“This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart andwith all your soul and with all your mind and with allyour strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these” Mark 12:29-30. Such simple rules by which to live our lives are they not? And yet, how we human struggle in our worldly lives to even come close to meeting just a fraction of these two simple requirements. Of course, the difficulty comes from the blending of our secular desires with our inner spiritual desires; the crashing of these two aspects of our existence easily causes us to divert from God’s path, which is the underlying nature of our hamartia (aka sin), our missing the bullseye of spiritual direction. Though we are created in the image of the heavenly hosts, we are flawed, imperfect, prone to mistakes, drawn away from the path of the righteous towards self interest and familiar contentment. What is the root of our human hamartia? It is fear, fear of loosing out, fear of falling behind those around us, fear of change, fear of losing control over our lives an fear of loosing our “stuff”. Now this is not the type of fear that comes from being chased by a bear or being injured or killed by natural disasters, but the psychological fear that comes with asking “what if”, and what about” or “but…”. There is great benefit to to us, our families, our society and indeed all of humanity to consider the ramifications of our single and corporal actions on the future; it is the cloud of darkness that veils our eyes to the reality of the here and now when we are consumed by the “what ifs” in lieu of the here and now, and so we loose focus on the target and stumble into the pit of hamartia. Jesus even warns us to “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own” Matthew 6:34. And now we worry about worrying..and as I always say: “that’s my job!”
St. James tells us “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice” James 3:16. An so it is when we worry about keeping up with the Smiths or who might take advantage of us; we covet, kill, and envy. We fight against unseen enemies and so we create enemies by scapegoating the weak, the popular, the foreigner, and the marginalized; in our fearful passions we wage wars against our scapegoats and loose everything to gain nothing and so, further feed our fears. We feed our “what ifs” and fail to ask in wisdom “how can I rely on God to change me so that I might be a positive change to others and to the world?” We exchange our pleas for wisdom in prayer for wickedness in action.
There are subtle differences between knowledge, wisdom and wickedness. Knowledge is knowing many answers, wisdom is the ability to put these answers to the correct questions and problems, and wickedness is using answers to only promote ones own desires and agenda, regardless of any concern for others. HaShem gives us knowledge and wisdom in the gift of scripture, the prophets teaching and the promise of the presence and willing sacrifice of Christ. But as Wisdom (2:12) tells us “The wicked say: Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training”. In fear we then follow those who ignore the scriptures, minimize the teachings of the prophets and continually lash the back of the Son of Man as we pound the spikes deeper into His flesh on the cross saying “let us condemn Him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, HaShem will take care of Him” (Wis: 2:20), so crucify Him, Crucify Him, CRUCIFY HIM!
Jesus showed His disciples the wisdom from above by being “first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity” and that “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace” (James: 17-18); and in turn they thought only of their own prestige and gain as they questioned who among them would be the greatest. Their own fearful lack of understanding pierced the silence like echos of a mocking crowd crying “CRUCIFY HIM!” and their words echoed off the hills like the clang of a hammer against a spike as it penetrated soft human flesh into the hard core of olive wood. In the loving wisdom that comes only from HaShem’s heavenly sphere, Jesus embraced a child walking in their midst, lifted the bewildered child up as the one who was greatest among them! Like a father lifting up His own innocent and lowly child, unlike our children in modern times, would probably not survive into adulthood and whose value was limited to serving as a indentured servant to the family. This child, in their lowly servitude to their parents, IS the the pride of HaShem’s kingdom-no frills, no power no expectations, the last of all and servant their father’s needs. What a shock to hear Jesus’ words that “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me” (Mark 9:37). What knowledge and wisdom we can find in this one uncomplicated act, this one elementary statement in reply to the question of how we can keep the command to love HaShem and love each other.
Let us live our lives lives like a true child of HaShem. Let us lift from our eyes the dark veil of fear so that we might see the light that is His light.
Let us sow the seeds of righteousness in our hearts, overcome the impediments of our own hamartia, shed the “what ifs” we bear as our cross in this journey, and be the merciful and good fruit of His peace, His Gospel, and walk the straight path into the arms of He who created us in the grace of His own image.
Reading 1: EPH 4: 1=7, 11=13.
Responsorial Psalm: PS 19: 2=3, 4=5.
Holy Gospel: MT 9: 9=13.
Liturgical Colour: Red.
