Saturday, September 30, 2006

25th Saturday in Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of St. Jerome, Priest, Doctor
Wet Blankets and Endless Joy

Readings: Ecclesiastes 11:9—12:8; Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14 and 17; Luke 9:43b-45

No one likes a wet blanket. When things are going well and everyone's having a good time, we don't like to be reminded of the darker side of life. And if we do encounter a persistent wet blanket, we might have good reason to think that s/he has some psychological hang-up that makes it difficult for him or her to enjoy life.

And yet, not every apparent instance of wet blanketing is pathological, is it? Consider both the readings today. In the gospel, we are told that Jesus and his disciples are experiencing a kind of spring-time in their ministry -- a time when everyone was full of admiration for all he did. And what does Jesus do? He tells his disciples to keep constantly in mind that the Son of Man is going to be handed over into the power of men. Is it any wonder his disciples did not understand?

In the first reading from Ecclesiastes, the writer is also addressing those who are in the spring-time of their life, those who are young. And although he encourages them to enjoy themselves he also reminds them that youth... is vanity... Again, we ask ourselves, what is going on? Are both Jesus and the speaker in Ecclesiastes inveterate wet blankets. Do they need a psychiatrist?

An indication of an answer to this question is found in the crucial admonition that Ecclesiastes gives the reader: remember your creator in the days of your youth. The intention of Jesus and Ecclesiastes is not so much to be wet blankets as to remind us -- precisely at a time when we are most likely to forget -- just what should be the only true foundation of our happiness. Neither in the age of dark hair nor in the time of public admiration, but in our creator alone can we find a safe refuge, both in good times and in bad.

Unlike wet blankets, we Christians are meant to enjoy the good times that come our way. Even so, we must be careful not to lose ourselves in them. We must not forget the passing nature of what we are experiencing. We might heed the advice of St. Ignatius of Loyola to those who are experiencing spiritual consolation: humble yourselves and store up strength for the future. To do this is not to give in to the ramblings of wet blankets or kill-joys, but rather to prepare ourselves for the joy that never ends.

[Note: Breaking-the-Word will be taking a break... Blessings to all! :)]

Friday, September 29, 2006

Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels
Angelic Consolation


Readings: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 or Rev 12:7-12ab; Psalm 138:1-2ab, 2cde-3, 4-5; John 1:47-51

There's much consolation in the gospel today, especially when one considers the extraordinary way in which Jesus seems to know Nathanael. Before Philip came to call you I saw you under the fig tree. Jesus knows just the words to use to enable Nathanael to profess faith in Him. Not just faith in someone’s apparent ability at fortune-telling, but faith in the Son of Man, the living embodiment of God’s love, upon whom angels ascend and descend.

At some level, don’t we all desire to know and to be known in this way? Even though we may sometimes seem to be well-practiced at hiding our real thoughts and feelings behind different kinds of masks – all in the name of diplomacy and tact, of course – even though we sometimes seem to be masters and mistresses of deceit, don’t we all yearn for the consolation of having someone understand us the way Jesus seems to understand Nathanael? And yet, for some if not all of us, isn’t there also a part of us that somehow resists stepping out from behind our masks, a part of us that shies away from this kind of intimacy? And even when we do step out, how often do we find a true meeting of minds and hearts?

Isn’t this why today’s feast of the archangels is so consoling? What do the angels represent if not the deep desire of our God – the same God that is described in such an awe-inspiring and even terrifying way in the book of Daniel – to communicate with us ever more intimately, to let us know Him even as He knows us through and through? And is this divine desire to communicate not just what we need to experience when we find ourselves trapped in that twilight place between intimacy and deceit? Indeed, isn’t this what Nathanael experiences in the first reading? Doubtful or suspicious though he may be at first, in Jesus, Nathanael has a vision of angels.

Where and who are our angels today?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

25th Thursday in Ordinary Time (II)
Anxiety and Refuge


Readings: Ecclesiastes 1:2-11; Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14 and 17bc; Luke 9:7-96

Have you sometimes wondered about Herod the Tetrarch? Why does someone whom the gospels portray as decadent and amoral seem to be so interested in such religious persons as John the Baptist and Jesus? We know how Herod was reluctant to put the former to death even after he had had him arrested. And today, we hear how Herod was anxious to see Jesus.

The first reading from Ecclesiastes provides us with a possible answer. Could it be that whatever his failings, even in his utter abandonment of self to pleasure-seeking, deep down in his heart of hearts, Herod senses what Ecclesiastes proclaims today: All things are wearisome. What is it then that he seeks of John and Jesus if not a way out, a safe haven, a refuge from the futility of a vain earthly existence?

And yet we probably know of those who see things differently. They are able to find in their apparently repetitive and vain everyday routines a wellspring of meaning and energy. Perhaps we are one of these people. Or perhaps we sometimes experience this. For those who are Christian, this experience might be described in terms of our response to today’s psalm: O Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to the next. It is only in the Lord – in the life, death and resurrection of Christ – that we find a safe refuge from the vanity of Ecclesiastes.

What is it that enables some to find this refuge? What is it that keeps others like Herod anxiously seeking but never quite finding? What does it mean for us to find refuge in the Lord this day?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

25th Wednesday in Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of St. Vincent de Paul
Centered on the Word


Readings: Proverbs 30:5-9; Psalm 119:29, 72, 89, 101, 104, 163; Luke 9:1-6

God’s Word figures prominently again in the readings today. The speaker in the first reading is concerned that he make no addition to God’s Word, and that neither poverty nor wealth distract him from being wholly centered on God’s Word. It is in this same spirit that Jesus sends out his disciples in the gospel. Nothing spare is taken. Why? Is it not because they bring with them the teachings of Jesus, the Word of God, the very presence of God? And, like the speaker in the first reading, Jesus wishes that they make no addition to God’s Word. Jesus wishes that they find their sustenance and their hope in Him alone – even when their efforts do not receive the desired response. And the nature of their ministry also demands that they remain so centered. How else can they see in the needy the face of the One who sends? How else can they meet the urgent needs of those to whom they are sent? It is fitting too that we celebrate today the memorial of St. Vincent de Paul, who was so zealous in his service to the poor and the needy, and who found in them the Word in whom we all can take refuge.

