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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Year A - 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's gospel parable is an allegory. As you know an allegory is a story with two levels of meaning. First, there's the surface of the story. Then there's the deeper meaning that surface story and characters represent. The parables in this chapter of Matthew are about action and attention, or more accurately, the focus of one's attention.

With today's gospel there is an underlying sub-plot that I have always overlooked. My previous interpretations took “talents” not as units of coinage1 but as gifts that God has given us. So, the meaning that I extrapolated from this interpretation was that whatever gifts or talents God gave us were to be used or shared. Whenever we used the gifts we had, whether they were great or small, we would receive even more. For example, if one has the gift of a skill or art and shares that with others by teaching them that skill or art, one gains the experience of teaching, more confidence and the joy that comes from helping others. Conversely, if one buries one's gifts unused, they just wither and die.

While I still believe all that is part of the teaching of this parable, I don't think it's the whole of the teaching. An important part of the parable is where we focus our attention. Because where we focus our attention informs our actions. When we look at the servant who was given one talent, we see that his focus was on his boss's faults, that the boss was demanding, that he reaped the fruits from the labour of others. He did not consider that as a farmer, he also had the business and administrative end of farming. Incidentally, he didn't consider that if the farmer did everything himself, he—the servant-- would be out of a job. So his focus on what he saw as negative qualities of the boss prevented the creative use of the coin or talent with which he was entrusted. As Richard Rohr writes:

If you have not received or will not give this gift of love to others, your soul remains tied to a small, earthly, empty world which is probably what we mean by hell. (God can only give love to those who want it.)2
Now let's look at the other two servants. They paid attention to how the boss handled his affairs. They probably observed with whom and how he did the business of the farm. So in the boss's absence, they emulated what they thought he would do. They were focused on the big picture as well as the details. They were aware that their livelihood depended on the successful operation of the farm by the farmer. Therefore, each of them found a creative use for what the master had given them and increased what they had. They were rewarded for their ingenuity and creativity in handling what they were given. They were promoted and invited to share in the farmer's joy.

As an example, let's take someone who has the gift of faith. The person with one talent, is one with a narrow view of God. A view that sees God as a stern authoritarian father figure. If this person's religion is Christianity and informed by this perception of God, that perception causes them to see scripture as literal. So they can dominate and subdue the earth, women and non-Christians. Because in this view males , like God, should be stern authoritarian father figures. This allows them to have no qualms about running corporations or passing laws that cause environmental harms, health problems and illnesses and human rights violations. The leadership of Canada's mining company Goldcorp come to mind as does the current president of the United States. They fail to let their faith lead them to love and empathy.

An example of the other servants is someone who also has the gift of faith. They too start off with a narrow faith as most people do. Then their perception of God begins to change as they become more familiar with God. They pay attention to God's work in scripture and in the world. They begin to have an expansive perception of God as a God of love, who created the world and said it was good. They know that God is calling them to work for the common good. They in turn want to share this vision with others. Bill Wilson, the founder of AA, comes to mind. The fruits of his vision and sharing keep rippling out across the world and down through the years. An example closer to home, that some of you may know personally, is Rev. Dr. Don Grayston, who passed away last month. He was born, raised and lived in Vancouver. But the influence of his love and love of justice that he spread to his students, friends and everyone he met spans the globe. Don focused on the magnanimity of God's love. With Don, no one felt excluded or unappreciated. Here again, I quote Richard Rohr who writes:

If you are already at home in love, you will easily and quickly go to the home of love which is surely what we mean by heaven. There the growth never stops and the wonder never ceases. (If life is always change and growth, eternal life must be infinite possibility and growth!)3
So today's gospel is about how what captures your attention rather than just about what you do with what you're given Why? Because how you perceive God and the world affects what you do with what you have. Seeing only the negative in people or situations blinds one to possibilities. The ability to see the big picture as well as the details that may not be obvious, opens one up to creative possibilities. Jesus wants us to have life, have life abundantly. So let us stay focused on the love of God alive in us, so we too can grow in love and share God's joy.


Please share your thoughts.

1The talent was a unit of coinage of high but varying value depending on its metal (gold, silver, copper) and its place of origin. Source: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+18%3A14-27&version=NABRE
2Rohr, Richard. Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi. Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2016, 268.
3Rohr, Richard. Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi. Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2016, 268.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Fifth Anniversary Reflection

