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RELIGION LITURGY AND LIFE

Archive for the month “September, 2015”

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Few of us go through life without joining some kind of group or club. Joining a particular group, religious, political or social, can enlarge our world and introduce us to new people and new possibilities. It can help us to move within a relatively secure network of relationships. That sense of belonging is important to our identity: membership is proof of how others accept and recognise how we see ourselves. Rejection is a clear signal of disapproval and this is what the Gospel reading is all about this Sunday; Rejection of those who are not of our religious belief or whatever. The exorcist in the Gospel is put before us this weekend as the example of someone who was rejected and the gospel then goes on to tell us about the acceptance that Jesus has for those people such who were rejected. Don’t forget that Jesus suffered the ultimate rejection on the Cross of Good Friday.

The disciples consider Jesus their own personal treasure and they want him for themselves. They seemed to have been an ambitious group last Sunday we heard them arguing over who was the greatest among them. This Sunday they complain that they saw someone who was not part of their group performing a healing in Jesus’ name.

If there had been laws  concerning  copyright way back then I think the Apostles would have copyrighted Jesus name and the power that went along with it. I can just imagine them licensing the use of Jesus’s name and then asking “How many times do you want to use Jesus’s name that will cost so much. How many times do you want to cure someone in his name that will be so much more”. They felt they were privy to Jesus that is to say he was the apostles and no one else’s.. It’s as if Jesus is a rock star and they are his agents, with exclusive rights over what he does and says. What they really wanted was a tidy little religious box, clearly in their control but they hadn’t factored in Jesus and what he had been sent into the world to do. They forgot the size of his heart, remember it had no limits. They forgot how big his compassion was, remember it never ran out and wasn’t limited to the few who under the law had the proper credentials or disposition to receive it.

There was plenty for everyone in terms of faith then as there is now. Jesus is the visible face of the God that we can’t see and yet we believe; we believe in the God who wants to speak words of love and joy to all, not just a few; who wants to reach out and touch all those broken of limb, and broken of spirit, not just those who belong to our club or carry the right credentials.

After they see Jesus crushed on the cross and later, when he rises from the dead, the apostles finally get the message and understand what had happened to them as a result of their involvement with Jesus. Then they would do exactly what we’re doing right now, retell the stories about Jesus as they set out to continue the story without restrictions or limits of any kind; When they did all of this they would have been speaking and acting in Jesus’ name, not just for a select few, but for everyone they met, or came to them in any need. In Jesus’ name they opened the eyes of the blind, cured the cripples, and even raised the dead. At first they got it wrong, but then they learned what it meant to speak and act in Jesus’ name everything was possible for them.

In our world today we often forget that our faith is not about the select few but our faith is for everyone. We need to remember that we don’t always get it right and remember that everything is possible to those who have faith in the name and person of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

25TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME

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In our Gospel for this Sunday we begin with the second prediction of the passion. Like many things in the biblical tradition, a threefold repetition gives emphasis and dignity to the pronouncement. The predictions are also a reminder to us that Jesus was not surprised by the later events in Jerusalem; he had seen them on the horizon for a great part of his journey. The predictions are each constructed in the same way with Jesus’ teaching followed by misunderstanding. Towards the end of this Gospel Jesus brings the child to centre stage and instructs his disciples: “Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” In this instance Jesus doesn’t ask his disciples to become like children; he asks his disciples to welcome them. The disciples have a problem about welcoming littleness because they think that they are at the top of the tree and are above this. This basic Christian teaching, common to all the Gospels, is one that has not always been honoured. “To be first in the group is to occupy the last place and to be a servant to the group.”

That means to be the greatest you must make yourself the least in service of other people especially those around you. Jesus taught his followers the true meaning of leadership. Leadership does not mean power but service. Power often strangles life and brings a slow death. But, service brings life, even from death itself. An attitude of serving others should not be a triumphal attitude lording it over everyone else, yet much of our history has been about individuals seeing themselves as better than everyone else. In this passage we listen to the words of Jesus about the child he tells us “Whoever receives a child like this in my name receives me. Whoever receives me receives God”. In the first part, the disciples are told that a measure of their discipleship is their attitude to power. In the second part, discipleship can be judged on the disciple’s attitude to children who are powerless in many ways. We only have to think about the 3 year old refugee migrant boy Aylan Kurdi who was washed up on the shore of a Turkish beach recently to know that this is so true. This horrible event along with all the migrants that have died in recent times remind all of us that Life is precious. Jesus compares himself to the little child, the one who cannot resort to power tactics when threatened or maltreated. Jesus’ protection is his Father; his trust is placed in the God who will ensure his protection. When suffering comes, Jesus refuses to abandon trust in the Father.  That trust makes him vulnerable, like a little child, but unless the disciples can come to welcome that vulnerability they will never understand the way of Jesus.

