Friday, 27 November 2015

November 29th 2015.  First Sunday of Advent
GOSPEL Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

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

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GOSPEL Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.’
‘Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.’
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . In the first reading we hear wonderful prophecies promising good things for God’s people in the future. But in the gospel, Jesus speaks of a future day of anguish and despair. What is going on here? Does God intend to bless us in the future, or bring about doom? Do these readings contradict each other? No! The fact is that God has wonderful graces and blessings in store for each of us, but these blessings will seem like a curse if we are not prepared to receive them. In fact, Jesus tells us how to prepare ourselves for the dramatic events of the future. We must stand up and renounce debauchery, drunkenness and the cares of this world. Debauchery refers to the way that we squander the good things the Lord has given us. Drunkenness refers to the way each one of us is addicted to the gratification of our senses and our egos. The cares of this world refers to the way we are attached to money, possessions, social status, the admiration of others. If we are living our lives in this self-obsessed manner, then the future coming of Jesus into our lives will be a day of anguish and despair for us! But if we are prepared for the coming of Jesus (by living simple and upright lives of abandonment to Christ), then our future encounter with the Lord will be experienced as a wonderful blessing. Advent is about the future coming of Christ. We must live every day in preparation for his coming. This means “travelling light”, not being weighed down with the cares of this world and with habits of self-indulgence. We must be like athletes focussed on a big event, eliminating everything that distracts us from our goal.

God promises that good things are going to happen to us. But how can we ensure that we are ready to welcome those things?
The first reading is taken from Chapter 33 of the prophet Jeremiah, a chapter that has many consoling and uplifting passages. Jeremiah is talking to a people in exile, a people who has lost everything and seems to be heading nowhere. But God will do something new, the prophet tells them. “In those days and at that time, I will make a virtuous Branch grow for David,
who shall practice honesty and integrity in the land. In those days Judah shall be saved and Israel shall dwell in confidence. And this is the name the city will be called: the Lord-our-integrity”
. How are these promises of good things to be realised? In this time of Advent, we too look forward to something good that is arriving. How can we prepare ourselves so that we will not miss the good that is on its way to us? God is always promising good things to us and it is essential that we know how to embrace them.

 The Gospel speaks of a terrible day when everything will be changed. This might seem like a day to be dreaded, but it is a day to be embraced, if we only have the right attitude in life
In the Gospel passage from Luke, we hear of people in great fear and anxiety before the terrible things that are about to happen. What attitude should a disciple of Jesus have in the face of promises such as these? There is an art in learning to be ready for a new beginning, instead of living in a state of fear that things are going to end. There is always goodness in that which comes. There is always grace on its way to us through the events that occur in our lives. How can we make sure that we do not lose this passing grace? Jesus gives us some direct advice. We must stand up straight and hold our heads high. These are symbolic gestures. The psychology of a person can be deduced in part from his posture. We can infer the interior state of a person from the position of his head. Jesus asks us to stand up and combat those negative sentiments that make our heads go down. The human being overcomes the forces of gravity with his upright posture and straight backbone, allowing him to proudly behold the horizon and gaze into the distance. Of course this is symbolic language that does not exclude in any way people who have difficulties standing upright, but the idea is that the grace that comes to us is destined for the most dignified part of us, and we must stand up and be ready to embrace it properly.

 To be ready for the day of the Lord, our hearts must not be weighed down by attachment to the things of this world and to our own titillation. The first thing Jesus warns against is the way we waste the good things we have been given, squandering them in evil or useless pleasures.
To embrace the coming grace, Jesus tells us that our hearts must not be weighed down. What are the things that weigh my heart down? What are the things that slow me down and make me sluggish in life? These weights prevent me from utilizing the good things that life puts in my way. My heart is leaden and slow to respond to the positive stimuli that I receive. Jesus tells us what it is that weighs down our hearts: coarseness, debauchery, drunkenness and the cares of life. Debauchery refers to the wasting of what is good and beautiful. It entails having possession of good things and allowing them to be wasted in evil ways, or exchanged for things that are much less worthy. Each of us should ask ourselves this question: What good things do I possess that deserve to be defended? We all have things in our life that are beautiful and important.

 The second thing that prevents our hearts being ready for the coming of the Lord is our addiction to gratification, the things that indulge our senses and our egos.
Jesus also speaks of drunkenness. This need not refer solely to excess alcohol but also to the way that each of us is addicted to things that titillate our senses and our egos. We waste our time on secondary things, frivolity, a myriad of useless pastimes. We are busy doing ten things at a time, text messages, phone calls, little treats that gratify our senses. When an athlete sets his mind on a great goal, he simplifies his life and cuts out the superfluous. There is an art in managing oneself and not falling in to the habit of trying to do too many things. There is an art in doing only the things that count and leaving everything else aside. But too often we are drunk with the things that titillate us.