by Rev. Dr. Victoria Marie, RCWP Canada West

They say a priest has a miraculous power
to turn bread and wind into Jesus
But the miracle is to cultivate
the seed of Jesus within, that feeds us.
It's been five years
since my ordination.
Have I served well, progressed
or rested in stagnation?
Have I preached well,
broken open the Word
encouraged others,
listened, truly heard.
Provided space for others
to share their talents,
steered folks towards
inner/outer balance?
Do I hear their woes,
share in the lament,
as well as the joys
Divine Mystery has sent?
Have I shown by my own actions
that everything is sacred,
by loving Creator, my neighbour
and all God created.
Have I shown, like faith,
love is a verb?
Faith without love, love without action,
is empty, absurd.
Even if I've answered
these questions well
these are things at which
a priest can never excel.
Like everyone else, a priest
will never reach perfection.
Like everyone else, a priest
grows with self-examination, reflection.
Ministers must aim
for wholeness, ever reaching.
It in striving and living,
a pastor's true teaching.
Celebrations, lamentations,
all part of the story
as a community strives for wholeness,
seeks to behold God's glory.
In the end it's not perfection
in ministry, our test.
It's open hearts, open minds,
trying always to give our best.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Woman priest tells conference that the Great Commission of the Gospel includes cracking the hard shell of patriarcy

Linda Spear | May 28, 2017

 Originally published at http://rcwpcanada.x10.mx/

"Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you." (Mt. 28, 16-20) 
 
It is fitting, then that our Gospel reading is the Great Commission. This is neither the time nor the place to enter into a scholarly discussion of whether this passage, this command of Jesus, was added much later. What we do know is that, in the Christian Scriptures, we have a record of the beliefs of the early Christians. We also have the witness of the Scriptures and of early Christian writings as to how those early believers lived out this commission, even to the shedding of their blood.
 
The first part of the Great Commission tells us to spread the Good News and to baptize, to bring everyone into union with Jesus. 

What is this Good News? Jesus himself told us when he read the passage from Isaiah in the synagogue in his home town, Nazareth. (Luke 4:18)
 
            The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
            For the Spirit has anointed me
            To bring the good news to the afflicted.
            and to the broken-hearted.
            The Spirit has sent me to proclaim liberty to the 
            captives,
            Sight to the blind,
            To let the oppressed go free
            To proclaim a year of favour from our God. (Isaiah 
            61:12)
 
We know how well the message went over with the home town crowd. They ran to grab him and would have thrown him over a cliff if they had been able.
 
John the Baptist, already in prison for calling out Herod for marrying his sister-in-law, sends his disciples to check out Jesus’ credentials. In response to their question as to whether he is the One for whom they are waiting, Jesus replies:
           
"Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see again, the lame walk, those suffering from virulent skin diseases are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the good news is proclaimed to the poor; and blessed is anyone who does not find me a cause for falling."  (Luke 7:20-21)
 
These are some of the signs that the reign of God is among us. Jesus’ parables often have as their point a message of justice for the poor and a warning to those who have more than enough and who do not share. We have the story of Dives and Lazarus, the tale of the man whose barns are too small for his harvest who plans, unwittingly on his death bed, to build bigger barns. In real life there is the story of the rich young man who went away sad, and the widow’s mite. The Gospels are full of the call to equality, to sharing, and to treating each of God’s little ones with care and compassion. We are told that even giving a cup of cold water to someone in Jesus’ name will have its reward.
 
Jesus, like a good teacher, a good leader, taught by his example. He told us to love everyone, whether good or evil, like our Father, who makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike. Jesus was a servant leader, washing the feet of his disciples and telling them to do likewise. He was a humble leader, telling us that if we would be great, we must seek that last place.  
 
Jesus challenged the leaders of Israel who did the opposite, saying: "They (the Pharisees) tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, But will they lift a finger to move them? Not they." (Mt. 23:4) He has similar words for the lawyers: "Alas for you lawyers as well, because you load on people burdens that are unendurable, burdens that you yourselves do not touch with your fingertips." (Luke 11:46)
 
I wonder if we can see similar situations in our society, in our government, in our church? If the tax department makes a mistake, well, it’s nothing serious. But just let one of us little people make an innocent mistake on a tax return and suddenly we find the whole weight of government being brought to bear against us. Our society tolerates institutional crooks, bankers who steal people’s money, but let one of us make a mistake in dealing with a mortgage or a car loan and we end up paying through the nose.
 
As for the Church, and I know you’re all waiting for this one, we have only to think of all the teachings on sexual ethics. What about the encouragement to people to have full burials because cremation, with the ashes scattered, doesn’t give the mourners a place to go to visit the deceased. (Never mind the understanding that the deceased are in a different dimension, in eternity, free from the limitations of time and space. And don’t get me started about the Stagliano Cemetery in Genoa where, unless you have lots of money, your remains are dug up and buried in a common pit after ten years.) I wonder if the people who draft these laws have ever had to negotiate with a funeral home over a burial where you may be guilted into paying far more than you can afford for a loved one’s funeral.)
 
