Thursday, March 24, 2011

GETTING AND NOT GETTING THE SECRET


What is life’s deep secret? Do we ever understand life? Do we ever get things right? What lies at the centre of life? These are deeper questions which gnaw away and we are never really sure how to answer them… do we really understand what our lives are all about? Yes and No! I suspect that most of us go through back and (forward) forth between knowing and not knowing, between having days when everything seems out of sorts.

We are living with secrets, we sometimes know, and then not know. I suspect we know what that feels like. Someday it seems we know the secret to living and feel we are inside of things, at their heart. This may be not necessarily, be something we are consciously aware of, but something sensed at a deeper level. There are times when our lives make sense. Steadiness lies not in the conviction that something will turn out well, but in certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

There are days when we know the truth of that. But they are days when we aren’t sure exactly what we know, when we feel outside of things, when the circle of life seems to exclude us, and we walk round the edges of love and meaning, unsure, unsteady, feeling some inexplicable guilt because we have the sense that somehow we are doing things wrongly and we are not where we should be. As so we live with a secret we sometimes we know, and then not. We feel steady and then unsure, strong and then unworthy; we sense that we know the secret to life and then suddenly we feel we don’t. Sometimes we stand inside of things and sometimes we stand we stand outside of them. I am always struck by the expression in the gospel of Mark, he says Peter betrayed Jesus at his trail, ultimately cursing him in order to save himself after the betrayal; Mark simply says “Peter went outside!, Out of what? Obviously he is referring to much more than Peter simply stepping outside of a door and leaving a room or courtyard. In betraying himself and betraying Jesus.” “Peter went outside” of something else, namely outside all that’s best inside of himself, outside of community of life, and outside the secret of life itself.

And what is the secret of life itself? What puts you inside and outside? The answers to these questions are clear: you are either “inside” or “outside” the true circle of understanding, not on the basis of being Jew, or gentile, of being man or woman, of going or not going to church. “getting” or “not getting” the secret.
And what is the secret? The secret of life is the cross of Christ or, as various scripture scholars and spiritual writers puts it, the brokenness of Jesus on the cross, the wisdom of the cross, the invitation that lies inside the cross and willingness to live out the demands of the cross.

It is not easy to summarize all that this means. To do this is a call to summarize all that is in the deepest challenges within revelation, theology and spirituality: God’s unconditional love and forgiveness, God’s loving presence inside of human crookedness, vulnerability as the excluded, the necessary connection between suffering and glory, the paradoxical nature of love and life.

The centrality of self-sacrifice as the key to love and fidelity and the importance of giving our lives over without resentment (of not sending the bill whenever we carry someone’s cross). There is a lot inside this secret! And when we are not at our best, when we let the demands of love, truth, and fidelity take us to where we would rather not go, we know it’s the truth and we live inside of it. In our days we may know about the kingdom of God but there are times like Peter’s when we betray Jesus, we “go outside” of the truth and what is best inside of us, and from that perspective life, love and truth, Jesus and the gospels; all look like an empty riddle.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR A

“ Theme of the Sunday”

We have all experienced thirst; we all know what happens to our fields when it doesn’t rain.
The first reading and the Gospel speak to us of water. The people of Israel from the desert survived because God provided water for them.
Jesus in the gospel speaks of a new water, new life that he is about to give us
The second reading opens our hearts to confidence, trust and joy because it assures us that no man will be deprived of this water.

First Reading (Ex 17:3-7) II- Second Reading (Rom 5:1-2, 5-8) Gospel John 4:5—42

The word well should be ringing some bells in your in your mind. The well was a place shepherds could provide water for their animals, women could come and fetch water (of course, also share the news and gossip); the well was a place where lovers came to look for their mates. (Gen 24:10-25; 26:15-25; 29:1-14; Ex 2:15-21).
In the gospel of today we see Jesus and the woman from Samaria. Those who have visited holy land will tell you that this well exists to date along the road from Judea to Galilee, it’s very deep (32 metres) and it still gives abundant fresh water just as it did in the time of Jesus. This well was a landmark for travelers who stopped here to drink before continuing their journey.