The third thing that contaminates our hearts is our attachment to worldly goods. Is my goal in life some earthly good? Money, possessions, social position?
Jesus also speaks of being weighed down with the cares of the world. This can refer to the stress and care that comes with being weighed down by riches and possessions. In this situation of comfort and wellbeing, we are often filled with anxiety. There are three questions, then that we need to put before ourselves. What are the real goods in my life that I must be careful not to squander? What makes me “drunk” in the sense of being a focus of my drive towards gratification? And the third question is what ultimate goal do I strive to attain? Is this ultimate goal something transitory that will be taken from me? Jesus warns us to be careful that the things weighing down our hearts do not fall upon us suddenly. How can I ensure that, on the day of the Lord, I will not have these things fall upon me out of the blue? The answer is simple: just as an athlete trains himself so that he can endure the race, so we too must prepare ourselves so that we are not too attached to these worldly things when the day comes that they are taken from us. Those who are not ready are unable to free themselves from the worldly structure that is collapsing around them. However, those who are ready, those who have prepared themselves by not giving themselves over to debauchery, gluttony and the cares of the world, these people are agile and ready to give up everything. Jesus speaks of those who have made their domain on the face of the earth having difficulty in this day of great transformation. If we remain aware that the earth is a transitory home, then I am ready to go. I do not carry many things around with me, so to speak. Some people, when they go on a trip, take a huge amount of luggage, including things that they don’t need. Good travellers travel light, fully aware that we need little, and that in any case we can find what we need at our destination. We too must be good travellers in the sense of being prepared to live elsewhere, not attached to the life I have here and now. Often, an event happens and our life is turned upside down. We must be ready, we must keep watch and not be deceived by the apparent solidity of these empty things. We must be prepared to be with Jesus. Our entire life is a preparation to meet him. If all of our existence is directed towards being ready for Jesus, then when he arrives we will truly be prepared. If, however, we live for the things of this world, then when Jesus comes we won’t know how to react. Jesus will in that case be an annoyance and a trauma. For those who are ready to depart, life is beautiful and agile, light and enjoyable. When life is fundamentally directed towards the newness that is God, then when novelty comes we are able to embrace it freely.

Friday, 20 November 2015

November 22nd 2015.  Feast of Christ the King
GOSPEL: John 18:33-37
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­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 18:33-37
‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ Pilate asked. Jesus replied, ‘Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am 1 a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?’ Jesus replied, ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.’ ‘So you are a king then? said Pilate. ‘It is you who say it,’ answered Jesus. ‘Yes, 1 am a king. 1 was born for this, 1 came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.’
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . . On the Feast of Christ the King we are presented with a Gospel story in which Christ is shown completely humbled before the secular powers! Yet he enters into a dialogue with Pilate, and in this dialogue he tells us the very reason for his incarnation. He has come to bear witness to the truth. This truth is that he is Lord of a very different kind of kingdom, a kingdom that is not of this world. Does this simply mean that Jesus is king in a different place, in a different world? No, his kingship is of a completely different kind from worldly kingship. It is not based on force of arms or any of the things that give dominion in this world. His dominion is based on the fact that he is love. His power consists in this love. Paradoxically, this power of love is shown to its fullest when he is nailed to a cross and exerts absolutely no power in the temporal and physical sense. What exerts dominion in my life? Which kingdom do I give my allegiance to? Where do my true loyalties lie? If Christ is really my king then I cannot remain attached to worldly goods, worldly enjoyment, worldly glory. I must follow Jesus who, when nailed to the Cross, showed that his kingship of love is expressed most fully when he becomes nothing for our sake.

Jesus is Lord of a kingdom that will never end. But what is it that never ends? All the things we possess will come to an end. The only thing that endures is ourselves, the identity that has been given to us by God
On this Sunday in which we proclaim Christ to be King of the universe, the first reading from the prophet Daniel announces the coming of one who will have true power, one who will be given the kingdom, the power and the glory. This will be given to him by the heavenly Father and all peoples will serve him in a kingdom that will never end. Every kingdom that has ever been established in this world has come to an end! Powers fade and disappear. If it is this world that confers authority, then that authority will endure to the same extent that the powers of this world endure. And the forces of this world are inevitably transitory; everything we possess here will pass away, they do not remain in our possession, everything will one day be taken away from us. Woe to us if we attach ourselves to the things of this world that pull us down! What is it that endures, transcends? Curiously enough, it is we who endure; it is our souls that endure, our inherent dignity. The importance we have does not derive from who we are in this world but who we are before God.