We might consider today those to whom we are sent – those for whom we bear a God-given responsibility of care and concern. And for their sakes, as well as our own, we pray in the words of the psalmist: may the Word of God continue to be the light for our steps this day.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

25th Tuesday in Ordinary Time (II)
From the Heart


Readings: Proverbs 21:1-6, 10-13; Psalm 119:1, 27, 30, 34, 35, 44; Luke 8:19-21

Following upon the parable of the Sower, our gospel today continues to invite us to meditate upon the importance of and connection between hearing and doing God’s Word. Jesus’ words today give us an indication of just how important. Hearing and doing God’s Word brings us into relationship with Jesus – a relationship that he considers more intimate even than ties of blood. My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice. Even so, it’s not always easy to do this. How does one hear God’s word? How does one know what to do? And even if one does know, how does one find the strength to act?

The proverbs in the first reading provide some indication. We notice the mention of the heart. The Lord… weighs the heart. Could it be that it is possible for us to hear and do God’s Word only when we allow that Word to enter into our heart – that deepest part of our being, that center of all our thoughts and feelings? Could it be that it is only by listening at this level that we can receive the wisdom to relate what we hear to our particular situation and the strength to put what we hear into practice? Again, it is not an easy task. Too many things distract us. Is that not why we need continually to pray as the psalmist does: that God might guide us in the way of His commands?

What is the next step for us on this way?

Monday, September 25, 2006

25th Monday in Ordinary Time (II)
Hearing and Doing


Readings: Proverbs 3:27-34; Psalm 15:2-3a, 3bc-4ab, 5; Luke 8:16-18


Why do we try to refrain from doing evil and seek to do good instead? Why do we try not to refuse a kindness and not to pick a groundless quarrel? Our readings provide the answer: For nothing is hidden but it will be made clear, nothing secret but it will be known and brought to light. Even when it seems that no one is looking, the consequences of our actions will somehow come to light. Even when it seems as though the good always suffer while the wicked prosper, our readings emphasize that God will not let this state of affairs last forever.

On one level, this is a message of consolation. We are encouraged to hope in God especially when it seems that our attempts at doing good and avoiding evil bring us trouble and misunderstanding. But it is also a message of guidance and of warning. Where is the guidance? Notice how Jesus’ words in today’s gospel come immediately after the parable of the sower. How are we given the strength to act as a Christian ought? By asking God for the grace to be ever more receptive to God’s life-giving Word, even as the good soil is receptive to the seed. And hence the warning: So take care how you hear

What is God’s word saying to us today? What are we being invited to hear?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
The Test of Conflicting Desires

Reading: Wisdom 2:12. 17-20; Psalm 54; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37

If I’m not mistaken, for many of us the semester is heating up even as the weather is cooling down. We have probably reached that time when quizzes and tests are becoming more frequent. Tests are something of a pain, aren’t they? We need to work hard to pass them. And then we need to endure the unavoidable anxiety that comes with taking a test even when one has studied hard for it. Given a choice we’d probably wish we didn’t have to take them. And yet we’ve probably come to accept them as an inevitable part of student-life. Why? Why do we willingly put ourselves through them? What do we hope to gain? What motivates us?

Our readings today also speak about testing. In the first reading from the book of Wisdom, the godless wish to test the virtuous person with cruelty and torture, because he annoys them and opposes their way of life. Why do they wish to do so? What do they hope to gain? What motivates them?

In the gospel, Jesus continues to teach his disciples about his approaching passion, death and resurrection. He is the virtuous person who will be tortured and put to death by the godless. And he intends to submit himself to this terrible testing. Again, we might ask: why does he do this? What does he hope to gain? What motivates him?

The second reading from the letter of James helps us to answer these questions and to begin to relate them to our own experience. James speaks of an inner struggle within each of us. He highlights the desires fighting inside your own selves. What are these desires? What is it that moves us to do the things that we do? Of course, our desires are many and various. But our readings invite us to consider just one of these: the desire for greatness. We probably all experience something of this desire. And yet this desire can also be expressed in different forms, can move us to act in very different ways.

On the one hand the natural desire for greatness can take the form of, what James calls jealousy and ambition, the desperate need to make something of ourselves in this world and at all cost. We see this manifested perhaps in the argument among the disciples in the gospel. It is likely also this same desire that motivates the godless to test the virtuous person, to condemn him to a shameful death. What is the result of this desire? Clearly, as James points out, it leads to nothing but disharmony, and wicked things of every kind being done. Even if it does achieve greatness of a sort, it is only at the cost of our happiness and that of others.

In contrast, the desire for greatness can take another form, can move us in a different direction. We see this in the life of Jesus who teaches his disciples what he himself puts into practice: that if anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all. This is what James refers to as the wisdom that comes down from above. The one who follows this way will likely have to suffer, even as Jesus did, but the result is true and ultimate happiness and peace.

Even as we continue to work hard this semester we might take some time to examine and test our own desires. What kind of greatness are we looking for – that which makes for disharmony or that which leads to peace?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

24th Saturday in Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina
Movies, Reviews & Stupid Questions


Readings: 1 Corinthians 15:35-37, 42-49; Psalm 56:10c-12, 13-14; Luke 8:4-15


They are stupid questions. Paul is none too subtle in his response to those who inquire into how dead people are raised, and what sort of body they have. Why does Paul think these questions – which still attract speculation in some quarters even in our day – stupid? And if these are indeed stupid questions why does Paul seem to present a rather lengthy explanation?

Recently I mentioned to someone that I’d gone to watch a movie. He responded by saying that he’d not watched it but had read many reviews, and then launched into an exposition of the things he’d read. Listening to him, it seemed clear that he knew a lot more about the movie than I did. He had even formed a rather firm opinion about the movie based upon what he’d read. Indeed, his sharing helped me to appreciate better several elements in the movie that I’d not paid enough attention to. Still I couldn’t help wondering how much he really knew. How much can one know a movie without having actually experienced it – without having watched the plot unfold from scene to scene, without having listened to the dialogue and the sound effects, without having felt the reactions that are evoked by the interplay of the various elements? Sure, reviews are useful. I read them myself, both before watching a movie – in order to decide which ones are worth a trip to the cinema – and also after – to heighten one’s appreciation of what has been watched. But reviews can’t replace the movie-experience itself can they? And, to be blunt, one would be stupid to think otherwise.

