Friday, 18 September 2020

September 20th 2020. The Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

GOSPEL: Matthew 20, 1-16

Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini broadcast on Vatican Radio

 

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Don Fabio’s homily follows the Gospel

 

GOSPEL: Matthew 20, 1-16

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. 
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard. 
Going out about nine o’clock,
the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off. 
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise. 
Going out about five o’clock,
the landowner found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage. 
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage. 
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you. 
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 
Take what is yours and go. 
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? 
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? 
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

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

 

Summary . . . In today’s society many people seem to live rudderless lives. They appear to be without direction. Many young people are no longer even looking for meaningful work. We might feel inclined to judge such people. We might start complaining about how little they do in the service of the Lord. The parable for Sunday, however, teaches us that this issue is not about justice. It is not a matter of: “They worked less, yet they are receiving the same reward of eternal life. That’s not fair!” God created us in his image and likeness and gave us the privilege of administering creation. When we work in God’s service, we are becoming what we were made to be. We are ennobled. Our lives are given meaning. The tragedy of employment is twofold: the economic hardship and the humiliation of not being useful to others, of not having that meaning. Being able to work is a joyful privilege. There are those in the Church who complain about others who seem to serve the Lord less than they do. But this is to fail to appreciate their own blessed faith of being joined to the Lord in this way when they cooperate in his work.

 

Today, many people live lives that seem to be heading nowhere. Should we judge them? Complain to them that they have not done all the service that I have done? But if we look at the question from the point of view of human dignity, then we see that there is a sense in which their dignity needs to be built up and affirmed.

The master says to those he finds idle outside, "Why are you standing here all day doing nothing?" Many people live in a state of inconsistency. Their lives seem to be inconclusive. How come? Many young people seem like a car with the gear in “neutral”, you push on the pedal but the car remains stationary. Why so? Let's try to read this parable from the perspective  of human dignity. Work is tiring and burdensome, of course; but being employed is a dignified condition that permits a person to provide for himself and his family. The tragedy of unemployment has two aspects: the economic one and the no-less tragic one of dignity. What makes the unemployed suffer is not only that they cannot afford to live, but also that they can suffer the humiliation of feeling useless. Seeing that no one needs me, I must be useless. In the same way, old people can become embittered. They can feel that there is no need for them, that no-one really wants them.

 

God gave us the gift of work. We are to govern and administer his creation. This gift of work derives from the fact that we are made in his image and likeness, and he is fundamentally creative. Being able to work gives us nobility and makes us who we are.

Having a job is a great thing. It is the first gift of God to man: "Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness, and give him dominion over the fish of the sea and on the birds of the sky ..." In fact, in Hebrew, the verb "to dominate" means “to govern, to administer”. It is a dimension that derives from our similarity with God. It is something heavenly that lives within us, ennobles us and makes us who we are, leading us to create all the good there is.

 

Idleness and sloth are signs that a soul is adrift. Being able to work for the Lord, by contrast, is a blessed state. The “salary” of working for the Lord is that it gives meaning to my life today and leads me to eternal life. Serving the Lord does not furnish the Lord with anything, but it fulfils me and makes me whole.

The phenomenon of a growing number of young people who are not looking for work is a serious matter. Effectively, it means that their souls are adrift; that they have not made the connection between effort and the reward that comes from effort. What a blessed state, to be able to work, toil and tire for something valid. How wonderful it is to serve the Lord, to be employed by the best of Masters, who knows how to give the wages of today, which is the meaning of life, who invites us to do such beautiful things, his works. Saint Paul says: "Proclaiming the Gospel is not a boast for me, because it is a necessity that is imposed on me" (1 Cor 9:16) That is, serving the Lord does not give me privileges. Rather it fulfills my needs, and makes me whole. I do not serve Him when I do His will, but the opposite.

 

The workers who toiled all day think that an injustice has been done to them. But this parable is not about justice! It is about the joy and the privilege of being able to work for the Lord. Those who only worked for an hour enjoyed less of this holy privilege. The happy state of serving the Lord gives meaning to my life. When I am busy doing the work of the Lord, I am becoming what I have been created to be: a creature in the image and likeness of God.