Finally, of course, is the teaching and Canon 1024 which states that women may not receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. Some of us may think an ordained ministry is not necessary. But as long as the Church has an ordained ministry, this failure to include women in it sends a message loud and clear: Women are inferior to men. And this message is heard, in some parts of the world, by men in patriarchal societies, because it gives them the license to exploit women. Of course, the teaching against birth control, recently reiterated in the Philippines, a very poor country, effectively keeps women and their societies in poverty. In addition the prohibition against condoms sentences women and innocent babies to die in great numbers from AIDS. (One African bishop is said to have remarked: Babies don’t get AIDS.)
 
So this Jesus whom we all profess to follow, let himself be handed over to death by a friend while protecting his followers. He forgave those who were crucifying him and welcomed the repentant thief into paradise. He forgave Peter, giving him a chance to repair his threefold denial with a threefold profession of his love. He is the God of second chances, nay, of seven times seventy chances. In the footsteps of Jesus, Paul tells us, “Bless your persecutors, never curse them, bless them.
  
The second part of the commission deserves greater attention. Jesus wants us to do everything that he has commanded. What has he commanded? What is the passion of God and what is the character of this God who sent his Son into the world to teach us? The character of God is love, overflowing, poured out upon all creation, keeping everything that is in being, loving every nano particle that exists, let alone the little sparrow that falls to the ground. And God’s passion is for justice, that every one of the creatures has what it needs, that no one is in want, that no one goes hungry while others have more than enough.
 
We are all here because we have heard the call for justice. We know that the oppression of women affects not only women themselves but their children and their societies. It has been amply demonstrated that where women can control their fertility, can control their finances, can be educated, their societies are lifted up with them.
 
Many authors and speakers have shown the hypocrisy of a society and a Church that speaks out for equality but does not give women an equal place in decision-making and ministry. Why are women still under represented in business circles, in government and in the churches? Even in some churches that ordain women, there are some congregations that do not want a woman priest or minister. We still live, even in Canada in this day and age, in a misogynistic society. Why, in the Catholic Church, are women priests condemned equally with pedophiles? Why are they excommunicated when, to the best of my knowledge, pedophile priests are not? Truly, there is much work to be done.
 
Now is not the time to lower our arms raised in prayer for our suffering sisters and brothers. Now is not the time to be invisible. We are not to put our light under a bushel basket. The support of various women's movements is necessary to crack the hard shell of patriarchy.
 
In a paraphrase of an early Canadian feminist: Never give in, never give up. Never explain, never apologize, just get the thing done. 

Or, as we say in Québec, Lache pas!


[Linda Spear an ordained priest, member of RCWP Canada, ministers in Sutton, QC.]

 




 

Sunday, April 02, 2017

2 April 2017 - The Fifth Sunday of Lent

Today's gospel is quite lengthy, so I'll confine my comments to a brief explanation of the reference to “two days” and “four days” mentioned in the gospel reading and my thoughts on faith and emotions for followers of Jesus.

John's uses “two days” in reference to Jesus remaining two days longer from the time he hears of Lazarus' death. These two days plus the two day travel time to Bethany make up the four days referenced in v. 39, where Martha says the Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days. Four days is significant because as scripture scholar, Moloney, informs his readers: “As well as the physical decomposition of the body after four days…there is a widely held Jewish opinion that the soul hovered near the body for three days, but by the fourth all hope of resuscitation was gone.”i Therefore Jesus revelation of the power and glory of God are all the more indisputable because there could be no doubt in the minds of the witnesses that Lazarus had truly been dead.

As I have send before each gospel was written by the author for a specific community. It appears that in John's community women and men were viewed as equals. His gospel considered discipleship and belief in Jesus as foremost and included women as “first-class” disciples. He drives this point home by telling us in today's gospel reading that Jesus loved Martha and Mary. Similarly, later on in John's gospel, the Evanglist writes, “Mary Magdalene was one of “his own” sheep whom he called by name.”ii Martha and Mary illustrate, being a disciple of Christ “involves faith, courage, tenacity, honesty, genuineness with emotions, recognition of needs, humility to seek help from [Jesus], and willingness to confront doubts and long-held beliefs that may be in error”iii. In my opinion, They are symbols for the spiral stages in a life of discipleship: beginning in faith, then challenged by doubt or crisis, which emerges as a stronger faith. The exchange between Martha and Jesus are an example of this progression.

I agree with Gail O'Day, who calls the conversation between Martha and Jesus, the “theological heart of this story.” O'Day describes Martha as having “a bold and robust faith,” that empowers her to speak freely to Jesus and that even her brother’s death can’t shake her trust that Jesus can “make God’s gifts available.” iv According to O’Day when Martha declares “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” it reflects the Fourth Gospel’s central question: Will we continue to keep Jesus in our own predefined boxes or will we “allow Jesus to shatter those categories and thus offer [us] the radical fullness of his grace? v Martha allowed Jesus to shatter her preconceived ideas and received “the fullness of his grace” and therefore was able to “see” and to “know” reality of Jesus.

