Friday, 5 February 2016

February 7th 2016.  Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
GOSPEL - Luke 5:1-11
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

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

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GOSPEL - Luke 5:1-11
Jesus was standing one day by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the crowd pressing round him listening to the word of God, when he caught sight of two boats close to the bank. The fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats - it was Simon’s - and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch’. ‘Master,’ Simon replied ‘we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets for a catch.’ And when they had done this they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear, so they signalled to their companions in the other boat to come and help them; when these came, they filled the two boats to sinking point.
When Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.’ For he and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. But Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch’. Then, bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . We find similar stories in the first reading and in the Gospel. The prophet Isaiah sees the glory of God and becomes aware of his own unworthiness. But God purifies him by fire and sends him on his mission. In the Gospel, Peter sees the power of Jesus revealed in the miraculous catch of fish. He realizes that Jesus is the Messiah, and that he (Peter) is unworthy to be the companion of such a figure. The fisherman declares, “Keep away from me Lord for I am a sinful man!” But Jesus does not reject him on account of his sinfulness. Instead he calls him on a mission to be a fisher of men. These stories have a lot to say to us. We are all inclined to think that God wants us to be pure and sinless before he will have anything to do with us. We think that we will be ready to fulfil our mission in life only when we get our acts together and improve our moral behaviour. And when we see someone else acting wrongly, we think that the way to tackle the problem is to accuse the person and tell them what a mess they are in. But the readings tell us that God has a different way. Both Peter and Isaiah first behold the glory and beauty of God, and then they become aware of their own unworthiness. And this sense of guilt and shame makes them aware of their need of God. They abandon themselves into his hands, allowing him to purify them and send them out on mission. In this Year of Mercy, it is important that we have a right idea of what is involved in the pardoning of sin. Pardon doesn’t just involve Jesus wiping clean a bureaucratic list of my sins located somewhere up heaven. Pardon involves first beholding the beauty of God; as a result, I recognize my own unworthiness and impurity; consequently, I allow God to enter my existence with his transforming power. Sin thus becomes the place where God’s power operates in my life. As a result I am changed and the Lord can send me on mission.

The first reading and the Gospel both recount the reactions of people who have beheld the glory of God.
The first reading describes the wonderful call of the prophet Isaiah. The prophet sees the glory of God and reacts by declaring, “I am lost! I am a man of unclean lips who lives in the midst of a people of unclean lips. Yet I have seen the Lord of hosts!” In the Gospel we find a similar situation. Peter reacts to the unexpected action of Jesus when he manifests himself as the Messiah. Peter had been fishing all night long without catching anything. But he entrusts himself to the instructions of Jesus and casts his nets again, with extraordinary results. In reaction he throws himself at the Lord’s feet and declares, “Lord, distance yourself from me for I am a sinful man!”

The best way to become aware of our sinfulness is not through accusations from others; the best way is to see the beauty of God. This leads us to recognize our own poverty
Is this reaction of shame by Isaiah and Peter a wrong reaction? In Isaiah we see that this shame leads to something important. A hot coal is touched to the prophet’s lips and his sins are forgiven. Sin becomes the place where Isaiah encounters purification and forgiveness. And from here his mission begins. So it is with each one of us. There is nothing wrong with Peter’s confession that he is a sinful man. But there is something wrong with his deduction that Jesus should therefore keep his distance from him. Jesus, in fact, insists on staying close to him, for together they can do extraordinary things. Peter obeyed Jesus’ first instruction to cast his nets again, and now the second instruction from Jesus is to abandon the nets and become a fisher of men. The central point here is that the Lord shows us a new way of looking at sin. In this Year of Mercy it is essential that we develop a new way of interpreting sin. The natural reading of sin is to say, “I am a terrible sinner. God cannot wish to have anything to do with me while I remain like this.” But let us consider how Isaiah and Peter come to understand their sinfulness. Isaiah first has an experience of the glory of God, while Peter has an experience of the power of Jesus. As a result both become conscious of their own sinfulness. How mistaken we are in our techniques of trying to educate people about sin!  We think that the important thing is to explain to people where they are going wrong. God’s strategy is much different and involves showing us his beauty. Imagine that our house is in a bad state and someone comes in and starts saying, “How dirty it is here! What a mess!” But the Lord has a different approach. He invites us to his own house and shows us how beautiful it is. When we return home we realize the awful state of our own house. Our parameters are changed and we become aware that what we thought was fine is in reality far from acceptable. It is God who provides us with the criteria for recognizing our sin! We are given a glimpse of beauty. We become conscious of our poverty and of what is lacking in our lives.

Awareness of sin is a starting point for abandoning ourselves to God
This might prompt us to exclaim, “Lord, have nothing to do with me!” Many people, especially the young, believe that God wants to have nothing to do with sinners like them. We must continually battle this sadness and discouragement that lodges deep in our hearts.  We think that Jesus rejects us because we have made mistakes, but the making of mistakes is the very point of departure for Jesus! It is the prelude for abandoning ourselves to him. It is the stimulus for allowing the hot coal touch our lips and make us pure. The word “purify” in Greek comes from the word for “fire”. To be purified is to pass through fire and be transformed by it. Like Simon Peter we must face up to who we have been up to this point in our lives. Our old self-perception ceases to be absolute. The consciousness of our sin is a fertile ground for renewal, for a radical openness to beginning again from scratch.

