Sep 16, 2017

When it doesn't add up

You might remember the 1993 movie Schindler's List, based on in the life of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman. He was credited with saving the lives of more than one thousand, mostly Jewish refugees, from execution by the Nazis towards the end of World War Two. There are many haunting scenes of human brutality difficult to understand, or even stomach. One scene, in particular, I think is pertinent to the Gospel today.

On the balcony overlooking a concentration camp, Schindler is depicted in conversation with a drunken SS officer by the name of Amon Göth.  Historical records detail that Göth personally murdered prisoners on a daily basis, many for little or no reason. He shot people from his balcony if they even appeared to him to be working too slow under forced labor.  There is even a report that he shot and killed a Jewish cook, there and then, because she served him soup that was too hot.

Oskar Schindler, in an attempt to reach the the Nazi officer’s conscience says to him, “Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don't.” The officer replies, surprised, “You think that's power?  Schindler continues, describing a scenario, very much like that of Christ’s in today's Gospel. He tells him, “A man steals something, he's brought in before the Emperor, he throws himself down on the ground. He begs for his life, he knows he's going to die. And the Emperor... pardons him. This worthless man, he lets him go.” The Nazi officer responds, “I think you are drunk.” But, Schindler responds, “That's power, That is power.” According to the rules, you deserve punishment. But the judge, even with all his power to inflict punishment says, “I forgive you”. Was Schindler able to reach the Nazi’s conscience?

Soon afterwards, we are shown the officer reprimanding a young Jewish boy for not cleaning his bath tub perfectly. Fearing immediate punishment, the young boy looks down at the floor preparing for the worst. But then the Nazi officer, with a rehearsed wave of his hand, imitating a king, says, “I pardon you”. The boy is dismissed and, taking his leave, briskly walks out of the building with a hidden relief.

Inside, the officer looks at himself in the mirror and repeats to himself his rehearsed gesture of pardon. But he senses that he is not really being himself - it was only a performance. So he immediately goes out to his balcony, looks down at the young boy walking briskly and unsuspectingly across the courtyard. He takes up his rifle, and after a couple of warning shots, which freezes the young boy in his tracks, the Nazi officer takes aim and shots the lad dead, in the back of the head.

I know it’s a graphic picture, and it, not doubt, provokes much emotions. But this would have been the same kind of reaction Christ himself would have stirred up after telling the story we hear in the Gospel of the unforgiving servant. Those who listened to Him knew very well, even first hand, the abuse of power and position of those who were over them - not only from their Roman masters, but also from local politicians, government officials, the rich and influential under whom many of them might have worked for and at times abused by their employers. But what is Christ trying to tell us, show us in this parable?

Of course, we are assured that God always takes the side of the innocent. God is intolerant of any unjust aggressor, anyone who abuses their power or influence. After the war, the Nazi officer depicted above was later captured, made to stand trial for crimes of torture and countless murders. He was executed, his body cremated and his ashes dumped into a river. He will also stand trial before God who alone has the power to make the final and eternal judgement as to a criminal's immortal soul.

But just when we start licking our lips in satisfaction when we perceive that justice has been done, Christ looks at me and you and solemnly declares, “so will by heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you [that means everyone, no exception] forgives your brother from your heart”.  Christ goes on to tell us, and in fact asks us to make our own the words of what we call the Lord’s Prayer - “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.

Saying I “forgive you”, “I pardon you” are only words in themselves. We can say them, utter them ceremoniously. But often, it is not really forgiveness.  When we want others to know they are forgiven, we often risk doing so, so that they will not forget they have been forgiven. We are tempted to remind them, again and again that they are forgiven - “I forgive you, and don't you forget that!”  That is not forgiveness - that is control. It is an abuse of power.  Forgiveness has to come from the heart!

I know, and you know, this is extremely difficult. It is difficult, extremely so, especially when remembering a hurt, an offense or great personal injustice. It is so difficult to forgive from the heart because it risks opening up wounds we hoped may have been healed, and we are afraid reliving the pain, again and again and again.

