Sunday, 16 September 2018

24th SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME

A QUESTION OF IDENTITY

In last Sunday’s Gospel Jesus instructed the deaf mute, whom He’d just cured, not to tell anyone about this miracle.  Although this was a sign of the dawning of the Messianic again Jesus realised that this news would lead to the nature of His mission being completely misunderstood.   Already people had begun to speculate about His identity as they heard Him preach with authority and saw Him cure the sick.   Some thought He was a threat to the established religion, others considered Him to be an upstart, while others were filled with wonder.          
So, with all this speculation, it’s not surprising that Jesus should ask His disciples what people made of Him.   Some, they said, thought He was John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the prophets, returned from the dead.  But then Jesus asked the disciples who they thought He was.   This question sought much more than a name or label, which even His enemies could have given.   Jesus wanted to know what He meant to them. What does He mean to you and me?  Peter replied that Jesus was the Christ –the Messiah.  That was a wonderful insight, which according to Matthew’s Gospel, must have been divinely revealed.     
Surprisingly, Jesus instructed Peter to keep this insight to himself.   Why?  Well, Jesus was about to explain to His disciples what being the Christ really meant.   He was to fulfil the role of Isaiah’s Servant of the Lord who would achieve God’s salvation through His suffering.     More precisely, Jesus told them that He would be rejected and executed, but would then rise from the dead.   That was not the kind of Messiah Peter wanted. So, out of misguided love for Jesus he tried to protect Him from the fate He had prophesied for Himself.   Peter had used the right title of ‘Christ’ with which Mark introduced his Gospel, but Peter completely misunderstood its true meaning, which would only become clear in the light of the resurrection.  In trying to protect Jesus from Himself He had become a real temptation, threatening His mission.   Jesus’ intimate friend, who had just rightly identified Him as the ‘Christ’ now became His most insidious enemy from within.   That’s why Jesus rebuke Peter with the harshest words in the Gospel: 
'Get behind me Satan! (or 'tempter').  Because the way you think is not God’s but man’s.’
Jesus then told the people and the disciples that if they wanted to be His followers they must renounce themselves, take up their crosses and follow Him. 
So, today’s Gospel starts by removing misunderstandings about Christ’s identity and mission, and concludes by defining our identity in relation to Jesus.  He asks each one of us, "Who do you think I am; what do I mean to you?” For each of us there’s the temptation to cast Him, and our relationship with Him, in a mould of our own designing.   It would be so much more comfortable for us to have a cosy undemanding relationship with Jesus, one which didn’t challenge our sense of values and the way we live.  But, like Peter, we must learn to accept and welcome Jesus on  His own terms.  Like Peter, we must allow Jesus to lead us to the glory of the resurrection, by way of the cross.   For Jesus, Peter and for us there’s no gain without pain.
Isidore O.P.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

23rd SUNDAY

Jesus Cures Deaf and Dumb Man 

My niece, Clare, was born profoundly deaf.   Her inability to hear meant that she couldn’t pick up the sound of people speaking to her.    She couldn’t imitate their speech and, so, learn to talk.  Her deafness resulted in her being dumb. Until the problem was diagnoses she was thought to be mentally retarded –mentally dumb.  And her deafness meant that she couldn’t enjoy the pleasures which we take for granted –music, the sound of birds.  Nor could she hear danger signals –smoke alarms, the sound of traffic, warning shouts.  That made her especially vulnerable.  Anyone who is going deaf finds it difficult to follow and join in conversations.  Deafness can easily result in feeling isolated.
All this was true of the deaf man in today’s Gospel, who had a serious speech impediment.  Though he was unable to hear Jesus and ask for help, he was fortunate in having friends who brought him to the Lord and sought His help.  Jesus responded with great compassion.  Taking the man aside where he wouldn’t be embarrassed, He used the physical gestures of touching his ears and tongue.  These the man could appreciate.
At the command, ‘Be open’ the deaf and dumb man was able to hear and speak fluently.   Now that he could listen and talk the whole quality of his life improved.   This damaged, isolated, man had been made whole.  He could enjoy a conversation.   No wonder people exclaimed of Jesus, ‘He does all things well.’   If that echoes God’s comment on his work of creation we can see here Jesus beginning to repair that creation. 
But Christ’s work of re-creation goes much further than making us physically whole.  The healing miracles point to how Jesus restores us spiritually.  And so, today’s Gospel cures tell us that Jesus heals our deafness to God’s word.  He opens our minds and hearts so that we can hear God’s word, listen to it and follow it.   If we are prepared to heed God we will find that he enriches our lives.   Jesus has come to give us the fullness of life.  
And hearing the word of God enables us to communicate it.  Firstly, with God himself in the dialogue of prayer.    And then with each other as we share our faith.   We will find that explaining our faith and listening to others will deepen our understanding and commitment.   Our lives will be enriched by this dialogue of faith.  
Jesus has come to heal our damaged lives –to make us physically and spiritually whole.   By healing the deaf and dumb He fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah and proclaims that the messianic age has dawned.   That work of healing will only be completed when we are raised to the glory of the resurrection.
Isidore O.P.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