The pardon of God is not a bureaucratic wiping of the slate, but a transforming action of God that leads to mission
In this Year of Mercy it is essential that we attain a consciousness of our sin. If we do not have this consciousness, then how can we appreciate or truly welcome the pardon that is being extended to us? But it is also essential that we lead people to an awareness of their sinfulness in an affirmative way, by showing them the beauty of God, and not in an accusatory way. Unless there is a period of shame and embarrassment, of despair at our own incapacity to do good, then we will not abandon the reins into the hands of God. The pardon of God is not a bureaucratic thing; it is not like a building inspector’s report that declares that the edifice is now sound; it is not the wiping of the slate clean in the records’ office in the sky. Pardon, rather, is the transforming action of God in our lives. The Year of Mercy is the year of transformation, of using our poverty as a springboard to be carried aloft by the tenderness of God. The mercy of God is something powerful and active. Let us allow God to be the one who interprets the significance of our sinfulness! For him it is a sign of how much he can do with us. Consider that the most terrible sin of history, the killing of the Son of God, has become for us a happy fault that leads to the redemption. God saves the world using a killing as his raw material, using our unjust actions as his starting point. How much God can do with our sins! He can transform them into mission, making us fishers of men. “You were a person of unclean lips”, the Lord says to us. “Now, you are the one who can tell everyone about the Love of God”.

Friday, 29 January 2016

January 31st 2016.  Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time
GOSPEL Luke 4:21-30
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

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

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GOSPEL Luke 4:21-30
Jesus  began to speak in the synagogue, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen’. And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips
They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’ But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside”‘. And he went on, ‘I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.
‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.’
When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . Jesus announces to the people of his own town, Nazareth, that he is the fulfilment of the Old Testament promise of a Messiah. The people do not accept this claim because they believe that they already know everything about him. They saw him grow up as a boy and are convinced that there is nothing more to him than that which their eyes have seen. But there is more to each one of us than our physical attributes or the legacy of our parents! This is even more true of Jesus who is eternally begotten of the Father. But it is also the case with you and me. God knew us and called us even before he formed us in our mothers’ wombs. When we look at our own lives or the lives of others, when we try to understand the word of God, when we seek to discern the will of the Lord in our lives, we must be open to the surprising and mysterious initiative of God! We are a bit like the people of Nazareth in that we think we know how the Lord operates in our lives and in the world. We are wrong! The Lord is operating in us in ways that we do not comprehend, in ways that challenge us and upset us, in ways that shake us out of our prejudiced notions. We must remain constantly open to his work in us, forever cultivating a sense of awe and wonder at his initiatives. This sense of humility, smallness and stupor can assist us in listening to the word of God and applying it in our lives.

Are we the sum total of our physical attributes? Is there nothing more to each one of us than that which other people can see? Or did God give us a nature and a mission that goes back to before we were even formed in our mother’s womb?
The first reading from the prophet Jeremiah is one of great beauty: “Before I formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you. Before you were born I consecrated you. I have made you a prophet to the nations”. In the Gospel we read of the reaction of the people of Nazareth to the words of Jesus that we heard in last Sunday’s reading. After reading the Scripture, Jesus declares, “This text is being fulfilled even as you listen”. The people begin to grumble. “This is the son of Joseph. Who does he think he is?” Of course, we know that Jesus was not the son of Joseph at all. Just as the Lord said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb . . .”, also with Jesus there is also a prehistory that is utterly significant. He is the word of God generated from eternity, God from God, light from light. This is actually true in a lesser way for each one of us. Like the prophet Jeremiah, we exist in the conception of God before we are born from our earthly parents. But the people of Nazareth are fixated with their narrow perspective on who Jesus is. They knew him as a baby and as a boy and have seen him work as a carpenter. And that is all they see. “You’re one of us! Who do think you are claiming to be the Messiah? The year of the Lord’s favour is going to begin with you? Sight to the blind? Come on! We know who you are, the son of Joseph, and nothing more.”

How do we read the events of our lives? According to a narrative that we have written ourselves? Or are we open to the utterly surprising work of God in the everyday events around us?
All of us are guilty of focussing too much on the materiality of our lives and failing to be conscious of the fact that we are something greater. In each one of us there is something invisible. In each one of us there is the plan of God which precedes the intentions that our parents had for us. We are not just the sum total of the physical reality that constitutes our visible selves. In Jesus this fact is true in an extraordinary way. The people say to him, “Physician, heal yourself. Why don’t you do here the miracles you did at Capernaum?” As residents of Nazareth, these people are aware that Jesus was born of a girl who had not yet gone to live with the man to whom she was betrothed.  So they say to Jesus, “Sort out the mess of your own life before you try to sort out ours!” In the end, of course, Jesus dies as a sinner and a blasphemer. God dies as a blasphemer! What a curious thing! He is crucified because he declares himself to be the Son of God - the very same issue that has now arisen at Nazareth. This is the issue: do we read the events of life as they are on the surface? Or in a way that is surprising and new?