When Peter asked Christ how many times must I forgive and Christ replies “not seventy times, but seventy-seven times”, Our Lord was in fact saying forgiveness has no expiration date. You can not wait it out. If you think you can, then what do you want to do next? Get even? That is God’s responsibility, not ours. As Christ's parable points out, it is He who settles accounts and balances the books, not us. So what are we to do if we can’t forgive from our heart?

Two things I can only suggest but we cannot attempt these without first asking God for his help.

First, (and there’s a bit of a twist here) follow Christ’s example from the cross.  After being brutally tortured beyond recognition and nailed up on the cross to slowly die a most painful and lingering death, Christ did not look at His abusers and say, “I forgive you”. He had neither the strength, physically or emotionally to do so - His heart would “naturally” not be in it. Instead, He said, “Father, forgive them!”  When we are too traumatised to even make sense, if that is possible, of our own suffering and pain, we must hand it over to our Father, and trust Him who is true justice and true mercy.

Second, and again this is naturally difficult and again we must ask God for His grace to do so - like Christ risen from the death and still bearing on this body the past wounds of His abuse and suffering, He does not want us to be defined by past sins - be they our own or others. He asks us come to Him and to let Him help us break free from allowing our past hurts and wounds to define us. Instead, He wants to remind us, not of our past - but our future with Him forever, where there will finally be no more suffering, no more pain, where every tear will be wiped away.  He offers us, hope. Hope, even in the darkest hour, keeps us alive. Persevere in hope!

May Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, whose tender heart was pierced through by the atrocities of humanity, and who never despaired, may she guide our fragile hearts and minds in the direction of true healing that flows from the justice and mercy of God, who alone balances the books, through Christ our Lord.

Sep 9, 2017

Away with the Birds!

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time:

It used to be that when we said, “A little bird told me…”, we were being discreet in how we opened up a conversation about a disappointment or some news you needed clarification about. For the most part, the “little bird” of the past has now grown teeth, dipped itself in blue war paint, and tweets! And if the little bird is angry, its tweeting can often sound like the squeals of flying reptiles from Jurassic Park!

The template for dialogue and reconciliation provided by Our Lord in the Gospel today comes, not from a tweet, but from the very mouth of God spoken clearly, patiently and carefully. He understands the emotions and dynamics of the human heart, our passions and our temptations. As such, especially for all Christians, Christ has provided a model to follow. Failure to follow it step by step, often results in needless conflict, angry exchanges, hardening of hearts, broken marriages, family fluids and even divisions within the very Church community and nation itself.

Christ reminds us that we can not hide from our social obligations to keep each other accountable to the patient love and mercy of God. Compassion and forgiveness does not mean that we tolerate or paper over the social and personal consequences of sin. We can not avoid taking up the cross if we are to follow Christ.

However, the weight of the cross that we must bear and often encounter, is not an ideological one. It’s real. It’s personal. We encounter its roughness, its splinters and its weight, not only in our own weaknesses, but we also visit it daily in people we meet.

Our Lord intimately understands the passion of the human heart, how differences of opinion can sometimes grow into resentment, how our minds work to further particular causes and ideals which are near and dear to us, and how we will often naturally react amidst disagreements and perceived threats.  It is sometimes easier to provide a plan of action to engage an incoming hurricane or even a battle with sickness, than it is to approach a loved one or even a stranger who are themselves creating havoc in their own lives or even in yours!

The Gospel message of Christ gives us a clear outline to approach this often difficult situation. It would do us well to revisit these Scriptural rules of engagement again and again and apply them constantly in our lives. We should remember, this is Christ’s approach to us and we must receive him should he himself knock at our door disguised as a friend or a stranger.

1. “Go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” It takes courage and humility to look encounter another person. Courage, because it's easier to hid behind a tweet, an email or a text message. Humility, because, face to face, I might have to hear something I don’t want to hear or afraid of getting myself involved. Face to face, I might have to admit my own guilt. Maybe I got the wrong end of the stick or that the perceived bark from a dog was instead a lick in the face from a puppy who meant no harm!

