Friday, 16 November 2018

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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Jesus said to his disciples: "In those days after that tribulation
the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from the sky,
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, and then he will send out the angels
and gather his elect from the four winds,
from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.
"Learn a lesson from the fig tree.
When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves,
you know that summer is near.
In the same way, when you see these things happening,
know that he is near, at the gates.
Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away
until all these things have taken place.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
"But of that day or hour, no one knows,
neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . The Gospel passage speaks of cataclysmic events. What are we to make of these dramatic prophecies? Are these referring to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD? Or are they referring to the end of time? Do they speak to us today as we read this Gospel? The events can be interpreted as referring to the natural cataclysms that occurred at the time of the passion of Jesus. And they can also be taken as referring to the tribulations that always precede genuine conversion to Christ in any age. On the fourth day of creation, the sun, moon and stars became the points of reference of the physical world. Jesus speaks about them coming to an end. If Christ is to come to us, then our own points of reference must come to an end. Our own intelligence, our own wisdom, the things that “illuminate” our way, must all collapse. The pantheon of our personal idolatries must be shattered. It is only then that Jesus will be able to come to us and find what is authentic in our hearts. Tribulation becomes a blessed thing if we allow ourselves to be found by the Lord. It becomes a moment of opportunity if it causes our spurious foundations to collapse, leading us to make the Father our principal point of reference.

Is this Gospel speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem? Or of the end of the world? What relevance can it have for us today?
On this thirty-third Sunday of ordinary time, the second last of the liturgical year, the Gospel prompts us to lift our gaze towards the final things, the end of time. The text, from the thirteenth chapter of St Mark’s Gospel has references that seem ambiguous in nature. Jesus’ discourse ranges from the destruction of Jerusalem (a historical event that would occur in the year 70 AD) to events that seem to be occurring at the end of time. Many scholars believe that the Gospel was written before the destruction of Jerusalem and contains a genuine prophecy of Christ regarding that event. Others believe that the prophecy is mostly directed to the end times. But the difficulty here is that the Lord says at the end of his discourse: “This generation shall not pass away until all these things have taken place”. So there are three possible references here: to the life experience of the listeners of Jesus’ discourse, to the destruction of Jerusalem a few decades later, and to the events at the end of the world. Does this mean that this Gospel has little relevance for us who listen to the passage today?

The events recounted by Jesus refer to the cataclysmic events that occurred at his passion and death
The passage begins: “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” This is a reference to the Passion of Christ. At the time that Jesus dies there is a solar eclipse and an earthquake. Nature registers the cataclysmic nature of the events that are happening. "And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds . .” This refers to events after the resurrection, when the Lord sends his angels to evangelise, to spread the good news about the resurrection of Jesus. So what we have here is a marvellous interpretation of the events of the Passion as recounted by Jesus.

The events can also be interpreted as referring to any time when the major points of reference collapse in our lives and we find ourselves turning to Christ, the ultimate point of reference
But this reading of events is also relevant to us who read the Gospel today. How so? What is the tribulation that causes the sun to be darkened, the moon to lose his light and the stars fall from the sky? This refers to the reversal of the fourth day of creation. On the fourth day, the Lord placed the celestial lights in the sky, the sun to rule the day, and the moon and stars to rule the night. These celestial objects are the reference points for the passing of time. When they are gone, we have no reference points and no light. At this moment, when there is neither sun nor moon, “they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds”. The destruction of Jerusalem represents the end of an epoch, a reference point in time, and from that moment Christianity expands over the earth. Jesus asks us to learn a lesson from the fig tree: “When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near.” In the same way, when the points of reference are falling, when the powers are collapsing, then the Son of Man is coming. Just as nature has its signs, so too does the existential life and the spiritual life.

If we are to turn to Christ, then the pantheon of our personal idolatries must collapse. At this moment, we are capable of recognising the fact that he is coming and searching for what is authentic in my heart.
In reality this was the story of every conversion in the early Church. In order to arrive at the faith, it is necessary that the “sun” be obscured. Our wisdom must be set in crisis, the things that once “lit” our way must be dimmed, our pantheon of gods must collapse. Such a crisis becomes the moment for radical change. When we no longer have the answers, when we don’t know how to go on, these are the moments that are ripe with possibilities. No one can arrive at faith in Christ unless his own wisdom, his own points of reference are destabilised. This holy “shaking” is something that we all need. Thus the Gospel refers to the Passion of Christ, to the end of times, and to the end of the Jewish principal points of reference. The Temple, in fact, continued to be a point of reference for the disciples after the resurrection. They continued to frequent the Temple for years afterwards. But the destruction of this edifice and the end of the liturgical life that it sustained became identified with something very significant. This tragedy, this disaster, this injustice, this oppression became the opportunity for a qualitative step forward. When the pantheon of our personal idolatries collapses, then we can be sure that the Son of Man is coming! He is searching for his elect. He is searching for what is authentic in our hearts.  These difficult times, these crises serve the purpose of leading us to personal growth. The Lord is searching for us through these traumatic moments in order to lead us away from our self-deceptions and give us his Holy Spirit. Tribulation becomes a blessed thing if we welcome it, if we allow ourselves to be found by the Lord. He sends his angels to gather his chosen ones, from the ends of the earth, wherever they may be! We can return to Christ once our own existence has been shaken or destabilised in this way. It is important to experience these moments of annihilation. It is important to recognize that our own lives cannot be sustained by points of reference that are meaningless. Our lives, rather, must be sustained by the Father, in the sure hope of his providence.