We cannot be open to the word of God unless we become humble, aware that we do not know it all, open to the surprising initiative of God.
In response, Jesus goes on the attack in a fairly aggressive way. “No prophet is ever accepted in his own country”, he says. Similarly, the prophet Jeremiah was not accepted by his own people. In fact, Jeremiah suffered much persecution and often felt discouraged. Jesus is aware that it is hard to accept a prophecy from someone you know. He then cites two cases that are fairly offensive for his readers. During a great famine, Elijah only assists the widow who is not an Israelite; and in the time of the prophet Elisha, the only leper that is cured is the Syrian, Namaan. Jesus is saying that it is possible to help strangers but impossible to be of assistance to the local people who think they already know everything. It is a fact that the Lord Jesus always comes to us in a way that contests our preconceptions. He wishes to take us beyond the skin of that which we think we can see. In that sense, we must always be “strangers” with him, people who know they have a lot to learn. While we are strangers in a house, we are respectful and sensitive to the ways and needs of the householder. But when we become too familiar with someone, we begin to take things for granted. That is why we must remain “guests” with respect to the word of God. We must remain constantly open to his work in us, constantly cultivating a sense of awe and wonder at his initiatives, considering ourselves to be unworthy guests in the company of the saints and the elect. The sense of humility, smallness and stupor can assist us in listening to the word of God. Why do we begin Mass with the penitential rite? In order to put a negative flavour on proceedings from the outset! No! We do so in order to remember that what God gives us is a gift that we do not deserve. We are always weak. Our “account” with God can never be balanced. We must not place ourselves before God thinking that we know everything. We cannot say, “Come on, do that miracle in front of me here and now”. Before we can arrive at salvation it is often necessary that we experience a setback, a challenge to our prejudices and preconceptions. When we encounter difficulty in life, we become more humble, we become strangers, and we recall that everything is a gift, everything is grace.

Friday, 22 January 2016

January 24th 2016.  Third Sunday of Ordinary Time
GOSPEL Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

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

(Check us out on Facebook – Sunday Gospel Reflection)

GOSPEL Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
Seeing that many others have undertaken to draw up accounts of the events that have taken place among us, exactly as these were handed down to us by those who from the outset were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, I, in my turn, after carefully going over the whole story from the beginning, have decided to write an ordered account for you, Theophilus, so that your Excellency may learn how well founded the teaching is that you have received.

Jesus, with the power of the Spirit in him, returned to Galilee; and his reputation spread throughout the countryside. He taught in their synagogues and everyone praised him.
He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:
The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour
He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen’.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . Jesus announces that he has come to open the eyes of the blind, bring liberty to captives and usher in the year of God’s favour. When we hear this passage, do we think it applies to someone else? I am not poor, blind and oppressed, or am I? Don Fabio tells us that whenever I hear God’s word, I must allow it to penetrate my heart and speak to me. It is not me who interprets Scripture; Scripture interprets me. If I approach the word of God with my preconceived ideas, it will become opaque. Instead, I must listen to the word with openness and humility, allowing it to speak to me personally.  Then I find that Scripture penetrates to the poor, oppressed and blind parts of my life. It opens my eyes, frees me from my slavery, and consoles me. The word of God is always challenging! It is not designed to confirm me in my weaknesses! It makes me feel uncomfortable, challenges me, casts down my pride, sheds light on my darkness. The word of God, thus, as well as comforting the afflicted, must afflict those who are consoled. It gives light to blind, but blinds those who think they can see. It is impossible to teach someone who thinks they know it all. Whenever I hear Jesus’ words, I must desist from thinking they apply to someone else. I must stop interpreting them with my preconceived notions. God’s word must be heard with humility, allowing it to transform the blind, oppressed and poor areas of my existence.

 Sunday’s readings are all about our relationship with God’s word. Does God’s word penetrate my life? Does it have any influence on my daily actions?
Sunday’s Gospel has the opening lines of Luke’s Gospel, in which the Evangelist states his motive in writing the Gospel. He wishes to demonstrate to the reader, whose name is Theophilus, the solidity of the teachings that he has received. Whenever we receive teaching, we like to be sure that it is something sound, that it is something which, as the Greek expression describes it, will not cause us to slip. Life is a precarious journey and we need teaching that will help us to walk surely – as the psalm says, “a lamp for my steps and a light for my way”. The theme of Sunday’s readings, in fact, is the relationship of the word of God with our lives. Is the word of God important for me? Why does the church proclaim the word of God?

The word of God has a dual aspect: it makes us feel uncomfortable and it leads us to joy
In the first reading from Nehemiah, we hear how Ezra reads publicly the book of the decrees of the Lord, a book which has just been rediscovered after many years. As the people hear the words, they reflect on their lives and begin to weep. Ezra responds by telling them that this is a day for rejoicing, not for weeping! The Gospel reading demonstrates the same double element of sadness and joy. After the introduction in which Luke sets down his motive for writing, the scene shift to the extraordinary first public appearance of Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth. We read the first part of this episode on Sunday and the second part the following week. Just as occurred in the first reading, we see the same double reality of the word of God making people feel uncomfortable, but yet leading them to joy – heading for a feast, but passing through suffering. The truth is like this: it makes us free but wounds us. The truth reveals the deceit in our hearts but allows us to go in the right direction.

Scripture is not something that we read and we interpret: it is something that reads me and interprets me. If we approach the word in a self-conceited way, then it will become dense and opaque. If we approach it with openness then it will confront me, challenge me, transform me.
Jesus reads the consoling words from the prophet Isaiah: good news for the poor, sight to the blind, liberty to captives and the year of God’s favour. Everyone looks at Jesus to hear how he will interpret the text. The key of interpretation he gives is: “Today this text is fulfilled in your hearing”. The word of God should always involve the task of interpreting my today. It is not me who reads Scripture: it is Scripture that reads me. It is not me who should be concerned about interpreting the word: it is the word that ought to be allowed to interpret me. I must allow it to explain my life. If we approach Scripture expecting it to provide us with a certain answer, then it tends to close up before our eyes. It has inexplicable mechanisms that render it opaque if we approach it in this way. Whenever we approach the word of God with the attitude that we dictate the rhythm, then it ceases to speak to us. But if we allow Scripture to sound the drumbeat, then we enter into a whole new realm of understanding. In the Gospels, when Jesus is asked a question, he often responds with another question. He does not accept the parameters that are being imposed by the questioner. That might seem like bad manners on his part, but it is absolutely necessary. The word of God is something that should cause us to change our perspective. This makes us feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. It contests our habitual way of looking at things. If we look at the entire episode from Luke’s Gospel, we discover that Jesus’ announcement leads to great opposition.