2. If there is a need to follow through, our Lord reminds us to “take one or two others along with you, so that 'every fact may be established”. In other words, do you have good and trusted friends who will help you with a reality check. And that is the value of sacred friendships. Not someone who is a “yes man” and will agree with you to “keep the peace”. We all need true friends to help us see objectively, to prevent us going down the rabbit hole or seeing ghosts in every shadow.

3. Only after we have exhausted a one to one dialogue and only after we allowed ourselves good and honest counsel, Christ then goes on to say “If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.” That doesn't mean that we can wash our hands of responsibility to remedy an injustice simply because we wrote a letter to the pastor, the bishop or the pope. It does mean that we all must share the weight of each other’s cross addressing together a threat that, if not addressed by the larger community of the Church, risks tearing apart our families, our communities and even our nation.

Sometimes, we find ourselves powerless against evil. Sometimes we know that there is literally nothing we can do with our own strength and resources. Even though it is easier to see the consequences of sin, division and disaster, it is often difficult to see the fruits of our own actions and good works inspired by God’s grace.

There will be plenty of camera crews capturing the drama and trauma of the hurricane season. There will, no doubt, be much pain and passion expressed after the storm. But I suspect, not too many from the national media will be reporting months from now about the countless individuals who are slowly and patiently building up their lives again in the aftermath and who are making great sacrifices to help others do likewise. Instead, when there are true glimpses of peace and justice in the world, be assured it will not first be announced on social media. How then will you know? God will tell you in the same way that he told Noah after the flood. A little bird will tell you - and it won’t be twitter! It will be the Holy Spirit.

May our Blessed Mother who stood in the midst of an angry crowd, who perceived so much injustice and who weathered the storm of the cross, comfort us with the faith she had in the victory of Christ and the Kingdom of God.

Sep 2, 2017

No More Selfies

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time:

The portion of Matthew’s gospel proclaimed to us last week assured us of our Lord’s care and protection of the Church - so much so he entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven to St. Peter with the authority of binding and loosening. We reflected on this ministry from the perspective of a key given to Peter’s office that can be used to open and close the doors of heaven. If we simply left it there as the end of the story, we risk seeing St. Peter gilded in coronation robes and seated on a throne - picture perfect, a photo worthy of a Facebook moment with a million “likes”.

However, it is as much dangerous to try to unlock the inner mind, the heart and the soul of any one person by the study of a photograph, a series of tweets or text messages as it is to lift one portion of Scripture out of its page, separating it from the complete narrative. The Bible was not “canonized” because of one single passage any more than a saint is because of one of their holy quotes or wise sayings. We are talking here about human lives, lived in the complexities of relationships, with God, family, friends and neighbors with the demands of the world around us in all of its blessings, challenges and complications.

Not only can we risk doing this to St. Peter, we also can at times do it to ourselves. We have all had our moments to walk on the red carpet. We all have also had our moments when we tripped and fell, looking around quickly hoping nobody saw us. When we try to save face too often our pride will get in the way. It takes a lot of strength and endurance trying to be a rock of strength and stability for everyone else. But when our strength gives up, or we fail, we can be particularly hard on ourselves, bitter or angry.

For this reason the Church asks us this week to reflect of both the Prophet Jeremiah and, of course, St. Peter. We see them, not in a hall of fame, but in their brokenness and vulnerability. The prophet Jeremiah, having been thrown into a prison pit because his wise and holy counsel was rejected, complains that he was set up - not by his enemies, but by God himself. He accuses God of "dumping" him. He is even mad at himself for agreeing. The same, no doubt for St. Peter. Having been entrusted with the keys of office to open and close the doors of heaven, he now offers his educated opinion but he is abruptly told by Christ he is out of line, to be quiet and fall in line behind. Just when he presumed he was trusted to sail his own ship, Christ takes over steering and sends St. Peter the fisherman to the rear of the boat.