Friday, 9 November 2018

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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In the course of his teaching Jesus said to the crowds,
"Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes
and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honour in synagogues,
and places of honour at banquets.
They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers.
They will receive a very severe condemnation."
He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.
Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.
Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, "Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.
For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood."
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . Sunday’s Gospel presents us with two contrasting figures, one who uses God to promote himself, the other who gives of herself in order to submit to God. The Scribe goes around in flowing robes, looking for attention. He uses religion to advance his own agenda, his own public image. The widow, by contrast, puts her last two coins into the Temple treasury. By so doing, she manifests her radical relationship with God. She could have held one coin back, but instead she gives both. There are no half measures here. She empties herself in order to live out her relationship with God, whilst the Scribe uses his relationship with God to try to fill himself. This brings us to the first reading, where a widow gives her last handful of flour to the prophet Elijah, and then discovers that she has enough to eat herself. It is only when we abandon ourselves to God in faith, trust and obedience, that we are filled by our relationship with him. If, instead, we try to enter the relationship with God (or with anyone else, for that matter) on our own terms, clinging on to what we are most attached to, then the relationship will be inauthentic to the same degree.

The Gospel presents us with two contrasting figures. The first is the Scribe who uses religion to promote his own public image
In this Sunday’s Gospel, two different characters face each other. One is the Scribe, who loves to walk around in long robes, take the first places in the synagogues, and pray at length so that he will be seen. This is the classic image of a person who uses religion for his own purposes. If there were other means of achieving those same purposes, then he could have taken one of those ways of life just as easily. The essential characteristic of this person is that he must receive, possess, be seen, devour. He is in a constant state of hunger, dissatisfied, and must constantly receive gratification. Existentially, he is in an infantile state and he exploits religion in order to satisfy his emptiness inside.

The second figure is the widow. Her relationship with God is not superficial, and she demonstrates this by giving everything she had to the Temple treasury. She is not using her relationship with God to promote herself, but giving herself to promote her relationship with God
In contrast to this figure who mixes religion and the mundane, appears a figure of a very different sort. We are prepared for this person by the first reading, which recounts the story of the widow who comes to the aid of the prophet Elijah by giving him her last handful of flour. This lady feeds the prophet, and in so doing finds that she has enough to eat as well. What a curious thing! The Scribe in the Gospel consumes, consumes, consumes, but remains hungry, whilst this lady gives her food to others and is filled herself! In the Gospel, another widow appears, and this account forms the end of the narrative part of Mark’s Gospel. Afterwards we have the discourse on the last things and the prophecy regarding the destruction of Jerusalem, before the account of the passion and death of Jesus. This widow throws her final two coins into the treasury. This is an interesting detail, because if she had two coins, then she could have kept one for herself. In life, the rest of us tend to do things in half measures. But this lady goes all the way. As such she represents humanity as it stands before God. She is a poor mendicant, but becomes rich by giving these two coins away. The treasure of the Temple represents the relationship of humanity with the things of God, with the cult, with the assistance given by that treasury to the poor and needy. This widow would have the right to receive from the treasury, but instead she gives. And this manifests the quality of her relationship with God. And it is a radical relationship. Despite being a poor widow, this lady gives everything, whilst others give only what is superfluous.

Relationships are only real when we invest ourselves in them, when we are willing to put our most precious possessions on the line for that relationship. If we enter a relationship whilst holding certain things back for ourselves, then the relationship is less authentic. God only becomes God when we abandon ourselves to him, giving him both coins of our existence.
By giving in this way, she touches on what is essential in her life, the issue of her very survival. Our relationship with God remains only a theory that does not touch us in a profound way for as long as we offer ourselves to him in what is superfluous to us. This is how it is with God, but also in human relationships. If the relationship does not affect what is essential in my life, then it remains on this superficial level. If a man and a woman do not love each other to the extent of sacrificing those things that they are most attached to, then they are merely subjecting their relationship to other priorities in their lives. Similarly, God only becomes really God for us on the day that we offer him everything, without holding other things in reserve purely for ourselves. It is at this point that a true relationship with God is possible. That is why true experiences of faith often begin when life takes a serious or grave turn. In that moment God becomes truly God. Otherwise we can treat him like another “app” in our operating system, something that we utilize for our own advantage. On the day that we give both of our last coins to God, in an act of abandonment, an act of faith, an act of obedience – in that moment he becomes truly our God. We need to live in this radical way! The alternative is to remain with an insatiable hunger like the grotesque Scribe, infantile and immature. Here we are talking about entering into a relationship that is grandiose, noble, beautiful, radical. All of us need this for our happiness, for our peace, for our completeness.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