Many of us know about the five stages of grief, which are: 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance. When denial and isolation begin to fade, reality and its pain re-surface. It can be overwhelming. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at anyone or anything, including our deceased loved one and God. We may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us and/or we may be angry at God for letting it happen. Then we feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us more angry. But death even made Jesus angry.

Emotions play a key role in today's gospel. Several scholars suggest that the use of embrimasthai , which was translated in our reading as “perturbed” implies an outward expression of anger. However, the Greek reads, “he became perturbed in spirit”. So in v. 33, Jesus’ anger is internalized by the addition of “in spirit.” In v. 38, in himself” which has also been omitted from this translation refers to a deep, internal and spiritual experience.vi Raymond Brown suggests, While it does not seem that Jesus would have been angry at the afflicted, he may very well have been angry at the illness and untimely death which were looked on [by Jesus' contemporaries] as manifestations of “Satan’s kingdom of evil.” vii Similarly, Macpherson suggests that the distress of the sisters and their friends enraged Jesus because it emphasized the evil of death.viii

Did the words were of Mary and Martha to Jesus have overtones of anger? Mary in v. 11.32 and Martha in v. 21, say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” We can't tell from the text. But we do know that these are expressions of grief and faith. The sisters grieve but they don’t despair, showing us that in time of trial, grief and faith are not mutually exclusive, and that a ‘dark night of the soul’ can deepen faith.

With regard Jesus’ weeping in v. 35, Schneiders’ writes

Jesus' tears are an honest sharing in Mary's grief and perhaps in her anger at death, the enemy of all life. Jesus, in his most fully human moment in the Fourth Gospel, legitimates human agony in the face of death … This episode roots the spirituality of the community in the realism of human experience…. Faith is not compatible with despair, but it is no stranger to tears.ix

Jesus' emotions in this chapter demonstrate that Jesus is compassionate and feels our pain. In my opinion, as well as being compassionate, today's gospel also emphasizes the humanity of Jesus. He experiences human emotions—love, grief, anger, and sadness. He weeps at the loss of his friend and weeps—sharing the grief and sadness of a family he loves. We Christians too often forget the humanity of Jesus and concentrate all of our attention on the divinity of the Christ. As we come to the last weeks of Lent, let us remember in our prayers and reflections that Jesus was human as well as divine. He fully understands our humanity and as temples of the Holy Spirit we share in His divinity.

i Moloney, Francis J., and Daniel J. Harrington. The Gospel of John. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1998, p. 337.
ii Brown, Raymond Edward. "Roles of women in the Fourth Gospel." Theological Studies 36, no. 4 (December 1, 1975): 688-699, p. 699
iii Howard, John M. "The significance of minor characters in the Gospel of John." Bibliotheca Sacra 163, no. 649 (January 1, 2006): 63-78, p.78.
iv O'Day, Gail R. “John” in Newsom, Carol A, and Sharon H. Ringe (eds.). The Women's Bible Commentary. Louisville: Westminster J. Knox Press, 1992, p. 298
v Ibid.
vi Moloney, Francis J., and Daniel J. Harrington. The Gospel of John. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1998, p. 340-1.
vii Brown, Raymond Edward. The Gospel According to John (I - XII, Vol. I). Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966,p. 425
viii Ibid., p. 29
ix Schneiders, Sandra M. "Death in the community of eternal life : history, theology, and spirituality in John 11." Interpretation 41, no. 1 (January 1, 1987): 44-56, p. 54

3rd Sunday of Lent – Year A - 19 March 2017


Today's gospel story is one of my favourites. Today, I will focus on this encounter as transformation of the Samaritan Woman's faith by the theological discussion between her and Jesus.

The first thing that we notice is that she is practical. She asks how Jesus is going to give her any kind of water without a bucket. Jesus replies to her practical question in spiritual terms. He uses the terms “gift of God” and “living” water”, which, in ancient time, were used to describe the Torah. It is possible that the woman understood His offer. For example, she asks “Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well?” Satisfied with Jesus' answer, she asks for the water that she understands will eternally quench her thirst.

Next Jesus suggests that she “call her husband.” It is this part of the story that is often used to show that the woman was one of loose morals. A woman who has had five husbands and is now living with a man who is not her husband. Even understood only literally, the lesson is Jesus does not condemn the woman but continues in conversation with her. However, several scripture scholars have noted that since the Hebrew word for “husband” ba'al (בַּעַל), also means spouse, master, lord. It was also used as a name for a pagan god. This passage in John should be interpreted as a play on words: The woman represents Samaria. She has had five balim or the five gods. Gods that were brought to Samaria by the nations that conquered it. The God, Yahweh, that she now has is not really her ba'al because the Yahwism of the Samaritans is adulterated. Their worship of Yahweh is not pure like that of the Jews. This interpretation provides us with the opportunity to ponder who or what are the lords or pagan idols of our own lives.

