Sunday, November 28, 2021

With Blinders Removed

1st Sunday of Advent (C)

Readings: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 24(25):4-5,8-9,10,14; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28,34-36

Pictures: cc City of St Louis Missouri

My dear friends, do you know what blinkers or blinders are? They are sometimes put around a horse’s eyes, so that it can see only what is directly ahead. This prevents the horse from getting distracted or startled by its surroundings. Which may be a good thing, except that it narrows the view of the horse.

I don’t know if you’ll agree with me, but I think we often look at Christmas, as though we too were wearing blinders. Commercially, Christmas is presented as a season for giving and merry-making. Which makes it a precious time for buying and selling. That’s only to be expected. But I suspect that even those of us, who may be more religious, will be surprised, if we were told that Christmas is more than just a celebration of the birth of Christ two thousand years ago.

Which is one good reason why we need Advent, and especially this first Sunday of Advent. As you may have noticed, in our readings today, there is no mention of a baby in a manger. Indeed, our attention is directed, at least initially, less to the past, than to the future. The gospel begins with a rather disturbing, and even scary, description of the end times. Jesus says that people on earth will be dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken… How do you feel when you hear these words?

I confess that I’m tempted simply to ignore them. To skip ahead to the less troubling parts of the gospel. Which is, of course, just another way of putting on blinders, isn’t it? And I know why I do this. It’s the same reason horses do it. To avoid being scared and distracted. Distracted from what exactly? From the routine busyness and stress of daily living.

And yet, in the gospel, Jesus offers a different antidote to fear. Instead of covering our eyes, he strengthens our hearts, and guides our steps. He strengthens our hearts by telling us that, if we truly follow him, then the end times are not to be feared, but welcomed: When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand. And he guides our steps, by warning us that the routine busyness of daily living can itself be a distraction: Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life…

In effect, Jesus is reminding us that the promise made in the first reading has already been fulfilled in him. That we, the body-of-Christ on earth, we too bear the name the-Lord-our-integrity. For Jesus has already shown us how to face the end without fear. By living the kind of life we are meant to live: the life that God wants. By continually asking God to increase our love, making us love one another and the whole human race.

Sisters and brothers, we don’t really have to wait till the end times to see scary signs. We can already see them now: the growing climate crisis, multiplying COVID-19 variants, desperate migrants drowning in the sea… Still, Christ is with us already. What must we do to let God remove our blinders, and better prepare for the Lord’s coming again today?

Sunday, November 14, 2021


33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Readings: Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 15(16):5,8-11; Hebrews 10:11-14,18; Mark 13:24-32

Picture: cc Jernej Furman

My dear friends, have you taken an A-R-T yet? What did it feel like? What result did you get? As you know, A-R-T stands for antigen rapid test, which is a quick way to detect a possible COVID-19 infection. Similarly, our Mass readings also provide us with a kind of A-R-T, a convenient test to indicate whether or not we have a certain kind of infection.

As you’ve probably already noticed, the first reading and the gospel share certain characteristics. They are both examples of apocalyptic literature. This type of writing is addressed to a particular kind of audience, to people suffering persecution, people at the bottom of the prevailing societal order. Scholars tell us that the first reading was originally intended for Jews who had been conquered by the Greeks, and the gospel for those being oppressed by Roman rule.

To such people, the apocalyptic message is simple. Yes, you are suffering now, but do not to be afraid, because the current world order will not last forever. A time is coming, a time of great distress, when everything will be disrupted, turned upside down, when even those who are powerful now will be made powerless. After which, God’s previously hidden presence will be made manifest. And those who had remained faithful to God will be gathered and rewarded. While those who had been unfaithful will be punished.

How do you think you would feel, if you heard this message? Well it depends, right? If I were suffering for being faithful to God in a hostile world, then I might feel encouraged and hopeful, I might find the strength I need to persevere. But if I were unfaithful, if I had somehow allowed myself to become a friend of the world, then I’d likely feel anxious and afraid, or I might perhaps try to ignore the message. Whatever it is, my reaction serves as an indicator of a possible infection. It tells me whether I have been contaminated by the world.

My dear friends, I think this is also what our readings can do for us today. They serve as an A-R-T. Not an antigen rapid test, but an apocalyptic reading test. My reaction to them may indicate how faithful I am to God, whether I am truly striving for that eternal perfection won by the single sacrifice of Christ, or whether I have been infected by the world.

And in case this test, this A-R-T, isn’t reliable enough, I can supplement it with a P-R-T, a pandemic reaction test. I may examine my reaction to the distress and disruption caused by the pandemic. Am I, like most others, looking forward only to things going back to the way they were before? Is my idea of the new normal just another version of the comfortable past? Or am I also yearning for a radically different future, where the poor will be better provided for, the environment better cared for, where God’s kingdom will more fully come, God’s will be more truly done, on earth as it is in heaven?

Sisters and brothers, if we were to honestly submit ourselves to a spiritual A-R-T today, what will it feel like? What result will we get? How might we draw ever closer to Christ, today?

Sunday, November 07, 2021

Checking Our Cheese...

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Readings: 1 Kings 17:10-16; Psalm 145 (146): 7-10; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

Picture: cc Marco Verch Professional Photographer

My dear friends, do you know when cheese is not really cheese? I must confess that I was very surprised, when I was told the answer not long ago. Apparently, a popular brand of individually packed cheese slices actually contains so little cheese, that it has to be called a cheese product. Which just goes to show how important it is for us not to simply take things at face value. Just because something is described as cheese, doesn’t mean it actually contains real cheese. Better to take a closer look, to find out more… Otherwise we may end up eating something far less nutritious than advertised.

I mention this because food is also a central feature of our readings today. We see this most clearly in the first reading. In a time of famine – a dire shortage of food – caused by drought, the prophet Elijah begs a poor Sidonian widow to feed him. And she willingly shares with him the little food she has. But why, we may ask, does the prophet beg from such a poor person? And why is this particular widow so generous?

The reading begins at verse 10. We find the answers to our questions in verses 8 and 9. There we are told that it was the Lord, who instructed Elijah to seek out the widow, and that it was also the Lord, who commanded her to feed him. All of which indicates that both Elijah and the widow did not simply share the same food for their stomachs. They also shared the same nourishment for their souls. By acting as they did, they were both obeying, feeding on, the word of the Lord.

In the gospel too, we find a poor widow, who generously donates to the Temple all she had to live on. The gospel doesn’t tell us why she does this. But we may assume a similar motive to those of Elijah and the first widow. Like them, she probably thinks she is obeying God, that she is feeding on the word of the Lord. But notice what Jesus says at the beginning of the reading. He tells his disciples to beware of the scribes, to guard against the very people responsible for the financial system the widow is obeying. Why? It’s because of the food they eat… They swallow the property of widows, while making a show of lengthy prayers… Instead of feeding on the word of God, these religious leaders feast on the livelihoods of the poor, whom they fool into thinking they are obeying God. Which is not so different from selling cheese that’s not real cheese, right?

Unfortunately, such things still happen today. The recent case of that poor woman, who became very sick after buying and ingesting the drug Ivermectin, as protection against Covid-19, is just one, more obvious, example. She did this on the advice of Catholic friends, who led her to believe it was what God wanted. Thankfully, by generously sacrificing himself once and for all, Christ has established this eucharistic table, from which we are fed, and at which we are given what we need to judge the true nutritional value of every other food.

Sisters and brothers, what must we do to be more vigilant, and to help one another to carefully check our cheese today?