Thursday, 23 March 2017

March 26th 2017. FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT
Gospel: John 9:1-41
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 9:1-41
As Jesus went along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. He spat on the ground, made a paste with the spittle, put this over the eyes of the blind man and said to him, ‘Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam (a name that means ‘sent’).’ So the blind man went off and washed himself, and came away with his sight restored.
His neighbours and people who earlier had seen him begging said, ‘Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some said, ‘Yes, it is the same one’. Others said, ‘No, he only looks like him’. The man himself said, ‘I am the man’. 
 They brought the man who had been blind to the Pharisees. It had been a Sabbath day when Jesus made the paste and opened the man’s eyes, so when the Pharisees asked him how he had come to see, he said, ‘He put a paste on my eyes, and I washed, and I can see’. Then some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man cannot be from God: he does not keep the sabbath’. Others said, ‘How could a sinner produce signs like this?’ And there was disagreement among them. So they spoke to the blind man again, ‘What have you to say about him yourself, now that he has opened your eyes?’ ‘He is a prophet’ replied the man.
‘Are you trying to teach us,’ they replied ‘and you a sinner through and through, since you were born!’ And they drove him away.
Jesus heard they had driven him away, and when he found him he said to him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied ‘tell me who he is so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said, ‘You are looking at him; he is speaking to you’. The man said, ‘Lord, I believe’, and worshipped him.
Jesus said: 
‘It is for judgement that I have come into this world, so that those without sight may see and those with sight turn blind’.
Hearing this, some Pharisees who were present said to him, ‘We are not blind, surely?’
Jesus replied: ‘Blind? If you were, you would not be guilty, but since you say, “We see”, your guilt remains.’
 The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . .  The Gospel this week recounts the healing of a man born blind. All of us are born blind. All of us tend to see the world in a superficial way. We have difficulty seeing beyond the external aspect of things. When we encounter misfortune or pain, we tend to try to understand these things in terms of their causes. We ask, “Why is this man suffering? Did he do something wrong that has brought misery upon him?” Jesus is the light of the world and only he can heal us of our blindness. When we live the grace of our baptism, then we are enabled to see the world as God sees it. We no longer look at things from a shallow perspective - in terms of blame and causality - but in terms of the finality of things. It is where God is leading us that counts. When we are afflicted with illness, suffering or blindness, then we must resist the worldly temptation to become desperate. Instead we must ask, where is God leading me through this difficulty trial? The disciples were fixated with the cause of the man’s blindness. But Jesus said that the more important thing is the fact that this blindness would become a way to manifest the power of God. Do you feel desperate, lonely, in pain? Like the blind man, God is calling you through this affliction. The blind man became a missionary who testified to the power of the Messiah, and so can you!

The readings for Sunday are also used in the preparation of adult candidates for baptism. As such, they have something fundamental to say to those of us who seek to live our baptism.
We are now in liturgical year “A”. The readings for Year A are linked to the course of readings used for adults who are in the last stages of preparation before being baptized. These candidates have gone through a process of formation and education and are ready to receive the sacrament. The readings used are very appropriate for their preparation. Those that occur on this fourth Sunday of Lent are the same as those that coincide with the second scrutiny before baptism. In this intense moment of prayer, the “elect” (the candidate who is near to baptism) is asked to be aware of certain things and listens to prayers of baptismal exorcism. These Sundays constitute essential points of Christian formation before baptism.

The theme of the readings this week is the importance of seeing things as God sees them.
On this fourth Sunday of Lent we hear the story of the man born blind. Jesus comes out of the Temple and heals this man, but the perspective we are given on the event goes far beyond the healing itself. The theme of the readings is what we see, the light we behold. The first reading tells us of the election of David. The prophet Samuel goes to the sons of Jesse to anoint from among them the future king of Israel. He is presented with one of the brothers who appears to be the perfect candidate. The Lord, however, rejects him and tells Samuel not to look only upon his imposing physical appearance. The Lord says,  “Take no notice of his appearance or his height for I have rejected him; God does not see as man sees; man looks at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.” This is the theme of our readings this Sunday – the way we look at things. Things are as they are, but what can transform our lives is the way we look at those things. Sometimes the things of this world can change, but that is rare. What is more important is that we view them from a new perspective. There is a barrier that hinders us from seeing beyond the “skin” of reality. The first impression is also the final impression, unless one embarks on a journey of growth. In the first reading, the initial impression of this imposing son of Jesse is very favourable, but God sees differently.

