing his position. The lesson here for us is that we all have a duty to intercede for each other, to assist each other with prayer. This story of God “repenting” of his intentions is an effort by our poor minds to grapple with the greatness and mystery of God and to understand how God’s justice works.

The Gospel presents the picture of a father who is not fixated by the interior weighing scales of the rights and wrongs committed by his sons. Instead his priority is to be a father to his sons.
In the Gospel this week, we hear how the Pharisees are irritated by the fact that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them, whilst justice requires that they be rejected. In God there is something that goes beyond the little interior weighing scales that each one of us possesses, a scales that says that things are either right or wrong, black or white. In God there is something greater and more noble. The parable tells us of a father who has this divine concept of justice; it is his paternal relation to his son that is the central issue. When his son returns, what is important is not that he has erred but that he has come back. And now that he is back, it is not essential whether he works as a servant or not (the issue that the older son is fixated by) but that he live this relation of sonship, a relationship of trust with his father.

The dialogue with Moses in the first reading is really a journey of discovery for Moses and for us. It is not that God changes his mind. It is we who change as we come to realize that God’s love is greater than simple acts of reward and punishment. God wants us to have life, to have an intimate relationship with him. Good and righteous actions mean that we are on the path of life.

Returning to the first reading, God ought to destroy these idolaters, we feel, but he does not. They have only just been led out of the land of Egypt and they have already deviated from the path the Lord indicated to them. But God does not destroy them. He listens to Moses who reminds him of his promise. In reality, this dialogue is an expression of the love of God which is broader than simple reward and punishment. God does not ignore the requirements of justice, but neither does he ignore the bounty of the promises he has made to us. And he cannot neglect the enormous care he has for his people. We must continuously open ourselves to recognizing that God is always greater and deeper than we can imagine. The change of position of God described in the first reading is not very surprising when we consider that we are talking about the Lord of life. It is really we who change position as we come to gradually understand better his love. The point of this Gospel and of the whole Year of Mercy is to help us understand that justice only makes sense within the context of authentic relationship. In the first reading, Moses’ intercession consists in reminding the Lord that this is his people, the people that he has interacted with and to whom he has made promises. In the Gospel parable, the father is exactly that, a father. All of this prompts us to ask: What are our sins before God? What are our good actions before God? It is not that we make God content by our good actions! We are simply on the way of death or on the way of life. Our good actions bring us into intimacy with the Lord and our sins break our intimacy with him – this is what counts, not the ethics and morals of who is better or who is worse! The older son judges his brother using this mentality. And the younger brother has the exact same mentality, thinking that, when he returns, his past actions entail that he will now have to live as a slave. Reality is completely different. God is the unmoving point of reference of what is real. His love is the parameter that never changes. He never refrains from being our God, from being faithful to his promises. He is faithful to that which Jesus has reveals; namely, that he is willing to do anything for us.

Friday, 2 September 2016

September 4th 2016.Twenty Third Sunday of Ordinary Time
GOSPEL:Luke 14:25-33
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

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

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GOSPEL:Luke 14:25-33
Great crowds accompanied Jesus on his way and he turned and spoke to them.
If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple.
Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. ‘And indeed, which of you here, intending to build a tower, would not first sit down and work out the cost to see if he had enough to complete it? Otherwise, if he laid the foundation and then found himself unable to finish the work, the onlookers would all start making fun of him and saying, “‘ Here is a man who started to build and was unable to finish”. Or again, what king marching to war against another king would not first sit down and consider whether with ten thousand men he could stand up to the other who advanced against him with twenty thousand? If not, then while the other king was still a long way off, he would send envoys to sue for peace. So in the same way, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . The words of the Gospel seem very radical. Are we really being told that we must hate our family members in order to follow Jesus? Jesus wishes us to know that the Christian life is not some piece of furniture in the living room that does no harm to anyone. It is not a benign therapy that makes us feel good and leads us nowhere. It is not a rationalist ethical programme for life. The Christian life has its origin in the virginal conception of Mary, an event that does not come from human seed. Jesus comes in order to lead us from this earthly life to the heavenly Father, and this is a journey that requires the renunciation of the earthly and an embracing of the heavenly. The Gospel passage tells us that we should sit down and think about this in a reasoned manner, like a man about to build a tower, or a general about to engage in battle. Do we really wish to follow Jesus? If so, then we better appreciate what a radical transformation of life this involves. The Lord wants to transform our essence, not just improve our behaviour in a superficial way. He has thrown open the gates of heaven, given us the Eucharist which makes us temples of his body, invited us into spousal communion with him. This cannot be achieved if we remain as we are, attached to our own earthly and worldly ways of life. When we pray the Our Father, we say, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. But then we continue in our mediocrity, pursuing our will on earth. To reach heaven we must detach ourselves from the things of this earth. We cannot bring the idols of this world into the next.