The workers in the parable who toiled all day felt that the master was not making sense in giving the same pay to those who worked for only an hour. But do you know what the real nonsense is?  It is when we do not understand or appreciate the real reward of this master. It is when we wait aimlessly for someone to give real meaning to our heart, even though he is already here. The workers who laboured all day felt that they had been done an injustice. But this is not a question of justice. If someone in the Church reproaches those who work little for the Lord, then they have not understood their own blessed fate. The alternative is between a life spent in holy effort for his will, or a life of emptiness.

Friday, 11 September 2020

September 13th 2020. The Twenty-fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

GOSPEL: Matthew 18, 21-35

Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini broadcast on Vatican Radio

 

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Don Fabio’s homily follows the Gospel

 

GOSPEL: Matthew 18, 21-35

Peter went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.

‘And so the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents; but he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt. At this, the servant threw himself down at his master’s feet. “Give me time” he said “and I will pay the whole sum.” And the servant’s master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt. Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii; and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. “Pay what you owe me” he said. His fellow servant fell at his feet and implored him, saying, “Give me time and I will pay you”. But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt. His fellow servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened, and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him. Then the master sent for him. “You wicked servant,” he said “I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?” And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.’

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

 

Summary . . . In the Gospel passage, Jesus recounts a parable to help us understand how to forgive others continually. The starting point is to recall that each one of us has enormous debts. Each one of us is in debt to God, to nature, to others, for the poor use of our intelligence, for the lack of love we have shown in our actions. The fact that God is ready to forgive us these sins should be central when it comes to the challenge of forgiving others. In fact, our relationship with others must be illuminated by the nature of our relationship with God. God forgives me and I live by his mercy. Am I then to be ungrateful for his loving mercy in my lack of forgiveness towards others? One of the Beatitudes says: Blessed are the merciful, they shall have mercy shown onto them. The dynamo of my relationship with others ought to be gratitude for the fact that I have been forgiven by the Lord. Let us be aware that God is a Father who is always on our side! Let us rejoice in the mercy of God which each one of us needs desperately. In the parable, a servant has a truly colossal debt. In fact, Jesus chose an enormous magnitude of debt to make it clear that repayment was impossible. How can a man who has been forgiven so much be so unforgiving to others? Because the servant in the parable deludes himself into thinking he can pay it back! And for that reason, he expects others to pay back immediately what they owe him. This servant has all the characteristics of a serial debtor, who needs counselling to help him face up to what he owes. Who is this serial debtor? It is each one of us! We all owe more than we can pay, so let us stop thinking that we can settle our debts with the Lord. This attitude causes us to expect others to settle their debts with us, immediately! Rather, let us live in gratitude for the mercy of God. And may this gratitude inform us of how we relate to others. We live by the grace of the mercy of the Lord. Therefore, let us show mercy in our relationships with others.

 

Let us try to understand how a man who has been forgiven so much can be so unforgiving to others.

The parable of this Sunday's Gospel is prompted by Peter's question: “If my brother commits an offence against me, how many times should I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus replies: "Not seven times, but seventy-seven times ", in other words, always. The Lord then recounts the parable, which is to help us understand how to forgive in this way. A servant has just been freed by the king of an enormous debt, but he goes on to punish a colleague who owed him only a small sum. The question is: how can a man who has been forgiven so much be so severe with someone who owes him much less?

 

The servant in the parable is unaware of the magnitude of his debt. He thinks that he can pay it back, even though the sum is colossal. The only think he needs is for the king to be patient. The problem is not the size of the debt in itself, but the size of the King’s patience!

Let us try to understand where this attitude comes from: the servant owes ten thousand talents to the king in the parable. This is a monstrous debt when you consider that a talent, at the time of Jesus, was worth about thirty kilos of gold! More than five hundred million euros in today's currency ... a truly colossal amount. We do not understand how this situation arose, but the debtor's response should be noted: "Have patience with me and I will pay you everything back". This is more absurd than the size of the debt: the idea of being able to pay it all back! The servant does not say "I will give back what I can", but "I will give back everything". This is impossible, the debt is too great, but what is most revealing is the beginning of the sentence: "Have patience with me and I will pay back". This shows us that, for the servant, the problem is not the amount, but the patience of the king. If the king is patient, the thing will be resolved; he must simply wait and the money will arrive, in full. The servant believes that he just needs time, he doesn't really feel in debt. Those who provide counselling for serial debtors would recognize this precise mentality: they think they have no real debts; people just need to have a little patience with them; this is just a difficult moment, it will pass; a little calm, and everything will be resolved. When debtors think like this, they are incurable. They have developed an entrenched victim attitude - the responsibility is always someone else's and the problem is denied.

