This week, long time Two Rocks resident, Josie (Giuseppina) del Bene, teaches us how to make crosses out of palm leaves for the Palm Sunday procession. Watch her step-by-step on this YouTube video:
This week, long time Two Rocks resident, Josie (Giuseppina) del Bene, teaches us how to make crosses out of palm leaves for the Palm Sunday procession. Watch her step-by-step on this YouTube video:
This planet has—or rather had—a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Whenever today’s Gospel reading comes up it takes me back to 1991. This was the year my beloved father died and my daughter was born. We had taken the decision that I would be a full time Mum some years earlier with the birth of my first child, so making ends meet was difficult, since my husband was in the process of building up his own business, with every spare cent being reinvested back into the business and Australia still suffering a loss of confidence following the 1987 share market crash. But after Elinor’s birth, life was further complicated by my developing post-natal depression.
The winter of 1991 was probably a perfectly ordinary winter, as winter’s go, but inside my head, the landscape was bleak and, at times, terrifying. It seemed to rain constantly so that I spent much of the time cooped up indoors with a two year old and an infant, and no support family within two thousand kilometres. Odd things happened, like the Water Corporation invading the park behind our house to fix a sewerage problem, and the whole neighbourhood being filled with noxious odours for days on end, adding to my general feeling of malaise. Then I had a great fear that I was going to develop a mental condition that was present in my extended family. And of course I was grieving for my Father who had wasted away over five years until every breath was a struggle.
But God uses these moments of interior misery to bring us back to him. The children and I had joined the local playgroup which was run by some of the young mums from the Neo-Catechumenate group. On one particular day, when our bank account was down to about $3 and I was wondering how we were going to manage until payday, the ‘Neocats’ invited me round for some Italian macchinetta-brewed coffee as well as prayer round their kitchen table. By chance, their Bible reading for the day was this:
‘That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it. Surely life means more than food, and the body more than clothing! Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are? Can any of you, for all his worrying, add one single cubit to his span of life? And why worry about clothing? Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his regalia was robed like one of these.
Now if that is how God clothes the grass in the field which is there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not much more look after you, you men of little faith?
So do not worry, do not say, “What are we to eat? What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?” It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow, will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble if its own.’ (Matthew 6: 25-34)
Sometimes you just know God is trying to tell you something. I went home and thought about it. Depression is different from other medical conditions, in that there is a certain amount of control one can have over it merely through the choices one makes. No, really. (I can hear people disagreeing with me.) I have met people who seem almost to identify with their depression to the point where they describe it as being part of their genetic makeup, and love-love-love telling you about how they and all the members of their family are living on anti-depressants due to congenital deficiencies in their parietal lobe. Fiddlesticks to that, I say.
The reason I have my doubts is that we are humans who are free agents, and free agents can choose at each moment how they are going to behave. We might not always be able to control how we think, but we can control how we behave. I can remember thinking while I was depressed, that I was ever so bored with my brain which seemed to want to go round and round in an endless monologue over the same subject matter. The trick seemed to be actually to do something which would change the subject. What helped me escape from my depression was meditating on the above reading, telling God that I needed a hand and then going outside myself to think about other people who were in situations far worse than my relatively mundane and self-centred situation. At one point, I remember seeing a picture in a newspaper about a young boy from Vietnam whose face had been terribly disfigured through burns, but who was coming to Australia for plastic surgery. These things made me realise I needed to get out of my own head and start doing something positive, even if emotionally I didn’t feel in the mood. I decided the cure for feeling miserable and broke was to start helping other people who were even more down-and-out than I was. I looked up the nearest St Vincent de Paul Conference and went to their next meeting. Soon I was in training with a senior member, learning how to discern whether someone required a food voucher or other assistance. I had always been a Mass-goer, but now prayer and scripture reading became more of a daily feature of my life. And the more I concentrated on helping others, the smaller my own problems seemed. In addition to this, over time, God helped us to prosper our business and manage on our budget. I look back on this period as my first great re-conversion to the Faith.
This didn’t just happen once in my life – over the course of decades, there have been several occasions where things have gone pear-shaped and I have been tempted to slip into depression and self-centredness. And every time, God has reached in and shown me the way forward – because Jesus Christ our Saviour is the Light of the World, He cares about our individual situations, He wants us to come into a right relationship with Him, and He wants us to be filled with an unshakeable joy in the midst of life’s trials.
Lent is about to begin on Ash Wednesday. This is a perfect time to pre-empt Satan’s plans for our misery by deepening our prayer life, coming close to God and asking Him to place in our path those people whom he wants us to help and encourage.
