Sunday, October 23, 2011

30TH SUNDAY OF YEAR A - Mission Sunday

Exodus 22:20-26;
1Thessalonians 1:5-10;
Matthew 22:34-40

'I get so lonely I could die.'

These lyrics from the well known song Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley may speak to our own life experience. Indeed, there's something logical about putting loneliness and death in the same sentence.

Man is made for relationship. He is who he is because of who he loves and whom he is loved by. The philosophers would say that man in relationship is a human person; man alone (without a sense of loving or being loved) is only a human being, i.e. a human who merely exists.

Man is made for love. The guests in Heartbreak Hotel know this only too well. Without love human life loses its meaning and becomes alienation which gives birth to the words: I get so lonely, I could die.

How important then to listen carefully to Jesus' words today: You must love… .

They are framed as a command but are actually an analysis of what gives human life its fundamental significance.

A careful reading of the first three chapters of the book of Genesis will show that in the beginning, from the moment of our creation, God established us in four relationships. These relationships are part of the very substance of our human lives: our relationship with God, with our self, with others, and with the natural world. These four relationships shape the very path we must walk to reach our destiny and therefore, thanks to our fallen human nature, constitute the decisive stumbling blocks on our journey.

It is in our relationship to God, to our own self, to others and to the natural world, wounded but redeemed, that we now live out our daily lives as disciples of the Lord. How important, then, that we get them right, because it is so easy to get them wrong!

It may come as a surprise, for example, to hear a married couple say “We have always loved God more than we love each other”, Or for a father to say, 'My first love is for my wife, and only then for my children.'

Obviously there is much more to say in order to fine-tune exactly the hierarchy of love I am attempting to assert here. But the truth remains that we can get our relationships wrong all too easily and cause, thereby, significant disorder in our own life, and in the lives of those who form our relationship network.

I love to hear engaged couples telling me they have decided to live chaste lives until marriage because they 'want to be faithful to God!' These couples have got it right. They have put God before themselves; they are in a right relationship with him and therefore, with each other.

You must love the Lord your God … this is the greatest and the first commandment.

And when they marry this couple will be in a right relationship with their children who have a right to be born within a loving, stable, committed and secure marriage.

To get the order of our love relationships right is to bring about the 'order of God's love'. St Ignatius sometimes used this beautiful phrase. It is an order which brings peace and life, health and fruitfulness.

The greatest and first commandment is to love God. How? With all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. The second commandment is to love our neighbour. How? As yourself. This is the divine vision and plan according to which we were 'put together' in our mother's womb.

It is a great tragedy to meet individuals who live as though they understood the first and only commandment to be: I will love my self with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my mind. Let us pray to be preserved from this catastrophic corruption of our true nature.

Next week each of the three readings affirms what we sometimes forget - that we are all brothers and sisters, children of the one Father. The love we have for our self is the definition, the template, of the love we should have for each other, and there must be no exceptions.

As we have just heard in the first reading today we must not molest the stranger because we ourselves were once strangers in the land of Egypt. We must not be harsh with widows or orphans or the Lord will make our wives widows and our children orphans. The consequences of breaking the bond of love between ourselves and our neighbour are severe.

Christian warfare is fought on the battlefield of relationship. Let us examine ourselves in the light of the great commandment of love, and allow the Lord's words to be both encouragement and correction for us.

"If you love truely, you don’t need to be told that you should" take it as an obligation

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Isaiah 25:6-10;
Philippians 4:12-14;
Matthew 22:1-14

Do you remember how last week God lovingly prepared a vineyard on a fertile hillside? He dug the soil, cleared it of stones, and planted choice vines … built a tower, .. and dug a press…(Isaiah). What care God took! In fact God said: What could I have done for my vineyard that I have not done?

This week God lovingly prepares a marriage feast: a banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wines, of food rich and juicy, of fine strained wines (Isaiah). What a feast! …my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, everything is ready (Matthew).

Note that: Everything is ready! The vineyard is ready for the harvest and the feast is ready for the guests - and so God sends his servants.

Incredibly the tenants of the vineyard seized the servants: thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third. Those who were invited to the feast ignored the servants and some even thrashed and killed them.

Last week God asked for what was rightfully his and found himself rejected; this week he offers what is rightfully his to those he loves and finds himself contemptuously spurned.

Last week he was disobeyed; this week he is humiliated.

The marriage feast, of course, is the kingdom of heaven. The servants are the prophets, the greatest of whom is Jesus, and those who were invited are the Chosen people, represented particularly by their leaders.

The disconcerting question which baffles us is 'Why would they refuse?' Why would people so comprehensively, so completely and maliciously refuse to enter the Kingdom so lovingly prepared for them?

The Scriptures are littered, so to speak, with the sad memory of those who failed for all sorts of reasons to enter the Kingdom, beginning with Lucifer, the angel of light, and his demons.

The elder son in the parable of the prodigal son would not enter the feast because his pride was stung by his father's generosity to his wayward brother. It becomes clear that his relationship with the father had always been that of slave, rather than son. And since he was the more obedient 'slave' he felt he was worth more.

The five foolish virgins failed to enter because they had not taken the Kingdom seriously enough. They had not adequately appreciated the greatness of the gift and so had not adequately prepared. The door was shut in their faces.

The householder just fell asleep and the judgment which unexpectedly sneaked up on him like a thief, found him not ready.

Fornicators (those having sex outside marriage), adulterers (those having sex with someone else's husband or wife) or practising homosexuals, were found unfit for the Kingdom.

