Wednesday, July 27, 2011

18th Sunday of ordinary time- Year A

First reading: Isaiah 55:1-3;
Second reading: Romans 8:35.37-39;
Gospel: Matthew 14:13-21


“To a man with an empty stomach, food is God”. - Mohandas Gandhi

The fourteenth chapter of Matthew's gospel from which today's reading is taken is crammed full of issues, tensions and disturbing events, not to mention the overwhelming of complex human needs by which Jesus is assailed, and which, moment by moment, pile up over his head and threaten to entirely bury him.

Herod Antipas, a man enslaved by lust and human respect deals treacherously with John the Baptist and has him executed for speaking the truth. John, the precursor to the Messiah, humbly offers his life for the truth he was sent to speak. He has the truth and he knows what to do with the truth.
Would Jesus have grieved more over the heroic death of his beloved John than over the coward betrayal of Herod? His heart would have been broken for both men and deep anguish would have penetrated into his soul.

Today we would be encouraged to take 'compassionate leave' from work and perhaps some weeks of counseling to help us cope.
Jesus, too, feels the need to withdraw, the call to prayer, and heads by boat to 'a lonely place' where he could be alone with his disciples but the people thwart his plans. Instead of rest and healing he finds 'a large crowd'. Most of us priests find no time or even forget to go for a break to rest. Why? The parish work is much and I feel burnt out, and yet the Christians we not be happy see him tired, they will ask themselves “why can’t bishop give fr. Rest! Poor man is tired.” When you see us tired please help us to rest so as to serve you better.

Could you imagine reading: Jesus instructed the Twelve to go to the crowd and tell them that the Master had just had some bad news and wasn't feeling too well. He said 'Tell the crowd to come back in a few days so I can have some time out'?
Instead we read: So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them and healed their sick.

What would you call that? Generosity? Compassion? Self-forgetfulness? If this had been an exceptional occasion of putting the other first we might be content to call it something like generosity. 'Oh, remember that day, when he was looking for peace and quiet but the crowd was there instead; wasn’t he generous?'
It seems to me there must be another word for it, something to capture the mad extravagance of his total 'being there for me'.
Perhaps divine generosity is a better term. Divine generosity is not just something to thank God for; it brings us to worship him. It is’goodness without limits' perhaps best imaged by the twelve baskets full of scraps left over from the miracle which follows. They stand there in a heap, perhaps under a tree, tantalising the imagination much like the stone jars of wine left over from the feast at Cana.

Jesus is just like that. More … always more. Impossibly more! More patient, more forgiving, more loving, more understanding, more merciful, more self-giving - divine generosity - and with those capable of understanding I sink to my knees in adoration. As a priest if in my ministry I think I can solve all problems of the parish, I am completely mistaken. Some issues as a priest I surrender them under the feet of his cross (meditation, Adoration, confession, Echaristic celebration).
The crowds have received more than a free meal; it is a free meal pointing them to a fullness of life sustained by a food beyond their capacity to purchase. This was the burden of Jesus' entire mission - to lead them (and us) beyond the material to the spiritual - where true life is to be found.

Isaiah, in the first reading, cries out with the very words of God, imbued with a kind of desperate longing for our response: Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money, come! Why spend money on what is not bread, your wages on what fails to satisfy?
This impassioned invitation from the Lord himself is searching for ears capable of hearing and valuing it; for men and women, and children, who have somehow learned to pierce the darkness of this world's offerings which blocks us to have glimpse of the eternal beauty and joy of the world beyond.
Money … wages … can buy food for this life; for eternal life we must draw close to Lord. Approaching the altar of sacrifice and believing that the spiritual food should enable us to build the temple of God by sharing and eating physically together (family).