Jonathan Haidt, the social psychologist and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, is fascinated by the liberal-conservative divisions in society. Although he leans slightly left himself, he describes himself now as having ‘stepped out of the game’, especially since his research among widely divergent cultures led him to revise his preconceptions about conservatives. Sick and tired of the rancour and demonization so characteristic of social media culture, he has been trying to find ways to help people at opposite ends of the political spectrum understand one another.
What Haidt discovered through his research in a number of different countries, was that there are at least six foundational aspects to the way we reason about morality, common to all humans. He compares them to our having an audio equaliser with six slider switches, each of which can have the sensitivity turned up to varying degrees. These switches are:
What he didn’t expect to find, was that left-leaning people prioritised the first two: care and fairness, but right-leaning people endorsed all six approximately evenly. As a follow-up, he asked his subjects to answer questions while role-playing as people holding ideological beliefs opposite to their own in real life, a technique known as an Ideological Turing Test. He found that it was the right-leaning people who could correctly explain and defend the beliefs of the left-leaners, while the progressives had great difficulty expressing and understanding the positions of the conservatives.
Haidt argues that for most people, moral choices are decisions based on intuitions or emotional responses, rather than on carefully reasoned arguments. We are all guilty of confirmation bias: our brains are like lawyers or press secretaries for our emotions, and we send them out scurrying to find the evidence which supports our emotional responses. The ubiquity of Google now gives us unlimited scope for rapid confirmation of whatever wacky idea our emotions want to defend. Haidt sees this as ramping up the heat, nastiness and rancour in our political and ideological debates, especially as many of us choose to inhabit ideological enclaves of like-minded people. He describes the cure as follows:
Individual reasoning is post hoc and justificatory; individual reasoning is not reliable because of confirmation bias. The only cure for confirmation bias is other people. So if you bring people together who disagree, and they have a sense of friendship, family, having something in common, having an institution to preserve, they can challenge each other’s reasoning, and this is the way that the scientific world is supposed to work. We end up being forced to work together, challenging each other’s’ confirmation biases – and truth emerges. And this is a place where I think the Christians have it right, because they’re always talking about how flawed we are. (Interview with Bill Moyers)
So why am I bringing this up? In today’s Gospel, we read what is probably the single most influential speech of all time, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount . Quoted for 2,000 years and spreading out to every country of the world, the Sermon on the Mount has had an incalculable influence on our morality, particularly the morality of Western Civilisation. Unfortunately, most children today will never encounter the Gospel in their school curriculum, and will through no fault of their own, be unaware of the transcendent teachings it contains.
Today’s Gospel concentrates on the eight Beatitudes: those things that will help us to be happy in this life and the next. Of course, they transcend Haidt’s six aspects of morality, but we can also link the Beatitudes to Haidt’s universal moral categories and find some correspondence. The point about the Sermon on the Mount is that Jesus is inviting us to transcend our tribal and egocentric emotional responses and make conscious choices that place God and our neighbour at the centre of our choices.
|Beatitude||Which aspect in Moral Foundations Theory does it correspond to?|
|1. How happy are the poor in spirit;
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
|Sanctity … the poor in spirit are sufficiently detached from avarice for their choices not to be corrupted by a desire for wealth and comfort. The poor in spirit are also aware of their spiritual poverty and need for grace.|
|2. Happy the gentle:
they shall have the earth for their heritage.
|Care … the gentle prioritise kindness and empathy towards others. They are very aware of how their words impact others.|
|3. Happy those who mourn:
they shall be comforted.
|Sanctity … these people are not addicted to pleasure; they are able to pass serenely through the trials of life while trusting in God.|
|4. Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right: they shall be satisfied.||Fairness … These people care about justice and proportionality in decision-making, for the common good.|
|5. Happy the merciful:
they shall have mercy shown them.
|Care … these people care about justice, yet are able to temper it with forgiveness and mercy when appropriate.|
|6. Happy the pure in heart:
they shall see God.
|Sanctity … these people are ennobled by their focus on what is edifying. Pure in their minds, their speech and their actions, they will always attempt to inspire the best in others.|
|7. Happy the peacemakers:
they shall be called sons of God.
|Loyalty and authority … these people see humanity as sharing in the image and likeness of God. They want to help all people to live in charity and reconciliation with one another.|
|8. (a) Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.||Loyalty and liberty… these people remain faithful to God’s law and to right conduct in spite of opposition. They express their liberty by refusing to recant under pressure.|
|8. (b) Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.||Loyalty and liberty … these people remain faithful to Jesus Christ in all circumstances. They are able to weather mockery and contempt. They are liberated from attachments to worldly honour, because of their fidelity to and friendship with Christ.|
But I need to return to my main point, which is about how we can be practical peacemakers, knowing what we know about Haidt’s research into confirmation bias. It’s supremely important for us as Christians not to retreat into the bubble of our Christian ideological and religious enclave (sometimes called The Benedict Option). Sure, every Christian should surround him- or herself with Christian friends who provide the mutual support of being collectively loyal to Christ and faithful to the Magisterium.
