Thursday of Week 10 in Ordinary Time

Every day we need to consider how Our Lord calls us to live as his followers.  Every day we are faced with many choices and decisions, and the world urges us not to think too deeply about anything. Just find the quick and easy answer to every challenge, and we’ll be happy.  That philosophy even finds its way into our practice of the Christian life.

But can we really simplify God’s eternal plan of salvation into an easy-to-follow three-step plan?  If it was that simple, then the scribes and Pharisees would have been on the right track; after all, they were quite rigorous in their own religious observances.

Maybe instead of thinking of outdoing the Pharisees in terms of the amount of things we do—for instance, taking five steps instead of three—we should think of it in terms of the kind of things we do.  It’s helpful to see that right after telling us to go beyond the scribes and Pharisees, Our Lord tells us not to be angry with each other.  He tells us to be quick to forgive and he cautions us against calling someone a fool.  The righteousness Our Lord talks about isn’t a matter of doing more, it’s a matter of loving more.  It’s a matter of giving generously, forgiving readily, and letting go of resentments immediately.

Our Lord asks us to do nothing less than to rise above our human flaws and weaknesses.  He asks us to show the same kind of love for other people that he has for us.  And he offers us his grace and help to do it; but it’s still up to us to choose this righteous path.

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Saint Antony of Padua

Today we honour the memory of Saint Antony of Padua, who began his religious life as a Canon Regular, and later switched to the Franciscans after being inspired by the stories of Franciscan martyrdoms in North Africa.  He ministered in Morocco for a short time but had to return home due to ill health.  Antony spent the remainder of his short life in Italy where he established a reputation as a preacher and theologian.  Saint Antony gave his heart and soul to the God who invites us all to serve him in simplicity and surrender.  Antony died in Padua in 1231 at the age of 36.

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Many of the best adventure stories end in a final showdown.  Whether it’s the daring knight against the dragon, Aslan’s army charging toward the White Witch, or Luke Skywalker battling with Darth Vader; no epic story feels complete without a final face-off between the hero and the villain.  The showdown Elijah set up between God and Baal was equally dramatic.  It’s easy to read this story as a simple display of power: God’s might contrasted with Baal’s weakness.  But there is much more here.  Before raining down fire in an impressive demonstration, the Holy Spirit prompted Elijah to repair the altar of the Lord.  First, Elijah set up twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of Israel.  Then, in case the symbol had been missed, he had four jars of water poured over the sacrificial offering three times—a total of twelve times.  And finally, in his prayer, Elijah invoked the memories of the heroes of God’s people: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Why did Elijah do all this?  Well, because the people had forgotten who they were.  Before he revealed God’s power to his enemies, Elijah needed to help his own people reclaim their identity.  He needed to remind them that God had set them apart for himself and called them to proclaim his greatness to the nations.

In the end, the people cried out, “The Lord is God!”.  They were able to proclaim the truth of who God is because they returned to the truth of who they were.  Silent at the start of the encounter, they came to their senses, just as Elijah prayed they would.

Thunderbolts from the sky are impressive, but God doesn’t want to terrify his people into obedience.  He wants to bring us back in love, not fear.  This is why we should never forget who we are.  Every day, we need to remember and proclaim that we are his people.  Then we will be able to tell the world that the Lord is God.

Tuesday of the 10th Week in Ordinary Time

No matter what bankers and financial advisors may tell us, the purpose of money is found not in hoarding it, but in using it to purchase something we want or need.

Faith can be compared to money, because like money, faith should never be hoarded, it must be shared with others.  This is what Our Lord had in mind when he tells us that we are the salt of the earth and light to the world.  Salt is useless and doesn’t fulfil its purpose until it enhances the flavour of food, and a lamp is meaningless until it is lit and enlightens the darkness.

Some Christians believe that they must spread the Good News by going from door to door and confronting people.  But Our Lord had a much better way.  He tells us that our light must shine before the people with whom we share our lives, so that they may see goodness in our deeds and give praise to our heavenly Father.  It’s the old and well-tested truth that actions speak louder than words.

Sharing our goodness is helpful to both others and to ourselves.  When we spend our money, it’s used up.  But when we spend and spread our faith through goodness, we don’t have less faith and goodness: we actually have more, because both faith and goodness grow in the sharing of it.

Notes from a Small Island

Saint Barnabas

Wouldn’t it be great to be remembered for our goodness, faith, and Spirit-filled living?  That is how St. Luke memorializes St. Barnabas in the Acts of the Apostles.  This Levite from Cyprus was named Joseph at birth, but after becoming a member of the church in Jerusalem, he was given the name Barnabas, meaning son of encouragement.  It seems that throughout his life, Barnabas embodied a radical generosity that was focused on looking after the welfare of the church.

Just as the Holy Spirit encouraged and consoled the early church, so too did Barnabas commit himself to living out that encouragement in his daily life.  When we first meet Barnabas, he is generously giving the apostles the proceeds from a lucrative property deal (Acts 4:36-37).  Later, as an apostle, Barnabas obediently acts upon the Lord’s word by encouraging the early Christians to remain faithful (11:23).

Barnabas’ gift of encouragement didn’t just lead him to be generous; it led him to take risks as well.  He was one of the few who could recognise the grace of conversion in one of the Church’s most powerful enemies: Saul of Tarsus.  Befriending him, Barnabas presented Saul to the sceptical apostles in Jerusalem and witnessed to the authenticity of God’s work in his life.  Later, he called upon Saul to help him care for the growing church in Antioch.  From there, both men were commissioned to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.  Together, Barnabas and Saul successfully defended the church in Antioch from those who wanted to subject the gentile Christians to the observance of Jewish customs and laws.