I’m sure if you have never owned a gemstone piece of Jewelery, that you would most definitely have seen them in shop windows, or maybe being worn by a relative or a friend. Maybe it is a diamond, sparkling bright. Maybe a beautiful rose red Ruby, a shiny Emerald, as green as fresh grass, or maybe a Sapphire, as beautiful blue as the sky on a sunny day. They are beautiful works of nature aren’t they?
But no valuable gemstone started as the beautiful shiny gems, that we are so used to seeing. They have to be mined from deep mine rock, they are rather plain, and look nothing like the beautiful things which they would become, if they were the ones chosen as being suitable. Not all are chosen, and some are later discarded. The ones which make it, go through a full treatment process, then they need to be shaped and polished, until they shine like coloured stars in the skies. They have to undergo a major change process, to become as we know them, the best they can be.
So what has this got to do with today’s Feast of St. Matthew, the Apostle and Evangelist, and what significance does it have also for us today?
Mathew was originally named ‘Levi’, which means ‘Adhesion’ in Hebrew. He was a tax collector, a publican, a position despised by the other Jews, as they saw it that Levi was working for their enemy, the Roman empire, by robbing his own people, to gain large personal financial gain for himself. The Pharisees saw him as the ‘typical sinner’. He was not permitted to trade, eat, or even to pray with the other Jews because of the role he held that was so hated and unaccepted.
Whilst Levi was sat with his silver, Jesus came and only needed to say to him two words, those being, “follow me”. Immediately in response to this, he rose, left his silver and followed Jesus. Mathew was then renamed by Jesus as Matthew, which means “Gift of God”. As well as being one of the Lord’s twelve apostles, Matthew was also one of the four evangelists.
Mathew invited Jesus to dinner at his home and Jesus was criticised for eating with sinners and tax collectors. This prompted Jesus to answer, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17).
Mathew was one of the witnesses of the Ascension and Resurrection of the Lord, where afterwards, they all withdrew to an upper room in Jerusalem. (Acts 1:10=14).
Just as Levi changed his life to become Matthew the Apostle, and just like valuable gem stones from the mine in their raw states, we also must undergo major change for Christ. We must enable Jesus to shape us and to polish us, so that we can be the best we can be, and good enough to be able to listen with our hearts, and follow the will of Christ, and to serve him as his chosen stewards, upon the earth. Like Matthew, we need to leave behind the things of the world and follow our Saviour.
Let us pray:
We are a work=in=progress, Lord, and alł we ask you today is that you cleanse our hearts, shape us and mold us into who you want us to become. Reveal to us your great plan and will for our lives. Use us Lord to fulfil our destiny for you and to spread your love and message of salvation across the world.
In Jesus’ name we pray.
Today’s readings and Gospel could leave one feeling mighty flat…no miracles, no rousing call to action, no hosannas shouted from the rooftops.
Just several admonitions, almost stern in their nature, certainly not the kind that make us gird up our loins and set out to slay dragons
No, there is the vision, almost a promise, of hardship, suffering, abuse, fear. Even the Psalm is tainted with what may look to be a useless promise of eventual life with the Lord. But in the meantime, we’re going to feel all the slings and arrows that are arrayed against us.
Whew! Now what’s the good news?
Well, the good news, the Gospel, is subtle today. We know we’re in for pain and hardship because we’re in the midst of it almost every day. All we must do is open our eyes, remember the past month, read or listen to the news. The Gospel tell us, however, that while the task ahead may be hard, the way to get going is simple: deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.
OK, so, again, what’s the good news?
It’s a simple message today, and we should really stop asking for something good to happen to us. Do we always have to be in a position where everything is sweetness and light? Especially in our era, when we demand instant gratification, the big score, the magic pill, we’re going to find today’s readings unsettling, even uncomfortable.
Perhaps the message of Jesus is that we have to grow up. He says it specifically when chastising Peter and the Disciples: “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Maybe the whole purpose of Salvation History is to help us grow from infant human beings to mature people of God. And the readings today are setting the stage for how we are to get there.
Isaiah: Listen to God and then stand steadfast in your beliefs, even against physical retribution.
Responsorial Psalm 116: When you are afflicted, call on God, not necessarily to save you from pain, but to keep you, unstumbling, on the road to salvation.
James: You really can’t just talk the talk. You have to do something. You have to demonstrate your faith by giving those who need them the necessities of the body.
Galatians (Alleluia): Don’t be smug about all you’re going through.
Mark: Accept your fate, listen to and believe in Jesus, and above all, be ready to put all aside if necessary to save your life, even your life itself.