Jesus tired from by the journey, sits down by the well to wait for his disciples who have gone ahead to the nearby town of Sychar to buy some food. Its midday and when a woman arrives to draw water Jesus asks for a drink. The surprise of the woman is great. From his way of speaking she is immediately aware that the man speaking is from Galilee; how does he dare to ask her, a Samaritan, for a drink? And how is it that he breaks the very severe custom that forbids a man to speak alone to an unknown woman? Rabbis used to teach that if you are to talk to a woman you had to stick to specific number of words to a minimum.

A story is told about Rabbi called Joseph who was going to Betel. At the crossroad he asked a woman: “which is the way to Betel?”The woman recognized him and said: “You are not wise, Rabbi Joseph! You are not wise; you have used too many words. It was enough to say, Betel?!”This being the tradition one can understand the surprise of the disciples when, on their return, they find Jesus quietly talking to a Samaritan woman.

This free and independent behaviour of our Master should make us reflect. He is not bound by restrictive customs that discriminate and are based on suspicion. What he wants from his disciples is purity of heart and mind, and he is severe about this: “If a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Mt 5:28); he doesn’t care about external appearances.”
The evangelist tells us that this woman represents a symbol of something else…The well in the Bible often represented as the meeting place of two betrothed who will later get married. In the Old Testament Israel was represented as a spouse married to Yahweh. But how did the spouse behave? Do you remember? She was an unfaithful wife. She often betrayed her husband and went with other lovers. She prostituted herself to the Egyptians, then the Assyrian, the Babylonians, the Persians, the foreigners from Greece and finally the Romans and every time she worshipped their idols, thus stirring up the jealousy of her first love.

The water of the well is a symbol of all those satisfactions and pleasures people seek earnestly, hoping to find in them their happiness, but in the end they just left empty and disappointed. Isn’t this what happens after sinning? Drunkardness, a corrupt life, adultery, theft never really satisfy the heart. This could give temporary pleasure, but never happiness. One keeps repeating them just because one never finds the joy one is looking for. Pleasure and happiness are in fact two things quite different and one exists without the other.

The living water promised by Jesus is another type. It is the spirit of God; it’s that love which fills up the hearts. Whoever allows himself/ herself to be guided by the spirit will discover true happiness and will not need anything else. In the beginning the woman was interested only in material water. She is satisfied with very “low” pleasures. Little by little she comes to understand what Jesus wants.
What does the woman do once she discovers who Jesus is? She leaves behind her water pot and runs to announce to the others her discovery and happiness. We are all called to be missionaries in our families, to proclaim to all the others what God done for us.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

1st Sunday of Lent (13th March 2011)

Forgive yourself for not forgiving

“Then Jesus was led by the spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil”

Gen 2:7-9; 3:1-7, Rom 5:12-19, Matt 4:1-11.

At the baptism of Jesus, the Father declared him his beloved son, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him and filled him. This was a very glorious day. What is surprising is that the same spirit who had filled Christ with glory, immediately afterwards leads him through the wilderness to be tempted. This is a consoling consideration for us. It is impossible to escape the assault of temptation in this life. Their sources are varied. But one thing is sure they are not meant to make us fall. They are like examinations. The questions are not phrased with the intention of making the students fail. What the examiner wants is to test the candidate’s knowledge and ability to communicate it. Temptations are sent to test the strength of our mind, heart and soul.


And we should not be surprised that with the years temptations become stronger. This is parallel to what happens in other aspects of life. A student at secondary level is not given questions of Advanced level student; I need not to mention University examinations! The hours you spend in the examination room are real martyrdom. So it is with games: a good team does not challenge weak ones. If it does it fails to prove its worth. This is God’s purpose in allowing temptations to assail us, that we may prove our manhood and emerge the stronger for the fight.