The cause of our problems should not be our primary focus: it is where these problems can lead us that counts. If we see them with the eyes of the Lord then these misfortunes can lead us to behold the face of God.
In the Gospel, we have the tragic case of a man who is born without sight. It is a sad situation of a man whose existence has been marked in this dramatic way – one of the five means of communication is lacking. Jesus’ disciples give a superficial reaction to this reality when they ask, “Who has sinned, this man or his parents?” We look for the most banal of explanations for the problems of life; we try to identify the guilty party in the whole affair. The truth is that we can never identify the particular causes of human misfortune. What is much more important is that we see beyond the misfortune. In the full version of this Gospel reading, Jesus replies, “Neither he nor his parents have sinned. This has happened so that the works of God may be made manifest”. And then Jesus embarks on a discourse about the works of God. This is something that is urgent for each one of us. We must seek to discern the hand of God active in the things that are happening around us. It is not the cause of the blind man’s illness that is important; it is what this blindness will lead him to. The blind man becomes a prophet on account of the fact that his blindness is healed in the pool of Siloam, a word that means “sent”. And the pain that he once experienced is transformed into a mission. Gradually we discover that the enigmas of life cannot be understood in terms of the past; we move from the principle of causality to the principle of finality; things make sense because they lead us somewhere, in the final analysis they lead us to behold the countenance of God.

The grace of baptism opens our eyes and cures us of our superficial way of seeing. It helps us to look beyond the surface of events and to interpret them in terms of their eternal significance

The blind man comes to the point where he recognises that he is in the presence of the Messiah, the One who loves him and has saved him. He recognizes the work of God in the midst of tribulation. Indeed the story is a traumatic one for him. He receives his sight in the pool of Siloam and then embarks on his mission. But he is contradicted and disbelieved and abandoned by his parents (read the full version of the Gospel). He is even thrown out of the Synagogue but he has now become a different person and has his heart open to the real profundity of things. He is now in a position where he can recognize the Messiah before him. When people present themselves for baptism, it is essential that they have a sense of their own personal history; that they do not have negative or fatalistic interpretations of their own lives; that they not be desperate or discouraged, as is all too easy for any of us. How easy it is to look superficially on things and only see their desperate nature, to have a poor perspective on the future. Jesus does not look at this blind man’s past but at his future. From birth all of us have a tendency to see events in a superficial way. A person who lives his baptism is a person who, by the grace of God, has a perspective on things from the point of their future. This new vision is pure gift. As this Gospel says, no-one but God can open the eyes of a person born blind. By grace we can see where things are heading, we can see beyond the appearances, beyond the situations that cannot be explained in terms of their past causes. This Sunday, let us recognize that God is operating powerfully even in the things that we do not understand.

Friday, 17 March 2017

March 19th 2017. THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT
Gospel: Matthew 4:5-42
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

