Nov 27, 2018

Closing Time


This week we come to the end of the Church’s calendar year.  As we get ready to begin again a step by step journey recalling how the world of ages past prepared itself for the birth of Christ, his life, death, and resurrection, now is a good opportunity to take a step back to discern if we have grown, matured in our lives as Christians, are my relationships better because of my faith in Christ?  Is my world, my friendships, my family, community or even nation a better place because I am a Christian?


If we don’t stop and honestly evaluate whether we have been resistant or able to cooperate with the flow of God’s grace in our lives, then we risk, as we get ready to begin a new year of grace, circling the same block again and again until we either run out of gas, or we get bored to death seeing the same signs and hearing the same messages again and again and again.


We hear in the Scriptures, especially today in the prayers and readings of this Mass, about an ‘everlasting kingdom’. An everlasting kingdom? You mean the same forever? No updates, no progress?  


An everlasting kingdom and way of life is not the language of a politician, an activist, a consumer or a citizen of this world. They constantly preach, tweet or campaign on change: change this, change that, change the law, change taxes, change the system, change the government, change the climate. But an ‘everlasting kingdom’?


How do I integrate something that is, by its nature forever stable and enduring and yet at the same time to live in a constantly changing world? Over these past few years, in particular, I’ve tried to wrestle with this. Again and again, I’ve brought to God in prayer, meditated on this theme, “An Everlasting Kingdom in an ever-changing world”.


(So, not this Tuesday, but the following Tuesday evening, December 11th over in the hall as part of our monthly Family Faith Evening, I would like to share with you, some reflections, some ideas and maybe a plan to help all of us, and our church community, especially leading up to the hectic time we all experience getting ready for Christmas and the holidays - a better way of managing our time, maybe even to slow time down a bit, and hopefully, with God’s grace, able to capture, unlock and hold onto something that is indeed, everlasting.)


For if we enter into the direction of a circle, it's easy to get caught in a repeating loop, like a dog chasing its tail or a goldfish in a bowl going round and round while thinking its swimming in a straight line. For if we don’t break free of this slavery, then I fear, we risk getting stuck on cruise control or autopilot, getting so used to circling the block that we don’t realize we might be on a downward spiral, bumper to bumper until we come to a dead stop.


In this Holy Eucharist, towards the end of the year, let us pray for the hope for a new direction in our lives that will lead us, with God’s grace, not to a longing of change in our lives so much as to a fulfillment of our heart’s desire for the security of a love that does not change and is truly everlasting, through Christ our Lord who live and reigns forever and ever and ever and ever and... "Amen"

Nov 24, 2018

Citizenship


Historians call it the "Pax Romana", a period of political peace and stability in the vast Roman Empire which lasted around two hundred years. It was generally thought to have begun thirty years before Christ was born and lasted around one hundred and fifty years after his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead.

And here at its heart, we can not fail to see the contradiction. Maybe the famous line from Shakespear's dark play Hamlet might capture it when a soldier says 'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark'.  This phrase has come to mean that political and moral corruption can be found at all levels, from top to bottom.

So how did the Roman Empire secure peace and stability? Yes, there was political stability, there was the relatively free movement of trade and commerce and the borders of the great Roman Empire were, for the most part, secure. This looks impressive from the global perspective, but what if we were to zoom into the "street view"? What would we find? Who would we find?

We would see an innocent baby born in Bethlehem, perceived as a threat to the local warlord - that he murders every baby boy within his reach.  We see a family, typical of many, forced to leave their home, to become immigrants and refugees to another because of death threats. We see religious fundamentalists trying to control the minds of their followers, political opportunists exploiting the fears of the community and the rich and the greedy exploiting the poor.  And in the midst of this, we see the Son of God, betrayed by his own people, cashed in by one of his followers, thrown to the dogs and demanded that he renounce his identity, all for the sake of peace and stability!

The Gospel we have just entered into highlights the long and often painful journey of humanity to establish a real peace.  For Christ, as it must be for all Christians, peace is not simply the absence of war, or the non-need to arm oneself. There can be no true and lasting peace without walking in harmony with God, the Father of Jesus Christ. And that harmony is not founded on treaties, political alliances, or the acceptance of ideologies for the simple sake of economic or cultural stability. It is the harmony of the body and the soul. For if it could be imagined that there would be no more the threat of gunfire or the sound of war, if there still remained, however, in one's heart hatred, resentment, and fear, then there is really no peace, only a rehearsed simulation.

Standing before the imperial Roman Governor, Christ asserts that he alone is the King of Peace, but His Kingdom is not of this world. Maybe better said – that his Kingdom is not of this world making – it’s not built according to human laws and manmade constitutions.  For that reason, when we look to the laws of the land to provide for us what only God’s law can establish, there will always be dissatisfaction and discontent; there will always be injustice and inequality.

