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Friday, 26 June 2015

Saints Peter and Paul 2015

SS. Peter & Paul (2015)

(Acts 12:1-11; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19)

Today we are "called out" -- that is what the word "Ecclesia", which is translated into English as "Church", means -- called together as Christians out of the world, to praise and glorify God in and through His beloved Son; for, gathered together in Mother Church we have personal contact with Jesus and are to be filled with His most Holy Spirit, that Spirit Who is the very Life of the Church.  Therefore, with joy and great gratitude today we celebrate Peter and Paul as chosen and commissioned by Jesus, each in their own way, as founders of Mother Church.   
Let us first of all notice the difference between the two as founders.  Take Peter first of all.  Jesus said to him:
I tell you that you are Peter (which means 'rock' in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke), and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:18-20)
Jesus willed to build, to establish, His Church on the rock of Peter's faith, that faith for which Jesus Himself prayed:
I have prayed for you, Simon (Peter), that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:32)
Now listen to the Lord telling Ananias about the work Paul would do for His name among the Gentiles and Jews of the Diaspora (Acts 9:15):
The Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel."
As you can see, Peter was established by Jesus as the foundation rock for the faith of the universal Church; he was also, as the ultimate support and defence for the Church, given supreme authority in the Church.  Paul, on the other hand, was commissioned by Jesus for the spread of the Church and world-wide proclamation of His Gospel message, he it was who would take the name of Jesus to the Gentiles; and still today, Paul, as the first and greatest theologian of Mother Church, continues his mission by helping us to an ever deeper appreciation of Jesus’ Good News as we try to deepen our understanding of his writings.
There is yet something more about Peter which I wish to draw to your attention, dear People of God, because in the Gospel we are not only told that Jesus chose Peter as the foundation rock for His Church, but also why Jesus made that choice:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"  They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
Notice that!   When Jesus asked "Who do people say I am?" all the apostles answered Him.  But when He then went on to ask:
But what about you? Who do you say I am?
Then, only one of them answered; one speaking clearly for himself and also for all the others who accepted his words:
Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
There we can see that the other apostles' acknowledged the position, and witnessed to the personal authority, of Peter.  Now notice the witness of Jesus:
Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."
So Jesus chose Peter because He saw that His heavenly Father had already chosen him by giving him a unique awareness of Jesus’ true identity:
Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven.
What confidence we should have in Mother Church!  She is founded on the rock of Peter's faith, which, as the foundation Rock, can never be lost to or taken from the Church, and which is, therefore, still with us today in the figure and faith of the Pope; and Jesus Himself still prays for Peter as the foundation rock of His Church, because, as God's well-beloved Son, He sees that such is His Father's will.  Moreover, we should also have sure trust in God’s loving Providence at work in Mother Church by the continual spread, unfolding, and appreciation of the authentic understanding of Jesus’ Gospel begun in St. Paul's life and committed to posterity in his letters (‘heard and approved’ first of all by the Apostles gathered in Jerusalem, cp. Galatians 2:1-5) which are the earliest surely acknowledged pages of our New Testament Scriptures … a continuing process which is being guided and sustained by the Holy Spirit, given as Jesus promised, to lead Mother Church into all truth.
There does arise one question however: Why do we celebrate Peter and Paul together?  After all, there is a successor to Peter, a living, celebrated, and supremely authoritative person, the Pope, but there is no named and known person who is successor to Paul.   Are we therefore simply celebrating the work both of them did, more or less together, all those centuries ago in the church at Rome for the Church Universal, the Catholic Church?   Surely that is not fully satisfactory.  What therefore is the present ‘duality’, so to speak, that we celebrate and honour every year with such pomp and with fitting and enduring gratitude and expectancy?
Rome was the ideal place for both of them: for, being the capital and centre of authority for the world-wide and supreme power, it was, indeed, the most fitting location for Peter’s authority in and over the new-born Catholic (universal) Church.  It was also the ideal place for Paul, chosen personally by the Lord Himself to proclaim His Gospel to the Gentiles; because people from all nations -- especially the flower of those nations -- came to Rome for a multitude of reasons and purposes: people with important missions and who were, therefore, suitably educated; people searching for contact with, teaching from, and the acquaintance of, powerful individuals and important thinkers, prestigious holders of rare abilities and skills, arts and sciences both necessary and desirable.  That was the place where large sectors of the Gentile world first came into contact with and heard of Paul’s proclamation of Jesus, and having learned from Paul’s presentation of Jesus’ teaching, came to admire, appreciate, and worship Jesus for Who He was.  Rome was most truly the ideal place for Paul’s Christian ‘dynamism’.
