Sep 15, 2021

Take Up Your Cross

Today’s Gospel (according to Mark) was written at a time when early Roman Christians were being arrested and tortured. Many of them suffered horrifying deaths, many of them were brutally crucified or thrown into cages to be ripped apart by lions and wild beasts.  

Let’s not forget, if you could, the cruelties inflicted upon our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, and those sadistic videos of hostages in orange jumpsuits being publicly executed for the whole world to see. With something like this going on in the background, the early Christians would listen to the same words of Christ we hear today,

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. "

Think about it. At the time of Christ, the cross was a reminder of what happened when you antagonized the authorities.  You were publicly crucified to death. The image of a cross was the reminder of a death sentence. Who goes into the battlefield handing the enemy the means to crucify them? Does it not seem logical to instead go to the front lines waving swords and plowing down anyone who stood in our way?

But how does the Enemy, in fact, defeat us? The enemy wants us to separate Christ from his Cross. It's the old trick of divide and conquer. It's when the devil pits one against the other. For example -   

1.  We place value on freedom, respect, on being tolerant, looking after the stranger, looking out for the poor. And this is commendable.

2.  We also place value on hard work, on making sacrifices, on long hours, on physical endurance, fighting against the odds, investing in our future, and often times at a great personal cost. These are noble qualities indeed.

We are at our best when these two values meet each other, cooperate together, value each other, rather than being pitted against each other. A household divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25).

How does this translate into our Christian discipleship within the Church? We cannot be part of the Church, a disciple of Christ without carrying the cross. Christ will never allow himself to be separated or detached from it. Because the Church is Christ’s Body, as a Church we have to embrace the cross, the sins of the world, our own sins, the sins of the members of the Church.

But when the Enemy gets into our mind, we are often tempted to purify Christ and his Church from the very cross he is attached to.

When we are tempted to embrace Christ without his Cross, we can keep him all nice and beautiful, not a hair out of place - no pain, no suffering, no discipline, no sacrifice. He becomes a gentle teacher. The substitute teacher! A Christ without his cross, a Christian without embracing their own Cross, is weak, soft and nonessential. The Church without a cross becomes a simple social science project.  

When we are tempted to embrace the Cross without Christ, our pride will tell us we have all the strength we need to carry it ourselves. Why do we need Christ or God's grace, when we can be self-made superheroes who can lift the cross up high and threaten to drop it on the heads of our enemies. A cross without Christ is a logo, a brand mark to be designed, marketed and mass produced.

In the words of a third-century North African saint, St. Cyprian of Carthage, before he was beheaded on the shores of the Mediterranean by a politically driven lynch mob, some of them former disciples, he asked “how can anyone think themselves a Christian when they are afraid or ashamed to live as a Christian? How can a Christian hope to be with Christ in heaven someday, when they are embarrassed or afraid to belong to Christ and his Church on earth this very day?”

Let us ask our Blessed Mother for a share in her Good Friday strength. It allowed her not only to courageously stand beside the cross of her Son. At the same time, she fully opened her immaculate heart to the grace of God's sacrificial love for all of humanity. May we, with God's grace, do likewise.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sep 6, 2021

“O my word!”

Words are very important to God. His word is creative - “Let there be Light”. In a way, the darkness heard God’s Word. And there was Light!

Throughout the Old Testament accounts of the interaction of God and his people, God speaks. The People listen. They respond to his words. “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts”.  
Hearing God’s word is very important.  But, too often our own words get in the way. Text messages, emails, tweets, blogs, social media, comments, responses, reactions, quotes, and even sermons. The printed and typed word or text we are so used to today doesn't come so much from the breath. They come more from the tapping or the thumping of a keyboard. Our words are easily copied, pasted, edited, translated, printed, posted, rehashed and even deleted.
Our own words can also come back to haunt us. Nearly 100 years ago, a Boston politician (Martin Lomasney) warned his young interns, “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink”!  
But then, how do we interpret silence, innuendo, or an off the cuff remark? Case in point: Having a bad day, after feeling betrayed by his one-time close advisor, returning to his private quarters King Henry II of England lamented to himself out loud, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” Some royal bodyguards overheard the remark, sought out the archbishop and brutally murdered him at the altar of his own cathedral! Learning what happened, the King was horrified and later begged God for forgiveness.
So, how do you interpret the words you hear? How do you use your words and the power of speech? Maybe this would have been an important question to ask the deaf man who had a speech impediment before he was brought to Christ who opened his ears to hear and loosened his tongue to speak? Maybe, years later his mouth might have got him into trouble! Maybe, when he would later hear Christ preaching, he could he have misinterpreted the Lord’s words he heard or thought he heard?

Often we will hear it say, “That’s my word against your word”.  But Christ himself will not enter into a family, partisan or tribal spat. He does not take my side nor yours. Instead, he offers himself as the ultimate Word, the final Word, the everlasting Word.

Unlike the way we use and hear words, God communicates to us in a new language that goes beyond the written or spoken words that come from his mouth. He offers to those on his side, a new way of speaking and hearing.

As if to illustrate this point, there are two dimensions going on in what we have read or listened to in the gospel text.  In the three dimensional world, the Lord physically sticks his finger into the deaf man’s ears, and then the Lord wipes the deaf man’s mouth with his own spittle. Our Lord then releases and big roar and, in his native language of Aramaic shouts out “Be opened!”

Now, it’s all very dramatic. Do you not think that Christ could have healed the man without going through all this drama? Yes, of course.  But sometimes we need God to be dramatic. We need poetry. We need art. We need a song. We need ritual.

God communicates to us through our senses, through touch, through smell, through color, through stuff.  Is this not what we call in church language, liturgy - liturgical language? In the most sacred context of the Mass, we use outward signs, a language that speaks to our senses in order to communicate the reality of invisible grace. The words we hear and speak within this sacred space, speaks to our soul. And from our soul, the Word of God is translated through every fiber of our body into good works of love and mercy.

Unfortunately, I could be the most polished speaker and the greatest listener, but after reflecting on the actions of Christ in the gospel, if I do not ask God to touch my ears - the ears of my soul… if I do not ask God to wipe my mouth with his own spit so that his words will come out from the depth of my soul, and not simply mine  - if I do not learn how to hear and speak this new sacred language, then indeed I am but superficial. I remain deaf to him and my words are simply secular.

There are not many words recorded by Our Blessed Mother in the Scriptures. The most words that have come down to us from her are not from a speech but from a song (Luke 1:46-55). If we were present when she sang her song in her own native language, at first, we probably would not have understood the words from her mouth. But at a deeper level, if we were listening from the depths of our soul, we would hear her soul singing of the glory of God and her spirit rejoicing with words of praise.  

May we learn again how to hear God’s Word resonating from deep within our soul and respond in ways that speak louder than any word, by good deeds that give God glory.

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Stain Removal

How do you keep your whites white? This portion of the Gospel we have listened to begins with the departure of Judas from the Upper Room and...