GOSPEL Mark 12:28-34
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio
Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading . . .

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One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
"Which is the first of all the commandments?"
Jesus replied, "The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, 
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

The second is this:
You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these."
The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
'He is One and there is no other than he.'
And 'to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbour as yourself'
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
"You are not far from the kingdom of God."
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . In Sunday’s Gospel, a scribe asks Jesus which is the first of all the commandments. Jesus gives the traditional reply, to love God with all of one’s being. This is a verse that would have been recited by the scribes a few times daily. They knew the theory perfectly. In fact, Jesus says, “You are not far from the Kingdom”. But for the scribes, this remained something abstract, something to be repeated and argued over. Jesus is the one who goes beyond the theory. The scribes knew it, and it was for this reason that “no one dared to ask him any more questions”.  Jesus is the one who lives the “all” that is repeated four times in the first commandment. It is this complete love, without reserve, that enables him to be crowned with thorns, to endure the evil which surrounds him, to be crucified. He loves without keeping anything for himself. Jesus tells us that this complete love is what we need to live an authentic life. What is the alternative to this love? If a man said to his wife, “I love you with part of my mind and part of my heart. I will do certain things for you but not everything”, no woman would be impressed! The alternative to the completeness of Christ’s love is the mediocrity with which we live our lives. He loves without conditions and without reserve. Jesus puts flesh on the first commandment. And when we allow ourselves to be loved by him, then his flesh begins to become ours. On this 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time, we consume the Eucharist in order to have this “all” in our hearts, so that we too, through his grace, can become capable along with him of loving without mediocrity, without half measures, but right to the end.


The scribe is “near” the Kingdom in that he can state what is essential for life: the total love of God and neighbour. But for the scribes, this was just a formula, an abstraction.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, a scribe asks Jesus, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” In other words, what is important in life? What is essential? What is the first thing that we must concern ourselves with? In Hebrew, the word “first” really means the foundation, the basic thing in all of existence. Jesus gives the traditional response, the same response that would have been repeated by every pious Jew a number of times daily. But for the scribes this verse was just another piece of information, something learned off by heart, a point used by them for constructing arguments against others. But for Jesus, this is something absolutely essential, as he asserts at the end of the passage when he says, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God”. Jesus is really saying that the Kingdom is not just a theory. It is something close by. We can move from theory to reality and cease living in abstractions. It is interesting that no one questions Jesus further after he makes this assertion of the nearness of the Kingdom. They do not have the strength or courage to make this final leap in quality to the things of the Kingdom. This is the leap that the theorists of religion always have difficulty making.


Jesus is the one who really lives the “all” that is repeated four times in the first commandment. This is what permits him to subject himself to crucifixion and insults. He loves completely, without retaining anything for himself
It is one thing to meet a person who can tell us interesting things, but a different thing entirely to meet a person who is himself interesting. It is one thing to meet a person who can tell us that the love of God requires heart, soul and mind, but another thing to meet a person who actually reasons according to love in an interior way, who emanates love in his very actions, with an intelligence that has been informed by the faith, and whose sentiments are instructed by authentic love. Such a person is one who has really taken on board the “all” that is repeated four times in the first commandment: “all of his heart, all of his mind, all of his soul and all of his strength”. If such a person exists, then he is someone who loves, plain and simple. He has taken on a way of life that is characterised by fraternal love, who knows how to pardon, for love is not something that only goes so far and no further. Such a person looks on others as part of himself. How can I not forgive and welcome the other who is a part of me? Such a man, whose love is not partial but complete, will be capable of bearing a crown of thorns. He will love even when he does not understand. He knows that to love involves entrusting oneself to God, refusing to respond to evil with evil. He will allow himself to be crucified in order to refrain from responding to the evil of those who surround him. He will be a man whose heart is crushed because he is one who has loved without keeping anything for himself.

