Oct 26, 2019

Idols


When our Blessed Lord prayed in public, people watched him.  Whether he prayed in the temple, synagogue or outside in the open air, there was, no doubt someone watching him closely. 

We know of a time when, as he was praying alone, his own disciples were watching him closely. And when he had finished, they said to him, “Lord, teach us how to pray”. And he did so, giving us the words of what we call the “Our Father”. “When you pray, say this.'' he instructed us. 

Of course, we say these words in prayer, but we also reflect on the meaning of the words and the relationship we have with our heavenly Father, being instrumental in bringing his kingdom forward, conforming our lives on earth to the standard of heaven, our need to be strengthened and purified by grace so that we can be conduits of his gift of peace, even in the battlefields of this world. 

Indeed, the disciple watches Christ at prayer, asked him to teach us to pray and he instructs us by way of his own Lord's Prayer. 

But Christ also watches us at prayer and pays careful attention to the words we choose and whether our minds and hearts are one with our own body and soul. For that reason he shares with us through the Gospel (Luke 18:9-14), the image of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying together in the temple. 

The Pharisee starts off well.  Yes, you should be grateful if you are not like fallen humanity, greedy, dishonest and adulterous. But the Pharisee then begins to compare himself, not with the love and mercy of God who is superior to him, but with someone he believes is actually inferior to him. The Pharisee puts himself in the place of God and demands that others admire him in how he prayers and does his religious duties. In short, he tells God that he, himself, is a god who should be worshiped and adored. It’s all about me, how I look, how many admirers or followers I have because I am the expert, the professional, the best looking, the center of attention - worship me!! 

What is the first commandment the Lord told us? “I am the Lord your God, you shall not have any other gods except me”. When we place ourselves, let alone anything or anyone else, at the center of our own universe, we are guilty of idolatry. We become like pagan statues, we have eyes but we can not see, ears but we can not hear. And as easily as we make ourselves works of art to be admired, liked or copied, God will cast the mighty from their thrones and rise up the lowly. 

But not only can we turn ourselves into idols to command the obedience of others, we can foolishly do the same to the visible church, our liturgies, our theologies, our culture and even turn our politics into idols. Pride in our own achievements, our own knowledge and the insistence on our own superiority is a short and slippery road to idolatry. 

So what is the way back? After himself, Our Lord points us to the tax collector to show and teach us how to pray. The tax collector did not dare raise his eyes to heaven. He did not compare himself to the liturgically correct and socially aware Pharisee. Instead, he turned his gaze away from all the idols before him and around him, even away from himself, and worshipped the one true God in whose shadow he recognized himself as a sinner and begged for mercy. 

In this holy Eucharist, we must do the same. For it is not what or who we see before us that we adore and hold on to for our defense as St Paul reminded us in the second reading (2 Timothy 4:16-18), but the Invisible One, Jesus Christ who stands before us, leading us forward to welcome the arrival of his heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Oct 24, 2019

Pray


“Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God, or the petition of good things from him in accord with his will.” (Comp. CCC 534) The Holy Scriptures for this Sunday demonstrate that prayer can be something that comes naturally to us as well as demanding effort and endurance. For example, in the midst of a battle the people desperately look to Moses to quickly pray on their behalf. The parable Jesus tells us in the Gospel shows how, in order to prayer, we have to go out of our way, make an effort, and even have a plan in order to pray not only consistently but successfully.

Sometimes prayer comes naturally and other times it’s work. When someone is sick, when we are afraid or uncertain and especially when we find ourselves desperate, we would turn to God and pray. But there is also that element of difficulty in prayer - finding the time when our lives are too busy, calming the mind when our senses are targeted by the outside world in so many ways, focusing our attention when distractions abound and directing our thoughts when discipline of mind and body is often times lacking.

Our individual, personal and private prayer before God, whether at home or in quiet moments, is extremely important and should never be underestimated or taken for granted. In fact, time should be set aside every day to enter into prayer, regardless of what our daily circumstances are, or even whether we feel like it or not. The Psalms and are essentially model prayers which come from the heart and even the anguish of the human soul. For this reason the Psalms are often called the Church’s Prayer Book. If you don’t know where to start in praying to God, make these words your own – search through all the different psalms and allow them to put words into your mouth and to resonate in our heart. When St. Paul was writing to St. Timothy about the divine inspiration of the Old Testament Scriptures, the Book of Psalms is included.

But if you are looking to get something instantly out of prayer, don’t! You have to put something into it first. When we worship God in prayer, is not so that we can receive a warm feeling inside or so that we can get something out of it. Prayer is first and foremost the lifting up of our minds and hearts to the God who created the universe out of nothing and holds everything in existence, who sees our lives from an immensely greater perspective than we could ever imagine. Prayer demands much effort from us, not because we should be afraid of God. Through Christ we have seen his face and know of His love. Our response comes from a sense of humility before such love revealed to us and the acknowledgement that the sacrifices we make are worth the effort on our part.

“Even if he makes us wait, he will nevertheless answer us …We should eagerly cry out to him day and night, begging him with a broken heart and a humble spirit. ‘A humble contrite heart, he will not spurn’.” Martyrius, Book of Perfection 75

Oct 10, 2019

Know your 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 faith in Jesus? Well, “Yes!” you might say. “That’s the reason I am here at Mass”.


For many of us, we are here because it is our custom, we have a sacred sense of religious obligation to be here every Sunday - it is weaved into our spiritual sense to keep the Lord’s Day holy and the obligation to give thanks for the blessings of God, manifested through the life, death and resurrection of Christ.


But maybe, that’s not a full answer to the question, “Do you have faith?” Sometimes, we mistake faith for our good works, even though they may be inspired by God’s grace. So, what then is faith, in itself?


Does faith come from my heart, giving me a feeling of the closeness of God? But what when I experience pain, loss, disillusionment - when I feel that God is distant?  Does it come from my mind, giving me a sense that my life can only have meaning from within a particular belief system? What, when I encounter hypocrites beside me and even in front of me and it doesn't make sense?  Maybe, faith is not ultimately about where your heart is, or how you understand it.  


To illustrate this point, yesterday I baptised a number of babies.  Their understanding of the world around them is for now upside down, just shapes and colors.  Their emotions are for the most part, instinctual - reactions based on the stimuli of feet being tickled, funny noises being made, particular flavors of food being tested for the first time.


But these babies are now baptised, fully Christian, members of the Church of God. From the first moment of conception, God had given them, as he give each of us, the gift of faith - the size of a mustard seed.  And inside that seed is all the unique spiritual DNA needed, a road map, if unfolded carefully during life, will lead the way to God, through all the challenges and distractions along the way.  


So what is faith? In this light, faith is the discovery that you are a unique part of God’s divine plan - that my life is not an accident, and by the same token, my life is not mine to determine on my own terms how it should unfold. Like the servant in the parable, I am doing only what I am obliged to do.


So, rather than trying to blaze my own path that will eventually in time be trampled down to dust to become nothing, the gift of faith compels me, throughout my life, to discover that only God understands and rejoices in the road he as already mapped out for me, even though it is not always clear from my own perspective, or even in tune with my own particular expectations. 

Remember how Mary responded to the angel, "Be it done to me according to your will", without knowing what lay ahead. During this month of the Holy Rosary, may we allow the events of Christ's life, death and resurrection to be refreshed in our minds and slept out surprizingly and unexpected in our lives.

Looking Forward, not back

Today’s Sunday Homily was based on the final line from the Creed:  “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the wo...