Could these considerations help to explain Paul’s response in the first reading? Are the questions he criticizes stupid because they seek to do the impossible: to fully comprehend the resurrected life without committing oneself to walking the way that leads to it? Is this not similar to reading lots of reviews about a movie without actually watching it? And doesn’t Paul’s apparent explanation highlight the differences that exist between our present experience and what is to come, between the reviews and the movie? The thing that is sown is perishable but what is raised is glorious. Paul can only use metaphors to indicate what this glorious future that awaits us might be like.

Isn’t this why the gospel parable is so important? It reminds us that while we cannot yet grasp fully what the next life will be like, it is possible to live so as to prepare ourselves for that life. It is possible even, to some extent, to live that life in the present, to be as open as the good soil to receive the seed of God’s Word into our hearts and lives so as to yield a harvest. Isn’t this the only way that we can gradually come to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of God? We need to open our hearts and commit our lives to what has been revealed to us. In the words of the psalmist, we need to walk in the presence of God in the light of the living. We need to watch the movie, even as we may continue to read the reviews.

What is our approach to the mysteries of the kingdom? Which do we prefer: the movie or the reviews?

Friday, September 22, 2006

24th Friday in Ordinary Time (II)
On Earth as in Heaven


Readings: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Psalm 17:1bcd, 6-7, 8b and 15; Luke 8:1-3

We’ve probably heard Marx’s description of religion as the opiate of the masses. For Marx, religion serves only to numb the pain caused by unjust suffering in this world by encouraging people to place their hope in ultimate consolation and relief in the world to come. Endure now so that you may enjoy later. Religion thus has no worldly significance except as an anesthetic.

Our readings give a different impression. Although in the first reading Paul emphasizes the other-worldly significance of Christ’s resurrection, he doesn’t limit its scope to the end of time. Consider carefully what he says: If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of all people. To say that belief in the resurrection of Christ gives hope for the world to come is very different from saying that it has no significance for us in this life.

The gospel illustrates the point more concretely. Consider the experience of the female followers of Jesus. Just as a stone cast into a pool causes ripples to spread across its whole surface, so too does their encounter with Jesus impact the whole of their lives in the here and now. Not only do they experience healing and liberation from evil spirits, but they also respond by providing for the material needs of Jesus and the disciples out of their own resources. Thus do they share, in a very real and tangible way, in the liberating mission of Christ. Clearly hope in Christ is meant to impact our lives in the here and now. Is this not expressed also in the Our Father, when we pray for the coming of God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven?

What impact does hope in the resurrection have on our lives? How are we called to participate in Christ’s mission in the ordinary events and responsibilities of our daily lives?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle, Evangelist
Sinners Yet Called


Readings: Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13; Psalm 19:2-3, 4-5; Matthew 9:9-13

The unity in diversity of the Body of Christ is what is highlighted in the first reading today. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit, we are told, even as the writer emphasizes that each one of us… has been given his own share of grace. In other words, each one of us needs to exercise the particular gifts that we have received for the common good, to build up the unity of the whole Body. But this is not an easy ideal to achieve, is it? It’s not always easy simultaneously to express our own individuality as well as to accommodate the uniqueness of others.

Some help might be found in the call story of Matthew. Here we also notice sameness and difference. On the one hand, we know of no other apostle who was called exactly the way Matthew was – from a customs house. And yet, we also know that when Jesus says I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners, he is speaking not only of Matthew but of all Christians. Like Matthew, we are all sinners and yet called – to borrow a Jesuit turn of phrase. Perhaps it is when we grow in the grace of this sense of being a sinner and yet called that we also learn to balance between the unity and diversity of the Body of Christ. What do I mean?

Some days, I may find myself reveling too much in the fact that I am called. Those are the times when I tend to focus on my own individuality at the expense of others – to forget to allow others to exercise their own God-given gifts. Those are also the times when I need to remember that others are called as well. More importantly, perhaps, I need to remember that, like my other sisters and brothers, I am also a sinner. Like all of them, my call is but an expression of the gracious, unmerited love of God.

At other times, I may find myself too timid and tentative. I may tend to focus too much on my unworthiness and weakness – shying away from all responsibility and opportunities for service. At those times, I need to remember – or to allow God to remind me – that sinner though I am, God blesses me with my own unique gifts, and calls me to share these with others.

What are your reflections about our being sinners and yet called to a Christian life of unity in diversity?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

24th Wednesday in Ordinary Time (II)
Defense and Offence


Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Psalm 33:2-3, 4-5, 12 and 22; Luke 7:31-35

The gospel passage of today reminds one of an axiom that many of us have probably heard before: the best defense is a good offence. Why do the men of this generation hurl abuse at John the Baptist – he is possessed – and Jesus – look, a glutton and a drunken, a friend of tax collectors and sinners? Isn’t their eagerness to give offense a way by which they hope to defend themselves against the implications of what John and Jesus have to say? Aren’t they denigrating the teachers to make it easier to reject the teachings and the radical change that those teachings imply? It doesn’t matter then whether the teacher appears austere – like John – or indulgent – like Jesus. They reject him all the same. The aim? To maintain the status quo. To resist change.

What might be a good defense against this offence? While this is not the place to give a teaching on the subject, it is useful to recall at least two points. First, resistance is a natural part of the spiritual life, and an opportunity for growth. Second, what might be a more effective way of dealing with resistance than either denial or a desperate exertion of raw will-power is a process that begins with becoming aware of the resistance and then bringing it to God in prayer. In the gospel isn’t Jesus hoping to begin this process by highlighting their resistance to the people concerned?

What is the aim of such a process, if not to allow God to gradually convince us of what we hear in the first reading today? Through this process, we are gradually brought to see that Paul’s description of love is really a description of what God is like. And this loving God is on our side, is worthy of our trust. Our feeling of being under threat is thus diffused. We also come to appreciate that our attempts at trying to maintain the status quo are misguided because the knowledge that (we) have is imperfect. Rather than the status quo we are trying to defend, there are really only three things that last: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.

What is our experience of resistance? How do we deal with it?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

24th Tuesday in Ordinary Time (II)
Christian Ambition


Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27-31a; Psalm 100:1b-2, 3, 4, 5; Luke 7:11-17

We know well Paul’s use of the human body to describe the Christian community. Each of us, with our different gifts, is a different part of the one Body of Christ. Paul draws out several implications and insights that follow from his use of this analogy. Perhaps the most obvious is unity in diversity. The parts are many, but the Body is one . It also follows that the different parts – our different gifts – are meant for a particular purpose: to work together for the well-being of the Body. The different parts find fulfillment to the extent that they expend themselves for the welfare of the Body.

