Eighth Sunday of the Year A

This Sunday‘s Gospel challenges us to trust God

The readings clearly tell us what kind of God we have, and how we are to respond to the God of love. The imagery used to refer to God today crosses all religions and faiths and expressions of God. It goes back to basics.

Nothing can happen without trust. All human relationships, friendships, contracts, agreements and terms of employment are based on trust.

God asks the same of us – a relationship based on our trust.

Do we trust Him? How much does it take? How many proofs do we need? Just as human relationships take time to build on trust in small things to begin with until greater and greater trust develops – with confidence and discretion. It CAN happen that we hit it off with someone instantly. It CAN happen that there is love at first sight. But it is more often the case that we only gradually build up a friendship over time.

God’s relationship of love is unqualified, spontaneous and unconditional. But we object that we can’t see him, so...it requires faith. God does act and speak to us in situations and people and in answered prayer. There are too many coincidences to suggest otherwise. But over time He does gradually let go of the immediate supports and ready answers to prayer and slowly wants us and allows us to stand on our own two feet and not get everything instantaneously our own way or on our terms.
In the unlikely situation of a breast –feeding or expectant mother forgetting her child for a moment, (as we read in the First Reading) God will never forget us for an instant.

But we forget:

• To put God’s will first
• To put God’s concerns first
• That God is two steps ahead of us
• He clearly sees what lies ahead
• Nothing is to be gained by worry
• We are not in full control
• Worries and concerns are real
• Not to serve 2 masters
• While Clothing and food are the two most basic needs, we are not to worry, be anxious, or afraid
• This day is all we have, to act

Perhaps there is another veiled challenge – given our long experience of Fatherly provision and care in God’s hands, which often comes through the support of others, can we not likewise co-operate in God’s plan by providing shelter and food to those in want, to pass it on, carry it forward, as one good turn deserves another?

If I am not to be consuming and wasting time on food and clothing, and to rest assured that they are going to be looked after, well then, what must I do? God’s will. Jesus said ‘my food is to the will of the Father’. What does God want? Do I ask Him? When did I last ask Him what HE wanted instead of what I wanted? What does he want me to do to co-operate with His loving plan for me and how can I make it easier for Him to ‘get His way’, as it were? What am I afraid of letting go?
Jesus is clear: the more I put God and His will (‘thy Kingdom come, thy will be done’ –are one and the same petition really) first in my life, the more all the other details are looked after.

Try it and see.

It has been my experience as a priest that the more time I give in prayer and doing what I ought to be doing in my pastoral duties instead of what suits me at every given moment, the more the everyday concerns are cared for by God or they take care of themselves. The more time I make for God and others, the more time I seem to have and everything works out better than if I had done things solo.

I am amazed I am such a slow learner.

Seventh Sunday of the Year A

Anger and forgiveness

Today’s readings are of a piece and remind us once more of one of the greatest and deeply felt of human passions – anger, rage, hatred, animosity, a desire for revenge, resentment. It is the deliberate harbouring of these emotions that are so un-Christian.

We need examples of forgiveness to inspire us, that it is possible and attainable, and worth letting go of deeply held rage and violations.

The funny thing about anger is that we often fail to recognise that if the world is full of angry people (and if I am one of them) where does all this anger come from, and have I caused other people to be angry? I have to accept and admit to occasions when I have made mistakes. Perhaps I have said and done something tactless (I know I have, and recall being corrected, and rightly so – and remembering the pain of correction can also be embarrassing). I know there are times when I have been misunderstood, that the intention of something I was attempting to say or do was jumped on and exploited, or totally misinterpreted by someone.

Any reasoning with some people is fruitless as sadly there are some people who, for their own reasons, insist in being offended at every turn, or see the worst in everything or are suspicious of other’s motives or are prickly to begin with. We tip-toe around them for an easy life; rather than face up to them, which is actually what they may want or need. They respect people more for facing up to them, and often back off, whereas my knee-jerk response is to avoid conflict; but the day comes when there is a long-awaited and necessary showdown!

I have to accept as a fact of life too that there are just some people I will never fully understand or get along with – we are totally incompatible, and have nothing in common, so the effort to attempt to do so is too much for us, but the best we can do is wish them peace and move along.

However we must try everything that is within our power to forgive and overcome anger.