Does this mean that we disregard and ignore the established order of things? No.  We are dual citizens - Citizens of heaven and of earth. But our citizenship of both these realms is not equal.  It is for us as citizens of this world to work towards, not simply a change in laws where it is necessary, but a change of heart as necessary, particularly an open heart to protect and shelter vulnerable human life – human lives vulnerable to abortion, vulnerable to ideological exploitation and experimentation, vulnerable to isolation and makebelieve realities.  It is also for us as citizens of this world to lend our voice and our hearts to the reforming of political structures and dialogue so that from the depths of our souls, we might better serve the needs of poor, the frightened, the stranger, the exploited and the abused.

Do we have a model government of a divinely inspired administration?  I would suggest we do.  As Christians, Christ has taught us to ask his Father, our Father, not simply“Thy Kingdom come”. But also "Thy will be done on earth AS it is done in heaven”.  

The model for us on earth is the model of the saints of heaven around the throne of the lamb of God, where there are no elections, but only the elect.  Where they stand before God, not as politicians or lawyers - but only as saints and martyrs. Where there are no committees, programs or political parties, but only powers, dominions and hosts of angels.  There are no legalities in heaven, only harmony - a harmony that comes, not from the security of structures or the imposition of laws, but from the unity and peace emanating from the merciful heart of Christ the King. That is why our prayer from the trenches does not come from our own choice of words, but from the King's command and formed by divine teaching we call out "Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth AS it is in heaven”.  

Nov 17, 2018

Paradise Lost


The recent fires in northern California have naturally focused our attention on how vulnerable we actually are in the world - a world that God has given us as His gift, a world He created and looked down and said, “It is good”. It is good because it belongs to Him. The natural world is good in itself. Fire is good itself. But when placed in an arena of combat it is not good for those caught in the ring of fire and our thoughts, prayers, and efforts towards healing and rebuilding where possible is one of our greater goods right now.

Of course, when a tragic event, be it natural or as a result of fallen human nature, is unleashed that shakes us, that disturbs our sense of peace, we often ask, “Why?” Why does God allow evil? Why does He seem to sit back and allow these events to unfold? Why does He not intervene?  

We might find ourselves wondering about this, not only when we survey a world wracked in violence and conflict, but we might also ponder on this natural question we might ask of God when faced with a personal loss, the death of a loved one, at the news of a sickness, at the breaking up of a relationship or even when one feels alone and abandoned. It seems to come back to that sense of fear of being vulnerable. It’s usually then that we are most susceptible to hurt, pain and suffering.  

The pain, the tragedy, the suffering, is like the blows of the sculptor's chisel against hard rock, chipping it away slowly, painfully.  But why this way?  It might be because God needs us, as His Son, to have tender hearts, hearts that can bleed, hearts that can experience pain, hearts that can love, hearts that can willingly make the sacrifice for others.  

For this reason, God takes upon Himself the tenderness of a human heart, a heart that knows, shares in, and experiences the joys and the suffering we are all susceptible to.  Through Christ, our God dines with us in our company, He cries with us in our pain, He suffers with us in sickness and in our fears, He shares in our anguish, even our anger, and frustration - not from a distance or the security of the heavens, but through every fiber of his body which is a part of ours.

But here is the “secret”.  If we persevere in this battlefield between light and darkness, hope and despair, we can share in His victory - the victory of the heart of God - the victory of love over those who are hardened by violence, hatred or anger.  We shall not become like them. We shall become like Christ, risen from the dead, Who even in His darkest hour on the cross still was able to love with a pure and tender heart.

Yes, we can live and exist without evil, and I wish and pray we did. But evil can never exist by itself - there will always be good, and it is that goodness that God has seeded in His creation and in our heart.  Goodness will always triumph on the last day. If that is our hope, then we can look forward to something new to grow out of the ashes when all seems ash and desolate.

A Senior Moment


In the first reading from the Old Testament, a poor widow is generous to a prophet beyond her means, with what little she has. She is rewarded. During the famine, she receives a miraculous supply of nourishment until the rains come to bring forth a harvest. 

In the New Testament, from St. Mark’s Gospel, Christ tells us also of a poor widow who is also generous beyond her means, giving so much to God from what little she has. She is likewise rewarded- by the words of God himself, commending her for offering the sacrifice of her whole life. 

This we should never forget. It is a reminder to us of the untold sacrifices of those who are elderly, the seniors, grandparents, those who have lived lives of untold, unsung sacrifices. I think, for example, of those who struggled through the Great Depression hardened by the determination to make the world a better one for the sake of their children and grandchildren. 

We should call to mind the elderly who live alone, sometimes even our neighbors often cut off from the world and meaningful relationships. Those too who feel isolated, who even feel themselves a burden to their families. We should never allow anyone to think that their lives are meaningless, that their sacrifices have little value.  

We owe so much to those who gave so much and often, in the sunset of their lives, are easily forgotten. But not by our Lord, who in the episode we hear about today, amid all the noise and excitement, the ritual and the commotion, he noticed one whom the world often ignored.  And his look was not one of pity, but of praise and admiration. 

