Tuesday, September 20, 2011

TWENTY- SIX SUNDAY OF YEAR A

Ezekiel 18:25-28;
Philippians 2:1-11;
Matthew 21:28-32

Do YOU regret staying with SOMEONE in our life?

St Paul is writing to the Christian community in Philippi, a community which he himself founded. In fact, this was this first Christian community in all of Europe.
St Paul is writing from prison in constant danger of death. His tone is fatherly and pleading, serious, concerned and inspiring. He is addressing the community about something much deeper than itself; he is speaking about communion, what he calls: our life in Christ.

We can easily imagine him sitting in his prison at a rough table writing on a sheet of parchment. He has already been writing for some time and little by little he begins to be absorbed in what he is writing. Once more, in his mind's eye, he stands among his beloved brothers and sisters in far away Philippi and opens his mind and his heart to them. He speaks to them of the life and love and Spirit they have in common: their life in Christ.

Hearing his letter today two thousand years later we ourselves are quietly drawn back through the ages until we, too, find ourselves standing side by side with the Philippians listening to what Paul has written and conscious that we, too, share their life in Christ. We recognise this life which is offered undiminished to every man and woman of every age who seeks to become a disciple. Truly it is: our life in Christ.

The origin of this life is, of course, the Blessed Trinity. If we are in communion with one another it is because we share in the communion of love that possesses the Trinity - Father and Son, in the Holy Spirit. It is the Father who sent his Son, born of a Virgin, to draw his people into communion with him through the gift of the Holy Spirit won for us through his passion, death and resurrection.
For Paul this communion is the prized possession of the Christian community and must be valued above all and preserved at all cost and so he pleads with them to reflect on it: If our life in Christ means anything to you …
The beating heart of communion is exactly what St Paul says - our life in Christ. When we are in communion we share in the very life of God or, as we say, we are in the state of grace.

Just as the life of God in us is a saving reality so the absence of that life, through grave sin, is a reality which leads to eternal loss and, in normal circumstances, can only be restored through the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Though our being in communion is an invisible, spiritual state it does manifest its presence externally in a very clear way and this is precisely Paul's preoccupation as he speaks to the Church in Philippi.
He instructs his people that to live in Christ should mean also behaving, thinking, and loving like Christ. He calls them to be united in their convictions and in their love; to have a common purpose and a common mind.
Again, this brings us to the basic question of the source of the communion he desires for his people. How can the Philippians who, like us here in this church (with all our different backgrounds, needs, personalities, educational standards, and so on), be united in their convictions? How can they have a common purpose and a common mind? Or to put it more boldly: How can they all (and we) become like one another?

His answer to these questions is daring and liberating: In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus. I repeat: In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus. Every evil around us starts in the mind then once we have accepted the devil to control us we become savages what today we call ourselves who tend to act that way “Educated savages”

Is this not the evangelising challenge of the present age as it was for Paul two thousand years ago. This is your challenge and mine - to surrender our opinions, our minds to Christ and to accept his teaching, his mind.

Communion is much more than a feeling; it is an objective reality based on the truth revealed by Christ to and in his Church. Regrettably we have had painful examples of what happens to those who break communion by holding convictions which are at odds with those of the Master. Look at what happens to us in Africa who can save us! And what do you think will happen to those wounded and have no pastoral outreach not even spiritual counseling, who are dissenting from the 'mind of Christ' and feel betrayed by their brothers and sisters in the same community they were living together, can they still believe that there is something called community?

Let me finish by recalling St Paul's plea and even daring to make it my own: be united in your convictions and united in your love, with a common purpose and a common mind. That is the one thing which would make me completely happy.

Take care of yourself and keep and respect the sense of communion.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

25th Sunday Of Ordinary Times: Year A

Isaiah 55:6-9;
Philippians 1:20-24.27;
Matthew 20:1-16


Last week the Gospel laid bare for us the roots of forgiveness. We discovered that it is difficult and, most often, impossible, for us to forgive others when we haven’t yet appreciated how much we ourselves have been forgiven. This week the Gospel is about goodness, about generosity. We discover that it is difficult to be generous to others when we haven’t yet appreciated how much we ourselves have been given.