 

Who are these serial debtors? They are us! We all owe more than we can pay, so let us stop thinking that we can settle our debts with the Lord. This attitude causes us to expect others to settle their debts with us, immediately! Rather, we live by the grace of the mercy of God, and this must be central in how we relate to others. We live by mercy. Therefore, let us show mercy.

But these people are no strangers to us, are they! We are those chronic debtors! We all tend to have the idea that we are  able to pay our debts, that we are able to stop sinning. All we need is a little more commitment, a little more determination. If I decide to stop committing this sin, then I will stop, you will see. But this is false! It is a fallacy that makes us look at the debts owed to us by others as debts that should be settled, right now! After all, if I wanted to, I could settle my debts with God and stop sinning. Therefore, these other people should stop offending me, immediately. Unfortunately, it is a fact that overcoming one's sinful behaviour is a very difficult process. Good will alone, for the most serious problems of our inner life, is not enough. There is only one solution for settling these accounts that do not add up. If we settle them with the Lord, they will never come back. The solution is to live in mercy. We can't afford to maintain unresolved estrangements with anyone. "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy".

Friday, 4 September 2020

Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time. September 7th 2020

September 7th 2020. The Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

GOSPEL: Matthew 16, 21-27

Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini broadcast on Vatican Radio

 

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Don Fabio’s homily follows the Gospel


GOSPEL: Matthew 16, 21-27

‘If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother.
If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you:
the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge.

‘But if he refuses to listen to these,
report it to the community;
and if he refuses to listen to the community,
treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.

‘I tell you solemnly, whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.

‘I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven.
For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.’

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

 

Summary . . . Jesus tells us that if we ask for anything in his name, it will be granted. Really? Then why do our prayers every Sunday in church seem to have such little result? The problem is not so much what we ask for, but the MANNER  in which we do the asking. How distracted and automatic are our prayers in church! We show more attention when we click “ok” to accept cookies on the internet. The thing that is lacking the most in our prayer is COMMUNION. When that communion appears, God appears and our prayers are effective. Gatherings, assemblies, reunions are not necessarily communions! People standing in the same geographical location is not a communion! Fraternal communion is so important that Jesus gives instructions at the beginning of this Gospel passage for how to resolve differences with a brother or sister. The objective of all of this effort is to gain a brother. Some people do everything for money or fame, but Jesus wants us to do everything to gain brothers and sisters!  By the way, does Jesus in this Gospel tells us to shun those who remain stubbornly in error? No! People rejected Jesus and crucified him, but he didn’t shun them, he laid down his life for them! When Jesus says, “let them be to you like the pagan or tax collector”, let us recall that Jesus died for the pagan and tax collector.

 

Jesus tells us that if we ask for anything in his name, it will be granted. Really? Then why do our prayers every Sunday in church seem to have such little result? The problem is not so much what we ask for, but the manner in which we do the asking.

"If two of you on earth agree to ask for anything, my Father who is in heaven will grant it to you." Our attention is naturally drawn to the words "anything", and we are intrigued by the greatness of the promise: could we really ask for anything? Even an end of all war? These words of Jesus seem to say that there is no limit to the power of prayer. This leaves us perplexed, because it seems too unrealistic. Don’t the facts seem to show the opposite? Every Sunday, enormous things are asked in the prayers of the faithful, but with what result? However, maybe the central issue that Jesus wishes to emphasize is not the power of the request, but the previous condition: "If two of you on earth come to an agreement". The strength of prayer does not come from the things we ask for, but the manner in which we ask. If there is communion between brothers, union of hearts, unity of purpose, then we have prayer that is effective.

 

How distracted and automatic are our prayers in church! The thing that is lacking the most in our prayer is communion. When that communion appears, God appears.

