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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.