This interpretation is not so far-fetched in light of her next question about the right place to worship. 20Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ In today's context we could substitute an Indigenous Woman or a Jewish Woman, or a Buddhist Woman or a Muslim Woman and the question would look something like, “Our people worship on this mountain, or in the synagogue, or in the temple, or in the mosque, but you Christians say that the place where people must worship is in church, and you Roman Catholics say that the place to worship must be in a Catholic Church. Jesus reply to the Samaritan Woman is 4God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’

Fr. Joseph Girzone gives us an insight into what that might look like. In his book, Joshua, Girzone writes about the title character who is Second Coming of Christ. In the book, Joshua visits churches and synagogues, which upsets the Episcopalian or as we would say Anglican priest. The Catholics gets so fed up with him that he is reported to the Vatican and the cardinals summon him to Rome to silence him.

The point Jesus and Fr. Girzone want to illustrate is that getting stuck on the right formula of worship and the right place of worship is the antithesis of the right way to worship. The religious leaders in Fr. Girzone's book were so intent that their particular brand of religion is right that they don't realize God in their midst.

Similarly, we can't always tell by a person's gender or ethnicity how receptive they are or what gifts they have to give. The disciples “were astonished that he was speaking with a woman” and probably doubly astonished that she was a Samaritan. But they don't say anything. Since, they are just coming back from getting food for all of them, the simply say, “Rabbi, eat something.” Jesus' reply has been a comfort and a hope for me for a long time. Jesus says, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” The apostles are speaking on a physical level but just as with the “living water” metaphor, Jesus is speaking on the spiritual level. Jesus has to explain it to them “My food is to do God's will.” God's will is that we are transformed by our encounter with Jesus, just as the Samaritan Woman was transformed. Jesus, too, is nourished by her transformation.

In New Testament times, time of day was measured from 6:00 am, so the sixth hour, which is the literal translation of the Greek, would be noon as stated in our gospel reading. But noon is an unusual time for a woman to be coming to draw water. Women usually draw water in the morning and evening. Did the Samaritan go to the well at this time so as to avoid the other women? If so, the depth of her transformation is evidenced in that to give testimony she overcame whatever may have caused her to feel that she needed to go to the well at a time when it was unlikely that she would see anyone. She is determined to share her encounter with Jesus with others. She does this in more than words. She encourages the other Samaritans to go and meet Jesus themselves. Each time we think or act for a good or for a benefit that goes beyond ourselves, that thought or act is one of transformation, no matter how small. Each little transformation feeds, not only the God-seed with in each of us, but feeds the garden of communion with God. This Lenten season and beyond, let the acts of each of us fertilize this garden.

Please share what stands out for you in the story of the Samaritan Woman

Monday, March 06, 2017

5 March 2017-- 1st Sunday of Lent

Today's first reading and gospel are about hungers: hungers for power, position, and possessions rather than who one is before God. We are who we are—and—we are no more and no less than who we are before God. In the first reading from Genesis, we have the story of the so-called “Fall”. However, we can look at their sin as one of coveting the power of being “like God”. In their desire to be like God, they don't realize that they are not ready. 
 
If one is trapped in atonement theology, we think only of “The Fall.” However, we can look at this story as a metaphor for the beginning of humanity's journey toward wholeness. One can think of God's punishment in terms of a parent insisting the children do community service in a hospital ward so that the kids can begin to understand and learn from what they have done. Imagine, it went something like this:-- After they were cast out of the Garden, out of the beautiful paradise, they begin to forget Eden but they long for utopia, for paradise. Through the centuries, they begin to learn from the life experiences caused by their hunger for divine power. They learn the knowledge of good and evil and—with God's help, choose good. Imagine that it was a necessary lesson, not only for them, but for all of us. So that when we return to the Garden we will be aware of the fact that we are in Paradise. We will tend it, each other, and ourselves in a totally different way than if we were growing in it and never realizing the paradisiacal state that we are in. Adam and Eve, and therefore humanity, have to learn to appreciate the gifts of God and our responsibility to care for each other and our Garden of Eden. That is who we are. That is who we are created to be.

Now for Adam and Eve there wasn't much competition. But by the time of Jesus, hunger for the three “P”s: power, position, possessions had become seeds of division, injustice and oppression. In today's gospel, Jesus models how to be in right relationship by overcoming the hunger for power and position and the unbridled desire for possessions. 
 
In the first temptation, Jesus is being tempted to prove his power and position “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” But Jesus refuses. What feeds him is other people. He knows that to be fully human—which Jesus is—is to accept one's dependence on God and interdependence with all of creation. 
  