The liturgy for the feast of Christ the King presents us with Jesus at the moment of his greatest humiliation. He is being treated as a criminal and is hauled before Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea. Jesus is supposed to justify himself before the accusations made against him, but he has no interest in doing so. However he does enter into a dialogue with Pilate. In the previous section of John’s Gospel, Jesus was extremely reticent, refusing to respond to his interrogators. But now he enters into a profound and marvellous exchange with Pilate. Pilate begins by asking if Jesus is really King of the Jews. This is a curious question, because no one had previously formulated an accusation against Jesus in these terms. Jesus replies by asking, “Do you ask this of yourself or because others have spoken to you about me?” It is Pilate who is now the target of interrogation! What Jesus wants to do is demonstrate that his power does not come from this world. The world, in fact, is rejecting him and torturing him. There is another source for the power of Jesus, and this places him above Pilate. In fact, the governor is bothered that Jesus has placed himself above him and responds aggressively: “Am I a Jew? The chief priests and the scribes have handed you over to me. What have you done?”

Jesu says that his kingdom is not of this world. This does not mean that his kingdom is simply in a different PLACE. It means that it is a different kind of kingship altogether, not based on force of arms or any material thing
Finally, Jesus responds to a question. It is the first time he has done so since the various interrogations have begun. “My kingdom is not of this world”, he says. What a wonderful explanation of the kingdom that we invoke every time we pray the Our Father. “Thy kingdom come!” Which kingdom are we calling for? Where do we desire to live? Which dominion do we wish to be under? Jesus goes on to say that if his kingdom were of this world, his followers would have fought to prevent his capture. Sometimes we interpret this phrase incorrectly. We think that Jesus is saying that if his kingdom were based in this or that region, then his followers would have fought to protect him. But the fact is that the disciples did try to protect him! All the Evangelists recount that Peter took out his sword and tried to fight his assailants, but Jesus stopped him. The point he wishes to make to Pilate is that his kingdom is a different kind of kingdom altogether, a kingdom in which true disciples do not fight or defend in this manner at all.

The kingdom of Jesus is not defended by violence or force of any sort. It involves the freedom necessary to respond to God in love
Many servants of the kingdom will appear throughout history, servants who do not fight but love. This is something that has often been misunderstood, however. Many people have believed that once Christianity achieved a certain dominion in the world, then one would be justified in defending it. This is mistaken. The servants of the Kingdom of God do not have this competence or calling. They ought to keep their swords in their scabbards, for “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword”, as Jesus tells us. The type of kingship that Jesus is referring to, and the type of kingdom involved, is completely different in kind. The oldest text we have of this passage is in the Greek language. When Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world”, the word we translate in English as “of” has a particular meaning in Greek. It is like saying, “This table is not of wood, it is made from a different material”. Jesus kingdom is not of this world in that it cannot be established using the things of this world. It is not made of those things. It consists in something else entirely.

Pilate comes to realize that Jesus is a king, even if he (Pilate) has little understanding and barely disguised contempt for this unique kind of kingship
“Therefore you are a king”, Pilate responds. Jesus replies, “It is you who say it”. This reply of Jesus is not just an expression of speech. He is referring back to their original exchange when Pilate asked if Jesus were a king, and Jesus wanted to know if Pilate was saying that of his own accord or because others had described him as a king. Now Jesus is pointing out that Pilate has come to affirm of his own accord that Jesus is a king. The governor has listened to Jesus speak and has concluded, “So you are a king then”. Jesus reply is to say in effect, “Yes, Pilate, you have said it. You who represent the Roman empire, the climax of temporal power, you can see that the kind of kingship I am talking about is completely different to that you know of”.

Jesus makes a dramatic statement to Pilate regarding his kingship and the very reason for his incarnation: he came to this world to bear witness to the truth about God. He is that truth in person, for God is love. The Kingdom of Jesus is a kingdom in which God pours himself out in love for all of humanity
Then Jesus makes a statement that is nothing less than an explanation of the reason for his incarnation. “For this I was born, for this I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth”. The power of Jesus consists in this truth that he bears witness to. This is a different sort of power to that of Pilate, a different kind of sword, a different kind of weapon of combat. It does not simply ward off death but destroys death from the inside. “Bearing witness to the truth” does not involve giving a lesson in philosophy nor entail delivering a certain conceptual content. It involves being something. In fact, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life”. Jesus bears witness to a truth that humanity has lost at the beginning of history, the truth about God. Humanity has been deceived by the serpent, the “father of lies”. Humanity has become a slave of wrongdoing because it thinks wrongly of God. As Jesus is dying on the Cross, he says, “It is accomplished”. Here on the Cross he reveals that God is love and that the serpent is a liar, that God is good and that he doesn’t deceive us, that he is on our side. Christ puts this truth into the heart of people, removing the violence from their hearts, the fear, the shame, the solitude. This is a kingdom completely unlike those kingdoms that are established and defended by violence. In the kingdoms established by despots, laws are imposed from above. In the Kingdom of Jesus, disciples act from the heart in freedom, bearing witness to truth, and living according to the rule of love.