Thus we have the centripetal authority, holding all together in loving union, and the centrifugal, expansive dynamism, of Catholic universalism, and both are necessary to give suitable expression to the vitality and life of the One Body of Christ; and that is what we celebrate and pray for, above all, on this special solemnity of Peter and Paul.
Today, however, there is an incipient danger of too much emphasis being put on the person of Peter in so far as Peter does have a personal successor, the Pope, and that brings a certain imbalance to our appreciation of the feast.  What Peter taught, and the function he exercised, allows us to celebrate him along with Paul in our yearly-recurring celebration of prayer and thanksgiving; on the other hand, the personality of Peter’s modern-day successor is not part of and can intrude upon that perennial Catholic appreciation and prayer.  Peter is the rock on which our Church is built, Paul is the great evangelist who presents the Good News of Jesus to the world: Paul still gathers and brings in converts from the nations and Peter still embraces them as one family into one Body.  In such a context the psychological character of Peter’s present successor is irrelevant: whether thoughts enter his heart or his mind, whether he is emotional or intellectual, evangelical or contemplative, outgoing or retiring … all such aspects will inevitably attract some while leaving others untouched or dissatisfied.  But, such differences can be over-emphasized by interested parties even so much as to foster division in the one family, or the one Body.
Which Christian truth, what Catholic doctrine, the present Peter, the Pope, proclaims and tries to live is important for all Catholics, it is, to use a common phrase, Gospel truth; but how, or in what manner he chooses to express his personal appreciation or practice of that truth is not, in the same sense, Gospel spirituality.  Personally, I do not admire emotionality, but I know that controlled emotion is the driving force of mankind.  I mistrust emotionality, however, because in social life and politics it is often a cheap and violent challenge to reasoned discourse and mutual accommodation, while in religion it can and frequently does masquerade as, or be frequently mistaken for, devotion.  Nevertheless, and despite such misgivings, I do want – most vehemently and intensely – to love to the utmost of my personal emotional and intellectual being both the Person of Jesus and the Catholic doctrine which is the truest expression of His Being.  
Perhaps our greatest failing today in the Church is lack of trust in God.  Our Western, technological and consumerist, society is characterised by the will to make things for our use and enjoyment in many fields of activity; and people can thereby come to think they  should be able to produce desired results even in spiritual matters.  For such people it is not always easy to wait for God, when His blessings seem slow in coming; nor are they inclined to beg even Him, let alone Mother Church and human guides, for wisdom to understand better His laws and teaching when they conflict with modern attitudes and their own desires.  Indeed, too many modern disciples are inclined to try to produce their own version of what they seek, and to supply their own teaching for what they want to believe.  There is little trust afforded to a seemingly silent God.  And yet it was such trust that characterized Abraham, our father in faith and the great Patriarchs and Prophets of Israel, and above all perhaps John the Baptist, alone in a dark, damp and cold dungeon awaiting death whenever the whim of a weak and dissolute monarch goaded by bitter women might order it.  And that monumental and inspiring trust reached its sublime apogee in the patience of Jesus throughout the course of His Passion and Death after His agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Following the example of their Lord and Saviour the Apostles and teachers of our faith, Peter and Paul whom we celebrate today undertook, in similar patience, confidence and faith, to evangelise and convert the mighty, pagan, Roman Empire, trusting totally in God alone.    Did we not hear in the first reading:
Then Peter came to himself and said, "Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating."
Likewise St. Paul had learnt to trust God in all circumstances and situations:
The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Peter and Paul each had a unique role to fulfil for the Church and both were blessed and spared for the good of all who were to become children of God and Mother Church.  They were given to Mother Church by the choice of Jesus and the heavenly Father Himself; let us therefore take seriously and whole-heartedly the words of the letter to the Hebrews (12:1):
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Yes, let us throw off the sin that so entangles many of our brethren today, the sin that hinders all progress in the ways of Jesus, namely lack of confidence and trust in the Lord, lack of patience and indeed joy in Mother Church.




