Do You Believe in Angels? ~ Fr. Shawn Gisewhite, OPI

 

Holy Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do you, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Archangels.  Every so often there’s a story in the news about how many Americans believe in angels.  Usually it’s presented in somewhat alarmist language…”more Americans believe in angels than in evolution, poll suggests!” Or “7 things Americans think are more plausible than man-made global warming! #1 Angels!”  A 2011 poll conducted by the Associated Press says 77% of Americans believe angels are real.  To me, how they ask the question is important. Years ago, I was one of those polled while touring the campus at Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary, and they asked, “Do you believe in angels?” and I thought “do you mean, do I believe in little adorable, chubby-cheeked Raphaelite cherubs with rainbow wings?”  No, not really.  Do I believe that there are things in the universe beyond my powers of comprehension who are active in doing God’s will? Then, yes. Without a doubt! When I asked for this clarification the poll taker looked at their clipboard and said, “it just says, do you believe in angels?” Well, then. “yes.”

A lot of Americans may believe in angels, but I don’t know how many of us give them much thought. Angels are one of those ubiquitous pop-culture things that show up in lots of places but I, for one, don’t spend an awful lot of time thinking about them.  When I volunteered to write today’s sermon, I decided that I should do some research on angels, so I did what any self-respecting Generation-”Y”er would do…I went and re-watched the movie Dogma.  Yup, you heard right!

That’s the Kevin Smith movie starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as a pair of angels who have been banished from heaven and sent not to hell, but to Wisconsin. They think they’ve discovered a loophole in Catholic Dogma that will allow them back into heaven and the movie is the wackiness that ensues as they try to enact their plan.
I enjoyed seeing it again, but I’m not sure it told me all that much about angels.
At least the angels in Dogma are somewhat closer to biblical angels than Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or Michael Landon on “Highway to Heaven,” or Roma Downey and Della Reese on “Touched by an Angel.”

At least for me, it’s hard to reconcile the “I’m just sent to help people out,” angles of those shows with the fearsome, world-ending appearance of the angels in our readings. TV angels are really pleasant, angels in scripture are really scary!  Our ancestors thought much more systematically about angels. A lot of what we think we know about angels comes from a Syrian monk writing around the 5th century of the common era known as Dionysius the Areopagite. He’s the one who gives us the nine orders, or choirs, of angels.

Beginning with the Seraphim…those closest to God, the ones with six wings, two covering their feet, two covering their face, and two to fly with.

Next are the Cherubim…NOT the chubby little children that Raphael painted.  These are the winged creatures with flaming swords guarding the entrance to Paradise, and represented on the top of the Ark of the Covenant. They are sometimes represented with the front quarters of a lion, and the hind quarters of a bull, the head of a man, and the wings of an eagle. Or with four-faces those of a bull, an eagle, a lion, and a human.

Then continuing down the ranks come the Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, and finally Archangels.  This is where we find Michael, also Raphael, Gabriel, and sometime Uriel.  At the very end, plain old angels.
It’s all quite dizzying!

Michael is one of the few named angels in scripture, and as such has attracted much devotion from a very early date. In Jewish midrash, Michael is the one who is said to have prevented the sacrifice of Isaac, saves the three young men from the fiery furnace, and the one who wrestles with Jacob. In Christian tradition, Michael is regarded as both a warrior—defeating Satan in the battle in heaven—and a healer—the earliest sanctuary dedicated to St. Michael was associated with a healing well.

Often feast days are associated with at least quasi-historical dates…often the presumed date of the saint’s death, but since angels and archangels don’t die, the association of Sept 29th with the feast of Michaelmas came from the 5th century dedication of a St. Michael’s basilica near Rome.  In medieval England, Michalemas marked the end of the “husbandman’s year” when the harvest was done and accounts were settled, and hiring for the next year took place.