Friday, 13 November 2015

November 15th 2015.  Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
GOSPEL: Mark 13:24-32
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­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: Mark 13:24-32
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘In those days, after the time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory; then too he will send the angels to gather his chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of heaven.
‘Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. So with you, when you see these things happening: know that he is near, at the very gates. I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
‘But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.’
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . . The Gospel contains a prophecy from Jesus about the end times when the celestial objects will be covered and the earth will be thrown into desolation. This prophecy is also referring to the concrete situation of you and me in our daily lives. The Christian life involves continually experiencing the “end of the world” in that we are called on a daily basis to renounce our worldliness, the earthly possessions and the sinful situations that we cling to. Such renunciation involves personal suffering and tribulation, but it is a positive thing because it involves journeying towards the beautiful life that Jesus is calling us to. Sometimes there is pain and tragedy in our lives. This too is a call to leave behind old things and old attitudes and follow Jesus. In fact, the Christian life is the art of moving away from the old earthly things and embracing the heavenly kingdom. There is pain involved, sure, but it is also a beautiful and uplifting journey! Baptism is the beginning of the journey of moving from the earthly and the heavenly. This simply must continue all through life – otherwise we are not growing towards God! So these signs, these tribulations and sufferings, are signs that we are being called to God, to communion with the Son of Man who comes on a cloud in glory. If there are no tribulations in our lives, maybe that is a sign that we are not journeying towards this great encounter with the Son of Man.
Jesus’ prophecy speaks of an end, but he is not only referring to the end of the world: he is speaking about the tribulation and suffering that comes whenever we are confronted with a situation in which we are challenged to let go of the worldly things that we cling to
The first reading is from the book of Daniel. The passage recounts a prophecy delivered at a time of immense suffering. In this moment of extreme anguish and oppression, Daniel sees something of great grandeur approaching. This assists us in understanding the core message of this Sunday’s Gospel. Jesus speaks of a time of extreme desolation when the sun and moon will both be obscured and the stars will fall from the sky. Whatever can he mean? In the creation account, God places the sun, moon and stars in the heavens in order to regulate the seasons and the passage of time. The celestial objects functioned as a great timepiece in the ancient world. When these celestial objects are no more, it signifies that time itself is coming to an end. Jesus, thus, is speaking of a situation when the fundamental points of reference have lost their bearings. At the moment of his crucifixion, the sky is obscured by an eclipse of the sun. Jesus’ crucifixion represents the end of a particular epoch of time. His cross represents the end of something, and this is reproduced continually throughout history in the lives of Christians around the world. Rather than referring to the end of the world, this passage is referring more concretely to something that is a feature of the life of the spirit in general. Before a person can enter into the new life of Christ, he must first pass through a stage where his points of reference fall apart. This is what conversion is: a turning upside down of one’s points of reference. What once seemed valid and important comes to feel secondary and of little importance. What once seemed essential is now seen as trivial; all things come to be re-evaluated in a radical sense.

There are many things in our lives that we need to abandon and renounce. The tribulation that this brings is the sign of a new beginning. The Christian life is the art of abandonment of the old and continually embracing the new
Jesus speaks of the fig tree which announces the coming summer when its shoots become tender. What are the signs that we must be able to read in order to recognize the onset of a new beginning in our lives? Daniel prophesies a new beginning in the midst of tribulation and chaos. Jesus is also telling us that when our lives seem to be falling apart, we shouldn’t think that this is the end; rather it is the beginning. We must cultivate the habit of considering everything as a point of departure. This is the art of living in an Easter frame of mind. We move towards fulfilment through liberation, abandonment, and renouncement. We might appear to be losing things, but we are not losing at all. The word “departure” also conveys the sense of detachment or a parting of the ways from certain things. The Christian way of life is the art of beginning anew when everything appears to be at an end. The things of life become re-evaluated in this fresh moment of beginning anew. It is abundantly clear that there are things in our lives that we need to renounce! If we remain attached to things, then how can God manage to introduce real change in our lives? How can we enter into a new world of novelty and surprise if we are busy defending the possessions that we already have? Loss can be simply loss, or it can also be liberation, depending on our frame of mind. We have the capacity to transform all of these situations in life into new beginnings. In a sense, all new departures involve grief and destruction regarding the previous state of things. The Holy Spirit, in his wisdom, makes all things new and is capable of creating life where there seemed to be only death. Remember, salvation is found along the way of the cross. Very often, God operates by changing everything, by taking away, by terminating that which needed to be replaced.