When we welcome the stranger we might understand what Jesus means in this Gospel reading that wee bit better. Jesus offers us a permanent challenge to welcome the powerless, to take to heart the weakest members of the community. He places himself in their company. Their vulnerability is something that Jesus not only shares but values. May we understand that to be be first in the group is to occupy the last place and to be a servant to the group.”  May we take up the challenge that Jesus places before us in this gospel reading and that challenge is to become humble servants of those who need us whoever they are.

24TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME

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This week end in our gospel reading we hear Jesus asking Peter and the disciples the famous question “Who do you say I am?”  Jesus asks what outsiders and his disciples think about him. The guesses all lead us  to someone else, Elijah or John the Baptist or one of the prophets, figures who were celebrated for pointing forward to the Messiah. In contrast to what others think, Peter speaks on behalf of the disciples who have shared Jesus’ life intimately: he identifies Jesus as the Christ. Jesus is not numbered among those pointing to the Messiah; he is the Messiah. When Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus tells his disciples that his way to glory is only via suffering and the cross.  The first reading is one of the great poems of Isaiah on the theme of suffering. The servant of God is described in clear unambiguous terms. God gifts the disciple with a well-trained tongue. This is not an orator’s tongue, capable of delivering prize-winning speeches, but a tongue with the ability to rouse the weary from despair, the ability to bring comfort and compassion to the suffering. We know this response to the pain of the other does not require words but is an attitude of the heart.

Jesus in the Gospel speaks to us about himself using the figure of the Son of Man, the suffering servant who will be rejected and put to death. Not only must he suffer, but experience comfortless suffering in being rejected. That rejection robs the suffering one of his dignity. He has to face forsakenness and the loneliness of the cross. He will not die of natural causes, but be put to death. And this experience of dereliction will be answered by God who will raise him up on the third day.  Although the message given to the Disciples was only vaguely and dubiously grasped, Christ had forewarned his Apostles, in order to prepare them for the scandal and folly of the cross. While it did not really prepare them because they were still too worldly-minded, it did help to strengthen their faith once the facts of the empty tomb convinced them of the resurrection. When they realized that their beloved Master was more than Messiah, that he was in fact the Son of God, who freely accepted his humiliations and shameful death for their sakes and ours. The apostles gladly gave their lives to bringing the Good news of God’s great love for men to all the nations. From being a scandal the cross became the emblem and the proud standard of God’s love for mankind.

If Jesus was to stand beside us today and ask who do you say I am? What answer would we give would we answer the same way as Peter when he said you are Christ the son of God?

23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

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This weekend our readings are all about Jesus making the deaf hear and the blind see Isaiah says in the first reading that the signs of God’s faithfulness and presence with the people, are when “the eyes of the blind are opened, and the ears of the deaf are cleared.” The physical signs of deafness and blindness are powerful symbols of being closed to the action of God. These days there are so many people who have closed their eyes and ears to the action of god in their lives. The letter of James in the second reading offers a cautionary word about making distinctions between people and many people do this especially when it comes to those of us who have any disabilities or weaknesses. It’s easy for all of us to be caught up in the standards of the world of our time and as a result we might miss the friends of God who may be those with nothing to offer us or at least that what it might seem to be. God’s preference for those who are poor according to this world is seen clearly in today’s Gospel. Jesus comes face to face with a deaf man who has a speech impediment. The man is doubly afflicted: he is a Gentile, regarded by the Jews as unclean, and is also physically disabled. Jesus takes him aside, away from the crowd, and cures his deafness and his stutter. Mark emphasises the response of the crowd, who publish their judgement that Jesus has done all things well.  Thus the messianic prophecy of Isaiah heard in the first reading is seen to be fulfilled: “the ears of the deaf [are] unsealed… and the eyes of the blind are opened”.

Jesus’s love is available to everyone, without any conditions attached. He is not disconcerted by the disabled; neither is he prejudiced against those weren’t members of his own race or religion as we see with this man. The uniqueness of Jesus was not employed to lord it over others, but to be of service to them. In his presence there is no need to hide one’s disability, no one has to remain isolated in a godless world, and no one has to be rejected. Jesus’ acceptance and love open up new possibilities; for him, nothing is settled. Prejudice, on the other hand, tries to settle everything and in reality settles nothing and causes so much hurt and anxiety.

We are people of faith, but our spiritual focus is often based on what we want. Many times we struggle between our “real needs” where god works through us. These shortcomings can lead us to discouragement many say that the “church does not fulfill my needs anymore”. On the other hand those same shortcomings can be turned around into a challenge for us to grow.

Through growth in faith, we begin to listen and understand. Then, we can speak clearly.  Our ears are no longer blocked. Our tongue is no longer held bound. Despite our shortcomings and weaknesses and all of us have many shortcomings, Jesus will touch our lives and call out to us. Are we prepared to open our ears to the call of Jesus and open our eyes to see the needs of all those around us as we are asked to do, so that people around us may say that united to Jesus in faith we have done all things well.

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