Last week, the servant who was forgiven a huge debt could not find it in himself to forgive his brother servant a small debt. Somehow he had missed the experience of being forgiven which is where we learn to forgive others.


This week the servant who was given a full day’s work and a full wage is jealous of his brother because he has missed the experience of being generously treated himself. It is from the knowledge of generosity bestowed upon us that we learn to be generous with others.

We can be like those servants who worked hard all day - and we have - we have laboured hard. All those Masses we’ve offered - our Reconciliations - our prayers - our donations to the needy - our forgiveness of those who hurt us - our faithfulness in marriage - sacrifices for the kids. We have been faithful and we have laboured hard.

Trouble is, bit by bit, we can come to believe we deserve more than others. When God is generous to the sinner, especially one who has hurt us, we can come to resent it. Deathbed repentance is not always popular with us Christians. We resent his generosity to others because we fail to see his generosity towards ourselves. So we envy others - their popularity, good looks, intelligence, possessions, their partners in marriage, their fame - and we say: 'How come they got all that? How come God seems to have given them more than me? Surely I deserve more?'

OK, so why is it that in the 1st Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass we pray: Do not consider what we truly deserve … ? In other words: Do not give me what I truly deserve ….On the one hand 'Surely I deserve more'; on the other hand, 'Do not give me what I truly deserve.'What’s going on here?

Surely I deserve more! The fact is, however hard we’ve worked, we have really done nothing more than our duty and all that we have received is pure gift; we have deserved none of it.

Joshua 24:13 reminds us: I gave you a land where you never toiled, you live in towns you never built; you eat now from vineyards and olive groves you never planted. We would do well, as a matter of fact, to thank God for the great gifts he has given us which enable us to serve him in the first place! Do not give me what I truly deserve! The true Christian can see what he truly deserves and asks God not to give it to him, so let’s not ask God for justice or we’re all 'doomed'. Let’s ask for mercy, forgiveness and generosity and then let’s be merciful, forgiving and generous to others.

At the end of last week I mentioned that if you have a problem forgiving, pray for the gift of forgiveness, and make an inventory of all that God, and others, have had to forgive you for. At the end of this week I advise that if you suffer from jealousy, make an inventory of everything God, and others, have given you, and you will find it much easier to be generous with others.

God keep you safe and remember to count your blessings and name them one by one…

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

24th Sunday of Ordinary time

Forgiveness is divine

Forgiving those who have hurt us is not easy. The bigger the hurt the more difficult it is to forgive and for many people also the longer it takes to forgive.
Peter, it seems from his question in the Gospel today, also found it difficult to forgive. (Matt 18:21) He asked Jesus, “Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?” It could give the impression that Peter was finding it difficult to forgive. (Could it have been his mother-in-law? Do you know why Peter denied Jesus three times? Because Jesus cured his mother-in-law!) Jesus said Peter is to forgive not seven times but seventy-seven times. (Matt 18:21) Jesus is saying we are not to hold any grudges. Holding grudges, being angry and resentful, storing up anger in our hearts, is very unhealthy. It can eat into a person. I read earlier this week that anger is one factor contributing to heart disease. We are to forgive seventy-seven times. We could look at it like this. Somebody did us a great injustice in the past. Every time we meet that person or think of that person we have feelings of revenge or resentment or anger. Forgiving seventy-seven times is thinking thoughts of forgiveness every time we meet that person or think of that person. Forgiving seventy-seven times is breaking the cycle of thinking revengefully and instead thinking forgivingly.

