The Deep End
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
4 October 2020 • Day for Life
Today marks the end of the Season of Creation, a time to remember that we are protectors of this earth and have been given responsibility to care for it, not to plunder and destroy it. The parable told in the Gospel today also speaks to this as we hear that the workers of the vineyard have lost sight of their original agreement with the owner and, consumed by greed, have lost their way.
Today is also the feast of St Francis of Assisi. He experienced all of God’s creation as family: ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Sister Water’. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who saw how intimately connected everything in this world really is. The COVID 19 crisis has reminded all of us of this deep interconnection; what happens in one part of the world affects us all as we share one common humanity and live together on a common home.
During the days of lockdown many of us became more aware of simple things like birdsong, trees, flowers, the earth resting. Pope Francis says that this deeper awareness, ‘takes us to the heart of what it is to be human’ and gives us an opportunity to regain a sense of awe and wonder for creation. ‘Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever St Francis would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song.’ (Laudato Si’, 11). The roots of the environmental crisis are deeply spiritual. As we bring this Season of Creation to a close, let it be a spring-board into contemplation and action where our relationship with God’s creation is concerned. This is an urgent call. And one which faith communities have a responsibility to respond to. ‘Truly much can be done!’ (Laudato Si’, 180).
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Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
11 October 2020
A royal wedding
Today’s gospel is difficult. Stories of judgement, weeping and gnashing of teeth just do not appeal to most people. We hear about a King whose invitations to his son’s wedding banquet are repeatedly refused. In some instances his messengers are killed. One interpretation of this parable is that it is an allegory for the Jesus story, God’s invitation to the Messianic banquet has been refused by those who are expected to embrace it. This banquet is therefore opened up to the unexpected, the Gentiles, the poor, those on the margins, the outcast.
Going deeper again, we can hear that God wants to be in a relationship with each of us. We are all invited to this banquet. Yet, sometimes we exclude ourselves from being in fellowship with God. We may be hurt, suffering in a way that is preventing us from accepting the invitation to experience God’s love and hospitality. We simply want to be left alone. Notice how the host in this parable persists. God does not give up on us.
And what about that poor chap who did come but was not suitably dressed? If we accept the invitation we should be ready for change and not just change of an outer garment, real change. Because any real experience of God in our lives transforms us in some way or another. Parables were meant to shock those who heard them. The Gospel is meant to make us uncomfortable. Otherwise, what changes for us? We can sit around and listen to nice gentle passages that keep us comforted, or we can be challenged and moved to experiencing something real, something which requires us to show up and be transformed. It is up to us whether or not we accept this invitation.
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Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
18 October 2020 • Mission Sunday
Emperor’s or Christ’s vision?
Continuing our reading of Matthew 22 today, the Pharisees are not impressed with Jesus’ teachings and decide to ‘entrap’ him, quizzing him about paying taxes. It is a dangerous question they ask because a simple yes or no response from Jesus could mean he is reported to the authorities. Jesus has no time for this and is quite direct with them asking: ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?’
The response is brilliant: ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ This text has sometimes been used to argue that religion should stay out of politics, economics or culture. However, the world we live in is one that falls short of the vision and values which Jesus preached: a dream of a world of love, peace, justice and compassion. Being a follower of Jesus means that one is actively involved in striving for this vision and this includes whatever political, economic or cultural issues we are confronted with. The focus in this passage is getting our priorities straight. Yes, give the emperor his taxes but do not forget what belongs to God i.e. God’s vision for this world.
The ‘empirical’ view and the ‘Christ-view’ of issues like direct provision, homelessness, evictions, the Black Lives Matter movement, climate action… are usually very different. The pharisees, we are told, ‘were amazed, left him and went away’.
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Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
25 October 2020
The Pharisees continue their harassment of Jesus in today’s Gospel by asking him which commandment is the greatest. What follows is the most famous verses of the New Testament: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul … And … You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ We probably can’t hear this enough. Love is the greatest commandment and this is a radical statement. Because this love is agape love, i.e. a love of those we don’t even know or even like! It is a love that binds all of humanity.
We cannot separate love of God and neighbour; they are like two sides of a coin; they only work together. If we do not treat others with compassion, then how can we say we love God? Jesus often spoke about approaching the altar whilst holding a grudge against someone (Mt 5:24) and continuously challenged those who were hypocrites. Those critical of social justice movements in the church often say we should not be involved in doing ‘social work’. But this is exactly what we must do because this is how we love God, by loving our neighbour who is suffering, who is oppressed, who is in pain. We can love God and love people, there does not have to be a dichotomy.
There is a beautiful practice in India of using the mystical phrase ‘Namaste’ in greetings, which means: ‘the Divine in me greets the Divine in you’. Usually this is accompanied by a deep bow towards the person. How wonderful it would be to really see God present in each other and, more importantly, in those that society would rather cast aside. In this way we are being true to the greatest commandment.
‘May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.’
St Therese of Lisieux
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