Friday, 19 June 2015

12th Sunday of Year (B) 2015

 12th. Sunday of Year (B)          
 (Job 38:1, 8-11; 2nd. Corinthians 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41)

The connection between today’s Gospel and our first reading from the book of Job is perfectly clear, for in Job we heard the Lord address the tumultuous waters of His creation with words of absolute authority:
Thus far shall you come, but no farther, here shall your proud waves be stilled!
And in like manner did Jesus calm the troubled Sea of Galilee:
He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Quiet! Be still!"  The wind ceased and there was great calm.
However, Jesus had been sent by His Father for the glory of His Name and for the salvation of souls: He had come among men to calm the tumultuous and rebellious thoughts and emotions, fears and anxieties, of men deeply and cruelly troubled by the ravages of sin, as exemplified in some measure by the selfishly fearful hearts and minds of His disciples on this occasion.
The purpose of Jesus’ presence among us is beautifully expressed by St. Paul in our second reading:
The love of Christ impels us.  He died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.
Or again in a more famous passage from his letter to the Romans (8:38-39):
Neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor present things nor future things, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Peace rests on power; and, complementing the calmness and inner peace of the Lord sleeping on a cushion in the stern of the storm-tossed boat, was His messianic power whereby, on waking, He instantly stilled the threatening waters.  These Galileans, His first disciples and future Apostles who, despite being professional fishermen were now so alarmed, would need to learn from their recumbent Teacher the calm strength of an unshakeable faith and confidence to which those words of St. Paul bear witness. For, just as only the omnipotent power of the Lord of all creation could calm the surge of earth’s primeval waters, so too, only ‘Rock’-solid faith in Jesus as the Lord and Saviour of mankind:
            in Whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9),
can confer that strength which enables a faithful soul to find true peace and abiding joy in a world subject to the power of Satan and his angels.
The disciples, of course, found themselves in very serious situation, indeed, it was life-threatening:
A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat so that it was already filling up.  Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke Him and said to Him: Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?
We must also remember that the waters of the deep were -- to the Israelites and the neighbouring civilizations -- the realm of Chaos.  As we read in the story of creation from the book of Genesis: before God created either the heavens or the earth,
Darkness was on the face of the deep (Genesis 1:2);
and the greatest threat to mankind was that they might be overwhelmed by those dark waters once again and fall back into chaos.  Indeed, was it not through wind and overpowering waters that the Lord had destroyed the chariots and drowned the troops of the pursuing Pharaoh when leading Israel safely out of Egypt?
With the blast of Your nostrils the waters were gathered together; the floods stood upright like a heap; the depths congealed in the heart of the sea.  The enemy said, 'I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my hand shall destroy them.'  You blew with Your wind, the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters?  (Exodus 15:8-10)
As Israel became less and less faithful to her covenant with the Lord, she was necessarily punished for her many failings; and these troubles and trials, this punishment and pain, was pictured by the psalmist as the looming threat of chaos:
If it had not been the LORD who was on our side when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive when their wrath was kindled against us; then the waters would have overwhelmed us, the stream would have gone over our soul; then the swollen waters would have gone over our soul. (Psalm 124: 2-5)
Now, it would seem that those traditional memories and fears were used by Our Lord to teach the Apostles what sort of faith they should have in Him; for it was the Lord Who had suggested that He and His disciples should escape the large crowd by crossing over the sea to the less populated and mainly Gentile eastern side, and in doing so He had chosen to embark upon a journey that, in the event, would severely test His disciples.
As, throughout the history of Israel, God’s punishment and testing had never been for their ruin but for their education and betterment, similarly here, Jesus was testing His disciples in order to prepare and strengthen them for what lay before them and Himself: time was so very short and they had so much to learn and absorb.  If they would respond with trust in the Lord as the psalmist had portrayed, great would be their reward; but even their present failure could still serve as a lesson bringing enduring blessings if they would subsequently learn from it.