The fact that it takes place around the fall equinox is (I think) significant. Because in addition to angels, another thing we post-modern folks don’t think an awful lot about is the calendar. Oh sure, we are tied to our calendars but mostly to make sure that we are where we’re supposed to be when we’re supposed to be there. But our liturgical or church calendar does much more than simply mark time…it sanctifies it.

In the English Church the Feast of the Archangels would have been celebrated last night at a service called Evensong.  Evensong is perhaps one of the most ancient of all prayerful actions.  Our ancestors understood the necessity of marking the times of the day, the week, and the year. Those “thin-spaces” where time and eternity, earth and space, breath and Spirit flow into and out of one another.  Morning Prayer at dawn. Evening Prayer at dusk. The two great hinges of every day.  Weekly Sabbaths establishing times of work and rest.  And yearly festivals not merely marking time but actually (re)creating and sanctifying the rhythm of existence—the rhythm of being.  Michaelmas is almost an autumnal mirror of Pentecost.

In the northern hemisphere, the Triduum—the great three days of Holy Week—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday mark the dying—the pause in the tomb and the resurrection of our Lord, who becomes the first fruits of the new and unending life.
From that single seed the Holy Spirit—in the burst of Pentecost—is poured out on us to effect our transformation and the renewal of the whole earth—in this season of growth and greenness—bringing all creation closer to God’s realm.

Then as the season of growth turns to the abundance of fall and harvest our focus is increasingly drawn to the fullness of the Eschaton—the edge of time—the horizon of existence. As the sun lowers in the sky, our eyes are drawn to the horizon. As the days shorten and shadows lengthen Michaelmas directs our attention to the horizon and beyond to the heavenly host—to those who are always above and beyond us—angels.
As we move toward the fall Triduum—All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints, and All Souls day—the church continues to direct us to the culmination of all things—to those who have gone before—and then the coming of Christ just before Advent. The culmination of all things, dominions, princedoms, powers, virtues, archangels, angel choirs—all things find their reason and their rest in Christ.

You see, I do believe in angels, but more in the sense that there really are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

So for me, this year, this celebration of the feast of St. Michael and All Angels is a gift from the church in her wisdom—a reminder to keep my eyes and heart focused on these things that really are above me and beyond my ability to grasp or understand.  As the earth turns, once again, her northern face away from the sun, and we prepare again to enter the time of darkening days and cooler nights, it’s helpful to think of the heavenly hosts, the powers that I still don’t and never will totally understand—but knowing that they are working and praying and guarding and guiding and enacting God’s will…and allowing and inviting us to experience God’s grace in our own lives is somehow enough.

The 8th century scholar and monk Alcuin wrote a sequence litany for Michael and the other archangels that ends like this:

Hear us, Michael,
Greatest angel,
Come down a little
From thy high seat,
To bring us the strength of God,
And the lightening of His mercy.

And do thou, Gabriel,
Lay low our foes,
And thou, Raphael,
Heal our sick,
Purge our disease, ease thou our pain,
And give us to share
In the joys of the blessed.
Amen.

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No What Ifs, Ands, or Buts ~ The Rt. Rev. Jay VanLieshout, OPI

“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.

Diamond in the Rough: The Feast of St. Matthew ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

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.

Amen.

 

Oh, Grow Up! ~ Br. Chip Noon, Novice

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.

Sharing in Sorrow: Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows ~ The Rev. Dcn. Dollie Wilkinson, OPI

The title, “Our Lady of Sorrows,” given to our Blessed Mother focuses on her intense suffering and grief during the passion and death of our Lord. Traditionally, this suffering was not limited to the passion and death event; rather, it comprised “the seven dolors” or “seven sorrows” of Mary, which were foretold by the Priest Simeon who proclaimed to Mary, “This child [Jesus] is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed– and you yourself shall be pierced with a sword– so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare” (Luke 2:34-35).