The words in the Gospel are very radical and seem to say that we must sacrifice our family relationships in order to be Christian. But the meaning of the passage is deeper than the words. It is calling for a new type of life that is detached from the old way of relating and doing
This week’s Gospel is one of the most radical in all of the Biblical literature. The modern translation (in the Italian version) tries to make the words of Jesus more comprehensible. Instead of saying, “Anyone who comes to me without hating his father, mother, etc, cannot be my disciple”, the new Italian translation tries to be more accessible: “If someone comes to me and does not love me more than he loves his father, mother, etc,”. But even with new translations, the passage in itself uses the language of contraposition, the famous “evangelical antipathy” that is spoken of much less in modern spirituality than it was in bygone ages. How are we to understand the sense of such a passage that seems to exhort a radical break in familial relationships? The thing is that the passage does not speak only of despising father, mother, sisters and sisters, but also one’s own life. In the end it is a question of life. And whilst we might first be taken aback that Jesus would appear to speak against the commandment to honour one’s parents, the fact is that Jesus is talking about a way of life on a much deeper level. The Gospels in general often use paradoxical language to express certain truths, and whoever has difficulty with such language would be better off not opening the Bible at all! It is typical of the Semitic mind to use a paradoxical mode of expression.

The Gospel asks us to reason things out in a calculated manner, like a man about to build a tower or a general about to engage in battle. Do we wish to follow Christ authentically? If so, then our lives must be radically transformed. Christianity is not a piece of furniture in the living room but a transfiguration of our essence, our way of doing things, our way of relating to others.
This Gospel begins by asking us to renounce our affective relationships, but then goes even further to say that we must carry our cross and follow the Lord. We are to renounce all our possessions using the same kind of logic that one uses when constructing a tower or going to war. We must calculate if we are capable of bring to completion our intention to follow Jesus. Leaving behind everything we own, carrying our cross, making a radical break in our affective relationships – all of these are part of the calculation that we have to make in order to follow the Lord. But what does it all mean? If we think that Christianity is some sort of generic benevolence in which we are all non-prophetic just like everyone else, where we all share the mentality of the spirit of the age, then we will have difficulty explaining passages such as these. However, if we realize that the Lord Jesus has come upon to earth to redeem us authentically, then these words begin to make sense. He wishes our essence to be changed radically, transfigured, not just made better in a superficial sense. If we believe that Jesus has thrown open the gates of heaven, if we believe in the Eucharist which makes us the temple of his body and creates a spousal union between him and us, the Church, then our attitude towards these challenging words is different. The first reading from Wisdom says, “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends? For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans. For the corruptible body burdens the soul”. In other words, we are called to a different kind of life that comes down from heaven. Our life is corruptible, our reasoning is weak and uncertain, our wisdom is very incomplete. The divine grace that generates newness within us involves a radical break with what is purely human.  Let us recall that Christianity begins with the virginal conception within the Blessed Virgin Mary. In a woman, not by human seed, a saviour is born, the Lord Jesus, who carries us towards the heavenly Father. The Christian life is a battle between the mentality of the flesh and the mentality of the spirit. This battle can be avoided by those who wish to make Christianity into a piece of furniture in the living room, but it is essential for those who wish to welcome Christianity in its full integrity. If the redemption of Christ only serves to give me the kind of life that I already possess, then why would I bother renouncing the idols of this world, or giving up my possessions? I would then be content with a rationalist, illuminated approach to life that focuses on ethics and nothing more. In this case, I would stay exactly as I am, content with things as they already are.

Christianity is not some sort of therapy that gives us what we want and leaves us as we are. It is something that leads to true growth. What do we want? An ordinary life or a heavenly life? A heavenly life requires renunciation, purification, detachment from the old.

But Jesus has opened for us the gates of heaven and announced to us something more. This “something more” challenges us to separate ourselves from our “paternal home”, from our human mentality. There is a great difference between our way of life and the life of Christ, and the cross of Christ is the instrument for eliminating that within us which is old. The cross brings the work of Christ to life in us. This Gospel speaks of renunciation, of division, of purification. All of these are essential! Christianity is not a therapy that pampers us with all the things we want. It is a true therapy of the human being that leads to true growth, not something that is pleasant and sentimental. It is a kind of life that is nothing short of extraordinary. This Gospel challenges us to ask ourselves if we wish to live lives that are ordinary or heavenly. When we pray the Our Father we say, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and then we go on to live lives that are mediocre! Such mediocrity is not compatible with our faith! When two people get married, they marry each other in order to achieve something extraordinary. When a person takes on a beautiful project, he wishes to accomplish something great and sublime. When someone wishes to love another person, he wishes to do something heavenly and exalted and true. Our hearts desire heaven, but to reach heaven we must detach ourselves from earth. We cannot remain within our old categories. We cannot bring the idols of this world with us into the next.

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