No, today’s readings are not for the feint of heart. But there permeates them this clear message that the world of childish magical thinking is only for children, not for anyone who is maturing into a Person of God. And hard as it may seem when we finally face it, acceptance of the word of Jesus is, in the end, solace enough for us…if only we can get to that state of mind. And really, we do know how to get there, don’t we?
Let us pray: Lord, help us to walk before you today, and always, in the land of the living. That’s all we ask today.
Lord God, take my lips and speak through them; take our minds and think through them; take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you. Amen.
On this special day in the Christian Calendar I am always reminded of a beautiful hymn:
Lift high the cross
The love of Christ proclaim,
Till all the world
Adore His sacred name.
Today we celebrate this Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a celebration of the Cross, it’s saving grace, and the way we should all carry the image of the cross within our hearts and souls; not only for our salvation but for the salvation of all.
In my time as a non-Catholic Christian this is a feast day that we didn’t celebrate and so when I converted to the Catholic faith I had a desire to learn about this history behind this feast. The Cross of Jesus Christ, as a physical object, has had a long history in the Christian Faith.
In 326 Helena the Mother of the first Christian Roman Emperor (Constantine) made a trip to the Holy Land. Her intention was to become closer to the faith by exploring those places that Christ and the Apostles had walked some 300 years earlier. Sadly the most important location, the garden tomb and the site of the crucifixion had been covered over and a temple to Jupiter rested on top of it. However, for the mother of the Emperor this was not an obstacle and she had the temple demolished site excavated.
When the excavations were complete the site of the crucifixion and the tomb where Jesus had lain were discovered. This area had a number of cisterns and within one of these three crosses were found and the plaque that had rested atop the cross of Christ. There are a variety of stories surrounding how the true cross was identified; the most popular being that the crosses were taken to a woman who was dying and were placed upon her. When the True Cross touched the woman she was miraculously healed.
Helena immediately began a building project at the site and a basilica was dedicated on September 13, 335. The day after the dedication a portion of the True Cross was brought to the basilica and enthroned there; from that day forward we celebrate the life giving cross on this Holy Day.
Today’s gospel reading may be among the shortest that you will hear throughout the Church year, however in my mind it is one of the fullest readings that we have. It is chocked full of meaning and points out for us not only the love of God for each and every person but also lays the whole of the plan of salvation out before us.
The reading starts by relating to us an incident from the Old Testament. In the times of Israel’s wandering in the desert the people were plagued with attacks by venomous snakes. To combat this the Lord told Moses to place an image of a serpent on a pole and lift it high. When the people afflicted with snake bite looked up to the image they would be cured of the venom. Now I am sure some of you are thinking “what the heck does this have to do with Jesus?”
Well, the lifting up of a life giving image upon a pole by Israel was a pre-figuring of the life giving crucifixion of Christ. As believers cast their eyes up and behold the crucified Christ upon the cross, pierced and wounded for their salvation, the power of sin and death are overthrown in us. So just as the image of the serpent became a weapon to destroy the serpents grip on Israel so the cross becomes for us the destroyer of death itself.
And not only for us; the scripture goes on to tell us that Christ came to save all who will call upon his name as the means of salvation. It is for this reason that each and every one of us should carry the cross with us in our heart. In doing so, as living a Christian life of witness and example, we can become the living image of the cross and help bring others to Christ and salvation in His name.
It is my greatest wish that each and every one of us puts the cross, and Christ’s sacrifice upon it at the centre of our lives. Not only for our sake, but for the sake of the Church and the whole world. Look every day to the Cross and remember that Christ has died to take the sting of death away and that without the Cross there would be no life.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, whose Son our Saviour Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world unto himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
1st Reading: Isaiah 35:4-7A
R Psalm: 145:6-10
2nd Reading: James 2:1-5
Holy Gospel: Mark 7:31-37
What are we being told in today’s Gospel Reading?
On first glance, it appears we are being told of healing, of the showing to us of Christ’s ability to perform miracles, of demonstrating His Divine nature. But this is only the thing we immediately see, it is not all we are being told. If we indeed look deeper at the scripture today, there is plenty which we can learn from it.
So let’s start with the first lesson we can learn here:
How often do we listen to Christ’s words? Probably at Mass. Maybe we read our bible and hear the word that way, or we could listen to scripture and reflections on the radio or on the television. Scripture is easy for us to listen too, but how easy is it to hear, to understand, to take it into our hearts, as to what is really being told to us? To let it guide us, to let it give us life? The simple answer is it’s not easy, we have to want to hear the message of Christ. We have to have our own deafness cured. We have to ask Christ to help us hear Him, we have to listen prayerfully before we can really hear, before we can understand, before we are ready to help Christ with His work, before we can take our place doing His work as part of His Church.