If we examine our Sunday assemblies with the reading of prefabricated prayers of the faithful, we see that often the reader and the congregation are not really praying together with a communion of hearts. The crowd responds “Lord hear us” in a distracted and automatic way, with no more attention than the ok we give to cookies on a website. Did we ask for an end to all wars? Yup? Really? We see that prayer of this sort is useless because it is not prayer at all, just noise coming from our mouths. Sometimes, during these assemblies, we do indeed pray from the heart, but it still may not be a prayer done in communion with our brothers and sisters. The thing we are lacking most in the Church and which renders prayer, preaching and our presence in the world ineffective, is communion among us. When that communion appears, God appears. "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them." Not "together in the same place", but "gathered in my name".

 

Gatherings, assemblies, reunions are not necessarily communions

If we meet for afternoon tea, a business meeting, or a local community gathering, then what we have is a geographical coincidence, not communion. Sometimes we attend Church as if we were going to the supermarket: everyone takes out of it the things that they need, sometimes just the appeasing of conscience - because they feel guilty if they don't go to Mass. But what Christ wants is communion between us. When that communion is a reality, he gives us what we ask for, because when we are in communion we ask for beautiful things. For this reason, the first part of the Gospel speaks of fraternal relationships, especially with brothers who are in error: "If he listens to you, you will have gained your brother". You try to sort it out with him alone, then you ask for help from others, and finally you talk about it to the community in order to restore the relationship. There are those who give everything to earn money or fame. And then there are those who earn brothers! In truth, for this communion, you would do anything.

 

Does Jesus tells us to shun those who remain stubbornly in error? No! When people rejected Jesus and crucified him, he laid down his life for them! When Jesus says, “let them be to you like the pagan or tax collector”, let us remember that Jesus died for the pagan and tax collector.

A final note: Jesus says that if our brother still refuses to listen, "let him be for you like a pagan or a tax collector". Does this mean that we are to shun him? No! In the Gospel, the pagan and the tax collector are the ones we are asked to love even when they don't listen. They are the ones for whom to give one's life because it is the only way to touch their hearts. At the crucifixion, many people in Jerusalem shouted, “Crucify him!” Did Jesus shun them? No he died for them, and at Pentecost these same people became the first Christians.

Friday, 28 August 2020

August 30th 2020. The Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

GOSPEL: Matthew 16, 21-27

Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini broadcast on Vatican Radio

 

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Don Fabio’s homily follows the Gospel


GOSPEL: Matthew 16, 21-27

Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. ‘Heaven preserve you, Lord’, he said ‘this must not happen to you’.

But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. What, then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life? Or what has a man to offer in exchange for his life?

‘For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and, when he does, he will reward each one according to his behaviour.’

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

 

Summary . . . In Sunday’s Gospel, Peter remonstrates with Christ because he does not agree that the cross is necessary. Jesus tells Peter that he is not thinking according to God’s way, but according to man’s way. If we think according to God’s way, then we trust in him, no longer grounding ourselves on purely human considerations. Trustful acceptance of pain, suffering, and absurdity is the way we follow Christ. This is not accepted by a religious sentimentality dominant today! Our culture has made Christian spirituality a search for individual wellbeing and often cannot cope with pain and inconvenience. The cross, in fact, is considered incompatible with the consolations frequently sought in today’s approach to religion and spirituality. But the day I abandon myself to trust in the Father in the midst of suffering, in the absurd, in the midst of pain – that is the day in which Jesus becomes my true Lord! Once we accept our crosses and have the experience of loving unconditionally, by being good parents, faithful spouses and friends, then we discover what real freedom is, what real life is like. Authentic life, which is a gift from God, is delivered to us only through the cross. The cross or suffering are not ends in themselves, but when the cross becomes the occasion of abandonment into God’s arms, it leads us to be reborn with a new life, a life free from the ego, a life filled with the power of God.

 

How many lives do we actually have? Is seems to be one only, but it is actually two: the life our parents bestow on us, and the life God wishes to give us.

“Whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it". But how many lives do we actually have? We might think it is one only, but it is actually two: the one we receive from our parents, and the one God wants to give us. The life God gives us, in order to be received, must supplant the first. In fact, in this Sunday's Gospel passage, two ways of thinking appear: "You do not think according to God’s way, but according to men’s!" There is a way of thinking that is securely grounded on what is human, logical, convenient, opportune and advantageous. This way of thinking often actually considers itself to be God’s own way of thinking. We see this in the manner in which Peter disputes Christ’s prediction of suffering, He does not do it in the name of the human but of the divine: “God forbid, Lord; this will never happen to you”.