Sometimes we are “at the ends of the earth”; in other words we are extremely worldly and sinful. Often, this is when God calls us to renounce what is earthly, and go through the tribulation, embracing the new – the Son of Man who comes in glory
In baptism, we are asked to take on this mentality by which we pass from an earthly existence to the things of heaven, the things of the Father. When things appear to be at an end, we should realize that they are only beginning. The more distressing and turbulent the events, then the more we see, as it were, the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven. It is in this situation that the elect are gathered from the ends of the heaven to the ends of the earth. The “ends of the earth” refers to someone who has arrived at the extreme, as far as earthly things are concerned. It is often as a result of serious sin that we are brought back to the Lord. But it is also true that those who have seemed to arrive at the extremity of heavenly things (in other words, those who have had the most beautiful spiritual experiences) still need to be led by God to something newer and even better. The Lord always has something more to give us and we should never become attached even to wonderful spiritual things. What is important is not the fact that things are finishing; what is important is that we are journeying onward to the place that God is leading us. This Sunday we are almost at the end of the Church’s liturgical year. It is an appropriate time to prepare for new beginnings, to prepare ourselves for Advent, for novelty, for beauty. When everything seems to be ending - above all in death - this is when things are truly beginning.

Friday, 6 November 2015

November 8th 2015.  Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
GOSPEL: Mark 12:38-44
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

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

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GOSPEL: Mark 12:38-44
In his teaching Jesus said, ‘Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets; these are the men who swallow the property of widows, while making a show of lengthy prayers. The more severe will be the sentence they receive.’
Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the treasury, and many of the rich put in a great deal. A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury; for they have all put in money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on.’
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . . The Gospel presents us with two very different kinds of character. The Scribe uses religion to promote his own public image. He loves to be admired in the streets and to have the best places in the Synagogue and at banquets. The widow, by contrast, has no public image to protect. She gives what little she has to the Lord. What is Christianity for me? What is the meaning of life for me? Am I a puppet who is pulled this way and that by the fear of not looking good in the eyes of others? Often, the more self-dependent we are, the more our lives are dominated by superfluous things. But when we have almost nothing left, when we are at our wit’s end, then we are challenged to place those meagre resources into the hands of the Lord. Desperate situations are an opportunity to entrust ourselves to God’s providence and to enter into a real relationship with him. Let us look at all those areas of our lives where we feel a sense of desperation and let us abandon ourselves into his hands! When we live in this way then we will show society what real Christianity is like. Often society is critical of Christianity because it sees only the Scribe, the religious character who is preoccupied by the outward show, the hypocrite who not abandoned his existence into the hands of God.

Do you want a real relationship with God? Then do not relate to him only on the level of superfluous things. Place your very existence concretely into his hands.
The first reading recounts the story of the poor widow with the child who is left with almost nothing. She takes the last bit of bread and oil and utters the terrible phrase, “Let us eat and then die”. She is at the end of her resources, a fistful of flour, a few drops of oil. How often we are in the same situation! We find ourselves in circumstances where we do not know what to do. At this point, Elijah erupts into the scene and asks the widow to share her food with him. How can he make such a request! Through the person of Elijah, God himself becomes present in the life of this family. It seems utterly absurd that the messenger of the Lord should take what little is left to this woman! But it is precisely in these extreme situations that the most significant events take place, at moments when we make our final resources available to God. The theme of the Gospel is the uselessness of only giving to God what is superfluous. When our connection with God is by means of things that are superfluous, then we fail to enter into a real relationship with him. But when it is life itself that is at stake in our relationship with God, then we really begin to witness his power.

The more desperate our situation, the less we have to give, then the more critical it is to give that little to God.
When we find ourselves in extreme situations, we often say, “If God were really good, he would not put me in such a situation”. But the opposite is the real truth. It is these extreme situations that teach me the goodness of God. When the widow gives what she has to the prophet, the bread and the oil are never exhausted. Through the word of the Lord, personified in Elijah, the woman receives in abundance. What is little become plenty because she has left a space for God to operate in her life. Many people nowadays are in difficult economic and personal situations. Desperation become damaging when people fail to remember the Providence of God. We are led to crazy “solutions” for our situations and begin to think of things that really lead to death, not life. The widow herself was taking this route when she declared that they would eat whatever they had and then die. Our problems are often grave, but sometimes our solutions are even worse. It is in these desperate moments that we must really learn to entrust ourselves to God, to abandon ourselves completely to his Providence.

Where do our hearts lie? In the way we are esteemed by others? Or in our abandonment to God’s Providence?
In the Gospel we are confronted with various characters. The Scribes are experts on Scripture, but they love to parade themselves in the squares and take the best places in the synagogues and banquets. They are slaves to their own public image and their position in the pecking order of society. The Gospel then presents us with a very different kind of character. A widow, despite being in an extreme state of economic need, places what she has at the disposal of the Lord. How many of us live in this world like puppets whose strings are pulled this way and that by the fear of not being esteemed by others! The Gospel tells us that the Scribes “loved” to engage in their ostentatious behaviour. What a strong word! Their hearts were completely taken by this superficial mode of life. The widow, by contrast, is someone whose very existence is put at stake by her generous behaviour towards the Lord.