But we also need to make sure that we encounter all sorts of ‘others’ so that we can learn to understand how they think, respectfully talk about things we disagree on, gently challenge their confirmation bias and create that space where we can be friends in spite of our differences.
By the way, if you’re interested in the fresco above, it’s a detail of the ceiling of St Ulrich in Gröden in the Italian Alps. The whole thing is quite stunning.
Calculation and rationality can only take us so far when it comes to following Christ. Every now and then, Christ calls us to do something which may, to others, seem a bit imprudent.
Consider the disciples in today’s Gospel. There they were, Simon and Peter, James and John enjoying another humdrum day at the nets, when Jesus summons them to follow him. And they drop everything and go. Can this possibly be sensible – leaving the security of their trade, abandoning their family responsibilities?
Surely the prudent person would have been more like the young man in Luke 9:61, to whom Jesus says, ‘Follow me’.
[He] replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’ But Jesus answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’
What about the rich young man in Matthew 19:21-22?
The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these [commandments]. What more do I need to do?’ Jesus said, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.’ But when the young man heard these words he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.
Jesus is asking him to do what the world might consider foolish and reckless.
Then there’s the widow in Luke 21:1-4:
… he noticed a poverty-stricken widow putting in two small coins, and he said, ‘I tell you truly, this poor widow has put in more than any of them; for these have all put in money they could spare, but she in her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’
Surely that was imprudent! Shouldn’t she have kept something aside for herself?
Part of the difficulty in our understanding is that our use of the word prudent in contemporary English has shifted. It now has overtones of cautiousness, whereas the traditional usage is much richer than that.
Prudence is the ability to decide where an act is on the sliding scale from those acts which are cowardly, over-cautious and self-protective to deeds which are reckless and needlessly risky. Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes are acts which are courageous. Too much caution will make you immobile with fear; too little caution and you may end up in hot water. But Jesus doesn’t seem to mind people making radically incautious choices when it comes to his Kingdom.
The question is, “What does the Holy Spirit want?” This is the whole point of the Holy Spirit’s gift of Counsel or Right Judgement – to perfect the virtue of prudence, the ability to choose wisely with this single criterion in mind: “Does it help advance the proclamation of the Gospel?”
So we have to rethink Prudence in the light of an act’s service to the Gospel. That is why the disciples’ leaving their livelihood, or a person giving his money away to the right cause, or being willing to die rather than renounce his faith, can, in God’s eyes, be supremely prudent.
But prudential decisions are not made merely in a dry, analytical framework. Today’s readings give us a glimpse of the audaciousness, surprise and joy that accompany a radical decision for Christ.
The people that lived in darkness
has seen a great light;
On those who dwell in the land and shadow of death
a light has dawned.
It’s not easy to describe the inner landscape of a person who has been illuminated by the Holy Spirit. But it’s as if one now inhabits a mental universe where all things are possible, where the most tricky situations can be entrusted to a loving Father, where self-forgetfulness replaces self-consciousness. There’s something about Jesus that has enlightened the disciples on this day by the Sea of Galilee and stirred up the courage and the passion to abandon themselves to his plan.
If we look at the lives of holy people, we can get a sense of their joyful, incautious abandonment to Christ.
|St Francis of Assisi||.. gave up the opportunity to live a life of luxury as the son of a silk merchant, and devoted himself to spreading the Gospel through preaching, living the same life of poverty as the poorest of the poor and restoring several ruined churches.|
|St John Bosco||… had a bold idea to help street children and unemployed boys to find work, safe lodging and a grounding in Christ. Despite his almost constant lack of resources, he worked tirelessly to establish his Oratory and trusted in God to supply their needs.|
|St Katharine Drexel||… gave up her seven million dollar fortune to join the Sisters of Mercy and found the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, providing schools and missions to native Americans.|
|St Damien of Molokai||… gave up his personal comfort to share his life with the quarantined leper colony in Hawaii, building schools, roads, hospitals and churches to provide for their material and physical needs.|
|Mother Angelica||… despite knowing nothing about broadcasting, had a bold vision to evangelise through television and, starting from small beginnings, went on to develop EWTN, the largest religious media network in the world.|
Let’s try having a conversation with God today about his purposes for us – he might be about to inspire us to do something joyfully bold for his Kingdom!