Too often we can get so caught up in our 15 minutes of fame, that we can’t think or pray outside the box. We can often become so full of our own sense of importance, that we can easily become so closed minded and arrogant. So let us be courageous before God, acknowledging our weakness and vulnerabilities, in swallowing our pride and trusting in God’s plan and His power without wanting to always understand it.

That doesn't mean that we are like puppets on a string. Far from it, God will sometimes cut the strings from whatever puppet master we sometimes allow to control us. Yes, we will often fall flat on our face and at times find ourselves all tangled up. It will indeed be a cross. But with humble submission to the strength of God’s grace, that cross, in whatever way it may unfold in our lives, will not be the last word. Instead, cooperating with the grace of humility, God can use the cross in time to save me, raise me up and strengthen me in the vocation he has asked me to respond to. That I know, but I pray when the weight of the cross becomes too heavy to carry, that I will not think of myself as solid rock hardened in my own estimation, but clay in the hands of the God I have slowly learnt to trust more and more.

Aug 26, 2017

Opening and closing the tabernacle door

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

“I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."  Matthew 16:19

A few days ago, when visiting a retired and former pastor in San Diego, he showed me around his home. It is not unusual that when a priest doesn't live next door to the parish church, (he may even sometimes live a few miles away) he will have in his house a personal chapel with a tabernacle. There the Blessed Sacrament is reserved should there be an urgent need to bring Holy Communion to the someone who is gravely sick or dying.  In his home chapel, before he heads into the trenches of daily life, the priest can begin his morning, offering to God, the day before him. And when he returns home in the evening, from this sacred place, he can look back at his day with gratitude for all that the Lord has done. 

However, on this particular visit, the retired pastor pointed out a particular and intriguing feature on the door of the tabernacle in his home.  

The silversmith had depicted images of the twelve apostles.  Each one of them held an object that symbolized and summed up their life. Closest to the tabernacle door’s lock was a depiction of St. Peter holding the keys entrusted to him. Next was St. James predicting his own martyrdom by holding a sword, and followed by St. John with an eagle, reminding us how he wrote his gospel with the perspective of a heavenly angel. And so on, each apostle, starting with St. Peter - six of them depicted on the top of the tabernacle door, and six along the bottom.

But curiously, also engraved on the tabernacle door was an image of Judas. He was depicted with a noose around his broken neck. It was a haunting reminder of his betrayal of Christ - the fate of a traitor.

It is more common, even understandable for an artist, when he is working on devotional art depicting all the apostles, to swap out Judas with St. Matthias who eventually took his place. So why, I wondered to myself, had the silversmith who designed this particular tabernacle included a "fly in the ointment" on a most beautiful door behind which the presence of the Lord of Love and Mercy abides, and before which one might kneel down in prayer and adoration? 

As I reflected about this on the way home, I occurred to me that the image of St. Peter was right beside the lock on the door in which the key had been securely placed. Did we not hear in the Gospel today how Christ gave Peter the authority to open the door of heaven for those seeking salvation and to also lock it secure against those who would oppose God's grace and mercy. Who was furthest away from it? Of course, the image of Judas was furthest from the lock and key and rightly so. We are told he was also a thief!    

Although he was one of the twelve apostles who sat in the very presence of Christ himself and dined at his table, Judas chose the darkest corner of the room. Rather than opening up the rich treasure of the abundance of Christ’s healing mercy, Judas fed only himself, he licked his own wounds, he drank own tears. He reminds us, warns us, that we too can sit in the front pew, can kneel before God in adoration but without ever wanting to open the door to the tender Heart of Christ, even when the key to the lock is looking straight at us. Sometimes, we can feel we are at the bottom of a whole pecking order of apostles and disciples and rather than painstakingly going up the chain of command, in our hunger we feel like crying out in the words of the Entrance Antiphon: "Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I cry to you all the day long" (Ps.85:1-3) or in our own plight we might shout out loud, “If anyone up there has a key and knows how to use it, please open the door!”