22nd SUNDAY

INNER AND OUTER CLEANLINESS


‘Cleanliness is next to godliness,’ as the saying goes.   And as a matter of hygiene we were all taught to wash our hands before meals.   But the problem Jesus faced was that certain Pharisees equated ritual cleanliness with godliness.   Unless a person performed the detailed washings required by tradition he was considered ritually impure, and consequently displeasing to God.  For them, it was impossible for a Jew to have a good relationship while eating with ritually unwashed hands.  For Jesus, it was ridiculous to make eternal salvation depend on the ritualised cleansing of our hands and the pots and pans in which people cooked their food.  Such man-made traditions trivialised true religion and became so numerous that only religious experts could know and observe them.   As for ignorant non-observers, they were written off as unclean sinners, unfit for God’s presence.  So, it’s not surprising that certain Pharisees, who were seeking to catch Jesus out, protested when He failed to insist that His disciples washed their fingers before eating.  After all, Jesus was considered to be a man of God, even a prophet.  As such, He should have taught His disciples to observe the traditions relating to ritual washing.  
Let’s see what tradition demanded in washing before meals.   The water used had to be poured from special purification jars, otherwise it would be unclean.   The amount used must be sufficient to fill 1½ eggs, and this must first be poured over the finger tips and run up to the wrists. The palm was cleansed by rubbing the other fist into it.  Finally, water must be poured over the wrists and run down to the finger tips.  To omit the slightest detail in this elaborate procedure would render someone unclean in the sight of God.  No wonder Jesus was exasperated at such scrupulosity!

The Pharisees had got their priorities all wrong.  Instead of being obsessed by external ritual cleanliness they should concentrate on inner cleanliness of heart.  That was what was pleasing to God.  By this Jesus meant much more than not having a dirty mind.  We must be single minded in our commitment to God.  We can’t serve two masters.   We must not only do what is right, but must want only what is good and wholesome.Our minds and hearts must be set on God, and that must be expressed in the way we behave.  All this is summed up in the Beatitude, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart; they shall see God.’   This has nothing to do with ritual cleanliness.Certainly, we don’t share the Pharisees’ obsession with ritual cleanliness.  But we can become pre-occupied with the externals of religion, which in themselves may be good. Some of us may be obsessed with rubrical precision in the celebration of the liturgy.  But that doesn’t necessarily lead to devout worship. And it’s certainly not sufficient for us to be practising Catholics, who go through the motions of religion.  In spite of this, we may be filled with anger, bitterness and resentment. We may be unforgiving and lack compassion.  We may be more materialistic and self-centred than many people who profess no religion.If so, these faults contradict the life we profess.  People who respect us as practising Catholics would be shocked if they knew what we were really like –how we behave outside church, what we were thinking, and some of our desires.  This certainly doesn’t mean we should abandon our religious practices, but with God’s help, we must try to ensure that our lives are consistent with the faith we profess. Jesus is here urging purity of thought and desire, which will give rise to innocent Godly behaviour. Then, indeed, we will be pure in heart and will see God.  Fr. Mark Brocklehurst O.P. likened this inner purification to cleaning a window and so being able to see the beauty outside ourselves –God himself. 
Isidore O.P.