The deaf man we hear about in today’s Gospel could be any of us today, it could be you, it could be me, and in true fact it should be. We have to let Christ stick his fingers in our ears. To allow Him to open us to His word, His gift of life. That’s our first lesson from today’s Gospel.
Christ calls us to continue his work, to work as His Church for Him, to help spread His word, and to act as his stewards, until He returns. Our second lesson today, is as followers of Christ, it’s about how we go about doing His work. Jesus gives us a wonderful demonstration of this today. Think about the way he approached the deaf man in today’s gospel. Most of the time when Jesus cured people, He spoke to them, gave them an instruction or told them their sins had been forgiven. This time he used actions, why? Maybe because the man was deaf, Christ used a sign language to speak to him. He found a way to communicate with the man, before healing him.
That’s our second lesson, we need to find a way to communicate with people. Our tongues are being healed so we can proclaim Christ to a deaf world. But, how can we tell the world, or even just one person, about the wonders we know about Christ, if we can’t communicate with them? Our ears have been unsealed, we know from our own experiences, that Christ can and will unseal their ears, the challenge we are given as Christians is how do we start the conversation for Christ, He will finish it if we can just start it.
Starting the conversation is difficult, Jesus started it today in sign, and finished it in words. He started it in a sign language the man understood and finished it, once the man’s ears were opened, in the language Jesus needed to use. We may need to learn a new language. We might need to learn about sport, or soap opera, or music. We might need to learn to enjoy country walks or computer games. Remember that Jesus started the conversation in the language the man understood, we need to do the same with the people we communicate Christ to.
At some points in our Christian life, we will need our ears unblocked and at others times, we will be asked to start the conversation so that others can have their ears unblocked.
Where are we today in our journey? Are we struggling to hear the true word of Christ? Do we need to let Christ unblock our ears? Or have we heard Him and are now being called to communicate His message to others? Either way, today’s gospel should be speaking to each and every one of us. Are we truly ready to listen, to hear, and to act?
Let us pray:
Lord, we praise You as our Shepherd for You are the one who speaks so that we may hear Your voice and follow You were you lead.
Lord, we Thank You O God for telling us the truth about Yourself and also about ourselves.
Lord, we confess any lack of desire or any personal failure in hearing Your voice. Help us to have ears to hear what Your Spirit is truly speaking to us today.
Lord, give us listening ears to hear Your voice and to discern Your voice from the many worldly voices that are speaking.
Lord, open our hearts to Your will, and please help us close our ears to the whisperings of the evil one.
Lord, today we stand as an intercessor for those who are not listening to Your Word or Your Spirit and are straying from truth.
In today’s Gospel, Mark provides a significant amount of information about the Jewish observance of ritual-purity laws. Most scholars believe that Mark includes this information because his audience includes Gentile Christians who have no knowledge or experience of these laws. We can infer, therefore, that many in Mark’s community were not Jewish Christians.
In this Gospel, Mark addresses the question of which Jewish practices would also be observed in the newly emerging Christian community. Better known as, “The Way.” This was an important question for the early Christian Church, especially in communities that included both Jewish and Gentile converts to Christianity. We also hear this question addressed in the letters of Paul with regard to table fellowship. In Gospel passages such as the one today, we see the Gospel Evangelists finding justification for a Christian practice distinct from Judaism in the remembrances of Jesus’ teaching and the practice of his first disciples.
Jesus first criticizes the Pharisees for putting human tradition above God’s Law. Here, Jesus is referring to the tradition of the elders, the teachings of the Pharisees, which extended the ritual-purity laws of Temple worship to everyday Jewish life. Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for making this tradition equal to…and as binding as the Law of Moses.
Next, Jesus comments on the meaning behind the Pharisees’ language of holiness—clean and unclean. Jesus teaches that a person is not defiled by the food that enters his or her body, but rather by sin that emerges from his or her words and actions. In this teaching, Jesus unmasks a deeper question behind the one posed to him by the Pharisees. The real issue is holiness, which is not found in external acts alone. Holiness comes from within and is evidenced in the actions and attitudes that emerge from a person’s life.