And so today let us ask the Holy Spirit to give us humility and love for God so that we, like St. Barnabas, may reach out to his children.  Like Barnabas, we received the Holy Spirit at our baptism.  By this Spirit, and through our lives of prayer and dedication, let us imitate the works that St. Barnabas and St. Paul performed as they spread the Gospel and encouraged believers wherever they went.

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10th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The mysterious beginnings of evil in the world and its consequences are poetically described in the familiar story of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden.  It’s a striking account of the way in which sin corrodes the relationship between God and his people.  God called out to Adam: “Where are you?”  Adam hid because he was guilty and felt ashamed and embarrassed for what he had done in eating the forbidden fruit.  Instinctively he shifted the blame onto Eve, saying: “It was the woman you put with me: she gave me the fruit and I ate it.”  When Eve was confronted she accused the serpent.  The whole sorry episode is typical of the way we, as human beings, go about things and try to avoid accepting responsibility for our actions.   We have an urge to shift the blame and profess our own innocence because we feel ashamed of our actions and don’t want to own up to them.

Sin, as we all know, is an offence against God.  It’s our doing, and it distances us from him.  When sin is uncovered it sits uncomfortably on our shoulders.  Deep down there is an unwillingness to admit that we are wrong and to express penitence for our offence.  The consequence of not admitting our sin is that we cannot receive God’s forgiveness.  Like Adam and Eve, we hide.  Even though Adam and Eve sinned, God, we are told, continued to walk in the garden, which means that he did not reject them.  Though fallen from grace they did not remain beyond the reach of God’s mercy.  God’s forgiveness is there for us also, but unless we reach out to him in sorrow and admit our guilty behaviour our sins remains unforgiven.  The ability to say ‘sorry’ in words and actions is an integral part of any relationship.  It is important to have a sense of sin and a realisation of its consequences so that we can reach out for forgiveness.

To have a clear vision of what our present life means, God’s call: “where are you”, must echo in our own hearts.  Otherwise life becomes a hiding game of avoiding responsibility for our actions, and for the persons we are.  The conflict between good and evil will continue for as long as humans live on the earth.   Many of us do go into hiding throughout life because of sin.  We lack the courage to face our situation and to admit that we are drifting and lost, naked in the sight of God.

The Gospel paints a picture of our Blessed Lord offering us healing, strength, forgiveness and a way out of our difficulties.  The entire life and mission of Jesus was a renewal of the dialogue between God and his people.  So, let us not be afraid to turn to him for help in our lives.  If we confess our sins with sorrow, we will know with faith that we are forgiven, and travel on life’s journey with our minds and hearts set on heaven.

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The Immaculate Heart of Mary

Today as we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we can reflect on Our Lady’s beautiful witness and on how it sets an example for all believers.  While Our Lady was the mother of the Redeemer, she was also dependent—like the rest of us—on the Redeemer’s saving grace.  We may not be sinless like she was; nevertheless, we are all called to live the life of the new creation that Our Lady so perfectly embodied.

Saint Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).   Our Lady’s heart was set on pleasing God. In everything she did, she demonstrated a childlike faith and trust in God and in his promises to her.  When she accepted the angel’s call to be the mother of the Messiah, Our Lady freely surrendered her rights to a normal life.  Instead, she determined to follow God’s plan wherever it led.  All of us who have experienced the love and forgiveness of God in a personal way understand how dramatically our entire perspective can be changed by one touch from the Lord.

Saint Paul says, “Jesus died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15).  As a new creation living for Our Lord, our lives are drastically different from those whose hearts are set on this world alone.  When we live for God we no longer live for ourselves, or the approval of others.  Our primary desire is to please the One who died for us!  We want to become ambassadors for Christ, bringing his life and light to a world in need.

Our Lady’s entire life was set on fulfilling God’s plan and advancing his kingdom.  In prayer, she sought out his wisdom and direction and then moved in simple, trusting obedience. Neither years of patient waiting nor the painful culmination of Our Lord’s ministry caused her to lose heart.  Let us continue to imitate Our Lady’s example: by faith, she moved in the blessed freedom of a true daughter of God.

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The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Images of the sun’s surface reveal dynamic surges of fire exploding from its surface in continuous and powerful waves. We don’t have pictures of the sacred heart of Jesus, but by God’s revelation, we know that this heart, like the sun, is also a raging fire—a fire of divine love. It is a constantly burning furnace with charity, mercy, and forgiveness always surging out to all of humanity.

The passionate love contained in the heart of Jesus has no beginning and no end. It is eternal, exalted far above our limited abilities to love. Nothing can stop it or dampen its fervour—not even death on a cross. Jesus loves us so much that he is determined to do anything he can to save us and to empower us to live life to the full. And yet, as high and “other” as it is, this love is also deeply personal and intimate, capable of touching us at every level of our being.

As we surrender ourselves to Jesus, as we ask him to warm our hearts with his divine love, we will begin to experience a new joy and passion, both for the Lord and for life itself. We will find ourselves wanting to spend more time with Jesus in prayer, and we will begin to treasure his words in the gospels. In short, our hearts will begin to burn with the same fire of love that is in Jesus’ own heart.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux once said that the church must have a heart, and that this heart must be on fire with love. “Jesus, my love!” she cried. “At last, I have found my vocation. My vocation is love.”

Something else happens when we encounter Jesus’ Sacred Heart: We find a deeper love and compassion for other people. The author and French priest, Fr. Jean du Coeur de Jesus d’Elbée, imagined that St. John, as he neared the end of his life, repeated only one teaching over and over again: “Love one another!” He said that if you want to love in this way, the only answer is to “plunge yourself into his heart and draw love out of his abyss of charity.” May we all learn to love!

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