The alternative to the “all” of Jesus is the mediocrity with which we live our lives
This phrase, “all your heart, soul and mind” is either true or false. In Jesus the phrase is true! If such love is not possible, if it is an exaggeration, then what sort of life is possible for us? If my love is not with all of my heart, all of my actions, if I retain other things in my heart for myself, if my actions are only partially directed towards others, then the state I am in is called “mediocrity”. If a man said to a woman, “Dearest I love you with part of my mind and part of my heart. I wouldn’t do anything for you, just a limited number of things”. No woman would be impressed with such a declaration. Jesus makes a declaration of an entirely different sort. He loves with everything that he is. If we ask Jesus what is essential for him, to what extent he will love us, the single word that he will utter in reply is, “completely”. This is the word that is repeated in the first commandment. He loves without conditions and without reserve. Jesus puts flesh on this commandment. And when we allow ourselves to be loved in this way, then his flesh begins to become ours. On this 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time, we will consume the Eucharist in order to have this “all” in our hearts, so that we too, through his grace, can become capable along with him of loving without mediocrity, without half measures, but right to the end.

Friday, 26 October 2018

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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As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus,
sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
"Jesus, son of David, have pity on me."
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
But he kept calling out all the more,
"Son of David, have pity on me."
Jesus stopped and said, "Call him."
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
"Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you."
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, "What do you want me to do for you?"
The blind man replied to him, "Master, I want to see."
Jesus told him, "Go your way; your faith has saved you."
Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . In Sunday’s Gospel the blind man, Bartimaeus, calls out insistently, “Jesus son of David, have mercy on me!” Prayer demands perseverance and resolve on our parts. But what is it that makes us persevere? When we are aware of our poverty and our desperation, then we call out most strongly to the Lord! Our weakness and our neediness is the powerhouse of our prayer! The people tell Bartimaeus to shut up. In my life too there are many forces that tell me to shut up, who insist that I desist from praying. The three classic enemies of prayer are the world, the flesh and the devil. The world tells me to solve my own problems with direct action, not with submission to the Lord. The flesh with its passions and impulses is not disposed to prayer. It makes me lazy and wilful, distracts me with other things. The devil tells me that God does not listen to my prayer so why bother? He tells me that I am of no importance before the Lord. All of these forces dissuade me from praying, but they demonstrate how important prayer truly is! In response to these negative voices I must become like Bartimaeus and cry to the Lord all the louder. Bartimaeus casts away his cloak and turns with insistence to Jesus. We too must cast away our “cloaks”, the things that conceal who we really are, the roles and expectations that we have. We must place ourselves before the Lord so that our prayer becomes a meeting of two desires, the desire of my heart and the desire of the Lord for my good. But how can I be sure that my prayer will be an expression of what is true and essential in my heart? If I persevere in prayer, then the combat of perseverance will purify my prayer so that it becomes a sincere expression of who I am before God and of my deepest needs. Then we can expect Jesus to reply, as he did to Bartimaeus, “Go, your faith has saved you!”

Prayer demands perseverance and resolution. It is our very poverty that impels us to pray with fervour and with persistence!
On this thirtieth Sunday of the year, we read a passage of the Gospel which is a very important inspiration for the prayer and liturgy of the Orthodox church. A blind man calls out repeatedly, “Son of David, have pity on me!” Through reflection on this passage, we can celebrate the gift of our dialogue with God in the liturgy, the spinal column of our Christian lives. The story of Bartimaeus highlights that prayer involves a struggle of perseverance, an entering into combat. Just like this blind man, there is a sense in which we are all stopped at a point along the street, unable to go any further and in great need. The power of prayer derives from our very poverty! Our emptiness, our anguish, makes us turn towards God with sincerity. We should not conceal our desperation but make it the powerhouse of our pleading before God.

Just as the people told Bartimaeus to shut up, so too there are many forces that try to quieten our prayers
Many people tell Bartimaeus to be quiet. Similarly, there are many forces that dissuade us from turning towards the Lord. The three historic enemies are the world, the flesh and the devil. The attitude of the world is to say, “Why bother praying? Resolve your problems yourself! Get to work and do something concrete!” The flesh with its passions and impulses causes confusion and distracts us from prayer. “I don’t feel like praying just now. I think I’ll have something to eat first. That phone call needs to be made without delay. No, my mood is not right at this moment.” And then there is the devil who speaks critically of God. He either tells us that God does not bother to listen to someone as unworthy as me, or he tells me to go ahead and resolve my problems myself. All of these voices together seek to dissuade us from prayer. But we must persevere. The quality of our prayer is not always up to us, but the quantity is under our control. We must persist, we must enter into this good fight. At the moment when we have the most doubts rising in our hearts, that is the very time to pray most serenely. It is the moment we can be sure that something is trying to oppose us, and therefore we must cry out all the louder by the power of our very poverty.