The disciples’ reaction to their situation was perfectly natural, and all those who have ever been in a small rowing boat on stormy waters will appreciate their alarm; they were found wanting not because they had been afraid of the imminent threat that their boat might capsize but because they cried out to the Lord without sufficient confidence and trust in Him, so that their words were little better than cries of panic.   Jesus therefore, although responding decisively enough, nevertheless gave measured expression to His undisguised sorrow and disappointment:
(He) woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Quiet! Be still!"  The wind ceased and there was a great calm.  Then He asked them, "Why are you terrified?   Do you not yet have faith?"
Jesus knew that soon He would be called upon to give the supreme example of confidence and trust under the pressure of mortal torment and soul-destroying abandonment saying:
            Father, into Your hands I commend my Spirit;
and the time was coming when these disciples of His -- so close to His Heart and essential for His plans -- would need to follow where their Lord had gone; and so it was absolutely imperative that they learn this lesson that would prepare them to overcome the world with Him as soon as possible.
We are told of the disciples that when they experienced Jesus’ calming of the waters:
They were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this Whom even wind and sea obey?"
After having felt such awesome fear the disciples were able to appreciate Jesus more worthily, for, as the Old Testament says:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10)
Jesus wills to be our strength and our peace but for that to happen we must learn to turn to Him with humility and confidence in all our needs and with all our hopes.  But our confidence has to be of a special nature, it must be a confidence that looks to Jesus with a certain and significant sense of awe: awareness that He is not only wondrous in His power on our behalf but also that He is holy above all our understanding, to the extent that we can never know how He will answer to our needs; that He will answer, and that His answer will be for our supreme good, we believe, but just what His answer will be we do not know …  
Why are you terrified?   Do you not yet have faith?
Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait I say, on the Lord! (Psalm 27:14)
If we, in the course of our own personal lives, remain merely or overly human in our attitude to life and our response to its events, if we seek -- first and foremost -- our own immediate satisfaction and relief, human understanding and help, then we can never know true peace, for people who thus seek the flesh regard Jesus in a fleshly accommodating way.  They may, at the best, consider Him to have been a good man, perhaps indeed a remarkable man, even a man without equal and a perfect role model for all who would seek to be truly and fully human; and yet, such an attitude towards the Lord is not good enough, being both condescending to His Person and superficial as regards His teaching.
Even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him so no longer.
As was the case for the original disciples, in our day too, perhaps only salutary fear will burn away, totally consume, that appreciation of Jesus ‘according to the flesh’, and lead us, instead, to what the Risen Lord had commissioned Paul to proclaim:
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new, all are of God Who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ.
We love Him Who is both God and man; but our fellowship with Him Who is of Mary and shares our flesh must never obscure our awe of Him Who is God.   The Person of Jesus is divine … I will not add ‘though in human flesh’ … He is fully God in truly human flesh, and eternally such.  That is why we must understand and acknowledge Saint Paul’s appreciation of Him when he says:
Even if we once (as a Pharisee) knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him so no longer.
Expressing such awe, our witness to Him must have a steely content.  In our increasingly decadent Western world there are Christian issues on which we have to stand firm in the face of modern conformism with popularity … Jesus’ Gospel proclaimed in the Scriptures and by His Church is the only authentic and full Christianity and today we have to steadfastly hold firm and witness to Christian marriage as the sacramental union of one man and one woman for the glory of God, the good of children, and for the spouses fulfilment and salvation.   The State may call its approved ceremonies ‘marriage’ … but it cannot call them Christian marriage.  Neither, as regards those human relationships which are now publicly acknowledged and approved as loving relationships, can we approve of and accept them as relationships expressing truly Christian love.  We do not, should not, decry or abuse persons who disagree with us, but we can never, under any circumstances back down on or change what we believe and know to be Jesus’ teaching for the ultimate good of mankind.  
And for all this we need some of that awe experienced by the Apostles on fully recognizing Jesus for what, Who, He truly was and is; we need an awe-based-love  of Jesus, which alone can give us that strength and peace which will enable us to face up to and overcome the multitude of difficulties and opposition facing Christians in today’s world and, despite such trials, still find true joy and deep fulfilment in God’s good gift of life lived under the shadow of His wings, inspired by His Spirit, and directed with love for His and our Father in heaven.