It is in this context of unity in diversity and of service that Paul speaks of ambition. Be ambitious for the higher gifts. And in this connection Paul also speaks of a better way, a way which we will hear him discuss further tomorrow. Why should a Christian be ambitious? The answer is clear from the preceding discussion: not for self-promotion, but in order to render greater service. And if there is indeed a better way, what makes it better? Is it not because – in contrast to the kind of selfish ambition that causes division – this better way unites the different parts more closely together into one Body?

In the gospel today we find the exercise of such a higher gift. Of course, the most obvious gift being exercised is probably the miraculous raising of the dead to life. Yet is there not an even higher gift, a better way, being demonstrated by Jesus? Consider the gospel description of Jesus’ meeting with the grieving mother. When the Lord saw her he felt sorry for her. ‘Do not cry’ he said. Here we find an instance of the compassion of Jesus. Could this be an example of a higher gift, a gift capable of uniting the Body of Christ? Could this be that for which Paul wishes Christians to be ambitious? Is this not a striking manifestation of the power of the one Spirit… given to us all to drink?

How Christian, how Spirit-inspired, are our ambitions? For what gift or gifts are we moved to pray today?

[Addenda:

(1) Another essential aspect of the Church's teaching on globalization is the promotion of solidarity. A global solidarity that will ensure all peoples can benefit from the economic changes taking place. Christian solidarity consists in making ourselves responsible for the welfare of others. It is more than compassion or sentiments, as it calls for a ful reciprocity in human relationships. (Taken from http://www.zenit.org/english/, Christianity and Globalization);

(2) I really have three prized possesions that I cling to and treasure; the first of these is compassion, the second, frugality, and the third is my reluctance to try to become preeminent in the world. It is because of my compassion that I can be courageous; it is because of my frugality that I can be generous; it is because of my reluctance to try to become preeminent in the world that I am able to become chief among all things. (Daodejing: Making This Life Significant, chapter 67, translated by Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall)]

Monday, September 18, 2006

24th Monday in Ordinary Time (II)
Waiting for One Another



Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:17-26, 33; Psalm 40:7-8a, 8b-9, 10, 17; Luke 7:1-10

There is some irony in our readings today that becomes apparent when we compare the first reading and the gospel. We would expect to find unity, harmony and peace in the first reading, dealing as it does with the Christian community. Instead what Paul highlights is a lack of trust among separate factions. We would expect to find differences, discord and suspicion in the gospel, describing as it does relations between some Jews and a Roman centurion. Instead we find both Jew and Roman speaking up for one another.

At the center of this contrast is Paul’s description of the Eucharist. Paul insightfully identifies the problem with the Corinthian Christians. Even though they apparently celebrate Eucharist together, their meetings do… more harm than good, because they do not live the spirit of what they celebrate. Each is concerned for his or her own satisfaction so that one person goes hungry while another is getting drunk. In response Paul exhorts them to wait for one another.

In contrast, Paul’s advice to the Corinthians is in fact what is practiced by the Jewish elders and especially by the Roman Centurion in the gospel. None of them seem to be concerned for their own welfare. Rather each is concerned for the other. The elders intercede with Jesus on the centurion’s behalf. The centurion intercedes on behalf of his servant, even as he selflessly donated money to build the synagogue. They are, in effect, waiting for – or better, waiting onone another. They are living the spirit of the Eucharist, even if they do not actually celebrate it ritually. We notice how, in the gospel, both Jew and Roman are in positions of authority – the former are elders, the latter is a centurion. And yet we notice how they both humble themselves in positions of service. The centurion, in particular, lowers himself to the extent of acknowledging the authority of Jesus -- an itinerant Jewish teacher -- all for the sake of his Jewish servant. Is this not an expression of the faith that Jesus praises so glowingly?

In our meetings, in our life together as Christians, how well do we live the spirit of the Eucharist? Which community does ours resemble more closely – that of the first reading or that of the gospel? How are we being called to wait for one another?
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Walking in the Way of Peace

Reading: Isaiah 50:5-9; Psalm 115; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

If there is one thing for which probably every person of goodwill prays it is peace. We know how much this gift is needed in our world, in our communities, in our families, in our hearts. We also know how elusive it is. But what does this peace look like that we are seeking? Is it really the same as that which God offers us, the same peace that Jesus promises his disciples, that which the world cannot give?

It may seem puzzling at first to speak of peace today. None of our readings contain this word. However, we can be confident that we are not barking up the wrong tree. Consider the second opening prayer for Mass today. Notice how the word peace is mentioned no less than three times. In the introduction, we are invited to pray for the peace which is born of faith and hope. In the body of the prayer, we declare our Father in heaven to be the source of our peace, and we ask that we may share in the peace of Christ.

Indeed, closer attention to our readings rewards us with renewed appreciation of this peace. What does the way of peace that is born of faith look like? Consider the second reading. As James reminds us, true faith – the kind that brings God’s peace – is expressed in and accompanied by good works, by care for the needy. Is this not why in our efforts at attaining peace for ourselves we seem inevitably to be ushered upon the road of charity and justice? Indeed, has it not been said there can be no peace without justice?

Still, as we well know, the way of faith is not one of pure activism. Even good works can be done for the wrong reasons. The way of faith is also the way of peace only because it is a way that is traversed in the presence of God. As the psalmist says, I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living. We find this travel motif in the gospel today. In their travels with Jesus, in their walk in the presence of the Lord, the disciples are brought to a very important place: the villages around Caesarea Philippi. This is a place that all of us have to pass. Of course, we don’t all have to visit the Holy Land. But, in one way or another, we all pass through this place. For more than just a geographical location, the villages around Caesarea Philippi represent a milestone in the spiritual journey. This is a special place – a place of crisis and of contradictions. It is at once a place of praise and rebuke, a place of recognition and puzzlement, a place of consolation and challenge.