In prayer, we must cast away all our masks and expectations. We must welcome the grace that is at our doorstep, and then we must speak plainly to the Lord, telling him our hearts’ desires
Jesus stops when he hears the cries of Bartimaeus. The blind man casts away his cloak. The cloak was an inalienable right in the jurisprudence of ancient Israel, and it was also a symbol of the role a person had in society. Bartimaeus throws all of this away, his way of existing, his explanations, his scheme of operating. In prayer, we must abandon everything we think of ourselves, our expectations, our fixations, the way we construct the realities of life. Instead, we must become aware that grace is at our doorstep, casting away the veils that we place over things, the schemes that we seek to fit life into. Then, when we place ourselves close to Jesus, we will hear him say, as he said to the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” The catechism of the Church tells us that prayer is the encounter between two desires, what we desire and what God desires. We must have the courage to ask whatever it is that we need to ask.

How can we be sure that in prayer we will express to the Lord what is important in our hearts? Because, if we have persevered, then our prayer will have been purified by the struggle, by the renunciation of our masks and cloaks. The prayer that emerges will be a true meeting of hearts with the Lord. And he will reply, “Go, your faith has saved you!”
We can be confident that our prayer will have been purified by our perseverance, our persistence, our struggle and by the renunciation of our “cloaks”. And the prayer that emerges will be that which we truly desire. In response Jesus says, “Go, your faith has saved you.” In the combat of prayer, we arrive at the moment of grace. In this moment of grace we see our small but absolutely essential role - the act of abandoning ourselves in faith to God. Bartimaeus in his prayer refers to Jesus as the son of David. This is an expression of his Hebrew faith in the coming of the Messiah. His persistent prayer is a demonstration of this faith. He knows that Jesus is capable of giving him the great gift of the light. And he immediately has his sight restored and follows Jesus along the road. The former blind man uses his newly restored vision to keep the Lord in sight, to see where he goes, and to follow him.

Saturday, 20 October 2018

October 21st 2018. Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time
GOSPEL Mark 10:35-45
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio
Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading . . .

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GOSPEL Mark 10:35-45
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him,
"Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."
He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?"
They answered him, "Grant that in your glory
we may sit one at your right and the other at your left."
Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the cup that I drink
or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"
They said to him, "We can."
Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink,
and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;
but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared."
When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John.
Jesus summoned them and said to them,
"You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles
lord it over them,
and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . James and John ask Jesus to give them the most important positions of glory in the future kingdom. It might surprise us to read that Jesus does not chide or scold them. Instead he seeks to purify their desires and looks for what is good underneath their egoistic demands. Yes, they can indeed have the glory that they seek, but they must first be close to him in his sacrificial love. This is how it is for all of us. We all have disordered desires for self-advancement. Underneath these is the authentic desire for true life. If we wish to be close to Jesus in his glory, then we must be close to him in the way we love and serve others. This is true glory! The worst aspect of the demand made by James and John is that they sought to choose their own positions in the future kingdom. But it is God who chooses that. We must receive what he gives us and follow him. It is communion to which we are called, not individual self-aggrandisement. The other apostles become indignant when they hear that James and John have made such a request, but their indignation is really a form of competitiveness. Jesus then addresses himself to all of them. “Do all of you wish to be great? Do you all wish to have glory? That is good! It is not a bad desire in itself. But if you wish to have real glory, then put yourselves at the service of others. If you wish to be great, then become the slave of others. It is love and service that gives glory. It is self-transcendence that makes us great. It is the overcoming of our egos that makes us wonderful.” This authentic glory is buried within our disordered search for human glory. Let us allow ourselves to be annihilated by this authentic glory revealed in the Gospel for Sunday.

The life that Jesus offers us is a life of love and service to others
On this twenty-ninth Sunday of the year, we hear the announcement of Christ’s way, his very mode of being: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life in ransom for many”. These words are so important. They reveal the meaning of the life of Christ and the meaning of all of our lives. We are all born to love and serve others. If there is no-one who is not happy on our account, then our life has no meaning. We feel contented when we are of use to others, and we suffer when we feel irrelevant.

James and John ask for greatness. Jesus does not dismiss their request but instead seeks to focus on the good that is buried underneath the egoistic exterior
These words of Jesus are illuminating, but they come in response to something which, on the face of it, betrays a very different attitude. James and John come to Jesus and tell him they have a request. Jesus asks them what it is that they desire. They ask if they can sit on his left and on his right when he enters into his glory. It is important to note that Jesus does not respond with indignation to this request for importance and greatness. He does not say, “What a terrible thing you are asking me for!” Rather he seeks in this distorted desire a core that is good. Within every desire of the human heart, even those desires that are wayward and destructive, there is the good desire for life. This internal core of every desire may well be tiny but it is always there and it is something healthy. This is the part that must be conserved.