Friday, 12 June 2015

11th Sunday of the Year (B) 2015

 11th. Sunday of Year B
(Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ.  Preparing this homily I found it rather difficult to understand our reading from St. Paul; therefore I will present you with the two verses that precede it taken from another translation, not quite so literally accurate perhaps, but certainly more understandable:

While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee He has given us His Holy Spirit. (NLT)

Now we can take up our prescribed reading with a greater measure of preparedness:

So we are always courageous, although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.  Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.  Therefore, we aspire to please Him, whether we are at home or away. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.

‘We are courageous’ repeated twice does sound somewhat bumptious and perhaps that is part of the reason why several other modern translations prefer to say, ‘We are confident’; nevertheless, I think that both are right, for though we are most certainly called to have confidence, trust, in the Spirit, nevertheless, we are also, on the basis of such confidence, likewise called to show ourselves to be courageous, able and willing to ‘fight the good fight’ in order to resolutely follow the teachings and unhesitatingly walk in the way of the Lord despite the awareness of our own weakness and the mockery, opposition, or even, alas, the bloody persecution of the world around us.

In our first reading from the prophet Ezekiel there was a beautiful metaphor of someone climbing right to the very crest of a choice cedar and finally stretching with his fingers to separate out  and pluck a most delicate and promising growth:

I will take from the crest of the cedar, from its topmost branches tear off, a tender shoot.

Thus the prophet foreshadowed God’s sublime millennia-long nourishment and formation of Israel, the cedar of His planting; and on its crest -- the Holy Virgin Mary of Nazareth alone and unique as the summit of Israel’s response to such divine nurturing – first of all, lovingly revealing the sublime beauty and tender promise of that unique sprout which only she could bear, before taking it to himself.

Concerning that Shoot of the Virgin, Ezekiel goes on to say:

The tender shoot shall put forth branches and bear fruit and become a magnificent cedar.  Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it in the shade of its boughs.

Our Blessed Lord’s two parables confirm this appreciation of today’s readings since they also -- speaking this time of the Kingdom of God which He inaugurated in His own very self – use the same imagery of fruitful maturity, unobservable to human scrutiny, yet ultimately giving shelter and succour to those in need:

It springs up and becomes the largest of plants putting forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.

All our readings today are thus seen to form a very closely related group -- one might say a family --  from which even the psalm is not to be left out because it speaks so very well of the ‘courage’ and ‘confidence’ proclaimed by St. Paul:

The just shall bear fruit even in old age; vigorous and sturdy shall they be; declaring how just is the Lord, my Rock, in Whom there is no wrong.

Here, therefore, we can now with profit turn to St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (15:12) where he speaks of the ‘tender shoot’ of our readings as being the ‘Root of Jesse’ of which the prophet Isaiah said:

The Root of Jesse shall come, raised up to rule the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles hope.  

Which is Paul’s adaptation of Jesus’ own description of the Kingdom of God:

It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.

And so, dear People of God, after a series of feasts and solemnities each with  distinct and striking emphases, it is most ‘homely’ and satisfying to peacefully celebrate an ‘ordinary’ Sunday which puts before us, with items chosen from her Scriptures ‘old and new’, something of the wholesome unity of Mother Church, and something of the calm strength and beauty of  ‘ordinary’ Catholicism: a Catholicism to quietly savour and admire, as one appreciates a daily companion, cherishes a constant hope, and finds strength and peaceful joy in what is ordinary and fundamental.

Today, people are not sufficiently aware, I believe, that a very large proportion of mankind’s troubles, be they criminal or personal, arise from sinful humanity’s inability to appreciate and accept, let alone find peaceful fulfillment in, the ‘ordinary’.  The young hate boredom and crave the excitement of ‘highs’.  Those of middle-age need distractions to occupy their minds and prevent self-introspection, lest the time on their hands turns to thoughts of missed opportunities, stirs embers of regret, or what is much worse, lets memories presumed long-forgotten come close to the surface once again: memories of responsibilities incurred or friends failed.  Too many of those who are old, however,  just worry about the past, the present, and the future; or else they while-away the time still allotted them in reveries about the good old days no longer available to them.