Likewise in the second temptation, Jesus is tempted to prove his power and position. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. ... He will command his angels concerning you”, et cetera. Jesus knows who he is. He doesn't need to prove it. He doesn't need to ask God to prove it either. He is confident of God's love and concern. Now, during this season of Lent, we Christians need to pay special attention to this. So often, because we have been sold the falsehood that we are not good enough, we seek approval from others and proof of God's love for us by trying to prove our goodness. This hunger for divine and human approval sometimes results in the need to prove we're better than others. We need to internalize the confidence in God's love that Jesus models for us in these verses. The Franciscan theologian Dun Scotus taught that God does not only love roses, God loves each individual rose for itself. The same is true for us. God not only loves humanity. God loves each one of us individually for the self that we are. When we internalize this, it becomes easier for us to love one another as Jesus commanded.
 
Lastly, Jesus is tempted with the words, “Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, "All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” This temptation deals with the hunger for possessions. These days individuals and corporations have prostrated themselves in the worship of money; in the desire for possessions and riches. In paying homage to greed, they have gone to war. They have subjugated peoples and whole geographic regions. They are oblivious of their own bondage and to the fact that they are destroying the earth that sustains them. Jesus shows us that the obsessive desire for possessions is idolatry. Matthew is trying to tell us here that—for Jesus—God is the God of Enough. Matthew's metaphor shows us that the idolatry of insatiable greed enslaves us. 
 
All is not doom and gloom. We must keep in mind that this Gospel gives us hope. Jesus reminds us that we too can be triumphant over our temptations through faith. The temptations in today's gospel represent the temptation to fulfill different types of hungers. I have touched on three. But what about the hunger hidden deep within our hearts, the hunger of who we are called to be in God’s eyes? Lent is a time to yield to God’s will for us, in us and through us. During his time in the desert, Jesus was able to clear the distractions of his own life and commit to his call, that is, to teach us how to live. So following Jesus example, rather than be disheartened by our own encounters with temptation, we should be strengthened by our desert moments. After Jesus had resisted all the temptors enticements, today's gospel ends with, “Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.” Matthew is telling us that God was with Jesus all through this encounter. God is also with us, especially during our desert moments. Let us give thanks for the presence of God in our lives.

Please share your thoughts

19 February 2017--7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The phrase “dignity of the human person” is one of the fundamental teachings in Catholic Social Teaching. Its basis in the phrase from Genesis that we are made in the “image and likeness of God”. These concepts are explained and expanded by today's readings. First, I'll do a little word play with a key phrase from each of the readings before giving a reflection on the readings themselves.
In today's reading from Leviticus, we are told “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” Now the Hebrew word qadosh or qadesh translated here as “holy” also means “set apart” or “a sanctuary.” So one could interpret this verse as saying “be a sanctuary as your God is a sanctuary.” 
 

In the second reading Paul asks, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” The Greek word naos refers to Jewish Temple proper, that is, the sanctuary, the place where God dwells and manifests. So this could be interpreted as “Do you now know that you are a sanctuary, where God dwells and is revealed.”

Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect," the gospel tells us. Telios, translated here as perfect, also means complete or whole. In other words “be whole just as God is whole.” The wholeness and completeness of God is unity, harmony and union.

To summarize this wordplay, since we are all made in the image and likeness of God, each one of us is a sanctuary where God dwells and is revealed. The First reading tells us that we may have to correct one another when we go astray but we are not to hate or harbour revenge on one another, that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves.

The Second Reading from 1st Corinthians follows in a similar vein and warns us against destroying God's sanctuaries, that is, each other. Such destruction manifests itself in all forms of injustice. In his book, Globalization, Spirituality and Justice, Daniel Groody attributes the prevalence of injustice to what he calls, money-theism. He writes,

In large part, the root cause of global injustice is anchored in a fundamental theological and anthropological error that has been referred to today as “money-theism.” Money-theism deals with the idolization of capital, expressed as the worship of the gods of the marketplace, and is often practiced through the rituals of the stock market and the liturgies of global capitalism. In this system people are measured in terms of their net worth, accumulated possessions, and incomes rather than their human worth, the quality of their character, and their spiritual depth. The value and worth of human beings have become more and more reduced to a “market fundamentalism,” were the market alone defines what it means to be human.
But the Paul tells us that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.” Gracefully, more and more people are beginning to realize that this desire for more and more and the taking of more and more—from people and more and more from the Earth—must stop. Gracefully also, across religious lines more and more people are beginning to realize that we all belong and to realize our inter-connectedness.