Jesus leads James and John to a purer desire for greatness. This greatness does not involve having a prominent position above others, but having the correct relationship with Jesus. In other words, true glory involves union with Jesus in his self-sacrificial love
In fact, Jesus says, “You do not know what you are asking for”. He tries to lead them to a correct awareness of what is good in their desire. “Can you drink the chalice that I drink?” In other words, if you wish to be associated with me in my glory then you must be immersed in me in the fullest sense. You must be baptised in the baptism that I undertake; you must live the kind of self-giving that I live. The two brothers reply, “Yes, we can do that!” This presumption on their part that they would be able to follow Christ is not mistaken! Rather, it is sound. We can indeed follow Christ, but maybe not in the way that we expect or would like to. In this exchange, we see how Jesus saves what is good from the question put to him by James and John. He purifies their request and transforms it into a form of relationship with him. If they wish their request to be granted, then they must drink what he drinks, immerse themselves in the kind of life that he is immersed in.

The worst aspect of the demand made by James and John is that they seek to choose something which only God can choose
Jesus then affirms that they will indeed drink his cup and be immersed in his baptism. This is the call of every Christian. For each of us, there are moments in life when we must face this baptism of self-renunciation. Let us hope that we will all be ready for such moments. James and John will indeed be ready when this future moment comes. We are all on the journey into the future when we will have the opportunity to drink this chalice. Jesus, however, cannot promise James and John that they will sit on his right and on his left. There is to be no favouritism of that sort. The Lord is calling us into communion, where everyone takes his proper place, the place where each one of us will attain greatest happiness. And we will be happy when we go where the Lord is leading us. This is what is missing in the question of James and John! This is the element of their question that is most distorted. They wish to choose something that can be chosen only by God. There are many such things in life that we cannot choose but must instead receive and welcome from the Lord.

The search for human glory is disordered, but within it there is the genuine desire for life. True life and real glory come, not from promoting oneself, but annihilating oneself with Christ for others
The other apostles are indignant that James and John have made such a request, but their indignation is really a form of competitiveness. They are annoyed that the brothers have tried to usurp something that they themselves may have wished for. Jesus then addresses himself to all of the apostles. “Do all of you wish to be great? Do you all wish to have glory? That is good! It is not a bad desire in itself. But if you wish to have real glory, then put yourselves at the service of others. If you wish to be great, then become the slave of others. It is love and service that gives glory. It is self-transcendence that makes us great. It is the overcoming of our egos that makes us wonderful.” This is what brings us to the fullness of communion with Christ. What remains, what endures, is not the capacity to impose oneself upon others, but the capacity to love, to be close to others, to be of service. This is authentic glory. It is a glory that is buried within our disordered search for human glory. Let us allow ourselves to be annihilated by this authentic glory revealed in the Gospel for Sunday.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

October 14th 2018. 28th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
GOSPEL: Mark 10:17-30
(Translation of a homily by Don Fabio Rosini broadcast on Vatican Radio)
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Don Fabio’s homily follows the Gospel.

GOSPEL                                    Mark 10:17-30
Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You must not kill; You must not commit adultery; You must not steal; You must not bring false witness; You must not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days.’ Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, ‘There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.Jesus looked round and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were astounded by these words, but Jesus insisted, ‘My children,’ he said to them, ‘how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were more astonished than ever. ‘In that case’ they said to one another ‘who can be saved?’ Jesus gazed at them. ‘For men’ he said ‘it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God.’
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . Jesus tells the rich young man that he can have life in the fullest sense if he keeps the commandments. The young man replies that he already keeps the commandments, thus implying that simple observance of rules does not give him life. This brings us to the crux of this Gospel: what kind of relationship must we have with God if that relationship is to bestow life in the fullest sense? Clearly, keeping commandments (as the young man has done) is not enough. The answer is provided by Jesus. Jesus looks at the young man with love and tells him to renounce his possessions and follow him. This is what Jesus wants from us: a relationship of love. If we love someone, then we do not say to them, “I love you to this extent only. There are certain things that I have that you cannot share. There are certain things to which I am attached, and I am not willing to give up these attachments for you”. The relationship with Jesus must be total if it is to be authentic. This is what Jesus is saying to the young man. The young man simply keeps the rules but is not attached to God. He is too attached to his possessions. If we do not serve God then we will serve something else. If we do not draw life from God then we will try to draw it from somewhere else. We are all attached to our physical well-being, our physical possessions, our esteem in the eyes of others. We try to draw life from these things and they are obstacles to our drawing life from God. Jesus looks at us with love and asks us to renounce all these lesser things, entering instead into a radical relationship of attachment to him.