We must allow God’s word to speak to the blind, poor and oppressed parts of our lives. God’s word is not designed to confirm me as I am already: it aims to transform me, to open my eyes, cast down the pride within me and raise up that which is humble and genuine
The good news about liberty, sight and God’s favour is not welcomed by the people. The announcement that the poor are consoled, the blind healed, and the oppressed liberated seems to imply that the hearers are poor, blind and oppressed! In other words, Jesus is saying, “It’s not true that you’re doing well just as you are”. How often we listen to God’s word without welcoming it into that area of our lives that is blind, captive and poor. You cannot teach anything to someone who knows it all. It is only possible to teach when someone knows they are ignorant and they are disposed to being transformed. If we offer sight to someone who thinks they can see, or liberty to someone who thinks they are free, they can take offence. The word of God, thus, as well as comforting the afflicted, must afflict those who are consoled. It gives light to blind, but blinds those who think they can see. In various places, the Gospels tell us that these challenging things must be done to us by God. Whenever we read the Scriptures, or hear the word of God proclaimed to us in the assembly, we are challenged to walk in the light of the wisdom of God; we are challenged to allow ourselves to begin to be transformed. The word of God is something that transfigures us and it helps us to see the invisible. It is not something designed to help confirm our pre-set ideas! It must make us cry so that we can enter into the feast; it must humiliate us so that we can be exalted. As Mary says in the Magnificat, the word of God is something that brings down the proud and raises the lowly. Whenever I place myself before the word of God I ought to think, “Now I will read this passage, pray, and allow the afflicted within me to be consoled and the consoled within me to be afflicted. I will allow the humble to be exalted and the proud to be humiliated”. These two aspects are always in me, the ignorant one and the one who thinks they know it all; the poor blind person, and the person who thinks they can see.

Friday, 15 January 2016

January 17th 2016.  Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
GOSPEL John 2:1-11
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

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

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GOSPEL John 2:1-11
There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. The mother of Jesus was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited. When they ran out of wine, since the wine provided for the wedding was all finished, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine’. Jesus said ‘Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ There were six stone water jars standing there, meant for the ablutions that are customary among the Jews: each could hold twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’, and they filled them to the brim. ‘Draw some out now’ he told them ‘and take it to the steward.’ They did this; the steward tasted the water, and it had turned into wine. Having no idea where it came from – only the servants who had drawn the water knew – the steward called the bridegroom and said; ‘People generally serve the best wine first, and keep the cheaper sort till the guests have had plenty to drink; but you have kept the best wine till now’.
This was the first of the signs given by Jesus: it was given at Cana in Galilee. He let his glory be seen, and his disciples believed in him.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . The Gospel recounts the story of the wine running out at the wedding feast of Cana. A marriage feast is an image of the best of relationships, and is often used to symbolize the joy of a proper relationship with God. The fact is that, sooner or later, the wine runs out in all human relationships! All relationships eventually encounter crisis, but a crisis doesn’t mean that the relationship should be broken off or abandoned! A crisis is an opportunity to begin relying on God. Only the Lord can be the basis of a bond that is good and permanent. The crisis is an opportunity to lift the relationship onto a higher level. In the Gospel, when the wine runs out, what does Our Lady do? She turns to Jesus and instructs everyone to do as he says. When crisis comes in life then we must stop relying on our own strategies. Instead we must abandon ourselves in obedience into the hands of Jesus. When we abandon ourselves to him in obedience, then the wine begins to flow! Then we begin to live joyful and productive lives!

In the first reading and in the Gospel, the relationship of God and humanity is represented by the image of a wedding feast.
The first reading contains the beautiful spousal call that is found in the book of Isaiah. The people of Israel will be like a glorious crown held by the hand of the Lord.  “As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you”. The paradigm of marriage is used to describe what salvation will be like. The Gospel for Sunday recounts the first sign worked by Jesus. It is good that the Gospel uses the word “sign” instead of miracle, because the notion of “sign” points to the deeper meaning of the event. Once again, as in the first reading, the relationship of God and humanity is represented by the wonderful, joyful occasion of a marriage feast. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus begins his public ministry by means of a sign worked at a wedding celebration.

