Saint Teresa of Avila

 

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28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

discipleship

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him: ‘You are lacking in one thing.  Go, sell what you have, and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’

The Scriptures tell us of several people whom Our Lord especially loved.  One was Lazarus, the man he raised from the dead.  Our Lord loved him along with his sisters, Martha and Mary.  Saint John the Apostle was another Jesus especially loved.  Several times John is referred to as the Beloved Disciple.  And there was of course his own Mother Mary.  Finally there was the young man we hear about in today’s Gospel.  Saint Mark tells us that Jesus, in answering the young man’s question, looked deeply into him and loved him.  He loved him enough to give the young man an answer that would bring him a richness of life far beyond anything this world could ever offer him.

We need to focus on the rich young man’s question.  Asking the right question gives us the proper direction leading to the needed answer.  Notice how the rich young man didn’t ask: “How can I help?” or “How much money do you need?”  Rather he asked Jesus how he could receive an even greater inheritance than that which was already coming to him.

We have all heard the phrase “Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.”  Such is the case here.  Jesus asked the young man to make a risky investment, to place all that he had and all that he was into God’s care, into God’s hands.  Jesus asked him to give up the security of his wealth, his family position and power; to give up his independence and become dependent, to hand over his self-governance and so allow God to govern, control, and direct his life.  Sadly, the rich young man thought that Our Lord’s answer to his question was too costly – he couldn’t bring himself to pay the price of discipleship.

In much the same way Saint Peter had to face the same question; he bluntly said to Jesus: “We have left everything and followed you.  What are we to have, then?”  Our Lord responded that he would be repaid a hundred times over and inherit everlasting life as well.  As we know, Peter’s response was a bit wobbly.  And yet he did end up taking the risk, and Our Lord made him the rock upon which he would build his Church.

As we get older we come to realise that the things of greatest value come at a high cost.  Our Lord speaks of that in his Parable about the Pearl of Great Price, and it presents us with the question: “What is of lasting value?”  What is an investment I can make that will give me something that can never be devalued?  Cheap things that don’t last can be bought cheaply.  That which has great and lasting value comes only to those who are willing to pay the price.  Will you sell your soul for something cheap, or will you sell everything you have to acquire the priceless pearl?

Are we willing to even face the question at all, or do we simply plod on with our lives, setting the question aside without ever answering it?  Making a conscious decision to turn our life over into the care of God is a major step in any person’s life.  Ask any of the Sisters who themselves have paid a high price to follow Our Lord in the religious life.  In the same way if we wish to recover our lives and rid ourselves of our addictive self-concerns and habitual self-gratifications we must turn our lives over into the care of God.  This, as we all know, is a risky capital investment that many judge to be too costly.

So, what are you willing to risk?

You are here today because you claim to be a Christian, you claim to be a follower of Christ in his Way, in his Truth, and in his Life.  If you are radical about your commitment to Christ then you will be faced with living a risky life.  It is a great risk, and a costly one, to live life as Christ did, to live as one of his own, and to be loved by him.  The testimony of history is that economics will not save humanity from its misery.  The plagues of war, racism, and poverty have existed and exist now in many economic systems.  Nor will science save us.  We have only to take a look at what we have done with all of our newly discovered scientific wonders.  Nor will technology save us.  The Internet is both a blessing and a curse, but it cannot save us.

What will save us comes from our hearts and souls, not from our brains and our hands.  Knowledge will not save us.  Wisdom offers us more.  Wisdom asks us to place our lives, our fortunes, our treasures, and our talents into the care of God.  Wisdom transcends facts, information and data, taking us into realms found beyond what the human mind can comprehend.

It is a risk to stand up for the value of human life at its beginning, as it is lived out, and in its natural ending.  There is a risk in being known to be a moral person.  Those who hate religion will attack you, accuse you of being a hypocrite, and go on to accuse you of attempting to impose your own private and personal religion upon others.  The risk of living as a person filled with the Presence of God means that you must stand under the judgment of Pontius Pilate who asked: “Truth, what is truth?” and then handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Living as a disciple of Christ means that you give a public, moral witness that emerges from deep within the Church and from Christ’s presence working in and through his Mystical Body.  Ultimately it means living so as to point to the value of what it means to be a human person.  It means placing who and what you are in opposition to what this world wants you to be.  For the meaning of being human is revealed in the meaning and purpose of Christ’s life.