And Satan tempted Jesus! Satan, a word which comes back time and again in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. It is used even of human beings sometimes. And the meaning that runs through is thus that Satan means “Adversary”. To him is attributed all the evil that befall man, physical and moral. Holy Scripture in fact it is St. Peter compares him to ‘a roaring lion, prowling round, looking for someone to devour’ and he warns us to be calm but vigilant, to be on the lookout.

I have sometimes wandered whether we should be more vigilant if Satan always came to us in a visible form. As long as we do not see him we easily forget that he exists, and that he is our adversary.

On the other hand we know by experience that in regard to our spiritual life we have adversaries even among our fellows. The adversary always presents to us a choice. He presents to us a situation in which we have to decide. “Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide” says the poet (Lowell) “In the strife of Truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side”

Our lord was presented three situations and he had to decide for Truth or for falsehood, for the good or evil side. One major difference between us and Christ is that our minds easily get obscured in the moment of temptation. He had a clear vision of the real good and could not mistake evil for the good. Lack of clear vision often makes us hesitate or worse still make a wrong decision. This is why we must never cease to pray for that grace which enlightens the mind to see the truth, to see the good in the moment of temptation.

Another difference between us and the Lord is that he did not suffer from moral weakness. Once he saw the good, he could not fail to do it. We on the contrary, are born with that moral weakness and it is made greater with each fall. Think of a drunkard or a prostitute with each act he sinks lower. Our weakness becomes greater with each bad example we get from those around us and greater still with each bad example we give.


The time of lent is sacred. We are invited by mother church to offer special prayers for ourselves and for our brothers in Christ. We are invited to deny ourselves, to mortify our flesh in enjoyments of life which are legitimate, so that we may gradually gain the necessary moral strength to deny ourselves in what is wrong and sinful.

Let us in this Mass of the first Sunday of this holy season resolve to take full advantage of the graces of the time in spirit of the Church in union with our Lord Jesus Christ.


Make an effort this Lenten period by encouraging your son/daughter/friend/husband/wife/ to go for the sacrament of reconciliation.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

LENT IS HERE WITH US AND WE JUST CAN’T REMAIN THE SAME

“Sin has four characteristics; self-sufficiency instead of faith, self-will instead of submission, self-seeking instead of benevolence, self-righteousness instead of humility”. (E. Paul Hovey)

The Feast of Easter

The Gospel tells us that Jesus rose on “the first day of the week” (Mt 28:1). This is why the Christians began meeting together for their weekly celebration no longer on Saturdays, lie the Jews, but on the following day (Acts 20:6-12; I Col 16:2), which the Romans called the “day of the sun”. Such a name was soon changed “to the day of the Lord”.
The early church did not celebrate Christmas Day or feasts in honour of our Lady or any other feast for that matter. There was only the weekly celebration of the Lord’s resurrection.
A few decades passed like this. Then the need was felt for celebrating the central events of our faith in a special way. Time was set for the first of their feasts, Easter Sunday, which was considered “the mother of all Sundays”, “the mother of all Feasts”. They looked at it as the queen of all the most important feasts, of all Sundays and, as a matter of fact, of all the days of the year.
By the beginning of the 2nd Century all the Christian communities were celebrating the Resurrection. The celebration was thought so important that a famous Christian writer of the time, “Tertullian, speaking of the difficulties a Christian girl might encounter if she married a pagan, asked himself: ‘will her husband allow her out the night of the Easter Vigil?”

What is the Origin of Lent?