Do we use the external acts of religion as a way to promote our image in the eyes of others?
These Scribes were experts in religion and their errant form of behaviour was a sin of a religious sort. There is a strong temptation to use the things of God in this way. Sacred Scripture and theology, as it were, become the ostentatious garment and the privileged place in society. Other things of God are also used for motives of a purely egotistical kind. If someone comes along who has a more ostentatious garment, or who is more eloquent than we are, then our privileged position evaporates. What a futile, empty preoccupation! In the end, what matters more? To create a positive public image of ourselves, without regard for the question of whether that image is false or true? Or to encounter God? To take our impoverished existence and to use it as a place of meeting with God? To place what little we have, like Abraham and his sack on Mount Tabor, into the hands of God? It is in God alone and in his Providence that we must place our trust. He is the only one that we can count on.

Society is often angry at the Church because they think that that the outward trapping of Christianity is Christianity itself. When society experiences radical Christianity, people who have utterly placed themselves in the hands of the Lord, then it cannot fail to be impressed.
In the culture in which we live, we can say without any doubt that there is often a negative attitude towards Christianity, if not downright antagonism. Maybe that is because the Christianity that people have experienced is that of the “Scribe”, the superficial attitudes, the characters who are preoccupied by the outer garments of Christianity and positions of privilege. Maybe our society has principally experienced these roles and outwards manifestations, and nothing else. They have not come face to face with the new life that Christianity promises. I am utterly convinced that people are not angry with us because we are Christians; they are angry because we are not real Christians. People have negative attitudes towards the Church because, often, we do not manifest an authentic face. When the Church really is as it ought to be; when Christians really place their complete resources into the hands of the Lord, then we tend to be appreciated for what we are. When the world witnesses radical Christianity, then they cannot but esteem it.

Friday, 30 October 2015

November 1st 2015.  Feast of All Saints
Gospel: Matthew 5: 1-12
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

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

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GOSPEL Matthew 5:1-12
Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:
‘How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy the gentle: they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Happy those who mourn: they shall be comforted.
Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right: they shall be satisfied.
Happy the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them.
Happy the pure in heart: they shall see God.
Happy the peacemakers: they shall be called sons of God.
Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you’
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . In the Gospel of the Beatitudes, Jesus lists eight absurdities that go against conventional wisdom. No one really wants to be poor, sorrowful, meek, or hungry! No one wants to have their public image destroyed. But Jesus is telling us that if we wish to be holy, if we wish to love like him, then we must learn to be poor and meek. We must not be full of ourselves and fixated with our own prosperity, satisfaction and reputation. We can only love and be merciful towards others if we are willing to suffer, be corrected and are unconcerned about our image in the eyes of others. The Beatitudes tells us how to order our hearts correctly. Conventional wisdom is self-directed, and this can lead to chaos in the heart if my own desires become absolutes. The goal of the Beatitudes is to step away from a self-absorbed life; to acknowledge my poverty, smallness, sinfulness and need of mercy. This leads to the principal point: when I live the Beatitudes I move away from a self-referential existence and give God the space to operate in me. My works then become His works. This is the foundation of sanctity.

The reason Jesus became man was so that we might become divinised; that we might receive the Spirit and begin living the life of God. This is what it means to be a “saint”
On Sunday we celebrate sanctity itself, the gift by which a human being can be inhabited by the Holy Spirit. The theme of the divinisation of the person is very dear to the eastern Church. It is, in fact, the reason that Jesus became incarnate. As the Creed tells us, Jesus became a human being for our salvation, to bestow on us the gift of the Holy Spirit and to introduce us into the very life of the Trinity. The first reading from the Apocalypse tells of an innumerable group of people who have the characteristics of sanctity. They stand before the throne of the Lamb, not humiliated in any sense, but partaking of the honour associated with the Lamb. Their clothes are brilliant white and they hold in their hands the palm, which is the symbol of victory. They cry aloud in joy and happiness. Why so? This cry is an expression of the fact that they have allowed themselves to be saved by the Lamb. How many “salvations” surround us, none of which lead to heaven or true glory! The reading tells us that the multitude that has been saved are the ones that have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. What a strange washing detergent! We would not normally consider blood to have cleansing properties but from the Christian point of view there is certainly a blood that washes whiter than snow. We must immerse ourselves in the blood of the Lamb, in the love which he has brought to us through his sacrifice. In the Eucharist he immerses himself in us, and we are called to immerse ourselves in him and become new people. When our poverty comes in contact with the blood of Christ, everything becomes light and salvation.