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

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GOSPEL John 4:5-42
Jesus came to the Samaritan town called Sychar, near the land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob's well is there and Jesus, tired by the journey, sat straight down by the well. It was about the sixth hour When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, 'Give me a drink'. His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, 'What? You are a Jew and you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?' - Jews, in fact, do not associate with Samaritans. Jesus replied:
'If you only knew what God is offering
and who it is that is saying to you:
Give me a drink,
you would have been the one to ask,
and he would have given you living water'.
'You have no bucket, sir,' she answered 'and the well is deep: how could you get this living water?
 Are you a greater man than our father Jacob who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his sons and his cattle?' Jesus replied
'Whoever drinks this water
will get thirsty again;
but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give
will never be thirsty again:
the water that I shall give
will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life'.
'Sir,' said the woman 'give me some of that water, so that I may never get thirsty and never have to come here again to draw water.' 'Go and call your husband' said Jesus to her 'and come back here.' The woman answered, 'I have no husband'. He said to her, 'You are right to say, "I have no husband"; for although you have had five, the one you have now is not your husband. You spoke the truth there.' 'I see you are a prophet, sir' said the woman. 'Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, while you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.' Jesus said:
'Believe me, woman, the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You worship what you do not know;
we worship what we do know:
for salvation comes from the Jews.
But the hour will come - in fact it is here already –
when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth:
that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants.
God is spirit,
and those who worship
must worship in spirit and truth.'
The woman said to him, 'I know that Messiah - that is, Christ - is coming; and when he comes he will tell us everything'. 'I who am speaking to you,' said Jesus 'I am he.'
At this point his disciples returned, and were surprised to find him speaking to a woman, though none of them asked, 'What do you want from her?' or, 'Why are you talking to her?' The woman put down her water jar and hurried back to the town to tell the people.  'Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did; I wonder if he is the Christ?' This brought people out of the town and they started walking towards him.
Meanwhile, the disciples were urging him, 'Rabbi, do have something to eat; but he said, 'I have food to eat that you do not know about'. So the disciples asked one another, 'Has someone been bringing him food?' But Jesus said:
'My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete his work.
Have you not got a saying: Four months and then the harvest?
Well, I tell you: Look around you, look at the fields;
already they are white, ready for harvest!
Already the reaper is being paid his wages,
already he is bringing in the grain for eternal life,
and thus sower and reaper rejoice together.
For here the proverb holds good: one sows, another reaps;
I sent you to reap a harvest you had not worked for.
Others worked for it; and you have come into the rewards of their trouble.'
Many Samaritans of that town had believed in him on the strength of the woman's testimony when she said, 'He told me all I have ever done', so, when the Samaritans came up to him, they begged him to stay with them. He stayed for two days, and when he spoke to them many more came to believe; and they said to the woman, 'Now we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world'.
The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . Prayer is an encounter between the thirst of humanity for God and the thirst of God for humanity. The meeting of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well illustrates this encounter very well. Jesus asks the woman at the well for a drink. What kind of thirst is Jesus experiencing here? The thirst to satisfy her deepest thirst! He goes on to say to the woman, “If you knew the gift of God, you would ask him and he would give you living water.” We tend to think that God wants something from us. We complain at his request for our obedience, at his insistence that we trust in him. God appears to be asking for something when he demands our obedience and trust, but in reality it is through our obedience and trust that he wants to satisfy our deepest thirst. We tend to make our own needs absolute. When we have a necessity of some sort, we become fixated with the satisfaction of that necessity. If we could manage to forget our own needs for a moment and turn to God at these times, then we would experience grace of an incredible sort. The woman at the well is thirsty for physical water, but Jesus encourages her to open herself to her more profound thirst for living water. It would be wonderful if, during this season of Lent, we could forget our physical wants for a moment and open ourselves to our need to be satiated profoundly by Jesus. We would discover then that the place of real encounter with Jesus is not some select “holy place”. The place of intimate encounter with Jesus in spirit and truth is in this attitude of receptiveness to the self-giving of God.

The first reading speaks of a thirst that is satisfied by the Lord in an extraordinary way
In the first reading we hear how the people of Israel began to complain about the thirst they were experiencing in the desert. They had complained earlier about the lack of food. If we examine the text, we discover that it was only three months since they had experienced the wonders of the Lord in bringing them out of Egypt. Despite this, their memories are short and they have lost faith in the providence of God. In the ensuing crisis, Moses fears that he will be stoned if he does not find water soon. The Lord responds by directing them to a rock from which water flows. With this background theme of water and physical thirst we approach the Gospel story, which deals with different types of thirst and different ways to satiate that thirst.

God thirsts for us and we thirst for him. This is a story about the encounter between both thirsts
The catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that prayer is the place where the thirst of humanity encounters the thirst of God. But in what sense can God experience thirst? Let us first consider the nature of human thirst. Thirst is a condition that is much more critical than hunger. We become dehydrated much more quickly than we starve. In the kind of desert areas where the history of the Bible revolves, thirst is an issue of acute importance. In the Gospel story, the woman comes to the well looking for water. But she meets Jesus who does not offer her a drink. Instead he asks her for a drink. Then, curiously, he offers her a live-giving water of a completely different kind. If we read the full version of this long Gospel text, then we discover that neither Jesus nor the woman actually drink water during their encounter! The woman leaves her water jar at the well and goes off to tell the townspeople about Jesus. She is now utterly focussed on a different kind of thirst that Jesus has awoken in her.