What is being asked of you is that you make your own capital investment and place all that you are, and all that you have, and all that you will be into the hands of Jesus Christ to be used as he sees fit.  It is to follow in the footsteps of people like Saint Francis of Assisi who abandoned his privileged status, along with the wealth of his family, who stood naked in front of his father, his family, his local bishop and defiantly declared: “Naked I was born into this world, and naked will I leave it.”

There are those who have gone through dark times in their lives.  This prayer has helped many:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve,

I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health, that I might do greater things,

I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy,

I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,

I was given weakness, that I might feel the need for God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,

I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am among all men most richly blessed.

Dying on his Cross, Our Lord cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  How many people have cried out those same words?  It is only with great faith and courage that we can, with Jesus, give our Father in heaven our final commitment: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”  No greater investment can be made by any man or woman.  And the reward?  A higher and better life in this world and forever in the next.

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Saint Edward the Confessor

Today we honour the memory of Saint Edward the Confessor, who was King of England from 1042 until his death in 1066.  King Edward is considered to be a model for Christian monarchs and is the patron saint of kings.  Until 1348 Saint Edward was the patron of England but during the reign of Edward III he was replaced by Saint George.  Edward provided funds for the first Benedictine abbey of Saint Peter to be built at Westminster and his remains are interred in the present church.  King Edward was canonised in 1161.

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At the end of a long day, after Our Lord had been driving out demons, debating with Pharisees, and teaching large crowds of people, a woman called out: “Blessed is the womb that carried you!” (Luke 11:27).  You can almost hear this woman going on to say: “What a lucky mother to have such a son, such a great teacher”.  But Our Lord responded that the truly blessed are those who “hear the word of God and keep it”.

Far from turning attention away from his mother, Our Lord was showing that Mary was not just some lucky girl who received special graces.  He understood that his mother constantly chose to lay down her life in obedience to God, and that this was the true blessing.  Both the angel Gabriel and Elizabeth could see Mary’s faith and obedience, and this was why they too called her blessed: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45).

To Gabriel, Mary said: “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  Consider for a moment the consequences of Our Lady’s acceptance of this extraordinary message.  Imagine you are a young woman, engaged to be married, and now you are willing to accept God’s will to become miraculously pregnant before you and your husband come together.  This might be a little difficult to explain to your mother and fiancé, not to mention the town gossips.  Wouldn’t you want to suggest that God delay the miracle until after the marriage?  Did the world really need to know it was a virgin birth?  Did Mary really have to risk being stoned to death for the sin of adultery?

Mary’s disposition of faith and obedience is extraordinary.  She deserves to be called the “New Eve,” for like the old Eve, she had free will, but unlike Eve, she trusted, believed, and obeyed.  This is the woman Our Lord knew as his mother.  He saw her blessedness in her wisdom, strength, faith, and obedience.  We too can be blessed if we listen to the word of God and keep it.

Friday of Week 27 in Ordinary Time

Many people fear change.  Even priests and religious fear change.  We get rooted and comfortable in our relationships, our apostolates and our various activities.  We enjoy them.  They give meaning and value to our lives.  We like the stability.  But if we’re not careful we can create our own little empire which we will defend to our last breath.  And the last thing we need is someone, usually our superior, to come along and turn our little world upside down, to ask us to give up one responsibility and to take on another.  One of the roles of the superior is to challenge the way we live and the way we see things.  But that’s nothing unusual, because Our Lord does it all the time.

Too many people close themselves off from any growth in the spiritual life.  Call it what you will: original sin, jealousy, selfishness, pride, self-preservation; there continues to exist within the human person, even in priests and religious, an inability to recognise what is ultimately Good.   On the other hand, once we do recognise the Good, we must carry it out.   And that disturbs our comfortable routines.  Neutrality is no longer an option.  Too often we would rather remain within the status quo instead of being challenged by the Lord and by those who teach in his Name in the Church.  Because to choose Christ is to choose change: we can’t stand still after the choice is made.

Today’s gospel invites us to consider how we may be blocking ourselves from seeing the Good, from expanding our horizons and from seeing what is good for the community and not just for myself.  May we all be open today and every day to the possibility of the conversion Our Lord invites us all to live.

Thursday of Week 27 in Ordinary Time

For decades, physicists have been searching for a tiny particle that most of us never even think about.  Scientists describe it as the missing piece to understanding the Universe.  This tiny particle is important because it gives all matter its mass.  It’s called the Higgs Boson Particle.  Hundreds of feet underground, scientists have built a huge particle collider seventeen miles in circumference.  And they’ve been using it nonstop since 1998, but it wasn’t until 2012 that the existence of this particle was tentatively—not completely—confirmed.  That’s one elusive little particle.