You would almost miss it if you weren’t looking for it. There’s a phrase in today’s second reading that is quintessentially Christian: the phrase ‘in Christ’. It’s the phrase that’s traditionally used when Christians sign letters – or a variation thereof.
This is the opening paragraph of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth, and he is giving a quick summary describing the people he is addressing. It’s very easy to see this introduction as a mere formality to be got out of the way before he gets to the meaty bits, but I’d like to concentrate on pulling apart this single phrase.
In Australia you could be forgiven for missing it altogether, because the Jerusalem Bible translation gives “greetings to the church of God in Corinth, to the holy people of Jesus Christ”. The New American Bible, however, (used in the USA) translates the Greek more accurately as “to the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy” (τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ Θεοῦ, τῇ οὔσῃ ἐν Κορίνθῳ, ἡγιασμένοις ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, κλητοῖς ἁγίοις).
What’s so special about this phrase, ‘in Christ’?
Jesus talks frequently about our remaining in him. You wouldn’t find Mohamed expecting people to remain in him – he saw himself as only a prophet; God was completely transcendent and by nature not susceptible to unity with humans. Neither would one expect this in Buddhism – for the Buddhist believes that there is no such thing as the self or the soul which exists in the first place (the doctrine of Annata). But Jesus is God incarnate, and he stresses the importance of our remaining in Him through obedience to his Word and participation in the Sacraments:
“Remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me” (John 15:4).
“Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love” (John 15:10).
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. As the living Father sent me and I draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will also draw life from me” (John 6:56-57).
The theologian, N.T. Wright, points out that Paul never uses the term “in Jesus” or “in the Lord” but the preposition ἐν is always combined with the word, Christ, as in ἐν Χριστῷ (in Christ) – Christ meaning the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Son of David whose coming had been predicted.
A shoot will spring from the stock of Jesse,
a new shoot will grow from his roots.
On him will rest the spirit of Yahweh,
the spirit of wisdom and insight,
the spirit of counsel and power,
the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:1-3).
This Messiah will be not only for the Jews, but for the world.
… according to Psalms 2 and 72 (the former of which in particular is enormously important in early Christianity), and passages like Isaiah 11 (also quoted by Paul), when Israel’s Messiah arrives he will be the rightful lord not only of Israel but of the whole world. So Paul did not have to abandon his Jewish heritage in order to have a message for the world; he only had to stand at that point in the Jewish heritage which says, ‘From this vantage point all nations are called to obedience to Israel’s God, and to his Messiah.’ That was precisely Paul’s stance. (N.T. Wright)
That is why in today’s First Reading from Isaiah 49, we have God saying,
‘It is not enough for you to be my servant,
to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel;
I will make you the light of the nations
so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’
The Messiah brings a new way of relationship between God and man.
One of the chief significances which this word [Christ] then carries is incorporative, that is, it refers to the Messiah as the one in whom the people of God are summed up, so that they can be referred to as being ‘in’ him, as coming or growing ‘into’ him, and so forth. (N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology)
The mystical body of Christ into which we are incorporated gives endless food for reflection – our incorporation into Christ through Baptism, our incorporation into His mission, and our incorporation into each other through Him. If only we could ‘remain in Christ’ more faithfully, how much more fruitful our parish life would be, and what a sign we would be for the world! This is why it’s so important to be drawn into a personal relationship with Christ, allowing Him to lead us deeper into Himself.
Some more verses for reflection on this topic:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22)
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)
You are the children of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus, since every one of you that has been baptised has been clothed in Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave nor freeman, there can be neither male nor female – for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26-28).
Just as each of us has various parts in one body, and the parts do not all have the same function: in the same way, all of us, though there are so many of us, make up one body in Christ, and as different parts we are all joined to one another (Romans 12:4-5)
In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist has been flung into prison, because he has dared to say that King Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife is adulterous. Persecution has a way of throwing one’s mind into turmoil and confusion. It’s reassuring to know that even a person as courageous and committed to his mission as John, is now attacked by doubts about whether he has interpreted his task correctly – or indeed whether Jesus has interpreted his task correctly! He sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect someone else?”