There are some steps in the 12 step AA programme that are applicable to all and are worth living by. The steps in relation to anger include steps 5, 8, 9 and 10.


5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Is anger always wrong?
There can be righteous anger and indignation over injustice, but I have all too rarely showed it and thought to do something about it. The point is that this anger or energy can be directed for good, to overcome what I perceive to be wrongs and injustices, as well as exerting effort to do something constructive and positive. Not just to forgive, but to create conditions in my life and in my society where seeking forgiveness is not necessary, because I am a force for peace, and grant forgiveness readily.

It is true what they say, ‘to err is human, to forgive divine’. With God, all things are possible. That is why frequent confession helps me not only to be forgiven, but slowly and surely, to be healed where humanly impossible.

The root of so much human unhappiness is pride, which can leads so easily to anger. We also have to forgive ourselves, oddly, and it then becomes easier to forgive others, because we can then identity the faults in them which we also have (or had), and therefore we become more tolerant and understanding. We say to ourselves, ‘I see how that could happen’ or ‘I can see how he/she could come to that wrong conclusion.’ An analysis of our own faults, weaknesses and frailty helps us to be more accepting of these same faults in others. That is the road to peace.

'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us'.

Sixth Sunday of the Year A

Sixth Sunday of Year A

'For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.'
Many of us are familiar with the TV comedy series ‘Keeping up appearances’ and the snob, Mrs Bucket, who tries to hide her common background and circumstances, yet fails miserably to impress those she wants to look good for. We laugh at her vanity, maybe because we can identify with some hint of it secretly in ourselves when we have fallen flat on our faces, or because we know neighbours or acquaintances who think they are fooling us, but are in fact fooling only themselves.

A measure of our maturity or honesty is how readily we can laugh at ourselves and share the joke with others. Blessed are those who do not take themselves too seriously.

We naturally judge people in terms of how they present themselves – for a job interview, for a social occasion, or we admire someone in uniform – and their attention to detail, such as shiny shoes or buttons, does say something about how seriously they take themselves and their role, as well as not letting the side down, as it were, in their profession. We rightly tut-tut at sloppiness in uniform, or someone badly dressed for an occasion. I think of Groucho Marx’s line to a girl who said, ‘I just had enough time to throw on this dress’ to which he replied ‘you nearly missed!’

We judge beauty after a while, however, beyond skin level. Over time as we get to know someone better, appearances simply don’t matter. Friendship, loyalty, reliability, kindness, openness and trust are qualities that tend to endear us to a person over the long haul, much more than what the world might describe as ‘glamorous’.

Surface superficial discipleship is not pleasing to the Lord. To be focussed merely on external appearances, what one looks like. Just as beauty is only skin deep, so can virtue be. We might often ask someone ‘how do I look?’ awaiting praise or an honest comment. That is one thing – to present oneself respectably. It is quite another to do so in an insincere way in a bid to outshine others or to do so that attracts attention and praise for one’s seeming virtue and personal glory as the Pharisees did. The problem for the Pharisees therefore is the cultivated sense of superiority and looking down on others in judgment – usually in a condemning and self-satisfied way - that external emphasis alone can engender, the danger that it is a virtue in itself and is empty show.

Insincerity points to a deep inner flaw that serves as a warning to all of us who desire to keep God’s commandments - lack of integrity, being a hypocrite, ‘looking good’ on the outside, being false and superficial, living a virtuous life that is shallow, merely keeping the rules out of habit and, yes ‘keeping up appearances’.
Even to go to Jerusalem today it is quite striking to note the emphasis on modest dress, on sober colours, on unshaven bearded heads covered in public, with black hats and skullcaps, tassels, and hair in ringlets for men and boys. It is impressive; it is quite public, and therefore the body language is that one is proud to be easily identifiable as a Jew. There is a sense of clarity of identity, expression and belonging. You know when you see these prominent displays of Judaism that you are in the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem or near the Wailing Wall. It is a reminder of the culture and mentality that must have existed in Jesus’ time that emphasised externals.

The Lord condemns the scribes and the Pharisees, however, because they are more concerned about their dress code and parading their observance of rules rather than keeping the commandments in the depths of their hearts and living it out sincerely in practical ways. They miss the wood for the trees, because their adherence to silly human regulations has taken prominence and precedence over the Lord’s own law, or 10 commandments.

