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Sunday, March 17, 2013

17 March 2013 - Fifth Sunday in Lent

Shared Homily Starter

First Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 126
Second Reading: Philippians 3:4-14
Gospel: John 12:1-8

If Paul were alive today, he might have said something like this: 

You think you have reason to be confident in your humanity.  Well, if anyone does, I do.  I am a cradle Catholic, was baptized when I was as a baby, had the best Catholic education, and became a priest and then part of the Vatican hierarchy.  I worked diligently for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and weeded out those who disagreed with official Church doctrine.  As to following Canon Law, I am blameless.

But whatever brownie points ─ no pun intended─ all this might appear to give, it is worthless and can even be counted as a deficit, in light of what Jesus is calling me to do and to be.  Any humanity that I have comes through the work of God in me through faith in Jesus.  If I want to share in the heavenly kingdom, I have to follow in the footsteps of Jesus in bringing about the kingdom.  It means a willingness to suffer loss of power, prestige, and even my life for the sake of love, compassion and justice.

I am nowhere near reaching that goal but Jesus calls me to press on, to make his work my own because he has made me his own. So my relatives, let us not dwell on our past but keep our eyes on our future as we continually return to God’s call as expressed in the teachings, the life and resurrection of Jesus. 

So that’s my interpretation of what Paul would say today.

In keeping with Paul’s suggestion to keep our eyes on the future, I looked at today’s Gospel with new eyes.  It is not that what I had heard or thought throughout the years was wrong or in any way lacking but I just wanted to see if anything else came up for me while as I reflected on this passage.

The first thing I noted was that it was also a Martha and Mary story.  Once again Martha was busy with the tasks of hospitality and Mary was giving all of her attention to Jesus.  Jesus doesn’t put down Martha’s efforts in Luke’s Martha and Mary story─ and─ in today’s Gospel, Jesus does not chastise Judas on the selfish reasons that motivate his concern for the poor.  Hospitality and concern for the poor are praiseworthy attributes but as Paul notes they are nothing unless rooted in Christ.  Paul states in the second reading, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection”.  In Luke, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to what he was saying.  In today’s Gospel, “Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.”  Mary is getting to know Jesus.  Mary has been listening, listening intently, and so she knows, even if the Apostles don’t, that Jesus will be put to death. 

So when Jesus says to Judas, “Leave her alone… You always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me,” He is also talking to us.  Jesus isn’t telling us to ignore poverty and injustice.  Rather, Jesus is telling us to also know what is happening in our own homes.  In other words, do we listen to and care for the Christ within those under own roofs?  Many of us spend a lot of time, money and energy on causes, while neglecting those near and dear to us.  Compassion and justice, just like charity, begins at home.  On the personal level and on the socio-political level, this is one of the messages of today’s Gospel.  What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

03 March 2013 - Third Sunday in Lent

Shared Homily Starter

First Reading: Isaiah 55:1-9
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 63:1-8
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Gospel: Luke 13:1-9
Lent, as we know, is a season of reconciliation and repentance.  Today’s readings not only speak to us of these things but also of how God is with us to help us achieve reconciliation and repentance.  We think of the sacrament of reconciliation as the confession of our sins and an act of penance that is assigned to us by our priest/confessor.  Yet it should also be so much more than that.

In the Jewish “Day of Atonement” or Yom Kippur prayers, they proclaim that Teshuva, Tefila and Tzedaka will remove any negative decree. These three concepts are commonly translated as repentance, prayer and charity.  The word repentance comes from the Latin word poenitire which means “make sorry”, however, there is a different Hebrew word for “make sorry,” not Teshuva. Teshuva is commonly understood as the act of turning over a new leaf.  When someone has made a mistake in life and after coming to the realization that they have erred, they commit themselves to change and become a new person.  However, the real concept of Teshuva is not a process of changing ourselves but rather a process of returning to our true selves.  The core of every person is good.  It is only a superficial reflection of the self when a person behaves inappropriately.  So, the solution to any momentary lapse is not to transform oneself into something else but rather to revert back to our default state, that of goodness. Therefore, a more accurate translation would be return[1].  This then is repentance, which is to make good again.  Likewise this is reconciliation, which is to restore, repair and to bring into harmony.

In the first reading we are asked why we spend our money on things that don’t nourish us and spend our energies on things that don’t bring us peace.  Runaway capitalism and our consumer culture have made all of us like gerbils, endlessly spending our time and energy running around on a wheel, going nowhere.  We are all so busy but really have little inner peace and satisfaction.  In my opinion, individual busyness and the tentacles of over-zealous corporate business are very instrumental in our current disconnect from our innate, natural goodness.  These are the avenues through which we forget that by seeking God, we can come to know that God is as near as our hearts─ and by opening them, we can find the Divine Presence within us.  We are called to reconciliation and repentance, that is, to return to right relationships with God, our relatives, and our true selves.
The second reading retells the story of the people breaking their covenant with God, even as Yahweh, through Moses is leading them to the Promised Land.  Paul explicitly tells us that he is relating these things so we don’t make the same mistakes.  He is also letting us know that “No testing has overtaken [us] that is not common to everyone.”

This week I spent a day and a half at one of the Reconciliation Dialogue Circles that are being held in preparation for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s arrival in Vancouver this coming September.  We were a group of about 30 or 40 Native and non-Native people from various denominations in the Lower Mainland.  The facilitators were from BC First Nations and followed either a Christian or Traditional spiritual path.  The one thing our First Nations facilitators made clear is that reconciliation is a spiritual endeavour, which made me think, if only our government could fathom, accept and proceed from this starting point.

One part of the circle process was listening to the individual residential school and post-residential school experiences of the Native participants.  Another part was that each non-Native participant got the opportunity to tell their own personal stories.  Through this experience, the truth of Paul’s statement became reality for me, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing God will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”  I say this because it didn’t seem to matter whether  a person was from an alcoholic home or from the ideal white, upper middle-class home, each person’s story contain experiences of pain and brokenness.  Each person’s presence also demonstrated their strength and resilience.  

Each story illustrated that Our Gardener God is as caring and loving of us, as the Gardener in today’s Gospel is of the fig tree.  Our God prunes us, digs around us and yes, even puts manure on us, as an invitation to bear the fruit of reconciliation and repentance.  Repentance and reconciliation must be accompanied by prayer and charity, but as in Yom Kippur sense, charity entails compassion and justice[2].   For example, I learned from our Coast Salish brothers and sisters this week that when they lift up their hands saying “Hai’tch’ka Siem”, they are giving thanks to the Creator and, to and for the gift of a particular person.  The gesture is also a reminder that we are to lift each other up.  True charity then is not only cheque-book charity; it is also lifting our sisters and brothers up emotionally and spiritually.  So with these things in mind let us, as the Psalmist says, “lift up our hands and call on God’s name” to bring us to true reconciliation and repentance not only this Lent, but as a lifestyle.
Please share your thoughts.