God’s thirst is a thirst to bestow graces upon us
In the first reading, God provides the people with water from a new source. And that is how it is with all of us. God has a different water to give us. But we only discover this water when we are confronted by God’s thirst for us. It was Jesus who asked this woman in the first place to quench his thirst. And what is his thirst? His thirst is the desire to quench our spiritual thirst. The Samaritan woman thinks she has encountered someone who wants something from her, but then she discovers that Jesus is someone who only wants to give. This is an experience that we have one thousand times with God. When it seems that God wants something from us, we discover that what he truly wants is to give. We tend to think that we are doing something for God when we are obedient to him, or when we trust in his name. But it is at that very moment that the Lord is doing something for us.

At moments of necessity, we make our own needs absolute. These are the times we should forget our needs, open ourselves to God and obtain satisfaction of a much profounder sort
It often happens that at a moment of critical personal necessity, we tend to become fixated with our own needs, obsessed with our own wants. But if we try to open ourselves to the giving of God at those moments, then we will experience satiation of a dramatic sort. Sometimes these times of desperate necessity can be moments of incredible grace. Jesus utters a phrase in this Gospel that is of great importance: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would ask him and he would give you living water.” Do you really know the gifts that the Lord wants to give? Do you really appreciate the generosity of God? If we knew someone of incredibility creativity and goodness who asked us to come with him on a great adventure somewhere, then we would want to go. That person asks us to go with him, but in reality it is we who benefit from the experience. That is how God is. When God asks us something, it is a request to open ourselves to his generosity. And that is the experience of the Samaritan woman. She was asked by Jesus to open herself to what he wanted to give, and then she encountered the truth.

Where do we encounter God in an intimate way? Not in a place but in an attitude that opens itself to the Lord, allowing him to satisfy our deepest thirst.

One of the central lines of this text concerns the place where we encounter and adore God. The Greek work for “adore” contains the word for “kiss”. Adoration entails approaching God with an intimate attitude. Where can we encounter God in an intimate way? This Gospel tells us that we encounter God in such a way not in a place but in an attitude. The thirst of this woman is satiated in an unexpected way and in an unexpected place. The Samaritan woman has a chequered history and perhaps that is why she goes to draw water at the unconventional hour of midday. She has already had five husbands and maybe she wished to avoid the judgemental glances of other women in the town. But now she encounters a husband of a different sort and an intimacy of a new kind. In a blessed moment she makes the transition from being fixated with her own needs to trusting in the Lord who is capable of satisfying all of her deepest longings. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we too, in a blessed moment during this time of Lent, could make the transition from being obsessed with the satisfaction of our own appetites to the condition of trusting in the Lord who only thirsts for our good? If we could open ourselves to the Lord in this way for a moment, then we would begin to encounter him in an intimate manner, in spirit and truth, an encounter of the kiss that the Lord wants to give us, an encounter with our true and deepest spouse, an experience of a food that we have never tasted before, the taste of a water that satisfies the thirst at the core of our being. 

Friday, 10 March 2017

March 12th 2017. SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT
Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9
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 17:1-9
Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. There in their presence he was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them; they were talking with him. Then Peter spoke to Jesus. 'Lord,' he said 'it is wonderful for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.' He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud covered them with shadow, and from the cloud there came a voice which said, 'This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.' When they heard this the disciples fell on their faces overcome with fear.
But Jesus came up and touched them. 'Stand up,' he said 'do not be afraid.' And when they raised their eyes they saw no one but only Jesus.
 As they came down from the mountain Jesus gave them this order. "Tell no one about this vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead."
 The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . In the first reading, Abraham is elderly, childless and lost. Then God calls him and his entire identity is changed. He becomes the father of a great nation and his very name is used as a blessing. The Transfiguration of Jesus shows us our true hidden identity. It shows us the beauty to which each one of us is called. But how is this transfiguration to be achieved in us? Is it something that we achieve by our own efforts? No! When God calls someone, it is a call to be changed by the Lord. Abraham was not called to do something on his own merits; he was called into a relationship with the Lord in which the Lord placed his favour on him and blessed him immeasurably. In this journey of Lent, we are called to enter into relationship with God and to discover the hidden beauty inside of us. Through intimacy with God, immersion in his word, and reception of the sacraments, the Lord unveils that beauty that lies dormant within us. We do not enter into relationship with Jesus just to remain as we are! Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. In taking on our flesh he transforms it and gives us the potential to become creatures of astonishing beauty. But we must immerse ourselves in relationship with him, allowing his workmanship to transform our nature. Lent is a journey of transformation and the Transfiguration of Jesus shows us where we are heading!