That’s where Peter comes in. He once dared to walk on water to get closer to Christ but sank like a rock when he became afraid. Today we hear how he dares to bring to light the secret identity of the Lord for the sake of a world hungry for salvation. And for his daring faith he is given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. But typical of the saint, he sometimes will fumble with the key and other times forgets he has it in his pocket. But he will never loose it, for Christ himself trusts Peter the fisherman with this sacred key giving him the authority and the permission to use it to open up and to lock down when necessary.

And Peter’s ministry of holder of the keys of heaven continues, as it has for nearly two thousand years, down to the present day, through a continuous succession of popes. For this reason, we always pray in union with the pope and for his continued health and strength of faith.

Like the popes before him in their own private chapel, every morning and evening, you can be assured that Pope Francis kneels in prayer and adoration before the tabernacle of the Most High. Whether the key is in the tabernacle or in his pocket, regardless if the door is open or closed, Francis, like Peter is always the one closest to the lock. Let us pray that he will never be afraid to use the key the Lord has entrusted him to secure, for the salvation of all peoples, the rich abundant treasure of Christ’s healing mercy and enduring love.  

Aug 19, 2017

A Protester Crosses the Line

The First Reading from Isaiah 56:1,6-7 reminds us that God says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

A house is not collection of different compartments stacked up together under a common roof. That would better describe a prison! A house is instead made up of a front door, rooms, intimately connected to each other by doors and corridors with common living places. Try not to think too much about your own house. Sometimes, we get to redesign it according to our own tastes. We are very good at marking our own territory, putting us fences, walls or property markers. Not so with the House of God. Instead, the house God is talking about is “His” house, not mine nor yours. God invites all nations of every culture and race into His House.

God also describes His house as a “house of prayer”. Our catechism describes prayer as the raising up of our hearts and minds to God, not from pride, but from a humble and contrite heart (CCC 2559). From within this House of All Nations we pray to a common God we dare to call “Father”. That means all of us, from every tribe, tongue and nation, are His sons and daughters. What does that imply about our relationship to each other?  We are brothers and sisters, regardless of when or where we were born. Every man, woman, child, born into this world or waiting to see the light of day - we are all made in His image and likeness  - a human dignity that can never be erased from the core of our being.  We all take after our common Father.

In the same way God calls His house a “House of Prayer for all nations”, there is no qualification for what constitutes a nation or who qualifies as nationals. Does God require nations to be first recognised by the UN or nationals to hold valid passports and legal papers to be admitted into His House of Prayer. Of course not!  

Of course, we can think of His house as the Church throughout the world, transcending all national and cultural identities and races. But the House of God is not some vague symbolic biblical image or metaphor. It is real, tangible - dare I say it is a physical reality here in our midst. It is our Local Church, our parish church, our domestic church, our family. It is found in our neighborhoods, barrios, in the shantytown, in the suburbs, downtown, in countryside - wherever two or three are gathered in His Name, whether we know each other's name or not. We describe our Church, our sacred faith, ourselves simply as “Catholic”, universal, all embracing, applicable to everyone and everything. Nowhere in our Catechism is found the term “real” Catholics, “orthodox” Catholics, “traditional” Catholics, “progressive” or “liberal” Catholics. (Interestingly, you will not find the term “Roman Catholic” in our Catechism or Code of Canon Law!)

We are simply Catholic because God calls all humanity into His House - where is room for everyone. We have therefore a God-given duty and responsibility to make sure that there is in fact room for everyone, as the Sunday psalm reminds us “So may your your way be known upon earth; among all nations, your salvation” (Psalm 67)

This is why St. Paul in the second reading (Romans 11) shows off the Gentiles to his Jewish brothers and sisters. He loves his own culture and race so much that he is in pain when he sees them unnecessarily cutting themselves off, compartmentalizing themselves from the mercy and greatness of God’s all embracing love for every people.