“Inheritance” for the people of Israel referred to a positive condition of life here and now
This Sunday’s Gospel recounts the important story of the rich young man who is invited to follow the Lord in a radical way. The first reading is from the Book of Wisdom where we are told that riches are nothing compared to the gift of wisdom. The life of God cannot be compared to any of the goods of this world. The young man in the Gospel asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. In the Old Testament, the word “inheritance” referred to the possession of the land that was distributed among the twelve tribes of Israel by Joshua. To have an inheritance in this sense referred to participation in the possession of a gift that had been bestowed upon the people of Israel. The term “inheritance” thus always referred to a state of life that someone enjoyed here and now and not simply in the next life, a state that was not threatened by trivial things in this life.

The crux of the Gospel is this: How do we go beyond mere obedience to the commandments towards living a true state of authentic relationship with God?
The young man addresses Jesus as “good”. Jesus replies that no one is good except God alone. Then he tells the young man that he must keep the commandments and he lists them explicitly. In other words, Jesus is saying that the relationship that is due to God is one of obedience, trust and abandonment of oneself to God through participation in this covenant with Moses in which the commandments were given. This is life, Jesus is saying, and life involves a relationship of love with God and neighbour. The young man replies that he is already doing these things, but it is clear that they are not giving him life! They are simply things that he does and they do not take him beyond the mere actions themselves. Here we are at the crux of the issue of what it is that transports us from our own life here below to the life of God. Jesus looks at him, loves him and says “Give everything you have to the poor and come follow me”. The fact that Jesus looks at him indicates that here Jesus is calling the young man to a direct personal relationship with him. In the psalms we implore the Lord to show us his face. A look can be more or less personal but the Gospel tells us that Jesus looks on the young man with love. Love is the key which explains the meaning of what Jesus says.

If we truly love God then we will not hold part of ourselves back. If we are truly attached to God then we will not be attached to possessions. If we truly serve God then we will not serve another.
The young man is to sell what he owns, give the money to the poor and follow him. Then he will have treasure in heaven. If a person truly loves another then the relationship has a global dimension. If a young man said to his girlfriend, “I love you, but you can’t have access to any of the things that I possess”, then the girl would hardly be too impressed. When we love another, then we place our entire lives at the other’s disposal. A father cannot be a true father if he does not place his entire being at the disposal of his children. Brothers and sisters cannot have a true fraternal relationship if they do not do likewise. Jesus asks that I place myself entirely at his disposal because he knows that if I do not give my life to him then I will give it to something else. Nowadays our workplaces often ask for this kind of total dedication to our careers. Other things in life – physical well-being, the esteem of others – also demand this kind of total involvement. If we do not give ourselves totally to Jesus then we will give ourselves to something else. If we do not serve him, then we will serve something else. This Gospel is calling for an extraordinary leap of a Paschal kind. The leap might seem difficult, but it is difficult only from a human perspective. It is indeed impossible for humans to give themselves in a total sense, but nothing is impossible for God. God can transform nothingness into being. He can teach us to love and to transform this nothingness into life.

We are asked to choose between life and death, between total attachment to God, or attachment to ourselves. It is the fear of losing what we possess that prompts us not to opt for God. Thus the possessions of the  rich young man are an obstacle to his relationship with Jesus. Similarly, our possessions, our attachment to our well-being, our public image, our possession, are obstacles to our entering into a relationship of life with Jesus
The story of the rich young man is not only for saintly individuals nor for people living the consecrated life. It is relevant for anyone who wants to have an authentic relationship with God and an authentic relationship with other people. Only the Holy Spirit can free us from our terror of losing ourselves. The rich young man finds himself in this dizzying splendid situation of being able to choose the path of authentic life. We too have this scandalously sublime freedom of being able to say no to God, but he gives us the grace to say yes. We can accept or decline. Often it is fear that causes us to decline. We have a fear of losing something, and we are only afraid of losing it because we are convinced that we possess it. Thus, our possessions become our tyrant. To become radically attached to Christ we need to attain the liberty to give up these possessions.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

GOSPEL Mark 10:2-16
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio
Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading . . .

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The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked,
"Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?"
They were testing him.
He said to them in reply, "What did Moses command you?"
They replied,
"Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce
and dismiss her."
But Jesus told them,
"Because of the hardness of your hearts
he wrote you this commandment.
But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.

So they are no longer two but one flesh.
Therefore what God has joined together,
no human being must separate."
In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this.
He said to them,
"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another
commits adultery against her;
and if she divorces her husband and marries another,
she commits adultery."