Just in case the people in Jesus' audience, including us, didn't get the message, in today's gospel Jesus makes it clear that it is not only our friends who carry God within them. Our enemies also have God dwelling within them. Bringing it closer to home, G. K. Chesterton says : "We are commanded to love our neighbors and our enemies; they are generally the same people." This is very true for all of us. It is very easy for us to love, in theory, all rich people or all politicians—even Trump and Trudeau, we'll never come in contact with them. They'll never leave dirty dishes in our sink. But it is our neighbors, our friends and acquaintances, those who know our vulnerabilities that can hurt us and thus become our enemies. But Jesus is telling us not to return hurt for hurt.

Jesus is reminding us that each and every one of us is a sanctuary. God is present in every person, regardless of their race, nation, sex, origin, affectional orientation, culture, economic standing, religion or lack thereof. Catholic social teaching asserts that we must love, honour and respect all human beings because within every person is both a reflection of God and a mirror of ourselves. “Be whole just as God is whole” so that by our unity, harmony and union in our diversity, we image the wholeness and completeness of God. Namaste, the Spirit within me honours the Spirit within you.

Please share your thoughts?

5 February 2017 -Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Year A


In last week's gospel, Matthew gave us the Beatitudes. We often think of the Beatitudes as rewards for different groups of good people. They are not. Rather, they are the characteristics that each of us should strive to embody. One could say they are the steps, in no particular order, that can transform us. As we know Jesus was familiar with the writings of the prophet Isaiah. In today's first reading Isaiah gives us an instance of the Hebrew Scriptural basis of Jesus' teaching in last Sunday's and this Sunday's gospel reading as well as the corporal works of mercy.


Isaiah counsels us to share our bread with the hungry, to shelter the oppressed and the homeless; to clothe the naked, to remove oppression, false accusations and malicious speech from our communities. Then, Isaiah tells us, not only will our light break forth like the dawn but also, a light shall rise for us in the darkness and our gloom will become like midday.


In today's gospel reading, which follows immediately after the Beatitudes, Matthew tells us we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. As Richard Rohr says, we must keep in mind that salt is not the whole meal. To be salt of the earth is not to be better than others but to enrich the lives of others as salt enriches the flavour of a meal. If we do nothing for the good of others, we are like salt that has lost its flavour and therefore, useless. As always it is not big deeds that define us. Rather, it is how we are in the world. For example, take Isaiah's suggestion to “satify, or as some translations say, 'satisfy the needs' of the afflicted.” This could be as simple as giving a friendly smile to a woman who is wearing a hijab or planting indigenous plants in your garden that will attract bees or setting up a compost bin designed for apartments if you live in an apartment. To be salt includes the small efforts we make on behalf of our relatives human and non-human.


Isaiah has already told us that when we share our bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked, remove oppression, false accusations and malicious speech from our communities near and far, we become the light of the world. Some of these are things we can't do alone. We can either do them as a group or support, in various ways, groups that do. There is a lot of social justice work to be done in the coming months as political decisions at odds with the common good are being made south of the border and here at home. One example is the approval of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline, which signals a call to action for the defense of our waters and the creatures that inhabit them. Another is the increase in Islamaphobia because of statements and policies being made south of the border, that have given licence to hate to those so inclined. Today's gospel tells us that our light must shine before others, [so] that they may see our good deeds and glorify [God]. In other words, Matthew is reminding us that the good we do can influence others to do good as well but also that the good we do should be based on our love of our Creator and all the Creator's works.


As salt and light we are called to shed any apathy we may still have, and live the gospel. But our activism needs to have a firm basis in prayer and contemplation so that we are strengthened and healed as we work for political policies that are just and in the interest of the common good. We need an activism based on a firm foundation of spiritual values as we work for the strength and healing of Mother Earth and her children.


Please share your thoughts!


29 January 2017–Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

When I reflected on today's readings, which at first glance could make us think they're about us and them, rich and poor. They are not. Rather they are about transformation. We all have of one foot in the camp of the proud and the other in the camp of the humble. Think of the first reading as a metaphor for God's honing us so that the humble part of us grows and the proud part diminishes. It is our response to misfortune as well as our response to good fortune that determines our character. The humility of which Zephaniah speaks, it not self-debasement or docility. Rather it is simply acknowledging the truth about ourselves and our dependence on God and our interconnectedness to all of creation. The righteousness of which Zephaniah speaks is not scrupulosity or piety. The Greek and Hebrew words, usually translated as “righteousness” would be more aptly translated as: equity, fairness, justice or, justness. “Seek humility, seek righteousness” means seek truth and justice. Will we act on it?

In the second reading, Paul tells us “God chose what is low and despised in this world.” Right now, the low and despised are refugees, especially Syrian refugees. Corporate interests have designated animal habitat, Indigenous lives and livelihoods—and—even the well-being of the Earth itself, as expendable. God has implanted in us a thirst for justice. Will we act on it?