Monday, 20 August 2018

21st SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME


  'A Hard Saying'
Let’s face it –faith can be difficult!   We are asked to believe what the eye can’t, what is way beyond our wildest imagination.   In our scientific age most people want the solid proof of sound reason before they are prepared to accept something as being true.  To most people our Christian faith seems at best to be a beautiful and comforting fantasy, at worst a cruel deception, giving hope where there is no hope.

But it’s unreasonable to accept only what we can prove or have personally experienced.  In our daily lives we rely on others to tell us what they have been able to prove or what they have experienced.   We depend on their superior knowledge to extend our own limited knowledge and to deepen our understanding.

If we only accepted what we personally could prove our horizons would be very limited.

Faith does not depend on proof, but on our trusting someone we are convinced is reliable.   We believe he or she knows what he is talking about and won’t deceive us.   Because we trust that person we accept what he tells us.   The certainly of our belief depends on the reliability of the person who informs us.   Today we’ve become very sceptical about those who practise the devious arts of the spin-doctor and, more recently, ‘fake news’.  

Today’s Gospel gives us a good example of what faith is all about.   Many people, who found Christ’s teaching impossible to accept, left him.    When Jesus asked the disciples whether they, too, would leave him, Peter replied,  Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the message of eternal life, and we believe.  We know that you are the Christ, the Son of God’   Though Peter didn’t really understand Jesus he trusted him.  That trust enabled him to accept what he taught:   That he had come from above and therefore spoke with divine authority.   Jesus knew what he was talking about and was utterly trustworthy.  Peter further realised that if he abandoned Jesus he would be lost, he would have nowhere to go.  The same is true for us.

          We, too, believe Jesus has the message of eternal life.   He has revealed the depth of God’s love for us, opening up new possibilities, way beyond our wildest dreams.   We have been called to share God’s own life and happiness, which reaches beyond the grave.   To the rationalist sceptic this seems utter folly, a pipe dream.

But the extravagant folly of God’s love for us confounds the so-called wisdom of the hard headed rationalists of this world.

Having said this, don’t be surprised if you have doubts and questions.  What we are called to believe does go beyond the limits of reason, without contracting it.  If we are troubled by doubts, rather than give up, let us renew our trust in Jesus, who has shown us the way to eternal life and happiness.  With Peter, let us be convinced that without Jesus we would be lost.  We would have nowhere to go.
Isidore O.P.


Tuesday, 17 July 2018

16th SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME

RECREATE - RE-CREATE

 Today’s is Gospel especially appropriate for the holiday season.   As Jesus urges His disciples to come to a lonely place and relax when they returned from a preaching mission,   This incident reminds us that rest is a part of the rhythm of life.   We can’t be working all the time.   We need to recharge our batteries so that we have the mental and physical energy for our more serious activities. Recreation should be re-creation, which renews us.   So, taking a break is not a waste time.    We’re frequently told of Jesus seeking the peace, quiet and solitude of night to pray.  He, too, needed to recharge His batteries.
And there’s another side to our need to relax.   We need the opportunity to be with our loved ones, to listen and talk and simply to enjoy each other’s company.   What we call making ‘quality time’ for each other.   If we’re so busy doing things for each other that we have no time to be with each other there’s the danger love will grow cold and we will drift apart.  The same is true for our love for God.  We need to strike the balance between doing His work and relaxing in His company.  
Here’s a challenge for you -can you, as a family, relax or have a meal together without one of you having an unnecessary chat on your mobile with someone outside the room, or your simply idly surfing your mobile?  How about a prize for anyone who succeeds, a forfeit for failure?   I’m shocked by the appalling bad manners of those who show no interest in the people with whom they were physically present, but give their undivided attention to their mobiles.  Obviously, sometimes that is necessary; intrusions into the peace we would seek can’t always be avoided.
Like Jesus in today’s Gospel, we find that life doesn’t always work as we’d planned.  When He sought the restful solitude His disciples required the crowd tracked Him down and demanded His attention.   The same kind of thing happened when my brother, Dave, came to watch a cricket match with Pete and me.   Being a doctor, Dave had to leave the cricket and respond to a medical emergency.
The crowd recognised its need for Jesus, and so did He.  He realised they were like sheep without a shepherd.  They were vulnerable to attack and didn’t know where to find the nourishment of green pastures.  They needed the guidance and protection of the Good Shepherd.
And so do we.  Without Jesus we are lost, our lives lack direction and purpose.  We need His protection as we face the onslaught of temptation. We need Him to nourish us with His own Body and Blood and with His teaching.  The greatest mistake any of us can make is to think we can cope with life without Jesus.  In John’s Gospel we are told that the crowd deserted Jesus when they found His teaching too hard to take.  When Jesus asked Peter whether he, too, would go, he replied,  ‘To whom shall we go. You, Lord, have the word of eternal life.’   Peter realised he would be lost without Jesus.  And so would we. 
That includes both the times of work and of rest.  Never are we without the need of His  love and protection.  May the season of relaxation renew us in body mind and soul.  That includes strengthening our love for our family and friends, and for God.  Have a good holiday! 