The call of Abraham was a call to be transformed. The entire future and the very identity of Abraham were changed when the Lord called him. We too are called to transformation - as the Transfiguration shows.
Traditionally the Second Sunday of Lent is dedicated to the Transfiguration. As we journey through the penitential period of Lent, it is important to see the purpose of it all – and the purpose is our transfiguration! Jesus shows himself to his three closest disciples. He manifests his hidden beauty, his identity - he shows that he is light, something much more than a simple man. The first reading on Sunday highlights the fact that what we are considering here is not some simple manifestation of a characteristic of Jesus. The first reading is none other than the story of the call of Abraham. Abraham has lost his father and is already elderly. He does not know whether to continue the journey of his father towards Canaan or go back to the place that that journey had begun. Here, in no-man’s land, he receives the call of the Lord. What does this have to do with the Transfiguration? Transfiguration refers to a metamorphoses, a fundamental change in the form of something. When the Lord calls Abraham, he says, “Leave your country, your family and your father's house, for the land I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name so famous that it will be used as a blessing.” In other words, the Lord calls Abraham to a transformation – his very identity will be changed.

When God calls each of us, it is a call to be changed by the Lord. It is not a summons to do great things on our own merit.
The phrase “I will make of you . . .” is at the heart of every call from the Lord. When Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John, he says “I will make you fishers of men.” A call is the work of the Lord. When God calls Abraham, what’s important is what God will do for Abraham, not what Abraham will do on his own initiative. And what we see in the Transfiguration is what God (in the form of the second person of the Trinity) will do for humanity in general. Our human nature will be transformed into light; it will be transfigured. It is not just the body of Christ that is changed. Jesus took his body from the Blessed Virgin and became one of us. The body that is transfigured is the same reality that belongs to us and to which each of us is called.

How can each of us be transfigured? By intimacy with God, familiarity with his word, and reception of the sacraments. Just as the elderly, childless and lost Abraham had his identity transformed, so too we will be transformed through our encounter with the Lord
We are called to live today this transformation into light. The experience of Jesus on Mount Tabor is an experience of intimacy with God, of contact with the word of the Lord (Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets). The relationship of the Son with the Father is announced – “This is my son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour; listen to him.” And it is through this relationship that the nature of humanity will be transformed. We do not approach the Lord Jesus just to stay as we are! Through our relationship with him, through contact with his word and with the sacraments, we are called to be transfigured. This Gospel is read during Lent because Lent is a time for transformation. Abraham was elderly, without property, without an heir. In God, all of these apparently negative things are transformed. Abraham is a different man and becomes a blessing. When Peter, James and John see Jesus transfigured, they are discovering what is hidden in human nature, what lies buried in each one of us.  Through this Sunday of the Transfiguration, through the journey of Lent, each of us is called to discover what is extraordinary inside of us. Through fasting, prayer and almsgiving, we embark on a discovery of what is beautiful within. In God we possess a beauty that is astonishing.

The love of God in our hearts can transform us into creatures of insuperable beauty
In the Old Testament, the call of Abraham represents in embryonic form the call of the Transfiguration. Abraham gains land, descendants and, above all, a new identity as the elected one of God. The Transfiguration shows us that we are called through our encounter with Christ to become the beloved children of God on whom his favour rests. We are called to behave and to reason as beloved children. Last Sunday we saw how Satan sought to convince Jesus that the status of being a child of God was something to be exploited or rejected. This Sunday we see how the status of being Son of God is something of insuperable beauty. “This is my beloved Son. My favour rests on him.” Oh, what the love of God can accomplish when it lives in our hearts! The beauty that the love of our tender Father is able to draw out of each of us! We can become part of the body of Christ, the image of his beauty, the manifestation of his workmanship in us. Through intimacy with Jesus, through familiarity with the Scriptures, through the effects of his work in us, we can throw back the veils on the true beauty within us. Let us look to Jesus to see what God can achieve with human nature. Let us not resign ourselves to what we are as a result of our own miserable efforts. Let us allow God to work on our poor nature with his incredible power. He can transform us into a true work of art. 