When the crowds have gone Jesus sends the disciples across to the other side of the lake and himself goes up into the hills to pray. He shows us the source of the strength and the integration of his inner, psychological life. Jesus lets absolutely nothing stand in the way of his prayer; not a busy day, not a tragedy, not the acclaim of a crowd, not even his death on a cross. Jesus, in fact, died praying. Most of us by the time we are dying, we die complaining, sad, lonely, frustrated. This is a good food for thought of always think about how shall we be the time death knocks our door.

Chapter fourteen goes on to describe how, just before dawn Jesus goes to the disciples walking on the waters of the stormy sea. The Twelve are terrified on seeing him and Peter steps out to go to the Master who must reach out a saving hand to stop him sinking. When they reach the shore more crowds come to meet him and he must spend another day, teaching, healing, giving, pouring himself out. What a truly awesome Saviour we have! As for me, three months serious work one week sabbatical. Whether granted or not I need a rest to energize myself for the mission.
Good Sunday to all.
“Whenever hunger comes through the door, love flees through the window” – Jewish saying

Thursday, July 21, 2011

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A

1 Kings 3:5. 7-12; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-46

“Is the kingdom of God a big family? Yes, in a sense it is. But another sense it is a prodigious biological operation- that of the Redeeming Incarnation.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin


Built into the word 'treasure' is the notion of something hidden - but also waiting to be found. I guess this is why the word treasure is so alluring; it's an invitation to adventure, to seeking. Some would say the adventure itself is a kind of treasure; we learn so much from the journey. Most treasure just makes us richer; it only 'incrementally' changes our lives. The treasure Jesus is speaking of changes everything; it is the greatest treasure in existence.

The man of the gospel finds the treasure (I wonder if he was looking for it?), and he hides it again. It seems the treasure belongs in the field and he can only own the treasure if he owns the field.
The man goes off happy. Look at the smile on his face and the bounce in his step! But where is he going? He's going off to sell everything he owns so he can buy the field. Can you believe it? Everything he owns!
There is another man in another gospel who is offered the treasure by Jesus himself. He too has to sell everything he owns but he doesn't, he can't. He goes away sad because 'he was a man of great wealth' (Mk 10).

Perhaps the difference was that the first man discovered the treasure for himself and had a personal experience of its beauty and worth, while the other was offered a treasure he couldn't yet see and therefore didn't understand. We can only hope that one day he would have the experience. At any rate, it seems there is something about the treasure which judges a man; something which discovers the true orientation and 'attachments' of his heart.

The parable leaves us with various questions. What is the treasure, in fact? Is it enough to say that it is the kingdom of heaven? And what is the field? Why can the treasure not simply be removed from the field? And what was the 'everything he owns' that the man sold? The beauty of Jesus' parables is that their content of truth can be expressed in many ways and at many different levels.

The field, of course, is me, or you. The treasure is the reign of God, the Kingdom. To take possession of the kingdom (to let God reign in us) we have to take possession of ourselves, and that's where the cross comes in. We have to divest ourselves of 'everything we own', not always an easy task.

One of our most beloved possessions, I think, is the control we exercise the direction of our lives, in other words, our plans for ourselves. We all have them. They are the pathways to the treasure we imagine we want. Our plans lead to the place where we think our happiness is to be found, and all too often our treasure, and the happiness we imagine it will bring, has little to do with God's plans.

The fulfilment of our plans usually depends on external circumstances; things have to go right. God's treasure is not like that. God's treasure is entirely within us and in order to reach this place we have to entirely abandon our plans. We have to surrender our plans to his, even when things appear to be going wrong.

The man in the gospel glimpsed the treasure and hurried off eagerly to set himself free from all that had now suddenly become worthless to him. It would be a wonderful thing if such a sea-change could be definitively made in a person's life with no second thoughts or clumsy stumbles. Unfortunately, the temptation to take back what we have given is always present; we are so attached to the earthly.

But then we are dealing with a God who understands all that, and who works with us so that our goal of total possession of both field and treasure may one day be realised.