This is the place where we answer the question who do you say that I am, the place where we acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, the anointed one, our personal and communal Lord and Savior. This is the place where we commit ourselves to walk in the presence of the Lord. And this is the also place where we are challenged to continue following even when the Lord turns to us – as he did to the first disciples – and invites us to renounce ourselves and take up our cross. This is when our desire to continue walking in the presence of the Lord is put to the test. This is when we begin to realize that the way of faith that brings peace is also the way of hope – hope against all hope, hope even in the face of death and destruction. This is the same hope we find in the words of Isaiah: I set my face like flint; I know I shall not be shamed. It is the hope that makes the way of the cross also a way to glory and peace.

Is this the peace for which we seek? Will we be contented with this peace? Do we wish to walk in this way, even if we struggle along it, even if we sometimes stumble and fall? Or will we look elsewhere?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

23rd Saturday in Ordinary Time (II)
Cornelius, Pope & Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs
Idolatry

Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:14-22; Psalm 116; Luke 6:43-49

On a day when we remember two martyrs of the third century, our readings invite us to reflect upon idolatry. What does it mean? What are its effects?

Speaking from the perspective of ritual sacrifice Paul offers us a very sobering thought. He says that to be idolatrous is to be in communion with – to share in the very existence of –realities less than God. And for Paul it is even possible to be in communion with demons.

Jesus furthers our understanding by using metaphors from agriculture and construction. How do we know whether one is idolatrous or not? How do we know the identity of the god that one worships in the deep recesses of one’s heart? Examine the way in which one lives one’s life. For every tree can be told by its own fruit. And what is the consequence of idolatry? It is the same as building on shallow foundations. When the inevitable floods of life are encountered, the whole edifice of one’s earthly existence collapses. All meaning is lost. There seems no longer any reason to go on living. Again, a sobering thought.

What are the demons of today with whom we are tempted to be in communion? What are the fruits in our lives? What is their foundation? What inspiration do Cornelius and Cyprian provide? How can we bear witness today to the worship of the one true God?

Friday, September 15, 2006

23rd Friday in Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows
Christian Submission


Readings: Hebrews 5:7-9; Psalm 31; John 19:25-27

It may sometimes seem that Christian teaching demands so much from the followers of Christ as to be almost inhuman. Are we not taught to imitate Christ, who was so cruelly tortured and executed? And does today’s memorial and gospel reading not remind us of Mary’s trials as she stood beneath the cross, witnessing all that her only son suffered? It may indeed seem from a preliminary consideration of these realities that Christians are called simply to accept -- stoically, impassively -- whatever suffering comes their way. Isn’t this, after all, what Jesus and Mary did? And yet, when we do suffer, every fiber of our being cries out for relief, for rescue, for salvation. Does being Christian really mean that we have to deny these impulses? And even if that is so, how do we do this?

Perhaps a deeper reflection on our readings can help us. In particular, we might contemplate the scene of Mary at the foot of the cross. What does she look like? What is she doing? The gospel passage does not tell us. And yet we might consider that Mary’s reactions are close to those of her Son as he endures his own sufferings. What does Jesus do?

The letter to the Hebrews highlights two things. Of course, ultimately Jesus submits to the will of His Father. He willingly endures his sufferings. This is no surprise to us. But it’s important to note that this is not a submission devoid of feeling – a robotic acceptance of whatever the Father commands. For we are also told that Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears (RSV). Jesus prays that the cup of suffering might pass him by. At some level, he does not wish to suffer. Might we not also say the same of Mary? Does she really wish her Son to suffer and die? Does she really wish to stand by the cross to witness his demise? As she stands beneath the cross is she not praying to God to rescue him? And yet, she does remain by the cross. Like her Son, she too submits. Why and how do Jesus and Mary do this?

We probably all know the answer to this question. Just as anyone might who has witnessed the suffering of a loved one. One submits because one wishes to be with the loved one who suffers. Mary submits for love of her Son. Jesus submits for love of his Father. They both submit for love of all humanity entrusted to Mary at the foot of the cross.

And we know the outcome of their submission. As is written in the letter to the Hebrews: Jesus was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (RSV).

Today, how are we being called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and Mary – to embrace the sorrows of the cross in order to share in its triumph?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Meaning and Direction


Reading: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 77; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17

One thing I’ve observed in this ostensibly atheist society in which I find myself is the number of people who adorn themselves with religious objects. It seems as though every other person on the street has a bracelet of Buddhist prayer beads around the wrist or a cross hanging from a chain around the neck. I’ve been told that for most these objects serve a purely cosmetic purpose. They have no religious significance, no spiritual meaning. As we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, we Christians might reflect more deeply upon the meaning that the Cross has for us.

I don’t know French, but I’ve been told that the French word for meaning (sens) also means direction. For the French something that gives meaning also gives direction. Isn’t this also what the readings tell us about the Cross? When the psalmist reminds us to never forget the wonders the Lord has done for us, is he not inviting us to consider the meaning of the Cross, so that we might find in it direction for our lives? Is he not inviting us to move in two directions: to think back, so that we might move forward?

And the meaning of the cross that our readings present to us today also has to do with movement in different directions. Like the bronze serpent in the desert, Jesus is lifted up on the cross. But, as the letter to the Philippians reminds us, this lifting up signifies movements in two different directions. It signifies the upward movement by which God raised up Jesus, giving him the name that is above every name. And this movement is the result of a prior downward movement, by which Jesus emptied himself. True glory, fullness of life, upward movement, comes through self-emptying, compassionate service, downward movement.

On this special feast-day, we might consider carefully the significance that the Cross has for us. We might examine ourselves to see the extent to which the different directions signified by the Cross of Christ find an echo in our own lives. Otherwise, what a tragedy it would be if the Cross became purely cosmetic for us Christians as well.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

23rd Wednesday in Ordinary Time (II)
Neither Escaping Nor Engrossed


Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:25-31; Psalm 44; Luke 6:20-26

Life is difficult. So begins the bestselling book by Dr. M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled. The Buddha would have approved. Indeed some would say that all religions and philosophies have as their central preoccupation the provision of some way in which to help people cope with the difficulties of life. What is one approach when one is faced with the trials of life? Find some means of escape. Even the great apostle Paul’s own opinion on celibacy seems to treat it as a means of being spared the troubles of married life.

But life can also be beautiful and enjoyable. Indeed, for some, life can be so comfortable as to be intoxicating. The tendency then is to become too engrossed in the affairs of this world, and to forget what Paul tries to emphasize: that the world as we know it is passing away.