Saturday, 4 March 2017

March 5th 2017. FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT
Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11
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 4:1-11
Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was very hungry, and the tempter came and said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves'. But he replied, 'Scripture says:
'Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God'.
The devil then took him to the holy city and made him stand on the parapet of the Temple. 'If you are the Son of God' he said 'throw yourself down; for scripture says:
'He will put you in his angels' charge, and they will support you on their hands in case you hurt your foot against a stone'.
Jesus said to him, 'Scripture also says:
'You must not put the Lord your God to the test'.
Next, taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. 'I will give you all these' he said, 'if you fall at my feet and worship me.' Then Jesus replied, 'Be off, Satan! For scripture says:
'You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.'
Then the devil left him, and angels appeared and looked after him.
The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . When Adam and Eve were tempted in the garden, Satan was telling them not to accept their condition as creatures of God. Temptation proceeds by making us feel ashamed and inadequate for who we are. Temptation makes us pursue an idolatrous image of ourselves which is at odds with the true dignity and beauty that God has given us. In order to follow that image, we are encouraged to make ourselves the focal point of our lives and the masters of our own destiny. The three temptations of Jesus in the desert share similar characteristics to the temptation in the garden. Through these temptations, Satan tries to tell Jesus that it is ok for the Son of God to exploit objects to satisfy his own needs; he is told that God ought to be ready to facilitate and support his most frivolous decisions; he is assured that possessions and worldly power are a worthy goal in themselves. Temptations such as these alienate us from our true identity as children of God. They make us feel inadequate and dissatisfied with who we are and with what we possess. They make us lose sight of our deepest identity. In place of that identity, they set up a deceitful image of the human being as an absolute in himself, absolute in his individual rights, and in the way he can manipulate things for his own ends. The Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving help restore us to the right relationship with God that can be destroyed through temptation. The sobriety, generosity and walking in right relationship with God that are typical of Lent restore us to our proper place in creation. They fill us with the peace, freedom and beauty that are integral to our true identity as God’s children.

Temptation involves deceiving us about our true identity. It tells us that we can be more fulfilled if we turn away from right relationship with God
Lent is God’s gift to us. It brings us into a condition of greater personal freedom and truth. The classic Gospel text from St Matthew speaks of the three temptations of Jesus. These are illuminated by the temptation of Adam and Eve described in the first reading from the Book of Genesis. There are many connections between this first temptation and the three trials of Jesus, but we will focus on one aspect – the call of the human being to live a life of real authenticity. Where does temptation direct its attack on us? What is the devil’s primary strategy in leading us astray? Temptation begins by deceiving us about our true identity. It tries to convince me that fidelity to God is incompatible with fidelity to myself. And this is a great lie because real fidelity to God unavoidably involves being true to my own deepest and most fundamental identity! On the day that we are living in right relationship with God, then we also are living in right relationship with ourselves and with others. The temptations of Jesus use the very same strategy as was used with Eve – the lie that my own advancement is incompatible with the dictates of God.

Temptation involves making myself the be-all and end-all of creation. My desires must be satisfied. My plans must be facilitated by providence. Worldly objects and power must not be renounced
In the first temptation Satan says, “If you are the Son of God, then turn these stones into bread.” The lie here is the claim that sons of God have the right to manipulate reality as they see fit, to consume whatever they want for their own satisfaction, to make things a function of their own desires. Jesus is hungry and so ought to have the right (according to the deception of Satan) to use things for his own satisfaction. In the second temptation Jesus is told to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple. The idea here is that Jesus ought to take the initiative and be supported by God for his every whim. Whatever appears to me to be a good plan should be endorsed and facilitated by God. The third temptation regards the possession, power and splendour of the world. Jesus’ mission was to be saviour of the world. Our mission is to be Christians in the world. This third temptation tells us that our mission is not incompatible with the right to possess and use the  things of the world for own own designs. We can freely avail of these things (the deceiver tells us) without scruples.