The wine runs out in all human relationships. All relationships eventually encounter crisis. This crisis is an opportunity to begin relying on God. Only he can be the basis of something good and permanent. The crisis is the opportunity to lift the relationship onto a higher level
This text has infinite meaning and richness. Through the ministry of the Blessed Virgin, the power of God erupts during this wedding. As we know, the wine runs out at one point. We should note that marriage is considered the model and highpoint of all human relationships, paternal relations, maternal relations, friendship. And all relationships experience the day when the “wine runs out” – a moment of crisis looms. I know of no human relationship which does not one day have to confront the moment of the desert experience, aridity, emptiness. Wine represents joy, colour, cheerfulness and happiness; the day will come in all human relationships when it will dry up. It is not that the marriage is a mistake if crisis comes: it is when crisis comes that the marriage has the potential truly to begin. Friendship becomes more profound when it is presented with difficulty. Any relationship of collaboration has the potential to become more robust at the moment when confrontation and conflict arise. When parents are no longer able to communicate with their children and don’t know what to do: this shouldn’t be thought of as a moment that should never have arisen – it is a necessary stage of development. It is impossible to live an authentic life except through what we call the Paschal mystery - the moment when there appears to be no more life; when our capacities are no longer sufficient to save the situation. We are inclined to think that if something is right then it should be able to proceed without ever encountering difficulties. But, no, situations that are right are those that know how to confront emptiness. Human life, ironically, is something for which the human being by himself is not enough. Human life is a call to love, love of a spousal kind, where we must go beyond ourselves, beyond the limits of our own talents and capacities. In order to love to the end, it is not enough to have the intention to do so. Our good will, at most, can predispose us to grace. Love is a theological virtue and comes only from God. God has written his love in human hearts and lots of non-Christians are capable of it. But only the creator can overcome the void that one day confronts all human relationships.

In the Gospel the wine runs out and what does Our Lady do? She turns to Jesus and instructs everyone to do as he says. When crisis comes then we must stop relying on our own strategies and instead abandon ourselves in obedience into the hands of Jesus
In the Gospel story, when the wine runs out, the servants are told to fill the jars with water. The Blessed Virgin had said to them, “Do whatever he tells you”. It is important to arrive at our limits in order to discover that God, in that moment, asks for our obedience; to proceed according to his designs; refrain from following our own strategies and instead abandon ourselves to his. Our Lady is the expert at this. She said, “Let it be done unto me according to your word”. She tells the servants to do what Jesus wants and then something extraordinary happens. I usually seek to save situations on my own initiative, only to discover that I am unable. At this point I can abandon everything, which is the case with many marriages that fold up once a crisis arrives. But who says that crisis signifies the end of a relationship? It is a sign of the beginning, but the crisis can only be resolved if I cease to rely on my own strengths. It was this reliance that led to the crisis in the first place! And the crisis is the occasion to abandon oneself into the hands of God and seek to obey him! Pass over to the other side and rely on his strategy. May God allow us to appreciate how he manifests himself through our poverty and humble obedience. It is a curious thing that Jesus changes the water into wine without moving an inch. It is we servants who perform the miracle by filling the jars with water. The Lord tells us what to do and it is our hands that have the joy of performing the beautiful works. May the Lord truly grant that we come to know him through obedience, which is the way out of our emptiness and crises.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Gospel: Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

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

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GOSPEL  LUKE 3:15-16, 21-22

The people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying,
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

After all the people had been baptized
and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,
heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him
in bodily form like a dove.
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my beloved Son;
with you I am well pleased.”

Don Fabio tells us that the baptism of Jesus is the key by which we are to understand our own baptism. In the Gospel, a contrast is made between the figure of John the Baptist and that of Jesus. John is prescriptive, telling the people how deficient their lives are and what they need to do to prepare the way of the Lord. Jesus, by contrast, is portrayed as someone radically in relationship with his Father in heaven. At the baptism, the heavens are thrown open and we are given a glimpse of the secret life of the Trinity, which is a relation of love. This is the key to understanding our baptism and our vocation as Christians. Salvation is not about busily doing things for God, but is about entering into a relationship of love with God. Life makes little sense if viewed through the lens of success, possessions or praise. But if viewed through the lens of this relationship of love with God, then what beautiful sense it makes! Just as the Father is well pleased with Jesus, so too he is well pleased with us and wishes us to be immersed further in this relationship of love with him.

Luke’s account of the baptism is distinctive because it focuses on Jesus in a moment of prayer
The baptism of Jesus is recounted by the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke in slightly different ways. The peculiar feature of Luke’s account is that it focuses on what happened after the baptism while Jesus was in prayer. Let us examine the passage in detail.

John points out our deficiencies to us, but he cannot bring us wholeness
A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people and they “were asking in their hearts if John might be the Christ.” This expression “asking in their hearts” is a very interesting one. In the Bible, the heart is the centre of the essence of the human being. All genuine actions arise from the heart. People at the time were asking at the deepest level of their beings if John was the expected messiah. During Advent we heard how John had put before the people the things they needed to do in order to prepare for the coming of the Lord. John was the last of the prophets and his preaching was essentially focused on the law. He demanded that people show greater integrity and coherence with respect to the law. All of us are reasonably aware of our faults and the areas in our lives that are deficient. We all know in our hearts that we need a messiah. But is a messiah someone who simply says, “You must try harder. You must have greater integrity. You must change your behaviour for the better”? John the Baptist does have an important role in redemption because we cannot arrive at the threshold of salvation unless we become aware of our need of a saviour. But John is not the messiah. He baptizes with water, an action of immersion in an everyday element. This cannot compare to baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John says openly that he cannot undo the latch of Jesus’ sandal, a reference to a ritual act in Jewish society. If a man was betrothed to a lady, but decided not to go ahead with the matrimony, a second man could publicly undo the strap of the original spouse’s sandal, thereby publicly asserting his right to become the spouse in place of the first. Jesus is our true spouse and John does not wish to take his place. John cannot enter into the intimate heart of our need for a saviour. He can only remain on the outside, pointing the way.