Those who hear the word of God but do not keep it will not be recognised by the Lord and will not gain entry into the Kingdom. When they knock on the door they will hear the Lord say, 'I do not know you.'

The goats, those who showed no love or mercy towards their neighbour, and consequently showed no love towards God, will be cast out into the darkness and not be permitted to enter the Kingdom.

Those who will not wear the wedding garment, in other words, those who lack the necessary dispositions for entering heaven will be cast out.

The busy, those preoccupied with worldly concerns, those who build their houses on the shifting materialistic sands of power, pleasure or possessions, who worship money rather than God, who try to 'save' their lives rather than 'losing' them in the service of the Lord are not worthy of the Lord and cannot enter the Kingdom.

Let us remember that the invitation God gives us is to the king's feast. We are invited to a wonderful communion with the God and with each other. The Sunday Eucharist we celebrate on earth is a rehearsal for this eternal banquet. That is why it is so important. It is here, at each Mass, that we are slowly transformed and sanctified for the moment we are called to take our seats at the marriage feast in heaven. It is here, at each Mass, that we are strengthened to live the kind of life God looks for in us.

When we refuse God who has prepared a place for us in his house he does not punish us, we punish ourselves. We miss out on all he has made ready for us. We miss out on the 'party', the feast and have to spend eternity outside the Father's house, in the dark. That would be hell, wouldn't it?

Share a meal with someone who has not eaten or may not know whether s/he will eat today.


First reading Isaiah 5:1-7;
second reading Philippians 4:6-9;
Gospel Matthew 21:33-43

A vineyard wakes to new life in Spring. Tiny buds appear on the bare branches and before long the whole vineyard is a blaze of delicate green soaking up sunlight and air. Deep in the soil the roots drink in the rain and search for the minerals needed to form the rich fruit of the harvest. The vineyard belongs to the Master. It is to his glory that it yields a bountiful harvest.

You are the vineyard. Yes, you! And me!
One day the Master will send his servants, the angels, to gather in the produce of the vineyard. That will be a day of intense joy for some and a day of shame for others.

Yes, we are the Master's vineyard. And the vine he wishes to grow in us is Christ, his Son. This is the harvest he desires to find in us on that day. To put it simply we must 'bear' Christ in ourselves; Jesus must become himself in us so that all may become one in him. What a wonderful thought!

Through Baptism Jesus was 'planted' in us. Through the other Sacraments (Confirmation, Eucharist, Holy Orders, Matrimony, Anointing of the Sick) his life, his presence, is strengthened in us. Through Reconciliation we are restored to this life should it be weakened or destroyed by sin. The Master has thought of everything and he looks forward to the harvest.
Still there is more we can do: prayer, penance, almsgiving, fasting, spiritual reading, service of neighbour, evangelisation of our culture. The tenant's work is never done.
In the time remaining I wish to be very practical and offer you an implement, a 'gardening tool', for your work in the vineyard. It is a Bible.
Not so long ago Pope Benedict said '…I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of "Lectio divina": "the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer …" If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church -- I am convinced of it -- a new spiritual springtime.
Prayer is real 'labouring in the vineyard' and lectio divina is a form of prayer as powerful as it is simple. It is a really good shovel.

Without prejudicing any other form of prayer I'll try to give a glimpse, just a glimpse, of this ancient method of prayer which, coincidentally, solves many of the problems associated with daily prayer - like the question of distractions, routine, what do I do? what do I say? - and so on.

A Bible is the word of God. This fact is basic. When we read Scripture God is speaking. We don't need visions or locutions because here God is speaking.
The word of God is also, and at the same time, the action of God. Everywhere we read: God said ... and so it was. In the Bible the word of God continues his work and goes on creating, healing, loving, strengthening, forming, comforting, correcting and disturbing us.

Where the word of God is, living, active, powerful, God himself is not far away, in fact he is truly present.

When we read the Bible we are looking for the Lord and, if we are faithful to our daily reading, we will most certainly find him. He will open our eyes to his presence and causes us to realise that, in fact, he is never absent.
Let me give you a simple image. You're on a railway platform waiting for the train. Are you really waiting for the train? No, you are really waiting for the arrival of the person who is on the train. It would be silly if the train pulled in and we all stood around admiring the train and ignoring the passenger.

Admiring the train is what's called Bible Study. Lectio Divina is searching for the passenger. And you know which passenger I mean, don't you?
The Bible is also like a huge house occupied by a vast number of the most interesting and wonderful (for the most part) people you could ever meet. In this house live Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Sarah, Joshua, Saul, David, Rebecca, Esther, prophets, kings, judges, men and women and lots of children.
Do you know these people? You should. They are the ones who preceded us in the faith and as we watch them living out their faith, with all their difficulties and trials and human weaknesses and fears we quickly come to realise that their lives are our lives - they are our elder brothers and sisters - that we are really looking at ourselves. As they learn about God, so do we. As they experience his love and mercy, so do we. As they hear the word of correction, so do we.

Have you ever been with Adam and Eve under the tree being tempted by the serpent? Have you ever stood with the People on the shores of the Red Sea trapped between the waters and the angry Egyptians? Have you ever celebrated the second Passover - in the total peace and safety of the 'desert of Sinai' in the wonderful 'twilight of the evening'?
We end with a thought from Psalm One:
Happy the man who ... finds his pleasure in the Law of Yahweh, and meditates on his law day and night. He is like a tree that is planted by water streams, yielding its fruit in season, its leaves never fading ...

Keep watering yourself by reading the Bible, let it not collect dust.


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