This makes us wonder: what was the nature of the long-awaited Messiah that the Jews were expecting? Was it a King who would bring about the restoration of Israel and liberation from the Roman occupation, or were they expecting God Himself to arrive – or was it a bit of both?
We know that swirling through the air of first century Judaism was a fever of expectation. That is why ‘all of Judaea’ (Mt 3:5) had been so willing to go out to the desert to see John the Baptist and prepare the way of the Lord. What made the Jews so convinced about the timing of the coming of the Messiah?
According to the prophecy in the book of Daniel, the kingdom that would be ushered in by the Messiah – the Anointed One – would arrive in the midst of the fourth empire after the Babylonian deportation. In Daniel’s prophecy the empires are represented by the parts of a statue.
The head of this statue was of fine gold, its chest and arms were of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet part iron, part clay. While you were gazing, a stone broke away, untouched by any hand, and struck the statue, struck its feet of iron and clay and shattered them. Then, iron and clay, bronze, silver and gold, all broke into pieces as fine as chaff on the threshing-floor in summer … and the stone that struck the statue grew into a great mountain, filling the whole world. (Dan 2:31-36)
These four empires were, successively, golden-headed Babylon, silver-chested Medo-Persia, bronze-thighed Greece and finally, in 63 BC, with Pompey’s capture of Jerusalem, iron-legged Rome marched into the Middle East. And it is into the Roman Empire that Christ comes, proclaiming the Kingdom. Yes, the Roman soldiers were clad in iron, but God has a way of using small stones to bring down giants, and the Jews remembered their history.
Not only that, but the Jews could even calculate the approximate time the Messiah was expected. This is why small communities of Jews such as the Essenes of Qumran had set themselves apart, purifying themselves to hasten the coming of the Messiah.
Daniel 9:25 prophesies:
Know this, then, and understand:
From the time there went out this message:
“Return and rebuild Jerusalem”
to the coming of an Anointed Prince, seven weeks and sixty-two weeks …
The message that the prophecy refers to, is the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. You can calculate the dates if you understand that the weeks are “weeks of years”, i.e. seven year periods. Then the seven weeks and sixty-two weeks add up to 69 weeks of years, i.e. 69 x 7 = 483 years. Jerusalem’s walls were restored by Nehemiah in about the fourth decade of the fifth century BC, “the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes” (Ne 2:1; 5:14). So, if we use the Babylonian method of reckoning years as 360 days, we arrive at the coming of the “Anointed Prince”, just about at the time of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in AD 28.
In this fever of expectation, we have John asking in today’s Gospel, “Are you the one who is to come?”
And Jesus says, “Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me” (Mt 11:4-5).
Jesus is saying, “Look at the evidence! Look at how I am not only doing miraculous things, but simultaneously fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 35!”
In fact if we read the chapters prior to this, Matthew has just spent the whole of chapters 8 and 9 preparing us for this point by describing a series of miracles that Jesus has performed:
|The blind see||Cure of the two blind men (Mt 9:27)|
|The lame walk||The centurion’s servant (Mt 8:7); The paralytic (Mt 9:2)|
|The lepers are cleansed||The man with the skin-disease (Mt 8:2)|
|The deaf hear||The dumb demoniac (Mt 9:32)|
|The dead are raised to life||Jairus’s daughter (Mt 9:24)|
The fact that these miracles occurred long ago, is no reason for them to be deemed unconvincing or just fables. Jesus’ miracles are well attested even by non-Christians such as Josephus, who said “For he was one who performed surprising deeds” (Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3 §63). Then there’s the Babylonian Talmud, (a Jewish text and therefore not pro-Christian), which described Jesus thus, “He is going to be stoned, because he practiced sorcery” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a). That is, he did things that are, humanly speaking, impossible.
If you’re interested in other ways Jesus fulfills prophecy, Taylor Marshall has come up with a comprehensive list in his book, The Crucified Rabbi. There’s a list here: prophecies-fulfilled-by-jesus-christ.
I realise now that I haven’t really answered my original question, which was about whether the expected Messiah was understood to be divine. In fact, he was, and if you want more on this, please read Brant Pitre’s, The Case for Jesus. (I have a copy of this and The Crucified Rabbi if any of you would like to borrow them.)
In this science-obsessed age, it’s a wonder that more people don’t bother to ‘go where the evidence leads’ where Jesus is concerned. Blessed indeed are those who do not find Him a cause of falling.