 

If we think according to God’s way, then we abandon ourselves in trust to him, no longer grounding ourselves on purely human considerations. Trustful acceptance of pain, suffering, and absurdity is the way we follow Christ. In short, the moment in which I trust in the Father, accepting the cross, is the moment in which he becomes truly my Lord.

But the Lord Jesus reveals that his way of thinking is completely different. We see this precisely from the perspective of the cross. Jesus thinks "according to God’s way", and in this logic, the “disaster” of the cross actually becomes the fruitful path of the Father's work. Thinking according to God implies accepting that everything is in His hands. It acknowledges that basing our existence on purely human considerations is to miss the target of greatness. The cross is the instrument by which we follow Christ.  This is not accepted by a religious sentimentality dominant today, which has made Christian spirituality a search for individual wellbeing and which often cannot cope with pain and inconvenience, because they are considered incompatible with the consolations frequently sought in religion. But the day I abandon myself to trust in the Father in the midst of suffering, in the absurd, in pain – that is the day in which Jesus becomes my true Lord. If the Lord is not present in pain, then he is not present anywhere in my life, not even in pleasure.

 

Peter’s way of thinking is really a system of life: avoid problems and pain, seek comfort and convenience. The problem with such an approach is that it lays the foundations of a humanity that is alienated from real life; a humanity unable for the sacrifice of love because it is too preoccupied with its own comfort. But once we have the experience of loving unconditionally, then we discover what real freedom is, what real life is like

Peter’s way of thinking is really a system of life.  The basic approach is to avoid problems, inconveniences, and pain. The problem with such a system is that it lays the foundations of a humanity of alienated people, unable to confront the hard edges of reality, who become fugitive fathers, anxious mothers, self-centred spouses, superficial people. Such people do not learn to love because all they seek is comfort. This way of thinking can put up with sacrifice only in view of a gain, of an acquisition. Thinking “according to man’s way” means to absolutize what is human and render it inconsistent. That is because we need something that is greater than this life that calls us to go beyond ourselves. We all need to deny ourselves, because all of our lives we have been looking for someone who truly loves us without calculation, without asking for anything in return, without conditions. And once we have the experience of loving others like this, to fall in love like this, to be fathers or mothers, or brothers or friends or colleagues like this, then we know what freedom is, what real life is like.

 

Authentic life, which is a gift from God, is delivered to us only through the cross. The cross is not an end in itself, but when it becomes the occasion of abandonment into God’s arms, it leads us to be reborn with a new life, a life free from the ego, a life filled with the power of God.

We need to rediscover that this sort of life, which is a gift from God, is delivered to us precisely through the cross. But if the cross is lived only for itself, if suffering or penance become ends in themselves, then they only lead to destruction and despair. On the other hand, when the cross is accepted as an opportunity for trust and abandonment into God’s arms, it becomes the birth of the new creature, the beginning of a second life, a life free from one's ego, a life imbued with the power of God.

Friday, 21 August 2020

August 23rd 2020. The Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time

GOSPEL: Matthew 16, 13-20

Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini broadcast on Vatican Radio

 

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Don Fabio’s homily follows the Gospel


GOSPEL: Matthew 16, 13-20

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Then he strictly ordered his disciples
to tell no one that he was the Christ.

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

 

Summary . . . The first reading from Sunday speaks of the act of investiture of the master of the House of  David. The act consists in placing the key of the house upon his shoulders. We are told that what this key opens, no-one will close, and what this key closes, no-one will open. The cross of Christ is borne upon his shoulders and it has the power to “bind” and “loose”. It frees us from our bonds to sin and delusion. It binds us in correct relationships with each other, and with the Mother of Jesus who is given to us as our mother from the cross. In the Gospel, Jesus “tests” his disciples by asking them who they think he is. In response, Peter makes his impressive profession. What is interesting is that fatherhood is a theme in this dialogue between Jesus and Peter. Peter, son of Simon, professes Jesus as Son of the living God. In return, his name is changed to “rock”. As a rock, he becomes the foundation of the faith of others and a place of passage, a bridge (the meaning of “pontiff”) to the Father. We are all priests by baptism and called to be a rock of faith for others! This, however, is not our doing, but the work of God in us. It is God who builds the Church. Peter knew who Christ was because the Father had revealed it to him (“Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven”). When we know the Lord, we know how to liberate people from darkness (“the gates of the underworld will not prevail against it”). It is the cross of Christ that is the instrument, the key, to liberation from darkness and entrance to heaven.