Today’s Gospel turns the old world meaning of blessed on its head. In ancient Greek usage, makarios, which means blessed, referred to the gods who were beyond all cares, labours, and even death. The blessed ones were gods who lived in some other world away from the cares and problems and worries of ordinary people. In time, makarios came to refer to the elite, the upper echelons of society, the wealthy people. It referred to people whose riches and power put them above the normal cares and problems and worries of the common people, who constantly struggle and worry and labor in life. To be blessed, you had to be very rich and powerful. The blessed were those people and beings who lived above the normal cares, problems, and worries of normal people.

Matthew however, reflecting Jesus' thoughts, uses the word makarios/blessed in a totally different way. It is not the elite who are blessed. It is not the rich and powerful who are blessed. It is not the high and mighty who are blessed. It is not the people living in huge mansions or expensive penthouses who are blessed. Rather, Jesus like his mother, pronounces God's blessings on the lowly: the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the meek, the mourning. Throughout the history of this word, it had always been the other people who were considered blessed: the rich, the filled up, the powerful. Jesus turns it all upside-down. The elite in God's kingdom, the blessed ones in God's kingdom, are those who seek truth and justice and through their seeking—and acting—are transformed—no matter how little or how much they have. So, it isn't about the poor versus the rich. Rather, today's gospel is about truth, justice and transformation.

Lastly, the beatitudes are not about the rewards for different groups of good people. They are the characteristics that each of us should strive to embody. One could say they are the steps, in no particular order, that can transform us. So in the gospel sense, blessed is about the ability to hear, heed and live the gospel message. How will we act on it?


25 December 2016—Christmas—The Nativity

Mass During the Day

This is the first time we've had our own Mass on Christmas. Previously, I've attended either the Vigil Mass or “Midnight” Mass. Sometimes, though not often, I attended Mass on Christmas Day. In preparation for today's homily, I discovered that the readings were different for each of these Masses. I'll briefly share my reflections on each of the Christmas gospels before sharing a few thoughts on today's on today's.

The Vigil gospel is from Matthew, which begins with the genealogy of Jesus before recounting the story of the angel, who appears to Joseph to let him know that Mary has not been unfaithful. The angel counsels Joseph not to abandon her because the Child she is carrying is born of the Holy Spirit. We have to keep in mind that each gospel writer was writing with their specific community. Matthew's community consisted mostly of Jews and were still part of the synagogue. So Matthew's gospel begins with legitimizing Jesus as the Messiah through the genealogy and heavenly conception. 
 
Then at midnight Mass, we have the most familiar account given to us by Luke. It tells us the journey to Bethlehem because of the census. Luke describes the angels announcing to the shepherds that the Messiah is born and they could find him as “a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” Now Luke is writing for a predominantly gentile Greek-speaking audience. Luke was aware that Christianity was being criticized by people outside the church, who claimed that Jesus was a seditionist and he and his followers are enemies of the Roman Empire. Luke wanted to show that Jesus' life and message were filled with compassion, love and peace and that he had the capacity to heal people. All of which were compatible with being a good citizen of Rome. Luke also wanted to show the gentiles, who were discerning whether to join the Christian community, the miraculous yet humble beginnings of the Christ. 
 
Now today's gospel is written in a time of division, not unlike our own. The Jewish Christians are in a state of uncertainty because in addition to their expulsion from the synagogue, the Second Coming had not yet happened. John's community desparately needed their hope strengthened. John's gospel begins with the reason and meaning of Incarnation rather than a Nativity story. “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word is with God and is God. “3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” Christ was with us before we were and is the light and life within us still.


5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it....9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. ” Some of us participated in a weekly program for Advent called, “In Praise of L/light.” In one of the sessions, we were asked to look at the darkness in our own lives and in our world. When we shine a light in our dark spaces, we can discover ways to overcome it. John want us to see in Christ's love, the Source of love, light and the hope of our own lives and be transformed by it.
In today's Gospel, referred to as The Prologue, John wants us to believe in Jesus and to live the words of our opening hymn, “O come let us adore him.” According to Anglican Bishop John Shelby Spong, we don't adore Christ by becoming religious or by becoming missionaries who seek to convert the world to our own understanding of Jesus. We do it by dedicating our “energies to the task of building a world where everyone in this world has the opportunity to live more fully, love more wastefully and have the courage to be all that they were created to be”. We must resist any prejudice that would hurt or reject someone based on their external characteristic, whether it's race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation,1 because God will's us all to be children in the Divine Household.

John tells us, 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” Jesus came into the world to make God known to us. Today's gospel tells us the who and the why of the Incarnation. The author of John tells us this so that we might believe, that is, that we might live full of faith, hope and love. Let the Light that we celebrate today as coming into the world 2000 plus years ago, lighten our hearts and our burdens so that we live our belief that this Light lives within us. Emmanuel, Dios esté con nosotros, Dieu avec nous, God with Us, Merry Christmas.


Please share your thoughts.