It’s such an encouragement to the faithful when we see young men willing to step up and give themselves to the priesthood. Last night I had the joy of attending the ordination to the diaconate of four young men from the Perth Archdiocese. Many of you will know Mariusz Grzech who has been serving at our ‘parent’ parish of St Andrew’s, Clarkson, for the past year (if you didn’t know, Yanchep was part of St Andrew’s parish from 1994 until about 2001). Ordained with him were Konrad Gagatek, Joseph Laundy and Tung Vu, whom you can read more about here. I thought that I’d share with you some photos from the Ordination Mass …
This first photo shows the Promise of the Elect, where the Deacons make various promises about their new role (discharging the office of Deacon with ‘humble charity’, proclaiming the faith in word and deed, remaining celibate, deepening their prayer lives – especially by praying the Liturgy of the Hours – and conforming their lives to the example of Christ).
The Deacons lie prostrate to receive the Lord’s blessing while our prayers fly to heaven in the soaring, otherworldly Litany of Supplication. (You can view this on the Record’s FB page.)
Next comes the Prayer of Ordination and the Laying on of Hands, where we bring to mind those first seven Deacons, appointed in similar fashion in Acts 6:1-7. This prayer has some beautiful words …
Send forth upon them, Lord, we pray,
the Holy Spirit,
that they may be strengthened
by the gift of your sevenfold grace …
May there abound in them every Gospel virtue
concern for the sick and poor,
the purity of innocence
and the observance of spiritual discipline.
(Excuse the blurriness of this photo, but my hands are not as steady as they used to be, I didn’t want to use a camera because of the shutter noise, and tablets are notoriously wobbly for still shots!)
The Deacons are vested by their nominated priests, assisted by their families, with the Diaconal Stole and Dalmatic. Here Mariusz is helped by Fr Conor Steadman and his brothers. If you’re interested in the history of church vestments there is quite a nice article here, with illustrations, which calls the Dalmatic a garment with ‘festive origins’.
The Deacons receive the Book of the Gospels from Archbishop Costelloe.
Receive the Gospel of Christ,
whose herald you have become.
Believe what you read,
Teach what you believe,
and practice what you teach.
… says it all, really.
Here the Archbishop makes his final address, where he conveys the Deacons’ messages of thanks to their families and all who have helped them get to this point.
This morning, it being the first Saturday of the month, I made the trip down to Clarkson and was pleased to be able to hear Mariusz’s first homily – which as a Deacon, he is now able to deliver. Appropriately enough, the Gospel was about asking the Lord of the harvest ‘to send labourers to the harvest’ (funny how God does that!) It also happened to be the memorial of St Francis Xavier, the most effective evangelist in history. So Mariusz’s homily was about St Francis Xavier, and also about our own role in mission – we don’t have to go overseas to go on mission – our mission field is Australia, our mission field is Perth, our mission field is our own Parish, our mission field is our family.
I must say I was pleased to hear it, as this blog is part of what I see as my mission … to whoever might read it. For example, what I write here is shared to my profiles on various social media platforms, one of them being LinkedIn. Now LinkedIn connects me with all my contacts in my capacity as Company Director. And LinkedIn is telling me that 30 of my business associates read my entry for last week, the First Sunday of Advent (and that’s not including FB or other platforms). I find this quite extraordinary – I have no idea who they are, but those people are quietly discovering the way prayer makes a difference in my life – and the Holy Spirit is waiting to invade, with his powerful presence, the lives of any of them who might be open to Him. Only this week, I discovered an extraordinary coincidence between a prayer uttered fourteen years ago, and the results now bearing fruit (but I will have to save that story for another time.) It’s a shame that many people are afraid to talk about their faith today (because we receive so much ridicule from secularists), but if we don’t toughen up and become unafraid to admit to following Christ, how will other people hear the kerygma – the message of the Gospel and the gift of eternal life?
Almost forgot … here is the Mass leaflet for today.
Pdf format: year-a-advent-2nd-sunday-2016
Last week I said I would talk more about how God speaks to us. This is one of the fascinating aspects of Christianity, because it is primarily in Christianity (and to some extent Judaism) that God presents Himself to us as a loving Father, who pays us the unexpected compliment of desiring communion with us, his children.