The Beatitudes are a list of absurd statements that go against conventional wisdom. But if we look at the matter carefully, we will see that the self-referential nature of conventional wisdom creates insurmountable barriers to true love
The Gospel contains the Beatitudes. This paradoxical passage lists eight absurdities, eight statements that go against conventional wisdom. Most of us are inclined to think that economic prosperity is important, that laughter and entertainment are pleasant, that the respect of others is valuable, that one’s personal rights must be defended, that our appetites must be satisfied, that no one should be allowed to harm us, that we should be allowed to express our grievances freely. In other words, conventional wisdom is the exact opposite of the Beatitudes! But if we look at it closely, we will see that a person who lives by these “counter-Beatitudes” is someone who doesn’t know how to love. People who are fixated by their own prosperity, contentment, reputation, are people who will not dirty their hands with the sufferings of others. They will not be aware of how much we have received and how much we ought to give in return. Want and insufficiency are necessary for us in order to correct us and help us attain a perspective on what really matters in life. It is hard to live with those who always want to win, who always want to feel that they are right, who refuse to acknowledge their own errors, who cannot control their own desires, who fail to show mercy towards others, who think only of their own affairs, who refuse to see the problems of those around them. In order to be able to love others, we must not be preoccupied with our own image in the eyes of others. We must be ready to allow our image to be destroyed for the love of others.

The Beatitudes are bridges to God and others
At first sight, the Beatitudes may seem absurd, but they are the only bridge between us and God, and between us and others. They involve journeys of a Paschal sort. It is no fun to be poor, but it prompts us to open up a space for God in our lives. Weeping is not enjoyable, but we must know how to weep if we are to learn to love. To be meek offers us no worldly advantage, but it makes space for others in my life. It is the antidote to always wanting to be in first place, always wanting to have one over others. Meekness permits us to have a victory of a very different kind, to conquer a different sort of country. To not feel righteous, but to have a hunger and thirst for righteousness, indicates humility, smallness, openness to correction. It is not nice to be exposed to the correction of others, but it leads to great peace. We discover the same peace when we show mercy and pardon towards others.

The Beatitudes show the correct way to order our hearts. Without them, our hearts become disordered, chaotic places in which our own desires become absolutes. But the goal of the Beatitudes is to step away from a self-referential life; to acknowledge my poverty, smallness, sinfulness and need of mercy; to allow God to operate in me. This is the foundation of sanctity.

To leave our hearts open in this way is wearisome, but it leads to great personal growth. If we behave like babies and make every desire of ours an absolute, then our hearts become a disordered place headed towards disaster. Many people live horrible lives because their hearts cannot distinguish a legitimate, edifying desire from a destructive one. They do not know how to purify, limit, control their interior impulses. To live a life free from being concerned about the opinions of others is difficult, but beautiful. Sanctity, however, at the end of the day involves exploiting all of these situations to allow God the space to carry out his surprising work within us. In poverty, let us be surprised by God; in sadness, meekness, in our need for mercy, in our interior appetite to be made clean: let us place ourselves in the presence of God and allow him to work. If our image in the eyes of others is destroyed, let us be aware that there is only one person anyhow who knows us truly. In summary, a saint is one who allows God to operate in their lives, who allows God to be God. Consequently God is able to perform his work in them.

Friday, 23 October 2015

October 25th 2015.  Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
GOSPEL: Mark 10:46-52­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­
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 10:46-52
As Jesus left Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (that is, the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting at the side of the road. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and to say, ‘Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me.’ And many of them scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he only shouted all the louder, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’ Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him here.’ So they called the blind man. ‘Courage,’ they said ‘get up; he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he jumped up and went to Jesus. Then Jesus spoke, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Rabbuni,’ the blind man said to him ‘Master, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has saved you.’ And immediately his sight returned and he followed him along the road.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . In the Gospel a blind man calls out to Jesus insistently. Why does he do so? Because he could once see and he wants his sight to be restored. Each one of us, like the blind man, has a deep memory of the light, the light that is the goodness and beauty of God. We all have a desire to follow that light, but the desire is stifled by the inner voices and the voices from our culture that say, “Hope is futile! Life is futile and transitory!” The cry of the blind man is a true model for prayer. We must delve deep within us for the kernel of goodness and beauty that the Lord has sown in us and yearn for the full realisation of that light. This kernel can become the true source and energy for our prayer. The blind man throws away his cloak and rushes to Jesus. In Jewish culture, the cloak was a symbol of a person’s identity. We too must shed our old self-referential identities and follow Jesus. In profound prayer we can cast off the old cloak and discover our authentic, beautiful selves. Jesus is our saviour, the light of the world. We all have a deep-seated desire to be fully illuminated by this light. With the blind man, let each of us cry out to the Lord, “Jesus, son of David, let me see again!”

