Tuesday of Week 11 in Ordinary Time

 

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Monday of Week 11 in Ordinary Time

Ahab was an evil king who was only exceeded in his wickedness by his wife Jezebel, so much so that the name ‘Jezebel’ has entered our vocabulary to refer to a wicked or bold woman with a vicious tongue in her head, who works behind the scenes and gets her husband to do her dirty work for her.  Ahab wasn’t satisfied with all he possessed as king and he coveted Naboth’s vineyard; when Naboth, who was fully within his rights, refused to sell his vineyard, Ahab was more than willing to back off, but not Jezebel.  She perpetrated the terrible murder of Naboth and told her husband that he could now take the vineyard without even paying for it.

People like Ahab and Jezebel are still around today, and they arouse our anger.  When we hear in the news about terrible crimes being committed we wish that God would follow the old way of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  Tomorrow’s reading will tell us how God relented in the punishment due to Ahab because he repented.  Now there is a temptation for us not to go along with that kind of mercy.  It goes against our human nature to forgive and forget because we want criminals to suffer.  Some people are so uncharitable that they just can’t let go of a grievance and you can see it in their face.  And yet Our Lord came to reveal that God doesn’t will the death of the sinner but that he repent and be saved.

Despite the love and concern that flows so eloquently from our lips, our ways are still far from God’s ways.  God sees the whole picture in a unique light, and he views human activity as a loving Father who is eager to have all his children return to him, no matter what they have done.  Now, it isn’t that God fails to mete out justice; he does, but his sense of justice is entirely different from ours.

And so rather than getting upset with God that evil people are ‘getting away with murder’, we must learn to leave the matter of ultimate judgement and punishment in his hands.  Rather than call down God’s anger on the people we detest, we ought to pray that those who do evil will repent and return to God.

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Saint Richard of Chichester

Today we honour the memory of Saint Richard of Chichester, who is not quite a local saint, but he was chancellor to our own Saint Edmund of Abingdon when he was Archbishop of Canterbury.  After Saint Edmund’s death Richard was appointed Bishop of Chichester.  He was also a Dominican tertiary.  The Church in England honours Saint Richard for his pastoral zeal and for making a moral stand against corrupt government.  He died in 1253 and was canonised nine years later.

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It’s getting harder for news reporters and, even ordinary people, to get a straight answer out of politicians.  What does Our Lord say to us today?  Let your “Yes” mean “Yes,” and your “No” mean “No.”  One of the few things we expect from our elected representatives is for them to be honest and truthful with the electorate.  And it’s not only politicians who find it difficult to tell the whole truth, we are all disposed to twisting the truth when it suits us.

So, why is it so hard to be honest and truthful?  Is it because we are afraid or insecure?  Or maybe it’s hard sometimes to face the consequences of the truth.  Even the Prince of the Apostles told untruths.  In an attempt to save his own skin, Peter denied knowing Our Lord not once, but three times.  And yet, in contrast to Peter’s denial was Our Lord’s response when he was asked if he was the Messiah.  Jesus simply replied, “I Am” (Mark 14:62).  By giving such an answer, Our Lord signed his own death warrant.  Fear didn’t overcome him because he had placed himself in his Father’s hands and he knew that God’s Word could never be overcome.

At the Last Supper, Peter boldly proclaimed that he would willingly die for Jesus, but his bravado and enthusiasm soon evaporated when he saw how meekly Jesus surrendered to his enemies.  Peter discovered the sad truth that he could not follow Jesus to the Cross solely by the power of his own resolve.  It was only after Pentecost that he received the power of the Holy Spirit and began to preach the Gospel with courage, even in the face of punishment and death.

As we surrender our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit, we learn how to master our emotional life and experience something of what it means to be holy.  The reality of heaven, the promises of a faithful God, and a healthy fear of sin work together to form in us the simple commitment to the truth that Our Lord revealed.  So let’s keep asking the Holy Spirit to mould us into the image of Christ.

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Friday of Week 10 in Ordinary Time

After defeating the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, Elijah’s life was in danger and he fled from Queen Jezebel’s wrath, which thundered on the horizon like a threatening storm.  Weary and discouraged, yet poised at a new chapter in his prophetic ministry, Elijah needed to hear God’s voice; and God’s messenger promised that he would.  But it was only after Elijah had passed through the storm that he was able to hear God’s voice in a “tiny whispering sound” (1 Kings 19:12).

Elijah’s story offers some encouraging insight into how we can hear God speak to us.  In our natural desire to avoid stressful or challenging situations, we may think that the only way to hear God’s voice is in picturesque, quiet moments, or during a retreat when we are secluded and free to spend time with him in prayer or meditate on his word.  Of course, those times are essential, but they are not the only way God speaks.  And neither are they always the most effective way.

In fact, God often uses the storms of life to help us find his presence and his wisdom.  Life is not picture-perfect.  We know what it’s like to feel buffeted by forces beyond our control and by situations that affect our work or our health, or our vocation.  Our foundation gets shaken by problems we can’t fix, and that can unnerve us.

But there’s always a hidden blessing in these challenging situations which can bring us to our knees.  It’s when we find ourselves nearing the end of our strength, as Elijah did, that we are more likely to listen for that still small voice.  We sense that we need God in the midst of whatever storm is swirling around us.

The surprising thing about making it through the storms of life is that we can look back and realise God has been with us all along.  As he promised, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age,” and God is always true to his word (Matthew 28:20).

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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