 

The place where Peter made his profession was a place of worship for the different gods of the Greek, Roman and Canaanite cultures

The location where Peter made his profession was the site of three sanctuaries from different eras for the worship of the Canaanite, Greek and Roman gods. In this open-air pantheon, Jesus asks the disciples to recognize his true identity, because faith is something that must be professed above all in the face of idolatries. The Christianity of the martyrs will thus manifest itself in every age, precisely in the most alien and hostile of places. The most noticeable feature of this location was a dark cave where a spring appeared and then sank again into a hole in the rock, to reappear further downstream. We won’t go into the macabre details of the Canaanite cult, but that mouth of rock which swallowed the water was an image of the underworld, of the kingdom of death, and that is why Jesus speaks of it in this Gospel passage.

 

Fatherhood is a theme in the dialogue between Jesus and Peter. Peter professes Jesus as Son of the living God. In return, his name is changed to “rock”. As a rock he becomes the foundation of the faith of others and a place of passage, a bridge, to the Father

Jesus starts a conversation regarding his identity, and this becomes a test for his disciples, provoking the impressive response from Simon Peter. In this dialogue, Peter says something about Jesus identity in terms of his divine sonship. Then Jesus says something about Peter’s identity, again in terms of sonship. Simon, who is the son of Jonah, professes that Jesus is the Son of the living God. On account of this profession, Simon’s name is definitively changed and he becomes the foundation for the faith of many others. St. John Paul II said that becoming a rock means becoming a place of passage for others to come to Christ. Incidentally, the true meaning of “pontiff”, the title of the Bishop of Rome, is “bridge”.

 

We are all priests by baptism and called to be a rock of faith for others. This, however, is not our doing, but the work of God in us. It is God who builds the Church.

Every Christian shares in the priesthood of Christ by baptism; thus he is called to be a rock for the faith of others, a place of passage to the Father. But this knowledge of Christ, which can only come exclusively as a gift from the Father - "neither flesh nor blood have revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven" - is also and above all a work of God in us: "On this stone I will build my Church "; Christ will build it, the Church is a work of God.

 

Knowing the Lord means knowing the way to pull humanity out of darkness

The Church has a duty that is expressed in this Gospel passage with: "The gates of the underworld will not prevail against it". Some translations omit “gates” but this is the literal translation from the Greek. This original text emphasizes that the battle takes place at the gates of the underworld, where there is that horrible mouth of nothing (the rock that swallowed the spring of water) which seems to eat everything and compel fear and idolatry. Those gates will not resist the power of God at work in the Church: the Church will liberate men from death, pulling people out of their darkness. The Oriental churches represent the Resurrection with the image of Christ pulling Adam and Eve out of the black mouth of the underworld. Peter knows Christ because the Father reveals him to him, and knowing the Lord means knowing the way to pull humanity out of the darkness.

Friday, 14 August 2020

Sunday Gospel Reflection, August 16 2020, Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

August 16th 2020. The Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

GOSPEL: Matthew 15, 21-28

Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini broadcast on Vatican Radio

 

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Don Fabio’s homily follows the Gospel


GOSPEL: Matthew 15, 21-28

Jesus left Gennesaret and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Then out came a Canaanite woman from that district and started shouting, ‘Sir, Son of David, take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.’ But he answered her not a word. And his disciples went and pleaded with him. ‘Give her what she wants,’ they said ‘because she is shouting after us.’ He said in reply, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel’. But the woman had come up and was kneeling at his feet. ‘Lord,’ she said ‘help me.’ He replied, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs’. She retorted, ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table’. Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’ And from that moment her daughter was well again.