If we read today’s Gospel carefully, we will see a pattern in Jesus’ teaching method that will be repeated in the weeks ahead. Jesus’ first teaching is directed to the Pharisees who questioned him. Jesus’ words are then directed to the crowd, teaching that a person is defiled by his or her words and actions, not by the food that he or she eats. In verses omitted in today’s reading, we learn that Jesus returned home with his disciples, who in turn questioned him about what he had taught. The words we read at the conclusion of today’s Gospel are addressed to Jesus’ disciples. Mark’s narrative shows several audiences for Jesus’ teaching: his antagonists, the crowds, and Jesus’ disciples. As we see in this reading, the words to the Pharisees are often words of challenge. The teaching to the crowds is often a general, sometimes cryptic, message. With the disciples, who often misunderstand Jesus’ words, further explanation is offered about his message and its meaning.
Jesus’ words challenge us as well. In our desire to show that we are holy, we might also give too much credence to externals, following rules without thinking about the intention behind them. Jesus reminds us that we do not make ourselves holy by our actions. Rather, we become holy when we allow God’s Spirit to transform us. Our actions should be an expression of the conversion of our heart to God and to God’s ways.
Lord God, take my lips and speak through them; take our minds and think through them; take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you. Amen.
Some time ago I had the pleasure of preaching on the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist, so it is quite fitting that today I preach on the memorial of his passing from this life.
The recounting of the life and mission John the Baptist recorded in scripture is one that many of us are familiar with. In fact if you were anything like me as a kid in Sunday School one of the best remember stories may just be John’s death. As a child I remember the tale of the prophet whose head was served on a platter to a pretty young girl; that kind of thing sticks with you when you were a kid. However, to focus on this gruesome death at the hand of some rather immoral and vindictive people isn’t what we should focus our remembrances of John the Baptist on.
John is an interesting character in the life of the Church; he is one of only two saints whose principal feast does not take place at their death (their birth as Saints) but instead their birth. The other saint so honoured in the Blessed Virgin. This fact should cement in our minds just how important St. John is in the economy of salvation. So why is John the Baptist so important and what message does his death hold for us?
If we were to take a wide angled look at the records of God’s dealings with humankind we would see that it is obviously split into two parts, just like our modern Bible. There is the Old Testament period after the fall when God no longer dealt directly with his creation but rather connected with Israel through a series of holy men called Prophets, and there is the New Testament where once more God walked upon the Earth and interacted with His creation directly. Standing directly in the middle of these two chapters of the “story of salvation” stands John the Baptist.
In the eyes of ancient Israel John stood like a prophet of old and many thought he may have been Elijah returned, however to those of us who accept that Christ is God dwelling in human flesh John was much more. John the Baptist was not merely a prophet bringing a message from God that we needed to repent, John was a herald that the penultimate events of the salvation of humankind were imminent. If we were to trace the Baptists story through the New Testament it would stand out clearly that he had been chosen for this end before he was born and he was certainly dedicated to the Lord’s service afterwards.
It was this dedication to the Lord and John the Baptists message of repentance and preparation for the coming Messiah that made him popular with Israel. John preached his message at a time when the people were praying for the Messiah to come and free them from the rule of the Romans and their puppet king Herod. With popularity amongst the people came an enmity between John and the ruling class; particularly Herod.
Herod was a man of great wealth and power and yet he feared the Baptist and his message; why was this? John’s life contrasted greatly with Herod’s, he lived in poverty, wore camel’s hair and lived a holy and aesthetic life. What John had that Herod did not was holiness and a closeness to the Lord. It was this holiness that Herod feared; he was man who had transgressed the laws of Israel and knew it; John pointed this out with the authority of one chosen by God and Herod feared this.
And it is here that we see the message for us to be found in John’s story. The wicked and the mighty have no real power over us. Wealth and power do not bring happiness or diminish fear, the only thing that can do that for us is living a life of holiness before the Lord. If we do this then he will shine upon us and bring us those holy things we desire most. Just as God brought Jesus to the waters of Baptism at the hands of John.
I want to encourage each and every one of us to follow John the Baptist’s example; we each need to find that mission that God is calling us to fulfil and in finding it tread a path of holiness before the Lord. If we do this then no evil can stand against us and no matter what trials we go through we can be guaranteed of a reward in the life to come just as Holy St. John is blessed with the presence of God in heaven.
Let us pray:
O God, who willed that Saint John the Baptist should go ahead of your Son both in his birth and in his death, grant that, as he died a Martyr for truth and justice, we, too, may fight hard for the confession of what you teach. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.