Temptation tells us that we are inadequate as we are. It encourages us to chase an idolatrous  image of humanity that is utterly at odds with the true and beautiful identity of the human being as a creature of God
These temptations encourage the human being to prioritize his physical needs, his desires, and his projects. Need and desires must be satisfied; projects must be facilitated by God no matter how whimsical. The relationship between the person and the things of the world is radically altered. Everything is to be placed in the service of our self-affirmation. All of these things are present in the serpent’s exhortation to Eve to become like God himself. Through this exhortation, the serpent is telling Eve to be someone different to who she really is. Implicitly he is saying that she is inadequate as she is now. She needs an “upgrade” to Eve version 2.0. She sorely needs an evolution to a state of fulfilment that she is not enjoying now. Instead of discovering her own true beauty, she is told that she can become like God. In this way, competition and antagonism is instilled into the heart of humanity. I am no longer defined by own characteristics. Rather, I am defined by whether or not I measure up to the qualities of others. This is the ultimate logic of deception. Man is launched into a frenetic chase for something that he is not. But the real challenge in life isn’t the fact of not being God -  it is the fact of Eve not being Eve! The difficult thing is to be content with what I really am – a creature of God.

Temptation makes us flee from the present moment. It alienates us from ourselves, telling us that we do not measure up to the idolatrous and twisted image of humanity that it exalts. It leads us to be embarrassed for who we are.
Thus we have these three attempts to escape from what we are: the attempt to gratify ourselves through the satisfaction of our appetites – even the stones must be transformed to satisfy our desires; the attempt to escape by means of our projects, our grand designs, our efforts to experience thrills and excitement; the attempt to escape from our condition through the accumulation of possessions and temporal power. These temptations make us flee from today. They represent an elaborate and desperate process of alienation from ourselves. And they are guaranteed to lead us into unhappiness. Once Eve tries to be different to who she really is, she enters into deception. Her eyes no longer see reality as it is, failing to perceive the real character of certain errant behaviours. Eve’s attempt to be something “greater” than Eve leads ultimately to shame, to the loss of right relationship with oneself, to the loss of one’s own true identity.  Eve become embarrassed to be Eve – what a curious thing!

The practises of Lent restore us to the freedom, dignity and beauty that temptation tries to destroy

In the second and third temptations in the desert, Jesus is expected to make a payment of a particular type to Satan. In throwing himself down from the temple, he is to risk his very life in order to coerce God into facilitating his every whim. In the third and final temptation, he is to bend down to Satan and the world in order to have his way. We are tempted to renounce our integrity and dignity in order to become the focal points of our own destiny. During Lent the Church asks us to undertake acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These are calls to return to the truth and the beauty of our own great dignity, a dignity that is obscured by the deceit that is implicit in all temptation. The sobriety, generosity and walking in right relationship with God that are typical of Lent restore us to our proper place in creation. They fill us with the peace, freedom and beauty that are integral to our true identity. Temptation tries to turn that beauty into ugliness. It seeks to fill us with shame and lead us to unhappiness. 

Friday, 24 February 2017

Gospel: Matthew 6:24-34
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 6:24-34
Jesus said to his disciples: 'No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.
'That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it. Surely life means more than food, and the body more than clothing! Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are we not worth much more than they are? Can any of you, for all his worrying, add one single cubit to his span of life? And why worry about clothing? Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his regalia was robed like one of these. Now if that is how God clothes the grass in the field which is there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not much more look after you, you men of little faith? So do not worry; do not say, "What are we to eat? What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?" It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’
The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . Who is my real master, the Lord or worldly things? If I am anxious about worldly success, the admiration of others, my economic and physical wellbeing, then how can I claim that the Christian God is my God? The readings this week tell us that the Lord will never forget us. Why should I be anxious about things that have no lasting value when the Lord has dedicated himself utterly to my eternal wellbeing? Our culture lauds individualism. Each human being is expected to be the measure of his own existence and the master of his destiny. But if the meaningfulness and value of my life depends on me, then my situation is indeed desperate! We must entrust ourselves totally to the Lord, but this entrustment is not reckless abandon that disparages everything. Our entrustment must also include obedience. The justice that is implicit in the Kingdom of God is the justice that comes when one is in right relationship with God. Entrustment to the Lord and conformity to his will go hand in hand. We have a choice: turn to worldly consolations and lose God; or, turn to God and lose our worldly consolations. The joys and consolations that come from entrustment to God are far greater than the worldly pleasures that we idolize.