John tells people what they must do, but only Jesus can bring salvation, and he does it by relating directly to his Father in heaven.
Jesus, the true spouse of humanity, does not relate to us on the level of obligation, the level of outlining the things that must be done to better ourselves. Words of prescription or encouragement do not take us very far in the spiritual life. The scene placed before us in Luke’s Gospel is very informative. We have the two men in very different poses. Which one is the Messiah? Which one is the Saviour? John is telling the people the things that they must do to live lives of integrity. Jesus instead is lost in prayer. Jesus is the one who has a direct relation with heaven, and heaven opens. Salvation does not come from us, but from heaven. Salvation descends from above through the generosity of God. This does not mean that we don’t have to do anything. But the initiative comes from above, and our task is to welcome it fervently. When our lives are in crisis, we often do our best to sort out our problems and move on, but we usually find, sooner or later, that we are back where we started. What we are capable of changing with our most supreme efforts is generally very little. Such minor “improvements’ should not be undervalued, but they can never bring us salvation. They do not represent the kind of novelty or complete turning of the page that is the characteristic of salvation.

Salvation does not involve doing things, but entering into the loving life of the Trinity.
Through his baptism Jesus enters into our condition, and while he is in prayer, salvation - the work of God - descends from heaven. The heavens are thrown open, the Holy Spirit comes, and the Trinity, the hidden truth of God, manifests itself. If a human being is to be changed, then he must encounter the hidden truth of God. He must hear the voice of the Father “You are my Son, the beloved. In you I am well pleased.” What do we have here? The one who comes as our messiah is full of love, and he is defined by his relation with his Father, who is love. The one who transforms our condition is one who is in relationship with the God of love, who experiences the love by God, and who in his person constitutes the expression of God’s love.
            Jesus becomes incarnate, takes on our condition, and the heavens are opened on our impoverished humanity. The tragedy of Adam was that he had removed himself from direct relation with God. The Lord had sought him out after the first sin, but Adam hid himself in the bushes. These bushes represent the defence mechanisms by which we hide ourselves for fear of God. In Luke’s Gospel, the people in their hearts were wondering if John was the messiah. There is always the conviction in our hearts that we must do something in order to be saved. But it is God who takes the initiative, and our task is to believe, to welcome, to allow ourselves to be consumed with the knowledge that in us God is well pleased. Through baptism, we are inserted into the mystery of the Holy Trinity, immersed into the relation between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Love is the only lens through which to view our lives
Our lives only make sense in the context of love. If we try to make sense of our existence using the criterion of success, then we will find that our lives are a failure. Any material success that we might achieve will be small and insufficient in comparison to the trials of life. If the value of life is measured in terms of possessions, then we always find that we have too little to leave us satisfied. If the meaning of life lies in the affirmation of our egos, then we will always be left frustrated because the ego’s thirst for affirmation can never be satisfied. But if life is understood through the lens of love, then things begin to make sense. Humiliation and suffering are occasions for growth in which we learn how to love.

The baptism of Jesus is the key by which we understand our own baptism

Ultimately, love is all about relationship. The human being in the state of sin is a being that is out of relation with God. He can make what efforts he pleases, but the heavens will not open to him. With Christ, by contrast, the heavens are thrown wide open. In Luke’s account we see him in a moment of prayer. This is not simply an act of concentration and gritting one’s teeth, but is a relation with the Father.  How fortunate we are as Christians to have this revelation of the relational nature of God in Christ! The nature of God is love. We have a tendency to lose sight of this fact, busying ourselves “doing things for God,” instead of opening ourselves to a relationship with God. In every moment, and in everything we do, we must seek to enter into this encounter with God. This is not an obligation imposed by God on us, but a gift given to us in baptism. The Baptism of Jesus helps us to see what our own baptism is, which is our immersion in God, and an experience of how incredibly well pleased he is to have us in relation with him!

Saturday, 2 January 2016

January 3rd 2016. Second Sunday after Christmas
GOSPEL  John 1:1-18
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

Don Fabio’s homily follows the Gospel

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GOSPEL        John 1:1-18
In the beginning was the Word:
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things came to be,
not one thing had its being but through him.
All that came to be had life in him
and that life was the light of men,
a light that shines in the dark,
a light that darkness could not overpower.
A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.
The Word was the true light
that enlightens all men;
and he was coming into the world.
He was in the world
that had its being through him,
and the world did not know him.
He came to his own domain
and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to all who believe in the name of him
who was born not out of human stock
or urge of the flesh
or will of man
but of God himself.
The Word was made flesh, he lived among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory that is his
as the only Son of the Father,
full of grace and truth.
John appears as his witness. He proclaims:
‘This is the one of whom I said:
He who comes after me ranks before me
because he existed before me’.
Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received –
yes, grace in return for grace,
since, though the Law was given through Moses,
grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God;
it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart,
who has made him known.
THE GOSPEL OF THE LORD: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . .  In the Old Testament we read that God’s wisdom is present in his people. The Gospel reading tells us that the wisdom of God, in the form of his only-begotten son, Jesus, comes to live among us. Sure, he lives among us in the sense that we have his intellectual and moral teachings, right? No! Jesus actually pitches his tent among us in the sense of becoming fully human and living in our flesh! As the Gospel tells us, Jesus is the Son who comes from the Father, and he lives this sonship in a body like ours! This has an extraordinary consequence for each one of us. It means that the Christian is someone whose existence is radically founded upon the fact that he or she is a son or daughter of God. What does this mean in practical terms? It means that, in everything we do, we must first and foremost be with the Father. How much time we waste on activities that lead us nowhere and are utterly directed towards ourselves! Our first task every day is to be with the Father! We must devote time to being with the Lord so that we are always “coming from” the Father before we embark on any task or activity, just as Jesus is the one who radically comes from the Father.