Once, we dive into Christianity with minds and hearts obedient and open to receiving, then God can start having a conversation with us. ‘Conversation’ is my word of choice, because it conveys better the trust and openness required for spiritual progress. Prayer is much more than petitioning for things. That conflicted genius, Oscar Wilde, once said: “Prayer must never be answered: if it is, it ceases to be prayer and becomes correspondence.” No doubt this facetiousness was Wilde enjoying the sound of his own voice. For my part, prayer actually is largely correspondence: I like to write down my prayers, often in front of The Blessed Sacrament, and re-read them a year later to see how God has directed me. As I get older, I am increasingly on the receiving end of an impression that God is steering me almost despite myself. Perhaps Wilde was alluding to the fact that prayer is not an activity directed at someone who is an equal, but rather someone infinitely higher than ourselves, whose ways are not our ways.
Often God’s promptings come in the form of a ‘still, small voice’. I’m not talking about the usual stream of consciousness that we all experience as a background to our thoughts; neither am I talking about a voice that seems to come from some other, as in schizophrenia, but rather an inner suggestion which comes with a certain insistence and often makes me respond, in turn, ‘Oh, that’s just ridiculous!’ to, eventually, ‘Well, if you think that’s possible, maybe I should try it and see where it leads.’
It is this ongoing conversation with a loving Father that helps me navigate through my day. Sometimes He answers my prayers before they’ve even arrived fully formed on my lips. Yet when the answers come, I am struck by how appropriate they are to what I might have prayed if only I had got around to it. Just this week, by way of a small example, I have been thinking about my misgivings concerning a study we are about to do at Bible Study on Prayer and Prosperity, and God has answered my concerns with a randomly selected podcast from John Bergsma on “The Upside-Down Kingdom”.
Another incident this week seemed a clear example of a ‘steering’. On Friday, I went to Adoration at St Andrew’s Church as usual between 3 and 4 p.m. I was all set to leave, but everyone else had made off and I was the only one left. Fortunately I wasn’t in a hurry – I had had some space freed up by what I thought was my decision (and now believe was a prompting from God) on the previous day to take advantage of a free offer and do my shopping online. Just as well I stayed, for suddenly the church was invaded by a riot of St Vincent de Paul workers, unloading 43 newly-packed Christmas hampers for the needy. I’m sure they were doing the Lord’s work, but they were completely oblivious to the presence of Christ exposed on the altar, and chattered in loud voices as they debated whether they should store the hampers in this corner or over there, with one woman even wanting to walk across the sanctuary. Suddenly, I felt as if Jesus (on the altar) and I were two people in possession of a secret: and the secret was that the Lord of the Universe was physically present in the room and no-one knew it! It was as if the Queen of England had arrived incognito to dinner, and everyone at the table thought she was the woman brought in to do the washing up. Strangely, this experience gave me a heightened awareness of Jesus’ real presence in the Monstrance, perhaps in the same way that one becomes even more convinced of the Divinity of Christ when a stupid or thoughtless person uses His name with great disrespect. I spent the rest of my time at Adoration just enjoying the Companionship of the Holy One and not leaving him alone and disregarded on the altar.
Then there’s the sort of prayer that is ‘asking for stuff’. Well, God is such a loving and trustworthy Father that he will not give us anything that isn’t good for us (unless, paradoxically, he wants to teach us that it’s not good for us). (He has done this a few times in my life! Ouch!) Very often, God doesn’t give us what we ask for straight away. Often we get an answer only after quite a journey of improvement. This is one of the reasons I like praying to ‘Our Lady, Undoer of Knots’. She helps us undo one snag at a time. I had quite a dramatic demonstration of this when I was praying for reconciliation in the family of a Christian couple I know whose son was refusing to talk to them. Now, the father was actually someone who had divorced and remarried (something the Lord clearly calls adultery). Anyway, when I took this situation to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, the first thing that happened (in the same week!) was that the father’s first wife died suddenly. It seemed to me that what God was saying to him was, ‘Your adulterous situation is blocking your prayers for reconciliation. Perhaps now you can have another look at what you did, and first come to me with a repentant heart before you pray about your son.’ Interestingly, it was at the first wife’s funeral that the opportunity arose for this family to resume some conversation with each other, and things have been moving along, knot by knot, ever since.
For a more dramatic example of God’s roundabout methods of answering prayer, let’s go back to Oscar Wilde. His poem E. tenebris was written in 1881, when he was only 27, long before his troubles and his trial.
Come down, O Christ, and help me! reach thy hand
For I am drowning in a stormier sea
Than Simon on thy lake of Galilee:
The wineof life is spilt upon the sand,
My heart is as some famine-murdered land
Whence all good things have perished utterly,
And well I know my soul in Hell must lie
If I this night before God’s throne should stand.