A journey must be made from perdition to salvation, and this is represented by Jesus’ journey from notorious Jericho to the holy city of Jerusalem.
The first reading from  Jeremiah speaks of the joyous return of the Jews from exile. The seventy years in exile represent the most tragic period in the history of Israel, the complete loss of their inheritance as a result of their infidelity to the Lord. “I will bring them back from the land of the North and gather them from the far ends of earth; all of them: the blind and the lame, women with child, women in labour.” Why are these four categories of people mentioned? Because all of them have difficulty in walking for one reason or another. It is an act of the Lord that enables them to return to the Promised Land. He is the one who can enable these people to accomplish the journey. In the Gospel, Jesus is on his journey from Jericho to Jerusalem. Jericho was the notorious city, the first place conquered by Joshua when the Jews entered the Promised Land. It represented the first obstacle to the Jewish people entering their inheritance, and when it was destroyed it was never to have been rebuilt. But Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem from here, and it becomes a marvellous journey from perdition to salvation, from darkness to light.

Why does Bartimaeus cry out so insistently? Because he knows that the light exists. This is a model for prayer. We have a deep memory that light exists and this must become the source and energy for our prayer.
But there is a man who cannot follow Jesus on the journey. Bartimaeus is blind and dependent on others, unable to move. However he does manage to do something. He hears that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. The hearing of a blind man is not ordinary, but hearing of an amplified kind. He can analyse and do much more than people with vision with the things that he hears. He makes a connection between Jesus of Nazareth and the promised one of Israel, the Saviour.  As we shall see at the end of the story, he has the desire to see again. This implies that he once had sight and longs for its restoration. It is the memory of light that gives this man his drive. He begins to shout and call out. The onlookers try to silence him, but he only cries the louder. Why does this man insist so much? Why is he such a model for prayer? The Eastern Church makes the supplication of Bartimaeus a paradigm of prayer. “Jesus son of David, have pity on me!” The title “son of David” is equivalent to the title “Messiah” because this son was to be the anointed one who would take up the kingship of Israel. Bartimaeus cries out continually from the heart and with insistence because he has an inner conviction that the light exists, the light of the Christ that will come to save the world.

Within each of us there is a seed sown by the Lord, a memory and a conviction that light and goodness exist. We must fan this memory into a flame that impels us to call out to the Lord and throw ourselves before him as Bartimaeus did
We too gain the capacity and energy to pray from a memory that has been sown in us by Providence, a memory of happiness and love, peace and reconciliation. In our hearts there is an inheritance, a capital of good written within us. We could not implore the Lord for Salvation if we did not already have some notion of what it consists in. In order to pray we must delve within us to discover this light. Our capacity to pray does not come from pain and suffering but from the memory of joy, from the luminous reality that exists at the essence of our being. From the fact of this deep knowledge that joy and happiness exist, that a beautiful relationship can prevail between God and us, we attain the capacity to pray. Bartimaeus insists because he knows that what he is searching for exists. Pope Francis continually exhorts us not to lose our hope. At the heart of every human being there is a kernel of hope. If we do not listen to that hope, then we cannot find have authentic meaning or purpose. The third lamentation of the prophet Jeremiah states that we cannot manage without the hope that comes from the Lord, if we do not bring to mind his light.

The blind man throws away his cloak and goes to Jesus. Jesus then fulfils his desire to see again. We too must throw away the cloak of our former self-referential identity. By calling out to Jesus and immersing ourselves in profound prayer, we can shed our old identities and discover our true and authentic selves.

Bartimaeus cries out insistently until Jesus stops and calls to him. The blind man throws away his cloak and springs to his feet. He is blind but already he begins to move! He has heard the Lord and his hearing has been confirmed by Jesus’ response to him. Throwing away his cloak is a sign that he has renounced his former identity to some extent. The cloak was an inalienable possession in the Jewish Law. No one had the right to take it from another. Bartimaeus leaves his cloak, leaves his former existence. We too, when we pray, are battling against forces within and without that resist change, voices that say “Hope does not exist, light does not exist, prayer is futile!” Prayer liberates us from these entrenchments and leads us into freedom. Jesus says to the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” There can be no doubt that Jesus is attentive to our desires. He himself has sown these deep desires within us and wishes us to give them voice, as Bartimaeus did when he asked for his vision to be restored. This Sunday the Gospel makes a bountiful promise to the blind, the lame, the woman in labour, whoever is in difficulty of any kind. Each of us is invited to combat against the resistance to walk with Jesus, resistance that springs from within us or from outside in the culture. We are invited to throw away the cloak of our former identity. Whenever prayer becomes profound, it has the capacity to change our identity and to bring us to our true and authentic selves. Our old cloak is the cloak of the blind man; the new cloak is that of the disciple. In the Gospel Bartimaeus uses his new-found vision to no longer lose sight of Jesus. He has found his Lord and begins to follow him along the road.

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Sunday Gospel Reflection