The Old Testament tells us that the wisdom of God is present in the people of Israel. Is this referring to the way that all ancient peoples had a shared body of knowledge and customs? Or is it a prophecy about a much more profound incarnation of God’s wisdom in the midst of his people?
The first reading is a beautiful passage from the twenty fourth chapter of Ecclesiasticus. It may seem strange that this reading about wisdom is chosen for the Christmas season, but when we reflect on it we begin to see why it is so appropriate. The word “wisdom” in Hebrew is one of the possible translations for the Hebrew word for the law, Torah. Wisdom involves learning and instruction. The reading tells us that the people of Israel have been gifted with this treasure of knowing the decrees of the Lord, of understanding his reality. The book of Ecclesiasticus tries to construct a bridge between the Jewish and Hellenistic cultures. It asserts that the descendants of Jacob are characterised by the presence of this knowledge or wisdom that guides them in life. Wisdom has pitched its tent, established its dwelling, in the midst of the people of Israel. It is always interesting to discover the knowledge and customs that are possessed by ancient peoples and cultures. Israel could be considered to be one people among many others, even if the writer of Ecclesiasticus claims that they possess the one superior or definitive form of wisdom.

Jesus does not just give us an impressive collection of teachings or intellectual and moral content. He becomes one of us and lives out a relationship of sonship with his Father through our human flesh
However, we see all of this in a new light when we read Sunday’s gospel, which once again gives us an opportunity to reflect of the marvellous prologue of the Gospel of John. This passage speaks in terms that have parallels in the reading from Ecclesiasticus, but it takes the discussion to a more profound level. The same word of God, or wisdom of God, is now described as a person, a divine person, who comes to live in the midst of his people. He fulfils that which is referred to in Ecclesiasticus, and he does it in a surprising way - by his incarnation. “The word became flesh and lived among us”. In the original Greek, the text says that he “pitched his tent among us”. Thus we have the same term as appeared in Ecclesiasticus, but the Gospel makes clear that this inhabitation of wisdom is not merely on an intellectual level. The word of God actually becomes flesh! His dwelling among us is not a mere expression of his presence or availability to us: he physically lives and moves among us. The wisdom that is being spoken of here actually involves a relationship of sonship, an only-begotten Son that comes from the Father. In Christ what we discover is not merely impressive erudition or a body of teachings. Jesus cannot be reduced to the content of his verbal expression. What we have is his life and his essence. The wonderful and unique things that he said do not exhaust the extraordinary fact that he is God in human flesh. Our human condition has been physically visited by something invisible, by the creator of the universe. This divine indwelling is not the indwelling of a God that is completely incomprehensible or distant: this God, rather, is someone who is fundamentally a father.

Jesus is the Son who comes from the Father. By becoming incarnate he shows all of us how to be sons and daughters of God while we are still in this flesh.
This second Sunday after Christmas we are celebrating that which has become a reality in the midst of the world: the filial life, the life of the one who lives as a child of God. The gospel reading speaks of the “glory of the only-begotten Son who comes from the Father”. What does it mean to live life as a son? Jesus in his human flesh showed how to live every single act as one who is a son coming from the Father. Jesus does not do the things that he does because he is someone exceptional: he does them because he lives as the Son of his Father. Jesus comes from the Father, and we too, even if we do not know it, come from the providence of God. We come from the Father and we will return to him. By the grace of the sacraments, the preaching that we have heard, the faith that we live, by the hope that lives in our hearts and the charity that we exercise concretely, we too live as children of God. It is essential to be aware of where we come from! If our past was marked by abandonment, by the errors we committed, by the mercy that we did not encounter, then that would be another thing. But once we become aware that we really come from the Father, then our lives are marked by peace and liberty, by the joy that flows from the awareness that we have been graced by pardon and mercy.

Our lives must be transformed by this fact that we come from the Father. This is the determining factor in Jesus’s life, and it must be the source of all that we do as well. Before we do anything else each day we must first “be” with the Father. This requires setting aside time for prayer, recollection, meditation every day of our lives!

It is important that we cease trying to do things separately from being with the Father! Jesus is first and foremost with the Father and this leads him to come to us and redeem us. We too must “come from the Father” every single day and live as his children. Thus Christmas let us devote a little time to be still, to pray, to place ourselves in the presence of the Lord, in order that we too might live our lives as people who come from the Father and behave like his sons and daughters. This is the new life of the Christian; this is the beautiful life!

Saturday, 26 December 2015

December 27th 2015. FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY
GOSPEL                                  Luke 2:41-52
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

Don Fabio’s homily follows the Gospel

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GOSPEL                                  Luke 2:41-52
Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast
of Passover, 
and when he was twelve years old, 
they went up according to festival custom.
After they had completed its days, as they were returning, 
the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, 
but his parents did not know it.
Thinking that he was in the caravan,
they journeyed for a day
and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 
but not finding him,
they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.
After three days they found him in the temple, 
sitting in the midst of the teachers, 
listening to them and asking them questions, 
and all who heard him were astounded 
at his understanding and his answers.
When his parents saw him,
they were astonished, 
and his mother said to him, 
“Son, why have you done this to us?
Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
And he said to them,
“Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he said to them.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them; 
and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favour
before God and man.
THE GOSPEL OF THE LORD: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . .  Parents think they know their children, but every child has gifts and capacities given by God that go beyond the capacities and expectations of their parents. How true this was of Jesus! When he says, “I must take care of my Father’s business”, the phrase really signifies, “I must be in my Father’s business”. What this means is that Jesus is totally caught up in his relationship with his Father. It is impossible for him to be any other way. And the same should be true for each one of us! We are created by God and our existence receives its meaning by its connection with God. If we are to live authentically, then we must base on lives on our primary relationship with the Father. Once we do this, then all the other relationships in our lives and in our families are ordered properly. Without God, our relationships with others are at a horizontal level. They can become obsessive, easily threatened, violent or abusive. But once we base all other relationships upon our primary connection with the Father, then these other relationships begin to draw life from the God who is the source of life. This Christmas, let us contemplate the Christ who is born of the Father. May we too become new creatures whose life derives from our relationship with the Father.