Patiently, every now and then, at a time of his choosing he takes from us one or other little trinket, some little plan we had been hiding from him and clinging to. Each time he does so he gives us another opportunity to renew our commitment to both the journey and the goal.

It seems appropriate at this point to finish with a reminder especially to the young people today that God invites each one of you, as an individual who stands before him in all your freedom, to let him show you the treasure buried in the field of your true self, the place where your true happiness is hidden, and waiting to be found.
“If you want to work for the kingdom of God, and to bring it, and enter into it, there is just one condition to be first accepted. You must enter it as children or not at all”. - John Ruskin

Thursday, July 7, 2011

FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: YEAR A

First Reading Is 55:10-11; Ps 64:10-14.
Second reading Rom 8:18-23,
Gospel Mt 13:1-23

We are advised to take care of our heart, to watch our diet, to exercise, to undergo cardiovascular screening. But there is another heart, our spiritual heart. Jesus spoke often about our spiritual heart. Let us listen to some of what Jesus said about our heart:
This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me (Matt 15:8)
…the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile. (Matt 15:18)
…from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy. (Matt 15:19)
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matt 22:37)
Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. (Matt 19:8)
So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” (Matt 18:35)
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. (Matt 6:21)
Clearly according to Jesus following him begins in our heart and if our spiritual heart is unwell it hinders our response to Jesus. So Jesus says in today’s Gospel:
Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes…(Matt 13:15)
On another occasion we read that Jesus was grieved by peoples’ hardness of heart (Mark 3:5).
What is the state of our heart? Is our heart open to receiving the words of Jesus or are we hard of heart and a source of grief to Jesus? We like to think of ourselves as good people and in that sense we are the fertile soil that received the seed and produced much fruit. But since none of us is yet a saint we each have areas in our heart that are in need of spiritual cardiac surgery. Let’s compare ourselves to the people in the parable to see where we stand.
The first type of person:
The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. (Matt 13:19)
This seed unfortunately doesn’t even get a chance to sprout because it didn’t land on soil. There was a lack of understanding and the evil one stole away the word of God. Do we ever reject part of the message of the Gospel because we do not understand it? Do we say we are Catholic but due to lack of understanding the faith also give support to artificial contraception, same-sex marriage, abortion, stem cell research, pre-marital sex or a whole host of other issues where the Church’s teaching is not understood and we think we know better? There are reasons why the Church teaches what she does. Have we allowed prejudice or lack of understanding to prevent us from seeking to understand, and so reject part of the Gospel? Whenever we reject part of the message of the Gospel, to use the words of Jesus today, the evil one has stolen the word from our heart.
The second type of person:
The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. (Matt 13:20-21)
This time the seed does get to sprout but when the cross comes – “tribulation or persecution” - we give up. Have we ever been moved at a parish mission or the Eucharistic Congress but did not continue to walk a new way with Jesus for some reason? Have we ever been moved in our heart by God through a good experience in Confession or at Mass or in private prayer but we quickly went back to our old way of life because we could not see beyond some temporary difficulty or disappointment?
The third type of person:
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. (Matt 13:22)
It is “worldly anxiety and lure of riches” that this time hinder our hearts from being receptive to Jesus. Are there times when we are too busy to pray? Have we missed Mass because we were too busy or made up some other excuse? Are we too busy to read the Bible? Whenever we put “worldly anxiety and lure of riches” before God the word dies.
Finally the fourth type of person:
….the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. (Matt 13:23)
Thanks be to God that we each in many ways hear the word, understand it and bear fruit.
There is some of each of these four types of person in us. We could be all four of these persons at once, or predominantly one of these types of person for a certain time of life. Let us do some cardiac surgery on our spiritual hearts so that misunderstanding and prejudice, or disappointment and the cross, or worldly anxiety and the lure of riches will not render our hearts unfertile soil for the Jesus’ words, so that we do not grieve Jesus:
…the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. (Matt 13:23).

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