Is there anything that can help us to forgive those who have hurt us? Forgiveness is a decision. Decide today to forgive. Forgiveness does not mean blotting out painful memories but it means not acting out of them. That is why when the hurt is deep counseling may be necessary to free us from acting out of past negative experiences. One thing I say to people who are having difficulty forgiving a hurt is to repeat to themselves, “I will not allow X to control my life. I take control of my life back from X. From now on I will control my life.” This is my daily exercise whenever I find some road blocks created by beings like me on my way.

Another thought that should help us to forgive is to remember that Jesus died to save the other person just as he died to save you. Try to visualize the person beneath Jesus on the cross. Can you see Jesus dying for that person? Think of the parable in the Gospel today (Matt 18:21-35). The king forgave the servant who owed ten thousand talents (it would take 164,000 years to earn this! Yes, 164,000 years). God has forgiven us the sin of Adam because of the death of Jesus. Then in the parable that servant was owed the very small sum of 100 denarii (one hundred days wages) but did not forgive. God has forgiven each of us ten thousand talents (164,000 years of wages). We are asked to forgive just 100 denarii (100 days wages) when others offend us.

Another help to forgive somebody is to be humble enough to admit that we cannot control another person in the sense of expecting an apology from the other. Giving up the need to control or dominate the person who hurt us, surrendering the need to expect them to ask forgiveness from us, frees us to forgive them.
In this Mass today we celebrate Jesus dying on Calvary for us. Because of his death on Calvary the debt of 10,000 talents we owed God has been forgiven. We go from here and forgive those who owe us 100 denarii.
The beauty, scent, perfume of marriage is forgiveness.

May you have a forgiving week.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A CONSPIRACY AGAINST INTERIORITY


Our culture is a powerful narcotic, for good and for worse. But let’s begin with the good side. A narcotic soothes and protects against brute, raw pain. Our culture has got its very kind of thing, (from medicine to entertainment), to shield us from pain. That can be good, provided isn’t a false crutch.

But narcotic can be bad, especially when it becomes away of escaping from reality. Where our culture is dangerous, it can shield us from having to face deeper issues of life, faith, forgiveness, morality, and mortality. These constitute a virtual conspiracy against the interior life. How? By keeping us so entertained, so busy, so preoccupied, and so distracted that we lose all focus on the deeper things. We live in the world of instant and constant communication of mobile phones, and email, of iPods that contain whole libraries of music, of television packages that contain hundred of channels of malls and stores that open 24\7 , of restaurants and clubs that stay open all the time, of sounds that never die and lights that never go out.

We can be amused, distracted and catered for 24/7. All this have made our life so wonderful, but has also conspired against depth. The danger is that we are all developing permanent attention deficient disorder. We are attentive to so many things that ultimately we aren’t attentive to anything, particularly to what is deepest inside of us. This isn’t an abstract thing! Typical our day is full of things (work, noise, pressure, and rush), that we finally get home at night and have some time when we could shut down all the stimulation, we are so tired and fatigued and that what soothes us is precisely something that functions as narcotic, a sporting event, a game show on television, a mindless sitcom, or anything that can soothe our tension and relax us enough to sleep. Isn’t bad when we do this on a given night, but it’s bad when we do it every night. What happens, it becomes apparent that we can not find space in our lives to touch what’s deepest inside of us and inside of others.

Given the culture, we can go along like this for years until something cracks in our lives, a loved one dies, someone breaks our heart, the doctor tells us we have terminal illness, disease, or some other crisis is powerful enough to suddenly render all stimulation and entertainment in the world empty. Then we are forced to look into our own depth and that can be a frightening abyss, if we have spent years and years avoiding looking into it.

“I have lived too long where I can be reached”
hence we end up with statements such as good people, but as people who are not immoral, just distracted, not lacking in soul, just preoccupied, not disclaiming depth, just lacking in practice. Our culture is a powerful narcotic, for good and for bad; it has the power to shield us from pain, to soothe us in healthy ways. That can be good, sometimes we need narcotic. But our culture can be over-intoxicating, too absorbing, it can swallow us whole. And so we have to know when its time to unplug the television, turn off the phone, shut down the computer, silence the iPod, lay away the sports page, and resist going out for coffee with a friend, so that for a moment at least, we are not avoiding making friends with that one part of us that will accompany us into the sunset.