Isidore O.P.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

13th SUNDAY of ORDINARY TIME


Christ’s Response to Two Desperate People

In today’s Gospel 2 incidents are inter-twined. These involve an official and a woman, both in need of Christ’s help.   While on the way to assist one, He’s interrupted by the other.   That’s very typical of life!    We start to carry out our plans and get diverted by someone making unexpected demands on us –the phone rings, your child has a fall and hurts himself.   We can either resent and ignore the interruption, or we can follow Christ’s example and use it as an opportunity for doing further good.   He made time to speak to the sick woman, rather than dismiss her, because he was too busy to attend to her needs.
Today’s Gospel is about 2 people in desperate need.   Both appeal to Jesus for help.  Their faith in him is remarkable, especially the official’s.   Even though his young daughter was on the point of death he believed Jesus could save her.  He showed amazing trust in Christ’s power over life and death!

Next there’s the woman who had been suffered from bleeding for 12 years.   Her ailment would have rendered her ritually unclean and excluded her from the community.  But so great was her faith in Jesus she believed that she would be cured simply by touching His garments, without her even having to ask Him to cure her.   Even though she was cured by touching His garments Jesus had time to stop and speak to her, and address her as ‘daughter.’    He always has time for each one of us.  He recognised the greatness of her faith in Him, which had led to His healing her.
We now come to the climax of this drama.   When Jesus reached the home of Jairus’ dying girl he was told that He was too late.  She had already died; the official mourners were already playing their instruments.  Dismissing them, He said that the girl slept and was not dead.  Naturally, that caused great derision because the girl was certainly dead, and Jesus seemed to be very insensitive to their grief.   But since Jesus intended to restore her life, after she’d been dead for only a short while, her condition was more like sleep than death.  In John’s Gospel Jesus uses the same language of Lazarus, who was already dead and buried.  But, knowing that He would soon restore both the girl and Lazarus to life, their deaths seemed more like sleep.  Taking the girl’s hand, He commanded her to get up, saying, “Little girl arise.”  In that simple gesture Jesus, the source of life, grasped death and was triumphant. That foreshadowed His own victory over death, through His crucifixion and resurrection.  As she walked about Jesus told her parents to give her something to eat.  That was the gesture Jesus would use to show He had truly risen from the dead.

Today’s Gospel shows us, firstly, that by curing the sick woman Jesus had come to heal us damaged people and give us the fullness of life, which would finally be achieved when we are raised to glory in the resurrection of the body.  This particular miraculous cure shows that He has come to break down the barriers which isolate people and enable them to join the community.
But in today’s Gospel Jesus proved that not only did He have power to cure the sick, but could even raise the girl to life.  He is master of life and death and will raise us bodily from the grave to share in the glory of His resurrection.
But we must share in the wonderful faith of the two people in today’s Gospel.  Against human logic they believed in Jesus and turned to Him.  One of them, Jairus, gives us a great example of the power of prayer for ourselves and for others, while the sick woman shows the importance of reaching out to Jesus, even when we can’t put our thoughts and longing into words.  Jesus will reward such faith with the fullness of life. 