The success of a feast depends mostly on how well it is prepared. About 200 years after the death of Christ, the Christians, wanting to reap the spiritual fruits of Easter in abundance, introduced the custom of preceding it with three days of prayer, reflection and fasting, to express their sorrow for the death of Christ.
This great feast, though, did not need a preparation only; a way had to be found to prolong the period of rejoicing. That is why they instituted the “seven weeks”, the 50 days of Pentecost. That period was to be celebrated in a joyful mood since, as the great Bishop St. Irenaeus said, “These days are just like a single day of feast and have the same importance as a Sunday”. During the Pentecost day’s people stood up instead of kneeling for prayer, fast was forbidden and baptisms were administered. It was as if the Easter Day lasted the whole period of 50 days. One hundred and fifty years went by and towards the year 350 A.D., the Christians thought that three days of preparation for such feasts were rather too few, so they increased them to 40. This is how lent began.

Why 40 days?

The figures that we come across in the Holy Scripture have a symbolic meaning, so we should not give them their arithmetical value. Therefore, when we come across the figure 40 or multiple of it, it may not stand for the same 40 we use when specifying a sum of money. It stands for a symbolic period of time, which may be short or long. When counting money, one has to be exact! Take for instance the case of Moses: we find it difficult to believe that he passed 40 days and 40 nights on the mountain without touching food or water (Ex 34:38); we can say the same for Jesus (Mt 4:2). Then we have also the figure of 4000 given for the men that witnessed the multiplication of bread (Mk 8:9).
Among the various meanings the biblical peoples applied to the number 40, there is one of particular importance: it stood for a period of preparation (without specifying the length) for a great event. For instance the flood lasted forty days and forty nights…in order to prepare for a better race of people; the people of Israel passed forty years in the desert… in the preparation for entering the promised land; the inhabitants of Nineveh did penance for forty days… before receiving the forgiveness of God; Elijah walked for forty days and forty nights… to reach the mountain of the God; Moses and Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights to prepare for their mission.
Then how many days you think we’re going to be necessary to prepare the greatest of all the Christian feasts?... 40, of course! But try 40 hours of prayer and see if God will not answer your needs.

What to Do During Lent?

Lent from the very beginning is a time set aside for renewal. In this season three things have to be done: praying, struggling against evil, fasting.

Prayer: - to beg God to change our ways and believe in the Gospel

Struggling with evil – this is the essential part of Christian life for controlling passions and selfishness.

Fasting – Evil cannot be won without self-sacrifice, without giving up some of the things we like.

The big question could be how can suffering be considered a good thing? Is God pleased with sorrow and pain? Certainly not! If we are willing to give up something from our wardrobe for the needy will it hurt us? Others it will, because of being stingy (Mkono gamu), but generally there is a heart of generosity in each of us.
During fasting days, we eat bread and drink water so us to be in solidarity with the less privileged in our society. It’s not time to save the money so that it can cater for Easter shopping No! A great pope of the early Church, St. Leo the Great, said in a homily “we order you to fast, reminding you not only of the need to abstain from meat, but also of the need to do works of mercy. In this way, what you have spared on ordinary expenses is changed into food for the poor”

Lent a Time of Reconciliation

In the early church when Christians committed very serious sins, they were excommunicated, that is, they were sent away from the community. If these people repented and wanted to reconcile with God and with the Church, they were not readmitted immediately into the community. They were first expected to do public penance because their sin was public and known to all. Penance was not a matter of days, but was a prolonged period of time. When the lent period came to be observed, it was also used as time to prepare for reconciliation. On Maundy Thursday, during the Mass presided by the Bishop, those ‘excommunicated’ presented themselves to the community once again, wearing sack cloth (a sign of penance) and ashes on their heads, declaring their will to convert. The bishop would then go to meet them and embrace them. The use of public penance slowly disappeared (partly because we cannot say that one who can keep his sins secret is less a sinner…), but the meaning of lent as a period of time to prepare for the sacrament of Reconciliation remains for all Christians.


“Self-promotion can never replace God’s promotion” – John Maxwell”

IN MEMORY OF DAVID JACOBUS BOSCH

TRANSFORMING MISSION : David Bosch- Some Personal Reflections by Willem Saaymann, Prof. Emeritus in Missiology at Unisa, Pretoria, Sout...