Making a sacrifice for another, and more so when it is done in secret, even in the simple ordinary tasks of life and daily living, are within everyone’s grasp, from the youngest to the oldest.  But, how we are generous with our time and what we give of ourselves to others, if it is to have eternal value, must, first and foremost, come from a love of God. The poor but generous widow demonstrates this and because it was from her love of God, she got God’s attention and praise.

Our lesson here is that in our spiritual pursuits, as is often the case in many ways of life, it is best to start off small but with the simple intention to always and continually offer to God personal sacrifices. When by our good deeds and our generosity we are merely inconvenienced, when it doesn’t really cost something or even hurt a bit, then it is time to go out a bit further. That is sacrifice.  

Slowly, slowly, throughout our live, more and more we must build up our resolve to make bigger sacrifices, so that when it comes to our final hour, we will have all the strength to give God everything we have, even our last breath, to offer him our whole lives without holding back anything. Until then, let us gently, carefully and quietly move towards heaven, step by step. 

Nov 6, 2018

A question for you!




Mark 12: 28-34  The background of the Sunday Gospel was that Our Lord was having a heated discussion with a group of leaders. Whether he realized it or not, a young man was listening in to his conversation.

This young man, a scribe he was called, was impressed with what Jesus had to say. So impressed was he, that he could not remain silent. Whereas someone could have easily remarked on Our Lord’s debating skills or how he was able to beat up his opponents, instead he butted into the heated conversation, not to add fuel to the fire or attack one side or defend the other. He had just one question.  He sums up everything that was important - which of God’s commandments is the most important?

He knew what the sacred books texts said. But he needed Jesus to tell him, face to face. Our Lord is impressed and turns round to give this young man his full attention. This goes to show, that Christ will always spend time with us if we show a genuine interest in him and look to him for guidance and direction in life.

I suspect that our Lord was drawn into many heated exchanges with individuals who had their minds already made up and were simply trying to justify themselves in front of him, or trying to impress the Lord with their religiousness.

In this episode, we have someone, who humbly admits his ignorance and is not embarrassed to ask a “stupid question”. And how did the Lord respond to him? – with encouragement, by saying “You are not far from the Kingdom of God”.

With that one simple but sincere interruption by the young man, notice what happens to the argumentative crowd, “And no one dare to ask him any more questions?”

I wonder if they did not dare to ask the Lord any more questions because they now agreed with him and accepted his answers, or that the Lord was just too clever for them or, probably more likely, they were embarrassed into silence that a novice had shown them up by asking the most important question and receiving the most important answer.

What do we learn from this? It doesn’t take an expert to approach the Lord. Simply set your heart on him, safeguard your soul, think about him and be always kind in your words and your actions. It’s rather simple! And if you put your mind to it, loving God can be accomplished in every little thing you do, which is easier to do that the big heroic feats we often stumped at.

And in those ordinary God-centered events of our daily bread, then we might just be surprised to learn that the Kingdom of God very near to us indeed.

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Nov 1, 2018

Friends in High Places


Today’s solemn feast day of All Hallows or All Saints is celebrated every year with serious attention so that we do not forget what our life as Christians is about. It is all about salvation. We exist for one reason – to be ultimately joined to God in heaven.

The Christian believes in heaven. All who are in heaven already we call saints.  What makes a human being compatible with heaven is “holiness”. Holiness allows, not only able to approach God and see him face to face, but holiness also allows us to notice how the things of heaven are also very much alive and active in the world, but especially in the sacraments of the Church. In this building, we encounter the very person Jesus Christ to gathers all his disciples around him still, whether they be in heaven or on earth.  If we are to be numbered among them, we are called to be saints too – for where Christ is present, so too are the saints.

Saints are those who have reached home before us. They are our heavenly brothers and sisters, our extended family in heaven. When we look upon a picture of them and ask them to pray for us, we long to see what they now see – we ask them to show us whom their gaze is fixed upon.

While they walked this earth as members of the Church, they sought to be faithful to God and loyal to the Church, not simply in the big events of their lives. More importantly, they were as much authentic Christians when nobody was watching them when they were alone and away from the public eye.

And that’s the difference between sainthood and knighthood!  The Church bestows recognition of a certain person with the honor of being called a saint, not because they were champions and heroes and did great things.  The Church recognizes a Christian as a saint because, even in the secret of their lives, beyond the glimpse of spectators, these men and women led lives of authentic prayer, sacrifice, and devotion to God. For this reason, there are more saints in heaven whose names we do not know and whose life’s stories have and never will be told.  To be included, one day, in their company, is all we need to pray for.

To inspire us to be authentic Christian disciples, of course, we look to Mary (CCC 2679). To be united with her in prayer, as were the first disciples of her Son, we pray that with God’s grace, one day she will take us by the hand and lead us through the gates and into the very heart of heaven, and in the company of all the saints, to look upon the face of Jesus Christ, her Son, and our Lord and God.

Know you place

Knowing our place - Appreciating our vocation The Gospel we have listened to today asks us if we have faith in God? Do you have fait...