Isidore O.P.
        

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

3rd LUMINOUS MYSTERY

PROCLAMATION OF THE KINGDOM 
AND REPENTANCE


The third Luminous Mystery of the Holy Rosary is the only one which doesn’t invite us to reflect on a particular event.  Instead, this Mystery embraces the whole of Jesus’ mission to Proclaim the Kingdom of God and Repentance.   That is the mission the risen Lord gave to the Church, just before He ascended to heaven.  That is the mission each of us Christians received at our baptisms.
  I must confess that this Mystery has a special appeal to me as a member of the Order of Preachers.  We Dominicans have been called to follow Jesus, the wandering preacher.   Mobility is an essential aspect of our life style. That means we can be moved from one house or country or another, according to where we are needed to preach the Gospel.
It strikes me that there’s a danger of the second part of this mystery, ‘Repent,’ being either over looked or under-played.   If so, the whole point of Christ’s preaching mission would be lost.  He proclaimed the Kingdom precisely so that it would touch our hearts and transform our lives.  This change in direction is what we mean by ‘Repentance’ or ‘Conversion.’  It’s not a-once-in-a-lifetime response to the Good News, but involves our constant renewal and rebirth.  That’s as necessary for the preacher as for those who hear him.  Without our response of repentance Christ’s preaching would not have changed anyone’s life 
I’m now 86 and confined to my room, when not to my bed.  For me the question is, ‘How can I continue to live this third Luminous Mystery of Proclaiming the Kingdom and Repentance?’   Certainly, I can and must meditate on Christ’s Gospel teaching and allow it to transform my life.  So, must every  Christian.   But my Dominican motto challenges me to go further –‘To hand on to others the fruits of contemplation.’   Thanks to modern technology I can still post sermons and meditations on Facebook.  I used to be able to record sermons in my room and email them to the W. Indies, where they were broadcast.   But thanks to the ravages of time I sound more and more like a corncrake or croaking bull frog and would not meet the required standards.   ‘Better to jump before I was pushed,’ thought I.  
Now that I can no longer be actively involved in public preaching I need to concentrate on a different way in which I could play an essential part in that apostolate, which fulfilled my vocation,   as a member of the Order of Preachers.  I must concentrate on getting  the ‘Divine Communicator,’ the Holy Spirit, involved both in the giving and receiving of the Good News.      After all, that is the example the New Testament gives us.  According to Luke’s Gospel that’s what Jesus did when He quoted the prophet Isaiah in His Mission Manifesto, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor.   He has sent me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,”  (Lk4. 18-19).   
Again, before Pentecost, the infant Church prayed for the gift of the Holy Spirit, who would enable it to proclaim the Good News with courage, zeal and eloquence.   That is still the Church’s mission, and always will be -until Jesus finally returns in glory to  claim His Kingdom.  The  Church will always need our prayerful support, asking the Spirit of Truth to assist both those who proclaim the Kingdom, and  those hear its call to repentance. 

That is still the Church’s mission, and always will be -until Jesus finally returns in glory to claim His Kingdom.  The  Church will always need our prayerful support, asking the Spirit of Truth to assist both those who proclaim the Kingdom, and  those hear its call to repentance.
When I was working in the W. Indies I was very aware of my need of our Dominican enclosed nuns back in England to pray for me as I tried to share the Good News; my parishioners needed their prayers to help them to be open to the Holy Spirit and allow him to transform their lives. But before we presume to tell anyone else how to live the Gospel each of us must begin with ourselves, by first hearing the word of God and doing it.
No matter what our age, strength or weakness or walk of life, each of us has a vital role in living the Third Luminous Mystery –‘THE PROCLAMATION OF THE KINGDOM AND REPENTANCE.’


Isidore O.P.

 
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