Below are the seven sorrows of Mary:

1. The prophecy of Simeon: “And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed.” – Luke II, 34-35.

2. The flight into Egypt: “And after they (the wise men) were departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise and take the child and His mother and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy Him. Who arose and took the child and His mother by night, and retired into Egypt: and He was there until the death of Herod.” – Matt. II, 13-14.

3. The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple: “And having fulfilled the days, when they returned, the Child Jesus remained in Jerusalem; and His parents knew it not. And thinking that he was in the company, they came a day’s journey, and sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And not finding Him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking Him.” Luke II, 43-45.

4. The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross: “And there followed Him a great multitude of people, and of women, who bewailed and lamented Him.” – Luke XXIII, 27.

5. The Crucifixion: “They crucified Him. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, His Mother. When Jesus therefore had seen His Mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, He saith to His Mother: Woman: behold thy son. After that he saith to the disciple: Behold thy Mother.” – John XIX, l8-25-27.

6. The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross: “Joseph of Arimathea, a noble counselor, came and went in boldly to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. And Joseph buying fine linen, and taking Him down, wrapped Him up in the fine linen.” – Mark XV, 43-46.

7. The burial of Jesus: “Now there was in the place where He was crucified, a garden; and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein no man yet had been laid. There, therefore, because of the parasceve of the Jews, they laid Jesus, because the sepulcher was nigh at hand.” John XIX, 41-42.

In all, the prophesy of Simeon that a sword would pierce our Blessed Mother’s heart was fulfilled in these events. For this reason, Mary is sometimes depicted with her heart exposed and with seven swords piercing it. This Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows grew in popularity in the twelfth century, although under various titles. Granted, some writings would place its roots in the eleventh century, especially among the Benedictine monks. By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the feast and devotion were widespread throughout the Church.

In 1668 the feast in honor of the Seven Dolors was set for the Sunday after September 14, the Feast of the Holy Cross. The feast was inserted into the Roman calendar in 1814, and Pope Pius X fixed the permanent date of September 15 for the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary (now simply called the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows). The key image here is our Blessed Mother standing faithfully at the foot of the cross with her dying Son: the Gospel of St. John recorded, “Seeing His mother there with the disciple whom He loved, Jesus said to His mother, ‘Woman, there is your son.’ In turn He said to the disciple, ‘There is your mother.’” (John 19:26-27). The Second Vatican Council in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church wrote, “…She stood in keeping with the divine plan, suffering grievously with her only-begotten Son. There she united herself, with a maternal heart, to His sacrifice, and lovingly consented to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth” (#58).

St. Bernard (d. 1153) wrote, “Truly, O Blessed Mother, a sword has pierced your heart…. He died in body through a love greater than anyone had known. She died in spirit through a love unlike any other since His” (De duodecim praerogatativs BVM).

Focusing on the compassion of our Blessed Mother, our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, reminded the faithful, “Mary Most Holy goes on being the loving consoler of those touched by the many physical and moral sorrows which afflict and torment humanity. She knows our sorrows and our pains, because she too suffered, from Bethlehem to Calvary. ‘And thy soul too a sword shall pierce.’ Mary is our Spiritual Mother, and the mother always understands her children and consoles them in their troubles. Then, she has that specific mission to love us, received from Jesus on the Cross, to love us only and always, so as to save us! Mary consoles us above all by pointing out the Crucified One and Paradise to us!” (1980).

Therefore, as we honor our Blessed Mother, our Lady of Sorrows, we honor her as the faithful disciple and exemplar of faith. Let us pray as we do in the opening prayer of the Mass for this feast day: “Father, as your Son was raised on the cross, His Mother Mary stood by Him, sharing His sufferings. May your Church be united with Christ in His suffering and death and so come to share in His rising to new life.” Looking to the example of Mary, may we too unite our sufferings to our Lord, facing them with courage, love, and trust.

~In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

 

Lift High the Cross: The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross ~ Fr. Brenden Humberdross, OPI

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.

Are You Listening? ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

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.

Amen.