The most difficult times can produce the greatest spiritual blessings. God truly knows just what we need at every moment!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Palm Sunday reflections

How were we saved?

How did Jesus save us?  Was it because he suffered and died for us?  Was it because he made the ultimate sacrifice?  Was it not because, in the words of the Second Reading from Philippians, he "emptied himself" totally and in so doing became filled with the Spirit of his Father.  He clung to nothing; he let go of everything.  (That is what we find so hard.)

Jesus suffered obviously in his body and he underwent pain that we associate with the more barbaric forms of torture in our own day.  But he must also have suffered psychologically and this pain may have been even more intense.  He saw his mission collapse all around him in total failure.  His disciples had all, for the sake of their own skins, taken to their heels.  Would anyone remember anything he taught or did?  There was, at this special time of need, a terrible loneliness.  His disciples fell asleep in the garden when he especially needed their support.  They ran off as soon as people came to arrest Jesus.  Even the Father seems to be silent, the Father who could send legions of angels to rescue him - but apparently did nothing.  There is the final poignant cry from the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

At the moment of his death, Matthew in today's Gospel reading says that Jesus "released the spirit".  It is a way of saying that he breathed his last breath and died.  But it also has the other meaning that the life, sufferings and death of Jesus, when properly understood, released a power into the world, the power of the Spirit of God, a Spirit with which Jesus himself was filled. Jesus' followers will soon become filled with that Spirit also.

Hosanna !! and Crucify him !!! …

The crying out of these words, we hear side by side in today's liturgy of the word. In fact, less than a week,
Precisely five days separates them. On Sunday He is called a King by the crowds and on Friday - probably the same crowds - call for His death. Often it is the same in our lives; after days of glory will suddenly come, days of disaster and mortification, days of difficulty and fear.
Do not forget that, after Palm Sunday with its "Hosanna" comes Good Friday with the cry "Crucify Him". But also don't forget that after Good Friday comes Sunday of the Resurrection, with its truth: "I am the Resurrection and the Life, who believes in me, even if he dies will live with me".

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Lent

The readings today are all about salvation. The extract from the Book of Chronicles gives us an account of the great exile known as the Babylonian Captivity that occurred in 586 BC.

This was a most extraordinary event. After over four hundred years of rule by the descendants of King David the Kingdom of Judah was overthrown by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon and the majority of the population taken into captivity.

In many ways things in the Middle East haven’t changed that much, there have been power struggles going on there right down the ages to our own day. In the period we are thinking about the newly ascendant empire was that of Babylon. Their King, Nebuchadnezzar, was well aware of the riches owned by his weaker neighbour and soon decided to plunder Judah and enslave its inhabitants.

One sure way to keep a whole people in slavery is to destroy their hope. Since the hope of a nation is often expressed in its religion Nebuchadnezzar lost no time in destroying the Temple in Jerusalem. He was convinced that this would send the people into despair and they would become more easily manageable.

Nebuchadnezzar thought that the Israelites would conclude that their God was weak and powerless since he could not even defend his own Temple.

But, of course, the very opposite happened. The Prophet Jeremiah had foretold these events and the people came to understand that the destruction of the Temple and their enslavement was not a result of the weakness of God but due to their own infidelity. They interpreted the Captivity as appropriate punishment by God for disobeying him rather than demonstrating any inadequacy on his part.

The Captivity lasted seventy years and then God moved the heart of the new ruler of Babylon, the Persian King Cyrus, to release the Jews and to actually go so far as to rebuild the Temple for them.

This must have seemed quite incredible to the People of Israel. They had been lamenting their lot in Babylon as is so eloquently expressed in the Psalm given to us today. And then suddenly this new pagan king expresses his belief in their God and says that he has been instructed by him to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.

This was surely a most extraordinary miracle and a profound vindication of the God of their fathers; a faith strengthened and renewed rather than extinguished by seventy years of captivity.

Just imagine their rejoicing as they returned home to freedom. This can only be described as a profound experience of salvation for them.

We should remember that this wasn’t the first time that the People of Israel had experienced captivity and exile. You will remember the Exile into Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs and how Moses led the Chosen People through the Red Sea and then through forty years in the desert until they reached the Promised Land of Canaan.

These experiences of salvation were deeply ingrained in the history and culture of Israel. You could not think of a better way of preparing a race of people for the definitive saving event of all time –the salvation won by Jesus Christ.

The only trouble with us humans is that we forget. We continually forget even the most important lessons in life. And, as a people, the Jews were no different in that they continually forgot the lessons of the deepest experiences they had collectively endured.

Jesus explains this to Nicodemus. He tells him how what Moses achieved was going to happen once again but in a greater and more definitive way.

This time there would be no exile into slavery, no journey through the desert, no glorious entry into the Promised Land. There would be no captivity in Babylon, no sudden change of heart by a pagan Emperor.

No, this time the circumstances would be almost banal. A squalid betrayal by a once loyal disciple, an arrest in a garden in the middle of the night, a trumped up trial, the exchange of his life for that of a rebel and the crucifixion by Romans on behalf of a corrupt priesthood.

We have been speaking about memory but there are different kinds of memory. We are all familiar with short-term memory. We remember where we left our car in the supermarket car park. But we don’t retain this information for long otherwise our minds would be clogged up with a lot of unnecessary data.