Thursday, September 1, 2011

TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME YEAR A

Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20

If your brother/sister does something wrong…

Jesus is speaking here to his disciples about correction within the community of believers. The manner of this correction is aimed at preserving communion even if, ultimately, the offender refuses correction and shows himself to be outside the communion of the Church.

It is important to note immediately that Jesus is not just giving advice. Jesus well understands that even in the Christian community there can be individuals or groups who threaten communion, and since communion is the hallmark of the Christian community it must be dealt with sensitively, justly and firmly. In any given society, group, community there are people whom we tend to brand as trouble causers, they are never settled, they hop and hop and jump here and there to “disturb the still waters”. You will meet them and they too need our attention so that they can be helped too, because we often forget them in our prayers and programmes.
If your brother/sister does something wrong go and have it out with him, alone, between your two selves.

This would appear to be an exceptionally simple and self-evidently sound instruction. I imagine there would not be a single person, even you who is reading this reflection who would disagree with it. And yet, I also wonder if it is not the least listened to instruction Jesus ever gave?
Remember that this counsel is aimed at only one thing – preserving communion (fellowship) – the larger communion of believers (which can easily be fractured by poorly handled disputes-especially in marriages, offices and in our civil courts) and the ‘re-entry’ of the offending brother into that communion through repentance.
Therefore Jesus desires that we first of all approach our brother/sister: and have it out with him/her, alone, between your two selves. Notice Jesus’ insistence: Go (to him/her)… alone ... between your two selves?

This ‘going’ is not always easy to do but we must remember it is our brother/sister. We are going to speak with one who shares with us in the loving communion of the Church. He/she is family and family issues need a deep reflection and sobriety lest many years of quarrels takes us no where except makes us less dignified in the eyes of God. No one, nobody should ever disfigure the image of God in our brother/sister.



We have all experienced those who go stomping off to have it out with someone they are angry with; perhaps we have done it ourselves. Going to a brother/sister is a very different kind of going than that. We go to present our difficulty to him/her in an honest, loving way and we listen with great openness to his response. We are alone and his dignity is respected (and should we prove to be the one in error then our dignity is respected too).
To do otherwise than follow this teaching of Jesus is fraught with dangers for our brother/sister, the community, and for ourselves. Our brother/sister has a right to dignity, to proper correction and to the opportunity to reform himself. When we act hastily in anger, or fear, or even self-righteousness we run the risk of depriving him of all this and of ourselves becoming even more guilty than he is.

Jesus is aware of the dangers of a false step in the very beginning of this process of correction and so, I repeat, he insists that we should go alone and speak with our brother/sister that is the way out if you can’t keep to your cacoon.
Naturally this requires a certain degree of personal maturity and a great deal of true Christian love. The temptation is always to tell ‘others’; to get it out of our system. Unfortunately, what we tell others goes into the system and soon extraordinary damage can be done out of all proportion to the initial wrong.
Only when individual communication with our brother/sister bears no fruit despite our best efforts should we ask that others become involved, and only when this, too, fails should we tell the community. It will then become clear to our brother/sister that he/she has placed himself/herself outside of the communion of the Church. We have then ‘had it out with him/her’ in the way which Jesus commands and in the way which preserves our innocence.

The practical implication of all this for us as individual Christians in this Sunday is the duty we all have to bring our behaviour into line with the gospel. All of us, including myself, have failed and still do fail from time to time in this matter of correction. If we are looking for some area of our lives in which we can improve we should take today’s instruction from Jesus very seriously. There would be a lot less gossip in our community and there would be many more deeper friendships because the truth is that we often build the strongest and best friendships with those who have corrected us in a proper way.

Best wishes to you all as you reflect on these wonderful message of God.

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