Could the Christian challenge be to find some middle ground between escaping and being too engrossed? Could Christ’s sermon on the plain in Luke’s gospel provide some way to do this? Here Christ calls his disciples to embrace the inevitable poverty, hunger and sorrow of human existence, but only so as to find ways to transform them into the kingdom of God. To become too engrossed in the pursuit of wealth, satisfaction and worldly joy, to try to escape the inevitable trials of earthly existence, is this not also to forget that the world as we know it is passing away – that God’s kingdom is close at hand?

How Christian is our approach to the circumstances of our daily existence?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

23rd Tuesday in Ordinary Time (II)
The Cure is in the Call


Reading: 1 Corinthians 6:1-11; Psalm 149; Luke 6:12-19

After spending the whole night in prayer, Jesus descends from the hills and seems to do two things: from among his disciples, he calls twelve apostles, and he then cures people of their diseases. Jesus calls and he cures.

And yet, deeper reflection on the passage might lead us to see that Jesus is really doing one and the same thing. In calling the apostles is he not also healing them of their spiritual shortcomings so that they can be sent out to minister in his name? And in curing the people of their infirmities is he not also calling them to follow him, to be his disciples?

Paul takes the point even further. In upbraiding the Corinthians for conduct unbecoming of Christians, of true followers of Christ, Paul reminds them of how they who were once sinners have been washed clean, and sanctified, and justified through the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and through the Spirit of our God. In this way, he reminds them that their spiritual healing takes effect in so far as they respond to God’s call in Christ, in so far as they act like true followers of Christ. For the healing is in the call. And to claim the healing necessitates that they heed the call. Is this not also the lesson of Judas Iscariot, who though he was called and healed, became a traitor, and lost his God-given inheritance?

There is a call in the healing. And the healing is in the call. How are we being invited to claim our healing, to respond to our calling, today?

Monday, September 11, 2006

23rd Monday in Ordinary Time (II)
Individualism, Moral Policing & Communal Compassion


Readings: 1 Corinthians 5:1-8; Psalm 5; Luke 6:6-11

There’s a way of living the Christian faith that emphasizes individual devotion. My sole concern is my personal relationship with God, or Jesus, or the BVM. I may expand my circle of concern to my immediate family and friends, but that’s about it. Let others take care of themselves. To those who tend towards this approach our readings remind us of the inevitably corporate nature of our Christian faith. Whether we like it or not, whether we are conscious of it or not, the well-being of any one member has its effect on the others. As Paul reminds the Corinthians concerning immorality: even a small amount of yeast is enough to leaven all the dough. And not to help another who is in need even when we are able to is as good as doing harm to that one. Notice how Jesus gives only two options in his reply to the scribes and Pharisees: to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to destroy it. An authentic Christian life is marked by concern for the other.

There is another extreme – an approach that seems to be very concerned with others and what they do. When I tend towards this approach I make it my business to identify and point out the moral failings of others. I relish the role of self-appointed moral police, much as the scribes and Pharisees do in the gospel today, who watched Jesus to see if he would cure a man on the Sabbath. However, my concern is not so much the well-being of others, as it is to impose my own ideas and opinions upon them. To those who would tend towards this approach, Jesus introduces another way. Notice how he insists on making the man with the withered hand stand in the middle of the synagogue. Why? Is it not so that the scribes’ and Pharisees’ attention might be shifted from the demands of the Law to the suffering person? Is it not so that their reactions might change from righteous indignation to compassion?

How might we grow in communal compassion today?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Springs in the Desert


Reading: Isaiah 35:4-7; Psalm 146:7-10. R. v. 1; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37

Water gushes in the desert, streams in the wasteland, the scorched earth becomes a lake, the parched land springs of water.

These words from our first reading bring me back once again to our Silk Road trip. I’m reminded in particular of the night spent in an Uighur household in the city of Turpan (or Tulufan). It was the first time I’d spent the night under a canopy of grape-vines dripping with ripe fruit. It was also the first time I’d slept next to a whole Uighur family – father, mother and two little children – after an enjoyable evening of feasting, singing and dancing.

By right these firsts should not have taken place. Why? Because Turpan is situated in the deadly dryness and lonely isolation of the Gobi. And yet, where there should have been only barrenness and desolation, there was instead fertility and companionship. Indeed, what we experienced in Turpan were streams in the wasteland, and in the parched land springs of water.

All this was made possible by two marvels: the marvel of human ingenuity and diligence by which the Karetz irrigation system was built to bring life-giving water from faraway glaciers into each household in Turpan; and the marvelous warmth of Uighur hospitality, so generously expressed in food and lodging, entertainment and fellowship.

Today our readings speak of deserts other than the Gobi. We encounter, in the gospel, the desolation of one who can neither hear nor speak. And even more terrible than physical deafness and dumbness is the suffering that results from prejudice. In the second reading, James speaks of the kind of social prejudice that would favor the wealthy and the well-dressed, the good-looking and the sweet-smelling. And we may just as easily think of other expressions of prejudice. Do we not, for example, prefer to hang-out with the in-crowd, the hip and the happening, the hot and the cool? And by doing so, are we not effectively muting the voices of those we so cruelly leave out, even as we render ourselves deaf to what they might be struggling to say?

Still, in the middle of these deserts, God wishes to bring streams and springs of living water. Jesus makes the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak. But more marvelous than the miracle of physical healing is the spiritual and social healing that God can bring about when we allow God’s spirit to work in and through us: the Spirit of compassion that empathizes with the lonely, the Spirit of charity that feeds the hungry and clothes the naked, the Spirit of justice that gives a hearing to the voiceless.

What desert does God wish to water through us this day?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

22nd Saturday in Ordinary Time (II)
Fools for the Sake of Christ

Readings: 1 Corinthians 4:6-15; Psalm 145; Luke 6:1-5

I’ve sometimes (often?) been struck by how easy it is for conflicts to erupt between otherwise very good and God-fearing people. I don’t mean the kind of conflicts that result from obvious selfishness. I have in mind, for example, the kind of disagreements that occur when people come together to work for the common good. I think for example of church groups, committees and communities. Everyone seems to be trying to do the right thing, the best thing. But all too often, legitimate differences of opinion very quickly escalate into heated arguments, arguments lead to the formation of opposing factions, and factionalism festers into long-lasting grudges and resentments. Groups break up. People become disillusioned and unhappy. What begins as an attempt to render some service to the community ends in a painful wound infecting the rest of the Body.