Thankfully, today’s Gospel isn’t asking us to explore particle physics.  Instead, Saint Luke is inviting us to seek after the Higgs Boson Particle of the Christian life, which is the Holy Spirit.

Our Lord urges his disciples to pray persistently; and he talks about the Holy Spirit at the very last minute.  This can make the Holy Spirit seem like an afterthought.  But if you look at Saint Luke’s Gospel as a whole, you’ll find the Holy Spirit showing up at almost every turn.  In the Acts of the Apostles, which Saint Luke also wrote, the Holy Spirit takes centre stage.  And it’s no wonder, because the Holy Spirit is God’s power in the world.

Now we don’t have to develop an expensive and complicated science experiment in order to find the Holy Spirit.  We don’t need a large hadron particle collider.  We can find evidence of his presence in our own heart and in the world around us.  It’s the Holy Spirit who draws us to read and study the Scriptures, and to spend time in prayer.  He nudges us to reach out to people in need, or to share our faith.  The Holy Spirit persistently moves in our heart, calling us again and again to return to him.

The Holy Spirit is moving in us today, just as he was in the Early Church.

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Wednesday of Week 27 in Ordinary Time

We’ve all visited some of the great cathedrals of the world, and we’ve seen that many have massive, beautifully carved pillars that support the weight of the huge building.  There are all different kinds: fluted, square, round, brick, Doric, Corinthian, perpendicular, and so on.  There is more than one pillar supporting the structure.  One is simply not enough to bear all that weight.

In today’s first reading, St. Paul writes about the pillars that support the Universal Church.  He uses this term to describe Peter, James and John, leaders who set the course for the Church, provided support and stability, and upheld all the people around them.

Calling these chief apostles pillars makes perfect sense.  Not only did they support the Church through difficult times, but like the pillars on any building, none of them did it alone.  They shared the load with each other.  James led the church in Jerusalem.  Peter and John travelled from church to church teaching and confirming people in the faith.  Paul pushed the boundaries, establishing churches throughout Asia Minor and into Europe.  They all understood that one person couldn’t possibly do everything, and they also understood that each person had different gifts and abilities, each of which could bring different blessings to the Church.

Each one of us, in our own unique way, act as pillars, offering leadership, support and encouragement to others who rely on our expertise.

But just as Peter, Paul, James and John needed the support of others, so we need the support of other people.  Other pillars to help us share the load and to hold us up whenever we start feeling weak or worn down.  We don’t have to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders.  Like the Apostles we need others to share the load of preaching and teaching to a world so much in need of Good News.

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Saint Louis Bertrand, O.P.

Today we honour the memory of the Spanish Dominican Saint Louis Bertrand who preached the Gospel in Colombia and Panama.  When his health failed he returned to Spain where he died whilst preaching in the cathedral at Valencia on 9th October 1581.  Saint Louis was canonized in 1671 and he is the patron saint of Colombia and the patron of Dominican formation personnel and novitiates.

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Our Lord wanted to enjoy a few moments of rest and relaxation with friends who had been particularly kind to him.  After his arrival, Martha complained that all Mary wanted to do was sit and talk to Jesus while she had to do all the work.  This is a charming story because it’s so human and it contains an important lesson for us.

Many housewives today sympathise with Martha because they know how she felt.  In fact, Martha was much like the Good Samaritan, the hero of yesterday’s gospel, for she showed practical hospitality to Jesus as the Good Samaritan did for the Jew lying beaten and wounded on the roadside.  Now Our Lord found no fault at all in what Martha was doing, but he did fault her in her attitude towards her sister, implying that Mary was selfish in dedicating herself to listening to Jesus.

St. Luke’s intention in telling this story was to establish a balance in the lives of Christians between the need for practical charity and the nourishment of hearing the Word of God.  This Word is a nourishment for our spiritual lives which is more important than the food which sustains our bodies.  St. Paul tells us that after his conversion he went off to the deserts of Arabia to immerse himself in prayer.  His mission was to be a very active one, but he realised his own need to digest and assimilate the Word of God.

The point St. Luke is making is that Martha and Mary together form the ideal disciple.  A disciple must hear the Word of God and then put it into practice.  Since most people lead busy lives and are tempted to give only a little time to God in prayer, Our Lord emphasised the example of Mary, an example of prayer and listening.  This emphasis is one which is probably needed in the lives of most of us today.