The Lord cannot be fooled, even if perceptive people can be for a while. He is described in the First Reading in these terms:

For vast is the wisdom of the Lord;
he is almighty and all-seeing.
His eyes are on those who fear him;
he notes every action of man.

It is quite exhausting to put up a front and be false to others. ‘To thine own self be true, then it follows as night follows day that you cannot be false to any man’ (Polonius farewell advice to Laertes, Hamlet).

But it is quite another thing altogether to live a lie – to be saying one thing and doing another. To do so before the Lord is even more serious.

The word ‘Hypocrisy’ comes from the Greek and it originally meant "play-acting” for those on a stage. It has come to mean living a lie and ‘carrying on an act after you leave the stage, it has come to mean saying a thing without really meaning it. It is ultimately, dishonesty.

How much of my daily Christian life is ‘keeping up appearances’? Is it just a masquerade, or a charade? Or do I mean it? Do I talk the talk’ and ‘walk the walk’?

Or, in the words of the Psalm, is my life ‘happy’ and ‘blameless’ ‘doing his will’, ‘seeking him with all my heart’? Do I know the 10 commandments? Do I examine my conscience often or at all to see if I live them?

Let us take to heart Jesus’ words and examine our consciences:
'For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.

Fifth Sunday of the Year A

The light

Remember the story of a boy who was taken to Mass every Sunday and he was always looking attentively at the stained glass windows? He was asked at school if he knew who or what a saint was, and he answered simply and profoundly – ‘a saint is someone the light shines through.’

I recall meeting (soon to be Blessed) Pope John Paul II quite by accident in 2002, if there is such a thing as ‘accidents.’ My one recollection is that he seemed to be luminous. Yes, there was strong lighting in the indoor auditorium at the Vatican, but as I knelt and kissed his ring, in those short moments I got the distinct impression that I was in the presence of a saint – and he seemed to glow a shimmering light. I have had this impression confirmed by a Polish woman I met in Krakow in 2009 who saw him on more than one occasion. She agreed that he appeared to shine.

The word ‘light’ is mentioned 7 times in the readings of today. But it is not an abstract idea – we are given concrete, practical ways in being a ‘light’ to others. There is a very clear link between being a light and the performance of good works.
When we are surrounded by so much darkness, the light shines all the brighter, and stands out more. The readings tell us that Jesus is the light of the world, but so are we called to be in practical ways.

Taking pity and lending, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter to the homeless, not turning our backs on our own family, generous and persevering, being open-handed instead of a clenched fist – the fist of violence and the fist of meanness, ‘grasping’, unjust, and doing away with wicked speech. We are to do all this by being a good example – not hypocritically but with a pure intention, so that God might be praised and not us. A light of the world is someone who is just and merciful in all their dealings with others, who selflessly does good works – perseveringly, consistently and not sparingly or infrequently. The praise is for God not for ourselves. We must be motivated by being a sign, not a destination or cul-de-sac.

Our faith in Christ must have a knock-on effect, as it were. We think of Blessed Mother Teresa, who was light and yet mysteriously suffered so much interior darkness. Her book describing her incredible years of darkness (depression?) is entitled ‘Come Be My Light’. Christ was her light – and like the lighting of one small tea light to another – we too are called to pass on the light we have received. All energy in the planet comes ultimately from the sun. All spiritual energy comes from the Son of God.

It’s amazing how we tan ourselves and yet we know we must be exposed to the right kind of light. The same is true for us spiritually – there is a certain glow of radiated joy in a holy, saintly, self-sacrificing person, who smiles and acts out of genuine Christian joy because they have been exposed to Christ in prayer. We too are called to be like them. We benefit and feel better and maybe even challenged to be better Christins, even saints ourelves (imagine!), as a result of being in their company. But as we might try hard to get a great skin colour (even from a tanning salon which is an imitation of the working of the sun's UV rays) we should be more anxious to go to the source of all light – Christ – who is THE light – of the world.

We must draw close by prayer – especially before the Blessed Sacrament – as well as imitating the kind of life he lived, which was not for Himself alone, but for others. It was the life that Pope John Paul II called living according to ‘the Law of the Gift’ – complete self-giving and God cannot be outdone in generosity. Mother Teresa lived this kind of life, that the more you give, the more you get back. The reading and the Psalm give us the formula of this kind of life.

We are called to examples of light to one another. How do we measure up? How do we score? How bright are we?