Monday of Week 11 in Ordinary Time

I would dare to say that most of us don’t usually take to people who brag about their own accomplishments.  Their boasting leaves us thinking that they must be conceited to say the least.  In the first reading, Saint Paul boasts to the Corinthians, but his purpose is not to inflate his own ego but to put the Christians of Corinth back on the right path – the path that leads to life.

After Paul had preached the good news in Corinth and established the church there, some false preachers came along to turn Paul’s converts away from the true faith.  They were persuasive and Paul was so disturbed by this that he felt compelled to present the Corinthians with his credentials as a true Apostle to whom they should return in obedience and docility.  By all that he had endured for the Gospel, Paul demonstrated his love for Christ and for the Church, something the false apostles couldn’t do.

The Church in her liturgy boasts, not about herself, but about God.  One of the main purposes of the liturgy is to make present throughout the liturgical year all the saving acts of God from the conception and birth of Christ, through his life of ministry, and to the high point of his death and resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit.  And every Mass centres on that high point since every Mass is the living memorial of the death and resurrection of Christ.

The liturgy, constantly recalling all that God has done for us, wants us to appreciate that all God’s actions show his wisdom and his love.  We must never abandon God in order to follow the false apostles and prophets of our time whose only purpose is to deceive us.  Faithfully participating in the liturgy should help us to turn all the more in love and devotion to God.

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Friday of Week 10 in Ordinary Time

We can just imagine how the disciples’ jaws must have dropped when Our Lord spoke about plucking out eyes and chopping off hands.  Like the Bishop wrote in his latest pastoral letter, this is one of those instances where we can’t take the scriptural text literally, or else we would all be missing body parts.  Self-mutilation is not a necessary step to holiness.  It’s that God craves our holiness.  The purity and faithfulness that he intends for us are worth more, even, than a sound, whole body.

God has called each one of us to be holy as he is holy (1 Peter 1:15).  We carry God’s likeness in us by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation.  What Our Lord says to us is if something threatens that holiness, get rid of it.  Throw it away.  It’s better to do without something than to have it and to sin because you do.

But holiness is not just about cutting things out of our lives.  There are other ways we can preserve and foster holiness.  Simply pick up the Scriptures and read.  Fall to your knees in prayer.  Even remind yourself that you are, as Saint Paul says, “created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Ephesians 4:24).

God wants us to be holy, and he gives us all the tools we need to achieve that state of blessedness.  But we have to make some effort and use the many gifts God gives us.  The Holy Spirit is always there, and especially in the moments when we are sorely tempted, to give us his grace and to help us grow in the fruit of self-control.

And yet when we do fail, there is no need to fall into the pit of despair.  God knows us.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  He knows we are trying to live better lives.  He knows that, because we are human, we are going to fall flat on our faces in the dirt.  This is when we need to remember that no sin is beyond his reach.  God is always ready to forgive us, even if we commit the same sin over and over again.  We should never hesitate to turn to the God of Mercies who, like the rain falling from the heavens, is always ready to shower us with his mercy and grant us the grace to live holy lives.

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Wednesday of Week 10 in Ordinary Time

There are those who may be tempted to think that Our Lord came to earth carrying one of those jumbo erasers, and that when he redeemed us, he simply wiped out all the regulations of the Old Testament.  But just because he criticised some of the Pharisees, we shouldn’t think he had the same attitude towards the Law that they upheld so rigidly.  In fact, Our Lord tells us that not only did he come to uphold the Law but that the least transgression against it can make us among the least in his kingdom.

It’s important to know that Our Lord didn’t say these words to condemn us, but to save us.  After all, he came to bring us life, but he knows that in order to experience that life to the full, we need to follow his commandments.  Like a parent who is trying to keep us out of trouble, he warned us to be vigilant against sin, because he knows that giving in to temptation will make us anything but happy.  He knows that falling into sin leaves us with less freedom, not more.

How fortunate we are that Our Lord is with us in all our struggles.  He doesn’t just issue warnings from afar; he helps us to root out sin wherever it shows up.  By examining our conscience daily, we can make sure that sin doesn’t gain a foothold in our hearts.  At Compline as we look back on our day, we ask the Holy Spirit to show us how we may have strayed from God’s truth.  Then, bringing our failings into the light of God’s love, we can experience his grace and his mercy, and we can get a clearer sense of how we can do better tomorrow.

It has been said that if we want to move mountains, we have to start by carrying away pebbles, and that’s certainly true with sin.  If we keep fighting the daily battles against little temptations, asking for God’s help every time we’re tested, we will soon start to make progress.  If we give every area of our lives over to God—even those hidden, dark corners—he will give us the grace to conquer them, and perhaps even to become one of the “greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

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Tuesday of Week 8 in Ordinary Time

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It’s amazing how many people, including priests and religious, fish for compliments.  You only have to look at Facebook and many of the comments and posts are all about me, me, me.  When we have done something admirable or we have an ability that we’re really proud of, it can be tempting to draw attention to it.  Even when we resist the temptation, we can promote ourselves in our own minds, imagining the compliments we would like to receive.

After Our Lord announced how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God, Peter piped up with some compliment fishing of his own: “We have given up everything and followed you”.  It’s as if he were saying: “Give us some credit here!”  But Our Lord cut him off, maybe in an effort to save Peter from embarrassing himself.  Yes, you have done well, he said, and you will be rewarded.