Paul seems to be addressing a similar problem in the Corinthian church. We might learn from what is found in today’s readings. First, as Paul reminds the Corinthians, we need to keep to what is written. We have all received a Tradition of teaching that comes from Christ. This is our common heritage. Whatever legitimate differences we might have should have to do with differing interpretations of what we have received. We do not make things up on our own.

Something more is required. Instead of being filled with our own importance, we need also to be humble enough to entertain the possibility that others’ opinions, though different from ours, may also be legitimate interpretations of Christ’s teaching. In fact, it may even be possible that their interpretation is more appropriate, closer to the truth, than ours in the given circumstances. Consider, for example, the incident in the gospel. Although Jesus and his disciples seem at first to be breaking the law concerning Sabbath observance, they are actually observing it in a deeper sense. And Jesus himself is able to find a precedent for his disciples’ actions in the practice of King David.

Finally, two phrases in today’s readings require particular attention. To be faithful to the received teaching means less the keeping of a static legal code as it does being faithful to the crucified and risen Christ. For the Son of Man is master of the Sabbath. As such, we need to allow the living Christ to challenge us when our observance of the received teaching threatens to become dead and static. We may, for example, be drawn to listen to and empathize with others before making judgments, because we wish to know what Christ is saying to us through them. Of course, by doing this we may seem to become less sure of ourselves. But that is for the best. The Pharisees were very sure of themselves. Yet they were also surely wrong. In contrast, our tentativeness and eagerness to listen can be one way in which we are called to imitate Paul’s example, one way in which we can be fools for the sake of Christ.

How can we better work together in ways that build up the Body of Christ?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Feast of the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Chosen Together


Reading: Romans 8:28-30; Psalm 12; Matthew 1:1-23

Reflections on the topic of vocation often emphasize the personal aspect. And rightly so. God calls each one uniquely, intimately, from the mother’s womb. And yet as we celebrate the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the readings emphasize yet another aspect of God’s call. God not only calls personally, but also communally.

How does salvation come from heaven to earth? How does Jesus come to be born? How does God come to be with us? We know well the personal aspect to this answer. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary… And she conceived of the Holy Spirit… Yet, today, our readings speak to us not so much about Mary’s momentous yes, as they do about God’s lengthy and patient preparation for the coming of His Son. Boring and unnecessary though it may seem, the genealogy in the gospel reminds us that Mary’s yes comes at the end of a long process, a long history of relationship between God and God’s people. This is not a history of pure brilliance, but of both light and shadow, of both submission and rebellion. It’s a mixed history – peopled by both saints and sinners – better yet, by individuals who are both saints and sinners. And yet, as Paul insists, it is by turning everything to their good that God cooperates with all those who love him.

Could it be that we only grow in the sense of our individual personal vocations – lay, religious, clerical or others – to the extent that we learn to appreciate our vocation as a people? Could efforts expended in this regard be a crucial way in which to address the apparent vocation crisis that we are facing?

As we celebrate the birthday of our Blessed Mother, how can we grow in the consciousness that we are all called to be true images of Christ our elder brother, sharers in the glory of God’s Son?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

22nd Thursday in Ordinary Time (II)
Christian Foolishness


Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:18-23; Psalm 24; Luke 5:1-11

How does one even begin to understand what Paul speaks about in the first reading? Are Christians really called to be foolish? And what does it mean anyway, to be foolish?

It helps that the foolishness of which Paul speaks is demonstrated in the gospel. It’s the foolishness by which Jesus chooses to board the boat of failed fishermen. It’s the same foolishness which leads Jesus to ask those fishermen to put out into the deep and to fish in broad daylight. And it’s also the same foolishness that sees those fishermen acceding to Jesus' request and that impels them to leave everything and follow him.

Whether one is foolish or wise can be judged according to how one makes decisions. What considerations and criteria are taken into account? What takes precedence and priority? But the world often presents us with different priorities than those of Christ. Is this not why Christian decisions can often seem foolish in the eyes of the world? Is this not why we often experience tension when we have important choices to make?

The grace we need is that spoken of in the psalm: clean hands and pure heart – so that we may desire and act according to the things of God – the values of Christ – above all other things.

How foolish or wise are we in the eyes of the world? In the eyes of God?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

22nd Wednesday in Ordinary Time (II)
Collaboration and Meaning


Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:1-5; Psalm 32; Luke 4:38-44

There’s someone in the office who works overtime on a regular basis. Comes early and leaves late. His response to comments on his diligence? Better overtime than retrenchment. He speaks in jest, of course. Still it’s likely that many can identify with the anxiety hidden in his response. Do many not work hard because they fear being laid off?

Then there’s the younger person for whom the motivation for work is not so much fear of retrenchment as a desire for career advancement. The difficulty, however, is that this person’s ambitions for career success seem to her to conflict with her desires to live a devout Christian life. The result? An inability to find deeper meaning in work, tension, struggle, lack of peace.

Does work necessarily conflict with the things of God? Or is there perhaps some way in which the work we do everyday can somehow find deeper significance in our life in the Spirit? Our readings provide some guidance.

Consider the motivation that Paul expresses in the first reading. Faced with jealousy and wrangling in the Corinthian church, Paul responds by emphasizing that he and the other evangelists are fellow workers with God. What gives meaning to his work is the consciousness that he is not engaging in an exercise in self-aggrandizement but collaborating in a great divine construction project: building up God’s farm, God’s building.

And does not Jesus carry out his ministry with this same consciousness? Is this not why he is able to move on even when others press him to stay? In particular, we notice how he cultivates this consciousness through his practice of prayer in solitude. When daylight came he left the house and made his way to a lonely place.

Also, in the experience of Peter’s mother-in-law, we see one possible way in which this consciousness comes into being. After Jesus heals her she contributes in her own way to his ministry. She immediately got up and began to wait on them. In Christ, the mundane tasks of her daily existence take on a new significance. Like Paul, she becomes a collaborator in God’s building project.

What about us? How do we find meaning in our work?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

22nd Tuesday in Ordinary Time (II)
Spirit in the World


Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:10-16; Psalm 144; Luke 4:31-37

Good teachers often draw sharp distinctions to help their listeners understand the point they are making. Paul is no exception. In our reading he clearly distinguishes the spirit of the world from the Spirit of God. It is only in and through the Spirit of God that a spiritual person can discern the things of God, since it is only in and through the Spirit of God that one can have the mind of Christ. The distinction is thus not between spirit and world, but between two spirits: that of the world and that of God­. It is important to get this clear so as not to misunderstand. Paul is not advocating a withdrawal or escape from the world, but right judgment of what goes on in the world in the light of Christ.