‘He sleeps perchance, or rideth to the chase,
Like Baal, when his prophets howled that name
From morn to noon on Carmel’s smitten height.’
Nay, peace, I shall behold before the night,
The feet of brass, the robe more white than flame,
The wounded hands, the weary human face.
Sure enough, if this was a prayer, God took Wilde seriously, and after a tortuous journey involving his trial, imprisonment, exile in France, impoverishment and finally being struck down with meningitis, Wilde came back 19 years later to the faith he had toyed with throughout his life. In the words of the Passionist priest, Father Cuthbert Dunne, who attended him on his deathbed,
As the voiture rolled through the dark streets that wintry night, the sad story of Oscar Wilde was in part repeated to me… Robert Ross knelt by the bedside, assisting me as best he could while I administered conditional baptism, and afterwards answering the responses while I gave Extreme Unction to the prostrate man and recited the prayers for the dying. As the man was in a semi-comatose condition, I did not venture to administer the Holy Viaticum; still I must add that he could be roused and was roused from this state in my presence. When roused, he gave signs of being inwardly conscious… Indeed I was fully satisfied that he understood me when told that I was about to receive him into the Catholic Church and gave him the Last Sacraments… And when I repeated close to his ear the Holy Names, the Acts of Contrition, Faith, Hope and Charity, with acts of humble resignation to the Will of God, he tried all through to say the words after me. (Wikipedia)
How wonderful are the words of Isaiah in today’s first reading, for approaching prayer according to the heart of God:
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the Temple of the God of Jacob
that he may teach us his ways
so that we may walk in his paths …
Please bring a plate for tonight as we farewell Sophie Bird after Mass! Sophie is moving to Launceston to join the rest of her family now that she has finished her Year 12 exams. Sophie and her family have made a wonderful contribution to our local church through their many years of altar serving and helping with preparation for Mass. Thank you, Sophie, for all your years of service – we will miss you!
But while God takes away, He also gives back in plenty! So today we unexpectedly welcome nine new members: young men from East Timor on the Pacific Nations Seasonal Workers’ Program. Bem-vindos! Gil, Thomas and the team will be working at Jason Neave’s farm in Carabooda for the next six months. Please give them your hospitality to make their stay here easier!
This brings me to the theme of this Sunday’s readings: the Parable of the Talents. The more we share our faith (invest our talents), the more our faith grows (talents at compound interest)! Awful warning: if we keep our faith to ourselves, we are likely to lose it! Similarly, the more we share God’s Divine Mercy, the more we are likely to receive it with interest. And so on. Listen to Fr Robert Barron’s explanation here:
Today’s readings can be downloaded here:
Word format:Year A 33rd Sunday
Pdf format: Year A 33rd Sunday
For a scripture study on the readings, Michael Barber does a great job here.
The Solemnities of All Saints (1 Nov) and All Souls (2 Nov) are particularly poignant to me this year.
I lost my husband to cancer in March, and I remember thinking, as I said goodbye to his body, that Chemistry and Biology could only go a certain way to explaining what had happened. The essence of Bill, his irrepressible cheerfulness and zest for life, his forgetfulness of self, his ridiculous jokes, his kindness and generosity, the way he would give a chirpy greeting to everyone he passed – in short, those elements which made up his transcendent soul – had moved on, and all that was left behind was merely a shell.
As Fr Barron says in his homily,
We are more than our bodies, more than our memories, more than our imagination, more than our senses. There is a mysterious spiritual capacity within us. That’s what the church calls the soul.
Fr Barron also has a beautiful take on All Saints’ Day here:
The takeaway message is that once you surrender your life to Christ, you find your deepest self. The saints are those people who have surrendered their lives to God so completely, that they have lit up the world around them with God’s love. Yes, the saints are heroes and role models but they are also still alive, and they are our spiritual friends – and we can ask them to pray for us and act on our behalf (think of St Therese of Lisieux – ‘I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth.’)
Here are this Sunday’s readings for Australia.
Word format: All Souls Day Year A
Pdf format: All Souls Day Year A
Don’t forget Fr Augustine will join with other Northern suburbs’ priests to celebrate Mass for All Souls at the Chapel at Pinnaroo Memorial Park, Whitfords Avenue on 2 November at 2.30 p.m. We particularly remember our former parishioner, Veronica (Ronnie) Spratling, who died on 29 October in Victoria. Our condolences to all the Spratling family.
I have also written a list of deceased members of our parish in the intentions section of the Newsletter. If I have left anyone out, please email me and I will add them to our November list.