But then Our Lord says a few words, easy to repeat, easy even to understand, but hard to take in fully: “Many that are first will be last, and the last will be first”.  Peter had learned the way of the Gospel as far as giving up everything to follow Our Lord.  But he hadn’t yet learned that Our Lord calls us to give up even our desire to achieve, our striving to be first.  Our Lord calls us to follow him all the way to the Cross.

God is calling us to free ourselves from the world and our fallen nature.  He is calling us to devote ourselves to him and to his kingdom.  And as we know, even priests and religious can become insanely proud and selfish.  With the advent of social media, it’s so easy to promote ourselves.

We don’t have to argue our case before God, or indeed anyone else.  God sees everything we do for him, and he delights in all of it.  So, what’s the point in promoting ourselves and drawing attention to the things we do?  Is it not enough to know that God knows?  We should be happy to be at the very back of the line as we walk through the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Shrove Tuesday Meme (2)

Saturday of Week 7 in Ordinary Time

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If you’ve ever tried to reach someone important without an appointment, then you know how difficult it can be.  The Apostles acted a bit like executive aides when they turned away the parents who brought their children to Our Lord for a special blessing.  According to the Apostles, these children were too insignificant to merit Our Lord’s time and attention.  After all, he was so busy healing the sick or sparring with the Pharisees.  Why should he be bothered by these little ones?  But Jesus didn’t take too kindly to such restrictions.  In the ultimate turnaround from what the Twelve expected, Our Lord rebuked them and welcomed the children freely and happily.

How astonished the Apostles must have been when Jesus told them that the Kingdom of God belonged to children like these.  And they must have been even more bewildered when he added: “Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it”.  Once again, Our Lord was turning their values upside down.

Parents love their children simply because they are their children, and not because they have done anything to earn their love.  And just as children instinctively trust their parents to care for them, God wants us to trust in his care for us.  His Kingdom is a free gift, not a reward for a job well done.

And so, let us always come before God as his children, not child-ish but child-like.

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Thursday of Week 7 in Ordinary Time

You may have watched a comedy film called ‘The Bucket List’, starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson.  It’s about two old codgers who meet in hospital and who draw up a list of all the things they would like to do before they die.  Apparently, it’s not uncommon for people to draw up a list of things they would like to do while they have the health and energy; you read about grannies skydiving, or elderly couples taking a world cruise, or going up in a hot air balloon, or travelling first class on the Orient Express.

Would you believe that God has his own “bucket list” for us?  He has a plan for our lives, and he wants to see us fulfil this plan, because he knows it’s the real key to our happiness.  His plan for our lives, despite the inevitable ups and downs, will make us far happier than anything we might come up with ourselves.

That’s why it’s important to answer the call to conversion we hear in the first reading, and to remember that conversion is not just a one-time experience.  God’s plan isn’t just that we experience his mercy and love once, or even occasionally.  His plan is that we become changed more and more into his likeness so that we can experience his love on a deeper level: a love that heals all our wounds, fulfils all our hopes and dreams, and satisfies our thirst for the world.

Ongoing conversion requires that we turn to God in prayer every day so that we can grow in our relationship with him.  It’s only through a consistent prayer life that we can come to understand not only God’s love for us but also his plan for our lives.  Prayer teaches us that God wants only good things for us.  Prayer trains us to place our trust in him and in his perfect plan.

God created us.  He knows what we need.  He knows what will make us happy.  Every day he gives us an opportunity to experience a deep, abiding friendship with him, one that will last for all eternity.  Our “bucket list” may contain some wonderful dreams, but none can compare to “what God has prepared for those who love him”.

Wednesday of Week 7 in Ordinary Time

We sometimes hear people say that they’ve been through “the school of hard knocks.”  It may be a businessman who has clawed his way up the ladder to become a success.  It may be an athlete who has trained hard to be the best at his sport, or an actor who played minor roles for years before being recognized as a great talent.  If you asked any one of these people where they learned the most, they would all say it came through the challenges involved in reaching their goals.

A similar concept is at work in today’s first reading.  We read that wisdom doesn’t come automatically.  Rather, it’s tested and proved in day-to-day life.  Sirach compares “Lady Wisdom” to a teacher who is more concerned about teaching us valuable lessons, and less concerned about being our friend.  She teaches us that the way of wisdom is not always an easy road.  Sometimes, in fact, it’s a narrow, rocky, and even dangerous path.

But the “fear and dread” that Sirach mentions isn’t meant to stop us cold in our tracks.  It’s meant to keep us moving forward.  This isn’t a fear of God’s wrath.  Rather it’s a fear that we may disappoint our heavenly Father who loves us so much.  It’s the same kind of fear that a young man leaving home has to make his own way in the world.  The last thing he wants to do is let down his father, who has supported him and taught him and helped him so very much. He wants to make his father proud, so he works extra hard.  And when he encounters obstacles, it’s his father’s love and words of encouragement that see him through.

So how do we envision our heavenly Father?  Is he a taskmaster waiting to punish us for every misdeed?  Or is he our teacher, our advocate, our coach, and our support?  God wants to give us his wisdom, even through the school of hard knocks.  May we all learn God’s ways.  And may we all embrace his love.

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