This is also why Our Lord Himself, after being persecuted and ganged up by groups of fundamentalistic pharisees and religious lawyers, whom He protested against, berated and scolded for their intolerance and close mindedness, left His own homeland and travelled on foot a hundred miles north crossing into a foreign land - the region of Tyre and Sidon. He did so, not as some wandering preacher or travelling healer. By bringing healing to the daughter of the Canaanite woman, He boldly proclaimed, even in the face of the rigid opinions and xenophobia of His own disciples, that God’s kingdom was being opened up to everyone.

It is remarkable, to say the least, that the Canaanite woman was not content to simply pray and wait to be included within God’s justice and Kingdom in some sort of future, apocalyptic scenario that she would never live to see. She had mouths to feed and children to care for in real time. Christ was so impressed that “this foreigner” (c.f. Matthew 8:10) dared to hold God accountable to His promises in the here and now, that she immediately demanded the necessary grace so that she might actively engage in the building up of the Kingdom of God on earth -  “O woman, Great is your faith”.

When God told the Old Testament prophet Isaiah that His house will be a be “called a house of prayer for all peoples” and the Psalmist calls out “O God, let all the nations praise you”, we are not now dealing with a future vision nor hypotheticals. Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God, has already opened up the front door to all by proclaiming “the Gospel of the Kingdom and curing every disease among the people” (c.f Alleluia verse).

If we are anything like Christ’s disciples we read about in this Sunday Gospel who want Him to cast aside the annoying protester because they cry out in need of God’s healing justice, be assured we will be shamefaced by God himself - but hopefully, as St Paul prays in the Second Reading (Roman 11;13-15, 29-32) it will provoke us to our own conversion to seek God’s mercy and the salvation He offers equally to every person whoever or wherever they are.

Aug 15, 2017

Keeping It All Together on August 15th

We have reached the climax of the summer. After the spring rains, now everything is in full bloom. Our garden has reached its fullness.  In a manner of speaking, creation has reached it's final and most beautiful expression. The sun is radiant, the sky is blue, the cool breeze from the ocean, the vibrant colors of the land. Even the fields, the crops, the produce of the earth stands ready to be taken up in a harvest. This is why, a summer vacation is perfect right now! We are given a glimpse, through the lens of our Christian faith, of heaven on earth - a hint of paradise!  If only we could press the pause button!

Unfortunately, we know, that because of human greed - the sin of our first parents Adam and Eve that has been passed on and affects everything, what is beautiful will eventually take a fall - literally a season of fall, the autumn - a slow decaying of nature before the death of winter. The sun will slowly weaken, nature’s growth will slow down, even stop, the produce of the earth will feel exhausted, it will need to rest, even sleep.

Is this not the story and cycle of our own lives too.  After the enjoyment of summer, vacation time and the holidays, there is a certain dread that soon it will heads down and back to work, back to school, back into the daily grind. And then, we have to plough through the rest of the year, sacrificing our time and efforts, enduring darker mornings and longer nights, so that we can reach summertime again, once more into the future. If only we could press the pause button!

As important as pictures and photos as reminders of the last days of summer are, God has given us a lasting image of his creation that will never fade.  It is a woman, clothed in the sun. She is not called Mother Earth, or Mother Nature. She has a name - Mother Mary. Of all of God's creation, she is the most perfect rose in God’s garden. A rose that is tender, beautiful, exact. Her stem is strong, her roots are deep, her leaves are crisp, her blossom is perfect, her fragrance is wonderful. This mystical rose radiates with the perfect grace of God. Mary is the Golden Rose that will never wilt, collapse, decay or experience the death of winter, for her immaculate body is full of grace.

This is why, on behalf of all humanity, she alone could respond perfectly to the gift of salvation offered by her eternal Son and Savior of the world. Her “yes” to salvation on our behalf resonated perfectly through every fiber of her body – that body perfectly in harmony with her soul is captured in the Gospel we have heard today. In her “Magnificat”, her song, Mary’s soul sings in joy through her body which is full of the breath of God.