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

 

Summary . . . Sunday’s reading has the most startling reply from Jesus recorded in the Gospels: “It is not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”. To understand this reply to the Canaanite woman, it is essential that we recognize that no-one of us can become an authentic Christian until we recognize our misery, our infidelity, our estrangement from God. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the key moment was when the son finally recognized that he was living like an animal and was unworthy to be called a son of his father. The greatness of the Canaanite woman consists in the fact that she acknowledged that she was estranged from God and undeserving of his grace, yet she showed by her perseverance that she submitted to his help anyway. All of us have fallen far short of the beautiful nature that God has destined for us. Each one of us needs to periodically acknowledge our poverty and misery before the Lord. We need to admit that we are, effectively, “dogs” in this sense. God cannot pour his gifts into hearts that are full of themselves, but into hearts that are poor and humble. It is from this reduction to nothing that greatness begins. We must give God the right to say “no” to us. It is when we metabolize these “rejections” that we are given the opportunities to grow. God is not an automatic distributor of graces who says “yes” to everything we request. He nurtures us, corrects us, prompts us to grow. A proper relationship with him demands that our hearts be filled with the truth of that relationship, and this involves acknowledging our misery and the fact that we deserve nothing. This Sunday we have a splendid opportunity for recalling that, undeserving as we are, we have been welcomed by the Lord and made children by his grace.

 

In Sunday’s Gospel, we hear the most startling reply from Jesus recorded in the Gospels

The Gospel for Sunday is quite startling. When a Canaanite woman asks Jesus to heal his daughter, Jesus refuses to answer her. Even the disciples seem to have more compassion than Jesus, and they implore Jesus to grant her request. But his reply is even more shocking: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”. The expression Jesus uses – “dogs” – is particularly disparaging. By the end of this passage, of course, Jesus will have responded well to the woman and even praised her in the highest terms. But for the moment we must seek to understand his apparently negative approach.

 

It is not possible to become an authentic Christian without recognizing, our misery, our poverty, our distance from God and our need of his help

In order to be healed of a dependency or addiction, it is always necessary that we admit our poverty, our misery and need for help. The early Church was surrounded by the Hellenistic, Roman and Canaanite cultures. It was not possible to become Christian without recognizing the elements of these cultures that were alien to the Christian way of life. In general, before any of us can become an authentic Christian, we have to acknowledge that, at present, we are very distant to God. In the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke’s Gospel, the critical moment is when the son realizes that he has been reduced to an animal like state, unworthy to be called a son of his father. In the early Church, those converts that came from Hellenistic and Canaanite backgrounds would have had to recognize how far their culture was from the Lord. Even today, the expression “pagan dogs” is used in Islam and some other cultures. And it is necessary for us to recognize ourselves as “dogs” in the sense of being far from God, far from the complete form of humanity according to the will of God.

 

The greatness of this woman consists in her awareness of her poverty, her humility and her acknowledgement that she does not deserve anything.

This Canaanite woman acknowledges that she is asking for a “crumb” that she does not deserve. When she demonstrates this awareness of her own poverty and her dependence on the Lord, Jesus replies by saying, “Great is your faith. May your wish be granted”. It is important for all of us at times during life to reach this level of acknowledging our poverty, our estrangement from God, our identity as “dogs” in comparison to the beautiful human nature that God had destined for us. Faith is not something that God can pour into a heart that is full of itself and its own abilities, but into a heart that is poor. As the psalm says, “A humble and contrite heart, O Lord, you will not despise” (Psalm 51,17). The heart of this woman is great because it takes littleness as its starting point. She is humble enough to ask for help, having no pretensions of her own. Certainly, she asks with perseverance, but not presuming to have a right in herself of a response.

 

God is not an automatic distributor of graces who responds to all of our requests. Instead he is a Father who wishes to help us grow. When we relate to him as children, it is essential we have truth in our hearts regarding our own poverty, our own littleness, the fact that we deserve nothing. The Lord will welcome us as we are and make us his children by grace, but we for our part must recognize our need for him and our estrangement from him,

This Gospel is a reminder to all of us that we should not forget the day in which we were “dogs”. For St Peter, it would always have been important not to forget the day in which he betrayed the Lord, and for Paul to recall the violence he showed against the Church. It is from this annihilation, this reduction to nothing, that greatness begins. The Canaanite woman accepts this “rejection” by God and in return she receives the greatest praise from the Lord. We must give God the right to say “no” to us, and we must welcome and metabolize his “rejections”. God is not an automatic distributor of graces who responds to all of our requests. Instead he is a Father who seeks to make us grow. He nurtures us, educates us, corrects us and demands that we relate to him according to the truth. When we invoke God and ask for his help, it is important that we have the truth in our hearts regarding our own poverty. This Gospel is a splendid occasion for recognizing that we are the poor and miserable ones who have been welcomed to the table by God. Similarly, it is a motive for us to welcome others as the Lord has welcomed us. The beginning of every Mass, in fact has the words, “In order to celebrate the sacred mysteries, let us call to mind our unworthiness, our infidelities, our sins”. We are all estranged from God, but we have been welcomed by him and made children by grace.