This can be seen too in the way that Jesus operates in the gospel. His unity with His Father in the Holy Spirit enables Him not only to identify the unclean spirits that are at work in the world, but also to cast them out. There is no other-worldly escapism here, only a profound demonstration of the power and authority of the only Son of God.

As followers of Christ – His hands, feet and body – how may we better discern and follow the movements of God’s Spirit in our world today?

Monday, September 04, 2006

22nd Monday in Ordinary Time (II)
Power of God


Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Psalm 118; Luke 4:16-30

There has been something of a revolution in international relations theory in recent times. Experts are speaking about the importance of soft power. To quote Harvard Dean, Joseph Nye: Soft power is the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals. It differs from hard power, the ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will. Hard power works through coercion and inducement, soft power through attraction and seduction. Hard power emphasizes strength, soft power, popularity.

How do these forms of power compare with the power that we find in the readings today?

In the first reading Paul is anxious to emphasize that his preaching is dependent not on the possession of secular philosophical knowledge, but on the power of God. He preaches in weakness, in fear and trembling. And yet, his words have borne fruit. By thus boasting about his own weakness, his own poverty, Paul is actually extolling the marvelous power of God, who works in those who are submissive to God’s will.

The power spoken of by Paul is the same power that animates Jesus in the gospel. This power is able to bring liberty to captives, new sight to the blind and freedom to the downtrodden. But the exercise of this power is not without problems. Although Jesus’ words wins the approval of all, he very quickly provokes anger and resentment. They wish to kill him. But Jesus’ response provides yet another example of how this power of God works. He makes no attempt at coercion or inducement. Neither does he compromise his own message. He simply walks away. And we know the destination towards which he is travels: Calvary and beyond. For he is the crucified Christ in whom Paul boasts. The One in whom the power of God is made manifest among us.

Hard power, soft power, or the power of God? On which do we rely this day?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

22nd Ordinary Sunday (B)
True Religion


Reading: Deuteronomy 4:1-8; Psalm 14; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-23

Today I’m reminded of Habib. Probably everyone’s favourite tour guide, Habib is Uighur – an ethnic minority in Xinjiang. As such, he is also Muslim. I’m reminded of a couple of his favourite phrases. When speaking of sensitive political, cultural or social issues, he often said: That is hot potato. I’m also reminded of his 15-20 minute lecture on the Muslim religion, given at the famous Emin Minaret/ Mosque at Turpan in Xinjiang. At two or three points in his lecture we heard Habib use another of his memorable phrases. When speaking of the requirement that women have to cover themselves from head to foot, and of the practice of polygamy, Habib said: That is bad development.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is also dealing with what he sees to be a hot potato and a bad development. He reprimands the scribes and Pharisees for the narrow form of religion that they practice. For them, religion is primarily about keeping the Law. In itself, this is not a bad thing. In the first reading, Moses himself exhorts the people to keep the commandments of the Lord your God just as I lay them down for you. But the scribes' and Pharisees' observance of the Law is extremely constricted. They are only concerned about external ritual practices, such as the washing of hands, cups and dishes. The result? Ritual becomes divorced from life. Worship is separated from justice. Religion becomes burdensome, empty, meaningless.

But if the pharisaical religion is too narrow, what is a fuller alternative? What is true religion, purified of bad developments? The readings present at least two other crucial aspects. We may call the first spiritual. The Law must be kept not simply as a dead letter written on paper, but as a life-giving, God-given, Word that is inscribed on human hearts. As James writes in the second reading: accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. More than in mere external observance, the saving significance of the Law lies in our relationship with the Law-Giver, who speaks continually to us in our hearts. To observe the Law, we need carefully to cultivate this relationship, to keep communication channels open.

And submission to this living and life-giving Word naturally expresses itself externally in the way one lives one’s life – especially in acts of charity and justice. We may call this the ethical aspect of true religion. Again, James puts it well: Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world. We may ask ourselves: Who are the orphans and widows of today? From what forms of worldly contamination do we need to safeguard ourselves?

Today we are being challenged to reflect upon the kind of religion we practice. How do we connect and balance among the ritual, spiritual and ethical aspects of true religion? And what, if any, are the bad developments we need to avoid? Or are these questions too much of a hot potato?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Saturday in the 21st Week of Ordinary Time (II)
God’s Choice

Readings: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Psalm 32; Matthew 25:14-30

We are invited today to meditate more deeply upon God’s choice. Why and how does God choose us? And how does this divine purpose come to fruition?

The psalm starts us off by reminding us of God’s purpose. God chooses God’s people in order to rescue their souls from death, to keep them alive in famine. God chooses in order to save. Although the gospel parable speaks in terms of a master’s relationship with his servants -- and we are, indeed, all called to serve God -- God chooses not so much as a potential employer might choose domestic help from a bio-data file. God is not simply on the lookout for tireless and efficient laborers. Rather God’s choice might perhaps be likened more to that of one who visits death-row in order to grant clemency to prisoners. God chooses in order to save.

And God chooses by blessing us with gifts – the talents in the gospel parable. Does it mean then that those who are wealthier or more intelligent, more popular or more talented, are more blessed, more chosen, than those who are less so? No. As Paul tells the Corinthians: it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, and to shame what is strong that he chose what is weak by human reckoning; those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything. In other words, we need to have a correct understanding of God’s giving. More than any material wealth or natural talent, God gives us God’s very self by sending us God’s Son. As Paul explains, God chooses us in Christ who has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom. And it is only in Christ that we better understand the saving significance of God’s gifts – how they may be used to fulfill God’s purpose of salvation. Our gifts – including our material possessions and natural talents – are entrusted to us neither to be buried nor to be exploited solely for our own selfish purposes, but so that they may be used for the benefit of others, to bring others to God, to further God’s saving plan both in breadth and depth. And it is only to the extent that we use our gifts in this way that we can truly benefit from them in Christ. For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away. Or, as St. Francis of Assisi put it so beautifully: It is in giving that we receive. It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

How is God choosing us today? What are the talents with which we being blessed? How are we being called to respond?
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