What does it mean to be a parent? To have possession of a child? Are relationships based on connections between people or should they be grounded first and foremost in God?
The first reading tells how Hannah, the mother of Samuel (the one who will anoint David as king of Israel), takes her son as soon as he is weaned and gives him over to the Lord. Samuel is left with the priest, Eli, who will raise him and educate him. Hannah had longed for a child for many years but now she has little time to enjoy him before giving him to the Lord. Maternity is not about the possession of a child. The sacrament of matrimony is about the construction of the Church and society, about raising, instructing and welcoming life in all its forms. In opposition to that, the tendency towards self-reference and egoism is ever-present in all that we do. Familial relationships are potentially salvific, consoling and edifying, but they can also be disordered and destructive. How can we foster authentic maternal and paternal relationships?

In every child there is something mysterious and novel that goes beyond the understanding and expectations of his parents
The Gospel tells of a journey to Jerusalem on the occasion of Passover, and the story refers to a definite rite of passage or transformation in the life of the family. At the age of twelve, a Jewish boy was considered to pass to adulthood and would undergo a ritual called Bar Mitzvah. He was expected to be able to read the scriptures in Hebrew, answer questions and be knowledgeable about his Jewish faith. Jesus goes to Jerusalem at this age along with a caravan of people. But when it is time to return home, Jesus affirms that he has a new home, the true home of his existence. His parents are unaware at first that he is missing, and when they find him they do not understand his response. There is always something in a child that cannot be fully understood by his parents. When a child becomes an adult, we begin to discover that he is a mysterious and surprising creation of God. There is always an aspect of the child that will go beyond the conceptual schemes of his parents. Parents must accept that being a parent involves one day having to face up to this surprise. Your child cannot be fully comprehended by you. There is a side to your child that you will not be able to fully comprehend. Every parenthood, even the spiritual fatherhood of the priest, must one day confront this trauma of incomprehension before the mystery of the other. A parent raises a child and believes that she knows him through and through, but this is simply not true. In every child there is the invisible that God will unveil in them, the substance of their personal relationship with God, something unique and unrepeatable.

Our God is the God of surprises. His work always involves innovation and originality
Jesus has left the caravan and can no longer be found among his relatives and friends. He has gone beyond the parameters by which his parents would normally have understood him. When they eventually find him, he is in the Temple among the elders and he is being questioned by them. He demonstrates wisdom beyond his years. How often we hear children express intuitions that leave us flabbergasted. Children nowadays demonstrate an aptitude for technological matters that far exceeds that of their parents. This is just an example, but every new generation always has something new to contribute that goes beyond what is expected of them. We see this in the story of Jesus in the Temple. God bestows something new upon each of us that surpasses that which has been given to us by our parents. It is incredible to think that the mother of Jesus is the Blessed Virgin Mary, but God has even more to say to his son than this wonderful lady can say to him. We call Mary the “Seat of Wisdom” and rightly so, but even she was perturbed by the words of the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. Our God is the God of surprises, and the work that he is bringing to fruition in his own son is full of novelty and innovation.

Jesus cannot help but be totally caught up in the things of his Father. And if our relationships are to be authentic, then we must be the same
Mary is at the centre of this passage. When they find Jesus, she asks why he has done this. “Your father and I have been searching for you”, she says. Here we see great refinement. It is not easy for men to communicate their feelings. In this phrase Mary mediates between Joseph and Jesus and helps her husband to communicate with her son. It is easier for mothers to relate their feelings to their sons, and here Mary mentions the sentiments of her husband before she mentions her own. Jesus replies, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must take care of my Father’s business?” Yes, they knew in one sense, but in another sense they did not know at all. The things of the Father are always new and surprising. The words of Jesus do not signify to be occupied by the things of his Father, but to be in the things of the Father. The nature of Christ’s complete being is such that he cannot be anything else but completely caught up in his relationship with the Father. And it is the same for us, even if we do not know it. It is a fact of our existence that our entire being is in relationship with God. We are truly ourselves when we cultivate that relationship with the Lord. Just as Jesus is in the Father, so we too are called to save our relationships by basing them on this marvellous connections with God. It is in and through our relationship with God that our relationships with others settle down and become less anguishes. Life does not depend on horizontal relationships between people. These relationships rather are an echo and a consequence of our primary relationship with our heavenly Father. When we have a proper relationship with God then we are not threatened or obsessed by other relationships; we do not become slaves of such relationships, nor do we descend into violence or abuse. It is God who is the source of life in our relationships. When we seek life from horizontal associations with others, then we end up being immersed in vengefulness or hatred. May the Lord grant us this Christmas to contemplate Christ and to become new creations ourselves, born from the Father. God can bring Christ to life within each one of us.

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