Then there is long-term memory. This is more difficult; we often remember scenes from our childhood or significant events. Sometimes events flood unbidden into our minds, things that we thought were long forgotten.

And there is collective memory. This is the memory of a whole nation or community. It is about the significance of their history. A modern example would be the memory of the holocaust for the Jews, and indeed also for the Germans. Keeping these events alive is important in order to maintain the identity of the community concerned.

The events of the Exodus and the Captivity have been highly significant for the Jews down through the ages. They were demonstrations of their chosenness by God which was precisely what they considered made them different from all the other nations of the earth.

These were powerful experiences of salvation which affected a whole people for many generations. They were powerful demonstrations of God’s love despite the infidelity of a considerable proportion of the nation.

And yet, by the time of Jesus, these things were being forgotten. The priests especially were caught up in a highly clerical religion which exploited the people and which ensured places of privilege from themselves. This was accompanied by highly inappropriate collusion with the Roman invaders.

Jesus tells Nicodemus what is about to happen. He reveals to this important member of the Jewish hierarchy that God is now going to intervene in a most spectacular way and is going to definitively bring about salvation not merely for the Jewish people but for the whole human race.

Memory remains important, because it is our collective memory which communicates this extraordinary intervention of God in the history of the world to future generations.

We keep this memory fresh by constantly reading the scriptures and by gathering together to celebrate the Eucharist each week. These are the means by which the Good News of the Kingdom is kept alive in the world today.

In the words of consecration Our Lord says: Do this in memory of me. It is his memory we keep alive, it is his salvation that we celebrate; it is his Kingdom that we look forward to so much.

Friday, March 06, 2015

III Sunday of Lent - B

Ex 20:1-17 or 20:1-3, 7-8, 12-17; 1 Cor 1:22-25; Jn 2:13-25

Few days ago I got a letter from one of these corporations sending different type of advertisements, bulletins and booklets. In the letter I read:

There is no doubt you feel the increasing encroachment of godlessness in every aspect of public life: godlessness in governments; godlessness in economics; godlessness in the universities; godlessness in the courts; godlessness in the sciences; godlessness in the news media; and even godlessness in once-Catholic families.

It is a godlessness that quickly turns into a tangible hostility to religion.

This godlessness has come about due to a loss of belief in the one true Catholic Faith. Central tenets of the faith have been undermined, ridiculed and denied, perhaps as never before in history.

The average Catholic, immersed in the worldwide media of television, radio and the internet, is constantly bombarded with direct or indirect assaults on his Faith.

And how can one live a good moral life if one’s Faith has been decimated? The collapse of the Faith is the cause of the unprecedented rise in immorality of our time.

At first I was rather astonished and ready to rebuke this kind of negativistic vision of the world. It cannot be so bad. We have still some good examples of faith and morality. We cannot see all in these black and dark colours.

But after a day or so, I read today’s readings and I did a simple verification and comparison with the contemporary reality.

In the first reading we have the Ten Commandments, the law of God, about what one of the philosophers said, that there is no possibility of denying the ultimate value of this law.

1.     You shall not have other gods besides me.
2.     You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain.
3.     Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
4.     Honour your father and your mother,
5.     You shall not kill.
6.     You shall not commit adultery.
7.     You shall not steal.
8.     You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
9.     You shall not covet your neighbour’s house.
10.       You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or anything else that belongs to him.

And yet if I verify these instructions with our contemporary life...?

How many people live their lives worshipping money, comfort, extravagance, pleasure, success, satisfaction, wealth? Where in all this is God the Father?

How often even among Catholics especially politicians the name of the Lord is taken only for the political and unfair ways and purposes?

How many people keep the day of rest holy?

“Honour your father and your mother” and I thought about the persistent agenda on euthanasia?

“You shall not kill” and I thought about the pro-choice lows and abortion ...

“You shall not commit adultery” – and immediately click out the pornographic industry ...

And we can continue with all ... and it will be no end. All commandments are constantly neglected, denied, rejected and contradicted in the name of human rights, in the name of human dignity, human freedom, in the name of civil liberties ...

And then I read the Gospel, where I see Jesus Christ in rage and how the “zeal for the house of God is consuming Him” and I realised that most probably He will react in the same way seeing what is going on with His Church, the Temple of God today. How often this Temple of God became only the marketplace of the personal opinions, private convictions, individualistic statements, the place of business and commerce where o more God and his worship is present but ME and MY personality?

godlessness in governments; godlessness in economics; godlessness in the universities; godlessness in the courts; godlessness in the sciences; godlessness in the news media; and even (I will dare to say) godlessness in once-Catholic Church. Central tenets of the faith have been undermined, ridiculed and denied, perhaps as never before in history.

Should we fell in desperation and anxiety, hopelessness and despair? Should we be depressive and sad?
Is it really so bad?

And then I read the short passage from the letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, our second reading today:

Brothers and sisters:

when Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom
we proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are called, the power of God and the wisdom of God.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

“Jesus Christ crucified the power of God and the wisdom of God” will certainly take care of His Temple, and will cleanse His Church.

As long as we believe Jesus Christ crucified we don’t need to be afraid, hopeless and depressive.