People of God, there is no true happiness or fulfilment without a true appreciation of and gratitude for the ordinary in life: especially for us Catholics and Christians who proclaim the enduring goodness of God in all that He ordains for our development into children of His, destined to partake of the wedding feast He is preparing for all those His Son brings with Him.

And what could be more ordinary and homely concerning the spiritual life of all devout Catholics than those words of St. Paul in our second reading:

            Therefore, we aspire to please Him, whether we are at home or away.

We aspire to please Him, that is, even though we are not yet at home with the Lord in heaven, even though we walk by faith, not by sight.

We aspire to please Him: how simple that sounds!  Just right for an ‘ordinary’ Sunday reading and homily … no burdensome thinking required, no great obligations to be accepted, we are encouraged simply to try to please Him, Jesus our Lord and Saviour.  And yet, such simplicity does not in any way threaten the richness of your Sunday spiritual food; because in order to ‘please Him’ we need to know Him, know what He wants, or even what He prefers …. Just as you take pride in knowing the likings and possible preferences of your family and the guests who may be gathered around your Sunday table.

We walk by faith, not by sight:  how clear that sounds also, not frightening in any way!   And yet by walking in that way you are dying to yourself for love of Him! There is no greater spirituality than that!!

People of God, thank you for reading, following, me carefully.  Please, try to enjoy your Sunday, and ask God to help you appreciate His daily, ordinary, gifts … not forgetting His gift of everyday time … for they all ultimately express the same undying love for you that led Him to give up His Son – alone -- for you, so as to be able to lift Him up for you all those thousands of Sundays ago.


Thursday, 4 June 2015

The Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ Year B 2015

(Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16, 22-26)