Friday, 7 August 2020

August 9th 2020. The Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

GOSPEL: Matthew 14, 22-33

Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini broadcast on Vatican Radio

 

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Don Fabio’s homily follows the Gospel


GOSPEL: Matthew 14, 22-33

After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side,
while he dismissed the crowds. 
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. 
When it was evening he was there alone. 
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. 
During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea. 
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. 
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. 
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” 
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 
He said, “Come.” 
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. 
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 
After they got into the boat, the wind died down. 
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”

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

 

Kieran’s summary . . . In the Gospel for Sunday, Jesus constrains his disciples to cross the notoriously stormy Sea of Galilee by night. Why did Jesus force them to do such a counter-intuitive thing, to confront their deepest fear – that of being lost at sea? Then, during the storm, Jesus comes to them over the water. Christ wants us to cling to him in the midst of our greatest fears. The crossing of the sea is the great biblical symbol of Passover, the fearful crossing of the deepest abyss of human existence. We are not truly free until our fears are enlightened with the presence of Christ. The storms of life reveal the power of God, but they also reveal who we are: we are people called to true freedom, and this only happens when we abandon ourselves to God. When storms come, we might wish that the Lord would take them away from us. But what is important is not the calming of the storm, but that we keep faith in God in the midst of the storm.


The Sea of Galilee is dangerous at night. Why did Jesus force his disciples to make such a risky crossing? Why did he make them confront their deepest fear – that of being lost at sea? Crossing the sea, of course, is, in Scripture, symbolic of Easter, the crossing of the deepest chasm known to man

"Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other shore". One thing may escape our attention in this phrase: the fact that Jesus constrained the disciples to enter the boat. The Greek term means “to induce to act in a particular way, to force, to impose”. Why does Jesus force this crossing? The story follows the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, and we know that it is evening time. In fact, the disciples had asked for the dismissal of the crowd for this very reason. Jesus must constrain his disciples to get into the boat. One may rightly think that perhaps they do not want to go without him, but the account that follows also indicates something else. We must remember that the core group of his disciples is made up of fishermen - the first four are fishermen by profession - while the others are from the same part of the region. They are all familiar with that stretch of water that they call the “sea”. They don't want to cross it in the evening because they know one thing: evening and night storms on the Sea of ​​Galilee are very frequent. This also happens today due to the fact that air currents from diverse climatic regions converge over the lake. Often this gives rise to very localised storms right in the middle of the water basin. If, on a trip to the Holy Land, you wonder why there are no crossings for tourists after a certain hour in the afternoon, the local boatmen can explain all of this. It is very risky to leave in the evening. Why does Jesus force them to take this risk? They are fishermen and they are made to confront their basic professional fear: to die at sea, or at least to fail in making the crossing. The Lord pushes them to confront their fears. The sea, in fact, in Scripture represents the historical obstacle, that of Passover. It evokes all human fears, and the night never seems to end.

 

Jesus wants them to confront their fears by experiencing his Lordship in the midst of their fears. We are not free until the day that we learn to cling to him, despite the object of our fears still being present. These storms reveal that Jesus is Lord, but they also reveal that we are people called to freedom, called to trust in him in the midst of tribulation. This is our life. This is our freedom. We do not call on the Lord to take away the storm, but that we might adhere to him despite the storm.

But in the midst of their fear, Jesus returns and appears as someone walking on that sea. Like a ghost. Right in the heart of their terror, the Lord wants them to have this experience: to know the Son of God. In fact, we are not truly free until the day in which God enlightens our deepest fears with his Lordship. Indeed, like Peter, we too are called to walk on that sea. The Lord not only manifests who He is, and that is already a great thing, but he reveals who we are: people called to freedom. If life sometimes forces us to enter the storm, it is so that we may come to know the God of Jesus Christ. To know him does not imply that we are given the power to escape that which we fear, but becoming free from what we fear, without having to distance ourselves from it. Our problem is not the storm, but to keep faith during the storm. And our faith always has room to grow.

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Sunday Gospel Reflection