We look to her to show us how to "get it together", how to "keep it together", body and soul.  When we give our bodies too much attention, we risk becoming empty castles that look strong and secure on the outside, but without an inner life.  When we give our minds too much to stimulation, we easily become addicted to fantasies, dreams and make-believe.  When we give our emotions and appetites too much attention, we easily become needy, frustrated, never content. When even when we even give our souls too much attention, we can easily become detached from the goodness and the gifts that God gives us in the ordinary events of everyday life.  

Our bodies and our souls were never meant to be separated, kept secret from each other. When our body is embarrassed by our soul, or vice versa - then we will surely die, not once, but many times.

So let us pray that our physical movements, our public expressions, our secret thoughts, our choices and all our actions will become, with God’s grace, more and more in harmony with Mary's example of Christian discipleship so that the final resting place for our bodies will not be the grave, but our eternal homeland of heaven. May this Holy Mass, where we are fed with the Eternal Body and Blood of Christ shape us more and more, body and soul, into the image and likeness of God’s heaven on earth, so to live with Him forever in a garden of paradise which will be real and lasting.  And that is our prayer. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, a world without end. Amen.

Aug 13, 2017

Grasping God

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the first reading from the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah was challenged with identifying which language from nature could be best used to describe something of the nature of God - the language of a tornado, an earthquake, a raging fire or a calm breeze? A “tiny whispering sound “announced” his mysterious presence. In the earliest days of the faith, the disciples used their common and limited language to describe what they perceived and knew of Christ.

The New Testament authors borrowed the Old Testament language describing God to describe Jesus. Only God could manipulate the properties of nature and in the language of the Gospel, Jesus of his own power, walks on water. Only God can halt a storm in an instant. And Jesus is described here as doing so at his own command. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is described with personal divine privileges, adjectives that were only used in the Old Testament to describe God.

And this is the problem we often encounter when we talk about God. Our human language - no words can describe with true satisfaction the nature of God. We give people names, parents name their children, we name countries and towns and streets and even pets! In doing so, we exercise a certain ownership over what or who we have named. But who is in a position to give a name to God? It is for this reason when Moses asked him what name he might call him, God did not allow himself to identified with a name in the same way as pagan gods were identified such as Zeus or Apollo. God simply said when asked who he was by name, replied “I AM who I AM”. Jesus also identifies himself as the “I Am” who existed before time began.

But because we do not naturally speak the language of heaven, our earthly human language always seeks describe it. And when we face the limitations of words, we naturally use other means of communication which is so characteristic of our Catholic culture. One of the many ways we communicate the sacred is through, for example, body language – reaching our hand into the Holy Water, making the sign of the cross, going down on one knee before the Presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle, joining our hands together like a arrow and pointing our prayer and attention upwards. The way one receives Holy Communion can also visibly communicate if one truly believes one receives the actual heavenly Body of Christ. How we dress, how we present ourselves to others communicates something.

When we look at Christ we see carefully reflected in his body the very the language of God, the Word of God made flesh. Stretched upon the cross God communicates through His Body sacrificial love - His hands that feed the multitudes and cured the sick are nailed to the cross, the feet that walked on water are bolted down on the wood. This is my Body, this is my Blood.

After the resurrection of Christ from the dead, Thomas would eventually stand back and declare, not his astonishment, but his faith in the body of Christ. Thomas recognised in that Risen Body both his Lord and his God. Thomas was moved to silence in the presence of God – a profound sense of respect and reverence for God, for between two people who are in love, the language of silence is never feared.

And, of course, the model of communicating reverence and respect for the sacredness of God is our Blessed Mother, Mary. The Month of August is dedicated to her Immaculate Heart. Her heart is communicated through her body. Her soul is communicated through her physical presence, her actions, her good works. Her ultimate Body language is the fruit of her womb, Jesus, the Word made Flesh. Let us pray that we will allow our soul's desire for union with God will be communicated authentically through our actions and do so, praying to the Holy Spirit to rekindle in our lives a renewed sense of reverence and respect for all that is sacred and holy.

When it doesn't add up

You might remember the 1993 movie Schindler's List , based on in the life of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman. He was credited...