It was noticeable that our first reading taken from the book of Exodus, and also the second one from the letter to the Hebrews, spoke of the sanctioning and saving power of blood: the blood sprinkled on the Israelites by Moses in the desert, and that poured out by Christ on Calvary.
At the Last Supper however -- as St. Mark’s Gospel told us -- Jesus blessed and offered bread first of all, saying “This is My Body”, and only afterwards some wine, saying, “This is My Blood”.  Now, why did Jesus not simply offer His Blood?  Why did He bless bread and offer His Body before offering His Most Precious Blood?
Our Lord’s wisdom is beyond any merely human scrutiny; and that is why Mother Church offers us several readings at Holy Mass, so that we might gain some understanding and appreciation of Jesus’ words and actions in the Gospel account by viewing them in the light of other bible texts, both of which, in this case, as I said, speak only of blood, thereby inviting me, and I hope you also, to wonder why Jesus took bread and wine to offer both His Body and His Blood.
In our first reading, Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt to their first destination, Sinai, where Moses encountered God on the mountain top and was given the Law; then we were told:
When Moses came to the people and related all the words and ordinances of the LORD, they all answered with one voice and said, "We will do everything that the LORD has told us."   Moses then wrote down all the words of the LORD.
Our second reading from the letter to the Hebrews spoke of Jesus ascending, not simply to the top of a mountain, but to heaven itself with His blood:
When Christ came as High Priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation, He entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.
Both readings emphasize the blood, used by Moses and given by Jesus, and both tell us what the blood was for:
Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of His."
If the blood of bulls and goats and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God?
The blood was, therefore, for a sacrificial cleansing leading to a commitment to God by observing His laws, following His teaching, and loving His Word Incarnate.
By those two readings we are encouraged, indeed almost obliged, to think, on hearing the Gospel passage: why did Jesus add the bread, His Body?   This question becomes all the more important when we realize that blood offered and sprinkled evokes easily and clearly cleansing from sin and commitment to God; but when bread also is offered we begin to think of bread and wine as one -- food and drink -- with the result that the sacrificial Body and Blood are not only to be offered to God but also to be received by disciples for sacramental nourishment and spiritual refreshment.
The People of Israel, the original Chosen People, as you heard, pledged themselves to keep the Law given to them through Moses by the Lord:
All the people answered with one voice and said, "We will do everything that the LORD has told us."  
However, both early on in their desert wanderings and increasingly over the span of many centuries leading to the Messianic times, they failed, repeatedly and seriously, to keep their part of the covenant they had originally entered into with God at Sinai, and they failed because they tried to do the impossible.  It was not that God had required what was impossible of them, but because, over the centuries, they had gradually failed in their recognition and appreciation of the divine aspect of their calling; and this, because the basic sin of devilish pride was ever gnawing into and gradually eroding and destroying the integrity of Israel’s ‘official’ worship of, and ‘personal’ relationship with, their God.  Instead of invoking God’s help in their weakness and His grace for their ignorance, they tried to keep the Law not so much by aspiring towards and praying for its spiritual fulfilment, as by reducing its scope to the level of their own natural understanding, and its requirements to the limits of their own personal capacity for meticulous observance.  In that way, their fulfilment of the requirements of the Law became a testimonial to their own undeniable strength of character bolstering an ever more spurious holiness, rather than a means for their education into a truly spiritual understanding of God’s choice of Israel, and an invitation to their whole-hearted acceptance of and response to the wisdom and love of His plan for their privileged participation in the salvation of all mankind.
The offering of sacrificial blood alone came to remind the Israelites above all of obligations to be fulfilled and requirements to be met in a vain attempt to legally fulfil their side of the bilateral agreement made at Sinai.   For the old covenant entered into by Moses at Sinai had been one of the type made between a sovereign Lord and his vassals, a type of treaty common in the Near East of those early days, a treaty in which a Great King would offer a binding covenant to His subjects, whereby He would protect them, and they, in return, would fulfil certain specific obligations of praise, honour, and service as His servants.  However, such treaties were not commonly considered -- by the subject nations around – to bind the minds and hearts of those obliged to obey.   
Humankind has always striven, since stretching out a grabbing hand for forbidden fruit in the original temptation of Eden, to become like to God without in any way becoming godly:
            For God knows that in the day you eat of (the apple) your eyes will be       opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:5)
Indeed, such is the extent of the human version of devilish pride, that some human beings will even seek to make themselves superior to God: trying to force Him, for example by magical practices and incantations, to do their will.
The Son of God, out of His great love for His Father and compassion for our suffering and subjection, came as One among us offering both His Body and His Blood, in order to convince His People of their constant need for both cleansing and strength.  The Gift of such Eucharistic Food -- Bread and Wine, Body and Blood -- is meant to help us become a humble and grateful People, constantly aware of our need for the purification and the power of that heavenly nourishment whereby we can walk safely and successfully, by the Spirit, along the way of Jesus through the desert of this world towards the promised fulfilment of our heavenly Father’s home. 
But there is yet more, for by bringing in the aspect of food and nourishment whereby we constantly look to God for help and strength to follow His guidance and do His will, we are also made aware of our calling to an eternal banquet in heaven, where we will find ourselves being given a place at the divine table that we, most certainly, could never have grabbed for ourselves: a position of honour and – in Jesus, by the Spirit -- of a certain equality with God, as His adopted children in the Kingdom and Family of their eternal Father.  The New Covenant is no longer a mighty-Lord-and-vassal covenant but a living bond of mutual love -- in Jesus by the Spirit -- which allows us to share in the very relationship that exists between Jesus and His Father, as children of the Father, adopted indeed, but most truly His children, because the Spirit uniting Jesus and the Father is our very life, the spiritual blood coursing through our veins and in our heart, the breath of life that fills our lungs.
Today, therefore, thanks to the readings Mother Church has chosen to give us along with Saint Mark’s account of Jesus’ institution of the Holy Eucharist, we have come to recognize something of what Jesus’ offering of Bread and Wine can mean for us: it both humbles and exalts us.  By directly humbling us it can save us from the folly of human pride; while the exaltation it promises us is above anything we could ever have imagined, and thereby, indeed, humbles us yet more, spiritually this time, in a gratitude that knows not what to acclaim loudest, “Thank you Lord for such unimaginable blessings”, or “Lord, I am not worthy.”  And since neither acclamation can ring pure and true without the other, let us, therefore, most whole-heartedly embrace both, and, leaving aside our own cogitations, calmly trust the Spirit both to guide us in our choice and form us by their use.