This is a Gospel about anxiety. I am anxious for my material wellbeing. The solution to this anxiety is to focus on the fact that God remembers all of my needs. I don’t need to worry about them
The first reading provides a good introduction for the Gospel on Sunday. The Prophet Isaiah is speaking about God’s ability to remember. The Lord says to Isaiah, “Does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the son of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you.” This notion of the Lord’s tender care for us appears dramatically in the celebrated Gospel of Matthew 6. Jesus says, “Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are we not worth much more than they are?  . . . And why worry about clothing? Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his regalia was robed like one of these.” We often hear these words, but do we truly listen to what is being said? The introduction to the Gospel says, “No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of material riches.” But how can we attain the freedom to live with complete trust in the Lord’s providence and overcome our anxieties about material things? Behind much of our attachment to material things is anxiety and preoccupation. In fact this Gospel is aimed directly against the fretfulness and anxiety we experience about our material wellbeing. And this is where the theme of God’s memory becomes relevant! The Lord remembers me! The Lord will not abandon me! The birds of the air don’t sow anything but the Lord doesn’t forget them! How much more will he remember me!

Our culture exalts autonomy and individualism. But if I am really the measure of my own existence, if I am really responsible for the quality of my life, then my situation is indeed desperate!
This Gospel brings us face to face with a characteristic that is responsible for some of the worst behaviour of human beings. That characteristic is the human tendency of seeking to be the master of one’s own destiny; the effort to try to become the autonomous focal point of one’s own existence. By now the notion of absolute individualism as a “good” has seeped into Western consciousness. The autonomous man, the autonomous woman, the absolute individual who is able to provide for himself and who is the measure of his own existence. But this model leads to existential loneliness, because none of us is an independent island – we need other people. The principal problem with individualism is that it makes the human being the principal source of what is needed for a meaningful life. According to this individualism, what keeps me alive, what maintains my existence, what brings me “salvation”, what invests my life with meaning, is solely that which I can provide with my own limited capacities. It is dependent on how well I apply myself. But if everything is dependent on what I know and what I can provide, then my situation is indeed desperate!

We urgently need to entrust ourselves to the Lord. This entrustment is not reckless abandon. It involves obedience and right relationship with God
If I do not entrust myself to God, then what kind of life can I hope to have? If the Lord forgets me, then who will remember the things that I truly need? We are desperately in need of these acts of entrustment to the Lord, and as well as that, acts of obedience to the Lord. Obedience is important because this act of entrusting oneself to the providence of God is not the reckless attitude of not caring what happens to me tomorrow. It is the business of acting in a way that ushers in the Kingdom of God. So there is a twin movement in this attitude of entrustment to the Lord. First of all I cease to make my material needs absolute and instead I consign my material fate to the hands of God. Secondly, I seek to act with the justice of the Kingdom. The just man in Scripture is not simply someone who observes the law. The just man is the one who is in right relationship with God. This is the justice of the Kingdom that I must seek.

What kind of Christian am I? A true Christian with the Lord as his master? Or do I have another master?
We put an enormous amount of effort into procuring our own wellbeing. We worry about how others will judge our appearance and the way we are dressed. We seek hundreds of little satisfactions and surround ourselves with objects that give us comfort and contentment. But there is something else that deserves our effort and attention! There is another master to be served and that master alone deserves our unswerving fidelity. But instead we find that multitudes of so-called Christians live in complete anxiety about material things. They are like taut violin strings, on edge over dozens of things. And still they say that the Christian God is their God. If their credit card ceases to function they become agitated. When their economic income is slightly reduced, they are willing to begin a march on parliament. They are willing to live in lifelong disharmony with their brothers and sisters when they disagree about the inheritance. It is acceptable to lose a brother or an uncle for material disputes of this kind. But what they risk losing is God himself.

We have a choice: turn to God and lose our worldly consolations; or turn to worldly consolations and lose God. The joys and consolations that come from entrustment to God are far greater than the worldly pleasures that we idolize

When we live a life of this sort, preoccupied by our material wellbeing, we lose a sense of what really brings genuine flavour and joy to life. When we entrust ourselves to God, we experience the extraordinary consolations that are part and parcel of the Kingdom of Heaven and its justice. These things alone deserve our anxious effort! We shouldn’t fear that we will lose our material pleasures if we turn to God; we should fear the possibility of losing God if we continue to worship material things! This is the risk of clinging to worldly things. We wallow in them and our lives become encrusted with material objects and attitudes. Such things of no lasting value prevent us from becoming free children of God.

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