And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them,
but the disciples rebuked them.
When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them,
"Let the children come to me;
do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to
such as these.
Amen, I say to you,
whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child
will not enter it."
Then he embraced them and blessed them,
placing his hands on them.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . Would you try to climb the Himalayas with tennis shoes? No, but how often people in our world try to embark on the journey of marriage without being remotely equipped in the right way! In the Gospel this Sunday, the Scribes want to talk about how to escape from marriage once it has gone wrong. Jesus, instead, wants to return to the ultimate foundation of marriage, a matter of the heart. He takes a child, embraces it and places it in the centre of the discussion. We must first of all embrace Christ in a childlike way before we can embrace each other. The relationship with Jesus is the basis of the indissolubility of marriage and the eternity of all our other relationships. The problem is that we seek to undertake marriage on the basis of hormones or passions, but these come to an end all too quickly. If we try to found our relationships on the capabilities of our own flesh, then we will find that it is a very fragile foundation indeed. And if our marriage is in difficulty, then trying to straighten out some of its superficial features can only have very limited success. The solution to marriage problems is to return to the origin of marriage: God’s love for us, his forgiveness, and his call to us to love and forgive each other. This is the true source of the indissolubility of marriage.

The first reading recounts the creation of man and woman, with Eve being created from the side of Adam. The piercing of Jesus’ side on the cross recalls this event. Jesus gives birth to his body the Church by his self-giving on the cross.
The first reading recounts the marvellous creation of humanity. The Lord gives man and woman the gift of being bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh, and of being united. Here we have the image of the flesh of man being opened in the place where the heart is located, the rib being taken from the side. This image will eventually become Christological with Jesus on the cross who makes us into the Church when his side is pierced. He gives us himself in this moment and we become one heart with him, one flesh, drinking his blood and becoming his body.

The Scribes merely want to know the rules for legitimately breaking up a marriage, but Jesus wants to talk about our hearts
This reading prepares us for the Gospel. The Scribes pose a question to Jesus on matrimony in order to put him in difficulty. The issue is not whether the man or woman love each other or not. Rather they want to know if divorce is admissible. This issue concerns an area in which man and woman are at their most vulnerable, when there is a rupture between them at their most intimate level. But the Scribes speak of the issue in a purely abstract form, referring to bills of divorce and dismissal. Jesus responds in a surprising way by speaking of the hardness of our hearts. These norms, he says, only came about because Moses had to deal with hearts of stone, hearts that were not moved by love. When love is absent then we must confine ourselves to taking about rules and regulations. What is left is something dry and without life.

The foundation of marriage is God’s love for us. A marriage that is built on human foundations is built on a very fragile basis indeed
Jesus asks us to return to the beginning, to the origin of things, and see with a different perspective. He can do this because he is taking humanity back to its original beauty, to the fulfilment of the original promise. Humanity falters, both in matrimony and in other endeavours, because it seeks to depend on its own strengths, its own abilities. When we look at the tragic state of matrimony in our world, we can justly ask, “How connected are our marriages with the original plan of God for man and woman?” Marriages that fail often begin from the wrong starting point. The original vision of God is not even remotely taken into consideration by the spouses before they embark on their life together. People present themselves for marriage without being properly equipped, like someone starting to climb the Himalayas with tennis shoes. Couples marry on the basis of hormonal impulses, on the basis of passions that come to an end so quickly! We are not talking here about trying to straighten out or fix marital problems but rather to return to the very origins of what marriage is about. It is not right to admit couples to the sacrament of marriage if they are disconnected from this fundamental reality. Marriage is a call from God and a work of God. When a couple marries, it must be because God is calling them to marry each other. If they are not confident of this, then on what basis can the marriage be built? How many opportunities they will have to fail! If the relationship is founded on their flesh alone, then it will not be sufficient because human flesh is weak.

If a marriage is in difficulty, then it must return to its ultimate foundation: the personal love of God for each of us
The Gospel continues with the story of the child who is welcomed and embraced by Jesus. A married couple must be embraced by Jesus from the very start. I must be embraced by Jesus if I am going to be able to embrace a spouse, embrace my mission. For what is true of marriage is also true of our mission as Christians in general. We need to take our point of departure from our personal relationship with Jesus and cultivate this intimate bond with him. When a married couple finds itself in crisis, then it must seek to begin again from this embrace with Christ, instead of seeking, solely, to adjust more superficial aspects of their relationship. It is only when a couple has been regenerated by the unconditional love of Christ, then the spouses can begin to love each other unconditionally. No one of us can bring to fruition that which the cross of Christ alone has achieved. Never let us forget that the indissolubility of marriage is a gift of the cross of Christ. It did not exist in Jewish culture, nor in the cultures of Greece or Rome. It is a gift of Christianity, but a gift that comes from his cross and resurrection, not some pretence regarding the innate capabilities of human nature. Man, by himself, is not capable of this indissolubility. We can try as hard as we can, but we will never succeed in a complete sense. This Sunday let us listen to the Gospel and become this child embraced by Christ. This is the origin and the foundation, that which was from the beginning, the source of our hope for building marriages and all other relationships. Indissolubility refers to the eternity of our relationships, the capacity to remain united because we have been forgiven, and to forgive each other in turn.


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Sunday Gospel Reflection